Death of Portuguese MEP
MEPs stood in a minute's silence to commemorate Francisco Lucas Pires (P, EPP) who recently
Joy in Ireland
Mary Banotti (Dublin, EPP) spoke of the "joy in Ireland" at the ratification of the Belfast Agreement
and Amsterdam Treaty in both referenda last week. She applauded the "stunning victory" for the
Belfast Agreement and also expressed her pleasure at the majority vote in favour of the Amsterdam
Members' expenses and Court report
Claudia Roth (D, Greens) asked President Jose Maria Gil Robles about a report from the Court of
Auditors on MEPs' allowances. She was unhappy that she had had to learn from the press about the
existence of the report which she understood to have been discussed by the Bureau, in which her
group was not represented. President Gil Robles stated that the document only contained preliminary
and confidential "observations" and that the Bureau, as the responsible parliamentary body, had yet
to draw up a response.
Speaking for the Council, British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, gave details of preparations for
the Cardiff Summit next month. Firstly however, he outlined the work of the UK Presidency since
January. He stressed that it had been the British Government's aim to show Europe the UK's
changed approach as a commited and constructive EU partner. It had achieved both of its key
priorities; i.e. enlargement and the third stage of EMU. Nevertheless, he said, there was much still
to do at Cardiff.
Mr Cook noted firstly that the Council would be welcoming President Nelson Mandela who would
be saying farewell to the leaders of Europe before his retirement. Mr Cook applauded the major
gains for democracy and ethnic tolerance achieved in South Africa.
Mr Cook spoke then of economic reform and stressed that job creation would be a key theme and
a high priority at Cardiff. The Council would be reviewing progress on the Single Market and
agreeing further action towards achieving a competitive economy and an inclusive society. In
particular, attention would be paid to supporting SMEs by giving them access to finance and
freedom from unnecessary red tape. This, he said, would allow creativity and imagination to
flourish. The Summit would also be reviewing the employment action plans that have been drawn
up since the Luxembourg Jobs Summit and that there would be a sharing of best practice. Other
economic areas to be covered would be examining how women could combine work with a family.
Mr Cook said that the Council would also be discussing progress on Agenda 2000 and how the EU
could adapt itself for enlargement, and he outlined work undertaken to date within the Commission
and Council. He recognised that MEPs wanted decisions to be taken on this issue before the next
Euro elections and he gave details of future EU activity.
The Foreign Secretary also announced that the Council meeting would be examining how Europe
could work for its people and be relevant to their lives. Special emphasis would be paid to
environmental improvement, and Mr Cook noted that in April the first joint Transport and
Environmental Council had taken place and he stressed the importance of integrating approaches in
these two areas. He also outlined the discussion in Cardiff that would focus on crime fighting, in
particular the common problems of cross-border crime.
Finally, Mr Cook revealed that the heads of government would be having an open discussion on their
vision of the future of Europe. They would be examining how the EU could function effectively
with up to 26 members. Many, he stressed, had not yet grasped the historic step of enlargement.
However, it would mean a Europe that stretched from Portugal to Poland and from Scotland to
Sicily. All, he concluded, must therefore reflect what this must mean for a democratic family of
For the Commission, President Jacques Santer outlined the success in progressing EMU and stressed
the positive economic signs. He looked forward to the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty and
welcomed the progress on enlargement. He believed that the political message was crystal clear -
Europe can act and is acting. He applauded the common political will to complete the internal
market and especially the transposition of EU regulations, into national law while emphasising the
importance of building a more entrepreneurial union. It was important, he said, to show that Europe
was capable of creating jobs and well being.
Mr Santer also outlined the themes of the Cardiff Conference and outlined future steps to achieve
the EU goals in the areas of employment, Agenda 2000 and the reform of the CAP and structural
funds, and enlargement. He expressed the particular hope that Turkey would get on board in the
accession process. Mr Santer also spoke of the importance of reaching agreement with the US on
such issues as the Helms Burton Act.
President Santer reminded MEPs that his personal general guideline had been "to act less but to act
better". He stressed the importance of subsidiarity and having a more clearly defined union, however
he opposed those who wished to use subsidiarity as a means of slowing down the European Union
and upsetting the institutional balance. He applauded the European model of growth and prosperity
based on equality of opportunity and fairness. He also stressed the need to intensify the multi-lateral
nature of the EU and to reinforce its ability to act. Finally, Mr Santer stressed the need to re-think
the collective role and for Commission and Parliament to establish a better institutional system that
would be more agile and able to react, thereby fulfilling the expectations of its citizens.
Wayne David (South Wales Central, PES) drew attention to the conscientious way in which the
British Presidency had respected the concerns of the European Parliament, with16 appearances by
Ministers before plenary sessions and another 48 before Parliamentary Committees. This, he said,
was an impressive performance. The priority now was to focus on key issues such as the economy
and employment and in this context, he welcomed the publication of the employment plan by the
various national governments. The challenge now was to see these plans implemented. It was vital,
he said, to invest in the future, and here he pointed out the importance of the fifth R and D
framework programme, where there is still a dispute between Parliament and Council over funding.
He looked forward to landmark decisions being made at the Cardiff Summit.
James Provan (South Downs West, EPP) on the other hand, while looking forward to successes by
the British Presidency, commented that these were sorely needed. He took the British Government
to task for a "lack of leadership and inability" to enable the EU to influence key events in the foreign
policy field, whether it be in Algeria, Israel or Turkey. He also took the view that the appointment
of the President of the new European Central Bank was the "worst managed that the EU had seen".
Turning to other outstanding issues, he underlined a need to secure real progress on the long awaited
CAP reforms and the Agenda 2000 programme as far as it affected regional policy. He too was
concerned about unemployment, but here he emphasised the need for job creation programmes to
be based on deregulation and cutting red tape.
Graham Watson (Somerset and North Devon, ELDR) was another speaker looking for concrete
measures to tackle the scourge of unemployment which, he emphasised, was particularly felt in the
Welsh valleys. Unfortunately, he commented, there was little sign of concrete measures to do this
under the present British Presidency. Nevertheless, if worthwhile practical measures could be
agreed, then the Summit could achieve a great deal, he added. He was however, concerned that
there were little signs of progress on the question of institutional reform and in this context, urged
Council to agree on a new common statute for MEPs.
Gary Titley (Greater Manchester West, PES) on the other hand, looked forward to the British
Presidency ending with concrete decisions and paving the way for the future, while Gerard Collins
(Irl, UFE) praised British Ministers for their role in pursuing the European agenda, not least the
peace process in Northern Ireland. He did however, recognise that there was still a need for
agreement on key issues such as the reform of the CAP and the regional funds, not to mention future
financing. In this context, he emphasised the need for the EU to demonstrate that future policies
should take up the concerns of EU citizens. He was also looking for a commitment to the family
farm in the context of CAP reform. Niall Andrews (Dublin, UFE) paid tribute to the work of the
British Presidency, not least in negotiating the Code of Conduct on arms sales. He did however,
draw attention to the need for the EU to take a stance on key foreign policy issues such as East
Timor and Algeria.
Alan Donnelly (Tyne & Wear, PES) pointed out the need for fundamental reforms to the labour
market and he drew attention to the US economy which had been more successful than Europe in
creating jobs. He pinpointed the capital markets and the markets in products, which at an EU level
were still fragmented as areas which offered the most opportunity for growth.
MEPs voted by 245 to 223 with 13 abstentions to reject a motion for resolution setting out priorites
for the Cardiff Summit that was supported by 4 political groups, the PES, GUE/NGL, the Greens
and the ERA.
Common Foreign & Security Policy - annual debate
(A4-0169/98 - Spencer)
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Tom Spencer (Surrey, EPP) opened Parliament's annual
debate on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). While recognising the" limited"
progress achieved in 1997 by the Amsterdam Treaty and the Institutional Agreement on the financing
of the CFSP, Mr Spencer lamented the continued failure of the EU to address the real issues in this
area. He stressed that the EU should adopt a common and not a single foreign policy as a single
policy would be the preserve of a single state. A common policy on the other hand, should serve
to magnify the EU's effective influence in world affairs.
Mr Spencer believed that it was currently impossible to run a proper Presidency in view of the
practical difficulties. Europe tended to follow the line set by the USA while providing much of the
finance. He called for the establishment of an analysis and planning unit, noting that the EU had not
been prepared for such events as Indian nuclear tests, Kosovo and the perennial crises emanating
from Iraq. Europe, he believed, was getting the worst of all worlds and was implementing a
"peacock diplomacy" which was for display but not for use. The executive must be encouraged to
have an effective foreign policy, he concluded, as the current situation was not satisfactory.
Replying for the Council, Robin Cook highlighted the formidable problems in forging a CFSP and
he understood Mr Spencer's frustrations at the apparent lack of progress. However, he stressed that
it was important to recognise the different histories, cultures and public opinions of the 15 member
states. It was not unusual, he said, for one country to stand out alone and each member state had
the right to carry out its own foreign policy. Therefore, he emphasised, it was important to be
realistic. Nevertheless, there were many areas from which the EU could take satisfaction. He
outlined the agreement on a Code of Conduct on arms sales which set out common standards for
member states which would be able to compete on price and quality, but not on standards of respect
for human rights. The procedures for notification meant that if one country turned down an arms
contract on the basis of human rights violations, it could not be picked up by another partner without
consultation between the two EU parties. Mr Cook recognised that the Code was not perfect,
however it was a significant step forward and "half a loaf was better than none".
On Turkey, he stated that the EU was ready for an Association Council but Ankara was not. This,
he believed, was a mistake and it was important to build bridges from both sides of the divide. He
also noted that he had recently visited the Turkish human rights activist, Akin Birdal, who had
survived an assassination attempt and was "in amazing good spirits" and who believed in putting
Turkey on the true European path.
On Bosnia, Mr Cook argued that a significant shift had been taken in implementing the Dayton Peace
Accord and that this was recognised by an increasing number of people in the country. He stressed
the importance of bringing to justice suspected war criminals and noted that half of those indicted
were now awaiting trial. The government in Republika Srpska was also now committed to the
Dayton Agreement. He regretted the inactivity of Croatia on refugee return and the failure of all
sides to reduce violence in Kosovo. However, he noted that the EU had put in place a battery of
measures against Belgrade because of its activities in Kosovo. He believed that it was a tragedy that
the Yugoslav President Milosovic had left his country isolated. Although Mr Cook accepted that
the EU had not solved the Kosovo crisis, he believed that it had achieved a common position more
rapidly than it had done over Bosnia.
Mr Cook expressed his alarm at the deadlock in the Middle East peace process and argued that the
status quo was not sustainable in the medium to long term. Nevertheless, he believed that the EU
was now more involved in the process than it had ever been in the past and it was an important
investor in the region. He also applauded the successful Summit with the US which had signed an
Agreement on sanctions that rejected extra territoriality in trade. This, he said, meant it was now
possible to have an EU/US common position on Iran. Mr Cook also welcomed a common position
agreement on common EU interests in Africa which he applauded as a major step forward. The
Foreign Secretary however, expressed his dismay at Indian nuclear tests and would have liked more
substance to the EU's statement on this matter.
Mr Cook stressed the importance of the EU using its powers to reinforce and support its values.
He noted that in the past, many had seen tension between a commitment to human rights and a
commitment to trade. He argued that the Asian financial crisis had shown that the more transparent
and democratic states had been in the best position to respond. There was no longer a tension, he
stressed, between promoting both values and prosperity. He concluded by urging the EU to
continue to build a CFSP based on common values in which Europe could take a common pride.
In the subsequent debate, many speakers lamented the absence of an effective CFSP. Gary Titley
(Greater Manchester West, PES) believed that one of the problems was that the debate was looking
backwards to the CFSP in the past. He argued that the world would change after the ratification of
the Amsterdam Treaty, which he wanted to be a turning point in the establishment of a new security
system. He called for the effectiveness of the CFSP to be maximised and noted that there should be
less obsession with the harmonisation of the process and more emphasis on achieving an effective
outcome - peace and stability. Mr Titley stressed the importance of improving the link between
Parliament and the Council as he believed that Parliament had shown itself capable of conducting
a mature dialogue with the other institutions.
For the Commission, Hans Van Den Broek welcomed Mr Spencer's report and supported much of
its analysis. He believed that 1997 had been a transitional year and that the Amsterdam Treaty
would improve the effectiveness of the CFSP. Among other points, Mr Van Den Broek accepted
that not enough attention had been paid to developments in Africa. He recognised that the EU had
missed its opportunity with the pyramid sales scandal in Albania and that the WEU was "more
sleeping than beauty". Although he welcomed the progress that would be made by the Amsterdam
Treaty, he recognised that there was still some weak points on establishing decision-making
mechanisms. He believed that a common monetary policy would have a positive effect on the CFSP,
but concluded by saying that the EU could only react if it had a properly prepared CFSP.
Referring to the Code of Conduct on arms sales, Peter Truscott (Hertfordshire, PES) drew attention
to points in the Agreement that emphasised the fact that arms were not to be used in internal
suppression or support for terrorism. He added a plea that a report be published on the
implementation of the Agreement to give MEPs an opportunity to monitor it. He emphasised the
need to develop closer links between the WEU and the EU with a view to making the CFSP more
Replying to the debate, Robin Cook recognised the points made by MEPs, although he could not
accept any view that was not based on the tolerance of minorities. Nevertheless, it was, he said, an
impossible task to expect the EU to produce an instant solution to conflicts throughout the world.
In this context, it was important to realise that European solutions were not necessarily the most
appropriate for the countries concerned. The new planning unit to be brought in under the
Amsterdam Treaty would improve decision-making, he added, and in reply to MEPs who criticised
Council, he urged them to take issue with their own respective national governments for opposing
a united stance and in this respect he singled out France. It was however, important to realise that
a common policy required compromise from all sides involving trade-offs and that even as far as the
UK was concerned, it was not always possible to abandon national priorities. To do otherwise, he
argued, would undermine popular support for the EU.
The resolution was adopted with slight amendments, by 416 votes to 36 with 18 abstentions, taking
the view that Parliament's criticisms of the Common Foreign and Security Policy made in its 1996
report, was still largely valid, with some exceptions such as progress towards democracy in Central
and Eastern Europe.
South Africa Trade Agreement
Opening the debate, Douglas Henderson on behalf of the Council Presidency, emphasised his determination to help South Africa achieve the goal of economic prosperity through the assistance of a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. Nevertheless, he recognised that negotiations were being painstakingly slow and that while he hoped that South Africa would act as a catalyst for economic growth throughout the region, there were still fundamental obstacles to reaching a trade agreement, especially in the area of wine and agricultural products. However, the EU had been providing some Ecu 100m a year to go towards the democracy and recovery programme and achieving agreement was a priority of the UK Presidency, he said. He expressed the hope that an agreement was now "within reach" depending on flexibility adopted by both sides. He underlined the need to ensure that such an agreement would be compatible with WTO rules and, he added, Council was aware of the need for it to be beneficial for the whole region. In this respect, he emphasised that technical assistance to neighbouring countries would be available.
For the Commission, João de Deus Pinheiro emphasised the hard work that went into reaching an
agreement by both sides but that a gap "remained to be breached". The priority was to ensure that
such an agreement would be in place before the 1999 elections in South Africa. Issues still to be
clarified included agreement on anti-dumping safeguards, competition policy, intellectual property,
and maritime policy. Although he emphasised that the real obstacle was over agricultural products.
The position now was that talks centred on 89% of South African imports into the EU and 81% of
EU exports to South Africa, with recognition of the need to protect sensitive sectors and to allow
South Africa a longer time to adapt to a new trading agreement. It was necessary for the EU to
adopt a coherent approach to take account of common policies such as the CAP and the common
commercial policy. He emphasised the importance of reaching an agreement in terms of ensuring
the future stability of the country and a crucial test for the future of the Lomé Convention.
In recognising that the talks had reached a critical stage, Glenys Kinnock (South Wales East, PES)
expressed the hope that the agreement could be the "icing on the cake" to coincide with Nelson
Mandela's visit to the June Cardiff Summit.
Allan Macartney (North East Scotland, ERA) underlined the sacrifices made by frontline states such
as Botswana and Lesotho, who would be directly affected by the agreement and in particular the
impact of the loss of customs revenue. This point must be taken into account, he emphasised,
appealing for generosity on the part of the EU.
Shaun Spears was another speaker looking for a full and fair trade deal to bear out the EU's moral
commitment to developing a post-apartheid economy in South Africa. He pointed out the adverse
effect of EU subsidised agricultural exports such as beef and fruit on the South African economy.
Alex Smith (South of Scotland, PES) added his voice to those seeking concrete support from the
EU to consolidate the fragile democracy in South Africa and suggested as a way forward, both sides
issuing a "statement of intent". He added however, that if any future agreement was not acceptable
to Parliamentarians in South Africa, then he himself would not go along with it.
Replying to the debate, Douglas Henderson recognised the concern expressed on all sides of the
House, but felt a breakthrough could be made if flexibility was shown by both parties. While he was
not prepared to speculate on whether or not this could be achieved in time for President Mandela's
visit to Cardiff, he did feel this visit would give a spur to the negotiations with a view to a positive
outcome later in the year.
In his reply, Commissioner Pinheiro too felt "the moment of truth was arriving" and in recognising
the importance attached by the British Presidency to achieving a solution, undertook to re-double
the Commission's efforts, with a view to giving the British Presidency a broad draft. He did
emphasise, however, that the delay in the last round of negotiations came from the South African
and not the European side and added that unfair competition from subsidised EU beef exports was
no longer a problem since these subsidies had now been heavily reduced and that the real
competition was coming from Argentinian beef. He also pointed out that South African wine
exports to the EU had increased by some 150% in the last few years and that this was a serious issue
that had to be resolved. He concluded by emphasising his political commitment to seeking a solution
but, "unfortunately it was Council who would decide".
MEPs adopted a joint resolution urging the negotiating parties "to come to a rapid and equitable
agreement on the issues which remain open in order to meet the deadlines of mid-1998 for
conclusion of negotiations." The resolution noted that at present the EU offer excludes over 45%
of South African agricultural products which could benefit from reduced EU tariffs. The resolution
urged the EU to reduce the list of excluded agricultural products and to adopt a more flexible
approach to negotiations. The resolution called on the Commission to ensure that South Africa's
development needs are taken into account, as well as the needs of neighbouring African states.
There was also a call for specific proposals to compensate Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and
Swaziland to compensate for any loss of customs revenue resulting from the dismantling of tariffs.
Commission's recommendations for member state and EU economic policies
(A4-0193/98 - Gasoliba I Böhm)
Reporting for the Economic Affairs Committee, Carles-Alfred Gasòliba i Böhm (E, ELDR) broadly
welcomed the Commission's recommendations for the broad guidelines for the economic policies of
the member states and the EU. He argued that the report highlighted the main objective of
maintaining price stability and ensuring investment through low interest rates. He stressed that
investment was an important factor in fostering economic growth which would increase European
competitiveness. He accepted that unemployment was a source of large social economic and
budgetary costs and represented a wasted growth potential. Mr Gasòliba i Böhm believed that
obstacles to the Single Market still existed that needed to be swept away and that greater openness
and flexibility was important. EMU, he said, was entering a new phase and there was a need for
proper coordination of economic policies.
Thomas Mann (D, EPP) stressed the importance of guaranteeing price stability as the anchor of the
EU's common foreign policy mix. Wages, he said, must be based on this to avoid inflation,
otherwise the ECB would be increasing interest rates which would hamper growth. He recognised
that the current 1.4% rate of inflation meant that price stability had been achieved. Nevertheless,
it was important for all countries to keep their houses in order. Unemployment, he said, was a major
problem at the moment and the EU needed to develop its own stimulus for growth.
Brian Crowley (Munster, UFE) welcomed a "very balanced document" which, he said, recognised
that the EU needed to be competitive in a global market. He noted that the Amsterdam Treaty was
the first to recognised the importance of employment and he believed that the EU citizens should see
positive developments in this area. Mr Crowley stressed the vast wealth of experience in Parliament
and wanted it to bring the best of all economic principles and practices into one united policy. He
noted that Parliament as the budgetary body had many powers and should reward those that
achieved most. He emphasised the importance of the SME sector which was, he said, the biggest
engine of growth and employment. He concluded by calling on the EU to give its citizens "the tools
to operate in the new Europe".
Mark Hendrick (Lancashire Central, PES) welcomed the high level of growth and employment and
called for a proper policy mix. He noted that inflation stood at 1.6% and argued that it was perhaps
now time for a more relaxed monetary policy leading to increased demand. He contended that the
birth of the euro would improve the operation of the single market and he believed that it would lead
to job increases. Nevertheless, he said, jobs were now being lost almost as quickly as they were
being created. He argued that now was the time, while there was low inflation, "to make hay while
the sun shines".
Replying, Commissioner de Silguy confirmed that the aim was for the guidelines to eventually shape
EU economic policy making. In this context, he acknowledged however, regional differences and
emphasised the intention was to take account of different levels of productivity throughout the EU.
He also said that the idea was for national interests not to predominate and that decision making in
this area would be by qualified majority. Investment and consumption should be in broad balance
to achieve steady growth. Concluding, he reminded the House that the implementation of the
guidelines depended on political will, both by national governments and EU institiutions.
1996 Cohesion Fund
(A4-0159 - Arias Cañete; A4-0160/98 - Klass; A4-0118/98 - Viola)
Speaking for the regional committee Miguel Arias Canete (E,EPP) reported to MEPs on the
Commission's annual report on the Cohesion Fund (1996). He stressed the importance of the Fund
in the four member states that received it, stressing that it promoted harmonious EU development.
However, he believed that to be fully effective there needed to be a balance between transport and
environment. He noted that road transport received the largest share of Cohesion Funds, although
it was generally not environmentally friendly. This, he believed, represented something of a
contradiction. Otherwise he was happy with the broad picture as virtually all the funds had been
taken up. Mr Arias Cañete also welcomed the boost that the funds gave to employment and argued
that they should continue beyond 1999 in order to achieve major reduction in regional imbalances.
Christa Klass (D, EPP) reported for the regional policy committee on the 8th annual report on the
Structural Funds (1996). She noted that 1996 represented the midway point in the current
programming period and that the backlog of payments was being made up with a take-up of 98%
of available commitments and 95% of available payments. However, she wanted more information
on the transmission of funds to final beneficiaries which would give a picture on actual
implementation in the field. Mrs Klass called for proper auditing of the funds and stressed the
importance of the partnership principle. This, she said, needed to be better anchored in legislation
with a clear definition of roles of those involved. She also noted that the Structural Funds had very
complex rules and she called for them to be simplified. She also called for more effective controls
over financial irregularities, fearing that fraud was on the increase.
Vincenzo Viola (I, EPP), for the regional committee, reported on the special needs of the EU's
islands, noting that their special problems were recognised for the first time in the Amsterdam
Treaty. He stressed that they often remote from the mainland and often had serious problems of
infrastructure. He called for the practical transposition of the Amsterdam Treaty articles into EU
regulations and wanted islands' competitiveness to be boosted by funding that was properly tailored.
Joe McCartin (Connacht/Ulster, EPP) for the fisheries committee welcomed the report by Mrs
Klass. He noted that the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) represented only 2%
of EU structural funding and that 70% of the FIFG must be spent in objective 1 regions with the
remainder allocated to objective 5A and objective 6 regions. He was concerned that in 1996 only
75% of FIFG had been committed, however the figures in the report revealed very little about the
situation on the ground and he believed that some member states did not take the fund seriously.
On PESCA Mr McCartin noted that it had a budget of only Ecu 54 m a year and it was not clear
what the 1996 position really was. However, the Court of Auditors report indicated that the
utilisation rate of appropriations was 90.1% for commitments and 47% for payments. Mr McCartin
concluded by arguing that the information provided was not adequate and it needed to be clear,
comprehensible, informative and well presented.
Arlene McCarthy (Peak District, PES) stressed the importance of the reports, arguing that only by
looking backwards could one plan for the future. These issues were particularly important in view
of attention to be paid to the environment at the forthcoming Cardiff summit. Among other issues
she welcomed Mrs Klass's call for enhanced financial monitoring of structural funds. She noted that
late approval of funding hampered projects and she quoted the example of Derbyshire County
Council which was waiting for Commission approval of funding. Funding that arrived midway
through the year, she stressed, had a serious detrimental effect on projects.
Allan Macartney (North East Scotland, ERA) emphasised the importance of the Regional Funds in
making the EU more visible and thus acceptable to its citizens. Drawing attention to the particular
problems of islands, he made a special plea for compensation to help these disadvantaged regions
facing problems of remoteness and isolation in the EU. It was not possible to achieve economies
of scale as seen elsewhere in more prosperous populated areas of the EU and he argued
unemployment figures and GDP were not the most important indications for measuring prosperity
in such islands. While welcoming the increased take-up in regional funding in 1996, Jim Nicholson
(Northern Ireland, I-EN) did point out that shortfalls were often due to bureaucratic problems. It
was, he said, also important to see how the money was being spent and for the future he emphasised
partnership involving local politicians and administrators on the ground as a way forward. He could
not accept the 75% of GDP figure as an indicator for priority objective once status, pointing to his
own region in Northern Ireland which, he said, still needed support and he looked forward to this
continuing from the EU. In addition Northern Ireland suffered from the disadvantage of not being
eligible for Cohesion Funding, although this fund benefited the rest of Ireland.
Gerard Collins (Irl, UFE) was another speaker to take up the situation of islands, drawing attention
to the specific reference in the Amsterdam Treaty. This should be used to spur action to assist small
island communities, he said, singling out islands off the south west and west coast of Ireland which
he felt required specific action. Looking at the question of regional funding for Ireland as a whole,
he felt that the time had come to divide the country into regions and he pointed out that the Midlands
region could justify continuation of priority objective 1 funding as its GDP fell below 75%, although
the figure for the whole of Ireland did not. This special aid for this region, he said, could improve
infrastructure and act as a catalyst to attract more investment. While welcoming the improved take-
up in funding in 1996, Richard Howitt (Essex South, PES) pointed out that the reasoning behind all
the funds not being used was usually due to problems at the Brussels end, not in the regions. There
was a need for this to be rectified and make sure that all funds were fully committed in the future.
The alternative was the continuation of existing problems which would adversely affect the success
of regional policy. Herbert Bösch (A, PES) on the other hand took the view that those MEPs
complaining about the regional fund were often from areas with the highest levels of fraud. He
underlined the need for the introduction of a foolproof system to ensure that fraud could not occur
in the future. The report under discussion mentions the figure of Ecu 64 m as "misappropriated".
Roy Perry (Wight and Hampshire South, EPP) drew attention to the specific needs of the Isle of
Wight where he said the GDP was just 67% of the EU average and unemployment 20%. In other
words as a region it could qualify for special priority treatment, but because it came within the
district area of Hampshire which is more prosperous, its needs had been overlooked.
Replying to the debate Commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies underlined the fact that 1996 had been
a successful year for regional policy with a better take-up of funding and an improved balance
between transport and the environment. Talks were continuing with a view to boosting
environmentally friendly forms of transport such as rail. She rejected however any accusation that
some programmes funded by the regional fund were in breach of EU environmental legislation. As
to the Cohesion fund this was governed by separate legislation, and it was not possible to envisage
the policy of partnership involving local people being extended in this area. For the future she felt
reforms were on track to ensure better administration and better monitoring. As to fraud, she
emphasised that the Commission was seeking powers to penalise member states who were abusing
the regulations but did point out that irregularities did occur because the rules regarding eligibility
for funding were not always respected in the member states. She also emphasised that there were
opposing views on the question of simplification of regulations as this could often lead to more
relaxed forms of checking. What was important was to achieve better coordination between the
different levels of administrations and allocating responsibilities clearly. This would be done under
the reforms of the regional fund, she said. On the question of specific needs for the islands, she
maintained her view that GDP was an important indicator, but that it was not possible to class all
islands together. Geographical factors could also come into account and allow special aid to be
made to the islands in question. As a case in point she mentioned Greek islands which were entitled
to a higher percentage of EU assistance under co-funded programmes. She also emphasised that
the Interreg scheme could be used to promote transport and communications but that in many cases
this depended on schemes being proposed by the islands and regions themselves. She looked to
MEPs to play a role here. Alternative energy was also another area which would attract EU funding
and indeed this had been successfully used in a number of cases, she added.
The three resolutions were approved.
EMU - The European Central Bank and national banks
(A4-0195/98 - Herman)
The proposals were approved. The one relating to the ECB's legislative powers was approved with a number of amendments relating to the relationship between the European Central Bank and national banks. During last night's debate, Mr Herman emphasised the need for clear demarkation lines on levels of responsibility on matters falling within the competence of the ECB but Commissioner de Silguy took the view that the amendments fell outside the scope of the Treaty.
Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean
(A4-0176/98 - Roubatis)
The proposal for the European Community to accede to the General Fisheries Commission to the
Mediterranean was approved.
Higher education - quality is the word
Cooperation procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0191/98 - Heinisch)
The common position was approved with just amendment emphasising the importance of training
in research methods.
Bid to tackle cross-border car thefts or just a bundle of paperwork?
Cooperation procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0191/98 - Bazin)
The Commission's proposal was approved with a number of technical amendments, including one
emphasising the importance of this measure in combatting car thefts. During last night's debate
however, Commissioner Kinnock said he could only accept one technical amendment relating to the
inclusion of the engine number on the registration document and another amendment calling on the
Commission to circulate copies of national registration documents to each member state.
The results of the fifth research programme
Cooperation procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0188/98 - Marset Campos)
MEPs approved two proposals, one designed to increase widely the results of EU research
programmes and the other on the rules governing the participation of research centres in EU projects
with amendments relating to the criteria affecting participation and means of dissimanation. One
amendment is designed to strengthen checks against fraud and another seeks to oblige the
Commission to use the internet to ensure that information on programmes is more widely available.
Potato Starch - Subsidies at issue
(A4-0163/98 - Redondo Jimenez)
The Commission's proposal was approved with a number of amendments including one seeking to
ensure that a "premium per tonne of starch produced" is paid up until the year 2001. This
amendment however, could not be accepted by the Commission.
Economic policy guidelines
(A4-0193/98 - Gasoliba I Böhm)
Mr Böhm's resolution approving the Commission's recommendation on the economic policy
guidelines was approved with a number of amendments by 415 votes to 49 with 4 abstentions. The
amendments emphasise the importance of backing training and jobs.
Parliament's election budget
(A4-0175/98 - Viola)
MEPs approved estimates for the Parliament's budget for 1999 of Ecu 916m.
Problems of frontier workers under scrutiny
(A4-0168/98 - Van Lancker)
Mrs Van Lancker's resolution, calling for measures to ensure fair treatment for Europe's 380,000
frontier workers, was approved with slight amendments by 327 votes to 140 with abstentions.