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Opening of the January plenary session - Welcome of Bulgarian and Romanian MEPs / Formation of a new political group

Institutions - 15-01-2007 - 19:57
Plenary sessions
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The session was opened by the outgoing President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, making his final appearance before standing down. His successor will be elected by the House tomorrow - Tuesday 16 January. Mr Borrell's first task at this evening's session was to welcome the new Members of the European Parliament from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU on 1 January this year.

To warm applause from the House, the Bulgarian and Romanian flags were carried through the Chamber, followed by the 18 MEPs from Bulgaria and the 35 from Romania, each of whom was received individually by the President. 
 
Mr Borrell said it was "with great pleasure and emotion" that he welcomed the new Members.  He pointed out that there were now 785 MEPs in the House, from 27 countries, and that 177 political parties were now represented in the EP.  The Bulgarian and Romanian MEPs have been appointed for the present by their national parliaments but in a few months' time both countries will hold elections to enable their citizens to choose their own representatives.
 
Mr Borrell said that on recent visits to the two countries he had "witnessed their enthusiasm for Europe", which he found reassuring "given the euroscepticism in our countries and capitals".  Seeing the new Member States as a clear source of strength to the EU, he said "You bring us your history, your culture, your faith in Europe" and also "you are bringing us a new perspective on our nearest neighbours".  At the same time, he added "all your worries are of even more concern to us today than they were yesterday" and he took the opportunity "to make a fresh appeal to the Libyan Government" over the fate of the Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya.
 
The welcoming ceremony closed with the playing of the European anthem, the Ode to Joy.
 
Condemnation of ETA bombing in Madrid - minute of silence
 
The President then alluded to the bomb attack by ETA in Madrid, in which two Ecuadorean immigrants had died.  In the name of Parliament, he sent condolences to the families of the victims and to the states of Spain and Ecuador, and added that the act must be condemned.  He said "Democracy cannot be accompanied by violence" and "peace and respect for human rights are not negotiable".    The House observed a minute's silence.
 
New political group: Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty
 
The President then announced that, in accordance with Rule 29 of Parliament's Rules of Procedure, a new political group had been formed, with the title Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS).  The group met the minimum numerical requirements laid down in that rule, since it had 20 Members from 6 different Member States.
 
Martin Schulz (PES, DE), leader of the Socialist Group, argued that the group did not meet another requirement, namely that its Members should have a shared political affinity. Statements made by one of its MEPs, Alessandra Mussolini, had indicated that it was merely a technical, not a political, group. However,  Bruno Gollnisch (ITS, FR), the new group's leader, countered that all its Members had signed a political declaration by which they subscribed to a common set of principles.  President Borrell agreed with Mr Gollnisch and ruled that the group did indeed meet the criteria.  The ITS group was thus formally constituted.
 
 
Highlights of the week
 
Institutional change takes centre-stage at Parliament's first plenary session of 2007. President Josep Borrell is standing down at the end of his two-and-a-half-year term of office, so MEPs will be electing a new President, as well 14 Vice-Presidents.  With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU at the start of this year, the number of MEPs increases from 732 to 785.  A new political group is expected to be set up.  Parliament will also have the chance to debate with German Chancellor Angela Merkel the work programme of her country's six-month presidency of the EU, which began on 1 January.
 
On the legislative front, the third rail package comes up for second reading and MEPs will also respond to the Commission's latest road safety proposals.  In addition, Parliament will give its view on the operation of the EU's code of conduct on arms exports.
 
Monday 15 January
 
At the start of the session, outgoing President Josep Borrell formally welcomed the 35 new Members from Romania and the 18 from Bulgaria, who take up their seats following the accession of their countries on 1 January. The arrival of the new intake of MEPs is providing an opportunity for the set up of a new political group.
 
Mr Borrell made his farewell speech to the House as he completes his term of office, which began in July 2004 following the European elections of that year. 
 
Tuesday 16 January
 
Nominations of candidates to replace Mr Borrell as President must be put forward by Monday evening. At the time of writing four candidates have been proposed. The election takes place on Tuesday and is followed by the election of the 14 Vice-Presidents and six Quaestors.
 
Wednesday 17 January
 
The House holds a keynote debate on Wednesday morning with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Germany's six-month presidency of the EU.  The main issues are constitutional reform, the Lisbon economic agenda and the EU's area of freedom, security and justice.
 
On Wednesday afternoon, MEPs will discuss with Commission and Council the case of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical staff facing a death sentence in Libya, before adopting a resolution on the issue. They will then debate a report calling for tougher implementation of the EU's code of conduct on arms exports, before turning to the main legislative item on this week's agenda, the third rail package.  This latest effort to inject more competition into Europe's rail networks focuses on passenger services but, given the sticking points between Parliament and Council, it looks as if conciliation will be needed.
 
Other reports on Wednesday look at the Commission's mid-term review of the EU's road safety action programme and the request for Parliament's assent to an updated partnership agreement with the developing countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.  Towards the end of the day proposed changes to the membership of Parliament's committees will be announced (vote Thursday). New chairs and vice-chairs of the committees will be elected at the committee meetings the following week.
 
Thursday 18 January
 
A report on equality between men and women in the work of the EP's committees is the first item on Thursday's agenda.  Another report, on the law on non-contractual obligations, deals with a range of topics to do with disputes between EU citizens from different Member States, such as traffic accidents. 
 
REF.: 20070112IPR01903