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5th Mar 2024

MEPs to debate new rules to punish troublemakers

  • Green MEPs made their views clear at the vote on Turkey's membership talks (Photo: European Parliament)

Misbehaving MEPs are likely to be expelled from the European Parliament's meetings, and lose a daily allowance for up to ten days, under new rules to be debated in the Strasbourg plenary on Wednesday (18 January).

Deputies will debate and vote on a report by French green MEP Gerard Onesta, adopted by a huge majority by the parliament's constitutional committee last November.

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In his report, Mr Onesta argues that the parliament's authorities currently do not have efficient tools to keep its sessions in order, due to a "much larger number and range of incidents now occurring."

"Over the past year, we have seen several MEPs cursing at their colleagues, or loudly interrupting the parliamentary debates. It seems like they want to replace a democratic debate by violent populism," the rapporteur told EUobserver.

Mr Onesta also gave the example of a protest by deputies from the League of Polish families that had staged an anti-abortion exhibition in Strasbourg, which included images comparing abortion to Nazi concentration camps.

The exhibition was eventually banned from parliament.

He also highlighted a case of misbehaviour by Greek MEPs in the face of an ambassador from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, at one of the parliamentary committee meetings.

"My amendments to the current code of conduct should ensure that deputies can be penalised if disrupting any meetings, not just the plenary sessions, as it is a practise now," he said.

What is allowed and what is not?

The initiative to tighten rules took off after the turbulent approval of the EU Constitution in the parliament.

EU critics protested with banners "Not in my name" to counter what they saw as unbalanced promotion of the constitution.

"The European Parliament used public funds and splashed the entire building with posters promoting the constitution", Danish eurosceptic MEP Jens-Peter Bonde said.

Mr Bonde is worried that the new measures will be used to quell the critics.

"I do not myself like loud and violent protests at the assembly. But there are different parliamentary cultures in different countries and that is normal, and should remain like that - also in the European Parliament," he indicated.

Under the rapporteur's proposal, the parliament's president or the chair of the plenary debate can exclude an offender from the session if he or she continues to disturb the debate after a number of reprimands, with the possibility of having the MEP taken away by security services.

Other types of penalties, like a ban to attend the parliament's sessions, or losing daily allowances for up to ten days, are only up to the body's president to decide, in "exceptionally serious cases of disorder or disruption" of the legislature.

The president must first hear the case by the troublemaking member before making the decision, and afterwards announce it to the whole plenary.

But according to the plan, if there is a disciplinary measure agreed against a deputy, and if he or she is banned from attending plenary debates or committee meetings, the MEP will not lose his or her right to vote.

MEPs would also also have a right to appeal against penalties.

T-shirts and posters

"During a long debate in the constitutional committee, there have been some colleagues who pressed for more stringent rules and those who opposed anything stricter than the current practice," commented Mr Onesta.

He argued his proposal would make a distinction between truly disturbing actions, such as loud protests that prevent a meeting or a plenary to continue, and quiet demonstrations, such as wearing T-shirts with messages.

"I don't mind that some members even bring their banners or posters to the assembly, like my colleagues did before the vote on Turkey's membership talks," he said, adding "as a green deputy I have definitely nothing against protests as such. But I want them not to be offensive and violent."

Mr Bonde disagrees with Mr Onesta's stance however.

"We haven't had any cases of violence in this house, and so the new rules are just not needed. Action has only been taken against members rebuffing the EU constitution. Their banners have been removed and their activities condemned. That is what I consider violence of one side of the parliament's political spectrum against the other," he indicated.

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