September 19, 2013
Brazil’s Parliament has recently voted to ban secret voting by Brazil’s Members of Parliament. The BBC reported that the public became appalled at the wide spread secrecy of voting in Brazil’s Parliament. The public took to the streets in mass demonstrations again the widespread political corruption. One of their demands was to end secret voting by Parliamentarians.
Brussels Could Learn From Brazil
The EU is now a long way behind Brazil in terms of open and accountable law making. In Brussels, how MEPs voted is in the main secret. How they voted in committee or on specific votes in the full Parliament is not as a general rule recorded and made public. How your MEP voted on a report in a committee they sit is not automatically made public. How they vote in the full parliament on specific issues is not automatically made public. But, how they vote on the final report is and can be tracked down by the useful Vote Watch.
Secrecy – Stopping People Know Where You Stand
Elected politicians (and non-elected officials acting as legislators) must like the idea of voting in secret. “The public have the right to vote in secret and so should they” they must think. It stops the public knowing how their elected politicians voted most of the time. You can watch the vote and have no idea how a MEP voted. How a MEP voted is not automatically recorded and no site exists to see if they voted in line with how they said they were going to vote. There are good reasons to allow this secrecy. Politicians would be held accountable (by their Party or voters) if their votes were public. Their flexibility of saying one thing and doing another would be restricted if they could be held accountable for their voting.
When British Liberal Democrat, Andrew Duff MEP, tried to drag the European Parliament into the 21st century an unholy coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists stepped in. Andrew Duff tabled an initiative to record all votes in committee. This “roll call” vote can and is used but it is not automatic. The electronics exist to allow this happen, so why it is not used is a mystery to me.
Secret Law Making Goes Far Wider
The corrosive secrecy applies to most EU legislation. The EU adopts most legislation by so called delegated legislation. Under this procedure, the Commission publishes proposals in secret. They send the proposal to governments and the European Parliament, but the public has no right to know what is in the proposal until it becomes a law. The civil servants who sit and vote on the committees that adopts most of the EU’s law is secret. How each government voted is not made public, although the results of the overall vote are made public later on (see here for example ). In high profile issues the press usually get a run down of how governments voted.
Rule of Law Ignored
The idea of secret law making by legislatures is a kick in the teeth to basic ideas of the rule of law. Law making should always be in public, how the people who vote on important and mundane matters should always be recorded and made public. The late British Supreme Court Judge, Tom Bingham, in “The Rule of Law”, considered the principle to mean:
“that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the courts.”
Surely, the EU fails at this very simple hurdle of laws publicly made? For most EU legislation, the public have no idea how their elected politicians or non-elected official voted on specific issues. If Europe wants to uphold its basic ideas of an organisation being based on the rule of law, it would follow Brazil’s politicians tomorrow.