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Procedure : 2006/2277(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0075/2007

Texts tabled :

A6-0075/2007

Debates :

PV 26/04/2007 - 5
CRE 26/04/2007 - 5

Votes :

PV 26/04/2007 - 8.4
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2007)0160

Debates
Thursday, 26 April 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition

5. Situation of disabled women in the European Union (debate)
PV
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  President. The next item is the report by Esther Herranz García, on behalf of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, on the situation of disabled women in the European Union (2006/2277(INI) (A6-0075/2007).

 
  
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  Esther Herranz García (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (ES) Mr President, I would like to begin this speech by thanking Parliament's services for their cooperation and great professionalism throughout the process of drawing up this report, which has taken an extremely long time to get to the vote.

I would also like to thank the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality for authorising the drawing up of this report, and also the plenary of Parliament and the Conference of Presidents, who have authorised it.

Producing this report on the situation of disabled women or women who share their daily lives with disabled people gives me immense satisfaction, in view of the importance of this issue for all of them, and for all of us as a society.

This is the result of many contributions over this period of time not just from my colleagues in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, but also from disabled people’s organisations and from the European Commission at the meeting with Commissioner Špidla.

This report was approved almost unanimously within the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality with just one abstention and that makes it clear that this is a balanced report, which is intended to highlight not just the situation of disabled women but also the extremely important role played by women responsible for and dedicated to care and assistance for people suffering any kind of disability, as well as the work of the associations involved in it.

This report – which we will vote on later in this House – contains an important appeal: the need for both the European Commission and the Member States to try to introduce and implement flexible measures and a system of assistance that reflects the heterogeneous nature of this group of people, so that they can be applied and adapted to each case, since there is no place for stereotypes here, and women generally suffer double discrimination. On the one hand, because they are women – which is still a handicap in many European regions, regrettably – and, on the other, because they are disabled.

We need to provide appropriate resources and policies, with innovative services, in order to guarantee the most independent and autonomous life possible.

I would also like to stress the importance of the development of information and communication technologies, a fundamental tool in the integration of disabled people into society.

It is important to increase public awareness from childhood, since it is they, the children, who hold the key to the future in their hands.

We must continue to promote consideration and debate in order to progressively reach a situation in which equal opportunities are a reality for everybody, regardless of their gender or their social, economic or political status.

I would like, finally, to stress the role of families – in particular women, who in the majority of cases are responsible for caring for disabled people – and the crucial role played on a daily basis by associations of disabled people.

It is essential that the work of families and organisations be supported and recognised, from both economic and social points of view, since in many cases it is an activity that requires full dedication, leading to isolation.

Therefore, and although this is a subsidiary issue, I believe that we institutions of the European Union must consider all working together to that end.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Member of the Commission. (ES) Mr President, rapporteur, ladies and gentlemen, the European Commission is concerned about disabled women, who are victims of double discrimination: on the grounds of gender and on the grounds of disability.

The different forms of discrimination suffered by disabled women and young people prevents them from living independently, since these barriers often deny them access to education and to the labour market.

It is entirely unacceptable that around 80% of disabled women are victims of violence. The risk of suffering sexual abuse is four times higher for disabled women than for women who are not disabled. The European Union must protect the rights of these people and allow them effective access to all forms of protection.

I would like to thank Mr Herranz, who has had the initiative to draw up this report with a view to increasing public awareness of the dramatic situation I have just referred to.

In the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, it is entirely appropriate that this Parliament should be adopting a resolution on the situation of disabled women in the European Union. The draft resolution is absolutely right to mention the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed by the European Commission on behalf of the European Community on the same day that it became available for signing, 30 March last. At least 22 Member States have added their signatures. Furthermore, I would like to point out that the Commission inspired the specific provisions of that Convention on respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of disabled women.

Parliament's adoption of this resolution is also fully in line with the European strategy in the field of disability, a strategy that contributes to the implementation of the measures mentioned in the report. The Commission is therefore already working on the application of the provisions of the directive combating the discrimination suffered, in particular, by disabled people who want access to employment and professional training. Furthermore, the new regulation on the Structural Funds introduces the use of accessibility for disabled people as a criterion for the selection of projects.

I also take note of the appeal to the Commission that it draw up legislation to guarantee the autonomy of disabled men and women. In this regard, the Commission intends to launch an impact study to look into the possibility of proposing new legislation in this regard, on the basis of Article 13 of the Treaty, which makes it possible to extend the scope of the current directives.

Finally, the Commission will shortly begin a study on the current situation of disabled women, taking account of the provisions of the United Nations Convention. This study will provide us with a basis for defining specific actions, and will also make it possible for the Commission to gather data and information.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská, for the PPE-DE Group. – (SK) The report produced by my colleague Herranz García calls upon us to change our view of disabled people. We must, together with them, ask what solidarity they really need, and furthermore, we should accept everything these people offer as testimony to the undeniable value of their lives. But I ask myself whether political institutions at all levels are able to take this step. As a doctor and a woman who sympathises with disabled women, I do not view their situation as a punishment, but as an area in which human society can gain great inspiration and a beautiful fountainhead for a world founded on solidarity, hope and love.

People with disabilities are a very great source of inspiration for us. With their moral and spiritual resources they are of irreplaceable value to the human race. They show us and teach us that human beings have value simply through the fact that they exist and not through what they possess or through what they are able to produce. European society, which is often in thrall to the pernicious influence of economic neo-liberalism, does not understand these things. A person with disabilities represents a living challenge to our shared humanity.

This report is also a challenge to us to show respect to all of those who, formally or informally, care for people with disabilities. The formal recognition of those who care for people with disabilities should be the aim of all institutions. I would therefore like to conclude by requesting that the European Commission undertakes a study into the recognition of informal work in the field of caring for people with disabilities.

 
  
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  Lissy Gröner, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, as far as the Socialist Group in the European Parliament is concerned, this report, which puts women who have to live with disabilities at the heart of our work, is extremely important.

There are a range of legal instruments, such as the UN Convention, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 13 [of the Treaty on European Union] and the Manifesto of Disabled Women which we should observe very closely. At all levels, it is clear that women are not victims; rather, they are repeatedly disadvantaged. This multiple discrimination must also be reflected in measures adopted by the European Union.

We have designated 2007 as the ‘European Year of Equal Opportunities for All’. Here too, however, women, especially women with disabilities, constitute a marginal group. As has been stressed so unequivocally by Commissioner Almunia, 80% of women with disabilities are also victims of violence, everyday violence. They repeatedly experience violence and, above all, sexual violence on a very much more frequent basis.

The DAPHNE programme must therefore put a stronger emphasis on combating this violence and we must also strengthen the networks of women with disabilities. In their working lives, women have it doubly difficult if they suffer from a disability. They already suffer in any case. Unemployment levels among women are above average and the social exclusion of disabled people is increasing at a rate which is no longer acceptable.

We must therefore use the best model from all European countries as an example and make much better use of the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund for promoting model projects and remind Member States of their duties. We have written gender mainstreaming into the structural regulations but do not have the funds available to proceed with sanctions against the Member States which do not abide by it. This is a fairly central requirement. It is clear that greater pressure must be applied here.

We require integrated education. This is necessary for both sexes. It is a very important learning curve for people both with and without disabilities to be prepared as early as Kindergarten to live an independent life. To this end, we must not let charity prevail and we must quite definitely help men and women obtain their rights as well as establish barrier-free access for them, and not just to buildings and public local transport, but to new media as well.

I also hope that the Gender Institute can help bring the organisations and best practices together. Every one of us may wake up tomorrow suffering from a disability. What matters is strengthening each person’s individuality and valuing his or her uniqueness. Then we really will be in agreement on many issues.

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (SV) Mr President, I want to thank the rapporteur for a constructive and incredibly important report.

We in the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left believe that attention needs to be given to the situation of women with disabilities, and measures taken to remedy that situation. People with disabilities are discriminated against, and women are discriminated against. There is, then, double discrimination against women with disabilities, not to mention the further discrimination that exists against those that happen to be women, disabled, of a different ethnic background and of a different sexual orientation.

It is the Member States and society that have a responsibility to remove all obstacles to everyone participating fully in society. In particular, account needs, then, to be taken of the situation of women with disabilities. It should never be the person with disabilities or her relatives that bear the responsibility. We have a collective and common responsibility to build a society characterised by solidarity, and full participation by everyone in all aspects of that society - for example study, working life or social and cultural life - is something for which we should take responsibility.

In quite a few Member States, it is women who bear the main responsibility for the care of children with disabilities and of relatives in a similar situation. I read an extremely telling quotation by the mother of a child with disabilities, who said: ‘I am not only a mother but also, among other things, a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, nurse, neurologist, teacher and architect specialising in adapting our home for the needs of our disabled child.’

Not only are women carers, then, but they also have to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. I think that it is very clear from this report that it is women who often bear the main responsibility. That is unacceptable. It is not women’s but society’s responsibility to enable all people with disabilities, together with their families, to lead independent lives and to make decisions for themselves. This is also, of course, a demand for gender equality.

Girls and women with physical and mental disabilities are subject to more violence and sexual abuse than other groups. Not only, then, do they suffer discrimination because of their disabilities; they are also subject to abuse. Women with mental disabilities, in particular, are open to abuse, often perpetrated by people in their immediate circle. These women are in a dreadfully vulnerable position. If we are to prevent abuse, we must be aware of such violence and afford it greater visibility.

It is not our sympathy that women with disabilities need or demand, but the self-evident right to participate fully in society.

 
  
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  Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (PL) Mr President, a society is judged by its attitude towards the weak, sick and disabled. That is why all actions aimed at providing support for people who are disabled, ill or who have difficulties in adapting to their surroundings, not only prevent social exclusion or poverty, but also foster social integration, as well as improving the quality of life and the mental and physical health of people who are in some way disabled, allowing them to lead a fulfilling life.

All action taken to provide more information and increase awareness of disability and which includes providing disabled access to buildings, educational opportunities, reducing red tape in the support system and increasing funding, especially for disabled women and children, should be a priority for programmes at a national and European level. It is important to improve access to the labour market, including Internet access, to make use of tax incentives aimed at promoting the employment of disabled people and to make working time more flexible, especially for mothers with disabled children.

It is equally important to make the institutions more accessible, to improve the monitoring of how aid is allocated, to provide physiotherapy services and psychological support across the board and to increase the number of certified therapists and instructors.

However, providing support and care for disabled people, which helps their physical and personal development, should not encourage selfishness. The problem, especially in my country and in other poor countries which have joined the European Union, is not so much a lack of desire to help people who are in some way physically or mentally disabled, but rather the fact that there is poverty and unemployment, a lack of funds for transport, wheelchairs and other equipment which, together with measures to make buildings accessible for the disabled, would facilitate mobility.

Nearly 15% of Poles are disabled. These people face many problems on a daily basis, in spite of an extensive network of NGOs and legions of volunteers who want to dedicate their time to helping others. In Poland, there is a lack of schools for autistic children, there are not enough reading materials written in Braille for the blind and poor, disabled people cannot afford specially adapted cars. In addition to this, almost all tax relief has been abolished for people who already live in poverty, sometimes even extreme poverty, as a result of low pensions.

The previous socialist governments in particular followed macroeconomic goals in their approach to disabled people. They abolished family-friendly tax relief and significantly reduced disability benefits. This happened when the country was adapting its legislation to fall in line with legislation in the European Union, where neo-liberal utilitarianism, rather than human worth and dignity, is what really counts.

The majority of mentally disabled children attend special rather that mainstream schools, which does not help them to integrate. That is why even the most well-drafted and meticulous reports dealing with the issue of disability will remain theoretical entities, with no opportunities for practical implementation, in view of the greed of the wealthy and the fact that moral values and principles have been replaced by market laws and the free movement of capital in one direction, namely from the poor to the rich. That is why we appeal, once again, for solidarity. We need solidarity not only on paper in the Union's documents, but in the decisions and actions taken. We especially appeal to the decision-makers, who are responsible for safeguarding our health and our society, for solidarity.

 
  
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  Lydia Schenardi, on behalf of the ITS Group. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, around 250 million women in the world are disabled. Furthermore, in the European Union, the rate of employment of disabled women stands at 2%, compared with 36% for disabled men. These women are under-represented, and sometimes not represented at all, in many areas of social, professional, cultural and political life not just in France, but throughout Europe.

In France, the law stipulates that companies with over 20 employees must meet the target of having a 6% disabled workforce. However, the average rate of employment of disabled people is in reality only 4%. It is downright unfair that companies should prefer to pay fines – even very large ones, at times – rather than to employ disabled people. However, 40% of disabled women are constantly seeking employment. This grotesque situation must stop.

To conclude, I am surprised to note that the techniques of quotas and of positive discrimination, which are widely used by Parliament to, among other things, promote foreigners’ rights within the European Union or female participation in political parties and professional decision-making bodies, are not recommended so strongly for disabled women, or even provided for in this report. Europe is undoubtedly a multi-speed Europe.

 
  
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  Hiltrud Breyer, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a milestone in terms of the rights of people with disabilities, entered into force at the beginning of April. This convention stipulates that all 650 million disabled people worldwide have the same rights as people who do not suffer from a disability. It encompasses civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and thereby offers effective legal protection. For the first time, disabilities are recognised as a human rights issue. It is regrettable, and here I would also very much appreciate another statement from the Commission, that the EU Commission has got cold feet and refused to sign the additional protocol, which would have given individuals and organisations the right of appeal before the UN Committee of Experts.

When we here in Parliament talk about disabled people, especially about disabled women and girls, we must ask ourselves time and again whether we would not be better off talking about the impeding environment. When we look at this building and all other institution buildings, including those of the European institutions, it then becomes clear that we still have much work to do in order to actually improve the opportunities available to disabled persons. Here in this House, for instance, a woman or girl with a disability could only get access to the canteen via the freight elevator. This is very regrettable and we must certainly put our own house in order and see that we are also, alas, contributing to these people having no reasonable freedom of movement.

Worldwide, it is primarily women who have to endure a double dose of discrimination. As far as these women and girls are concerned, however, it is very important that we do not just talk about their misfortune, for these women are also self-aware and, although they have a disability, naturally have the same rights when it comes to shaping society.

It is especially regrettable that girls and women with disabilities experience much more than their fair share of sexual violence, be it by family members, care staff or other workers. In particular, there is also the fact that as far as these women are concerned, unfortunately, it is also very difficult that they are victims and do not have the same rights when it comes to getting married or starting a family. It is still the case that disabled girls and women are sterilised and forced to have abortions. There are many more compulsory abortions and because such women are not accorded the same rights in terms of sexuality or motherhood, their reproductive rights are also greatly restricted.

According to the UN report, only a quarter of women with disabilities are gainfully employed. In this area, we must implement real change at a European level. We also know that, compared to men with disabilities, women, in part, earn just half of what men do. Here, too, we should again ask the European Union for more precise figures. We are already aware that, despite the principle of ‘equal pay for the same work’, glaring differences exist between men and women when it comes to women with disabilities. This is shocking indeed.

According to estimates by UNESCO, only 3% of people with disabilities worldwide can read and write, with this figure estimated at 1% when it comes to women and girls with disabilities. Here, we must make much greater efforts in the area of humanitarian aid, but we should also place the topic of educational opportunities and enhanced education, especially for girls with disabilities, quite high up on the agenda once again. In this area, Member States must do much more.

It is therefore very important that we get this theme going at a European level and that we focus much more attention in this area. What is very important as far as I am concerned, however, is that our resolution should not fall behind the UN Convention. From there, we must actually make it much clearer that these women naturally do not just want to be seen as victims. They want to make it clear that although they have a disability, this disability should not result in discrimination on the labour market or in terms of education. We must attach greater importance to protecting these women against violence and send out very clear signals.

I hope that we really can take a step forward with our resolution and not fall behind the UN Convention.

 
  
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  Amalia Sartori, (PPE-DE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I too should first of all like to thank Mrs Herranz García for the work she has done and for the commitment with which she has seen this report through to completion.

As regards its content, I think it is in everyone’s interest if I mention a few key points that characterise our work. Taking my cue from the report itself, my first point is that I think it is important, in our relationship with the Member States, to emphasise that the costs of disability must be borne by the community as a whole. The second point is that all the provisions, directives, projects and plans that are drawn up by the Community institutions must take account of the fact that some people in our countries have disabilities, and that they always constitute an important part of all the provisions that we must adopt. The third point is connected with the need to grant economic and social dignity to everyone involved in the care sector.

I am sure that in every country there is now a prevalent feeling that the right response to the problems of disability is to make the most of everyone’s residual abilities and to place them at the disposal of the whole community. That is the best solution for the differently able and also for all of us.

We work so that our countries can achieve higher and higher rates of economic growth and development, because we believe that only a culturally and economically rich community can provide the solutions that these worlds expect.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, in this European Year of Equal Opportunities, which we hope will be for everyone regardless of gender, this report is of particular importance, as it draws attention to disabled women, who are particularly vulnerable to various forms of discrimination.

I therefore commend the rapporteur on her work and express the hope that the Commission and the Member States duly take on board the report’s proposals. We know that disabled people and their families generally have more difficulties to face in their everyday lives. They need help and measures that take account of their particular situation, so that they can take full part in the various activities of society.

Hence the need to integrate disabled people’s needs and women’s rights into all policy areas at national, regional and local level, in particular the policies of town planning, education and training, employment, housing, transport, health and social services, including personalised assistance where applicable.

What are needed, therefore, are strong public policies backed by significant investment in particularly sensitive areas, in order to guarantee equal opportunities for women and disabled people. For this to happen, public priorities have to change.

We cannot go on prioritising the nominal convergence criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact and, in turn, cutting public investment, as has happened in Portugal, leading to the closure of maternity wards, emergency services, health services and schools. This undermines human rights, especially in the more vulnerable sections of society, as in the case of women and the disabled.

It is wrong to declare that we want equal opportunities for all and to launch a propaganda campaign, only to pursue neoliberal policies that exacerbate inequality and social injustice. More than statements of intent, what we need is political change in order to prioritise social justice and genuine policies of social inclusion and equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, I thank the rapporteur for giving us the opportunity for such an extensive debate on disabled persons in general and disabled women in particular.

Yet another European resolution on a vulnerable social group, but to what extent are our proposals here in Parliament implemented? To what extent do they affect the policies targeted at the regions? To what extent are specific and special cases of disability addressed, be the disability major and visible or minor and invisible? To what extent are new technologies and new treatment methods planned for the disabled? How do we guarantee humane care for them? How are the European Structural Funds disposed of to help the disabled in their life, especially disabled women, taking account of the fact that they have full, but special rights to education and work and life. As my honourable friend, Mr Breyer, so rightly said, disabled women also want to have a full family life.

We must, of course, remember that it is women who take care of the disabled and that they too have rights, in order to be able to help. Do we ensure that women looking after the disabled have the possibility of developing the qualifications they have acquired from this work, so that they can re-use them? Do we recognise the service of women in the family, in schools and in the community? Do we recognise their voluntary service? Today we have an opportunity not only to vote, but also to see how – with specific measures – we shall implement everything we want for disabled women.

 
  
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  Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I wish to begin by thanking Mrs Herranz García for her work as rapporteur.

I think everyone in this House would agree that disabled women are often the most vulnerable individuals and the EU's values urge us to protect and to enhance the opportunities for disabled women. One way to approach this problem is by creating more education and labour market opportunities for women with disabilities, thereby granting them independence and alleviating the pressure on their carers.

Without adequate education it is very difficult to gain access to today’s labour market and to prosper. However, incorporating educational programmes for those with disabilities into our school systems and encouraging lifelong learning among women with disabilities would allow these women to support themselves and to maintain their independence.

The Member States should also encourage employers to hire disabled citizens by creating economic incentives to do so. The proposal in the motion for a resolution is a move in the right direction in that respect.

No two people are alike and, even when we begin to categorise and label people, we must remember that every human being is individual and has unique needs. The EU Member States must take this fact into account when considering legislation related to women with disabilities. Women with disabilities constitute a very diverse group and all actions designed to support those women must take account of this diversity.

Finally, this is the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. Yesterday we started a European truck tour to send this message to everyone in Europe. I think that alleviating the plight of women with disabilities is a very important priority in the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – Aş dori să felicit raportorul pentru munca depusă şi aş dori să subliniez importanţa acestui subiect pentru dezvoltarea economică şi socială a Uniunii Europene. Avem nevoie de o Europă socială şi, tocmai de aceea, cred că persoanele cu handicap au un rol important şi un loc al lor în Uniunea Europeană. Europa va avea succes doar dacă utilizăm creativitatea tuturor cetăţenilor săi. Anul 2007 este anul egalităţii de şanse, dar, din păcate, deşi una din patru familii are o persoană cu handicap printre membrii săi, nu îi vedem nici pe stradă, nici în sălile de concerte, nici în mijloacele de transport în comun. Tocmai de aceea cred că avem obligaţia să facem mai mult pentru persoanele cu handicap. În acest sens, cred că utilizarea tehnologiei informaţiei şi a comunicării va ajuta persoanele cu handicap să se integreze în viaţa economică şi socială. În special, rolul femeilor este extrem de important şi delicat şi, de aceea, o atenţie deosebită trebuie acordată acestui subiect. Este important, întâi şi întâi, ca femeile cu handicap să poate fi integrate în câmpul muncii, dar, în acelaşi timp, să poată deveni mame şi să poată să aibă grijă de familia lor. Este importantă reconcilierea vieţii profesionale cu viaţa de familie şi, de aceea, cred că rolul femeilor cu handicap este important şi trebuie să protejăm aceşti cetăţeni pentru a se integra în Europa. Felicit încă o dată raportorul şi aş dori ca prin revizuirea pieţei interne, pe care Comisia Europeană o va efectua şi, de asemenea, prin măsurile viitoare pe care le vom lua, să ne gândim la persoanele care îngrijesc oamenii cu handicap, la femeile cu handicap, pentru a le putea oferi condiţii cât mai bune.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12.00 noon.

 
Last updated: 6 July 2007Legal notice