Occasionally, just occasionally, we have genuine moments of high drama in the Hemicycle voting sessions. Today, we voted a proposal that was entitled “Press Freedom in Europe”. A typical EU title, full of motherhood and apple pie. Who could oppose such a measure? Well we did, for a start.
It was simply a plot hatched by the left to poke their finger into the eye of Silvio Berlusconi, the colourful and contentious Italian Prime Minister. They hate Berlusconi with a passion, because he’s centre-right, because he’s enjoyed considerable success, and especially because he owns substantial sectors of the Italian media. This was an attempt to clip his wings.
Of course Mr. Berlusconi is less than a perfect model of rectitude, and a difficult man to defend. You may think he’s a scoundrel (I couldn’t possibly comment). But at least he’s our scoundrel, more or less. And the political scene would be so much more grey and boring without him.
But the proposal was also a sinister first step towards establishing Brussels control of European media. I and other colleagues have received numerous messages from media companies alarmed by the effects such a measure could have, and the idea of Brussels censoring the media is just horrifying.
So our new group of the European Conservatives, in alliance with the EPP (who were sound on this issue at least) crafted a report which drew the sting and avoided the pitfalls. We lost it by 20 or so votes. Then came a proposal from the socialists and Greens, supporting the measure. They won by a similar margin. Then there was a series of amendments to the socialist proposal. We worked through them, losing each vote by a margin between ten and thirty.
By this time the left were getting cocky. They derisively rejected proposed oral amendments from our side of the house. They greeted each success with hoots of joy. Our side was down-cast by the steady toll of failure.
Then came the final vote on the proposal as amended, and for some inexplicable reason, we actually won by about ten votes. I’m still not clear why. Our side burst into rapturous applause, while the grim faces of the left told their own story. They had grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.
But all was not over. Because the composite socialist proposal had been defeated, we still had to vote five proposals from individual groups, any one of which could have reinstated the problems. Several of our colleagues, assuming that our win was the end of it, had left. But we beat off the first four votes. Then came the final vote on a proposal from the European Liberals. It looked touch and go, and I was alarmed to see that nearby UKIP members, who should have voted NO, appeared to be abstaining.
Then after several nail-biting seconds the result came up on the electronic screen. The vote was tied at 338/338. But of course a proposal requires a majority. With a tied vote, the measure had failed to gain a majority, and fell. Total victory for our side was signed, sealed and delivered by the smallest possible margin, and we had ruined the socialists’ Wednesday. Silvio owes us a drink.
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