MEPs stop Le Pen from chairing European Parliament session
By Honor Mahony
MEPs on Wednesday (6 May) changed the rules of the European Parliament to prevent far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen from opening the inaugural session of the next parliament in July.
The move was hastily pushed through parliament via an amendment to a report on the internal workings of the EU assembly after it recently became clear that the French politician, who has downplayed the Holocaust, could assume the prominent role.
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Under the previous rules, the oldest MEP chairs the inaugural session, something that would fall to Mr Le Pen, who was born in 1928, if he is re-elected in June's European Parliament elections.
The amendment, backed by the centre-right and socialist parties, instead says that the task should fall to the out-going parliament president, in this case centre-right German politician Hans-Gert Poettering.
If the previous president is not re-elected, one of the 14 vice-presidents should assume the role, based on seniority.
"A politician who continues to assert that the Nazi gas chambers are a detail of history cannot have the honour of presiding over this assembly, which symbolises the reconciliation of the peoples of Europe," said German MEP and head of the Socialists, Martin Schulz.
The Liberal group has been against the move. When the topic first came up for discussion in March, liberal leader Graham Watson said: "There is no reason to treat Mr Le Pen differently from others, even if we hate his politics."
According to European Voice, he has also said the leaders of the centre-right and socialist groups should rather have spent their time making sure Mr Le Pen did not get re-elected than working to change the rules.
Mr Le Pen repeated his views on the Holocaust in March in the European Parliament.
The parliament authorities are now looking into whether he has infringed the rules of parliament or whether his views fall under freedom of expression. The ultimate sanction the parliament can bestow is suspending a deputy's membership of the assembly.
"I have tried to get in touch with Mr Le Pen," said Mr Poettering, who said he has to "see the person concerned" before he is able to take any decision on the incident.