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The Week : 01-10-97

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Twelve meetings in Strasbourg


Twelve meetings in Strasbourg?

Wednesday, 1 October - A number of MEPs, including Pervenche Berès (F, PES) raised today's ruling of the Court of Justice which declared that 12 part-sessions should be held in Strasbourg. The ruling calls into question Parliament's vote last month to only meet in Strasbourg for 11 part-sessions next year.

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Turkey customs union


Turkey Customs Union

Wednesday, 1 October - It was agreed that the report by Peter Kittelmann (D, EPP) on the EU Turkey Customs Union would be taken at a future session.

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MEP attacked


MEP attacked
Wednesday, 1 October - Brian Crowley (Munster, UFE) complained that fellow MEP, Monica Baldi (I, UFE) had been attacked while attending an official function in Florence, Italy, to which she had been invited on her return from Strasbourg on 19 September. The President agreed to take up the matter with the Italian authorities.

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Member states' employment policy guidelines


Member States' employment policy guidelines

Wednesday, 1 October - President Jacques Santer presented the Commission's proposals for the special European Council to be held on 21 November which would be devoted to employment issues. He underlined that the fight against unemployment was an absolute priority. He emphasised that much progress had been made since 1996, in particular employment had been included in the Amsterdam Treaty. The Treaty, he said, set out common European guidelines on employment for member states. Mr Santer emphasised the importance of this step, as it was not too long ago when there had been a general refusal to act in common. He stressed that there was now a very effective monitoring framework which would have a dynamic effect on the actions of member states.

Mr Santer stressed that the 18 million unemployed in Europe deserved concrete measures which should be ambitious while being realistic. He wanted the employment rate to be progressively increased in the long term to more than 70% which would be similar to the EU's principal commercial partners and in five years for it to be increased from 60% to 65% with unemployment going down from 11% to 7%. This he said would lead to 12 million new jobs.

In order to achieve this Mr Santer set out an action plan in four main areas.

Firstly he wanted to create a corporate spirit that would stimulate entrepreneurship and reduce administrative overheads that discouraged firms from employing new workers. He wanted to reduce the obstacles in the way of those moving from paid to self-employment and to ease the access of SMEs to capital. He spoke of the current fiscal pressure of 42% which hampered employment and called on member states to reduce this. He also called for a better balanced tax system while respecting budgetary neutrality, which he said would be discussed by Finance Ministers on 13 October. Finally, he wanted strategies that would enable the full potential of new technology to be realised.

Secondly, Mr Santer wanted to see better training to integrate the unemployed, particularly the young, into the workforce. He highlighted the problem businesses face in finding skilled workers. To tackle this, he wanted every adult who had been unemployed for over 12 months and young people unemployed over 6 months to receive employment or training. He wanted the number of young people leaving school early to be cut by 50% in five years. He also wanted an increase of 25% in five years of unemployed people being offered training. He emphasised the importance of the social partners and the structural funds in this task.

Thirdly, Mr Santer wanted member states to become more adaptable to new technology and market conditions. For example, member states should create a framework permitting more flexible contracts. They should also invest in their human resources and promote measures helping their workers to improve their skills rather than spending state aid on "lame duck" sectors.

Finally, Mr Santer spoke of the need to ensure equality of opportunity and to overcome the disadvantages that women endured in the labour market. He stressed the crucial role they had to play in the labour market, especially because of the declining working population. He therefore called on member states to make efforts to reduce the gap in the level of employment between men and women. He wanted more to be done to allow women to reconcile work and family life and for women to have full access to training.

Mr Santer concluded by saying that in October the Commission would be carrying out a full analysis of the Amsterdam agreement and examining how common policies could be made to work. He re-emphasised that action and not "hollow words" were what the EU's 18 million unemployed deserved.
Questions to President Jacques Santer

Staffan Burenstam Linder (S, EPP) asked for the Commission's views on the philosophy of the Blair government which sought greater flexibility in the rules governing the labour market. Commissioner Padraig Flynn accepted that taxation needed to be more "employment friendly" and wanted member states to exploit the macro-economic climate to reduce the charges on labour. He wanted a target for reducing the tax burden to be set, while retaining budget neutrality.

Stephen Hughes (Durham, PES) asked whether Mr Santer considered that the guidelines he was setting out would be a rallying point for the Heads of state and wanted to know how strong he judged the momentum behind them to be. Mr Santer stressed that all players had to be mobilised to ensure that the proposals succeeded. He emphasised the need to establish effective methods of monitoring to ensure that member states could determine whether they had achieved the targets that had been set.

Elaborating on what kind of sanctions were available to the Commission to ensure the member states adopted the new employment plan, Commissioner Flynn emphasised that the aim was for each member state to draw up its own national plan within common European guidelines. This would then be made public and the Commission would be able to evaluate and monitor its implementation. The intention was to work with governments rather than against them but it would still be possible to draw attention to areas when aspects of the plan were not being put into effect. As to the question of "new" money to put into place employment policies, Mr Flynn emphasised that the intention was to make a more "positive" use of the Ecu 200bn spent in social security, much of it at present concentrating on guarantee incomes. Whilst not mentioning "Workfare" by name, Mr Flynn did say the idea would be to aim for a more "active" labour policy and he drew attention to the US experience which had been more successful in creating jobs and reducing unemployment than had been the case in Europe. The target figure over the next five years would be 65% of the working population in employment leaving an overall employment rate of 7%-8%. Commissioner Flynn also spoke of the need for "flexibility" and "adaptable" contracts and the need to ensure that those who worked reduced hours were not penalised.

He acknowledged concerns about "tax dumping" or the ability of firms to relocate in countries where tax burdens were lower in the single market but emphasised that fiscal harmonisation was not part of the present operation. The question of taxing capital would, however, be taken up at a forthcoming meeting of finance ministers. Another aspect of the policy concerned the need to develop more opportunities for women.

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Budget 1997


Budget 1997 - better than last year says Commissioner
(B4-818/97 - Brinkhorst and Tillich)

Wednesday, 1 October - Replying to concerns raised by members of the budget committee over the poor implementation of the 1997 budget, especially in the PHARE and TACIS Programmes for Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as the money earmarked for the reconstruction of the former Yugoslavia, Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said that at the current stage of the financial year, the situation was better than previous years, with some two-thirds of expenditure already spent. The expectation was that more of the Ecu 90bn budget would be spent this year than was the case in 1996. One reason for this was that in 1997 there were no new spending programmes and that funding for areas such as agriculture and regional and social funds was restricted. He acknowledged concerns over milk quotas which had been breached by several member states but said that this would be part and parcel of the CAP reforms. He also took on board fears raised by Scandinavian members that the new Objective 6 policy, designed to help rural parts of Sweden and Finland, had not yet come on stream. He expected teething problems to be sorted out by the end of the year.

As far as Trans-European networks were concerned, there was a high rate of committing projects where the figure was now 82% although, as far as paying for projects agreed was concerned, the figure was only 40%. The MEDA programme designed to help the North African Mediterranean states was also coming along satisfactorily with 63% of expenditure committed. The administration's budget had benefited from favourable movements in the exchange rate while in the future the intention was to reduce amounts in this area.

MEPs approved a resolution noting that the implementation of the 1997 budget is in line with the trend over the last two financial years. Points of concern include the fact that a number of states are exceeding milk quotas, and that funds for northern Sweden and Finland (objective 6) have not yet come on stream. MEPs also want to see close monitoring of regional and social fund expenditure and regret under-spending in certain headings such as measures for combating violence against children, the PHARE and TACIS programmes. Concern is also expressed at the failure to use money earmarked for the development of parts of the former Yugoslavia.

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Relations between the EU and Canada


Relations between the EU and Canada - Fisheries and trapping at issue
(A4-140/97 - Graziani)

Wednesday, 1 October - Opening the debate, Antonio Graziani (I, EPP) emphasised the growing importance of international relations between the EU and Canada. He drew attention to the need for closer cooperation in such fields as tackling drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal immigration, disarmament and achieving a worldwide ban on landmines as well as strengthening trade.

Other speakers welcomed the agreement and emphasised the need for close cooperation with Canada.

For the fisheries committee, Pat the Cope Gallagher (Connacht/Ulster, UFE) lamented that, despite the general good will that existed between the EU and Canada, relations in the fisheries sector had often been fraught. He noted that much of the cause of the problem was the similar fishing structures of the two parties. He outlined the development of the conflict since 1975, including the declaration of exclusive economic zones and the special problems of Spain and Portugal. He stated that he shared Mr Graziani's optimism for better cooperation between the two parties and stressed the need for bilateral and multilateral confidence building measures. In particular he supported the NAFO initiative.

As an aside to the debate Georges Berthu (F, I-EN) spoke of his fears of Canada becoming part of the US melting pot and Quebec losing its separate identity and he stressed his support for a free Quebec.

For the Commission, Hans van den Broek spoke of how the joint action programme had improved relations between Canada and the EU and he applauded the progress that was made at the Denver Summit in June. He recognised the differences between the parties on fisheries, but emphasised that, in general, they shared the same views and attached great importance to their relationship.

He detailed the agreements between the two parties - including those on standards and certification and mutual assistance and cooperation in customs - which he believed would promote trade and relations in general. He concluded by saying that Canada was a very important ally of the EU in a wide number of fields, including the reform of the UN, disarmament, human rights and Eastern Europe.

Antonio Graziani's (I, EPP) resolution welcoming closer political relations with Canada was adopted with slight amendment. MEPs take the view that the indigenous people of Canada should be allowed to take part in developing an environmentally responsible policy for the country.

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EMU, convergence and the future of the welfare state


EMU, convergence and the future of the welfare state
(A4-255/97 - Willockx)

Wednesday, 1 October - Reporting for the economic committee, Frederik Willockx (B, PES) spoke on the convergence criteria of EMU and the funding of social security systems in EU member states. Mr Willockx stressed that member states could not use the observance of the convergence criteria for EMU as an alibi for making swingeing cuts in their social security expenditure. He wanted Europe to avoid comparisons with the United States and to remain faithful to the "Rhineland model" of adequate social security provision. He stressed the need to avoid slogans and wanted member states to exercise caution in transferring from one system to another. However, he believed it was vital to keep the social security systems affordable. He believed that this could be achieved through sound government finances, a high level of employment and the necessary modernisation of the social security system. He considered that Europe could build the framework for this development through such initiatives as tax coordination, and meeting such social convergence criteria as minimum salaries He concluded by calling for a social security system that was modernised and financially strong and wanted the Commission to carry out an in-depth analysis of the social security system.

In the subsequent debate Raphaël Chanterie (B, EPP), on behalf of the committee on social affairs and employment, emphasised the importance of keeping to the timetable of EMU. He recognised that there would be temporary difficulties, but emphasised that budget discipline was vital to maintain an effective social security system. He believed that social security reform would be achieved by economic growth, an improvement in the employment situation and tax reform. In this way, he concluded, the EU would achieve economic, monetary and social union.

Alan Donnelly (Tyne and Wear, PES) welcomed the "very timely" debate and stressed the links between social security systems and the levels of unemployment. He emphasised the need to reform the social security system while also ensuring that there was an adequate social safety net. Mr Donnelly considered that the post-war social security system was no longer appropriate for today and called for a new system of flexible help tailored to individuals' needs which did not permanently exclude them from work.

He recognised that the social security bill for the taxpayer was increasing and spoke of the need to boost employment to reduce the budget deficit. Finally, he called for the removal of the barriers which made it difficult for young people to move from benefit to work.

Replying to the debate Commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy acknowledged concerns raised about paying for welfare benefits with a reduced working population. Indeed, he pointed out that the ratio of the working population to the elderly had reduced considerably since 1960. He did, however, feel that the stability brought about by a single currency would in the long run be beneficial in stimulating growth. He acknowledged, however, the need for real reforms to the taxation and pensions system.

Frederik Willockx's resolution drawing attention to the problems of financing a social security system against the background of high unemployment and an ageing population was adopted with several amendments. The resolution believes that consideration should be given to shifting the tax burden from labour to "non-renewable natural resources" but that any new incentives for job creation should not be at the expense of maintaining existing social security benefits.

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Law of the sea


Law of the sea
Assent procedure
(A4-283/97 - Cot)

Wednesday, 1 October - Bearing in mind the EU's responsibilities in such fields as commercial policy, fisheries, the environment and safety at sea, Jean-Pierre Cot (F, PES) felt that it was indispensable that the Community should become part of the convention relating to the law of the sea in its own right. The only question at issue was what procedure to use for settling disputes.

Replying for the Commission, Hans van den Broek expressed his satisfaction that Parliament supported the Community's accession to the convention. It would be represented on the permanent international authority, he said, adding that he accepted the obligation to keep MEPs fully informed of progress. As to the method of settling disputes, this could either be through arbitration or a new court procedure.

Parliament approved the EU's accession to the Convention on the law of the sea.


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Supremacy of EU law


Supremacy of EU law
(A4-278/97 - Alber)

Wednesday, 1 October - Before taking up his new post as Advocate-General in the Court of Justice, Siegbert Alber (D, EPP) came before the House to emphasise his belief in the "supremacy" of EU law over national law and the confirmation of this in the Amsterdam Treaty. He explained that while in the past there had been general acceptance that European Court of Justice case law took precedence for judgements involving European law, two rulings from the German and Danish constitutional courts had called this into question. The German constitutional court ruling was based on the idea that the European Community was a "confederation" and not a federal state and that therefore the supremacy of federal law did not apply but Mr Alber drew attention to the clause in the Treaty that refers to the "ever closer union of the European peoples". There were, he said, legal consequences of this not recognised by the Court. Neither could he go along with the Court's interpretation that just because there was not a European "people", European law could not be supreme and that the democratic deficit had to be filled by national parliaments. In fact, he added, the diversity of Europe's people was the Union's strength and that this could in fact be protected at a European level. He took the view that national courts could not declare invalid EU legislation. What was needed now was a way of transferring international law into European law and clarification over Second and Third Pillar policies on home affairs and foreign policy. The EU should also have its own legal personality.

In the debate, other speakers such as Willi Rothley (D, PES), Georgios Anastassopoulos (Gr, EPP) and Luigi Florio (I, UFE) concurred with Mr Alber but there were a number of dissenting MEPs such as Hervé Fabre-Aubrespy (F, I-EN) who took the view that EU primary legislation could not just be imposed on all member states.

Replying for the Commission Hans van den Broek welcomed the report adding that it contained a number of useful ideas. He was particularly interested in pursuing ways of transposing international treaties into the Community legal order in view of the ever increasing international role now being played by the Community in its own right.

Siegbert Alber (D, EPP) resolution emphasising the supremacy of community law over national law was adopted unamended. Numerous proposed amendments from the Independent Europe of the Nations Group disputing this interpretation were rejected.

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EU relations with South East Asia and FYROM


EU relations with South East Asia and FYROM

Wednesday, 1 October - The EU's relations with South-East Asia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were the only two issues on the agenda for this Brussels night session. In a joint debate, MEPs discussed the report by Luciano Pettinari (I, EUL/NGL) on the EU-Cambodia cooperation agreement, the report by Bernard Castagnède (F, ERA) on the EU-Laos cooperation agreement and two reports by Michael Hindley (Lancashire South, PES) on the extension of the EU-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement to Vietnam and on EU-ASEAN relations. Also discussed was the report by Josep E Pons Grau (Sp, PES) on relations with FYROM. Apart from the agreement with Cambodia, all the other cooperation plans were welcomed by MEPs.

Mr Pons Grau's report on the agreement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was approved was approved

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Cambodia


Cambodia

Wednesday, 1 October - Although rapporteur Luciano Pettinari (I, EUL/NGL) had earlier been recommending that MEPs approve the cooperation agreement between the EU and Cambodia, he now asked that Parliament should reconsider its position given the substantially changed position since the coup d'etat. Referring to the "political earthquake" which took place two months ago, Mr Pettinari took the view that it was too early to give the green light to this agreement. Three important conditions should first be fulfilled by the new regime: respect for the Paris agreements, a calendar for elections early in 1998 enabling different political groups to take part, and general protection of human rights.

Commissioner Manuel Marin agreed with the House that the EU should put pressure on the new regime to respect human rights. The Commission proposed to spend 0,5 MECU on the organisation of the 1998 elections. Nevertheless, he warned MEPs that a total ban on cooperation with Cambodia would damage vulnerable partners like farmers in certain regions and not the regime.

MEPs followed Luciano Pettinari's (I, EUL/NGL) recommendation to refer the report back to Committee in view of the current crisis in the country which has developed since his report had been written. He was particularly concerned about human rights and the need to set a date for elections in 1998. A new report from Parliament, he felt, could contribute to bringing about peace and stability in the country.

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Laos


Laos

Wednesday, 1 October - Rapporteur Bernard Castagnède (F, ERA) recommended approval of this cooperation agreement, which contains a human rights and democracy clause and also covers cooperation in the field of energy, science and technology, transport and communications and environmental protection. Two outstanding problems were the large numbers of unexploded mines, which was hampering agricultural development, and the development of alternative crops to opium production. Commissioner Marin said that this agreement would be of major political importance to both the EU and this former Communist republic.

The agreement was approved.

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Vietnam


Vietnam

Wednesday, 1 October - The extension of the EU-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement to Vietnam received the full support of rapporteur Michael Hindley (Lancashire South, PES) . The EU originally signed a cooperation agreement with Vietnam in 1995, but in the same year Hanoi became a member of ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations. This accession has obliged the Commission to negotiate a Protocol that extends the 1980 EU-ASEAN agreement to Vietnam. The rapporteur said that Vietnam was recovering after decades of war and now had enormous growth potential. However, several members regretted the continuing human rights abuses there.

Commissioner MARIN admitted that the human rights situation was far from perfect, but added that this agreement was a great challenge and could not have been achieved only two years ago. He was convinced that the new political generation soon to take office wouldl considerably change the political scenery in Vietnam. Having said that, he warned the House that including human rights clauses in the agreements with Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam would not automatically transform these states into Western democracies. "The miracle of democracy does not come about overnight," he said.

MEPs approved the extension of the ASEAN cooperation agreement.

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ASEAN


ASEAN

Wednesday, 1 October - Michael Hindley's (Lancashire South, PES) report on creating a new dynamic in EU-ASEAN relations was also welcomed by Parliament, but some speakers criticized this summer's accession of Burma to ASEAN. The rapporteur took the view that that decision was ASEAN's own business and noted that ASEAN did not interfere in matters concerning EU membership. But he also emphasized the importance of human rights and, in particular, adherence to human rights conditions in bilateral relations between the EU and certain ASEAN member states.

The rapporteur favoured a debate on the implications of ASEAN expansion for EU-ASIA relations. There should be separate negotiating mandates for each of the new ASEAN-members as regards their adhesion to the EU-ASEAN agreement. Many speakers in the debate shared the rapporteur's belief that increasing EU-ASEAN cooperation could potentially concern all aspects of economic activity, including investment and intellectual property, industrial cooperation, services and technology, and human resources. Finally, the rapporteur supported tourism development together with the need to preserve environmental resources. Efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of children and women should be better coordinated.

Several members raised the issue of East Timor, expressing their deep concern at the abuse of human rights by the Indonesian authorities. The EU should put pressure on Indonesia in order to respect UN resolutions on this former Portugese colony.

Commissioner Manuel Marin had nothing to add to the Hindley report, but agreed that the accession of Burma "is difficult to explain to third countries".

The resolution was approved.

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FYROM


FYROM

Wednesday, 1 October - The agreement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was considered an important step towards further stabilization of the political situation in this part of the Balkans. Rapporteur PONS GRAU was convinced that the agreement would enhance the political credibility of FYROM. The new independent state faces a 36% unemployment rate and ethnic problems, but its inflation rate was falling and its problems with its neighbour Greece had been solved.
Commissioner MARIN shared the rapporteur's view that the agreement was a breakthrough. The accord on transport relations was of major importance for stability in the region. The commissioner hoped that Council would approve the agreement by 1 January 1998 at the latest.

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The future of Lomé


The future of Lomé
(A4-274/97-Martens)

Thursday, 2 October - Presenting his report on the future of the Lomé Convention, after its expiry in the year 2000, Wilfried Martens (B, EPP) reporting for the development committee took the view that cooperation with the developing countries under a similar kind of arrangement must continue. He acknowledged that there were many criticisms of detail on the working of the present convention, but the primary need for the future was for the EU to find practical ways of helping ACP countries, as well as looking after Europe's own interests. The challenge was to adapt the convention to increasing globalisation of world trade.

The relationship between both sides had moved on from one of just economic cooperation and now encompassed a political dimension. For the future it was necessary to obtain the support of the peoples in the various countries for a new agreement. This meant involving all aspects of political and social society. There was, he said, also a need to simplify trade rules which had become increasingly complex and difficult to operate. For the future he set a target date of the year 2015 to reduce absolute poverty in these countries by 50%. In this, he felt the Joint Assembly involving European politicians and ACP representatives could play a key role.

In endorsing the continuation of Lomé, Luciano Vecchi (I, PES) emphasised the need for development cooperation to be based on partnership with the aim of helping ACP countries to modernise. He did not see any need to change the present geographical arrangements adding that the top priority was to encourage sustainable development and help the poorest developing countries.

Johanna Maij-Weggen (Nl, EPP) felt that there was a need to breathe new life into the agreement and encourage regionalisation. While the EU was the largest trading partner for the countries concerned, there was great scope, especially in Africa, to improve links between the countries themselves, she said. She drew attention to the democracy and human rights clause in the present agreement and the need to reinforce this, tackle corruption and develop a strategy to prevent future conflicts breaking out. Other speakers, such as Blaise Aldo (F, UFE) emphasised the need to modernise the economies of the countries concerned and bring about a fairer distribution of wealth, while Raimondo Fassa (I, ELDR) in emphasising the democracy and human rights clause said it should be used to impose conditions on aid to ensure that basic values were respected. One particular point that he raised, concerned respect for WTO rules and liberalisation negotiated at an international level. Such regulations should be respected by developing countries once their economies were up and running he said, a view contested by several other speakers, such as Hélène Carrère d'Encausse (F, UFE) and Wilfried Telkämper (D, Greens) who felt that it was just not feasible to ask poor African countries with underdeveloped economies to comply with such international trade rules. They were not in a position to compete, said Mrs Carrère d'Encausse, while Mr Telkämper emphasised the need to revise the STABEX system designed to guarantee price stability for commodities. It had not provided sufficient guarantees he felt.

Johannes Blokland (NL, I-EN) emphasised the importance of trade as a means of development rather than handouts, while Michel Scarbonchi (F, ERA) felt that aid and development programme should be concentrated at an EU level rather than dissipated amongst various national programmes. Togo, with its 6% annual economic growth rate and rapid development of democratic institutions was a good example of how development cooperation could be successfully achieved, he said. The development committee chairman, Michel Rocard (F, PES) drew attention to the importance of international organisations in the development process and small scale loans if necessary, without guarantees. While Konrad Schwaiger (D, EPP) was adamant that "corrupt dictatorships", as he put it, should play no part in the future negotiations, Glenys Kinnock (South Wales East, PES) too felt that it was just not feasible to apply international market liberalisation policies to the poor developing countries. Emphasis should be on aid and trade preferences with a view to improving the social fabric of the countries concerned. The EU, she said, as the world's largest trading block should stand up to the WTO and the USA. The ACP/EU Joint Assembly should be involved in any decision taken to suspend aid over human rights violations or for other political reasons. She too was looking for a way of providing a means of reducing conflicts between the countries concerned with EU policy based on assessing the needs of the different 70 countries.

Taking this point a step further, Alex Smith (South of Scotland, PES) called for a detailed country by country assessment before looking at the options for the new convention. WTO rules should be applied according to different levels of development, he said, pointing out that the experience of the banana situation showed that so called fair rules could produce unjust outcomes.

Replying for the Commission, Commissioner Joao de Deus Pinheiro welcomed MEPs' contributions to the debate and emphasised the need of the EU to concentrate on human development and help the weakest economies. Dealing with the problem of external debt was a major concern for the poorest countries and indeed suffocated development, he said, before drawing attention to the lead given by France and the United Kingdom in cancelling debts. He accepted the priority to continue the fight against poverty and looked forward to the European Development Fund (EDF) coming under the EU umbrella and the EU budget.

Mr Marten's resolution was approved with numerous amendments. Support for the continuation of the ACP/EU Joint Assembly is confirmed in the resolution although a proposal for the Assembly to have a say in any decision to suspend aid was rejected.

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Transport of animals


Transport of animals - care over conditions
(A4-266/97 - Van Dijk)

Thursday, 2 October - Opening the debate Nel van Dijk (Nl, Greens) introduced her report drawing attention to the awful conditions faced by thousands of animals transported across Europe ultimately heading for the slaughter house. As numerous television programmes have shown, these animals arrive at their destination, tired and exhausted and after enduring journeys that clearly violate an EU 1995 directive setting a maximum limit of eight hours without a break, after which there should be proper watering and feeding conditions. But the problem was that the Commission was powerless to act in numerous cases as five member states had not yet transposed the directive into national law, she said. Furthermore, checks were far from satisfactory. The situation had an adverse effect on consumers since the quality of meat from such animals facing stress was often poor, she added. And, she took issue with the practice under EU rules of granting export refunds to those involved in the trade. This was clearly a violation of WTO rules she contended.

James Provan (South Downs West, EPP) pointed out that the situation had prompted the largest ever petition presented to the European Parliament, with 3.5 million signatures from concerned Europeans. This showed the high importance attached to the problem by ordinary people he added, and the clear objective now must be to stop unnecessary long distance transport of animals destined for the slaughterhouse. It was, he said, wrong for horses to be transported two to three thousand miles from countries such as Russia to EU markets. This, he said, was an unnecessary exploitation of animals by those merely concerned with profit.

Undine-Uta Bloch von Blottnitz (D, Greens) recalled the words of St Francis of Assisi that "all creatures of the planet feed as we do ... and live and suffer as we do" and she condemned the abuse and exploitation of animals. Inger Schörling (S, Greens) argued that the EU's policies of export refunds encouraged the continuation of the status quo and she called for them to be halted. Animals, she said, should be slaughtered as close as possible to where they had been reared. Franz Linser (A, Ind) called for tough penalties or otherwise, he believed, any directive would be a "toothless tiger". He was supported in this call by other MEPs such as Johannes Swoboda (A, PES).

Replying for the Commission, Joao de Deus Pinheiro recognised that there was increasing concern about long distance transport and said that he shared MEPs' concerns. He believed that in a number of cases the authorities in member states were inadequately enforcing current rules and he noted that the Commission had started infringement proceedings against those member states that were in default. Mr Pinheiro went on to detail the new measures that the Commission was proposing to improve the situation of animal transport and he argued that there had been considerable progress in EU legislation. He detailed the activities of the EU's Food and Veterinary Office inspectors in monitoring and enforcing legislation by on the spot checks. He revealed that the inspectors had come across instances of animals suffering during transport, of inadequate checks and unsatisfactory means of transport.

He concluded by stressing that the Commission was as anxious as Parliament to improve the conditions of animal transport.

Mrs Nel van Dijk's report was passed without amendment.

    POLITICAL GROUPS IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT as at 17.9.97
    

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
63
215

EPP
7
3
47
9
30
12
4
15
2
9
7
9
4
5
18
181

UFE


2

17
7
24

2

3

55

ELDR
6
5

2
1
1
4
1
10
1

5
3
2
41

EUL/NGL

4
9
7

5

3
2
3

33

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

1
36

TOTAL
25
16
99
25
64
87
15
87
6
31
21
25
16
22
87
626

PES        The Party of European Socialists comprising members from all EU states including Britain and Ireland. It is the largest group in the Parliament.

EPP        The European People's Party, once again with members from all EU states and comprising mainly Christian Democrat parties but including British Conservatives, who are affiliated but not full members of the party as such, and Fine Gael members from Ireland.

UFE        Union for Europe comprises representatives of Mr Berlusconi's party with the addition of a 'Lega Nord' and a Social Democrat member, all from Italy, plus French MEPs, seven Irish Fianna Fail members, two Greek members from the 'Political spring' party, three centre party Portuguese MEPs and two Dutch Members who crossed the floor from the PES and EPP Groups.

ELDR        European Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Group, where the largest contingent is from the Netherlands. It includes two British Liberals and one Irish independent, but the 'Lega Nord' members from Italy have now left to sit as independents.

EUL/NGL    Next comes the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left NGL Group made up of representatives of Green/Left parties from Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden as well as of members of Communist parties from France, Greece and Portugal.

Greens            The Greens, with two members from Ireland, now comprise representatives from nine member states.

ERA            The European Radical Alliance, based on the French Radical Party, is joined by two Scottish Nationalists, two Italian radicals and Spanish and Belgian members from regional parties. It considers itself a 'progressive' left party and supports the idea of a Federal Europe. Its latest recruit is a former member of the Greens from Luxembourg.

I-EN            The Independent Europe of the Nations Group is pledged to defend the nation states and is opposed to further integration. It is composed of French members who led the opposition in France to the Maastricht Treaty, Danish anti-marketeers and two Dutch members from smaller parties. It is now joined by Jim Nicholson of the Ulster Unionists.

Ind            The rest of the Parliament is made up of independents, including French and Belgian National Front members, Italian 'lega Nord' and Ian Paisley.

 
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