European Parliament Majority Moves to Muzzle Opposition

9 July 2008

European Parliament Majority Moves to Muzzle Opposition

A majority in the European Parliament is in favour of reducing the number of political groups. The contribution of small political groups is not considered to be of any value, and those with fewer than twenty-five members will shortly be excluded. The SP itself belongs to a group which is sufficiently large not to have to worry about this, but nevertheless today vehemently opposed getting rid of small political tendencies. The two major parties of the Netherlands' governing coalition, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Labour Party (PvdA) showed their worst side in the final vote, imposing their will on the other parties.


Just what is going on? The two biggest groups – the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) of the CDA (Christian Democrats) and the centre-left Party of European Socialists of the PvdA (Labour Party) – can together muster 495 of the total of 785 seats. They have at least one interest in common: keeping other parties out of power. Not that they put it quite so openly, but they are working determinedly to establish a two-party system at European level. They want to rein in the rights of small political groups, for example by making rules which make it impossible to set up groups in which wide differences of opinion co-exist. In the Dutch parliament even a group consisting of one person, such as is the case now with right-wing former minister Rita Verdonk, is given full recognition. But in the European Parliament, you have to have twenty seats, otherwise you don't really count. Individual MEPs receive far fewer parliamentary facilities than do the big groups of Christian- and Social "Democrats".

Setting the Bar Higher

On 9th July a proposal was voted on in the European Parliament to raise the minimum size of a political group to either 25 or 30. 25 won out, so that the voice of political minorities will be further restricted.
In practice the bar will be even higher, because groups can threaten to expel any dissident member and thus deprive him or her of the parliament's facilities.

The SP forms part of the United European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), a confederal group which brings together virtually all MEPs who consistently oppose neoliberalism and yet gives each individual component party the right to determine the details of its policies without any central interference. This group has 41 members from 14 countries and is of comparable size to the 43-strong Greens/EFA, the group which brings together Greens and progressive regionalists. The Christian Union and the SGP, the Dutch Christian parties respectively of the centre and the right, belong to a group which, according to the new rules, would no longer have the right to exist. This is not because it is too small, but because it does not exercise any kind of party whip, and group members are not obliged to follow any central direction when it comes to voting.

The SP view

SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer is completely opposed to the limitation of the rights of minorities. "Some members of this parliament don't belong to a political group," he points out. "That's not usually a matter of choice, but the result of pressure from others. Through this same pressure members are forced to belong to groups with which they are in only partial agreement. On the basis of their own interests groups admit members when they know that they differ greatly on important issues. They admit them also because they know that these members can be left out in the cold, because you have to have twenty more-or-less like-minded members before you can form a group. In order that all strands of opinion within a society can have the opportunity to be represented and make their democratic contribution, it would be better to get rid of the threshold completely, rather than raising it to 25 or 30 and bringing in inflexible rules against dissidents. I totally reject this approach."

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