French deputy to EU embarrasses colleagues

10th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Oct 9 (AFP) - The European Parliament has postponed a vote on whether to protect a French right-wing deputy from prosecution for remarks he made about the Nazi gas chambers, deeply embarrassing some deputies.

BRUSSELS, Oct 9 (AFP) - The European Parliament has postponed a vote on whether to protect a French right-wing deputy from prosecution for remarks he made about the Nazi gas chambers, deeply embarrassing some deputies.

The case of Bruno Gollnisch, a senior member of France's National Front party, has left the assembly's judicial affairs committee with a dilemma.

It is loathe to defend the parliamentary immunity of a member with extremist views, but it does not wish to break with important precedents by waiving that immunity, especially when the case against him may be politically motivated.

The committee's decision not to vote last week was the second time it has been delayed in a month. Should it decide to protect him, the case against Gollnisch, brought by the French justice authorities, would have to be dropped.

The MEP was charged over his comments at a press conference on October 11, 2004, which trod an extremely fine line on the edge of French laws against calling into question crimes against humanity.

"I do not deny the existence of deadly gas chambers. But I'm not a specialist on this issue, and I think we have to let the historians debate it," he said.

He did not contest the "hundreds of thousands, the millions of deaths" during the Holocaust, but added: "As to the way those people died, a debate should take place."

Four days later, then French justice minister Dominique Perben, who intends to run against Gollnisch in 2007 municipal elections, ordered police in Lyon to launch an inquiry.

They found he had no case to answer but Perben insisted charges be laid.

His trial was scheduled for last month but was pushed back until November 29 so that parliament could rule on his immunity.

The new postponement means that the committee, then all the deputies in plenary, will rule during the next session in Strasbourg in late October, or mid-November.

According to some Eurodeputies, the vote was delayed because the head of the judiciary committee, Diana Wallis, presented new arguments against Gollnisch, just as it had appeared ready to rule in his favour.

Gollnisch, contacted by AFP on Friday, expressed concern.

"Mrs. Wallis did a complete U-turn and has obviously been put under pressure," he said.

Wallis told AFP only that she regretted his comments and that: "It's a difficult case and we have to deal with it properly. Our rules are that the discussions take place behind closed doors."

France has not requested a waiver of his immunity, but an Italian MEP who is an ally of Gollnisch raised the motion to protect him. The assembly is only considering whether to defend his immunity, not whether to lift it.

Wallis, in a document seen by AFP, argues that his remarks appear to have been made: "in the context of the political activities of Mr. Gollnisch in France and not in connection with his activities as a member of the European Parliament."

According to Nicole Fontaine, a French conservative MEP who supports Wallis's position, that line was not widely accepted.

"Many colleagues were ill at ease with that interpretation," she said. "We have always had a broad take on what constitutes the activities" of a European lawmaker. If we had voted, we would have been in the minority," Fontaine said.

Gollnisch claims the case against him was politically motivated.

"The police inquiry concluded there was no reason to follow up. It was French justice minister Dominque Perben, a candidate like myself for mayor of Lyon, who ordered the action," Gollnisch said.

"Parliamentary immunity is there to protect minority deputies from executive power. The law is the same for everybody," he said.

Under a parliamentary principle of "fumus persecutionis", his immunity cannot be waived "where the suspicion exists that the prosecution is based on an intention to prejudice the member's political activities."

Wallis argues that he has provided no evidence he was persecuted.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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