At the start of Wednesday's plenary session in Brussels, EP President Jerzy Buzek commented on the situations in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen, last Sunday's article in a British newspaper alleging corrupt behaviour by certain MEPs and the Week of Solidarity with People Struggling Against Racism and Discrimination.
First of all, Mr Buzek extended a warm welcome to an eminent visitor, Maria Romana De Gasperi, daughter of the late Alcide de Gasperi, a former Italian prime minister, President in 1954 of the ECSC Common Assembly (the predecessor of the European Parliament) and one of the founding fathers of the European Union.
He then spoke of the "disturbing news" from Bahrain, Syria and Yemen concerning the suppression of demonstrations by people seeking democratic change. "When governments turn their guns on their own people, they lose all legitimacy", said the president. "The violence must be stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice".
This week the international community marks the Week of Solidarity with People Struggling Against Racism and Discrimination. "Much has been done to eliminate racism but much remains to be done", stressed the EP president.
Bribery allegations against MEPs
Lastly, Mr Buzek spoke at length on the situation following the allegations in last weekend's Sunday Times about MEPs prepared to take payments from lobbyists. "One of our colleagues, Mr Thaler, has given up his seat", the president informed the House. "A second colleague, Mr Strasser, has announced his intention of standing down in the next few days." A third, Mr Severin, had left his political group, the Socialists and Democrats, and joined the group of Non-attached Members.
"These resignations are the result of serious allegations which appeared in the press of irregular behaviour by some Members of this House", said Mr Buzek. He announced that the senior MEPs making up Parliament's Bureau had discussed the situation this morning and would continue their discussions this evening.
The president continued: "Speaking on behalf of the Bureau and, I think, the majority of my colleagues sitting in this room, we are determined to practise zero tolerance of the kind of actions that led to the resignation of our colleagues". "As president, I am determined to uphold the integrity of this House and all its Members".
"Parliament wants the facts to come to light", he added, and would cooperate fully with all competent authorities. In addition, Parliament must "strengthen its code of conduct" for such cases and introduce "a legally binding code of conduct for lobbying in EU institutions".
He promised to keep the House abreast of developments.
Changes to the agenda
The House adopted the following changes to this week's plenary agenda.
A debate on the situation in Japan, including the nuclear power plant alerts, will be held this afternoon (Wednesday) following Council and Commission statements. A "solidarity" resolution will be put to the vote on Thursday. The debate on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy is postponed to April.
The Balzani report on preparations for the 2012 budget is moved to Thursday, after the joint debate on air agreements.
An oral question by the Environment Committee to the Commission on implementation of the Fuel Quality Directive, including an EU default value for tar sands and oil shale, is added to the agenda. No resolution will be put to the vote.
The Chichester report on the European Network and Information Security Agency will be taken without debate and included directly in voting time on Thursday.
The Simpson report on European statistics on tourism, the Moreira report on macro-financial assistance for Georgia and the resolutions on the fisheries agreement with Mauritania are postponed to the April session.
Lastly, the president also announced that as of tomorrow, 24 March, Brice Hortefeux (EPP, FR) replaces Catherine Soullié (EPP, FR), who has resigned.