The Committee on Legal Affairs unanimously adopted the
report by Aloyzas SAKALAS (PES, LT) on the on the request
for defence of the immunity and privileges of Renato
BRUNETTA (EPP-ED, IT).
Facts: at the sitting of
31 January 2007, the President of Parliament announced that he had
received a request for the defence of the parliamentary immunity of
Renato Brunetta by letter of 18 January 2007, which was forwarded
to the Committee on Legal Affairs. The request relates to the civil
proceedings brought by Hera S.p.A. against Mr Brunetta, along with
other defendants, and currently pending before the District Court
of Milan. Hera S.p.A. is an Italian holding company operating in
the field of public utilities in the Emilia-Romagna region. It is a
public-private company whose 59% of shares is controlled by a group
of local municipalities and the remaining 41% belongs to a group of
(public) bank foundations and cooperative firms. In 2006, Hera
S.p.A summoned Renato Brunetta and other defendants to appear
before the Cles section of the Trento District Court, so that the
latter might declare them jointly liable for the material published
in a book forming part of the "I documenti di Panorama" series,
entitled 'Red Capitalism - Investigating The Cooperatives, From
Shares To Speculation'.
That book, together with FREE (Foundation for Research
on European Economy), was allegedly defamatory of Hera, which asked
the court to order to the defendants, jointly, to compensate for
all the material and moral damage caused.
In its writ of summons, Hera gave the following
extracts of the abovementioned book, taken
from the introduction written by Mr Brunetta, as
examples of defamatory statements: 'On the basis of these findings,
we shall address the reasons which have led to important sectors of
the cooperative movement with links to the Left Democrats becoming
implemental in the emergence of 'red capitalism', the degeneration
of the cooperative economy into a partisan movement. In a word, a
monster'; 'Red capitalism' is part of FREE's efforts to denounce
the "red" cooperatives' "hidden member" technique and restore the
original rules and raison d'être of the cooperative
movement'; 'FREE's "Red capitalism" shows that competition rules
have been altered and a political party has taken control of the
cooperatives as a "hidden member"'.
Defending Parliamentary immunity: Article 9 of the "Protocol on privileges and
immunities" provides that Members of the European Parliament have
absolute immunity from legal proceedings "in respect of
opinions expressed in the performance of their duties".
As a matter of fact, in his statements reported by the
writ of summons filed by Hera S.p.A., Mr Brunetta merely commented
on facts in the public domain which had a European political
dimension as they were directly linked to Unipol's bid to take over
the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) and the European Commission
was carrying out the checks required under Community law with
regard to the legality of that takeover bid.
Furthermore, as a Member of the European Parliament
and full professor of Economics, Mr Brunetta only stressed the
market failure resulting from to the links existing between
public-private companies, cooperatives and political parties which
create a de facto monopoly and may therefore jeopardise the
functioning of the internal market as far as consumers'
and fair competition are concerned.
The case of Hera S.p.A. was just a paradigmatic
example of how this economic paradox exists and works.
In this context, defining such a situation as an
"economic monster" is not at all defamatory, as the word "monster"
comes from the Latin expression "monstrum" which only means
"extraordinary", "something against nature". The message that Mr
Brunetta intended to give to his readers was nothing more than the
description, from a merely economic point of view, of the existing
anomalies of the Italian market, which seem to prevent Italy from
fully attaining the objectives of the internal market.
In describing and criticising the deviations of the
cooperatives' system, he was carrying out his duty as a Member of
Parliament in expressing his opinion on a matter of public interest
to his constituents.
In short, Mr Brunetta was simply doing his job as a
Member of Parliament. To seek to gag Members of Parliament
from expressing their opinions on matters of legitimate public
interest and concern by bringing legal proceedings is unacceptable
in a democratic society and manifestly in breach of Article 9
of the Protocol, which is intended to protect Members' freedom of
expression in the performance of their duties in the interests of
Parliament as an Institution.
Conclusion: on the basis
of the above considerations, the Committee on Legal Affairs, having
examined the reasons for and against defending immunity,
recommends that the immunity of Mr Renato Brunetta be