(CN) – Parliament officials were wrong to fine a far-right member who said, within the span of a year, that migrants were “human garbage” and that that men are intellectually superior to women, the European General Court ruled Thursday.
“Of course women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent, they must earn less, that’s all,” Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke said in March last year during a session of European Parliament focused on the gender pay gap.
A member of the Eurosceptic and founder of the arch-conservative party Congress of the New Right, Korwin-Mikke had interrupted Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia-Perez, who is a woman, to make the remarks.
“Do you know how many women are in the first 100 of chess players,” he continued. “I tell you, no one.”
Garcia-Perez’s response to Korwin-Mikke meanwhile went viral. “According to what you are saying … I would not have the right to be here,” she said. “I think I have to defend European women to men like you.”
Korwin-Mikke had equated migrants to “human garbage” just nine months earlier, again on the floor of Parliament.
Both sets of comments prompted European Parliament President Antonio Tajani to levy several penalties against the MEP: cutting his daily subsistence allowance to the tune of about $18,000 and suspending him from parliamentary activities. After the comments against women, specifically, Tajani imposed a one-year ban against Korwin-Mikke representing the Parliament.
European Parliament rules prohibit MEPs from employing “defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior in parliamentary debates,” and Tajani called Korwin-Mikke’s remarks intolerable.
“By offending all women, the MEP displayed contempt for our most fundamental values,” Tajani had said last year.
But the European General Court annulled the penalties altogether on Thursday, finding them unjustifiable in light of the fact that Korwin-Mikke’s comments did not actually disrupt Parliament or cause disorder.
Though a copy of the ruling is not available in English, a press release from the Luxembourg-based court quotes Rule 11 of the Rules of Procedure. It says that a breach of the principles and values “does not amount to an independent ground for imposing a penalty, but is an additional condition, necessary in order for a disruption of Parliament to be penalized.”
“It follows that a breach of the principles set out in Rule 11 of the Rules of Procedure, even if proved, cannot, of itself, be penalized as such, but only if it involves disruption of Parliament,” the statement continues.
After pointing to Parliament’s own acknowledgement that the MEP’s remarks did not cause disorder or disruption, the General Court rejected the argument that the harm Korwin-Mikke caused to Parliament’s reputation and institutional standing amounted to a disruption.
“Since there are no clearly defined criteria which could have led the Bureau of the Parliament to establish that the standing of Parliament had been undermined, such an interpretation would have the effect of arbitrarily restricting MEPs’ freedom of expression,” the press release states.
Though the court did annul both sets of disciplinary sanctions against Korwin-Mikke, it rejected the MEP’s claim for damages.
“There is nothing in the case file to suggest that the decisions of the president and the decisions of the bureau were adopted in circumstances which could have caused pain and suffering to Mr. Korwin-Mikke independently of the annulled measures,” the press release states.
Korwin-Mikke can, however, seek compensation for the forfeiture of his daily subsistence allowance.
The MEP has been making headlines for years. In October 2015, Korwin-Mikke faced a 10-day suspension after he did a Nazi salute, again on the floor of Parliament.