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Daily Notebook: 12-01-98(2)


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British MEPs leave PES


British MEPs leave Party of European Socialists

President José Maria Gil Robles announced to MEPs that Ken Coates (Nottinghamshire and Chesterfield) formerly of the PES was joining the EUL/NGL and that Hugh Kerr (Essex West and Hertfordshire East) had also left the PES.

Composition of political groups in the European Parliament following this announcement:
B DK D GR E F IRL I L NL A P FIN S UK Total
PES 6 4 40 10 21 16 1 18 2 7 6 10 4 7 61 213
EPP 7 3 47 9 30 11 4 15 2 9 7 9 4 5 18 180
UFE 2 18 7 24 2 3 56
ELDR 6 5 2 1 1 4 1 10 1 5 3 2 41
EUL/NGL 4 9 7 5 3 2 3 1 34
GREENS 2 12 2 4 1 1 1 4 27
ERA 1 2 12 2 1 2 20
I-EN 4 11 2 1 18
IND 3 11 15 6 2 37
TOTAL 25 16 99 25 64 87 15 87 6 31 21 25 16 22 87 626

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Murder of Basque politician


Murder of Basque politician

Monday, 12 January - A number of MEPs including Gerardo Galeote Quecedo (E, EPP), Manuel Medina Ortega (E, PES) and Antoni Gutiérrez Díaz (E, EUL/NGL) condemned the murder last week of the Basque Councillor José Ignacio Iruetagoirna. Mr Gutiérrez Diaz lamented that "intolerance, violence and fascism" had taken the life of a "democratic representative of the people" and denounced "fascism dressed up as nationalism".


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Imprisonment of Kenneth Kaunda


Imprisonment of Kenneth Kaunda

Monday, 12 January - Terry Wynn (Merseyside East and Wigan, PES) raised the case of the former President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda who was in a "state of limbo" being held in prison in Zambia.

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Commissioner as politician?


Commissioner as politician?

Monday, 12 January - Gijs de Vries (Nl, ELDR) was concerned at reports that indicated that Commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy was planning with the support of President Jacques Chirac to stand as a candidate for elections in Brittany. Mr de Vries understood from these reports that Mr de Silguy's candidature was opposed by the President of the Commission Jacques Santer and called for the Commission to make a statement. Wilfried Martens (B, EPP) supported this call and stressed that the European Parliament should consider the matter. President José Maria Gil Robles announced that the Commission would make a statement on the issue at an appropriate juncture but emphasised that the matter should be tackled as soon as possible.

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The week ahead


The week ahead

Monday, 12 January - The order of business for the Session was agreed. President José Maria Gil Robles announced that items to be considered on Thursday afternoon between 4pm and 6pm would include the problems in Caiapas in Mexico, a code of conduct for weapons, human rights and cloning and Iraq. On Wednesday, the British Presidency will make a statement on Algeria and also on Wednesday there will be a vote following on from last month's debate on the question of the winner of the Coca-Cola Football Cup participating in the UEFA Cup.

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Free market rules for EU railways


Free market rules for EU railways
(A4-412/97 - Sarlis)

Monday, 12 January - Speaking on behalf of the transport committee Pavlos Sarlis (Gr, EPP) welcomed the Commission's white paper on the EU railway systems. He lamented that, although the issue had originally been examined in the 1960s, there had been little progress towards implementing past proposals. Despite his general support for the Commission, Mr Sarlis did not accept that there should be immediate liberalisation of access as there could be a major fall out if there were a "big bang". He contended that liberalisation should take place on a stage by stage basis as had occurred with maritime and air transport. Mr Sarlis also recommended that there should be further retraining of workers and recognition of their diplomas. He supported the Commission's proposals that sought to ensure a sound financial footing and a public service content for railways and also welcomed its proposals on freight transport. While arguing that rail freeways were overdue, he urged caution over the selection of the routes and emphasised the need for all to enjoy access. In conclusion, Mr Sarlis emphasised the importance of constructing a new railway system in Europe, without the rigidities of the past.

For the social affairs committee, Harald Ettl (A, PES) contended that the rail network had suffered unfair competition from roads and that all environmental arguments favoured railways. He stressed the need for upgrading railways, for improving staff training and for tackling the cross-frontier aspects.

Speaking for the PES, Brian Simpson (Cheshire East) welcomed the report in general and stressed the need to revitalise the rail network, especially in the freight sector; to ensure there was open access to the network; and to expand on the freight freeway principle. Mr Simpson called for existing directives to be implemented into national law and warned that unless action was taken, there was a danger that in 20 years there would be no rail freight. He concluded by calling for railways to receive the priority they deserved.

Most other speakers, including Felipe Camisón Asensio (E, EPP), Giacomo Santini (I, UFE) and Florus Wijsenbeek (NL, ELDR) also supported in general the Commission's proposals. Mr Camison Asensio believed that they represented "realism with liberalism" and stressed the importance of addressing the needs of young people and the elderly. Mr Santini noted that 58% of passenger and freight transport had been lost and he spoke of a deepening crisis for the rail network as more freight was sent by road. Mr Wijsenbeek warned of "transport thrombosis" with road transport up by 150%, and he emphasised the need to get freight off the roads and on to the railways.

Gisèle Moreau (F, EUL/NGL) was unhappy that 500, 000 jobs had been lost in the rail network since 1985 at tremendous social cost, and she warned that liberalisation could be destructive. She emphasised the importance of developing a spirit of public service, quality transport, respect for the environment and job creation. Nel van Dijk (Nl, Greens) stressed the need to get people out of cars and into trains and to reduce CO2 emissions.

Welcoming the Commission's proposal Anne McIntosh (Essex North and Suffolk South, EPP) stressed the environmental benefits of transferring freight from road to rail and called for the liberalisation. She commended the UK mould as the way forward for Europe as it separated infrastructure management from the running of services. Mrs McIntosh stressed the importance of open access and adopting the normal state aid criteria with no distortion of the market. She also called for proper financial restructuring and the development of the methodology for access-charging.

Announcing that in the words of Tip O'Neill "all politics is local", Niall Andrews (Dublin, UFE) spoke of the "chaotic state" of Irish urban transport. He noted that the up-turn in the Irish economy had lead to gridlock and called for firm political leadership. He called for a major modernisation of Irish railways, which, he said, had been neglected and argued that it was intolerable that Dublin had an inefficient bus service from the airport to the centre. Mr Andrews also stressed the benefits of an integrated transport system in Dublin.

Replying to the debate, Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock warned that unless the railway industry underwent radical overhaul within the next 12 years then the future was bleak. He accepted that half a million jobs had gone in recent years but the challenge was now to maintain one million workers in the industry through a competitive approach and setting up an international rail freight network as soon as possible. He accepted that "liberalisation" should take place with accompanying measures and whilst he did not go along with the idea of a "big bang" approach, he did say that time was "not on the side of the rail industry". This particular timescale would, he said, depend on the reaction of both Council and MEPs to forthcoming Commission's proposals. The first one, due in the spring, would concentrate on infrastructure and management and include guidelines for charges. This would be followed by a later proposal dealing with public service contracts and state aids to land transport in general, with a report on "interoperability" appearing later. It was also the Commission's intention to extend the working time directive to all sectors of the transport industry and publish a white paper on charges in general. Whilst not wanting to paint too negative a picture, Mr Kinnock did say that the first "rail freight freeway" was now in operation. As to suggestions that the direction of the specific routes should be decided in Brussels, this he said, was absurd. It was a matter for the member states with the Commission providing what help it could.

Vote tomorrow noon.

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Noisy planes


Noisy planes
Cooperation procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-404/97 - van Dam)

Monday, 12 January - Opening the debate on a Council common position designed to introduce stricter noise and pollution regulations on aircraft, Rijk van Dam (Nl, ERA) explained that planes 25 years old and not meeting with the new regulations would be banned from the EU as from 1st April. There were however a number of exemptions designed to help third world countries and also to combat abuse. Following amendments approved by Parliament at first reading and accepted by Council, sub-leasing would not be authorised, he said, and this would affect agreements between the United Kingdom and US governments. He then drew attention to the situation at Ostend Airport where, he said, up to half the cargo was at threat as a result of the ban which would particularly affect African planes. He felt there was also a need to look at other ways of cutting down on noise such as a night ban on flights and introducing quotas for landings. He then explained that the Transport Committee wished to retable the amendment not accepted at first reading but designed to remove Saudi Arabia from the list of exemptions designed to apply to poor countries. In reply, Commissioner Neil Kinnock, while sympathetic to the reasoning behind the amendment, explained that he could not go along with it as it intereferred with an existing UN designation of Saudi Arabia. He was however prepared to accept other technical amendments.

Vote tomorrow 12 noon.

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A European space policy


A European Space Policy
(A4-384/97 - Desama)

Monday, 12 January - Introducing his report that calls for a strengthening of EU support for Europe's space industry, Claude Desama (B, PES) explained the vital importance of the industry for the future and the limited role it played when compared with the situation in the USA. There was, he believed, a need for more public investment in the industry and to concentrate on navigation systems. He also urged European manufacturers to speed up cooperation with other countries active in the field such as Russia, Japan, China and India.

While Franco Malerba (I, UFE) emphasised the need for concentrating on navigation systems through financial support from the EU's fifth research framework programme, Eryl McNally (Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, PES) drew attention to the "added value" that European cooperation could bring to the industry and here she emphasised she was not thinking of military cooperation. Specific areas such as satellite systems and earth observation programmes were particularly important, not only to Europe but also to the third world, she added. Another problem to be dealt with was the rising amount of "space debris". She too drew attention to the importance of the industry for the future and emphasised that for the time being at least the industry could not yet abandon nuclear power. Like Mr Desama, she urged the British presidency to convene a meeting of EU research ministers to discuss the future of a European space policy.

Concluding for the Commission, Neil Kinnock commended the "substantial interest" taken by Parliament in space issues over the last 19 years and stressed the importance of Europe playing an effective role in the industry. He urged the EU "to boldly go" towards developing the space sector and emphasised the industrial and security interests and the improvement in the quality of life that this could bring about. Mr Kinnock stressed that responding to these challenges would require leadership and vision combined with a sense of urgency. He noted that only 39,000 people in the EU were employed in space related activities, a fifth of the number in the USA. He emphasised the huge growth potential in the satellite communications industry and the growing importance of global markets. He detailed the R&D resources in the framework programme and the importance of the European Space Agency. Mr Kinnock reminded MEPs that the fifth framework programme was concentrating on three issues viz. satellite communications, navigation and earth observation. He stressed that funding from the private sector could not be a substitute for the investment of sufficient public money and it was important that the strategic importance of space to society as a whole was recognised. In conclusion, Mr Kinnock called for an active and comprehensive space policy to turn the vision into reality.

Vote 12 noon tomorrow.

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A single currency and a May Saturday in Parliament


A single currency and a May Saturday in Parliament
(A4-006/98 - Fayot)

Monday, 12 January - Speaking for the rules committee, Ben Fayot (L, PES) stressed the importance of Parliament having the opportunity to deliver its opinion on the recommendations on monetary union that the Ecofin Council will present on 1 May 1998. He noted that Parliament would only have the morning of Saturday, 2 May in which to reach its conclusions as a final decision on the matter had to be taken on the afternoon of 2 May in order to avoid any currency turmoil on the following Monday. Mr Fayot stressed that the text was entirely clear and that there would be no need for procedural debate on the 2nd. However, the rules would have to be changed to enable Parliament to meet on that day.

On behalf of the PES, Glyn Ford (Greater Manchester East, PES) supported Mr Fayot's "mean, lean and green report" which would, he said, enable Parliament to speak with a "sharp, clear voice".

A cautionary approach came from Johannes Voggenhuber (A, Greens), however, who took the view that Parliament's rights were being curbed since MEPs would not be presented with a written report or given the right to table amendments. His view was endorsed by Hervé Fabre-Aubrespy (F, I-EN) who did not consider that this procedure complied with the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty.

Alan Donnelly (UK, PES) on the other hand recalled the detailed debates on EMU that had been taking place in Parliament over the past seven years. Further opportunities would be available for the views of MEPs to be made, he said, in April. The May meeting would provide an opportunity for Parliament to use this historic opportunity to make a symbolic statement, he added.

Vote Wednesday morning.


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Improving the Conciliation Committee


Improving the Conciliation Committee
(A4-400/97 - Ford)

Monday, 12 January - In response to suggestions that Parliament had not been fully "punching its weight" in conciliation negotiations, as Glyn Ford (Greater Manchester East, PES) put it, several procedural changes to the rules are now being put forward. These concern substitute members, the provision to allow representation from other institutions to attend meetings and an increased authoritative role for the Conference of Presidents. While not necessarily accepting the point that the Conciliation Delegations had not been as effective as they could have been, Mr Ford felt that these proposed changes would improve the situation.

Endorsing the changes, Richard Corbett (Merseyside West, PES) emphasised that they would put Parliament on an equal footing with Council in crucial conciliation meetings, that often went on for long periods. He pointed out that changes to the codecision procedure introduced under the Amsterdam Treaty would make it impossible for Council to adopt legislation without the opinion of Parliament, which in effect enhanced the importance of the Conciliation Committee meetings.

Brendan Donnelly (Sussex South and Crawley, EPP) too supported the changes added that they would contribute to helping Parliament spend more time on those things that it should be doing, ie. using its powers effectively and thus making a genuine contribution to closing the democratic deficit.

Robert Evans (London North West, PES) too agreed with views expressed in the debate, adding that he felt Parliament's delegations had not always been as well attended as they could have been and that the proposed new changes would put pressure on the political groups to ensure adequate representation by providing substitutes.

Vote Wednesday noon.

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PE.263.370

 
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