Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

On free speech in the European Parliament

Quick question: why is there so little condemnation from the pro-EU camp of the European Parliament’s recent actions in trying to stifle eurosceptic proponents of referenda on the Lisbon Treaty?

To redress the balance: I’m pro-EU and I’m anti-referendum – and I think this is an absolute disgrace.

The evidence of double-standards is palpable – people and MEPs protesting against things the EU machine wants to do are stifled and harassed; those who protest about other issues are allowed to continue on their way.

Yes, a bunch of eurosceptics dressed up in chicken costumes to highlight calls for referenda because they mistakenly think that the Lisbon Treaty is in some way more significant than Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht, etc. etc. is ridiculous and stupid. Eurosceptic MEPs launching long speeches and using the regulations of the European Parliament to try and get their point across may be frustrating. But both of these are perfectly within the rules.

And, of course, most importantly it’s why they were elected. You don’t vote for a eurosceptic MEP for them to faithfully go along with everything the EU wants. You vote for them because you want them to oppose things you disagree with – even if that does include the entire EU project.

Yes, they may be irritating. Yes, many of them may be tits (Kilroy, I’m looking at you). But they are elected representatives who are doing what they were elected to do. Preventing them from doing this is not only to breach the rules of the European Parliament – it is effectively to disenfranchise their voters.

What happened to Friends of Europe Secretary-General Giles Meritt’s eminently sensible advice for the EU to start engaging with eurosceptics to help identify areas for reform? What happened to the European Commission’s supposed plan to the promise to listen that came with the “New Commission approach to dialogue and communication with European citizens”?

If the EU is ever going to get widespread and active popular support, it needs to show that it is democratic and that it listens. This is something I kept returning to in my dLiberation coverage for openDemocracy last year. It’s something that various EU bodies have said themselves countless times over the last decade or so. Yet time and time again, the EU gives the impression that it will only ever listen to those who agree with it.

Stifling dissent is not the way to win support – it’s the way to harden opposition and drive more people into your opponents’ camp. Shame on you, European Parliament.

Update: Oh, and this. If you want people to support the political system you’re trying to build up, you need openness and transparency – not secrecy and corruption – from your elected representatives.

The European Parliament is meant to be the jewel in the EU’s crown – constantly referred to as the proof that the organisation is democratic and accountable.

It needs to get its act in gear, if you ask me…