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The Week : 20-07-99(s)

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Nicole Fontaine elected President


Nicole Fontaine elected President

Tuesday 20 July - MEPs elected Nicole Fontaine (F, EPP) as the new President of Parliament. She received 306 votes with her nearest rival Mario Soares (P, PES) obtaining 200. In third place was Heidi Hautala (Fin, Green).

Speakers from across the political spectrum congratulated Mrs Fontaine on her victory. Many noted that she was the first woman President for 20 years. The importance of internal reform of Parliament was also stressed. Mrs Fontaine thanked members for the "overwhelming demonstration of confidence". She also paid tribute to Mario Soares.

The session was opened by Georgio Napolitano (I, PES) acting, as the second oldest member since Mario Soares, the oldest member, felt it was inappropriate to chair the proceedings.

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Vote for President


Vote for President

    Nicole Fontaine     306 votes

    Mario Soares        200 votes

    Heidi Hautala        49 votes

    Spoilt            60 votes

    Total voting         615

NB. Laura González Álvarez (E, EUL/NGL) withdrew before the vote.

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The new President


The new President

Nicole Fontaine, aged 57 and a member of the Executive Committee of the "Nouvelle UDF" political party in France, is a barrister and prior to her election as an MEP in 1984, worked in France's Secretariat General for Catholic Education, dealing with relations between private education and public authorities for almost 20 years. She then became a member of the "Conseille Superieur de l'Education Nationale" before joining the French Economic and Social Council in 1980. During her time as an MEP, she has been a Vice-President and closely involved in conciliation negotiations with Council. She has published several works including a citizens' guide to the Amsterdam Treaty.

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Protest by MEP


Protest by MEP

Tuesday 20 July - Prior to the vote for President, Brian Crowley (Munster, UEN) complained about the lack of facilities for people with disabilities in Parliament's new building. He had found it very difficult to gain access to the chamber and was also unhappy that he could not sit with his political group. Mr Crowley was assured that the necessary improvements would be

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Election of Vice-Presidents


Election of Vice-Presidents

The following were elected as Vice-Presidents to serve until 2001

    David Martin (Scotland, PES) 275
    (First Vice-President)
    Renzo Imbeni (I, PES) 252
    Gerhard Schmid (D, PES) 249
    James Provan (South East, EPP)246
    Ingo Friedrich (D, EPP) 246
    Marie-Noëlle Lienemann (F, PES) 215
    Guido Podesta (I, EPP) 213
    Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca (E, EPP) 212
    Colom i Naval (E, PES) 209
    José Pacheco Pereiroa (P, EPP) 204
    Luis Marinho (P, PES) 198
    Jan Wiebenga (Nl, ELDR) 136
    Alonso Puerta (E, EUL/NGL) 133
    Gérard Onesta (F, Green Alliance) 117
    
    Total voting 594
    Spoilt votes 26
        

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New Technical group formed


New Technical group formed

Tuesday 20 July - The President announced the formation of a new "Technical Group of Independent Members" comprising 29 members from parties of various political complexions, ie. Alleanza Nazionale (9), Liste Bonino (7), Lega Nord (4), Vlaams Blok (2), Front national (5), Movimento Sociale Tricolore (1), Euskal Herritarrok (1).

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New President addresses Parliament


New President addresses Parliament

Wednesday 21 July - The newly elected President of the Parliament Nicole Fontaine (F, EPP) began by thanking members for the honour they had bestowed on her. She promised to be a President of all the members, including those who had not voted for her. She noted with pleasure that 23% of MEPs in the outgoing Parliament were women and the figure was now nearly 30%. She praised the new Parliament building as a "second secular cathedral (in Strasbourg) where a multi-national Parliamentary democracy will operate on a Europe-wide scale."

Mrs Fontaine saw Parliament's first duty as being to demand full recognition of the new responsibilities it had obtained in the Amsterdam Treaty and she stressed the increasing influence of the institution. She emphasised that Parliament would be seeking agreement with Council wherever possible at the first reading of legislation. Nevertheless, she warned that Council would have Parliament to reckon with if it did not take full account of the concerns of Europe's citizens in its proposals. She also noted that it would be inconceivable for Parliament to appoint the Commission without first having read the second report of the Committee of Wise Men and therefore members must receive this document before the hearings of the Commission nominees. While wanting a strong and creative Commission, she also called for it to be transparent on the basis of the new Code of Conduct and to respect the political and democratic equilibrium designed by the electorate. She stressed the importance of institutional reform as a prelude to enlargement and called for an extension of co-decision so that it becomes the Community legal procedure to be applied to all EU legislation. Parliament, she said, must be involved in the CFSP and also in the preparatory work of the Inter-governmental Conference on EU reform. It should also play a greater role in enlargement negotiations and budgetary decisions.

Turning to Parliament itself, Mrs Fontaine stressed the importance of internal reforms and called for more efficiency in its working methods. She also stressed the importance of achieving a common statute for members and clarifying the terms and conditions of employment of Parliamentary assistants. Parliament also needed to improve its communication strategy and reach out to the citizens. Europe needs to become more meaningful to them, she said.

Beyond the borders of the EU, Parliament's influence was significant, she stressed. It was identified with the success of the civilised democracy. Mrs Fontaine applauded the fact that Parliament through its powers of assent on agreements with third countries had insisted on partner countries having respect for human rights. She noted in particular the tragedy in Kosovo where, she said, peace still remained to be built. It was unacceptable, she said, that in the very heart of Europe, human rights should be flouted in such a barbaric manner. However, she applauded the actions of the member states to tackle the situation and she believed that "a new Europe was born in Pristina". Mrs Fontaine considered it would be a highly symbolic act if her first external initiative as President were to visit Kosovo as soon as it was possible. This, she concluded, would demonstrate how Parliament could contribute effectively "to the establishment of peace and the reconstruction, on the basis of unconditional respect for human rights and the rejection of violence."

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The German Presidency


The German Presidency

Wednesday 21 July - Mr Fischer came before the House to present the conclusions of the German Presidency which, he said, had achieved the goals set out in January of this year. Structures, he said, had been put in place to enable the EU to expand eastwards and take on a "pan-European" role, strengthen its security dimension and enhance democratic controls. Against the background of the crisis in Kosovo and the resignation of the Commission, Mr Fischer acknowledged that progress had been difficult. Nevertheless, the Kosovo crisis and in particular the mediating role played by the Finnish President had, he felt, shown that a real common foreign and security policy was emerging and this could be seen in joint approaches taken towards China, the Near East and in particular, Russia. The EU was also united in its defence of human rights. The other area where success had been achieved he felt, was the Agenda 2000 programme paving the way for enlargement. This would, he said, enable negotiations with the applicant states to proceed smoothly. He then drew attention to the forthcoming IGC or Constitutional Conference which would enable structural changes to the institutions to be made to take on board the new member states. As far as strengthening democracy was concerned, he drew attention to the European Parliament's role in bringing about the resignation of the Commission. The fact that the EU had been able to withstand this crisis was, he felt, a sign of its increased maturity and democracy. The Employment Pact agreed by the member states to include a role for the ECB showed the importance attached to creating jobs by the member states and this would be followed up by an employment summit under the Portuguese Presidency, he added. On enlargement, the key issues now were to decide on which other countries were ready to proceed with accession negotiations and to set a target date on a conclusion of those negotiations already taking place. He acknowledged however that there was still a problem with Turkey and that it had not been possible to reach an agreement amongst the fifteeen. The issue was still on the table. On reforms of the EU, the question of "weighting of votes in Council" and the use of more majority voting were vital issues that needed to be resolved, while as far as post- developments in Kosovo were concerned, the priority here was to help the province return to stability and at the same time encourage democratic developments in Serbia although here he emphasised that this was a matter for the Serbian people. The EU would do all that it could to help.

Mr Fischer did however acknowledge the fact that the EU faced a serious question of credibility, in particular its ability to relate to citizens in view of the low turnout in the June European elections, which he felt was disturbing. To remedy this lack of interest, he urged the development of more transparency in the institutions and he emphasised credibility for the EU would only be achieved when it could show that it was able to act in times of crisis. The European Parliament could achieve democratic legitimacy by developing close links with national Parliament and at the same time a new "Euro Constitution" should be based on emphasising the shared values of the member states rather than becoming bogged down in legalistic points.

The debate

While Commissioner Marin acknowledged that progress had been made under the German Presidency, especially with the Agenda 2000 programme, the new EPP/ED group leader Hans-Gert Poettering (D) was anxious to draw attention to what he saw as "shortcomings" over the past six months. The new CFSP must be given sufficient powers to make an impact, he felt, and while enlargement would contribute towards the promotion of democracy and peace on the continent, it must be accompanied by proper institutional reforms which had not yet be agreed, he pointed out. And as far as the WEU was concerned, it was vital that once the Assembly was wound up, that the supervisory powers at present enjoyed by national Parliaments should be handed over to the European Parliament. He was also critical of the German government's approach to the appointment of its two Commissioners.

Klaus Hänsch (D, PES) on the other hand, felt the Presidency had achieved significant result in testing times. He drew attention to the Employment Pact which, he said, was vital in showing that the EU was committed to getting people back to work and he felt that there had been substantial achievements under the CFSP where for the first time the EU had made a military contribution to solving a crisis. As to institutional reforms, he emphasised that a "bigger Europe should not lead to a lesser Europe".

Speaking for the Liberals, Graham Watson (South West) acknowledged that some useful ideas such as reducing VAT on labour-intensive services and increased emphasis on R and D had emerged under the German Presidency but felt that it could have been more successful if it had not made extravagant claims. Unemployment was still a serious issue and so far European western democracies had failed to provide an adequate response, he felt, while the Agenda 2000 programme had backed off from dealing with the key issue of CAP reforms. This would become more evident in the future as he predicted that the EU would become bogged down in transatlantic arguments under the WTO negotiations. His main concern however, was to see the goals of the Amsterdam Treaty with regards to the third pillar and transparency being achieved. He could not accept that all documents in this area had not yet been made available to the public and felt it vital to enhance citizens' rights.

For the Green/EEA group, Heide Rühle (D) too was concerned that not enough progress had been made on CAP reforms although she did acknowledge that the concept of "sustainable development" had been taken up in the Agenda 2000 programme. Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (D) speaking for the EUL/NGL did not feel that the CAP reforms would necessarily help Eastern European agriculture. Furthermore, the arguments over the recycling directive designed to scrap old cars only showed how powerful the German motor vehicle lobby was. However, she reserved her main criticism for what she felt was a worrying tendency to develop the EU into a military pact as could be seen after the war in Kosovo. The priority was to ensure peace for the region.

For the "Europe of Nations" Group, William Abitbol (F) took the view that the election results, in particular in countries such as France and the UK showed increased signs of Euro scepticism, of which governments should take note. Progress could only be made, he felt, on the basis of national sovereignty and he urged members in the House to take note of this. While he supported the "jobs pact", he was concerned that CAP reform would result in subordinating EU priorities to US interests. Concluding, he said it was impossible to create a kind of "virtual democratic reality" from European elections.

For the new "Democracy and Diversity Group", Johannes Blokland (Nl) acknowledged the contribution made by German Chancellor Shröder to the Kosovo crisis but pointed out that consideration should also be taken account of the role played by NATO and the USA. He was however, concerned that the larger countries were seeking to dominate the EU and he looked forward to the Finnish Presidency to redress this tendency.

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Parliamentary committees


Parliamentary committees
(B5-0001/99)

Wednesday 21 July - Parliament decided that the composition of the committees would be as follows:

I.    Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy: 65 members
II.    Committee on Budgets: 45 members
III.    Committee on Budgetary Control: 21 members
IV.    Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs: 43 members
V.    Committee on Economic and Monetary Affaris: 45 members
VI.    Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market: 35 members
VII.    Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy: 60 members
VIII.    Committee on Employment and Social Affairs: 55 members
IX.    Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy: 60 members
X.    Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development: 38 members
XI.    Committee on Fisheries: 20 members
XII.    Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism: 59 members
XIII.    Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport: 35 members
XIV.    Committee on Development and Cooperation: 34 members
XV.    Committee on Constitutional Affairs: 30 members
XVI.    Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities: 40 members
XVII.Committee on Petitions: 30 members

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Delegations


Delegations
(B5-0027/99)

Wednesday 21 July - Parliament decided to set up the following delegations:

Europe

EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee
Switzerland, Iceland and Norway

Central and Eastern Europe/Baltic States

Poland
Hungary
Czech Republic
Slovakia
Romania
Bulgaria
Estonia
Latvia
Lithuania
Slovenia
South East Europe

Newly independent States and Mongolia

Russia
Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova
Transcaucasian republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
Kazakhstan, Kirghizistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia

Mediterranean

Turkey
Cyprus
Malta

Maghreb
Mashreq countries and Gulf States
Israel
Palestinian Legislative Council

The Americas

United States
Canada
Central America and Mexico
South America and MERCOSUR

Asia/Pacific

Japan
China
South Asia
ASEAN, South-East Asia and Korea
Australia and New Zealand

South Africa

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Election of Quaestors


Election of Quaestors

Mary Banotti (Dublin, EPP) , Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl (N, EPP), Daniel Ducarme (B, ELDR), Jacques Poos (L, PES) and Richard Balfe (London, PES) were elected as quaestors. The other candidate was Nelly Maes (B, Greens).

The full vote was as follows:

First Ballot

547 valid votes

Mary Banotti                467 (elected)
Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl    443 (elected)
Daniel Ducarme                400 (elected)
Nelly Maes                    239
Jacques Poos                208
Richard Balfe                157

Second Ballot

549 valid votes

Jacques Poos                309 (elected)
Richard Balfe                284 (elected)
Nelly Maes                    233

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The New Commission


The New Commission

Wednesday 21 July - Commission President designate Romano Prodi came before the House to present his new team, which he described as of the highest quality and well balanced. Some 75% of those proposed were former Ministers, he said, from a wide variety of political parties and with a wealth of experience in diplomacy, business, economic policy making and the legal world. The proposed new team also contains the same number of women as in the outgoing Commission, although Mr Prodi admitted that he would have liked to have seen more.

Mr Prodi then told MEPs that at the first informal meeting last weekend a clear decision had been taken in which each Commissioner undertook to undertake his or her duties giving priority to the European interest. In addition, each proposed Commissioner had agreed to stand down if asked by the Commission President to do so in the light of any unacceptable circumstances. The new Commission would be commited to the highest standards of accountability and would respect a new code of conduct providing for "very strict rules regarding a conflict of interest when Commissioners leave the service.-"

Turning to the reforms of the Commission, while not wanting to undermine the institution and indeed the contribution it had made to developing European integration, Mr Prodi emphasised that it was ill-equipped to deal with today's needs and indeed had not been modernised over the past 40 years He was under no illusions about the tasks ahead but did say a start would be made by streamlining the "Cabinet" structure so that each Commissioner's office would be composed of small multi- national units from at least three different countries. Each Commissioner would indeed also be housed in the same building as the civil servants responsible for his or her areas of responsibility. Rules regarding appointments at the highest level would be tightened up and there would be more internal mobility for existing staff, he added. Furthermore, the media department would be strengthened with a view to ensuring that the Commission's policies were given the widest possible airing in the most professional way so that all European citizens could understand what was happening. Other changes envisaged included a more detailed reform at the beginning of next year to be presented by the new Vice-President with this specific responsibility, after studying the report of the Committee of Experts set up by Parliament and due to be published in September. The new Commission, he emphasised would be an administration of the highest level and would lead by example. It would, he added, be based on transparency, accountability and efficiency. In drawing up the Commission's programme, he undertook to make it more relevant to the European public. He readily admitted that EU institutions were suffering from a loss of confidence by the citizens at large and in order to win this back it was necessary to make the EU relevant to people's needs and take account of concerns over jobs and sustainable development as well as social justice and quality of life.

Mr Prodi then singled out the question of a loss of public confidence in both European and national organisations responsible for guaranteeing the quality of Europe's foodstuffs. His answer here was to propose a new Food and Drug Safety organisation based on the US food and drug agency model. Other policy areas where he felt the EU had a specific contribution to make included air transport where congestion involving inter-European flights was on the increase and an area requiring a European solution and drug-taking in sport. While he acknowledged that some commentators might not consider this a priority, he did feel it was an important concern for people in general. In addition, he emphasised that in some regards it was necessary to have more intervention at a European level to win back the confidence of the citizens. Here he singled out Kosovo as an example. He was however concerned that the resources available to rebuild the shattered community and establish a stable peace in the region would not be sufficient. Nevertheless, the EU should emphasise reconciliation and make sure its presence was visible in an area in which other international organisations such as the UN also had a decisive role to play. The priority for EU financial assistance must be to go towards helping people on the ground and rebuilding homes.

As to the forthcoming IGC on institutional reforms, he pointed out that he did not take the view that this was just a simple post-Amsterdam tidying up operation but was vital in ensuring a stable institutional organisation able to take account of a potential doubling of the number of member states.

The debate

Opening the debate, EPP/ED Leader Hans-Gert Poettering (D) emphasised that the legitimacy of this new Commission would only be endorsed by the Parliamentary hearings due at the end of August. And taking issue with Mr Prodi's contention that it was a "well balanced" Commission, Mr Poettering, to applause from his group, said he did not believe a political balance had been achieved and in particular he singled out the appointment of the proposed two German Commissioners. While he accepted Mr Prodi's assurances over the responsibilities of each Commissioner, he wondered whether each one would be asked to stand down if he or she did not receive the endorsement of a majority in the Parliamentary committee carrying out the hearings for each individual Commissioner. PES Leader Enrique Barón Crespo (E) however, disputed this interpretation and took the view that it was not the political affiliation of the Commissioners that was at stake but rather their competence and ability to act. The function of the hearings should be to test this. He recognised however that the duty of the EU was now to respond to the poor turnout and lack of concern of European citizens in European affairs as shown in the recent European elections and he too felt this could only be overcome by the EU showing itself to be relevant to key issues such as unemployment and Kosovo. The approach of his group, he said, would be based on ensuring that reforms brought about more democracy and efficiency in the EU institutions rather than holding the Commission to ransom. What was at stake, he said, was providing something better for the European citizen.

Pat Cox (Munster, ELDR) argued that if necessary the publication of the report of the Wise Men should be speeded up, but that Parliament's hearings of the Commission should not be delayed. He considered the current situation, with the old Commission still in place, to be "deeply embarrassing". This had been exacerbated by the "deplorable choices" recently made by Mr Bangemann. It was important to know the perspectives that each of the candidate Commissioners would bring and the suitability of their portfolios. They should realise, he argued, that they were accountable to Europe and the Parliamentary hearings should be tough. He would continue to press for reform of the Treaties with Parliament no longer a junior partner in the process but an equal among equals.

For the Greens/EFA, Paul Lannoye (B) stressed in particular that environmental concerns should not be neglected in the new WTO round and that the precautionary principle should be applied. Fausto Bertinotti (I, EUL/NGL) drew attention to the issue of the 20 million unemployed in Europe. This was affecting social cohesion, he argued. Paulo Portas (P, UEN) said that he was still in the dark about where Mr Prodi stood politically. He went on to highlight the problems of Portuguese farmers. Emma Bonino (I, TGI) was one of many speakers to underline the real challenges faced by the new Commission but also asked for them to show more respect and generosity for old colleagues. Michael Holmes (South West, EDD) spoke of his concerns about the future of European democracy and stressed that the Commission needed to become a servant of the elected representatives of Europe. The EU should not be ruled by "nominated bureaucrats". He believed that Mr Prodi should have put himself up for re-election by the new Parliament as he had been approved by the previous Parliament and less than 50% of its members had returned. Surveys showed, he said, that the UK electorate was probably the most Euro-sceptic in the EU. This, he believed, would continue to be the case until there was true democracy.

Winding up, Mr Prodi welcomed the fact that all members had recognised the need for the institutions to cooperate together. One gauge of their success would be the voter turnout at the next EU elections. He noted that the donkey had been the electoral symbol of his party in Italy. This animal, he said, was obstinate by nature and he too was obstinate. He recalled the words of Leonardo da Vinci who said that the donkey was a strange animal which preferred to die of thirst rather than drink dirty water. It was a symbol of what he intended to do. He stressed that the new Commission had been put together in a very open way and that the result was a balanced one. He wanted the Parliamentary hearings to be in-depth and not an occasion for settling accounts from the past. All prospective Commissioners had given him their word of honour that they would resign if something new and untoward emerged. The political responsibility for the future lay with Parliament and the Commission. On international trade, he wanted there to be a balance between free trade and health, the safety of food and medicines was very important. Mr Prodi concluded with the words "forwards if possible" but reminded MEPs that it lay in their hands.

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The Finnish Presidency


The Finnish Presidency

Wednesday 21 July - Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Tarja Halonen came before the House to outline the priorities for the Finnish Presidency of Council over the next six months. Following the appointment of a new Commission commited to transparency and efficiency, she considered it to be an ideal opportunity to introduce reforms throughout the EU and indeed she emphasised Finland's commitments to opening up Council's affairs to the public. In addition, she was concerned to see Council develop a single policy and speak with a single voice.

As far as Kosovo was concerned, the priority now was to restore stability to the Balkans and a start would be made by removing sanctions which affected the Serbian people. The crisis also showed the need for the EU to improve planning arrangements for such eventualities and procedures for managing crises.

Turning to the question of enlargement, it was, she emphasised, important for the EU to remain credible in the negotiations and not just make empty promises while she acknowledged there was a problem in dealing with Turkey's application. As a first step, relations with Turkey would be improved if the death sentence on Mr Öcalan was not carried out. Finland's other priority was to improve relations on Europe's northern frontiers and especially with Russia.

Switching to Swedish, the Foreign Minister then emphasised the importance of Information society setting future standards and creating new job possibilities. Finland is particularly commited to the single market in this area and in particular opening up a telecommunications sector. Another priority for the Finnish Presidency to be taken up at the Tampere Council meeting was the question of Immigration, Asylum and Refugees. It was also important to improve cooperation in tackling cross- border crime while on a social level, the Minister emphasised the need for regulations to be in place to allow people to move freely across the EU and enjoy social security benefits. Other points taken up in the speech was the need to tackle pollution, creat jobs and for the EU to fulfil its social obligations. She singled out mental health in the context of an ageing society as a particular priority.

The debate

Opening the debate, Marjo Matikainen-Kallström (Fin, EPP) underlined the need for improvements to the EU's institutional structure, with due respect for subsidiarity. At the same time, the Kosovo crisis had shown the need for the EU to put in place structures to enable an effective non-military response to be mounted. Otherwise, her priorities were to improve administration and take account of the "northern dimension" to EU policy making, particularly in the area of regional security. For the PES, Riitta Myller (Fin) concentrated on emphasising the importance of openness and access to documents. Progress had been made in this area and there was now an opportunity to push ahead with more transparency, she said. It was important to set a timetable for enlargement. For the Liberals, Astrid Thors (Fin) pointed out that in many ways recent success at an EU level had been achieved by individuals rather than by institutions and it was necessary to correct this balance. Dealing with refugees following the Kosovo crisis was of the upmost importance and she added that it was also important to take up the question of discrimination in Slovakia. Heidi Hautala (Fin, Greens/EFA) emphasised the importance of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and crisis management not based on military approach. She too was looking for improved transparency and for the long awaited energy tax to be introduced.

Gerard Collins (Irl, UEN) spoke of the benefits of the euro but stressed the need for a consumer information campaign and he believed that the Finnish Presidency should continue to address consumer concerns. He also considered that the 9% unemployment rate in the EU was "unacceptably high" and called for economic growth.

Olivier Dupuis (I, TGI) welcomed the Finnish governemnt's statement on the abolition of the death penalty but drew attention to the 3,000 Kosovans who had been taken prisoner by the Serb authorities and called for a necessary action to be taken against the "criminal" Milosevic. Jens-Peter Bonde (Dk, EDD) was unhappy as he felt there was no true democratic decision-making. Adriana Polibortone (I, Ind) underlined the importance of the EU having a clear role in the peace process in Kosovo. Both material reconstruction and a reconstruction of people's faith in each other were necessary, she said.

It was then the turn of Commissioner Franz Fischler to give the House details of Commission activity to promote reconstruction in Kosovo. A total of .378m were commited to the region, the bulk going towards providing essential foods and medicines. Of this total .100m were earmarked for Albania, .62m for the FYROM and .30m for Montenegro. .45m were going to the Obnova programme of which the priorities were such areas as mine clearance and rebuilding the interiors of houses. Mr Fischler noted that a special agency was being set up to manage this aid. However, there had been much debate as to whether the agency should be located in Pristina or in Salonika in Greece. Just this week, Council had decided that the agency's seat should be in Salonika. However, Mr Fischer wanted the new Commission to decide on the location. He noted that 20 EU officials were already at work in Pristina. In the subsequent debate, Bertel Harder (Dk, ELDR) was one speaker to argue that the work should be done from Pristina. The Commissioner then noted that on 13 July, a high level steering group had been established involving the Commission and the World Bank to examine the process of managing the aid. On 28 July the first donor conference would meet in Brussels to set the priorities and a further conference would take place in October. Many speakers such as Arie Oostlander (Nl, EPP/ED) subsequently stressed the importance of building the foundations of democracy in Kosovo as well as economic reconciliation.

On the question of the Öcalan trial, Mr Fischler expressed his confidence that Turkey would not carry out the death penalty. He believed that the case against Mr Öcalan could be transferred to a civilian court. Subsequent speakers such as Ozan Ceyhun (D, Greens/EFA) condemned the "collective failure" of the EU over the Öcalan case.

John Purvis (Scotland, EPP/ED) pointed out that the main priority for Kosovo was now to enable the province to stand on its own feet. This however, would be no easy task, given its dependence on Serbia and indeed its routes through Serbia to other trading countries. He wanted to know what Council's strategy would be if Milosevic remained.

Turning to the question of a members' statute, Willi Rothley (D, PES) urged the Finnish Presidency to take up negotiations with MEPs at the highest level with a view to reaching an agreement on the basis of the text approved by Parliament in May. As he put it, members would not be pushed by the "Swedish, British or Dutch press" into agreeing an unacceptable text. John Bowis (London, EPP/ED) welcomed the Finnish governemnt's commitment to tackling the problem of mental illness, which he pointed out would affect some one in three of the population at some time in their lifetime and indeed accounted for more than 10% of global health expenditure. Malcolm Harbour (West Midlands, EPP/ED) on the other hand, welcomed Finland's commitments to developing the information society. New developments here, he said, would bring about a single market far more rapidly than any amount of legislation. It was vital to ensure that consumers would be able to benefit from this. And, he added, it would help to create jobs by enabling entrepeneurs to obtain access to world markets.

Replying to the debate, Tarja Halonen pointed out that freedom of opinion and freedom of the press was one precondition for a sign of return to democracy in Serbia that she was looking for. And, she added, while Finland was not itself a member of NATO, it fully respected the motives of those member states who did take part in the military peace-keeping operations. She also emphasised her commitment to tackling the problem of minorities, drawing attention to the situation of the Romany people.

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MEPs condemn Mr Bangemann's "dubious career move"


MEPs condemn Mr Bangemann's "dubious career move"

Wednesday 21 July - MEPs on all sides of the House vigorously condemned the "dubious career move", at a particularly sensitive time for the EU and its institutions, by the outgoing Industry and Telecommunications Commissioner, Martin Bangemann, who has accepted a lucrative post on the board of the Spanish telecoms group, Telefónica.

Not content with the code of conduct promised by Romano Prodi, the new Commission's President- designate, they demanded binding rules and tough sanctions to ensure that Commissioners could never again abuse their positions and to repair the EU institutions' battered public image.

Pointing to a clear conflict of interest between Mr Bangemann's new appointment and his former role as telecoms industry regulator, they backed the Council's decision to take him to the European Court of Justice for flouting the Treaty requirement that Commissioners "will behave with integrity and discretion" as regards future appointments.

Enrique Baron Crespo (E, PES) expressed the general concern of MEPs at Mr Bangemann's action and the conflict of interest issue that was raised. He reminded the House that the former Commissioner had been a distinguished MEP and leader of the Liberal Group. In particular, he noted Mr Bangemann's role in the debate over copyright in which Telefonica had also been involved.

Mel Read (East Midlands, EPP/ED) said the Commission was planning an extensive review later this year of EU telecoms legislation. This would certainly be of interest to Telefónica and Mr Bangemann could not fail to take his knowledge of the sector and his contacts with him to the company. How committed had he been, she wondered, to a "level playing field" in the industry?

James Elles (South East, EPP/ED) said Mr Bangemann should lose his pension rights whilst Georges Berthu (F, UEN) felt that Commissioners guilty of such transgressions should be made to repay their salaries.

In his maiden speech to the House, Andrew Duff (Eastern, ELDR) said the Commission now had one last chance to show that it could be the "effective, clean executive" that the people deserved. Calling on the outgoing Commission to apply Mr Prodi's new ethical code, he warned that if it failed in this task the Council might launch a "coup d'état" to deprive the Commission of its right of initiative and its role as the motor of European Union.

The MEPs' criticisms of Mr Bangemann were echoed by both the Commission and the Council representatives. Neil Kinnock, Mr Prodi's nominee for Vice-President with responsibility for reforming the new Commission, said those who held high office were greatly privileged and must act with the utmost probity. He looked forward to a full response to the appeals by Mr Elles and Enrique Baron Crespo (E, PES) for stringent measures to guarantee the highest possible standards in public life. Kimmo Sasi, Finland's Minister for European Affairs, said Mr Bangeman's appointemnt was wholly unacceptable.

In the subsequent vote the next day, MEPs condemned the action taken by Commissioner Bangemann in taking up a post in a part of the private sector where he had a primary responsibility for the Commission policy, without respecting the need for a "cooling off period" after leaving office. The resolution calls on Mr Bangemann to reverse his decision and urges observance of the provisions of the code of conduct by the Commission. An amendment that was adopted insists that Mr Bangemann be deprived of his pension entitlements and of any other benefits deriving from his office of Commissioner.

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Dioxin and food controls - call for strict standards


Dioxin and food controls - call for strict standards

Thursday 22 July - The House heard from Kalevi Hemilä the Finnish Agriculture Minister, who was speaking for Council on the dioxin issue. He stressed the dangers caused by the contamination of certain foodstuffs by dioxin in Belgium. This could have an adverse effect on human health and it also undermined the credibility of production systems and control structures, he said. He recognised public concern on the issue and emphasised the importance of a rapid response. Dr Hemilä noted that EU veterinary legislation was amongst the most stringent in the world. Council would always act to ensure the protection of human health and any action should be supported by the best and most recent scientific evidence. He believed that recent decisions were proof of this approach. On dioxin, investigations had revealed that the contamination resulted from the introduction into the manufacturing process of material that should never have been used for this purpose. Clearly, he said, existing legislation and safeguards were inadequate to prevent such contamination and EU legislation needed to be tightened up. He applauded the "timely and effective action" taken by the Commission to establish all the necessary emergency protection measures imposed by the precautionary principle. This had led to the identification, withdrawal and destruction of all suspect products. The Commission had also set out the criteria to be respected to allow certified products to be placed on both the national and the EU market.

Dr Hemilä then outlined action taken by Council since June when it had adopted a set of conclusions defining the approach to be followed and where present legislation should be adapted. These conclusions stressed the importance of sufficient controls, total compliance with EU legislation and application of the existing early warning systems. Council had also requested the Commission to report by the end of the year on progress towards installing the Food Veterinary Office. The Commission was also mandated with reviewing feedingstuffs legislation and carrying out a critical review of meat meal and animal waste. At a further meeting in the week, Council had progressed this work and welcomed Commission activity to date. It was intended to carry through the necessary adaptation to animal nutrition legislation and to adopt measures on animal waste by the end of the year. This would take place through the co-decision procedure. In conclusion, Dr Hemilä stressed the adverse effect on EU exports and the importance of restoring consumer confidence. Transparency, he believed, was the key, and full information must also be provided to third countries.

Commissioner Franz Fischler noted that the Commission had first been informed by Belgium of the problem on 27 May and since then it had carried out a series of measures, many of which had been carried out through the standing Veterinary Committee with the support of member states. The source of the contamination was still being sought, he said, and in particular four "litmus test" laboratories were being used to examine the issue in depth. Information for consumers had also been improved. Third countries were also being informed regularly about the Commission's actions, particularly through the WTO. The picture in Belgium was still fragmented, he said, and there were problems implementing the Commission's proposals. He noted that the placing of trade restrictions on non-contamination countries posed a problem and promised that the Commission would do everything possible to resolve the crisis. This included an accelerated procedure for infringement of EU legislation against Belgium.

There was deep concern from subsequent speakers about the problem. Karl-Heinz Florenz (D, EPP/ED) castigated Council and member states for "hiding behind subsidiarity" rather than coming forward with a foodstuffs draft directive. Lessons should have been drawn from the BSE crisis, he said. However, he believed the Commission was largely innocent in this particular affair. Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (D, PES) also criticised Council for having regularly "swept things under the carpet". She believed it was a scandal that Belgium had taken six weeks to inform Council of the problem. However, she believed the same thing could have happened with other countries. Better monitoring was needed and controls must be improved, she argued. She too applauded the work of the Commission in this respect, while calling for changes to the CAP. It was currently possible to make profits cheaply by using waste. The Belgian authorities also came under attack from other speakers including Dirk Sterckx (B, ELDR) and Johan Van Hecke (B, TGI) who noted that 10,000 farms had been affected, creating a serious economic and ecological problem. Dominic Souchet (F, UEN) spoke of the "tremendous threat overhanging food safety". He wanted member states to give the Commission a strong remit to tackle the problem.

Nigel Farage (South East, EDD), however cautioned against over-reacting to the situation. The Commission, as he put it, was already pushing ahead with new legislation when what was needed was a balanced approach and a full evaluation of current systems of control, starting in the UK. Pointing out that previous outbreaks of lysteria in the UK had been traced back to Belgian paté, Mr Farage urged that a response based on good scientific practice and not an unwarranted ban on products that would only hurt producers.

Reimer Böge (D, CDU ) supported a balanced reaction, while Phillip Whitehead (East Midlands, PES) felt it was all a re-run of the BSE crisis as experienced in the UK with the use of 'disgusting' practices with animal feed. He was, however, concerned that food inspectors had been threatened and in some cases impeded from carrying out their duties and his priority was to see the universal applications of EU legislation.

Taking up this theme, David Bowe (Yorkshire and the Humber, PES) pointed out that in this case, it should be a relatively straight forward procedure to make the necessary checks. He was concerned that EU legislation was being flouted and called on the Commission to investigate.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Frans Fischler explained that so far, the Commission had only received eight samples from the Belgian authorities and that this was insufficient for a full comprehensive analysis. As to helping the farmers affected, while Mr Fischler was not in a position to promise direct subsidies, he did say that national aids could be provided.

The resolution

Parliament subsequently adopted a resolution calling on the Commission to draw up food legislation to strengthen consumer protection. MEPs take the view that the latest scandal only illustrates the need for strict EU quality controls to reassure consumers and the resolution draws attention in particular to the need to lay down minimum quality standards for feeding stuffs. In addition, there is a call for EU inspectors to carry out spot checks on animal feed and for more research into testing methods. MEPs also want to see more promotion of organic foodstuffs and the Commission is requested to carry out a study on what measures have been taken in the member states to protect consumers.

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Kosovo


Kosovo

Thursday 22 July - In this resolution the House underlined that the reconstruction of Kosovo should be an absolute priority for the EU. It called on all parties to cease violence and work towards reconciliation. An amendment that was adopted rejects Council's decision to locate the seat of the Reconstruction agency for Kosovo in Thessaloniki (Greece).

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Death sentence on Mr Öcalan


Death sentence on Mr Öcalan

Thursday 22 July - In this resolution Parliament called on the Turkish authorities not to carry out the death sentence on Abdullah Öcalan and to formally abolish the death penalty. The resolution also calls for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue.

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Safety in the new buildings


Safety in the new buildings

Thursday 22 July - Robert Evans (London North West, PES) sought assurance that Parliament's new building satisfied all health and safety legislation and had a valid fire certificate. He was told that the matter would be raised and discussed in the Bureau.

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Committee Chairs appointed


Committee Chairs appointed

Thursday 22 July - MEPs appointed the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Parliamentary Committees. The full list is as follows:

Committee President 1st Vice-President 2nd Vice-President 3rd Vice-President
AFET Elmar Brok (D, EPP/ED) Baroness Nicholson (UK, ELDR) Bill Newton Dunn (UK, EPP/ED) Catherine Lalumière (F, PES)
BUDG Terry Wynn (UK, PES) Stanislaw Tillich (DE, EPP) Barbara Dührkop Dührkop (E, PES) Giuseppe Pisicchio (I, EPP/ED)
CONT Dietmut Theatro (D, EPP/ED) Herbert Bösch (A, PES) Lousewies Van Der Laan (NL, ELDR) Freddy Blak (Dk, PES)
LIBE Graham Watson (UK, ELDR) Robert Evans (UK, PES) --- Bernd Posselt (D, EPP/ED)
ECON Christa Randzio-Plath (DE, PES) William Abitbol (F, UEN) José Garcia-Margallo y Marfil (E, EPP/ED) Ioannis Theonas (Gr, EUL/NGL)
JURI Ana Palacio Vallelersundi (E, EPP/ED) Willi Rothley (D, PES) Rainer Wieland (D, EPP/ED) Eduard Beysen (B, ELDR)
INDU Carlos Westendorp Y Cabeza (E, PES) Renato Brunetta (I, EPP/ED) Nuala Ahern (Irl, Greens/ EFA) Peter Micharl Mombauer (D, EPP/ED)
EMPL Michel Rocard (F, PES) Wilfried Menrad (D, EPP/ED) Marie-Thérèse Hermange (F, EPP/ED) Paulo Portas (P, UEN)
ENVI Caroline Jackson (UK, EPP/ED) Carlos Lage (E, PES) Alexander De Roo (Nl, Greens/ EFA) ---
AGRI Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf (D, Greens/EFA) Joseph Daul (F, EPP/ED) Vincenzo Lavarra (I, PES) Encarnacion Redondo-Jimenez (E, EPP/ED)
PECH Daniel Varela Suanzes-Carpegna (E, EPP/ED) Rosa Miguelez Ramos (E, PES) Mihail Papayannakis (Gr, EUL/NGL) Hugues Martin (F, EPP/ED)
REGI Konstantinos Hatzidakis (Gr, EPP/ED) Emmanouil Mastorakis (Gr, PES) Rijk Van Dam (NL,EDD) Helmuth Markov (D,EUL/NGL)
CULT Giuseppe Gargani (I, EPP/ED) Vasco Graca Moura (P, EPP/ED) Ulpu Iivari (Fin, PES) Giorgio Ruffolo (I, PES)
DEVE Joaquim Miranda (P, EUL/NGL) Lone Dybkjaer (DK, ELDR) Max Van Den Berg (NL, PES) Fernando Fernandez Martin (E, EPP/ED)
AFCO Giorgio Napolitano (I, PES) Johannes Voggenhuber (A, Greens/EPA) Ursula Schleicher (DE, EPP/ED) Christopher Beazley (UK, EPP/ED)
FEMM Maj Britt Theorin (S, PES) Marianne Eriksson (S,EUL/NGL) Anne Van Lancker (B, PES) Jill Evans (UK, Greens/EFA)
PETI Vitalino Gemelli (I, EPP/ED) Roy James Perry (UK, EPP/ED) Proinsias De Rossa (Irl, PES) Luciana Sbarbati (I, ELDR)

AFET:    Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy         DEVE:     Committee on Development and Cooperation
BUDG:    Committee on Budgets                                    AFCO:     Committee on Constitutional Affairs
BUDC:    Committee on Budgetary Control                                FEMM: Committee on Women's Rights and Equal
LIBE:    Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs                     Opportunities
ECON:    Committee on Economic and Monetary Affiairs                        PETI:     Committee on Petitions
JURI:    Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market
INDU:    Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy
EMPL:    Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
ENVI:    Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy
AGRI:    Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development
PECH:    Committee in Fisheries
REGI:    Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism
CULT:    Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport

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Protest at fining World Cup tickets row


Protest at fining world cup tickets row

Friday 23 July - British MEPs led a chorus of protests against the Commission for imposing what many saw as a "derisory" fine of just £650 on the French organisers of the 1998 World Cup for breaching EU competition law in the arrangements for the sale of tickets.

In view of the huge profits made by the organisers and the fact that ordinary fans had considerable difficulty in obtaining tickets, Roy Perry (South East, EPP/ED) argued that the amount should have been somewhere nearer to .20m while Glyn Ford (South West, PES) said the Commission had done nothing to show itself as a friend of the genuine football supporter and had sent a message that future organisers of European sporting competitions could get off lightly for flouting the rules. The size of the fine hardly amounted to the price of a black market ticket for one game, he complained. Graham Watson (South West, ELDR), who along with a number of MEPs took legal action against the French football organising committee, said the Comission had not acted in the interests of the citizen and indeed sent the message that it was only interested in taking the side of big business.

In defence of the decision of the French authorities, Harlem Désir (F, PES) however pointed out that the tournament had been organised and paid for by the tax payer and that with a view to controlling hooliganism and violence sales of tickets had been strictly controlled. Indeed, the tournament had been a success, said Mrs Désir with few violent incidents. It was then the turn of another speaker, Neena Gill (West Midlands, PES) describing herself as a woman football fan, to express how appalled she was at the way in which sales had been handled. As she put it, an opportunity had been missed for the EU to link with ordinary people and show itself to be relevant to fans' concerns.

Defending the Commission decision, in the absence of Competition Policy Commissioner Van Miert, Neil Kinnock explained that there was no clear precedent to the case, which was a difficult one and distribution rights had not let the authorities into competition.with other bodies as in a normal business competition policy case. Furthermore, to impose a large fine which would result in the money being taken out of football only to go into the Commission's coffers, would hardly have been popular, he argued and the Commission would have been obliged to take similar action against the organisers of other competitions such as the 1996 Euro Championships in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the Commission had investigated the case closely and laid down clear ground rules to ensure that in future sporting competitions in Europe, there would be a fair distribution of tickets and indeed it had already been in contact with the Belgian and Dutch authorities over arrangements for selling tickets for next year's European Championship.

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New 1999 Political Groups in the European Parliament


NEW 1999 POLITICAL GROUPS IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

B DK D GR E F IRL I L NL A P FIN S UK Total
EPP/ED 6 1 53 9 28 21 5 34 2 9 7 9 5 7 37 233
PES 5 3 33 9 24 22 1 17 2 6 7 12 3 6 30 180
ELDR 5 6 3 1 7 1 8 5 4 10 50
GREENS/ EFA 7 7 4 9 2 2 1 4 2 2 2 6 48
EUL/NGL 1 6 7 4 11 6 1 2 1 3 42
UEN 1 13 6 9 2 31
TGI 2 5 11 18
EDD 4 6 3 3 16
IND 1 1 5 1 8
TOTAL 25 16 99 25 64 87 15 87 6 31 21 25 16 22 87 626

EPP/ED        The European People's Party and European Democrats comprising Christian Democrat and Centre Right parties from all member states including British Conservatives and Fine Gael members from Ireland. It is the largest group in the Parliament and also now includes Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson.

PES        The Party of European Socialists comprising members from all EU states including Britain and Ireland.

ELDR        European Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Group, where the largest contingent is now from the UK. It includes one Irish independent, who is Group leader.

Greens/EFA    This comprises 38 MEPs from Green parties in 11 member states who have formed a new alliance with 10 MEPs from home rule parties in Scotland, Wales, Flanders, the Basque country, Galicia and Andalusia. The UK Greens and Plaid Cymru are represented for the first time with two MEPs respectively.

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

UEN            "The Union for a Europe of Nations" is pledged to defend the nation state and is led by 13 French national MEPs and is opposed to further integration. It includes 6 Fianna Fail members from Ireland, nine Italians from Mr Fini's "Allianza Nazionale", one Danish member from the People's Party and two Portuguese members from the "Partido Popular".

TGI            This group brings together various parties of differing political complexions who have formed a Parliamentary alliance to register as a group and thus enjoy group privileges, ie. The Bonino Radical group from Italy, the "Vlaams Blok" from Belgium, the "Front National" from France and a Basque Separatist. This move has however been contested and the matter referred to the Legal Affairs Committee.

EDD            "The Europe of Democracies and Diversities Group" comprises six members from the French pro-hunting/defence of rural traditions group, the three new MEPs from the UK Independence Party, four anti-EU Danish members and three Dutch members.

Ind            The rest of the Parliament is made up of independents, the Freedom Party in Austria and Ian Paisley.

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PE.275.836

 
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