Council of Europe wants to oust democratically elected members

The parliamentary assembly of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, the oldest European institution which specialises in human rights, is considering a ban on some of its members if they are affiliated with parties that they consider 'neo-Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic'.

by Ian Bell

PACE, the Council's Parliamentary Assembly can be considered as the oldest parliamentarian assembly with a pluralistic composition of democratically elected members. Its powers extend only to the ability to investigate, recommend and advise, but its recommendations on human rights carry weight in the European political context.

Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn) won 6.97% of the votes and 21 seats in the Greek parliament in the Greek elections held last May. Golden Dawn started as a fringe organisation of "Nationalist Socialist Studies" three decades ago but is now benefiting from a boost during this continuing period of economic crisis.

Jobbik (Movement for a better Hungary) also scored well in the 2010 parliamentary elections, obtaining 47 seats in the 386-member parliament. It is the third largest party after Fidesz and the socialists.

Eleni Zaroulia, a deputy from the Golden Dawn party in Greece and her Hungarian colleague Tamás Gaudi Nagy, from Jobbik, could see their accreditation withdrawn under challenges launched on 21st January.

Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein, a member of the 9ironically named) Italy's People of Freedom Party and Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition, accused both members of belonging to political parties which were 'racist and anti-semitic' and that the values of these parties were in conflict with the Council of Europe’s ideals and principles. The challenges were supported by at least 10 members of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

Ms Zaroulia has said in her country’s Parliament that the immigrants were sub-humans who invaded her homeland and spread diseases," said Nirenstein, as quoted by Reuters. "Mr Gaudi Nagy has told his Parliament that there was a list of Jews representing a threat to national security, and who were exploiting the Holocaust to dominate the world.”

The Assembly’s Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs will now meet to consider both challenges. Under Assembly rules, the committee could ratify the credentials or not to ratify them. It could also to ratify the credentials but restrict the two lawmakers' right of participation or representation in the Assembly and its bodies.

Both members continue to sit provisionally in the Assembly until a decision is reached. The nomination of both members to the Assembly’s Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, as well as Nagy’s membership of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, were also challenged by a member of French centre-right party 'Union for a Popular Movement' legislator Arlette Grosskost.

Under Council rules, disputed committee nominations are forwarded by the president of the Assembly to the national delegation concerned. If confirmed proposals or new proposals are disputed, the Assembly votes on the matter.

The challenge is not supported by everyone in the Assembly, including Assembly President Jean-Claude Mignon of France, who said the pair had been elected following what has been considered democratic elections.

It is not the job of the Assembly [PACE] to tell the Hungarians or the Greeks ‘You voted correctly’, or ‘You didn’t vote correctly,” he said.
Nick Griffin, MEP, commented: "They talk of pluralism and democracy but it only ever extends to their friends and associates. Anyone who disagrees is viewed as 'beyond the pale' whatever their democratic mandate. The mask slips every time they are required to really honour and value democracy."

British National Party