British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan yesterday caused outrage in the European Parliament after comparing its German president, Hans-Gert Pöttering, to Adolf Hitler, highlighting deeper unease between the Tories and Parliament’s leading political group.
The controversy arose after Hannan told a plenary session on 31 January that a proposal to tighten Parliament’s procedural rules by further empowering its president was comparable to the 1933 Enabling Act that gave Hitler unlimited power. “It is only my affection for you […] that prevents me from likening this to the Ermächtigungsgesetz,” said Hannan.
EPP-ED leader Joseph Daul swiftly expelled Mr Hannan from the group over his comments. Explaining his decision, Daul said his “disgraceful” remarks were “incompatible with the EPP-ED group’s values”.
The proposal in question, drafted by UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett, aims to minimise disruption to parliamentary business caused by members’ ability to force ‘roll-call’ votes on every issue by giving the president the right to overrule what some describe as “filibustering”. The ALDE group estimate that the total cost of processing demands for roll-call votes was €100,000 in January alone, which would bring the cost of the procedure to €1m in 2008.
Tensions have been rife within the centre-right EPP-ED group over the issue of the referendum on the new EU Treaty demanded by primarily euro-sceptic UK Conservatives, which broadly pro-European members of the European People’s Party (EPP) say is unnecessary.
Mr Hannan, who remains a member of the Conservative Party, had written on his blog that disagreements between the party and the EPP were so strong that it was “better for us to be friendly neighbours to the EPP than grudging tenants”. He added that the issue provides “the answer to those who wonder why (Tory leader) David Cameron pledged to leave the EPP”.
The MEP’s comments were widely condemned by other parliamentarians. Richard Corbett said that the remarks were “disgraceful”, adding that his proposal was “not about freedom of expression” but simply about whether MEPs “have an absolute right to delay proceedings of the House if they choose to do so.”
Moreover, Socialist group leader Martin Schulz said Mr Hannan’s remarks were a “deep insult to Hans-Gert Pöttering” and called for Mr Cameron to expel him from the Conservative Party.
ALDE group leader Graham Watson said Mr Hannan was “plumbing new depths in UK-EU relations and the Tories’ approach to democracy in the EU”. Meanwhile, Andrew Duff, leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said that “Britain’s reputation as a model parliamentary democracy is at risk of being shattered by the hooligan behaviour of British Europhobes”.
MEPs later voted to adopt Mr Corbett’s proposal.