Blog AnalysisFundamental rights

Faced with certain excesses, our duty: to recall the democratic rule

(B2) The press conference presenting the new group 'Identity and Democracy' (nationalists) to the European Parliament on Thursday (June 13) turned into an election rally. A disturbing fact. A serious breach of democratic rules

At the time of the press conference, Thursday June 13 (© NGV / B2)

This intervention was the subject of several articles in several media such as TMC/MyTF1, Euractiv or HuffPost. I have to give you some explanations in my turn

A skilfully prepared political maneuver

The speeches from the podium of the various leaders of the group: Marco Zanni (Lega Nord), Marine Le Pen (National Rally), Jörg Meuthen (AFD), etc. were punctuated each time with loud applause from all corners of the room. This gave the impression of general approval. Many deputies, assistants and members of the group were cleverly dispersed in the places reserved for journalists. We thus found ourselves reduced to the role of useful figureheads. A method that takes nothing to chance and is very close to the Stalinist tradition.

A reminder of the rules

Faced with the repetition of this fact, on several occasions, I therefore stood up and asked that the principle governing the press rooms be respected. What did I not say there? Several MEPs (including Gilbert Collard) and other members of the parties (unidentified) took me to task, in an urgent way, asking me 'who I was', to decline my identity, 'why I intervened'. A spokesperson for the group even came to see me telling me how shameless, abnormal, non-democratic, and so on my attitude was. We are thus far from the highly polished image that its representatives want to give themselves. To these I would like to remind them of a few 'little' elements...

A dangerous drift

A press conference is a technical exercise, normally intended for a presentation and questions and answers from journalists. The exchange can be complete or brief, dull or lively. Never mind. But it is not possible, in a democracy, to transform a press room into a meeting room, a parliamentary happening (1). If observers want to attend, they must respect the tranquility and neutrality specific to this type of place. It is the rule. A rule, healthy, to which everyone bends (2). Journalists are thus prohibited from applauding (or whistling) a speaker (3). Recalling this rule, written and unwritten, is therefore of the most basic politeness and aims to respect democracy (4). The International Press Association (API) protested specifically against this slippage (see separate article). And on the side of the European Parliament, I was assured that this matter would not stop there.

A deliberate act

This event is not an epiphenomenon, due to the youth of the group. It is part of the deliberate and prepared will of a political group to use public resources (those given by the European Parliament) to carry out its own policy and, incidentally, to bring the press into line, deemed too independent to his taste and not respectful enough. In doing so, he made a serious mistake (5).

A serious political mistake

If the group wants to demand respect for the democratic rule tomorrow – in particular for its right to speak in the hemicycle or its place in the committees – it must respect all the rules. By failing in a certain democratic discipline, I&D showed that it did not want to respect certain fundamental rules, and that giving it greater powers (such as the chairmanship of a committee or a vice-chairmanship of the Commission) was running a serious risk of transforming the parliamentary assembly into a permanent happening.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. It finds a counterpart, in the meetings of political groups, committees or plenary sessions of Parliament. If the journalists can attend, they forbid themselves to intervene, to ask questions.
  2. Intermittently, some political leaders can't resist the urge to bring a few shills into the press room who applaud (usually at the end). During a conference on Brexit, several administrators and assistants who came to the press room applauded European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Similarly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was applauded by some of his supporters when he came to the European Commission in 2007 (read: Sarkozy in Brussels: the UMP slap). But it is an episodic 'slap' which only occurs at the end of the conference, and not during it, and is not repeated in a systematic way, fed like Thursday.
  3. This rule only yields in the event of a 'historical' event. I witnessed this type of exception when Vaclav Havel, in Prague in November 1989, announced the resignation of members of the communist government. First signal of a stampede of the regime. A strictly historical event which justified this exception.
  4. Surprisingly, few journalists reacted immediately. Only the representative of Radio Radicale very calmly and calmly made a point of order, which made it possible to confirm my more 'political' point of view. Some journalists, although from eminent media, even if they shared my point of view, were cautiously silent in the back of the room. Others continued to ask their questions as if nothing had happened. The physical, oppressive presence of several representatives of the nationalist parties no doubt explains this 'terrier' attitude.
  5. A double error I might even add because B2 has always respected a certain political neutrality. And his articles, weighted, objective, balanced, have always been welcomed by all political sides. To claim that my intervention has an underlying political will (as the group's spokesperson told me) is therefore erroneous in both substance and form.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).