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5th Jul 2020

MEPs to consider creating EU 'Legion d'Honneur'

  • The mooted 'Order for Distinguished Services to the EU' would be open to all, argues the MEP behind the idea (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU Parliament's internal bodies are considering a proposal to introduce a European-style "Legion of Honour" for "distinguished services" to the EU.

The proposal includes establishing a "Grand Cross" for "lifetime contributions and achievements in service of the EU", for which current and former presidents of EU institutions, heads of states or governments, and recipients of the parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought would be eligible.

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It also foresees establishing the class of "Grand Officer" for "contributions or achievements over a total period of 15 years", according to a parliament internal note, dated 15 June, and seen by EUobserver.

For that, former or current EU parliament office holders, EU commissioners, national lawmakers, presidents of national parliaments would be eligible.

"Commanders" would be awarded after at least ten years of contributions, including former and current high-ranking EU and national civil servants, ambassadors, "eminent civil society representatives".

"Officers" would be awarded for at least three years of service and "Knights" would be granted after at least six months of achievements - with no specific limitations on the recipients.

While the idea was first mooted last November, it has now re-emerged after the pandemic, raising some eyebrows in the parliament itself.

A working group of the Bureau of the parliament, a body made up of the parliament president and vice-presidents, its quaestors and which runs the internal matters of the institution, discussed the idea on Tuesday (23 June) but has yet to agree to it.

The proposal is in its initial phase, in the end, it will require the approval of the Bureau itself. There is no timeline for further debates yet.

The idea came from parliament vice-president, Austrian MEP Othmar Karas from the centre-right EPP, who chairs the working group on "information policy, press and citizens relation", dealing with the matter.

"So far, no award for distinguished services to the European Union exists at European level. Since I am against nationalisation of European politics, I have relaunched the idea of an Order in recognition of and gratitude for services contributing to foster European values and goals," Karas told EUobserver in a written statement.

"I want to clearly point out that this is not about recognising a political function but about honouring individuals from all walks of life for their exceptional services to the European Union," Karas replied, to questions on the limited circle of recipients on some awards, and if the Order could be perceived as self-gratulation.

He added that "nobody is excluded".

Yet the higher classes of the proposed Order seem to be reserved for long-serving EU or national politicians and officials - although the internal note adds that the criteria for the award and the circle of recipients are only guidelines.

The note says that in the current pandemic, the Order "could be an important measure to pay tribute to the 'heroes' who are serving Europe in this critical time", in particular "health care operators".

Scepticism

Others question whether it is the best way to recognise service and warn that the idea could backfire.

"It would be a big mistake to let it pass," another parliament vice-president and member of the working group, Green MEP Heidi Hautala from Finland told EUobserver.

Hautala added that she was "very surprised that this has been prepared in a very small circle".

"It could very much be a fuel for those who want to put the legitimacy of the EU into question," she said, adding that the Order would be "counter-productive to the EU".

Hautala said there are already other ways to recognise work for the EU, and it was not the right thing to do to copy member states' method of honouring service.

"Even if I sympathise with federalist ideas, this is not the right symbol to do it with," Hautala said, adding that the "preparation has been so opaque, it is not an initiative that should pass".

According to the internal document, the Order should be awarded annually by the EU parliament president, and to help the selection process, former parliament presidents could form an advisory body.

Nominations for the award, which was inspired by the French "Legion d'Honneur", should be put forward by the members of the Bureau and the secretary general, the administrative chief of the parliament.

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