The European Parliament has introduced a new procedural rule, which allows for the chair of a debate to interrupt the live broadcasting of a speaking MEP "in the case of defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior by a Member". Furthermore, the President of the European Parliament may even "decide to delete from the audiovisual record of the proceedings those parts of a speech by a Member that contain defamatory, racist or xenophobic language".
No one, however, has bothered to define what constitutes "defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior". This omission means that the chair of any debate in the European Parliament is free to decide, without any guidelines or objective criteria, whether the statements of MEPs are "defamatory, racist or xenophobic". The penalty for offenders can apparently reach up to around 9,000 euros.
"There have been a growing number of cases of politicians saying things that are beyond the pale of normal parliamentary discussion and debate," said British EU parliamentarian Richard Corbett, who has defended the new rule. Mr. Corbett, however, does not specify what he considers "beyond the pale".
In June 2016, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, addressed the European Parliament in a speech, which drew on old anti-Semitic blood libels, such as falsely accusing Israeli rabbis of calling on the Israeli government to poison the water used by Palestinian Arabs. Such a clearly incendiary and anti-Semitic speech was not only allowed in parliament by the sensitive and "anti-racist" parliamentarians; it received a standing ovation. Evidently, wild anti-Semitic blood libels pronounced by Arabs do not constitute "things that are beyond the pale of normal parliamentary discussion and debate".
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas receives a standing ovation at the European Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016, after falsely claiming in his speech that Israeli rabbis were calling to poison Palestinian water. Abbas later recanted and admitted that his claim had been false. (Image source: European Parliament)
The European Parliament apparently did not even bother to publicize their new procedural rule; it was only made public by Spain's La Vanguardia newspaper. Voters were, it appears, not supposed to know that they may be cut off from listening to the live broadcasts of the parliamentarians they elected to represent them in the EU, if some chairman of a debate subjectively happened to decide that what was being said was "racist, defamatory or xenophobic".
The European Parliament is the only popularly elected institution in the EU. Helmut Scholz, from Germany's left-wing Die Linke party, said that EU lawmakers must be able to express their views about how Europe should work: "You can't limit or deny this right". Well, they can express it (but for how long?), except that now no one outside of parliament will hear it.
The rule strikes at the very center of free speech, namely that of elected politicians, which the European Court of Human Rights has deemed in its practice to be specially protected. Members of the European Parliament are people who have been elected to make the voices of their constituents heard inside the institutions of the European Union. Limiting their freedom of speech is undemocratic, worrisome and spookily Orwellian.
The rule can only have a chilling effect on freedom of speech in the European Parliament and will likely prove a convenient tool in trying to shut up those parliamentarians who do not follow the politically correct narrative of the EU.
The European Parliament lately seems to be waging war against free speech. At the beginning of March, the body lifted the parliamentary immunity of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Her crime? Tweeting three images of ISIS executions in 2015. In France, "publishing violent images" constitutes a criminal offense, which can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. By lifting her immunity at the same time that she is running for president of France, the European Parliament is sending the clear signal that publicizing the graphic and horrifying truth of the crimes of ISIS, rather than being received as a warning about what might soon be coming to Europe, instead ought to be punished.
This is a bizarre signal to be sending, especially to the Christian and Yazidi victims of ISIS, who are still largely ignored by the European Union. European parliamentarians, evidently, are too sensitive to deal with the graphic murders of defenseless people in the Middle East, and are more concerned with ensuring the prosecution of the messengers, such as Marine Le Pen.
So, political correctness, now effectively the "religious police" of political discourse, has not only taken over the media and academia; elected MEPs are now also supposed to toe the politically correct line, or literally be cut off. No one stopped the European Parliament from passing this undemocratic anti-free speech rule. Why did no parliamentarian out of the 751 MEPs raise red flags about the issue before it became an actual rule? Even more importantly: Where does this clearly totalitarian impulse stop and who will stop it?
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.