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Debates
Wednesday, 8 September 2010 - Strasbourg OJ edition

14. Question Time (Council)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is Question Time (B7-0454/2010).

The following questions are addressed to the Council.

Question 1 by Vilija Blinkeviciute (H-0355/10)

Subject: Disabled people and the Europe 2020 strategy

The European Union strategy for jobs and growth over the next decade adopted by the European Council is intended to help Europe recover from the crisis and, by promoting competitiveness, productivity and social cohesion, to strengthen Europe’s role at EU and international level. However, it is highly regrettable that disabled people, who currently constitute over 12% of the EU’s population, have been forgotten in this strategy. Although the Council has constantly called for greater attention to be paid to the integration of disabled people when dealing with disability issues, no specific tasks, objectives or commitments are set out in the Europe 2020 strategy that might form a basis for the improvement of the lives of the more than 65 million disabled Europeans. Almost 78% of disabled people are not integrated into the labour market and have no opportunity to earn a living. Most of them are dependent on benefits, which, sadly, have also been reduced as a result of the recession.

How does the Council intend to guarantee employment for disabled people and their participation in the labour market on equal terms? Does the Council not think it necessary to adopt specific guidelines for disability policy over the next decade or a dedicated strategy with clearly defined objectives and commitments?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) The Council is committed to increasing job opportunities and participation in the labour market for all citizens, including people with disabilities.

Some of the key objectives set out in the Europe 2020 strategy approved by the European Council on 17 June 2010 are specifically aimed at disabled persons: they are designed to foster employment, improve educational attainment and promote social inclusion, not least by reducing poverty.

The Europe 2020 strategy also specifically refers to persons with a disability in the flagship initiative ‘European Platform against Poverty’. The initiative will have an impact both at EU level in the form of Commission proposals and programmes to combat discrimination, including discrimination against persons with a disability, and at national level. Member States will need to define and implement targeted measures for specific risks groups, such as the disabled.

In line with the conclusions of the European Council in June 2010, Member States need to act now to implement these priorities at national level. All common policies are also required to support the strategy. This holistic approach is intended to reduce social exclusion for people with disabilities, an aim which also appears in the resolution on a new European disability framework adopted by the Council in June. The resolution calls on Member States and the Commission to make disability issues an integral part of all flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy and to tap the human capital of people with disabilities, not least by establishing suitable training and employment measures.

In its resolution, the Council also invited the Commission to produce a new European disability strategy for the coming decade in conjunction with the disabled and their representative bodies, building on the Europe 2020 strategy and other key documents.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). (LT) Minister, thank you for your answer, but I would nevertheless like to state that the voice of the European Union’s 65 million disabled is still not heard enough. Therefore, I also have the following question: should we not speed up the adoption of the directive on combating discrimination in all EU Member States in order to ensure that disabled people can live like fully fledged citizens? So my question would be this: what is the status of the directive on combating discrimination?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) The Council Working Party on Social Questions is currently examining the Commission proposal for a new directive to implement the principle of equal treatment, irrespective of religion or belief, disabilities, age or sexual orientation.

The directive has to be adopted unanimously by the Member States. A number of presidencies have put a great deal of work into this proposal and at this stage, the Presidency is not able to predict how long the discussions will continue nor what the outcome will be.

 
  
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  Janusz Władysław Zemke (S&D).(PL) I would like to thank you for the information, but unfortunately, it was of a very general nature. You spoke about legitimate matters, but I would like to ask a specific question: is additional funding planned for the training of disabled people, and how much money would be made available? Without additional funding, without financial assistance on a European scale, it will be very difficult to help these people.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) I would like to ask you what the timetable is and what the Council’s intentions are regarding the regulation on the rights of passengers travelling by coach. I am referring in particular to people with disabilities and reduced mobility.

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) In terms of financing, there will be a general budgetary debate to address the question of how future budgets can encompass various flagship initiatives and legislative developments adopted as part of the Europe 2020 strategy. Since the strategy contains several new policies in favour of people with disabilities, we will need to consider how budgetary resources can be deployed to reflect those new policies.

In the case of legislative developments, we need to consider what the Commission can contribute in terms of existing legislation. The Council is essentially seeking to provide active protection for people with a disability in line with its competences as set out in the treaties. For example, 10 years ago, the Council adopted a directive prohibiting discrimination at work, including on the grounds of disability. The Council obviously intends to continue to work on this issue.

 
  
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  President. – Question 2 by Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (H-0358/10)

Subject: Budgetary adjustment and private debt

Attempts to achieve financial reform at European level aim to improve public finances and balance Member States’ budgets. At the same time, action is being taken to clean up the wider financial sector, and particularly the banking sector, which is directly linked with the real economy. These efforts, however, are concerned only with the public debt situation, not with private debt, which is the second component of a country’s overall debt. What impact does private debt have on the social situation of each Member State, and what are the links between private and public debt? What does the Council intend to do in the event that (a) private debt is greater than public debt, (b) it is increasing? How will it tackle such a tendency, given that the Stability and Growth Pact does not envisage tackling private debt?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) The current macro-economic and budgetary surveillance procedures set out in Articles 121 and 126 of the treaty constitute the cornerstone of economic policy coordination.

The European Council in March 2010 set up a task force chaired by the President-in-Office of the Council and made up of all Member States, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. The task force was charged with analysing the measures needed to create an improved crisis resolution framework and better budgetary discipline by exploring all the options for strengthening the legal framework.

The task force presented a progress report to the European Council in June. The report highlighted the need for reinforced budgetary surveillance, notably with a greater emphasis on debt levels and trends, but also taking into account the overall sustainability of that debt in the light of the Stability and Growth Pact.

The task force also advocated adopting more effective macro-economic surveillance procedures in order to identify macro-economic imbalances at an earlier stage and then produce recommendations designed to prevent the situation worsening and avoid any knock-on-effects.

Lastly, we will need to define specific indicators, although private debt will undoubtedly be a key issue. The Council meeting on 8 June and the European Council on 17 June approved the task force’s orientations. The task force is due to present its final report and findings at October’s European Council meeting. We will then be able to begin the process of adopting new EU legislative texts or amending existing legislation as appropriate. The Presidency will definitely make any such initiatives a priority.

 
  
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  Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (PPE).(EL) I thank the Minister for trying to answer my question but, unfortunately, I did not understand something which you said in response to my question: is private debt taken into account in the new plans – I refer, Minster, to the plans which you decided on in October – and, within the framework of the planned economic governance, is there room for a new interpretation of the Stability Pact, the methods of application and private debt? I would be grateful if you could answer my question.

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) As I said, the process has been set in motion, the task force has been meeting and indeed met two days ago. There will be one or two more meetings before the October Council and it is too early to start discussing the details of how debt criteria will be implemented in future in conjunction with the Growth and Stability Pact. Once we have the conclusions of the task force on economic governance, which will present its report to the October Council, we will be able to begin the process of adopting or amending European legislation accordingly, and that may include addressing private debt issues.

 
  
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  President. – Question 3 by Silvia-Adriana Ticau (H-0361/10)

Subject: TEN-T network review

A ministerial conference was held on 7 and 8 June 2010 in Saragossa (Spain), organised by the Commission, with the objective of launching a review process for the TEN-T network. This process will, in principle, take place over the second half of this year and the beginning of next year, and will focus on developing the methodology for defining the nucleus of the TEN-T network and its nodes for interconnection with the transport infrastructures of the EU's neighbours. Following this process, each mode of transport should be able to enhance its contribution to trans-European transport, with intermodality ensured between different forms of transport and, above all, with suitable financing mechanisms in place.

Given that the greater part of this process will coincide with the Belgian Presidency of the Council, can the Council provide information on the proposed timetable and the actions planned by the Belgian Presidency concerning the review of the TEN-T network?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) The June 2009 Council conclusions welcomed the publication of the Commission Green Paper on a TEN-T policy review for better integration of the trans-European transport network at the service of the common transport policy and called on the Commission to present a proposal to the institutions on amending the TEN-T guidelines.

The main new feature in the proposal is the two-layered planning approach: there would still be a TEN-T base made up of fairly dense networks of railways, roads, inland waterways, ports and airports which comprise the comprehensive network, most of them part of national networks which would then be subsumed into a central network. This central network would allow for genuine European planning, focusing on steadily increasing the effectiveness of the network resources and achieving a significant overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions linked to transport.

In June, the Council took note of the information provided by the Presidency and Commission on the results of the TEN-T Days, an annual ministerial conference on the trans-European transport network which was held in Zaragoza on 8 and 9 June 2010. The discussions focused primarily on how to recast the planning and implementation framework for the future TEN-T and on how to mobilise funding effectively.

The Commission is currently engaged in a public consultation exercise on future trans-European transport network policy to develop criteria and conditions for overall and central network planning. The consultation procedure will be concluded on 15 September and the results will be presented to the TEN-T Finance Committee on 30 September.

The planning options will then be discussed both bilaterally – by the Commission and the Member State in question – and on a multilateral basis in the form of committee meetings to discuss revising the TEN-T guidelines.

At the start of 2011, the Commission will launch an impact assessment of the proposed revision of the TEN-T guidelines. Draft TEN-T guidelines should be available in May or June 2011.

As the draft guidelines have not yet been presented, and in view of the current public consultation exercise and the multilateral and bilateral discussions scheduled for late 2010, the Belgian Presidency is obviously not in a position to make any headway on the TEN-T review at present.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) One of the objectives of the TEN-T network review is to integrate the trans-European network with the transport infrastructure in neighbouring countries.

I think that it is important for us to speed up this process because the mid-term review is coming up this year and at the start of next year, and it is important for us to be able to allocate financial resources as well up to 2013 and, obviously, to plan the future financial outlook.

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) Obviously, the problem that you refer to is considerable and will undoubtedly be one of the considerations linking the current study and the plans which are implemented in the way in which the networks will be transformed, adapted and designed.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Chountis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Madam President, Minister, a letter from the chair of the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism was published recently, in which he says that, within the framework of the spending cuts imposed on Greece under the Memorandum of Understanding with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, the Greek Government intends to close a series of railway lines that form part of the TENT-T network and which recently received funding from the Structural Funds for the purposes of modernisation.

As this decision is out of order for environmental reasons, for reasons in terms of reducing road traffic and for reasons of infringement of EU legislation, I should like to ask if the Council intends to examine the complaints made by the committee chair and if it intends to ask for any such decision to be revoked.

 
  
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  Janusz Władysław Zemke (S&D).(PL) I would like to refer to the question which was asked a moment ago. Construction of the TEN-T network is of fundamental significance for European integration. It is very expensive. Therefore, it must be carried out very consistently.

In relation to this, I have a question: in the preliminary budget estimates for 2014-2020, is an increase planned in the funds available for this purpose?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) In terms of the first question on the reduction in Greece’s capacity to invest in the networks, on the one hand, I think that the Commission is qualified to tackle the subject but we can find out about this. On the other hand, I have no specific answer to give on how to respond to Greece’s reduced capacity. We can, however, contact the Commission services to see how we can respond more specifically to this question.

In terms of the concern about cohesion and the financial means to be provided, I refer you to the financial framework for 2014-2020 and I refer this question to Parliament. You will also be asked to express an opinion on the subject, in line with the principle of codecision on budgetary matters, and I am counting on you to include on the agenda future budget discussions on the means that will allow us to achieve this famous cohesion in connection with the transport objectives.

 
  
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  President. – Question 4 by Georgios Papanikolaou (H-0362/10)

Subject: Evaluation of the Open Method of Coordination

In 2000, the Council introduced the concept of the Open Method of Coordination in relation to sectors (employment, social protection, social integration, education, youth and training) which fall within the remit of Member States. Its aim was to improve cooperation between Member States and ensure exchanges of best practices in order to bring about the convergence of policies between individual countries.

In view of the above, will the Council say:

Does it consider this specific strategy to be successful? Could it provide specific results?

Does the Presidency consider that the concept of the Open Method of Coordination should be re-examined or revised?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) In its conclusions on 30 November 2009, the Council mentioned the fact that the open method of coordination has actively contributed to the smooth running of the job markets, as well as to social inclusion. The exchange of employment best practice has proved and will, in the future, still prove to be particularly useful. That will require effective monitoring of the employment guidelines that will soon be adopted by the Council, following advice from Parliament - which you have furthermore delivered today – and a key role for the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council in the context of the new governance, which should be decided on by the European Council, in particular, within the framework of the European Semester.

Last year, moreover, when the Council adopted a new strategic framework for European cooperation in the area of education and training, the new members recognised that achieving the main strategic objectives defined in the framework involved effective use of the open method of coordination, which proves that they continue to support this particularly useful method in the areas that fall within their national jurisdiction.

The recent 2010 joint progress report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the ‘Education and Training 2010’ work programme highlights the considerable progress made, thanks to the open method of coordination in terms of European coordination on education and training.

Likewise, in its conclusions of 7 June 2010, the Council drew attention to the interest expressed in the general discussions currently being held on the Europe 2020 strategy in developing the integrated approach fully through joint work at a European level, by using the framework provided by the open method of coordination in the field of social protection and inclusion, as a mechanism that has demonstrated its considerable potential.

However, faced with the new challenges and perspectives offered by the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, in particular, with regard to monitoring the implementation of the objective defined by the European Council on poverty reduction and social aspects of the employment guidelines, in particular guideline 10, the Presidency, during the informal, meeting of the ministers of social affairs on 9 July, invited the Member States to launch a process of reflection on strengthening the open method of coordination.

In its resolution of November 2009, which establishes a renewed framework for European cooperation in the area of youth 2010-2018, the Council has already set out a certain number of general principles that must be observed in all the policies and activities relating to young people, within the framework of a renewed and more integrated method of coordination. To this end, the Presidency will organise a conference on 14 September and the EPSCO Council of 21 October should, at the Presidency’s initiative, once again debate this issue and reach some conclusions on the subjects of employment and social inclusion.

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE).(EL) Thank you for your reply, but I should like you to clarify the following for me: it is true that the open method of coordination in vital sectors – which you too listed: education, employment, training, issues relating to young people – is a very important tool at our disposal within the framework of subsidiarity and the powers vested in the European Union.

My question is: could we have a report from time to time on this method so that we can exchange opinions and so that we, too, are informed at political level? Also, how could the European Parliament participate more actively in this procedure, so that we can highlight it better?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) I refer you to the last part of my reply. As I was saying, on 21 October, the EPSCO Council will, at the Presidency’s initiative, debate the question once again and should reach some conclusions on the issue of employment and social inclusion, which will of course be passed on to you.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). (LT) Minister, thank you for your reply on the significance of the open method of coordination, but I would like to point out that 2010 was declared the European Year for Combating Poverty, and it so happens that when there is huge unemployment throughout the entire European Union and growing social exclusion, we must combat poverty. How much impact do you feel the open method of coordination has on poverty reduction and is it enough, shall we say, if we exchange good practice and see how Scandinavian countries pay great attention to combating poverty and social exclusion? Will this reduce poverty in the Baltic states?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) More effective mutual coordination and learning should indeed have positive effects. You have just underlined one of the aspects in terms of achieving common objectives on social issues. In general terms, it is true that in terms of growth, employment and the fight against poverty – which is at the forefront in 2010 – active inclusion policies may not only reduce poverty, but increase the supply of labour. The reforms in the pension systems may also raise employment levels and sustain public finances. The same applies to healthcare systems.

I therefore believe that over the course of 2010, which is dedicated to the fight against poverty, we will be able to implement this mutual coordination and learning.

 
  
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  President. – Question 5 by Nikolaos Chountis (H-0366/10)

Subject: Memorandum of Understanding concluded by Greece with the EU and IMF and rocketing inflation

The Memorandum of Understanding with the IMF and EU signed by Greece specifically states that one of the obligations of the Greek Government is to reduce inflation to below the average for the euro area in order to make its economy more competitive. In May, however, inflation reached 5.4% compared with 1.6% for the euro area, thereby further eroding the disposable income of Greek wage earners and significantly undermining the competitiveness of the Greek economy. This hefty rise in inflation has been caused by increased direct and indirect taxation imposed by the EU and IMF, as well as by ongoing and unrestrained speculation. Does the Council agree that the fiscal measures imposed by the EU and IMF have largely contributed to this inflationary spiral which is further undermining the competitiveness of the Greek economy? What structural measures will it recommend to the Greek Government with a view to containing it?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) The Council has often emphasised the Greek economy’s long-term structural problems in various multilateral supervision exercises. Along with the excessive deficit procedure, on 16 February 2010, the Council recommended that Greece implement a set of measures to improve the running of the commodity markets and the corporate environment, to sustain the growth in productivity and employment, to improve the efficiency and the rate of absorption of the Union’s structural funds, to correct the country’s excessive budget deficit and ensure the long-term viability of its public finances.

Greece presented the first report on the implementation of these measures on 16 March and the second in May. In June, the Commission and the International Monetary Fund carried out a preliminary analysis within the framework of the financial stabilisation mechanism valued at EUR 110 billion, granted to Greece jointly by the Member States of the euro area and the IMF. The analysis was completed in August but the Commission’s final report has not been formally referred to the Council.

The Commission has notified the Member States in the euro area of the preliminary results of the analysis and if, according to the Commission’s assessment, the economy develops in line with the projections that form the basis of the adjustment programme that backs up the financial stabilisation mechanism, the increase in the inflation rate will have a negative impact on the commodity markets. The Council will therefore monitor the situation carefully and will continue to take appropriate measures to help the Greek authorities to encourage economic growth and maintain a healthy budgetary policy.

If the Commission believes that the changes in the economy comply with the underlying projections of the adjustment programme that backs up the financial stabilisation mechanism, the rise in the rate of inflation will, as I was saying, be likely to have a negative impact on the markets. The same goes for the budgetary situation, which the Council will monitor carefully.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Chountis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Minister, I am afraid that you did not answer the question I asked you. The measures imposed on Greece under the Memorandum of Understanding – the procedure which you described in the Memorandum of Understanding with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union – are contradictory. On the one hand, in a bid to generate state revenue, taxes have been imposed, but they cannot be collected, because the workers have no other income, nor do small enterprises, and while talking about reducing inflation, they are planning new revenue-raising taxes by increasing VAT on high-street goods and fuel oil.

The question I want to ask you is this: according to my sources, Greece was encouraged at yesterday’s ECOFIN meeting to introduce new revenue-raising taxes and these measures are translating into rocketing inflation. What I want to ask you, therefore, is if the ECOFIN meeting discussed, if the European Union proposed, corrective measures to prevent rocketing inflation in Greece over and above revenue-raising taxes?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) I cannot tell you exactly what decision Ecofin has reached over the last few hours, but the Council has indeed repeatedly criticised the Greek economy’s long-term structural problems during various multilateral supervision exercises. In its recommendations on the 2009 implementation of the broad economic policy guidelines by the Member States, the Council noted that Greece must intensify its efforts to rectify the macro-economic imbalances and remedy the structural weaknesses in its economy, in line with the Lisbon strategy for employment and growth.

The Council recommends that Greece increases its competitiveness in the professional services sector as well as its investment into research and development, uses the structural funds more effectively, reforms public administration, and takes a series of measures in the labour market within the framework of an integrated strategy on flexicurity.

All I can say is that the Greek authorities have confirmed that they have prioritised several planned structural reforms in a whole series of areas, and they fully understand the difficulties that this will create in the country.

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE).(EL) Minister, my honourable friend, Mr Chountis, states in his question that inflation was 5.4% in July and was reported to be 5.5% in August and it would appear that, with the new measures taken, which – as my honourable friend quite rightly said earlier – relate to high-street goods, it will be very hard to reduce inflation. At the same time, you tell us that there is again talk in the Council of measures and new taxes.

My question is: we have more specific measures to encourage growth, both on the part of the Council, on the part of Europe and the support mechanism, but also on the part of Greece. Do we have a specific timetable?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council.(FR) Although I understand that runaway inflation poses a number of problems and that, should this inflation continue, several financial mechanisms would need to be readjusted, I can only tell you that as Greece is a member of the euro area, it shares responsibility with the other Member States for ensuring the euro area is stable, and that Greece’s economic policy, just like that of any other Member State, is an EU-wide concern. All Member States are supposed to conduct sound national policies, in accordance with the Stability and Growth Pact and the broad economic policy guidelines. Greece should therefore assume responsibility for dealing with these issues effectively, so as to reduce the risk of jeopardising the proper functioning of the monetary and economic union.

 
  
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  President. – Question 6 by Laima Liucija Andrikiene (H-0368/10)

Subject: Priorities of the Belgian Presidency regarding the UN and its bodies

What are the priorities of the Belgian EU Presidency with regard to the UN in general and the UN HRC in particular? Have the representations of the EU Council and the European Commission in Geneva already merged or is the process still in progress?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council.(FR) In preparation for the 65th United Nations General Assembly, the Council, at its meeting of 14 June 2010, adopted the European Union’s priorities.

I wish to point out that following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy represents the Union on matters relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy within international organisations.

The priorities adopted by the Council focus on the following themes.

First of all, promoting a stronger United Nations – the European Union will contribute to building a strengthened multilateral system, in particular, by improving the representation, transparency, responsibility, efficiency and effectiveness of the United Nations.

The second priority will be to contribute towards international peace and security. The European Union plans to raise the profile of its positions and contributions in terms of crisis management within the relevant United Nations bodies, in particular, at the Security Council.

The third priority theme will include the environment and sustainable development, in particular, with the aim of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The fourth priority concerns human rights. Ever since its inception, the European Union has always been one of the staunchest defenders of human rights and one of the most prominent players in the United Nations system in this area. The European Union will actively encourage the integration of human rights in all aspects of United Nations activity, by reaffirming that human rights are inextricably linked to the UN’s other objectives in terms of security and development.

Finally, the fifth priority is reforming the United Nations system, with a view to improving the system’s workings, its effectiveness, transparency and representation. As far as the Human Rights Council review is concerned, the European Union is taking part in the formal and informal consultation process. The Union will continue to support the Third Committee’s ability to act, being the only universal body which has the power to implement standards for human rights. This ability should be fully preserved.

With respect to the issue of diplomatic representations, as of 1 December 2009, all European Commission delegations outside the EU have become European Union delegations. In the case of Geneva, the Union’s delegation and the Liaison Office of the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union have adopted temporary working measures while waiting for the European External Action Service to be set up.

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE). – Let me firstly point out that continued confusion over how the EU is represented in Geneva and New York risks undermining the EU’s ability to act effectively and work constructively with partners.

Secondly, following extensive internal discussions on priorities regarding the review of the Human Rights Council in 2011, the Belgian Presidency and the High Representative now need to ensure that sufficient resources and political attention are given to outreach activities towards other UN Member States.

Also, leadership is required on a number of important resolutions, most notably the resolution on the death penalty and further work towards the negotiation of an international arms trade treaty.

I would appreciate your comments on this.

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council.(FR) I would simply like to tell you that Belgium, which is presiding over the Union at the moment, is a member of the Human Rights Council and will definitely take steps to voice your concern.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE).(DE) Madam President, we have had a relatively intensive discussion today on how we can support the Council in its efforts to find savings in the 2011 budget and, among other things, we have, of course, looked in detail at the newly restructured European External Action Service.

Do you believe that we should attempt to make the posts within the United Nations more efficient, so that the European Union can speak with one voice there and so that we can save resources which could be very effectively used in other areas? Is the Belgian Presidency prepared to submit proposals for savings in this area to ensure that the goal of greater efficiency in the common European representation can be achieved?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council.(FR) Extra capacity has already been arranged, both in New York and Geneva. However, I can only, through your question, draw your attention to the urgent need to set up the European External Action Service and to this Parliament’s at least joint role, in particular, with regard to financial considerations relating to the creation of this service.

 
  
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  President. – Question 7 by Liam Aylward (H-0373/10)

Subject: Enhancement of biodiversity in the EU

Given that 2010 has been designated the International Year for Biodiversity and in light of the forthcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, can the Council outline its priorities on the protection and enhancement of biodiversity? What is the state of play as regards the enforcement of the EU Biodiversity Action Plan and how does the Council envisage the role of biodiversity in the EU 2020 strategy?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council.(FR) On the basis of the Commission’s communication entitled ‘Options for an EU vision and target for biodiversity beyond 2010’, on 15 March 2010, the Council adopted conclusions entitled ‘Biodiversity post-2010 – EU and global vision and targets and international access and burden sharing regime’.

In its conclusions, the Council stated that it is deeply concerned by the fact that the biodiversity 2010 targets have not been achieved, either at European Union level or worldwide, that biodiversity loss continues at an unacceptable rate, and that it has very serious environmental, economic and social consequences. However, the Council stressed that these targets had played a crucial role in generating useful measures in favour of biodiversity.

The Council set out a long-term vision according to which, by 2050, biodiversity in the European Union, as well as the ecosystem services it provides, its natural capital, will be protected, valued and appropriately restored, given the intrinsic value of biodiversity and its essential contribution to human well-being and to economic prosperity, and in such a way that the catastrophic changes caused by the loss of biodiversity are avoided.

Furthermore the Council laid down a primary objective of curbing biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services in the European Union by 2020 and ensuring their restoration as far as possible, while at the same time strengthening the European Union’s contribution to preventing biodiversity loss on a global scale.

In terms of the European Union’s priorities for protecting and strengthening biodiversity, the Council noted that the destruction, fragmentation and degradation of habitats are the largest pressures on biodiversity. As for the causes of this situation with regard to habitats, the Council highlighted the detrimental change of land use, overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources, invasive exotic species, the illegal trade of species threatened with extinction, the acidification of oceans, and obviously pollution. Increasingly also, climate change could even worsen some effects, for instance, the number of species threatened with extinction.

Regarding the Europe 2020 strategy, the Council’s broad economic policy guidelines call on the Member States and the Union to introduce measures, turn environmental challenges into growth opportunities, and use natural resources more efficiently, thereby also contributing to ensuring biological diversity.

Biodiversity’s role was also clearly highlighted by the European Council in its March 2010 conclusions, where it said that there is an urgent need to reverse the persistent trend towards biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The European Council endorses the long-term vision for biodiversity by 2050 and the 2020 target set forth in the aforementioned Council conclusions of 15 March 2010.

 
  
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  Liam Aylward (ALDE). – It is most disappointing to hear, in the Minister’s reply, of the lack of progress in achieving the objectives relating to biodiversity that were set down.

However, given the fact that rural development measures and the common agricultural policy can significantly contribute to the strengthening of biodiversity, what measures can the Council put in place to support European farmers, who are the greatest protectors of the environment, in their vital role of further protecting the environment and biodiversity?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council.(FR) I believe that the best measure that can be taken in order to protect quality farming is to carry on supporting it. I am counting on all Members present – despite attendance being low – at a subsequent budgetary debate, to provide financial support for the common agricultural policy in the decisions that this Parliament will take.

 
  
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  President. – Question 8 by Mairead McGuinness (H-0375/10)

Subject: Informal Agriculture Council, September 2010

What conclusions have been drawn by the Belgian Presidency resulting from the high-level CAP conference in Brussels in July? Can the Presidency comment on the upcoming informal Agriculture Council on 19-21 September? What will the Presidency propose to Member States at this Council with regard to the CAP post-2013?

Furthermore, can the Council update Members on any developments at Council level with regard to the ongoing Mercosur talks?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) Firstly, I should like to congratulate the Commission on the success of its public consultation on the common agricultural policy (CAP) post-2013. It received nearly 6 000 contributions from the general public, stakeholders, think-tanks and other research institutes. This consultation delivered on all of its promises.

Moreover, a summary of the contributions has shown that our whole society is interested in the future of European agriculture. Farmers are certainly not the only ones interested in the CAP.

As you are aware, this public consultation resulted in the CAP post-2013 conference, which the Commission held on 19 and 20 July. Taken as a whole, the contributions, round tables and debates during the conference all play a valuable role in further improving the focus of the discussions.

As regards the Council, you will be aware that, for the past two years, the agriculture ministers have been carrying out a consultation exercise led by the successive presidencies: France, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Spain. Now that we are in the final straight, the Presidency is seeking to advance our debate as much as possible. Indeed, it is vital that the realities of today’s CAP and the challenges of tomorrow’s CAP are fully taken into account in this other major debate, on the EU’s budgetary framework for 2014-2020.

As you are aware, the future of the CAP will be the main item on the agenda at the informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers, which will take place from 19-21 September in Belgium. The chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr De Castro, has also been invited to take part in this meeting to lead our informal discussions. This summer, the Presidency has given a great deal of thought to the outcome of the July conference and has drawn up a summary document, which will be finalised in the next few days.

The report that the Presidency has drawn up, and which we intend to examine in more detail in our forthcoming discussions, confirms the relevance of the CAP’s objectives as defined in the Treaty of Lisbon: to ensure the supply of safe and high quality foods for European citizens, to promote sustainable agriculture throughout Europe, to protect the environment and landscapes, and to contribute to the sustainable development of rural areas, as we discussed in the previous question.

In addition to this, the report drawn up by the Presidency also confirms the real added value of a common agricultural policy at European level and the importance of the CAP in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The forthcoming discussions will be followed, in October, by a final policy debate on the future of the CAP at the Agriculture Council. Thus, the Council, just like the European Parliament, will have significantly contributed to the consultation process. I am certain that the Commission also acknowledges the hard work that has been carried out by the Council and the European Parliament, and I am sure that it will make every effort to present a communication that receives the support of both institutions. Once the communication is available, the Presidency will start discussions in the Council.

As regards the negotiations on a free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries, I should firstly like to point out, while acknowledging the vital economic importance of such an agreement, that the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the agriculture ministers, by and large, share the same view on the potential risks that such an agreement will have for the ‘sensitive’ sectors of EU agriculture. You will be aware that, in May, the Council noted the concerns expressed by a significant number of Member States in a joint memorandum.

Secondly, I should like to point out that the Commission must comply with the negotiating mandate. Moreover, in May, Commissioner Cioloş assured the Council that the Commission would make sure that negotiations with Mercosur were in line with the CAP and the fundamental interests of EU agriculture.

To sum up, I should like to emphasise that the Council will continue very closely to monitor the discussions with Mercosur, in particular, within the Trade Policy Committee. The next negotiating session is scheduled for October, and I can assure you that the Presidency will see to it that the negotiating mandate is strictly adhered to.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – The answer was detailed because the question was. I thank you for that, and particularly your comments about Mercosur. I do hope that the Commission, and indeed the Council, registered the concerns of Parliament in our debate on the issue.

Your response to my colleague, Mr Aylward, on biodiversity, and your comments about the agriculture budget, lead me to ask you about the Council’s view. I gather that seven members of the Council want to cut next year’s budget, which does not augur well for the future of the agriculture budget post-2013. I would appreciate a comment.

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) A number of Member States wish to cut next year’s budget, but to my knowledge, the Council does not endorse this at all. Yesterday, you will probably have heard the Belgian budget minister’s presentation of the 2011 budget and, in that case, you will also have heard the budgetary outlook for 2011, since discussions are under way with Parliament. I must tell you that I do not agree with your analysis of the changes in the European budget.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE).(DE) Madam President, we are currently discussing the 2011 budget and, in this context, the Council and the Commission have jointly proposed that funds from the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, which includes the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme, the Information Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme, together with funds from the Seventh Framework Programme and agricultural funding should be made available for the scientific project relating to the ITER fusion facility. What is the initial position of the Belgian Presidency on this issue?

 
  
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  Liam Aylward (ALDE). – Madam President, given the extraordinary decision by the Commission to reopen the Mercosur talks, can the Minister indicate if any consideration or assessment is being carried out by the Council on the detrimental effects these decisions will have for our European farmers and, in particular, farmers in my own country, Ireland, who depend on the 90% export of their beef products, which are produced to the most exacting standards imposed by the Commission and are not applicable in Mercosur states?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) For the first question, I can only give you an overview at present on the budget. I can understand that Parliament has a number of projects on innovation, competition and technology in mind. However, the debate has only just begun, and you have had the opportunity, since 1 December, to amend certain aspects of next year’s budgetary outlook from start to finish. I therefore refer you to the budget debate so you can identify what MEPs wish to emphasise and prioritise in that budget.

As regards the second question on Mercosur, the Presidency, as I mentioned, is fully aware of the concerns expressed by the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development regarding the decision to reopen these negotiations.

I should simply like to point out that, during these negotiations, the Commission is bound by its negotiating mandate and that any positive outcome of these negotiations should benefit EU agricultural production, for example, in terms of promoting and protecting European agricultural products, and particularly in the area of geographical indications.

 
  
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  President. – Question 9 by Ryszard Czarnecki (H-0379/10)

Subject: Prospects of accession to the EU of Balkan States

What view does the Council take of the prospects of accession to the European Union of the States in the Balkan region in south-eastern Europe? Does the Council consider that some of these States could accede to the Union during the period covered by the next Financial Perspective, i.e. between 2014 and 2020?

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) The objective of our policy towards the Western Balkans is to contribute to the stability of the region and to help the countries of the region establish peace, democracy, stability and prosperity in the long term.

In 1999, the EU decided to implement the Stabilisation and Association Process – the framework for the accession process culminating in the possible accession of these countries – in order to better spread out their preparations for EU membership. These preparations remain essential for the stability, reconciliation and future of the region. They are developing and taking shape in accordance with the Thessaloniki Agenda and with the renewed consensus on enlargement, which lays down fair and rigorous conditions.

The Council has therefore repeatedly confirmed the European Union’s unwavering commitment to the Western Balkan countries’ preparations for EU membership, including recently at the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 June, following the Sarajevo meeting on 2 June.

Over the years, the EU has signed six stabilisation and association agreements with the region’s countries, four of which have already entered into force. In October 2009, the Commission proposed the start of accession negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The accession negotiations with Croatia, under way since October 2005, are, for their part, in their final stages. The EU remains politically involved in the process through all of its instruments: three Common Security and Defence Policy missions – two in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one in Kosovo – and three special representatives in Skopje, Priština and Sarajevo.

Financial aid will surpass EUR 900 million in 2010 and will reach EUR 1 billion in 2013. In total, since 1991, the European Union has provided the region’s countries with more than EUR 13 billion in financial aid.

As far as accession dates are concerned, these depend entirely upon fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria and of the conditions laid down in the Stabilisation and Association Process. This process dictates a clear-cut procedure: stabilisation and association agreement, Commission opinion on the application for membership, candidate status, accession negotiations and, finally, accession.

The Council is eager to progress to the next stages of the process, but it is up to the governments of the region’s countries to respect the conditions laid down, to maintain – or even step up – the pace of the necessary reforms and to rise to the major challenges. The countries of the region should increase their efforts in relation to the fight against corruption and organised crime, administrative capacity building, and the resolution of outstanding issues.

The objectives of the Stabilisation and Association Process will not be accomplished if the people and the governments of the region do not show determination and responsibility in assuming an active role. The future of the region ultimately depends on its people and its governments. Regional cooperation and the policy of good neighbourliness are major factors in the reconciliation and resolution of bilateral disputes. Such policies are at the heart of the EU’s approach towards the region and have been promoted systematically by the EU since 1995. In this context, on 14 June, the Council invited the countries concerned to resolve outstanding issues with neighbouring countries.

I should like to conclude by pointing out that, in November 2009, the Council took the decision to permit visa-free travel for citizens of three of the region’s countries and is currently working on an identical decision for the citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I hope that the European Parliament and the Council will take this decision this year, too.

Finally, the Council is not currently in a position to comment on the impact of enlargement on the EU’s current budget and the budget for 2014-2020, as it is still awaiting the Commission’s proposal on the next financial perspective.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR).(PL) Madam President, thank you very much for presiding over our proceedings so well. It is an example for others. Mr Chastel, I am not sure if I should take my jacket off, so that you will feel more comfortable. There is a certain imbalance between us.

What you have spoken about is, to be honest, well known in this Chamber, and I was expecting a more specific answer. Which country is closest to accession to the European Union: Serbia, which is very important politically and well developed economically, Montenegro or perhaps Macedonia? Please, Mr Chastel, give us a specific answer.

 
  
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  Olivier Chastel, President-in-Office of the Council. (FR) You know, the fact that I am telling you which of the three countries is closest, that I am singling one country out – the one that has made most progress in the exercise – does not mean that that country will be the next to join the EU. Progress still needs to be made, and it can be made at very different rates.

 
  
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  President. – Questions which have not been answered for lack of time will receive written answers (see Annex).

That concludes Question Time.

(The sitting was suspended at 19:00 and resumed at 21:00)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Alejo VIDAL-QUADRAS
Vice-President

 
Last updated: 27 April 2011Legal notice