Index 
Debates
Tuesday, 15 January 2008 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Opening of the sitting
 2. Documents received: see Minutes
 3. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 4. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (announcement of motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes
 5. Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012 (debate)
 6. Application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community (debate)
 7. Consumer credit (debate)
 8. Voting time
  8.1. (A6-0517/2007 , Jacek Saryusz-Wolski) Partnerships in the framework of the stabilisation and association process (vote)
  8.2. (A6-0506/2007 , Bogusław Liberadzki) Amendment of Directive 95/50/EC (implementing powers conferred on the Commission) (vote)
  8.3. (A6-0513/2007 , Paolo Costa) Abolition of discrimination in transport rates and conditions (vote)
  8.4. (A6-0497/2007 , Ulrich Stockmann) Airport charges (vote)
  8.5. (A6-0406/2007 , Johannes Blokland) Export and import of dangerous chemicals (vote)
  8.6. (A6-0515/2007 , Csaba Őry) Application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community (vote)
  8.7. (A6-0494/2007 , Jorgo Chatzimarkakis) CARS 21: A Competitive Automotive Regulatory Framework (vote)
 9. Formal sitting - Grand Mufti of Syria
 10. Voting time (continuation)
  10.1. (A6-0481/2007 , Piia-Noora Kauppi) Tax treatment of losses in cross-border situations (vote)
  10.2. (A6-0518/2007 , Glenis Willmott) Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012 (vote)
 11. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
 12. Agenda
 13. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting
 14. Multiannual framework for the Fundamental Rights Agency for 2007-2012 (debate)
 15. Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (debate)
 16. Disturbing situation regarding waste in the Campania region (debate)
 17. Question Time (Commission)
 18. Adult learning: It is never too late to learn (debate)
 19. Commission measures in 2008-2013 to make use of CAP remote-sensing applications (debate)
 20. Status of elected MEPs in Poland (debate)
 21. Explanations of vote
 22. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 23. Closure of the sitting


  

PRESIDENCY: RODI ΚRATSΑ-ΤSΑNGΑRΟPOULOU
Vice-President

 
1. Opening of the sitting
  

(The session begins at 9.00)

 

2. Documents received: see Minutes

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

4. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (announcement of motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes

5. Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012 (debate)
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  President. – (EL) On the agenda for discussion, we have the report by Glenis Willmott, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, concerning the Community strategy for 2007-2012 on health and safety at work (2007/2146(ΙΝΙ)) (A6-0518/2007 ).

 
  
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  Glenis Willmott, rapporteur . − Madam President, health and safety at work encompasses a vast array of issues. At a simple level, it is about reducing accidents at work and work-related illness. For the individual, it is about his or her physical integrity, dignity and well-being. For businesses, it is about reducing the costs of absenteeism, sick pay and loss of productivity. For society as a whole, the costs of poor health and safety at work have been put at an astronomical 3.8% of gross national product.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, signed last month in this very Chamber – despite the disgraceful outburst of certain UKIP and Conservative MEPs – provides in its Article 31 that everyone has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity. It also provides that every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that every year over 140 000 people in the EU die from occupational diseases and nearly 9 000 die from work-related accidents. These figures mean that every three and a half minutes somebody in the European Union dies from a work-related cause. That means that, in the short time I have been speaking already, it is possible that somebody has died and, by the time this debate is finished, it is probable that 20 people will have died.

Some of our colleagues may contest the fundamental right to good health and safety at work, but I am sure none of them would question the right to life. A health and safety at work strategy for the EU should be strong on properly implementing and enforcing the existing regulatory framework. What we already have in place is largely very good, but it does need to be consistently enforced throughout the Union. However, this does not mean that, where existing legislation is clearly inadequate, we should not update it in order to make it work properly and provide the best levels of protection possible. It also does not mean that we should react to suggestions for legislative instruments like a vampire does to garlic, as some would do in this House.

Of course, no one would argue that the legislative route is always the best. However, there are cases when binding rules are necessary in order to ensure that a new or emerging risk is properly and consistently addressed in all Member States. The Commission communication is to be welcomed and applauded for its target to reduce work-related accidents and its strong focus on SMEs. However, we also need to focus on occupational illnesses which have a huge cost in terms of workers’ health, the cost to businesses and their productivity and to society as a whole through associated social security and health care costs.

The report reflects this and urges the Commission to ensure that occupational diseases are correctly identified and remedied, with a particular focus on occupational cancers, with a view to setting targets for their reduction. We also need detailed action plans with financial and timing commitments. Besides the targets for a 25% reduction in accidents, there appear to be few ways in which progress can be monitored and measured. Priorities for action identified in my report include a carrot-and-stick approach to enforcement of existing legislation. I would like to see the Member States reward business for good health and safety with tax rebates and a preference in calls for tenders and the introduction of a bonus-malus system in insurance policies, as well as other financial incentives. However, I would also like to see tougher sanctions for those rogue employers who neglect the health and safety of their workforce, as well as more infringement proceedings against Member States who do not adequately implement and enforce the existing health and safety legislation.

Any health and safety strategy should naturally focus on those who are most at risk. Such vulnerable groups include migrant workers, who are often exploited, as well as young and ageing workers, who need special attention, and those with disabilities. It is essential that the 1989 Framework Directive be rigorously applied to these groups and other workers who are often ignored, such as agricultural and health care workers, when drawing up and implementing their strategies. The Member States need to take full account of these groups. We need a framework directive on musculoskeletal disorders to address a problem such as lower back pain – repetitive strain injuries, effectively – and lower back disorders.

There are lots of other issues I would like to raise but we are running out of time, so I look forward to hearing other colleagues and what the Commission has to say.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − (EL) Madam President, honourable Members of the European Parliament, I would like first of all to thank Mrs Willmott for the excellent report which she has prepared on the Community strategy on health and safety at work.

The Commission places a high policy priority on health and safety at work, and shares your views on a large number of your recommendations.

Indeed, I would like to emphasise that it must be a Community strategy and not merely a Commission strategy. This is truly the only way to achieve the fundamental and ambitious aim, which is a continuous and sustainable reduction in occupational accidents and diseases. One of our foremost concerns, therefore, will be the participation of as many sides as possible at political, operational and institutional level.

The Commission’s strategic aim of achieving a 25% reduction in work accidents in the European Union in the years 2007-2012 does indeed require the active participation and commitment, not only of the public administrations, but also of the social partners with their responsibility, at workplace level, for preventing accidents.

It is very important to stress the commitment which the Member States entered into with the Council resolution of 25 June 2007: to develop and apply strategies for public health and safety at work, geared to national conditions, in cooperation with the social partners, and also to set national, measurable targets for reducing accidents at work and the incidence of occupational illnesses, especially in those sectors of activity in which the rates are above average.

The Commission is particularly pleased with the European Parliament’s response to its communication, and with the support for the general priorities and lines of action set out in that communication.

I have noted Parliament’s concerns regarding the need for adequate planning and distribution of resources, and regarding the assessment of progress, and submission of progress reports, in respect of the strategy targets.

The Commission will provide details and the exact plan of the special measures to be taken at Community level, on the Community Agenda scoreboard. We will also secure the participation of the Advisory Committee on Health and Safety at Work, within the framework of a three-way exchange of information on the content of the national strategies, the targets, the actions undertaken, and monitoring of progress made. Parliament will be promptly informed of the results of this procedure.

As regards your request for a review of Council Directive 91/383, I would like to inform the honourable members of the European Parliament that the departments of the Commission are at present analysing the situation in various Member States on the basis of a study prepared by an external consultant. In 2008, a relevant report will be drawn up, and the Commission will decide what further action to take in this area, taking account of the conclusions of the report.

As regards the request for review of Council Directive 92/85, I would also like to inform you that the departments of the Commission, after consulting the European social partners on possible amendments to that Directive, are now carrying out an impact assessment to determine the consequences of certain amendments to the Directive. If, on completion of the impact assessment, the Commission decides to submit a relevant proposal, there is little doubt that this proposal will be approved by the Commission in 2008.

I share your view on the need, within the coming period, to improve the enforcement of Community legislation on health and safety, especially for SMEs, with a combination of measures which will give balanced emphasis to employer responsibility and worker participation.

As regards occupational health, I expect the new strategy to be a further step towards creating a healthier work environment throughout the EU, where the needs of an ageing employee population will be met and the more vulnerable groups will be fully protected. The Commission will intensify its efforts in the direction of adequate definition of health indices and other statistical measures, to ensure that occupational health hazards are properly monitored.

We are confident that the priorities set out in the Community strategy 2007-2012, and those set out in the report which you will approve today, will open the way to safer and healthier workplaces in the European Union.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer, Draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality . − Madam President, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality stresses in its opinion that the most significant health problems presented by women and caused by their working conditions are musculoskeletal disorders and psychological problems, on the one hand. On the other hand, it stresses that the need to analyse the risks that women and men face and take appropriate measures does not mean the reintroduction of protective policies of exclusion, nor does it mean developing different jobs for women and men.

Even though the framework of Community occupational safety and health (OSH) directives is neutral in its approach to gender, it is not a sufficient reason for work-related risks to women’s health and safety to be underestimated and neglected compared to the risk to men’s health and safety, both in terms of prevention and research.

Workers, male and female, across the European Union are exposed to different risks in their workplaces: chemical, biological and physical agents, adverse ergonomic conditions, a complex mix of accident hazards and safety risks, together with various psycho-social factors. Therefore, women and men do not constitute a homogeneous group. Consequently, strategies and measures to improve OSH must be specifically adapted to particular workplaces, taking into account the fact that some factors might affect women and men differently.

The opinion also stresses new risk factors such as harassment, violence and bullying by clients at the workplace, mainly in public service sectors that employ mostly women. Finally, it emphasises the need to consider the introduction of hazard, risk and prevention concepts in school curricula and the educational systems in general as an effective means of building a strong and sustained preventative safety and health culture.

 
  
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  Thomas Ulmer, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, may I express my thanks to Mrs Willmott for the fair and constructive nature of our cooperation in committee. The report reflects the high priority attached to health and safety at work in the 27 Member States of the European Union. The key safeguards are emphasised and weighted. The cost of accident prevention and safety is high, but let me stress unequivocally that good health is priceless. The important points are that the provisions should be transposed and applied in all Member States and that the European Union should help Member States to transpose the rules and should offer them advice rather than meting out punishments.

I believe that particular attention should be focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, which need assistance in this field if they are to remain competitive. In this respect we call on the Commission to create the appropriate basic conditions for SMEs in cases where these conditions do not yet exist and to improve them where they do exist. The protection afforded to employees must not depend on the country in which they work or the size of their company.

In the brief time at my disposal I only wish to list a few points of particular importance, such as better protection against hepatitis and AIDS and the continued systematic removal of asbestos from workplaces, however complex and expensive that may be. I believe we must focus on hepatitis B and especially on those people who run a high occupational risk of infection by hepatitis viruses, in other words medics, paramedics, carers and first aiders.

In the realm of first aid, efforts must also cover those people in many Member States who, in addition to their daytime jobs, perform unpaid voluntary work with the emergency services. I believe it was very important that the report stuck rigidly to the subject and avoided citing examples, which might well have engendered prejudgement of many issues.

Thank you for our fruitful cooperation. The EPP-ED Group endorses the report.

 
  
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  Pier Antonio Panzeri, on behalf of the PSE Group .(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on 6 December 2007 an accident at a ThyssenKrupp factory in Turin caused the death of seven workers. That extremely serious incident shows that the safety problem has certainly not yet been resolved.

The tragedy in Turin also raises another matter for consideration in this Chamber. We would have expected this multinational to conduct itself properly, but that was not the case. Italian newspapers reported yesterday that in a confidential document drafted by a senior manager of ThyssenKrupp following the tragic steelworks fire, and seized by the magistrates’ court, the survivors interviewed after the accident were described as workers setting themselves up as heroes and stars on television. There are no words to describe that allegation other than as a disgrace.

It would be very important if this Parliament, as also the Commissioner, aside from all formalities, could and would express their indignation towards ThyssenKrupp. What happened in Turin happens to some extent everywhere and, on the basis also of the very good Willmott report, underlines the need for a commitment to a very real reduction of accidents and deaths at the workplace.

 
  
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  Elizabeth Lynne, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – Madam President, this is a very good report and I wish to thank the rapporteur for her cooperation.

I am pleased that the report talks about better implementation of the current directives. I also welcome calls for better inspection. There is no point in Member States paying lip-service to implementation, as many do in the field of health and safety, and then, quite often, calling for more legislation, even if the scientific and medical evidence does not establish a risk.

One area which does require legislation – and we called for this in 2005 – is prevention of the more than one million needlestick injuries that affect healthcare workers each year across the EU. Imagine the horror of being accidentally pricked by a needle and then having a horrendous wait to see whether you have contracted a serious infection, such as HIV or hepatitis B!

The Commission must heed our call and bring forward an amendment to the 2000 Biological Agents Directive. In some areas, exchange of best practice is probably enough, which is why I am pleased that my amendments on health care-acquired infections were adopted in committee. Infections like MRSA are serious not only for hospital patients, but also for hospital workers. Rates of infection vary considerably between Member States. For example, the rate of infection in the UK is 10 times higher than in the Netherlands. We need to know why, and how we can learn from best practice. That is why, in one of my amendments adopted in committee, I called for an EU code of good practice on health care-acquired infections, and for the screening of all health care workers to be encouraged across the EU.

 
  
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  Sepp Kusstatscher, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Madam President, let me begin by thanking the rapporteur, Mrs Willmott, for her excellent work and especially for having been so willing to compromise. More than 160 000 people are killed and some 300 000 incapacitated every year in the EU because of industrial accidents and occupational diseases. That is too many. In this society of ours in which the individual is often regarded as a mere production factor, too little emphasis is placed on the human aspect of this problem. The state, by which I mean legislatures and governments, must ensure that purely profit-driven business operators bear the social cost of exploitation. That is the only way to ensure that the necessary priority is attached to health and safety at work.

Public opinion tends to take more notice of industrial accidents than of the wide diversity of occupational diseases. More extensive and vigorous efforts are needed to redress the balance. Improvements cannot be achieved without close scrutiny, in other words inspections and analyses and the setting of precise targets for reductions in the incidence of occupational diseases, including new illnesses affecting those who work in fields such as nanotechnology.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . – Madam President, adopting this report on health and safety at work would add yet more bureaucracy and red tape, just when I thought the Commission were intending to reduce that!

Workers losing time through illness and injury put up the cost to the enterprise concerned and hence their prices. In an EU of free movement of goods and services there is more competition, so those who do not look after their workforce lose business. People off work through illness also raise the cost of social benefits, contributing further to a rise in prices. It is therefore in a company’s best interests to keep its workforce in good health.

Good ideas always spread, so that should not be too difficult. This depends, of course, on there being a free market, but of course, if like some members of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs you think this leads to the law of the jungle, then you have another serious illness to contend with. Apparently, Member States which promote a free market are psychiatric cases.

 
  
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  Jean-Claude Martinez (NI ). – (FR) Madame President, the suicides of Renault and Peugeot workers in France and the thousands of cases of lung cancer among people whose jobs involve contact with asbestos are clear evidence that health at work is a problem.

In response, the European Commission has produced a communication elevated to the status of a ‘health strategy’, which in fact reads like something from Walt Disney – a resolution drafted by Snow White for the Seven Dwarfs. And it really is quite touching. In paragraph 35, for example, we are told that we need healthy lifestyles at the workplace; paragraph 29 is about encouraging medical examinations; paragraph 54 urges the installation of fire sprinklers; in paragraph 49 we read that stress is a threat to health; and recital D suggests, low and behold, that fatal accidents are more common among construction workers than among senior European civil servants.

Luckily, the rapporteur for the Committee on Industry has solutions to offer, including the employment of a psychologist and a chaplain for every 500 employees.

We are actually told nothing, however, about the causes of occupational illness – of which there are three. The first is the ideology of dismantling protection at our borders, thus placing our workers in unfair competition with Asian slave labour. The only way our industries can survive is by going all out for higher productivity, at the expense of health.

The second problem is the daft policy of the strong euro, making us uncompetitive in terms of exchange rates. The only variable left to adjust is productivity, which is forced up once again, and once again health is compromised.

The third cause of our troubles is the neurotic philosophy of competitiveness – in effect an economic war between Europe and Asia or Europe and Latin America. But wars result in casualties and deaths, and the victims in this case are the people afflicted by occupational illness and accidents. In other words, the European worker is out there like a bull in the global economic arena, stressed and bloody and giving his all, until his health has gone. The solution is to take our workers out of that global arena with its unfair rules, and that will require new customs technology for deductible customs duties.

 
  
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  Romano Maria La Russa, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to give an overview of the key points of this strategy and discuss the recommendations contained in my opinion. Guaranteeing equal social coverage of all workers regardless of the form of contract, speeding up bureaucratic procedures for small and medium-sized undertakings, and providing incentives, including financial incentives, for training are aspects of primary importance.

To discuss only those aspects would, however, be less than generous towards those who rightly call for explanations and justice in face of dreadful tragedies such as the one that occurred a few days ago in Turin, to which Mr Panzeri referred a moment ago. During the night of 6/7 December, a fire that spread through the ThyssenKrupp factory killed seven workers; the fire extinguishers were not working. It was only later that it emerged that the factory did not comply with safety regulations! The European Parliament and I myself cannot fail to record that disgrace.

I certainly do not intend totally to condemn the conduct of the German multinational or even imagine that the factory, however guilty, maliciously and deliberately failed to comply with the safety requirements in order to save money. I will not espouse the ideological arguments put forward by some Italian left-wing union members who, on learning last June of the closure of the factory, set themselves up as champions of safety and declared that they were responsible for and took care of safety at the factory. However, the moment has not yet come to make judgments, especially hasty ones.

While respecting national competences in the matter, I do consider it urgently necessary for the European Union to guarantee that laws are implemented in full, first and foremost by reinforcing the inspection activities of the Agency for Health and Safety at Work, and to strengthen the coordination between the various national agencies by improving the functioning of the European Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE ). – (EL) Madam President, there is no doubt that health and safety at work contribute to quality management, economic performance and competitiveness, and that they help in the development of the economy, and in the achievement of budget targets, including the budgets for the social security schemes. Of course, beyond all these technical matters, there are humanitarian reasons which make it not only necessary, but also a matter of priority, to protect the health of employees and ensure that workplaces are safe.

The strategy for 2002-2006 has given positive results, and the prospects for 2007 onwards are positive if we all play a part - not only in terms of European planning, but also at the corresponding national level - in monitoring and planning for health and safety, especially in the vulnerable categories, which means young people, older employees - whom we are calling on to participate in production for a longer period of their lives - and also women, who are likewise called on to participate in working life. A working life with new demands, fragmented into many different kinds of contract, self-employment, and small and medium-sized enterprises which lack the capability of large enterprises to impose proper working and safety conditions. It must therefore be the concern of all of us to manage national and Community resources correctly, as the Willmott report proposes, so that the desired results can be achieved.

 
  
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  Maria Matsouka (PSE ). – (EL) Madam President, I would like to begin by congratulating our colleague Mrs Willmott, because her report has to a large extent covered the serious gaps in the Commission’s communication.

Dignity at work means health and safety at work. It means carrying out studies on the prevention of occupational risks, and it means employers providing preventive medical check-ups. It means lifelong learning, vocational education and training. It means health and safety as key criteria for commercial agreements with third countries. But if these proposals are to carry any weight, a basic requirement is, of course, continuous social dialogue, but above all, we need to confront the fundamental threats overshadowing the area of labour relations.

I am referring specifically to the spread of poverty among employees, the rapid growth of unofficial forms of employment, and the increase in working hours. If there are no fully human-centred policies capable of reversing this new employment “dark ages”, social clashes are inevitable.

 
  
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  Adamos Adamou (GUE/NGL ). – (EL) Madam President, the measures proposed by the European Commission for strategy until the year 2012, are mostly superficial and concentrate on ensuring that competitiveness is not affected.

The target of reducing accidents by 25% by the end of the strategy period may look impressive, but in reality it is completely inadequate. The target should be to lay the groundwork and reinforce the institutional interventions by the state, so that the tragic death toll of thousands annually - and similar numbers with serious health problems due to the quality of their working environment - comes closer to being eliminated. The rapporteur focuses rather on the exploitation to which employees are subject, such as those working in hazardous jobs, women, temporary workers, immigrants, the elderly, and proposes stricter measures against employers, and guaranteed supervision.

One of the most significant contributions of the report is perhaps the finding that permanent employment is a requirement for combating accidents and work-related illnesses.

In addition, apart from accidents, more attention should be given to the causes behind the onset of mental illnesses, addiction, and the psychological hazards of the workplace.

What is needed, then, is a many-sided approach to all the factors affecting health and safety in the workplace.

 
  
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  Jiří Maštálka, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group . – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I must admit that when I read the Community strategy for health and safety at work 2007-2012, which was presented last February by the European Commission, I was in many ways disappointed. Even though the Commission set out in this strategy a relatively ambitious target to reduce the number of industrial accidents by 25%, the strategy contains only a very small number of concrete initiatives and recommendations as to how to achieve this target. In addition, it focuses again mainly on industrial accidents, which are of course only one aspect of work-related health problems. Occupational diseases are somewhat neglected. This is, in my opinion, a step backwards.

On the other hand, I must thank and congratulate Mrs Willmott on her report on this strategy. The report, unlike the Commission’s document, contains many concrete proposals and recommendations as to how to achieve better results in the field of health and safety at work. I am pleased that the rapporteur is also stressing the need to define cancer correctly and to express cancer numerically as an occupational disease, to specify the targets for the reduction of this severe disease. Up to now only 5% of cancer cases caused by work were classified as an occupational disease.

I have greatly welcomed the incorporation in the report of my amendment, which I tabled in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on the need to secure for the general public free access to technical norms. This is a problem employees of many Member States are constantly struggling with and one that should be rectified.

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM ). – Madam President, if we are going to reduce workplace accidents, we need to know how they happen. We cannot study all accidents and all near misses but, let me tell you, a 19-year-old Irish lad died on a construction site because his lighter Japanese bulldozer had heavy European shovels. His death was registered as a construction death and the Irish Health and Safety Authority never looked any further. So how can we save the next person that drives a tractor with mismatched equipment? Because we do not know.

We cannot investigate everything, but we can look at all fatal and debilitating accidents, especially those in the most dangerous sectors like agriculture, fishing, construction and transport. We need to break it down to make practical measures. Also, aside from risk jobs, we have very vulnerable sections of the workforce – elderly, disabled and workers who do not speak the language of their present workplace.

 
  
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  Luca Romagnoli (NI ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first I too want to express my sympathy following the tragedy that struck the workers in the Turin factory; I believe it is indisputable fact that there are too many deaths from occupational accidents in Italy because not enough is being done to prevent them and comply with the rules.

Responsibility for this is shared equally between undertakings, unions and inspection agencies. We find undertakings that resort to illegal workers, especially from non-EU countries, or factories such as ThyssenKrupp, with their old-style industrial arrogance; those who should be defending the interests of the workers often consent to, if not connive in such situations, instead of being vigilant and quick to point out failings in the safety system to those in charge; finally, the works inspectorate and other bodies in charge of control and monitoring often fail to show much initiative.

We must promote safety at the workplace in the EU and in that respect the Willmott report is more satisfactory than the Commission proposal. I believe that when we speak of work and industry, we must not confine ourselves merely to ensuring freedom of competition and competitiveness.

 
  
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  Iles Braghetto (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, people are still dying at the workplace. In an area where man should be able to demonstrate his ability to manipulate matter with force and creativity, to develop his knowledge and earn his living, we all too often find instances of death and threats to life and limb.

That is why there is such anger and bewilderment in Italian public opinion about the seven workers who died in the fire at the ThyssenKrupp factory in Turin last December and why we must ask ourselves what was not working properly in that factory, so that we can avoid these disasters. We are responsible for such inadequacies in every place of work.

Today we have highly-advanced legislation designed to support an appropriate preventive policy, define the obligations incumbent on undertakings and deal with new occupational diseases in Europe. What we lack, however, is adequate controls, inspections to ensure the laws are observed, staff and financial resources. We still do not have a culture that values the importance of rigorous preventive services, that regards prevention as a continuous process rather than as a one-off obligation, that establishes a continuous dialogue between the parties concerned with a view effectively to developing high safety standards, and that can spot the emergence of new psychosocial occupational diseases.

In conclusion I also believe we must come back to the subject matter of the Green Paper on corporate social responsibility, which is a cohesive and innovative aspect, in relation to the commitment to reduce occupational accidents and diseases.

 
  
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  Richard Falbr (PSE ) . – (CS) To start with I would like to thank Mrs Willmott for her very carefully prepared report. It is stated that the Commission’s objective is to reduce industrial accidents by 25%. I do not believe this will be possible. There is an insufficient number of work inspectors and they have insufficient tools at their disposal to make changes. The influence of the trade unions is being permanently reduced; in many countries they no longer take part in investigations into the causes of industrial accidents and eradication of their consequences. Further, there is the jungle that is the employment of workers by agencies, and there is also the pressure for constant expansion of so-called flexibility in the working time of employees. This leads to employees working many hours and the accident risks are increasing .

 
  
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  Ewa Tomaszewska (UEN ). – (PL) Madam President, the draft resolution emphasises the social responsibility of companies for health and safety at work, while paying attention to the issue of honest competition. It takes into account the great importance of dialogue between social partners, particularly the role of trades unions in improving safety in the work environment.

It also draws attention to the need for special treatment of small and medium sized enterprises in the strategy for improving health and safety as well as the need to provide ongoing training to employees. The majority of accidents involve persons who are just starting work, who are lacking experience, as well as persons who have too little time for rest after work.

It contains important comments concerning the rehabilitation and integration in the workplace of persons returning to work after an accident, as well as requirements concerning non-discrimination as regards access to work for persons with cancer. I would like to congratulate the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz (PPE-DE ). – (PL) Madam President, we have been debating the European labour market strategy in this house for some years. We have many opinions as regards the direction our activities should take. There are those who favour a profound harmonisation of employment legislation, others who defend the view that the natural diversity in European labour markets is advantageous for the EU economy.

As you know, my views on this matter favour the second view, with one important exception. This exception concerns the regulation of health and safety at work. I believe that, in this area, the active involvement of EU institutions is both justified and necessary.

Following the most recent extension to the EU we can see an even greater diversity of work conditions. This diversity is both territorial and environmental in nature, as, whatever the country, the majority of work accidents and work-related illnesses affect such groups as migrant workers, young employees or older persons. I do not want to imply that these are groups that are subject to targeted and conscious discrimination. It is rather a consequence of insufficient education and lack of experience. All the more reason for providing appropriate work and safety conditions for just these workers.

I would also like to point out that, in any Member State, we can see greater problems in complying with the highest safety standards at work in such sectors as construction, agriculture and transport. It is in these sectors above all that small and medium sized enterprises are found and their financial, organisational and legal capabilities make it difficult for them to comply with high health and safety standards. It is just these companies that require support from the European Union, from EU institutions and from the governments of Member States, and this support is needed urgently. It is not just a question of sanctions and increased monitoring. These instruments, which are of course essential, should be accompanied by investment in the education both of employees and employers as well as financial support for improved and safer workplace equipment.

 
  
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  Gabriela Creţu (PSE ). – (RO) We welcome the good intentions of the Commission; however, we are in doubt as to their effectiveness.

Accurate statistics concerning occupational diseases are required in order to maximize policy impact and to protect workers. Existing data are incomplete, either misjudging phenomena or ignoring reality. Women are the main victims of this shortcoming, primarily because they are more involved in informal, or "grey", economy.

In this sector, the effects of working conditions on health are not recorded at all. The existing legal framework maintains an approach which lays emphasis on accidents and hazards in the so-called “heavy”, male-dominated branches of economy.

We call on the Commission for a more careful consideration of the specific differences between male and female employees and for an assessment of the availability of data broken down by gender and data concerning the long-term effects and psychological consequences of employment.

To substantiate our request, we would like to invite you to take a tour of a textile factory. Sight and hearing can be significantly impaired, and the prevalence of circulatory disease is high. Statistics ignore the situation. This is so-called "light" industry, where most of the workers are women, and wages are also low because there are supposedly no risks involved. Thus, current statistics preserve the historical inequality between men and women, including the gender gap in payment.

 
  
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  Harald Ettl (PSE ). – (DE) Madam President, a Community strategy for health and safety at work is absolutely essential. While technical health and safety measures are effecting rapid improvements, the meteoric pace of change in the working world poses new risks. The problems and hazards involved in working with new chemical substances are self-evident.

First and foremost, however, the increasing pressure to perform which characterises the contemporary workplace creates not only physical problems but psychological problems too. Insecure jobs and people’s fear of losing their livelihood lead to psychosocial problems. New potential for aggression builds up, new stress factors lead to mental abuse, and bullying becomes a common occurrence.

SMEs are particularly susceptible to such contemporary phenomena unless these are curbed by means of countermeasures, information, supervision and training. Accordingly, this resolution is more important than is probably recognised. I congratulate the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Madam President, health in the workplace must be given priority. Our Parliament buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg are among the places where more action is needed. Just take the ambient temperature in this chamber, which borders on a health risk. I also believe in the power of good example.

A few months ago I was stranded in a hotel in Greece as a forest fire raged all around, and I must say that the hotel, a typical SME, had prepared for that eventuality in the most exemplary fashion. Had not all the safety precautions been perfectly devised, well organised and properly drilled, many of the people there could probably not have survived. That is why I believe that great importance attaches to this learning process to which Mr Ettl referred, this training and preparing for emergencies. Incentive systems would also be useful in this respect; insurers, for example, could allow appropriate discounts on premiums to companies with trained staff, and social-insurance schemes could also offer relevant training courses.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE-DE ). - (SK) As a Member of the European Parliament and a physician, I welcome the Commission’s plan to reduce industrial accidents within the European Union on average by 25% and I am aware of the need to implement more effective measures in all the Member States, among which there are huge disparities.

Besides sectors such as metalwork, the construction industry, electrical work or forestry, I would also like to highlight the high-risk jobs of doctors and healthcare staff, who in their jobs are exposed to huge risks of infection and AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis and many other infections. I also regret that the reduction in the number of industrial injuries and occupational diseases in particular did not include, for example, migrant workers, workers with temporary contracts, workers with low qualifications, and women in certain companies, such as small and medium-sized companies.

I would highlight the provisions in some countries that successfully implement comprehensive rehabilitation after an accident as a condition for successful return to the labour market.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE ) – (RO) As ITRE rapporteur for this document, I have asked for the active promotion of involvement in European trade unions and I have called on the Commission to propose a legal framework that would encourage social partners to engage in cross-border bargaining.

The European Commission and the Member States could provide funding for training labour representatives which would defend and promote workers' rights to safety and health at the workplace.

We also asked all Member States to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the protection of migrant workers and their families and to coordinate the improvement of access to training, particularly for part-time workers and contract workers, to enable them to secure more stable employment.

I believe that Member States should enforce the measure required for difficult or dangerous work to be recognised as such and reflected in the social protection of a person both during employment and after retirement.

 
  
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  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE ). – (RO) A European strategy on health and safety at work is a welcome initiative on the part of the European Commission. However, I believe that further aspects should also come under scrutiny. As one of the previous speakers very aptly pointed out, we should take into account that there is a special situation concerning immigrants on the European labour market.

A recent study of the European Commission shows that migrants are exposed to much higher degrees of risk concerning health and safety at the work place. This is due both to the prevalence of illegal work, and to other factors such as: lack of awareness of social benefit and pension entitlements in Member States, and problems in the cross-border use of health insurance.

Such matters fall within the Community remit, and the Commission should be closely monitoring the application of European laws, so as to improve the precarious circumstances of migrants.

Moreover, European funding could be used for training additional labour protection inspectors who would identify failures to comply with health and safety regulations at the work place.

 
  
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  Stephen Hughes (PSE ). – Madam President, I would like to speak about needlestick injuries, because I was responsible for the 2006 report on this issue. I wonder whether the Commissioner would agree with me that, where a risk is identified that needs to be tackled at European level, then there is a need for the Commission to ask expeditiously.

If he does agree, I wonder whether he can explain why it took a full year for the Commission to manage and assess the first round of consultation with the social partners on needlestick injuries, even though there were only 10 responses in that consultation.

I wonder whether he can also assure us that work on this issue will proceed faster in the year ahead. One million workers a year are affected by needlestick injuries. That means around one and half million will have been affected since the report was completed by Parliament. Could the Commission please act a little faster in future?

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − (EL) Madam President, I thank all the speakers for their very positive contributions.

Indeed, every accident, every injury, every death at work, such as those which occurred last December in Turin in Italy, reminds us that more needs to be done to protect the working men and women of Europe. It reminds us that more has to be done to achieve our ultimate aim: to make Europe a safer place to work.

The new strategy is aimed precisely at reducing today’s unacceptable level of work accidents and occupational illnesses.

I would like to emphasise that, taking account of the available human resources, one can say that the current allocation of personnel will allow the Commission’s departments to perform their duties properly in this area. Within the framework of the overall deployment of human resources allocated to the field of employment and social affairs, the Commission will be constantly assessing the workload in the various specialised areas, and will allocate staff accordingly.

I would also like to mention, on the issue of needleprick injuries, that we are preparing a relevant proposal for an amendment to the Directive, which we shall submit in 2008.

Again, I would like to thank this House for this discussion and for approving Mrs Willmott’s report.

We have seen proof, once again, of the European Parliament’s strong policy support for the principle of keeping health and safety at work high on the agenda - for the benefit of the economy, and also as a guarantee that employees will return safe and sound to their loved ones after work.

 
  
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  Glenis Willmott, rapporteur . Madam President, I should like to thank my colleagues for their comments and to make just a couple of points.

Firstly, on the issue of cancers, it is necessary to revise the Carcinogens Directive to reflect technical progress and changes in scientific knowledge in the world of work. It is important that we have effective binding limits for carcinogens, mutagens and substances toxic for reproduction. Limit values should be based on scientific evidence, and I would urge the EU Scientific Committee to examine crystalline silica as a matter of priority. I would urge colleagues not to delete reference to this and oppose Amendment 6.

Secondly, the report calls for nanotechnologies to be monitored and potential risks to health assessed, and I would urge colleagues to oppose Amendment 5, which seeks to delete this. I fully recognise the potential benefits of nanotechnologies. Nevertheless, the rapid growth of such technologies is outstripping our understanding of the potential occupational health risks: workers can be exposed to nanoparticles through inhalation, dermal contact and ingestion, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand and refuse to carry out research and assess whether there are any risks.

Thirdly, I would just like to reiterate the call for the Commission to bring forward a legislative amendment to the Directive on risks from biological agents at work in order to address the problem of needlestick injuries. This needs to be done as a matter of urgency.

As I mentioned earlier, health and safety is a fundamental right included in the Charter. We need a strong EU strategy to ensure that this fundamental right is upheld and that workers throughout the EU are adequately protected. Each single accident and each work-related illness constitutes a breach of a worker’s fundamental rights.

We all know there is a strong economic case, as well as good business reasons, for good health and safety in the workplace but, more importantly, the strongest argument has to be the cost to human health and the lives that can be saved. One life every three and a half minutes – who can argue with that?

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – (EL) The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today, Tuesday 15 January 2008, at 12 p.m.

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) I should like to begin by congratulating the European Commission on its Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012, and on the work achieved by our Parliamentary Committee. Every year, almost 500 000 people die or suffer permanent disability for work-related reasons, and we must applaud the European Commission’s goal of achieving an average 25% reduction in work-related accidents in the EU. I support the idea of increased activity by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in Bilbao (Spain). In this matter and, more generally, in the development of social Europe, I regret the fact that neither the report nor, moreover, the Communication from the European Commission stresses that it is essential to support the social partners; we must always remember that under the existing Treaties, with Articles 137 ff. of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) (and this has been confirmed by the Lisbon Treaty that is in the process of being ratified), legislative instruments are available to the latter to facilitate the development of European social law.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 

6. Application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community (debate)
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  President. – (EL) On the agenda for discussion, we have the report given by Csaba Öry on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, concerning the application of social security schemes to wage-earners, non-earners and members of their families moving within the Community (COM(2007)0159 – C6-0104/2007 – 2007/0054(COD) ) (A6-0515/2007 ).

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − (EL) Madam President, honourable members of the European Parliament, the document submitted to you today is the latest Regulation amending Regulation 1408/71. This is the well-known Regulation on the coordination of social security schemes. For more than 30 years, this Regulation has formed the basis for coordinating the national social security schemes. In recent years, an effort has been initiated to update and simplify this Regulation and the Regulation implementing it. Parliament has already approved the new Regulation 883/2004, and the remaining instruments which are required for its implementation are already under negotiation. These are the implementing Regulation and the text of the Annexes. Pending the entry into force of these new legislative instruments, it is necessary to update the validity of Regulation 1408/71. This new technical update is therefore submitted to you. It applies only to the text of the Annexes to the Regulation, and aims to take account of the changes made to the national legislations.

It is important that this text should be approved without delay, so that Regulation 1408/71 can be updated, ensuring legal certainty and observance of citizens’ rights.

I would particularly like to thank the rapporteur Mr Őry for the cooperation between our two institutions. As he clearly stated in his report, a vote on this act on first reading will make it possible to adopt it without delay. In this spirit, the amendments have been drawn up, including the technical changes made by the Council. On the other hand, he has not included, at this stage, the discussions which can more fruitfully be held in the context of examining the implementing Regulation, for which the rapporteur is Mrs Lambert, or the text of the Annexes, especially Annex 11, for which the rapporteur is Mrs Bozkurt.

There are some who would like to seize the opportunity given by this report, to address wider issues - for example, trans-border health services. Despite the obvious concern about these issues, I do not think it is advisable to examine them within the scope of the present technical update. A limited but pragmatic approach to the technical update is a better safeguard for citizens’ rights. I would particularly like to thank Mr Őry for this.

The Commission is in favour of amendments 1 to 6, 9 and 11, which bring the original text into line with the Council’s general orientation, and in favour of amendments 7 and 8, which regulate a particular difficulty which arose recently in a Member State, the Netherlands, after the health insurance reform came into effect. On the other hand, the Commission is not in favour of amendment 10. The imprecise drafting of this amendment does not allow proper management of the specific situations which it aims to regulate. The amendment calls into question the rules of priority in the field of family benefits. Such an amendment would have legal and economic consequences far beyond the Member State concerned.

Thank you for your attention, and once again I congratulate the rapporteur on his contribution and his excellent cooperation.

 
  
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  Csaba Őry, rapporteur . − (HU) Madam President, Commissioner, allow me to say a few words about the legislation before us and its significance, before I move on to the smaller matters surrounding the proposed amendments.

As the Commissioner said, it is true that this is very old legislation. It was born in 1971 and has traditionally played a prominent role ever since, as a secondary regulatory instrument for the fundamental right of freedom of employment within the Union. It cannot be denied that the right of free movement of labour recorded in the Treaty would be worth very little in itself if citizens looking for work in other Member States could not have access to the social security systems, or if the portability of rights could not be ensured.

In connection with movement within the Union, workers who take significant risks must not suffer any disadvantage with regard to social security and fundamental social rights. Only then can free movement of labour play an important role in equalising the Union’s labour markets, which the Union’s economy needs.

On the other hand, we should also see and note that Regulation 1408, which we are now discussing, can only fulfil its function if we continuously harmonise it with national legislation. However, questions on social policy, employment and movement of labour basically belong to and affect national competences. This is why it has been, and is, necessary to constantly amend and supplement the legislation from one year to the next.

This is crucial legislation, since it looks as though we are just agreeing on different wording, but in fact this affects people, people’s destinies and people’s everyday problems. Therefore, as legislators, it is still our duty, even if we know that this text will only be in force for a very short time because, as the Commissioner has already mentioned the new Regulation and the new Directive already exist. They have already been born.

Until we produce the implementing regulation, the interests of legal security require that we continuously update and adjust the wording to changes in the national legislation. A good example of this is the first proposed amendment, where in Hungarian law the concept of ‘close dependant’ was amended in the Civil Code, and now an opportunity has opened up for us to adjust the European wording to this.

However, this also related to the proposed amendments affecting the Netherlands, where likewise it very clearly concerns people’s destinies, and where there is doubt regarding entitlement to various social benefits for the families of soldiers serving abroad. This is clearly unacceptable and must be added.

We did, however, find a solution to this problem during the Commission’s work, by accepting the verbal proposal by the Council and incorporating it into the text. There is therefore no problem here, as I feel that the tenth proposed amendment mentioned has also borne a reassuring solution, since the Dutch government has undertaken to notify the relevant citizens in a clarifying circular, so there is now no need for this proposed amendment to be adopted by the Parliament.

There was, however, a need for cooperation, so I would like to thank the participants, my fellow Members who submitted amendments, the Council and the Commission. Thank you very much for the floor, Mr President.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO
Vice-President

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (NL) Mr President, as Mr Őry has just said, mobility in the employment market is of the utmost importance. In fact, the coordination regulation we are discussing today brings the adjustments to the laws of the Member States into line every year.

The Member States should actually have to test every law or every amendment to social security or tax law to check whether it is also Europe-proof. Then there would not be too many problems. With a clear result, it would not be necessary to make adjustments later on.

Together with Mr Őry, I have tabled a number of amendments and I think really that Members should each look at their own Member States when the time comes for the annual adjustment to see whether everything proposed in the administrative consultation has in fact been brought into line with the real situation in Europe.

We have tabled two or three amendments. The first two, Amendments 7 and 8, relate to health insurance for members of the families of military personnel resident in Belgium or Germany. Dutch military personnel are not covered by the Health Care Insurance Act and so members of their families could not be insured either and therefore had to join a scheme that became more and more expensive. The Dutch Government has written to the House asking the European Parliament to adopt the amendments, because that is the quickest solution.

The third amendment – Amendment 10 – concerns the Dutch law on child care. A family that lived in the Netherlands and worked on the other side of the border was not entitled to a child care allowance. That has also now been resolved by a change in the law.

That means that, through our perseverance, we have achieved quite a number of things for many people. I am also grateful to my colleagues for not allowing themselves to be deterred by all the second reading arguments, but backing us up so that we have been able to achieve a great deal.

 
  
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  Joel Hasse Ferreira, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, firstly I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Őry, on his balanced report. Secondly, I would like to stress how important it is for the European Union’s various social security schemes to be coordinated and improved, and adapted where necessary. It is quite clear that a number of what we consider to be essential amendments have been tabled to allow an informed debate as part of a process facilitating the approval of Mr Őry’s report at first reading.

Social security questions in Europe clearly involve much more than the problems this report seeks to resolve and the associated regulatory practices. The issue here, however, is to take account of the changes that have taken place in social security legislation in states such as Ireland, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and Austria in order to ensure effective modernisation and adaptation.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we know, discussions are in progress in parallel on the introduction of the new regulatory system, particularly the negotiation of the respective implementing regulations. We welcome the rapporteur's position in this case too, and we understand and share the view that only a limited number of absolutely essential amendments should be supported, as we said in committee. These amendments seek to guarantee the necessary legal certainty so that the new regulation can best be brought into force. I have meanwhile learned that Mr Őry has withdrawn the amendment concerned for the reasons explained.

In conclusion, Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, what is most important is to help to ensure, in the field of social security too, proper implementation of the principle of worker mobility in the European Union, which was reaffirmed at the Lisbon summit and throughout 2006, the European Year of Mobility. Without such mobility of labour and without proper coordination of the social security system, European workers will have limited opportunities to move in labour markets. That is what we do not want, and we therefore support this report.

 
  
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  Ona Juknevičienė, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (LT) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees citizens’ freedom of movement and residence. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union guarantees the freedom to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work. However, we know that in practice there are still many obstacles preventing citizens from making full use of these rights in the Community. Since 1971, the regulation we are discussing here has been considered the basis for guaranteeing social security for citizens moving from one Member State to another. The regulation, as was mentioned, has been applied for more than 30 years and its provisions are amended quite frequently with respect to national legislation. However, this regulation lays down the general principle that all national governments, social security institutions and even courts have to comply when applying national legislation. Thus it is ensured that people who make use of their right to move to other countries within the Community will not suffer when different national legislation is applied.

Social security systems differ greatly from country to country and although the regulation is frequently amended it does not aim to unify systems but to generalise them. Therefore, it is gratifying that in this way it is possible to protect the most vulnerable citizens of the Community, such as women, pensioners and the disabled as well as their family members. I believe that this document helps to unify not only the EU Member States but also the citizens. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I earnestly urge you to vote for it.

 
  
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  Wiesław Stefan Kuc, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, freedom of movement, work and residence throughout the European Union are some of the most important benefits gained by our citizens. For this reason their social insurance situation constitutes one of the most important issues, especially now, when there has been a movement of peoples such as has not been seen before in Europe, a migration much supported by all EU institutions.

I understand that, taking into consideration the implementation of the amended Regulation on social security schemes (at present the 1971 Regulation is still in force), we are trying only to change that which it is necessary to change and to adapt it to the changes that have been introduced in certain countries.

However I believe that we have not taken advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself and we have not amended the Regulation in accordance with the direction proposed in the new one. Even though four years have already passed since the draft of the new Regulation was approved, it has still not come into force, and the old one is now over 37 years old. It may be better to carry out thorough improvements to that which is already in existence than to wait for the new one, as time is passing and people are becoming impatient.

 
  
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  Jean Lambert, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – Mr President, I too would like to thank the rapporteur for his work on this. I know that this often seems like a very technical piece of work, but these rapid annual updates are important because they offer transparency for citizens about their entitlements. It also means that certain individuals can be covered more quickly.

I would also like to stress – as others have done – that this is a coordination, not a harmonisation. Often that means that certain things which seem very reasonable are not necessarily acceptable within the coordination’s very limited scope. I think we also need to be clear that this coordination is not intended to undermine national systems and open them up to market forces – as I think we are beginning to see, particularly in the health sphere at the moment.

As others have mentioned, the implementing regulation for the update is in progress, but we already know that certain issues are not going to be covered. I think we need to find a solution for these outside the scope of this coordination, and I would urge the Commission to look at this: for example, when tax revenue is increasingly being used to underpin social security systems and people working abroad find that they are paying tax to contribute to a social security system to which they no longer have access.

I would also urge – as Parliament did some time ago – that national practice come into line with the spirit of the regulation so that we do not find, as is happening in France at the moment, that certain individuals are now no longer able to access systems to which they have been paying because of changes in national regulations.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE ) . – (CS) Commissioner, there is no doubt that it is necessary to approve the technical changes that are proposed in the annexes to this regulation. By doing so we will harmonise the regulation with the new terminology in some countries. However, I would again like to point out that European legislation has already for several years contradicted the rulings of the European Court of Justice on more precise specifications of rules regarding the claims of patients to reimbursement for the cost of healthcare provided abroad. The contradiction is most marked with regard to hospital care and extends to all judgments: I would stress that it relates to all of them not just those cases where the Council has already achieved consensus. It is true that patients have their rights upheld if they turn to the European Court of Justice, but this legal status is not acceptable.

I would like to remind you again of the wasted opportunity to amend by an appropriate method the claims of insured persons when preparing the new, simplified Regulation (EC) No 883/2004. An opportunity to amend the principles set out by the European Court of Justice in the Services Directive, which came up two years later, was also wasted. Now another year has begun and we are making only technical, not conceptual changes. The new implementing regulation may solve this issue, but it does not look that it will solve all matters, because the Council did not agree on all issues. In addition, the situation may be complicated because DG SANCO is now presenting a proposal for a new directive on patient mobility. That is why the Council can expect controversial negotiations. One topic that causes controversy is the dispute over subsidies. We can also expect further delays as regards the establishment in law of the citizens’ right to have hospital care reimbursed. There are differences of opinion over the level of reimbursement and conditions of authorisation by an insurance company in one’s country of origin.

In my view, this situation is very undesirable from the point of view of legal certainty, accessibility and citizens’ understanding of the law. Some countries are solving the problem by not informing their citizens about the claims granted by the judgments of the European Court of Justice. I am convinced that it is necessary to solve this problem as quickly as possible by amend Regulation (EC) No 883/2004. We should not rely on the controversial new directive on mobility from DG SANCO to secure, without further delay, compliance with the judgments.

 
  
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  Emine Bozkurt (PSE ). – (NL) Mr President, I thank Mr Őry for his excellent work. In the short time I have to speak, I should like to underline one point. Not everything that is wrong with the coordination of social security systems can be blamed on the legislation. Many of the problems that occur are caused by the implementation of the rules, something for which the Member States themselves are responsible.

A number of those practical problems have come to light during the work on the Őry report. That is precisely the case when it comes to coordination; not only must the legislation be correct, its practical application must also be consistent with it. I therefore welcome the fact that from time to time the Council Presidents consult with Parliament, for instance on Annexes XI and VI to Regulation No 883, on which I myself am rapporteur.

It is certainly of the utmost importance that the work by the Council on this regulation and the annexes should be completed within this Parliament mandate. I wish future Council Presidents every success with that.

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski (UEN ). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to support Mr Őry’s report. It is very good that the EU is coordinating social security schemes, as, in the enlarged European Union, millions of persons work beyond the borders of their own countries. The most numerous of these are my own countrymen, Poles, of whom over 2 million now work in various Member States.

From one side the fact that workers can move about freely is encouraging, but, from another, we are saddened by the ever-increasing number of instances of foreign workers being treated badly. In some countries instances of criminal treatment of Polish workers have come to light, forcing them into slave labour. Polish workers are becoming victims of racially motivated attacks. This has happened in the United Kingdom, and, most recently, in Germany – the Polish media have described cases of brutal attacks on Poles in the German town of Löknitz in Mecklenburg.

These are serious events and we would expect all Member States to take more steps to protect foreign workers from exploitation and persecution

 
  
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  Gyula Hegyi (PSE ). – (HU) With the collapse of Europe’s borders and changes in lifestyle, there are several million European citizens who were born in one country, have worked in one or more other countries and would like to spend their retirement in yet another country. They pay their social security contributions in another place than where they will reap the benefits later.

Equality of competition conditions also requires that social security services are harmonised. In the long term, it is therefore inevitable that a standardised European social security system will be created, including a pension system, health insurance and welfare benefits.

A working group of the Hungarian Socialist Party has recommended that this vision be incorporated into the long-term programme of the Party of European Socialists. Harmonisation will naturally take time and legal disputes, but I am sure that, in the Europe of the future, the future belongs to standardised social security.

 
  
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  Petya Stavreva (PPE-DE ). – (BG) Mr. President, distinguished colleagues. For a united Europe, harmonisation of social legislation and coordination among the EU Member States in respect of social security schemes is key, since freedom of movement is one of our core values.

Anyone wishing to work in an EU country needs to be well aware of their rights and responsibilities; similarly, Member States need to protect the social rights of their citizens and ensure most favourable working and living conditions. The social security status of citizens working in EU countries has a direct impact on Community welfare and on its economic performance.

In Bulgaria, as one of the new Member States, the issue of social security is particularly topical. I believe that harmonisation of social security at the European level will ensure clearer and more simplified rules for European citizens. I support Mr. Őry’s report and urge you to support it by your vote.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − (EL) Mr President, the point about this document is that it will be approved quickly, with a view to strengthening legal certainty for citizens.

We know that the regulations on modernisation and simplification are under approval, and therefore the present proposal would lose much of its point if we were to delay it.

On the need to incorporate the recent decisions of the Court of the European Communities into our legislation, I would like to say that this is a technical matter and must be discussed within the framework of discussion of the Regulation to be enforced.

The Commission has to a large extent already taken account of the Court’s recent case-law in its proposal for trans-border healthcare, which is to be discussed soon in the Collegium of Commissioners.

A favourable vote by the European Parliament on this document will enable the Commission to concentrate its efforts in future on updating and simplifying the texts. We still have a lot of work ahead of us before the new texts begin to be enforced. This effort will in the long term facilitate exercise of the rights of citizens moving within the European Union, and so this fundamental aim of European unification will take on a more concrete form.

Allow me once more to express my thanks to the rapporteur for the excellent work he has done.

 
  
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  Csaba Őry, rapporteur . − (HU) Thank you for the floor, Mr President. To close, it is perhaps worth summarising a question hiding in the background to this debate – several people have mentioned it, including Mrs Lambert and Mrs Bozkurt.

As a matter of fact, while I was preparing this report, we never discussed any questions of content, because we always agreed on it. What we did discuss was where it is the competency of European legislators and where it is the competency of national legislators. I would like to assure you that in this case we managed to strike this very fragile balance.

We therefore spoke to the Commission and the Council about all the proposed amendments. Sometimes a debate emerged eventually, and sometimes frequently, but we found the solution. Let this be a lucky or a good example that we can even work together from time to time if we need to. The fact that we do need to is evidence for us, but I also feel we should not doubt that the citizens of Europe also need us to.

For my part, I have not tried in the report to recommend far-reaching changes to the text, simply because we are waiting for reports by Mrs Bozkurt and Mrs Lambert on Regulation 2003. I therefore feel that the legislation remains in force for now – we have perhaps improved on it a little – but we will continue the debate when we produce the implementing regulation, and I feel that this is right and proper.

I would like to thank the Council, the Commission and my fellow Members again for their cooperation.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11.30 a.m.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE ) , in writing . – (RO) The Regulation that we are amending (No 1408/71) plays a very important part in achieving one of the four fundamental freedoms of the European Union, that is, freedom of movement. Free movement of labour in the European Union must not be restricted either directly, by restricting the professional categories open to the nationals of other Member States, or indirectly, by undermining the social benefits to which non-national employees are entitled.

For this reason, the regulation proposed by the Commission with additional amendments made by Parliament will clearly specify when citizens may enjoy the special benefits granted by their State, under what circumstances these benefits may be exported, and whether other social schemes apply, so as to ensure fair treatment for non-nationals. Moreover, if we are to extend the categories of employment contracts used in Europe, we need a common understanding of what sole trading or self-employment entails.

Not least, I believe that this report helps to safeguard the social rights of citizens working in another Member State. Removing obstacles to the recognition of social rights will lead to more mobility within the Union and increased employment.

 

7. Consumer credit (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the recommendation for second reading of the report by Kurt Lechner, on behalf of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, on the common position of the Council with a view to the adoption of a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on consumer credit and repealing Directive 87/102/EEC (09948/2/2007 - C6-0315/2007 - 2002/0222 (COD)) (A6-0504/2007 ).

 
  
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  Kurt Lechner, rapporteur . − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Kuneva, ladies and gentlemen, obtaining credit is a different matter from purchasing goods. The legal complexity of the transaction is far greater, and established national financing practices and legal traditions play a far greater part. Accordingly, public trust is often crucial in matters relating to consumer credit. Against this backdrop, harmonisation of the law on consumer credit has its limits and should be done cautiously and gradually.

As the weaker party to the contract, the consumer must undoubtedly receive legal protection, but at the same time the guiding principles in this field, as in the law of obligations in general, must be freedom of contract and the personal responsibility of grown-up people, not prescription and paternalism. National legislators must have enough discretion to guarantee consumer protection flexibly in their own countries and to deal quickly with awkward new developments in the sphere of consumer protection. A body of legal provisions alone does not ensure that consumers are actually protected. Impact assessments would have been essential, given that consumer credit affects hundreds of millions of people. Legislation should be based on typical case scenarios and not on exceptions.

In this respect, I must first of all thank the European Parliament as a whole for rejecting the Commission’s totally unacceptable initial proposal and for amending it substantially and decisively at first reading. Secondly, I welcome wholeheartedly the new approach adopted by the Commission in its amended proposal dating from 2005, whereby only specific fundamental elements would ultimately be harmonised.

I must, however, criticise the Council’s common position. Instead of focusing on a sound practicable European solution, the representatives of the Member States have been introducing their own specific rules, defending them and compiling a litany of them in the compromise. The result is a set of provisions that create far too much red tape. That is no good to consumers. Swamping consumers with information does not help them. It generates considerable additional costs, which have a disproportionately strong impact on small amounts of credit.

Accordingly, my aim from the outset was to try to streamline the rules and give national legislators more leeway. In this context I would like to thank my honourable colleagues, because all the votes in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection went in that same direction, and all the decisions of this House seem set to do likewise.

Let me just cite two key examples, namely the substantial improvements and slimmed-down provisions regarding overdraft facilities and the emerging arrangement on Article 16 in respect of compensation for early repayment. In spite of these improvements, however, I believe that the emerging majority is only prepared to go halfway, no doubt partly influenced by the absence of consent in the Council and by the desire to bring the legislative project to a conclusion. I nevertheless consider it imperative that additional improvements be made if the proposal is to be judged favourably in its entirety.

I wish to mention two other points that are important to me and to seek your approval once more. Firstly, the threshold at which the directive starts to apply should be raised to EUR 500. I am well aware that the value of that amount varies throughout Europe. The point, however, is not that the directive should only apply once the EUR 500 threshold has been crossed but that national legislators should retain the option of applying their own provisions from the first euro rather than being bound to restrict their action to credit of 500 euros or more.

Secondly, consumers should have the option of waiving the prescribed explanations regarding pre-contractual information, one reason being that these explanations could hamper the internal market. I do believe it ought to be enough to provide the consumer with a copy of the terms of the contract in advance in order to satisfy the pre-contractual information requirement – which is, incidentally, what the Commission envisaged in its own proposal. That would limit the stacks of paperwork.

Unless these changes are made, I fear that the desirable aims underlying this directive, namely to open up the single market to consumers in Europe and give them a wider range of products and options, will not be achieved.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − Mr President, the vote in this House on Wednesday on the Consumer Credit Directive is a very important moment for Europe’s 500 million consumers.

It will directly affect many people’s lives, and it is about two critically important issues. The first is about consumers being able to make better-informed choices when they take out credit loans: to pay for a family wedding, a washing machine or a new car – the things of life.

Second, it is about consumers getting more choice and a more competitive market. It is also a very important vote for businesses, creating a single, simple framework of rules so banks and other creditors can do business more easily across borders.

We need to seize this opportunity to move forward. It is clear that the status quo is not working. The figures speak for themselves. In Europe the average consumer credit interest rate varies from around 6% in Finland, the cheapest Member State, to over 12% in Portugal. In Italy, credit rates are about 9.4%, in Ireland about 6.8%.

Europe’s consumer credit market is fragmented, broken down into 27 ‘mini markets’. And, in a European credit market worth EUR 800 billion, direct cross-border financial services make up only a tiny fraction – 1% – of all distance credit transactions.

Clearly, the internal market is not functioning. Clearly, competition at EU level is not functioning. The result is that consumers are being denied choice and more competitive offers, and competitive businesses are being denied opportunities to access new markets.

The Consumer Credit Directive is necessary to start to break open the potential of the internal market and boost competition and choice. There are two main aims of the Consumer Credit Directive: to provide standards – comparable information – to consumers to make informed choices, and to give businesses a single set of standards to sell competitive credit offers across borders.

The Consumer Credit Directive focuses on transparency and consumer rights. I will highlight just a few of the important common elements it puts in place. Concerning advertising for credit loans: if there is a figure in an advertisement on credit, it will be mandatory to provide the same standard list of essential information all over the European Union.

Most importantly, for the first time, the annual percentage rate of charges will be calculated in the same way across the European Union. This is a very significant step forward, so that consumers can see the real cost of credit using one single figure.

Concerning pre-contractual information: information given to consumers for credit offers will be presented in the same standard credit information form across the EU, and it will give all the key facts and figures – from interest rates to information on charges and linked insurances. This will allow consumers to make a direct comparison between different offers presented in a standard, comparable way.

The Directive also sets out two essential rights for consumers. Once they have concluded the credit contract, consumers will be able to withdraw from the credit without having to give any reason and without any charge. This right, a new feature in almost half of the Member States, will apply to all consumer credits in the European Union.

In addition, the Consumer Credit Directive confirms the consumer’s right to switch, and this must be a very stable policy line – not only in this area. The right to switch with the right to repay early at any time: this is a critically important issue for the Commission, to ensure fair compensation to banks and at the same time to safeguard the consumer’s right to make a free choice and to proceed to a more competitive offer on the market. This is essential if competition is to thrive.

I fully recognise that harmonising legislation in this very sensitive area is not an easy task, but I am convinced that markets are made by people and should be made to work for people, and I believe that we in Europe are in the business of putting people at the centre of the market, giving people the power to chose, giving businesses the power to compete, and getting the European market to work for consumers.

I want to emphasise that, in the modern world, it is not about pitching consumers against business, but building healthy markets where consumers can choose and businesses can compete.

I believe that the amendments put forward by the PSE and the ALDE Groups – with which the Council has agreed – constitute a fair and reasonable compromise.

In my opinion, this is the best option in the interests of both consumers and financial services providers. I believe that the vote for this compromise package is a vote in favour of competitive markets, clear information and more informed consumer choice.

It is a modest beginning in the consumer dimension of financial services, where much needs to be done. So I look to the Members of this House: you are the ones to speak directly, on behalf of European citizens; you have fought, for so many years, for the things that really matter to people in their daily lives.

The task is to vote to support an agreement today on credit rules that will provide real added value to Europe’s citizens in that space where they lead their lives and to send a clear signal of Europe’s willingness to roll up our sleeves and work in an area that greatly concerns our citizens and businesses, large and small, today.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – Mr President, I wish to begin by acknowledging the huge amount of work done by the rapporteur for our group, Mr Lechner, and also to pay tribute to both the Commission and the Council for the work we have done together on what has been a difficult and sometimes controversial proposal, which, as the Commissioner has said, has gone on over a number of years.

At its core – and here I agree completely with the Commissioner – is an extremely important proposal for Europe’s consumers in the internal market. Consumer credit is a really important mechanism for bringing consumers into the market place. We want a thriving and innovative market; we want companies actively offering a wide range of products and services tailored to the need of consumers to buy specific articles, products or services.

But, above all, we want a well-regulated market in which consumers feel confident in accessing that market and knowing that they will have the information but also the safeguards of being able to see clear contract terms. It is quite clear in financial services that good regulation encourages market activity, and that is what we have been seeking throughout this process. However, the problem we have had with this Directive is the fact that the consumer credit market across the European Union is at very different stages of development: many countries, like my own, already have well-developed regulation. The original idea of a maximum harmonisation would have meant that consumers in those countries would have been disadvantaged, and it has been trying to get that balance right that has occupied us.

I just want to correct one impression that I think Ms Kuneva gave, perhaps unintentionally: the package of compromise amendments on the table is supported with one exception only by this group. We have tabled the same amendments; it is a consensual position across Parliament. I think there is one aspect that we are still arguing about, but I am sure we will get there and then we will have a good and important package. However, the important thing is that we keep monitoring the evolution of this market, ensure that it develops in a responsible way and deal with some of the problems that might arise from the evolution and development of that market. I am confident that this House will rise to its responsibilities and we will come up with a good package tomorrow.

 
  
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  Arlene McCarthy, on behalf of the PSE Group . – Mr President, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, and previously the Committee on Legal Affairs, have always recognised the potential benefits, to both businesses and consumers, of developing an internal market and consumer credit. I was present during the gestation of this legislation and hope to be there tomorrow for the final delivery, as it were, of the new consumer credit baby!

The last five years of discussion and debate have demonstrated fundamental differences between the Commission and Parliament, and more specifically between the Member States, on the best way to achieve this, and I firmly believe there are lessons to be learned from that. All proposals – even a modified Commission proposal – have to undergo a rigorous impact assessment to enable all parties and stakeholders to evaluate the merits of the proposals and to engender consumer confidence and business confidence.

It is regrettable that neither the Commission nor the Council was prepared to do this at the time. However, our job today is to address the new text, which is a vast improvement on the original proposal. It focuses on the essential elements and components for starting to open the market and for protecting the consumer. Its benefits include enabling consumers to compare offers of credit, obliging lenders to assess the credit-worthiness of the consumer – which will be important in the fight against debt across the EU – and obliging lenders to provide explanations and, as a result of our amendments, all creditors will now be responsible for providing comprehensive and standard information in a simplified format.

I welcome the 14-day withdrawal right and the right to early repayment, which are good elements for engendering consumer confidence and encouraging them to look beyond their home market for credit offers. This is not just about opening the market, and the fact that we now have free movement of labour and people across 27 EU Member States gives this law new significance. For example, a Polish plumber working in France or Germany and borrowing from a credit institution there can now obviously compare the different offers on APR in the knowledge that he has the standard information enabling him to take the right decision.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the Commission, by exempting credit unions from this law, is not strangling small Community providers with red tape. I also welcome the Member State flexibility there is now. This has, for example, enabled a high level of protection to be maintained for consumers in the UK, which will now retain the right to joint and several liability for credit cards. There is therefore enough flexibility in this proposal to make it work, and I would urge Members to lend it their support.

As chair of the Committee, I think that our work does not finish here ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Diana Wallis, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – Mr President, this is normally the time of year we all wish one another a ‘Happy New Year’. However, in the UK, and globally, the news this new year has been dominated by worries over the economy, and particularly over consumer credit. It is not just a question of normal post-Christmas depression; we all know that it goes much deeper than that. Credit is going to be a difficult issue for the foreseeable future, for both lenders and borrowers alike.

As legislators confronted with that global backdrop, we need to do something. We need to stimulate the EU’s market in financial services, while on the other hand ensuring that our consumers make sensible and informed choices, and that all the information and the comparators are available to them in order to do so. Many of us in this House, and particularly in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Affairs, have spent the last couple of years sitting on an enquiry by Parliament into the demise of the British insurer, Equitable Life. We know what the consequences are for consumers, in the context of financial services, if we get the cross-border regulatory regime wrong. In this instance we need such a regime and we need to get it right, particularly in view of the global circumstances we are facing.

This directive can help. It can help Europe’s market in financial services at a difficult time, and it can empower and assist our consumers in obtaining credit and doing so competitively. My group has signed up to and put forward, with the PSE, a package that we hope will be agreed. It seems to us that, at the end of the day, we are faced with an argument that is almost about one word, in one article, after seven years of negotiating and drafting. It would be a pretty poor affair for this House and for Europe’s institutions if we cannot overcome that and deliver this directive, which will, hopefully, bring to the European market all the benefits we have heard outlined.

 
  
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  Eoin Ryan, on behalf of the UEN Group . – I support the need to update EU legislation in this area. The last time we had a directive on this was in 1987, and certainly the consumer credit market has changed dramatically since then.

This EU Directive on Consumer Credit Loans seeks to introduce a greater level of competition into the EUR 800 billion consumer credit market. It will bring legal certainty to consumers, which is absolutely vital if people are to shop around and look for the best product which suits their needs. It will also help business to compete. When you look at the differences in consumer credit rates around Europe – from 6% in some countries up to 12% in others – it surely is time that the consumer got a better choice.

These new rules will make the market more transparent for consumers and business competitors alike. The main effect of this Directive will be to provide comparable and standard information to consumers across the EU who take out loans. For credit offers, the information given to consumers, whether it is interest rates, numbers and frequency of payments, must be set out in a new EU-wide European credit information form.

So I very much welcome this. I think that it is vital for consumers that they have confidence and that there is legal certainty in this area, but I believe that this will bring greater competition in this area and will, at the end of the day – as has already been pointed out – give more choice to consumers, and that the consumers will benefit greatly from this Directive.

 
  
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  Heide Rühle, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we must regrettably adopt a directive tomorrow which does not meet our own criterion of better regulation. There has been no impact assessment, even though this is an entirely new proposal, in spite of the intervening enlargement of the EU with the accession of 12 new Member States, in spite of major differences between Member States in financing practices and regulatory systems and in spite of social disparities within Member States.

Instead of complete harmonisation, there was an urgent need to give the Member States greater freedom of action. The Member States can respond quite differently and far more quickly today to the various new models that appear on the market on a daily basis. The Member States are also better equipped to respond to a financial crisis. They can regulate matters in a shorter time frame than it takes the European Union to act.

This is why it would have been wise to confine ourselves here to minimal harmonisation instead of trying to harmonise as much as possible. That is the criticism we have to make of this consumers’ directive. Moreover, we also deplore the fact that numerous opt-out clauses have had to be adopted in order to get all the Member States on board. This, unfortunately, has done nothing at all for the rigour of the provisions.

There is also, however, one exemption for which we would argue, and it relates to renovation loans. In view of the formidable challenges posed by climate change, there is an urgent need to exempt from this proposal renovation loans secured by mortgage, which have nothing to do with consumer credit but should be treated as mortgage loans.

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group . (SV) Mr President, when rules are laid down as to how an agreement between two parties is to be drafted, account must of course be taken of whether the parties have equal status or whether one party has an advantage over the other from the outset. If one party has an advantage, this must be taken into account in the way the agreement is drafted and a formula must be devised which strengthens the weaker party.

When it is a case of consumer credit, which is what we are discussing now, it is the person needing credit who is in the less favourable position. Unfortunately neither the rapporteur nor the compromise proposal take sufficient account of this responsibility, of consumers’ rights and consumer protection. This is particularly serious since it is invariably those with the least financial resources who seek purchase credit.

I also want to say that, despite the fact that we have a decision requiring gender mainstreaming in all our work here in Parliament, no gender analysis of this directive has been carried out, also despite the fact that we know that many women on the lowest wages are precisely those who often get caught in the debt trap. I maintain that there must be a ceiling on the level of compensation to be paid in the event of the early repayment of loans. I also maintain that a three-day cooling-off period is far too short. Besides, I want minimum harmonisation, not maximum harmonisation.

 
  
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  Godfrey Bloom, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . – Mr President, I wonder if I might perhaps offer a few words of wisdom here. I have spent most of my life in merchant banking, albeit not retail banking, and I have to say I do not regard it as the business of politicians to come between a consumer, or a lender, and a borrower. I would not dream of trying to regulate on this subject, with all my experience. I look down the list of people who actually serve on this committee and in this Parliament and I do not see a great deal of experience there, so it is a question of the blind leading the blind. I think that this place, which has not managed to audit its own books for nearly 11 years, commenting on this is slightly absurd.

The fact that you can actually have rules for Bucharest, London and Paris and consumers in those places is absolutely ludicrous. Perhaps I could warn people like the UK Government that bailing out banks to the tune of 50% of their entire reserves is fundamentally wrong.

So, if I may, let me give one tip to the consumer: ‘never a lender or a borrower be’, and to governments, let me say: ‘a fool and his money are soon parted’!

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by thanking the rapporteur and, of course, the Commissioner too, who has played a highly constructive role in this complex matter.

Mrs Wallis referred to the fact that this dossier has been what I like to call haunting the corridors of the European Parliament and the other European institutions for more than seven years, and in my opinion these have not been seven years of transparent legislating or seven years of better regulation but a muddle that very few Members of this House have yet managed to untangle.

In this respect I do not believe we have done any great favours to the European consumers and citizens who have had to watch this backstage wrangling among the Member States, but if this final outcome provides greater transparency for consumers who wish to buy a car, for example, enabling them to make an informed choice between a hire-purchase agreement and a personal loan, I believe it will be useful.

Reference was made here to the fact that the European credit market is worth EUR 800 billion and that the differential between the highest and the lowest interest rates is about 6%. There is, of course, a lot of mileage in this, and it is to be hoped that consumers will be able to benefit from the available scope too, but I have good reason to be sceptical. The fact is that a consumer who wants to buy a digital camera for EUR 220 and then has to complete a ten-page credit form in writing will scarcely be able to comprehend all the risks involved in a credit transaction for EUR 220.

The result, in my view, is that much of what is meant well in this package will not ultimately help the average vulnerable consumer but will create such difficulties for consumers that they will even prefer not to buy anything on credit terms to avoid the daunting task of completing the extensive set of forms. That remains my view, and I hope that the variations in interest rates will become more transparent for consumers and that this will be of benefit, although I still believe that the preceding process has been unacceptable.

 
  
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  Evelyne Gebhardt (PSE ). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I believe we must see this through so that consumers and banks know what will and will not apply to them in future.

I believe the compromise which we developed last week and which the Liberals have now endorsed too is a thoroughly reasonable one and that we have come up with a common solution which is tenable and consumer-friendly. That is the main thing.

If I may take issue with Mr Schwab, first of all the form is not ten pages long, and secondly I consider it a very good thing that we have a common form in which the consumer must be told clearly and transparently the total amount of the credit, the term of the agreement, the rules governing the right of withdrawal and the applicable annual percentage rate, which might then be calculated on the same common basis in all Member States. That is transparency, and this transparency is what we need and what is at stake in tomorrow’s vote on the proposal contained in amendment 46. I hope we can ensure that transparency really does win the day.

Forgive my saying so, but while the rapporteur has unquestionably worked hard, my group cannot condone this Parliament of ours being railroaded into a situation in which the Council suddenly appears to be consumer-friendlier than the European Parliament. My group regards this purely and simply as an unacceptable state of affairs, which is why we must ensure that a fair balance is struck between the natural right of the banks to do business – a normal feature of any market economy – and the need to protect consumers by ensuring that they are given the information they need to choose the right form of credit and reject unfavourable options. That is the way to go, and that is what we should adopt tomorrow.

 
  
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  Toine Manders (ALDE ). – (NL) Mr President, I should first like to thank Mr Lechner for his drafting and his constructive cooperation. I should also like to thank the Commissioner and the Council, because it was a lengthy trialogue. Unfortunately we were not able to reach a compromise, but we were only a hairsbreadth away from one, so I am pleased that on Wednesday morning we shall be voting on that same compromise and I am assuming we shall achieve it.

Why? We have in fact been talking about it for seven years already. If we want to have any political credibility with the market and our citizens, with consumers but also with the sector and the industry. it is important for us to take a decision at last. A compromise is always give and take and of course there are aspects that could be improved, but that applies to all parties. The fact is that a compromise is mixing water with wine and then you get a result and you have to be satisfied with it.

I believe that the present plan is in the interests of both consumers and the financial sector. That is what we have to work towards, that is in the interests of Europe and the internal market.

 
  
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  Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE-DE ). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, first of all I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on his excellent work, which no doubt required considerable patience, but has doubtless brought him considerable satisfaction. This report can certainly be counted as being one of the most controversial and most difficult compromises. Its objective is to bring more closely together different regulations in various EU countries, which really are very different, and legislation in this area is largely under the control of Member States.

Harmonisation in this sector is quite simply impossible. We can only try to introduce a partial convergence of requirements, and even this, as we have seen over the past months, has caused considerable problems. I agree with the approach taken by the rapporteur , that in an area as difficult as this Member States should be given as free a hand as possible. This seems to be the only sensible solution to enable such a difficult and weighty report to be accepted by all interested parties.

It would appear that, in its present form, the text has been simplified. What can be seen in all the work over this report is the lack of an analysis of impacts, and such an analysis would certainly have improved its quality. Overall, this draft seems to me to be satisfactory. Obviously this version is far from being ideal, but it has been adapted to the current situation in Member States. This proposal will abolish financial and administrative burdens on consumers and will, in my opinion, introduce important provisions to protect the consumer, making it easier to obtain credit. One of the most useful proposals is the introduction of comparisons.

 
  
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  Mia De Vits (PSE ). – (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I personally cannot share the enthusiasm for this text. Important steps have been taken, but this text does not serve the purpose, which is to create a harmonised framework. That harmonised framework has not been achieved on a number of points that we consider essential.

Let me explain. There are two points that, as far as our delegation is concerned, are still difficult or very difficult. The pre-contractual information package is reinforced and harmonised. That is good. But it is undermined by the various formulae that are allowed for the annual percentage rate of charge for opening credit. I just need an explanation of how consumers are going to be able to compare those various formulae objectively.

Secondly, in the case of my country, Belgium, the position of consumers is likely to be weakened, in that the database has to be consulted but there are no related sanctions for the banks. That could plunge people even further into debt. I also think it is a missed opportunity for the banks themselves. It is still a wasted regulation.

 
  
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  Wolf Klinz (ALDE ). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome the Commission’s well-intentioned attempt to establish a functioning internal market with enhanced consumer rights in the realm of consumer credit. The result of its efforts, however, must honour the pledge made to consumers by offering them a wider choice, better terms and conditions in the wake of increasing competition and less red tape. Judged by that standard, the final draft directive on consumer credit is unsatisfactory in many respects.

Firstly, the prescribed standard information, which runs to some eight pages, is too extensive. I doubt whether customers will actually use it to inform themselves of the detailed terms and conditions. In practice, this is a tangible increase in red tape, for which consumers will have to pay at the end of the day.

Secondly, the provisions on early credit repayment squander the opportunity to let consumers share in any windfall that might accrue to the creditor because of a favourable change in interest rates after the lending date.

Thirdly, the compromise that has been reached will effectively put an end to overdraft facilities, which are standard practice in Germany and widely used elsewhere. The public will deeply regret this and will have one more reason to gripe about the Brussels Moloch. What counts is quality, not quantity.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE ).(SK) I would like to thank the rapporteur, Kurt Lechner, for the exacting work he did when drawing up this report. He managed to simplify the Council’s overcomplicated and bureaucratic proposal through new amendments.

I would like to take the opportunity presented by the presence of Commissioner Kuneva at this discussion, which is important to European consumers, to draw attention once again to the important role of consumer organisations, which must be able to play their rightful role in every Member State and receive adequate support from the Commission. To improve the quality of consumer protection, the individual consumer bodies require additional finance to be able to educate consumers and provide independent advice on consumer credit, notably to the most vulnerable consumer groups.

Commissioner, although you have achieved much encouraging progress for consumer groups and although your arrival gave the green light to consumer protection, I would ask for your help again in 2008.

 
  
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  Margarita Starkevičiūtė (ALDE ). – (LT) I welcome the appearance of this directive; it is a step in the right direction. However, I would like to draw your attention – in particular the Commissioner’s attention – to Article 16. In my country, consumers do not receive any compensation if they repay credit early. Now, when this article comes into force, consumers will actually pay more. I find it hard to believe that this denotes consumer protection. Surely, it is said that there are plenty of legal protectors in the article intended to ensure that consumers do not have to pay for this, but when we talk about legal protectors we mean legal games and not the real economy. In the real economy, if it is possible to tax a consumer, he or she will always be taxed. Therefore, I ask you to take care to structure Article 16 better in view of the fact that in many countries this tax is not applied at all.

 
  
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  Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I think we have managed to get quite a good result in the recent negotiations. What we have not managed to improve is simplicity. I think that now there is far too much information for an ordinary consumer in Europe. Whenever the Council members and Member States request more derogations from the standard information, it makes this whole directive more complex.

I think that standard information really should be standard. It should be an EU level playing field. Every time that we in Parliament or Member States in the Council say that we should have different adaptive rules by the Member States we make this issue more complex.

I totally agree with the Commission’s objective. Probably the compromise negotiations are headed in the right direction, but something should be done about the simplicity issue before this directive gets into the books and reaches consumers.

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès (PPE-DE ). – (FR) Mr President, colleagues, Commissioner, I should like to make just a few observations.

I think it is good for our Parliament’s image to show European consumers that we have the protection of their interests in hand. Mr Lechner’s report certainly reflects a tremendous amount of work, on which I congratulate him, but I think that the task now, in the final stage of the process, is to strike a compromise that will enable us to demonstrate the importance that we as parliamentarians ascribe to the consumer. It would be rather hard to swallow if the Council were portrayed at the end of the day as the consumer’s best defender.

We need to find a compromise over the few words that divide us, in order to avoid a conciliation procedure which, I believe, would be in no-one’s interest. We also need to avoid taking retrograde steps, and the fact is that consumers in France, like those in Lithuania, are not financially penalised for early repayment. We cannot present consumers with a situation less advantageous than that which they currently enjoy under national legislation.

 
  
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  President. − If there are no other speakers, let me remind Members that they may use the ‘catch the eye’ procedure to ask for the floor again if they believe they did not complete their first statement.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − Mr President, I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the rapporteur, Mr Lechner, and to all Honourable Members for raising a lot of important and wise remarks.

Let me just comment on a few of them. We believe that the threshold is set up very carefully. Our common aim is not to deprive vulnerable consumers of protection by directive. That is why we set up a threshold which equally embedded the interests of the new countries and which does not exclude most average credits in the EU-12.

It is also, we believe, a big advantage to have a standard info-sheet, which many of you have pointed out as one of the main positive steps in the directive. This will be one of the biggest advantages and we will not deprive the consumers if we substitute it for the contract copy, because consumers cannot easily compare copies of the contract. They often have difficulties understanding the contract copies – and this is borne out by Eurobarometer research.

As to full harmonisation – actually I would like to stress that this is ‘targeted’ full harmonisation. The reason why it is better than minimum harmonisation, as some of you proposed to discuss even today, is that we think that it is necessary to lower market-entry barriers for financial services providers, and this is one of the main reasons why this proposal for a directive is going ahead. Through this, we need to increase consumer confidence. That is why targeted full harmonisation is the best way to do it.

The Commission would like to reassure Mr Harbour especially that it will monitor the market. My services have launched a study to collect indicators and data on the present market. A few years later we will use the same indicators and collect the same data. This will allow us to decide on the follow-up.

To conclude, I can only repeat that in my view, going through the conciliation procedure would not help us reach a better compromise than the one you have on the table today. Consequently, I very much hope that Parliament will be able to adopt this text at second reading tomorrow.

 
  
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  Kurt Lechner, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it has emerged clearly in the debate that we have a common aim. In particular, I can unreservedly endorse what the Commissioner said in her introductory remarks. The only question is whether the draft that is now on the table can actually achieve our common objectives. I believe there are a number of defensible opinions on this issue.

The uniform annual percentage rate of charges certainly represents unmitigated progress, as does the common uniform right of withdrawal. Let me re-emphasise, however, that consumer protection is best served if we consider the whole picture, as the Commissioner rightly indicated, rather than tacking together all the provisions that apply anywhere in Europe. More statutory provisions do not mean greater protection of consumers.

On the subject of interest-rate differentials in Europe, I must point out that I should have welcomed the presentation of an analysis of the extent to which these differentials might be due to divergent legal provisions and complexities in particular countries and whether it might be the case that interest rates are lower where legal rules are simpler. I do not know the answer, but the question ought to have been examined. Competition and general consumer education also serve to enhance consumer protection, but excessively convoluted rules do not.

Let me say a brief word on the trialogue. I certainly held the view that we should thrash out our differences here in Parliament. Far be it from me to thwart an agreement. Nevertheless, since we always argue for transparency, particularly in the Council but in other forums too, I do not think it right that an informal body should hold these discussions behind closed doors. Instead, each institution should initially express its opinion, motions should be tabled, and a solution should then be found on that basis.

Let me repeat once again that the draft has been considerably improved in the course of more than six years of deliberations – I want to make that abundantly clear – and Parliament has played a crucial part in the improvement process. I also see this to some extent as an endorsement of my own work. In my opinion, however, the draft is simply not good enough. Be that as it may, it will enter into force. I have no hesitation in thanking my fellow Members, the Commission and indeed the Council – which, in point of fact, has always provided very straight answers and detailed information – for their contribution to the performance of what has generally been a thoroughly gratifying and pleasant task.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday, 16 January 2008, at 12 noon.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Lasse Lehtinen (PSE ), in writing . – Parliament’s vote on this very important dossier means are now one step closer to fully implementing the four freedoms. This directive will bring more rights and transparency to consumers when taking a consumer credit. Comparing credit conditions across borders and choosing the best offer will now become much easier than before. After five years of preparations, the directive will apply to all unsecured loans between EUR 200 and EUR 75 000. I want to point out that it is important to set the lower threshold at EUR 200, since loans do not often exceed EUR 500, especially in the new Member States.

The consumer will benefit not least from all contractual information, a common method for the calculation of the annual percentage rate and a 14 day withdrawal period.

Balanced laws like this help us to achieve the approval of the citizens for the European Union.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE ), in writing . – An EU directive on consumer credit has been talked about for some time, so today’s debate on the directive is to be welcomed. There is great hope that the directive will lead to consumers looking beyond their own national boundaries for loans – allowing them to shop around for the cheapest loan available.

It should, when implemented and taken up by EU citizens, lead to people availing of cheaper credit.

But this is the key to its success: firstly knowledge among EU citizens of the possibility of availing of loans across borders, and secondly a willingness of citizens to take up this option.

At present, it is clear that there is a reluctance among citizens to shop around within their own Member State for best value in loans, just as there is still some resistance among consumers to change banking institutions, though that may be changing slowly.

The success or otherwise of this directive depends on its effective implementation by Member States. Only time will tell if it lives up to our expectations and provides greater choice to consumers, greater availability of consumer loans and most importantly lower costs on such loans.

 
  
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  Alexander Stubb (PPE-DE ), in writing . – Consumer credits are an essential pillar of the internal market.

First of all, I think this directive is a first step and a good example of how the EU delivers concrete results, even in such a controversial issue.

Second, in my opinion in the longer term further harmonisation is needed once we have gathered experience on the working of this directive so as to make it easier for consumers to shop across borders and to give full legal certainty to businesses on their obligations when offering these credits in other Member States.

Third, I want to thank all the people involved for their perseverance in this process, which has lasted for years.

 
  
  

(The sitting was suspended until the vote at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ALEJO VIDAL-QUADRAS
Vice-President

 

8. Voting time
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  President. − The next item is the vote.

(For the results and other details of the vote: see Minutes)

 
  
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  Nigel Farage, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . – Mr President, on a point of order, under Rule 160 of the Rules of Procedure, our group has requested that we have roll-call votes today on everything, and I know that has excited some interest in the Chamber.

Just by way of explanation, not just this group but many MEPs from all groups are deeply concerned about the method of voting that takes place in here. In fact, you yourself in the chair just a few months ago said we have made mistakes here, which, in a vote of this size, are statistically normal. We would argue that when we are voting on legislation there should not be any possibility of mistakes being made.

Perhaps I would ask Members, when they are going through this lengthy roll-call procedure, to consider just how important voting is, and perhaps in the light of that we will get MEPs next month, when we vote on the EU Lisbon Treaty, to vote for an amendment to allow those 10 countries that promised their own people a referendum, the opportunity to do so.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda (PSE ). – (DE) Mr President, I have only one request. Rule 159 of the Rules of Procedure states that ‘Normally Parliament shall vote by a show of hands’. For this reason it would be right to examine whether the IND/DEM Group’s motion to have all votes taken by roll call is consistent with the Rules of Procedure. I believe it is not. May I ask that this be done by tomorrow. I believe we shall be voting today as stipulated in the voting list, but I would ask that the question of legal admissibility be reviewed by tomorrow.

 
  
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  Marco Cappato (ALDE ). – (IT) Mr President, two things: I think the television camera set up here should be moved to allow Mr Donnici – and all of us – to see the presidency and other colleagues. Let me also take this opportunity to welcome the decision by the European Parliament’s Bureau to dedicate Parliament’s press room to Anna Politkovskaya.

 
  
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  President. − The House Rules of Procedure state that voting is normally to be by show of hands unless a roll-call vote is specifically requested.

When voting by show of hands it may so happen, not often but from time to time, and only from time to time, that either because MEPs do not raise their hands or because there is some confusion, the presidency makes a mistake when assessing the outcome of a vote. Should that happen then, again frequently, an MEP will request verification and as a result the President holds a roll-call vote to that end and the situation is resolved.

This is all, therefore, provided for, and our votes proceed perfectly correctly 99.9% of the time.

In any event, the President of the Parliament received a letter from Mr Booth MEP noting this issue and requesting action to be taken on it.

This matter will be discussed at the Conference of Presidents and, of course by the working group looking at reform of the House’s working methods. This is in train. Please be assured therefore, Mr Farage, that we are going to pay a great deal of attention to this matter and are seeking to ensure that things run more smoothly every day.

Mr Swoboda, we are going to vote today by roll call, which is also in accordance with the Rules of Procedure as a roll-call vote has been requested by a political group. Today. And from today we will take decisions.

 
  
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  Christopher Heaton-Harris (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, on that very point, during the last parliamentary term, a group chaired by Mr Corbett, from the PSE Group, submitted proposals to the House to the effect that, if more than 100 amendments were tabled at the plenary stage, then the report in question should be sent back to committee. There have now been a number of occasions when that has not taken place. I wonder if, when recommending to the Conference of Presidents that it look into these matters, you could also recommend it consider the very good recommendations which Mr Corbett brought forward during the last parliamentary term.

 
  
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  Graham Booth (IND/DEM ). – Mr President, pursuant to Rule 145, I would just like to make a personal statement. Yes, I have written to the President of Parliament complaining about the voting, as you know. I have updated him several times since then, because my request for full electronic voting was turned down by the committee. Its response was ‘no follow-up’. I have, in fact, written several times. The worst case that I have reported was overturned from ‘rejected’ to ‘approved’ by 567 votes to 17, with 18 abstentions. That is why I have called this system ludicrous in the past. It really must be dealt with.

 

8.1. (A6-0517/2007 , Jacek Saryusz-Wolski) Partnerships in the framework of the stabilisation and association process (vote)

8.2. (A6-0506/2007 , Bogusław Liberadzki) Amendment of Directive 95/50/EC (implementing powers conferred on the Commission) (vote)
  

- Before the vote:

 
  
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  Bogusław Liberadzki, rapporteur . − (PL) Mr President, we are discussing Directive 95. I had the honour of reporting on its amendment to the House in September of last year. It is basically concerned with checking functions, as this Directive contains a large number of technical details relating to vehicles, loads and roads. In 1996 a new comitology procedure was introduced, i.e. a regulatory procedure combined with checking.

Our committee would like to put forward that the new regulatory procedure, combined with checking, should be introduced as part of the framework of the European Commission’s competencies as a condition of implementing the updated Directive 95. The dignity of the European Parliament will not suffer as a result. We shall avoid excessive detail in our control function. The committee adopted this draft regulation unanimously. I would ask the House also to speak with a unanimous voice.

.

 

8.3. (A6-0513/2007 , Paolo Costa) Abolition of discrimination in transport rates and conditions (vote)
  

- Before the vote:

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE ). – (EL) Mr President, my dear colleagues, as we know, the European Commission’s original proposal included in a single Regulation the amended proposal for Regulation No 11 abolishing discrimination in prices and terms of transport, and the amendment to Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs.

The Commission’s proposal was based on Articles 75, 152 and 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, and the stipulated procedure for adopting the Resolution was co-decision. The colegislators - Council and Parliament - decided to split the original proposal into two separate Regulations: one for the amendment of Regulation No 11 on transport, based on Article 75 (3), which does not provide for any intervention by the European Parliament in the legislative procedure, and on which the Committee on Transport gave its opinion; and another Regulation concerning amendment of the Regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs, based on Articles 95 and 152 (4b), on which the Committee on the Environment is to give its opinion shortly. Today we are called upon to decide whether Article 75 (3) provides an adequate legal basis for amending the Regulation on transport. The amendment to Article 852/2004, as we have said, will be discussed later.

The proposed Regulation which is submitted today provides for the deletion of Article 5, which ceased to be valid in 1961, and an amendment to Article 6, aimed at reducing the carriers’ administrative obligations by abolishing their obligation to retain copies showing full price information, since this information is included anyway on the consignment notes and in the carriers’ accounting systems. This amendment makes it possible to check transport rates and conditions, and identify any discrimination. So this is an amendment that corresponds exactly to what is provided for in Article 75 (3), second sentence, of the Treaty of the European Communities, and since the amendment to Article 6 is necessary to enable European authorities to check observance of the principle of non-discrimination in the field of transport under Article 75 (3) of the Treaty, the Committee on Legal Affairs made the point that Article 75 (3) is the only legal basis than can be used when amending Regulation No 11.

 

8.4. (A6-0497/2007 , Ulrich Stockmann) Airport charges (vote)

8.5. (A6-0406/2007 , Johannes Blokland) Export and import of dangerous chemicals (vote)

8.6. (A6-0515/2007 , Csaba Őry) Application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community (vote)

8.7. (A6-0494/2007 , Jorgo Chatzimarkakis) CARS 21: A Competitive Automotive Regulatory Framework (vote)
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

 

9. Formal sitting - Grand Mufti of Syria
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, it is a special honour and pleasure for me today, in this European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, to extend a warm welcome to the European Parliament to His Eminence Sheikh Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria.

(Applause)

As I emphasised last week in Ljubljana at the opening ceremony for the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the European Parliament attaches great importance to this year of dialogue between cultures.

I am firmly convinced, as are many others, that it is both possible and essential for people from different cultures and religions to live together in peace, both within the European Union and in the world at large. Particular importance attaches in this context to our relations with the peoples on the opposite shores of the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. The fact is that the fruits of this dialogue will have a lasting effect on our common future. Together we must build an intellectual and cultural bridge across the Mediterranean, embedded in mutual enrichment and shared values.

We build this bridge when we engage in continuous, honest and open dialogue in which we listen to each other, exchange our opinions frankly and develop mutual understanding.

Tolerance is at the heart of intercultural dialogue. Tolerance does not mean indifference. Tolerance means putting forward our own points of view and hearing and respecting other people’s convictions.

Where we find it impossible to accept another person’s point of view, it is still necessary to treat such views with respect, to exchange ideas and opinions peacefully and, wherever possible, to pave the way for joint action and thereby defuse tension.

We must stress the things we have in common, including the substance of universal democratic values. Foremost among these are human dignity and the defence of inalienable human rights.

In the course of 2008 and thereafter, the European Parliament will take several opportunities to engage in such talks. Today’s visit by the Grand Mufti of Syria represents the first of these opportunities. Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun, formerly Mufti of Aleppo, is regarded as an outstanding champion of inter-faith dialogue in a country where the religious communities in all their diversity still live and work together in peace.

This is clearly symbolised by the fact that the Grand Mufti is accompanied on today’s visit by high-ranking religious leaders. That was his express wish, and may I make special mention of Bishop Antoine Audo, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Syria, and bid him a warm welcome.

Your Eminence, it now gives me great pleasure to invite you to address the European Parliament.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria.

(The speaker spoke in Arabic. Below is a transcription of the English interpretation.)

Greetings to you all in the name of our Creator, who created mankind from the same soil and through whose soul we have been able to become alive. The source of energy that comes to us is from the one God, the Creator; we are his creation and, hence, I greet you as brothers on this planet, my brothers in spirit and in mankind.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Members, I have come to you from a country which I had not chosen to be in, but heaven chose that I be one of its citizens. This land, which we call the ‘blessed land’, the land of Al-Sham, which includes Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Israel, this land which has encompassed all the cultures of heaven: in our land, the Prophet Abraham walked, and the Prophet Moses lived happily there, and in our land Jesus (may God’s blessings be upon him) was born, and from our land he was lifted to the heavens. Muhammad, the Prophet, came also from Mecca to our land to be lifted into the heavens. Therefore, I would like you to understand the meaning of that land, which was a source of light and enlightenment without which we would not have been Christians and followers of Abraham and Moses, and we would not have been Muslims and we would not carry the responsibility of conveying the divine message to the world.

Therefore, I thank you wholeheartedly and I thank the President of Parliament, who allowed me to open this cultural debate in a year which is the year of dialogue between cultures.

I say cultures, but really there are no separate cultures, there is but one single culture.

Cultures have had an impact and enriched the culture of mankind, and culture is from our own creation: we created culture. This Parliament was not built by a Christian or by a Jew or by a Muslim, but it was created by man. This is a symbol of culture, of its construction.

We all form one single culture, which is called the culture of mankind. Therefore we, in our region, do not believe in a conflict between cultures at all. It is a single culture in the universe, and it is not multiple. However, different cultures can exist or co-exist.

(Applause)

So, let us look at where there is conflict between cultures. Conflict exists where there is ignorance, terrorism and backwardness, but a cultured person, whatever his religion may be, will hold my hand so that we can build the culture of mankind together. When man reached the moon, the Soviet Agency at the time and NASA were not all Americans or Russians, they were also Europeans, Italians, Germans, French, Belgians and Arabs. They, together, built the civilisation that allowed mankind to reach space.

So let us have a look once again at the terminology or the term ‘conflict’ between cultures or civilisations. This is dangerous because civilisation cannot be built separately. Those who built the pyramids are our great-grandfathers, and those who built the pyramids in Chile are also among our great-grandfathers and therefore, as I said, civilisation is one.

A second point. Does civilisation have a religion? Or is it a human culture in which religion gives its moral values? There is no Islamic civilisation, or Christian civilisation, or Jewish civilisation. Religion gives civilisation its moral values, but culture is something that we built. God created religion, but we create cultures. This is what we have built, but religion is the work of God. Do not, therefore, limit civilisation because it is the result of our work, whereas religion, as I said, is the work of God.

Who creates civilisation? Mankind – you and I. Who are we, you and I? Are you different from me? No. You are not the other party. The animal might be the other party, but you are my brother or sister, whatever your religion or language, because my mother is your mother, my father is your father, and the land is our mother and Abraham is our father. Therefore, let us create a new generation that believes that ‘the other’ is the animal. But man, whatever his religion or wherever he comes from, is my brother or sister, and his blood is my blood. His spirit is mine and his ideas are mine and his freedom is my freedom, and his culture is different from my culture. So let us build civilisation together. We do not believe, in our region, in the multiplicity of religions: multiple religions do not exist.

Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad came with one single religion – the worship of God and the dignity of mankind. As for legislation and law, these differ from time to time and from period to period. There can be many legislations, but there cannot be many religions. Therefore, your God and our God are the same and single one and we all worship the same Creator. Hence there cannot be religious conflict. This brings me to say that there is no holy war. I do not believe in holy wars, because a war can never be holy: it is peace that is holy.

(Applause)

So let us teach our children in schools, churches and in religious places and in the mosques that what is really sacred in the universe is man and not the Kaaba or the Masjid al-Aqsa or the Church of the Trinity but mankind – mankind is the most holy and sacred thing in the universe, and this is more important than any other sacred thing.

(Applause)

Why do I say this to you, ladies and gentlemen? Because the Kaaba was created by Abraham, a man, and the Wall of Mecca was built by a Jew, and the Church of the Trinity was built by a Christian. But man – who created man? This is the creation of the Creator, and anybody who destroys the creation of the Creator should not be respected.

Any person who kills an Israeli or Iraqi child will be called upon to respond to his action before God because those children are the creation of God on this planet and we destroyed that creation. Can we bring life back to those persons? If the Kaaba were to be destroyed, our children could build it again and if the Masjid al-Aqsa were to be destroyed, we could reconstruct it. If the Church of Trinity were to be destroyed, the next generation would build it but, believe me, if one man is killed, who can give him back his life?

Hence I greet and commend Europe that invited me to come to this place. So I start with you and call upon you to ensure that the dialogue between civilisations has to be endless and open so that we create states based on a civil basis – not a religious or an ethnic basis because religion is a relation between you and God – but we must live together in this world peacefully. I do not impose my religion on you and you do not impose your religion on me. This is something between us and the Creator.

So, let us build a new generation that believes that the civilisation of mankind is a common work and that the most noble of all is mankind and freedom – after God, of course. If we would like to see peace in the world, let us start from the land of peace: Palestine and Israel. So we can tell people, as the Pope said years ago, rather than building the wall, let us build the bridges of peace, because Palestine is the land of peace. Considering how much it costs to build that wall, we could actually allow Christian, Jewish and Muslim children to attend the same school and to live as brothers and sisters in a school of peace.

(Applause)

Yes, we extended our hands to you in Syria last year. President Bashar-al-Asad extended his hands to the world and said ‘I want a true peace’. I will not carry a weapon today but I will always carry the words of peace to stand before the world and say, no more war after today. The victor in war will be a loser if he is temporarily victorious because he killed people, but the real victors are those who become brothers to other people. It is not land that is holy but it is man that is holy. Let us make a holy world once man becomes the holy person.

Therefore, please do not believe the media, because the media on many occasions do not tell the truth. Many of you have visited me in Syria and have come to my mosque, and I went with them to the churches and they saw how we live as one single family, and that we do not believe in simple cohabitation but in living as a family. Whether we are Muslims, Jews or Christians we believe in the one house – the house of life.

I have lived, as you, as a Member of Parliament for 10 years in Syria and I felt, the moment I entered into Parliament, that I did not represent my political party or my group because I was independent; rather, I represented every person who has asked me to represent him or her and I represented every person who has not asked me to represent him or her, because he or she is my brother or sister, and I was a representative of everybody in the country. So, do you represent your countries or political parties or do you represent the human being? Please be representatives for us and your people, because mankind is unique in the universe.

Yes, you have to represent us on the issues of peace and truthfulness and belief. The Islamic world today witnesses war in many of its countries. This world must achieve peace, and it has always wanted peace and, if there are certain crises, that is because of injustice. Christianity came to ensure peace, otherwise we cannot understand what was the mission of the prophets, such as Moses, who called for the achievement of peace. Nobody wanted to kill anybody, and anybody who wants to kill a person would be contradicting his beliefs and religion. Do not use religion for killing; religion is for peace and life.

Yes, this is my message from my country, from a land that was blessed by the heavens and where all the prophets walked and lived in.

Woman is a great person in our land, and she is dignified, whether she is Jewish, Christian or Muslim, although she probably faced injustice because of men. Women participate at all levels of our country and the leaders of my country, including the President, call upon the participation of women in all fields of society.

This city is a title for peace. I saw how it was built and I said that the miracle of the 20th century is Europe. This miracle that witnessed the First World War and the Second World War, and then managed to destroy the Berlin Wall without shedding any blood – not one single drop of blood. All Europe came together, and its people came together in one Parliament. So, could you help us achieve such a parliament – a human parliament, a spiritual one, a universal one? Please help us, because Syria and the whole Islamic world are waiting for you, whether they are Muslims or Christians.

Finally, since Damascus is the Capital of Arab Culture this year and you started the Year of Intercultural Dialogue, I would ask you to agree to holding a meeting for cultures in the Capital of Arab Culture, Damascus, to say that the world is at one and that we are extending our hands to Lebanon, because Lebanon has one people, and we should all help the creation of one Lebanon and one true Palestine, one true Israel, one true Iraq, a land of peace for everyone.

(Sustained applause)

 
  
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, your applause shows that this House is at one with me in sincerely thanking the Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun, for his message of opposition to violence, war and terrorism. Human dignity is central to him, and that is the basis for cooperation between cultures. His is a tolerance which says that we have our own point of view, that we are not bound to embrace another’s point of view, but we respect it and therefore live together peacefully in this world, recognising human dignity. Thank you, Your Eminence, for your address to us here in the European Parliament.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ALEJO VIDAL-QUADRAS
Vice-President

 

10. Voting time (continuation)
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  President. − The next item is voting time.

(For results and other details of the vote: see Minutes)

 
  
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  Graham Booth (IND/DEM ). – Mr President, very briefly, I do not think you actually followed the Rules of Procedure correctly during the earlier voting session.

You said ‘the voting is now open’, but you did not ask ‘have all Members voted?’ before saying ‘the voting is closed’, and you did not read out the results.

I think you were out of order.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Booth, the result of the vote is on the screen. As you have asked for all today’s votes to be roll-call votes, that is what we are doing; what I am trying to do is to make this form of voting as painless as possible for the House, if that is all right with you, Mr Booth.

 

10.1. (A6-0481/2007 , Piia-Noora Kauppi) Tax treatment of losses in cross-border situations (vote)

10.2. (A6-0518/2007 , Glenis Willmott) Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012 (vote)
  

***

 
  
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  Christopher Beazley (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I rise under Rules 152 and 160 of the Rules of Procedure, concerning voting procedure and roll call votes. It is obvious that the Rules of Procedure have been abused and used in a way utterly contrary to their intention. Could I ask, through you, that specialists such as Mr Corbett and others look very carefully at what has happened today? My understanding is that the President has the discretion to rule that any request for a roll-call vote be declared invalid. That may become a necessity when we have heavier voting sessions in the future.

 
  
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  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, in this House we have very liberal and, in particular, minority-friendly Rules of Procedure, and rightly so. It is our wish and our duty to preserve them. This, however, presupposes that the various groups exercise their minority rights properly and do not abuse them. When that happens – as it has done today – we should rethink this practice.

 
  
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  Daniel Hannan (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I must take exception to the two points of order just made. The rules are absolutely clear on this. Every group has the right to request roll-call votes. No discretionary power is given to the Chair. We have always accepted that, ultimately, in any democratic chamber the majority has the right to get its way, but what we have just heard is the most intolerant position that does not allow any opposition, that does not allow any dissenting view and, if my colleagues want to understand why the European Union is so unpopular with the voters out there, you need only consider your own intolerant attitude towards anyone expressing any view other than your own.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. − Mr Hannan, to my knowledge, all votes which have taken place this morning have been by roll call. Therefore the Rules have been complied with meticulously.

 
  
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  Nigel Farage (IND/DEM ). – Mr President, I wish to point out to Mr Beazley and Mr Rack, and perhaps to yourself, Mr President, that today is the first time since I have sat in the European Parliament that we can actually be confident that the results are right, because normally it is a farce! So do not moan at us, we are helping you to tidy up this place so that in the future more of this work is done in committee and we are not given hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of amendments. What we have done is entirely within the Rules and all of you – in particular those who believe in this place – should learn a lesson from it.

 
  
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  Martin Schulz, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (DE) Mr President, I rise under Rule 171 of the Rules of Procedure and table the following motion on behalf of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament: in view of the urgent need to discuss the Rules of Procedure and their interpretation, I move that the sitting be suspended as of now and that all further debates, including the explanations of vote, be postponed until ten o’clock this evening.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. − Fourteen MEPs in the House have requested explanations of votes for each of the seven debates held yesterday and this morning. Fourteen MEPs, each of whom has requested an explanation on each of the seven debates: ten are members of the IND/DEM Group, two of the PPE-DE Group and two are Non-attached.

If these explanations of vote take place now they will probably take up about two hours of our time.

Therefore I submit the following point of order to the House: either we take the explanations of vote and stay here for two hours more or we suspend the session now as proposed by Mr Schulz and hold the explanations of vote tonight.

(The House agreed to this proposal.)

Ladies and gentlemen, notification of the timing explanations of vote will be given at 3 p.m.

 

11. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
  

(The sitting was suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Gérard ONESTA
Vice-President

 

12. Agenda
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  President. – (FR) Colleagues, I have to remind you that 19 Members have requested time for oral explanations of vote on each of the seven reports that were adopted before lunch. There are a further 10 individual requests for explanations of vote. Theoretically the time required for explanations of vote would thus be 143 minutes, something more than two hours. In order to be able to take these explanations of vote today, I therefore propose the following change in the order of business:

We would take the Commission’s statement on waste in the Campania region, which is currently scheduled for 9 p.m., immediately after the Angelilli report on the rights of the child.

The explanations of vote would then be taken during the evening sitting, after the oral question on the status of elected MEPs in Poland.

The order of business would thus be as follows:

– from 3 to 5.30 p.m.: Cashman report, Angelilli report, then the Commission statement on waste in the Campania region,

– from 5.30 to 7 p.m.: Commission Question Time,

– then during the evening sitting from 9 p.m. to midnight we would have, in order: the Pack report, the Graefe zu Baringdorf report, the oral question on the status of elected MEPs in Poland and finally the explanations of vote on those items put to the vote before lunch.

 
  
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  Christopher Heaton-Harris (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, on a point of order, for clarification of the Rules as they were ruled upon earlier today. Under Rule 171, invoked by Mr Schulz, about the suspension of the sitting, it does not say – because we had finished the votes and were before an explanation of vote – that the rule could be invoked at that particular time. If the sitting was then suspended, it is precedent in this House that, when you resume the sitting, you continue with the business, and continuing with the business – based on precedent in this House and what we have done in the eight years I have been here – would be the explanations of vote. I am quite happy to come back here at whatever time is necessary to give my explanations of vote, because I want to do that for a number of reports.

I would ask you what the basis of the ruling on Rule 171 was, because I do not think that was in order; you know you are twisting the Rules, as well as I do here, to go against the democratic wills of some Members of this House. It is a strange type of democracy when you are trying to silence a minority who are just doing what they are allowed to do within the Rules of Procedure.

 
  
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  President. – (FR) Colleagues, allow me to remind you of a few basic facts about how we operate here. The President can suspend the sitting at any time.

I merely have to get up – to rise from this seat – and the proceedings will be suspended automatically. Rest assured, please, that I have no intention of rising from my seat, but do be aware that all it takes for the proceedings to be suspended is that the President should get up.

So my first point is this: the proceedings were suspended because it rests entirely within the President’s power to suspend the sitting when he or she chooses to do so.

A second absolute rule is the following: this is the plenary session and only the plenary session has control – total control – over its agenda. That is why I am proposing to you that you amend the order of business along the lines I have just suggested.

Should you not wish to make the changes I have proposed, then in that case – and only in that case – Mr Heaton-Harris, you would be right, we would work to the agenda previously agreed.

I will therefore now ask whether the Members are formally opposed to changing the order of business as I have just suggested. We will formally hear the case against the proposal and then I will take a speaker in favour of it.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI ). – Mr President, it is undoubtedly true that you, as President, could leave the chair and the Assembly would be suspended. However, that is not the basis on which what happened before lunch time happened. That was on the premise of a proposal under Rule 171, from Mr Schulz, that the House be suspended.

The rule is quite clear, that when such a proposal is made there should be a speaker for, and a speaker against. That was not the case, meaning that the proposal was irregular and should not have been put to the vote, and that the decision is not binding. You should, therefore, now return to the agenda.

 
  
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  President. – (FR) I would remind you again that the House is the sovereign authority here. So the President in the chair is entitled to do as I am now doing, namely to call on two colleagues to speak, one for and one against. That is a prerogative of the President.

Of course the House has to take a vote, but I believe that a vote was taken this morning, and electronically confirmed. I do not think that the result of that vote can be contested.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (DE) Mr President, I only wish to acknowledge that the President who chaired the sitting this morning did indeed forget to ask who wished to speak for and against the proposal. It is equally true, however, that a clear majority of this House voted that we should not debate or hear the explanations of vote now but at ten o’clock this evening. Now there is a new proposal, and I wish to support it on behalf of my Group and, I think, on behalf of other Members too. I believe the arrangement you have proposed makes good sense, and we shall see how the vote goes. Moreover, as you said yourself, the House is sovereign. The majority of the House will decide.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – (FR) Colleagues, I have taken one speaker against and one speaker for the motion. If someone has something to say at this point, it should be on a different matter, not to re-argue the for and against. If that is what you wish to do, I cannot give you the floor.

 
  
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  Daniel Hannan (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, on a point of order, this Chamber may be sovereign, as you say, but it nonetheless must follow its own Rules of Procedure.

The suspension or closure of a sitting is covered by Rule 171; I quote, ‘The sitting may be suspended or closed during a debate or a vote.’ Now, this morning was not during a debate or a vote, it was after the vote.

Furthermore, Rule 163, ‘Explanations of vote’, does not allow discretion to the Chair to not hear them or to change the time. It reads explicitly, ‘Once the general debate has been concluded, any Member may give an oral explanation on the final vote for not longer than one minute’.

It is true that the rules of this House give substantial arbitrary power to the speaker. But these are two items where no such power pertains, and this House chose – in the most flagrant way – to tear up its own Rules of Procedure rather than delay a couple of people from having lunch.

I have to say it is symbolic of the way in which the European Union is proceeding with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, nay, European Constitution, that you tear up your own rule book when it does not suit you, rather than tolerate an opposing point of view.

 
  
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  President. – (FR) What I propose, colleagues, is as follows: clearly we are not in a position this afternoon, here in plenary session, to assess all the various arguments about the interpretation of this rule.

If Members wish to engage in recriminations, let them do so in writing to the President of Parliament. I am sure that he will refer complaints to the appropriate committee.

What I am concerned to do now is simply to decide on the order of business. I have made a proposal. I have heard one Member speak against it and one Member for it. I now put it to the vote.

(Parliament agreed to the request.)

(The order of business was thus established.)

 

13. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting
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  President. – (FR) The Minutes of the sitting of Monday 14 January 2008 have been distributed.

Are there any comments?

 
  
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  Cristiana Muscardini (UEN ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is very kind of you to give me the floor 20 minutes after |I asked for it, even though I am right opposite the presidency. I want to speak for the record and for the sake of democracy in this Chamber.

The Presidency of Parliament and all the group chairmen must realise that two wrongs do not make a right. What is politically useful is not always politically correct and after listening today to the Grand Mufti we have to decide in a manner that is clear and unequivocal for all of us whether we in this Chamber follow the democratic provisions of the Rules of Procedure or follow the interest each individual may have according to circumstances.

A mistake was made this morning with regard to Parliament’s Rules of Procedure and we will not correct that error by voting today in an empty Chamber. We are making another mistake to the detriment of democracy here. I am not saying on behalf of the UEN Group whether it is important to discuss the waste in Italy at 9 p.m. this evening or at 5 p.m. tomorrow, or whether it is important for explanations of vote to follow the vote, as has always been the custom in this Parliament, when the vote is expressed as it should have been this morning. I do ask you, however, Mr President – and you may cut me off, that does not interest me at all – what this Parliament’s Rules of Procedure say? Do you know? In regard to this question, you want to reply to this deserted Chamber that it should vote on the basis of those who were given the floor and not those who wanted to express an independent view! That is madness!

 
  
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  President. – (FR) Madame President, I trust my tone will be as measured as your own was agitated. I gave you the floor because I wished to know whether you were for or against approval of the Minutes of Monday 14 January. You had nothing to say on that point. I was, however, courteous enough to hear you out and I hope that our colleagues will be similarly appreciative of the manner in which you chose to address the House.

I shall take it, therefore, that there are no comments, as Madame President is not seeking the floor again.

(The Minutes of the previous sitting were approved. )

 

14. Multiannual framework for the Fundamental Rights Agency for 2007-2012 (debate)
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  President. – (FR) The next item is the report by Michael Cashman, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on the proposal for a Decision of the Council implementing Regulation (EC) n° 168/2007 on the adoption of a multiannual framework for the Fundamental Rights Agency for 2007-2012 (COM(2007)0515 - C6-0322/2007 - 2007/0189(CNS) ) (A6-0514/2007 ).

A point of order here: could the Honourable Member please tell me which article of the Regulation he is referring to?

 
  
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  Roger Knapman (IND/DEM ). – Mr President, on a point of order under Rule 171. Just now you told the House that 19 Members had sought to make speeches. Before lunch we were told that there were 14 Members. I know that when it comes to statistics, and particularly when there is no roll-call vote, things are a bit loose here, but could you explain the difference between those two figures?

 
  
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  President. – (FR) It is difficult to give you an explanation here and now, but I shall do my best.

We receive requests to speak – and I have been in the chair on many occasions for explanations of vote – in real time. In all probability what happened was that when Mr Vidal-Quadras made his announcement there were 14 names on the rostrum before him, then, within seconds or minutes, other Members of the House approached the rostrum to tell the President that they wished to speak. That is undoubtedly why the figure increased from 14 to 19 in the interval between Mr Vidal-Quadras’s announcement and my own of just a moment ago. It is, however, a very interesting point and we shall check the relevant rule.

Permit me now, if you will, to return to the Cashman report and to begin straight away with the Commission representative.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission . − Mr President, first of all, I would like to thank Parliament for the very constructive cooperation and support for the quick adoption of the multiannual framework for the Fundamental Rights Agency for the years 2007-2012.

I would especially like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Cashman, for his personal commitment on this file. The multiannual framework 2007-2012 as proposed by the Commission and discussed in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will enable the Agency to work to the best of its capabilities. I would like to say here that I fully understand the reasoning behind each of the amendments proposed by the rapporteur. I am pleased to say that I can accept Amendment 1; Amendment 2 regarding the notion of ethnic minorities; Amendments 3, 4, 5, 8 and 13 (in part) regarding the notion of multiple discrimination; Amendment 15 regarding the notion of social exclusion and Amendment 16 – in particular as all these amendments reflect the compromise solutions found in discussions between the Presidency, the Commission and the rapporteur.

Regarding the other amendments, I cannot accept them for a number of legal and technical reasons which I will explain here very quickly. Some of the amendments do not comply with the basic regulation, namely Amendments 10, 11 and 18. In some cases, amendments go beyond the regulation, particularly Amendment 17. In some other cases they are in contradiction with the regulation, from my point of view of course, such as Amendment 10. Others do not correspond with the better regulation requirements, particularly Amendments 2, 7 and 13, as regards the adding of ‘traditional national minorities and linguistic minorities’ that are already covered by the regulation.

Some amendments are outside Community competence or the competence of the Agency, namely Amendments 14 and 15 (in part). Finally, Amendment 12 would significantly limit the scope of the areas to be dealt with by the Agency as laid down in Article 2 of our proposal.

One point concerning Amendment 6. I am not against the substance of the provision. However, the proposal for the multiannual framework is not, from my point of view, the best place to introduce general statements on the nature and definition of human rights.

This is best done in relevant international conventions and in the Charter. However, I will not oppose this amendment if both Council and Parliament are willing to accept it.

Finally, I cannot accept Amendments 7 and 9. On Amendment 7 the multiannual framework is designed to regulate obligations on European Institutions and/or the Member States to monitor compliance with all international human rights conventions to which the Member States are party.

On Amendment 9, a reference to a review of the multiannual framework before the five-year period is not necessary, given that Commission, Council and Parliament can always request to go outside the scope of Article 2 of the framework.

Generally speaking, the time-frame of five years was set up to prevent jeopardising the effectiveness of the work of the Agency, which needs time to plan its work and to deliver on it. The introduction of systematic reviews could risk undermining the work of the Agency.

Finally, in my view the establishment of the Agency has been a big success for the promotion of the respect of fundamental rights in the European Union. It has also been a success in terms of interinstitutional cooperation. Now we have to set the proper conditions for the agency to operate successfully and to prove its worth in the years to come.

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, rapporteur . − Mr President, I should like to thank Vice-President Frattini for those words.

If Parliament had codecision on this we would be in a much stronger position. I have to say to colleagues here today that I met with NGOs and civil society at the very beginning, as did other shadow rapporteurs, to see what we could do. It was quite clear to me at the very beginning that if I had my way I would have a list that was endless, because human rights are so important: they are paramount and are the very reason that the institutions were established so that we never got back to those conditions that created the Second World War and the appalling shadow that was cast across so many different peoples and so many different minorities.

However, the reality is that we are merely consulted, which is why I have had to take on a very difficult position. It is extremely difficult for me as a gay man not to want to include specifically homophobia. However, if I am to be consistent in the application of principle in that we need to bring on board that which is not covered, then I have to forego the very things that also my heart desires. So it has been difficult.

I am pleased to say that this report was adopted by 48 votes in favour, none against and 8 abstentions. That indicates that what we have here – although, indeed, there are some amendments which I did not personally support – are the wishes of the committee. I want to pay great tribute to the Portuguese Presidency and my colleague sitting here in the Chamber who worked very closely with me, who supported Parliament in order to try to achieve a position which both the Council and the Commission could support.

I am pleased that the Commissioner has listed nine out of the eighteen amendments. We are getting 50% support – of course, I want 100% support but I live in the real political world. I want the Agency, above all, to succeed. The origins of the Agency are the Charter of Fundamental Rights and all the international conventions on human rights that we have in common amongst the Member States.

However, there are some delegations, some politicians and some Member States who want the Agency to fail. They do not want it to be effective, and that is why I have been absolutely specific in the demands that we are making upon this Agency. I want it to succeed. I believe that the amendments that were adopted in committee will help it to succeed, while not placing upon the Agency undue demands which will go beyond the resources, both human and financial.

There have been suggestions amongst some of the women’s groups that this does not go far enough, but we have introduced the gender perspective and taken account of the Gender Institute. Of course, there must be complementarity, but we must not have duplication because, again, that would waste the resources.

So let me finish and let me listen – arguably the most important thing and one of the most difficult things to do in politics. Let me listen to the debate, but I will not be able to support the amendments that will be placed before the plenary tomorrow for the simple principle: I said at the beginning I could not take on board a whole range of amendments and to change that attitude now would be to go back on the agreement that I reached with the shadows. Of course minority languages are important, of course other areas are important, but there is nothing more important than an Agency for Fundamental Rights which is successful in the work that we set it to do.

 
  
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  Libor Rouček, draftsman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs . – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, the establishment at the beginning of last year of the Agency for Fundamental Rights is a very important and necessary step towards the protection and support of fundamental human rights both within and outside the European Union. Unfortunately, the long-term framework has not been yet accepted and some of the personnel issues have yet to be resolved. The Committee on Foreign Affairs is therefore asking for this situation to be rectified as soon as possible. Where the activity of the Agency outside the European Union is concerned, the Committee on Foreign Affairs supports the measures adopted in order to prevent duplication of work and to secure the necessary coordination of activities with international organisations operating in this field: primarily the Council of Europe, the UN and the OSCE. We are also of the opinion that dialogue on human rights is crucial for the relationship between the Union and developing countries. We therefore welcome the fact that the Agency is open to the participation of candidate countries. Finally, we presume that as soon as the Reform Treaty comes into force and the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is created, the Agency will provide every assistance to this representative in his or her activities .

 
  
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  Kinga Gál, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (HU) Thank you for the floor, Mr President. I am delighted that we have reached the adoption of the framework programme for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and I would like to thank the rapporteur for his work and the willingness to cooperate that he has demonstrated throughout what has been a formidable task.

It is now equally important for the institutions, the Member States and the citizens of the EU that the Agency start its proper work as soon as possible, since it was officially created in Vienna on 1 March last year, but still does not have a structure, mandate or leadership fit for purpose.

It is therefore very important that the framework programme be adopted now. We have confronted such a complex problem here, when on the one hand we could list countless questions of human rights and fundamental legal questions, yet on the other hand we have to consider what would really make this Agency fit for purpose today.

As I see it, my fellow Member, Mr Cashman, has tried to put this opinion together so that it meets the two criteria above at the same time: that it can deal flexibly with the human rights problems that affect us all in a sensitive way, and keep the Agency fit for purpose at the same time.

I feel that the Parliament fully supports these proposals, and – despite listening carefully to Mr Frattini saying what is unacceptable to him and the Commission – I sincerely hope that the Council understands our many questions, since they could be the keys to how the Agency should carry out its work so as to focus on real problems.

The matter of linguistic minorities and national minorities was omitted from the original list but is included in the proposal. I consider this to be very important, since we are seeing now that these problems crop up again and again, and the Union will indeed confront them; it has to get involved. I therefore hope that this Agency will be able to pay attention to them. We will not be dealing with a ‘paper tiger’, but with a real working institution. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Stavros Lambrinidis, for the PSE group . – Mr President, the Fundamental Rights Agency must at last begin to accomplish its important task. This is why the rapporteur, whom I congratulate, has been compelled to limit the amendments to the proposed programme in order to facilitate a rapid interinstitutional agreement on this important issue. It would of course be preferable if the subject areas included social rights, and there were explicit references to questions of human trafficking, and to the protection of the private sphere and human dignity within the framework of the measures taken against terrorism. But the door remains open.

Today I shall focus in particular on an important amendment which I and some other colleagues submitted, an amendment which was passed and which explicitly mentions effective, independent administration of justice, including the rights of the accused and suspects.

Mr President, when public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary is undermined, the basis of our democratic societies is undermined, and for this reason, very rightly, the responsibilities of the Agency included this dimension from the outset. At the same time, however, we tend to forget that each person is innocent until proved guilty. The pillorying of the accused by the media to boost ratings, or even by governments and officials for the sake of short-lived political gains, flagrantly violates this principle. And suspects, Mr President, - especially in this day and age when it turns out that so many fundamental principles can be bent in the name of combating terrorism, - cannot be abducted, mistreated and deprived of their fundamental rights without consequences. If anything can teach us this, then surely it’s Guantanamo, whose sixth anniversary has just passed with, regrettably, hardly anyone noticing the fact.

 
  
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  Sophia in 't Veld, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all let me say that I have a great deal of respect for the rapporteur, Mr Cashman. I always regard him as a great ally in the fight to defend fundamental rights. Where I differ from the rapporteur, therefore, is not on the substance, the content, but on the strategy. It might be a strategy to relinquish a couple of priorities in exchange for support from the Council, but is the Council offering us enough for us to abandon what we want? Not in my opinion, and that being so I prefer just to state my position clearly.

The ALDE amendments propose four additional priorities, namely homophobia, privacy, counter-terrorist policy and fundamental rights, and discrimination against the Roma, and right now makes these the four main areas in which Member States continually breach human rights. The Fundamental Rights Agency should have become a watchdog to keep the Member States on the right path, but unfortunately it has not managed to do that. At any rate, it has already become a toothless tiger. As far as I am concerned, and certainly also when I listened to what Commissioner Frattini has just said, the European Parliament, as the most important partner of the Fundamental Rights Agency, should simply set its own clear priorities.

Quite honestly, if we are counting on support from or agreement with the Council, I wonder anyway where the Council is today. I am afraid, therefore, that I very much agree with the rapporteur on the content – I am going to consult in my group – but I regret to say that I cannot support the strategy.

 
  
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  Konrad Szymański, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, the Fundamental Rights Agency was formed on the basis of the Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. This change could have been the precursor of an improvement. The Centre in Vienna was known for its unreliability and the ease with which complaints about racism and anti-semitism were abused – this was the case, for example, in 2001 and 2005 with regard to Radio Maryja, the Republican League and my own country, Poland.

If the new institution follows the rapporteur’s recommendations, it will soon be repeating the old mistakes. The proposal to go over and above the thematic areas, the flexibility or the so-called proactive measures – these are just quotes from the justification provided for this report – this is nothing other than a green light for the agency to act in an uncontrolled manner, dictated to by extreme ideologies, and outside of international law. None of this would really matter, after all this would not be the only case where European money is being wasted, but a system for the protection of human rights that lacks the framework of international law, and which is left to professional anti-racists, loses the most important asset in its possession – credibility.

 
  
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  Cem Özdemir, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Mr President, we voted for the report in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. We shall approve it again here, although we subscribe to much of the criticism voiced in the chamber and even by the rapporteur himself. One of my points has already been raised by the rapporteur. Although the Fundamental Rights Agency will continue to address sex discrimination, issues such as homophobia, unfortunately, are not part of its remit. In the light of the debates we have had within Europe and the present state of discussions, it is regrettable that we were unable to arrive at that compromise with the Council and the Commission.

There are other points to be made. We tabled amendments in committee, but unfortunately all of them were rejected. I only intend to refer to a few of these. Discrimination against the Romany people would have been an important problem to address, as would the protection of personal privacy. Data protection would have been another important point. Here in Europe we have attained a certain standard, which we must uphold within the Union for the sake of our credibility. It is, however, important, not least in the light of our experience in combating terrorism, to examine the extent to which the fight against terrorism can be reconciled with fundamental rights. This is another matter that would be worth including in the remit of the Fundamental Rights Agency.

Everyone agrees that the Fundamental Rights Agency should become operational as soon as possible, but we have not even managed to agree on a director. There is therefore room for a degree of doubt as to whether the Agency will actually be able to perform its functions. The good news is that there will not be many more of these procedures. When the revised EU Treaty takes effect from 2009, we shall have other processes through which the involvement of the European Parliament in these debates will be channelled.

 
  
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  Bairbre de Brún, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group . – (GA) Mr President, I welcome Mr Cashman’s report on the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The members of Committee on Civil Liberties have done sterling work on this important subject. I congratulate them as well as the rapporteur.

But I particularly welcome the improvements whereby discrimination as regards traditional languages and minorities is to be encompassed within the Agency’s specific responsibilities. I call on Members to back these reforms tomorrow.

The United Nations has declared this year, 2008, International Year of Languages. The European Union has to participate in this venture, and we too must follow suit.

I personally have a special interest in this matter. I am continuing to work at EU level, to demand the resources necessary for Irish as an EU working language, and at constituency level, to support the campaign for an Irish Language Act, a piece of legislation sorely needed in Northern Ireland to protect the rights of Irish-speakers.

Those rights cannot be exercised at present. They will be available if they are enshrined in binding legislation and if a body such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is able to challenge my compatriots and others in the matter of discrimination based on language.

 
  
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  Koenraad Dillen (NI ). – (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I shall be voting wholeheartedly against this report, because I see the Agency as the European watchdog for the political correctness that which is gaining more and more of a hold over Europe. Whilst the Agency claims that it is going to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, it is actually a threat to some of our most fundamental rights and freedoms and the principle of subsidiarity.

The spirit of political correctness that haunts Europe means that freedom of expression has to be subordinated to the demands of a particular religion, namely Islam, which does not accept any criticism.

The European Monitoring Centre for Racism, to which this Agency is intended to be the successor, very deliberately equated the legitimate expression of views opposed to immigration and the negative aspects of Islam with racism. The Centre also maintained that Islamophobia is a new form of discrimination and that, following the clashes over the Danish cartoons, there should be anti-blasphemy laws. When a study that had been commissioned showed that violence against Jews in Europe was mainly perpetrated by young Muslims, the director of the Centre promptly consigned it to the bin.

Very few people in this House seem to realise yet that freedom of expression is the supreme fundamental right and that progress in history has always been driven by progress in freedom of thought. Europe would never have been the centre of the world at one time without the freedom to be able to tell the truth bluntly and uninhibitedly, however much it might offend. This report and this Agency set that principle on a slippery slope.

 
  
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  Íñigo Méndez de Vigo (PPE-DE ). – (ES) Mr President, the establishment of a multiannual framework for the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency is an extraordinarily important matter for those of us who believe that basic rights are part of Europeans’ DNA. Therefore I should like to join with the rapporteur and other spadkers who have said ‘onward’ with the multiannual framework ‘onward’ with the Agency’s work.

I also believe that this report, as Mrs Gál, whom I support as spokesperson for my group, has said, is a balanced report which strives to be productive without being over-ambitious.

Realistic, that I believe is the expression the rapporteur used. As the report is realistic I would like to ask Commissioner Frattini, my good friend Franco Frattini, for a little more support. For the European Commission only to accept nine of the 18 amendments we have tabled seems to me to be a poor effort, and an effort, Mr Vice-President of the Commission, is what is required on a matter of such importance as this.

I had the good fortune and honour to be President of Parliament’s delegation to the Convention which drew up the Charter and am also equally honoured to chair the ATD Fourth World Intergroup, and we have succeeded on one amendment, number 15: to include combating social exclusion and poverty among the Agency’s objectives. Why? Because anyone who is socially excluded, living in abject poverty, ultimately does not enjoy any basic rights and that is why we are of the view that it would be an important political signal to our fellow citizens for amendment 15 to be viewed more synmpathetically than it has been by you, Mr Vice-President of the Commission. Ultimately, we MEPs represent the people and the people are asking us to concern ourselves with the least well-off as well.

Therefore, Commissioner, I hope this debate will help you understand the importance of moving from accepting nine amendments to accepting more, and to support the European Parliament’s position on this matter.

 
  
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  Magda Kósáné Kovács (PSE ). – (HU) Thank you very much, Mr President. Nine months on from the ceremonious handover of the Fundamental Rights Agency, it is no joy for me to speak about the fact that the institution has not been able to start work, and still has no management.

At least this week the multiannual framework programme will be adopted by Parliament, for which I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Cashman. The multiannual framework programme is crucial for the Agency’s work and for how effective it will be in monitoring fundamental rights and formulating what to do. The trilateral agreement process for creating the founding charter left open some routes down which it is our duty to continue.

For example, the statement by the Council wanted to use political strength to achieve the possibility for the Agency to investigate the enforcement of human rights in the area of cooperation with the police and judiciary at the Agency’s request. It is important for Member States and the Union to avail themselves of the opportunities they have until this is incontrovertibly the duty of the Agency, after the entry into force of the Reform Treaty.

Likewise, it is our joint responsibility that the individual and community rights of national and ethnic minorities are rendered unquestionable, not only by prohibiting discrimination but also through the requirement for positive law enforcement. In principle, the recognition of social rights as human rights cannot be questioned either, since there is no human dignity without basic security.

It is a cliché, but true nonetheless, that every decision is worth however much of it is implemented. Mr Vice-President Frattini’s words have cast a little doubt, but nonetheless I hope that the Agency will be consistent in protecting human rights.

 
  
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  Hubert Pirker (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I should like to take the opportunity to make two basic points. The first is that I fervently hope and urgently appeal for immediate action to appoint the director of this Fundamental Rights Agency as soon as its work programme has been adopted, for the whole purpose of establishing an agency is that it should be made fully functional as soon as possible.

My second basic point is that I wish to use this discussion to call once again for an appraisal of the performance and utility of all agencies. As a matter of fact, I am not convinced that all agencies work in the way we wish or that they must exist for all eternity; on the contrary, I firmly believe that there are some parallel structures and that it would certainly be possible to dispense with some agencies without anyone noticing their absence or being any the worse for it. I should like to ask you when the Commission intends to launch such an evaluation.

 
  
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  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE ). – (PL) Mr President, while congratulating the rapporteur Michael Cashman, I would like to make one comment, namely: during the sittings of the LIBE committee we discussed in detail whether the Human Rights Agency will or will not be doing the same work as the Council of Europe. We came to the conclusion that it will not, but I have the impression that we envy the Council of Europe the fact that it carries such weight, which allows it to apply a specific legal system.

It seems to me that the Fundamental Rights Agency, despite the conditions and the competencies that it possesses, should base itself strongly on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This should give it the clear understanding that it too is a guardian of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, also for those citizens, those Member States, who have not accepted the Charter of Fundamental Rights in full. I believe that this is very important and I also believe that the Human Rights Agency should move in this direction with our assistance, with the support of the European Parliament.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission . − Mr President, I should like to thank everyone who took the floor for their suggestions and contributions.

First of all, the European Union should be, and should be seen by citizens to be, not only the best defender but also the best promoter of fundamental rights. By this I mean the rights of groups and communities as well as the rights of individuals. That is a very important approach.

I also feel that, following the proclamation of the Charter and the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, the Agency should become the most effective European instrument in this field. To this end, I would like to see Parliament organising the hearing of the candidates short-listed for the post of director as soon as possible, so that the Agency can start working to the best of its capacities.

I fully agree with the rapporteur, Mr Cashman, that we have to let the Agency start working now. Overburdening it with too many tasks would risk making the Agency a body that appears to be strong, but which in practice is incapable of acting with the required speed.

Finally, I am aware of the concerns expressed by many of you, and can promise you that, well before the end of the five-year period, I would be ready to make full use of the Commission’s powers to request the Agency to go beyond the scope of Article 2, namely in the field of justice and security cooperation.

One final word: I am sympathetic to what my friend, Mr Méndez de Vigo, has said, and will look closely at his suggestions, particularly as regards Amendment 15, in order to try to meet the expectations expressed concerning a European strategy against poverty.

I would also repeat that I am prepared to accept Amendment 6, even if I do not agree with it in principle. I hope that my trying to meet your expectations will make Mr Cashman happy.

 
  
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  President. – (FR) Thank you, Commissioner. It would seem that the House is appreciative.

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, rapporteur . − Mr President, I thank the Commissioner for relenting on the very important issue of Amendment 6, which states ‘All human beings are born equal and therefore human rights are indivisible and inviolable’. Can I thank colleagues for their contributions, and can I just tell you that, when one of the non-attached Members states that they are going to vote against me, when those extremists within Parliament vote against me and against my report, my heart fills with joy and my brain tells me that we have got it absolutely right. Because there should be no extremism when it comes to the defence of human rights, except to be extremely defensive of human rights.

I would say to my good friend Sophia in ’t Veld that of course I agree with her, but I believe that the issue of the Roma, privacy and homophobia are already covered. Indeed, the Roma would be covered under discrimination based on ethnicity and race. I would say to my colleague Mr Lambrinidis that the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights gives us the area in which we can operate on the basis of privacy, preventing trafficking and dealing with social exclusion. Ms Gál said it was absolutely right that it is about the workability of the Agency and that is what we have to face.

That is why I have included multiple discrimination. We must remember that we are not dealing solely with the areas that they can cover. These are thematic areas based on the objective foundations which are the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the international conventions, which all of the Member States have in common.

To my great friend Mr Cem Özdemir – çok teşekkür ederim! – I would say, on data protection, yes, it is covered. Also, we have the data protection supervisor and we have data protection directives, and the last thing we want is duplication.

It is interesting and we should celebrate. The Angelilli report is coming up. It is an own-initiative report, yet here we have an absolute commitment – not an own-initiative, not a request – that the rights of the child be covered under the Agency which protects fundamental rights. Therefore, I congratulate the House. I urge it to vote with me. Let us not bring in more, let us not dilute, let us be focused, let us get the job done – and Mr President, save your gavel for another time!

 
  
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  Irena Belohorská (NI ).(SK) I would like to protest strongly against what Mr Cashman has just said: I belong to the Group of non-attached Members and I would like to say that in the past, when I was a member of the Council of Europe, I drew up a report on the ban on child labour and I also took part in the preparation of another report on the rights of the child. That is why I strongly protest against the comments by the rapporteur, who said that he does not care whether anyone from the Group of non-attached Members will be voting against him.

 
  
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  President. – (FR) Mr Cashman, please, to reply personally on comments that were received as a personal attack.

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, rapporteur . − Mr President, I was not, of course, thinking of the Honourable Member when I made my comment.

I referred generally to the non-attached Members, but specifically to the comments made by Mr Dillen, which I believe are extremist comments. But in no way did I mean to offend the Honourable Member, whose record speaks for itself.

 
  
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  President. – (FR) I can confirm, at least with regard to the French interpretation, that the comment was made in relation to extremists, as opposed to non-attached Members. The rapporteur made a clear distinction.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 17 January 2008.

 

15. Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (debate)
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  President. – The next item is Roberta Angelilli’s report, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs – Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (2007/2093(INI) ) (A6-0520/2007 ).

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli, rapporteur . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first I want to thank colleagues for their valuable cooperation, and in particular Mr Frattini for his commitment since the beginning of his mandate to safeguard the rights of the child.

The report obviously does not pretend to be exhaustive, but I believe it is a good point of departure. The objective was to lay the bases for a strategy aimed at promoting and safeguarding the rights of minors in the European Union’s internal and external policies and to support Member States’ efforts in that sector. We wanted to take as our premise the specific nature of the rights of minors, which are totally distinct from the more general category of fundamental rights, although they form an integral part of them.

The strategy aims above all at the positive affirmation of the rights of the child, which include the right to a family, the right to health, education, social inclusion, but also the right to entertainment, the right to play, to engage in sport, together with the right to a clean and protected environment. In substance, the aim is to create a society tailored to the child, in which the child can feel protected and actively involved.

That is why the report is based on two main presumptions: (1) active participation of children in decision-making that affects them; (2) mainstreaming, that is to say incorporating and promoting the rights of the child in all European Union policies. In short, the rights of minors must finally become a political priority for Europe, given also that children account for about 30% of European citizens and much still remains to be done for them, beginning with the fight against violence and abuse, in face of the worrying growth of paedophilia and child pornography networks. The general objective is to ban all forms of violence, including so-called traditional practices, honour crimes, and forced marriages. It is not enough only to ensure the certain punishment of those who commit violence; we must guarantee a strategy of prevention, aimed especially at helping children at risk.

Another priority is to combat child poverty. It is worth pointing out that even within the European Union 19% of children live below the poverty line and we must, therefore, provide aid measures that are also designed to support their families. In particular, we need measures targeted at Roma children and street children, who are often forced to beg and thus become easy victims of exploitation, trafficking and organised crime.

Another basic aspect of the strategy is to guarantee the education and training of all children, including the most poor and disadvantaged. We also need measures targeted at the less able, so as to prevent any form of discrimination. We are among experts here so perhaps there is no need in this Chamber to list all the urgent problems that need to be tackled: from the marketing of violent video games to the rise in cases of international kidnapping of minors, the red tape that makes international adoptions difficult, the tragedy of the child soldiers, child labour, the failure to register the birth of a child, the remarkable number of disappeared children of which no more is ever heard. I could go on and on.

In truth, we must apply the appropriate instruments and provide prompt information in order to exchange experiences and good practice, and we must create synergy between the related legal and penal instruments in order to address the problems in concrete terms and in real time and possibly succeed in preventing them.

Let me conclude by saying that approval of the Lisbon Treaty will give us a few more chances. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights now forms part of the Treaty, including, therefore, Article 24, which expressly governs the rights of the child, thus creating a legal basis for implementing the strategy. At this point, we as a Parliament, but above all the Member States, must set to work immediately.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let me give warm thanks to Mrs Angelilli for this report.

From the start of my term of office, the rights of the child have clearly been a top priority, a central item of my agenda, and the cooperation with Parliament in this field too has now led to the policy lines that will be the outcome of this report – which I hope will be adopted by a very large majority – guidelines for action that the Commission will follow, for there is not a single point in that report that I do not endorse. It sets out horizontal initiatives that cover a number of policies, but the common denominator is that minors, that is children, form the heart of our society and it is, therefore, clear that they deserve our utmost attention.

Over the coming weeks I, together with my staff, will consider how to put the individual points contained in Mrs Angellili’s report into practice on the basis of concrete initiatives. There are, in fact, already some measures under way. They include the presentation of a communication that you have taken into account and that dates back to July 2006, a general communication on a European strategy on the rights of the child that has the entirely political objective of making those rights a political priority, as Mrs Angelilli noted.

Other measures now under way include the creation of a standard helpline telephone number, 116 000, which will be the same throughout Europe. Let me take this opportunity to invite the many Member States that have not yet put that measure into practice to lose no more time in doing so; here, I am obviously addressing not Parliament but Member State governments. That decision was taken more than a year ago yet more than half the Member States still do not have a helpline that actually works, although it is a decision that, I believe, could have been implemented in a short space of time.

Last October we discussed, with the Presidency in Lisbon, whether we could jointly set up a European network of early warning systems for the event of the abduction or disappearance of children. You know we were looking at the good example of the French system, we looked at how things worked in Belgium, we noted that Portugal and Greece were setting up, or in recent weeks have already set up systems; but it is clear that child abductors disregard borders and, therefore, early warning systems cannot stop at geographical borders.

We have done a lot of work on Internet crime against children. Our work with a conference of experts last November produced important results in terms of the kind of technical cooperation that could lead to the interconnection of electronic systems to prevent and react to on-line paedophilia. That is one of the most terrible threats to children, and you know that thanks to its inclusion among the 2007 priorities of Eurojust and Europol we are now able to dismantle many international paedophile networks operating via the Internet.

We also submitted a report last November – one of the points that was emphasised – on progress in implementing the framework decision dating back to 2004 on combating the sexual exploitation of children. In that report, as you may remember, I highlighted the fact that too many Member States have still not transposed that 2004 framework decision, dating back four years now, on the sexual exploitation of children.

We certainly created a useful instrument with the European Forum. The first experience with it in Germany, under the German Presidency, mainly related to Internet abuse and violent video games. The next European Forum on the rights of the child, which will take place under the Slovenian Presidency, will address other subjects, including in particular international adoptions. We will look at the situation and, as Mrs Angelilli hoped, we are also looking into practical ways of inviting children, children’s representatives, to take direct part in all European Forum meetings. You will understand that it is a delicate matter to invite children, including rather small children, to take part in those meetings, but that is the objective that has been decided and we will, therefore, fall in with that proposal from Parliament too.

We are developing a dedicated European website for children, written and presented in a simple way, which explains, for example, how to guard against the many safety threats to children in everyday life in a non-aggressive and non-shocking way; it explains how to, let us say, steer clear of such dangers. We have said very little about the Fundamental Rights Agency; one of my proposals was to make the rights of the child a priority under that Agency’s multiannual programme.

We still have much to do. Mrs Angelilli rightly says that we must consider migrant children. That is an aspect we will address specifically in the framework of European immigration policy: children are often victims, they are often the most vulnerable in the general context of migration flows. We must place more emphasis on the need to implement the European action plan to combat people-trafficking, with particular reference to children, in addition to women, for as the two weakest categories they are often the victims of international people-trafficking. We must look into means of financing practical proposals and projects under European programmes.

The new Daphne programme and the new fundamental rights programme may, for example, enable us also to provide financial aid for the European Network of Ombudspeople for Children. I attach great importance to that network and also, clearly, to the NGOs working in that field. The new programme, known as Daphne III, has been refinanced and may serve as a particularly useful instrument.

In conclusion, I am, of course, more than ready and willing to continue developing this political strategy, with a view also to producing very concrete results for our citizens in one of the areas particularly close to our heart.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, Rapporteur of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality . − (EL) Mr President, protection of the rights of the child has never been lacking from the internal and external policies of the European Union, but because of the absence of a legal basis, these policies have been piecemeal, and for this reason your proposal, Mr Vice-President, for the development of a strategy for the protection of the rights of the child has been favourably received by the European Parliament, and also by civil society. We hope it will be strengthened with the entry into force of the Reform Treaty, which will include as an integral part the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as was mentioned by the rapporteur, Mrs Angelilli, whom I congratulate for her skills of synthesis and her presentation of today’s report.

With the possibility of an integrated and coordinated approach to the protection of children at European level - thanks, amongst other things, to the numerous interesting proposals by the Commission - the child must be regarded not as a victim, but as the holder of positive rights and obligations, who should grow up in a healthy family environment with the assurance that his or her material and non-material needs will be met.

Respect for the rights of the child should be strengthened not only through the planning of European actions, but also by the political will of the Member States, with measures which will answer to the fundamental needs of children and protect them against multiple dangers.

The Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality focused, in its opinion, on the question of supporting the mother and the family in the performance of their obligations. It urged support for vulnerable groups, namely children at risk due to abuse and lack of education, healthcare, proper nutrition and opportunities to develop and achieve their potential.

The reconciliation of the parents’ working lives with family life: this is an inalienable right of the child, and also represents the creation of valuable capital and an investment in the society of the future. Both inside and outside the European Union, children’s positive rights are often violated, and there is still discriminatory treatment due to sexual inequality. There are gender stereotypes and perceptions which marginalize some groups of children and particularly girls and young mothers. The protection of women, especially during pregnancy and when they are bringing up children, must be a requirement, so that children, from the very start of their lives, can enjoy their fundamental rights.

 
  
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  Irena Belohorská, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.(SK) Thank you very much, Mr Chairman, and I also thank Mrs Angelilli for her report.

I welcome the fact that the Slovenian Presidency chose as one of its priorities the question of children in armed conflicts, which was also one of my topics. My opinion on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs also deals with the need to register children at birth. Children who are not registered are invisible and therefore often become victims of sexual abuse or trafficking; they are imprisoned along with adults and are used as active combatants in the armed forces, because it is impossible to establish whether or not they are already adults. The birth certificate of a child guarantees the child his name and nationality as well as access to medical care, for example. I regret, however, that the report is only being adopted in January: the majority of the opinions were voted on and submitted to the committee before the summer and the report could thus have been adopted earlier.

A solution to this issue of children rights is needed urgently. One illustration of this is the recent case of the transfer of more than 100 Chad children to France. The aim of the action was to help the deserted families in Darfur; the children – orphans – would be looked after by foster parents in Europe. The UN confirmed, however, that in the majority of cases the children were not orphans and did not come from Darfur, but from Chad, the neighbouring country.

Finding an urgent solution to the issue of children’s rights is not only a necessity for developing countries: it is a necessity for us too.

 
  
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  Glenys Kinnock, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Development . − Mr President, I would like to say at the outset that the Committee on Development feels very strongly that it is important for the Commission to mainstream children’s rights into all aspects of development policy, seeing this as a means of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I know that the Commission communication proposes to deal with such issues.

I wish to state very clearly that we need a children’s rights approach and need to move away from a common focusing, in this debate so far, on issues such as child-trafficking, abduction and pornography. We need to ensure that we understand we are talking about the rights of children: the rights of children to be consulted; the rights of children to be listened to; and the rights of children to have the respect of adults and not be told by adults what they should be doing.

I also very much welcome the fact that the Lisbon Treaty makes reference to children’s rights. We welcome this, because at the moment only animal rights have this kind of legal base in the European Union, and we urgently needed to make this the case for children too.

Finally, in the wider world and in Europe itself, we need to see that what we are doing is safeguarding children’s lives and generally enhancing the well-being of all the children in Europe and in the wider world.

 
  
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  Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Rapporteur of the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs . − (EL) Mr President, I would like to begin by congratulating Mrs Angelilli on the constructive work she has done.

The strategy for the rights of the child is a positive step towards a coordinated approach both to internal policy and to external relations.

The Committee on Employment, whose opinion I drafted and am now presenting, emphasises the social aspects of violation of the rights of the child. It focuses on child poverty, which affects nearly one child in five in the European Union. It also stresses the problems of child labour and social exclusion, and calls for special attention to be given to the vulnerable social groups, such as child immigrants, street children and children with disabilities. We are afraid that today’s children, Mr President, are being called upon to live in a world worse that that known by previous generations. The European Union must therefore act now, with substantial commitments, targets and necessary resources, both at Community level and at the level of Member States.

 
  
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  Christa Prets, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education . (DE) Mr President, may I begin by congratulating the rapporteur on her report and on the cooperative nature of our deliberations. We fully agree with many major aspects of the report.

I wish to highlight two points, however, to which I attach particular importance. The first of these is the right to education as a prerequisite for children’s social development. The Member States must create unhampered access to education for all children and young people, regardless of their ethnic and social background and their family circumstances. This also means that any kind of exclusion, discrimination and violence against children must be prevented. It is essential to press ahead as quickly as possible with the launch of the helpline. The second point that is very important to me is the promotion of language, as languages are one of Europe’s cultural treasures.

There is also an innovation that we should not overlook, for the rights of children also extend now to their involvement in new developments in the field of education and training and in particular the cultivation of media literacy. Competence in the use of information and communication media is an extremely important educational tool and must be vigorously developed.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (HU) Thank you for the floor, Mr President. I think there are only a few of us who would not be directly or indirectly affected by the topic of protecting the rights of children.

The Community institutions have already dealt frequently with various aspects of this topic, but agreed with the submitting committee that, in addition to all this, a comprehensive strategy needs to be developed. There are some specific areas that we absolutely must take into account when working out such a vision. These include, for example, the prohibition of all kinds of violence against children, fighting poverty and discrimination, and the right to education.

As Mr Frattini stated in his introduction that the Agency will deal with this area in particular, I would like to make a recommendation to you: why not make the first specific request from the Commission to the Agency that it investigate the enforcement of precisely this area, the rights of the child?

I find the sexual abuse of children, child labour and the enormous differences existing today between how children with refugee status are treated in individual Member States particularly worrying. The problem of street children and children forced to beg is a serious problem here in our immediate surroundings.

I am also convinced that the fight for the complete enforcement of the rights of the child within the Union must mean above all reassessing the role of the family in this new Europe, and reinforcing the role of upbringing alongside education, so that our children receive guidance, as well as professional knowledge, in our ever more troubled world. Perhaps fewer children would be inclined towards violence, suffering physically or damaged psychologically. Thank you.

 
  
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  Inger Segelström, on behalf of the PSE Group . (SV) Mr President, I want to start by thanking Mrs Angelilli and all the shadow rapporteurs, but also all the Members who have contributed to getting us to a point where we shall soon have the first decision of the European Parliament on an EU strategy on the rights of the child. The key question concerns the involvement and influence of children. There will be some painstaking and important work to be done in order to ensure that this becomes a reality and not just words. Children and young people expect as much.

The point that I consider to have been the greatest success is the proposal concerning violence against children. The committee has unanimously backed my demand that all violence against children, including corporal punishment in the home, must be prohibited by Community legislation. It is a great success for children. In my home country, Sweden, where corporal punishment is banned, every child at nursery school and all young people know that adults may not strike a child. The fact that we are now making it clear that there must be cooperation in putting an end to all forms of abuse of children means that we need increased cooperation from relevant bodies such as banks, travel firms, credit firms and exchange bureaux to stop child pornography, sex tourism and the exploitation of children, and to get an internet which is safe from paedophiles. Illegal websites must also be shut down. Member States must legislate against buying sex in order to ensure that children do not become a trade commodity.

The most difficult problem we had in the committee related to adoption. I am very happy that we are now agreed that a child has a right to a family , irrespective of whether it is the child’s own family, a foster family or through national or international adoption. It is the child’s best interests which should decide the matter, not adults’ best interests. We all remember what happened at children’s homes in Romania and Guatemala recently – kidnappings of children for adoption are fresh in our memories. Children are not a trade commodity.

It is now up to the Commission to listen to the wisdom which we have shown in Parliament and to come back with concrete proposals on how we are to give effect to children’s rights which now, with the new Lisbon Treaty, become an objective to be embodied in law in the EU. With the new Lisbon Treaty the EU must listen and ensure that the rights of children are integrated into its work. This must happen as a matter of course and must also apply in the global perspective, in development work, in culture and in all areas. Child poverty will of course be a central issue, but also the question of how children fare in war and in relation to health risks of all kinds. I am proud to have participated in this work in Parliament, which will take a decision on the matter tomorrow.

 
  
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  Siiri Oviir, on behalf of the ALDE Group .(ET) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen.

I am pleased that the European Parliament has finally reached this debate on the European Union’s strategy for children’s rights because a policy which encourages children’s rights will form the bedrock of tomorrow’s society.

The well-being of society and the state depends on the values and methods used by future parents. My thanks to the rapporteur for drafting such a comprehensive document.

It is appropriate that the principles set out in the UN Convention on the rights of the child and its additional protocols have been used as the basis for developing an EU strategy on the rights of the child. However, this strategy to be more effective and applicable throughout all 27 Member States, it must contain more specific provision for implementing measures whose application would be supported both by using Member States’ and European Union resources.

The strategy is comprehensive, and I do not have time to go into every aspect. I would like to highlight just one positive initiative, but one which is effective in all respects, namely the recommendation in the European Union children’s rights strategy for a European Union-wide child helpline telephone number; we have had a child helpline number in Estonia for three years now and I can confirm to you that it works well.

I would like to direct your attention to two important target groups, the safeguarding of whose rights I believe we should focus our thoughts on more keenly.

The first of those target groups is disabled children. It strikes me that in our strategy on the rights of the child, greater attention should be focused on safeguarding disabled children’s rights; and that also they, like other target groups, should have genuinely guaranteed opportunities, equal opportunities, to be actively involved in the life of society.

The second area I would like to highlight is that of guaranteeing the rights of children who are not cared for by their parents. All children unquestionably have the right to a family. Unfortunately today it is not possible for all children to grow up in the bosom of the family, and they live in children’s homes. We have not paid sufficient attention in our documentation to children who have left children’s homes at about 18 or 19 years of age: legally they are adults, although in social terms they are not; this is an area which we should begin to focus some attention.

 
  
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  Bogusław Rogalski, on behalf of the UEN Group . – (PL) Mr President, as an MEP who for some years now has been involved in protecting the rights of children, I am very pleased to accept the report of Mrs Angelilli concerning the creation of a unified EU strategy on the rights of the child.

Violations of children’s rights, violence against children, the trade in children for illegal adoptions, prostitution, illegal work or for begging on the streets: these continue to be an enormous problem for the EU. Every strategy concerning children’s rights should be based on the values and principles contained in the UN Convention, particularly as regards protection against all forms of discrimination.

Every child must have a guaranteed right to have continuous and direct contact with both parents, as well as the right to be brought up in the parents’ culture and the right to learn the language of both parents. These rights are repeatedly violated by the German Office for Children and Young People, the Jugendamt , as regards children one of whose parents is foreign. In cases of divorce, the Jugendamt uses any method to deprive the parent who is not German of their parental rights. Children are deprived of their right to learn the language of the second parent, and it is forbidden to have conversations in languages other than German during meetings that have been arranged. Official documents state that it is harmful for children to be bilingual. Over 250 complaints against the actions of this office have been filed with the Committee on Petitions. Despite the fact that a year ago the European Commission stated that the actions of the German Jugendamt violate Article 12 of the EU Treaty, which bans all discrimination, the German state has become even stricter in its discriminatory practices against children of foreigners and this is an absolute scandal.

I hope that since this report is the voice of the European Parliament, this will help to remove the discrimination that is found in this area.

 
  
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  Hiltrud Breyer, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (DE) Mr President, children are not mini-adults, nor are they what people call a natural part of the family or of society. They are legal persons with their own rights.

All Member States of the EU signed the ground-breaking UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but in many aspects of children’s rights we in Europe have barely scratched the surface. One bright spot is the fact that the European Commission has put children’s rights on the agenda, but the Commission’s proposal, in our view, still comprises too many fine words and too few specific measures.

I am pleased that the report fleshes out the Commission’s recommendation, and for this I reiterate my congratulations to the rapporteur. We must hope that the Commission is doing its homework and will be more specific in the 2008 Green Paper on the rights of the child. We need indicators and precise timetables for the realisation of children’s rights.

Allow me to focus on three points that are important to me. The first of these concerns the rights of girls, especially girls from migrant backgrounds. Realising the rights of the child invariably involves the establishment of equality between girls and boys and equal opportunities for both, and this is reflected in the present report too. Let me express my gratification at the adoption by the committee and the rapporteur of our proposal that headscarves for girls should be banned at least in primary schools in the EU in order to give girls genuine freedom of choice and the right to a childhood. Likewise, there is no justification for prohibiting girls from migrant backgrounds from attending school.

The second point to which I attach great importance is that of violence against children and increasing neglect. There is a need to improve children’s media literacy. There has been an alarming rise in the dissemination of pornographic material and scenes of violence through mobile phones, and this leads to desensitisation and an accelerating spiral of violence. I ask you, Mr Frattini, to look long and hard at ways of improving the protection of young people in the media and of protecting children more effectively against violence.

My third point concerns the environmental rights of the child, a subject that no one has raised yet. By this I mean the right of every child to grow up in an intact environment. Regrettably, in its strategy on the rights of the child, the Commission did not consider the need to take more account of children, not just adults, when we set future pollutant ceilings. That applies to noise levels as well as to hazardous substances. I therefore ask you to incorporate the environmental rights of the child, for today’s children are the citizens of tomorrow. We all bear responsibility for ensuring that our European home is also a child-friendly home.

 
  
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  Giusto Catania, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group .(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank Mrs Angelilli for her sensitive approach to a very important matter: a society that knows how to welcome its children will know how to welcome all its citizens. In the same way, I believe that today in this Parliament we are taking a very important step, because institutions that are able to address the concerns of minors will certainly be more able to address the concerns of all European citizens.

This report contains many interesting and dynamic ideas, which are also pointers for the Commission in relation to further steps that we expect. There are some points that need to be emphasised, especially the need to pay great attention to unaccompanied minors held in administrative detention centres for migrants.

When it inspected those centres, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties found that in many countries, such as France, Belgium and Italy, many unaccompanied minors, many children, are held in inhuman and degrading conditions that are unacceptable for young children as, incidentally, they are unacceptable for all men and women.

We emphasise the need to insist on that point. We also believe that great attention must be paid to avoiding child labour. Child labour is often linked to exploitation and poverty. That is why that this Parliament must make a major contribution towards improving social conditions in the European Union.

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . – Mr President, I have many things to say about the rights of the child. Firstly, I welcome the amendments to this report that focus on the family and their importance in providing for a child’s development. I would like to stress the primacy of parents – not the state – as the guardian of children and, for this reason, the importance of support for the family in their responsibilities. The state should assist the parents in protecting and promoting the child, and it should only take over from the parents when the parents are unwilling or unable to serve their children.

On the issue of disability, I praise this report for acknowledging that children with disabilities should be assured full respect and granted equal treatment. I myself have represented many children and their parents who struggled to guarantee education for them. A tragic flaw in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on which this is based is that, although it guarantees primary education for all children, it makes specific educational provision needed by disabled children ‘subject to resources’. These three words have militated against children with special needs getting the help they need in my country.

Amendment 3 deals with children within the EU who have previously been in institutionalised care. This important issue has come to the attention of many MEPs following the BBC documentary Bulgaria’s abandoned children , which focused on care homes for children with disabilities. There will be a screening of this documentary with the participation of the film-maker on 4 March 2008, to which I invite all my colleagues.

Recently the EU voted against an amendment placed before the Committee on Budgets that sought to divert EU funding that goes into institutions towards community- and family-based services. This amendment failed. We must be coherent in our approach to de-institutionalisation and integrate children into society, and we must put our funding into community-based approaches in the future.

I also welcome the strong line Parliament takes on trafficking, especially with Amendment 1. It is hard to imagine anything worse happening to a child than being stolen from their family, whether for military, sexual or labour purposes, or even to fulfil the desire of a couple for a child.

I also want to mention the trafficking of babies before and after birth for organ and cell harvesting and remind my colleagues that the preamble of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child includes children before birth as well as after.

I am pleased that the report takes into account migrant families and unaccompanied minors. With increasing cultural blends, we must continue to acknowledge the importance of embracing all children in our ever-changing society. As much as it is wonderful that labour migration enables parents to go abroad and earn more and provide better for their families, we need to be working towards an equity that will not necessitate this separation and will allow families to stay together in their home country or their country of choosing.

Now I should like to address the issue of sexual and reproductive rights, which is repeated in six articles of this report. I am personally responsible for six teenage girls and two teenage boys. Of course they need to know the facts of life but, at the same time, they need to know the most important fact of life: that they are extremely valuable, developing individuals, persons with a dignity and a future, with a unique contribution to make to their community and family. They do not benefit from the message that is so often given in the name of sexual and reproductive rights that they cannot be responsible and are, in fact, walking disasters who need adult help with damage control, and that they can get this help without any negative effects to themselves or without the knowledge of their parents. The richness of adolescence can and should receive the support of those who are older, who love them and who have already been there.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR SIWIEC
Vice-President

 
  
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  Luca Romagnoli (NI ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my colleague’s report is excellent and I regard Union action and a Union strategy to protect the rights of the child as priorities. We must recognise that minors have rights and call for policies and measures in that area that are also aimed at protecting the life of the individual from the moment of conception.

The report calls for further measures and – and no one can disagree with this – for the affirmation of children’s rights as an integral part of the rights that are binding on the Union and its Member States and that require a specific legal basis.

Among the many urgent problems facing children let me highlight the striking number of disappearances; these child disappearances often have a tragic ending as a result of sexual exploitation and violence linked to child pornography. I believe the Union cannot accept that any of its Member States should in any way tolerate paedophilia of any kind and must ban the right to advertise it and, obviously, to commit it.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer (PPE-DE ). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. In light of the demographic crisis, every child’s life has a price put on it. We cannot press unilaterally for an increase in the birth rate whilst paying scant attention to ensuring the conditions necessary for the living conditions, equal opportunities and spiritual and physical development of the children that have been born.

I therefore consider Mr Frattini’s commitment to giving horizontal priority in Union policy to guaranteeing the rights of the child as extremely important. The report, on which I would like to congratulate Mrs Angelilli, rightly highlights certain problems that must be solved with the utmost urgency.

The extent of child poverty is staggering, since, as my fellow Members have mentioned, every fifth child lives in poverty, and of course this is very closely linked to leaving school early. We cannot close our eyes to the situations of the several thousand street children and homeless children in the Member States of the Union, of whom many are forced into begging, stealing, illegal labour or prostitution.

According to a study published recently by UNICEF, there are no countries, and no Member States, that are not affected by the matter of child trafficking. We know little about the children, estimated to be several hundred, who disappear from children’s institutions and refugee camps each year. Violence against children and the increase in aggression among children are grounds for justifiable concern.

Mr President, under the Lisbon Treaty, the rights of the child are guaranteed by Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The report – the adoption of which I support – is the first step for the Union’s institutions, including the Parliament, to take serious steps in order to comply with the rights of the child, and improve their situations, more consistently. Then, hopefully, the Member States will not spare their efforts either. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Martine Roure (PSE ). – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I am delighted that the Commission is proposing to put in place an EU strategy on the rights of the child.

Because a great many EU policies affect children, we need to take specific measures so that their rights can be protected and their active participation encouraged.

I am particularly pleased that Parliament has called for a definition to identify ‘children at risk’. This will enable us to provide specific help to children who are victims of a social situation that threatens their mental or physical health.

At the same time, we cannot simply leave children who live in poverty to their fate. These children do not always receive the protection they need, because their parents lack the necessary resources. If they are not to be condemned to social exclusion, they therefore need special assistance, and governments must be responsible for ensuring that all children – whatever their parents’ social or legal circumstances – have access to health and education, so that equality of opportunity for all is actually guaranteed in practice.

I should like to highlight the particular situation of migrant children. Administrative detention of children is not acceptable. We cannot understand why anyone fleeing from war or from desperate circumstances should be treated like a criminal, and that applies all the more so in the case of children, all of whom are entitled to protection and education in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

 
  
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  Ona Juknevičienė (ALDE ). – (LT) We acknowledge that children’s rights are part of human rights, which we are obliged to respect under international and European agreements. Children’s rights are acknowledged in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This should become a component of the Reform Treaty and be obligatory for all EU Member States. Commissioner Frattini, in the communication you say that the situation within the Union with regard to the protection of children’s rights is still not satisfactory. But I think it is awful. Almost one fifth of children live in poverty. In Lithuania, almost half the families consisting of one adult and dependent children live in poverty. Moreover, we are not able to obtain statistics on how many children in the enlarged Community were left without parents when they emigrated in search of employment and left their children without appropriate care.

We read about sexual and psychological violence against children with horror. We have compassion for children who we meet in the street and put a coin in their begging hands. However, more often we do nothing because it is easier to turn away, close our eyes, and say it is not our fault, others are responsible for it. You, Commissioner Frattini, say that it is the responsibility of individual Member States and you do not want to intrude in their affairs. Brussels intrudes in many of the affairs of Member States: it is important for us to regulate agriculture, internal markets, the flow of capital. We think that these are the issues of vital importance. I believe that our biggest concern should be human rights and, primarily, children. They are our future. I think that specifically the European Union should take responsibility for guaranteeing human rights and, primarily, children’s rights. I disapprove of a document that merely takes care, remembers and encourages. I think that here we are required to actively take care of our citizens.

 
  
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  Wojciech Roszkowski (UEN ). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Ms Angelilli for an excellent report on a subject that is key for the future of the European Union. Most of the proposals in this report are of course deserving of support, but I have a couple of concerns.

First of all, the principle of equality of girls and boys is discussed, which could be understood as saying that they are identical, whereas every parent knows that girls and boys are different and require a different approach as regards their upbringing in order to fulfil the principle of their equal dignity. Secondly, from the point of view of children’s rights, the increase in the number of alternative family structures, which is discussed in the report, constitutes a threat against which action should be taken. There is no mention of the threat in this report. And thirdly, as there is a call in paragraph 167 to provide children and young people with sexual education, paragraphs 163 and 164, which speak of the right to sexual and reproductive health, are unnecessary unless these terms are being used to hide a right to abortion.

At this point it can be seen that it is not possible to separate the rights of children who have already been born from the rights of unborn children Even though they begin life as embryos they inevitably become children, and if anyone has any doubts about this they should remember that we were all once embryos.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL ). – (PT) In this one-minute speech I would like to stress that I consider the European Union’s first priority in relation to children to be to assess the effect of its policies on failure to enforce or the enforcement of children’s rights, in particular in connection with a rapid and substantial reduction in child poverty, providing all children with equal opportunities.

In this context I would like to ask, by way of example: what effect does the European Union’s monetary policy and its objective of price stability, or rather, wage restraint, have on failure to enforce children’s rights? What effect do European Union ‘flexicurity’, labour market deregulation, easier dismissals, increasingly insecure employment contracts, increased working time and the flexibilisation of working hours have on failure to enforce children’s rights? What effect do current European Union policies promoting the deregulation and privatisation of public services, including health and education, have on failure to enforce children’s rights? These are some examples of what would be the European Union’s most appropriate, necessary and urgent mainstreaming in relation to children’s rights.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE-DE ). – (PT) Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, violence against those who cannot defend themselves is particularly reprehensible. Violence against children is especially odious. Community legislation that prohibits all forms of violence, whether physical, psychological or sexual, is required. Mention has already been made of UNICEF data for 2003, which indicate that in some Community countries, such as France, around three children die every week from abuse and negligence, while in others, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, the figure stands at around two per week.

I welcome the commitment of European Union Member States and institutions in implementing child policies, which have grown in number in recent years. Existing legislation, policies and structures, however, are still insufficient to respond to the whole range of questions raised in connection with protecting children, whether they are victims of poverty, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, pornography, child labour or the outrage of child soldiers that persists in the 21st century.

I therefore congratulate Mr Frattini on this initiative, which shows that the required willingness exists to make this an EU priority and to create a general EU strategy to effectively promote and protect children’s rights in internal and external policies. I am also very pleased that the new Treaty of Lisbon incorporates children’s rights as one of the objectives of the EU, thus providing a new legal basis for defending those rights.

Prevention and awareness-raising must be improved and social rights to support victims must be strengthened. Cross-border operations against child pornography Internet sites must also be reinforced to ensure that the sites are closed down and the criminal networks dismantled. The Internet offers children excellent opportunities to communicate and to obtain information, but we must ensure that they do so safely.

 
  
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  Stavros Lambrinidis (PSE ). – (EL) Mr President, our children have independent personalities, they have an inviolable right to the protection of their fundamental rights, which means no degrading treatment and violence, no inhuman working conditions, no exclusion from education, no poverty, no sexual exploitation and abuse, no child soldiers at war. And children have greater need of these universal values than adults do. Firstly because they are, by definition, young and vulnerable. Secondly, because the parent or teacher or priest and all those with whom they come into contact are always in a position of authority towards them; and thirdly, because if anything goes wrong during childhood, this ultimately has a decisive effect on a child’s future life.

These are the rights which we are called upon to support today. I shall focus on two:

Firstly, the children of immigrants are perhaps the most vulnerable. Those who are born amongst us, at least, must immediately acquire the nationality of our country. They should not be stigmatised from birth, and should of course go to school regardless of their parents’ status, and should not be condemned to social exclusion.

Secondly, protection of children on the internet: children who often go online and surf unsuspectingly and talk to strangers, and children who may be victims of sexual exploitation - commodities in a very profitable business. Mr President, the internet is the new village square. Just as parents warn their children not to talk to strangers in the village square, so they should be educated and made aware that similar concern and advice are needed when it comes to the internet. Europe should play its part in providing such education as well as helplines for parents and children faced with such situations.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin (ALDE ). – Mr President, I agree with virtually all the recommendations made in this excellent report. In particular, I agree that the future EU strategy should recognise the important role of the family as the basic institution in society for the survival, protection and development of the child.

I also support the right of the child to maintain, on a regular basis, a personal relationship and direct contact with his or her parents unless, of course, that is contrary to the child’s best interests. I fully endorse the suggestions in this report to establish a child-friendly society, in which children can feel protected and actively involved.

Paragraph 27 urges the Commission and Member States to take action to ensure observance of the rights of mentally-disabled children to access education. In an Irish context they have a right to an appropriate primary education, but this is subject to resources. In reality this often means they receive an inappropriate primary education.

Paragraph 27 also states that mentally-disabled children should have access to the courts. There was recently a case in Ireland of a young girl with Downs Syndrome who had been sexually assaulted, and yet a judge decided she was not competent to tell the truth to the jury. He tested her in court with the assistance of the prosecution lawyers. During this test, the accused and his lawyers were present, but the girl’s family was ordered to leave the court. Unless all children can be assured of the absolute right to access the courts we will be failing our children.

Finally, I should like to put a short question to the Commissioner. The recent decision to incorporate children’s rights into the Lisbon Treaty as one of the objectives of the EU will provide a new legal basis for children’s rights. Can the Commissioner elaborate – even briefly – on the practical outcomes he expects from this? I put this question particularly in the light of the forthcoming referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty.

 
  
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  Hanna Foltyn-Kubicka (UEN ). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to draw attention to the problem raised in paragraph 118 of the report with regard to restrictions on free contact with children in broken multi-national families.

There are particularly glaring examples of this in Germany as a result of the actions taken by the institution called the Jugendamt. As a result of these actions, parents who are not German citizens are deprived of the right to speak to their children in their own language, and, in extreme circumstances, are even deprived of their parental rights.

The provisions creating the Jugendamt date back to 1939, I repeat, 1939, and they continue to function under the law in an almost unchanged form. This institution acts on behalf of what is called the good of the child, but this concept has not been defined anywhere, which means that it can be interpreted in any way whatsoever. In proceedings, the Jugendamt favours parents of German background. Another concern is that it is not subject to any outside controls; for this reason I would ask that the European Commission should prepare a regulatory proposal that would make it possible to avoid any form of discrimination in the institutions of Member States, as is currently the case in Germany.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE-DE ). – (PL) Mr President, first of all I would like to express my total agreement with the statement by Mrs Foltyn-Kubicka.

The issue of protection of children’s rights has benefited from the increasing attention paid to it by European Union legislators. At the same time, however, an ever-increasing number of areas coming under EU jurisdiction have a direct impact on the rights of the child. For this reason it is with pleasure that I accept the Commission’s announcement concerning the introduction of a strategy on the rights of the child. The intention to give priority to this issue in the European Union, i.e. acknowledging children as fully fledged subjects of law, is deserving of our full support. However, the cautious title of the report, i.e. ‘towards a strategy’, not simply ‘a strategy’, would suggest that there will be further steps in the form of public consultations, which could help to set out the chief priorities for future EU measures.

To date, the European Union has not yet created any special legal foundation concerning the rights of the child. At this point I would like to state my disappointment, since, if the constitutional treaty had been ratified, it would have introduced a more appropriate legal framework in Article I-3, which had a direct application to the rights of the child. Protection of the rights of the child as an internal and external objective of the European Union was included in the Lisbon Treaty. These rights are also enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is shameful, however, that one hundred million children living in the European Union are not equal as regards the rights and freedoms that they possess.

It is obvious that, because of their vulnerability and specific needs, children require special care, as well as appropriate legal protection. However, the rights of the child should not be separated from, and should not be in opposition to, human rights in general. An analysis of EU documents would suggest that there could be a movement in favour of treating the rights of the child as an issue that is somehow separate from human rights as a whole. This is a dangerous path and could create dangerous divisions.

I would like to thank the rapporteur that she did not allow the delicate nature of this issue to cloud her balanced approach to the subject. It is good that the report does not concentrate exclusively on protective measures, but also emphasises the need for positive affirmation of the rights of the child, such as the right to a family, education, social inclusion, health care and equal opportunities.

 
  
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  Magda Kósáné Kovács (PSE ). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. A strong society and economy can only be built on generations and citizens who are sound in body and mind, so we must do our utmost to guarantee the destiny and rights of future generations even in our own interests, since sooner or later we will all depend on the solidarity of future generations.

Mrs Angelilli therefore deserves recognition for her report, which clarifies the theme in a complex manner. The right of our children to a full life is a complicated system of social requirements and legal guarantees: the right of children to be born and brought up in healthy surroundings; their right to study and to make their dreams come true.

Family and child poverty is a fundamental barrier to enforcing these rights, so it cannot be emphasised enough how crucial it is for the European institutions and Member States to take on a role in the fight against poverty. This must also be done to prevent crimes against children and the exploitation of children.

A borderless Europe entered a new era at the end of last year. It is a great challenge for the opening up of the Schengen area not to create favourable opportunities for criminals. It would therefore be desirable to design a system to make information on crimes committed against children, and the sentences, available to the Member States and to protect children from criminals being employed within their environment.

Mrs Angelilli’s excellent report will become truly valuable if legislative steps ensue. I trust it will be so. Thank you, Mr President.

 
  
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  Roberta Alma Anastase (PPE-DE ). – (RO) Children’s rights are an essential topic uniting us all, irrespective of our country of origin or political viewpoint.

To speak about children is to speak about our future, the future of European citizens and of the Union itself. Therefore I can only welcome the report on the European strategy on children’s rights. The drafting of the report is in itself a confirmation of the importance of the topic and the text included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as it involved the participation of various committees which contributed six opinions.

The best interests of the child should be of primary importance. Through its values and its concept of development, the European Union has the moral duty to ensure that the rights of the child are a major priority for action, both internally and internationally.

Within the European Union, I would like to reiterate the importance of two aspects: first of all, the negative consequences of migration and the precarious condition of children left behind in their home countries by migrating parents. I would like to thank the rapporteur for accepting my suggestion of drawing attention to this issue still affecting European citizens’ lives, and I would like to assure him of my support in his appeal for appropriate care, social integration and comprehensive education for these children. No less important is the objective of ensuring the right to education for all European children.

Outside the European Union, it is essential that we promote children’s rights on an international level, especially as part of the European Union’s relations with its neighbouring countries and its strategic partners. Among the diverse situations worldwide, I would like to draw attention to the infringement of children’s rights in cases of crisis and conflict, particularly frozen conflicts where the rule of law is simply denied. The European Union cannot tolerate such situations and must take firm action to ensure that children's rights are respected everywhere.

2007 saw the European Union taking decisive steps in this direction, but 2008 will be a crucial year for the actual enforcement of the new strategy concerning children’s rights. Therefore, I call on the Commission and the Council to give due consideration to the Parliament's recommendations, to ensure that this strategy is a success.

 
  
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  Iratxe García Pérez (PSE ). – (ES) Mr President, this report brings a comprehensive, consistent vision to the work we must encourage from European Union level as far as children are concerned. We must involve everyone who has responsibilities in this area in making boys’ and girls’ rights to an equal education effective, combating all types of violence and child labour, and protecting immigrant children.

Aware of trends in society, we acknowledge that the traditional model of the family cannot be the sole reference-point and that there are increasing numbers of alternative models which we must consider in our deep-seated conviction that children must enjoy a positive family environment.

On a related issue I would like to raise the initiative on international adoptions where there is a need for regulations which are better tailored to reality and which can address the unknown factors which we are faced with today; such a process is already under way in some States, such as Spain, safeguarding the best interests of minors.

However, before I finish I should like to express the reservations of the Spanish socialist delegation to paragraph 127, on the ban on the veil in schools, as we are more in favour of dialogue and mediation.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are discussing the most vulnerable sector of society, but also a future which needs solid foundations in values such as respect, tolerance and coexistence.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I welcome this report and the work the rapporteur has done on it.

From listening to the debate, there is almost total agreement on what we need to do when it comes to children’s rights, and we have come a long way from the old adage that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. Today we not only want to see our children but also to hear and listen to what they have to say.

However, we need some clarification – and perhaps the Commissioner could do that for me – in relation to what competence the EU has in this area of children’s rights in the light of the Treaty that has been spoken of and our vote in Ireland on that Reform Treaty. As you know, under the Irish Constitution, the rights of children are seen as best protected in the context of the family. We need to acknowledge the important role the family plays in protecting children’s rights and we need to look at measures aimed at strengthening families and supporting them where that is necessary.

There is also the question of the marital versus non-marital family and whether there are equal rights for children in both of these situations. There is a significant increase in the separated and divorced population in Ireland and an increase in cohabitation of couples: one in twelve families takes this form, with responsibility for 50 000 children. We need to look at how the rights of those children are being protected under Irish law as it currently exists.

There is also an issue about the access of children to both of their parents and the invisibility of children currently under the Irish family law system, and that has to be addressed.

One last point: there was uproar in 2006 when the Irish Supreme Court struck down the law on statutory rape on the basis that it did not allow an accused individual to enter the defence of honest mistake over a victim’s age. The case involved a 41-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl. Today, ironically in the Dublin district court, sex assault charges against this individual were dropped. We are to have two constitutional amendments in Ireland on the issue of the family and the case I just mentioned, and I think we need to see where the EU fits into children’s rights so that we vote in Ireland in the right way.

 
  
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  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE ). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, today’s discussion is proof that the European Parliament wants to be involved in the creation of a European policy as regards children. For this reason, the view of many Member States that consider that almost all of the regulation concerning the rights of the child belongs in the jurisdiction of family law, and therefore, almost by definition, is exclusively a national responsibility, is very worrying.

Such a narrow national approach puts the Parliament outside the principal decision-making process as regards the rights of the child and makes us, the Parliament, into a purely advisory body. This is not a good approach in a Europe that is becoming increasingly unified. An example of this can be the regulation concerning transnational recovery of maintenance claims, which the Parliament approved recently, in December, as a result of a consultation process. The purpose of this regulation is to ensure that children who have been forgotten by one of their parents are no longer hungry and abandoned and that they receive the funds that have been recovered thanks to a new and more effective system. For this reason I believe that the Parliament, which in fact is acting on behalf of all European children, has a moral obligation to be actively involved in making laws for their benefit.

To summarise, I would like to say: Commissioner, Parliament should be more involved in European regulations concerning children.

 
  
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  Edward McMillan-Scott (PPE-DE ). – Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Roberta Angelilli, and the other rapporteurs for their work on this important dossier, and of course to thank Commissioner Frattini for his encouragement for the communication and for the work that has been done by the Commission in this field.

While recognising that these matters are primarily those for the Member States, there is also, I believe, a role for the European Union, and that of course is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, where, for the first time, the rights of children are embraced. I believe that a society is best judged by the way it deals with its innocence and we are, as a European Union, a society.

The particular interest I have in this field is that of parental child abduction across frontiers. I have handled many cases in this sphere and there are several hundred each year between the EU Member States and indeed between EU Member States and our neighbour countries and beyond. While there are international conventions like the Hague Convention and, internally, the Brussels II Convention, there are still many deficiencies. Recently I was grateful to the international law firm Freshfields for examining several cases under the Brussels II Convention and identifying some of the problems within our own Member States.

I believe that the work that has been done by the European Parliament and by the Commission needs to be seen in the context of international developments in law. I think it is right that the old United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which puts the paramountcy of the interests of the child first, is absolutely crucial. In the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the concept of the right of a child to both parents is also introduced. That is vital and is now widespread across the world.

But there are two aspects which turn on the way in which a case is handled by a court. Even though this point is not contained within the report in explicit terms, we should also remember the rights of children mature enough for their wishes to be heard by a Court, as in the case of my constituent, 7-year-old Jessica, at the High Court recently. Secondly, where appropriate, independent legal representation for the child should be provided. These are two elements which I think we need to develop in the coming months.

 
  
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  Alessandro Battilocchio (PSE ).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank the rapporteur for her excellent work. The 20th century opened with children having virtually no rights and closed with clear and indisputable advances, yet there is still a long way to go and it will not be easy going, as pointed out in many parts of the report.

In the short time available, and on the basis also of personal experiences with UNICEF, I would urge the Commission to emphasise one aspect: we need a Community instrument on adoption, for at present the 27 Member States have totally inconsistent legislation in that respect. It would be useful to adopt a legislative framework that would help improve the quality of the assistance provided by information services in order to sort out the various steps of preparing for international adoptions and address the procedure governing requests and family support services during the post-adoption stages. Today we still encounter far too many abuses, deficiencies, delays and difficulties in this area, which the adopting families and, above all, the children really do not deserve.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE-DE ).(SK) All Member States ratified the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; however, the Convention does not include any sanctioning mechanism.

There are several bodies that strive to improve the rights of the child; their activities should be better coordinated and they should receive more publicity, for example through the creation of a shared website. That way we could avoid the undesirable duplication of their efforts. Another step could be to entrust the Fundamental Rights Commissioner with the protection of children’s rights. I would welcome the Commissioner being involved, according to priority areas, in the fight against child poverty and against all forms of violence. Violence against children should never happen. Therefore, in my opinion, it is important not only to punish the perpetrators, but most importantly to prevent such inhumane activity.

To that effect, I support the rapporteur’s request for procedures to improve the extraterritorial prosecutions: in practice this should ensure that a person sentenced in one Member State will be registered as a perpetrator of violence against children in the other Member States too. I think that this method will be an important step in the prevention of further abuse of children, such as sexual mutilation, sexual abuse, child pornography, kidnapping and trafficking.

As far as child pornography is concerned, I am very much in favour of the European Commission’s initiative, in cooperation with some banking institutions and credit card companies, to try to exclude pages that sell child pornography from online payment systems. This activity could help in the creation of a database of child pornography traders, from which information on the creators and propagators of this repulsive form of trade would be available to the police of the relevant Member State, Europol and Interpol. Because I am aware that this is a very important area, I am in favour of the necessary human and financial resources being set aside for the protection of the rights of the child. It is a question of the future of our children, which means our future.

 
  
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  Katerina Batzeli (PSE ). – (EL) Mr President, I in turn would like to give my congratulations to Mrs Angelilli, who has indeed provided an integrated framework for consolidating the Charter on the Rights of the Child.

I would like to focus my comments on three issues, beyond those which have already been discussed here.

First, there must be a prompt diagnosis and response to the problem of violence and abuse against children, with the establishment of a special record-keeping system, which will progressively contribute towards effective prevention of the problem.

Second, the adoption by all the Member States of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in and Sexual Exploitation of Persons, where, amongst other things, it will be necessary to review the question of issuing temporary or non-permanent permits for residence within their borders.

Lastly, the issue of substantial management of the problem of criminality among minors, with measures for prevention and social integration of minors, and measures of judicial and extrajudicial intervention.

Mr President, this is the Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and we must maintain the connecting bridges between all cultures and all religious views. I think paragraph 127 of this report cannot be accepted.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO
Vice-President

 
  
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  Zita Gurmai (PSE ). – (HU) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the destiny of Europe is affected significantly by whether it is capable of developing societies that include and support children. Supporting and protecting children’s rights is crucial to the future of the European Union. The development of child-friendly societies in the Union cannot be separated from the further deepening and strengthening of European integration.

A comprehensive EU strategy is needed to promote and ensure the effective enforcement of children’s rights both inside and outside the Union. Children deserve special provisions and appropriate legal protection. The Member States are responsible for supporting parents in their child-rearing duties in many ways. A safe and inclusive Europe can only be built using these instruments.

Our policies should constantly bear in mind the diversity and different needs of children, paying particular attention to poverty, social exclusion, and negative discrimination both at Union and at global level.

I consider it important that the recommendations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child be consistently and systematically taken into account within the framework of bilateral agreements concluded by the EU with countries outside the EU.

The PSE Group would like a separate vote on amendment 127.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (PSE ). – Mr President, I welcome the decision to incorporate children’s rights as one of the objectives of the EU Treaty of Lisbon, providing a new legal basis for children’s rights.

Ms Angelilli’s report deals with many important issues relating to children’s well-being and protection. However, I want to emphasise acknowledgement of the fact that, for children, the poverty and social exclusion of their parents represent serious obstacles to exercising their rights.

I support the report’s demand that the EU work in cooperation with the relevant UN agencies, international organisations and research centres to improve the gathering of comparable statistical data on the situation of children in the EU, with a view to developing and including a larger number of indicators relating specifically to children, child poverty and social exclusion.

Child poverty is a neglected issue, yet one in five children in the EU lives on the brink of poverty. Will this not condemn 20% of the EU’s future adults to never fulfilling their true potential?

If the political will is there, then let us work together across Member States to share best practice and learn from one another. We have witnessed the EU-wide campaign to make poverty in the developing world history, so why can we not have a similar campaign, across the EU, to make child poverty history?

 
  
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  Katrin Saks (PSE ). – (ET) Thank you, Mr President.

Given that a third of the world’s children do not have enough to eat and one sixth of them do not go to school, it may appear odd to talk about poverty in Europe. All the same, the problem does exist and it is of particular concern that the number of children living in poverty is much greater than the number of adults. In fact, this does not in the main mean that children go hungry but that the opportunities needed for development are not there.

I should like to draw your attention to the fact that in the new Member States the turbulent development of the market economy has brought with it a great deal of stratification, which very acutely influences children’s well-being. Social problems in their turn magnify this. And it is not merely a tragedy involving children.

A considerable proportion of human resources – the very thing which in my home country of Estonia is in increasingly short supply – remains unemployed, for example, and for that reason this is a problem for the Member States and the Union.

Even though most policies on children fall within Member States’ competence, I wish to stress the importance of the European Union strategy, indicators, databases and reports. I hope that their influence will increase further for the Member States.

As a politician I know how difficult it is to explain to one’s own electorate why for example one’s neighbours care about children more.

 
  
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  Bogdan Golik (PSE ). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, the initiative that has been put before us concerning a strategy on the rights of the child is a signal not just for Europe, but for the whole world, as to how the rights of the youngest members of society should be protected. For this reason I would like to give my appreciation to Mrs Angelilli for an excellent report.

Unfortunately, instances of violations of the rights of minors often occur in certain parts of Europe – in Europe, where we are so proud of our highly developed system for the protection of human rights. For this reason we must ensure that children who are experiencing various humiliations know that there is someone to whom they can turn to for help and who will give them this help. I would like therefore to support the call of the author of the report for the creation of more effective monitoring, as well as the European Commission’s idea for putting into place a telephone helpline for children in need of assistance.

Another important issue is that of children from poor, immigrant or refugee families. They are suffering for reasons that are outside of their control and, as a result, are often condemned to a worse life than that experienced by their contemporaries who have not had to flee their own countries. For this reason I would like to support the proposal to grant them full rights, whatever the legal situation of their parents, and also give them equal access to education.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank all the speakers, and I am also glad they have recognised that the Commission and Parliament are, for the first time in Europe and even before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, jointly formulating a genuine, horizontal European policy in all areas for the protection and promotion of the rights of the child. That is a political achievement on an issue that was not on the European agenda until two years ago and it is, therefore, also a response to those who were aware of the need for practical results. Europe is moving forward in this area.

I was very pleased with what Mr McMillan had to say. One of the main criteria for evaluating the degree of civilisation of a country is the way it treats its youngest members, its children; the Member States of the European Union and all of us Europeans aspire to lead the world in terms of the way we treat children and the opportunities we offer them.

Many issues have been addressed, and some already feature in the proposal I submitted and in the very useful recommendations set out by Mrs Angelilli, yet I believe there are other points that need to be looked at in more detail in the coming months. Let us make 2008 the year of further progress with this European strategy.

Mrs Gál and Mrs Sinnot, addressing the role of the family, made it very clear that many of the problems we encounter stem from a view of the role of the family that is outdated and not what it ought to be. We looked into that last year, as you will remember, in relation to violent video games; a statistical survey in Europe showed that only 20% of respondents were interested in how their children used the Internet and came across or used video games. That means that 80% of parents surveyed were not aware what type of electronic games or Internet sites their children were visiting. That shows why the family, as has been said, is the key place where we must promote the rights of the child.

Mr Catania and others spoke on the question of child labour. You will remember that, in the proposal I put forward on imposing severe penalties on those who exploit the illegal work of legal immigrants, I particularly condemned the use of migrant children, who are both vulnerable because they are migrants and exploited because they are working illegally; they are particularly vulnerable because children should not work but should go to school. If that proposal, which is on the table, is adopted it will become a European directive and will, therefore, legally compel Member States to introduce rules of a kind we unfortunately do not yet have .

The question of unaccompanied migrant children is an important one, and we are discussing ways of financing targeted projects, for we have discovered situations that really are tragic, in addition to those that have been mentioned. In the Canaries, for example, the Spanish Government has discovered very worrying cases, which we must obviously address, of the arrival of large numbers of children who are unaccompanied because their parents have simply sent them off alone. That is quite shocking in itself. We must strengthen European legislation to combat violence against children, as Mrs Segelström made quite clear.

There is one very serious issue that concerns me personally. There are rules to ensure that one of the two parents is effectively granted custody of a child in the event of separation or divorce. In fact, in many Member States the rules in force are not applied in practice; that is not to say that the governments are not applying them, but often the magistrates and courts are scarcely aware of them. There are cases where one parent actually steals the child from the other parent. In some cases it proves impossible to enforce the decisions, which is why we must put much more emphasis on this question in the context of allocating the custody of minors.

Sex tourism is another area to be addressed, including cooperation among public authorities and private individuals, tourist agencies and credit card companies, to help us to identify people who buy child pornography material on the Internet. Clearly the paedophiles do not pay cash, they pay by credit card. If we have that cooperation, which we are making a start on, then we will also be able to reduce and put a stop to the tragedy of sex tourism.

A new area is the right to grow up in a non-polluted environment, the environmental rights of the child. We must focus on it closely because it is not just a new area but one that we must quite clearly all address.

Mrs Harkin was one of those who raised the question of the effect of the Lisbon Treaty. That Treaty does not introduce a specific legal basis, but gives the value of a European policy to the strategy we are discussing here today and which hitherto was based on a common political resolve. With the Lisbon Treaty, we can now regard the strategy for the protection of children as truly European, which is a quite extraordinary step forward.

In conclusion, over the coming months we must work on this subject and it is clear that in this way Europe is investing in its future. It is investing in its young people, investing for children. However, I see another area in which children could be actively involved in one of the European Union’s most important policies: the policy of integrating immigrant communities. If we placed our trust in children, in the smallest children at school, and made them ambassadors of integration – given that they find it much easier to play or learn side by side with children from different cultures and backgrounds – we will have given children the job, as someone said, not of being mini-adults, but of being genuinely actively involved in integration policy. For if that policy is not based on integrating children at school it will never be a genuine policy of integrating immigrants who come from other countries.

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli, rapporteur . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all let me once again thank Commissioner Frattini for reiterating the European Commission’s serious commitment to the sector of the rights of the child. I thank him also for calling on Member States, in his opening statement, rapidly to activate the child helplines, for the delays here are indeed unjustifiable. I am also grateful to him for pointing out that not all Member States have to date introduced a national guarantee in relation to the rights of the child, something we also noted and deplored in the report.

I am also grateful to all my colleagues who played a part in the drafting of this document, and to those who have spoken, for I believe we are all agreed on the concept of the higher interest of the child. Obviously, I support that and share the concerns that have been expressed in the Chamber today. We must force our Member States to move more quickly from words to deeds and obviously Parliament and the European Commission must do their part too.

Let me say a few brief words on some of the issues that were highlighted. On the environment, let me confirm to Mr Frattini that it is true that we could perhaps have done more in the report, but we did make it clear that the right to a healthy and clean environment must be one of the main rights guaranteed to minors.

I was pleased to find that one of the issues that will be addressed at the next European Forum on the rights of the child will be the question of international adoptions. In that context I also want to point out that aside from the enormous and often entirely bureaucratic difficulties of international adoptions, there also is the tragedy of children who are fought over by their parents following separation or divorce. That is indeed a major European problem, which has obviously also grown as a result of opening up borders.

Let me conclude by saying that I am of course very pleased with the work that has been done, and although I believe the result is certainly not perfect, it can be a very good point of departure provided, I repeat, that serious and responsible practical action is taken promptly.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 12 noon.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Lívia Járóka (PPE-DE ), in writing . – Educational segregation is one of the most harmful forms of discrimination faced by Roma children. As a basic human right, education is crucial for the attainment of other human rights, and investment in early childhood education for Roma is a policy that functions on multiple levels and benefits more than the children it aims to educate. The benefits of early education include: the promotion of social equity, increased individual and broader social productivity, reduced levels of poverty, and the elimination of discriminatory attitudes and social exclusion. As Roma children become more educated, they increase their chances of becoming productive members of the workforce. While they earn money and contribute to the national budget through taxes on both income and consumption, they begin to influence the way in which non-Roma view them, thereby affecting broader social issues. Also, as Roma become more productive and their poverty level decreases, they also become contributing members of society instead of beneficiaries of public aid. The combination of the increased contribution and the decreased benefits paid out by the government is the net budgetary benefit to the national budget. A program that supported these developments would benefit all Europeans and not only the Roma.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FI) One of the most fundamental structures underlying common European values is our duty to protect innocent souls, by which I mean children. On few matters can we be so unanimous.

It is vital that children’s rights are protected more effectively than is the case at present, and that also applies at Community level. The Commission’s communication on establishing a strategy on protecting the rights of children was very welcome.

Parliament’s report on the strategy is an excellent one. I would like to raise a few points on this broad issue.

Firstly, the status of families is directly connected with the rights of children. The family is indisputably the best environment for a child. The family and the protection of family life are, in fact, children’s rights, and these are realised when a family is managing well. The strategy should also include measures to promote the well-being of families. A child’s right of access to both parents should be protected at all costs.

Children are exposed very early on to horrific, violent and sexual forms of entertainment, with disastrous consequences. The proposal in the report, for example, to create a uniform classification and labelling system in the EU for the sale and distribution of audiovisual content and video games intended for minors is a worthy one. The polluter pays principle should operate in violent forms of commercial entertainment because the damage done is enormous.

Thirdly, determined efforts should be made to eradicate child pornography. Priorities for the Commission are to strengthen cross-border operations to close down websites that oppress children and to improve cooperation between public authorities and the private sector.

Regrettably, children’s rights do not escape the general spirit of the relativity of values that tends to exist in society. We need to say out loud what is definitely not relative. The rights and protection of children lie at the heart of human values, which is why we still need to remind people of the dire consequences that await wrongdoers.

 
  
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  Katalin Lévai (PSE ) , in writing . – (HU) The European Union has a special responsibility to protect fundamental human rights, above all the rights of children. Despite this, 19% of children in the Union live with the risk of poverty, and this number is higher than for the adult population (15%). Worldwide, 40 million children under the age of 12 are subject to some kind of act of violence. Nearly 6 million are in forced labour; one and a half million become victims of human traffickers. Against this background, a European strategy of zero tolerance that aims to protect the rights of children is of very great importance.

I feel that a key role in this can be played by better legal regulation, including an investigation into the impact on minors of the new and existing rules. I do not, however, support the creation of a separate parliamentary body with responsibility for children’s rights. Any tasks of such a body can be performed by the children’s rights coordinator appointed by the Commission. I do, however, support the creation of a post of Commissioner for human rights and minorities, who would also be responsible for protecting the rights of children. It is important to note that the majority of children living in disadvantaged circumstances are of Roma origin, or belong to the minority living in Europe. It would also be advisable to implement European institutional reforms under which the children’s rights coordinators reporting to the Commissioner would provide links between institutions, NGOs and governments, to give continuous dialogue and cooperation. With regard to the fact that there are already many European organisations and institutions within the Union that deal with children’s rights, we must place the emphasis on uniting the old ones and making them operate more effectively, rather than creating new ones.

Besides the protection of children’s rights, the issue of education is becoming more and more topical. Attentive education allows uninformed young offenders to grow into informed, law-abiding citizens.

 
  
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  Joseph Muscat (PSE ), in writing. – (MT) I would be making an omission if, in the context of this debate on children’s rights, I did not speak about the case of Shaun Attard, which broke the hearts of the people of Malta and Gozo.

This Gozitan child was taken from his father in a manner that surely had a psychological effect on him.

It is possible that the law is being observed in this case and that the European directives are being respected. However, there are considerable doubts as to whether what is taking place is really in the best interests of this child.

I regret to say that from what I can see, the British authorities are making it difficult for the child’s father to have a fair hearing of this case. Even the few contacts between the child and the father are full of obstacles.

I would like to appeal that, while the law is to be observed, Mario Attard is given a fair hearing and, moreover, serious consideration is given to Shaun’s best interests.

 
  
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  Andrzej Tomasz Zapałowski (UEN ), in writing . – (PL) Today’s debate concerning the rights of the child raises many fundamental questions concerning the proper development of our young people. The future of our children, ensuring they can develop properly, is the issue that determines the future of our continent as regards proper interpersonal relationships.

The rights of the child must be respected. The rights of parents to bring them up in accordance with the values they believe in must also be respected. To speak about the rights of the child and to leave out the issue of their right to be brought up in natural families, where there is a father and a mother, is a violation of their rights. Surely a decision about a child’s adoption, where the child is handed over to a couple of the same sex, and thus deciding about the child’s future destiny, and, in a way, forcing a sexual orientation on them is a violation of the child’s fundamental rights. We cannot remain silent on this issue, just because it violates EU political correctness.

 

16. Disturbing situation regarding waste in the Campania region (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the statement by the Commission on the disturbing situation regarding waste in the Campania region.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − (EL) Mr President, honourable members of the European Parliament, the refuse which has been accumulating in the streets of Naples and neighbouring towns since 21 December, as the media inform us, is estimated to have exceeded the huge quantity of 100,000 tonnes. This, in combination with the negative - I would say catastrophic - effects for residents and the environment, is a cause for grave concern.

The crisis in recent days in Naples did not come from nowhere. It is the culmination of deficient enforcement of European legislation on refuse over the past 14 years, for which Italy has been repeatedly condemned by the Court of the European Communities.

Beyond the role of organised crime which is emphasised by the press, a direct cause of the present crisis appears to be inaction and lack of will to adopt the measures necessary for solving the chronic problem of waste management.

When the Commission was first informed of the crisis in the refuse collection and disposal system in Campania, in the spring of 2007, proceedings were initiated against Italy for contravention of Community legislation on refuse. Since then, the Commission has been observing developments at first hand and has already come to an initial on-the-spot assessment of the situation, at the request of the Italian government. A further meeting with the competent Italian authorities is due to take place in the next few days. It is the responsibility of the Italian authorities to take immediate measures to clear the refuse from the streets. But as this new crisis shows, it is not enough merely to remove the refuse from the streets. Any short-term measures must be supplemented by the adoption and, most important, the effective implementation of long-term strategic measures. For example, an adequate network of waste processing facilities fully complying with the standards laid down by Community legislation. This must be accompanied by an integrated long-term strategy of waste management with the aim of promoting recycling and sorting of refuse upon collection.

Legislative Decree no. 61, issued in May 2007 to solve the refuse crisis, did not achieve its aim. The emergency plan announced by Prime Minister Prodi on 8 January is a more ambitious effort in this direction, but a crucial element remains the timing of the measures, which must be swift and effective. We shall continue to monitor closely the implementation of the measures in practice by the Italian authorities. The Commission will continue to exert pressure on the Italian government to end the crisis, and intends to proceed with the legal action against Italy. The continual violations of Community environmental legislation in Campania must finally be brought to an end, as Community law requires.

Although the situation appears to be difficult, it is not impossible for the Italian authorities to comply with Community legislation on refuse. I am sure that useful examples can be drawn, not only from other Member States but also from other regions of Italy, where solutions have been found for the controlled disposal of waste by a combination of different types of volume reduction, collection and disposal.

 
  
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  Giuseppe Gargani, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group .(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let me say at once to the Commissioner that while I endorse what he said, I believe the situation is not so much difficult as dramatic.

I could confine my statement to quoting from the article in The Economist a few days ago. ‘Garbage littered on city streets can be not only unhealthy but also politically hazardous. It reminds voters of the fragility of civilisation – and can prompt them to turn on their elected representatives.’ That is the situation.

As everybody knows, Naples is famous for the film The Four Days of Naples , in which the local people rise up against the foreign invaders. One newspaper wrote that the enemies in the land today are the people who sullied Naples’ good reputation in the world. A whole civilisation is being consumed. The tragedy of the waste in Naples and Campania did not strike overnight but has been building up for 14 years; EUR 8 billion have been spent uselessly and TV pictures have shown Europe and the entire world how the city streets have become quite impassable. The real tragedy began, as the Commissioner pointed out, on 21 December, when the municipal dust carts stopped their rounds because the tips were full to overflowing and there are no incinerators; there are impending health risks, and absolutely nobody, Commissioner, is talking about separate collection.

There are, in fact, no incinerators in Campania and waste management is in the hands of organised crime, the Camorra. The Campania region has not managed to tackle a problem that, in short, is a question of ordinary administration, such as cleaning the city, because it did not wish to do so, because the regional administration and its president are the slaves of the organised crime that controls all business.

Some of the political forces that form part of Mr Prodi’s government and all the opposition parties have called for the Regional Council to be dissolved and for the appointment of a commissioner with sweeping powers, as a reaction against the irresponsible Minister for the Environment, Pecoraro Scanio. A mere 81% of the EUR 200 million contribution under the European plan for the period 1994-1999 has been used; there is no regional plan and so someone had to be sent in.

I hope the President will allow me to speak for a few moments more. Under this arrangement contracts can be awarded without respecting the appropriate European regulations, which creates a vicious circle of illegality and inefficiency. The real risk is of losing the EUR 330 million Structural Fund money. The Commission has opened an infringement procedure against Italy; that was, unfortunately, inevitable, for certainly Campania is light years away from complying with the rules imposed by the European directives, which those in charge even in the government have disregarded.

We ask the Commission to carry out an inspection at the end of the month and to take a strong position on enforcing the use of incinerators. That is something Europe can do and we also call on Parliament to carry out an inspection, for a qualitative leap (...).

 
  
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  President. − Before continuing the debate, I must advise you on the new procedures. First of all I would ask Members to adhere to the rules on speaking time. Secondly I would point out that under the ‘catch the eye’ procedure Members who believe they have not used up their entire speaking time may ask to speak again. Obviously they will be given the floor after it has been given to Members speaking for the first time.

 
  
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  Gianni Pittella, on behalf of the PSE Group . (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first I want to thank you for your clear, precise and effective statement, for the concern you have shown tonight and over the past days and weeks, for your reprimands that we endorse, aware as we are that it is absolutely necessary to respect European laws.

We believe that the European Parliament must never turn into a sounding board for national diatribes, especially on such sensitive questions and dramatic issues. Rather, we think that it is precisely because of the dramatic nature of this situation that we must call for serious analyses, both of this specific case and of the issue of waste in general, which is not a concern only for Naples and Campania but something every community has to tackle. It is an issue that calls into question a development model that often sacrifices man and the environment to the logic of profit, an issue that is often addressed in terms of ideologies and the false opposition between soulless industrialism and environmentalism that puts a stop to development.

We must not forget that Italy was one of the first countries, in 1997, under the government of Mr Prodi and with Mr Ronchi as minister, to pass a modern law that is consistent with what the European Union has been saying for some time: environmental education, separate collection, security measures, use of advanced recycling and reuse methods that are safe for people and the environment. That law has also been applied excellently and has also been a source of economic growth and employment.

That has not been the case in Campania, however. What went wrong? What did not work? There is no doubt that political responsibility for what happened can be assigned as much to the right as to the left, especially as regards management by those put in charge. It is not up to us at this moment to ascertain whether the responsibility might also be of a different kind, and severe penalties should be imposed if that is the case, but we would not be honest if we blamed politics alone.

In Campania, many other factors played a decisive, negative role, such as organised crime, a weak civic sense, a historical lack of infrastructure. The Italian government is responding to the immediate situation, taking important decisions and endeavouring to restore responsibility to local authorities, moving away from the system of sending in special commissioners and ensuring self-sufficiency in waste disposal. Those decisions will allow us to look more confidently to the present and the future – I’m just finishing, Mr President – and I believe that they will also make it possible to give a convincing response to legitimate European concerns. We must now support those decisions; we must restore dignity to a city, a region and a country, to Italy, which, in Mr Napolitano’s words, is not short of positive energy, of forces of innovation.

 
  
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  Alfonso Andria, on behalf of the ALDE Group .(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we must resist the temptation to exploit this issue and instead let objectivity and intellectual honesty prevail, without disregarding the disputes surrounding it. The problem is this: the interest of organised crime and its infiltration into waste management, which has resulted in countless illegal dumps scattered over the Campania region; the constant acceptance of dangerous and toxic waste from other regions, especially northern Italy; the weakness of the local authorities; the cultural backwardness of the population in its approach to waste as a resource; the vetoes relating to the siting of various waste disposal plant, even by representatives of the local Catholic Church; the divisions not only in political but also in scientific circles regarding, for example, disposal methods; the inadequate technology chosen for the planned end-disposal plant following a European call for tenders in Campania in 1998.

Today we have massive state intervention. Politicians, all politicians, have finally understood that more needs to be done; for over the past 14 years, whether as a member of the government or the opposition, whether at local, regional or national level, none of the political parties has managed to come up with firm, determined and coherent answers.

We therefore appreciate the great gesture of solidarity several Italian regions, including those from the centre-right, have made to support Campania at this extremely serious time, helping it to restore the image it deserves in terms of the attractions of its culture and landscape, productive resources and talents.

This is not the moment for those who bear primary responsibility and are to blame for the entire policy to evade or deny it. It is the moment to assume responsibility, which is why I appreciate the approach Commissioner Dimas took in his statement, a constructive approach that sees Europe as not just imposing sanctions, confining itself to sanctions, but as also helping a Member State to resolve a crisis.

 
  
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  Cristiana Muscardini, on behalf of the UEN Group . – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the waste problem in Campania is no longer just a health and environmental disaster, but is becoming an economic and institutional whodunit. While the judiciary will shed light, we hope, on the economic whodunit, we need further enlightenment as regards the institutional whodunit.

On 11 September 2007, the Commission, in reply to a question from me, said it was concerned but hopeful that the urgent measures taken by the Italian authorities would help to resolve the situation and also said that it would take the measures set out in Article 226 of the Treaty if the investigation under way brought to light infringements of the law. On 2 January 2008, however, the Commission’s spokesperson said that infringement proceedings against Italy had been opened in June 2007. Where does the truth lie? In what was said in reply to me on 11 September or in what was said by the spokesperson? Why did the Commission make no mention of these infringement proceedings in its reply?

The fact that some European political groups, close to the Prodi government, have come out against a joint resolution on the health and environmental disaster in Campania which should have concluded our debate opens up another whodunit. When there are more coincidences than might normally be expected, it is highly likely that an interest is being defended, and when the political interest, however unconsciously, espouses other interests, which coincide, moreover, with those of the ‘eco-mafias’, the question is no longer one of left or right or merely of political incapacity. We strongly suspect that the European institutions have been intentionally misled for reasons connected with partisan interests.

The high levels of dioxin in the area, the persisting illegality of the situation, the keenness for Parliament to abandon its responsibility for a joint resolution, are bound up with the political choices of the Italian Government, the Region of Campania and the Naples local authority which, coincidentally, come from the same political mould.

We call for urgent action by OLAF to monitor the use of the funds appropriated up to now and to ensure that future funds are correctly managed. We call on the Commission to explain to Parliament, within thirty days from now, where the responsibility for this disgraceful and tragic emergency that is no longer regional, but national and European, lies, and to whom it can be attributed.

 
  
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  Monica Frassoni, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should very much like to thank Commissioner Dimas for the action that he has taken in recent weeks and months, action that many environmentalists would also like to see on other occasions, firm and visible action that is to be welcomed by all those working to defend Community legislation.

In my view, that has not always been the case, and I would point out that, as regards the application of Community legislation, a number of infringements have also been opened by his institution in previous years – especially during the term of the government preceding that in office today – which have unfortunately gone largely unheeded and which have in particular been treated as mere routine. I should like to cite the infringements in respect of unauthorised waste dumps – of which there are over 4 000 – and a whole series of other questions connected with the definition of waste and so on.

All this led to the situation in which we find ourselves today. Clearly, when a Member State and when a government which, at the time, had a majority of a hundred or so, failed to do more, as regards legislation on waste, than simply breach Community directives in its attempt to find loopholes, there is a much greater likelihood of maladministration, mismanagement, crime and a total lack of compliance.

I am therefore very grateful to the Commission for its action, and I hope that it will press on with its monitoring work, because I believe that that work will be necessary; I also think that a shift away from crisis management is an absolute prerequisite if this situation is to be resolved. I am also of the view that the question as to who is responsible is an important one.

There, I concur with those who say that the Commission should also introduce methods through which funds that have been spent and are to be spent can be monitored, because I believe that for us all as European and not just as Italian citizens, the issue of how funds can be used in a clear-cut way is an absolutely key question which concerns every one of us.

Nevertheless, I take the view that the Italian Government’s measures, especially those announced for the next three or four months, must be supported, although the rules of the game have to be clear and also have to be respected. In my view, it would be very sad indeed to find ourselves in a situation where crisis is met with crisis, infringing the rules, because it is such infringements that have brought us to the point at which we now find ourselves.

 
  
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  Roberto Musacchio, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group . – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I agree with the substance of what Commissioner Dimas has said, reminding us all of our responsibilities and pointing us in the right direction; he reminds us that the way in which the problems should be addressed is one of compliance with European rules, moving away from crisis management approaches which create new crises. For that reason, this debate is important because it can and must help us to try to resolve the appalling waste problems facing Naples and Campania.

What is urgent is not so much political polemics, but the removal of the waste which creates hazardous conditions for local residents. The government is taking steps to do so, but an effective solution will then need to be found and it will be vital for that solution to be based on European rules. European rules, as the Commissioner has pointed out, are clear, have been consolidated over many years and are confirmed in the new framework directive which we are discussing. When tackling the issue of waste there is a hierarchy, and according to that hierarchy, reduction comes first, followed by separate collection, then re-use and recycling, and disposal only as a last resort, where it is absolutely necessary.

Italy is trying too hard to stay within these guidelines and in Naples and Campania the situation has worsened. However, there are problems elsewhere as well, as can be seen from the infringements: too many instances of the authorities sending in special commissioners, too much confusion between the regulations on waste and on energy, leading to unacceptable practices, for instance the practice under which the energy produced from waste has for years been considered in Italy as renewable energy with enormous incentives – EUR 30 billion over ten years, under a measure known as CIP 6 – which have seriously distorted both energy policies and waste policies and have also led to somewhat paradoxical situations where, for instance, there are seven million tonnes of waste fuel pellets in Campania which, even if the incinerator which should dispose of them were to open, could not be burnt in it.

Too many derogations from European environmental laws. I cannot say too often that the crisis has brought about new crises. We must now bring the situation into line with the rules, and I truly believe that the government is keen to do so, and those rules are European rules, from assessment of environmental impact to the hierarchy of waste. For that reason, today’s debate cannot be a platform for polemics, but an opportunity for dialogue with the Commissioner to promote such a relationship between Europe and the Member States. I repeat: first the hierarchy, so that jointly agreed rules can be applied in the best possible way.

 
  
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  Luca Romagnoli (NI ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, what right does the Italian left, egged on by the European left, have to make us talk about the disgraceful waste crisis in Campania for which the centre-left has been responsible for decades without voting on it. The same left that is inflicting global warming on us and cannot be bothered to ensure a high-quality environment and a decent life for millions of residents of Campania; to top it all, I have heard talk of a national interest to be defended! It is those same supporters of the national interest that a couple of years ago brought Italy, its government and the forces of order into disrepute with the debate and vote on the legendary Lampedusa case.

I hope at least that this House becomes more aware and better informed about a question which is not just Italian, and unreservedly condemns what is happening by voting in line with my request, as head of Azione della Fiamma as well, to apply all possible sanctions against the regional and the national government which, although responsible, seem utterly incapable of resolving this long-standing issue and are failing to take the dignified route of resignation.

 
  
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  Antonio Tajani (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the situation in Naples is serious largely because time has been wasted rather than trying to do something about the guilty verdict handed down by Court of Justice and thus ensuring that waste is managed in line with European legislation, something which we greatly regret. If we want to prevent the crisis in Campania from spreading to other regions, action has to be taken by applying the European rules, building waste to energy plant – despite the barely credible resistance from some pseudo-environmentalists such as Minister Pecoraro Scanio – and promoting separate collection.

Campania does not, however, mirror the whole of Italy, and fortunately many regions such as Lombardy have made considerable progress and have set up efficient waste collection and disposal systems. In other regions, however, there is much cause for concern. The public is worried; and that is certainly true in Rome and Lazio. Some figures: quantities of waste are greater than in Naples and Campania; 4 500 tonnes of refuse are collected every day in Rome in comparison with 1 000 in Naples, with a figure of 450 kg per capita in Campania in comparison with 617 kg in Lazio, well above the national average of 539 kg for an Italian. All this is contained in a question which we have just tabled with Rome’s other elected parliamentarians.

However, the regional waste plan has never got off the ground and two infringement procedures have already been opened. Alarmed residents are putting their trust in the European institutions, especially Parliament and the Commission. For that reason, Commissioner, we entreat you to ensure, at the meeting of 28 January, that the Commission obtains data and information on the situation in Rome and Lazio, giving prior notice of an inspection, we hope by Commissioner Dimas, and also proposing an inspection by a delegation from this Parliament, to assess whether the measures for 2008, I am concluding, are adequate. Action has to be taken, Commissioner, before it is too late.

 
  
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  Marco Pannella (ALDE ). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, never mind, Mr President, it is not the first time. Commissioner, on 28 January, when, as has been pointed out, you will be in Rome for discussions with our government, it is essential for Italy – and I believe for Europe – for the Commission to take a very harsh stance in support of the workings of European justice. You have pointed out, I remember, that Italy holds a record: that of judgments against that pile of rubbish that is Italian justice, with twenty years of futile reprimands.

There is only one problem: we have a torrent of illegality which necessarily means lives destroyed and even worse destruction, not just in Italy, and what I therefore hope, Commissioner, is that the Commission will bear in mind that there we have the proof that Italy, as in the 1920s, is taking a new and different path, is becoming a threat to the whole of our Europe, that country which (...).

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli (UEN ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the current waste crisis in Campania is a tragedy that has long been coming, and those mountains of refuse that can be seen in the streets are only the tip of an iceberg made up of inefficiency, waste and mismanagement.

We are unhappy that this crisis is damaging the reputation not just of the Region of Campania but of Italy as a whole, but keeping quiet again about who is responsible and turning a blind eye would do little to resolve a problem which has worsened because of silence and intrigue, and although people should not used as political pawns, nor do I think that the do-gooder attitude that is also creeping round this House this evening is acceptable either.

We can no longer stay silent or justify, and neither did the Court of Auditors, the fact that millions of euro, of European, national and local funds have gone up in smoke. To whom should people turn for compensation for the damages caused by this environmental disaster, for the tarnished image and for the waste of public resources? In particular, what action does the Commission intend to take actively to force the Italian State to take adequate measures, bearing in mind that the children of Naples and Campania have not gone to school today either?

 
  
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  Umberto Guidoni (GUE/NGL ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank the Commissioner for his lucid analysis. In Naples, and in large parts of Campania, the waste situation has now deteriorated and the consequences can be seen by all, but there are problems in other areas as well, as can be seen from the number of infringement procedures that Italy has collected in the environmental field in recent years.

Among these, I should like to cite the notorious CIP6 under which the energy produced from waste has been considered to be renewable energy with the result that enormous incentives have been diverted away from policies to develop renewable energies and handed out to the powerful industrial lobbies, leading to serious waste management problems. What is making the situation in Campania even more dramatic are the 14 years of intrigue and irresponsibility culminating in the first proceedings against businesses and representatives of the public institutions, and ultimately the proceedings against Impregilo at the European Court, for environmental disaster.

If the crisis is to be resolved there has to be a new style of government of the area: no more derogations, but applications of European laws. Europe has set a clear-cut hierarchy in the new framework directive on waste. Disposal is to be used only as a last resort and comes after separate collection, recycling and so on.

Now, however, we have to find a way out of a situation which may well be reaching a point of no return in Campania, and it is for that reason that we need to mobilise all the available resources and call upon the solidarity of the Italian regions and on aid from the EU so that immediate action can be taken in the next three or four months to eliminate the dangers faced by residents and to return Naples to Europe.

 
  
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  Mario Borghezio (UEN ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, from Padania the situation in Campania seems like science fiction, from a Padania where separate collections are made, where taxes on waste are paid. The fact that the left in government in our country, with a green environment minister, moreover, has to put the former chief of police in charge of waste, seems like something from another world. We tell you plainly that Campania is no longer in the European legal space, dominated as it is by a shameful connection between politics and the Camorra which we have long denounced.

Commissioner, no more funding, suspend all funding, do not send a further cent to the Camorra, to the criminals. Take the hard-working and honest North as an example! Free the honest people of Campania from the thrall of the Camorra, in which various parties are caught up! We want nothing to do with this, we are against this domination of politics by the mafia. Federalism is what our country needs, if these people are to be helped! There has to be change, the situation has to change! Free those honest working people of the South from the yoke of the mafia! That is what honest Padania has to say!

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Adriana Poli Bortone (UEN ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I consider that Italy has no wish whatsoever to abide by what are European laws. This is borne out by the fact that it was the only country whose government, with a green environment minister, abstained from the approval in Council of the common position on the recent waste directive.

I should like to ask a question, because over and above the disaster of a green minister who is utterly irresponsible and lacks any certainty about his actions, there has also been little interest in monitoring by the European Commission, because we received funds in 2000-2006 and the Regional Operational Programmes in Campania have obviously been implemented without the monitoring committee carrying out its tasks in full, otherwise it would have blocked funds which had had no effective impact in the area. Perhaps it is unnecessary to point out who was President of the European Commission at that time and who is now Prime Minister of Italy, with a green minister?

 
  
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  Riccardo Ventre (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, congratulations on this new form of democracy. Firstly, congratulations on the Commissioner’s lucid analysis which we hope will be followed by concrete action, action in which Parliament – and we also call on the President of Parliament here – will also be involved, because the waste problem in Naples does not just have to do with the minutiae of disposal, the environment and any other matter, but, in our view, is becoming a national and European problem.

Some very short points: the amount of waste which is now being collected from the streets is well below the amount being put on the streets; the measures that the government is taking are therefore completely inadequate. The mass of waste, the overall quantity of waste grows by the hour, making the situation ever more dramatic.

Secondly, a political point. Mr Pittella said that Parliament should not become a sounding board for national diatribes. In this evening’s debate, the centre-left seems to be doing exactly that. Let us take note of his comments.

 
  
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  Pasqualina Napoletano (PSE ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I have asked to speak because I am very concerned about the direction the debate is taking in Italy and to some extent here, and also about the information that is being given to citizens, because it now appears that a magic solution is the only way out of this crisis: force and militarisation, on the one hand, and incinerators, on the other.

The public is hoping, therefore, that someone will come in from outside to resolve this problem; the information they are being given does not focus on the fact that there will be no solution unless waste is reduced and sorted and civic behaviour changes. That is the responsibility of the local authorities because they thought that the problems could be solved by delegating them to a firm called Impregilo . They have passed the buck and have connived with and are in the thrall of that power.

 
  
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  Salvatore Tatarella (UEN ). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, waste to energy units are operational in Italy and the rest of Europe. Separate collections are made in Italy and the rest of Europe. Recycling takes place in Italy and the rest of Europe. Only in Naples has this not been the case for at least the last 15 years, under the noses of all the institutions which should have acted: those institutions include Europe and the Commission.

I take the view that little has been done and more needs to be done, by the Commission as well, because the initiatives taken up to now, including in recent days, by the government are completely ineffectual and unfit for purpose. Sending the chief of police to Naples for only four months will not resolve any problem unless Naples complies with all the European laws, and if the Italian Government is unable to make it comply, let the European Commission do so with all the instruments that it has available.

 
  
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  Armando Veneto (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am of the view that harking back to the past is helpful only if the future is used to put an end to the problems that the past has caused. This does not seem to be happening, however, because here, as is usual, the cut and thrust of politics means that everyone is taking the position that best suits them.

My view is that the only serious step we can take is to ask the Commissioner to insist that the real problem is finally resolved, i.e. the problem of separate collection, with instruments that enable it, rewards for those who carry it out and an extraordinary plan for the collection of board and other materials. CONAI , the body which brings together producers and users of packaging, which is responsible for re-use of material other than wet waste, ends up by collecting the price in the South and then paying it to the North, which as usual profits from the situation to drain funds from the South and send them to the North. Let there be an end to it!

We therefore ask the Commissioner, whose initiatives we greatly appreciate, to insist that the special commissioners in Campania do not hark back to the past, but once and for all look to the future.

 
  
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  Mario Mantovani (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am an elected member of a political group which, when it was in government in Italy, before the current government, had to deploy the police force before it could start building normal waste disposal units in Campania, urgent works, which were at that time obstructed by opponents, Mrs Frassoni, who are now ministers in the government of Romano Prodi.

Mr Prodi’s recent statements on the waste crisis in Campania bear witness to the total collapse of the government which he leads. Naples offers proof of a State which does not guarantee the law and tolerates a situation which is hazardous for the health of citizens, damaging for tourism and for Italy’s image and therefore for the Italian economy and Italian exports. The severe problems being faced by the people of Campania are nevertheless limited to only one of Italy’s twenty regions, and political and administrative responsibility can be readily attributed to certain administrators, and we therefore call for their resignation.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − Mr President, first of all I should like to clarify that the responsibility for implementing Community law correctly lies primarily with the Member States. The Commission has no powers under the Treaty to substitute Member States’ authorities in their planning activities and in their decisions, for example on whether or not to construct waste-disposal installations and where those installations will be. The role of the Commission is that of monitoring the application of Community law. Where this is not satisfactory, as in the current case, the Commission can launch infringement procedures, but the solutions must always be found and put in place by the Member States.

We are concerned that the waste situation in Campania is worsening, despite the actions taken by the Italian authorities in 2007. It is essential that the Italian authorities, besides taking immediate measures to tackle the current crisis, intensify their efforts for putting in place a structure enabling the Campania region to ensure long-term sustainable waste management that is fully in line with European waste legislation. I am convinced that, this time, crisis management must lead to a real turnaround in waste management policy in order to avoid further risks to human health and the environment. Therefore, any action to be taken for the future will have to lead to an effectively implemented strategy focusing not only on establishing a sufficient network of waste-treatment facilities. It is of equal importance to provide the necessary structures for separate waste collection, recycling and the avoidance of waste, fully respecting the waste hierarchy within which the dumping of waste remains the least-desired option.

Any new waste-management plan in that sense must not remain on paper, as we have seen in the past, but needs to be strictly implemented. The present waste disaster could be taken as an opportunity to demonstrate Italy’s capacity of turning the Campania region into a best practice example of proper waste management, and other Italian regions, such as the area of Milan, have shown that this is possible.

The Commission, as the guardian of the Treaty, will continue the infringement procedure against Italy – started in June 2007 – for a breach of Community waste legislation. It is ready to take further legal steps, should the current breaches of Community legislation continue, using all available measures under the Treaty, including the possibility of imposing fines under Article 220 of the Treaty.

Apart from this, however, my services are ready to assist Italy in any manner deemed necessary and helpful for finding and implementing a long-term sustainable solution to the current waste-management problem.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Diana WALLIS
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

 

17. Question Time (Commission)
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  President. − The next item is Question Time (B6-0001/2008 ).

The following questions are addressed to the Commission.

Part one

 
  
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  Avril Doyle (PPE-DE ). – Madam President, could you offer the House a little guidance, in view of the time, so that those of us who have tabled questions know exactly what the procedure will be? Will you be dividing the items up equally into three parts, or into two half-hour parts? I ask because those of us involved in a potential third part need to know what is likely to happen, given the time at which we are starting.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Mrs Doyle, you are quite right. We will take the priority questions, and then we will divide Question Time in half between Commissioner Kuneva and Commissioner McCreevy, as far as we can. We are hoping to run to at least 7.30 p.m. and it may be a bit longer with the forbearance of our interpreters. I hope everybody is as content as they can be with that.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 31 by Mairead McGuinness (H-0980/07 )

Subject: Ensuring consumers are protected from counterfeit and sub-standard medicines

The safety and efficiency of the European medicine supply chain is becoming a significant concern for European consumers, and existing weaknesses in this system could have potentially disastrous consequences for patient safety.

It is clear that European consumers want safe and affordable medicines. However, in Ireland consumers pay a premium for their medicines, with the current medicine wholesale mark-up at 17.66%, more than double the EU average. This trend is mirrored across the EU, where the fragmented nature of the market has contributed to an associated growth in 'pharmaceutical parallel trade' (PPT).

According to a report from the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines, counterfeit and sub-standard medicines are finding their way into the supply chain in the EU.

Could the Commission outline its position in relation to this matter, in particular does it plan to tackle this problem by reviewing parallel trade and promoting a genuine single market in pharmaceutical products which is in the interests of consumers and appears essential to ensure that the benefits of the internal market, including affordable medicines, extend to all parts of Europe's economy?

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . − (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the main purpose of the Community’s legal provisions and political strategies in the pharmaceutical field is to ensure that patients are supplied with safe, effective, high-quality medicines that are affordable and universally available.

On more than one occasion in the past, the question of the safety of medicines marketed through what is known as pharmaceutical parallel trade has been raised. That has prompted me to commission a study in order to get to the bottom of this issue; the study is to examine all aspects of sales channels and, in particular, questions relating to counterfeit medicines and parallel trade. The aim of the study is to analyse the present situation and to develop political options with a view to plugging gaps, if necessary by amending the current legal provisions. The study will also examine potential links between pharmaceutical parallel trade and the appearance of counterfeit medicines.

Regrettably, I must tell you that the first part of the study, devoted to parallel trade, which has now been completed, shows that such trade poses considerable risks to patient safety. Several factors are to blame, including mistakes in repackaging or relabelling, the limited effect of product recalls, the more complex distribution channels, supply interruptions and, finally, shortcomings in the enforcement of applicable legal provisions.

The Commission is currently analysing the findings of the study with a view to developing a coherent strategy for the elimination of these safety risks. The various political options are being examined for their foreseeable social, economic and environmental impact. Given the significant implications of this issue for public health policy, the Commission gives it high priority. Decisions on where we go from here will be taken shortly.

I should also like to inform you that the European Pharmaceutical Forum offers a platform for easier adoption and sharing of good practices with regard to the pricing of medicines and reimbursement of the cost of medicines. Although these matters fall within the purview of the Member States, the relevant measures still have to be consistent with Community law. The work of the Pharmaceutical Forum, in which patient organisations, members of the medical profession and leading figures in the industry as well as the Ministers of Health of all the Member States are represented, can help to resolve the major issue of affordable access to safe medicines.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE ). – Thank you, Commissioner, for your response, which is clear but alarming, because obviously there are problems about safety.

I would like you to outline the timeframe which will apply to your response, because I think people are not generally aware how at risk they might be from counterfeit medicines. And could I ask you – in writing, perhaps – to address an issue which is of concern in Ireland in relation to vaccines which were legitimate vaccines but which damaged children and for which people are still waiting for some form of compensation after 40 years?

Perhaps you could write to me stating how other Member States are handling that contentious issue.

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . − (DE) I shall gladly do so. In answer to your first question, let me say that I have already decided that parallel trade in counterfeit medicines will be treated as a matter of priority. I have amended the workplan of the Directorate-General, and we shall be making legislative proposals during the current year. I believe that can be done shortly after the summer recess.

As for your other question, I am grateful for your recognition that I cannot answer it without prior examination. I shall have that examination carried out, and you will receive the requested written answer in the coming days.

 
  
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  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE ). – (LT) I would like to ask about prices. In Germany, nasal drops cost 1.5–2 times less than the same medicine costs in Lithuania. We take care to ensure that all countries, even the developing ones, have access to medicine. Could we take care to ensure that our citizens, EU citizens, pay at least a similar price for the same medicine? Could we do anything here in Europe?

 
  
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  Josu Ortuondo Larrea (ALDE ). – (ES) Madam President, health services form a recurring topic in European Parliament debates. Each time we discuss the Services Directive there is a bid to include them in it, a bid which we have hitherto opposed, and health services have remained outside its scope.

The supply of medication is a health service. There are some States, such as the Spanish State, which have an established group of sites – pharmacies – which are the only places where medicines may be dispensed.

I would like to ask the Commissioner whether, as part of the investigation carried out by the Commission, any differences have been noted between States where pharmacies are a restricted, monitored trade and the others, with regard to the counterfeiting of medicines and inferior quality.

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice President of the Commission . − On the first question, I would like to say that, apart from the study on safe medicines in parallel trade, additional ways to address parallel trade are currently being explored, in particular with respect to pricing initiatives.

Revision of the transparency directive to include specific information on pricing would also be a possible way forward. But what I try to do is first of all to clarify the situation and to know exactly what is happening. Then to analyse the question whether EU legislation is able to change that because the whole issue of pricing and reimbursement of medicines in the European Union is under the full responsibility of the Member States; we have no powers whatsoever. But it is obvious that we need to cooperate. That is the reason why the pharmafirm pricing and reimbursement is one of our priorities.

I am well aware that, for citizens, the fact that the same medicine has completely different prices in different European Member States is difficult to understand. It is also difficult for me to understand. The fact that these prices are regulated is only one factor. Another factor, of course, is that the pharmaceutical industry is part of the market economy. They are free to set their prices, but we are intensely studying the situation and I think that we will be able to present solutions.

To the second question I can say that, yes, it is true: there are different systems in the European Union. For instance, certain medicines in some countries can only be sold in pharmacies. In other countries you can buy them in supermarkets. Only for prescription drugs is the situation the same overall. These drugs are only available in pharmacies.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 32 by Chris Davies (H-0984/07 )

Subject: Carbon dioxide emissions

What targets has the Commission set itself for reducing CO2 emissions generated by its activities, buildings and transport needs?

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − (EL) Madam President, the Commission has to date been managing the problem of carbon dioxide emissions due to its activities, through the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, better known as EMAS, and has been complying with the rules of that scheme.

Since 2005, the Commission has been enforcing EMAS in five of the departments in Brussels and in eight of its buildings. During this time, it has recorded a clear reduction in the growth rate in consumption of, amongst other things, electricity by those departments, a development which is undoubtedly positive.

Overall CO2 emission reduction targets have not yet been set for the Commission, but within the framework of EMAS, the Commission is examining and analysing the total volume of its CO2 emissions, and will set overall emission reduction targets within the year 2008. In particular, as regards its vehicle fleet, the Commission has already set a target of reducing CO2 emissions by an average of 26% between 2006 and 2012.

 
  
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  Chris Davies (ALDE ). – The Commission will be making some major announcements on Wednesday, and I expect that people everywhere will be asking then whether we practise what we preach. So to hear that only five DGs have currently signed up to EMAS is not very encouraging, although I cannot say that Parliament can claim to be much better. It would certainly fail such a test, although action is now being taken to address the issue.

Does the Commissioner accept that his arguments in favour of the ‘big picture changes’ that must be made by Member States if we are to tackle climate change could be undermined if the Commission is not seen to be acting on the fine detail – on its own implementation of these improvements?

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − Yes, I agree with you. We should practise what we preach, and this is what we are going to do in 2008. I expect the Commission and its services will target a reduction in emissions to at least the same level as we are requesting of the Member States.

As you know, we have set a 30% reduction target, provided that other developed countries follow, or a 20% target if they do not sign up to an international agreement on reducing emissions. We will set ourselves the 30% target, and I expect that, in so doing, we will show by example that we mean what we are asking others to do.

By the way, we will have to conduct a study to determine the exact quantity of emissions from the Commission, before setting targets and a timetable, and also establishing an action plan to combat emissions.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE ). – (DE) There is something I would be interested to know. We have this 30% reduction target imposed from the top down, and it does seem to be widely endorsed. As you quite rightly said, others must follow suit if these targets are to be achieved.

My own question to you is this: do you yourself have a plan for achieving this 30% reduction personally in your own sphere of activity?

 
  
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  Karin Scheele (PSE ). – (DE) As we know, the European Parliament has set a reduction target of 30% by 2012 on the basis of EMAS, and we are keen to see what specific measures are adopted by the European Parliament and its decision-makers.

Commissioner, you said that the application of EMAS would mean less electricity consumption. It would interest me to know what specific measures have been taken, what specific measures are planned for the coming years, and what role renewables are to play.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission . − I did not fully understand that your question was for me personally. Usually I do not like to say what I am doing, but I can tell you that in Brussels, for example, I do not have a car – I do not drive a car; I prefer, over the weekend, to walk around, and this is also good for health. Regarding my official car, I did the following thing, because I expected questions like this: I asked WWF, who have 10 sustainable top projects, to recommend me a car which is the most sustainable, and they recommended one for me and this is what I am using for my services. By the way, it is quite within the limits that we have asked the automobile industry to achieve by 2012. Then, in Greece, since I was a Member of Parliament there, I have had a very small car, even smaller than what I have for the service here, and I drive it very rarely.

Now, again I would not like to tell you, but travelling to Bali I offset my going there by purchasing from one of those schemes – I think it was the allowances from the emissions trading system – and these are then cancelled. So I try to do as much as I can, and if you have anything more to tell me, I shall be very glad to follow your advice.

Now, regarding renewables: this is a big discussion. We should do what we decided at the beginning of the previous year – in March 2007 – and achieve the 20% targets for all the Member States. Regarding the buildings and the services of the Commission, we should try to use renewables as much as we can, because the main source of emissions from the Commission is from the buildings. Almost three quarters come from the buildings, so if we can find ways to use renewable energy for our services, that will be very good; but this has to be studied in the action plan that I told you about before.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 33 by Claude Moraes (H-0986/07 )

Subject: Protecting consumers against spam, spyware and malicious software

The European Commission has named the protection of consumers in the digital world among the central themes of its plans for consumer policy in the coming years. In this context, it has stated that effective and responsive enforcement mechanisms which would allow national authorities to co-operate in the combat of rogue traders who use spam and fraudulent websites are essential.

What progress has the Commission made in developing such mechanisms to protect consumers?

In particular, what has been done in order to improve possibilities for consumers to seek redress and reclaim their money when they fall victim to spam, spyware or other malicious software?

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . − Madam President, the Commission is concerned about privacy and security problems in the information society, in particular when these put consumers at risk.

The use of spam, spyware and malicious software is in clear breach of the European privacy legislation, and in some cases it is even a criminal offence. This is why we need vigorous enforcement by competent authorities.

Last December, Commissioner Reding (whom I have the pleasure to replace here) welcomed the fast and effective intervention by the Dutch regulator, which imposed a fine totalling EUR 1 million on three Dutch enterprises for illegally installing ‘spyware’ and ‘adware’ on more than 22 million computers in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

She has called upon other regulators to follow this example. On 13 November 2007 the Commission adopted its proposals on the Telecom Reform, which include provisions that further strengthen the security and privacy regime underpinning the information society.

In relation to spam, the proposals introduced the possibility for internet service providers to take legal action against spammers. This provision is expected to become an important tool in the fight against spam in Europe.

Also, the effectiveness of anti-spam enforcement will be strengthened by including this in the scope of the Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation, which provides for a network of public enforcement authorities throughout the Community and a minimum level of investigation and enforcement powers to apply this regulation effectively.

More generally, the proposals include the provision for customers of electronic communication services to be informed of possible actions that a service provider may take to address security threats, or in response to a security or integrity incident.

By introducing the concept of breach notifications, users of electronic communication services would be told about breaches of security when this has resulted in personal data being lost or compromised, and about precautions that they may take in order to minimise the economic loss or social harm that could result from a security breach.

To ensure compliance with these requirements, national regulatory authorities will be given the power to issue binding instructions to operators on the measures that are required to secure electronic communication networks and services and to oversee proper implementation.

The proposed European Electronic Communications Market Authority will have as one of its core tasks network and information security and will assist the Commission in implementing measures on a European level where appropriate.

 
  
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  Claude Moraes (PSE ). – Thank you, Commissioner, for that comprehensive answer. I do not know what the digital equivalent of ‘epidemic’ is, but following this Christmas season we now see an epidemic of this kind of behaviour. All the independent organisations have said that.

I do not want to belittle anything the Commission has done; I think it has made this a priority. What I would ask, though, is that examples like the Dutch example of encouraging prosecutions, encouraging ISPs to be free to go after these people – none of this, I feel, is coming back to consumers. Is there something simple that the Commission can issue for MEPs, to tell our consumers what you are doing and how effectively this is being measured?

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . − I could not agree more. I have already said that proposals are in place and are currently under consideration by Parliament and the Council. I expect these to enter into force, and we will then have all the necessary requirements in place.

The current legal situation allows action to be taken against such violations, although this depends on the case. In the case of a criminal offence, people can ask for the support of the police, or can take other legal action. As I have already mentioned, the example set by the Dutch regulator OPTA has been welcomed by the Commission in a press release. I have the full text here. If you wish, I can hand it to you after Question Time so you can read what we have already done.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE ). – (EL) Madam President, the Commissioner Mr Reding is absent, of course, but I am sure the Vice-President of the Commission, Mr Verheugen, has sufficient breadth of knowledge to answer my question on a supplementary matter: whether the Commission has evidence or clues linking the source of unsolicited e-mails - spam - to the companies offering services and products for protection against such unwanted intrusions.

 
  
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  Avril Doyle (PPE-DE ). – I would like to connect the first question by Ms McGuinness on protecting consumers from counterfeit and sub-standard medicines with the question by Mr Moraes on protecting consumers against spam. One of the huge problems I, like most others, have is the amount of medicines advertised in spam, along with all sorts of products that enhance all sorts of bits of the body which some of us do not even possess! I wonder, with reference to the parallel market study you referred to, if there are any studies under way on the whole issue of the internet, spam and counterfeit medicines, and in particular on sub-standard medicines that offer no guarantee of safety or efficacy for consumers and patients everywhere. There is horrific growth in that particular area.

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission . − That is quite an interesting combination. On the first question, unfortunately the Commission is not in possession of these data, because the regulatory authorities belong to the Member States. But I will inform Commissioner Reding about the question and perhaps, in contact with Member States, we can find a solution.

On a personal basis I can only say that I find the idea behind your question absolutely reasonable, and I think we should try to find a way to bring that together.

On the second question, it even relates to an issue that we have not discussed this evening, the question of information to patients. We have three issues here: the abuse of electronic communication systems; we have the problem of information to patients, which is very often misleading; and we have the problem of counterfeited and parallel trade. I did not say that in my answer to the question on counterfeit medicines and parallel trade, so I can add it here.

We are also working on a proposal to get a clear framework for information for patients and experiencing exactly the problem that you have mentioned, namely that the existing regulations and existing restrictions which we have are, so to speak, overruled by the use of the internet. This is important for us – and this is the reason why we are studying the whole problem and why we will produce a proposal on how information for patients in the European Union should be organised, although we know that it is extremely difficult. But I have to say that, for the time being, we have regulations in place.

For instance, advertising for prescribed drugs is not allowed. If that happens via the internet it is, of course, a breach of the existing rules, and Member States have not only the right but, in my view, they have the obligation to do something against that.

So the answer to your question is yes. The Commission is aware that such a problem exists, and in our forthcoming proposals we will try to address that issue.

I have to introduce a caveat here: the use of the internet is something that you cannot control. This is exactly the problem that we have and we will try to find the best possible solution.

 
  
  

Part two

 
  
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  President. − Question No 34 by Giovanna Corda (H-0965/07 )

Subject: Monitoring imports of dangerous consumer goods

At the end of November the Commission presented a survey of the system for monitoring the safety of consumer goods, which revealed numerous shortcomings in the application of the existing directives in the Member States but also with regard to traceability and the responsibilities of industry, distributors and importers.

Can the Commission indicate the following, in particular? What specific measures does it intend to adopt to improve monitoring by Member States in accordance with Directive 2001/95/EC(1) on general product safety and cooperation with customs services? What measures will it take to ensure traceability of imported consumer goods? What measures will it take to induce manufacturers, importers and distributors of imported consumer goods to shoulder their responsibility and, if appropriate, to penalise them?

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − The first results of the product safety stocktaking were released on 22 November 2007. These indicate that the regulatory framework is fit for the purpose, if properly applied and when properly applied. The Rapex system is working efficiently to ensure that dangerous products are recalled from the market throughout the European Union.

The stocktaking report nonetheless identifies scope for improvements, both in preventive actions and in international cooperation, such as enhanced enforcement. Some envisaged improvements are already at an advanced stage towards becoming concrete actions, notably as concerns the revision of the Toy Safety Directive. The Commission is also in the process of preparing a temporary measure requiring warnings on magnetic toys, pending revision of the standards, to address the risk those toys could pose. The Commission is assisting the Member States’ market surveillance authorities to identify and share best practices with a view to improved controls.

In October 2007, Member States reported on initiatives for better cooperation with economic operators and on specific surveillance campaigns on toys. The Commission intends to publish comparative enforcement capacity data in the consumer scoreboard for 2008, in what is a new and, I hope, very helpful initiative. The Commission also continues to concretely reinforce the market surveillance capacity of the Member States by participating in the financing of well-designed joint market surveillance projects. Those projects received EUR 1.3 million in Community funding in 2007.

In addition to actions to improve protection within the EU, various actions are under way to strengthen protection at borders. Recent major changes to EU customs legislation will assist in identifying high risk consignments for controls. Secure customs exchange mechanisms will also enable rapid action to be taken when information becomes available on new types of dangerous products. Information available in the Rapex system will be distributed using this mechanism, in order to alert the competent customs authorities of specific, potentially dangerous cargos. The Commission also agrees that traceability is an issue for further improvements. Statistics show that products of unknown origin notified through Rapex were, for the first time, down to 3% in October 2007, as compared to 17% in 2006. The Commission is currently analysing, with the help of the Member States, how to ensure that this improvement is not only temporary, and how to make it sustainable.

The Commission has already included, in the legislation under the internal market for goods package, a provision requiring economic operators to have available the identity of their supplier. This should be helpful for market surveillance intervention once that legislation enters into force. The Commission has also asked what China could do about traceability, and welcomes the initiatives taken in China to require bar coding, at factory level, of certain categories of high risk products.

Finally, the Commission has highlighted the responsibility of the economic operators concerned, and welcomes the commitment from industry to work on measures to build consumer confidence, in particular through what we are calling a ‘safety pact’. The Commission will also send experts to carry out a study of business safety measures in the supply chain, and will report further on this in the first quarter of 2008.

 
  
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  Giovanna Corda (PSE ). – (FR) Thank you for your response, Commissioner: I am glad that the Commission intends to take a series of measures to reduce, in so far as possible, the risks associated with the circulation of imported toys, particularly those from China.

One important aspect here, which the Commission has highlighted, is the traceability of toys from producer to consumer – and you did refer briefly to that in your reply. A major question remains unanswered, however. In the event of hundreds of thousands of toys being withdrawn from the market, as happened last year, can you tell me please, Commissioner, what becomes of those toys? What proof do you have that they are removed absolutely from the market? I have heard reports – which prompted me to ask my question today – that they are being put back onto the market, for sale to other children. All children, throughout the world, are entitled to benefit from the same approach on our part: I think none of us will argue with that. Does the traceability system enable you to follow these toys all the way to their destruction?

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − I think that your question is absolutely valid and very humane. We have to pursue our goal: these dangerous toys must not reach not just the European market, which is our duty, but any market, and we have some well-developed tools to help us. We can conduct a market surveillance, we have controls and our Rapex system, which is a system through which we can get information through the market and not only when the dangerous goods are stopped at our borders.

However, what is also important for us as a global leader in the safety process is not to allow these dangerous goods – especially toys – to reach other children – in China as well. It is not enough just to preach for the safety of European kids, which is part of our duty. I have asked the main producers several times openly and clearly to destroy the toys and I have also invited them to the Commission in Brussels, where we discussed how to ensure that the toys are destroyed. They all committed to this. In particular, I urged Mattel, as the major industry with more recalls than any other, to comply, and it has agreed to this obligation. It is not legally binding: I cannot make them destroy their factories. But I think we are facing a time when the legislative framework is just a framework and there are things that are beyond and outside the framework. We need to vigorously pursue measures that are above the absolutely necessary from a legislative point of view. I had an opportunity to discuss this issue with UNICEF and the Americans during the TACD dialogue. I am fully aware of your concerns and, believe me, I will not spare efforts to make it public and to pursue the goal of destroying these toys. Nevertheless, I do not have a legislative base outside Europe.

 
  
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  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Commissioner, you have indicated that a great deal is being done to remove dangerous toys from the market. That is an important step. The fact is, however, that some of these products are being marketed here with generally recognised certification marks, including in some cases the familiar CE mark. Under any rules of good practice, if a toy is not demonstrably safe or is actually dangerous, such labelling is not only abusive but downright fraudulent. Is there scope to envisage criminal prosecution in such cases?

 
  
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  Colm Burke (PPE-DE ). – Thank you, Commissioner, for your detailed response. In relation to Ireland, one item purchased there over the Christmas period actually exploded, and the name of the manufacturer was not identifiable.

Is it possible to have legislation introduced in all countries to make it illegal to sell an item on which the manufacturer is not clearly identifiable? I think that is the way forward, and I would ask if that could be done.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − If you do not mind, I will start with the second question, because I have a more certain legislative base on which to answer you. The Commission has already included, in the internal market for goods package, legislation containing a provision requiring economic operators to have available the identity of their supplier. This will help to enhance the identification of the good and to have a clear label as to who the producer is, for one thing, and also who the supplier is. The global chain is becoming longer and longer, and there is no longer any item which we can be absolutely certain has been produced only in one country.

I understand your question, but think that we also need to raise awareness and make parents more vigilant, because rogue traders will always exist. We need to raise awareness as regards checking the retailer and only buying from a responsible retailer, and also as regards checking the labels on the product. While nobody can remove that responsibility from our shoulders as consumers, I believe that your point is absolutely valid, and I agree that, not only the manufacturer’s name, but also specific information should be shown on the label, especially in the case of toys.

This question is perhaps linked with the first one on what we can do about falsification – if I have understood your question correctly. If the good is a fake good, that is one thing. We need to tackle fake goods through intellectual property rights, and also through our custom activities. I have to tell you that our customs authorities have raised the frequency of their checks three times higher than the world norm. The advice from the World Custom Unions is to check 3% of goods at borders and ports, and in Europe we check 10%. I also think it would be a good idea to enhance our research and development to make surveillance and checks at the borders even tighter, with better technical devices to conduct screenings and other important innovations that can be introduced at the borders for goods coming onto our markets.

I would like also to point out that even if the good is not counterfeit, and clearly shows the ‘CE’ mark, this will not mean that the good necessarily conforms to all the requirements within the framework of this directive. We also need to keep, additionally, to these New Approach Directives, which set out requirements on how a good is produced, and to ensure constant market surveillance from the point of view of safety, because sometimes safety is even more important, or at least equally important, and does not always coincide with the manner in which the good is produced.

It might be, for example, as in the case of the problem with magnets in toys, to which we are responding, that when we see that the situation has changed we need to respond and take measures on the basis of safety, and not just on the basis of the requirements we have asked the producer to fulfil. If we combine the two sets of requirements – on the producer and on the good once the market – then we will have better-protected consumers.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 35 by Manolis Mavrommatis (H-0966/07 )

Subject: Profiteering by food shops

Most Member States experience considerable fluctuations in food prices, very often because shops are able to exploit periods of mass consumption, such as public holidays. Milk, in particular, is a product with a constantly rising price in all Member States.

Does the Commission monitor the commercial activities of food shops and supermarkets during periods of higher consumption? Is it collaborating with national consumer protection organisations to find an effective solution to profiteering?

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − I know that this question is very important, and I would like to assure you that the Commission does not monitor shops during periods of higher consumption, nor does it collaborate with the national consumer organisations on this specific question.

So we very much rely on national efforts. However, the Commission does intend to improve its tools for monitoring the functioning of the internal market from a consumer perspective.

The single market review set out the Commission’s plans for a consumer scoreboard and for more detailed price monitoring, but I would like especially to stress that this is about monitoring.

Published Eurostat data show that prices of milk, cheese and eggs in Greece are 38% higher than the average prices of the same group for the European Union. The average prices for this product group over the period 1996-2007 grew by almost 52% in Greece and only by 24% in the EU.

However, this development appears to be structural rather than seasonal. Since 2005 the prices of dairy products for Greece do not appear to reveal seasonal fluctuations.

 
  
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  Manolis Mavrommatis (PPE-DE ). – (EL) Madam President, I would like to say thank you very much to the Commissioner, and thank you very much for the information. I shall also consult Eurostat so that we can see the whole scoreboard, because it is significant, of course, and important for my country - which you have mentioned - but I believe there are similar situations in other countries and it would therefore be interesting to see how your Commission is going to handle this issue generally. Either with a recommendation or with a Directive which will cover all products and not only consumables.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − The Commission is undertaking measures at different levels aimed at reducing increases in food prices. One initiative is to begin monitoring prices, which I mentioned earlier. This is one of the objectives of the consumer market scoreboard on which we are working and which I believe will be supported by the Commission pretty soon.

The Commission has also proposed a number of measures within the framework of agricultural policy. A reduction of obligatory set-aside land, already in force for the 2008 crop season; an increase in milk quotas for the year 2008-2009 adopted by the Commission and proposed to the Council, if adopted, will be in force from 1 April 2008 onwards, and a reduction of import duties in the cereals sector to reduce increases in cereal prices and also in the future of the price of meat. This measure came into force from the beginning of January 2008.

This is a kind of inventory of what we have done. But, through the consumer market scoreboard, one of the main topics of our investigations will be prices and part of this basket will be about food prices. So we will duly inform you; we will consult as to what the next step will be after the data monitoring and we can take action to see what is behind this – of course, hand in hand with the national authorities.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE ). – It is interesting that when food prices are rising, the Commission will act to look at it and I would urge the Commission to come up with statistics that show us the share-out of the final retail price between producer – and I mean farmers – and consumer, because that information is not available. I think that it is also fair to say, on the record, that the era of relatively low food prices is over and that I think that the Commission should not fool people by saying that we are going to go back to lower food prices. Perhaps what we need to do is to educate people about buying quality food at a fair price.

 
  
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  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE ). – (LT) Last summer, prices started rising in all EU Member States. We then raised the question of whether there were any cartel agreements. In my country, Lithuania, it was found that milk processing companies agreed on raising prices. Now the meat sector is being scrutinised. Are such studies carried out in other EU countries? Now a new term has appeared – ‘the end of cheap food’. Don’t representatives of the food industry use this new term, and how can consumers protect themselves?

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − The price of food fluctuates because of the seasonal character of agricultural production. Those fluctuations are not completely passed on to consumers because the cost of raw materials has, until recently, been decreasing and because of warehousing technologies catering for those seasonal shortages. Recently, more systematic food price increases seem to be taking place, and the principal reason seems to be growing demand from emerging large economies, like China and India. We have already discussed the fact that in India last year there were five million more people with a new diet that is based much more on milk, milk products and meat.

Last summer the situation worsened owing to adverse climatic conditions in many producing regions, and this has been the main reason for the exceptionally high increase in food prices in the European Union since September 2007. The Commission and the national competition authorities are carefully monitoring the market. Anti-competitive practices have been discovered in the dairy sector in the United Kingdom and in Greece, and fines have been imposed on firms involved in those anti-competitive practices.

I feel that, if the Latvian national authorities have been informed, then they will be working on the case you mention, especially as it is high on the public agenda. What we really need is a sectoral investigation to see whether there is any kind of cartel behind it, which has already happened in two EU countries.

 
  
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  President. − I have just been informed, unfortunately, that we have a problem with the availability of our Commissioners. Mr McCreevy has to leave us at 7.20 p.m. Therefore, what I would intend to do, Commissioner Kuneva, with your permission, is to change now to Commissioner McCreevy, but if you could stay with us to take some additional questions at the end, that would be most helpful.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 41 by Marian Harkin (H-0962/07 )

Subject: The Review of the Single Market

In light of the recent Commission publication on the Review of the Single Market, what measures does the Commission intend to take to promote the financial education of consumers, financial inclusion and adequate redress for consumers, particularly in light of the recent sub prime crisis in the US and the current financial turbulence?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − I would like to thank the Honourable Member for her interest in the single market review.

Alongside our Communication on the single market for 21st century Europe, we adopted a package of measures to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of retail financial services markets. Integral to that package are initiatives to improve consumer confidence and empower them to seek out the best product for their individual needs. Although the Commission focus on empowering consumers is not recent, current financial turbulence certainly highlights the importance of this matter. I would like to address all three areas mentioned by the Honourable Member: education, inclusion and redress.

Financial education is best delivered as close as possible to the citizens that need it, namely at the level of national and regional authorities, non-governmental agencies and the financial services sector. At the end of 2007, we adopted a communication on financial education to raise awareness of the need to increase consumers’ level of financial literacy, promote the provision of high-quality financial education in the European Union and provide some practical tools to help achieve these goals. It includes some principles to guide financial services providers and announces some practical initiatives. These range from publishing an on-line database of financial education provision and research in the EU, to an enhancement of the existing Dolceta on-line educational tool to help teachers incorporate financial matters into the school curriculum.

Today, having a bank account is a prerequisite for being able to fully participate in social and economic life, and all EU citizens should have access to a basic bank account. We are currently carrying out a study to identify and analyse policy measures taken by Member States to prevent financial exclusion. Based on this information, which we hope to receive at the end of this month, we will reflect on how best to ensure that all EU citizens have access to a basic bank account.

Finally, when buying financial services, consumers need to know that in the event of a problem they can have easy access to redress. While out-of-court dispute settlement bodies exist in many EU countries, not all of these are members of the Commission-run FIN-NET, the aim of which is to facilitate consumer access to redress in cross-border cases. With this in mind, we are working to ensure that all existing out-of-court dispute resolution bodies are part of FIN-NET.

We are also reflecting more generally on how to encourage the creation of alternative redress systems where these do not already exist. Those initiatives will not create confidence and empower consumers overnight, but they are a complement to the initiatives we are taking in other related areas, such as information and advice.

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE ). – (DE) I appreciate that Mr McCreevy has a tight schedule, but others have pressing engagements too. I merely wanted to ask whether or not my question to Mrs Kuneva will still be heard, in other words whether I can go to my Group meeting now or whether I should wait here.

 
  
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  President. − It is unlikely that we will get to your question. It is regrettable that we are in the situation we are in. Your question will almost certainly be answered in writing.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin (ALDE ). – Commissioner, I want to ask you a little bit more about financial education, which is the new buzzword. I think you will agree that there is a real imbalance in power between financial institutions and consumers, not least because, firstly, consumers need access to credit, and, secondly, regardless of the level of financial education, how many people are going to read the 25-page document that accompanies, for example, their insurance policy, and refer to it every year?

You said that this issue needs to be addressed at local and regional level, but would you not agree there needs to be greater cooperation between the major stakeholders, such as financial regulators, governments, consumer organisations and financial complaints bodies so that, working together, they can highlight some of the problems and issues, and at least act as an early warning system for the consumer?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − What we have been attempting to do here in financial education is to get this on the agenda and to make everybody aware, particularly in Member States, that it would probably be a better investment than in lots of other areas if, from a very early stage in the school curriculum, some basic financial literacy was taught.

Because, going through life, whether one ends up as the chief financial controller of a major institution or whether one has a very ordinary job in one’s local area, you are definitely going to encounter – at some stage you are going to have to deal with – some major financial transaction such as the buying of a car, a house, a washing machine or whatever.

I think that from an early stage it would be far better if people had a little bit taught to them in the school curriculum programme so that they would know some basic information.

What Ms Harkin was speaking about goes on to a higher level as to what type of information should be given to a consumer, because she is correct: the amount of information that is given to them and the 48 pages that they get to read in very small writing is there for the sole purpose, in my view (and it has always been my view), of satisfying lawyers, so that if there is a case, they can charge bigger and bigger fees for telling you that you have either won or lost. I have absolutely no faith in that at all.

Some of that particular area is directly under my own responsibility. I often recall a particular case when I was in Scotland about two years or so ago, meeting with some of the financial educators who were talking about the Perspectives Directive in the UCITS area. They said there were 81 pages in the Perspectives Directive and 78 pages in the simplified perspectives to do with a particular product. So, in the Consumer Credit Directive, which I think is being dealt with at present in Parliament, Ms Kuneva will make some improvements as to what type of basic information consumers should be given. Ms Kuneva is dealing with those particular aspects. But in the whole area of financial education, the place where I have been trying to up the agenda is for Member States to include, from an early stage, some basic financial education as part of the core curriculum programme. I think everybody would be far better off doing it like that than having pages and pages of small type that no one ever reads.

 
  
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  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Commissioner, I am sure you are right when you call for a start to be made at the level of school education in order to put consumers in a better position (a) to know their rights and (b) to exercise them.

The problem, however, is that we still have a generation, indeed more than one generation, of people who think differently, who have heard that financial services and the financial market are subject to particularly stringent government supervision and who act on that knowledge, believing they can rely on such government supervision. In actual fact, much has changed in recent times as a result of market deregulation. Are there not perhaps one or two things that can yet be done in the realm of state supervision?

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE ). – Madam President, could I suggest to the Commissioner that, not only does the information satisfy lawyers, but it bamboozles consumers? And that is why it is there. Like a lot of information, it is like the instructions for the washing machine. We read it when it breaks down and it is too late.

Could I suggest you look at the role of credit unions in educating consumers, because I think that is an issue in Ireland in particular? And, can I gently remind you, as you mentioned redress, of the absolute lack of redress for Equitable Life policyholders. I am sure that Ms Wallis will support me on this and perhaps in a quiet moment you might come back to us with a written response as to what has happened since our report was voted on and supported by you.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − The first question relates to the regulated market and I think the questioner extrapolates from the recent difficulties – the difficulties of the past eight months or so – in the financial markets and races to the question of Ms Harkin. I do not think that there is necessarily a correlation there, but in all the studies and work that various bodies are doing, including us in the Commission, perhaps there would be a role for financial education.

I think the origins of the problems that created the financial turmoil come from irresponsible lending in a certain part of the world. That was the origins of the problem, but we are a long way down the road from that and it is the contagion effect that spread it to other areas. But the origins of the problem, in my view, probably relate to irresponsible lending by particular institutions.

Regarding Ms McGuinness’s question: education is a Member State competence and I would not see any difficulty in, say, a Member State, including the one we know best, taking up her suggestion. It would seem to be a reasonable idea that could be pursued at that particular level.

Regarding the Equitable Life question, yes I did support it. We are waiting for further information. As far as I know, the report of the UK Ombudsman is still the only real source for redress and that particular report is still outstanding. I will ask my Commission officials if they have any later news as to when that UK report is likely to be published. If I remember correctly this time last year it was hoped to have been reported by the end of 2007, I think November 2007; that has come and gone and maybe we might find some more information about it, but that is really going to be the next big date in that area.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 42 by Georgios Papastamkos (H-0970/07 )

Subject: Markets in financial instruments

From 1 November 2007, the new European framework for the operation of markets in financial instruments entered into force.

Does the Commission have any information concerning the number of European investment companies and institutions likely to benefit from the new regulatory framework? Is any specific data available for Greece?

According to Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, the cost of capital is expected to fall in time. On what information is this prediction based? Is it possible for this prediction to be made more specific regarding individual sectors and the percentage of the anticipated decrease in each case?

Does the Commission have information concerning cross-border trading in shares and investment services? What are the current inward and outward figures for Greece in this sector?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − The Commission does not keep consolidated records of the number of European investment firms or the number of investment firms in Greece. However, Member States are required by MiFID to keep a record of all investment firms registered within their territory. The Hellenic Capital Market Commission should therefore be able to supply the data for Greek companies.

With MiFID, the trading monopolies for exchanges have been abolished, investment firms have better access to providing their services across the European Economic Area using the MiFID passport and consumer protection has been strengthened. This leads to increased competition across borders and between trading venues, which will in turn increase liquidity and the depth of the financial markets, for the benefit of both the industry and consumers.

Our expectation that cost of capital would decline is based on a rigorous study carried out by London Economics in 2002. This study modelled the impact of financial integration, of which MiFID is the cornerstone, in terms of its impact on the then EU-15. The main conclusions from the study were that financial integration would lead to a reduction in the cost of equity capital of an average of 50 basis points across the Member States, and a reduction in the cost of market debt for non-financial issuers of 40 basis points.

The study estimated that the combined effects of financial market integration to the EU economy would result in the following: an increase of EU-wide real GDP of 1.1% in the long run; an increase of 6% of the total business investment; an increase in private consumption of 0.8%; and an increase of 0.5% in total employment.

Figures compiled informally by the Committee of European Securities Regulators in the run-up to the implementation of MiFID suggest that only very limited numbers of firms were at that time making use of the passport for investment services under the then Investment Services Directive into or out of Greece. We expect this to change in the future as Greek markets open up as a result of MiFID, and as Greek firms see more opportunities in other Member States.

The Federation of European Securities Exchanges keeps statistics on foreign equity trading, as well as on the percentage of shares owned by investors. As of December 2005, 41% of the shares traded on the Athens exchange were held by foreign investors. In November 2007, the foreign equity trading turnover on the Athens exchange was EUR 970 million.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE ). – (EL) Madam President, I thank the Commissioner for his answer, and I would like to ask in addition whether the Commission has data on the volume of credit intermediation in the European Union, and specifically what percentage of the European GDP this credit intermediation represents.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − I do not have that information available to me. I am not certain whether my services have it either, but I will ask. If they have it, we will certainly forward it to the Member.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 43 by Colm Burke (H-0972/07 )

Subject: Irish county development plans

In June of this year the Commission requested information from Ireland in relation to certain Irish county development plans and the rules for granting of planning permission which could be judged as restrictive.

I understand that after the Irish Government was granted a one month extension, a response was sent to the Commission at the end of September.

Could the Commission comment on the current state of play of proceedings following the Irish Government's response?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the Irish authorities following a complaint on 29 June 2007.

This letter requested information on restrictive conditions set out in a number of Irish county development plans. The Commission raised questions regarding the compatibility of certain requirements to obtain building permission with two principles of the Treaty, namely the freedom of establishment and the free movement of capital.

Indirectly, such restrictions could also affect the free movement of workers, but this issue was not raised.

Following an agreed extension of one month to respond, the Irish authorities sent their response at the end of September. My services have been examining its content and are planning to contact the Irish authorities in order to hold a meeting at a technical level to further clarify and discuss the position of the Irish authorities.

Following these discussions, the Commission will be in a position to assess whether or not there are grounds to pursue this infringement procedure.

 
  
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  Colm Burke (PPE-DE ). – The response from the Irish Government was lodged on 28 September 2007. I understand that the response has not been made public. This is a very important issue which affects 22 local authorities in Ireland.

I am just wondering if the response can be released at this stage now that it is before the Commission and it has had time to consider it? Maybe the Commissioner might outline the timescale when a decision will be made by the Commission on this matter.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − It is not our practice to make responses available to the public, but then again those responses often end up in the public domain.

I can confirm that we received a response on 28 September 2007, as the Honourable Member has stated. As I said in my reply, we intend to have a meeting with the Irish authorities about this matter. We will see how we proceed from there.

I should point out, also, that Ireland is not the only Member State where there are difficulties like this.

My services are hoping to meet the Irish authorities in the very near future, and we will then have to consider what they say and take further steps, if these are required.

 
  
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  Brian Crowley (UEN ). – I should just like to ask the Commissioner – with regard to the rule of subsidiarity, and in particular the issue of planning permission – is this an area that the Commission should be involved in, when the operation of planning and the right to build a property is separate from the right to own property and exploit that property?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − That is a very good question, Mr Crowley, but when the Commission receives a complaint, we are duty bound to act upon it and have an investigation. The complaint concerns the free movement that I have spoken about under Articles 43 and 56 of the Treaty and this is what it relates to. Therefore, we are legally bound to investigate such matters when they appear to conflict with basic tenets of the Treaties. That is what we have to do in this particular instance. As I said in response to your colleague, Mr Burke, there are other complaints in other Member States which have a similar type of restrictions and these have to be pursued also.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 44 by Gay Mitchell (H-0974/07 )

Subject: Health insurance industry in Ireland

Will the Commission make a statement on the state of the health insurance sector in Ireland, especially in light of the recent reasoned opinion requesting Ireland to abolish the exemption in place for VHI from certain EU rules?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − On 17 November, the Commission sent a reasoned opinion requesting that Ireland abolish the exemption in place for the Irish Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI) from certain EU rules. These rules, notably the first non-life insurance directive of 1973, as subsequently amended, aim at harmonising certain requirements for the commencement and conduct of direct non-life insurance business, and therefore also pertain to private health insurance.

The first non-life insurance directive exempted the VHI, among other institutions, from its rules. However, this exemption is applicable only as long as the capacity of the exempted institution is not in any way amended by a change of its statutes or by any change in the relevant national law. Accordingly, upon extension or change of capacity, the institution becomes subject to the full set of rules of Community law which otherwise apply to non-life insurance.

These rules, for example, require insurance undertakings to seek official authorisation before taking up their business; to adopt a certain legal form; and to establish adequate protective provisions which have to be sufficiently matched by the undertaking’s assets in order to retain an adequate solvency margin. One of the main objectives of these provisions is to protect the rights of those who have subscribed to an insurance policy, thereby making sure that the exercise of freedom to provide services is not to the detriment of consumer protection. In addition, these rules guarantee a level playing field between insurers.

Given its initial exemption from the first directive, and as long as its capacity remained unchanged, the VHI did not have to comply with these rules. The Commission, however, takes the view that the VHI’s capacity has indeed changed. Several amendments to the relevant Irish law in 1996, 1998 and 2001 extended the VHI’s scope of business far beyond what it was when the VHI’s exemption was first granted. Therefore, VHI’s initial exemption from the EU’s rules for insurers is no longer applicable. The Commission expressed this view in the reasoned opinion that was sent to Ireland on 14 November. It has asked Ireland to take, within two months, the necessary steps to subject the VHI to those supervisory and prudential rules of Community law for which it formerly enjoyed the exemption.

The Commission considers that this reasoned opinion is a decisive step towards putting all competitors in the Irish private health insurance market on an equal footing under European insurance legislation. This serves the interests of policyholders as well as of fair competition. The Commission will closely monitor the steps taken by the Irish Government and will, failing appropriate action, pursue legal proceedings before the European Court of Justice.

 
  
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  Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE ). – Madam President, may I thank the Commissioner for taking the question. Could I ask him if he has any indication of the timescale involved in obtaining a reply from the Irish Government in relation to the VHI in particular? Could I ask him whether this will have any implications for equalisation? The VHI continues to dominate 75% of the market in Ireland, but they claim that they need risk equalisation to protect them from being left holding all the older, and therefore higher-liability, clients. Will the issue raised by the Commissioner have any implications for equalisation?

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission . − A reasoned opinion was sent to Ireland on 14 November 2007. Ireland has two months to reply, which happens to be 14 January, which was yesterday. I understand that the reply was received yesterday evening. That reply is being studied by the Commission.

It is also necessary to point out that, as a result of correspondence that we had with the Irish Department of Health and the correspondence I had with the Irish Minister for Health over the past year, there was a proposed bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas before the election last May. That, of course, as Irish Members will know, fell when the election was called. We do not have institutional continuity in Ireland – which is a good thing, I think – but it was restored to the Order Paper when the new Government came into being. We have already suggested to the Irish authorities that some amendments to the bill as published are being considered.

So we will study the reply received yesterday evening (which I have not seen, but I understand it was received) and we will see what further changes have been proposed there. Dependent upon that, we will proceed to the next stage, or whatever.

But Mr Mitchell’s second question is very relevant. He said, has this any relevance to the risk equalisation debate? The answer is no. This is in the other areas for which I am directly responsible, like the Life Insurance Directive, which relates to solvency, and these matters which are in the public domain. Mr Mitchell is correct in saying that the VHI has about 75% of the market, in fact I think the figure is now 76% of the market. I understand that they have an even greater share of the market now than they had. They have gained a greater share and have gained a lot of extra people over the past year to 18 months or so, than they had previously. That is a fact. He is well-briefed on the matter. But my difficulty is to do with the non-life insurance directive and not with the rate of risk equalisation. But for completeness – as you would be aware, Mr Mitchell – there is a separate court action which is to be called before the Court in Luxembourg and taken by one of the competitors in the Irish market. That is before the Court of Justice, and I would assume that some time, maybe later this year, a decision on that will be given.

 
  
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  President. − Question No 36 by Jim Higgins (H-0978/07 )

Subject: Online airline ticket sales

Could the Commission state why instead of publishing the list of websites found to be in breach of Community legislation regarding the accurate advertising of websites it allowed their names to be covered up, indicating right of reply, to the detriment of the consumer who will unwittingly use a site that they could have avoided if the Commission had taken the step to publish the names in mid November?

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − The Commission uses all the instruments available to ensure the effective enforcement of consumer rights across Europe. A new consumer-enforcement network was established at the end of 2006 in the regulation on consumer protection cooperation. It provides a framework for joint market surveillance and enforcement exercises, such as the sweep on air ticket sales sites, carried out in September 2007.

That was the first ever exercise of its type. The Commission coordinated this exercise, and provided the results of the first phase of the investigation in November 2007. At this stage, the disclosure of the names of the sites on which certain irregularities were detected, as suggested by the honourable Member, would be premature and would not respect the legal framework in certain Member States.

I quite understand your impatience, because we would all like to get things done, and in the right way. However, the right of reply, which means the right to defend oneself, is recognised across the EU Member States. It is the competence of the national authorities and courts to apply that right, and we are awaiting the outcome of court decisions in some countries. The Commission will, therefore, present the outcome of the investigations and enforcement actions presently ongoing in the Member States once those proceedings have been completed. I have held talks with the authorities on the basis of the consumer enforcement network, and they are committed to going further and to providing this data, but court procedures – in at least two countries – prevent us from having a full picture and from announcing it publicly.

 
  
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  Jim Higgins (PPE-DE ). – I think last July we all applauded the Degutis report when at last we said we were going to have transparency in relation to charging, that all taxes and fees levied would be upfront in all advertisements. And then we read, in The European Voice on 31 October: ‘Air ticket sites faced EU shame: Commission threatens to reveal the names of the hundreds of websites which allegedly mislead consumers’.

I am at a loss to know why these big commercial operations are not named, why they are not shamed. They continue to flout the rules and regulations and the undertaking. They continue to mislead the consumer. Last week, for example, Ryanair – give them credit for what they have done – published this in all Irish newspapers: ‘Buy one flight, get a second absolutely free. Pay no fees, taxes, levies or charges’. So I booked my flight, and it cost me EUR 153. And then the one that was supposed to be free is as follows: credit card fee: EUR 12; taxes, fees and charges: EUR 39.96; insurance: EUR 14. Total price: free flight EUR 67. What more evidence do you want?

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − Cases like this one were the main reason to step up and to have this enforcement action.

But I must reiterate: in many Member States it is only possible to publish the names of the airlines after the investigations and enforcement actions are finished.

Since cases differ, the time needed to deal with them can take longer in some cases than in others. Currently the Commission is discussing with Member States how much time is needed to finish these actions and the Commission will publish – I already have this commitment – these names as soon as it is legally possible, otherwise the Commission could be sued.

If Member States can close the cases as originally foreseen, the names can be published in the coming months. Initially I thought that we would be able to do it in February, but after more detailed discussions, comparing the legal system and how much time it takes from the legal point of view, I believe there may be a delay of one and a half months.

But I think that you are absolutely right and, if you allow me, I will use your case as one more reason for the need to step up. We have, since the beginning of this year, unfair commercial practices and while trying not to go too much into cases, I think this is a good example of a breach of the unfair commercial practices legislation as well.

 
  
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  Manolis Mavrommatis (PPE-DE ). – (EL) Madam President, Madam Commissioner, I was one of the first, if not the first, to ask this question before the November issue came up, and before the announcement.

In your answer, you told me that within reasonable time, about two months, we would have the names or the results of your research. Afterwards, in an interview you gave, I saw that you said four months. Also, when the name of Ryan was announced, or rather appeared in the newspapers - as our colleague Mr Higgins has quite rightly said - as one of the companies, and according to your research there are 433 airlines and tourist agencies which have this kind of low-priced ticket, finally Ryan said it was not the only one. Some other large, well-known companies used their name, which I would not like to use in Parliament, and you closed your eyes to this issue. I therefore think it is advisable that you should give the names soon, so that public opinion, and competition among companies, large or small, can be allowed to cool down.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission . − I will not deny that I have drawn inspiration from Parliament and its Members many times, so I am glad that in this case it is regarding the specific investigation on air tickets. We actually picked air tickets for our first sweep quite deliberately.

I do not want to sound defensive. I am doing what I am required by law. I have taken the advice of the Commission’s Legal Services and can go further before the Court procedures are over in certain Member States. If the procedure in one Member State takes four months, I cannot do anything. Acting before that procedure is concluded would be in breach of national legislation, and would endanger the reputation of the Commission. That is why I am waiting until these procedures are completed before the names are published.

 
  
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  President. − Questions which have not been answered for lack of time will be answered in writing (see Annex ).

 
  
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  President. − I should like to thank Commissioner Kuneva for waiting.

That concludes Question Time.

 
  
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  Brian Crowley (UEN ). – Madam President, I apologise to you, and to the interpreters for delaying them further. I just wish to place on the record my objection to the way that Question Time again has been messed around. Those of us who use it as a political tool to try and get answers from the institutions are left without any words as regards how badly we are treated as Members of this House. I will be raising this matter at the Conference of Presidents, but I hope that the Bureau will take it on board as well and try and make sure the working of the Chamber on a day-to-day basis does not encroach every single time on our Question Time.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Mr Crowley. I think you will be aware that today has been a difficult day for one reason and another. We have had almost an hour and a half, and we have done our best to accommodate everybody’s wishes. As you will know, we are also hoping to improve matters with the reform working group, but thank you for your comments, and thank you to our interpreters.

(The sitting was suspended at 19.45 and resumed at 21.00)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR COCILOVO
Vice-President

 
  

(1) OJ L 11, 15.1.2002, p. 4.


18. Adult learning: It is never too late to learn (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report by Doris Pack, on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education, on adult learning: it is never too late to learn (2007/2114(INI) ) (A6-0502/2007 ).

 
  
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  Doris Pack, rapporteur . − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, the title of the Commission’s communication and action plan on adult learning, ‘It is never too late to learn’, and its German title, Man lernt nie aus (‘You live and learn’), are both universally familiar sayings, but when you read between the lines in the present context, they actually imply an acknowledgement of past omissions in the field of European education policy. None the less, we are pleased that the Commission, with this communication and this action plan, is entering an age marked by growing awareness of the need for lifelong learning, an age in which new demographic challenges must be faced.

Economic and social changes in the EU require significant adjustments to vocational skills and qualifications. The challenges of the labour market must be met, by which I mean that the employability of individuals must be one of the foremost aims of adult education.

Education, however, and especially adult education, is also a factor in people’s personal development, in their self-esteem, their civic involvement, their social inclusion and their engagement in intercultural dialogue. Several sets of research findings have shown that learning has important non-economic benefits such as promoting good health, fostering participation in the life of society among all age groups and, of course, reducing crime rates.

It is therefore my political priority to increase people’s motivation to engage in lifelong learning. Media campaigns, information and advice centres and adapted forms of communication for disadvantaged groups are very important. Special phone numbers and websites have also proved highly successful in some countries.

In this context, great importance also attaches to efforts to reconcile work, family life and lifelong learning. Let me list in shorthand just a few means to this end: adaptation of working hours, flexitime, distance-learning programmes and informal learning paths. The use of new technology must be constantly perfected, especially through the creation of wider Internet access to encourage recourse to such new learning methods. There must be continued growth in the number of public and private day nurseries and company crèches.

Another important factor, in my view, is solidarity between generations and between cultures. Adults and senior citizens who pass on knowledge and technical know-how to younger people, particularly expertise in a trade or in business practice, can play an effective supporting role. They can provide practical guidance, and there must also be scope to form networks for this purpose. In this way, I believe, each can learn from the other.

There is also, however, a family-based approach to learning. Parents are motivated to start learning again in order to help their children at school. In addition, adult education also depends on voluntary helpers, who enrich it by lending their experience and providing skilled instruction.

The special needs of migrants must also be taken into account, which brings me to the subject of language courses. We need these language courses to enable migrants to learn the language of their host country, but we also need language courses to enable adults to learn the language of a neighbouring country or another foreign language, which is something we have always advocated.

Access to institutions of higher education must also be made easier for adults with practical vocational experience. One very important message is that the quality of existing adult-education centres and the education they offer should be improved. There is a need for well-qualified trainers in adult education as well as specific programmes of courses in adult education. I can only speak for Germany, where there is a university course that leads to a degree in adult education. I believe we must all remind course providers that they can obtain funding for their proposed courses from the European Social Fund, for example, or from any of the structural funds. I naturally expect the Commission to offer the present Lifelong Learning programme in both the Grundvig and Leonardo programmes in order to ensure that we too can do our bit to launch the action plan.

I believe there many ways of performing good work in this field, and we should waste no time in doing so.

Let me stress one final point: performance in adult education must be made measurable, otherwise no one will know who is doing what. There are very many players in this field, and they must all be taken into account, be they private, university-based or public educational establishments. There is, in short, a great deal to be done, and I suggest we get down to work.

 
  
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  Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission . − Mr President, I would very much like to show my appreciation of this report and to congratulate the rapporteur, Ms Pack for her commitment, efforts and contributions and also Mr Andersson from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and Ms Flasarová from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

I am very pleased that our two communications from 2006 and 2007 received a very concrete and strong response from the European Parliament. The first was on adult learning and the second, on the European action plan on this matter, adopted in September. As you have recognised, the importance of adult learning is clearly increasing. First of all, global competition is a reality. We need to invest in education at all stages of life and at all levels, and the skills and competences of adults need to be continuously upgraded. Secondly, demographic changes mean that people need to work at least some years longer and they need to maintain the relevance of their skills to do this. Thirdly, adult learning helps to combat social exclusion. Too many adults with low education levels risk being excluded from the labour market.

So adult learning has a vital role in lifelong learning strategies. I welcome your support for many reasons, particularly for improving the quality and accessibility of adult learning, including through better childcare and e-learning, and in particular for groups with special needs, as well as for speeding up the assessment of skills and valuing informal learning, for investing more in general and also for adapting to the needs of women, migrants and the ageing population. Last but not least, for developing reliable and comparable data to measure adult learning, as Ms Pack mentioned. We will follow up all these elements in implementing the European action plan.

As you suggest, these are all kinds of good practices in the Member States which we will use in our cooperation. We will support these best practices via peer learning activities and studies, through the Lifelong Learning Programme and the European Social Fund mentioned earlier, in order to share knowledge and experience. In implementing the action plan with the cooperation of Member States, we will analyse the effect of national reforms on adult learning, especially in the light of the recently adopted European Qualifications Framework. We will also develop standards for adult learning professionals and quality assurance mechanisms based on existing good practice. We want to encourage Member States to set targets for increasing the skill levels of adults and to speed up the process of assessing and recognising non-formal and informal learning for groups at risk. Last but not least, we will propose a set of core data to improve monitoring of the sector. I look forward to the debate but in particular to continuous support in this direction.

 
  
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  Jan Andersson, rapporteur for an opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs . − (SV) Mr President, Commissioner, I thank the rapporteur for an excellent report. It follows from the entire strategy that we have in the EU and the entire Lisbon process that training should be the key, not just to ensuring growth and employment in the future, but also to combating social exclusion. For the EU countries to hold their own in global competition, training and, not just more jobs, but better jobs, as well as people with a high level of skills, play a vital role. We therefore welcome this report.

I have a few more comments to make. It is important that we make use of all the resources available in order to facilitate training for different groups. An example of these is childcare. It must be possible for both men and women who are the parents of young children to take part in training. Hence there must also be a strategy for childcare. It is important that we look at special groups, for example the elderly. There are very few elderly people in the workforce today. This is to a large extent due to the fact that they do not have access to continuing training and adult education. We must concentrate on that group. Another group are people starting with a low level of education. If we consider the training situation today, looking at continuing training and adult education, we notice that it is those who are already well educated who get the most training. It is important that we have an equality aspect in training as well. Since my speaking time is short, I will merely point out in conclusion that it is important to have good cooperation and to include the social partners in this process.

 
  
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  Věra Flasarová, draftsman of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality . - (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome the report by my colleague Mrs Pack and I congratulate her on the way in which she has dealt with the topic. I would like to stress the need to pay attention to the education of women, the socially vulnerable, immigrants and minorities. I would like to mention one other aspect of education. In a world where most things are subordinate to finances, trade, advertising, careers and competition in the labour market, education often appears to be merely a stepping stone to a better social position. If education achieves this practical aim and makes a person better prepared for work, and if that person can keep up with the competitive environment, that is certainly a good thing. However, the most important aspect of education is that it makes a person richer on the inside and better equipped to distinguish good from bad. Society is experiencing a crisis of values. Instead of traditions and authorities, we have the individual freedom for which we have been striving throughout our modern history. However, it is also the freedom to know or not to know, the freedom to see and the freedom to keep one’s eyes closed, the freedom to form one’s own opinions and the freedom to accept the ideas of others. Education on its own will not solve our problems, but it can encourage us to think about them .

 
  
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  Pál Schmitt, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. Commissioner, the European demographical situation makes it necessary to reorganise pension systems and raise the age limit, and we are hearing more and more about controlled immigration instead of realising the hidden potential of our own over-50s.

Well organised adult education enables experts who have worked for several decades to refresh their knowledge and adapt to the changed circumstances. It also enables adults who are excluded from the labour market but not of retirement age to be engaged and undertake work, through retraining, language, IT and other professional training. This function of adult education is particularly topical in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where the employment indices fall well behind the average for the EU-15.

In addition to its bearing on the labour market, adult education also has a third, social and personal dimension, since Internet language courses, dancing classes or cookery courses organised for elderly people contribute to improving their quality of life and to their positive frame of mind.

There are two things that I consider to be particularly important for effective adult education: on the one hand, improvements to information and access, the presentation of successful projects and the sharing of experiences with those concerned. Let us not forget that a tiny proportion of elderly people in the new Member States use the Internet, and we must use conservative, traditional methods that they can access. A prominent role in this falls to local governments, who have detailed knowledge of the local conditions and needs.

On the other hand, assessing needs is an important task, that is to say, Member States should reach agreement with economic players, businesses and employers when designing their adult education programmes. The economic needs of the country in question must be taken into account so that the amount spent on adult education is not money needlessly squandered, but bears demonstrable value to the individual, to society and to the economy.

I would like to congratulate Mrs Pack on her important and timely report. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Maria Badia i Cutchet, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mrs Pack, on an excellent piece of work and on her cooperative attitude towards our suggestions.

I wish to highlight the opportune timing of this report at a time when the scale of socioeconomic changes, the rapid transition towards an information society and the demographic trend associated with an ageing European population all require significant effort in the education and training of adults and lifelong learning. They are key aspects of attaining what we refer to as the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy.

In the report itself I would like to draw attention to the need to foster motivation in people to continue learning. I believe, however, that to be effective, this should be accompanied by active policies which above all help to make learning compatible with family and working life, particularly for women.

These measures should take the form of incentives for going on training programmes and more particularly for broadening public childcare and education services, as well as care for the elderly, in short for dependants, so as to release families from burdens which in many cases still fall on women.

Moreover, I am convinced that it is appropriate to foster a learning culture which acknowledges merit and improves the employment prospects of poorly qualified people, helps increase social inclusion and personal development. This approach is particularly important for ‘at risk’ groups.

I also view it as essential to modernise higher education systems and make them more flexible so that they become more responsive to people’s growing and diverse social needs while improving the quality of education and broadening supply.

Finally, I wish to refer to the importance of broadening the supply of training in digital technologies to reduce the digital gap which also exists within our societies between sexes, between generations, and between the populations of different geographical areas.

In short, I welcome the Commission proposal and I hope it takes account of Parliament’s proposals so that we can jointly help raise the awareness of the Member States to the need to act as soon as possible in this area, not only so as to remove barriers to adult involvement in learning, but to encourage it, recognise its economic, social and cultural value in all countries and exchange national data which enable the progress being made to be compared and measured.

 
  
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  Jolanta Dičkutė, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (LT) Lifelong learning is becoming more and more important in modern society. It is gratifying that the significance and necessity of adult learning is being analysed more and more actively and is better acknowledged in all EU Member States and the main institutions. Adult education experts in Lithuania are also actively putting forward proposals for this communication. The government programme plans to extend the provision of informal adult education services in municipal educational institutions, to try to ensure that educational institution buildings and the adult education environment are modern and attractive and that centres are provided with modern teaching aids. I would also like to emphasise that adult educators and their organisations need a more active voice and that politicians must listen to this and support it in order to achieve advances in the area of qualitative changes in adult education. Not only must we discuss the problems that arise, but we must also solve them appropriately, because this will determine how adult education is developed over the coming years.

The problem in Lithuania is pressingly relevant in this context – the integration of vulnerable groups in society, and the disabled in particular. Moreover, the possibilities for adults raising pre-teen children to learn after working hours have not yet been solved. Often parents cannot learn simply because they have nowhere to leave their children. There is also a lack of flexibility in the adult education system. Sometimes people who have not finished secondary school and are still under the age of 18 want to continue their studies under adult education programmes, but they cannot do so because such education is allowed only from the age of 18. Certainly, insufficient funding is also an important problem. I would agree with the President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, who said that more and more people in Lithuania understand that learning is not just a young person’s duty. Today, lifelong learning is becoming a challenge for our country and its citizens. We need to grasp this opportunity because we will be able to show the rapidly changing world that Lithuania is creative, open to innovation and not afraid of setting ambitious goals when opening up possibilities and ways of learning.

 
  
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  Mikel Irujo Amezaga, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group . – (ES) Mr President, I would also like to begin by thanking Mrs Pack and congratulating her on her report – because of her willing attitude most of the amendments tabled by our Group were also incorporated into it. I would like to say that adult education has always been one of the best ways both to effect social and economic development and to contribute to better wealth distribution.

Now, in this changing information society where we must continually update our knowledge, the initial basic education of adults, and subsequent ongoing training, is a need of the first order. Adults must adapt to the continuous change imposed by globalisation and take decisions in order to be able to survive while maintaining an adequate quality of life.

However, most educational systems do not respond sufficiently to people’s requirements in such a way as to be able to keep sufficiently abreast of the changing society in which they live. In contrast to previous eras, the role of education is not to obtain lessons to be applied in a known world, but in a world of continuous change which may produce unforeseeable circumstances.

The point is therefore to provide a system of education which can respond to the needs of adults in a society undergoing permanent change. In short, education must prepare people for looking ahead and for innovation and must no longer concern itself with just fitting in.

We are in transit between an industrial and post-industrial society, and the type of society towards which we are moving will form the framework for adult education; on that point I have congratulated the rapporteur and would also like to congratulate the Commission because I believe that the current report is in that vein.

 
  
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  Thomas Wise, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . – Mr President, lifelong learning is something the UK has always excelled at. Our Open University was the first establishment of its kind in the world, founded in the 1960s and based on a concept dating from the 1920s. Hundreds of thousands of so-called ‘mature students’ have graduated from the Open University, many of them graduates returning to their studies. Therefore I think the UK is fine when it comes to lifelong learning and, with respect, I do not think we need to accept any more interference from this place in education, which is still a national competence.

However, just making it available is never enough for this place. The next step, of course, is compulsion. After all, what is the point of providing something that is not used? But, then, you do have a history in this area of billions of euros and other currencies wasted by EU institutions, and nation states blithely following orders is par for the course.

But bringing this closer to home – specifically to bureaucrats and politicians in this House – it is now obvious to me that no matter how long you live, you simply do not learn! You do not even want to listen. You just carry on with the projects and to hell with anyone who might not agree or have a different point of view. I am reminded of the old saying, attributed to Sun Tzu but famously used by Kennedy: those who make peaceful protest impossible make violent protest inevitable. If you do not learn from your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them.

 
  
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  Milan Gaľa (PPE-DE ).(SK) First of all, please allow me to thank Mrs Doris Pack for all the energy she put into the preparation of this report. I would also like to thank the representatives of the European Commission for the initiatives that lead to the improvement of the existing situation.

As the draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education on the European Qualifications Framework, I consider the issue of lifelong education to be very important, primarily from two points of view. The first is the improvement in qualifications, an increase in the ability to find work and overcome discrepancies in the labour market, as well as an improvement in geographical and professional mobility. The second is the quest for lifelong personal development and integration into society.

Too few adults participate in education and vocational training. I believe that focusing on improving the citizens’ motivation with regard to life-long learning is a positive step. It is fundamental in this process to take into consideration the improvement of conditions for the reconciliation of working and family life, solidarity between generations and cultures, language learning and an improvement in the quality of education and its prospects. What is to be commended is the recognition and appreciation of non-formal and informal education. The important objectives are to improve the qualifications of workers with few qualifications, who form one third of the European workforce – up to 72 million people – and, finally, the education of immigrants.

If we wish to achieve by 2010 the benchmark goal of 12.5% participation in adult learning, which means the participation of a further 4 million people - one of the requirements will be to establish a connection between the education systems at European level and the National Qualification Frameworks.

 
  
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  President. − I should like to reassure Mrs Pack that the Chair’s acknowledgements are a proper and institutional token of respect for rapporteurs and the opinions that they express, even when we are completely at odds with their content.

 
  
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  Gyula Hegyi (PSE ). – Mr President, ‘a good priest learns until death’ says the Hungarian proverb. In these days not only the priest, but all adults should learn during their adult years. I welcome Ms Pack’s report and the Commission’s Adult Learning Action Plan as well. Of course, it is very sad that only 9.6% of our adult citizens participate in lifelong learning. It is not easy to start learning when you have grown up. The harmonisation of family life, working life and learning is a hard task, but in the longer term both the family and the professional career may benefit from adult learning.

In Europe we have millions of unemployed people and at the same time millions of empty jobs requiring skilled employees. The low level of qualifications implies a high risk of unemployment, but continuous training and learning may help both the person and the economy. I agree with Ms Pack that not only should lifelong learning be promoted, but economic tools are also needed to encourage employers to hire older workers. There is only one solution for the challenge of our ageing society: to respect older workers and provide proper jobs for the older generation as well. Of course, for these we need lifelong learning and also lifelong vocational training.

 
  
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  Ramona Nicole Mănescu (ALDE ). – (RO) We are aware that Member States recognise the extremely important role of lifelong learning, as it contributes to the citizens’ welfare, self-confidence, social integration, and intercultural dialogue. Nevertheless, the access of adults to lifelong learning programmes remains limited, despite the European Union’s aim of achieving 12.5% participation by 2010.

This is why the implementation and promotion by Member States of effective European programs for the education and training of adults, especially the elderly, the disabled and migrants, could lead to their more successful integration in society and increased mobility on the labour market.

As a member of the Committee on Education and Culture, I believe that the development of volunteer programmes concerning solidarity between generations and the involvement of government, private enterprise and individuals is a key point for taking up the new challenges posed by demographic change, poverty and social exclusion.

By virtue of the right to literacy and education, and of the Member States’ obligation to provide quality training for their adult citizens, I believe, Mr President, that we too are responsible for the development of sustainable tools for funding and supporting lifelong education and training.

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM ). – Mr President, if the Commissioner were to ask people where they learn, they would tell him where they went to school. But most of the learning we do is outside this experience of formal education.

The challenge in lifelong learning is not only to offer opportunities to adults to gain new and more qualifications, but also to find a way to recognise and capitalise on the very valuable learning many adults have gained informally through life and work experience. A constituent of mine has pioneered the successful handling of some of the most difficult fish varieties and also the environmentally friendly fish-farming techniques that they require. He has no college degree, so when the Commission gives grants in this field, they do not go to him. Instead, the grants go to academics with no experience, who then come to him to find out how he does what he does. He is tired of this rip-off, and the fishing industry will be the poorer for this.

I urge the Commissioner to look at this as there has to be a better way.

 
  
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  Tomáš Zatloukal (PPE-DE ).(CS) Mr Chairman, Commissioner, the greatest obstacles that prevent adults from taking part in education are lack of time due to work or family commitments. Another negative factor is the lack of information and lack of motivation: according to general opinion, education later in life is not valued enough and not rewarded enough. An important aspect of adult education is its effectiveness and fairness. The educational systems of the EU Member States focus primarily on the education and professional training of young people. Only a little progress has been made in changing this situation and that progress has so far been of little significance. The general objective must therefore be to make maximum use of the various providers of education in the adult educational system. It is our aim to enable access to good and timely information on the possibilities of adult education and to explain the entry requirements and costs, not to mention the advantages of completing such education.

I agree with the view of the rapporteur that the Member States must introduce quality consultation systems and financial incentives targeted at individuals. They must also support the development of local partnerships. In addition, it is important to introduce a system for the recognition and verification of the results of such education in the context of national qualifications, taking into account the European Qualifications Framework. The advantages of investing in adult education are also confirmed by the research done by the OECD. The public and private benefits include higher employability, increased work productivity, lower unemployment benefit expenditure, lower social benefits expenditure and lower early retirement. This report invites us to reconsider the stated policy priorities in the field of adult education and take concrete steps. I congratulate our rapporteur.

 
  
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  Marianne Mikko (PSE ). – (ET) Ladies and gentlemen.

Enlargement in 2004 increased economic growth in the European Union by an amount which engendered unjustified confidence. However, today the cooling of the economy is causing social tensions even in the new Member States.

I am referring to the bill on employment contracts which is currently causing controversy in my home country, Estonia. In anticipation of redundancies, Estonian businesspeople are trying to make people who are to be made redundant bear the brunt of the social effects of the disappearance of employment. Perhaps those who are more vulnerable, namely employees who have lost their jobs, are once again at a loss as to what they are being punished for.

In the absence of effective steps, both secure flexibility and lifelong learning are reduced merely to empty words in whose shadow the more vulnerable in society are left without the support they need. Raising the retirement age in line with the rise in average life expectancy means that a 45-year-old worker has yet to reach the mid-point of his career. It means a new beginning in middle age.

Yet discrimination on grounds of age and sex is an undeniable reality in work places the world over, including the European Union. The trend towards having children later in life means that women find it twice as difficult to return to the labour market.

The Lifelong Learning Programme is an opportunity at least to a certain degree to compensate for the injustice which prevails today. Similarly, employers should be encouraged to invest in people with experience of life. Employers should be persuaded that knowledge and skills learnt in other areas of life, yes, even in home economics, are extremely valuable.

I wish to stress once again that the lifelong learning system is merely a supplement to the social pledges, not a replacement for them. Drivers, no matter how experienced, should always fasten their seatbelts.

I thank and congratulate the rapporteur on a fine piece of work. Thank you, Mrs Pack!

 
  
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  Ljudmila Novak (PPE-DE ). – (SL) Man is a most adaptable creature, which is why many adults have already accepted the fact that one should keep acquiring knowledge even in mature years and in old age. In future, those people who have never stopped learning will certainly have an advantage in adapting to the rapid changes with which we are faced on a daily basis.

It is also important for the well-being of the elderly for them to continue participating in the shaping of society by using their knowledge and experience. This gives them the satisfaction of knowing that they are useful and needed in society. Because the population is getting older, new occupations best suited to the elderly will have to be created.

A friend of mine, who has ten children and no grandmother to help bring them up, asked me: “Do you know where I could buy a granny for my children?” I also often recall the story of a doctor who asked a retired teacher to teach a badly burned boy in hospital. The boy was not expected to survive. Due to the teacher’s persistence, patience and experience, the boy started responding to her questions. He started believing in life. Why would doctors send a teacher to work so hard with a boy whom they did not believe would survive? An elderly person’s knowledge saved a young life.

The young have many abilities and advantages in learning which sometimes they do not fully exploit, but older people must find willpower and receive encouragement because it is never too late to acquire knowledge and they can compensate for things for which, perhaps, there was no time or money in their youth. Acquiring knowledge means enjoying life more fully.

 
  
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  Rolf Berend (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in this century it is surely not difficult to convince anyone that general and vocational education can no longer be confined to school and the immediate post-school years but has to be updated and extended throughout people’s working lives. Changing demographic trends, for example, provide sufficient evidence of this requirement.

In this context, Mrs Pack’s excellent report puts forward a host of good ideas and very successfully conveys the need to create a culture of learning, particularly among adults. To this end she lists a number of measures that should be taken at various levels. Adult education is, of course, primarily a task for the Member States. For this reason the EU cannot prescribe action; instead, we must make suggestions and request, encourage and invite the Member States to offer a range of measures that will bring more people into adult education.

Like the rapporteur, I firmly believe – and I say this as vice-chairman of the Committee on Regional Development – that many Member States are not fully aware of the significance and use of the European Social Fund and other structural funds as instruments in the pursuit of lifelong learning. They should monitor the structural funds with this objective in mind as well as ensuring that more resources are made available for those whose need of lifelong learning is greatest. In short, the report calls clearly on the Member States to make active use of instruments such as the European Social Fund and on the Commission to reinforce specific programmes in the field of adult education.

 
  
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  Carlo Fatuzzo (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to speak this evening in a House which, I have to say, is well attended.

The report on adult learning ‘it is never too late to learn’ has been presented to us today by Mrs Pack with her customary intelligence and expertise. I am pleased to see the representatives of the Commission, including Mr Figel', who is among the most active and enthusiastic in his work, because there is a real need for commitment, since this issue – that is, the education and learning of younger, working or older people – is one that could really bring citizens closer to Europe.

I should like to say something about a group of adults who could benefit from this learning: because there are adults of the first, second and third ages. By third-age adults I mean those who have stopped working, enteredretirement and can finally settle down to study the subject which they have always wanted to study, but have never had the time to study in any depth. I, for instance, would study astronomy, others might study physics or geography.

In my view it is right and important for Europe to smooth the transition from work and working age to non-working age, during which people are just as entitled to learn and to be educated. For that reason I am very content with this report and this initiative by the European Parliament to promote learning among older people as well.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE ). – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, when fighting unemployment, the objective at the heart of the strategy is to make it easier for employees to adapt to the labour market, and this can be achieved through lifelong learning. The objective was that by 2010 at least 12% of people would take part in adult education. We are now aware that the target will not be reached. However, I would like to note that there are some countries, such as Holland and Austria, that have already achieved the Lisbon objective thanks to significant incentives, such as the division of time and financial expenditure between employees, companies and the State. The Danish experience is also valuable. Here the rotation of workers facilitates the development of qualifications. When an employee is undergoing training, his place is taken by a person who at that time is unemployed. These countries, and others, prove that it can be done, that flexibility of the labour market is the way towards innovations that create new jobs. The result is the lowest level of long-term unemployment: long-term unemployment in Denmark is only 0.8%. I would like to believe that the situation will fundamentally change even in the new countries on the back of examples and huge incentives provided by the European Social Fund. I welcome the Commission communication and the report by Mrs Pack.

 
  
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  Mihaela Popa (PPE-DE ). – (RO) Indeed, it’s never too late to learn. I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on her handling of this topic, which is an essential one at European level and beyond. Unfortunately, many citizens still believe that education is something one acquires in the first part of one's life.

We must encourage access to European funds available for adult education, particularly in Member States that have recently joined the Union. The degree of absorption of funds is rather low in these states, and the number of people involved in professional retraining and lifelong learning is very low.

I believe it is essential to change the mentality of young people still at the initial stage of their education, so as to prepare them for a Europe on the move. By developing new, European-level programs, we should instil in them the idea that training does not end once you’ve obtained your first qualification. It’s important to be aware that anyone, anytime, can acquire new skills and competences, irrespective of their age, ethnicity, gender, or location. Taking all these into account, a fundamental precept emerges: we must be able to learn.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE ).(SK) Ladies and gentlemen, the very rapid changes in the structure of the labour market require highly-qualified workers. People with few qualifications remain on the fringe of social and economic progress.

Creativity and innovation are the key factors of the modern age. The more inventive a man is, the more creative a source for the economy he is. Prosperous economies are those that invest in people (and that means in education), in the basic technological and language skills of the workforce. It is important to awaken, through lifelong learning, the abilities that are lying dormant in people of all ages and waiting to be used.

I believe that this wonderful report by the rapporteur, Doris Pack, ‘Adult learning: It is never late to learn’, will not remain mere words; I believe that we will succeeding in converting it into action. Commissioner Figeľ, thank you for your personal involvement in the field of lifelong learning.

 
  
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  Roberta Alma Anastase (PPE-DE ). – (RO) I join my colleagues in congratulating Mrs Doris Pack on her work as rapporteur. The topic is very important for today’s Europe and especially for tomorrow’s Europe.

The development of a new society as well as social cohesion are intimately linked to education, and by education we should not think only of formal education, but we should also encourage non-formal and informal education highly focused on the individual.

I would like to draw attention to the importance of migrant education. I believe we have seen in practice that education for migrants is necessary for their social integration, for tolerance, stability, performance, and for overall European development.

 
  
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  Jerzy Buzek (PPE-DE ). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mrs Pack, and also the Commissioner, who is carrying out his duties in an excellent manner, also with regards to his work for the European Institute of Technology. Today, however, we are discussing something else. I would like to draw attention to one particular issue.

At the beginning of the 20th century Europe was fighting illiteracy; by the second half of the 20th century all Europeans could read and write. Today’s illiteracy is lack of computer skills and lack of Internet access. I would like to propose that there be an even greater emphasis on this issue.

The digital divide also affects the generation gap. The issue is that we should know in how many years, five years or ten years, every European will know how to use a computer, whatever their age, and will have Internet access. Internet cafes could be used for this in very remote parts of Europe, where several computers are put into a single room, and all the inhabitants could use this location. This is the challenge of the 21st century.

 
  
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  Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission . – (SK) I think that many of the contributions made are indeed an incentive to get involved in the issue of adult education.

Following this philosophy, and as has already been pointed out, it is never too late to learn. The second document says that there is always a good reason or a good time to learn. I would like to say that I see the report of Doris Pack, and the numerous initiatives that have been mentioned here, as a complement or an addition to what the Commission itself suggested. This philosophy is therefore very valuable and welcome. I would like to refer back to some of the specific measures, because they are helping and improving what is important to the approach as a whole: the importance of motivating adults to get involved in education; the need to ensure a better reconciliation of work, family life and life-long learning; the need for inter-generational and inter-cultural solidarity; the importance of language learning or teaching; respect for the specific requirements of vulnerable groups and the importance of high-quality teachers, which has been discussed recently: it is one of the key factors for educational success; and a better approach to higher education and creation of comparative statistical data or information.

The Commission will also reflect on your invitation to assess the career prospects linked to adult education and the subject of the financing of adult education. These are very precise questions, which also fall within the remit of the Member States.

Finally, one the outcomes not only of this report but also of the Commission’s documents will be the discussion of the Member States and conclusions of the Council of Ministers in February. I believe that they will be sincere and support adult education that is accessible and of a high quality. Please allow me one thought in conclusion: it is not only appreciation and gratitude, but also an appreciation of inspiration. As a Commissioner, a politician as well as a father, I am convinced that education – and I mean accessible and high-quality education – is the most important factor for the political, economic, social and cultural development of individuals and society as a whole. Moreover, education is the great equaliser, which means that it is an equaliser of those issues that are necessary for the equality of all. Thank you very much and I look forward to our cooperation.

 
  
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  Doris Pack, rapporteur . − (DE) Mr President, first of all may I thank everyone involved for the flowers they have presented to me. I would be happy to give a few blooms from this bouquet to Jan Figeľ. After having campaigned for adult education since 1993 and having seen the first fruits of these efforts, I am gratified that we have now achieved the great breakthrough in that the importance of adult education is recognised in every sphere of political activity.

I am particularly keen that every possible incentive be created to motivate adults to re-enter the education process. Many have never had the opportunity, and many need to be motivated. There is also a need to overcome these people’s inhibitions and remove barriers. This is why I also believe that the numerous adult-education centres, foundations and charitable organisations which, as we know, are already doing outstanding work in this field should be supported and that these providers’ high standards – and I see no reason why they cannot become even higher – should be maintained. As I said before, we must ensure that the quality of adult education is further improved.

I was delighted to hear that a working group had already been formed in your area of the Commission, Mr Figeľ. I am pleased that it can perhaps be linked with Grundvig too so that we can light the fuse, as it were, for the national governments.

Let us therefore make a start. The many fine words really must now give way to deeds, and our task is simply to disprove the venerable saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. In the context of adult education that is as wrong as anything can be, which is why I hope that we can now try, by dint of our own efforts and with your help, to hoist the national governments into the saddle so that they can start trotting, for it will take a while before they are ready to gallop.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote on this item will take place on Wednesday, 16 January 2008 at 12 noon.

Witten statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Edit Herczog (PSE ), in writing . – (HU) I would like to congratulate the rapporteur and the Committees for their successful and eminently social work. At the same time, I was sorry to note that there was not a single reference in it to the question of developing information and communication skills. We should just think of how much legislation we have created over the years that recognises new rights for European citizens and in how many cases we have prescribed that workers, consumers, pensioners or even tourists should have the relevant information and channels on the Internet.

All these things make sense if the beneficiaries can access the information. The development of ‘e skills’ in lifelong learning and in general basic education will assume vital importance, as the foundation stone of a knowledge-based information society. Another key task for Member States will be promoting equal opportunities in IT and electronic inclusion. I am delighted that every Hungarian party agrees on this, even if they do not agree on many other things.

Modern information and communication technologies in themselves present an unprecedented opportunity to really promote cohesion and equal opportunities, but we can only use this opportunity if we guarantee the conditions to include everyone throughout their lives, so that, even for ‘e skills’, the title of the Committee’s opinion will inevitably be true: ‘It is never too late’. Thank you for your attention.

 

19. Commission measures in 2008-2013 to make use of CAP remote-sensing applications (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report by Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the proposal for a Council regulation on the measures to be undertaken by the Commission in 2008-13 making use of the remote-sensing applications developed within the framework of the common agricultural policy (COM(2007)0383 - C6-0273/2007 - 2007/0132(CNS) ) (A6-0508/2007 ).

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission . − Mr President, before going into the content of the report, I first of all want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, and the members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, for the work that they have been doing on the evaluation of the Commission’s proposal.

I would first like to make a few more general remarks to place the Commission’s proposal in the right context. The Commission’s proposal concerns the agro-meteorological system utilised to prepare the crop yields forecast and to monitor the development of crops within the European Union. This system was developed throughout the 1990s and has been fully operational since 1998. I must say that I consider this to be a very useful tool.

This system provides the Commission’s services with accurate information on the situation in the crop sector and also assists the Commission in taking timely decisions in the framework of the common agricultural policy, and therefore I find that it is quite natural that it is financed by the guidance funding.

Let me say the following on some of the proposals in the Committee on Agriculture report. You have concerns about the use of the data that are collected. I want to be very clear on this. Control is not the aim of this system and it cannot and will not be used for any control of farmers within the European Union.

When we look at it from a technical point of view, the resolution of the remote-sensing images generated by the system is far too low to allow any controls, and this system – it must be clear as well – has nothing to do with our Integrated Administration and Control (IACS) System.

The rapporteur also states that there is no consensus that the proposed system actually works. Work to develop the system started in the late 1980s and, as I said, since 1998, when it became operational, the system has actually provided yield forecasts on a regular basis to the Commission services. We use this information on a daily basis, for example in our analysis of supply and price developments within the cereal sector.

Last year, in September 2007, the Commission provided an assessment of the system in a report to the European Parliament and to the Council that actually demonstrated the usefulness of the system. The system is also implemented at national level in several Member States, and other countries are using or developing similar tools, so on this point I am not totally in line with you.

Finally, I welcome the principle of setting up an inventory of projects and initiatives in the field of space and remote-sensing. However, this proposal is not the right place for this. This would indeed fall under the European initiative of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security. So we are not exactly on the same page, but I look forward to listening to the comments of the Honourable Members.

 
  
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  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, rapporteur . − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, in the coordination committee of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development we pondered whether to produce a report on this matter or to let it pass without a report. I had the task of examining this question in greater depth, and we subsequently decided that we would draft a report, which means that the two of us can discuss the matter again this evening – a useful thing in itself.

We did stumble over a few points, however, and this is reflected in the amendments we have formulated. Firstly, the Commission’s report said that the proposal was largely uncontested in the Council as elsewhere. Our enquiries, however, have revealed that some countries, particularly in northern Europe, cannot do much with this satellite data because everything is still covered in snow there when the images are captured.

Secondly, the data is collected by private companies, which make it available to the Commission, and these private companies’ main customers are in the gas and oil industries, an area of business that involves a degree of speculation. What we must ensure – and this is why we want to invoke our parliamentary powers of scrutiny – is that this collected data is truly unconnected with any private speculative ambitions but that is actually used, as you have said, for the sole purpose of harvest and yield forecasting. As you are also aware, however, this very data is used for speculation in commodity futures on the stock exchange, and such forecasts could be used for that purpose.

Before going any further, let me emphasise that the Commission and Parliament do share a common interest here, but Parliament has a scrutiny function, and so it makes sense for us to talk about that and to request reports from the Commission which show clearly what has happened to this data, how it is recorded and what purpose it serves. It is essentially a matter of calling you to account in the coming years.

Then we were somewhat puzzled, of course, to learn that the financial basis for this data collection was suddenly to be changed. Hitherto we have had a dedicated budget heading under which increases in appropriations and proposals for their retention have had to be discussed. Now these activities are to be transferred to the Guarantee Fund, over which Parliament has less power of scrutiny. Now we can assume that, when the Treaty enters into force at the start of 2009, the Guarantee Fund will no longer exist and these matters will therefore pass into full budgetary sovereignty of Parliament. This approach was at least proposed, and when we received the report it was not yet clear when the Treaty would materialise. So we said no, we did not want to make any changes now; it should stay as it was, namely in a budget line which could then be scrutinised by Parliament on the expenditure side.

All in all, Commissioner, I certainly believe we have more important problems to discuss and try to resolve concerning the health check than the subject of our deliberations here this evening. Farmers, however, are very sensitive when there is any suspicion that they are being spied upon. You have made it clear that this is not about surveillance or spying. I shall gladly pass on that message, but you must understand us. We as a Parliament must also ensure that you do. It is because of our accountability to our voters that we have discussed this matter and are making this point.

 
  
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  Esther Herranz García, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, good evening, another evening discussing agriculture. As the Commission notes in its report, in recent years remote sensing has shown how we can cope correctly with the management needs of the Common Agricultural Policy. The traditional statistical and agricultural forecasting systems are beginning to become obsolete with the new technology which is invading all aspects of our lives.

It has also made possible improvements in the accuracy, objectivity, speed and frequency of observations as well as achieving savings in follow-up costs and monitoring of agricultural expenditure. Remote sensing is, therefore, most welcome in the Common Agricultural Policy.

The draft report which will be put to the vote tomorrow generally endorses the European Commission, except on one point which I consider to be important as it concerns funding for the measure. In the Agriculture Committee I supported the rapporteur’s proposal to establish a specific budget for remote sensing of EUR 9.2 million outside the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund to safeguard future Community support for the development of remote sensing in all Member States.

I therefore welcome the outcome of the vote of the Committee on Agriculture, whose report also sets out the need to use the computer facilities of the Joint Research Centre site in Ispra to compile data from space, rather than the idea of creating a new computing infrastructure as proposed by the European Commission.

We should therefore streamline both the infrastructures and the financial budget, and we in the House should therefore support the document which will be put to the vote tomorrow.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR BIELAN
Vice-President

 
  
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  Lily Jacobs, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing technology will not do. We have before us a proposal by the European Commission for extension of the programme that uses the most up-to-date technology to monitor our European agriculture. After years of research, the scientists concerned can be justifiably proud of themselves.

Using satellites, it is, for instance, possible to monitor the use and condition of land, study the effects of climate change and even forecast harvests. That means we can keep an eye on the situation and act in good time to predict and ward off problems, such as the failure of the grain harvest this year.

I was originally an engineer and I find this kind of practical application of principled technology to promote our well-being very exciting. A 'tom-tom' system for agriculture. Who would ever have thought it? Now we have to consider whether we as a Parliament are in favour of further research into and use of this application. How could we say no?

I recommend that my colleagues in the Socialist Group vote for this directive, but I do want to make a couple of comments to the Commissioner who is with us at this late hour.

Firstly, I have my doubts about the inclusion of the budget and the programme in the Agricultural Guarantee Fund. Up to now this project has had its own budget heading, which has allowed Parliament to monitor the situation and be kept regularly informed. Despite the proven value of the programme, research is still continuing. I would think it particularly unfortunate if the Commission no longer reported to us on the progress and results of the programme, or on the costs involved. As a Member of Parliament and an interested party, I would urge that the separate budget heading is retained so that we are also kept informed in the future and can be involved in the consideration as well.

Secondly, I would like to see all the research results made freely available to other interested parties, such as universities and research institutes. In the field of climate research particularly, the data that are coming to light thanks to MARS and LUCAS can be enormously useful.

Mr President, Commissioner, I shall conclude my maiden speech at this plenary with that appeal for transparency. I am hoping for a positive response from Mrs Fischer Boel.

 
  
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  Samuli Pohjamo, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – (FI) Mr President, I would first like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, for the excellent way he has prepared this topic for debate. He has worked hard and highlighted the flaws and problems associated with remote sensing.

A cautious approach, an emphasis on transparency and a precise specification of the scope of application are all appropriate here. At its best remote sensing is a way to obtain information quickly on the condition of farms, crop yields and growing conditions. This information can then be used, for example, in research, the planning of agricultural marketing, and the administration of the common agricultural policy.

There are still many flaws in the methods used, as the rapporteur points out. Conditions vary from one Member State to another and the data from Member States is not fully comparable. For example, in my country, Finland, snow-covered parcels of land are often so small that determining surface areas from satellite images is not always successful. This being the case, the amendment which states that the information obtained should be used solely for estimating yields and not for control purposes is fitting.

Farmers today are burdened with red tape, paperwork and constant monitoring. Unreasonably harsh sanctions are imposed if they unintentionally make mistakes owing to poor advice. As remote sensing methods develop, it is to be hoped that they will help reduce the bureaucracy which is a continual torment to farmers.

First, however, we need to obtain more precise results of research to ensure that the methods are actually reliable and that they treat all farmers impartially. As new methods are introduced, we also have to ensure that the privacy of farmers is protected and that the entire process is a transparent one.

 
  
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  Bogdan Golik (PSE ). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, in order to have a common agricultural policy that works properly, what is needed, above all, is precise and reliable data.

Remote-sensing techniques make it possible, among other applications, to monitor cultivation and to forecast harvests. This becomes even more significant in the light of advancing climate change. Using remote sensing we can identify, at an earlier stage, conditions that are unfavourable for plant development and, as a result, forecast more quickly and accurately which areas are threatened by drought. These techniques provide data for econometric models, which we frequently use when considering the consequences of introducing changes into the functioning of the common agricultural policy. With initial data that is more precise we can reduce the probability of errors in the scenarios forecast.

For this reason, I believe that it is vital to continue the MARS project. Financing sources for the project should, however, remain unchanged, i.e. within the framework of a separate budget line, and not from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund. Since the project is financed from EU funds, i.e. from the taxes of our citizens, I believe that an investigation should be carried out on the efficiency of the MARS project and on its potential applications that have not yet been put into use.

As usual I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report, and I fully agree with him that we must make sure that the system becomes more consolidated and, above all, more productive and more useful.

The final issue that I would like to consider is access to data. Everyone should have the right to make use of this source of information, not just EU decision-makers but also Member States and research and academic institutions. The data could even be useful at the level of the farm: for example, farmers could apply the information obtained from remote sensing in optimising agricultural treatments.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN ). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to support the view taken by the rapporteur and emphasise that remote-sensing techniques can be useful to the European Commission: first of all, in helping to manage agricultural markets, secondly, by making it possible to monitor cultivation and at the same time to forecast harvests, and thirdly and finally, this forecasting should have an impact on the prices of agricultural raw materials, which will be particularly important in the next few years, in a situation where the prices of foodstuffs are constantly rising.

Even if some of the objectives named above were to be fulfilled, this would be sufficient to acknowledge that remote sensing is a method that provides important information that is helpful in the proper management of the markets of individual agricultural products.

At the same time as giving this method a positive assessment, I would also like to state that I share the view of the rapporteur that work in this area should be financed from a special budget line, and not from the Agricultural Guarantee Fund.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I was recently invited to a Rotary Club meeting, where a very interesting debate took place. A Rotarian who is a fierce critic of the EU lamented that there was a great deal of fraud in Europe, that it went unchecked and that we had a particularly large number of problems in the realm of agriculture. Interestingly, a few minutes later we had a farmer saying that he had just undergone an inspection which had been conducted with great rigour and precision and that he did not know of any area of activity that was subject to such thorough checking as agriculture.

I believe this shows very clearly what people need, namely information about what is actually happening. This is why best practice and benchmarking are absolutely essential if we are to explain to the European public how much importance we attach to agricultural policy.

 
  
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  Jean-Claude Martinez (NI ). – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, this proposal for a regulation for the introduction of remote sensing via satellite is an interesting one. Michel Debatisse, the French farmers’ leader, put forward a remote-sensing proposal in this Chamber back in the 1990s, the area of application in that case being stock rearing. The idea was to fix microchips in the ears of cattle and sheep, as part of a system for monitoring premium payments and preventing fraud in certain parts of southern France. There had even been a plan for electronic capsules, which cattle would swallow and which would then become attached in a pocket in the intestine, enabling the stock to be identified and counted via satellite.

What we have before us today is something different, although it dates back seven years, to the MARS and LUCAS pilot projects. The concept here entails supplying information about land use and the condition of the ground or crops, in order to forecast crop yields and, at the same time, to manage agricultural markets and produce econometric models.

There is an obvious danger with this aim of gathering information, improving statistics, producing forecasts and, indeed, creating a website: I am tempted to call it the danger of a remote-sensing elite, for the technology will be accessible only to large farmers or very rich regions, and not everyone will be enabled to anticipate prices – a particularly useful facility when the price of grain is rising. Obviously, the ability to anticipate prices several months in advance by predicting the harvest is a highly interesting prospect for the stock markets in Chicago or wherever.

Our rapporteur, Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf, is right to be particularly interested in the matter of who will benefit from the system, especially as it comes at a price – I believe some ten million euros are involved, albeit spread over five or six years – and these sums will come not from an independent budget line but from an agricultural guarantee fund. The system is certainly worth trying out, or pursuing, Commissioner.

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission . − Mr President, it is true that we sometimes have the opportunity to sit here late in the evening and discuss agricultural issues, but I must say that I enjoyed, no matter how late it is, having an opportunity to exchange views on this – for those of us present here tonight, anyway – very interesting topic.

Firstly, it is clear that, in situations where the areas are covered with snow, it is not possible – and this applies to our Finnish friends – to collect the data on the crops, but it is possible to collect the meteorological data, which will be available no matter what the weather conditions are. As this is also closely linked to the development that we are seeing in the discussions on climate change, I think that this information is also valid and important. There have been some concerns about the availability of the data, and I can only say that the data is available no matter where you come from. It is available either through the Member States or on the internet, so there is no secret about the data collected in the different areas.

Concerning the budget, I think that it is important, in a situation where we have a limited budget for agriculture, that we take care to spend the money in the most appropriate way and that (I refer to Mr Martinez) we can defend how we spend the money and ensure that no fraud is taking place. I think that we have also been quite successful in explaining to the European Parliament how we spend the money and how the control is carried out. However, it is equally important for me to say again tonight that the technology used in the system to register the field crops does not make it possible to use the same system for control purposes. The technology is completely different and the picture is simply unusable for control purposes, so please do not make this link, because it is completely inappropriate. However, I still believe that the money that we will spend in the future on this system is justified. It will be approximately between EUR 1.5 million and EUR 1.7 million every year. Especially in a situation where we have seen dramatic changes in the price fluctuations in the agricultural sector, it is important that we have valid data on which to base our forecasts.

 
  
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  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, rapporteur . − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, under the new system the rapporteur has the last word, and therein lies an insight into how the European Parliament sees itself in relation to the Commission. As you know, we are not at odds about the next steps in this matter. I am not suggesting that the system be scrapped; I have merely proposed a few improvements – which I do not intend to recapitulate – to increase Parliament’s powers of scrutiny.

On the question of data that can be used for climate analysis, we have indicated that there are two pilot projects, entitled LUCAS and MARS. This also demonstrates, however, that the data being collected does indeed transcend the domain of agriculture. This is why I asked in the explanatory statement for the retention of a separate budget heading.

Let me conclude with a little anecdote that shows the sort of thing we must deal with. A farm near where I live was visited by the supervisory authority, because the satellite system had allegedly enabled it to identify a gully, in other words a prohibited drainage system. The inspectors said it must be over there in a particular spot where the system had shown it to be. The farmer, however, assured them that he had done nothing. And what had actually happened? A plastic mat was lying in the field – which should not happen either – and the grass had grown through it. That was what the satellite system had picked up, and now the authorities had come to haul the farmer over the coals.

We politicians could surely come up with more little tales like that from our local areas – and no doubt, Commissioner, you have heard a few yourself – which illustrate what we have to deal with. There is no point in denying our concern at the prospect of farmers being monitored in a way which the public cannot comprehend and which is no longer subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I therefore hope you will appreciate why we have had to put this report through Parliament and discuss it and why we must continue to be vigilant in future. Be that as it may, we do intend to support each other in these efforts.

 
  
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  President. − I declare the debate closed.

Voting will take place on Wednesday, 16 January 2008.

 

20. Status of elected MEPs in Poland (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the debate concerning an oral question to the Commission from Giuseppe Gargani, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs (O-0082/2007 – B6-0002/2008 ) concerning the status of MEPs elected in Poland.

 
  
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  Giuseppe Gargani, author . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the issue that we are discussing tonight has been examined in detail, on more than one occasion I may say, by the Committee on Legal Affairs, which I have the honour to chair, and that Committee has asked me, through this question, to open a discussion and to exchange views with the Commission.

The question relates to the status of MEPs elected in Poland, who are not in the same position from the point of view of elections and all the provisions that govern the elections of other parliamentarians in other Member States. Elections to the European Parliament in Poland are in practice governed by the Act of 23 January 2004, Article 9 of which sets out eligibility requirements: candidates must be aged 21 on the day of the poll, must not have been convicted of criminal offences, must be resident in Poland and must satisfy various other criteria.

Chapter 17 of that Act sets out the circumstances in which Polish MEPs may lose their seats: their eligibility, that is the eligibility requirements on the day of the poll, may be invalidated, giving rise to the possibility of forfeiture if these requirements were not met, and various other matters, which I shall not cite in order to get to the crux of the matter that I should like to discuss here.

On the basis of a number of combined provisions, as we lawyers say, an MEP automatically loses his seat – that is, an MEP automatically forfeits that seat – if he or she has received a criminal conviction; in the case of members of the Polish Parliament, the law of 12 April 2001 – both as regards elections to the Sejm and to the Senate of the Republic – contains no provision of this type, with the result that these provisions relate to Polish MEPs but not to Polish MPs.

For that reason, we discussed the question and asked ourselves a question, a question which among other things has repercussions as regards requests for immunity; as you know, we have – as Commissioner Frattini is very well aware – the power to decide on this question. Clearly, if a member automatically forfeits his or her seat as a result of an event for which immunity cannot be upheld, there is obviously a further problem, a further uncertainty.

For that reason, we ask, and I ask on behalf of the Committee, the Commissioner whether or not he considers that the Polish legislation on elections to the national parliament breaches Article 10 of the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities, which states that during the sessions of the European Parliament, its members shall enjoy the immunities accorded to members of their Parliament in the territory of their own State. There is therefore a clear inconsistency if provision is made for a Polish member to lose his or her seat, when members of the national parliament are not treated in the same way.

I would also ask the Commission if it intends to bring proceedings before the Court of Justice with a view to Poland amending this legislation and correctly applying the treaty, as it would seem that the treaty is not being applied as it should be. As an exception is involved, and as the comparable and equal treatment of members from all the Member States means that this exception for members from the Polish state runs completely counter to what may be provided and is provided for all other members from the Member States, I would ask the Commission these two things and put this information before Parliament and ask whether the Commissioner can reply to these two questions and whether it is possible to find a remedy to the questions I have put.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the issue which Mr Gargani has brought up is undoubtedly an important one: it is important because two principles, both of which are relevant and important in my view, are at stake.

The first principle is undoubtedly that referred to in Article 10 of the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities and on the status of the members of the European Parliament, which specifies that in the States to which the members of the European Parliament belong, they must be accorded the same prerogatives as members of the national parliament of that country.

However, another provision is also involved – a provision which is also important in my view – and that is Article 13 of the European Act of 1976 relating to the election of members of Parliament. That article very clearly states that when a Member State introduces national legislation covering the case in question here, that is the loss of the status, the loss of the position of member of the European Parliament, termination of the European parliamentary mandate in that country is subject to national law.

In other words, there is an apparent conflict, because the rules set out in the Protocol on Privileges, as cited by Mr Gargani, speak of equal prerogatives for members of the Polish Parliament and members of the European Parliament elected in Poland, but at the same time the European Act of 1976 on the election of members of the European Parliament, as regards the loss of the status of member of the European Parliament, apparently – or explicitly, I would say – governs the loss of the status of MEP and establishes that the loss of that status is governed by national law.

In my opinion, the problem here is more one of the infringement of a third guiding principle for the European Union: whether or not the principle of equal treatment is enshrined in Polish domestic legislation. The principle, enshrined in the constitutional legislation of all the European countries, that establishes that similar situations must be treated in similar ways. It is rather that general principle that is at issue; but that general principle does not, however, allow the European Commission to establish the way in which the Polish legal order should change its legislation, because, as the issue is subject to national law, if it were wished in national law to govern the loss of the status of national MP rather than the loss of the status of MEP in a different way, that would be possible, the important factor being that the provisions on one are brought into line with the provisions on the other.

This is my personal opinion in that the Commission cannot now say ‘we are turning to the Court for a ruling that Polish national law has to be amended in a particular way’, but I am of the view that a general principle can be drawn. The general principle is that the Polish legal order must act to amend this difference in treatment and that, I believe, is a matter for the Polish legislator. As this is a question that has never arisen and is too delicate to be dealt with in any summary way, I believe that the first step is to reach an understanding: if the Polish legislator, as I believe, should remove this difference in treatment, that is a matter for the Polish Parliament.

Second: does Polish legislation comply with the provisions of the European Act of 1976 which I cited earlier? I can tell you, Mr Gargani, that I have commissioned a comparative study for the 12 new Member States to ascertain whether the legislation, not just Polish legislation, but the legislation of the 11 Member States which acceded to the European Union between 2004 and 2007, whether the national legislation in those Member States complies with the provisions of the European Act of 1976.

In conclusion, two tasks need to be undertaken. First: a review, which I am undertaking, of the conformity of Polish national legislation, and not just Polish legislation, because the fact that Mr Gargani has brought up the case of Poland does not mean that there are not comparable situations in other Member States. My view is that this review is needed for all of them.

The second task is to assess whether the Polish Parliament can, though legislation, remove what is objectively an apparent conflict, since there is an apparent discrimination between the status, regulated by law, of MEPs elected in Poland and Polish MPs. There is an apparent conflict, and the only aspect that I believe would be difficult to accept is that it is up to the European Commission to ask the Court of Justice what action the Polish legislator should take.

Were Parliament to agree with this stance, we could simply point out that there is apparent discrimination in Poland between the status of two types of parliamentarian. This is a very new exercise and we should try to make progress with it in a spirit of cooperation.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group . – (PL) Mr President, Chairman Gargani presented the situation of Members of the European Parliament in the context of Polish law very clearly, as also their unequal treatment in this same context as regards Members of Parliament in Poland, and also with regard to senators. I would agree with the argument put forward by Commissioner Frattini that this violates the principle of equal treatment of Members of Parliament before the law.

I would like to inform you that the present ruling coalition in Poland, the Platforma Obywatelska and the Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe , has already begun work on changing this law so as to make it the same for Members of the European Parliament, Members of Parliament in Poland and for Senators. This change will follow the same direction as the provision that is contained in the European Parliament’s electoral law, so that the same principle also applies to Polish Members of Parliament and Polish Senators.

However, in this context, as Mr Gargani said that we are opening a discussion concerning a problem that may be a wider issue, I wonder whether it may be worth thinking about a common electoral law, at least in terms of general principles, a common electoral law for the European Parliament for all Member States of the European Union, as today there are very different circumstances in the 27 Member countries. It is difficult to disagree, and of course I accept all legal restrictions as regards MEPs, but it is difficult for me to agree with a situation where, on being sentenced to a fine in a case brought by the public prosecution service for a deliberate crime, or for being charged with such a crime, a person automatically loses their mandate to the European Parliament.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, on behalf of the PSE Group . – (PL) Mr President, today’s debate raises the issue of unequal treatment of Polish Members of the European Parliament and Members of the Sejm as regards election criteria, as well as that of loss of mandate.

In Article 9 of the Act of 23 January 2004 concerning the electoral ordinance for the European Parliament, we see that the right to stand for election to this institution is given to persons who, among other criteria, have not been convicted of a deliberate crime or charged by the public prosecution service, and Article 142 states that one’s mandate can be withdrawn as a result, for example, of the member’s election to the European Parliament being invalidated. This means that the conviction of a Member (this refers to a Member of the European Parliament, as has been mentioned earlier) for a crime committed deliberately is equivalent to their automatically losing their mandate, while for members to the national parliament this does not act as an obstacle to them standing for election, nor does it result in the loss of their mandate.

As regards the privileges of Members of the European Parliament, Rule 5(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament states that ‘Members shall enjoy privileges and immunities in accordance with the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities’. In the Preamble, the Protocol states that it regulates the issue of privileges and immunities that are necessary to carry out responsibilities for the European Communities, and, in Article 10(a), states that, during the sessions of the Assembly, ‘in the territory of their own State, its members shall enjoy the immunities accorded to members of their Parliament’. Members of the Polish Parliament and the European Parliament are protected by the same immunity. According to Article 11, ‘Representatives of Member States taking part in the work of the institutions of the Communities, their advisers and technical experts shall, in the performance of their duties and during their travel to and from the place of meeting, enjoy the customary privileges, immunities and facilities’.

There is no doubt that a Member of the European Parliament is a representative of a Member State who is taking part in the work of the institutions of the Union. Since Members of the European Parliament and of the Polish Parliament should benefit from the same immunities and privileges, then the rules as regards their eligibility to stand for election as well as for loss of mandate should also be the same.

In acceding to the European Union Poland assumed a responsibility to respect laws in force in the EU, especially those laws having a direct impact on the internal legal system in Member States. I would encourage the fastest possible standardisation in legislation relating to the status of Members of the Polish Parliament and Members of the European Parliament in Poland, and I fully agree with the view taken by Commissioner Frattini in this regard.

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group . – Mr President, the Polish electoral law on elections to the European Parliament is truly unfair and undemocratic compared to the law on elections to the national parliament. The forfeiture of a seat of a deputy to the European Parliament by laws of eligibility is an easy way to put pressure on political opponents and gives the opportunity to settle an account politically with those who have more authority.

Unfortunately, although being in the European Union, the law is still abused in many former Communist countries. This is the case for Mr Tomczak as well. As Members of the European Parliament, Polish MEPs represent not only the Poles but also all Europeans.

It is unacceptable that these people’s representatives are discriminated against by maintaining different legislation with regard to Members of the Polish Parliament. A Polish MEP, if convicted, will be punished not only by Polish law but will also lose his seat as a Member of the European Parliament. That fact clearly shows the discrimination of Polish Members of the European Parliament in comparison to members of national parliaments. That situation is unacceptable and shows clearly how unjust and unfair the Polish electoral law is.

May I urge Poland to change its electoral law?

 
  
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  Aloyzas Sakalas (PSE ). – Mr President, this oral question is a consequence of the debates in the Committee on Legal Affairs on the immunity of Mr Tomczak.

The immunity of Mr Tomczak was raised by Parliament a few years ago. Recently the Committee on Legal Affairs received a request from Mr Tomczak to defend his immunity. The committee discussed this request and a draft decision has been prepared. Nevertheless, the adoption of the final decision was postponed as the committee received information that, in the event of his immunity being waived, the legal consequences for Members of the European Parliament from Poland and Members of the Polish Parliament would be different.

According to the Polish Act of 23 January 2004, a Member of the European Parliament from Poland will lose his or her seat automatically in the event of criminal conviction. For Members of the Polish Parliament this provision is not applicable. Such a difference is in breach of European Community law, by maintaining different legislation with regard to members of the national parliament and Polish Members of the European Parliament. This discrepancy between Polish and European Community laws needs to be clarified.

Therefore, I fully support the formulation of an oral question to the Commission. I hope Mr Frattini will use all his influence to aim to eliminate this discrepancy between Polish and European Community laws.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Frattini, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that democracy in Europe needs to be constantly developed, and we are seeing many attacks on our democratic system from outside Europe. The Members of the European Parliament take decisions, of course, on very many issues that have a direct and immediate effect on the European public. Members of parliaments do not take decisions for themselves but represent their voters.

For this reason the Members of the European Parliament must not be inferior in status to members of national parliaments nor, conversely, should national deputies have a lesser status than MEPs.

For this reason I believe that the Commission should examine the impact on Poland’s MEPs of the new statute that will apply from 2009 onwards and investigate what changes the statute will make and whether there is not some scope for its principles to be applied in order to remove these disparities.

 
  
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  Manuel Medina Ortega (PSE ). – (ES) Mr President, as ever, Commissioner Frattini has performed an intricate legal analysis. As he said, in the current circumstances there would appear to be no grounds for bringing proceedings before the Court of Justice directly.

However, after listening to Mr Zwiefka, who has been telling us about a proposal from the current Polish Government to amend the law, I would ask the Commissioner whether he believes that the Commission could in fact approach the Polish Government on the basis of the debate we are having in Parliament at present to see whether the Polish Government is indeed proposing to amend the law to harmonise the status of MEPs with that of members of the national parliament.

 
  
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  Marek Aleksander Czarnecki (UEN ). – (PL) Mr President, the proposal put forward by Mr Zwiefka to make the situation of Members of the European Parliament the same as Members of the Parliament in Poland does not provide a solution to the problem. I believe that the best solution, which is in fact already part of Polish law, would be that in circumstances where a person is convicted of a deliberate crime, the court should also decide to deprive them of public rights, meaning that the person in question cannot stand for election.

This solution exists, for example, in France. I would like to give you a specific example: our colleague, Mr Onesta, the Vice-President of the European Parliament, was sentenced a few months ago by a court in France to a suspended sentence of several months for an act that, under Polish law, would automatically mean the loss of one’s mandate to the European Parliament. I see the present situation as being completely wrong. I think we should go in the direction of the solution proposed by Mr Frattini.

 
  
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  Giuseppe Gargani (PPE-DE ). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, some further brief comments: I am pleased that the debate overall has recognised that there is a significant and thorny problem. I should like, in particular, to thank Commissioner Frattini who, as the good lawyer that he is, has looked in more detail at the matter, which, as he rightly says, does not just relate to Poland. There is a general principle at stake and I am therefore very content, as is the Committee, that you are undertaking an overall review to monitor compliance and to check whether laws are consistent as regards the national and the European question.

One fact is certain, however, there is not an apparent conflict since, as regards guarantees, the Polish law is contrary to the Treaty; if a Polish MEP were to lose his seat, obviously the article of the treaty which provides for the possibility of taking part in the sessions would fall. From the Committee’s own point of view, as you have heard in the debate just now from Mr Medina, and from me personally, the issue is not one of bringing proceedings, but of following up the question in order to resolve it. If our Polish colleague, Mr Zwiefka, says that this matter has already been brought to the fore in Poland, some progress has already been made.

Comparability is what is needed, as that comparability makes Europe the guarantor of the unity of States that are working together, of citizenship and of equal rights from the point of view of freedom and everyone’s status.

 
  
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  Sylwester Chruszcz (NI ). – (PL) Mr President, just to add my support to the speeches, most of which I support, I believe that of course we should harmonise our regulations as soon as possible. To illustrate how necessary this, is I would like to draw attention to the story of our colleague, an MEP, who is present here with us: Mr Tomczak, who has been involved in a criminal case in Poland for many years, which is now approaching a conclusion and could impact on his future as a Member of the European Parliament. A case which does not involve much harm, and in which witnesses deny that the event took place. A case that at one time was closed, which perhaps under the influence of some political turbulence has been reopened; and now, Mr Tomczak, who has twice been elected (our colleague became an MP in 2005, and an MEP in 2004), now, his immunity as well as his mandate may be removed. This is something that is unbelievable, harmful and which should, as quickly as possible, be cut short and removed from this forum.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I feel that tonight’s debate has shown two things: the first is that there is a widespread view, which is shared, I would say, by all those who have spoken – and a view which I believe to be right – that the disparity of treatment between MEPs elected in Poland and Polish national MPs should be removed and that this analysis should be extended to all the other new Member States of the European Union whose compliance with the European Act of 1976 has not as yet been checked.

The second conclusion, and I refer to the proposal by Mr Medina Ortega, with which I agree, is to pass on the outcome of this debate to the competent authorities of the Polish Government, informing them that this disparity of treatment needs to be removed through national legislation. I shall do that. I can tell you that I shall certainly make formal contact with the Minister of Justice of the Polish Government in order to pass on the widespread opinion of this House – which I share – that while the Polish national legislator has sovereign powers over the way in which the elimination of this disparity of treatment is to be achieved, the objective of removing that disparity of treatment must be pursued.

That is the opinion that I put forward at the beginning: I do not consider that I can tell the Polish legislator how to proceed, but I do consider that I can spell out the objective, and that objective is to remove the disparity of treatment between the status of Polish national MPs and the status of MEPs elected in Poland.

I shall certainly pass on that information and I would add that I shall report back to this House, in view of the interest of Mr Gargani and the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the review of the other 11 new Member States so that the governments of other Member States that might be affected can then be notified accordingly.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

 

21. Explanations of vote
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  President. − The next item is clarification on the voting method.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE ). – (DE) Mr President, may I ask that the temperature in the chamber be set at a humane level. At times it is so cold in here that we almost need to put on our coats. I ask the administration to ensure that we have a decent temperature in which to work. Thank you.

 
  
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  President. − I would ask the staff responsible for the heating in the chamber to increase the temperature. It might go up anyway during this item of discussion.

Oral clarification concerning voting

 
  
  

- Report: Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (A6-0494/2007 )

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE ). – (CS) Mr Chairman, I welcome the fact that we gave the green light to the modern framework for further development of the automotive industry in Europe. I am pleased that we have voted for objectives that are realistic and that make provision for the increase in the price of oil and for our great ambitions regarding safety and protection of the environment. The objectives do not hinder Europe’s ability to compete. Increasing requirements for safer and safer car designs and for more efficient engines that should emit one third less greenhouse gases are all objectives that already imply an increase in prices as well as an increase in the running costs of cars. We are aware that these requirements in themselves are not the main motivation for the middle classes and for the less affluent to change their cars more frequently. The elimination of old cars from the European roads is therefore the basic requirement if the CARS 21 is to prove its worth. The key is to change consumer motivation. Taxes and fiscal policies are not, however, entrusted to the European Union. It will therefore be up to the Member States to carry the responsibility for setting the parameters. It will be up to the Member States to determine whether and when safer and more environmentally-friendly cars will start taking the place of the old cars on our roads. That would also be real proof of the effectiveness of CARS 21.

 
  
  

Written clarification concerning voting

 
  
  

- Report: Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (A6-0517/2007 )

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) I voted in favour of the report by my Polish colleague Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, asking Parliament to approve the amendment to the Council Regulation of 2004 on the establishment of partnerships in the framework of the stabilisation and association process. The change entails renaming the partnership with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: instead of a ‘European partnership’ it is to be called an ‘accession partnership’ in order to align this with the name of the Partnerships with the two other candidate countries, Croatia and Turkey. In addition, Montenegro’s independence had to be taken into account. As I compose this question, I am also thinking of Kosovo, in the hope that we may find a peaceful, European solution to the difficult situation there.

 
  
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  Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL ), in writing . − (NL) In December 2005 the Council granted the status of candidate country to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and in June 2006 Montenegro was recognised as an independent state. In an urgent procedure without debate, it is now proposed in Article 1 of the Regulation that Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, including Kosovo, be granted a European Partnership and in Article 1(a) that Croatia and Macedonia be granted an Accession Partnership. The definitions of those two arrangements are more or less the same. The rapporteur supports the Commission proposal and asks the Council to consult Parliament again if it intends to depart from that proposal. It seems to me a real possibility that it will depart from it. It is not specified how account is to be taken of the anticipated recognition of Kosovo as an independent state in the next few weeks.

It is also not clear whether that means that Macedonia will have to wait longer for the start of accession negotiations, or whether Serbia is being offered the prospect of accession as a priority. It is well known that the Netherlands and Belgium are opposed to that for as long as the war criminal Ratko Mladić has not been handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. I therefore expect that point to be put back on the agenda, but am not voting against the report.

 
  
  

- Report: Bogusław Liberadzki (A6-0506/2007 )

 
  
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  Andrzej Jan Szejna (PSE ), in writing . − (PL) I would like to vote in favour of the report of Mr Liberadzki on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 95/50/EC as regards the implementing powers conferred on the Commission.

Mr Liberadzki has prepared an excellent report. I agree with the rapporteur, who is in favour of the Commission’s proposal, and would also recommend that the proposal should be approved without amendments.

Directive 95/50/EC sets out procedures for checks carried out by Member States as regards the transport of dangerous goods by road. For the purpose of these checks a list of infringements has been proposed, in respect of which vehicles may be immobilised and required to be brought into conformity before continuing their journey. In addition, it is important that each Member State send a report on the application of the Directive for each calendar year.

 
  
  

- Report: Paolo Costa (A6-0513/2007 )

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI ), in writing . (DE) Tolls imposed on heavy goods vehicles, supposedly introduced in order to shift traffic from road to rail, have predictably failed to make rail transport more appealing but have been offloaded onto consumers. Particularly on the busiest routes and in large conurbations, the focus on road transport will exacerbate existing problems such as congestion, noise, environmental pollution and particulate concentrations.

Another cause for concern is the cavalier manner in which some transport operations are carried out. Weekly targeted spot checks on lorries in Austria have greatly improved the safety of road haulage operations and should accordingly become standard practice throughout the EU. If the European Union cares about the health of its population and protection of the environment, it must waste no time at all in ensuring that major pollution sources such as commercial utility vehicles with ageing diesel engines are replaced, that piggyback rail services are made economically attractive and that the Alpine Convention is implemented.

 
  
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  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE ), in writing . − (PL) The rapporteur, Paolo Costa, has shown how discrimination in transport rates and conditions can be abolished. It is true that one can quickly achieve significant benefits by introducing just a few changes into existing legislation.

As a shadow rapporteur I would like to note that a common approach was reached by the Council, the Commission and the Parliament.

 
  
  

- Report: Ulrich Stockmann (A6-0497/2007 )

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) I voted in favour of the legislative resolution on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on airport charges, following the report of my German colleague Ulrich Stockmann.

At the point when European airports, which are mainly publicly owned, are being privatised, when users do not always wholly appreciate their consumption of services, and when companies are developing in a context involving many variables, it was quite natural to regulate the determination of airport charges.

I welcome the creation of independent national regulatory authorities to supervise this market, and I hope that European coordination will be rapidly established and that, in due course, an independent European regulator will come into being.

 
  
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  Hélène Goudin and Nils Lundgren (IND/DEM ), in writing . (SV) The Commission proposals contain a long list of detailed rules on how airport charges should be collected. It is one of the Commission’s responsibilities to monitor compliance with Community competition legislation. The proposals in question, however, mean excessive bureaucracy and detailed regulation, which is disadvantageous to those Member States which have chosen to deregulate the aviation sector.

The European Parliament considers that the common principles on airport charges should only apply to airports with over five million passenger movements per year, or to those at which annual traffic amounts to over 15% of the number of passenger movements in the Member State in question. This position is preferable to the Commission proposal, which also includes smaller regional airports. We are often called upon to decide whether to support common EU rules aimed at ensuring equal treatment of all interests participating in the internal market. In this case it is clear that the Commission’s line involves unjustified bureaucracy.

On the basis of these arguments, we have voted in favour of the proposal of the European Parliament, but against the legislative resolution in the final vote.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL ), in writing . (PT) Although it includes some points that improve the Commission proposal, the report continues to reflect and is an integral part of the process of air transport deregulation in the EU.

An improvement in transparency in the method of calculating airport charges is certainly to be welcomed. However, we disagree with a policy that seeks to deregulate and privatise a strategic public service such as air transport, in this case promoting ‘a truly competitive airport market’, or the incorporation of principles such as the ‘user pays’ and profitability in a service that should be public. What is more, efforts are even being made to remove its ‘regulatory role’ from the public arena, creating ‘independent regulatory authorities’ to that end.

The privatisations that have taken place in the sector have not added value to the services provided and have caused job losses and a deterioration in workers’ rights, and in some cases technical and operational problems.

We regret that our proposals have been rejected. They sought to ensure that the directive included recognition of the constraints faced by regions that suffer permanent geographic and natural disadvantages, such as the outermost regions, and therefore established appropriate exceptions for fulfilling universal public service obligations.

 
  
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  Timothy Kirkhope (PPE-DE ), in writing . − British Conservatives are very much in favour of larger airports being subject to extra scrutiny where they hold a dominant market position. However, we already have a strong regulatory system in the United Kingdom and we therefore feel that this is an unnecessary interference which could have an adverse effect on regional airports, which have a vital impact on local economies.

We have tried to improve the measure in order to maintain an 'opt out' on a national basis or at least to lift the threshold so that most regional airports are excluded, and although these attempts have not yet been successful, we will return to them at Second Reading. In the meantime we will reserve our position.

 
  
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  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE ), in writing . (DE) I did not vote for this report on the Airport Charges Directive, because what is being proposed here amounts to unacceptable discrimination against Luxembourg Airport. This is no way to treat a small country. The application of the directive to Luxembourg Airport, with its 1.6 million passengers a year, and the fact that its provisions do not apply to either of Luxembourg’s direct competitors, Frankfurt Hahn and Brussels Charleroi, which process more than three million passengers, is intolerable discrimination in a single market and is based solely on the fact that a national border lies between Luxembourg and these other airports.

The key factor in this directive must not be national borders but objective criteria if its purpose is to ensure that no airport abuses a dominant market position.

Smaller airports, even if they are the only air terminal in their country, do not run the risk of perpetrating such abuse, especially in the case of Luxembourg, where the aforementioned rival airports lie within easy reach and, moreover, are used by budget airlines. Luxembourg is so small that three different countries lie less than half an hour away from the airport by car.

This proposal is an imposed infringement of the proportionality principle which cannot be accepted as it stands. That is why I am voting against the proposal by way of protest.

 
  
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  David Martin (PSE ), in writing . − I welcome the report and what it seeks to achieve. Through the introduction of greater transparency in the way airport charges are calculated I feel it creates a level playing field and stimulates competition in the sector. The plans will help Scotland’s airports in competing with its British counterparts, especially by reducing the dominant position occupied by major travel hubs like London.

 
  
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  Luca Romagnoli (NI ), in writing . − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to say, as a Member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, that I am in favour of the Stockmann report on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on airport charges.

I consider it advisable, however, to make some comments in particular as regards the link between airport charges and the costs of the services offered. In this respect, the delegations from France and the Netherlands, with Italian support, called for a clear reference to costs. It should be noted here that Italian domestic law makes provision for a specific relationship between the costs of the services supplied and the charges levied by the managing body. The provision of paragraph 5 makes the Italian system more consistent with the scheme of the directive, enabling current procedures to be maintained, provided that the independent regulatory body provided for in Article 10, which monitors the correct application of the charges, and the body which approves charging levels nationally are combined into the same authority. That body, it has to be stressed, will have to be independent from both managing bodies and airline companies.

 
  
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  Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE ), in writing . − While this report has a number of good ideas on making airport charges more transparent and bringing environmental considerations into the calculation for the first time, we must, as ever, be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In my constituency, Scotland, we have dozens of small airports, and air travel is not a luxury – it is a necessity serving fragile communities. I have therefore supported amendments to exempt airports in the outermost regions from the new regime, and look forward to the production of a framework that takes account of the fragile nature of many communities.

 
  
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  Lars Wohlin (PPE-DE ), in writing . (SV) The big air transport companies have pressed for a specific EU arrangement to regulate the collection of airport charges by airports. They think that the airports are local monopolies and exploit their monopoly position in order to impose unreasonable charges. The Swedish air transport agency LFV and the smaller air transport companies, however, have misgivings with regard to new legislation. For the smaller air transport companies new legislation and harmonisation are more of a threat, since they often choose to fly to competing airports which apply lower charges.

I have voted against the directive for several reasons. Airports are already regulated by national authorities, and their action is limited by existing competition legislation in the EU. Those countries which choose a business model that leads to higher airport charges resulting, for example, from investment or transfer of ownership must be allowed to do so as long as the charges are not contrary to existing legislation. It is then up to the Member States to judge whether their charges are competitive or not.

The European Parliament has reduced the scope of the directive. Along with others, I voted for the amendments limiting the directive to 67 airports (compared to around 150 which would have been affected before). However, I cannot support price regulation at EU level.

 
  
  

- Report: Johannes Blokland (A6-0406/2007 )

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) In the first reading in the codecision procedure, I voted in favour of a legislative resolution on the proposal for a regulation on the export and import of dangerous chemicals, based on the report by my Dutch colleague Johannes Blokland.

I am delighted that a compromise has been found, since there is a fairly urgent need to regularise the legal situation ensuing from the annulment by the Court of Justice of the previous Regulation dating from 2003, while at the same time improving the regulatory situation to take account of developments since that time.

 
  
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  Liam Aylward (UEN ), in writing . − I have voted in favour of the compromise amendments agreed by the vast majority of the political groups, which are intended to promote joint responsibility between parties with regard to international trade in hazardous chemicals.

Rules adopted at EU level are vital for the provision of a high level of protection of the environment and public health, and we aspire to these rules being extended internationally.

Awareness of risks is paramount for exporters and importers. Countries, by virtue of exchange of information and best practice and compulsory national decision-making on the acceptability of chemicals, can heighten such awareness while also making legislators and stakeholders aware of such risks.

The proposed legislation implements the Rotterdam Convention, the underlying principle being to help participating countries learn more about the characteristics of potentially hazardous chemicals and pesticides. This provides countries with the information and the means to stop unwanted imports of toxic chemicals, putting the requirement and onus on the exporter/exporting country to comply with the laws of the importing country. I very much welcome and support this legislation and the European Parliament’s compromise package.

 
  
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  Alessandro Battilocchio (PSE ), in writing . − (IT) I welcome the implementation of the Rotterdam Convention, as it shows that Europe is well aware of its commitments to protect the environment and health of third countries and, in particular, developing countries. From today it will no longer be possible to export hazardous chemical products to countries outside Europe without prior authorisation from the countries of destination (the so-called PIC – prior informed consent procedure).

We had to put an end to the double standard that existed when a substance was strictly regulated in the European market to protect the environment and the health of European citizens, but could be freely traded with third countries without any precautions or any obligation to provide information on risks. A measure of courtesy and solidarity especially towards countries with fewer information and risk analysis resources than the European Union.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL ), in writing . (PT) The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was approved in September 1998 and entered into force on 24 February 2004. Regulation (EC) No 304/2003 concerning the export and import of dangerous chemicals implements the Rotterdam Convention.

The Commission considered it necessary to bring an action against the Council and the European Parliament at the Court of Justice because it did not agree with the change in the legal basis (environment rather than common commercial policy). In its Judgment of 10 January 2006, the Court of Justice annulled the Regulation on the grounds that there should have been a dual legal basis including both Article 133 and Article 175(1) of the Treaty, and ruled that the effects of the Regulation would be maintained until a new regulation founded on appropriate legal bases was adopted.

The European Commission submitted a new draft regulation based on the above-mentioned dual legal basis. In today's vote, at first reading, the European Parliament approved a range of amendments to the European Commission proposal that will now be negotiated with the Council. Hence our vote in favour.

 
  
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  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) I welcome the agreement reached on this Regulation at first reading. There are 75 000 different chemical products on the market and 1 500 new ones are added to that every year. So it is difficult for governments to monitor and manage all the potentially dangerous substances that cross our borders on a daily basis.

The Regulation will help to ensure that these dangerous chemical products are used in a more rational way, by facilitating the exchange of information about them. Importing countries will thus be properly equipped and informed so that they can identify potential threats and keep out those chemical products that they are not in a position to manage safely.

We do have to recognise the difficulties that exporting countries sometimes face in seeking to obtain explicit consent from the importing countries. However, derogations granted to exporting countries awaiting consent may no longer be valid for more than 12 months. I am pleased that we have adopted this measure, which aims to prevent uncontrolled imports of dangerous chemical products into third countries.

The Regulation will enable us to avoid repetition of the many errors committed in the past, which have caused damage to the environment and to public health.

 
  
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  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE ), in writing . − (PL) The rapporteur, Johannes Blokland, is right in noting that adequate rules should be adopted worldwide and at European level in order to provide a high level of protection for the environment and public health.

The development of a specific infrastructure in less developed countries could certainly combat the irresponsible use of chemicals which would otherwise damage the ecology, economy and working conditions.

 
  
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  David Martin (PSE ), in writing . − I voted in favour of the report. I see the implementation of the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) as a positive step in this policy area. Ensuring that prior consent is given from third countries receiving dangerous substances helps ensure that developing countries do not fall victim to the dumping of restricted chemicals in their backyard without their agreement. Though this is an encouraging move in the right direction, the implementation of the measures needs to be closely followed by the Commission.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI ), in writing. (DE) Unscrupulous traders are trying to evade the special requirements that apply to the transport of chemicals and other hazardous goods, requirements such as specialised driver training, labelling and the like. Vans belonging to parcel services carry highly corrosive acids, explosive liquids or ammunition, often without the driver even knowing. If items are not labelled and waybills do not indicate the true nature of the goods, staff may be risking their lives in the event of an accident. A fire would have unimaginably dire consequences, not only in the form of permanent damage to health but possibly of environmental contamination too.

It makes sense to simplify the requirements for the transport of dangerous goods without compromising safety. There is also a need to think about ways of speeding up the switchover to double-hull tankers in order to reduce the incidence of environmental disasters. Above all, however, more targeted spot checks on HGVs are needed throughout the EU so that the black sheep who drive with unsecured, unlabelled or dangerous loads, defective brakes, etc., can be taken off the road.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE-DE ), in writing . − (PL) I voted in favour of the report by Johannes Blokland on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the export and import of dangerous chemicals.

The report raises the issue of permitting transport without explicit authorisation. From the economic point of view, the existing situation is unsatisfactory for European exporters of chemicals if they do not receive any response from importing countries about substances listed in the Annexes. As a result of this regulation, European exporters of chemicals which are severely restricted in Europe can export these substances outside the European Union more easily. This more flexible approach could result, especially in less developed states, in countries no longer enjoying any protection against imports of chemical substances. In order to avoid the uncontrolled export of hazardous substances to third countries, and in order to protect those countries that are less able or even unable to assess hazardous chemicals, the period of tacit agreement should be shorter.

It is important that the Commission’s proposal should apply to the issue of introducing tools making it easier for customs authorities to carry out the provisions of the Regulation. For the mechanisms proposed in this new regulation to function correctly and effectively it is vital to have close cooperation between customs authorities and selected national authorities. The introduction of the new regulations should be preceded by drawing up guidelines concerning the use of computer products and documentation and providing training in accordance with EU standards, particularly for the new Member States.

 
  
  

- Report: Csaba Őry (A6-0515/2007 )

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) In the first reading in the codecision procedure, I voted in favour of the legislative resolution amending the proposal of the European Commission amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community, on the basis of the report by my excellent Hungarian colleague Csaba Őry, which introduces technical amendments to the European Commission’s proposal with a view to making the Regulation clearer or easier to read.

He is pleased that this Regulation sets out to give an accurate impression of the evolution in the legal situation of national social security schemes, and hence to ensure appropriate coordination at Community level.

 
  
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  Adam Bielan (UEN ), in writing . − (PL) With reference to the principle of the four basic freedoms in European economic integration, I would also like to draw attention to the meaning of Regulation 1408/71, which aims to promote the free movement of workers in the European Union.

Whilst it is true that the report in question relates to strictly technical issues, these very issues, in serving to update the above-mentioned Regulation by making it take into account social insurance changes at national level, have a direct impact on the everyday life of citizens who are travelling, working or living in another Member State.

I would also agree with the rapporteur that, when implementing the principle of free movement in Europe, social conditions should be set out in a precise manner.

Finally, I would like to emphasise how important the proposed changes and the transparency of the guidelines are for thousands of Polish citizens who are living and working outside of Poland. This is one of the principal reasons why I support Mr Őry’s report.

 
  
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  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE ), in writing . − (PL) Mr Őry is right in acknowledging that, on the level of the European Union, effective coordination needs to be ensured between Member States as regards benefit payments.

This Regulation, by introducing updates that take into account the latest changes in certain Member States, holds out the possibility of guaranteeing to citizens who are travelling from one Member State to another the possibility of benefiting from social insurance.

 
  
  

- Report: Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (A6-0494/2007 )

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) On the basis of the own-initiative report of my German friend and colleague Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, I voted in favour of the Resolution on a Competitive Automotive Regulatory Framework, following the Communication from the European Commission based on the ‘CARS 21’ high-level group.

I should like to begin by welcoming the method involving the holding of a genuine industrial audit with all the stakeholders, with a view to specifying an industrial policy for the automotive sector involving parameters as important as not only the impact on purchasing power, employment, safety, mobility, the environment and the regulatory burdens the industry has to shoulder, but also innovation, competitiveness, the problems of second-hand cars, disposing of old cars, etc., in an internal market which is far from complete.

It is essential that, having created the internal market in the interests of consumers, the European Union should devote particular attention to manufacturers, implementing a European industrial policy with them. The automotive sector, in which we have a great tradition, must be given support as it undergoes the major changes taking place today.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (IND/DEM ), in writing . − While I do not disagree that it may be desirable to reduce CO2 emissions in an overall environmental context, it is not for the undemocratic EU to decide these issues.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL ), in writing . (PT) The European automotive industry, which represents around 3% of the EU’s GDP and 7% of its manufacturing output, is one of the most important economic sectors, producing around one third of global production.

It is also one of the EU’s leading export sectors and invests 4% of its turnover in R&D. The sector is one of the largest employers, with over 2 million direct and 10 million indirect jobs, and is therefore a key factor in Europe’s economic, social and cultural life.

The sector is facing serious challenges, however. Rapid technological progress, coupled with fierce international competition, means that it must change rapidly. Furthermore, considerable social expectations weigh upon the sector, particularly in terms of the environment and road safety. This close interaction between the industry, the environment, energy and transport makes it one of the EU’s most regulated areas – it is covered by around 80 directives and 115 UNECE regulations.

We cannot support all the proposals presented in this report, however. Too much emphasis is given to defending the internal market and competition, while little attention is paid to social and labour issues and the development gap between Member States.

 
  
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  Bruno Gollnisch (NI ), in writing . – (FR) The Chatzimarkakis report is supposed to be about the main factors that will make the automotive industry competitive in the years ahead, taking account of environmental constraints, product and safety standards, competitors in the international context, etc.

Yet, threaded throughout the text we find evidence of the ongoing urge to persecute drivers. Surely curbing traffic in urban areas and the cross-border enforcement of fines for infringement of traffic rules have no place in such a report? Are Europeans now to be required, on pain of sanctions or higher taxes, to buy ‘clean’ vehicles fitted with expensive safety-related technologies, while the reality in a country like France is that the high average age of cars on the road (eight years) is a reflection of people’s financial difficulties and low purchasing power? Why are private cars yet again castigated, when they are responsible, in France for example, for just 13% of CO2 emissions, and that figure is certainly lower in countries that do not use nuclear energy?

There is a basic paradox here in seeking to have a competitive automotive industry in Europe, when the overall thrust of European policies is to push up the price of cars and to impoverish consumers, while at the same time introducing new forms of persecution to dissuade people from buying and using vehicles.

 
  
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  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE ), in writing . – (FR) I voted in favour of the report proposing a competitive automotive regulatory framework.

It is a road map for making cars cleaner and safer and for simplifying the legal context for the development of European vehicle manufacturing.

We must make it possible to reduce the impact of road transport on air quality as vehicles currently in use are gradually replaced.

I welcome the adoption of the deadlines that Parliament has set, coinciding with the date of 2015, to achieve an emissions limit of 125 g/km for new cars coming onto the market. The date is the same as that for the entry into force of the Euro VI standards.

Additional measures (involving alternative fuels, eco-driving or tax incentives, for example) could contribute to this effort, and particular attention should be paid to biofuels and hydrogen.

CARS 21 recommends a holistic approach to road safety, involving vehicle technology, infrastructure and road users (suggested measures include electronic stability control, seat-belt reminders and emergency braking systems).

The first requirement of effective legislation is that it should be realistic, and environmental concerns have long been central to policies within the industry.

 
  
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  Kartika Tamara Liotard (GUE/NGL ), in writing . − (NL) I have voted against the Chatzimarkakis report, because the Commission proposal is more environmentally friendly. The rapporteur suggests a target of 125 g/km of CO2 in 2015. The Commission proposal suggests a maximum emission of 120 g/km of CO2 in 2012. I tabled an amendment to have that withdrawn, but it just failed to go through. I wonder where the rapporteur has got the less environmentally favourable proposal from without being influenced by the motor industry lobby. For years now there have been voluntary agreements between the Commission and the motor industry to reduce CO2 emissions. The Commission target does not just come from nowhere and it is, according to the motor industry, technically achievable and from an innovative point of view an export product. They will, however, make less profit temporarily in order to be able to stabilise their competitive position in the future.

It is wrongly argued that jobs will be lost. I might point out that only 6% of the production costs of new cars are staff costs. The choice of labour cost savings is separate from the shift to 120 g/km of CO2 in 2012. If the motor industry decides to move its operations to low-wage countries, it will do that anyway.

 
  
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  David Martin (PSE ), in writing . − I voted in favour of the report. I strongly believe that the CO2 target of 120g/km by 2012 is one that must be met and is essential in fighting climate change. Though I acknowledge that Member States need to engage in the funding of research and development for the automobile sector in this area, I feel that the industry itself should also contribute and demonstrate a further commitment to reducing the effects of climate change. I also approve of the directive calling for the information and consultation of workers on this issue.

 
  
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  Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL ), in writing . − (NL) Together with my colleague, Mrs Liotard, I voted against the Chatzimarkakis report, because the original Commission proposal is more environmentally friendly. The rapporteur sets a target of 125 g/km of CO2 in 2015. In the Commission proposal, the maximum emission was 120 g/km of CO2 in 2012. My group tabled an amendment today for that to be withdrawn, but it just failed to go through. I wonder where the rapporteur got this less environmentally favourable proposal from, if it is not influenced by the motor industry lobby. For years now there have been voluntary agreements between the Commission and the motor industry to reduce CO2 emissions. The Commission target does not just come from nowhere. According to the motor industry, it is technically achievable and can generate an innovative export product. Certainly car factories will temporarily make less profit, which they see as interference with the strengthening of their competitive position.

It is wrongly argued that jobs might be lost. Only 6% of the production costs of new cars are staff costs. Any lower labour costs are separate from the shift to 120 g/km of CO2 in 2012. If the motor industry wants to decide to move its operations to low-wage countries, a less strict rule will not prevent it.

 
  
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  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE ), in writing . (PT) The future of the competitiveness of the European automotive sector is extremely important. The EU should therefore continue to adopt a long-term approach based on investing in research and development and improving the operation of the internal market by means of the necessary legislation and by simplifying administrative procedures, making them quicker and less costly. The report suggests that an integrated environmental approach should be adopted, allied to new engine technologies and the use of less polluting fuels, and that additional measures should be taken in the area of traffic management, driving behaviour and infrastructure so that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced even further.

I consider these aspects to be essential, and the investment required should be funded largely through public-private partnerships as a new tool for industrial research and technological development. Finally, the international dimension highlights the need for urgent measures to be taken to improve access to markets, particularly in Asia, by means of multilateral negotiations and bilateral trade agreements.

I therefore voted in favour of the report on the CARS 21 initiative.

 
  
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  Brian Simpson (PSE ), in writing . − I will be voting in favour of the Chatzimarkakis report, even though I believe that the car industry has to do more to reduce emissions from the vehicles it produces.

It is very easy on the one hand to pick out the motor car as the chief sinner in all things environmental, and certainly the motor car that we have at the moment leaves a lot to be desired in this area. But we must work with industry and educate them on the need to produce more environmentally-friendly cars.

The motor industry is a big employer of people and contributes considerably to local, regional and national economies. It therefore cannot be treated in a cavalier way, as some Members of this House believe.

One area that concerns me is in this report is the clear view that fiscal measures, and fiscal harmonisation, should be used as a way of promoting the Car 21 concept.

For me, this is a move too far, and the one area I cannot support. However, I welcome this report and support it because overall it adopts a balanced and practical approach.

 
  
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  Renate Sommer (PPE-DE ), in writing. (DE) The report entitled CARS 21: A Competitive Automotive Regulatory Framework has my full support. This report can help to enhance the competitiveness of the car industry.

Besides imposing new obligations on the industry in the form of environmental requirements, we also need to give it simplified procedures, to cut red tape and to apply the principles of better lawmaking. In addition, the automotive sector must benefit from more research and development funding.

With regard to the achievement of the target CO2 values, it is important that we base the phased reductions on the parameter of vehicle weight rather than the ‘carbon footprint’. The only physical correlation that exists is between the weight of a vehicle and its CO2 emissions. The carbon footprint does not offer this kind of correlation, and its use would only serve to put the German car industry at a competitive disadvantage.

We have come out emphatically in favour of an integrated strategy that takes account of all possible means of reducing CO2 emissions. We want factors such as individual driver behaviour, the creation of various incentives to drive environmentally clean cars, the use of biofuels and the promotion of new forms of vehicle technology to contribute to the reduction of emission levels. This poses a challenge not only to car manufacturers but to all stakeholders.

 
  
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  Søren Bo Søndergaard (GUE/NGL ), in writing . − I voted against the Chatzimarkakis report, because the Commission proposal is more environmentally friendly. The rapporteur sets as target 125 grams of CO2 per km in 2015. The Commission proposal suggests a maximum emission target of 120 grams of CO2 in 2012, which was retabled as an amendment. This amendment has regrettably been dismissed. I wonder from where the rapporteur got the proposal, which is environmentally and technically inferior, without having been influenced by the car industry lobby. For years there have been voluntary agreements between the Commission and the car industry to limit the CO2 emissions. The Commission target does not come out of the blue and is, according to the car industry, technically feasible and, innovatively speaking, an export product. They will, however, temporarily be making a lesser profit in order to stabilise their competition position in the future.

There is unjustified use of the issue of loss of employability. I point out the fact that only 6% of the production costs of new cars are personnel costs. The choice of cost-cutting on labour is unrelated to the move to 120 grams of CO2 per km in 2012. Should the car industry decide to move to low wage countries, they will do this nonetheless.