Okay, I'll admit it. As a UKIP MEP I've believed for a while now that the European Parliament lacks many of the true features of a proper Parliamentary democracy. I didn't think that I could be any more shocked than I have been already at the breathtaking lack of respect for the rules, but I was wrong. The Parliament trampled over its own rules blatantly, drowning out howls of protest.
Flash back a few hours to two meetings. UKIP's group in the European Parliament had hosted Beppe Grillo, leader of the Italian Five Star Movement and Vaclav Klaus, who was President of the Czech Republic for 10 years. Both spoke to us about democracy. Both, in their own ways, are impressive speakers. Grillo is a comedian who entered politics to try to clean up the political establishment in Italy. When politicians act like comedians, perhaps it takes a comedian to lead the way in politics. He speaks from the heart, burning with passion, standing up for his belief that Italy can become a modern democracy. Vaclav Klaus on the other hand gave a more sombre account of life in the Soviet Union. Five years as Prime Minister and ten as President made him a key player shaping the Czech Republic as they transitioned to a healthy, vibrant democracy. He spoke however about his concerns, that the European Union is taking away power which the Czech people had won back for themselves. There was standing room only for both meetings; rooms packed full of true believers in democracy.
In the chamber it was an entirely different story. Nigel Farage had gone to accompany the former Czech President to the airport, and wasn't sure whether he'd make it back in time to speak in the debate about the 'Lux Leaks' Juncker scandal. In his stead, his deputy Paul Nuttall would ably deputise. Up rose Guy Verhofstadt, from the Liberal group to which our solitary remaining British Lib Dem MEP belongs.
He launched into a tirade against Nigel Farage in his absence, making comments about his finances which would doubtless be libellous were they repeated without Parliamentary privilege. The President of the Parliament could have stepped in: he did not. Incredibly, Verhofstadt described it as a 'point of order' and demanded extra speaking time for his speech. His chutzpah was somehow rewarded, and his speaking clock was reset. Points of order, in the European Parliament, must quote one of the Parliament's Rules of Procedure. Verhofstadt's comments were not a point of order in any way, shape or form.
So I rose on a (genuine) point of order, quoted the relevant rule, and asked the President of the Parliament to rule that this was out of order. The President ignored my point, and blamed Nigel Farage. It was at this point that I started studying the Parliament's Rules of Procedure intently: I wanted to quote the Rule which requires the President of the Parliament to remain impartial. The Speaker of the House of Commons has to be neutral; giving up his or her Parliamentary affiliation, he or she proceeds to referee.
I searched and searched the Parliament's rules, and came to a shocking conclusion: there is no such rule. Nothing requires impartiality from the President of the Parliament. Imagine if, during a Manchester United v Manchester City derby, the referee was a known Manchester United fan and there were no requirement for the referee to be fair. There would be an incredible public outcry. We're talking here about something even more important than football: we're talking about how our country is governed. Yet the President of the Parliament has no obligation not to don the red shirt of the Labour Party's political group whilst presiding over debates.
But that wasn't all. The Italians in our Group had put up a candidate for the vice-President position of the Parliament. There are 14 of them, chosen in proportion to the size of the political groups. With one minor exception: anyone from UKIP's Group is frozen out. Our candidate publicly stepped down and blasted the Parliament for its lack of democracy. The Italians held up posters with a picture of a tombstone stating 'RIP Democracy'.
The Parliament then descended into Kafka-esque farce as we had just one candidate remaining, and we proceeded to vote on whether or not we wanted that candidate. We were asked to either vote 'Yes' or 'Abstain'; there was no option to vote No. Many of us tried to protest, and I rose on a Point of Order, but we were interrupted by the establishment parties demanding that they be allowed to vote in secret and hide their decisions from scrutiny.
The President of the Parliament asked "Has everyone voted?" We shouted loudly "No", as he had not yet taken my Point of Order. He replied "Yes?" and closed the vote. Finally, my point of order was taken. I quoted Rule 17 of the Rules of Procedure, which does not provide for this bizarre mechanism or for choices of Yes/Abstain but without a No. Under the Parliament's Rules, he is required to make a ruling on the point. Instead, he just ignored it and closed the session.
We all know the European Union doesn't take No for an answer; it showed that when France and Ireland voted No to the EU Constitution. But they've found a new way of preventing a No vote. Only give us the choice of 'Yes' or 'Abstain'. That way, nobody at all has voted No. It's neat, but it's not democracy.Suggest a correction