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Protesters duffed up in Strasbourg

January 19 2004

The dramatic events in Strasbourg following the vote on the EU Constitution on January 12th provide startling evidence of the suppression of democracy and freedom of expression in the European institutions.

Predictably, the parliament voted in favour of a glowing report on the Constitution, by a majority of 500 to 137. But I was pleased to see that forty British MEPs -- a majority -- voted NO (including all Conservatives voting). 29 voted YES, and the remainder abstained or weren't there.

The NO total of 137 shows the difference from the previous parliament (1999/2004), where we would have been lucky to get 80 NO votes on this kind of issue. We are still a minority, but a much bigger minority.

The parliament, anticipating the YES vote, had planned a party. They spent around £¼ million of taxpayers' money on a great celebration -- champagne, canapés, banners, balloons, fireworks, a laser light show, a Japanese band, and invitations for a hundred "grandes plumes" (journalists) and "biens pensants" (opinion-formers), all selected as reliable toadies of the Commission.

Given that most British MEPs voted NO, and that most Brits in opinion polls oppose the Constitution, we might ask whether our money was well-spent.

Imagine that our Labour government won a parliamentary vote on the Constitution, and decided to launch their YES campaign with banners and bunting in the Palace of Westminster, with fireworks and laser-lights. It would be an outrage against democracy. We should be furious. We should hound them from office. But the European parliament does so, and no one seems to care. We ought to get angry. Very angry.

But it gets worse. Some of the MEPs who voted NO, and their assistants, planned to display "NO" banners outside the "hemicycle" (debating chamber), to match the parliament's YES banners. Heavy-handed security men were sent in to remove the banners. A young lady assistant, Nikki Sinclaire, was hit, wrestled to the ground by four burly guards and dragged along a corridor. Afterwards, shocked and tearful, she said "It was like the Gestapo".

I had a vigorous shoving match to stop a couple of guards trying to roll up and remove my banner, and things could have got really nasty but for the timely arrival of the TV cameras, causing the guards to back off. Demonstrations continued outside the building. Afterwards, YES demonstrators were allowed back in, but security made a determined attempt to exclude our staff wearing their "NO" T-shirts.

Jim Gibbons, an independent TV producer with a firm called Quadrant, was there. He wrote "An attempt by the protesters to unfurl rival banners in the atrium was thwarted by far more force than was necessary and in full view of the world's media. TV screens were filled with images of rough stuff". The parliament claims that "There was no attempt to stifle protest". But as Jim Gibbons responds "Whatever the intention, that is simply not true .... I witnessed enough myself to know that it happened".

The parliament tried to justify itself with a downright lie. Not just the Gestapo, but Goebbels too.

When one of our colleagues remonstrated with a guard, he got an astonishing reply: "They told me we cannot allow political activity within the European parliament". So what else is a parliament for, if not political activity?

As my East Midlands colleague Chris Heaton-Harris put it, "You can have as much democracy as you like in the European parliament, so long as you always vote YES".

The report on the Constitution was co-authored by British Labour MEP Richard Corbett. This is the Constitution that marks the end of Britain as an independent nation. This is the Constitution that sets the cap-stone on a country called Europe, in which Britain becomes no more than a remote off-shore province, governed from Brussels. This is the end of freedom and democracy as we know it, as the events in Strasbourg show all too well.

And Richard Corbett is receiving a special allowance from the parliament (more tax-payers' money), to help him to promote his report and the Constitution. He is to get €3000. So now at least we know the exchange rate. €3000 is worth thirty pieces of silver.