Plan to fine EU deputies missing Barroso speech abandoned
The European Parliament backtracked Monday on a controversial plan to fine deputies (MEPs) for missing a keynote speech by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, expected later this week, officials said, dpa reported.
In a bid to raise chronically low attendance records, the assembly's group leaders decided last week that MEPs' presence would be checked three times during Barroso's "State of the Union" speech and the following debate, set to last almost three hours on Tuesday.
Those found missing on at least two occasions would have had their 298-euro (384-dollar) daily allowance curtailed. But, in an internal meeting Monday that was set to fix the percentage of the penalty, the plan was abandoned as several MEPs revolted against it.
The Bureau, a restricted MEP panel tasked with setting the parliament's working rules, "unanimously opposed the sanctions," a parliamentary official told the German Press Agency dpa.
The plan had sent up in arms parliamentarians from nearly all factions, forcing group leaders to effectively call on the Bureau to reverse the decision they had taken last week.
Parliamentary sources said that the idea of sanctions had been shot down earlier Monday during the internal meetings of conservative, socialist and liberal MEPs, representing the three biggest political forces in the assembly.
"I intend, seriously, not to take part in the debate on Tuesday morning because of these strange checks (on) our presence," German conservative Bernd Posselt wrote to colleagues on Friday, in a collective email seen by the German Press Agency dpa.
"We are not schoolboys and schoolgirls," Posselt protested.
"I will encourage my colleagues to refrain from taking part in the highly artificial verification of attendance which you have proposed," the head of the Euro-sceptical ECR group, Michal Kaminski, wrote to parliament president Jerzy Buzek in another internal email.
British Liberal Democrat Chris Davies said in a third email the change of rules would be "hugely insulting to Barroso" because it would mean MEPs would effectively be paid to listen to him.
Current rules allow for daily allowances to be cut if MEPs do not take part in at least half of the votes taking place in the assembly, but penalties have never been applied for skipping other activities such as debates.
Meanwhile, Barroso's aides sought to distance the commission president from the initiative, even before it was scrapped.
"The commission does not decide and does not meddle with the internal rules of the parliament," said spokeswoman, Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen.