President. − Good afternoon once again, ladies and gentlemen. We are back in the Chamber; it was only an exercise. It is very good that we can meet once again.
– The first item is the joint debate on the two reports (A7-0411/2011 and A7-0413/2011) by Bernhard Rapkay on the request for the defence of the immunity of Mr Uspaskich.
I would like to point out that during this debate no questions will be taken under the ‘catch-the-eye’ procedure. This has been agreed by the chairs of the political groups.
Bernhard Rapkay, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I would just like to say one thing regarding the debate previously mentioned on the immunity of Mr de Magistris, as I am also rapporteur in that case. I would like to point out that no debate on this has been included in the agenda, only a vote. I would also like to point that there are proceedings being brought against Mr de Magistris on a total of five accounts. This is only about one of these that is relatively uncontroversial. As regards the other accounts, we will first hear what Mr de Magistris has to say.
President. – Mr Rapkay, yes, you are right, and I ought to give a calm explanation of this. None of the political groups has requested that a debate be held on the parliamentary immunity of Mr de Magistris. Therefore the matter is being put to the vote directly, as you have said. In the case of Mr Uspaskich, which we are talking about now, the debate is being held at the request of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The debate is being held because the ALDE Group has asked for it. In the case of Mr de Magistris no such request has been made. Therefore in accordance with what I have said, it is being voted on directly.
Bernhard Rapkay, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I just wanted to clarify that, because some Members asked about it earlier.
With regard to the defence of the parliamentary immunity of Viktor Uspaskich I have to say that this is not in fact what it is about. Mr Uspaskich does not have parliamentary immunity. Parliament waived Mr Uspaskich’s parliamentary immunity on 7 September 2010 – in other words, more than a year ago – and that situation has not changed. On the contrary, Mr Uspaskich has asked for his immunity to be reinstated on the basis of new information that he claims to have.
What is the issue here? Mr Uspaskich is accused by the Lithuanian law enforcement authorities of having contravened party law and tax law in Lithuania during the period from 2004 to 2006 when he was chair of his party. He was not a Member of this House between 2004 and 2006. He was, however, a member of the Seimas (the Lithuanian Parliament). In 2008, the Seimas waived his immunity. He was then elected to the European Parliament in 2009, where he obviously received immunity once again. Then we had to deal with the matter. He was heard in Parliament twice. I want to make this point, because he always claims that he had no opportunity to present his case. He had two hearings in committee.
I do not know whether Mr Uspaskich is guilty or whether he is innocent. He always maintains that he is innocent. I do not know. However, it is not my job, nor is it your job, to decide. It is the job of the judicial authorities in the Member State of Lithuania to decide. We simply have to determine whether two particular aspects to this case are such that his immunity, which he naturally has as a Member of the European Parliament, should be retained and that he should be subject to a different procedure to that of any normal citizen of his country. We have come to the conclusion that this is not the case.
One aspect relates to the question of whether, through such proceedings, he is prevented from expressing his free political opinion as an MEP – but contravention of tax legislation actually has nothing to do with freedom of expression. The second aspect relates to the fact that, as a result of these proceedings, he is persecuted to a certain extent in his political activities. That is something that gives cause for consideration. However, after careful deliberation – following two hearings and after questioning the Lithuanian authorities once again – we reached the conclusion that this was not the case either. Thus, there was nothing else that we could do except waive his immunity.
Mr Uspaskich then went to the Court of Justice of the European Union – as he is entitled to do – to the General Court, and brought an action for the annulment of our decision and for the suspension of the decision until the hearing for the main case. Of course, the Court of Justice of the European Union accepted this, but it rejected the application for a temporary order. Mr Uspaskich then declared that he had new information. Apparently, in WikiLeaks facts were published that confirm his position, and he is therefore asking for the case to be considered once again. He also said that he would withdraw his application to the court. I advised him most strongly against doing that. This is the only route that will enable him to obtain his right in court. I strongly advised him not to do it, but he nevertheless withdrew his appeal to the court.
We then discussed the new facts in another hearing and came to the conclusion that these new facts may perhaps be relevant to the proceedings themselves in Lithuania, but not to the decision concerning the waiving of his immunity. We discussed the matter in detail, debating it for and against in several sittings, and we came to the firm conclusion that there is no other option: as we are not deciding on guilt or innocence here, but only on whether he has privileged access, we have to conclude that neither the first point, regarding ‘the free expression of his political opinion’, nor the second point, namely ‘political persecution’ are relevant here.
There therefore remains nothing else for us to do but to maintain his immunity waiver. We are not making a decision to withdraw his immunity because it has already been withdrawn. Thus, in the report we conclude that his immunity should remain withdrawn.
Tadeusz Zwiefka, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (PL) Mr President, I have had the pleasure of being a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs for over seven years. In that time we have examined dozens of cases relating to the possible waiver or defence of a fellow Member’s parliamentary immunity, and I would like to say very clearly to all fellow Members once again – because Mr Rapkay has spoken about this, and I want to clarify this further – the European Parliament is conspicuous among the parliaments of Europe in that it has extremely precisely defined procedures for dealing with the question of parliamentary immunity. It is stated clearly that parliamentary immunity can be defended only when the offence for which the person is to appear before a judicial authority in his country is related to the exercise of the mandate of a Member of the European Parliament.
While I still have complete sympathy for Mr Uspaskich and for his work, and also for what he has done in the European Parliament, I want to say clearly that after the long debate which we have had in the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) we have come to the conviction that our sympathies are one thing and the letter of the law are another. We must therefore continue to maintain the position which we have held unchanged for many years, which is that if the offence is not in the least degree related to exercising the mandate of a Member of the European Parliament there is not the slightest possibility for the European Parliament to defend a Member’s immunity.
Mr Rapkay has outlined the whole story which has grown up around this matter, and I just want to remind everyone once again that the European Parliament waived Mr Uspaskich’s immunity over a year ago. All we can do today is say whether that decision was justified or not. The PPE Group thinks that this decision of Parliament should not be changed.
Graham Watson, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, Viktor Uspaskich is a rare phenomenon in Lithuania. He is a Russian speaker who is successful in business and in politics. Other political parties, who are threatened by his success, have started a case against him, which to me looks like persecution. They are using the state to turn a civil offence about his party’s accounts into a criminal prosecution.
When our Committee on Legal Affairs looked first at his immunity, the case seemed clear and the House voted to lift it. However, since Viktor’s appeal, new evidence has come to light; not just the WikiLeaks cables that Mr Rapkay mentioned, which show former Prime Minister Brazauskas admitting that high-powered people falsely accuse our colleagues, but also now the memoirs of President Adamkus, confirming what many claimed all along, that five years ago the security services pressed the President to pervert the course of justice against our colleague.
That is why this time in committee five Members voted to support Mr Uspaskich’s appeal and only nine voted to reject. I contend that Viktor Uspaskich is the target of a politically motivated campaign to force him and his party out of frontline politics and I call on colleagues to vote today to restore his immunity.
Valdemar Tomaševski, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on the one hand this matter is, of course, fairly complicated, but, on the other, it is clear. I personally am convinced that Mr Uspaskich has become the victim of political score-settling and that this affair is a way of getting rid of him as a politician and a party leader. The rapporteur quotes and accepts at face value the opinion of the current governing majority in Lithuania, but, Mr Rapkay, that same political group undertook these efforts in order to eliminate Mr Uspaskich from politics. There is therefore a strictly political agenda at work here. The very fact that three of the political groups represented at the committee meeting were of one opinion while three were of another testifies to the complicated nature of the situation.
The opinion of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) is being influenced by the Lithuanian delegation headed by Landsbergis, who is involved in this affair so there can be very little objectivity here. However, there can be no room for Bolshevism in the European Parliament; we are dealing here with evident cases of violation of the law and attempts to get rid of a politician. Our political group, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, will vote to uphold the immunity of Mr Uspaskich.
Bernhard Rapkay, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, I am, of course, also speaking as rapporteur, because I have been involved with this matter for a long time. I have not done this for the pleasure of it, nor was I particularly keen on doing it. However, what we have just heard is not proof that the majority in committee were wrong the first time and again the second time. Nothing – absolutely nothing – has been put forward that indicates that.
I am not making a judgment with regard to the role that Mr Uspaskich plays in politics in Lithuania. That is not my job. It is not your job, either. This issue here is: is he getting a fair trial or not? You will have to prove to me that he is not getting a fair trial. This proof has not been provided.
Mr Tomaševski, please refrain from making comments about Bolshevists and similar things. That has more of an effect of disqualifying you rather than helping to establish the truth. Just to make it clear once again: the issue here is not for us to say whether he is guilty or not guilty. It is a matter of whether his right to free expression is being restricted or whether he is being politically persecuted. We came to the conclusion that neither of these are the case. That is the reason for our decision in committee and why this report states what it does. I can only recommend that plenary also votes in favour of our report as a whole.
President. – The joint debate is closed. The vote will take place tomorrow at 12.00.