Brussels, 12/01/2014. The European Parliament makes grand claims to be the true home of European democracy. But as one part of the established Brussels press corps has found out, sometimes these claims are honoured more in the breach than in reality.
The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee (LIBE) decided on 9th January 2014, while debating its inquiry into the NSA surveillance programme, to invite whistleblower Edward Snowden to contribute to the inquiry via video conference.
Snowden’s reply should be interesting. Especially since one group of Brussels-based journalists – the Brussels branch of the National Union of Journalists – has been campaigning since July 2013 to get the European Parliament to call for asylum status for Snowden in Europe.
NUJ Brussels issued its call to the European Parliament on 17th July 2013, sending the message to the President of the Parliament, the Presidents of each of the political groups, the Civil Liberties committee and selected MEPs. Unfortunately the Parliament broke up for its summer recess the following day, so the branch was not immediately surprised at the lack of a reply.
Reminders, therefore, were sent to key MEPs and their cabinet officers on the Parliament’s return in September. At the same time the LIBE committee commenced a series of hearings on NSA spying, during which MEP comments included statements such as, “we are in a scenario where there are no checks and balances at all”, Carlos Coelho (EPP, PT) and, “there should be controls to prevent this type of massive surveillance”, Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL, DE). But no reply to the NUJ Brussels letter.
By October the full extent of the spying by the NSA and its European secret-service allies was becoming clearer, with revelations appearing almost daily in the British, US and continental European press. Spying on European heads of state and EU institutions, large-scale snooping on emails and social media, undermining of internet privacy encryption protocols and more. NUJ Brussels members began attending the European Parliament hearings on the issue, while the branch continued to remind key Parliamentary contacts in October and November 2013.
By December, with Christmas fast approaching, the LIBE committee was holding weekly hearings on the continuing stream of NSA spying scandals. At one such hearing, a branch representative was able to speak to the committee’s vice-chair in person to request a reply. A reply was promised. As Christmas arrived, with two more reminders to the cabinet officers, no reply had been received.
This sorry tale seems to illustrate all too well the true nature of democracy in the European Parliament, and makes a mockery of that institution’s claim to be the home of European democracy. It seems that MEPs are happy to make grand claims about standing up for European democracy, but rather more reluctant to act when it comes to delivering on that promise, or even bothering to reply to interested parties.
The Brussels branch of the NUJ has been left feeling sadly disillusioned. It appears that our MEPs are happy to speak up for democracy, but reluctant to actually risk their careers by displeasing the all-powerful security services. Mr Snowden would do well to be wary of any claims to action from this EU quarter.
© Philip Hunt, 2014.