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Procedure : 2010/0246(COD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0269/2012

Texts tabled :

A7-0269/2012

Debates :

PV 19/11/2012 - 19
CRE 19/11/2012 - 19

Votes :

PV 20/11/2012 - 6.2
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0413

Debates
Monday, 19 November 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

19. Marketing and use of explosives precursors (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. − The next item is the report (A7-0269/2012) by Jan Mulder, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the marketing and use of explosives precursors (COM(2010)0473 – C7-0279/2010 – 2010/0246(COD)).

 
  
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  Jan Mulder, rapporteur. − (NL) The Commission’s proposal on this matter already came quite a while before the events in Norway, which have once again brought us face to face with the facts. In a common market in the European Union, our rules need to be as similar as possible in order to control the sale of substances that can be used as explosives as much as possible and eliminate as many risks as possible. Therefore it is good that the Commission has proposed a regulation and not a directive. We believe that as many countries as possible should observe the common rules.

One exception has been made. Parliament and the Commission were more or less in agreement, but there was not full agreement within the Council. One country already has a registration system instead of a licensing system and wishes to continue with that. Parliament has agreed, and we are satisfied with the compromise. In five years’ time, we will evaluate which system is best and perhaps then we can establish a uniform system for the whole of the European Union.

What is now being decided concerns an initial list of certain products with a certain concentration that can be sold only under licence. There is a second list of products with a rule that, if something is suspected, it must be reported as soon as possible. It is therefore very important for national contact points to be set up in every country, where any suspect transaction can be recorded, so that the national governments and the Commission can react as quickly as possible.

I think that Parliament’s proposals on the definition of a suspect transaction have significantly improved the Regulation. We must, after all, be constantly on the alert, and so it is good that the Regulation states that there must be as much consultation as possible between Member States, with Member States and with experts in this field.

If anything in the list has to be amended, and that was a major concession by Parliament, especially as regards the first list, if a new product has to be added or a product removed, that must be done through legislation. Parliament and the Commission would have preferred it to be done through delegated acts, but you cannot have everything, and so Parliament has agreed to let the Council have its way on that point.

As regards changes in concentration, the Commission can still decide on those through delegated acts, and then Parliament and the Council can eventually decide within a certain period whether to approve the proposal or reject it.

Ammonium nitrate has been discussed at length: we agree that, so far, it comes under the REACH Regulation, but also that the evaluation to be carried out in due course will consider whether it is not better to include that substance in the present Regulation.

Finally, the approval or the supervision we have agreed on must be by the Member States. We assume that the fines imposed in the various Member States for infringement of this Regulation will be adequate. We hope that, with this Regulation, we are taking a step towards preventing terrorist attacks and other crimes in the European Union.

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, I think that we are all aware of the threat posed to public safety by terrorists. I do not need to recall the loss of life caused by indiscriminate attacks in recent years. This is a phenomenon which needs to be tackled from a number of angles.

Today we are dealing with one aspect: how to make it more difficult for violent extremists to obtain the ingredients for home-made explosives. The Commission proposed this regulation two years ago. The aim was to put in place harmonised rules, limiting the access of the general public to certain explosive precursors that could be used in the illicit manufacture of explosives. These rules cover the making available of these substances to the public, as well as their possession and use.

By acting at EU level, we can guarantee a harmonised approach and create a level playing field for retailers and for the public. I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Mulder, and the successive Hungarian, Polish, Danish and Cyprus Presidencies for their excellent cooperation in this field.

The Commission welcomes the agreement reached by co-legislators. The text they have agreed upon will significantly improve our common security and bring tangible European added value. However, there is one institutional point of continued disagreement relating to the preparation of delegated acts, and on this point I would like to make the following declaration on behalf of the Commission.

The Commission takes note of the agreement reached by co-legislators on Article 91, as well as the unanimity in Council; however, it recalls that Article 290 is to be interpreted as meaning that the Commission is autonomous in the preparation and adoption of delegated acts. The Common Understanding agreed between the three institutions is a reflection of that interpretation. Accordingly, reference to consultation of experts should be contained in a recital, not in the enacting terms. The Commission regrets that this principle was not respected and underlines that the present case cannot constitute a precedent.

I hope, however, that tomorrow there will be a positive vote, so that the Council can formally adopt the legislation before the end of the year. The Commission is ready to do its part, notably by issuing guidelines on implementation before the new rules are applied, which means 18 months after the regulation enters into force.

 
  
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  Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Mr President, in the peaceful summer of 2011, we were all shocked to learn that in Norway – on an island where young people had been gathering – a massacre had been committed, and that the heart of Oslo was also bombed out. According to Europol, one of the reasons why we were able to find the perpetrator was that he had been buying a lot of the chemical materials that can be used to make explosives at home. That is why I welcome our finally coming together in the European Union, in the Member States, and hopefully also in this House tomorrow on this very good proposal from the Commission – thank you, Commissioner Reding – on harmonising the existing rules to prevent such terrible accidents and incidents from happening again.

Terrorism and criminality are without borders – are cross-border – while our rules are fragmented and divergent. What is the next step forward? Firstly, at least in most of the Member States, the public will require a licence to be able to buy these explosives – these potential explosives – in a shop or with wholesalers. Secondly, these chemical substances should not be sold above a certain concentration or a certain threshold that would make them suitable for making home-made explosives. Thirdly, this legislation will ensure traceability, which means that economic operators will have to report when these materials have been bought in large quantities. I think we also have a good system for protecting data when these transactions are reported, and it is up to Member States to define what kind of penalties will exist.

This is a first step, and in three years’ time the Commission will have to report back on whether there is a need to go further, and whether there is a need to harmonise further. I would invite the Commission to monitor and follow this very closely to see whether the rules that we are now approving are adequate and sufficient to ensure the safety and security of our citizens.

I think we have struck the right balance between safety and security, which was our primary concern, without adding red tape for companies, for farmers, or for hotels with swimming pools which need to be cleaned with chemicals. I also think that we have struck a balance between reporting and data protection.

I would also like to welcome and thank the shadow rapporteur of the EPP Group, Ms Véronique Mathieu, who is at this time unfortunately attending a very important meeting on criminality in her capacity as coordinator. I would however like to say that she very much enjoyed the cooperation with the rapporteur. We in the EPP Group believe that she has gone the extra mile to show flexibility and to come together with others on what is an extremely important piece of legislation to prevent criminality and terrorism and to protect our citizens in Europe.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PT) Mr President, I congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Jan Mulder, for his strict guidance and perseverance and his cooperation with all the shadow rapporteurs throughout the process.

This regulation on the marketing and use of explosives precursors marks a step forward in security for European citizens because it limits and seeks to control access to hazardous substances that can be used to make home-made explosives.

Unfortunately, Europe has had a surfeit of terrorist attacks with such home-made bombs. It is therefore astonishing that the Council, in other words our Member States, have taken so long to come to a compromise with the European Parliament to approve this regulation on the basis of the proposal, even though it comes from the Commission.

After the Breivik attack in Norway last year, in which a home-made bomb was in fact used, the Council might have been expected to take its citizens’ security more seriously. On the contrary, however, bureaucratic collusion and business interests have held sway. Surprisingly, Germany is the only country that has remained outside, albeit temporarily, a stringent licensing system for purchasing these chemicals that can be used to make home-made bombs on the grounds that its registration system functions very well.

Parliament’s message is clear: priority must be given to citizens’ security. Terrorists exploit our weaknesses, so this regulation must be brought into force as a matter of urgency, and Member States must transpose it into their domestic legislation and adapt their surveillance and security systems to the new European parameters that regulate access to explosives precursors.

This regulation guarantees legitimate justified access to these chemicals, but the aim here is not to protect the right to market and purchase hazardous substances: the ultimate aim of this regulation is to raise the level of security in accessibility to and the use of explosives precursors for criminal purposes, ensuring that they are traceable and that tragedies such as Norway in 2011 or London in 2005 are not repeated.

 
  
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  Jan Philipp Albrecht, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, first of all my compliments to the rapporteur for all his good work on this report. I think it will become clear here what our proper starting point should be in our action against terrorism: instead of poking around in everyone’s everyday lives, I believe – and this is the thrust of this proposal – that we should see the risk of attacks, of criminal activity, where that risk actually arises. That is most certainly where weapons are involved, but also explosives of the kind we are discussing today.

It is right to start from here and say that not everyone needs constant and unimpeded access to certain chemicals which can be used for bomb-making; access to them can perfectly well be restricted, just as we restrict access to weapons, and records can be kept. I think it is no big deal to say that anyone buying these substances must also be able to say that they need them for further processing, or at least they must willingly register to use them.

On the other hand, of course, it must be possible to ensure – as Ms Corazza Bildt says – that certain groups of people do not constantly experience difficulty in buying smaller quantities of these substances for other purposes. Perhaps it is important, too, to ensure that these rules are not applied to everyone across the board, but it is absolutely right to introduce a system of safeguards for these substances; and it is right to press for this and then keep records. Of course it is important to maintain data protection here and, once again, I am grateful to the rapporteur, Mr Mulder, for incorporating our amendments on data protection. That too is important.

To return to my original point: the right thing to do, I believe, is to focus on where the risks arise. I would like to see us do that in other areas too, perhaps by reducing the opportunities for those intent on terrorist or other criminal activity, and being specific and proactive rather than reacting with exaggerated surveillance measures. That is the wrong way. This is a positive example of what to do, so I fully support this proposal as it stands. We members of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance support this measure and we are glad to see it now nearing completion.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D).(SK) Mr President, as long ago as 2008, the Commission adopted an Action Plan on Enhancing the Security of Explosives. It also established the ‘Standing Committee on Precursors’. That committee identified various explosives precursors that are susceptible to being used to commit terrorist attacks, and it also recommended appropriate action at EU level.

Some Member States have accordingly adopted laws or regulations and administrative provisions regarding the placing on the market, making available and possession of certain chemical substances and mixtures that may also be used as explosives precursors. However, these provisions are divergent and are perhaps liable to cause barriers to trade within the European Union. Therefore, we must harmonise the rules. This will enable us to remove distortions of competition, to streamline the free movement of chemical substances and also to ensure a high level of protection and safety for the general public. The Commission’s proposal should restrict the general public’s access to specific substances which, although they are in general use, can be misused as explosives precursors. By limiting public access to substances in legitimate use, it should also reduce the frequency and impact of terrorist attacks. However, in my view, it must be emphasised that, in every case, it is also essential for us to respect the rights of individuals to protection of their privacy. This regulation must be flexible enough to enable us to respond rapidly to changing needs.

In this regard, it is essential to have a particularly good system for exchanging information between manufacturers and retailers. Specific codes of conduct and various voluntary agreements could also help us. These methods would do a great deal to support the proper functioning of regulatory measures.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, for the security of the EU and its citizens, it is very important that we maintain strict control over substances that can be used in home-made bombs. As you are aware, home-made explosives are the favourite tool of terrorists. In last year’s bomb attack in Oslo, substances of this kind were used, such as ammonium nitrate, which is included in the Annex to the draft regulation. If we are to avoid such tragedies occurring in the EU, we need to take precautions.

The sale of dangerous substances to companies or persons without authorisation should be punished much more severely by Member States in order to discourage such practices, and national authorities must always check the licenses issued. Similarly, voluntary reporting of suspicious transactions involving this kind of material will play a very important role in avoiding dangerous situations.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, this is an unusual example of the EU recognising a real problem which does need to be addressed internationally, though not necessarily by the EU. The problem with passing a law which prohibits people from purchasing something is that, the longer the process takes, the greater the chance of the purchasers – in this case would-be terrorists – stockpiling the items in advance of the ban.

I can remember this proposal first being mentioned in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs at least a year ago, possibly longer than that, and of course we do not know when the legislation is likely to be passed and come into effect. I think it would have been preferable, initially, to agree internationally to enlist the support of the industry in adopting a voluntary code of practice, and then to encourage all countries, including Member States, to pass legislation without delay.

In the UK, for example, it is possible in certain circumstances to pass a law within 24 hours. The procedure in the European Parliament is so long and detailed that it is likely that would-be offenders will already have stockpiled before the legislation is enforced.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (EFD). – Mr President, this report seeks to generate a regulation to restrict members of the public from purchasing, and to require notification concerning sales of, a large number of substances which are commonly used for legitimate purposes.

Unfortunately, the UK has extensive experience of the use of home-made explosive devices – for example, terrorists have used fertiliser as a basis for bombs for many years.

The UK does not need the EU to tell it how to manage the availability of such substances. This is a regulation which seeks to extend the power and dominion of the EU using the prevention of terrorism as a pretext. I and my UKIP colleagues will therefore vote against.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, I shall be very brief. Everybody in this House who is sensitive to this issue agrees that this regulation will be a significant step in preventing would-be terrorists from getting their hands on the ingredients for home-made explosives. It will disrupt their plans to harm our societies. This regulation represents a clear improvement in public security and will also simplify matters for suppliers by establishing a harmonised set of rules across Europe.

The Commission will continue to work in other areas, too, to help reduce the threat from terrorism. I will give you one example to explain what I mean, and that is the work of the Radicalisation Awareness Network, which exchanges best practices between those who work on the ground with people at risk of being drawn into violent extremism. This is just one example. There are many others which show that we should take these matters very seriously and tackle them from different angles.

 
  
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  Ivo Vajgl (ALDE).(SL) Mr President, I think that the Commission’s initiative is praiseworthy, and that we have in fact started at the right time to talk about the danger that increasing numbers of people with extreme views have the opportunity to carry out their intentions.

I do think, though, Commissioner, that it would be right to extend this thinking to an area that has no connection with terrorism, but simply has something to do with a general inclination towards violence. I am talking about the availability of conventional weapons and the weapons at the disposal of individuals.

It is clear that in the world today there is increasing crime and domestic crime, which is linked to the excessively liberal availability of weapons and excessively easy access to weapons.

 
  
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  Jan Mulder, rapporteur. − (NL) I should like to thank everyone who has taken part in this debate and to take advantage of this opportunity to thank all the shadow rapporteurs for their cooperation. I have nothing but good memories of that cooperation, and I think that everyone has contributed a little to the final conclusions.

I have taken due note of the Commission’s statement. I was and am aware that it is a difficult issue. However, the concession was necessary in order to reach a compromise, and I believe that the text, as it is now, needs to create a precedent for the future. The English reads simply ‘to endeavour to consult experts’ and, as far as I am concerned, ‘endeavour’ leaves scope for interpretation, as the Commission wanted.

If we vote on this proposal tomorrow and if it is adopted, unfortunately no one can guarantee 100 % security for all European Union citizens in this area. I just think that, with this proposal, we have taken a step in the right direction in preventing a number of attacks.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu (PPE), in writing.(FR) The compromise that will be put to the vote tomorrow marks a significant step in the fight against terrorism because it restricts access by the general public to products that can be used as precursors in the manufacture of home-made explosives. Indeed, the regulation identifies the dangerous substances, listed in the annexes, which will be banned to the public beyond specified concentration levels. We want to do our utmost to prevent persons with malicious intentions from having access to these substances. Nonetheless, the framework to be adopted allows some flexibility for normal use of the products concerned, thanks to the exceptions it incorporates. That is why there is provision for the Member States to permit persons who obtain a licence from their relevant authorities to buy such products. Another, more flexible type of control is also envisaged for three products used by the general public as fertiliser or swimming pool cleaner. Finally, retailers will have to notify the competent authorities of any suspicious transactions. These provisions will enhance the safety of European citizens as a result of better monitoring of the purchase, use and possession of explosives precursors on EU territory.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. – (DE) It was Paracelsus who said ‘Dosis facit venenum’ – only the dose makes it a poison. The same goes for these precursor substances that can be made into explosives. When substances like hydrogen peroxide, obtainable from pharmacies, are sold, the seller must take special care to ask what the product is to be used for. Instructions on how to make explosives are still easily found on the internet, and they recommend pharmacies as the place to buy the materials. As a result, there is a constant stream of seriously injured youngsters who have paid dearly for their curiosity about explosives; and, in the past, the police have found chemicals bought from pharmacies for illegal homemade explosives intended for use by criminals and/or terrorists. Again, it depends on the dose. If we think how easily pharmacies can be fooled by a large number of people all buying small, unsuspicious quantities for illegal drug manufacture – not to mention the drug smugglers – it is obvious that there is no way of plugging all the loopholes. Here too, then, we cannot have unnecessary interference in people’s private lives in the name of the fight against terrorism.

 
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