MEPs must use the opportunity of Commission President Barroso's State of the Union address "to make the position of this house and its political groups clear" urged EP president Martin Schulz. He held a minute's silence for late MEPs Jiří Havel, Edith Mastenbroek, Alex Falconer and Paddy Lane, and for Sakharov Prize winner Oswaldo Paya. He urged Belarus to reform and Gambia to suspend the death penalty. Finally, he congratulated Stavros Lambrinidis on becoming the first EU Human Rights Representative.
The late Jiří Havel (S&D, CZ), was a highly-regarded politician whose expertise shaped the work of the industry and budget committees. A passionate European, he would be remembered as a man who lived at the service of others, said Mr Schulz.
The death of Edith Mastenbroek (S&D, NL), at the startlingly young age of 37 had shocked Parliament deeply, he continued, noting that she was survived by a young son.
From previous legislative sessions, the President also remembered former MEPs Alex Falconer and Paddy Lane, who had died during the summer.
Sakharov Prize winner Oswaldo Paya and his colleague Harold Cepero had died in a car crash in July. Mr Payá's commitment had inspired a whole generation of Cuban activists in their struggle for political freedom and human rights, noted Mr Schulz.
Belarus must ensure that its parliamentary elections, to be held in two weeks, would be up to international standards and that OSCE observers could do their job, said Mr Schulz, urging President Lukashenko to release and rehabilitate Ales Bialiatski, Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Sevyarynets, Syarhey Kavalenka, Dzmitry Dashkevich and other political prisoners.
Mr Schulz also criticized Belarus' travel ban on some opposition leaders and human rights defenders, laws that expanded the powers of the KGB and the recent expulsion of the Swedish ambassador.
Mr Schulz reported that he had written to President of the Republic of Gambia, Yahya AJJ Jammeh, in response to the execution of nine people, urging him to reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty.
Former MEP Stavros Lambrinidis is the right man for the job of EU Special Representative for Human Rights, said Mr Schulz, citing his experience, education, broad knowledge and personality, and congratulating him on the appointment.
Mr Schulz welcomed incoming MEP Sophocles Sophocleous (S&D, CY), who would replace Kyriakos Mavronikolas.
The vote on the European system of national and regional accounts in the European Union has been postponed to allow time for work on a possible first-reading agreement.