Wednesday

23rd Jan 2019

'Rapid reaction force' to monitor Constitution debate

  • "There is so much populism in the debate", says Jo Leinen (Photo: EUobserver)

A 'rapid reaction force' has been set up by MEPs to try and put the record straight if lies are told about the European Constitution.

"Within three hours, or at least within the same day, we want to react to lies and distortions about the Constitution", stated Jo Leinen, head of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee.

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Speaking to the EUobserver, Mr Leinen, a German Socialist MEP, said he and a group of MEPs had taken it upon themselves to be the watchdogs on utterances about the Constitution as nobody else is doing it.

"Who is defending the Constitution? No European government is doing it", says Mr Leinen, with an eye on the referendums on the Charter that are to be fought in several member states.

Eight watchdogs

Mr Leinen's other companions in this exercise include the President of the European Parliament, Josep Borell, as well as the authors of the report endorsing the Constitution - overwhelmingly supported by MEPs last week - Inigo Mendez de Vigo and Richard Corbett.

To help the group of eight MEPs keep an eye on debate in 25 member states, European Parliament offices in the member states will "pick up" any information they consider to be a lie and pass it back to the group.

Mr Leinen said that they "would not react to small and tiny comments on the Constitution" but just substantial untruths.

Citing some examples of lies, he said that during the debate in the run up to the Nice Treaty referendum in Ireland, there were claims that it would enable abortion.

Meanwhile, in Germany, there is a peace movement that says the charter is a "military Constitution".

In such cases, a press release or a letter to the editor may be sent by the MEPs.

Line between opinion and fact

However, the MEPs' action does raise questions about the extent to which Constitution opponents may be corrected for giving an opinion on the document.

Mr Leinen admits that there is a thin line between opinion and a lie and that things will have to be dealt with the "on a case by case basis".

Jens-Peter Bonde, a Danish eurosceptic MEP, said it was "a splendid idea" to try and ensure that the debate surrounding the Constitution is factual but criticised the fact that the MEPs involved are all strongly in favour of the charter.

This is not the first instance where the EU is trying to hit back at incorrect reporting in the press.

The European Commission also has a website which has a detailed rebuttal of stories that it says are untrue.

These include stories that have appeared - mainly in the UK press - about such diverse things as pigs having to be given toys; the euro being responsible for impotency and eggs having to carry details of the hens that laid them.

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A number of centre-right MEPs are pushing for a secret ballot on a plenary vote that would make EU lawmakers more transparent and accountable to the public - in a move described as "absurd" by Transparency International.

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