Brussels plenary session - 5-6 May, 2010

Institutions - 04-05-2010 - 16:38
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  • Brussels plenary kicks off with special round of votes
  • US Vice-President Joe Biden to address MEPs
A view inside the Brussels Chamber

A view inside the Brussels Chamber

US Vice-President Joe Biden addressed MEPs on Thursday 6 May as part of a visit to Europe aimed at making progress on relations with Washington. Not since Ronald Reagan spoke to MEPs in 1985 has such a senior US official addressed the House. It came on the second day of a sitting in Brussels by the European Parliament. On the agenda will be a series of votes rolled over from April's Volcano-ash-disrupted session and resolutions on SWIFT and PNR data sharing issues.

Also during the session there was a vote to sign off the 2008 European Union budget which Members of the Parliament have to either accept or reject.
The 2 day sitting also featured measures being voted on to ensure that airport charges for extra security measures will be footed by Governments not passengers.
Greater action on cancer prevention to encourage people to live healthier lives and tougher penalties for the mistreatment of animals were also on the agenda.
REF.: 20100430FCS73854

Newsletter - 5-6 May - Brussels plenary session

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  • Brussels plenary kicks off with special round of votes
  • US Vice-President Joe Biden to address MEPs

Brussels May 2010 plenary

Brussels plenary kicks off with special round of votes

MEPs will hold a special voting session at the beginning of the coming Brussels plenary - with an early start at 1.30pm - to catch up on the votes that should have been held at the last Strasbourg plenary. These were postponed owing to the absence of many MEPs due to air travel disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud that covered large parts of Europe for several days.

US Vice-President Joe Biden to address MEPs

US Vice-President Joe Biden will deliver a speech at a formal sitting of Parliament on Thursday 6 May, during a trip to Europe which MEPs hope will help achieve progress on several issues in EU-US relations. Mr Biden's address to Parliament comes almost 25 years to the day after President Ronald Reagan addressed MEPs, on 8 May 1985, to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

SWIFT and PNR: Parliament to set out ground rules on data sharing with USA

Following debates on EU-USA data sharing issues with the Council and Commission, MEPs will vote on two resolutions, one restating their conditions for approving banking data transfers to the USA for anti-terrorism purposes via the SWIFT network and the other setting out a blueprint for a standard Passenger Name Record file model. Parliament's consent is needed to approve both agreements.

Airport charges: Member States should bear extra security costs
Aviation security measures that go beyond basic EU requirements such as body scanners should be paid for by Member States, not passengers, says Parliament's Transport Committee in a binding amendment which would substantially change a draft law proposed by the Commission.

Parliament decides on 2008 budget discharge

MEPs will vote on whether to approve the financial management of each EU institution and agency in 2008, under a procedure known as "granting discharge". The Budgetary Control Committee has made recommendations to the institutions and agencies on how they can improve their budgetary management and is proposing that the discharge be granted to all except the Council of Ministers and the European police college.

Animal welfare: step up inspections and increase penalties

More frequent inspections and tougher penalties are needed to help enforce the next EU Animal Welfare Action Plan, says a draft resolution to be put to the vote on Wednesday. The current 2006-10 plan has been satisfactorily implemented but there is room for improvement, argues the resolution.

Cancer: call for EU to support better prevention and earlier detection

With one third of cancers regarded as preventable, the Commission and Member States should step up efforts in the fight against this disease, says a draft resolution by the Environment Committee. It also calls for further action to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce environmental and workplace risk factors, as well as demanding increased EU investment in information and screening campaigns.

Lisbon Treaty: EP votes on letting 18 new MEPs take up seats

Eighteen additional Members of the European Parliament could take up their seats during the current parliamentary term if the EP accepts a treaty change proposed by the Council. The increase comes about because the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty is supposed to raise the number of MEPs from the current 736 to 751. MEPs will also decide if a Convention is needed to discuss the treaty change.

Further information :

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Opening of Brussels plenary session: MEPs to debate euro summit of 7 May

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  • Buzek highlighted forthcoming 60th anniversary of Schuman declaration
  • New debate on 7 May euro summit
The Parliamentary session opens in Brussels

The Parliamentary session opens in Brussels

This week's Brussels session began early, with a special voting session to catch up on the votes held over from the last Strasbourg session. The House first approved a number of changes to the plenary agenda, including the addition of a debate on the eurozone summit of 7 May. MEPs also decided to postpone the vote on the budgetary discharge of the Council. 
The first three items in the order of business on Wednesday from 3pm were agreed as follows:
  • Joint debate on the Mendez de Vigo reports on the composition of the European Parliament (the 18 new MEPs)
  • A new item: a debate with Council and Commission on the preparation of the Summit of Heads of State or Government of the euro area of 7 May
  • The EU 2020 debate already scheduled
In addition, the vote on the budgetary discharge to the Council was postponed pending negotiations with Council.  The other discharge votes go ahead as planned.
The Prodi report on ‘adapting to climate change’ will not have a short presentation on Wednesday night. The vote on this report takes place on Thursday.
The Vital Moreira report on financial support for Ukraine moves to the May II session in Strasbourg, to allow an opportunity for a first reading agreement to be reached.
Thursday's vote on guidelines relating to inter-transmission system operator compensation was removed from the agenda.
Condolences for murder of human rights activists in Mexico
Following the votes, Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek made a number of announcements. First he expressed Parliament's condolences at the killings in Mexico of Beatriz Cariño, the director of the human rights group CACTUS, and Finnish human rights observer Jyri Antero Jaakkola. 
EP President's visit to Washington
Mr Buzek then told the House of his recent visit to Washington, where he had met leading US political figures and opened the new European Parliament liaison office, to promote relations with Congress.
9 May is Europe Day
Lastly, he highlighted the forthcoming 60th anniversary - on 9 May - of the Schuman declaration, a founding document of the European Union.  Each year 9 May is now celebrated as Europe Day and the EP will be holding its traditional Open Days on 8 May in Brussels and 9 May in Strasbourg.  Events will also be held in Luxembourg.
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Airport security: Member States should bear cost of extra measures

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  • MEPs want Governments to pay for body scanners
  • Governments opposed to this
5 May: MEPs vote measures to ensure Governments not passengers pay for new measures

5 May: MEPs vote measures to ensure Governments not passengers pay for new measures

Aviation security measures that go beyond basic EU requirements - such as body scanners - should be paid for by Member States, rather than airlines or passengers, said Parliament on Wednesday when it approved with amendments a draft directive on aviation security charges. As Member States in the Council are opposed to public funding of security charges, this law is likely to go to second reading.
MEPs say that Member States should remain free to decide how to share the cost of basic measures covered by existing EU rules (metal and explosive detectors, sniffer dogs, hand searches, liquid screeners) but should be required to foot the bill if they choose to introduce body scanners, for instance, which are not yet listed as a standard EU aviation security technique. These and other proposals are contained in amendments to a Commission draft directive adopted by Parliament on Wednesday.
Many EU governments are opposed to a directive that would require public financing of security charges, since they are currently free to apply their own rules: in most cases the airport authorities now pass on the security costs to airlines, which then pass them on to passengers.
Security charges should not exceed costs
A 2008 EU regulation already gives air passengers the right to have security costs shown separately in the final price. Now this draft directive says that "security charges shall be used exclusively to meet the security costs". MEPs add that the total revenue from these charges should not exceed the total cost of the security measures.
Security charges should be calculated on the basis of objective criteria, such as the number of passengers or aircraft maximum take-off weight, says one EP amendment. Moreover, such charges may not include any costs of "more general security functions performed by Member States such as general policing, intelligence gathering and national security".
Information between airports and airlines
The directive also stipulates which information airports should provide to airlines each year, and vice versa, so that the amount of security charges resulting from commercial agreements between them is justified and based on objective criteria. The information about the amount of security charges levied by particular airports and airlines should be publicly accessible, whereas all the other information "shall be regarded as confidential or economically sensitive and handled accordingly", says the EP amendment.
The resolution was adopted by 613 votes to 7, with 16 abstentions. As no first-reading agreement with the Council has been reached, the act is likely to go to the second reading.
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2008 budget discharge granted for most EU bodies but held back for Council

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  • Council discharge delayed
  • Welcome fact that "Error" rates have fallen
MEPs approved the 2008 Budget discharge on Wednesday ©BELGA_imagebroker_Christian Ohde

MEPs approved the 2008 Budget discharge on Wednesday ©BELGA_imagebroker_Christian Ohde

Parliament voted on Wednesday to approve the 2008 budgetary management of most of the EU's institutions and agencies.  However, MEPs held back the decision on the Council's discharge for two weeks, pending further negotiations. After pressure from MEPs, a high level dialogue on the Council's discharge has been launched, aiming at a positive vote in Strasbourg.  They also postponed signing off the European Police College's budget until October, citing financial irregularities.
MEPs decided to hold back its vote on the Council's discharge for 2008 until the next plenary (17-20 May) pending the outcome of a high level dialogue on the matter which has just been launched by Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek and Spanish prime minister José Luis Zapatero. Although the first discharge vote (to grant discharge or formally postpone the decision until October) should normally take place before the 15 May deadline, MEPs used this option, to hold back the vote by just two weeks, as they hope the negotiations will enable them to grant the discharge later this month.  "I would like to give a second, and a last, chance to the Council to prepare all the necessary documents for the discharge." said Polish rapporteur Ryszard Czarnecki  (ECR).
Better control of EU agriculture funds
Parliament decided to sign off the budget of the Commission, which manages most of the EU's funding. In their resolution, MEPs welcomed the improvements made in recent years: the average EU-27 error rate for agriculture in 2008 was - for the first time ever - below two percent.  "Error" means, in this sense, not only cases of fraud but other irregularities such as mistakes in reporting or filling in forms.
However, MEPs regret that there are still large-scale errors in rural development, structural funds, research, energy and transport, enlargement and external action. They urge the Commission to prepare and send Parliament plans for further reduction of errors. They also ask the Commission and Member States to simplify the rules for receiving EU funding.  "The real aim of my report is to reduce the error rate", said Polish Socialist Bogusław Liberadzki, Parliament's rapporteur.
More transparency in Member States and Commission
A general problem with controlling the spending of EU funding lies with the Member States, which spend 80 percent of the EU budget. Most States do not draw up national management declarations, as called for by Parliament for a long time, which could facilitate the control of this expenditure. Parliament welcomes the fact that Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom have all made such declarations.
MEPs want to see more transparency in the Commission, including public information about members of expert and working groups, the setting-up of a public register of NGOs receiving EU funds and a revised code of conduct.
The Commission's discharge was granted by 520 votes to 68, with 34 abstentions.
Parliament's budget approved
By 535 votes to 73 and 29 abstentions, Parliament granted its President the discharge for the EP's 2008 budget. MEPs welcomed the "very positive developments in Parliament's financial management" which the discharge reports of the last decade have brought about. MEPs also this year adopted various suggestions on improving the transparency and efficiency of the EP's internal financial controls.
To improve the control system, MEPs request an annual debate between the Secretary-General and the Budgetary Control Committee, special training courses on procurement and an annual report on the activities of the risk manager. Belgian MEP Bart Staes (Greens/EFA) drafted the report on Parliament's discharge.
Many problems to solve for the European Police College
The only agency that was not granted discharge was the European Police College, based in Bramshill, some 70 kilometres from London. MEPs list a series of problems that need to be solved as soon as possible. For instance, the college does not follow EU rules for public procurement and in its accounts; it has sometimes recorded the same assets twice. The EU anti-fraud office OLAF is currently investigating whether the College's mobile phones, furniture, pool cars and shuttle services have been used for private purposes. MEPs voted by 605 votes to 6, with 12 abstentions to postpone granting the discharge until October.
To improve the budgetary control of the Police College, MEPs have drawn up an action plan, to be introduced by the College's director before the end of June. The Budgetary Control Committee will now monitor further improvements in the College. Parliament will decide whether to grant discharge in October, depending on the results.
All other EU agencies were granted discharge. French MEP Véronique Mathieu (EPP) was the rapporteur on the agencies' budgets.
Other institutions and European Development funds
Parliament also granted discharge to the following institutions, all by show of hands:
  • 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th European Development Funds
  • Court of Justice
  • Court of Auditors
  • Economic and Social committee
  • Committee of the Regions
  • European Ombudsman
  • European Data Protection Supervisor
Spanish Socialist Inès Ayala Sender was the MEP responsible for the discharge of the development funds, while Polish Member Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR) oversaw the scrutiny of the institutions.
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Good progress on animal welfare but still room for improvement

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  • More frequent inspections
  • Tougher penalties
Hands up for animals: MEPs want the lessons of previous years to be learned

Hands up for animals: MEPs want the lessons of previous years to be learned

More frequent inspections and tougher penalties will be needed to enforce the next EU Animal Welfare Action Plan, says a resolution adopted by Parliament on Wednesday.  The current 2006-10 plan has worked well, in particular the measures taken to reduce harmful antibiotics in animal feed, but there is still room for improvement, say MEPs.
A high level of animal welfare, from breeding to slaughter, can improve product safety and quality, to the benefit of all EU consumers, argues Parliament, and welfare requirements should be mainstreamed into all relevant EU policies.
The resolution, drafted by Marit Paulsen (ALDE, SE) and approved today by show of hands, reviews the Commission action plan for animal welfare for 2006-2010 and suggests improvements for the next plan.
Enforcement the first step
First and foremost, Parliament emphasises the need to enforce properly the existing rules, such as the ban on battery cages for hens and the rules on the protection of pigs and the transport of geese and ducks.  EU budget funding is needed to enable the Commission to monitor implementation of the law.
MEPs add that animal products imported into the EU, such as meat, must also comply with welfare requirements.
For the future, MEPs call on the EU executive to propose general animal welfare legislation "to achieve a common understanding of the concept of animal welfare, the associated costs and the fundamental conditions applicable". In addition it proposes laying down a "common basic level of animal welfare" across the EU to ensure fair competition in the single market.
Progress on antibiotics
Parliament welcomes the decline in the use of growth-promoting antibiotics since an EU-wide ban was introduced in 2006 to protect human health. However, MEPs ask the Commission to investigate the use of animal health products further and to study the growing resistance to antibiotics in animals.
A European network for animal welfare
Parliament also backs the idea of a European network for animal welfare, as envisaged in a Commission paper of October 2009. This could help provide assistance, including training to food chain actors, and facilitate the testing of new techniques.

Further information :

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Data transfer to USA: Parliament states its terms

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  • Parliament argues data transfers infringe EU legislation
  • SWIFT & PNR accords revisited
The sharing of personal data lies at the heart of the SWIFT / PNR debate ©BELGA_imagebroker_Simon Belcher

The sharing of personal data lies at the heart of the SWIFT / PNR debate ©BELGA_imagebroker_Simon Belcher

Any new agreement on providing bank data to the United States - for example via the SWIFT system - must avoid "bulk data" transfers until they can be processed within the EU, warned MEPs on Wednesday.  As for Passenger Name Records, Parliament opted to postpone its vote on the existing agreements with the United States and Australia and called for those accords be renegotiated on the basis of new criteria.
MEPs voted on two resolutions in Brussels today, one on the opening of negotiations for an EU-US agreement to provide the US Treasury Department with bank data to combat terrorism, the other on the launch of negotiations for Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreements with the United States, Australia and Canada, also for counter-terrorism purposes. 
Bank data transfers
On the issue of bank data transfers, Parliament argues in a resolution adopted by show of hands, that bulk data transfers infringe EU legislation.  It urges the Council and Commission to "address this issue properly in the negotiations".  In addition, the new agreement should include "strict implementation and supervision safeguards, monitored by an appropriate EU-appointed authority" on the day-to-day extraction of and use by the US authorities of all such data. The maximum storage period must not exceed five years and the data may not be disclosed to third countries.
Any new agreement should be limited in duration and pave the way for arrangements to enable requested data to be extracted on European soil, say MEPs. They believe that "the option offering the highest level of guarantees" would be to allow for the extraction of data to take place on EU soil, in EU or joint EU-US facilities.  In the medium term, an EU judicial authority should oversee the extraction of data in the EU. Meanwhile, select EU personnel should take part in the oversight of the extraction process in the USA.
Reciprocity would require the Americans to allow EU authorities to obtain and use data stored in servers in the US.
Parliament wants access to any documents that demonstrate the need for the scheme.  It also wants to know whether the envisaged agreement will guarantee the same rights to European citizens as to Americans in the event of any abuse of the data: the rights guaranteed under the US Privacy Act can be invoked only by citizens and permanent residents of the United States.
Passenger name records: Parliament postpones its vote
The accords with the United States and Australia on Passenger Name Records need Parliament's approval but, in a resolution also adopted by show of hands, the EP decided to postpone its vote.
MEPs want to explore the options for arrangements for the use of PNR that are in line with EU law and meet the concerns expressed by Parliament in earlier resolutions on data protection, proportionality and opportunities for redress.
They call on the Commission to present, no later than mid-July 2010, a proposal for a single PNR model and a draft mandate for negotiations with third countries. The model should ensure that data is only used for law enforcement and security purposes, is not used for profiling and is not forwarded to third countries.  MEPs also argue that PNR data alone must not be used as grounds for banning an individual from flying.
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MEPs debate economic crisis ahead of Euro Summit on Greece

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  • MEPs debate Greek euro zone crisis ahead of EU Summit
  • Tragedy in Greece fuels urgency of debate
Euro debate: President of the Commission, Josè Manuel Barroso, and Spanish Secretary of State for the EU, Diego López Garrido, present to members their views about the EU Summit of Heads this Friday, 7 May.

Euro debate: President of the Commission, Josè Manuel Barroso, and Spanish Secretary of State for the EU, Diego López Garrido, present to members their views about the EU Summit of Heads this Friday, 7 May.

Help for Greece in its current fiscal crisis and the way forward for the euro zone and EU as a whole were debated in Parliament on Wednesday, against the backdrop of unfolding events in Athens. The debate was held ahead of the meeting of euro zone leaders in Brussels on Friday scheduled to endorse the aid package to Greece. Most speakers agreed on the need for stronger economic governance and rapid implementation of financial market reforms.
Diego López Garrido for the Spanish Presidency of the European Union spoke of an "extremely important decision in political and historical terms for the credibility of the euro-zone and the external credibility of the EU as a whole". He went on to say that the Union has taken "clear steps towards economic governance of the EU".
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission: "An unprecedented act of solidarity"
He said that there was "no alternative to these efforts by Greece". He called for "an unprecedented act of solidarity anywhere in the world" to help Greece and preserve financial stability of eurozone. He called the aid package "an adequate response to crisis, not all market players seem convinced, they are wrong".
Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek expressed his condolences about the loss of life in Greece during Wednesday's protests. "We truly hope the stalemate in Greece will be ended, to the benefit of all of us" he said.
French MEP Joseph Daul (EPP): "Answers won't be national but European, not populist but responsible"
"In Europe we are living through particularly difficult times with tragic consequences for citizens. Time has come for Europeans to learn from what happened. We need to change people's mindsets so that national governments stop criticising the EU for decisions they themselves were responsible for" said the leader of the EPP.
He called on Governments to look at what will happen if other countries fall in the same situation as Greece. "I think the moment of truth has arrived for Europe" he said.
Spanish Socialist Maria Badia I Cutchet: "The crisis is the acid test"
She expressed sympathy to Greece and urged people to return to calm. "The EU cannot stand by because success has to be fruit of efforts of all. Instruments need to be properly mobilised" she said.
"On Greece the last few weeks have taught many lessons. I hope we will be able to rise to challenges of the moment" said the Spanish MEP.
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE): "We need a European Monetary Fund"
Mr Verhofstadt said "I hope that the machinery we have set up will actually work because we have no plan B. It's an attack on the Euro, not an attack on Greece, its far more serious far broader."
He went on to say that "it took us 5 months to set up this machinery because it's an intergovernmental system. We need a certain structural reforms, an EMF and a 2020 strategy which is much tougher than the one we have today."
Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA): "You can't decree reforms"
The French MEP said "we can't ask Greece to do the impossible; you can't decree reforms without consensus. We need a sense of responsibility. The EP can take initiatives, let's not wait for the Council to amend treaties so we can we have an European Monetary Fund. And for Greece it shouldn’t just be finances that dictate decisions, we should think about the workers. We can help the Greek budget in a simple way by taking an EU initiative in favour of disarmament in the region."
Belgian MEP Derk Jan Eppink (ECR): "The hostages are the taxpayers"
He told the House "we need stricter supervision and an exit procedure for a country that just can't cope. A country has to be able to devalue its currency and sort its problems that way. If you look at Greece you will see where 'ever closer union' reaches its limits. The hostages are the taxpayers."
German MEP Lothar Bisky (GUE/NGL): "Once again it's going to be the taxpayers who will pay"
He said that "of course we have to help Greece but the so called rescue measures have rather absurd traits. France and Germany are dragging their feet, financial markets have been deregulated for years and tax payers will foot the bill. Employees will have to accept wage cuts. We propose banning derivative speculation. Greece must put its house in order: tax wealth, fight corruption and reduce armaments expenditure. I can understand demonstrators, what I can't understand is acts of violence."
Greek MEP Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD): "Act very quickly"
He pointed out that in the current circumstances the most important thing is to protect democracy. "It might well get worse in Greece" so urged euro-zone leaders "to act very quickly toward finding a solution for other countries as well".
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Cancer: MEPs urge more detection and prevention

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  • 3 million new cases
  • 1.7 million deaths each year
Cancer treatment in Lille, France. ©BELGA_MAXPPP_Pierre Le Masson

Cancer treatment in Lille, France. ©BELGA_MAXPPP_Pierre Le Masson

With more than 3 million new cases and 1.7 million deaths each year, cancer is the second biggest cause of death in Europe.  But one third of cancer cases could be prevented. The European Parliament wants EU governments and institutions to step up the fight against this disease.  MEPs called on Thursday for further action to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce environmental and workplace risk factors as well as demanding increased EU investment in information and screening campaigns.
In a resolution drafted by Slovene MEP Alojz Peterle (EPP) and adopted on Thursday by show of hands, MEPs welcome the Commission proposal to set up a European Partnership for Action Against Cancer for the period 2009-2013 to support the Member States' efforts to tackle cancer. They believe particular efforts should be directed towards the new Member States. All Member States are urged to set up integrated cancer plans, to help achieve the Partnership’s long-term aim of reducing cancer by 15% by 2020.
More and better prevention and information campaigns
Prevention is the most cost-effective response, says the resolution, as one third of cancers are preventable. More resources should go into prevention, healthy lifestyles should be encouraged and "information campaigns on cancer screening" should be "directed at the general public and all healthcare providers".  
More support is needed for research into cancer prevention, including the effects of harmful chemicals and environmental pollutants, nutrition, lifestyle and genetic factors. The links between cancer and risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical and synthetic hormones should be investigated, says Parliament.
Lastly, argue MEPs, cancer medicines, including treatments for rare and less common cancers, should be uniformly available to all patients who need them, and inequalities of access to cancer treatment and care must be reduced, including the new ‘targeted’ cancer drugs recently put on the market.
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Biden urges close Europe-America ties amid shared values

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  • US Vice-President addresses European Parliament Thursday
  • Stresses shared EU-US values
US Vice-President  Joe Biden addressing a sitting of the European Parliament on Thursday 6 May 2010.

US Vice-President Joe Biden addressing a sitting of the European Parliament on Thursday 6 May 2010.

US Vice-President Joe Biden used his address to the European Parliament to stress the need to renew and rebuild the transatlantic relationship. He told MEPs that Europe and the US have shared interests and shared values and in a changing and dangerous world they needed one another. He also focused on the importance of fighting terrorism and in a reference to the SWIFT date sharing controversy he said that the right of privacy was enshrined in the US Constitution and by the Supreme Court.
On crucial international issues Mr Biden said that the US would continue to work towards a Copenhagen climate deal saying "now we have to carry out those emissions cuts".
Call for Iranian nuclear cooperation
On Iran's nuclear programme he took a hard line saying that Europe and Washington "together embarked on an unprecedented path of engagement with the Iranian leader". He said the US was still willing to engage but Iran would face isolation if it did not fulfil the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Referring to American anti-missile batteries in Europe he said (to applause) "we are committed to the security of all our allies".

Joe Biden profile

  • Born November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania
  • One of the youngest people ever elected to the US Senate (at the age of 29)
  • Active on foreign affairs, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, post-Cold War Europe and Middle East
  • 47th US Vice President. Tasked with economy, Iraq policy
On Afghanistan and Pakistan he said the EU and US were side by side in training the Afghan army and the police forces. "It is not easy, not popular, but necessary for our collective security," said Mr Biden.
On Greece he said that Washington supported the proposed EU - IMF bailout.
Emphasises US guarantees of privacy over SWIFT case
Turing to the controversy over SWIFT and Passenger Name Recognition where the European Parliament has been against handing European information to the US authorities without safeguards, Mr Biden made a lengthy reference to privacy in the US. "We believe that the terrorist financing tracking program is essential to our security. We understand your concerns. And I am absolutely confident that we can succeed in both using the tool and guaranteeing privacy: it is important that we do so as quickly as possible". Mr Biden also said that "not less than privacy, physical safety is also an inalienable right".
Stressing his background in the US Senate he noted that between them the European Parliament and the Congress "represent more than 800 million people: two elective bodies that shape the laws for almost 1/8 of the global population". He also said the US welcomed increased European cooperation that the new Lisbon Treaty may allow.
Europe "an idea"
Mr Biden also said that he and President Obama shared the European values of freedom and peace. Paying tribute to many of the founders of the current European political community he said that "Europe is not so much a place but an idea".
Striking a different note to the previous US administration he quoted Churchill saying "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak" but it is also "that it takes to sit down and listen". He also emphasised the need to listen to each other and the readiness of the Obama administration to listen to Europeans.
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Europe's digital revolution by

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  • MEPs want wide broadband access
  • Benefits of "digital society" stressed
Stylized glowing blue highway with binary code. ©BELGA_imagebroker_Simone Brandt

Stylized glowing blue highway with binary code. ©BELGA_imagebroker_Simone Brandt

Every European household should have access to broadband Internet at a competitive price by 2013 and be trained to participate fully in the new digital society, argues a resolution adopted by Parliament on Wednesday. MEPs also want 75% of mobile subscribers to be 3G users by 2015. "The train towards the digital society is an extremely high speed one with no stops; the EU must be on board," rapporteur Pilar del Castillo Vera told us ahead of the vote.
Explaining the current situation of the EU's digital legislation, the Spanish Christian Democrat added.: "The well–functioning of the digital economy is imperative for the well–functioning of the entire EU economy. However, the free movement of digital services is today severely hindered by fragmented rules at national level".
She admitted to being a great user of everyday digital services: "My website and blog are regularly updated, and also my status through several social networks (Twitter, Facebook). In addition, access to the press and digital transactions are some of the digital services that I use almost every day."
Ms del Castillo's report on a new Digital Agenda for Europe: was approved by a large majority.
Citizens at the heart of the strategy
MEPs now want high-speed access and digital skills for all, including disadvantaged members of the population (the elderly, the disabled and those on low incomes) and people living in rural and remote regions.
They believe 50% of EU households should be connected to very high-speed networks by 2015 and 100% by 2020 and that "all primary and secondary schools must have reliable, quality Internet connections by 2013 and very high-speed Internet connections by 2015".
In addition, "ICT training and e-learning should become an integral part of lifelong learning activities, enabling better and accessible education and training programmes".
Ms del Castillo's report fixes a commitment to reduce digital illiteracy by half by 2015 and also proposes a European Charter of consumer rights in the digital environment, consolidating data privacy and protection against cybercrime with special protection of minors and young adults in particular.
A full digital single market by 2015
Explaining the main drive of her report, Ms del Castillo said: "We urgently need a fully developed competitive digital single market. To achieve this we must: first effectively implement the new regulatory framework. Second, boost the digital services market. Thirdly the free circulation of content and knowledge, the 'fifth freedom' must be developed".
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