Yes Man MEP's Odd Voting Record Raises Suspicion
Dan Dumitru Zamfirescu has done it again, for the 63rd time in a row. This time it was regarding one of the most controversial issues before the European Parliament this year: a new set of tobacco regulations. Sixty-three times, European parliamentarians proposed amendments to the law. And despite the fact that some of the amendments directly contradicted each other, the Romanian MEP voted "yes" on every one of them.
Should warning labels and shocking images cover 50 percent of a cigarette package? Yes, Zamfirescu says. Should they cover 65 percent? Also, yes. Should tobacco companies be allowed to chose where the shocking images appear? Sure. Should the images appear on the lower part of the package? Absolutely.
It's been the same for months. Whether the measure at hand deals with youth unemployment, Europe's eel populations or trade relations with Taiwan, Zamfirescu is all for it. Even when the 59-year-old allegedly has no idea what he's voting on.
"At times he has absolutely no voting documents in front of him," says Austrian parliamentarian Martin Ehrenhauser, who sits next to Zamfirescu. And without a list, it's impossible to keep track of the dozens of votes taking place during a plenary week in Strasbourg, Ehrenhauser adds. The votes take place within seconds of each other, and they're announced with nothing more than the file number of the proposed law.
According to the website VoteWatch, a public database of all recorded votes in the European Parliament, Zamfirescu, a Romanian ultra-nationalist, hasn't pressed the "No" button in the past 541 electronic votes. His actual yes-record likely stretches back even farther, since votes by hand-raising are not recorded on the website. Ehrenhauser says his colleague's hand is almost always up.
Ehrenhauser called Zamfirescu's voting habits a "completely unnecessary contribution to political apathy." The Austrian politician is known for uncovering abuses in the EU, and as an independent representative, he sits at the back of the parliamentary chamber -- with all the extremists.
Call Zamfirescu on the phone, and he answers with a predictable "Da!" (Romanian for "yes"). But when SPIEGEL ONLINE asked the first question, the conversation abruptly ended. Repeated calls back were not answered. In the evening, a woman denied the telephone number was for Zamfirescu's office. Days later when Zamfirescu was finally reached for an interview, he explained: "I vote 'yes' because I agree with all the proposals. I cannot remember the last time I voted 'no.'"
Perhaps the man from the city of Craiova just never learned to say no. During the Ceausescu dictatorship, he served as an officer with the dreaded Securitate, the secret police. Then, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, he joined the far-right Greater Romania Party (PRM), led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor.
A former journalist and poet, and a one-time editor with the newspaper Romania Liber, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, Tudor denied the Holocaust ever took place in Romania and ran for president in 2000 campaigning for mass executions in soccer stadiums and pledging to introduce labor camps. Today, Tudor is a member of the European Parliament, where he reliably votes in favor of motions almost as often as Zamfirescu does.
A Lucrative Business
Ehrenhauser has his suspicions about Zamfirescu. "Anyone who votes this randomly and unethically is failing to take his responsibilities seriously as an elected politician and is most probably simply looking to cash in."
The EU, after all, pays members of the European Parliament to vote: Along with their basic salary of approximately €8,000 ($11,000) per month, they receive an additional €152 a day simply to attend plenary sessions. Moreover, anyone who takes part in at least 50 percent of the votes receives a further €152 a day. Money for nothing, in some cases.
In short, Zamfirescu's job at the European Parliament consists merely of saying yes. According to VoteWatch, the man who introduced himself as a "pensioner" when he took his seat has never spoken a word -- never posed a single question, proposed an initiative or even an amendment. His office in corridor 6F is usually empty. And although he is supposedly a member of the Committee on International Trade, few of his colleagues even know who he is.
"Is he really a member?" asks Franziska Keller of the German Green Party. "I don't recall ever having seen him."
Ehrenhauser has considered putting his neighbor on the spot -- but decided it might prove counterproductive: "If such a shifty far-right nationalist actually started thinking about his decisions, the result of the vote could end up much worse than when all he does is hit push the yes button as automatically as a wooden toy."
Might Dan Dumitru Zamfirescu ever vote no? He's not saying. "I'm in the car, I can't hear you!" he yells on the phone. "I don't have anything to say." Then the line goes dead.