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News report : 18-10-96

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EP/COUNCIL CONCILIATION: REACTION TO 'BEARNAISE SAUCE' JUDGEMENT

EP/Council Conciliation: Reaction to 'Bearnaise Sauce' Judgement

Delegations from Parliament and the Council reached agreement on food labelling in their joint Conciliation Committee on Wednesday night.

The committee approved a compromise text on a proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive amending Directive 79/112/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States on the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs.

The accord reflected a defence by Parliament of the basic principle of free trade within the European Union as reflected in the Béarnaise Sauce judgement of the Court of Justice on 26 October 1995. Council, representing the Member States, was considered to be trying to weaken the judgement.

The Court ruled that Germany had breached Article 30 of the EC Treaty, which bans quantitative restrictions on imports and all measures with equivalent effect.

In Germany Béarnaise sauce is traditionally made with butter and eggs. However, the Court ruled that Germany was wrong to insist that imports prepared according to a different recipe should be labelled not simply "Béarnaise Sauce" but "Béarnaise Sauce made with vegetable oil". The Court felt that it was enough that the list of ingredients showed that the product was made with vegetable oil.


Accordingly, the conciliation text provides that, save in exceptional cases, a food may also be sold in other Member States under its legal name in the Member State of production.

However, in response to pressure from Member States unhappy with the Béarnaise sauce judgement, the text also provides that the sales name of a foodstuff may accompanied by other

descriptive information placed in proximity to it. But, at the insistence of Parliament's delegation, this is only allowed if the listing of ingredients and other provisions of the Directive do not enable consumers in the Member State of marketing to know the true nature of that foodstuff - with the result that they might confuse it with other foodstuffs.

Parliament's delegation, for its part, believes that in practice such descriptive information will normally not be permitted since the "Béarnaise Sauce" judgment has made it clear that the list of ingredients alone will usually be enough to prevent consumer confusion. Moreover, the Treaty takes precedence over secondary legislation.

On a separate point, in order to help those suffering from allergies, Parliament secured agreement from the Council that when the ingredient starch may contain gluten, it must always be complemented by the indication of its specific vegetable origin.

The Conciliation Committee was convened following Parliament's second reading of the proposal on 25 October 1995 when it adopted five amendments to the common position adopted earlier by the Council. Parliament's rapporteur was Mr Horst SCHNELLHARDT (EPP, D).

As the final stage in the legislative procedure, the text agreed by the Conciliation Committee must now be adopted by Council (by a qualified majority) and the full House (by a simple majority).

However, Parliament's delegation made it clear that it would not recommend approval by the House unless the Commission undertook to submit a separate proposal on the labelling of alcoholic drinks, which the present directive does not cover.

The labelling of novel foods is also being dealt with separately.

The Conciliation Committee was co-chaired by Mr Antoni GUTIERREZ DIAZ (EUL/NGL, E), a vice-president of Parliament, and Mr Jimmy DEENIHAN, Irish Minister for State (Agriculture, Forestry and Food), representing the Presidency of the Council.

For further information, contact Patrick REYNOLDS (tel. 284 4706)

The meetings with the Presidents of Slovakia and Lithuania briefly referred to in yesterday's news report are described in greater detail below



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SLOVAKIA: FULL STEAM AHEAD ON CHANGE FOR EUROPE

SLOVAKIA: FULL STEAM AHEAD ON CHANGE FOR EUROPE

Slovakia is in the throes of major social change designed to make European integration a success, said Slovak President Michal KOVAC to the joint meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the REX Committee and the Delegation for relations with the Baltic States, chaired by Bernie MALONE (PES, IRL), Willy de CLERCQ (ELDR, B) and Alfred GOMOLKA (EPP,D).

European integration had to go hand in hand with transatlantic integration in the shape of NATO membership, since NATO was 'the only political and military organisation which can provide guarantees for small and medium-sized countries...Russia is something else' said the President. EU accession and NATO membership, he said, will give Slovakian democracy 'a proper anchor' as his country continues its efforts to extend the democratic process.

Mr Kovac reviewed social developments in Slovakia: 7.4% growth in 1995 and 7.1% in 1996, inflation held at 6%, a low level of foreign debt and a healthy exchange rate, all of which provided an excellent basis, he claimed, for starting EU enlargement negotiations six months after the end of the IGC 'on the basis of equal opportunities for the countries of central and Eastern Europe'-led, as far as economic performance went, by Slovakia.

However, when questioned by Mr de CLERCQ about the rate and transparency of privatization, Mr KOVAC acknowledged that this had been done' severely criticized by the opposition, and even by myself... we do not know who the owners are and we are trying to obtain the information as effectively as we can, while building up democracy... if we make mistakes, we will pay very dearly for them'.

Mr KOVAC then appealed to Europe to overcome its reservations and take an active part in restructuring the Slovak economy, and, more broadly, in the whole process of institutional, legal and administrative reform now under way with a view to EU membership.

In reply to a question asked by Bernie MALONE on the issue of public opinion, the President said that it was his government's duty to make sure it had public opinion behind it.

Another priority was regional cooperation, which was, he claimed well in hand. He was welcomed the first steps towards 'three-way cooperation' with Austria and Hungary, and called on the latter to 'abandon a history based approach' and look to a future in which Slovakia and Hungary 'share a common destiny'.

In reply to members' questions about the status of minorities, Mr KOVAC said 'their rights in Slovakia are equivalent and even superior to the European norm. I am not saying there are no problems, but the minorities can use their mother tongues for administrative purposes'. In reply to criticisms that Slovakia had cut its funding for the protection of cultural minorities, he said 'the Hungarian minority has less because the other have less too'. As for European and especially Austrian concern about the safety of nuclear power stations, he said he was

fully aware of the fears being expressed, which were 'shared by a large part of the Slovak public; but the economic situation means they cannot be shut down. New hydro-electric power stations will be built once industrial restructuring has been completed'.

Further Information: Jacques NANCY - Gaelle BAUSSON - Tel: 284.24.85

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LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NON COULD COST DEAR

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NON-ENLARGEMENT COULD COST DEAR

Echoing his Slovak opposite number, the President of Lithuania, Mr Algirdas BRAZAUSKAS, made a powerful plea this Thursday for his country's membership of the EU and NATO. 'We need an all embracing system to ensure stability in Europe' he said to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the REX Committee and the Delegation for relations with the Baltic states, chaired by Bernie MALONE(PES, IRL), Willy de CLERCQ (ELDR, B) and Alfred GOMOLKA (EPP, D). Such an approach, he said, did not require a calendar; 'if there is one thing I am sure of as far as security is concerned' it is that NATO membership is not enough, that is why we need an all embracing approach'.

Like Slovakia, Lithuania is doing 'everything possible' to get ready for the crucial moment when negotiations on accession begin 'six months after the end of the IGC'. The President wishes to see the negotiations taking place 'on an equitable basis'and gave details of the legislative political, economic restructuring efforts being made, observing that 'it would be a big mistake to leave enlargement in the hands of accountants. There is plenty of talk about figures, but what will the real cost be if there is no enlargement?'.

In reply to a question from the chairman of the REX Committee, Willy DE CLERCQ about relations with Russia, and particularly the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad, President BRAZAUSKAS said that there were no difficulties with Russia at the present time; many Russian residents had taken Lithuanian nationality. With regard to Kaliningrad, he reminded the meeting it was a 'military base' and said that pressure was being brought to bear on his country. However, freight and passenge rail transit agreements had been reached with Russia, allowing non-stop traffic on two hundred km of track under Lithuanian military surveillance.

Cooperation with the Baltic countries was increasing all the time, but the President admitted that there were still problems, particularly with regard to energy supplies. A major regional

cooperation drive was under way, with joint institutions, including a Parliament of the Baltic States and meetings at presidential and ministerial level. This cooperation went hand in hand with the very close relations developed with the five Scandinavian countries of the Nordic Council, and cooperation with Ukraine and Belarus was taking shape as well.

Reminded by Hadar CARS (ELDR, SV), that the death penalty had been abolished in the EU, the Lithuanian President admitted that his country had not ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the death penalty, but 'its continued existence is purely formal and I have signed a decree proposing its abolition'. Nonetheless, despite the current reform of the penal code, Lithuanian public opinion was unconvinced; 'they say I am too soft, but as far as I am concerned the death penalty does not keep the crime rate down'.

Finally, the President replied to Bernie MALONE's expression of her concern as to the safety of a nuclear power station. 'This problem is something we have inherited, and we are giving it our closest attention'. 'The EBRD has granted us a loan, certain management systems have already changed and others are changing. The reactor will continue to operate for ten years yet, but we expect to be able to meet normal safety standards'. He stressed that since separating from Russia, Lithuania's energy costs had risen 320%.

Further Information: Jacques NANCY - Tel: 284.24.85

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AGREEMENT STILL AWAITED ON NOVEL FOODS

AGREEMENT STILL AWAITED ON NOVEL FOODS

How to determine whether and to what extent novel foods - such as genetically modified soya beans, sugar beet or tomatoes - differ from equivalent existing foods was one of the sticking-points last night when delegations from Parliament and the Council held an initial exchange of views on novel foods in their joint Conciliation Committee.

Parliament wants food labels to inform the consumer of any characteristic or property which results in a novel food or food ingredient being different from an equivalent existing food or food ingredient. The Council insists that the difference must be significant.

The committee's job, under the codecision procedure, is to hammer out a compromise text on a proposal for a European Parliament and Council Regulation on placing novel foods or novel food ingredients on the Community market. At its second reading of the proposal on 12 March 1996 Parliament adopted six amendments to the common position adopted earlier by the Council.

Compromise drafts now being considered and agreement between the delegations is possible in the coming weeks. Parliament's rapporteur is Mrs Dagmar ROTH-BEHRENDT (PES, D).

The object of the Regulation is to ensure that novel foods and food ingredients are safe to eat, environmentally-friendly and informatively labelled as well as to establish Europe-wide procedures for placing them on the Community market. The manipulation of their genes is intended to improve taste, flavour or shelf-life or to protect against insects or herbicides.

For further information, contact Patrick REYNOLDS (tel. 284 4706)

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1997 ECSC BUDGET: GET READY FOR 2002 NOW


1997 ECSC BUDGET: GET READY FOR 2002 NOW

Two major points have emerged from the report on the ECSC budget (rapp: Jean-Antoine GIANSILY (UFE, F)), adopted by the Committee on Budgets (chairman: Dietlev SAMLAND, (PES, D).

Firstly, the real needs are ECU 172 billion, while the Commission is proposing an operating budget of ECU 265.5 billion, and secondly, items covering budgetary requirements have been reduced and resource covering items increased (commitments cancelled, unused resources from last year, etc...).

The Budgets Committee believes that the Commission should undertake to maintain proven profit-making programmes until 2002, and is calling for spending to continue, particularly on ECSC adaptation and restructuring and on social measures.

The Committee accepts that the rate for contributions from undertakings should be fixed at 0.17%, but is proposing changes in the sharing out of expenditure. It proposes establishing a new budgetary hearing, funded by reserve monies, for a body to take over ECSC research after 2002. Finally, the Committee proposes that the rest of the reserve be kept for getting

up a fund (or a body) under Community political and budgetary control which would inherit what is left of the ECSC in 2002.

Further Information: Georgios GHIATIS - Tel: 284.22.16

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