The start of Poland's six-month presidency of the European Union on 1 July was welcomed by Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek at the opening of this week's Strasbourg plenary session. Mr Buzek also commented on the recent referendum in Morocco, the demonstrations in Belarus during which some protesters were arrested and the deaths of two prominent MEPs.
Last Friday in Warsaw, the first-ever Polish presidency of the European Union was launched. The prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, will present his government's programme for the coming six months to MEPs on Wednesday morning. "We expect this presidency to be as friendly towards the European Parliament as the Hungarian presidency was", said Mr Buzek.
Turning to events in the EU's neighbouring countries, Mr Buzek spoke first of the referendum in Morocco. "The citizens of Morocco have accepted constitutional change", he said, "but the reforms need to go further to meet the aspirations of the people".
In Belarus, "hundreds of people were arrested yesterday and will be put on trial today", said the President, adding "the European Parliament supports them and calls for them to be released immediately and unconditionally".
Tributes to Otto von Habsburg and Jan Kułakowski
The President then paid tribute to two eminent Members of the European Parliament who had died recently, Otto von Habsburg and Jan Kułakowski.
Otto von Habsburg was "one of the first champions of European integration", a president of the International Paneuropean Union, for two decades a member of the European People's Party and "a great advocate of enlargement of the European Union to central and eastern Europe", said Mr Buzek.
Jan Kułakowski, who passed away on 21 June, was an émigré in Belgium during the period of the Polish communist regime, worked for various trade union bodies, was one of the principal architects of Poland's accession to the European Union and became a member of the ALDE group in the European Parliament. "Jan Kułakowski contributed greatly to the fact that Poland has taken on the presidency of the European Union today", said Mr Buzek.
The House observed a minute's silence in respect to these two former Members.
On Tuesday the House will elect two new vice-presidents of the European Parliament, to replace Silvana Koch-Mehrin (ALDE, DE) and Stavros Lambrinidis (S&D, EL).
Portuguese MEP Rui Tavares has left the GUE/NGL group to join the Greens/EFA.
French MEP Dominique Baudis has been replaced by Franck Proust for the EPP group.