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President Barroso and the Motion of Censure

May 24 2005

(No, not the latest Harry Potter title!)

In July 2004, Portuguese politician José Manuel Barroso was nominated as the new EU Commission president. In August 2004, he and his family enjoyed six days free hospitality on a luxury yacht owned by Greek shipping magnate and multi-billionaire Spiros Latsis. In September 2004, the Commission gave the nod (under EU state-aid rules), to a €10 million grant to the Lamda shipyard, in which Mr. Latsis has a substantial interest. Evidence is emerging that Mr. Latsis's companies seem to have other EU connections as well, not least through the notorious Athens airport project .

On Monday May 9th, in the opening plenary session of a Strasbourg week, UKIP MEP Nigel Farage called for a change in the week's agenda to allow a debate on this apparent conflict of interests. There was an electronic vote on Farage's proposal which was lost by a huge margin, all the main political groups opposing it.

We Conservatives were instructed by the Whips' Office not to vote. Don't vote Yes. Don't vote No. Don't even abstain. Sit on your hands and do nothing. Nevertheless, I and Chris Heaton-Harris defied the whip and voted Yes. We both believed that our 2004 Manifesto commitment to oppose fraud and corruption in the EU institutions required us to vote Yes.

Farage, and his Independent Democrats (ID) group, then initiated a Motion of Censure. Such a motion requires 10% of MEPs (74 members) to sign, in order to be formally tabled and debated. MEPs from many countries and groups signed. But the major political groups in the parliament, including the EPP-ED group (to which British Conservatives are affiliated -- some reluctantly) started ferocious campaigns of pressure and intimidation to get members to withdraw their names. They were keen to avoid embarrassment to the EU project, especially ahead of the French Constitutional referendum on May 29th. So we had bucket with holes in it -- new MEPs signing the censure motion, while others fell off the bottom.

Nevertheless, the Motion achieved sufficient signatures and was tabled. It seems likely that it will be debated in the Brussels mini-plenary session during week commencing May 23rd -- ahead of the French referendum. Hans-Gert Poettering, the President of the EPP-ED group, declared in the "Conference of Presidents" that none of his members had signed -- or that if they had, they would withdraw their names. But at least six EPP-ED members had signed -- all British Conservatives. They were Roger Helmer, Chris Heaton-Harris, Dan Hannan, Martin Callanan, David Sumberg, and Theresa Villiers (although there is some ambiguity about Theresa's status as an MEP following her election as MP for Chipping Barnet).

So Poettering put pressure on the Conservative leader Timothy Kirkhope MEP, and he in turn wrote to the signatories demanding that they withdraw their names, and threatening "very serious consequences" -- parliament-speak for withdrawal of the Whip -- in the event of non-compliance.

Timothy's reasons for calling for our dissociation from the motion are instructive.

There is no firm evidence against Barroso. But we never said there was. In a very soft motion, we merely point out a prima facie conflict of interests, and call on Barroso to come to the parliament and explain himself. We made it explicit that if he gave a satisfactory explanation we would withdraw the motion.

We should not support another group's initiative. Why not? We should read the message, not shoot the messenger. It would have been better if it had been our initiative. But if all the delegation had signed it, as we should have, we should have been the largest group of signatories and it would effectively be "our" initiative.

We should not be associated with UKIP or Sinn Fein. But when we voted against the EU Constitution in Strasbourg recently, we voted with UKIP and Sinn Fein. Every time we vote, every time we sign a Written Declaration, we are inevitably joined with a motley group of other MEPs, with many of whom we may profoundly disagree on many issues. In fact there is a strong correlation between our voting record and UKIP's, because we both oppose further European integration. The logic of Kirkhope's position would lead us not to vote on, or sign, anything.

We should not oppose Barroso, because Barroso is promoting a centre-right agenda. (Kirkhope and others have said this verbally, but have not written it down). So to paraphrase, we should oppose corruption if it comes from socialists, but not if it comes from the centre-right (so called)? Not an honourable position.

Signing risks bringing the Conservative Party into disrepute. Wrong. NOT SIGNING risks bringing the Party into disrepute. It is a clear and direct breach of a manifesto commitment.

Kirkhope's letter sets a deadline of noon on Thursday May 19th for names to be withdrawn. But none was withdrawn by that deadline.

For information: the Motion of Censure:

Motion of Censure

The European parliament,

- Having regard to the Treaty etc

- Having regard to Rule 100 of its Rules of Procedure

A: Raises this motion of censure as its only tool to have Commission President José Barroso to appear before it in plenary to explain how he could receive a gift to the value of several thousand euros from a billionaire businessman who then one month later, received the green light from the European Commission for a regional aid grant to the value of € 10 million

1    Censures the Commission for this reason

2 Instructs its President to forward this motion of censure to the Commission and notify the president of the Council and the President of the Commission of the results of the vote

Reasons: The reasons are set out in the motion itself. However it is prepared to withdraw this motion of censure if it gets a reasonable explanation in plenary, and clear rules obliging all commissioners to register all gifts of substantial value