Index 
Debates
Monday, 23 April 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes
 3. Statements by the President
 4. Documents received: see Minutes
 5. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 6. Decisions concerning certain documents: see Minutes
 7. Oral questions and written statements (tabling): see Minutes
 8. Written statements (Rule 116): see Minutes
 9. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes
 10. Membership of Parliament: see Minutes
 11. Membership of committees and delegations: see Minutes
 12. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes
 13. Order of business
 14. Declaration of financial interests: see Minutes
 15. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
 16. Payment services in the internal market (debate)
 17. Advanced therapy medicinal products (debate)
 18. Enforcement of intellectual property rights (criminal measures) (debate)
 19. Future enlargements and cohesion (debate)
 20. The Commission's annual strategic priorities (Budget 2008) (debate)
 21. Tariff quotas for imports into Bulgaria and Romania of raw cane sugar (debate)
 22. Quota system in relation to the production of potato starch (debate)
 23. Damages actions for breach of competition rules (debate)
 24. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 25. Closure of sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR POETTERING
President

(The sitting was opened at 5 p.m.)

 
1. Resumption of the session
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I declare resumed the session suspended on Thursday 29 March 2007.

 

2. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes

3. Statements by the President
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Last week, in the Turkish town of Malatya, three people working for Zirve, a Christian publishing house, were murdered in a particularly cruel manner. This was a dreadful deed, one that I condemn in the strongest terms, and I would encourage the Turkish authorities to continue in their efforts to shed light on every aspect of this crime. The Turkish Government has strongly denounced these attacks, and I would urge them most emphatically to bring those responsible to account for their actions. The protection of religious minorities and of their rights is an important function of the rule of law in any democratic state, and this House condemns all crimes committed by political or religious fanatics against those whose opinions and convictions differ from their own.

I have to inform the House that the news has just reached us of the death of Boris Yeltsin, the former – and first – President of Russia. We wish to express our sympathies to the Russian people.

 

4. Documents received: see Minutes

5. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes

6. Decisions concerning certain documents: see Minutes

7. Oral questions and written statements (tabling): see Minutes

8. Written statements (Rule 116): see Minutes

9. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes

10. Membership of Parliament: see Minutes

11. Membership of committees and delegations: see Minutes

12. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes

13. Order of business
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The final draft of the agenda for this sitting, as agreed by the Conference of Presidents meeting on Thursday, 19 April 2007, in accordance with Rules 130 and 131 of the Rules of Procedure, has been circulated. It has been requested that the draft be amended as follows:

Monday:

The Socialist Group in the European Parliament has asked that the vote on Mr Sánchez Presedo’s report (A6-0133/2007 ) on the Green Paper on damages actions for breach of the EC antitrust rules be deferred to Wednesday at 11.30 a.m.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (PSE ), rapporteur . (ES) This report is the result of the enhanced cooperation between the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on Legal Affairs. It is going to be debated late tonight and there are certain amendments that we would like to consider in order to try to achieve the maximum consensus for the report.

This is why I would ask for the vote to be postponed until Wednesday, Mr President.

 
  
  

(Parliament adopted the motion.)

Wednesday:

(DE) The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe has moved that the vote on Mrs Bowles’ report on basic information on Purchasing Power Parities (A6-077/2007 ) be deferred until Thursday at noon.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sharon Bowles (ALDE ), rapporteur . Mr President, I can be very brief. This is just because we received a legal opinion from Parliament’s Legal Service very late on Friday and we need to make a few comparisons with the text agreed with the Council.

 
  
  

(Parliament adopted the motion.)

(DE) The Socialist Group in the European Parliament has moved that it should be possible to submit motions for a resolution following the Commission statement on the strengthening of European legislation in the field of information and consultation of workers, with the intention that the texts be voted on at the next part-session.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stephen Hughes (PSE ). – Mr President, we are delighted that there will be a statement on Wednesday evening from Commissioner Špidla on information and consultation. We would certainly like an opportunity to table a motion for a resolution to recall the often-repeated position of this Parliament: we think that the European Works Council Directive needs to be reviewed. We understand the position of our Liberal colleagues, however. They would prefer to hear what the Commissioner has to say before pinning themselves down to a resolution. We therefore request that the motion for a resolution be attached to the statement, but not voted on until the next mini-session in Brussels.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, we are against the motion for a resolution and whether we should link it to the Brussels part-session, because we take the view that important issues should be dealt with in committee. We have committees in order to make the decisions of Parliament strong, important and reliable and therefore we stick to that. An important issue should be dealt with in committee. That is why we have committees in this Parliament.

 
  
  

(Parliament adopted the motion.)

(The agenda was therefore adopted.)

 

14. Declaration of financial interests: see Minutes

15. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
MPphoto
 
 

  President. We now come to the one-minute speeches on important political issues.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (PPE-DE ). (DE) Mr President, in Parliament’s offices in Luxembourg, the position of general manager has now been vacant for seven months. I put a question about this in December 2006, to which you, Mr President, replied, on 1 February of this year, that an internal trawl had proved fruitless and that the post was to be put up for external competition. Your department’s answer to Mr Turmes two months later was in exactly the same terms. The personnel list of this House now includes a Commission civil servant as a temporary member of staff, as if the woman currently holding that position, who has many years of experience, needed someone to watch over her.

What I would now like to know is whether someone – perhaps the Committee on Budgets or the Quaestors – has objections to this post being filled properly and promptly, or whether there is some other explanation for this delay in the recruitment process.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Thank you very much. We shall look into that.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Yannick Vaugrenard (PSE ).(FR) Mr President, the total amount of aid that Europe has given to Darfur since 2004 comes to EUR 304 million, and that is positive. But what is stopping us from acting more effectively at political level; from seeing an end, at last, to the crimes against humanity that are committed in this region of the world? Two-hundred thousand deaths, two million displaced persons – what more do we need to make us really take action and stop making do with conclusions that merely list our concerns? How many more deaths must there be before we finally decide to turn our statements into acts?

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has presented substantial evidence against individuals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, one of whom is a minister of the Sudanese Government. We have been able to deploy a whole range of sanctions against the Moldavian separatists, the agitators in Congo, Liberia and the Ivory Coast, and the Belorussian leaders. Let us impose these same sanctions – visa ban, freezing of assets – on all persons implicated in the reports by the United Nations commission of inquiry and group of experts. Let us stop making conscience-easing statements, and let us finally act more practically, more politically, without worrying about geopolitical presuppositions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Graham Watson (ALDE ). – Mr President, on 13 April, Members of this House due to speak at a multinational conference in Singapore were refused permission to address the conference by the Singapore Government. Indeed, they were told that if they spoke, they would be immediately arrested.

This conference was not specifically about Singapore. It was a conference of Liberal and Democrat parliamentarians from Asia and Europe on the development of democracy on both continents. The cooperation between European and Asian members of parliament, which has led to the staging of many such conferences in many different Asian and European countries – at which nobody has been prevented from speaking – has grown out of the work of the Asia-Europe Foundation. Such cooperation is a central part of the Union’s strategy in Asia. Coincidentally, the ban was imposed on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Asia-Europe Foundation.

I ask you to write to the Commission President and the Secretary-General of the Council requesting that they should protest to the Singapore Government in the strongest terms and urging them to reflect on whether Singapore is an appropriate country to host the Asia-Europe Foundation if it acts in this way.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Thank you very much, Mr Watson; that is certainly something for the President of this House to do, and I can do no other than endorse what you have said. The letter will be couched in the strongest possible terms.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański (UEN ). – (PL)  Mr President, Polish apple growers and producers of soft fruits such as strawberries, blackcurrants, cherries and gooseberries are facing disaster. I am therefore forwarding to you, Mr President, a document signed by several thousand individuals containing a protest and a range of proposals.

This protest is an expression of discontent with the current situation in the soft fruits market, and an appeal by thousands of farmers who find themselves in this critical situation as a result of errors in the common agricultural policy. They are making a public appeal for help as they feel they have been neglected and betrayed by the European Union and that the Union has denied them justice. It is incumbent on the European Parliament to heed this appeal and respond appropriately. That is why I call on the President and on the whole House to support the solutions advocated by Polish farmers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Milan Horáček (Verts/ALE ).(DE) Mr President, in its attempts at fending off demands for more democracy, Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime is having recourse to more and more violent means. Demonstrations organised by the opposition over recent months have been roughly put down. In an attempt at intimidation, more and more people are being arrested and interrogated, and police brutality reached its high point thus far the weekend before last, when they even attacked and arrested passers-by who were not involved – including journalists from the German television stations ARD and ZDF. The people running Russia are, then, no longer using only the law courts – as they did in order to deal with Mr Khodorkovsky and Mr Lebedev – but are now also bringing the whole security apparatus to bear in order to intimidate and silence their political opponents.

With negotiations on the new partnership agreement with Russia in the offing, the European Union cannot, therefore, allow itself to be led by its dependence on that country where energy is concerned. If there is to be further cooperation, it is very important that human rights – particularly the free expression of opinion and the freedom of the press – should be secured and that it should be established who is behind these goings-on, and the assorted contract killings that have been carried out.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I can tell you now, Mr Horáček, something I shall be bringing to the Bureau’s attention straightaway, but I shall also tell you and the House, namely that, last weekend, a member of my staff visited Moscow, albeit for other reasons – issues that have to do with Andrei Sakharov.

When I learned of the demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg, I asked this member of my staff to establish contact with Gary Kasparov, and they did have a conversation. I asked the member of my staff to tell Mr Kasparov that, if he were to come to Strasbourg or Brussels, he would be very welcome to visit this House, and that we would give him an appropriate opportunity to tell us about what is going on. It is very likely that he will be coming to Strasbourg in May, and that will provide an opportunity for talks with him. I would also inform you that we are taking action along the lines you have outlined.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Adamos Adamou (GUE/NGL ).(EL) Mr President, I should like to condemn the arrest of a member of the European Parliament, Mr Matsakis, by the authorities of the British bases in Cyprus during an official visit by the Committee on the Environment, Health and Food Safety, in fact on the bus, an action which constitutes a serious attack on the institution of the European Parliament. This colonial behaviour on the part of a Member State must stop and I call on you, Mr President, to request that the part of the agreement exempting the British bases in Cyprus from the European Union to be re-examined. It is unacceptable for a Member State to occupy territory in another Member State and for the acquis communautaire not to apply there. Are the citizens living in these areas not European citizens, Mr President? It is an intolerable situation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Urszula Krupa (IND/DEM ). – (PL)  Mr President, a certain Polish writer has suggested amending the NATURA 2000 environmental protection programme to include the lives of unborn children. Unborn children would then be safe, just as plants, worms and amphibians are. Their lives before and after birth would be properly protected.

The ruling against Poland handed down by the Court of Justice at Strasbourg because my country refuses to kill children exemplifies the deep moral crisis the European Union finds itself in. Stating that it is illegal to refuse to kill a child may be the first step towards recognising abortion as a human right. I should like to recall the teachings of the Polish Pope John Paul II. He warned that sooner or later a democracy devoid of values will turn into an overt or covert totalitarian regime.

How can one describe a system in which a group of people who have already been born claim a monopoly over the right to life, whilst denying that same right to those who are not yet born and to those whom they would subject to euthanasia on the grounds that they are useless?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Thank you, Mrs Krupa. I see that as a matter for the Polish Parliament to deal with. We all agree that it is in the interests of your group that the principle of subsidiarity should be upheld, and so, if I may say so, that is a matter for the Polish Parliament.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ashley Mote (ITS ). – Mr President, I must draw the attention of this House to a threat to its integrity. A ruling last week in the British courts held that after granting an application to lift the immunity of a Member who faces specific charges, the European Parliament can be assumed simultaneously and implicitly also to have lifted immunity against any other charges without further examination of the facts. Such a ruling is prima facie contempt of this House. It opens the way for blanket applications from Member States and implies the possibility of applications against any and all Members to be exercised by any future government at its discretion. If unchallenged, this ruling would profoundly undermine the Rules of this House and its procedures. I appreciate that this issue comes to light from a Member whose scepticism of this institution is well known, but I respectfully remind you that I am also an advocate of the rule of law wherever it is to be found.

Today, Mr President, I have sent you, the Secretary-General of Parliament and the Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee details of the situation, inviting examination of the implications of this ruling.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  András Gyürk (PPE-DE ) . (HU) At the March summit of the EU Member States there was unanimous commitment to a common energy policy. This at last creates the opportunity for Europe significantly to decrease its dependency, for sources of raw materials, on countries that are in a more fortunate situation.

One of the basic pillars of the evolving Community energy policy can be the construction of the Nabucco gas pipeline, a venture to which, in addition to the encouraging decision by the Member States, the commitment of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has also given new impetus. In light of the above, it gives particular cause for concern to hear Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány state that Nabucco is a dream and it is not dreams that we need.

These sorts of statements serve the interests of those who seek, for considerations of power that go beyond economic interests, to cause division within the European Union in the area of cooperation on energy policy. A common energy policy must be based on joint action and must avoid special deals, for the question of a secure energy supply for Europe cannot be sacrificed to short-term goals. On the energy question, only a Union that speaks with one voice and in solidarity is able to defend its own interests.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pervenche Berès (PSE ).(FR) Mr President, our Parliament must take action to demand and obtain the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz from his post as President of the World Bank. Everyone in this House will remember the circumstances in which Mr Wolfowitz, in the wake of some US internal political manoeuvring, was appointed as the head of that institution, one of the most important institutions of our international financial system.

Today, for reasons of method, we will be unable, under Rule 115, to argue that keeping Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the World Bank constitutes a violation of the rule of law within that institution. However, I call on all of the political groups to use the resolution that we shall adopt on transatlantic relations to demonstrate our determination to obtain this resignation and if, sadly, it has still not materialised by the time of our mini-session in Brussels, to have the Commission make a statement before our Parliament, so that we can stress that the World Bank must have at its helm someone who does not undermine the credibility of an institution that must be in a fit state to operate, at a time when the world order urgently needs it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Árpád Duka-Zólyomi (PPE-DE ).(HU) It is fifty years since the martyrdom of Count János Esterházy, the leader of Hungarians in Slovakia and their Member of Parliament between the two world wars and during World War II.

He was the only one in the parliament of the so-called Slovak State who in 1942 did not vote in favour of the law decreeing the deportation of the Jews, and he saved many Czechs, Slovaks and Jews. In 1945 the Soviets took Esterházy away and sentenced him to 10 years in a labour camp. In 1947, he was condemned to death in absentia by the Slovak People’s Court. In 1949, Esterházy, suffering from serious lung disease, was transported to Czechoslovakia, where he was sentenced first to life and then to 25 years in prison. He died in 1957 in the Mirov prison in Moravia.

János Esterházy was innocent. The Russians have rehabilitated him, but the Slovak authorities have not yet been able to do so. He died a martyr’s death, only because he fought for European Christian values, for human and minority rights, and for true tolerance among peoples. We owe great reverence to János Esterházy’s memory.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (PSE ). (HU) At the moment there is no Community energy policy yet, although many people wish there were. There are two fundamental conditions. The first is that it should have a legal basis, and the second that it should have a community funding.

We must make it clear that the desire to diversify the sources of supply and to reduce dependency on Russia are very positive goals, but these conceal a good deal of political manipulation, many misleading arguments, and hard economic, transcontinental and European geopolitical interests and feelings. An unholy theological debate seems to be emerging in connection with Nabucco and the Blue Stream gas pipeline. Many support the building of Nabucco, as does the Hungarian government with unanimity.

Let us do everything we can to make sure that there is at last private capital to finance Nabucco, that sufficient Central Asian and Iranian gas is made available, and that there is stability in the region. Let us stop the false and harmful opposition! The Nabucco pipeline serves the diversification of gas supply, and Blue Stream helps diversify the transit route for Russian gas. Everything else is political manipulation and lies, and the disgrace of our own government.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eduard Raul Hellvig (ALDE ). – De la 1 ianuarie 2007 România a dobândit statutul de graniţă externă a Uniunii Europene, pe lângă cel de graniţă externă a NATO. Este o poziţie geopolitică importantă, deopotrivă o provocare şi o responsabilitate care oferă României oportunitatea de a juca un rol activ în procesul de stabilizare regională. Unul dintre obiectivele principale de politică externă al României îl constituie crearea unui spaţiu de stabilitate, securitate, prosperitate şi democraţie în regiunea Mării Negre. Conectarea acestei zone geografice la structurile europene şi euro-atlantice reprezintă o modalitate de prevenire şi combatere a noilor riscuri şi ameninţări la adresa securităţii regionale. Pentru a se realiza însă acest obiectiv foarte important al politicii de vecinătate a Uniunii Europene şi, totodată, al României este adevărat că este nevoie de timp şi, când spun timp, mă refer la faptul că atunci când analizăm raporturile comunităţii euro-atlantice cu zona Mării Negre supunem de fapt cercetării un proces profund şi complex, un proces care în acest moment se bazează pe principii sau reguli de conduită mai mult sau mai puţin împărtăşite de unii actori individuali. Din aceste considerente cred că acest proces are nevoie de comunicare, determinare, acţiune şi eficienţă din partea tuturor actorilor de la toate nivelurile.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  József Szájer (PPE-DE ). (HU) Freedom of speech and of assembly are fundamental civil rights. We cannot call a country a true democracy if the authorities allow the police to use force, ban demonstrations against the authorities, and seek to break up the assemblies of peaceful protesters in order to silence views they do not like. Labelling peaceful protesters as extremists, and the police using force against demonstrators are unacceptable in a country that calls itself a democracy.

I protest against what took place in Russia last week. It is all the more important to recall the police brutality in Moscow and St Petersburg because these incidents occurred in a country in which Communist dictatorship ended only a decade and a half ago. We need to remind Russia and its current leaders that we can only consider them to be a true partner to the EU and a state governed by the rule of law if they respect civil liberties. There can be no way back to dictatorship.

But we need to know as well that the critique of the European Union will be credible only if we also systematically demand that our own countries unfailingly respect civil liberties. We cannot use two measuring rods: one for ourselves and one for others.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Teresa Riera Madurell (PSE ). – (ES) Mr President, science is a crucial aspect of our lives, and therefore of our culture.

Disseminating scientific culture requires the ability to bring information concerning science and technology closer to the people, stimulating the curiosity of young people and to provide adults with close and accessible mechanisms to help them get into these fields. It also requires greater support for the public dissemination of the results of research and of scientific policies.

It is these objectives that have inspired the government of my country, Spain, to declare 2007 the Year of Science, to coincide with the centenary of the creation of the Council for the Extension of Studies and Scientific Research chaired by the Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal and which has been described as my country’s greatest experiment in modernising science. Unfortunately, this experiment was interrupted by forty years of dictatorship.

To that end, congresses, exhibitions and all kinds of activities for disseminating science are taking place, with the cooperation of both public and private bodies.

This is a very positive experiment, Mr President, which we must support and which I wished to raise with a view to encouraging other Member States to do the same.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE ).(EL) Mr President, the President of the European Council, Chancellor Merkel, recently said:

(DE) I quote: ‘There is much that we could do to improve conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises, and, if we did, we would get one or two per cent more growth in Europe’. End of quotation.

(EL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to point out that, despite the verbal pronouncements, the real result of the strategy to improve the regulatory environment, for better regulations on small and medium-sized enterprises, is trivial. Allow me to ask the Commissioner present, Mr McCreevy, on your behalf, if he supports increased access for European small and medium-sized enterprises to public procurement contracts within the framework of the negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Willy Meyer Pleite (GUE/NGL ). – (ES) Mr President, last week in the Bay of Cádiz, in Spain, there was a general strike supported by all of the citizens of the Bay to demonstrate against the closure announced by the Delphi factory, which is intended to lay off 1 600 workers.

The Delphi company is part of General Motors, it has received State subsidies and it had therefore committed itself to maintaining production until 2010.

At the same time — also last week — General Motors announced the disappearance of 1 400 jobs at its factory in Amberes, in Belgium. Quite symbolic. It seems as if the European Union, the European institutions, do not have the political capacity to regulate the automobile sector market and to opt clearly for a social model that prevents multinationals from indulging in piracy and trading with European workers. They are public companies that receive public subsidies, and yet they relocate businesses, causing irreversible harm to workers.

We therefore believe that this Parliament, together with the European Commission and the respective governments, should put an end to this situation and defend the jobs of our workers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I would like to join with Mr Szájer in expressing concern about the harassment and beating of peaceful demonstrators in Moscow and St Petersburg eight or nine days ago. This became a demonstration of force by the Russian authorities against their own citizens, as thousands of security forces outnumbered the Another Russia demonstrators by four to one. Sadly, such behaviour simply confirms the rating of Russia as a non-free country by the international organisation Freedom House. Opposition leaders Kasparov and Illarionov have both indicated that, on its present course, Russia is nearing the status of Belarus or Zimbabwe.

Russia is eager to be seen as a powerful state. It is absolutely counterproductive to demonstrate the might of the state at the expense of its citizens in the same way as the tsars or Brezhnev used to do.

Mr President, I am most thankful to you for sharing these concerns on behalf of the European Parliament and for having made initiatives to contact Mr Kasparov and others.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marios Matsakis (ALDE ). – Mr President, last week’s barbaric killing of three Christian workers in Turkey is part of a chain of recent acts of brutality against the Christian minority in that country. Such acts are connected by a clear common political cause: to stop Turkey’s path towards Europe. The orchestrators of these provocative actions are well known both in Turkey and abroad. They are part of the deep state that Prime Minister Erdogan has been bravely fighting for many years now. These dark forces are no less than the Turkish army chiefs, for whom accession to the EU is anathema, as it means the termination of the army’s stranglehold on Turkey’s political life.

Turkey is at a delicate turning point in its history and this House must send a strong message to the army generals in Turkey that neither we nor the Turkish people are fooled by their provocative acts. We stand firmly behind the democratic traditions of Turkey and support the Turkish people in their fight for a more democratic, peaceful and prosperous European future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Surján (PPE-DE ). (HU) We are citizens and deputies of countries where the use of our mother tongue is considered a fundamental value. We do not know what to make of the news I heard recently, according to which there is a candidate country where they want to dissolve a local government because its representatives have decided to make it possible for citizens to use the local minority language to take care of their official business. Similarly, it is incomprehensible to us that a mayor should face legal proceedings because he wrote a greeting card in a minority language to the citizens who voted for him.

Mr President, I am talking about Turkey. I think that we need to verify these stories, and make it clear to our Turkish partners that the Copenhagen criteria are binding on all of us. I hope we will be able to take effective action.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski (UEN ). – (PL)  Mr President, there is a strong tradition of inviting personalities from the contemporary world to visit the European Parliament. I therefore take the liberty of calling on you to invite the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the European Parliament. I am sure many others in the House today support my call. Pope Benedict has recently been invited to the UN.

Benedict XVI is both the leader of the Catholic Church and Head of State of the Vatican. His message to Europe and the world is not exclusively religious. It also relates to the main issues of concern to contemporary society. Extending an invitation to the Pope would not only demonstrate our hospitality but also provide an opportunity for the humanity and nobility of that figure in white to become better known. That person may not command any divisions, but he is nonetheless anxious about the future of Europe, a Europe that must not be ashamed of its Christian roots.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pál Schmitt (PPE-DE ). (HU) It seems several people are talking about Turkey today. Allow me, as Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Culture and Education, to say a few words about Turkish relations.

Now then, in the northern part of Cyprus, on territory occupied by the Turks, a great many works of art have recently disappeared. Protected artworks, icons, paintings, mosaics and other works of artistic creation, primarily from churches, which constitute an important part of all of Europe’s cultural heritage, have simply been sold on the market. We have been informed that these artworks have ended up for the most part in America and Germany. Moreover, judicial actions are in process. I would like us to somehow reach the point that the members of the Council of Ministers are able to take effective action – either via their ministers of culture, or some other way, I do not know – to ensure that these works of art are returned to their original owners: the lovely, more than thousand-year-old Cypriot churches.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Panayiotis Demetriou (PPE-DE ).(EL) Mr President, there is only one town in the whole world that is a ghost town, uninhabited and in ruins. That town is the town of Famagusta. This town is in the Republic of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union and this town, in other words, a part of this country, is occupied by Turkey. Famagusta is a hostage of the Turkish occupation. All the inhabitants have been fighting for thirty years and dreaming of going home.

Last Sunday, the campaign to sign the petition for their return ended. The time has come for the European Union to stop this display of indifference. The time has come to stop the policy expressed by Mr Olli Rehn: that this issue is an issue for the United Nations. It is a European issue and the European Union should understand that the issue of Famagusta is an issue of its consistency, credibility and validity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE ). – (LT) The ‘Nord Stream’ builders have scheduled the construction of the gas pipeline to start in 2008, without having done a study of the bed of the Baltic Sea and with no knowledge of what is in the wartime ammunition dump on the seabed. However, they have now realised that it would be more convenient to lay the pipeline closer to the Estonian coast, within Estonia's economic zone.

If that were not enough, the Kremlin is now making preparations to authorise Gazprom to create its own well-armed army, which, together with the navies of the Baltic countries, would protect the gas pipeline being laid along the bed of the Baltic Sea toward Germany.

According to certain news media sources, such armed units would have the right to search people and their means of transport, and even to use weapons in the course of effecting protection of property and territory.

In this we can see Russia's intentions not only to increase its naval strength in the Baltic Sea, but also to take advantage of increased opportunities for espionage in the vicinity of the gas pipeline. Is Russia coordinating its actions with Germany? Is a new 1939 (Hitler-Stalin Pact) dawning? Are we, the nations of a democratic European Union, going to permit such self-indulgence?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Attard-Montalto (PSE ). – (MT) Recently, we took a vote on hunting and trapping in Malta. The Maltese members of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament chose to abstain, and I believe that this decision was criticised because the reason for this abstention was not understood. We proposed amendments that gave the resolution tabled before Parliament a completely different slant.

Once these amendments were approved, they subsequently led to a diluted version of a regulation that, in our opinion, was previously too harsh. We could not, therefore, then vote against the very amendments we had proposed, because that would not have made any sense.

Thank you, Mr President, for this opportunity to speak.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alojz Peterle (PPE-DE ).(SL) I believe I must acquaint this House with the fact that, on 12 April 2007, Mr Anton Berisha, the Head of Kosovo’s Telecommunications Authority, survived what is already the second attempt to assassinate him this year.

The first assassination attempt was made on 28 February this year. The second attempt was carried out using anti-tank grenade launchers and it is only by an immense stroke of luck that Mr Berisha survived this second assassination attempt. Unfortunately, one of the police officers protecting him was seriously injured during the attack.

Parliament has consistently condemned acts of violence and breaches of most fundamental human rights, neither of which can achieve any good. The right thing to do would be for our Parliament to call on Kosovo’s authorities to do everything they can to track down the people behind such terrorist acts and bring them to justice.

Peace and confidence in public authorities will only be restored in Kosovo if the public security bodies work consistently to track down the culprits and institute criminal proceedings against them.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ryszard Czarnecki (UEN ). – (PL)  Mr President, thank you for acting in so liberal a manner towards Members wishing to speak, even though you do not hail from the liberal benches of this House.

Commissioner Kyprianou met with the Russian Foreign Minister yesterday in Cyprus. The meeting was largely devoted to the embargo on the export of Polish meat to the Russian Federation. Everyone is aware that this is really all about political issues, not Polish meat. It is about Russia’s strategy towards our Union. Russia wishes to pursue its own agenda as far as the Union is concerned, and is using this matter as a bargaining chip for future negotiations on completely different issues. This is an old Russian tactic that it has used throughout its history. When the Russians refer to meat, they actually have something else in mind.

I am confident that the European Union will demonstrate solidarity as it deals with this and other issues, and that in future it will act not only on behalf of the Union as a whole but also on behalf of individual Member States experiencing trading difficulties with Moscow.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE ).(EL) Mr President, this year we are celebrating the year of equal opportunities for everyone, but many of our disabled fellow men and fellow citizens do not enjoy equal opportunities as concerns their right to participate in insurance, such as insurance against accidents or insurance against unemployment.

As a result, they cannot execute other acts, such as taking a bank loan, as they are uninsured. In the event of an accident, their families may end up in poverty, because the money will be paid by them.

Please could all the European institutions support the disabled, so that they can be insured, taking account of their disability or illness, in the same way as all our fellow citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE ). (HU) What I am holding in my hand is not a bottle of Alsatian wine, but a total disregard for European decision-makers, the deception of European consumers, the parody of inequality among Member States and the bankruptcy of the power of enforcement.

Here, at the seat of European lawmaking, the European Parliament, in the city in which the European Court of Justice issued its ruling on this matter, one can to this day purchase fake Tokaj wine. 13 years’ temporary exemption – Mr President – this is how long we have waited for those who produce products bearing names similar to the world’s best dessert wine, the Hungarian Tokaj, to remove their products from the market. As of 31 March 2007, this wine may no longer be marketed under this label. It would seem, however, that there are some to whom the EU legislation does not apply. What is the basis on which the Union operates? On the basis of the age-old cynicism of ‘Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi’, or on equality before the law?

I hope that Strasbourg will set an example in this outrageous affair, and impose exemplary monetary fines on those who violate the law. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL ).(EL) Mr President, last week in Belgium, the management of General Motors decided to lay off 1 400 of their 4 500 employees working in the factory of its Opel subsidiary in Antwerp by the end of the year. The automobile industry in Belgium is now in dire straits; we all remember last year's redundancies at Volkswagen in Brussels. Unfortunately, while this is going on, the European Union remains on the sidelines, reminding us that the Lisbon Strategy is taking us into an economic nirvana.

As elected members of parliament representing the citizens of Europe, we cannot stand on the sidelines in the face of this social tragedy, whatever our political approach. I therefore call on us to organise ourselves and prepare a motion condemning the mass redundancies and giving impetus to a social Europe which, at the moment, only exists on paper.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE ). – Milioane de cetăţeni europeni sunt afectaţi de o taxă injustă şi care nu se regăseşte în spiritul european. Sub pretextul că apără mediul înconjurător sau că protejează locuri de muncă, câteva guverne din Uniunea Europeană au impus o taxă discriminatorie de primă înmatriculare la importurile autovehiculelor second-hand. Comisia şi Curtea Europeană de Justiţie au arătat în mod repetat că aceste taxe încalcă Articolul 90 din Tratat. După ce au fost declarate incompatibile cu dreptul comunitar, taxele au trebuit rambursate cetăţenilor. Problematice sunt însă două aspecte: un număr mic de oameni îşi pot permite un proces cu statul (în Ungaria numai 3% dintre păgubiţi au mers în instanţă) şi, în al doilea rând, statul returnează banii fără a plăti dobânzi şi penalităţi.

Deşi procedura de neîndeplinire a obligaţiilor a fost declanşată de Comisie printr-o scrisoare de somare, noul guvern al României s-a decis să rămână de partea prietenilor politici din industria auto şi să ignore acest preaviz, la fel cum ignoră şi corul de cetăţeni români revoltaţi de limitarea opţiunilor lor de a cumpăra de pe piaţa europeană. Guvernul României ignoră avertismentele Comisiei şi riscă un proces în faţa Curţii Europene de Justiţie. Doamnelor şi domnilor, aceste situaţii sunt anormale, iar Parlamentul European trebuie să transmită acestor guverne un mesaj ferm, în sensul că guvernul trebuie să pună în aplicare obligaţiile asumate în procesul de aderare.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Umberto Guidoni (GUE/NGL ).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the US authorities have released the known terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who has publicly admitted his guilt for the November 1997 attack which cost the life of Fabio Di Celmo, a European citizen. Carriles is known to have been responsible for the attack that cost the lives of 73 people on board a civil aircraft.

In the ruling setting him free, Judge Kathleen Cardone acknowledged Carriles’s part in some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Why, then, can such a terrorist walk free in the United States? We must protest against the Bush Administration, which has once again demonstrated double standards in the fight against terrorism.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE-DE ). – (PL)  Mr President, there is an ongoing debate on health services in Parliament, notably in the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection. These services were excluded from the scope of the Services Directive because of their specific nature. A debate is to be held at the committee’s sitting this evening on whether it is appropriate to support a proposal to draw up a draft European Commission directive on the matter.

I am totally opposed to such a move for many reasons. One of these is that health services are part of the responsibility of individual Member States and the European Union has no mandate to regulate them. There is therefore no basis in the Treaty on which to found the call for a draft directive.

Instead of proposing more legislative acts we should focus on solutions that already exist in the market. I could mention improving cooperation and the transfer of information between countries, facilitating patient mobility, and as a last resort, the implementation of infringement procedures. I believe this is a much better and above all a more effective solution than proposing more directives.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tatjana Ždanoka (Verts/ALE ). – Mr President, I should like to draw your attention to the scandalous process due to start in Tallinn in two days. The Estonian authorities are preparing to remove from the city centre the graves of soldiers who died in battle liberating Tallinn from the fascist occupiers in September 1944 and the monument to those soldiers. Exonerating those Estonians who fought on the Nazi side during World War II while ignoring the heroism of those who sacrificed their lives in order to defeat Hitler and his local allies is a part of present-day state politics. Unfortunately, a similar policy is being applied in my country, Latvia.

I am protesting against such dangerous politics, not only personally but also on behalf of a group of 37 representatives of Russian speakers, Jews and the Russian media from 15 EU Member States – including Estonia – which is visiting Parliament today.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. That concludes the item.

 

16. Payment services in the internal market (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report by Jean-Paul Gauzès (A6-0298/2006 ), on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on payment services in the internal market and amending Directives 97/7/EC, 2000/12/EC and 2002/65/EC (COM(2005)0603 – C6-0411/2005 – 2005/0245(COD) ).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . Mr President, firstly I would like to thank the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, and in particular the rapporteur, Jean-Paul Gauzès, for their excellent work in preparing the report on the directive on payment services in the internal market. I also thank you for your patience regarding the deferral of this plenary vote. This has provided the time needed to find common ground between the three institutions.

Currently, 27 different sets of national rules apply to payment transactions. Although we have the euro, national payments markets continue to be fragmented and, sadly, all too often payments are slow and expensive and consumers poorly served. This makes life for our citizens and businesses more difficult than it should be. It holds up their daily activities and hinders their business development. In some cases, desirable payment products, such as direct debits, are simply not available. The directive aims to remedy this situation in two main ways: on the one hand, by providing greater legal certainty and improved consumer protection, and, on the other hand, by opening up the payments market to more competition to encourage greater efficiency and innovation.

The directive provides greater legal certainty by establishing a harmonised set of rights and obligations for users and providers, as well as clear information requirements. Both are essential to an integrated EU payments market, at the heart of which is SEPA, the Single European Payments Area. SEPA is an industry initiative strongly supported by the European institutions. SEPA will allow for the creation of an integrated market, enabling payments to be executed more quickly and easily throughout the European Union. The efficiency of our payments systems should be enhanced and the cost of payments to the economy as a whole reduced. Adoption of the proposed directive is therefore crucial for the successful launch of SEPA.

But the picture would not be complete without the other objective of the directive, namely that of fostering more competition in payments markets through the establishment of an appropriate and balanced prudential framework for new entrants. New payment institutions, such as money remitters, mobile operators and retailers, should act as a spur to innovation.

Throughout these long months of negotiation, both the Council and the Commission have been very aware of the views set out in the report adopted by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee last September. The compromise text, which is now on the table as Amendment 286, therefore seeks to meet these objectives and, in particular, calls for a strengthened prudential framework for the new payment institutions. In addition to the qualitative prudential requirements already proposed by the Commission, these new institutions will now be subject to a regime of appropriate and balanced capital charges – both initial and ongoing, and hybrid institutions, such as retailers or telecom companies, must also meet safeguarding requirements such as ring-fencing.

The directive’s scope will be limited to payments that both originate and end in the European Union. It is, however, important not to forget about payment transactions involving non-EU Member States or non-EU currencies. Consumers rightly expect the provisions protecting them with regard to theft, loss or misappropriation of payment instruments to apply irrespective of whether non-authorised use takes place inside or outside the European Union. Performance, quality and price of payments made towards third countries should also improve. EU consumers transfer considerable amounts of funds to third countries, often to support their families. The costs of such payments can be very high. Therefore, after three years of operation, the scope of the directive should be reviewed in order to assess whether ‘one-leg payments’, where only one of the parties involved is in the EU, or payments in non-EU currencies, should be included.

Let me conclude: European citizens and businesses today need a single payments market, in which payments can be made as quickly, efficiently and conveniently as domestic payments. This directive can provide the market with the necessary legal foundation for SEPA and with a new prudential framework fostering new competition.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Paul Gauzès (PPE-DE ), rapporteur . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, on 1 December 2005, the European Commission published a proposal for a directive on payment services within the internal market with the aim of creating a genuine single payments market within the European Union.

On my appointment as Parliament rapporteur in January 2006, I thought that, even though some of the Commission’s estimates seemed optimistic, the creation of such a market through the harmonisation of national laws would enable some obstacles to be removed and would impact positively on growth. I therefore approved in principle of the European Commission’s initiative.

Furthermore, this proposal for a directive came at the right time to help make a success of the banking sector’s initiative to create a single euro payments area. The objectives declared by the European Commission were to increase competition by creating new participants – you made this point just now, Commissioner – to make the market more transparent for service providers and for users, and to clarify the rights and obligations of users and service providers.

In a bid to make this legislative proposal more effective and to take account of the technical constraints of the industry, while maintaining the objective of reducing costs for the benefits of users, the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs adopted a number of coordinated amendments, which have at last gained the unanimous approval of the committee members.

All throughout the procedure, there have been informal contacts between the representatives of the European Parliament, of the successive presidencies and of the European Commission. These discussions enabled Parliament – which, on this rare occasion, took a stand before the Council had reached an agreement – to have a tangible influence on the negotiations at the Council. I am particularly pleased with our fruitful cooperation with the German Presidency, which has not spared any efforts, and with your Commission.

On 27 March 2007, the ministers of finance, gathered together within the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, at last unanimously adopted a general approach on the compromise text. This compromise is, in my opinion, acceptable today. I should like to thank the German Presidency. Its effective work and solid cooperation with the European Parliament have meant that this matter is now on the verge of success.

The Council has drawn closer to Parliament on the key points, namely the reduction of the scope to payments in euros or in the other currencies used within the European Union – with there being an option to adjust this after a trial period – the restriction on exercise of the activities of payment institutions to legal persons, the implementation of strict conditions for authorisation to provide payment services, the introduction of initial and ongoing capital, the isolation of funds for hybrid establishments, the limitation of the granting of credit to 12 months with a ban on revolving credit, and the introduction of a provision indicating that the granting of credit must not contradict national and European rules relating, among other things, to consumer credit.

There has also been a closer alignment with regard to clearer information for consumers, thanks to a distinction being made between information that must actively be provided and information that must merely be made available to consumers; to the opportunity provided to micro-companies to benefit from the same protection as consumers where information is concerned; and, lastly, to the limited option of derogation, with a maximum volume of transactions fixed at EUR 3 million.

The text, as it stands, stipulates a J+1 execution time and the clear division of responsibilities between the various payment service providers in the event of a transaction being poorly executed. It is on this compromise text that Parliament will vote tomorrow.

Given the significant progress made at the time of ECOFIN in terms of Parliament’s position and the objective of the parties involved to reach an agreement at first reading, I have tabled just one amendment in plenary, which takes up the ECOFIN compromise. I call on my fellow Members to endorse this amendment.

An Amendment 287, on data protection, aimed at amending Article 71, has been tabled by the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left. I do not believe that this amendment should be adopted by Parliament. On the other hand, it would be helpful, Commissioner – and I am also addressing the representatives of the Presidency and of the Council – if assurances were given, in this regard, to our Parliament.

The compromise text is certainly not perfect, and some of my fellow Members will perhaps have the opportunity to say so. It does, however, have the virtue of laying the already solid foundations of an internal payments market. It is important to stress what this advance, which will result in the harmonisation of what are, today, strictly national payment systems, represents. It is worth highlighting the fact that we are not just talking here about cross-border payments, which account for less than 5% of payments, but indeed of all payments that are made.

In spite of its obviously technical nature, this text has a definite political scope. It improves relations between consumers and financial payment service providers and contributes to the Lisbon Strategy. However, I should also like to point out that, on this specific and particularly sensitive subject – specific and particularly sensitive because it could give rise to conflicts of interest – Parliament, the diverse institution that it is, has found a solution more quickly than the governments. This is perhaps because we, in this House, have more than elsewhere…

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mia De Vits (PSE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection . (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we will, tomorrow, be voting on something I regard as a crucial issue affecting people, businesses and banks alike. I am pleased that this House has had major input in the decision-making process, and would like to thank all Members of the House for this, not least Mr Gauzès who, being an authority in this area, has handled this issue with much objectivity, and would also like to thank all shadow rapporteurs.

As draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, it is hugely important to my mind that we, faced with 27 different payment systems and consequently 27 different sets of rules, managed to secure an extremely high level of consumer protection. This text strikes me as more than satisfactory, particularly since the banks’ duty of information and their liability in the event of incorrect transactions, loss or fraud have now been omitted.

The debate was at its most heated when payment institutions were discussed, and in the final analysis, that is also where, as I see it, the compromise is justifiable, even though our group would have preferred to see it tightened up in places. It is not a disgrace to be a bank. This directive is about payments, not in the first instance about credits, and if you wish to grant credit, you need to comply with the conditions and control of the banks.

I should like to express some concern nevertheless. The Single European Payments Area project should not be at the expense of the man in the street. I am pleased to note, Commissioner, that the Commission has launched an enquiry into the rates applicable to card use, and I would urge it to take regulatory action if it turns out that banks have abused their position of power in this respect. The directive has come at the right time, since the project is sound, I think this is now also the right time for it to be correctly implemented.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Rainer Wieland (PPE-DE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market . – (DE) Mr President, a lot is being said at the present time about the need to explain Europe’s benefits to the public, and this directive has the potential to become a shining example of one, even though today’s plenary debate is again making it clear that it has a technical side that is not always particularly sexy, so we certainly have to make the effort to make its benefits plain in such a way that the public understands what they are.

The introduction of the euro gave us a European, a domestic payment area, one that could never be other than a payment services area, too, and it is that payment services area that we are now bringing a step closer today. What we brought in years ago, in the shape of cross-border retail payments, we are now, by means of this directive, moving forward, and we should be bold enough to say so and not get too bogged down in the details.

We can be glad that it has proved possible to take account of the quirks in the individual Member States, ensuring, for example, that debits are good value and benefit the consumers. As Mrs de Vits said, we should pay attention to how the market develops in the future, paying, in particular, more attention to the extent to which charges are levied on payments – payments coming in, that is, rather than payments going out. We should focus more on that, since it is in this area, I feel, that there have, very recently, been a number of abuses.

Now that we can talk of there being such a thing as SEPA – the ‘Single European Payments Area’ – we in this House should show how forward-looking we are by, instead of using the term ‘Open Skies’, referring to a ‘Single European Flight Area’, or SEFA, and, when discussing roaming charges, we can talk about a Single European Telecommunications Area, or SETA; Europe will then, again, become visible, and individual projects will not be laden down with more and more new concepts that obscure it from people.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alexander Radwan, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, let me just start by expressing my most especial thanks to Mr Gauzès, who, together with this House, has put a great deal of work into moving this report forward; now that we have, of course, had the euro for some time, the driving force behind the single payment area in Europe is this House and the European Union, starting with the cross-border charges, now moving on to SEPA, and the particular part played in this by this House is something that needs to be stressed.

Despite the cultural and structural differences in the ways in which payments are made in Europe, we have managed to find a solution that fits everyone. The decision was taken in September last year; it was only pressure on the part of this House that got the Council to sort the matter out.

Some Member States, unfortunately, still believe they have to retain their inflexible systems in their dealings with the rest of Europe, but that is not what Europe is about; Europe – as Mr Wieland said – is about bringing everyone together. By projects such as this, Europe can show in practical terms what it means to ordinary people. There were, eventually, compromises on such things as D+1, on loans, on payment service providers and on the provisions for consumer protection, and the ultimate goal should still be to set the emancipated citizen as a benchmark, but I do see this as an important further step, and hope that the directive will be implemented accordingly, despite the unresolved issues remaining in some areas.

My office has recently been on the receiving end of more and more questions about what actually happens when money transfers are actually effected despite the details being wrong. To give just one example, somebody sent EUR 150 from Germany to Italy and, because of a wrong entry, EUR 113 was deducted in charges. If the banks carry on like that, they will bring the next step on themselves.

That is why I urge them to regulate themselves in a sensible manner and to be guided more by what the public want. I hope that this appeal will not lead to the light going out again; after all, it was not as bad as all that. Again, let me extend warm thanks to Mr Gauzès, and to the Commission, for making it possible for us, once again, to get the Council into line.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gianni Pittella, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I too should like to offer Mr Gauzès my special thanks not just for the excellent work he has done, but also for the dialogue he pursued, his style and his ability to come to arrangements with the political groups and with the Commission and the Council. I should also like to congratulate Commissioner McCreevy.

Parliament as a whole has played a decisive role in the payment services directive and has once again confirmed that it is the most dynamic of our institutions at this moment in time. It is thanks to Parliament and our work that an agreement has been reached and that the Council has adopted as the basis for its own work the report that was approved almost unanimously in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. It is because of the part we played that insurmountable obstacles have been tackled, and it is because of our work – and here I should also like to mention the specific part played by the delegation from the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, namely Mrs van den Burg, Mrs De Vits, Mrs Berès and myself – that solutions have been found to certain issues, such as the granting of credit, which is now rightly grounded in the Consumer Credit Directive.

The agreement reached at the March ECOFIN Council, thanks to the German Presidency’s tenacity and the earlier work done by the Finnish Presidency, is in my view an excellent outcome and I believe we ought to support that position. That is why I can announce that the Socialist Group will vote in favour, so as to avoid any delay. We cannot afford any further delays, which would jeopardise consumers – as Mrs De Vits has pointed out – as well as businesses and the banking industry. As regards the banks, the enquiry that the Commission is conducting is important in that it will show up any possible discrepancies; even though we must be strict in our judgments, however, I also think it is right to point out the times when the banks make positive efforts. In fact, the banks are making almost as much effort to comply with this directive as they did when the euro was introduced. A delay would therefore be contrary to their interests, and in our vote tomorrow we must make absolutely sure that any such delay is avoided.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sharon Bowles, on behalf of the ALDE Group . Mr President, am I happy with this package? The answer is ‘not really’. Am I supporting it? Yes, because I believe it makes sense to have a European payments system to improve the single market and therefore it makes sense to take this step, far from perfect though it is.

I have been astonished at how difficult it has been trying to move out of the dark ages on payment times, capital regimes and electronic money. The question I have most often been asked about this directive is ‘Will it make payments cheaper?’, not ‘Will it make payments safer?’. But this is not a price-regulation directive, so the only way to make payments cheaper is through greater competition and through transparency, so that consumers know what they are getting.

We have achieved greater transparency, which I welcome, as I do the other useful safeguards for consumers. Hopefully, the payment service providers’ ability to passport will enhance competition, but I harbour fears that the ongoing capital regimes and especially the scaling factors of 0.5 and 0.8 for money remitters and mobile remittances respectively mean repeating the mistakes made in the E-money Directive.

A review of the capital regime after three years in the light of experience, and perhaps after the functioning of extremes of implementation of 20% flexibility, may, therefore, turn out to be interesting. It is certainly an essential backstop that allows me to give my support, as is the possibility of reviewing the scope after three years. It is quite a disappointment to me that the present scope does not extend to one-leg payments.

Finally, as regards Amendment 287, I persuaded my group not to table a similar amendment because, in addition to technical details, the data-protection issue is wider than this directive. That does not mean that the issue does not need addressing or, should it come to it, that a vote against the amendment is against the principle that it embodies, but I hope that another solution can be found that encompasses the idea without destroying the opportunity of this single-reading agreement.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dariusz Maciej Grabowski, on behalf of the UEN Group . – (PL)  Mr President, the proposed directive is certainly appropriate and justified. Nonetheless, it gives rise to a series of concerns. The creation of payment institutions raises the issue of whether they will act according to the principle of maximising profit or in the interests of the public good. These two approaches are mutually exclusive. The question then arises as to whether genuine increased competition between institutions will ensue, or whether concentration of the payments market will occur within a short time period, with the emergence of an oligopoly. If so, then it is fundamental to introduce this solution for countries in the eurozone. The new Member States will then have an opportunity to assess whether the system introduced is beneficial or not. They will also be able to gain an appreciation of the cost of introducing such a system. The cost is likely to be relatively high in view of the software and monitoring required, and is difficult to estimate at present.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Whittaker, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . Mr President, on a technical matter, the rapporteur is concerned to have rigorous separation of payment services from other commercial activities, which must mean banking business. The purpose of this separation is, presumably, to minimise risk. But all payments, apart from a tiny proportion of cash payments, are transfers between bank accounts. Hence banks are the natural institutions for operating payment systems, and I doubt that such a separation is either feasible or even desirable from an efficiency point of view. This directive states that it has the worthy objectives of increased competition, transparency, consumer protection and so on. I wonder whether it will turn out like other financial directives such as MiFID, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, for instance. Many people in the City of London have now realised that the costs of compliance with MiFID are far larger than any potential benefits.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I wish to begin by saying that I totally disagree with Mr Whittaker about MiFID and its consequences. I think MiFID will be a revolution for trading in European markets and it will deliver very good results in Europe. I think the Commissioner agrees with me on this.

Overall, the Payment Services Directive represents a very positive step in internal market harmonisation. Like the Commissioner, I believe that with the present agreement we have reached a balance between banks and other service providers on the one hand and consumers on the other. This was an instance in which the market was not delivering the best possible results and regulation was really needed.

I would like to raise three brief points of substance. Firstly, I very much agree with Mrs Bowles concerning capital regime. I would have favoured the EC’s original proposal on capital requirements. I think that it might not be enough of a level playing field, and new access-related barriers might appear especially for non-banks. I should have liked to see a more liberal competition regime in these aspects.

Secondly, on the question of credit granted, especially by credit card companies which are non-banks, there are possible disadvantages for these credit card companies, but we can look at these issues again in our review in three years’ time.

Thirdly, on the liability of payment service providers, I understand that there is an in-built flexibility in payment contracts on what, for example, the payer’s responsibility is in cases like Mr Radwan referred to, when the payment does not appear when it should. However, I think the strict definition on liability in the directive could be too rigid and inflexible and it should have been reformed. On the other hand, we can also go back to this in the review.

Finally, concerning the single reading process, I think Parliament, the Commission and the Council interacted very well on this. However, we were put in a ‘take it or leave it’ situation and it would have been better if Parliament had been able to put substantial amendments in place before the vote in plenary. However, all in all the single reading is a good step towards modernising our legislative processes, but it is not an end in itself. We have a good compromise on this directive, but if this is not the case, the single reading should not be used.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pervenche Berès (PSE ).(FR) Mr President, eight years after the changeover to the euro, I think that it is reasonable for the Union to provide itself with a single market in payment services. I think that it is just as reasonable for this Parliament to have insisted that, at the same time as implementing this single payments market, we legislate on the new actor entering this market – payment institutions.

When I look at all the parties involved in the creation of this new dimension of the internal market, whether they be banks, distributors, administrations or consumers, I feel that, ultimately, we would better appreciate the validity of the legislation that we are going to adopt if, in the future, payment services were cheaper for consumers and if their diversity were promoted in such a way as to make modern payment methods more easily accessible.

I also believe that we were right to insist that payment institutions should perhaps not be subject to all the rules laid down by Basel II, but that, as a minimum requirement, their stability and viability should be guaranteed in the interests of consumers.

Furthermore, I regret that there has been some confusion regarding the difference between the concept of loan and that of payment. I hope that the agreement reached with this text will not compromise an agreement on a consumer credit directive, which the Union sorely needs.

Finally, I must emphasise the meaning of Amendment 287 and, above all, the letter that the President of our institution has received from the chairman of the ‘Article 29’ group, responsible for data protection within the European Union. We cannot agree today to vote for the report by our fellow Member, Mr Gauzès, without having guarantees from both the Commission and the Council. Therefore, I am addressing our two institutional partners so that, when the SEPA system is implemented, we are not in a situation which, with what we know of the SWIFT system, causes us to exacerbate the wayward developments that we are seeing.

We need to know that, when the SEPA system enters fully into force, we will have a system that enables us to protect the data exchanged through SWIFT. We also need – and, on this point, I expect a statement from the two other institutions – the negotiations to involve our American partners, so that we can verify the conditions under which the data transmitted by SWIFT are transmitted to the US administration.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Margarita Starkevičiūtė (ALDE ). – (LT) I would like to stress the importance of this Directive's applicability not just to Eurozone countries, but also to countries still using, for the moment, currencies other than the euro. This is important because in this way the financial markets of those countries will also be modernised. I would like to thank the rapporteur for his excellent work.

Many problems associated with the implementation of this Directive have been outlined here today. I would also like to state, as did the rapporteur, that this document is very technical in nature. We still need to have several things clarified; most importantly – the supervision of the payment directive implementation, given that large banking and finance groups are operating. Who will be responsible? Even though the Directive appears to define this, there are nevertheless many uncertainties still present.

Another important issue requiring attention is supervision of non-banking finance institutions, which is truly necessary and welcome. However, differentiation can sometimes be an offset to supervision, and it can cost more than the operations themselves in small countries.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Purvis (PPE-DE ). – Thank you, Mr President, and well done, Mr Gauzès. We have waited a long time, but we have finally got there. Well done! Importantly, the payment services directive opens up the payments market to non-banks. Barriers to entry and the stifling of innovation have been addressed, at least to some extent, through a mix of waivers for smaller players and flexibility for Member States on electronic money and other new means of payments, such as the money purse.

However, I feel that there are some aspects where we have had an opportunity to make bigger inroads towards competition but have not gone nearly far enough. Non-banks do not need such comprehensive capital requirements as have been agreed with the Council. Payment services companies such as remitters, bill payers and companies offering card-based payment services do not take deposits and therefore do not need the same financial underpinning as deposit-taking commercial banks. One suspects that this is more a matter of protecting traditional banks from new competitors than of protecting consumers.

Secondly, in this age of instantaneous communication surely even one day is more than should be necessary to move money from one end of the earth to the other, let alone from Strasbourg to Freiburg. And why are the banks afraid to be transparent about the cost of their services instead of charging by stealth in the form of unjustifiably long float times? Surely, in the spirit of Lisbon, we should be leading the world in applying today’s technology to money transfers. They should be instantaneous, with no delay at all. The service provider should then openly display its full charge for the service.

So this directive, as finally and tortuously agreed, is a step in the right direction towards providing Europeans, both individuals and SMEs, with a modern, efficient and reasonably-priced money transmission service. But it is not all we should expect. Hopefully there will be further steps, Commissioner.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ieke van den Burg (PSE ). – (NL) Mr President, I should first of all like to pick up on what Mrs Kauppi said at the end about the first-reading procedure, which, I think she is right in saying, this House has the duty to address appropriately. It is wonderful that we managed this. I should also like to add that the rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs have informed the rest of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs in an excellent and transparent manner, the latter not always being a matter of course in first-reading procedures, but it is a good thing that we have now gathered pace and can take this issue through to the next step.

I should like to make two observations about the content. First of all, I partly share Mr Purvis’s view on competition within the payments market. In the Netherlands, we do not seem to struggle that much with this waiver that has now been suggested, because we hope that new services will develop and new service providers will enter the market, particularly geared towards immigrants, for example, who wish to send money to their home countries. This is typically a service where new service providers have sprung up, and a service which I would like to see above board rather than trapped in illegality underground. As I see it, developments and opportunities of this kind, particularly where smaller amounts and straight-forward services are involved, should be given a chance, because why should those people have to make use of expensive bank services?

I should like to make one final remark, one that has also been raised by various speakers before me. Let us – and this is also a message in the direction of the Commission and the DG on Competition – be on our guard against fresh monopolies, oligopolies or cartels emerging within this market, because this would, after all, lead to a situation where customer services are not cheaper or better.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zsolt László Becsey (PPE-DE ). (HU) I congratulate the rapporteur and hope that we have reached a historic moment. In the area of services in the internal market, we have managed to achieve only partial results, but I hope that we will bring about a real breakthrough with regard to payment services.

I myself come from what is still considered a new Member State, and I trust that we will be able to enjoy the benefits of the opening up of the internal market in addition to its many disadvantages. This is why last year I was disappointed when we could have had the courage to open up those services that would have represented a comparative advantage for the new Member States, and would have strengthened competition on the internal market. Now we are once again at that point and once again we hope that not only will we lay down in legislation the questions of a service that has not hitherto received complex regulation, but we will also succeed, by ensuring the entry of new players into the field, in really forcing down the price of high quality payment services.

The true guarantee of the freedom of establishment and service provision is of outstanding importance. The Commission’s original proposal was courageous in this regard, as it would have made possible the introduction of the new services without any special capital requirements, thereby breaking the monopoly that the banks have achieved in this field. The assessment by Mrs Neelie Kroes has also provided ample proof of this. It is with regret that I see that compared to the original proposal, stricter capital requirements are now appearing, but I hope that this will not prevent new players from entering the market.

The other important consideration is that money transfers should reach the beneficiary as quickly as possible, so that the latter may use the funds as soon as possible. In this area the current compromise may represent a step forward, as it shortens the considerable period during which the bank is using our money free of charge.

I am also pleased that the compromise gives special attention to micro-enterprises as individual consumers. I will vote for the agreement, which came into being under closed and elitist circumstances. The most important point, however, will come three years after its transposition into national law, when it is reviewed – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the above three positive changes take place in this area that I consider to be important, and cheaper payment services become available to vulnerable Central European consumers and small businesses, then we will have done a good thing. If not, because new players have not entered the market, then we will need to make modifications, and this will take courage, so let us hope we will then have the necessary courage.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE ). – Doresc să-l felicit pe domnul Gauzès pentru raport. Directiva privind serviciile financiare în cadrul pieţei comune completează iniţiativa sectorului bancar privind înfiinţarea zonei unice pentru plăţi în euro prin armonizarea legislaţiei din statele membre. Deşi în Uniunea Europeană 96% din plăţi au un caracter naţional şi doar 4% din plăţi se realizează între furnizorii de servicii financiare din state membre diferite, directiva propusă va încuraja competiţia, va reduce costurile, va asigura o mai mare transparenţă privind condiţiile si tarifele aplicabile precum şi o mai bună protecţie a utilizatorilor şi furnizorilor prin definirea drepturilor şi obligaţiilor acestora. Sistemele electronice de plăţi asigură un timp de procesare redus şi facilitează tranzacţiile între furnizorii de servicii financiare din state membre diferite, dar implementarea acestora necesită investiţii importante. Mobilitatea cetăţenilor necesită mijloace electronice de plată. În ultimii ani s-au dezvoltat sisteme electronice de plată şi, în acest context, securitatea plăţilor electronice este crucială pentru încrederea utilizatorilor acestor servicii. Consider că, pentru protecţia consumatorilor şi încrederea acestora în serviciile financiare, este important ca pentru instituţiile plătitoare să existe condiţii de autorizare şi funcţionare foarte clar definite. Felicit încă o dată raportorul.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karsten Friedrich Hoppenstedt (PPE-DE ).(DE) Mr President, the agreement we have now achieved – at first reading – represents an important step towards the single euro payment area, being the only way in which the first measures can start in good time at the beginning of 2008, and for this I am of course grateful to the rapporteur, Mr Gauzès, and to the German Presidency of the Council, not forgetting the Commission too. This is an important political signal; it is the starter’s gun for which the European banks have been waiting, and they too deserve thanks for their constructive and effective cooperation.

For the consumers, the regulations represent a step towards a truly united internal market for financial services, as previous speakers have rightly appreciated.

However appropriate it is to sound a celebratory note, we should not forget that a compromise always falls short of the ideal solution in certain respects; the pre-eminent example is the way in which the banks will incur considerable costs by reason not only of the single working day execution time allowed them, but also of other structural measures. There are indications that some EUR 23 billion have already been invested in the structural orientation of SEPA as a whole. An execution time of two banking days without any exceptions would, for the European financial sector, be simpler and more transparent, would have been more beneficial to competition, and would, in any case, have saved on costs, but the decision we will be taking tomorrow is one we will be living with.

While consumers will have cause to welcome the greater choice of banks from different Member States, a critical note has to be sounded where their protection is concerned, in that not all suppliers are subject to the same supervisory regulations; the principle of ‘equal conditions for all market actors’ does not apply in every case. Our political actions should always be guided by the needs of consumers and by the need for a functioning and competitive financial market; so national procedures and financial products that work well, are affordable and accepted should not on any account be sacrificed on the altar of European money transfer transactions, the number of which, expressed as a proportion, is constantly diminishing.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE ).(NL) Mr President, with regard to the directive on which we will be voting tomorrow, we are voting on what is no doubt a justifiable compromise, for which I am very grateful to Mr Gauzès. Commissioner McCreevy was right to start by elaborating on the objectives we wish to achieve, namely more efficiency and more competition. Recital 4 stipulates in so many words that it should mean a considerable step forward in terms of costs and efficiency for the consumer and for small and medium-sized enterprises, but how does this measure up against reality? In the Netherlands and in other countries, banks are already giving indications that European rules will make things more expensive for the consumer and for SMEs, and that costs for card payment are set to rise, as they already have done in a number of countries. I would remind Commissioner McCreevy that the project is not finished, but has only just started, and should like him to tell us how he proposes to remain involved, how he will ensure that these objectives are actually achieved and that the consumer really does benefit, and what measures he proposes to take, in tandem with Mrs Kroes, in the next couple of years in order to bring this about.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . Mr President, I have listened carefully to the discussion on the proposal for a directive on payment services in the Internal Market and I would like to thank you all for your comments.

We cannot establish a single market for payments without a harmonised legal framework at EU level instead of the patchwork of 27 sets of different national rules. At the same time we need more competition and innovation in payments markets. This will provide substantial benefits to our citizens, our businesses, our public administrations and our economy as a whole. Quite simply, payments are the lifeblood of our economy and without an efficient payments system we cannot have an efficient single market.

The issue regarding data protection was raised by the following Members: Mr Gauzès, Mrs Bowles and Mrs Berès. I would like to say two things on this issue. Firstly, the Commission has already responded to Parliament’s resolution of 14 February 2007 on the SWIFT case. Article 19 of the proposed directive allows the exchange of information between competent authorities responsible for protecting personal data and the authority responsible for supervising payment institutions. This corresponds to the conclusions of the Article 29 working party opinion of 22 November 2006 on the processing of data by SWIFT.

Secondly, the limitation of data processing to EU countries, as proposed by Amendment 287, would in fact be a contradiction of the data protection directive. That directive has a specific regime for authorising the export of data to third countries if those countries provide the necessary guarantees. This regime aims at ensuring that European data protection standards are not undermined by the export of data to countries with more lenient standards.

The SWIFT case has demonstrated that we must remain vigilant on the protection of personal data. Combating terrorism and terrorist financing are important. So is the protection of privacy, however, which is a fundamental principle for all EU Member States. The Commission will use all means at its disposal to ensure that all Member States respect data protection, including the export of data to third countries. I will bring the points made here to the attention of my colleague, Commissioner Frattini, who is directly responsible for this area.

Tomorrow Parliament has the opportunity to endorse the proposal which reflects the views already expressed in its lead committee’s report, which provides a legal foundation for an efficient and modern payments market. The Commission fully supports a set of compromise amendments aimed at achieving this. I would once again like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Gauzès, and Parliament for your patience in deferring this vote. I stress his conviction that your vote is a historic occasion for payments in Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pervenche Berès (PSE ).(FR) Mr President, the Council is represented in this House, and some very clear questions have been directly addressed to it, not least concerning the Council’s commitment to uphold the European Parliament’s concerns regarding data protection. I should therefore like it if the Council could voice its opinion on this point.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Given that the Council does not wish to speak on the matter, the debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12 noon.

 

17. Advanced therapy medicinal products (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report by Mr Mikolášik on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on advanced therapy medicinal products and amending Directive 2001/83/EC and Regulation (EC) No 726/2004 [COM(2005)0567 C6-0401/2005 2005/0227(COD) ] (A6-0031/2007 ).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . (DE) Mr President, honourable Members, I am very glad that we are able today to talk about the regulation on medicinal products for advanced therapies, which has been long awaited, and is of enormous importance to innumerable sick people in Europe, to many of whom these new therapies offer hope of new and life-saving treatment. I am not talking here about the common cold, but about such conditions as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, and other dreadful scourges. So far, no single legal framework has been put in place, with the consequence that many patients are not in a position to benefit from the treatments that are available, or they end up being prescribed medications that are not safe. By means of this regulation, we are preparing the way for easier and safer access to the ones that will save their lives.

The proposal is also of great importance for Europe as a centre for research. With things as they stand at present, European researchers and manufacturers – who are often small and medium-sized enterprises – can neither grow nor hold their own in international competition.

Let me now say something about the legislative process. While it is self-evidently a matter for your House as to how the procedure is handled, I would, however, ask you to bear with me as I appeal to you to come to a decision and to refrain from dragging the process out any longer, in view of the need to create unambiguous conditions for these innovative therapies, for which people have been waiting for so long, and it is for that reason that I am all the more pleased that three groups have put forward a comprehensive compromise package that will make a speedy agreement of that sort possible.

I am able to say, on behalf of the Commission, that we are able to endorse this package as a whole without any changes needing to be made, and I believe that the Council Presidency, too – although we have yet to hear it say so – is persuaded that the Council will be able to adopt the package as it stands.

I am perfectly well aware that we are dealing here with a particularly tricky topic, and we must be especially sensitive when considering ethical issues as important as this one, and so let me once again make it clear that our sole intention, with this regulation, is to ensure that patients get safe and effective medicines. There is no other objective in mind.

The fact is that the regulation does not actually lay down whether or not medicines are ethically acceptable, and in this respect, we are abiding strictly by the subsidiarity principle, for ethical matters are reserved to the Member States, and we, in the European Union, cannot end up in a situation in which one of them can impose its ethical convictions on another; that is not on. The only thing that is workable is that we leave the ethical issues to the Member States, for that is what we have always done. There is nothing new about it; that is a policy that has been clearly established for many years, and there are many examples of it.

It follows, then, that the proposal neither compels the licensing of ethically problematic technologies at national level nor prohibits them from being used throughout Europe; the proposal goes no further than respecting decisions taken at national level. The important principle that donations of organs and tissue must be voluntary and unpaid applies as a matter of course, and is already enshrined in other legal acts. Reiterating it in this proposal would therefore be superfluous.

What we should do, whatever happens, is lay down common safety standards for such products. I do not think there is any argument by which we might justify acceptance of a standard of protection that varied from one Member State to another, which – among other things – would result only in patients and their various diseases travelling the length and breadth of Europe.

Despite the amendments proposed by the Committee on Legal Affairs, then, we should not remove ethically problematic products – those derived from embryonic stem cells, for example – from the scope of the regulation.

Let me say once more – and I do so in all seriousness – that today presents us with a unique political opportunity to adopt a regulation for which sick people in Europe, and the European medicines industry, have been waiting for a long time. It is because this is an opportunity that we cannot allow ourselves to miss that I ask all the Members of the European Parliament to endorse the compromise package submitted by Mrs Roth-Behrendt, Mrs Ries and Mr Adamo on behalf of their groups, and to reject other motions. If this regulation is adopted, it will promote innovation, make our research and industry more competitive, and, above all, help to save lives and deliver people from grave suffering; all these things you can bring to pass by endorsing this package.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR SIWIEC
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE-DE ), rapporteur . Mr President, I should like to address you today as the rapporteur on the proposal for a regulation on advanced therapy medicinal products. Furthermore, as a medical doctor, I should like to address the progress in medicine of highly specific medicinal products emerging onto the European market to treat patients with the diseases enumerated by the Commissioner.

I should like to seize this opportunity to thank the Commission for its proposal. The time has come to treat patients with products which are safe, efficient and based on non-controversial grounds.

Since the beginning of 2006, the European Parliament has been working hard on this proposal with the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the Committee on Legal Affairs. The final report was adopted by a large majority. There is a broad consensus within Parliament that the report by the Committee on the Environment, as presented for the vote in this House, is excellent. All stakeholders, representatives of both the bioindustry and of patient groups welcomed it after its adoption last January.

Last week three Members of Parliament, on behalf of their political groups – Socialists, Liberals and GUE – tabled a number of amendments presented as a so-called compromise with the Council and the Commission. This individual action was undertaken without the knowledge of the rapporteur.

I would like to underline that no agreement was reached with the other two institutions at the end of the informal trialogue that took place last month. Ninety per cent of these amendments are a copy-and-paste of the committee report with cosmetic changes. The most relevant are the 10%. These amendments concerning the more sensitive political issues are the result of an individual initiative of three of our colleagues. As they mentioned in their letter last week, the interinstitutional agreement has not been finalised. Furthermore, many of the amendments presented in the package do not have the support of the committee responsible, the other two committees nor of the rapporteur. Therefore, I should like to urge all my colleagues to support the responsible report by the Committee on the Environment in the vote on Wednesday.

In order to speed up the legislative procedure, the informal trialogue with the Council and the Commission took place last month. The three meetings showed discrepancies. From a substantial point of view, several politically sensitive questions have not been solved. From the point of view of procedure, the question was raised of the two amendments tabled by the Committee on Legal Affairs which were directly incorporated into the report under the enhanced cooperation procedure. As the main rapporteur, I have tried to underline that the remit of that committee should be respected. In spite of the clear provisions in the Rules of Procedure on enhanced cooperation between parliamentary committees, colleagues from the two other institutions and some shadow rapporteurs refused to consider these amendments in the light of the first reading agreement. Apparently, enhanced cooperation is respected only when it suits certain colleagues. It is welcomed in files such as REACH, but as far as advanced therapies are concerned. Some go even further and misuse the voice of patients’ groups, declaring that the enhanced cooperation procedure is undemocratic.

I would like to raise one aspect of the proposal which still worries me: the principle of subsidiarity. In its fully harmonising proposal, the Commission introduces an op-out for Member States to apply their restrictive national legislation concerning certain contentious products. In practice, this would mean that certain products would not have access to the market of all Member States. Following the opinion of our Legal Service, this provision presents serious problems of incompatibility with the legal bases and could therefore be annulled by the European Court of Justice. If this is the case, this regulation would become a fully-harmonising measure for all products including those prohibited in some Member States. Here, the two amendments from the Committee on Legal Affairs bring legal certainty by excluding from the scope products containing or derived from embryonic stem cells.

As rapporteur, I have to respect the diversity of 27 sets of legislation relating to embryonic stem cell research, from the complete freedom of research to the prohibition of killing embryos for research purposes. If we do not support the amendments from the Committee on Legal Affairs, this regulation would de facto promote the development of products derived from embryonic stem cells, although this might be considered as ethically unacceptable by citizens and Member States.

As an elected representative of this House, I have the responsibility to listen to all opinions, to marry positions and to propose to our citizens a text which can be considered as modern, progressive and respecting universal principles and values such as human dignity. I welcome the tone of the recent Berlin Declaration regarding European values, as well as the programme of the President of the European Parliament, who stated that the question of human dignity is at the core of his and of our approach when voting on European legislation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Giles Chichester (PPE-DE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy . Mr President, Commissioner, first of all I should like to thank the Commissioner for his remarks about this proposal and report. I warmly support them.

I should also like to state quite clearly that my committee, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, supports this proposal and hopes that it will go forward smoothly. So we share that objective.

Next I would like to remind colleagues that the interest groups – the patient groups who are most likely to be affected by this measure and to benefit from it – strongly support the measure. I regularly see reports in the press of exciting new therapies and developments in this field, but usually they are in the USA and not in Europe, which is to our loss.

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for his work, but I have to respectfully disagree with him with regard to the two amendments from the Committee on Legal Affairs which seemed to me, and to many on my committee, to be pushing in exactly the opposite, retrogressive direction to that of this proposal. So I join in supporting the compromise package which has been put forward, particularly by my distinguished colleague Mrs Roth-Behrendt, not least because independent observers tell me that this package is in line with the ITRE Committee’s position. So naturally I support it.

(Interjection from Mrs Breyer: ‘Are you speaking for the committee or on your own behalf?’)

I am speaking for the committee, Madam; I am speaking in my turn, and you should wait for yours.

I would like to remind everybody that the world around us is changing technologically, socially (although manners may not be changing), scientifically, and, as we can see in this report, biomedically. We must not deny the patients of the future the therapies of tomorrow.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hiltrud Breyer (Verts/ALE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market . – (DE) Mr President, before I speak for the committee, I should like to point out an error to Commissioner Verheugen. I think it is improper that he should give the impression that those who tabled the compromise had made sure it would make rapid progress; the very opposite was the case, for it was those individuals who put forward the compromise who voted ‘no’ in the first vote in the committee.

Now, though, for what I have to say on behalf of the committee. The Rules of Procedure give the committee a most prominent role in the treatment of ethical issues, and I trust that everyone here accepts that – not just the Council and the Commission, but also many Members of this House, none of whom, I hope, are seeking to deny the members of the Committee on Legal Affairs their authority in matters of law. We have considered this report in very great depth and adopted a multitude of amendments, two of which in particular – I am referring to Amendments 3 and 17 – were referred directly to the plenary in accordance with the enhanced procedure and are extremely important.

The committee calls for the reference to embryonic stem cells to be deleted, but why? As you know, the Court of Justice’s interpretation of Article 95 is that a fully harmonised measure must not allow derogations for Member States, so, it being a matter of doubt as to whether the article would stand up to the Court’s scrutiny, the committee has therefore proposed a precise wording supplementary to Article 28; that alone makes for legal certainty and clarity and is, most important of all, capable of standing up in the European Court of Justice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Bowis, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – Mr President, as the Commissioner has said, it is an exciting time in medical research. We are on the verge of new breakthroughs, and the root for these is the development of advanced therapies, using gene and cell therapies and tissue engineering.

Gene therapy and somatic cell therapy products are already being clinically tested. Some of the tissue engineering products are already with us. This proposal is there to ensure that we deal with a complex issue in a sensible and universal way, through central authorisation so that we can pool scarce expertise at Community level, ensure the highest standards of patient safety across the EU and enable access to the European market and thus to all patients. That is what it is all about and on that basis, I welcome my honourable friend’s report and congratulate him on the work that he did, not only in bringing the report through our Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety but in the subsequent work he has done negotiating with the Presidency in the trialogue. We needed to look at various issues: the hospital issue, the small and medium enterprise issue, the medical devices issue. Of course, with this comes a number of ethical issues and those are important. However, my belief is that the EU’s job is to guarantee safety and efficacy, and Member States should take the ethical decisions.

I believe that is where we will conclude on this important measure. We now have to look very carefully at the options before us in the votes on Wednesday to make sure that we take something through which has the wholehearted support of this House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (DE) Mr President, I shall say just two sentences about the substance of the matter in hand – with which all of us present here are familiar – and would then like to say something about the procedure.

Thousands of patients right across the European Union are waiting in desperation for new kinds of therapy that might alleviate their suffering or even save their lives. To all those who think certain categories of therapy have to be excluded, in whatever country and with whatever laws being in force, I say, once more, here and now, what I said in the committee, and yes, I do mean it: you are cynical, you are irresponsible, and you should be ashamed of yourselves; now take your ideas and put them to the patients – face to face. Mrs Breyer is not squeamish either, so you can say it to her as well.

I should now like to say something about the procedure.

I will do this in English so that Mr Mikolášik will understand me directly. Mr Mikolášik spoke about tabling amendments without the knowledge of the rapporteur. It is not necessarily usual that one clears it with the rapporteur, Mr Mikolášik. I would have loved to do that with you, but you stopped cooperating at an early stage in the trialogues.

I want to read out what we – Mrs Ries, Mr Adamou and others here – did, so that everybody is clear.

We tabled a package of 75 amendments. 32 are exactly identical to the amendments from the committee; 18 amendments are slight linguistic changes; 10 amendments are working on a compromise which you and I already agreed on before you stopped cooperating, and 15 amendments are linguistic or legal concerns. That is the situation we are in at the moment.

I now want to add something concerning what you said before on the interinstitutional agreement. I think we should just have a result as soon as possible. Mr Mikolášik, you also said that we should have a first-reading agreement. I agree, because thousands of people are waiting for it.

I am very grateful to the Commission and to the Council, who really supported us in reaching a result. From my point of view, they have come as close to Parliament’s positions as they could – going further than I have seen before and further than I expected them to go.

Naturally, Mr Mikolášik, we compromised, you compromised and I compromised. In fact I made a compromise as regards your group’s position on hospital exemptions and other things, because I thought, as some of you think, we should have a strong, safe regulation which makes sure that patients get the best scientific support and the best therapies in safe surroundings.

As regards the so-called ‘ethical’ amendments, yes, Member States who want to ban the use of foetal stem cells should be allowed to do so, and, Mrs Breyer, everybody who says that the Court of Justice would deny that and would put it under Article 95 is either not knowledgeable – which you are not – and then giving the wrong impression, I am afraid. If you read Article 30 of the Treaty, you are exactly sure that it says that public morality is always a reason to make sure that a Member State can ban something. And that is what happened in the past. That is what is happening at the moment in the European Union. We have always said that those Member States who allow research on it could continue.

However, the patients also deserve the right to have the safest, best products available, and that is why I tabled an amendment on subsidiarity, to make sure of that again. That amendment is in the package. It says that every Member State which thinks a product should not even be produced there, nor marketed, should be allowed to ban it. In other Member States, the patients should have the freedom to obtain it. That is what we are here for.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frédérique Ries, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, Secretary of State, given that the rapporteur has already done so at length, I do not wish to launch into a detailed description of advanced therapies. I shall merely reiterate the point that this is an extremely promising area of research and medicine, offering real solutions for people with third-degree burns, patients suffering from venous ulcers, diabetes, hereditary diseases and cardiovascular diseases, offering hope, too, for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and offering a solution finally, one day perhaps, to the tragic shortage of organs, which results in the deaths each year in Europe of thousands of patients awaiting donations.

In other words, there are countless numbers of patients – millions of them – who are awaiting this regulation. It is not just patients who are awaiting it, but businesses in this sector, too, for, quite apart from the quality, safety and effectiveness of the products, quite apart from the need to make them accessible to everyone, without discrimination, the idea here, with this text, as the Commissioner pointed out, is also that we stimulate research and innovation. Well, on three occasions already, those seeking to impose on us their vision of ethics and morality – and the rapporteur is one of them – have delayed and are still delaying the adoption of this regulation: in committee, in the informal trialogue – as my fellow Member, Mrs Roth-Behrendt pointed out just now – and perhaps again on Wednesday, I fear, with a request for referral of the report.

At the heart of the controversy and the deadlock are medicines made from embryonic or foetal stem cells, which the rapporteur wants to exclude from the centralised procedure and thus leave outside the scope of this legislation. Things must be made clear, as clear as our Amendment 62, which is in the package, and validated by the legal services of the three institutions, I should also like to point out: the Member States and they alone will decide which research and which products will be available on their territory. Nothing will be imposed on them that contravenes their national legislation on ethical matters. That is indeed, I believe, the definition of subsidiarity, and those who intend, in the name of subsidiarity – it is quite a feat, after all – to ban these products throughout Europe and prevent countries that want them from making progress, puzzle me. For that reason, I formally reject Amendments 3 and 17 tabled by the Committee on Legal Affairs, together with the package of amendments endorsed by Mr Gargani and others.

Ladies and gentlemen, the choice is simple, after all. Our credibility is at stake here, as is, I would say in passing, the consistency of our work and of our decisions. I would remind you that, last June, we were authorising the funding of research into embryonic stem cells in the seventh framework programme for research. I urge you today to support this compromise package tabled by the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the Confederal Group of the European United Left/European United Left. Something that has not yet been said is that this package also has the support of a number of MEPs from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats and, contrary to what was explained by the rapporteur, it is accepted by the Commission and by the Council. This package solves all of the technical issues; it is a compromise that makes it clear that it is not Europe’s role to legislate on ethics, because, ladies and gentlemen, if the next few years are to be characterised by all manner of revolutions, it is up to us to give meaning to them, and to offer hope, not destroy it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Konrad Szymański, on behalf of the UEN Group . (PL)  Mr President, despite the tremendous efforts made by Mr Mikolášik, the rapporteur, there may be significant weaknesses in our position on advanced therapies. If the ethical amendments package is not supported, adequate guarantees will not be provided for countries that do not wish to destroy human life for therapeutic purposes. Guarantees for human dignity may also be lacking. Human dignity is currently under threat from the commercialisation of the human body, interference with the individual’s genetic heritage and the possibility of creating animal-human hybrids.

Europe is right to set human rights standards for the world, even though this sometimes seems a hopeless task. The question arises as to why we adopt such a passive stance with regard to biotechnology and advanced therapies? We may be forced to give in twice. Without a clear ban on the commercialisation of the human body we risk being forced to give in to the market, which will handle trade in cells. Without a clear ban on interfering with an individual’s genetic heritage we risk being forced to give in to a cruel, eugenic and inhuman philosophy. Such a philosophy always gives precedence to the quality of life over its inalienable value and dignity. We should be ashamed that Asia is now setting standards for the European Union in this area. The legislation in question cannot be endorsed without the ethical amendments package.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hiltrud Breyer, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Mr President, the vote, the day after tomorrow, will put to the test how seriously we take the Berlin Declaration, which had a lot to say about values, and of whether we are willing to express those values in European law, or whether they are only empty words and a waste of paper.

There are three principles that we see as indispensable. One is that the human body should not be exploited for commercial gain, and I have to tell Commissioner Verheugen that this is not laid down elsewhere; nowhere, in fact, is this principle laid down and made binding in law. I am amazed at the aggressiveness with which some seek to prevent it from being so.

Secondly, we do not want any interference in human beings’ genetic identity: we do not want tailor-made human beings. Not only is that laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but it is also present in the bio-patent directive. We do not want the choice of treatment to be determined by people’s wallets any more than we want, in the future, modifications of genetic material that would no longer be reversible.

Nor do we want monsters and hybrids; what we want is for these things to be quite explicitly banned. Were this House to unite against these three ethical principles, it would send a devastating message and would, indeed, in moral terms, represent a breach in the dam.

Since it is intolerable that naïve hopes and false promise of cures for conditions with which embryo therapies have next to nothing to do should be used as a means of sending this House down slippery ethical slopes, we must instead send out a clear signal for European values and ensure that …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Adamos Adamou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, I too should like to take my turn in emphasising that the purpose of this proposal is not to harmonise questions of ethics or morals; it is for the national competence of the Member States to be respected as regards whether or not sensitive products are used.

Such decisions must be taken on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity and must remain within the national competence of each Member State. The personal, moral and ethical views of each of us must not conflict with this approach, especially as each Member State will be responsible for deciding which type of products it will allow to be imported and which not. The crucial question is whether or not we agree that Europe should decide which products we shall market and which we must ban. My answer is no.

Let me now remind you of the package of amendments – Amendments 82 to 156 – which also reflects the six months of consultations and attempts to reach a compromise with the Council and the European Commission. Our objective is to reach a compromise at first reading, which is what is wanted by most of the associations of patients whose lives, in many cases, depend on a leading edge medicinal product. In short, the immediate application of the regulation would mean easier, faster and safer therapies for European patients. Europe needs this regulation and it needs it now.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Johannes Blokland, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . (NL) Mr President, imagine someone who is in financial difficulty and who is racking their brains to find a way of making ends meet. They decide to sell tissue and cells of their body for payment in order to eke out a living. This situation is conceivable if we exclude the ban on the commercialisation of the human body from the scope of this regulation. I would argue in favour of backing the amendment in this respect, not least to remain in line with the Oviedo Treaty and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

I am also extremely anxious about the technical scope in the area of medicinal products modifying the human germ line as well as those derived from human-animal hybrids, as these techniques greatly affect human dignity. Moreover, there are major differences in opinion among the various Member States. I therefore hope that we can keep these products outside the scope of this regulation out of continued respect for the dignity of the human body and for the choices of the individual Member States. We would, in my view, also reinforce the principle of subsidiarity by keeping these products outside of the regulation’s scope. Since the regulation's legal basis is Article 95, which deals with the internal market, it appears possible, as the proposal is worded at the moment, for legal entities to bring charges before the Court against a national ban on medicinal products that are authorised at European level and to win their case. This is something that must be avoided.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE ).(FR) Mr President, this evening we are debating a particularly important advance, which should enable future generations to benefit from high-technology medical treatments. European patients therefore need to be able to have access to these revolutionary products, on a non-discriminatory basis, because of the potential that they offer. It is also important to guarantee that these products are safe and effective.

The fact is that, without Community legislation, the situation varies from one country to another and is unfair for patients: some have access to products, when others have to go without. As you yourself said, Commissioner, in a situation such as this, there will be medical tourism. Therefore, if we are to overcome these obstacles, we need a clear, strict, framework encouraging investment and the growth of the biotech industry in Europe.

The technical section is therefore totally pointless in this context since, on account of subsidiarity, each Member State has the freedom to decide whether or not to ban this type of cell technology on its national market.

I particularly support the technical package that Mrs Roth-Behrendt has tabled in the form of amendments and that takes up all of the points of agreement that were reached during the various informal trialogues with the Council and the Commission. I truly hope that we vote in favour of this technical package because, by doing so, we will be able to reach an agreement at first reading and to fulfil patients’ expectations quicker.

I absolutely regret Amendments 3 and 17 tabled by the Committee on Legal Affairs. They simply prohibit any form of centralised authorisation for advanced therapy medicinal products derived from embryonic stem cells. I should like to point out that the aim of this text is to guarantee the safety of new therapies, while facilitating research and development and the authorisation of products derived from these advanced therapies. Amendments 3 and 17 put patients’ safety in real danger by excluding certain products from the very strict public heath requirements laid down by the regulation.

When patients’ safety is at stake, any form of discrimination is unacceptable. The implementation of a European technical framework, which patients and the industry have been awaiting for several years now, must not serve as a pretext for imposing any particular ideological point of view.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE ). – Mr President, I would like to thank those Members who participated in the detailed processing of this regulation. It is extremely important that issues as sensitive and complex as this are dealt with under the codecision procedure. It reassures our citizens, whose national parliaments cannot vary a regulation, to see their MEPs engaged in preparing balanced and effective legislation which seeks to enhance their lives.

The therapies which this regulation seeks to deal with have great potential for treating cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Regrettably, and not unexpectedly, some reactionary elements are falsely claiming that this proposal overrides Member States’ rights on ethical issues. They want to exclude products derived from embryonic stem cells from the scope of this regulation. The effect of doing so would be to leave such products unregulated in many parts of Europe as regards their safety, quality and efficacy.

Contrary to these wild claims, the regulation does not circumscribe a Member State’s right to refuse to countenance embryo, stem-cell-based therapies. Indeed I would deplore such a ban by any Member State. This regulation is about saving life and about enhancing the quality of life, not its destruction – as is being claimed by some in this House tonight. We owe it to tens of thousands of patients and their families to do everything we can to encourage and make available the most advanced treatments for some of the most intractable illnesses facing our societies today. We also need to guarantee insofar as we can that they are safe and of the highest quality and that they actually work. This is what this regulation seeks to do.

I fully support the PSE Group’s position and call on all Members – and indeed I would particularly call on all my Irish colleagues – to support this regulation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marios Matsakis (ALDE ). – Mr President, the regulation of tissue engineering products is both a necessity and an inevitability in the present era of rapid biotechnological advances. Such advances offer a potential cure for hitherto incurable diseases. But, as on many occasions in the past, one of the main obstacles to medical progress is not scientific limitations, but pseudo-ethical dogma born out of religious misunderstandings of God’s real wishes for mankind.

Such misconceptions have sadly changed very little since the Dark Ages’ comprehension of the physical world. Accordingly, in these legislative discussions, we have again heard heated ethical disagreements and calls for the prohibition of anything to do with human embryonic stem cells, hybrid chimeras and payment for human tissue. I ask you, colleagues, what is ethically wrong in using an animal ovary into which human genetic material is inserted in order to produce a certain human chemical and save someone’s life? What is ethically wrong with a unique human tissue being obtained from a donor in return for payment in order to use it in the treatment of a child’s cancer? After all, what is less ethical: to use embryonic stem cells or hybrid chimeras and to allow payment, or to let a child to die?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Urszula Krupa (IND/DEM ). – (PL) (text missing) and advances in biotechnology and biomedicine lead to the development of therapies described as advanced, including gene therapy, somatic cell therapy and genetic engineering, all of which should aim at preventing disease and improving the state of human health. What has happened, however, is that experimental technology has been used to create animal-human hybrids and chimeras. It has also been applied in cloning and in experiments to change the genetic heritage of individuals. Techniques of this nature infringe ethical principles, and they are also problematic from a medical point of view. They can cause side effects as they have a negative impact on health and they lead to the commercialisation of the human body.

The situation is aggravated by the intense competition between medical and pharmaceutical concerns. It is not the first time this has led to the production of medicines or the use of D therapies with dramatic side effects.

Rejection of the amendments banning immoral practices reveals the irresponsibility of people who endanger the health and even the life of those they should be helping by condoning disregard for human dignity. At the same time, solutions at European level can be a way of forcing acceptance by those who do not agree with infringing moral principles. This amounts to a distortion of values and to putting the brakes on scientific research that complies with the principles of respect for human dignity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Peter Liese (PPE-DE ).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, we should be clear in our own minds about the fact that all those who have given their attention to this regulation want to help patients; Mr Mikolášik is a doctor, and so am I. Even though we may take a different line on some amendments, you should not take that as indicating any opposition to helping the sick. Speaking personally, I do agree with Mr Mikolášik and with the amendments from the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market that have now been brought back in by Mr Gargani, Mr Morillon, Mrs Auken and others, which – and this is something you need to know, too – represent the position taken by the overwhelming majority of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, as determined by a vote we took last Wednesday.

I would like to turn to a subject that has not featured in this debate so far, but is very important if we want to know how we can create the right conditions for the companies that want to help patients. There is at present a whole array of small and medium-sized enterprises that are already carrying out treatments in hospitals, whether the people treated are in-patients or outpatients. Quite some time ago, these firms came to me and told me that, if the regulation goes through unamended and without easier arrangements for small and medium-sized businesses under national licensing schemes, they would no longer be able to offer those services.

That, rather than this or that promise of miracle cures, is what we need to bear in mind – the real live businesses that are there today helping patients and who say that the proposal for a Commission regulation is not as good as it is made out to be. Nor does the so-called compromise package offer the small and medium-sized businesses a proper solution for their problem.

Amendment 127 provides for SMEs working in tandem with a hospital to be exempted from the requirement for a European license. SMEs working outside hospitals, though, and facing fewer risks, are obliged to go to London to get their licences, incurring many charges and having a complicated process to go through. As one Member of this House always says, there are times when consensus becomes nonsensical, and this is one of them, thanks to those who cobbled together this so-called compromise.

Commissioner Verheugen said that we are not talking about ethics. He went on to say that the principle that the human body must not become a commodity has been complied with. What now, then? Are we going to talk about it or are we not? If the principle has been taken into account, then a European regulation on the subject exists, and, that being so, we have to examine whether or not it is any good. Having been a rapporteur on this, I know that this House wanted more stringent regulation, but, back then, the Commission said no, citing the legal basis. The legal basis has now changed, and so you ought at the least to think up a proper justification, rather than simply saying that the matter has been taken care of.

We need this regulation; I am all for us getting it, and have been so for the past five years. For three of them, it was on ice in the Commission – not, admittedly, on Commissioner Verheugen’s watch, but the Commission does nevertheless bear responsibility for this three-year delay. Mrs Roth-Behrendt, Mrs Ries and others bear responsibility for another six months’ delay, having rejected the report back in September. Now you are giving us another month in which this House has to talk the matter through in proper parliamentary fashion.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (ALDE ).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, the regulation we are discussing today is indeed urgent and of particular importance, dealing as it does with advanced therapies, across-the-board quality standards, the more rapid availability of high-quality products, and, ultimately, the competitiveness of European businesses.

I therefore want to congratulate those Members who had a hand in putting together the compromises; that was the right thing to do, and it was done at the right time. I, too, find this or that part of it indigestible, particularly those that have to do with small and medium-sized enterprises, which the compromise package rather tends to disregard, but this is one of those times when we all have to make a superhuman effort for the sake of coherence, in order that we might achieve uniformity of regulation, and, not least with the Seventh Research Framework Programme in mind. To be sure, this does have to do with ethics, but it is also about the way in which different ethical standards collide and the challenge that that presents us with. At the end of the day, though, it is about people, and they should come first.

What we are fighting about is the prevention of suffering, and that is why I should like to congratulate the Presidency of the Council, for I know, Mr Schroeder, that you too have done the seemingly impossible, and that is why I find so much of the hysteria, indulged in by the Greens in particular, quite incomprehensible.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM ). – Mr President, last month the Ukrainian Prime Minister came to the European Parliament. In a discussion in committee, I asked him about the trade in human body parts, especially of infants before and after birth. The Prime Minister acknowledged this gruesome trade and called it painful. He reminded me that it also included embryos. He said the problem was not only Ukrainian sellers but also the wealthy international buyers

He asked for our help to end this form of human trafficking. Our help. Tomorrow’s vote will determine whether we have any help to give. If we uphold the ban on commercialisation and if we exclude human embryos from the scope of this directive, then we will be able to do something about the wealthy buyers within the EU. If, however, we give the green light to commercialisation and destruction of embryos, not only will we be unable to help Ukraine with the buyers who keep the trade alive, but we will also cause the same painful situation in the EU, whereby those who are desperate for money are exploited for their body parts to benefit those who are rich enough to pay for them.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Antonios Trakatellis (PPE-DE ).(EL) Mr President, this regulation is needed and it is needed quickly, because medicine has advanced, progress is being made and there are also high hopes of innovative therapies.

I do not think that anything should be exempted. Everything must be included in this regulation and the reason is very simple and very practical: does anyone believe that, if in the European Union we ban the licensing of certain innovative therapies which have been approved elsewhere, the citizens of Europe will not go and find these therapies? I, of course, much prefer central licensing. The only thing that I personally am calling for at the moment – and I think that the regulation covers this – is a strict scientific evaluation of these innovative therapies and full safety. Apart from that, if we fragment and stop licensing by each Member State, just imagine what will happen in the European Union. We shall have Member States which will have allowed it and Member States which will not have allowed it.

Moreover, as many speakers said, no one is prohibiting any Member State from allowing or banning something which has been licensed. Consequently, I do not understand why there is all this debate, when the world is waiting for new therapies, when there are chronic illnesses and when patients' hopes are very high. I do not think that we should be the obstacle to a future cure for Parkinson's disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer and so on.

I therefore think that we should go ahead and vote for the regulation, as tabled by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and, of course, I am against the two amendments by the Committee on Legal Affairs.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE ). (HU) Every time we begin talking about advanced therapy medicinal products, stem cell or embryonic cell therapies, or embryo research or organ transplantation, vehement debate inevitably ensues. Our points of view differ widely, regardless of age, sex, nationality or political convictions, a sure sign of the complexity of the question.

It is no small undertaking to have decided to draw up a piece of legislation that seeks to provide a unified regulation of this border area between ethics and science. For these therapies and medicines increasingly represent life and death. By using, or by not using them, either way we are making decisions about human lives. Advanced therapy means life for many thousands of European citizens. It is the last ray of hope offering the prospect of a healthier, fuller life.

In the developing world, however, it can mean death, since the illegal trade in organs is already causing the maiming and death of thousands of people. At the same time, our goal cannot be to stop the development of technology. What can, however, be our goal is to find answers to the moral and ethical questions raised by technical advances. We need the current legislation to point the way, to help ensure that technical development means an affirmation of life. This is not a question of the struggle between good and evil, but of what is technically possible and yet ethically permissible.

I owe Mr Mikolašik and my other colleagues gratitude for the fine compromise they have prepared, and trust that the legislation to be brought into effect by our votes will be on the side of life.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Purvis (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, there are many European families with members suffering from serious diseases. There are also many medical researchers and therapists with the means to help those patients, and they are all waiting for this important piece of legislation. It will provide the common legislative framework which will make these innovative therapies more readily, more widely and more safely available. It is urgently required, it will be of great benefit and there is no reason for delaying its implementation by loading it with unnecessary ethical provisos and carve-outs that are impossible to agree with the Council.

It has been firmly established that ethical restrictions are properly within the power of individual Member States if they wish to limit or forbid. Subsidiarity is the essential rule. But there is every reason to have a European standard for regulating the safe use of such therapies where they are used. So I ask my colleagues, and particularly my good friend the rapporteur, to let this vitally important piece of legislation proceed this week, so that agreement with the Council can be reached.

Many of our less fortunate fellow Europeans will thank us when this legislation comes into effect, but they will have great difficulty understanding if it is further delayed, emasculated or stopped altogether by this Parliament. This is one of those occasions when it is really important for us to exercise our powers carefully and responsibly and let this matter be finalised.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carlo Casini (PPE-DE ).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I can say that I agree with the rapporteur and therefore am also in favour of the two points included in Amendments 3 and 17, in line with the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs, as well as all the amendments proposed by that committee.

Someone said that they did not understand why this debate was so heated. It is heated because it has to answer two important questions. The first one is, 'Does the end justify the means?' I recall that in Article 2 of the Oviedo Convention on bioethics we wrote that the interests and welfare of the human being shall prevail over the sole interest of society or science. The first question is therefore as follows: ‘In view of the fact that science is capable of crossing new boundaries, should we always do what science tells us? Does the fact that something can be done make it right, or is there an ethical rule to say whether it is right?’

The second question is as follows: ‘The human being takes precedence, but what is a human being?’ We can no longer ignore this question, which is of momentous, planetary importance, because the whole human rights doctrine, from which everyone claims to draw inspiration, turns on this one point: ‘What is a human being?’ When we talk about embryos, we need to answer the question of whether an embryo is a human being or not. This is not merely an ethical question, but rather a legal and political one, even more than it is an ethical one. It is not a quibble, either, but a serious question, and it should at least make us hesitate for a moment when we come to vote.

Since we have already decided that the Member States can do as they see fit, I do not see why a different view of things should be imposed on them through a European regulation. At any rate, I hope my speech will make my fellow Members think carefully about a complex issue that involves human beings – not just those human beings who are hoping for new kinds of treatment, but also those whose bodies and very lives might be sacrificed for the sake of others.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Sonik (PPE-DE ). – (PL)  Mr President, essentially, the draft we are debating concerns the introduction of a centralised procedure whereby the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products could issue authorisation for the marketing of advanced therapy medicinal products. The European Commission also wishes to ensure financial support for the firms manufacturing these products.

These proposals are worthy of support, or rather, they would be worthy of support if it were not for the fact that products that could be developed using controversial technologies have been included amongst advanced therapy products. I refer to products created using human embryos, or developed from animal-human hybrids or chimeras, and also to pharmaceuticals that change the genetic heritage of human beings.

Several European Union Member States such as Germany do not allow products developed using unethical methods onto their markets. The Commission’s proposal contains an exclusion which would allow these states to opt out of the principle of a common market in the case of these controversial products. It is now being stated that there is a legal error affecting both the draft currently under debate and the 2001 directive. Supporters of that view argue that pursuant to Article 95 of the Treaty, which aims at full harmonisation of the market, citing it as a legal basis for a draft regulation on advanced therapy products implies creating an open European market for these products.

The European Parliament therefore found itself in a situation in which it had to choose between going along with the European Commission’s draft or exercising caution and not condoning controversial experiments. Members of Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs were opposed to the idea of including unethical products in the regulation, arguing that regardless of Member States’ rights and despite rapid progress in certain areas no compromises concerning human rights can be permitted. They maintained that the principles banning the use of the human body for commercial purposes must be upheld, and that creating animal-human hybrids or chimeras amounts to an infringement of the principle of human integrity and an affront to human dignity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Klaus Theo Schröder, President-in-Office of the Council . (DE) Mr President, honourable Members, you will, on Wednesday, be voting on the regulation on medicinal products for advanced therapies, which has since early 2006 been promoted initially by the Austrian Presidency of the Council and then by its Finnish counterparts, and we have, since the beginning of this year, done everything in our power to bring about agreement without delay. The regulation aims, in the highly-innovative and extremely important area of medicine production, to protect all the patients who need those medical products, and to do so by means of quality standards that are uniform across Europe. The need for high-quality products for everyone in Europe means that it is true to say, as some of you have, that what is on the agenda today is in fact life itself, improved quality of life and the chance of new life. What is also on the agenda, and not least in importance, is the competitiveness of the European biotechnology sector.

In negotiations on the regulation in the Council working party, aimed not least at achieving agreement with your House, it has proved possible, over recent weeks, to make decisive progress, and it is on these negotiations, which take into consideration a very large number of amendments drafted by experts and submitted by the lead committees, that the prospects for a good compromise, and also a rapid agreement between the Council and Parliament, depended, and still do depend; as the negotiations currently stand, agreement is possible on the basis of that which is to be the subject of Wednesday’s vote. The rapporteur has submitted a parcel of amendments, and the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and the Group of the European United Left have drafted their own sets of them. Both packages draw to the fullest possible extent on the debate in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and on the amendments drafted by it, and are therefore close to one another, although it is clear that it is the package produced by the shadow rapporteurs of the named groups on which agreement is possible at Council level.

However great our differences in debate, it strikes me as essential that it be stressed that what this is all, primarily, about is the quality and safety of these new and advanced therapeutic products. Clear though it is that ethical considerations have a part to play in these deliberations, there has, ever since the cells and tissues directive was resolved upon, been agreement to the effect that we in Europe see ethics as subject to subsidiarity and hence as something for which the Member States bear responsibility, and it is for this reason that two ethically-motivated amendments proposed by your House’s Committee on Legal Affairs could not be agreed to by the Council working party and would represent a definite obstacle to agreement between the Council and your House. The German Presidency strongly asks you to bear this in mind when the time comes for you to vote.

Application of the subsidiarity principle ensures that national legislation – and I would draw Mrs Breyer’s attention to the example of stem cells – is not touched by the regulation. It is not we who have stated that, but rather the Committee on Legal Affairs of your own House that has made that clear, so that, for example, my own country’s legislation on stem cells is not affected, while, on the other hand, the regulation gives all the others the highest possible degree of certainty.

Certain among you have – and quite rightly – had comments to make on the ethical framework, with warnings as to what might come to pass. I certainly share your misgivings, and I am quite sure that the Member States are taking them into account already; moreover, I know of no doctors in this Europe of ours who would do the things that some of you have so graphically described today. In view of the importance of the document you have to vote on, which touches upon the future of many patients in this Europe of ours, the German Presidency has a great interest in concluding this legislative process as successfully and speedily as possible. We have a great opportunity to show the public how we are, in a very important field, capable of being very purposeful and consistent in working towards adding European value, and our sense of ethical responsibility leaves us no alternative to a rapid and necessary decision that will be a basis for quality products of high value.

We therefore strongly urge you, whatever misgivings some of you may have, to perhaps put these to the backs of your minds in view of the vital and higher objective of getting this regulation in place without delay. For that, we – and in that I include the citizens of Europe and the patients – would owe you the utmost gratitude.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . (DE) Mr President, honourable Members, if, if in a community of twenty-seven states, there is no consensus on an ethical issue – such as is the case in this instance – then the only way in which civilised people can deal with this state of affairs is with tolerance and respect, for we have to tolerate and respect the views of others.

I might add that it is also a fact of life for all of us that, while we do well to pay attention to what our consciences tell us, we cannot make that a yardstick for the conduct of others. On this issue, for example, my conscience tells me that I could not take upon myself the responsibility not only for leaving this new medical sector in a legal no-man’s land, but also for putting it in a situation in which – in certain parts of Europe at any rate – everything would be possible, with no legal bounds set and no stipulations as to quality. That, then, is why my conscience tells me that we need this regulation.

My conscience also tells me that I could not take upon myself the responsibility for saying, to a sick person at death’s door, ‘here is a medicine that could help you, but there were some ideological objections to it, and so we are not allowed to use it.’ My conscience tells me that I do not have the right to do that, and that is why I say to you that the only way in which we can handle this issue is to do as is suggested here, that is to say, to allow those with ethical objections to act accordingly and to allow those without them to do whatever they want to do within the bounds of that which will be permitted by the regulation, which – heaven knows – will not allow everything.

Let me now say something about some of the arguments that have been adduced today. As regards the principle that the human body should not be exploited for commercial gain, I would say, yes, that is indispensable, and you will find nobody who is more in agreement with that than I am. This principle is already firmly enshrined in the directive on human tissues and cells. The anonymity of donors and recipients, and the altruism of donors, are European principles that must be adhered to, and that is certainly true in this context and is something about which nobody can be in any doubt.

It has been said that the Commission proposal is ambiguous, that it is, so to speak, not watertight when it comes to the issue of national prohibitions and their remaining in place, but the representative of the Presidency has already given the answer that needed to be given to that, and all I can do is confirm it. The changes needed in order to take account of the objections raised by your House’s legal service are contained in the compromise package, which, as I have already said, the Commission supports, and I want to repeat what Mr Schroeder said, namely that your House’s legal service has explicitly stated that these amendments resolve the problem, and that it welcomes that.

I would like to make it plain that it is a misreading of the Treaty to say that Article 95 – the internal market article, that is – would not guarantee that no products would be licensed that a Member State did not want to see licensed. On this point, the internal market rules are as clear as daylight: every Member State has, at all times, the right to refuse to allow a specific product onto its market on ethical grounds or by reason of public morals; about that there is no doubt. Since we can be certain about the case law, about its practical implications, and about the legal basis afforded by the Treaty on European Union, you really do not have anything to worry about on this score.

Finally, the technical package has been described as inadequate, and to that I have to say that the Council and the Commission really have been extremely willing to make compromises in order to get this dossier wrapped up early. We did indeed accept the great majority of your House’s amendments, particularly as regards small and medium-sized enterprises, in the form, for example, of reductions in charges and derogations from central licensing; all that is in there. That which is in this proposal for legislation goes well beyond what we did earlier, for the Commission has already enacted its own regulation allowing small and medium-sized businesses going through the approval process a reduction in costs of up to 90%, and here too, or so I believe, everything that could be done has been.

So, then, let me ask you again to consider whether it is not indeed really high time that this debate were brought to a proper end, with a good outcome for those researching in this field, because they want to help people, and a good outcome for those who depend on these medicines for dear life.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 12 noon.

Written statement (Article 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (SK) We live today in a world of incredible technical progress. But despite the advances that medicine has made, modern diseases still inspire fear. The use of progressive treatments, including gene- and cell-based therapies as well as tissue engineering, are innovative developments that give great hope to patients.

There is no doubt about the huge potential of advanced medical therapies when it comes to providing revolutionary cures for serious conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease and skin burns, and therefore I welcome the regulation of the European Commission aimed at harmonising procedures in this field across the EU, and ensuring that sufferers have safe cures for these serious ailments.

The elimination of barriers on the European market will give patients greater access to existing cures through the Europe-wide licensing of these products.

However, in order to maintain the underlying principles of the internal market and in the interest of its proper functioning, as well as to secure the legal bases, this regulation should apply only to cell-based products that may in the near future be actually introduced on the market and which do not arouse controversy.

For this reason it is quite unacceptable to ignore the position of the Committee on Legal Affairs, which is the main body responsible for ethical issues in new technologies in the European Parliament.

Finally I would like to congratulate rapporteur Mikolášik and thank him for his principled position on ethical matters and for his personal integrity based on the Oviedo Agreement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

 

18. Enforcement of intellectual property rights (criminal measures) (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0073/2007 ) by Mr Zingaretti, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the amended proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on criminal measures aimed at ensuring the enforcement of intellectual property rights (COM(2006)0168 – C6-0233/2005 – 2005/0127(COD) )

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . (DE) Mr President, honourable Members, infringements of intellectual property rights are on a continuing upward curve and now constitute a really serious threat to the European economy and to European society.

The differences in sanctions applicable from one country to another not only interfere with the smooth functioning of the internal market but also make it more difficult to combat the counterfeiting and piracy of products. It is vital that the holders of rights should enjoy equal protection throughout the Community.

Problems of consumer protection also arise in connection with health and safety issues. The Internet helps counterfeiters, who can use it to market faked or imitation products around the world without any loss of time; it is evident that their schemes are increasingly tied in with organised crime, and I have to say that the number of products that have had to be taken off the internal market has recently increased to a disturbing degree, being, as a rule, faked versions of other products, so action to address the problem of counterfeit goods is of the utmost importance to the Community, and the vote here in your House is an important step in getting it underway.

The Commission is glad that your House accepts and endorses the general principle underlying this amended proposal for a directive, and I should like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the rapporteur, Mr Zingaretti.

As long ago as 2006, when – on 7 September that year – it adopted a resolution on the need for immediate action against counterfeit medical products, your House has been supportive of the Commission in its view that the sanctions available under criminal law need to be standardised as soon as possible. The Commission is also glad to note that the committee’s report envisages the same level of penalties as are already applied to serious crimes.

The Commission is, however, unhappy about a number of points that have emerged from the debate, firstly about Parliament’s desire to limit the scope of the directive solely to the ambit of the Community’s powers, and I have to say that that will result in serious difficulties when it comes to transposing the directive. It also has to be said that the definition of the concept of ‘right to intellectual property’ does not appear to be adequate, since a whole array of aspects of it have been left unclear. The definitions of the terms ‘infringement on a commercial scale’ and ‘deliberate infringement of a right to intellectual property’ do not ultimately bring any additional benefit; they are capable of being misunderstood and of undermining legal certainty.

In the interests of consumer safety and of our economy’s competitiveness, I urge you to vote in favour of the Commission’s proposal.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nicola Zingaretti (PSE ), rapporteur . (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank the Commissioner for his kind words about this report.

This important directive is at last coming to the end of its legislative process, and I should first of all like to thank all those who have devoted their energies in recent months to a passionate and, in my view, extremely useful debate, starting with the shadow rapporteurs and all the staff, without whom it would not have been possible to address such complex subjects.

Much has been said about this directive; some of the comments have been well founded while others have missed the point, not least because these are highly complex subjects. I believe, therefore, that it is important to make it clear what we are talking about. This is a directive against organised crime and in the end, I must emphasise, against organised crime in both its traditional form and the form that it has recently been adopting. It is, then, a directive against the damage that crime does to Europe through the counterfeiting of goods and the infringement of intellectual property rights.

During these months, many Members have asked me why we have to harmonise. My answer is that organised crime has long been a global activity that knows no borders and that can count on vast resources. The law, in contrast, is fragmented into many, sometimes contradictory legal systems, and is therefore the weaker for it. It has been calculated that over the last 10 years the volume of counterfeit goods has risen by 1 600%, and I believe that Europe needs to do something, because we are talking about a vast market and very real, material things, such as toys, clothes, shoes, food, cosmetics, chemicals, gastronomic products with false designations of origin, spectacles, compact discs, DVDs and other things, in other words all goods that European consumers buy every day.

As I have said, this activity causes enormous damage. It damages Europe’s industries, because of course counterfeiting changes all the most basic rules of the market and competition, and it harms workers, because of course those who produce counterfeit goods do so with complete disregard for the laws that protect the rights of the people making them, and because the counterfeit markets resulting from these criminal activities cause recession and unemployment.

Counterfeiting is said to have put 125 000 people out of work in Europe over the last ten years. As a result, it damages the economy because of tax evasion, and it harms consumers, because here in Parliament we spend many hours writing regulations to protect European citizens but not fighting effectively against counterfeiting, and we have no means of enforcing these regulations.

One form that I regard as particularly serious is the counterfeiting of brands of generic medicines, which are often marketed in developing countries, and I am delighted that the executive secretary of the World Health Organization’s anti-counterfeiting task force has spoken out in favour of the report, since it specifically refers to the health risks and rates the counterfeiting of medicines as being extremely serious.

I therefore believe that we have to go ahead with this. I think the text of the directive introduces some important new points even compared with the Commission’s text, and that we have reached a positive compromise. I think it is important that the scope of the directive has been made clearer and also restricted, by excluding patents, for example, for which civil law remains the most suitable instrument for resolving disputes.

Although this is a highly controversial text, my view is that we must not stop and that we cannot escape from the reality of these arguments. By harmonising our criminal measures we are taking a leap forwards in really developing the European single market, which is certainly helped by rules, but also by provisions like these which prevent the rules from being disregarded all the time. Acting at this level therefore aids and strengthens Europe as a political entity, but most of all it strengthens the idea of a Europe that is useful to its citizens.

We are coming to this parliamentary vote in the comforting position of having received very substantial support for the directive at the vote in the Committee on Legal Affairs. That is why I hope that a large majority will support this compromise, because powerful interests and lobbies are now hoping that the European Parliament will not do anything. I believe, however, that it would harm our image and damage us politically if Parliament were to throw up its hands at such a devastating crime as counterfeiting and say that Europe could not do anything to fight it. In the past, Parliament has been in the forefront in developing the single market and political Europe, and I am convinced that it will be there again this time.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Hammerstein Mintz (Verts/ALE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy . – (ES) The text on which we are going to vote, the Commission’s text, bears no relation to the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and bears no relation to the legitimate fight against the fraud and piracy that affects the health and safety of persons. That is something on which we all agree.

However, this amended proposal on intellectual property rights is intended to criminalise the exchange of information and culture. By voting in favour of the amended proposal on intellectual property rights, Parliament would be treating mafias in the same way as ordinary citizens. Neither the issue of the intention to make profits nor the degree of criminality are clarified. The scope of this Directive is indiscriminate and it lumps everything in the criminal field, though the civil is generally working well.

Furthermore, great legal uncertainty is created, leading to a hysterical witch hunt which flies off in all directions, frightens the citizens and paralyses the innovation of thousands of small and large businesses which should not be living in fear of going to prison, and we have already seen a massive negative reaction to this Directive on the Internet.

We cannot act in that way, contrary to the flow of information and culture.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Rainer Wieland (PPE-DE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs . – (DE) Mr President, the lead committee on this report is that on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market, to which I in fact belong, and which concerns itself primarily with the rights to intellectual property, but I am now the draftsman of the opinion on this matter of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and propose to limit myself to considering it from that angle.

Commissioner Verheugen discussed our need for this piece of legislation, and it is indeed true that we do, but we should be doing more than merely constantly tinkering with the minimum penalty. At the end of the day, adding or subtracting a whole year or six months to or from the minimum or maximum penalty helps nobody. I am firmly persuaded – and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has come round to this view – that we have to make a start on working on the principle of precision. We have put the case for this directive ultimately to include – irrespective of whether patents are included, which is, in the first instance, irrelevant – a positive list of its scope, so that the public – for whom the legislation is intended – do not get to read of some vague concept, but can see a list showing where and in what ways they can expose themselves to penalties.

In so doing, we are – as the Commissioner said – entering the realm of definitions. If we now start, in civil law, to put together what is termed a toolbox, then we are also on the threshold of laying down similar definitions in the sphere of criminal law too. There is no use fiddling with the legal consequences unless we also work on the definitions; that is what we must do, that is why this directive is a first step, and that is why I do not quite see the point of the criticism. One starting point is the attempt at defining what is meant by ‘commercial’. We are trying to define the term ‘intention’, but please can we do this not only with reference to this area of applicability, but …

(The President cut off the speaker.)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hans-Peter Mayer, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, speaking as a shadow rapporteur and on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, I would like to thank Mr Zingaretti for his successful report, and, above all, for his outstanding cooperation.

I should like to emphasise that our intention with this report should not be to make criminals of the EU’s citizens when what we want to do is to punish the criminal gangs, organised criminals, and professional counterfeiters. I myself see it as being of the utmost importance that there should be a derogation for private users motivated by personal reasons rather than by the desire for profit.

The compromise achieved in the Committee on Legal Affairs on definitions is, quite simply, a practicable solution, and, like my colleague Mr Wieland, I welcome the definition of ‘infringement on a commercial scale’ and of ‘deliberate infringement of a right to intellectual property’, as well as the positive list from which patents are excluded.

It also proved possible to arrive at a satisfactory solution to Article 3’s description of the characteristics of offences, so that, firstly, every deliberate infringement on a commercial scale, thirdly, any attempt at such infringement of the law, and thirdly, aiding and inciting the committal of the act are considered as offences. Since the oral amendment relating to incitement to the act originated from me, I should like once more to make it clear that the translations are problematic and that some of them are positively wrong.

It is intended that the fines should avoid causing disruption to national criminal law systems in their applicability to bodies with legal personality, and it is for the Member States themselves to decide whether they want to make such bodies liable to the sanctions of the criminal law or only to fines.

These are European rules, and every Member State may tighten them up, as some indeed already do, and we want to leave responsibility for that with the Member States.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Manuel Medina Ortega, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President, the report by Mr Zingaretti on the amended proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on criminal measures aimed at ensuring the enforcement of intellectual property rights is a very balanced proposal that has obtained broad support in the Committee on Legal Affairs and also, to a certain extent, in the other committees that have dealt with the issue.

As Mr Zingaretti has pointed out, intellectual property deserves protection and I believe that what the Committee on Legal Affairs has done by means of the various amendments that it has presented is perhaps to tone down some of the terms favoured by Mr Mayer, who has just spoken on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats.

Specifically, for example, it makes no sense to extend criminal protection to patents — to intellectual property — which in reality is protected in the civil field, given the complications that that may cause.

Neither does it make sense to criminalise a series of activities — those of critics, journalists, intellectuals or teachers, who, as a result of simple meeting, may end up ‘behind bars’ — or that of an innocent user of the broadcast media that Internet technology provides us with these days, as a result of which, by pressing a key at a particular time, one may find oneself accused of a criminal infringement.

I believe that it is important that we strengthen the criminal protection of intellectual property but that it should be done in accordance with certain principles so that criminal protection is not taken any further than is strictly necessary. Criminal protection is always protection of an exceptional nature, since there are other legislative means for achieving that protection.

I believe that Mr Zingaretti’s proposals – the proposal taken up in the report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and the amendments that in the end have been presented jointly with Mr Mayer – enable us to restrict the scope of this criminal protection and that this plenary should therefore approve this report and support the appropriate amendments in the corresponding vote.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Toine Manders, on behalf of the ALDE Group . (NL) Mr President, I should like to thank Mr Zingaretti for his cooperation. We have spent many hours discussing this issue, which is, after all, a sensitive one.

According to the OECD, counterfeit goods account for an annual amount of approximately EUR 600 billion worldwide, and it is mainly criminal organisations, operating on a worldwide scale, who are responsible for this. Counterfeiting represents a major drain on tax revenue in government tax departments, because legitimate businesses do, after all, among other things, pay taxes and employ staff, and governments put those taxes to very good use. Levels of employment are good, and we seem to lack the courage to intervene sufficiently in imposing real criminal sanctions and tackling the problem head on. These criminal sanctions, however, should also, of course, be backed up by the raising of public awareness. Customs should be able, in future, to put better and more effective controls in place, thus preventing sea-going vessels, such as the one in Hamburg that was loaded with three million pairs of shoes – all counterfeits from China – from slipping through customs without anyone noticing. I think we should do something about this.

By the same token, the consumer must gain considerably more awareness, and this is why I have tabled an amendment to introduce the concept of the intentional handling of counterfeit products, which means that if a consumer deliberately buys products that are too cheap, they should know that they are buying counterfeit products and by doing so, prevent our society from working properly, and also hamper our economy.

It is unfortunate that we wish to spare consumers too much, because the funny thing is that in France and Italy, handling and buying counterfeit goods is a punishable offence and is counselled against on huge billboards. Regrettably, we did not dare go this far. It is also unfortunate, to my mind, that intellectual property in Europe is still being insufficiently protected, that there is insufficient awareness, because at this rate, we will never achieve the Lisbon objectives to become the world’s most competitive, knowledge-based economy; I hope that we will carry on supporting customs and improving legislation. In this respect, I would argue in favour of identical definitions worldwide.

If this is achieved, I will be satisfied; if it is not, we in Europe will become isolated, to the detriment of our economy and employment.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eva Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is true that the mass importation of counterfeit products does a great deal of damage to the European economy, particularly to the production of quality goods, and I am indeed in favour of doing something to address this. What is needed most of all is that it should be made possible for the big criminal organisations to which reference was made earlier to be better punished or brought to justice by means of European law. On that much we all agree; it is on how this is to be accomplished that we have our differences.

I would like to extend warm thanks to Mr Zingaretti for having worked very hard to bring about agreement, but we all need to bring particular precision to bear on this question, not least because we are standing, legally speaking, on really thin ice. Further progress on this point was achieved by drawing on an environmental protection provision in criminal law, but that means that we bear a responsibility for approaching the matter with particular care and precision. The idea behind European law is that through it we should deal with matters that the Member States cannot accomplish on their own, particularly in relation to criminal law, which means in this case the handling of the big criminal organisations. For that we need a precise definition of what the scope of this regulation is.

If we leave it open – which is what some of us want – or if we include the consumers in it, we will end up taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut without being able to have any real impact on the big organisations that are doing European businesses so much serious damage, for the fact is that, in the absence of any precise definition, small-time entrepreneurs – who often do not know whose goods they are selling or from whence those goods come – can end up being clobbered by criminal sanctions.

It will be young people who are most affected by this. Most young people in Europe cannot tell the difference between what may be downloaded from the Internet and what may not, and we certainly do not want to criminalise the end users. We want to concentrate on those things that European law is meant to address, with everything else being left to national law.

To Mr Manders, who wants to raise consumers’ awareness, I should like to say that, if you get your hands on a Gucci bag for ten euros, any consumer might realise what is going on, but that does not apply in the case of many other products. I do not want European law to be over-zealously applied where it does not make sense to apply it at all; particularly in the commercial sphere, the areas of application must …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Umberto Guidoni, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group . – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I too should like to start by thanking the rapporteur, Mr Zingaretti, for his cooperation and for somehow having tried to mediate on this directive, which applies criminal law to counterfeiting. What it lacks, however, is a frame of reference consisting of the rules defining what counterfeiting is, and so it actually lumps together trademark, patent and copyright infringements.

Confusing counterfeiting and piracy with infringements of intellectual property is likely to make the fight against criminal falsification less effective. Instead, it would have been more useful to limit the scope of the directive just to copyright infringements concerning the commercial production of counterfeit multimedia products, an area in which organised crime operates.

Extending it unduly to all copyright issues, however, may have a serious impact on the privacy of consumers of multimedia products. Moreover, on copyright matters the directive abandons the concept of commercial scale and is liable to criminalise private, not-for-profit use by people who use the Internet for peer-to-peer file sharing, video streaming and so forth.

The directive forces Member States to start criminal proceedings even without a complaint by the injured party and actually gives private individuals a direct role in the investigations, which goes beyond providing the authorities with technical support and ends up becoming a driving, guiding role. Lastly, the directive lacks any economic or social analysis. Imposing tougher penalties in Italy has not had any effect. That is why our group proposes that this directive be rejected.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jim Allister (NI ). – Mr President, I speak to record my opposition to the EU's meddling in the criminal law of Member States to the monstrous extent of demanding new offences and dictating the level of penalties to be enforced in the United Kingdom and other states. The nefarious Court of Justice decision of September 2005 gives rise to this intolerable infringement of national sovereignty. Now we are seeing a programme of rampant expansionism of power by the Commission.

This directive is even more objectionable from the UK perspective because, for the first time, it would make breach of patent a criminal offence punishable by four years’ imprisonment or more; not because the elected House of Commons thinks that it is necessary or wise but because the unelected EU Commission dictates it. I object, I reject this intolerable EU interference and I therefore reject this directive.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Toubon (PPE-DE ).(FR) Mr President, we all want to make progress and successfully clamp down on counterfeiting, which is economically, socially and culturally unacceptable, and Mr Zingaretti has worked hard to come up with this compromise proposal.

However, I am struck, in this debate, by the great confusion among those who, in defending consumers, scorn the rights of creators and performers and those who, at the same time, defend Community competence and want the national judiciaries to remain sovereign entities. I believe that there are some real problems there that deserve to be looked at in more depth.

I have clear ideas about one point, anyway, and that is the cultural impact of this text. I am referring to the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 that were adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs. They propose definitions of intellectual property rights. That is not the aim of the directive. They propose a restrictive wording of intentional infringement and commercial scale. This goes against the discretion of the national courts and, above all, in fact, it falls short of making peer-to-peer file sharing a criminal act.

The result is that the provisions, on the one hand, go against the acquis communautaire , particularly the 2001 Directive on copyright, and, on the other hand, present a considerable risk for creation and cultural diversity, by undermining the national laws that curb such behaviour, prejudicing as it does the rights of authors and performers.

That is why, in this instance, I support the wording of the original proposal by the Commission and, in any case, in our debate, Amendment 30 tabled by Mrs Bowles. We are on very serious ground as far as cultural diversity is concerned.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE ). – (PL)  Mr President, the directive on criminal measures to be applied in order to protect intellectual property represents a change to the Commission’s stance to date on criminal law.

The proposed document reflects the interpretation of the European Court of Justice’s ruling of 12 September 2005 adopted by the European Commission, and allowing the use of criminal measures at Community level, if they are necessary for the successful implementation of Union provisions. In view of the increasing problem of infringement of intellectual property rights the world over, the Commission’s proposed approach seems not only appropriate but also necessary. Every year, the European Union’s GDP loses approximately EUR 8 billion because of counterfeit goods. Individual companies lose approximately EUR 45 to 65 billion each year for the same reason. The scale of the problem is so great that it is estimated that about 40% of computer software in the world originates from illegal sources, along with 36% of the music on compact discs and cassettes.

Accordingly, we should welcome the fact that the maximum penalty for serious crimes committed as part of criminal organisations may be as high as EUR 300 000 and/or a 4-year custodial sentence. It should be noted, however, that pursuant to Parliament’s proposal criminal measures will only be applied to individuals and entities who knowingly infringe the law for commercial purposes. The exclusion whereby the directive does not apply to infringement of the aforementioned intellectual property rights by private users who are not motivated by commercial gain is very important. In addition, it seems justified to exclude patent rights from the scope of the proposed directive, as this will make it possible to avoid determining the content of future provisions in this regard and will restrict the scope of the directive in question to intellectual property only.

As I conclude, I should like to thank Mr Zingaretti, the rapporteur, for a very well-prepared document.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR COCILOVO
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sharon Bowles (ALDE ). – Mr President, I understand the purpose of this directive and the message that you wish to send out to other countries. However, extension of criminality beyond that envisaged in TRIPS, that is significantly beyond counterfeiting and piracy, is a step too far, at least at this stage, and not one that any speaker has justified.

Many colleagues appreciate that infringement of a patent that has been assessed as invalid is a normal commercial activity. However, this is not unique to patents: it applies to designs and trademarks as well. I say this as someone who accumulated over 25 years as a patent and trademark attorney before becoming an MEP.

There are amendments that attempt to address this problem. My own Amendment 31 restricts the scope to the TRIPS criteria – counterfeiting and piracy – or to when there is organised crime or a risk to health and safety. Amendment 33 takes account of assessment of invalidity. I can tell Mr Toubon that there will be separate votes on the individual parts of Amendment 30, which is there for a purpose other than the one for which it perhaps appears to be there.

To the Commission, I say that this is an issue that is too serious to get wrong. I am afraid it is too serious to settle with ‘there or thereabouts’ compromises. Therefore, I cannot vote for the proposal without the restrictions I have mentioned.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE ). – (SV) Mr President, there is a parallel proposal concerning serious environmental crimes – clearly defined crimes that do serious harm to people and cause death. In spite of the clear objective, the proposal is controversial because the EU is entering the area of criminal law. What we have here is a legislative proposal aimed at protecting commercial interests without risk to consumers and the environment. In spite of that, this definition is much broader and creates legal uncertainty. In its present form, the proposal is not about combating organised crime. On the contrary, this law is in itself organised crime. It is a crime against human freedoms and human rights and an attack on ordinary communication between consumers and companies.

Take the example of Betamax. MP3 players can now be used for copying. Is it, then, necessary to prove, before they go on sale, that MP3 players cannot be used to break the law? Once the players are sold, will consumers be hit by technical restrictions and technical obstacles when they want to use the products, music and films they have bought? The proposal is an absurd attack on consumers’ rights and should be rejected in its entirety.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Daniel Strož (GUE/NGL ). – (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am among those MEPs who fundamentally disagree with the report on the proposed directive concerning the use of criminal measures to enforce intellectual property rights.

I have three fundamental objections. The first is the fact that the legal basis of this directive has not been clearly defined. As everybody knows, we are still missing the long-awaited opinion of the Court of Justice, which should clarify the judgment of 13 September 2005.

The second serious problem concerns the fact that in its definition of intellectual property for the purposes of the directive, the report does not include patents and types, which are an essential component of intellectual property law, and without which the directive would not incorporate the systematic approach that is required for this issue.

The third reason is closely linked to the previous one. The criminal justice aspects of the directive ought to complement existing Directive 2004/48/EC on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, which deals with civil liability and administrative matters, and which applies to the entire body of intellectual property law, including patents and types. There is room for wide-ranging discussion on the factors that led to the proposal to exclude technical solutions from criminal protection. I fear, however, that pressure from influential interest groups unfortunately played a part in this. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE-DE ). – (PL)  Mr President, despite what has been said by other Members in this House, the proposed directive came about as a response to the increasingly widespread theft of intellectual property. We know full well that current Union legislation does not provide for a Community policy on penalties to combat piracy and counterfeiting of goods. In addition, there are considerable differences between the systems applied by the various Member States, as the Commission has rightly pointed out. This obviously hinders effective protection of intellectual property, which in turn has a direct negative effect on the value of investment in innovation.

I firmly believe that it is essential to counter these practices at the Community level. If we also take into account that the counterfeiting of completely new products such as medicines or toys can be dangerous to life and health, the problem becomes even graver. Clearly, counterfeiting products of all kinds also involves producing packaging and employing a range of individuals such as graphic artists and distributors. There is too much for a single person to handle. Well-organised criminal gangs are involved, and it is precisely their activity that the directive aims to hit hard.

The measures proposed in the proposed directive should be deemed beneficial. Infringement of intellectual property rights is a crime that must be punished. There is, however, scope for argument about the limits of responsibility, and especially about who is to be held responsible. Those who produce counterfeit goods and place them on the market must certainly be punished. On the other hand, it would be unacceptable to punish those who purchased or used goods or services unaware of their illegal origin. The Commission’s proposal does not define deliberate action in the context of infringement of intellectual property rights sufficiently clearly, and that should be remedied.

To summarise, adoption of the text of this directive is essential, and we must only regret that we are not in a position today to take the next vital step forward. After all, it is possible to identify groups of crimes that it is particularly difficult to combat in today’s globalised world, on the basis of dozens of different legal systems. I believe that greater harmonisation of criminal law in the European Union would go a long way towards improving effectiveness, as today’s debate confirms.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edith Mastenbroek (PSE ). – Mr President, it is 2007, so you can address me as ‘Miss’!

I would also like to congratulate my colleague Mr Zingaretti, although he knows that we agree to disagree on this issue. The legal base of the proposal derives from the Court of Justice. The Commission interprets this ruling to be applicable beyond the case, and sees this ruling as a legal base for the harmonisation of certain criminal sanctions in measures aimed at protecting the internal market.

The reason I consider rejection of this directive as a whole is not because I do not believe in expanding the powers of the EU to include criminal sanctions. I do believe in that. However, I have serious doubts about the process leading to this increase of power, because a legal base is not the same as a political mandate. Fundamental steps like this demand a thorough political debate and a clear choice on the matter in question. Instead, we are about to take a great leap forward as a by-product of a single policy measure in a highly specialised and limited field. I do not think this is the best way of pushing integration forward. It also enforces the popular opinion held by many who see the European Union as an organisation which caters mainly for the interests of big businesses, which is not the case.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ignasi Guardans Cambó (ALDE ). – (ES) Commissioner, we should not play around with criminal law. The Union can now exercise – and it is right that it should exercise – a new power that has been recognised by the Court of Justice: to take on the criminal dimension of competences that it has the right to exercise. I believe that that makes complete sense and we should all support it.

But it must be done prudently, wisely and with legal skill. And the text that we are discussing here has none of those three qualities. It lacks prudence, it lacks wisdom and it lacks legal quality. I say that with the greatest of respect for all of those who have been directly involved in drawing it up.

There is very little of it in this report. The scope is excessive. In an area as crucial as criminal law, the scope is entirely confused. Notions of scopes are used that are not harmonised in the European Union.

Combating piracy, yes, of course, and under criminal law. In that regard, we can support it. Combating piracy in the criminal field. To extend that to issues that have never been outside of the civil field in the Member States, however, makes no sense, especially when concepts are not harmonised and words do not mean the same thing, not even in the field of piracy. It makes no sense to send out the message that the citizen is the criminal even when they are not acting for commercial purposes and their activities are not of any scale.

We must press forward, otherwise we will be guilty of fine words but no actions, Commissioner.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Maria Badia i Cutchet (PSE ). – (ES) Following a long process, the European Parliament will finally approve its position on the adoption of criminal measures intended to ensure the enforcement of intellectual property rights, measures that I believe to be entirely necessary.

I would like to make a few comments from a cultural perspective.

With a view to promoting the development of knowledge in general and of culture in particular, we must recognise the dual economic and cultural value of creativity as a motor for the development of the arts, of science, of cultural diversity and of research.

Furthermore, in this era of increasing digitalisation and commercial liberalisation – of cultural goods and services as well – it is important to achieve an appropriate and fair balance between the rights of authors and the rights of users or consumers with a view to ensuring effective access to this progress in the field of culture and knowledge, at the same time combating piracy and counterfeiting within a context of greater Community harmonisation.

In this regard, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on his work, particularly on the compromise reached on excluding violations for personal and non-profit-making reasons, since they do not deserve to be treated in the same way as a deliberate infringement of an intellectual property right committed on a commercial scale, which I do believe should be punishable in the appropriate manner.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . (DE) Mr President, honourable Members, I am grateful to you for the many valuable and important comments and suggestions made in this debate, and I would like to say something about a few of them.

The Commission’s view on the limitation of the directive’s scope solely to matters over which the Community has power is that this is essential if cases are to be covered both by Community law and by the laws of the Member States, for, if that were not to happen, the transposition of the directive could well meet with considerable difficulties in this area in which Community and domestic law are closely enmeshed, and the danger might arise of the public not knowing which law actually applied, thus compromising the rule of law.

The Commission takes the view that all types of intellectual property rights merit the protection of the criminal law, and so it is in favour of patents being included, without, however, any intention that this should present any political obstacle to the transposition of the directive. While the Commission can accept the removal of patents from the scope of the directive, it does reject any amendment along the lines of Amendment 1 that might revive the debate about Community power over criminal law measures relating to patents.

With the exception of that of legal personality, the Commission has dispensed with definitions on the grounds of their superfluity or of their potential for legal uncertainty, and therefore prefers to give the Member States a free hand, allowing them to take decisions in accordance with their own laws and in the light of the measures they have already taken.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 12 noon.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tokia Saïfi (PPE-DE ).(FR) Faced with the increase in piracy and counterfeiting, it is essential that we work effectively to ensure that intellectual property rights are complied with. Such protection must be accompanied by sanctions, because counterfeiting is unacceptable as much from an economic as from a social or cultural point of view.

Thus, by introducing criminal sanctions for all intentional infringements of an intellectual property right committed on a commercial scale, the European Commission proposal is in line with the recommendations voted for in 2005 on the future of the textile and clothing sector after 2005.

We can only pay tribute to the desire shown to fight to enforce intellectual property rights, which safeguard the competitiveness of our economies and the growth of industry and which drive the creative world.

Nevertheless, by proposing definitions of intellectual property rights, and by introducing a restrictive definition of ‘commercial scale’ and ‘intentional infringement’, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs is undermining the principle of subsidiarity in criminal matters and is challenging the acquis communautaire on this matter. The act of strengthening intellectual property rights within the European Union must preserve the national courts’ freedom to interpret the two aforementioned elements.

We should therefore support the wording proposed by the European Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Katalin Lévai (PSE ). – (HU) The protection of intellectual property rights is a pre-eminent goal, especially since this sector contributes 5-7% of Europe’s GDP.

Counterfeiting, piracy and infringements of intellectual property in general are part of an increasing phenomenon today, one that has taken on an international dimension and represents a serious threat to states and to national economies. Differences between the various penal systems of different countries render the struggle against counterfeiting and piracy more difficult. Beyond the latter’s economic and social consequences, counterfeiting and piracy also cause problems with regard to consumer protection, especially where health and safety are concerned.

The growth in the use of the Internet makes it possible to see the immediate and global spread of pirated products. Finally, this phenomenon is increasingly linked to organised crime.

The struggle against these violations is therefore of key importance for the Community. There does indeed seem, therefore, to be grounds for a joint response at European level in the area of criminal law, so that perpetrators should not be able to take advantage of differences among the different national legal systems.

Generally and fundamentally I agree that the fight against the ever increasing and ever more serious acts in violation of intellectual property should make use of the instruments of criminal law.

I also agree that a possible harmonisation of these criminal law instruments, which are to be used as a last resort, is an especially important application of the principle of subsidiarity.

I consider it absolutely essential, however, that harmonisation at Community level of the criminal measures which may be used as a very last resort should be underpinned by thorough impact studies carried out by the Commission.

 

19. Future enlargements and cohesion (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0087/2007 ) by Markus Pieper, on behalf of the Committee on Regional Development, on the consequences of future enlargements on the effectiveness of cohesion policy (2006/2107(INI) ).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Markus Pieper (PPE-DE ), rapporteur . – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, structural policy is the most powerful expression of Europe’s being a community of solidarity, but, now that the agricultural reform has been accomplished, cohesion policy is the biggest heading in the Budget, and so, as regards their substance and their funding, structural support and regional policy are in the European public’s sights.

The rules we laid down for ourselves in this area have worked up to now; from the regional policy standpoint, the accession of the southern Member States and of Ireland were great successes, and we want more of the same successes, but the challenges are getting bigger. While globalisation is tending to emphasise regional difference, developments on the demographic front offer us the prospect of adverse age pyramids. In a complete contrast with how things were in Western Europe 20 years ago, public budgets are currently very volatile, and we are being faced with new challenges, in the shape of the Western Balkans and – most especially – of Turkey. Never before has a country of Turkey’s size, starting out from such a weak economic position and with such flagrant internal disparities, been integrated into the European Union.

You see, then, that structural policy faces enormous challenges on account of the things it has to do and the condition under which it has to do them, while new Member States present it with growing financial need. Let me give just one figure to illustrate that: if we factor in all the effects that the accession of Romania and Bulgaria had on structural policy, while at the same time imagining that the countries in receipt of pre-accession aid – that is to say, the countries of the Western Balkans, Turkey and Croatia – were already members of the Community, then, were that to be the case, structural policy, under today’s rules and in the period we are in, would cost us EUR 150 billion more than it actually does, and of that sum, 63% alone – an unimaginable amount of money – would be needed for Turkey. We do of course know that these countries will not all be joining the EU at the same time, but they are interested in becoming members of the European Community as soon as possible, and we must, today, address the potential effects if they do that.

I have to say, quite frankly, that I feel let down by the Commission, which believes that the time is not yet ripe for this subject, and says that the financial chapters will not be negotiated until later, yet this issue does, of course, need to be discussed right now. It is not acceptable that we should go cheerfully on negotiating accessions, and notice only at the end that we can perhaps no longer afford an enlargement of the EU along the usual lines.

That is why this report is intended to shake things up a bit. The interests of regional policy demand that European enlargement policy cannot carry on ‘as we were’; we demand to be informed about what is in store for us on the structural policy front. We demand of the Commission that it should at length come up with proposals as to how it evaluates the enlargement strategy from the point of view of regional policy. We are also demanding that Parliament should be consulted, and should have equal rights, as regards the substance of what goes into pre-accession aid, for, at the end of the day, the only enlargement strategy that the people of Europe will accept is one that is transparent and involves their elected representatives.

This House has prepared the ground in three areas. Firstly, we have come to the core and shared conviction that there are important fundamental principles of the European solidarity-based community that must be maintained, that that demands that the structural funds be adequately endowed, and that future enlargements must not be funded by denying certain regions their rights to grants before their economic position has improved.

Secondly, if the structural policy is to continue to offer the European regions a prospect of equalisation and growth, there must be consistent reforms in other areas, by, for example, demanding that regions and nations take more responsibility for themselves, perhaps through more funding through loans, through a review of how funds are used in regions that have received long-term support, by investigating the funding of businesses and even by means of coupling European subsidies to a sensible national economic policy.

The Committee on Regional Affairs is thus proposing things that will demand some rethinking in many European regions, and that will not always be easy. In so far as we demand painful cohesion policy reforms of the existing Community, there will also have to be another enlargement strategy. We want, and are able, to give the countries in receipt of pre-accession aid a prospect of benefiting from our regional policy.

It has to be said, though, that the amendments tabled to my report in the Regional Affairs Committee have made it very plain that Turkey assumes a dimension all of its own, and so, to address major challenges of this kind, we propose a progressive model of regional policy, with which Turkey, too, will be enabled to share more in European cohesion. In place of the watering can of compensation policy, the progressive model envisages, in the first instance, the targeted promotion of growth, that is to say, the giving of support to priority regions and sectors with the potential for development, and we are tying in regional policy with the sharing of values in such areas as equality issues.

This progressive concept is feasible dependent on the achievement of political progress in the candidate countries, so there are no barriers that could not be removed by Turkey itself, although the accession mechanisms of regional policy do not amount to a one-way street. I am aware that this concept of open-ended and progressive preparation for accession is criticised by certain European parties, but I am firmly convinced that this is the only way in which we can ensure that Turkey develops a European connection, and so, far from it getting special treatment, this is the only road – in terms of regional policy, at any rate – that is actually capable of being negotiated.

As I conclude, I would like to thank the many Members who have contributed to this report through their many amendments, and also the House’s scientific service, which, with its many calculations, has been a competent and reliable source of support to us. With the expectation that the Commission, too, will consider the issues of increased efficiency and enlargement from the regional policy angle, we look forward eagerly to the fourth cohesion report and to the structural policy evaluation of the budget review.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission . Mr President, honourable Members, this is a very important report and, in my three minutes of comments, I would like to make five points.

First of all, I fully share your assessment of the importance and successful outcome of the cohesion policy in curbing disparities through growth-enhancing investment, in contributing to Europe’s social, economic and territorial cohesion and in improving administration and public governance, particularly at sub-national level. The fourth cohesion report, which will be published at the end of May, will analyse the situation and economic, social and territorial cohesion trends in the Union, as well as the contribution to the Union’s cohesion of European cohesion policy, of national policies and of other Community policies. On this basis, the report will set out initial reflections on the future shape of European cohesion policy and hopefully, therefore, will also contribute to the overall review without prejudging options. The fifth cohesion report, due in 2010, will take account of the budgetary review and is likely to contain the Commission’s detailed proposal for cohesion-policy reform.

Secondly, I fully share your views on the new challenges facing cohesion policy, both internally and as a result of global trends, in particular your views on the impact of demographic trends, climate change and increasing pressure from dynamic competitors. Let me also assure you that I find your question about the impact of possible future enlargements on the scope of cohesion policy legitimate. But let me also stress that it is precisely with the aim of addressing all these challenges that we have reformed and modernised the cohesion policy for 2007-2013.

Thirdly, with regard to the impact of the possible accession of Croatia and the Western Balkans, let me first of all underline that the potential effect of Croatia’s accession is estimated to be rather small, with a decrease of 0.5% of GDP per head compared to that of the EU-27. The budgetary impact of Croatia’s possible accession will be assessed by the Commission at a later stage in the accession negotiations. In line with the approach to previous enlargements, the final decision on financial allocation lies with the European Council.

Fourthly, as regards Turkey, I would like to stress that under the accession negotiating framework the negotiations are an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand. As Turkey’s accession could have substantial financial consequences, the financial aspects of the accession negotiations can only be concluded after the establishment of the financial framework for the post-2013 period, together with possible resulting financial reforms. Any arrangements should ensure that the financial burdens are fully shared among all Member States. However, we must realise that Turkey’s economy might differ greatly in the medium term from its present state.

Fifthly, I agree with your proposals as regards the financial allocation, effectiveness and sound management of cohesion policy. I also consider that a sufficient financial allocation is a prerequisite for the policy’s success. The impact of cohesion policy goes far beyond its financing aspects and embraces governance, networking, best practice and growth-leverage. The cohesion policy reform has already focused on the policy’s increasing leverage effect by strengthening private-capital participation and by using innovative financial instruments. However, I agree that further work in this direction, aimed at further increasing the impact of cohesion policy on new growth cohesion and competitiveness, is necessary. We are also well aware of the importance of developing administrative capacity, implementing sound control and management systems and fighting corruption so as to ensure the effectiveness of cohesion policy.

I will listen carefully to your debate on the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Budgets . – (FR) Mr President, the role of the Committee on Budgets was to submit, at the time of a unanimous vote in favour, less one abstention, an opinion relating mainly, of course, to the budgetary impact of future enlargements on the effectiveness of cohesion policy. However, while cohesion policy is, along with all of the structural policies, the supreme expression of the solidarity of the European people, there is a need to match this desire for intelligent solidarity with appropriate budgetary resources.

It is in this way that I wish to highlight two important ideas expressed by the Committee on Budgets. The aim of the first idea is to demand that the Commission and the Council systematically present financial scenarios before deciding to open negotiations with a candidate country, and detailed financial scenarios throughout the negotiation process. The aim of the second idea is to highlight that, as the Union’s resources system currently stands, any future enlargements could not be financed without the current policies’ becoming less effective.

That is why I am urging the Council and the Commission this evening to start an ongoing, constructive dialogue with our Parliament which, I would remind you, is jointly responsible for the budget.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lambert van Nistelrooij, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . (NL) Mr President, this Pieper report has come at the right time. We have laid down unilateral regulations, generally accepted here in this House, between the institutions for 2007 to 2013 and the work on operational programmes is in full swing. Cohesion policy is the keystone for solidarity in the European Union, as well as for competitiveness, something of which all European regions can avail themselves thanks to the three objectives on which we agreed. Europe close to the citizens in all regions. Yet, successful though it has been, there is a need for an early review of the sustainability of this policy. As Commissioner Hübner indicated a moment ago, regional policy must actively prepare for the mid-term review, and that is no more than realistic where the necessary financial frameworks as a result of the proposed enlargement are concerned. The Pieper report opens this debate and invites the Commission to outline specific financial implications. According to this report, it is not only a matter of money, but also of more flexibility, specific planning in stages, more creativity and a different approach to cofinancing.

I should like to add that the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, provided the foundations of regional policy remain in place in the Member States, is prepared to consider a different, more flexible approach, an opportunity which will be coming our way in the fourth cohesion report, which is expected as soon as next month, and later on in the fifth cohesion report, but the message is clear: it will certainly not be possible for policy to remain unchanged in all cases, and so it is good that this House is being involved in the own-initiative report at this stage in its life and to show them the consequences.

I would like, in fact, to finish by expressing the wish that this House should become much more closely involved in this debate, particularly in the next six months, before we carry out the midterm review.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gábor Harangozó, on behalf of the PSE Group . (HU) I would like first of all to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Pieper, for his own-initiative report. Putting this question on the agenda was very timely. At the same time I would like to thank him for his willingness to compromise and for the enormous amount of time he devoted to making sure that a text would emerge that would be acceptable to all of us.

As the author of a socialist shadow report after the vote in the committee, I am satisfied with the outcome and believe that the final result will be a balanced report. In order to be able to claim this, however, we need to make changes to the original script. For the latter took as its starting point that every candidate country and potential candidate country would join the EU at once. Analysing the effects, it reckoned with dramatic financial consequences that were not at all realistic.

I have submitted numerous proposed amendments, and tried to reach compromises that will give us a clear image of the limits of future enlargements, and allow us to take the right and appropriate approach to the candidate countries. If we examine one by one the impact of a candidate country’s accession on the cohesion policy being followed, we may note the following: neither the accession of Croatia nor that of the Western Balkan countries represents an immediate danger to the Union’s cohesion policy. For the entry of these countries presents many more opportunities from the perspective of Europe’s cohesion than the dangers it conceals. I am convinced that integrating the Western Balkans as quickly as possible can play a major role in helping the regions adjacent to current Member States to catch up. We need to ensure that the regions currently benefiting from cohesion policy support undergo economic and social development, that is, that they are able to catch up to the Union average. The Union needs to guarantee that its regions will not lose their eligibility for funding as a consequence of the statistical effects of further enlargement. As regards the accession of new Member States, we need to take into account the Union’s capacity to integrate them, and whether we are able to finance our policies within the available budgetary framework.

Turkey is a candidate country, and its integration depends above all on its capacity to fulfil the conditions, and secondarily on the capacity, and not the willingness, of the Union to integrate new countries. Therefore, every question mark and condition that is raised after the fact is harmful to the credibility of the Union. Let me make it clear that the purpose of this own-initiative report is to examine the impact and consequences of future enlargement on cohesion policy, and not to adopt a position on the accession of any candidate or potential candidate countries or on any special form of membership. For this reason, the Socialist Group in the European Parliament proposed deleting point 14 of the report. We need to recognise clearly that Turkey’s accession demands a completely new scale of cohesion policy, in light of the country’s size, population and economic development. I agree with any initiative that offers more targeted funding in order to enable Turkey to integrate as rapidly and smoothly as possible, and therefore I support point 13 of the report.

We now have in our hands a report that contains concrete proposals regarding the direction in which we should take our cohesion policy, in the interest of continuing the processes currently under way.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Grażyna Staniszewska, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – (PL)  Mr President, it is obviously necessary to consider the implications of future enlargements on the effectiveness of cohesion policy, but it would be appropriate to consider not only the negative implications but also the positive ones. Unfortunately, I have the impression that Mr Pieper’s report is essentially an expression of discontent and frustration following the latest enlargements and that regardless of political decisions he is attempting to set up financial barriers against any potential future enlargement of the European Union, notably against Turkey. Particularly harsh treatment is meted out to Turkey.

The report deals with future enlargements almost exclusively as economic burdens, and makes no mention of any positive aspects. It does not provide an answer to the question as to how best to fund cohesion policy in the future.

I believe this is a very controversial document. The Committee on Regional Development tried very hard to change its negative and destructive character in the course of its work. Unfortunately we were not completely successful.

The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is now tabling a package of fundamental amendments. If the package is not voted through we shall, however, be obliged to vote for the rejection of the entire report. We consider that the policy of the entire European Union cannot be changed without consulting the Committee on Foreign Affairs. After all, that committee is responsible for the enlargement process.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ryszard Czarnecki, on behalf of the UEN Group . – (PL)  Mr President, there is an old Polish saying according to which if you want to beat a dog you will always find a stick for the purpose. If Europe’s elite, including the European Parliament, is opposed to enlarging the Union to take in new countries, it will always be able to come up with an excuse to prevent enlargement.

The most elegant method of delaying the access of even the Balkan states, the so-called kid glove method, involves cunningly making enlargement of the Union’s structures conditional firstly on institutional reform of the Union. I would point out that nothing is known about when this reform will take place and what its nature will be if indeed it takes place at all. Secondly, enlargement of the Union’s structures is made conditional on changes to the principles for funding new Members of the Union. This is what the report deals with in detail.

Raising the issue of huge subsidies to Turkey if it became a Union Member in the future amounts to manipulation. Obviously, before admitting Turkey we ought to welcome into our European family countries such as Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. I should like to make one final comment, namely that we should not pander to our obsessions at the expense of those countries.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gisela Kallenbach, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Mr President, it is good that the EU is preparing for further enlargements in good time. This includes carrying out the institutional reforms that have been advocated for years, and also in-depth analyses of the efficiency of the use of European funds. Rules that applied to the EU-15 are not equally applicable to an EU with 27 or even more Member States – we fully agree with the rapporteur on this. I should also like to express my thanks for what has been basically constructive cooperation.

We could not agree on one key point, however, namely the very particular, unbalanced view of Turkey and, to some extent, also the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Commissioner Hübner has just emphasised once more what effect Croatia’s accession would have. An attempt is being made to assess enlargement and integration from an almost exclusively fiscal point of view. The progress that could be achieved by 2013 thanks to cohesion policy is being virtually disregarded. In addition, despite assertions to the contrary, the concept of a privileged partnership is to be restored to grace through the back door. I think that the Committee on Regional Development is clearly exceeding its powers here – and with an own-initiative report, too.

Nor do we consider acceptable the attempt to enforce one law for existing EU Member States and another for future members. It is true that a review of the budget is needed, and also of cohesion policy – but the result must apply across the board. I do not want to see a system of first- and second-class Member States!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Mr President, the report which we are debating contains certain moderate political points which, however, are overshadowed by negative technical points. Thus, some of the messages contained in the report, such as the radical reform of the cohesion policy in the middle of the programming period, are not feasible.

I would like to also comment on three other negative points: first, constant mention is made of the Union as the most competitive and dynamic economy. Apart from being tiresome, this sort of thing is untrue and paradoxical, given that the report itself does not mention an increase in the budget that would allow the European economy to reach in fact the levels that it likes to advertise.

Secondly, there is disagreement about the increase in Community spending on the cohesion policy. The text mentions a 'ceiling' of 1.18% of GDP. This means that Parliament would be more royal than the king, because the European Commission itself, on the basis of the statistics for 2000-2016 programming period, has noted that it will take 1.24% of GDP. More Europe with less money will not work and that is something we need to highlight.

Thirdly, there is the technical part that makes provision for certain arrangements that will create numerous problems. Thus the text makes provision for the Union to move away in the future from net financing towards a system of loans on favourable terms. This is clearly a problem, because it will throw the regions of the Union already facing problems into even greater economic problems.

Similarly, there is a message regarding concern about the fact that in certain regions the targeting of Community aid is unsuccessful, with the result that no improvement is achieved in the situation of the regions in question, despite long-term financial support, and as a result Community resources are being wasted. It calls for a maximum period of time to be defined during which the regions will be able to receive structural funding, so as to avoid situations in which the regions that have been receiving Community support for many years remain at the same low level of development. In this way, we are promoting a 'you die so I can live' tactic, on the basis of which the regions will enter into competition in order to secure Community funding. This sort of thing is not viable and we certainly cannot support it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (DA) Mr President, I have just returned home from the EU’s poorest Member State, Romania. I am again struck by the fact that cordiality and hospitality are greatest where need is greatest. The fact remains, however, that a modest flat cannot be paid for on a Romanian teacher’s salary of EUR 180. In the case of rich countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, our countries are just in the process of ratifying a special rebate on their contributions. Poor countries such as Bulgaria and Romania have to help pay the contributions of the richest Member States. The Sheriff of Nottingham has grabbed the EU coffers, but where is Robin Hood?

When Denmark joined the EC together with the United Kingdom and Ireland, we obtained a rebate. We paid 20% the first year, 40% the next, then 60% and then 80%, and 100% only in the fifth year. We were rich, and yet we were given rebates. Together with the other new Member States, Romania and Bulgaria have to pay their full contributions. In return, the payments they receive are reduced. They receive only 25% of their agricultural aid in the first year, 30% in the next, 35% the year after that, and so on. How mean can we be?

Might I call on the Committee on Budgets to examine the effects of the EU budget and European integration in terms of distribution and to propose a budget reform that redistributes resources from the rich to the poor in the EU? Why not offer free membership to countries with, for example, less than 75% of average income? Why not remove all aid to agriculture over and above, for example, EUR 40 000? Why not stop the payment of structural funds in those countries that constitute the richest half of the EU and in that way focus aid on the poorest countries? A budget along those lines would mean less income for Denmark. I am sure that our voters would happily pay subsidies to help the new Member States. In return, all help for Romania and Bulgaria would have to be transparent so that we could see whether the money was being spent on development or on an old guard of corrupt politicians and their cronies.

I have just read Cozmin Gusa’s book on Romania, which has been issued to all MEPs in English. It provides shocking reading about corruption. Just another few words, Mr President. The Committee on Budgetary Control should lose no time in looking into whether Mr Gusa’s assertions hold water. The sacking of the Justice Minister and the violent attack on Mr Gusa and his colleague before the weekend unfortunately indicate that Mr Gusa is right. Romania needs to be scrutinised carefully, but also encouraged by a fairer budget.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dumitru Gheorghe Mircea Coşea, în numele grupului ITS . – Încă de la început, vreau să subliniez utilitatea acestui raport şi vreau să-l felicit pe raportor pentru munca deosebit de interesantă pe care a depus-o. Consider că, în condiţiile în care în numai trei ani Uniunea Europeană s-a lărgit de la 15 state la 27, problema implicaţiilor extinderii devine din ce în ce mai importantă, mai interesantă şi mai presantă din punct de vedere financiar. Este evident că orice extindere costă, este evident că orice extindere costă mai mult şi, din acest punct de vedere, cred că raportul pe care îl discutăm astăzi este interesant nu numai pentru a ne explica ceea ce s-a întâmplat, ci şi pentru a putea preveni anumite dificultăţi în viitor. De aceea, cred că acest raport trebuie să fie sprijinit, trebuie să fie extins şi trebuie să fie în atenţia noastră şi în continuare pentru că, pe parcursul discuţiilor viitoare vom avea poate alte puncte de vedere nu numai în legătură cu Croaţia ci şi cu Turcia. Cred că la acest nivel însă, ar trebui să subliniem câteva elemente pe care eu le consider esenţiale din punct de vedere a ceea ce se va întâmpla în viitor cu ţări pe care antevorbitorii le-au menţionat, pe care le reprezint într-un fel, fiind deputat din partea României. În primul rând, cred că orice extindere trebuie să beneficieze de o analiză prealabilă foarte atentă în legătură cu posibilităţile bugetare şi financiare ale Uniunii, în acelaşi timp corelate cu posibilităţile de fonduri colaterale ale ţării respective. Numai după o astfel de analiză, trebuie să se treacă la o definitivare a actului de aderare. În al doilea rând, cred că trebuie să se realizeze cât mai curând posibil o revizuire a cadrului financiar al Uniunii, în primul rând prin analiza modului în care sunt folosite principalele fonduri şi, mă refer aici la Fondul European de Dezvoltare Regională, la Fondul Social European şi la Fondul de Coeziune. În al treilea rând, cred că trebuie definite sursele proprii bugetare. În al patrulea rând un lucru extrem de important din punctul meu de vedre este urmărirea mai atentă a modului în care sunt folosite fondurile şi aplicarea unui regim mai strict de sancţiuni în cazuri de folosire netransparentă sau coruptă a fondurilor. Această situaţie este încă foarte prezentă în multe ţări şi aduce daune considerabile situaţiei financiare a extinderii.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jana Bobošíková (NI ).(CS) Ladies and gentlemen, we are discussing the potential consequences of future enlargement on the effectiveness of the neighbourhood policy. The report looks at the Union’s eastward enlargement and calculates how the current Member States will pay for this if the institutional structure remains unchanged and if the financial contribution to the joint budget is not increased.

There will not be enough money to help the new Member States and nothing will be left for the wealthy regions. It makes no sense to discuss how individual GDP coefficients are falling in countries currently in line to join the Union. The problem lies elsewhere and I feel that it lies in what the Union is offering. If we expand only into the impoverished Balkan states the cost of enlargement will be high and it will be up to the citizens of the EU-27 to decide whether or not to show solidarity and foot the bill. I personally feel that they should. EU enlargement possesses not only a financial dimension, but above all – and I would stress this point – it has a political dimension.

I feel we should also ask why countries that do not need the Union as a source of development aid do not want to sign up to the values and policies of the Union. Why, for example, are Norway, Switzerland and Iceland not rushing to join the EU? I feel that it is down to the all-embracing solidarity of the Union, the Bolshevik agricultural policy and the total failure to nurture competitiveness.

It is my firm belief that narrowly-focused enlargement will do nothing to strengthen either the economy of the EU or its political influence on the world stage. The EU can be strengthened only by a fundamental shift away from the overblown emphasis on solidarity in current policies, and away from paternalism and regulation, moving instead towards a policy of healthy free competition. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Surján (PPE-DE ). (HU) When we look at the effect of further enlargement on the Union’s cohesion policy, we begin from the assumption that Member States are in solidarity with each other, and that they seek to reduce the differences among their regions. Our capacities set limits, however, to this good intention.

The rapporteur deserves all our praise for confronting us with the real problems. The current level of cohesion policy will become impossible to finance, if it must be applied to current candidate countries as well. But we cannot treat all candidate countries as if they were the same. The accession of Croatia, for example, causes no concern either on account of its size or of its economic situation. Let us be honest! It is a problem if candidate countries are disappointed as soon as they join. If for the sake of catching up we cut back existing programmes, it is the citizens of the current Member States who feel that they have been deceived. In both cases, the sense of cohesion declines. Moreover, all this is not in the future, but there already exist unjustified inequalities. There is no technical reason for the fact that in its first seven years my country, Hungary, should receive twice as much development funding per capita than its neighbour, Romania. We can see that the inevitable compromise we agreed to regarding the current framework is limiting the options.

Looking to the future, it is an important lesson that the Union cannot work well at a level lower than what Parliament is recommending by accepting the Böge report. I hope that after 2013 it will not be very late to implement the vision of the Böge report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Constanze Angela Krehl (PSE ).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my group, I should like to make quite clear once more that the Pieper report is a report not about enlargement, but about future cohesion policy. In addition, it comes at precisely the right time; for, if we sleep through our chance to reform cohesion policy and wait until, say, 2011, 2012 or 2013 to consider the kind of policy we want for the following year, it will be too late for reform.

Nor does this report take a decision on the accession to the EU of Turkey or any other applicant country or future applicant country. To dispel any doubts about this and eliminate any possible sources of irritation, however, we shall be voting to delete paragraph 14 from the report. Nonetheless, starting today, we must make sure we are clear as to the kind of cohesion policy we want in future. In this regard, we are right to define a product comprising efficiency, solidarity, sustainable development and focus on the citizen. We must gather all of this together and see how the things we want to do can be implemented in practice.

The rapporteur is absolutely right to mention key phrases regarding, for example, the review of the system of own resources, the elimination of disparities in the whole rather than just a small part of the EU, individual responsibility of the Member States, the issue of whether, in future, greater use should be made of loan financing, and the issue of how to reinforce and increase the use of private cofinancing. Enlargement or no enlargement, we shall also have to face the issue of demographic change.

Thus, the ideas in the Pieper report provide a stimulus for debate, and we need time, as they will undoubtedly give rise to controversy. I think that the mid-term review represents a further step towards reform – but reform is urgently needed, and therefore I would appeal for broad support for the Pieper report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean Marie Beaupuy (ALDE ).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, in my opinion, this report has an advantage and a disadvantage. It has an advantage in the sense that it will allow us, I very much hope, to gain a better insight into the consequences of future enlargements. It could have a disadvantage, if we considered only the negative aspects of these future enlargements, since our fellow Member has actually highlighted a number of disadvantages, which may, incidentally, be rather worrying, and I understand that.

Commissioner, what I personally am requesting of you is that, when you respond to us – as I believe you will be sure to do – you focus on three points. You need to inform us of the financial consequences not only in terms of expenditure but also in terms of revenue, and also inform us of the other kinds of revenue from a human perspective, for example. You also need to tell us what other political prospects and consequences there are.

Let us not bury our heads in the sand; the issue of Turkey has been raised. I am not in favour of integrating Turkey but I am in favour of our examining this issue very quickly, with lucidity and realism, and finding the right solutions in the interest of the EU and in the interest of Turkey and of all the people of Turkey. I would be grateful to you, Commissioner, if you would respond to us on these three points: revenue, expenditure and political development.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Tadeusz Masiel (UEN ). – (PL)  Mr President, enlargement policy and cohesion policy are undoubtedly two of the European Union’s most valuable and influential instruments, but only if they are wisely used.

The European Council’s decision of April 2006 states that with regard to the accession of new Member States, the European Union must be in a position to maintain the momentum of European integration. The report presently before us clearly shows that the Union is not ready for the accession of Turkey, for budgetary reasons also. I shall leave aside today the problem of culture shock and European citizens’ reluctance. Turkey’s accession would decrease the Union’s GDP by 10.5% per capita. The Union is not capable of absorbing that. From an economic point of view, it would be easier for us to take in the whole of the Western Balkans, Ukraine and Belarus at once rather than to accept Turkey.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL ).(PT) Mr President, economic and social cohesion, which, after all, is enshrined in the Treaties, should be the cornerstone of Community policies, and should be implemented, for example, by ensuring the redistributive nature of the Community budget. Accordingly, regional development policy is a vital instrument for promoting the reduction of regional disparities and genuine convergence, economic growth and jobs. It is supposed to work as a form of compensation for the economically least developed regions in order to offset the impact of the internal market, the euro and the liberalisation of public services and the commercialisation of goods and services.

I wish to point out that the current regional cohesion policy has undergone changes to its objectives and drastic financial cuts in the current financial framework 2007-2013. The report before us exacerbates these detrimental trends, by proposing guidelines that, if implemented, would distort and undermine a genuine cohesion policy.

As such, we oppose the proposals whereby, in order to maintain current financial resources in the context of future enlargement, the financial resources of cohesion regions and countries will be redistributed among those regions and countries themselves. It will therefore still be the economically least developed countries that will foot the bill for enlargement, whereas those benefiting most from enlargement will be the economically most developed countries. It is also proposed to replace part of financing from Community funds with increased national cofinancing, access to loans or private cofinancing; to establish a maximum period of time during which regions may receive structural funds; and to make access to cohesion policy contingent upon the implementation of a national economic policy defined on the basis of the criteria laid down in the Lisbon Strategy and the Stability and Growth Pact.

We are strongly opposed to these and other intentions, and have therefore tabled a number of amendments to this report aimed at genuinely protecting cohesion policy. We hope that these amendments will be adopted.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Olbrycht (PPE-DE ). – (PL)  Mr President, the report we are today debating is particularly significant, as it amounts to a proposal for the European Parliament’s first statement concerning cohesion policy after 2013. It has become clear in the course of the debate that each individual sees something different in this report. Some detect statements on cohesion policy, whilst others perceive it as dealing only with enlargement and consequently with the European Union’s foreign policy.

The report poses new questions. It challenges us to define future policy. We are confronted once again with questions concerning the renationalisation of the policy and also with questions about whether cohesion policy should be aimed only at the least developed countries or whether it should also be a mechanism supporting economic growth and the creation of new jobs, as it currently is. In the later case it should also be accessible to the more active countries.

The first alternative, to focus on the poorest countries, once again raises issues concerning the criteria for identifying the weakest regions. It will therefore also involve future discussion of the Financial Perspective. A decision would be called for on whether to begin by calculating the resources required on the basis of political guidelines and on the basis of the needs arising from the criteria applied or alternatively whether to begin by establishing what resources are available and then adjust the criteria and methods of distribution accordingly.

During 2007-2013 it will probably become clear that it was wise to broaden the scope of cohesion policy to include action in support of the Lisbon Strategy, but it would be hard to undertake assessments and plan changes to that policy at present. Clearly, political decisions concerning future enlargements must take account of the conduct of cohesion policy after any such enlargement.

Future enlargements will imply changes to cohesion policy, its scope and its legal and financial instruments. Enlargements are not a threat to this policy. They are not simply an expense. Enlargements also bring certain benefits for states already in the Union. The effectiveness of cohesion policy should serve as an incentive to follow a consistent policy on integration through further enlargements. The latter must be well prepared for in terms of financial and legal instruments.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stavros Arnaoutakis (PSE ).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, fifty years of European history have taught us that peace, democracy, security, stability and prosperity are consolidated through enlargement. The European Union was and must remain open to future enlargements.

However, in order to respond to this challenge, it must be efficient and functional. The performance and efficacy of Community policies and, more importantly, of the cohesion policy, the policy that expresses the principle of solidarity with the weakest groups in areas of the Union, is needed more than ever.

Nonetheless, the extent to which a future cohesion policy will make it efficient and functional will depend on the resources at its disposal. This must be clear in light of the interim review of the financial perspective for 2008-2009, because the cohesion policy is a policy that brings Europe closer to the citizens and we must give these resources in order to make it efficient.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE ). – (LT) The importance of the cohesion policy and the results of its implementation in the creation and deeper integration of the economies of European Union countries, and in the increase of human welfare, are beyond doubt. However, the report being considered today depicts the latest round of expansion and future new members of the EU as the source of all the EU's misfortunes.

The demand to justify the effects of Bulgaria's and Romania's entry into the EU on the basis of cohesion policy, after they have already entered the EU, goes against the principle of solidarity declared in the report.

What is important for the EU is not only the cohesion policy, but also the effects that the common agricultural policy (CAP) has on the economy and on social welfare. The amount of funds available to be distributed under the cohesion policy will depend on reform of the CAP, on EU budget reform and on the implementation of common foreign and defence policy.

The report suggests that new cohesion criteria be introduced for Candidate Countries. However, these countries have already entered membership negotiations on the basis of the ‘Copenhagen criteria’, which are well known to all.

Honourable colleagues, this report on cohesion policy has looked at cohesion separately from other EU policies, and it is tendentiously skewed against expansion, protecting the interests of rich EU Member States.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Margie Sudre (PPE-DE ).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, since October 2005, the European Union has been conducting accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey without prejudging the results of this process. It has also recognised Macedonia’s status as a candidate country and the desire of the other Balkan States to become candidate countries. With the exception of the specific case of Turkey, I share this outlook. Having said that, while I am convinced that, without the Balkans, European unification would remain incomplete, I do nevertheless believe that the path will be long and full of pitfalls and, above all, that the possibility of further enlargements obliges us to provide precise and urgent solutions to three key issues, relating to the institutional, political and financial reforms that the Union urgently needs.

Firstly, we need to conclude a debate that has been sidestepped for too long by our Member States and to establish what the definitive borders of the Union will be for the future. This decision will enable us at the same time to specify the content of the privileged partnership to be proposed as part of an enhanced neighbourhood policy.

The second issue must prompt us to clarify the future of the principle of economic, social and territorial cohesion within the Union. It is unacceptable for the successive enlargements to result in an ever greater number of regions becoming ineligible for European solidarity because of mere statistics, without the existing disparities having been truly eliminated. We must think about having a more progressive model for cohesion policy, with longer transition periods, as much for the new beneficiaries as for those who are no longer entitled to it.

Finally, the last issue naturally concerns the financial reform. Given the current state of our budget, any future enlargements could not be financed without the effectiveness of the current cohesion policies being threatened. The Union needs new own resources and a budget that matches its ambitions. All of these issues can be summed up in one: do we want to provide the Union with the capacity to integrate new Member States? We need to make a decision; we have a duty of responsibility to our fellow citizens and to the countries knocking on our door.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Miloš Koterec (PSE ). – (SK) I would like to thank the rapporteur for his thorough report on this issue. The European Parliament initiative in this area only confirms how important to Parliament is the proper functioning of EU systems, including cohesion policy. In my opinion the object of the report is not to look at any one enlargement in particular, but rather enlargement in general. The area addressed by the report should be viewed from at least two angles, one being the effectiveness of the European Union’s cohesion policy, and the other how enlargement may affect it, that is, how to define cohesion policy in the context of enlargement.

In the absence of any reliable assessment of the impact of EU regional development funding, we can speak only in general terms about the effects that enlargement may have on cohesion. But even if we had a sound methodology for conducting, implementing and assessing regional policy, we would not be able to manage without a professional approach on the part of the Member States as the guarantors of justice, and without transparency, a high standard of administration and restrictions on the misuse of funds. It will be interesting to see the medium-term regional policy appraisal in 2008-2009.

The Member States also need to find appropriate ways to fund European cohesion policy properly. It should not involve regions with low levels of development having to scrabble for every euro. EU policy must be objective enough to prevent it being reduced to who gets what from whom. This, however, requires adequate funding. In a resolution in 2005 the European Parliament stated clearly that the regional development budget must be significantly increased for the period 2007-2013.

The solution is to re-assess the way that the European budget is set up, failing which it will clearly be essential to see greater direct financial involvement from those Member States that are receiving assistance and are due to receive it in the future. But where does this leave our proverbial European solidarity? And finally, one more comment: cohesion policy must not fall victim to enlargement, and neither must enlargement be a hostage of cohesion policy. Ultimately, the only system that works will be one that takes account of the links between all of its components, including enlargement and cohesion.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Valdis Dombrovskis (PPE-DE ). – (LV) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, in taking decisions concerning enlargement of the EU, it is important to assess their impact on the EU budget. The accession to the EU of large and less economically developed countries, such as Turkey, would have a significant influence on regional policy: either it would be necessary to divide the resources up again for the benefit of new Member States, or else it would be necessary to significantly increase funding for regional policy. In either case the European Commission would have to submit detailed information on the expected impact of the enlargement on the budget and possible solutions for EU regional policy. A certain increase in resources for EU regional policy is possible. The European Parliament has supported expenditure in the next financial perspective of 1.18% of EU GNI, including 0.41% of EU GNI for the EU Funds, which is considerably more than the current 0.37%. I assume that we will need to come back to this question in the mid-term review of the financial perspective in the context of further enlargements of the EU, such as the accession of Croatia. The proposal by the rapporteur concerning differentiated cofinancing is to be welcomed. This makes provision for a greater intensity of aid for less developed regions and states. Such an approach fully complies with the goals of the EU’s regional policy and has already been endorsed in the European Parliament’s report on the financial perspective. In future, the per capita GDP of regions should serve as the main criterion in determining the availability of EU funds to regions and states. The proposal, however, to increase the share of funding from the Member States, supposedly in order to improve the effectiveness of regional policy, is worrying. We must acknowledge that the Member States’ share of cofinancing was in fact recently increased, when non-reimbursable VAT expenditure was excluded. Obtaining EU funding already involves too much bureaucracy, and so although the rapporteur’s proposals concerning more linkage between the EU Funds and the Lisbon Strategy goals, and greater transparency, are to be endorsed as a whole, they must not create extra bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining EU funding. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andrzej Jan Szejna (PSE ). – (PL)  Mr President, further enlargements of the European Union are inevitable. The impact of successive enlargements of the Union on the effectiveness of current cohesion policy is an important issue being debated at European level. Undoubtedly, measures aimed at accepting more new members into the European Community are important for deepening integration on our continent.

Nonetheless, bearing in mind the demands made on us by the Lisbon Agenda, and the fact that there are still large differences in the level of economic development and consequently in the standard of living between the European Union’s present Member States, we must approach the question of further enlargements with particular care.

The Union’s budget is not a blank cheque. It has certain limits. We are all aware how much funding has been allocated to regional policy up to 2013. Priority should be given to maintaining the processes and actions undertaken in the interests of cohesion and to levelling out living conditions across the Union. Regions must not be allowed to lose their entitlement to aid as soon as their competitiveness and level of structural change is deemed satisfactory, as a result of a statistical effect. Countries aspiring to join the European Union should be offered an attractive package of pre-accession aid that will prove effective in stimulating their economic growth and development and also structural changes before they become full beneficiaries of the cohesion policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE ). – (PL)  Mr President, the report we are debating contains proposals for rationalising expenditure on regional development and assesses the possible implications of the accession of Turkey, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the countries of the Western Balkans to the European Union. According to the studies undertaken future enlargements of the European Union could result on the one hand, in a 35% increase in the area of the Union’s territory together with a 27% increase in the number of its citizens, and on the other hand, in an increase of Community GDP of barely 4%. This equates to a 18% drop in per capita GDP. There are therefore advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Nonetheless, the Union should develop. A decision on launching institutional, financial and political reform of the Union should be taken after reviewing the financial framework between 2008 and 2009. Assessment of the outcome of current cohesion policy will make it possible to establish when we will be able to afford subsequent enlargements. It is worth remembering, however, that every enlargement so far has always brought added value to the Union. I am confident this will continue to be the case in the future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission . Mr President, I would like to make clear that I read this report as an expression of concern about the need to maintain or, indeed, improve the effectiveness of European cohesion policy while implementing the EU’s enlargement strategy. Your debate has also provided many ideas which I will take back with me.

I would like to stress three issues that we must remember when having a discussion on cohesion policy in the context of enlargement. Firstly, the financial framework and eligibility rules for 2007-2013 have been decided and they will be applied throughout this period, irrespective of any further enlargement.

Secondly, in 2008-2009, in accordance with the European Council conclusions, there will be a review covering all aspects of EU spending and resources. This review will be carried out in close cooperation with Parliament and there will also be a broad consultation process.

Thirdly, on enlargement, I would like to reiterate that the Commission – in its communication on enlargement strategy – and the December 2006 European Council confirmed that the enlargement strategy is combined with the EU’s capacity to integrate new members. Also, the pace of the accession process will depend on the results of the reforms in the negotiating country. The entry of new Member States will always be based on their merits. This principle will be respected. We also agreed that the Union will refrain from setting any target dates for accession until negotiations are close to completion. The Commission will provide impact assessments on the key policy areas in the course of the negotiations.

I am open to new ideas, especially with regard to the need for new delivery mechanisms to improve the responsiveness of cohesion policy to a rapidly changing environment and the need for new ways of achieving further synergies between development strategies implemented at Community, national and regional level. We must ensure that our cohesion policy ties in with this favourable sustainable national growth policy, the Lisbon Strategy and the integrated guidelines for growth and jobs. I fully agree with you that we have to explore all those links further.

Finally, I would like to say that you should not expect my support for any ideas that tend to weaken the Community aspect of cohesion policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12 noon.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Antonio De Blasio (PPE-DE ), in writing. (HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I consider it of prime importance that the European Parliament is examining the impact of future enlargements from the perspective of cohesion policy, and that therefore new, budgetary considerations and positions can also be included in the debate about enlargement.

The background study to the report has determined that in a 34-member European Union, according to the current rules, Croatia would account for only 7% of the additional funding under the cohesion policy, while Turkey would receive 63% of the additional funds. In my opinion, therefore, the lesson we can learn is that there is no way that we can treat all the accession states on the same level.

I would like to emphasise that given its population and level of economic development, Croatia’s accession would not place a significant additional burden on the EU budget. Of the potential candidate countries examined by the report, only Croatia’s accession would not give rise to any statistical effect in relation to the eligible areas at regional and national level, that is, not a single region currently receiving support would lose its entitlement to EU financial aid.

I therefore propose that before the admission of every candidate country, we take into account how the European Union is able to integrate the state in question, and that we analyse in detail how prepared we are for a comprehensive financial reform in the interest of future enlargements. In my opinion, comprehensive reform makes sense only once we have already reached our current goals with regard to cohesion policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (DE) As a member of the Committee on Regional Development, I should like to extend the warmest of thanks to the rapporteur, who has succeeded in producing a critique of the aspect of regional policy relating to future enlargements of the European Union, a politically important but at the same time extremely sensitive aspect.

European regional policy must not only take account of overstretched budgets and increasing competitive pressure within the 27 Member States, but also meet the expectations of European structural policy and the Lisbon Strategy whilst also safeguarding its capacity for action.

I should like to express my particular thanks to the rapporteur for showing very clearly that the current aims of cohesion policy can only be achieved by a graduated approach to the enlargement process and by reforms to boost efficiency. In this particular context, the concept of ‘reinforced neighbourhood policy’ should be defined in more detail, and there should be an open discussion – particularly with regard to Turkey – on whether accession or a privileged partnership would make more sense for all parties concerned.

We, as MEPs and citizens’ representatives, owe it to people in not only the new, but also the old Member States to conduct a regional policy that will continue to achieve equilibrium and growth effects and thus guarantee the cohesion of the EU in future, too.

 

20. The Commission's annual strategic priorities (Budget 2008) (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0123/2007 ) by Kyösti Virrankoski, on behalf of the Committee on Budgets, on the Commission's annual policy strategy for the 2008 budget procedure, Section III – Commission (2007/2017(BUD) ).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyösti Virrankoski (ALDE ), rapporteur . (FI) Mr President, firstly I wish to thank the German Presidency and in particular Dalia Grybauskaitė for their excellent levels of cooperation, as well as the Chairman of the Committee on Budgets and all the coordinators and shadow rapporteurs from the political groups.

The Commission communication on the annual policy strategy is the first step in drafting the new budget. Parliament’s response will be its initial position.

Firstly I want to speak about the communication’s structure. The Commission employs its own system of classification to define policy areas: prosperity, solidarity, security, freedom and the strengthening of Europe’s position in global policy. This division is difficult to follow because it does not correspond to the structure of the multiannual financial framework strategy any more than it does the budget. For the sake of transparency this classification should be reconsidered in the future.

The Commission presents a strategy which concerns, for example, climate change and action in the energy sector. The Lisbon Strategy is still important, as are the control of immigration and measures which make the Union a stronger global actor, but these are just some of Parliament’s priorities. Parliament’s main objectives also include the successful completion of approved programmes, less bureaucracy and better, more effective and appropriate administration. In connection with this year’s budget it was agreed to review the deployment of staff. This screening operation is supposed to be completed this month. Parliament thinks it is very important.

Activity-based budgeting and management is the key to better administration. It began to be developed after the resignation of the Santer Commission. Parliament wants to emphasise how important it is to continue this development. Only in that way can we boost efficiency, lessen bureaucracy and clarify responsibilities. The annual reports submitted by the Directors-General are an important part of this.

Administration became central to this report because the Commission once again proposed several decentralised agencies: two executive agencies and another, the European Institute of Technology, for research. In addition, the intention is to increase the funding of several agencies at the expense of operational appropriations.

Decentralised agencies are problematic because they are funded out of different budget headings and even programmes. Their administrative expenditure therefore does not normally come under heading 5, which makes for a lack of clarity. Secondly, the staff employed in such agencies will not necessarily show up in the EU budget. For this reason, it is important to monitor total staff numbers in the EU. Thirdly, the agencies’ areas of responsibility may be unclear. It needs to be made fully clear to the public who is responsible for what decisions. It is this very facelessness of decision-making which emerges as an enormous barrier when it comes to evaluating the confidence the public has in the European Union. Fourthly, we have to ask how a hierarchical administration can benefit execution, if it does at all. Thus, Parliament will be examining very closely the establishment of the new decentralised agencies and other administrative expenditure. For all these reasons, Parliament and the Council in the trilogue agreed on a resolution to give attention to these matters and urge the Commission to introduce certain further measures.

Another problem is delays in programmes that have already been agreed upon. The Commission has built a policy strategy for next year largely to delay programmes that have already been decided upon. This kind of frontloading and backloading are uncalled-for, as the multiannual financial framework has only been in effect for a few months. Programmes which have been decided must go ahead according to plan. Moreover, taking funding from margins is a way to reduce further Parliament’s opportunities, for example, to invest in pilot projects and preparatory actions, especially under headings 1a and 3. Another danger is the continued growth in unspent commitments, RALs, which makes it harder later on to achieve policy objectives.

Parliament’s policy objectives concern, as I mentioned before, the Lisbon Strategy, sustainable climate and energy policy, the swift implementation of structural and cohesion policy, firm immigration control, a proper information and communication policy, and a jointly agreed foreign and security policy. We hope that the Preliminary Draft Budget will establish a fruitful basis for drafting next year’s budget.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dalia Grybauskaitė, Member of the Commission . Mr President, the Annual Policy Strategy is structured according to the four strategic priorities of the Barroso Commission, which we agreed at the very beginning. However, the changes compared to the previous financial year are presented by policy area in accordance with activity-based budgeting. The Annual Policy Strategy serves as a consistent reference framework in the preparation of our preliminary draft budget and our legislative and work programme. Of course it does not prejudge the final outcome, which will take into account the priorities of the European Parliament and Council.

The second element we would like to reflect is our screening exercise, which, at the request of Parliament, the Commission has just finalised. It will be adopted in the Commission’s meeting tomorrow. However, I can already announce that the outcome of this profound and serious exercise is quite satisfactory, especially because we confirmed the needs for enlargement, which correlate exactly to the same amounts we and Parliament agreed in 2002. The additional 1600 posts needed for new priorities of the Council, Parliament and the Commission will be covered only by internal redeployment. That is a very good result of the exercise which we performed at the request of Parliament.

We will also take into account the concerns of both Parliament and the Council regarding the financing of the 25 decentralised agencies and, accordingly, we will adapt our approach in that PDB, which I will present to you next week.

Concerning the executive agencies – of which we have four and are proposing two more – the Commission, as always, will fulfil the conditions of cost-effectiveness and transparency before creating any such agency. The Commission is open to discussing the issue with the European Parliament, including, as we said during the trialogue, any further improvements in the arrangements between Commission and the European Parliament concerning those executive agencies.

The rapporteur’s report calls for a ‘budget for results’, and I fully share this opinion and approach of Mr Virrankoski. Therefore, next Wednesday, as agreed at the Committee of Budgetary Control meeting, I will present the Preliminary Draft Budget, in which I will try to pursue and take into account and reflect as much as possible the views expressed in today’s discussions.

I hope we have a successful start for our new procedure for the new budget year.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Michael Gahler (PPE-DE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs . – (DE) Mr President, one of the headings of the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs states that we need to provide sufficient funding for the increasing number of common foreign and security policy (CFSP) activities. I am hopeful that the Commissioner will apply the plans she has just announced for the coming week to the CFSP, too.

We have emphasised a number of policies in particular, for example the neighbourhood policy towards eastern and southern countries, a policy that must also serve to promote democracy and human rights there. We have said that we regard the policy towards the Western Balkans as a priority. In Kosovo, in that region, we are likely to have to make a significant financial effort in 2008 to support the civilian ESDP mission and the office of the International Civilian Representative. We call for a clarification, as soon as possible, of the implications of that mission for the sustainability of the present CFSP budget.

A further topic is external energy policy. We call for the gradual building of a common external energy policy. On the subject of Afghanistan, parallel to improving the security situation, we need to provide adequate funding for the civilian reconstruction effort – this is the only way to win the hearts and minds of the people there in the long term. Regarding Africa, the major EU–Africa Summit is due to be held in Lisbon in December 2007, and it is likely that the decisions we take there will have to be followed by action – which is very important also in terms of helping African forces settle African conflicts using African means. We must also send out political signals in this spirit.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard James Ashworth, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – Mr President, this report on the Commission’s annual policy statements gives the members of this House the opportunity to remind the Commission of a number of points which we set out in the financial perspective.

Firstly, we remind the Commission that achieving Lisbon Strategy objectives is, and must remain, the major priority. I believe that by stimulating job creation, by supporting economic growth and by encouraging global competitiveness, the European Union has the potential to make itself most relevant to the lives of the European citizens of today.

Secondly, we must impress on the Commission the importance of ensuring that the budget delivers value for money. I stress our anxieties regarding the establishment of agencies: we have great concerns regarding the accountability of those bodies, as we do over the efficient and effective deployment of human resources throughout the institutions.

Thirdly, in my view, as a matter of utmost importance, the Commission must apply far greater urgency in its efforts to achieve a positive statement of assurance. In this report, Parliament is calling for greater transparency and the Commission needs to do far more to strengthen the link between its legislative work programme and the budget procedure.

Finally, regarding the European Institute of Technology, I welcome the Commission’s determination to achieve its Lisbon goals and I admire its vision and initiative. However, there are two major anxieties which I wish to express. Firstly, this proposal was introduced after the Commission had set out its spending plans in the financial perspective and therefore, inevitably, the introduction of such a major project will have a significant knock-on effect on other priorities. Also, while I acknowledge that proposals are evolving all the time, it seems to me that as a coordinating body for best practice, there is a danger of duplicating the efforts of other coordinating bodies and thereby failing to make a sufficiently positive contribution.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR BIELAN
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Catherine Guy-Quint, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like firstly to congratulate our rapporteur on his work and on the content of his report on the annual strategic priorities. This report is the start of our budgetary procedure, and we share the bulk of the concerns and, often, the priorities, expressed therein.

I am going to dwell on two specific points. This year, like every year, Parliament is outlining the priorities that it would like the European Commission to execute. Among the objectives that Parliament plans to assign to the budgetary procedure this year is the idea of a budget focused on results, which in our view means clear objectives to enable these priorities to be executed meticulously. I subscribe to this idea. It is important that we show our desire for the Union’s expenditure programmes to help achieve the political objectives that they are supposed to achieve, and this for several reasons: the achievement of these political objectives is crucial in terms of making the Union appear legitimate in the eyes of the citizens; we must support the Commission’s plan to develop the ‘Better Lawmaking’ principle in its new initiatives and working methods; and lastly, I am firmly convinced that an effective administrative system for the Union must be provided with the necessary resources.

I must, however, express some doubts about the way in which the results of this exercise are used, and here I am addressing the Council, which is sadly absent. I agree that more attention should be paid to the objectives and to assessing the results of the policies carried out. I also believe that this assessment must go beyond the stage of simply providing information on the administrative process as it was previously, when part of the PDB. Nevertheless, my group will strongly oppose the possibility of this assessment being used to underpin budget cuts in administrative decisions or human resources. Personal accountability for the Union’s operations is an important element of the activity-based budget approach. However, if this accountability is to be transformed into initiative, the European Commission must be given the resources to act.

Finally, I should like to remind you of the importance that my group attaches to communication problems. It should be remembered that the key aspect of the communication and information policy is to inform every EU citizen about the work of the institutions. I therefore endorse the Commission proposal, which aims at launching campaigns on the Union’s political priorities. These campaigns will be able to be launched as soon as Parliament has voted on these priorities. Nevertheless, we expect many things to come out of the hearing organised by the Committee on Budgets. Its conclusions must underpin the drafting of a new communication policy. Democracy is a difficult exercise, and information is one pillar of it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Anne E. Jensen, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (DA) Mr President, I too should like to thank our rapporteur, Mr Virrankoski, for a report that outlines very clearly some of the problems that we, in this House, see in the run-up to the Commission’s presentation of the draft budget for 2008. We in the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe agree that, via the budget, the EU should maintain its focus on the Lisbon Process in order also to be able to respond quickly when new topics such as energy and climate change crop up. However, we must, of course, all flatly acknowledge that the budget framework is very narrow and inflexible. That makes it difficult to have all our wishes fulfilled. That is why I would most sincerely call on the Commission to take an interest in Parliament’s priorities. The Commission is happy to lean quite heavily on Parliament when it is short of employees and money. When, however, it is Parliament’s priorities that are in question, matters immediately become more difficult. That applies in the case of both large and small matters. A few years ago, for example, Parliament undertook a pilot project designed to prevent attacks on professional drivers and to guarantee them decent conditions when they take rests. What is the Commission doing about this matter, the progress of which is being followed carefully by hauliers and professional drivers and their families? The answer is: very little, indeed too little. It is insufficiently responsive to the public and it is too arrogant. If I have to go out and explain to my electorate that the Commission needs more employees, it will help quite a lot if I can also say that these employees will be genuinely interested in voters’ concerns and wishes. Tell that to your colleagues, Commissioner, when you come and ask for more employees. I look forward to the forthcoming survey of staff needs. We should also look into whether personnel policy is sufficiently flexible to allow political priorities to be implemented.

May I address one last matter? The Commission has now already proposed a change to the financial programming for the period 2007-2013. Appropriations designed to stimulate growth – and relating, for example, to buildings, bridges and railways - are to be channelled to agency personnel. Legal policy appropriations are also to go to agencies. The framework is tight, and a mid-term review of the financial perspective is needed. That is already clear.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk, on behalf of the UEN Group . – (PL)  Mr President, as I take the floor on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group in this debate on the Annual Policy Strategy for budgeting for 2008, I should like to highlight three points.

Firstly, the rapporteur has adopted the right approach. He suggests that the European Commission should prepare a ‘budget for results’ for 2008, thus ensuring optimum use of the limited financial resources available.

Secondly, the rapporteur is also right to draw attention to the fact that doing away with decentralised agencies and setting up new ones is certain to reduce the available margins in certain chapters of the multi-annual financial frameworks, thus reducing the operational funds in the framework of resources for individual programmes. As a result, the budget could become less flexible and implementation of certain operational programmes could be restricted.

My third and final point is that it seems the rapporteur’s expectations of the planned review of budgetary expenditure between 2008 and 2009 are rather too high. The idea that it will be possible to query the effectiveness of expenditure on the common agricultural policy on the basis of the review is quite unacceptable. After all, the common agricultural policy guarantees food security for individual Member States of the European Union and for the Community as a whole. It therefore ensures the most important form of security from each individual’s point of view. It would be difficult to query expenditure for this purpose, because one cannot put a price tag on the provision of this kind of security.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Anne Isler Béguin, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, the annual strategy proposed by the European Commission for the 2008 budgetary procedure must strictly execute the decisions of the legislature. It must not tone them down. Despite current events being dominated by climate change – I am referring to the Stern report and the IPCC conclusions – the Commission proposal waters down the concept of sustainable development. It merely mentions the prosperity, solidarity, security and external influence headings, the content of which remains arbitrary.

One may recall at this point, Commissioner, our struggle to obtain, at the time of the financial perspective, a EUR 100 million boost for the protection of the environment, which the Commission immediately halved. Whereas it was so difficult to obtain funds for the environmental programme, I note how easy it was to release additional resources to fund the Frontex agency as an instrument for combating illegal immigration.

These budget signals illustrate the extent to which our flexibility is limited by the financial perspective and demonstrate, once again, that the environment budget is being whittled away. Despite the urgency and importance of the environment for our fellow citizens, this is a cruelly limited budget for tackling the challenges of the fight against climate change and the erosion of biodiversity. Let us not forget that the Natura 2000 network should receive EUR 6 billion each year in order to function properly.

Despite these shortcomings, I should like to express my interest in the new European Commission initiatives under the ‘external influence’ heading. The fund for renewable energy and energy efficiency and the global alliance on climate change must help the ACP countries, and Africa in particular, to embark on a form of development that integrates the environmental pillar and the social pillar more boldly than we have done, and thus to promote the concept of sustainable development.

Turning to a different subject, the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance is looking forward to the Commission report on medium-term staffing requirements. Commissioner, our group has always been in favour of having a satisfactory and steady supply of human resources. In the case of the executive agencies, we need to examine on a case-by-case basis whether programmes are carried out better with an executive agency, or whether we need to keep a centralised approach, as the European Parliament has demanded for LIFE+.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esko Seppänen, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group . (FI) Mr President, the rapporteur, Mr Virrankoski, says that next year’s budget should produce good results. It is a hard task to measure results, however; in practice it is impossible. In evaluating results one needs to work on the basis of what would have happened if the EU had not used its budget funds for those purposes it uses them in accordance with budgetary procedure, and of which we are unaware. Measuring results might succeed in some individual policy areas with regard to one single programme, but in terms of the budget as a whole it is a very ambitious task. In fact this became clear during the time of the previous general rapporteur, when Parliament’s demands for results gradually became less stringent the closer the date of the final drafting of the budget got.

A good start to improving results is the fact that last year there were fewer budget funds left unspent by the Commission than there had been for years. The Commission seems to have improved the way it implements programmes. It is to be hoped that this was not just a temporary improvement in the final year of the previous financial framework.

On behalf of my group I wish the draftsmen of a budget which is to focus on results the best of luck. At the same time I would say that the grand total for the budget will probably be so small that the Union will not be able to take any significant steps forward as a new priority in energy policy as determined at the March summit. Instead, money will be spent on the militarisation of the Union and europropaganda in the name of information and communications as before.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hans-Peter Martin (NI ).(DE) Mr President, when so few people gather together so late in the evening and everyone actually knows everyone else’s arguments quite well already, I think one of us could take the liberty of giving a word of encouragement. I believe that things are already starting to happen in the Commission’s quarters – although we should like to see a little more.

I agree with the previous speaker that result orientation is a nice idea, but it is possible to be much more modest and yet almost revolutionary as far as you are concerned. More specifically: it is still very hard for citizens to understand who in the Commission is doing what with how much money. Which bodies are actually working for whom? Just try to do a quick search on the Internet for the net contribution made by Germany last year or in 2005, for example. It will take you a long time to find any information on this anywhere. This also goes for information on, for example, what projects where are receiving what support. I click on the country in an attempt to see what is receiving support in my region, but find no information. This is unthinkable!

I am convinced that, if the relevant transparency were already a reality, whether good or bad, we would see a significantly better, higher-quality debate than we are seeing now. I hope, of course, that we succeed in making a start, if this is prescribed at European level in the field of agricultural subsidies, for example. There, too, however, there will be problems with practical implementation. For the rest, I would refer to those after me who are going to speak about the agencies – this is another area in which we could show by example how to put transparency into practice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Salvador Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE ).(ES) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner, I would like to pay tribute to the mastery of financial management that the Directorate-General for Budgets has achieved at this stage in 2007.

Year after year, financial perspective after financial perspective, the Council puts the European Commission in a position that is very difficult to overcome. Every year, the European Commission is obliged to cover increasingly ambitious objectives with fewer and fewer resources.

It seems that the Member States see the European Union as a perfect stage from which to satisfy their national public opinion, very cheaply, of course.

When the Member States discover concern amongst the citizens – about growth or about employment – they launch the Lisbon Strategy and tell the European Commission to look for the funding.

When they discover that the European public is worried about immigration or energy or global warming, they ask the Commission to look for funding for these spectacular measures. The problem is that commitments remain and yesterday’s priorities do not disappear just because other priorities are put before them.

At some point, sooner rather than later, the European Commission — despite its General Committee on Budgets — will stretch itself too far and all of this wonderful financial engineering involving ‘back-loading’ and ‘front-loading’ will not be sufficient to deal with so many priorities. That will perhaps be the time for big financial decisions and let us hope that, when that day comes, the European Commission’s political skill is a match for the financial skill it has shown today.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Göran Färm (PSE ). (SV) Commissioner, Mr President, the Commission’s annual political strategy shows that we face major, and to some extent new, challenges. I am thinking of the climate issue, which demands efforts in the fields of research, the environment and energy. I am thinking of research and innovation, in which it is a question of creating a Europe that, in the spirit of Lisbon, can become as attractive to researchers as the United States and offer equally big opportunities for converting research results into jobs and production. Creating the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) and a top-class European Institute of Technology are key issues.

I am thinking of the Balkans. We have a candidate country, Croatia, which wishes to join the EU soon and which still has major security needs in Bosnia, and we have completely new countries, including Montenegro and perhaps Kosovo, which will require considerable efforts on the part of the EU. I am thinking of democracy and communication, which require broader democratic cooperation between individuals, parties and non-governmental organisations. In view of, for example, the elections to the European Parliament and the debate on a new treaty, 2008 must become a breakthrough year in terms of resources for the EU’s new communication strategy. The picture of what the EU does and wants must become clearer, especially in the Member States.

These challenges require the EU to be able to take political decisions, allocate budget resources and engage in activity whereby we can make advances. To be honest, we still have a fair way to go, however. The EU’s budget is still inflexible. It is difficult to change priorities and, above all, to implement new priorities, even if the principle of reassigning personnel to new political priorities is in the process of having an effect.

In the long run – and perhaps by no later than the mid-term review – we need greater opportunities vigorously to invest in new areas and correspondingly to cut back on others. In today’s world, there are increasing demands on everyone to adapt – and not only on companies, individuals and regions, but also on the EU. Seven years, which is the period covered by our long-term budget, is plenty of time. We must obtain better links between legislative work and the budget. I believe that the European Institute of Technology (EIT) would be an example of such a link. The institute is an excellent idea, but one that will become problematic if other research efforts have to be reduced.

I think that the regulations are still often both bureaucratic and cumbersome. The obsession with form-filling and the degree of detail required for audits cannot be characterised as modern management, and the same applies to the administration. There were many who took a keen ongoing interest in Commissioner Kinnock’s ambitions in terms of flatter organisation, better personnel policy and increased gender equality. We must now continue the reforms in the same spirit. The Commission’s annual political strategy pinpoints the right areas, but it is now a question of being proactive and implementing changes in these areas. We must, then, dare to do more, and that is a role that Parliament might perhaps be allowed to take on.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE ).(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I too should like to support the speech by our rapporteur on the budget, Mr Virrankoski, and also sincerely to thank him for the quality of his work and for the unwavering commitment to dialogue that he has demonstrated.

I shall confine myself, this evening, to four brief remarks. Firstly, I should like the Commission to pay even greater attention to the budget reform rules in order to create an annual budget by activities that gives greater responsibility to each directorate and division in charge of its implementation. Secondly, with regard to the agencies, the European Commission cannot, in its current state, plan to create new decentralised bodies without first assessing the budgetary impact on the Union’s financial resources. Thirdly, staff expenditure needs to be even more transparent and plans need to be made to deploy staff, with even greater attention focused on the legislative priorities of our Parliament.

I have a fourth and final remark with which to conclude. If we want to rise to the challenges of globalisation and turn it to the advantage of our economy where employment is concerned, we need to work even harder to promote research and innovation. However, until the European Union has access to more substantial resources, the European Commission will have to focus its efforts on the political and budgetary priorities decided on by Parliament.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Reimer Böge (PPE-DE ).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I should like to start by extending the warmest of thanks to the rapporteur. The Commissioner will have seen that the great majority of group spokespeople supports the course proposed by our general rapporteur for the 2008 budgetary procedure. Besides the budgetary procedure, which starts with the preliminary draft budget of the Commission, we have indeed created many accompanying measures and complementary structures in recent years, such as the Annual Policy Strategy and the screening report that is to be presented next week.

We are also particularly obliged to the Commission for taking the initiative to present a biannual account of the actual implementation of the budget in public, including to this House, so that we all know where shortcomings lie, where improvements can be made and what the consequences are, including for the subsequent budgetary procedure. This is extremely useful, and we should all make use of it. Nevertheless, given the multitude of instruments, we must consider the possibility of further optimising their timing and interlinking with a view to making the best use of them. We should work on this with great care.

I should have liked to see the Commission’s Annual Policy Strategy not only setting out the issue of the old and new priorities mostly correctly in advance, but also giving precedence to the issue of better lawmaking, in particular, as the core of day-to-day work. Mr President, if I may reiterate, with particular regard to budgetary aspects, we have just held two trialogues – on 7 March and 18 April – further to which we shall hopefully be able to give the issue of the agencies, the executive agencies, the joint undertakings and all the new administration that has been created a common basis in legislation, agreements, financing, cost-benefit analyses and discharge over the coming months. After all, there are various contradictions here that should not be tolerated in the long term in the interest of good governance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paulo Casaca (PSE ).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Virrankoski, ladies and gentlemen, we are coming to the end of a debate that has, in my view, been highly informative. I should like to highlight a few of the most important points raised in the debate. The first of these is the message that under no circumstances should we allow ourselves to be tempted to renationalise Europe by cutting human resources and the staff needed for the Commission to function.

This key concern, which was voiced here by Mrs Guy-Quint, is, to my mind, the most important consideration in the execution of the 2008 budget. In this report, on which I should commend our rapporteur Mr Virrankoski, I wish to highlight point 8, namely the importance given to clarity, consistency and transparency in the presentation of the budget, on the one hand, and the fact that, on the other, we have an activity-based budget (ABB), which, with its financial nomenclature, is difficult for the reader to understand.

The EU’s budget must be presented in a way that is perfectly clear and coordinated, and in which all headings can be read in different ways without the reader losing track of the overall picture. This is a vital task, highlighted very well in point 8.

As regards the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I should like to highlight point 12 on Iraq, which, rightly in my view, points out that European investment in the country lacks visibility. It must become more visible by means of a development policy in places where it is possible to put such a policy into practice, namely in Iraqi Kurdistan. Moreover, in relation to the rest of Iraq and in relation to the great mass of Iraqi refugees, Europe must take immediate action, as António Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, said last week in Geneva.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dalia Grybauskaitė, Member of the Commission . Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for the good, in-depth start to our annual procedure. I agree with the chairman of the Committee on Budgets, especially on the strategic approach. One thing is the annual budget procedure, which we are starting now for 2008, but at the same time we can also take more strategic approaches, for example looking at how to improve the annual budget procedure in general as well as relations between both institutions, because there are things which deserve improvement. We need to make it faster and less bureaucratic, and we need to be more realistic as regards time constraints and the number of papers we produce.

Between the lines of today’s discussions on the APS, as people involved in the budget we more or less have the same opinion, but we cannot rely solely on ourselves – things also depend on the environments in which we work together. So we can improve, and I think we will achieve a great deal of mutual understanding, as we have in recent years. I hope we obtain the best possible outcome for our 2008 budgetary procedures, but we can also try to attain some more strategy goals together.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12 noon.

 

21. Tariff quotas for imports into Bulgaria and Romania of raw cane sugar (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0072/2007 ) by Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the opinion on the Council regulation opening tariff quotas for imports into Bulgaria and Romania of raw cane sugar for supply to refineries in the marketing years 2006/2007, 2007/2008 2008/2009 (COM(2006)0798 C6-0003/2007 2006/0261(CNS) ).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission . Mr President, first of all, let me start by thanking Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, and of course the members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, for their thorough analysis of the current proposal and the whole preparation of this report.

Let me briefly introduce the objectives of the proposal and its context. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania has enhanced the importance of the sugar refining industry within the whole Community. Given their rather marginal production of beet sugar, both Member States have traditionally met their domestic sugar demand by refining imported raw cane sugar. As a result of the accession negotiations, it was agreed that the two Member States could import altogether 530 000 tonnes of raw cane sugar for refining domestically. However, even if their agreed beet sugar quota is taken into account, both Member States are expected to remain slightly net importers as their combined consumption would reach between 800 000 and 900 000 tonnes. Thus, the opening of the proposal tariff quota would not negatively affect the overall balance within the Community sugar market.

For the sugar industries in the two Member States, the accession to the European Union came at a very difficult moment, given that it was during the first year of the sugar reform. Therefore it was necessary to adapt certain measures that would facilitate smooth integration into the new common market organisation for sugar. As regards that objective, the Council agreed that the approved quantities of raw sugar imports would be reserved for these two Member States until the end of the marketing year 2008-2009. As from the 2009-2010 marketing year, the overall traditional supply need for refining which is fixed at the European level of 2.3 million tonnes, would cease to be distributed among Member States. This would of course enhance the competitiveness of the European sugar industry, but it is also expected to be of benefit to our suppliers of raw sugar. So the opening of the tariff quotas which is currently proposed to supply the refining industries of Romania and Bulgaria would be, as requested in your report, limited to the two years.

In your amendment, you propose that from the production year 2009-2010, no tariff quotas should be allocated, rather than those that are allocated under the EBA and ACP countries’ initiative. Unfortunately I am not in a position to be able to support that amendment for different reasons. Firstly, the draft regulation only concerns the marketing years up to and including the marketing year 2008-2009. Secondly, in order to respect its international commitments, the Community is obliged to undertake discussions with the traditional trading partners of Bulgaria and Romania. Finally, the European Union may not unilaterally modify, especially not completely withdraw, the preferential market access agreed for the countries of the Western Balkans or the tariff-rated quotas that have been opened.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf (Verts/ALE ), rapporteur.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, our committee deliberated whether to present a report on this, since we do not consider the issue to be of particular importance and our positions on timing are not especially divergent. In the end, however, we decided to do so, knowing full well that, pursuant to Article 37, you will not adopt our proposals if you disagree with them. The situation would have been different if codecision applied in this sphere and the Constitution had been adopted.

By doing so, we want to make clear and show to the outside world that the views of Parliament and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development differ in certain respects from the Commission’s overall plans concerning sugar reform. We want to make clear that we favour a move towards European or ACP sugar, about which we have concluded agreements. We cannot approve of the emerging trend towards the sugar industry importing raw cane sugar from other countries where it is cheaper, refining it here and in the process jeopardising domestic sugar-beet production.

We want to make clear that our proposals on sugar reform might have been more successful than the situation we are currently seeing and having to deal with on the ground. You also chose a different course with regard to quantitative quotas or the possibility of administrative measures to reduce quantities.

Now Commission documents, too, are mentioning the possibility of such administrative measures, because the alternative has not worked. What has worked, however, is the creation of a big mess at local level. The restructuring measures have not been adopted. Our proposal that, when factories receive funds, they should and must lay down a rural development plan, has not been implemented – even though you have confirmed here that this makes sense in substantive terms. The Commission is stipulating a clearance policy – the dismantling of factories – without any replacement for the rural economy. As a result, the sugar industry is building biofuel plants – which then run on maize, palm oil and grain rather than on sugar beet. This is all one big mess.

Looking through the Commission’s proposals now, I do not know if the administration can still follow how many different measures are to be taken. There is no clear line, and it is regrettable that, owing to the absence of codecision, the expertise of Parliament and, in this case, the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development has not been given a chance. Commission and Council listen but, once Parliament has voted, then go away and do as they please.

This is not the end of the matter, however. This dispute is taking place not so much at political level. I can believe that Commissioner Fischer Boel does indeed wish to involve Parliament, but the administration disagrees. In my estimation, the administration is putting up a fight and will do anything to defend its power and oppose political input from Parliament. I hope that, following the elections in France, the situation will change and progress be made with the Constitution, and also that, following the 2009 elections, the new Parliament will enjoy codecision powers in the field of agriculture, too.

In this connection, allow me to turn to another field, if I have five minutes’ speaking time – namely the Regulation on organic production. There is a dispute over this: we are calling for Article 95, but the Commission is putting up a fight. Here, too, we have made good proposals. For example, the Council – and I hope we shall be able to discuss this again – is now making a derogation for genetically modified substances in food additives, which is pure madness, as we reject genetic engineering as a matter of principle.

These are procedures that could be avoided if there were greater coherence and if Parliament’s expertise and political far-sightedness could be drawn in.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Atilla Béla Ladislau Kelemen, în numele grupului PPE-DE . – Când Uniunea Europeană a votat documentul despre reforma zahărului în noiembrie 2005, România şi Bulgaria nu erau încă membrii în UE. Raportul zu Baringdorf este un raport cu caracter tehnic şi se referă la posibilitatea importării zahărului brut din ţări terţe în anii agricoli 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009 şi a prelucrării acestuia. Importul de zahăr brut este tradiţional în aceste două ţări, în special din Brazilia şi Cuba. Raportul fixează atât cantităţile cât şi preţul zahărului brut importat pentru a evita o eventuală competiţie neloială în acest sector. Singurul amendament sosit la acest raport specifică faptul că, după trei ani, aceste reglementări preferenţiale nu trebuie să se mai aplice. Atât raportul cât şi amendamentul au fost votate în unanimitate în Comisia pentru agricultură. În paranteză, aş vrea să adaug că, în ceea ce priveşte România, bineînţeles, cultivarea sfeclei de zahăr şi cotele aprobate de Comisie ar putea să fie eventual rediscutate pentru a folosi pe deplin tradiţia existentă pentru aceste culturi în anumite zone din România.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marc Tarabella, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the reform of the common organisation of the market in sugar in 2006 aimed at reducing the quantities of sugar produced within the Union for the benefit of zero-duty preferential imports from the ACP countries, India and the countries of the western Balkans, as part of the ‘Everything but Arms’ initiative.

The Commission believes, and rightly so, that, in accordance with traditional supply requirements, the sugar industry in Bulgaria and Romania should be permitted for two years to import sugar at a favourable rate of duty of EUR 98 per tonne, so that these two countries are not adversely affected once they have joined the Union and so that their markets can become stabilised within the internal market. Thus, if we are to guarantee fair conditions of competition and implement consistent rules governing imports, we should, over time, limit the amount of sugar imports that are charged a favourable rate of duty.

Following the unanimous vote on 21 March within the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Parliament should agree to the introduction of tariff quotas, in Bulgaria and Romania, on imports of raw cane sugar intended for refining, but only for the 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 marketing years. I therefore fully support the proposal made by my fellow Member, Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, to introduce quotas by means of which this twin objective of supporting the Bulgarian and Romanian industry and protecting the interests of European farmers can be achieved.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dumitru Gheorghe Mircea Coşea, în numele grupului ITS . – Propunerea de regulament al Consiliului privind deschiderea contingentelor tarifare pentru importurile de zahăr brut din trestie de zahăr este agreată de către Guvernul României, care consideră că atât cota afectată cât şi preţul pe tonă sunt în consens cu interesele industriei de zahăr din România. Studiile pe care România le-a realizat în ultima perioadă au demonstrat că atât nevoile de prelucrare, cât şi cele ale cererii pe piaţă, sunt posibil de acoperit din importul unei cantităţi de zahăr brut de 329 636 000 de tone pentru campaniile de comercializare 2007-2008, 2008-2009. De asemenea se consideră rezonabilă şi posibilitatea creşterii sau diminuării preţului de 98 de euro pe tonă cu 0,14% în funcţie de gradul de polarizare a zahărului brut importat de pe pieţele terţe. De aceea susţinem propunerea prezentată în raport. Informez însă asupra faptului că, în unele cazuri, pentru unităţile de rafinaj apare o dificultate în emiterea certificatelor de import datorită existenţei unor diferenţe de interpretare legislativă între normele româneşti şi cele cuprinse în articolul 17 din Regulamentul (CE) nr. 0318/2006 al Consiliului. Informez, de asemenea, că actualmente Ministerul Agriculturii şi Dezvoltării Rurale din România a declanşat o acţiune de simplificare a respectivelor norme pentru a facilita eliberarea certificatelor de import.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission . Mr President, I can be fairly brief. It was an interesting discussion on a very technical issue, and the rapporteur managed to mention a few other issues as well.

Regarding this whole discussion on Parliament's codecision on agricultural issues, we all know that this was a part of the Treaty rejected by two Member States. The rapporteur is aware that I have always been in favour of making the agricultural sector subject to codecision.

It is unfair to say that the Commission is not listening to Parliament. I should like to use the sugar reform as an example. We had very good and very close cooperation on that, and, as far as I can remember, as I am sure the rapporteur remembers, the restructuring fund was Parliament’s idea and it was included in the final reform. Therefore, even if we are not in codecision we are in cooperation, which, at this stage, seems to be a very good solution.

I shall not go into detail about the sugar reform. We know that there have been certain deficiencies. Next month I shall present to the Council a report that I am sure will remedy the problems we have seen up to now, so that we can achieve our aim of reducing internal sugar production by between 5 and 6 million tonnes a year before the end of the restructuring period.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12 noon.

 

22. Quota system in relation to the production of potato starch (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0137/2007 ) by Mr Wojciechowski, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1868/94 establishing a quota system in relation to the production of potato starch (COM(2006)0827 C6-0046/2007 2006/0268(CNS) ).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission . Mr President, I should like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Wojciechowski, and members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development for the work that has been carried out on this report.

I shall start by placing this proposal in its context. Since the potato starch production quotas were introduced back in 1995, we have been trying to define a strategy that could secure, enhance and promote the development of this important sector. However, over the last decade the European Union’s agricultural policies have changed dramatically, becoming more market-oriented with the decoupling of most aid payments, and reforms of the market organisations in almost all sectors.

In spite of the existence of quotas, potato starch production exceeds demand on the European market with the result that we have to export about 40% of our production into the world market, usually with the benefit of export refunds. Concerning the proposals that we are discussing today, it is of vital importance to preserve the stability of this very fragile sector while at the same time taking the fundamental changes due to the reform of the common agricultural policy into account.

The main objectives of the proposals are firstly to roll over the quotas for another two years, which will allow us to review the potato starch system in the framework of the health check. An extension of four years, as you propose in your report, would not allow us to take the opportunity to go into details with this important sector in the health check, and therefore you will understand that we cannot accept this amendment.

The second main objective is to roll over the existing quotas, which have actually provided a relatively stable market for potato starch in the European Union. I am aware that there have been repeated requests from some Member States for an increase in their quotas, and I have not forgotten the declaration made by the Council. However, an analysis of the current market situation has shown that an increase of the potato starch production quotas should be avoided at the moment. If we increase the quotas in a situation where we have over-production within the European Union, this would put even heavier pressure on the prices. We should take the opportunity to take another two years as suggested, and then, in the health check, go into details to see what a viable future for our potato starch production could look like.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janusz Wojciechowski (UEN ), rapporteur. (PL)  Mr President, this is the fifth time the European Parliament is considering the regulation on potato starch production quotas. I am proud to present the report on this regulation for the second time. It was my pleasure to do so previously in 2005.

In practice, decisions are called for on two issues. Firstly, on how long the system of limiting the production of potato starch should be extended for, and secondly on whether the production quotas allocated to individual countries should remain unchanged or be amended. The European Commission has proposed maintaining the quota system for a further two years, leaving the quotas unchanged. Many members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development pointed out, however, that two years is far too short a time period to allow for sensible planning. As a result, the Commission agreed to a four-year period.

As rapporteur, I supported that proposal. It is a sensible one, because farmers and starch manufacturers should not have swift and immediate changes imposed on them at short notice.

Starch production quota amounts are a more difficult matter. Two new Member States, Poland and Lithuania, pointed out as they already had them two years earlier, that the quotas allocated to them are too low in relation to their potential and needs. Lithuania’s quota is approximately 1 200 tonnes. This is not enough to maintain even one plant, and as a result Lithuania has ceased to manufacture starch, although it needs to manufacture around 4 700 thousand tonnes and wishes to do so. Poland is the largest producer of potatoes in Europe, or more precisely, in the European Union, but it has been allocated a quota of 144 000 tonnes. This is several times less that the highest French, German and Dutch quotas.

In my capacity as rapporteur, I proposed increasing the quota for Poland and Lithuania. Taken together, the proposed increase amounted to just under 40 000 tonnes, which is less than 2% of the total quota amount of 1 948 000 tonnes. By a small majority the committee voted against this proposal, however. Twenty members voted against it and 17 in favour.

As rapporteur, I am required to present the arguments of the majority, even though it is only a small one. I am also bound to mention the arguments adduced by the minority that tabled its amendments. There was widespread concern in the committee that increasing quotas could destabilise the market. I believe these concerns are unfounded, for the following reasons. Firstly, this is not a large increase, as it amounts to barely 2% of the total quota. Secondly, the market has changed. Although the quality of potato starch is higher, it is being supplanted by poorer quality cereal starch. The share of potato starch in total production has decreased from 25% to 20% over the last three years. This means there is actually a shortage of potato starch. Thirdly, there is an imbalance in the relationship between the old and new Member States. Ninety per cent of the quota goes to the old Member States, and only 10% to the new ones, even though the latter account for over 25% of the Union’s human capital. Fourthly, the quotas allocated are often underused. As much as several dozen percentage points are not taken up at times. If the crop fails, a shortage of starch on the market ensues. This is not compensated for in subsequent years, at least not beyond the permitted compensation of approximately 5% of the quota. Fifthly, the Commission itself has recognised the damage inflicted on Poland and Lithuania by the quota system. Commissioner Fisher Boel is present in the House today, and two years ago she herself promised that account would be taken of the special circumstances of those two countries, but this did not happen. Lastly, Europe must demonstrate solidarity not selfishness in response to the perceived needs of these two Member States that have suffered so obviously under the current system. Certain issues were closed five years ago during accession negotiations, but this does not mean that we should remain bound by those agreements forever and ignore the economic changes that have taken place since then.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I conclude, I should like to draw your attention to Amendment 8, which could be the basis of a good compromise. What it proposes is that if certain quotas are not used in a particular year, then the next year interested Member States, but only new ones, would be able to apply to the Commission asking to be allocated additional quotas up to the amount unused the previous year. In this way, actual manufacture computed over several years would not exceed the maximum limit of 1 948 000 tonnes, and the new Member States would be able to request higher quotas. I urge you to consider adopting this amendment, as it could lead to a sensible compromise.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esther de Lange, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . (NL) Mr President, having taken the oath this afternoon, I intend, in my maiden speech, to address the issue of potatoes, starch potatoes to be precise. This might almost have been foreordained, since I grew up with a father who used to like to read German children’s books to me – something which might be to Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf’s liking – and there would always be a story about ‘Die Bedeuting der Kartoffel ’ – the meaning of the potato. I have no idea who the author was, but my father enjoyed reading it to me, and the fact that my maiden speech is about potatoes cannot be a coincidence.

Joking aside, this Commission proposal is, of course, of major importance to a number of regions in Europe, including the north-east of my own country where the potato starch industry has generated considerable employment and production. This sector, and therefore the producers and their regions, stand to benefit from clarity and certainty where planning and management in their individual businesses is concerned, certainly following the sweeping CAP reforms in 2003 and given the uncertainties associated with WTO negotiations, which are still in progress.

As somebody has already pointed out, when the current potato starch system was last extended, this House would have preferred it to have been for a longer period. Whilst the Commission is now suggesting once again to extend by two years, the rapporteur turned this into three years and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development was the last one to pipe in with its suggestion of four years. This is, as I see it, a clear message in the direction of the Commission and Council. In principle, there is support for the proposed extension, but ideally for a slightly longer period of time, so that those involved know where they stand in the next few years. Knowing where you stand also means, in my view, sticking with the existing quota for that period of time. In this light, proposals to extend quotas in individual Member States do not in any event enjoy our support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogdan Golik, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (PL) Mr President, this is the second debate in the House this term on the issue of potato starch production quotas. The matter was debated previously in May 2005. Unfortunately, little progress has been made during these last two years with regard to increasing the potato starch production quotas for two new Member States, Poland and Lithuania. Despite the European Commission’s statement in 2005 that the quotas would be checked and requests for increasing the quotas allocated to those countries considered, nothing has been achieved in that regard.

I shall therefore repeat what I said in my statement two years ago, namely that the potato starch production quotas allocated by the Commission are not in line with the production capacities of Polish and Lithuanian plants, their supply of raw material and the increasing demand for starch.

Concern has been expressed that increasing production quotas amounts to opening Pandora’s box, so that if Poland and Lithuania’s quotas were increased this would lead to similar requests by the remaining Member States regarding other agricultural products. It is important, however, to bear in mind the fact that the market for starch products is constantly developing, and that demand for these products is rising. In addition, it has been noted that ever since Poland joined the European Union imports of starch and starch products have been steadily increasing. There has been a notable worsening of the trade deficit for starch, and this is due precisely to the restrictions on production.

The European Commission’s stance is that the World Trade Organisation negotiations are likely to lead to a reduction in the level of export refunds and a reduction of tariff protection for the import of tapioca starch, thus increasing the availability of starch on the Community market. The Commission has not taken into account, however, that during the period when the quotas apply, that is to say for the next two marketing years, there is practically no chance of any of the provisions of a future agreement on agriculture within the World Trade Organisation being implemented. The impact of multilateral agreements on the supply of imported starch on the Community market will therefore be negligible. I trust Members of this House will endorse Mr Wojciechowski’s report and that the European Commission will grant the requests made by the governments of Poland and Lithuania to increase their quotas.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyösti Virrankoski, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, first of all I want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Wojciechowski, for an excellent report. I would say that the potato is quite a tricky crop to cultivate. Its annual harvest varies quite considerably and its price also fluctuates greatly. The potato is also very well suited to more challenging regions, including the northernmost part of the European Union, and in that sense it is a very valuable crop. On many farms it is clearly a cash crop. For example, in my country around a third of potato starch is produced domestically and two thirds is imported, because the forest industry uses the lion’s share of it. Thus, when we examine quotas we would hope that this non-food use of the product will be taken better account of.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andrzej Tomasz Zapałowski, on behalf of the UEN Group . – (PL)  Mr President, this debate gives a pretty clear indication of the nature of the solidarity demonstrated by the old Fifteen in the context of enabling the new Member States to secure the production of potato starch, if only for domestic purposes. Despite being a traditional producer of potato starch, Poland now has to import it. A similar situation has arisen with regard to milk quotas for which the limits set by the European Commission are also less than domestic consumption.

The House recently debated the issue of soft fruits. It became obvious in the Chamber how little the Commission cares about helping the new Member States to protect their markets. The Commission is forever referring back to the accession treaties, which were negotiated under immense pressure and weighted against the new Member States where many quotas are concerned. This makes it impossible for the new Members to compete on equal terms on the Community’s markets.

Much is said in this House about the need for the new Member States to catch up in terms of development. Action such as the Commission’s insistence on maintaining production quotas which results in the closure of production facilities and in farms going out of business demonstrates that new Member States are not being treated as equal partners within the Union. If Parliament rejects this symbolic amendment once again, it will prove that there are really two Unions. All this also puts a question mark over the process of further enlargement of the European Union. Perhaps it should be slowed down dramatically?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, the quotas for potato starch were not laid down arbitrarily by the Commission, but were negotiated and undersigned by the Polish Government in the course of its accession – so there is an agreement that must be kept to. I believe that, just as other nations have their sensitivities, the Polish soul likes to complain. In my estimation, this amendment and the balancing-out arrangement will be adopted tomorrow. As you will remember, the amendment has been adopted once before, but the Commission invoked technical difficulties with implementation.

That was the case again just now in committee. I would ask that, when it comes to tomorrow’s vote on the amendment – which does not concern an increase in the overall quota, but instead a balancing-out – you tell the people you have dealing with it not how it will not work but how it will work, and thus take a rather more positive approach. This does not necessarily mean that the whole quantity to be balanced out will be made available; but showing goodwill on this – and possibly doing so within an appropriate timeframe – would still represent a reasonable offer on the part of the Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE ). – (PL)  Mr President, as we debate the potato starch production quota system we would do well to recall a couple of key factors concerning this market. The arguments adduced by those opposed to increasing quotas, alleging potential difficulties for the market and the emergence of significant surpluses of potato starch bear no relation to reality. In addition, the arguments relating to WTO negotiations are not very relevant. One of the results of these negotiations is supposed to be the end of export refunds, probably after 2013, whereas we are discussing quotas for the next two years 2007-2009.

It seems to me that not everyone is aware of the wide and varied applications of potato starch. I would remind the House that this starch is used in the food, feed, paper, pharmaceutical and textile industries. It is even used in the steel industry too. As the starch product market is growing, and the demand for many starch products increasing, I see no reason why the damaging low Polish and Lithuanian quotas should not be increased. Incidentally, there are over 600 starch products

Mrs Fisher Boel, the quality of Polish starch products is high, and they can therefore compete on the external market. Your declared aim is to make the Union’s agriculture competitive at global level, Commissioner, but how is this to be achieved if production is restricted through low quotas? If the signals from the market are that there is a growing need for this product, it would be appropriate to allow higher quotas for the countries requesting an increase. In view of the fact that the 2003 reforms aimed to make the Union’s agricultural sector more market orientated, the quotas should be increased.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marc Tarabella (PSE ) . (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to pay tribute to my fellow Member, Mr Wojciechowski, for his work as rapporteur on the quota system in relation to the production of potato starch. I should like simply to focus my speech on the amendments aimed at increasing the production quotas for Lithuania and Poland.

Indeed, while I understand the basic principle of Amendments 5 and 6 and of Amendment 7 – which is the sum of the first two, since it concerns small producers – in terms of proposing to increase Lithuania’s quota from 1 211 to 4 855 tonnes – that is, to quadruple it – and Poland’s quota from 144 985 to 180 000 tonnes, I feel that, if adopted, these amendments would open up a can of worms and give other Member States the opportunity to ask for the quotas on their produce to be revised at the highest level. I am thinking here of olive oil, milk, and an abundance of other products.

That is why, ladies and gentlemen, I shall do as I did in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and advocate the adoption of this excellent report, but without the amendments proposed for the part-session. The way the schedule falls means that we are debating this evening, 23 April, in plenary, that we are voting tomorrow at 12 noon and that, between the two, we shall be holding a working group meeting within my group, on the subject of agriculture. We shall discuss this issue further with our fellow Members in the meeting, because opinions are, all the same, relatively divided on these amendments – the shadow rapporteur, Mr Golik, would not contradict me on that. No doubt, then, we will adopt our definitive position on these amendments tomorrow morning, before the vote.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Mulder (ALDE ). – (NL) Mr President, I, too, should like to compliment the rapporteur, and, at the same time, congratulate my new Dutch fellow Member, Mrs de Lange, on her maiden speech. I did not know that the topic of potatoes was so pertinent.

I would recommend a period of four years to the Commission. Why four? I think that everyone wants some level of certainty, including farmers. Four years is also a good block of time for assessing the sugar reforms, which at the moment, is anything but clear; there is an unmistakable connection between isoglucose and potato starch. I think we will not know where we stand until four years from now, and this is why I am very much in favour of these four years.

While a few speakers before me said that they regarded Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf’s amendment as ideal, I am not so sure about that. How can you predict this year’s harvest on the basis of last year’s? Quotas cannot be transferred from one year to the next. If this is done anyway, even if the quota is too low one year and too high the next, it is of limited use, because a farmer can never predict production. In this light, I do not know if the amendment is technically viable.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański (UEN ). – (PL)  Mr President, the potato starch issue is being debated by Parliament once again, and it will go on appearing on our agenda until fair and responsible decisions are taken. Potato starch will remain a problem as long as the largest producer of potatoes in the European Union, namely Poland, continues to suffer as a result of starch production quotas and as long as the Commission continues to disregard Parliament. I would remind the House that two years ago the European Parliament almost unanimously supported the idea of reallocating quotas unused by the old Member States to the new Member States. The Commission has failed to act on that recommendation. Now it is saying no again. This comes as no surprise to Polish Members of the House. Commissioner Fisher Boel always says no when Poland is involved. Her aversion to Poland and Polish farmers is pretty well common knowledge. She does not show any mercy to little Lithuania either. The refusal to grant Lithuania an additional allocation of barely 3.5 thousand tonnes of starch goes to show how the strong can get everything they want in this Union of ours whilst the weak are reduced to begging. Nonetheless, there is a glimmer of hope. Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf’s words today testify to the fact that some Members of this House are capable of thinking in terms of society as a whole and of understanding the underdog. I am very grateful indeed to Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf for that.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Šarūnas Birutis (ALDE ). – (LT) A situation has developed that I would call paradoxical. Such things should not occur among partners.

Because of low starch quotas, factories in Lithuania are standing idle, and people are out of work. The quota allotted to Lithuania is ten times smaller than what is needed in the country. Therefore, starch has to be imported, while Lithuania's production lines stand idle. At the same time, there are countries where the starch quotas are excessive, and are not being used. Should this be tolerated in a common domestic market?

In relation to the time period under discussion, the quota of 1200 t of starch production allotted to Lithuania means that factories are only working at 9% of their production capacity. Therefore, EU institutions were asked to increase the production quota, which would have created conditions for economically worthwhile operation of the factories and a continuation of the potato-growing tradition in Lithuania. A negative reply was received.

An increase in the quotas for Lithuania and Poland would in no way harm other Member States, and it would be very important for Lithuania's economy. It would also be a display of solidarity and shared interests.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Wiesław Stefan Kuc (UEN ). – (PL)  Mr President, today’s debate on the potato starch production quota system is a splendid example of the truth of the saying according to which the rich never understand the poor. It is hard to understand why when production quotas remain unused in certain Member States they may not be reallocated to others states whose quota allocation is too small. It is even harder to explain this to farmers.

Why should the misgivings of Union bureaucrats take precedence over the logic, needs, and solidarity of the Member States of the European Union? If farmers in Denmark, France, Italy or Germany were to be badly treated, their Polish colleagues would stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The quota increase proposed by the rapporteur will not harm anyone and will not result in budgetary changes either. Failure to implement it will make it abundantly clear, however, that the Union is governed by the principle according to which ‘what is yours is mine and what is mine is untouchable’. Is this really what we all want?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN ). – (PL) Polish MEPs have been raising the issue of an increase in the potato starch production quotas for Poland and Lithuania with the Commissioner ever since Poland joined the European Union. At the Council held on 30 May 2005 the Commission actually stated that it was prepared to consider Poland and Lithuania’s submission in this regard, but only after the two-year period of validity of the present production quotas. This period is almost over. We are now debating the Council regulation on the matter but neither the Council nor the Commission has any intention of abiding by earlier statements.

There are at least three reasons why starch production limits should be increased for the new Member States, notably Poland and Lithuania. Firstly, in the framework of the current potato starch production quotas as much as 90% of the quota is allocated to the Fifteen, and less than 10% to the ten new Member States. By contrast, where potato production is concerned, the old Member States account for only 70% of production, and the new Member States for as much as 30%. Secondly, starch production in the new Member States takes place in small processing plants, which play an important role in the local economy and the development of rural areas. Increasing production quotas would therefore make a significant contribution to reducing unemployment in those areas. Thirdly, there have been major cutbacks in agricultural production in the new Member States, affecting both the plant and animal sectors. These cutbacks impact negatively on the development of rural areas.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission . Mr President, this has been a very interesting debate, clearly showing that there are huge differences between different Members of the European Parliament as regards the possibility of modifying the starch quotas for two Member States: Poland and Lithuania.

It has already been mentioned today that these quotas were allocated to the new Member States on the basis of historical production. They were accepted by all of the new Member States, including Poland and Lithuania. We have to bear in mind that we have to be very careful to keep the market balanced. I would not want to upset this balance, and nor would other starch-producing Member States.

I think that the proposal of a two year rollover allows us, as I said previously, to include the discussion on the future of quotas for starch in our health check. It will also allow us to analyse the first effects of our sugar reform, where sweeteners, also based on cereal starch, will now face fierce competition from out-of-quota sugar in the chemical and fermentation industries. I am quite sure that this might have a knock-on effect on the starch market, leading to additional pressure on the potato starch market.

Finally, I want to react briefly to the point raised by the rapporteur about the reallocation of unused quotas. This has also been included in a new amendment. It is obvious that this proposal will lead to an increase in overall potato starch production. Therefore it has to be seen in connection with the supply situation of the potato starch market, where, as I said before, currently 40% of production has to be exported. It also raises the question of equal treatment, as quotas are fixed by the same method for all Member States. I think that the Member States that have generated this shortfall want to benefit from the carry-over. So the Commission will not support the idea of a four-year rollover.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12 noon.

Written statement (Article 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Witold Tomczak (IND/DEM ), in writing . – (PL)  Mr President, can one expect to sort out the world’s problems without first putting one’s own house in order? In the European Union’s case this thought springs readily to mind, if we consider how the problems of the new Member States are dealt with.

We are today debating yet another problem experienced by the new Member States. In this instance the difficulty relates to the potato starch market and only two countries are affected. The figures clearly indicate that the current organisation of this market is artificial, unfair and fails to take account of the real situation. Poland is the leading potato producer in the Union, yet it has become an importer of potato starch. This is not because it is unable to manufacture starch, or that its starch is too expensive or of poor quality. Poland is importing starch as a result of political decisions on the size of quota allocations. We should be ashamed of these decisions, because they are irrational and nonsensical. They have led to a situation in which poorer quality cereal starch is replacing better quality potato starch. Should we really be making the Union a laughing stock and losing credibility at global level?

It has been said that clever people correct their mistakes whilst the stupid thrive on them. The current starch quota allocation most certainly classes as a mistake. I am confident that the Union is capable of correcting it. The construction of the enlarged Europe is often reminiscent of building a house from the roof down, instead of up from the foundations.

 

23. Damages actions for breach of competition rules (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0133/2007 ), by Mr Sánchez Presedo, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the Green Paper on Damages actions for breach of the EC antitrust rules (2006/2207(INI) )

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (PSE ), rapporteur . – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner Kroes, ladies and gentlemen, the existence of economic freedom, the functioning of the internal market and the sustainability of European development are inextricably linked to the competition policy. Since the Treaty of Rome was signed 50 years ago, its importance has continued to grow. Competition is an indicator of European vitality and excellence, a key policy in terms of fulfilling the Lisbon Strategy and achieving the Union’s objectives.

Anti-competitive infringements make the game unfair, impact on flows of exchanges amongst Member States and damage confidence in the rules. They reduce the Union’s dynamism and results. It is important that we have dissuasive and reactive mechanisms.

Infringements have been dealt with principally by means of public actions of an administrative nature. The centralisation of the application of Article 81(3) — through a priori control by the Commission, toned down by means of the exemption regulations from the 1980s onwards — was a victim of its own success; the demand for more and better competition revealed its economic inefficiency and its legal shortcomings.

The role of private actions was stressed by the Court of Justice of the European Communities when the 2001 Courage v. Crehan judgment recognised that anybody could have recourse to national judicial bodies in order to claim damages resulting from the actions of the infringer.

The modernisation of Regulation (EC) No 1/2003 of the Council put an end to the Commission’s monopoly and recognised a more open system, applicable in a decentralised manner by the administrative authorities making up the network of Community competition authorities and also directly by the national judicial authorities.

The possibility of private actions is nothing exotic, but rather a return to the classic jurisprudence according to which Community law imposes obligations on the States and on private individuals, and has vertical and horizontal effects that require judicial protection. Their use in the Member States – according to a study ordered by the Commission – is extremely diverse and entirely underdeveloped – unlike in the United States, where nine out of every ten application procedures are judicial. The rapporteur takes a positive view of the Commission’s publication of a Green Paper to identify the obstacles standing in the way of private actions and to find ways to remove them.

In an advanced system of competition, public action against the impunity of infringer undertakings should be backed with private actions against immunity and indemnity in relation to the damages suffered by the victims of their actions. Facilitating private actions will make the competition rules more effective. The arguments for it include both efficiency and justice. The imposition of fines is insufficient unless accompanied by private actions to prevent the infringer from gaining advantage compared to competitors as a result of the infringement and to compensate the victims of the damages caused. The report takes the view that public and private actions form two pillars with the complementary aim of safeguarding market discipline in the public interest and protecting the private interests of players on that market.

The application of Community competition law by administrative and judicial authorities must not lead to any lack of uniformity in its application. Judgments must not be allowed to vary according to the authority making it. This is a crucial point. The Community acquis and the effectiveness of leniency programmes must be maintained, public and private actions must be coordinated and cooperation amongst all of the competent authorities must be intensified.

The report proposes a Community model in line with the Union’s legal culture, which takes account of the Member States’ legal traditions. It opposes a slide towards the US model, since it is not in favour of introducing that model’s peculiar characteristics, such as judicial bodies consisting of non-professionals, ‘class actions’, punitive damage payments of three times the damage occasioned, strict requirements on the disclosure of documents and the system of lawyer’s fees and litigation costs.

We must compensate for imbalances and ensure that liabilities are met, without violating the principle of equality of arms or artificially stimulating litigiousness. The aim is to encourage the rational use of legal actions and not judicial activism, and above all to promote the amicable and early settlement of disputes.

Community competition is an exclusive competence of the European Union. National administrative and judicial procedures do not alter that and they must not prevent the existence of common guidelines for penalties, in accordance with the principles of better legislation.

I shall end by thanking the rapporteur for the Committee on Legal Affairs, Mr Doorn, for his valuable cooperation, the shadow rapporteurs for their help and the Members who have tabled amendments for their contributions.

I appreciate the constant and exemplary dialogue maintained with the Commission during the drawing up of the report and I would urge the Commissioner to carry on demonstrating her commitment in the next White Paper.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Neelie Kroes, Member of the Commission . Mr President, Honourable Members, we are here tonight to debate an issue of fundamental importance: rights.

The Court has been clear: the right to damages is necessary to guarantee the effectiveness of Community competition rules. But consumers and business customers do not use their rights. Injuries are left uncompensated, while society and the economy absorb the loss: that is just reality. That is clearly unjust, incompatible with our Community of law and at odds with our shared competitiveness objectives. The European Commission and, I believe, most Members of this House will not tolerate this situation.

Our Green Paper set out the problems. Finding appropriate solutions requires a very careful, measured approach, grounded in European legal traditions and developed through dialogue with stakeholders and, in particular, with Parliament. That is why the Commission will present a White Paper, accompanied by an impact assessment, for further discussion around the New Year.

Mr Sánchez Presedo’s report provides a wealth of pertinent input into this process. I congratulate the rapporteur wholeheartedly and thank the shadow rapporteurs and the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs for all their work. I also thank Mr Doorn and the members of the Committee on Legal Affairs for their contribution. We will give most careful consideration to all Parliament’s recommendations in preparing the White Paper.

I am aware that some are concerned that fostering private damage actions might lead to a US-style litigation culture. We will certainly take this into account in drafting the White Paper. But the scales are currently tipped against the victims. Carefully balanced European solutions need to be found. Common solutions that meet the strict tests of proportionality and subsidiarity should only be developed where national rules do not guarantee the right to damages effectively.

I have also heard it said that more private actions will create additional costs for business. We heard similar arguments years ago as regards the ‘polluter pays’ principle for the environment. The fact is that today cartels and other abuses cause huge but hidden costs. Empirical research shows that international cartels raise prices by over 20%. Recent cartel decisions by the Commission covered synthetic rubber, gas-insulated switch gear and acrylic glass. All these cartels increased input costs for business and harmed European competitiveness. The time has come to introduce the ‘competition-infringer pays’ principle. Let us not forget that, whilst some industries have to create some pollution to do business, in the competition environment there is no need and no excuse for infringements. Infringers may not like having to repair the damage they cause, but they should simply not break the rules in the first place. It is their choice.

I believe that making sure businesses and consumers do not lose out because of the illegal behaviour of some companies is worth fighting for. I sincerely hope that this week Parliament will send a strong message of support for this objective. We will discuss the detail together later, on the basis of a White Paper that will be balanced and measured and subject to the vigorous and very valuable scrutiny of this House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bert Doorn (PPE-DE ), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs . (NL) Mr President, I think it is now the third time that I am addressing this House on the topic of competition law around midnight. I am not sure what the reason for this could be, but it is uncanny that it should evidently be regarded as, in some sense, a nocturnal topic.

As draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs, I should like to make a few observations. The fundamental question is as to whether citizens and businesses that have sustained damage as a result of infringements of cartel law be entitled to damages I think they should, and so does the Committee on Legal Affairs. We think that in such cases, there should be a right to damages in the Member States, which should provide for procedures of this kind, although how they organise them is up to them. In some Member States, the government will need to establish first that an infringement has taken place. In other Member States, this will be done differently, but everything in accordance with the Member States’ procedures. After all, there is also the question of whether procedures of this kind can be imposed from Brussels on Member States in the first place. You may be able to persuade them that these need to be introduced, but whether they can be imposed is, to our mind, a different matter altogether. This is not, after all, about cartel law, but civil law, which, like criminal law, is a preserve of Member States, something in which the European Union cannot intervene. This is why we have serious doubts as to the possible legal basis that should underlie European legal measures in order to introduce procedures of this kind.

The same applies, in fact, to all those other questions and observations in the Green Paper that pertain to the furnishing of proof, for example the hiring of experts or group activities. These are all examples that fall within the scope of national civil law, in respect of which the European Union cannot prescribe any legislation. These are the principal observations that we in the Committee on Legal Affairs have made.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jonathan Evans, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – Mr President, the Commissioner indicated during her address that she was looking for Parliament to give a strong measure of support to action in this area. I want to make it clear, on behalf of my group, that we welcome the publication of the Green Paper and we are looking forward to the publication of the White Paper. We think that people’s rights in this area are not properly applied and, certainly, we want to ensure that more is done than is currently being done.

However, as the Commissioner herself has indicated, that is going to require a delicate balance, not least for the reasons that Mr Doorn has outlined, and because of the hearing organised by Mr Sánchez Presedo, in which we devoted half a day to considering these difficult issues.

For my own part, I am very committed to regarding progress in this area as an integral part of the whole of the Commission’s agenda in terms of modernisation of competition policy, so let nobody be in any doubt about our encouragement of further action by the Commission.

However, as the Commissioner has made clear, both within Member State governments and amongst the business community, there is real concern to avoid the experiences of the United States. It is not good enough just to say ‘we are not going to do what the United States did’, especially when, it must be said, after giving a considerable amount of detailed consideration to the issue, Mr Sánchez Presedo’s report goes into seeking to resolve, as it were, all these difficulties by changing the burden of proof, introducing punitive damages – at least in relation to cartels – and cost-free litigation, confusing EU and national competences, changing the rules in relation to disclosure, and cutting out of the assessment of the costs of this litigation any principles in relation to subsidiarity, proportionality or whether there is a proper legal base.

Therefore, when people ask why we are concerned about this report, it is because it has become a Christmas tree with too many bells hanging on it. We are in favour of opening the door, we are certainly not in favour of encouraging a process which may lead us down the US route, against the wishes of the Commission and against the wishes of all of those who have worked on this report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ieke van den Burg, on behalf of the PSE Group . (NL) Mr President, the Socialist Group in the European Parliament is happy to embrace the initiative taken by the Commissioner in this Green Paper. This is the very reason why we would argue that it is wise not to specify at this stage that the scope of a number of points should not be looked into further. We want the Commission to be given ample opportunity to examine a number of things properly and to follow them up with impact assessments to study their effects. After all, I can imagine that with regard to the Green Paper, we too will reach the conclusion that that is not the most obvious route to take and that indeed, a number of things need not be further elaborated or fleshed out; we do not wish to take a decision on this at this moment though. This is why we are calling on the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats to reconsider a number of those points or possibly to provide a formula which leaves slightly more room for what the conclusion should be, so as to in any event give the Commission the opportunity to look into this further. We will then also look at our own amendments in a critical light. I would hereby like to invite you to take another closer look at this tomorrow.

As for me, I should also like to address this point from a Dutch angle as we in the Netherlands are having a heated debate on this very topic at the moment; finally, people are experiencing what competition policy at European level means and how we fight these cartels, because in a recent Dutch case, the Commissioner has charged high fines to beer brewers. This is, of course, a topic on which the whole of the Netherlands assumes to be an authority. It was a very telling example, because this beer cartel involved price agreements among beer brewers, who also have enormous influence on the hotel and catering industry and as a result of which people, the eventual customers, paid over the odds for their beers, something which was already subject of discussion in the Netherlands ever since the introduction of the euro. This example, though, demonstrated once again that the fines that are then levied are first fed to the European Commission before they are channelled back to the Member States, and do not end up directly with these consumers. Hotel and catering entrepreneurs are likely to take legal action against these beer brewers to see if they can recover any of the damage, but this is of no use to the consumer, the end user. In that sense, it is very interesting as an example to see how headway can be made; after all, the eventual end user is being conned by cartels of this kind. This example also proves my point, and so I should like to call on this House to keep the door open and to find out how we can let the consumer, the end user, benefit more from this cartel policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sharon Bowles, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – Mr President, when we first discussed the Commission’s Green Paper, I felt like a kind of latter-day Cassandra forecasting all kinds of woes. Perhaps I fared better than Cassandra in that you, Commissioner, and the rapporteur took some of my concerns seriously – I hesitate to call them ‘predictions’. My concerns, though perhaps only gently – maybe too gently for some of my colleagues – are embedded in the report that we are debating. So I can support giving you scope to explore the options of both follow-on actions and stand-alone actions. I can share a vision of mutual recognition of decisions, but I make it clear that that lies in the future, not right now.

My main remaining reservations concern the question of how much of a carrot has to be offered to get the system to take off, particularly for stand-alone actions. And you may note the report on that subject that has just come out in the UK. If the carrot is too large, whether for the consumer, the lawyers or competing companies, I fear that, however we craft our rules, we are at risk of being pushed towards some of the worst aspects of damages actions that we hear about from the United States. I say ‘pushed’ because that is how it happens. Nobody goes there voluntarily. With the whole of the EU as the territory for the victor, a very fine balance has to be struck.

Another of my priorities would be to ensure that actions are well founded and that we do not end up with the kind of blackmail actions that happen in the United States. I agree it will be difficult to get it right and account will have to be taken of national differences in legal practice and tradition, but if we can succeed it will be a very useful tool and well worth having. I look forward to the White Paper too, but I warn you that I may not have put my Cassandra’s robes away yet.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pervenche Berès (PSE ).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, you have a difficult task ahead of you because I can see that opinions will differ greatly on both sides. On the one side, you will have the support of a number of consumer associations, which will welcome your proposal. On the other side, you will have many interest groups, which will denounce the risks of such an approach in the field of competition law.

Nevertheless, since you are proposing an initiative in an area of yours relating to anti-trust, you are operating at a level at which the Commission’s inaction will no doubt be challenged less than it would elsewhere. I am thinking in particular of the way in which the Commission assesses a given merger proposal.

In the area of anti-trust, there is, in a way, more scope for a broader agreement between the Member States and the public players. The basic idea, then, is to supplement public action with private action. We are still only at the preliminary stage, and we can clearly see that the path will be full of pitfalls. There are those, like Mr Doorn, who imagine that the Commission does not have to give its opinion on initiatives in this area, because all of that is meant to come under the civil law of the Member States. Then, there are those – I believe that all of this evening’s speakers have voiced opinions along these lines – who are worried about the potential for such an initiative to be abused and, when we think about abuses in this area, everyone has in mind the abuse of the US system, where the victims whom the defence claims to help are in reality – if I dare say so – the cash cow of the legal professions. Clearly, no one in this Chamber wants to see European competition law engage in such a scheme.

You have announced to us a White Paper, and you have announced to us an impact study: once again, we shall examine your proposals with the aim of helping you, with the desire to make competition law better able, by way of these proposals, to address Europeans’ concerns and to fulfil what they might normally expect from a just application of competition law.

Once again, however – and I am not the first person this evening to have said this – anything that is liable to involve us in an abuse of procedures that helps put money into professions which, incidentally, find many other ways of guaranteeing turnover, would not have our support. It is in this spirit of openness and with the concern, often demonstrated in this Chamber, to protect consumers’ rights, that we shall support and examine your proposals.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Diana Wallis (ALDE ). – Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for her initiative, and the rapporteur for his report. I want to concentrate on possible consumer actions, so-called collective or representative actions. These should not be the big bogeyman for business that they are often portrayed as. If we want informed and responsible consumers who do not need over-nannying by the state, then the companion of that approach of treating consumers like grown-ups is that we must allow them to take action together to get redress. After all, why should the state alone be the enforcer in anti-competitive matters? It is the consumer who loses as a result of anti-competitive behaviour, but often gets no redress or compensation.

There is nothing astounding in proposing this: the right to take action is already acknowledged by the ECJ. What we have to do is to facilitate this, make justice accessible to those who lose and ensure that compensation is distributed in an equitable manner, not just to the privileged few.

This has to be the complementary approach to having informed consumers, giving them real power through increasing justice and redress. Indeed, this should assist the better functioning of our internal market. Consumers are often the best judges of what is anti-competitive. We should have no fears about harnessing this force for the general good.

Everyone is absolutely clear that we do not want US-style class actions, so now is our unique opportunity to design something European which respects European values of our society and justice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Neelie Kroes, Member of the Commission . Mr President, honourable Members, over 40 years ago in van Gend [amp] Loos , the Court gave EU market players and citizens the rights they need to play a central role in our European project. The legal environment in which the victims of antitrust infringements currently find themselves is not acceptable. I got the message that everybody agrees on that. I would like to thank you for the stimulating debate here this evening on how we might gradually improve this legal environment, and I look forward to Parliament’s vote on the report. So far, so good.

I would now like to respond to a few issues raised in our debate this evening. Mr Doorn raised the question of legal base. That is important and quite clear. At the stage of a Green Paper, and in the absence of any Commission proposal, it is rather premature, if you will allow me to say so, to discuss the question of legal base at this stage. The Treaty offers appropriate, specific and general legal bases for measures in this area and I imagine that we could agree upon that. However, a pertinent base, and hence the applicable procedure, can only be identified in line with the nature, objectives and scope of any individual measure possibly envisaged after the White Paper. I will, however, consider the extent to which it may be appropriate to say something about legal bases in the forthcoming White Paper. So, there is still something to look at there.

I am aware of the need to be sensitive as regards national procedural rules. There is no doubt about that. That is quite a clear warning. On substance, we already have one uniform European competition law, and by their very nature, breaches of the antitrust rules have a cross-border impact because they affect our internal market, and that is what we are protecting. It makes sense to me that the right to compensation should also be equally enforceable throughout our internal market.

It is only to the extent that the procedural rules of the Member States do not guarantee effectively the substantive rights conferred by the Treaty that the Commission may seek some approximation of these rules. Any measures proposed would have to meet the strict tests of subsidiarity, proportionality and necessity. The White Paper will be accompanied by an impact assessment, as I have already said.

Mr Evans mentioned the need to avoid encouraging a litigation culture and the risk of unmerited claims being brought. The Commission is encouraging a competition culture compatible with our existing European legal cultures. We will pursue a measured and balanced approach, because like you, we are determined to avoid opening the door to the excesses which some other jurisdictions have experienced. But fear is a very bad adviser. None of the key characteristics of US antitrust litigation is suggested as an option in the Green Paper.

Many of those of support facilitating damage actions, like Mrs Bowles, stressed the need to avoid tilting the scales too much in favour of claimants. However, these same commentators also recognised that the scales are currently tipped against the victims of antitrust damages, and hence that something should be done. The Commission is striving for a proportionate and measured approach developed in consultation with stakeholders.

Mrs Wallis mentioned collective actions for damages claims. Given the costs of litigation, it is unlikely that individual consumers will bring small-value damages claims against the perpetrators of competition law infringements. So it is worth looking at options for collective redress, as she rightly mentioned. The Green Paper looks at representative actions brought by consumer organisations. So let us be clear – and I repeat – US-style opt-out class actions are not on the agenda and will not be on my agenda.

In opt-out class actions, lawyers act on behalf of an unidentified class of persons and mainly pursue their own interests. In representative actions, the latter have no separate interest different from that of the injured parties they represent. The Commission thus believes that the interests of consumers are better served by a representative action than by an opt-out class action, and I hope this will also reassure Mrs Berès.

Your involvement signals the importance of the debate launched by the Green Paper, and is a reason for hope, as we are all aware that there is something to be done. There is no doubt about it: the devil is in the detail.

I should like to leave you with two key messages. First, I hope that this House will send out a strong signal that the current situation is not acceptable and that is what I have got from you. This is all about rights, and this House has been a consistent supporter of rights across all policies and all areas of European cooperation. We have to give European citizens and European businesses the ability to exercise their rights under European competition laws. This is an area in which the Community can show its relevance to the daily life of citizens and to business.

Second, it is by working together in dialogue, through ideas and constructive criticism, that we will be able to make improvements, at the same time avoiding the known pitfalls. I look forward to taking this process forward with the White Paper at the turn of the year.

Thank you for the interesting debate and thank you especially, rapporteur, for your hard work on this important file.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 12 noon.

 

24. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes

25. Closure of sitting
  

(The sitting was closed at 00.05 a.m.)

 
Last updated: 6 July 2007Legal notice