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The Nazi philosophy of Poettering's Enabling Act

Recently, the European Parliament departed from any pretence of legality. Riled by the protests of a handful of Members who had been calling for referendums on the European Constitution (now called the Lisbon Treaty), MEPs voted to give their President arbitrary powers to disapply the rules as he saw fit. What drove them to such an extreme step? Some massive filibuster that was preventing any Bills being passed? Hardly. A handful of MEPs have been exercising their right to explain, after each vote, why they voted as they did in not more than 60 seconds. I had been playfully echoing Cato the Elder by ending every speech, whatever its subject, with: "Pactio Olisipiensis Censenda Est" (The Lisbon Treaty must be put to the vote). It was a harmless enough device. The worst effect it could have was to keep MEPs from their lunch for a few minutes. But even this was too much for the majority of Euro-federalists. They were so determined to prevent us from making our gesture that they crossly tore up their own rule-book.

I suppose I can understand why. No one likes to be reminded of a promise he has broken, and most MEPs were in favour of referendums on the European Constitution until it became clear that they would lose. The "No" votes left them feeling vulnerable. They wondered - for it is human nature to place yourself at the centre of the universe - how their compatriots had drifted so far away from them. Even so, their reaction to us was stunning. After eight years in the European Parliament, not much can shock me. I was prepared for hypersensitivity, intolerance of dissent, readiness to bend the rules. But nothing had prepared me for such blatancy. In a letter to the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the President, a German called Hans-Gert Poettering, admitted that our protests had all been technically within the rules. And he wasn't asking to change those rules. No, he wanted permission to disapply them.

Whenever I complained of the impropriety of what was being done, I got the same answer: we have the majority behind us. This is true - opponents of the European Constitution number no more than 50-odd MEPs out of 785. But a simple majority cannot override a constitution. This may seem a small point, but in it is contained the entirety of the difference between constitutional government and arbitrary rule. I reminded MEPs last month that the 1933 Enabling Act had commanded a majority in the Reichstag, but that its passage opened the door to dictatorship. Various Labour and Lib Dem MEPs have since accused me of calling the President a Nazi. I would never do so. Whatever else they are, MEPs are not Nazis. Hans-Gert, in particular, who lost his father in the war, has an honourable record of opposing totalitarianism. He is a decent man and a democrat, and I'm sorry if my remarks hurt him.

My point was that MEPs, of all people, should be wary of setting the law aside arbitrarily. Their greatest boast, and their constant justification, is that they have spread democracy across Europe. That is why it is so outrageous to see them disregarding the rules when the rules don't suit them. It is precisely this behaviour that has turned people against the European project. "Yes" votes are treated as final and binding, "No" votes as obstacles to be overcome. Unaudited accounts are treated as a small price to pay for the goal of integration. The end justifies the means.

As I sat down after making my remarks, the leader of the bloc to which Tory MEPs are allied, the European People's Party (EPP), rose to say that he'd run out of patience with me, and that he wanted the EPP to expel me. Chatting to me afterwards in the aisle, he said: "I don't care if you make your protest for a referendum in Britain. But you will not do it from the floor of the parliament as a member of my party". Fair enough, I said: there did seem to be some ideological differences between us. "Not differences, incompatibilities," he replied. If anyone was still wondering why David Cameron wants to leave the EPP, there is your answer.

Dit commentaarstuk van Daniel Hannan verscheen ook in The Daily Telegraph en The Brussels Journal, en op een aantal weblogs.

Meer over deze Britse Europarlementariër op

5 Reacties:

At 14:53 Anoniem said...

Vincent, zijn er - buiten jezelf natuurlijk - eigenlijk nog wel échte Eurosceptici in België? In zowat alle andere landen bestaan er Eurofobe groeperingen, zowel langs rechterzijde (UKIP, Franse souvereinitisten, DF) als langs linkerzijde (Britse Groenen, Nederlandse SP). Alleen in België lijkt iedereen van Vlaams Belang tot Groen! Eurofiel te zijn. Op het eerste gezicht zou je denken dat dit komt door de interne communautaire problemen, maar dit kan toch niet het enige probleem zijn. Canada wordt toch ook geen lid van de USA enkel en alleen omdat ze op dezelfde continentale plaat liggen. Een economische vrijhandelszone OK, maar daar moet het ook bij blijven. Voor defensie hebben we de NAVO al en die heeft niet vervangen te worden door een Europees leger. En alle andere gebieden waar men naar Europese integratie streeft is een inbreuk op het nationaal zelfbeschikkingsrecht.

At 16:21 Geert Van Nauwelaerts said...

Ik heb anders toch wel de indruk dat er de laatste jaren veel meer kritische geluiden over Europa te horen zijn dan vroeger, ook in België. Zelf ben ik pro-EU, maar dan wel op een genuanceerde en evenwichtige manier, en niet omdat het "moet" van de politieke correctheid of omdat het "vrede" garandeert maar gewoon omdat het de beste en minst kostelijke manier is om de economie van een gans continent te begeleiden.

At 17:57 Joris Verdonk said...

Sorry Geert, maar die kritische geluiden zijn schaamlapjes. Knack blokletterde de Europese regelneverij enkele weken geleden maar in het magazine was het armoe troef. Niemand wil/kan/durft de EU aanvallen, terwijl die instelling tegenwoordig alles incarneert waar wij NIET voor staan. Een centrumstad aan ambtetantenaren, een bibliotheek aan wetten en regels, een toren van babel-debatcultuur in een parlement dat meer weg heeft van de Sovjet-Diet dan van een modern democratisch opperhuis.

At 20:00 Vincent De Roeck said...

Update: Daniel Hannan meldde een uur geleden op zijn blog dat het Europees Parlement vandaag het Verdrag van Lissabon geratificeerd heeft. Nu hangt de implementatie ervan enkel nog maar af van de goedkeuring in alle lidstaten, zonder referenda (tenzij in Ierland). De EUSSR is werkelijkheid geworden.

The European Parliament has just voted through the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty by a margin of 85 per cent to 15 per cent. After the vote, the Speaker solemnly announced that the vote “gave expression to the will of the citizens of Europe”. I would have assumed he was joking except that a) he is German and b) MEPs are forever coming out with this sort of humbug.

The chamber, needless to say, burst into thunderous applause. Euro-MPs love to be told that they speak for the people. It makes them feel better about the fact that the people keep voting “No”. It reassures them that they are not alone. By the same token, they hate being reminded of what their electorates really think. And they usually take out their frustration on the handful of Euro-sceptics in the chamber.

I and a handful of MEPs marked the passage of the Bill by wearing tee-shirts with the word “referendum”. A group of UKIP members had an amusing variant on the theme. They wore bright yellow tops with a picture of a hen, and the caption Too chicken for a referendum?

You can imagine how this went down. Most MEPs, of course, are chicken. They supported referendums until it became clear that they would lose them. Then, overnight, they switched to making hilarious speeches about how each nation had the sovereign right to ratify in its own way. The last thing they want is to be physically reminded of what they had previously promised. We Euro-sceptics are their bad conscience, which is why they so often lose their tempers and resort to playground insults. (Today, the Speaker said that the parents of the pro-referendum MEPs would be ashamed of them. A few weeks ago, the Liberal and Socialist leaders called us Nazis).

Still, if nothing else, the episode demonstrates the utter illegitimacy of the European Parliament. As Oliver Cromwell told an earlier parliament: “You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

At 13:51 Robbie Long said...

Daniel Hannan is right about most MEPs: they have completely lost touch with their voters. But he has never done so. He is the last honest man in Strasbourg.


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