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News report : 05-02-98

Brussels, 5 February 1998


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FYROM - Branki Crvenkovski

Branki Crvenkovski: "My country has contributed to peace and security in our region"

In these words, the Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Mr Branki CRVENKOVSKI, summed up the efforts made by his country to establish good relations with its neighbours. Mr Crvenkovski, who was a guest at a meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Tom SPENCER (EPP, UK), said that encouraging progress had been made on this front. FYROM had, for example, signed several important agreements with Albania on matters such as the complete opening up of their borders and the liberalisation of bilateral trade.

On the subject of relations with Greece, the Prime Minister of FYROM said that the period of isolation with no mutual contact was now over, as had been shown by the first meeting, in Crete, between the President of FYROM, Mr Kiro GLIGOROV, and the Greek Prime Minister, Mr Kostas SIMITIS. True, there was still the problem of his country's name. In the course of a discussion with MEPs, Mr Crvenkovski said that the name "Republic of Macedonia" was enshrined in his country's constitution and that it was entitled to have this as its name. However, he preferred to emphasise the growth in economic and cultural relations between his country and Greece. He even hoped that Greece would become the main advocate of FYROM's interests within the EU institutions. It was in Greece's interest more than in that of any other country to do this, he said.

Mr Crvenkovski also welcomed the development of economic cooperation with Bulgaria. However, there was also a "language problem" with Bulgaria, which did not recognise the existence of Macedonian as a language distinct from Bulgarian.

The presence of the UN conflict prevention force, UNPREDEP, on the border with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, had helped greatly to stabilise the region, claimed Mr Crvenkovski. However, one issue with Yugoslavia was still outstanding: the frontier between the two countries had not yet been officially demarcated.

Replying to a question by Gary TITLEY (PES, UK), Mr Crvenkovski spoke of his concern about the situation in Kosovo. The deep antagonism between the Albanians of Kosovo and the Serbian authorities and the complete absence of dialogue between the two sides was a threat to the stability of the whole region, he said. He called for swift, vigorous and coordinated action by the international community to induce the Belgrade authorities and the representatives of the Kosovo Albanians to defuse the conflict.

In reply to questions by several MEPs on the rights of minorities in FYROM, and in particular the Albanian minority, Mr Crvenkovski emphasised his government's policy of tolerance and mutual respect. The teaching of Albanian, Turkish and Serbian was guaranteed in primary and secondary education. However, he was also convinced of the need to integrate the various ethnic groups, saying that his country did not wish to have any closed systems or ghettoes.

Further information: Etienne BASSOT - tel. 284 47 41 and Sébastien BURNER

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Official inauguration of the Parliament buildings


The new buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels will be officially inaugurated next Thursday, 12th February 1998. The inauguration will take place in the presence of His Majesty King Albert II, representatives of the Government of Belgium, as well as local and regional authorities. (Practical information to the media for coverage of the event will be given in News Alert on 6 February 1998).

Further information: Stig BERGLIND, Tel: 284.2079

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The HAARP Project


At a public hearing in Brussels on 5th February, the Committee on Foreign Affairs discussed the HAARP project (the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme), which has been developed by the US military, as well as the wider issue of non-lethal weapons. The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom SPENCER (EPP, UK), stressed the importance of the hearing in connection with the report to be drawn up by Maj Britt THEORIN (PES, S) on the possible use of military resources in environmental strategies.

Mr SPENCER said that he attached great importance to ensuring that varied - and indeed opposing - viewpoints were aired in the course of any hearing, so that a clear and well-informed picture of the issue could be obtained. It would therefore have been useful, on this occasion, to hear the views of the United States and NATO. However, the NATO Secretary General, after consultations within the Alliance, had told the committee that there was no NATO policy on this matter and that he was therefore unable to send an expert to the hearing. Mr SPENCER had therefore contacted the office of the US Permanent Representative to NATO but it had refused to send anyone to the hearing. Mr SPENCER regarded this as regrettable but noted that, as far as the committee was concerned, the issue would stay on the agenda. It would be ready to listen to their views at any point in the future.

News Report will return to this subject in a special Background Note.

Further information: Etienne BASSOT - tel. 284 47 41

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Bosnia and use of EU funds


An ad hoc delegation of the European Parliament, led by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom SPENCER (EPP, UK), will visit Bosnia-Herzegovina from 21-24 February 1998. The other members of the delegation will be Rinaldo BONTEMPI (PES, I) member of the Committee on Civil Liberties and rapporteur for the Protection of the Union's Financial Interests, Jean-Antoine GIANSILY (UFE, F) rapporteur for the Budgets Committee, Edith MÛLLER (Greens, D) rapporteur for the Budgetary Control Committee and Doris PACK (EPP, D) chairman of the Delegation for South East Europe.

The visit will include meetings with political authorities and The Office of the High Representative as well as visits to reconstruction projects in and around Sarajevo and - weather permitting - Banja Luka and Vukova (Croatia).

Mr Spencer emphasised the importance of the work of parliamentarians in connection with reality in the area: "This is a sensitive mission at a sensitive time. We are going to examine how well European Union money has been spent in the reconstruction programme in Bosnia and how the resettlement of refugees is being handled". The timing of the visit is politically sensitive as we are about to extend reconstruction and resettlement programmes to the Serbian areas of Bosnia".

The reasons for the visit of the Ad hoc delegation are set out in Parliament's Budgetary resolution of the 18 December 1997. The European Parliament decided to block in the reserve 30% (ECU 30 million) of the appropriations allocated for 1998 for the reconstruction of the republics of ex- Yugoslavia. The decision taken was justified by the poor administration of the funds allocated in 1997 and in particular, the slow return of refugees. The 1998 reserve funds may be released when Parliament is satisfied that conditions for using them have improved. The ad hoc delegation, together with the authorities in the area, will evaluate,on the spot,the financial and administrative problems concerning this aid, and consider measures designed to accellerate reconstruction and refugee resettlement in 1998.

Further information: Jacques NANCY, Tel: 284.2485, and Georgios GHIATIS, Tel: 284.2216

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EU funding to inform public about Euro


The Budgets Committee, chaired by Detlev SAMLAND (PES, D), gave the go-ahead on 4th February for ECU 15 million to be used to fund two top-priority public information campaigns in 1998 - one on the euro and the other on the Amsterdam Treaty (called Let's Build Europe Together). The two campaigns are part of the PRINCE programme.

When it adopted the EU's 1998 budget in December 1997, Parliament chose to keep in reserve ECU 15 million (out of a total of ECU 42 million for these measures) and asked the Commission to devise a breakdown for the funds which would reflect the priorities established by the budgetary authority (Council and Parliament).

As a result, the campaign on the euro, which is designed to prepare the 370 million citizens of the EU for the arrival of the single currency, will emphasise the link between the euro and employment. The campaign Let's Build Europe Together will focus mainly on issues of public concern such as consumer rights, security, the environment, the European institutions and the EU's image in the world. The total spent on the euro campaign will be ECU 30 million and on Let's Build Europe Together ECU 12 million.

The Budgets Committee has agreed to release these latest funds on condition that the Commission submits a report on information activities to be carried out in the four countries (UK, Sweden, Denmark and Greece) which will not be in the first wave of members of the single currency and have not signed the agreement with the EU on the co-funding of the euro campaign.

Further information: Georgios GHIATIS - tel. 02/284 22 16; email:

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"Russia must occupy an important and very special place in the EU's external relations. Accession to the EU is not a realistic prospect for Russia but when I say that I do not mean it in an unfriendly way. I regard the EU and Russia as a duo with two partners of comparable importance. Our task is to create a new type of relationship with this great country." This, according to Catherine LALUMIERE (ERA, F), is the thinking behind her report on the future relationship between the European Union and Russia, which was adopted on 4th February unopposed, with one abstention, by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by José María MENDILUCE (PES, E).

The rapporteur argues that the security of the European peoples forms an indivisible whole and that this security depends to a very large extent on relations between the European Union and Russia.
There is a need, she believes, for all the possibilities offered by the Founding Act between Russia and NATO to be exploited at the outset. Cooperation must be effective in all areas, including the military sphere, as one cannot imagine Europe enjoying security without Russia. The threatening scenario of the past has been replaced by a situation in which Russia can become Europe's security partner, although Russia should review its position on the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines.

The report goes on to say that the EU should support the economic and political reform process in Russia and also promote exchanges between people in leading roles in politics, administration, economic life and social affairs as well as helping the development of civil society in Russia. Greater cooperation with the Russian authorities is needed on matters covered by the 3rd pillar (justice and home affairs), so as to strengthen the fight against crime. The committee also calls upon Russia to follow up its moratorium on the death penalty, which has been in place since August 1996, by abolishing capital punishment completely.

In addition, says the report, the EU's TACIS programme should in the next few years focus on the following areas: carrying out projects in the areas of health, education, safety and housing; setting up a legal framework within which the rule of law can operate and which accords people and businesses greater legal certainty and confidence in the courts; and implementing a just and effective tax system. The committee also calls for joint Euro-Russian industrial projects to be devised, starting with hi-tech industries (e.g. biology, computers, space, aeronautics, energy, telecommunications), so as to make Russia a fully-fledged partner in these industries of the future.

"We must have a proactive and dynamic policy towards Russia, not a "wait-and-see" policy or one of simply reacting to events", said Ms LALUMIERE at the end of the vote.

Further information: Etienne BASSOT - tel. 284 47 41 or Vladimir VOROBIEV.

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Food irradiation


A report on long-awaited proposals concerning the irradiation of food was adopted yesterday 3 February by the Consumer Protection Committee.

The report (codecision, second reading) by Mrs Undine-Uta BLOCH VON BLOTTNITZ (Greens, D) amends two common positions established by the Council on Commission proposals for:

1. A framework directive on the approximation of the laws of the Member States concerning food and food ingredients treated with ionizing radiation. The directive will lay down conditions for the manufacture, marketing, import and - following an amendment adopted by the committee yesterday - analytical testing of irradiated foodstuffs. It also deals with the authorization of irradiation facilities and labelling;

2. An implementing directive on the establishment of a Community list of foods and food ingredients treated with ionizing radiation. Initially, the list contains only one category of food (dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings), where radiation can be used instead of fumigants which leave potentially toxic residues. The intention is to add other foods to the list over time.

The original Commission proposal was made in 1988 and received a first reading (with amendments) in Parliament in 1989. Its aim is to harmonize national laws so as to create a level playing field in this area of the single market. At present, according to the rapporteur, food irradiation is a commercial practice in only three Member States (France, Belgium and the Netherlands), while Germany and Sweden ban it outright.

Accepting that consumers may have cause for concern about food irradiation, the committee agreed that its sole purpose is to reduce food-borne disease, to retard or arrest decay and to rid food of organisms harmful to plants. However, opposing the common position, members did not accept that it could also be used to reduce loss of foodstuffs by premature ripening, germination or sprouting.

Moreover, by 15 votes to 14 the committee insisted that food irradiation must take full account of health requirements and must not be used as a substitute for hygiene or health practices or good manufacturing or agricultural practice. By the same majority, it agreed that the international food irradiation (radura) symbol may be used to indicate the presence of irradiation in foodstuffs. It also decided, this time by 18 votes to 14, that food irradiation may only be authorized if it is essential to the consumer. The committee also wants greater involvement of Parliament under the codecision procedure (eg in connection with the inclusion of new foodstuffs in the approved list).

Addressing the committee before the vote, Mr Jack CUNNINGHAM, UK Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and current President of the Agriculture Council, said that food irradiation technology could make a valuable contribution to public health through reducing contamination of food and the risk of food-borne illness. The measures proposed would ensure that stringent internationally recognized safeguards were in place over food irradiation.

The report is due to be considered by the House later this month in Strasbourg. The committee chairman is Mr Ken COLLINS (PES, UK).

Further information: Patrick REYNOLDS - tel. 284 4706

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Auto-oil programme


A package of anti-pollution measures - the Auto-Oil Programme - designed to clean up road transport in Europe got the green light yesterday 4 February from the Environment Committee - subject to a raft of amendments.

The measures are dealt with in three texts adopted by the committee under the codecision procedure:

* a second-reading recommendation by Ms Heidi HAUTALA (Greens, Fin) seeking to improve the quality of petrol and diesel fuels; and

* a second-reading recommendation concerning passenger cars and a first-reading report concerning light commercial vehicles, both by Mr Bernd LANGE (PES, D) and both calling for tighter limits on exhaust emissions.

The texts convey the committee's reaction to the Auto-Oil Programme, a collaborative venture between the Commission and the auto and oil industries which was launched four years ago when Parliament and the Council asked the Commission to devise a strategy to reduce road vehicle emissions with the aim of improving air quality.

The proposals to improve fuel quality and toughen emission limits prescribe action in two stages: by 2000 and 2005. While it is generally agreed that the first stage should be mandatory, Council and Commission want the last stage to be simply indicative. Rejecting this view, however, the committee decided that there should be mandatory specifications for 2005.

The Hautala recommendation, which the committee adopted unanimously, concerns the Auto-Oil Programme's key proposal since improved fuel quality will benefit all vehicles, whether new or old, immediately, whereas emission limits and improved engine technology (dealt with in the Lange texts) will only apply to new vehicles.

The Lange recommendation dealt, among other things, with the need for on-board diagnostic systems and in-service surveys. Mr Lange resubmitted most of Parliament's first reading amendments. The recommendation was adopted by an overwhelming majoríty, while his report on light vehicles was adopted unanimously.

The committee chairman is Mr KEN COLLINS (PES, UK).

[A detailed report on the committee's decisions regarding the Auto-Oil Programme is being published separately in Background information in the Press section of Parliament's Internet site]

Further information: Patrick REYNOLDS - tel. 284 4706

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Tobacco - MEPs still opposed to production cuts


This was the response of the overwhelming majority of members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, chaired by Juan COLINO SALAMANCA (PES, E), to a Commission representative who attended a meeting of the committee on February 2nd 1998 to present the Commission's proposal for a new regulation on the common organisation of the tobacco market. The proposal is part of the Agenda 2000 package.

The rapporteur, Raul Miguel ROSADO FERNANDES (UFE, P), together with Giulio FANTUZZI (PES, I) and Livio FILIPPI (EPP, I), attacked the Commission for sticking to its initial proposals, the main aim of which is to reduce Community tobacco production (even though the EU has a shortfall in tobacco), on the pretext that tobacco produced in the EU is of poor quality. (See News Report 51 of 24.6.97). Parliament has already criticised the proposals.

Certain points were challenged by a number of MEPs. These were:
-    the claim that the EU is 51% self-sufficient in tobacco (the true figure, they said, was 30%);
-    the system of buying back production quotas from individual producers wishing to abandon this crop (with a corresponding reduction in guarantee thresholds) without redistributing these quotas to other producers;
-    an increase in the Community Tobacco Fund, for research and measures to combat tobacco consumption, from 1% to 2% of the premium granted to producers (the fund being entirely financed by clawing back this percentage from the premium).

The Commission representative stressed the importance of switching to other crops. However, he was unable to suggest any alternatives when MEPs pointed out that it was difficult, if not impossible, to change crops in tobacco-growing areas, which were mainly to be found in the poorest regions (80% of tobacco production takes place in the EU's Objective 1 regions) and the most vulnerable areas (the average tobacco holding being around 1 hectare in size).

Further information:    Maria-Grazia CAVENAGHI-SMITH - tel. 284 22 39

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