Index 
 Previous 
 Next 
 Full text 
Procedure : 2011/2317(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0240/2012

Texts tabled :

A7-0240/2012

Debates :

PV 20/11/2012 - 16
CRE 20/11/2012 - 16

Votes :

PV 21/11/2012 - 5.14
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0445

Debates
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

16. Activities of the Committee on Petitions (2011) (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
MPphoto
 

  President. − The next item is the report by Giles Chichester, on behalf of the Committee on Petitions, on the activities of the Committee on Petitions 2011 (2011/2317(INI)) (A7-0240/2012).

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Giles Chichester, rapporteur. − Mr President, Commissioner, it is my pleasure to present this report to the House, giving details of the work of the Committee on Petitions in 2011.

In that year, 998 petitions were declared admissible and 416 further petitions were received but declared inadmissible. I would like to recommend to colleagues a glance at the statistical analysis in the explanatory statement because that gives some interesting information about the origin of petitions and the subjects with which they are most concerned, as well as the countries the petitioners come from.

There are three topics of most importance: fundamental rights, the internal market and the environment. Interestingly, the country from which most complaints come is Germany. The citizens of Germany raise the largest number of petitions, closely followed by Spain and Italy, whereas the countries most frequently the subject of petitions are Spain and Germany – same countries, different order. I find that particularly interesting, bearing in mind my mailbag from constituents with concerns about Europe, because my Member State, the United Kingdom, comes about sixth or seventh on the list of petitioning countries, yet, from the perception of the way people in the UK view the EU, you would expect a higher proportion. I find that interesting.

I would like to pick out some of the topics that we refer to in the report. The first is the right of European citizens and residents to their legitimately acquired property, with concerns over what can happen to that property in another country. In 2011 there were 70 petitions relating to the Spanish Ley de Costas [Coastal Law]. Fifty-one of those were identified as coming from Spanish citizens, so it is not a question of foreigners concerned about their holiday homes: here we have Spanish citizens concerned about their property rights. That is quite a recurring theme.

We also have to note the increasing number of petitions relating to, or raising, issues that are not within the competence of the European Union. Maybe we should take it as a compliment that people wish to raise issues and look to us for solutions and reparations.

I would like to welcome Parliament’s decision to develop a much more practical and visible petitions portal on its website, which should facilitate citizens’ access to the petitions process. I welcome – we welcome – the constructive cooperation between the Committee on Petitions and the services of the European Ombudsman, and we reaffirm our determination to support the Ombudsman in identifying maladministration, both on the part of EU institutions and affecting them.

We consider the correct implementation of the Waste Framework Directive in all Member States to be of the utmost importance, and we ask Member States to deal with waste-management trouble spots decisively and swiftly. We support wholeheartedly the underlying objective of the Ley de Costas, namely that the environment of the Spanish coast should be protected from overdevelopment; and that issue continues to be a problem for Spanish petitioners.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I would first like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Chichester, for his work in drafting this valuable report as well as Ms Mazzoni and the whole Petitions Committee, whose impressive work is reflected in this report.

The report points to some of the most topical and sensitive areas subject to the citizens’ petition in the field of environment and fundamental rights, on which the Commission and Parliament are already working closely and will continue to exchange information and views.

Today’s debate marks a good opportunity to underline my appreciation of Parliament’s remarkable commitment to the smooth implementation of Article 227 of the Treaty, which reserves the right of any EU citizen resident in the Member State or any company, organisation, association with its headquarters in the EU to submit a petition to the European Parliament.

The Commission is particularly happy to be able to contribute to Parliament’s important work. This is a considerable investment in terms of resources. And it is worth it, since handling the citizen’s petitions is ultimately also a means for the EU institutions of winning citizens’ trust in these difficult times. In this regard, the European Parliament and the Commission clearly share the commitment to put citizens first. Citizens are and must always remain at the centre of all our activities and discussions.

As rightly mentioned in the Lichtenberger report, which is the next point on this plenary session’s agenda, the Committee on Petitions plays a central role as an effective link between citizens, the Parliament and the Commission. This is why the Commission always includes a section on petitions in its annual report on the application of the EU law, in which we recognise that petitions to the European Parliament lead to infringement proceedings in a number of areas.

In the next annual report on the application of EU law, which will be adopted in the coming weeks, we also plan to indicate the concrete number of cases which had their origin in petitions. With this in mind, please let me reiterate our willing and continued collaboration with your work on Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.

As Mr Chichester’s report points out, you asked us for help with over half of the almost 1000 admissible petitions which you received in 2011. Although our help initially consists mainly in analysing what EU law, if any, might be applicable in the case, we also attend the follow-up meetings of your petitions. It is important that my fellow members of the Commission continue to attend key meetings for exchanges of views with your committee.

Allow me to say a few words on the European Citizens’ Initiative, a system in which the Petitions Committee has a relevant role. Since 1 April 2012 a new tool of participatory democracy has been in place at EU level with the entry into application of the European Citizens’ Initiative. The initial technical problems encountered are being solved.

The Commission has put its own servers at the disposal of organisers and provided extended help, guidance and assistance to them for the certification process. Three initiatives are now up and running, collecting signatures on-line even as we speak.

I would like to assure you that I am committed to making sure that citizens can make full use of their new rights, and I look forward to our cooperation in that regard. I would like to conclude by stressing that the Commission looks forward to continuing and enhancing its fruitful cooperation with Parliament’s Petitions Committee.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Cristian Dan Preda, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (RO) Mr President, as you know, the Committee on Petitions does not feature on the plenary agenda very often. However, the work that this Committee does is extremely important. It receives citizens’ grievances and defends the rights of European citizens. This is the reason why the committee conducts a large number of hearings each year. This is also the reason why we maintain a close dialogue with the European Commission, the Member States and other bodies and institutions such as the European Ombudsman.

Unfortunately, almost half of the petitions lodged continue to be inadmissible because they concern subjects that lie outside the Union’s remit, and for that reason I believe it is a very good idea to give citizens more information about the Union in general, and Parliament in particular, from now on. I also believe that the involvement of the Committee on Petitions in hearings on European Citizens’ Initiatives, which Commissioner Šefčovič also spoke about, can make a positive contribution to this information process.

I would also like to say that aside from the countries which Mr Chichester mentioned last year – Germany, Spain and Italy – as being top in terms of the numbers of petitions lodged, Poland and Romania are next, which shows us that citizens in both the old and the new Member States are involved in the protection of their rights at European level. The main topics of petitions are: environmental protection, the internal market and fundamental rights, and this is no coincidence, because they are fundamental areas for the Union.

I shall end my brief speech by saying that I support efficient and appropriate use of this instrument, which serves as a means of commencing direct dialogue between Parliament and citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Victor Boştinaru, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (RO) Mr President, allow me to begin by congratulating the rapporteur, Mr Chichester, on his excellent report and the excellent cooperation between us during its drafting and the discussions in committee.

As in previous years, the Committee on Petitions has received a very large number of petitions with regard to breaches of European environmental legislation. Once again, I would like to ask the Member States to pay particular attention to these matters. What is at stake here is both the quality of day-to-day life for European citizens and the preservation of the unique natural heritage of our Union.

In this regard, I welcome Commissioner Potočnik’s initiative of making an amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and would like to underline the contribution that the Committee on Petitions has made in this development. I request that this change should have regard, first and foremost, to clear and transparent criteria and should guarantee the neutrality and objectiveness of impact assessments, in view of the fact that the latter are the major weaknesses of the current Directive.

Our committee has been and is a place where European citizens express their concerns about failures to respect European rights. The single amendment tabled by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament is aimed in this direction. On behalf of European citizens and on my own behalf, today I ask all Member States and the European Commission to respect freedom of movement for all European citizens, regardless of nationality, race and sexual orientation.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, I believe that the Committee on Petitions is one of the most important committees in Parliament because it does provide a real tangible link between the European institutions and citizens. Mr Chichester was telling us about the explanatory statement. I have a few figures from that and it tells us that since 1997 over 20 000 petitions have been dealt with, and in the last three years alone 323 main petitioners actually addressed the committee in person, so that is a genuine link to citizens. However, the reason they are there in the first place of course is that they have concerns about the transposition or application of European legislation, so it is our duty to respond in a real and meaningful way.

One of the most significant areas is the area of the environment, which represents 20 % of the total of infringement cases, and the environmental impact assessment directive is a case in point. Indeed, my own Member State is before the courts, having failed to properly transpose that piece of legislation. I have personally come across a number of cases and situations that were adversely affected by this, including one in my own constituency in Donegal, in a place called Carnagarve where a sewage system was being constructed.

Another issue that has been highlighted is the obstacles faced by persons with disabilities to free movement and it is not just the physical obstacles but the inability to travel without a personal assistant. Most of us hop on a plane, a boat or a train and off we go, but for people with disabilities who can only travel with the help of a personal assistant, I am afraid the phrase ‘free movement of persons’ is a hollow promise from the EU because many Member States do not provide that service.

Finally, one thing I can say in light of my experiences on the Petitions Committee is that we need to be honest with citizens; we should not over-promise; we need to be clear about the possibilities and avenues for redress and above all we should not use the Petitions Committee to simply pass the buck.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Margrete Auken, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DA) Mr President, I would also like to add my thanks to Mr Chichester for a good report. I will not repeat what has been said by my fellow Members; however, by way of summary I will simply say that we must do much more to ensure that this committee, which is so close to the citizen, also becomes known within the Union so that people make use of it. I am grateful too that attention has been drawn to it.

However, I would like to pick up on one thing in particular that I know Mr Chichester has also been concerned about, namely the Coastal Law in Spain. In paragraph 18 of the report, you state that we welcome the Spanish collaboration. You surely cannot mean this! If you had seen what is now contained in the draft law that is being driven through the Spanish parliament with an absolute majority, you would say ‘No, we will not do this!’ and then you would – as I hope you will do tomorrow – support our amendment 5. That is the most important thing. However, there is also amendment 6, in which we expressly point out that the Coastal Law, as it is currently being considered, goes against the spirit of Parliament’s 2009 report. It contains no mention of safeguarding coastal protection or the natural environment. Nor does it give individual property owners and landowners better rights. In fact, the only people being given better rights, because they are gaining legality, are big businesses. It is also the case that all of the countless infringements of the Coastal Law that have taken place in the past are now being legalised, and what we both agree on is that this has been a terrible attack on ordinary citizens. Please allow me to say, then, that I hope – and I would like to focus specifically on this, even though it is unjustified given all the good things in your report which we also support – I very much hope that we can gather together tomorrow to send a signal to Spain. There is much evidence to suggest that our working group will not finish its task… will not be allowed to complete its tasks before Spain has adopted the law. Therefore, we have an opportunity tomorrow to make Spain aware of our views. We must say: ‘Not in the name of Parliament!’ Not in my name either! In reality, they are using the Auken report to legitimise the draft law that is now being put forward. Therefore, I truly hope that you will join us tomorrow in sending a clear signal to Spain, so that it will know that it at least cannot exploit Parliament and Parliament’s 2009 report – that is, the Auken report – because that is what is happening.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Ryszard Czarnecki, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Mr President, Chair of the Committee on Petitions, ladies and gentlemen, right now in the House we have an assembly of the Visegrád Group, as the President is from the Czech Republic, the Commissioner is from Slovakia and I am from Poland. To go back to the main topic of our meeting, though, I would like to stress the importance of the Committee on Petitions. It is often the last resort for desperate citizens, taxpayers and voters in our Member States. These people often have the feeling that the European Parliament is sometimes no more than the Committee on Petitions, as it is the address for so many complaints, woes and problems of ordinary people, who are left cold by major-league politics, but who are interested in specific problems. My fellow Members who have spoken before me in this House have already said wise things about those problems. I would like to say that the Committee on Petitions does also get involved in what we might call megapolitical problems; I might remind you that during the last term of Parliament the Committee on Petitions showed the entire European Parliament the way as far as the Nord Stream gas pipeline was concerned. Following the issue of the decision of the Committee on Petitions on this matter, the European Parliament took a sceptical decision. Unfortunately Member State governments, or some of them at any rate, saw things differently, but the Committee on Petitions behaved with unprecedented decency in this matter, and in line with the intentions of the citizens of Member States who had contacted them. I would also remind you, although there may be some in this House who will not like to be reminded, of the case of Spain, which we are discussing here – and rightly so – or of another famous case: Cadena Cope, a Catalan radio station, which was refused a concession, and which, thanks to the debates and the pressure brought about by the Committee on Petitions, won its battle with the President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell, with the result that this concession was awarded to that station. I am talking now about specific cases in which the Committee on Petitions was very influential and effective.

There have been other very minor matters, though. I can speak specifically about my own country, Poland, where citizens have complained to the Committee on Petitions about the importation of vehicles from abroad, when they have had to pay duty twice. The Committee on Petitions got involved in that matter too.

These are extremely important, albeit trivial, but specific matters, which help to build the authority of the European Parliament. This is extremely important, and the Committee on Petitions is due a vote of thanks for what they do.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Nikolaos Salavrakos, on behalf of the EFD Group. (EL). Mr President, Mr Chichester has earned congratulations for his excellent report, and I would like to add my own.

Mr President, the work of the Committee on Petitions is extremely important for the protection of EU citizens’ rights and democratic institutions in the European area.

The fact that the number of new petitions submitted to the Committee increased in 2011 is seen as a positive development. The Committee has dealt with a great variety of petitions. Free movement of persons, the internal market, the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and environmental issues were the key areas at the heart of the Committee’s work. As noted in the report, there has been a rise in the number of petitions on economic and financial matters in the wake of the current debt crisis. The content of the petitions reaching the Committee reflects the concerns and issues that affect and engage European citizens.

With this in mind, we can see the importance of the call to improve the Committee’s web portal on the European Parliament website, in order to strengthen the effectiveness and transparency of the petition process and provide better information to European citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Peter Jahr (PPE).(DE) Mr President, thank you to our rapporteur, Mr Chichester, for his excellent report, which acknowledges the successes of the committee, but also focuses attention on certain things, namely our Committee on Petitions, which is very important, and also mentions things which can undoubtedly be improved. I am very pleased that the committee has been successful in continuing its excellent work from previous years. We offer European citizens an important point of contact in the event that they feel they have been treated unfairly. If you go through and look at the report you can see that no topic was unimportant to us. We really do cover a wide range of subjects. As MEPs we also have the courage to deal with difficult and sensitive issues.

You could say that the Committee on Petitions ensures direct contact between citizens on the one hand and the European Union and European Parliament on the other. When we conduct fact-finding missions and have initiatives held locally, many people come into contact with the European Parliament for the first time through the Committee on Petitions. For that reason alone, the continued existence of our committee is worthwhile.

Now to the question that must always be asked. Every service can be improved, so what, from my perspective, can still be improved here? Firstly, we must make sure that processing times are reduced. This is partly due to the internal processes we employ in the committee, but also, above all, to the length of time it takes to get a corresponding answer from the Commission. I know the Commission sometimes also has to wait too long for the preliminary work from the Member States – this should also proceed more quickly.

Secondly, we should reduce the number of inadmissible petitions. Thirdly, it is also possible to improve our collaboration with the responsible expert committees. I would like to put it like this: the comments that we get from citizens and pass on to the expert committees are not intended to hinder their work, but to enhance it.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Michael Cashman (S&D). - Mr President, congratulations to Mr Chichester on this excellent report. Of course, one of the most important functions of our committee is that we are the direct interface between citizens and the institutions – and in some cases the Member States – on European issues. Often we can do no more than encourage Member States to do the right thing, and we have certainly been trying to do that in relation to Spanish property petitions but it is worthwhile recalling that since 2004 not one Spanish property petition has been successfully concluded.

Too many citizens are still the victims of expropriation and suffer the destruction of their houses on the basis of misapplied laws, whether the Ley de Costas or urbanisation laws. I welcome the setting-up of the working group to discuss these issues in relation to Spanish property law, and I hope it will be not just a talking shop but rather a constructive body making specific and effective proposals to address the very important issue of fair compensation.

Regarding freedom of movement and fundamental rights, the S&D Group has tabled an amendment which reflects, I believe, the core value of this House in that regard, namely the principle of equality. Same-sex families, the Roma and other minority groups suffer particularly from restrictions on their freedom of movement inside the EU, as we have heard on many occasions. We need to remind the Member States of the obligation under Directive 2004/38 to facilitate entry and residence without discrimination – and that applies to all.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR).(PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Mr Chichester on a fine report, and above all I would like to acknowledge the great and very important work done by the Committee on Petitions – work that is a little overshadowed by the work of the other committees, those that are busy with draft legal enactments.

The Committee on Petitions, though, plays an exceptionally important role – and this is the role of being in contact with citizens of the European Union, and conducting a dialogue with them. It is on this committee in particular that one may find out how European legislation is working in its application to specific people. This is a very important process, this checking on how the law that we make here in this House is working in practice. The complaint may be voiced that the Committee on Petitions is obviously not in a position to come up to every expectation. Ever so many people submit petitions, but there is only the one committee, and clearly what it does, important as it is, is not able to meet those needs. We should consider whether in the future, perhaps by having petitions examined in some kind of scope, whether petitions might not be also dealt with by committees for specific areas, to enable these petitions to be more thoroughly diagnosed.

The report is very good, although perhaps it is just a little light as regards information such as the kind of efficacy these petitions have, what has been achieved by way of change as a result of petitions, and what citizens have achieved by sending a petition to Parliament.

I would also like to draw attention to the need for a reaction to petitions which have been deemed inadmissible. Obviously there is limited potential to consider petitions, and strictly they may address matters that arise out of European law, but the thing is to see that those citizens who have submitted petitions – petitions that cannot be examined in Parliament – also get some kind of satisfaction. It looks as if passing on such petitions, for example, to the relevant national authorities, with some sort of sign that an interest is being taken on what their subsequent fate is, would also be desirable.

Among the topics that I would like the committee to address in future I would point to the problem of harmonised taxes, and VAT. In my country, Poland, many complaints are addressed to the national authorities, which, in the opinion of the complainants – and in my view the complainants have a point here – are not fully complying with the principles of European law, and it is worth the committee taking a look at these tax questions in the future.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Erminia Mazzoni (PPE). - (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I do not want to go into details of the issues raised and the critical areas that have emerged, since these have been fully analysed, in primis, by the rapporteur, Mr Chichester, whom I thank for the work carried out, and by my colleagues in their interventions.

Taking stock after a year’s work, I think I can say that the net result is positive. The slight fluctuations in the number of petitions submitted, the ratio between admissible and inadmissible petitions, the total petitions successfully closed, surely demonstrate a gradual improvement in the organisation of the committee's work and the more efficient tools available to it. The data contained in the report indicate that the initiatives undertaken to improve public information and, more importantly, to make access to this easier, are important initiatives and should be given priority by the European Parliament.

The increase in own-initiative reports, referrals to other committees for opinion and reports in this chamber signal an appreciation of the value of the complaints made by citizens, and how useful these are in monitoring the stage of implementation of European legislation and its effectiveness. What I find significant, however, is the allocation to the Committee on Petitions of the role of associate committee in the citizens’ initiative procedure, as defined by Regulation (EU) No 211/2011. This was announced by Commissioner Šefčovič, whom I thank again for his commitment to this issue. This makes the administrative law-making process linked to citizens’ initiatives more democratic and more participatory.

Finally, I would say that the Committee on Petitions proved itself to be a vital tool in 2011 in helping to build a people’s Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D).(PL) Mr President, thank you. The Committee on Petitions plays a very important part in the process of monitoring EU law, and complaints submitted by European citizens make it possible for the European Parliament to give attention to every instance of it being broken. The problem of failure by Member States to observe the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights is one of those that crops up most commonly in our debates. In this context, the latest ruling by the Court of Justice, relating to Article 51, is of exceptional importance, emphasising as it does that the basic rights of an individual in the EU are currently protected and guaranteed by Treaty provisions. This means that they are subject to absolute observance by the authorities in Member States. It would be a good step to create a single service for citizens wishing to lodge an appeal or lawsuit or obtain information, making use of the ‘Your Rights in the European Union’ portal. This initiative, in conjunction with a new petition portal, will pay off by bringing the procedures of the European Parliament and the Commission even closer to EU citizens, and by potentially increasing the number of petitioners. In congratulating the rapporteurs, I would at the same time like to emphasise the ongoing need to monitor implementation of European legislation in the European Union, and especially in the field of environmental legislation, justice and the internal market, since the overwhelming majority of petitions received in 2011 related to these very areas. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Mr President, first of all, I would like to congratulate Mr Chichester on his excellent work, and congratulate Marian Harkin, who is a member of this committee and who provides me, and many other people, with a great deal of assistance.

Mr President, it is interesting that in 2011 just two short of a thousand petitions were admissible. That is a lot of petitions and an awful lot of work and I think that we should acknowledge that and compliment those involved in dealing with these issues because they take a lot of time.

I had the privilege of making one of those petitions on behalf of my constituents in Haulbowline in Cork Harbour under the Waste Framework Directive. For six years they had gotten nowhere with their complaints. There was a toxic site, nobody listened to them, the responsibility was passed from Jack to Billy and Billy to Jack and as a result nothing happened. Yet in that area because of the presence of chromium VI and because the site was toxic it had a 37 % higher cancer rate than the rest of the country.

Thankfully, the Petitions Committee met, made a decision and as result of that the Government was given three months to clean up the site, for which EUR 40 million had been donated and the site has now been cleaned up – a perfect example of the way the Petitions Committee works. I would like to see that expanded and also made more available to citizens so that they can see the benefits of the Petitions Committee.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, Commissioner Šefčovič, ladies and gentlemen, the Committee on Petitions is the conscience of the European Parliament, and in many respects of the European Union. For many European citizens it is their last resort for legal protection. This is why it is very important for the work to be carried out properly and I fully agree with Mr Chichester’s report; the Committee on Petitions carries out excellent professional and political work and it is important to increase the harmony and coordination between the European Commission and the Committee on Petitions. This is even more vital today because in recent years the number of petitions relating to violations of fundamental democratic rights has increased. Unfortunately, many petitions have been submitted recently from my country, Hungary, to the Commission because the Hungarian Government discontinued early retirement and disability service pensions with retroactive effect along with the support given to those receiving regular social allowances and to those in law and order. I trust that the Committee on Petitions will be able to provide those who have had their fundamental human rights violated with substantial assistance in these matters.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE).(PL) Mr President, in 2011 our work in the Committee on Petitions was concentrated in two main areas: protection of the environment and protection of fundamental rights. This year, as in previous years, the number of individuals submitting petitions rose to 1 414. Sadly, as many as 416 of these were deemed inadmissible. Because of this, efforts must be redoubled to make citizens aware of the scope of the legal framework within which our committee functions.

I view with satisfaction Parliament’s decision to involve the Committee on Petitions in every hearing on a successfully conducted European Citizens’ Initiative. This partnering of the committee responsible, which is objectively competent in the case in question, confirms the status of the Committee on Petitions as the agency that has the greatest experience in relations with people living in the European Union.

To sum up, I would like to emphasise the importance of the decision to introduce technical solutions to give citizens easier access to the submission of petitions, including the development of a more transparent and practical portal on its website, and also the creation of a ‘single service’ for citizens looking for information or wanting to lodge an appeal.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Kinga Göncz (S&D).(HU) Mr President, I too would like to offer my congratulations on an excellent report. The increase in the number of petitions is an important sign. Having respect for our common values still leaves a lot to be desired in the European Union. An increasing number of European citizens are aware of their rights and want to assert them, and they know that they can submit a petition to the Commission and to the European Parliament if their fundamental rights have been breached and they have been discriminated against. The increase in the number of petitions in a given area clearly shows the rise in the number of national restrictions and breaches of law. In 2011, for example, the number of petitions regarding the press and freedom of expression rose to 131, from 26 in the previous year. We aim not only to respond to complaints but also to create genuine solutions to the issues raised in the petitions, working together with the Committee on Petitions and the European Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Philippe Boulland (PPE).(FR) Mr President, the Committee on Petitions this year acquired the right to be automatically included in hearings on European Citizens’ Initiatives. In my view, it is the main theme of 2011 for this committee. Citizens know which committee to go to if their rights are not respected, but now it also applies if they have suggestions for improving European legislation. I would like the Committee on Petitions to be considered increasingly as the preferred interlocutor of citizens in the European Parliament.

This problem of consideration is also found in the results of position-taking of the Committee on Petitions. Too often, we are contacted by citizens who are facing legal imbroglios on which we would like to take a position. However, when the problems are European, the solutions should be European; we remain powerless, as subsidiarity does not always go with European solutions, and this is because of lack of national will.

I will take the difficult example of trans-national divorces: the problems are both national and European when custody or visiting rights go beyond national borders, in the case in question German borders. In spite of the obvious difficulties that many parents have in seeing their children born of a bi-national union, in Parliament we are still powerless to act.

My suggestion that all European citizens have the right to a national ombudsman – especially for those petitions originating from Germany, which sends a vast number – modelled on the defender of rights in France, has not been followed up. Nevertheless, in the case of trans-national divorces, this remains a way of reconciling a European problem by means of a national solution. In many cases, European law appears to be powerless to meet citizens’ expectations. The European year of the … 2013 should deal with citizen’s grievances, the … of divorce but we need means to act to be …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, as a Vice-Chair of the Committee on Petitions, I have reached the conclusion that lodging petitions can be the best way of starting a public debate about problems faced by ordinary citizens in terms of injustices committed by authorities. In 2011 the majority of the petitions lodged concerned fundamental rights.

One thing I do not agree with, and which I hope will be remedied in future, is the fact that too many petitions concern political matters which, in any case, lie within national and not EU jurisdiction and should not have been declared admissible in the first place. Some examples would be subjects such as freedom of the press, cyanide mining at Roşia Montană, stray dogs and, more recently, shale gas mining. I hope that in future the admissibility of such petitions will be analysed in a more well-founded way and that better judgment will be exercised when political items on the agenda of a Member State are referred to the Committee on Petitions.

Just as an attempt was made to politicise the visit of the Committee on Petitions to Romania, the same also happens with the majority of fact-finding visits made to other Member States. As members of Parliament, each of us belongs to a political party, but we should use this committee only for the benefit of citizens and not to serve party interests or attack or defend the government in power in a Member State.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, first I would like to thank Mr Chichester, the Committee on Petitions and Mrs Mazzoni once again for their excellent work and cooperation with the Commission. We will of course try to work together on the deepening of this cooperation and also on how we could express it even more explicitly. Therefore we would like to include next year – especially in the report on the application of European law as mentioned in my introductory remarks – the very valuable input we received from the Committee on Petitions, indicating citizens’ complaints concerning the applicability, application and respect for European law.

From this debate, I would also like highlight how much we appreciate the European Parliament’s plan to upgrade the website, with a focus on the Commission’s reply. I believe this would complete the picture, showing what happened with a petition and how the committee dealt with it as well as the input and response from the Commission. So this is an excellent initiative and of course we very much look forward to cooperating with you on these issues.

Because of the time restrictions I can only respond to two issues, which were probably those mentioned most often. The first one relates to the environmental petitions and to the speech made by Mr Boştinaru concerning the revision of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. It is true that the proposal was adopted on 26 October 2012. We would like to make the process through this new proposal shorter, with clear timelines, but also much stronger with regard to the quality of air reports through the use of accredited experts and mandatory assessment of the reasonable alternatives. I believe that this would also give a bit of clarity to the process and strong assurances to citizens that all the environmental impacts are assessed properly.

Concerning the Spanish coastal law, which was raised by Mrs Auken and Mr Cashman, I would just like to inform you that the Commission has raised the issue with the Spanish authorities on several occasions in recent years because we have been aware that the number of complaints is actually very high, not only from Spanish but also from EU citizens. We are still keeping a very close eye on this issue, especially on the new draft law which was proposed. We are in contact with the Spanish authorities and of course the Commission will follow the process leading to the adoption of the law very carefully and will look at the final text to see whether it affects EU law or not.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Giles Chichester, rapporteur. − Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner, and indeed may I thank all honourable Members for their very kind words. I feel I need some special friend standing close by whispering in my ear ‘Remember you are only mortal’, but can I also thank all the colleagues for their cooperation in this report. It shows the good spirit in the committee, as well as a recognition of the important work that we do. I would like to say a special word of thanks to the Commission; a number of colleagues have mentioned the important part that the Commission plays in responding to our demands for information and action. You may not always satisfy us but we know you are always trying to do so and we thank you for that.

This report – and I have to say I am most impressed at the number of Members wishing to speak this evening – illustrates the importance which Members attach to the Petitions Committee and to our work. It is a vital platform for the citizens of the EU to air their concerns. If I may just pick up one point that Ms Auken has raised – in slight complaint, which is very healthy; perhaps she is the person whispering in my ear – with regard to the comment about the Spanish authorities: I aim to be as polite to the Spanish authorities as I expect them to be to my constituents in Gibraltar, but I would like to point out that the text in the report says ‘welcomes the Spanish Government’s announcement’, so the jury is still out on the delivery and I think that is an important distinction to make. I would like to thank everybody, and thank you very much, Mr President.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Wednesday, 21 November 2012).

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zoltán Bagó (PPE), in writing.(HU) It is clear and there is no doubt that the growing role of the Committee on Petitions in the European Parliament reflects and proves that European citizens take dialogue with European institutions along with direct participation very seriously. Both the topics summarised in the report as well as the number of topics leave no doubt that we need to rethink as well as attribute a greater role and more powers to the Committee on Petitions, as set forth in the report. The reason and the significance of this can be attributed not only to what I have just mentioned but also to two other completely separate factors. On the one hand, it is justified by the More Europe initiative as it is inconceivable to have political and structural representation where the intermediary role between the citizens represented and the Members of Parliament is played by a weak committee with no powers. On the other hand, the growing euroscepticism we see in some Member States is precisely the result of efficient and unsuccessful dialogue. In conclusion: I agree with both the content of the report and the indicated and expected objectives, and lend it my full support. Let this be a genuine point of contact with a clear and independent role.

 
Last updated: 1 March 2013Legal notice