Background
 

Strasbourg Plenary : 16-19 January 2006

Institutions - 23-01-2006 - 16:30
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Summary of various debates and results of main votes

 
  • Tribute to the late MEP, Phillip Whitehead
 
  • Austrian Presidency - MEPs set out their priorities
 
  • MEPs. call for a Constitution by 2009
 
  • Parliament sinks port services directive
 
  • Strategies to prevent trafficking in women and children
 
  • Parliament says EU budget  for 2007-2013 is unacceptably low
 
  • Safer bathing in cleaner water
 
 
 
REF.: 20060113BKG04268

Tribute to the late Phillip Whitehead

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Opening the session, President Josep BORRELL paid tribute to Phillip WHITEHEAD, the British Labour MEP for the East Midlands, who died on 31 December 2005. Speaking in English, Mr Borrell said:

"New Year is usually a time for optimism about the future, but this year we are all saddened by the tragic and untimely death of Phillip Whitehead, the wise and able chair of our Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee.  He was highly respected across this House. He arrived in 1994 bringing his experience of making TV documentaries and as a national politician.  He was a strong advocate of his country's place in the EU."

President Borrell said Parliament would remember Mr Whitehead for his role in media laws and his work on food safety and consumer protection, as well as his efforts in making EU enlargement plans a reality in 2004. He also recalled his skill in piloting the complex Services Directive through his committee.

"Dear Phillip, we will miss you," he concluded, as MEPs rose to observe a minute of silence.

 
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Austrian Presidency - MEPs set out their priorities

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MEPs debated the Austrian Presidency with Federal Chancellor Wolfgang SCHÜSSEL. The House was particularly concerned with the fate of the European Constitution, the EU's budget and the services directive.
 
Colours of Europe were as varied as those of a rainbow, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel told MEPs: "The strength of Europe is in its diversity; no country loses out by joining the EU - it creates freedom, security, peace and the chance for prosperity...  so why are there doubts and scepticism?"   The enlargement of 2004 had been a high point, but a difficult period had followed with the two 'no' votes after three years of debate on the Constitution, terrorist attacks, a tug of war on the Financial Perspective and growing public doubts about future enlargement.



He told Parliament the Austrian presidency would aim to rebuild confidence in Europe.  There needed to be confidence between the Member States and between institutions. "We need to establish clarity about questions which really concern people.  As in quantum physics, the questions you ask create reality.  What are the right questions? We need to be honest, and look at unpleasant answers as well.  Europe must be useful and protect its citizens from the real threats that exist."




He spoke about the question of energy security raised by the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.  "This is a reserved topic of national sovereignty but it could only really be solved in the European sphere. We need more Europe - for diversification of supplies and building reserves". We needed long term solutions, he said, and while his country would not be using nuclear power, he wanted all countries to have their own choice on the matter.  "We are aiming at the use of renewable energies, we want to exhaust every drop of potential from them."     This issues of avian flu and Iranian nuclear rearmament also showed the need for more Europe, standing together to ensure security, he said.



He said growth and jobs would be a central issue for the Spring summit.  Without jobs, he argued, unease and turbulence would increase.  The Commission would assess the 25 reform plans of Member States under the Lisbon Strategy; the aim was action for tangible results. "No politician can promise jobs, but we can create conditions to ensure success.  With 1.045 per cent of GNI we cannot create millions of jobs, but can create positive knock-on effects" Small and medium sized enterprises were "the only job creation machine we have.  They are a sleeping giant.  We need to awake them, with better access to capital markets and funds for research and development and through the better regulation programme, reducing red tape."



He stressed the importance of good relations with the social partners, inviting the two sides of industry to discuss how to go forward on subjects such as the services directive. Amid the thousands of amendments before Parliament, there was the difficult task of finding the correct balance, "opening markets while ensuring standards and safety guarantees for our consumers.  We must fight against social dumping and protect the provision of public services by local and regional authorities." 


"The spring summit must create incentives for growth - and the right enlargement could also be a growth strategy for old Member States," he said. We needed to increase the qualifications and flexibility of our workforce better to compete with the US and Asia and to reduce unemployment.



On the Financial Perspective, he acknowledged the unhappiness of many MEPs with the agreement reached by  Council.  He said: "Europe needs stronger system of own resources.  It is not right that tight national budgets need to be cut for Europe. This leads to unhappy tension between net contributors and recipients. This will not be popular for all, but there are tax gaps: short time financial speculation is exempt from tax, so is international aviation.  Europe has important tasks here. If you want a strong Europe do not be shy and eschew this issue"



He called for better cooperation between the institutions, and for action to ensure EU funds were efficiently and transparently spent, with openness about who received EU subsidies.



"We want to work hand in hand for a good debate on the  Constitution -  we don't want an elite debate. Europe concerns everybody.  It is not just about a text.  There is more at stake.  What holds us together, links us, fair division of labour in Europe, what Europe can, must, and should do.  Those who want to resolve big questions must leave others to decide smaller issues.  We will aim to breathe new life into subsidiarity." He wanted also to address the issue of where Europe ends.  This is not for geographers or surveyors - it is a political question," he said.  The presidency plans to develop a road map with timetables and interim report.  "The worst thing would be a debate no one takes part in." 



European Commission President José Manuel BARROSO said that in 2006, Europe had an "unclouded horizon" given the December agreement on the financial perspective.  The agreement showed that Europe was both effective and relevant.  Mr Barroso said that he was optimistic for 2006.  The next step forward would be reaching a new Inter-institutional agreement.  Extra effort would be required in the fields of citizenship, culture and youth.  The Commission, he said, would be putting forward a draft inter-institutional agreement on 1 February 2006.  The inclusion of the review clause on the budget and the new globalisation fund would be essential parts of the negotiation.  The institutions would have to work to make sure that the budget could be released on 1 January 2007 so that the structural funds could be implements.  "2006 is loaded with responsibilities and a genuine partnership would be needed."



The priority of European citizens, he said, was growth and jobs.  The spring summit, under the Austrian presidency, would be the first real test to see if Europe has delivered.  The Member States, he recalled, had delivered their national action plans and they would be examined during the spring summit.  There was consensus on the revised Lisbon strategy, but now it was time to deliver "vision into action and words into deeds to achieve more and better jobs".  The proposed services directive would be key to unlocking Europe's potential and he welcomed  Parliament's "balanced approach".  The services sector and SMEs, he said, were key to growth in Europe.  The Commission would be coming forward with proposals on research and education, on a European Institute of Technology, and a road map for gender equality. 



On energy, Mr Barroso thanked the Austrian presidency for resolving the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.  It demonstrated the added value of Europe.  The Commission would be coming forward with a new communication on bio-fuels as well as working towards a real pan-European energy policy. 



Mr Barroso recalled that he had made sustainable development a Commission priority and welcomed that the Austrian presidency had made climate change a main concern for the forthcoming six months. 



The Commission President recalled that in the Spring, the Commission would publish its progress reports on Bulgaria and Romania and their readiness for accession on 1 January 2007.  He also welcomed that fact that the Austrian presidency had made progress on relations with the Western Balkans a priority.  



In conclusion, on the plan D for democracy and dialogue, Mr Barroso recalled that in 2005, Commissioners had made 68 visits to national parliaments, to listen and to explain. He concluded: "institutions are important, but they are instruments to achieve goals and objectives in a diverse Europe."



Political group speakers

The leader of the EPP-ED group, Hans-Gert POETTERING (DE), told Mr Schüssel: "We expect a great deal from you.  Europe needs confidence and to make progress.  We believe you will be ambitious and realistic in your approach to the presidency." He spoke to the need to reinforce citizens' confidence in European institutions, but also confidence among heads of state and government: "The Council must work together, not each pushing their personal interest."  Mr Poettering strongly rejected the statement from the Netherlands foreign minister that the constitution is dead. He agreed on the need to promote SMEs, not through subsidies but by relief from the tax burden and bureaucracy. His group gave a clear yes to EU legislation on services which combined opening up and protection.  "If we don't have single market Europe will be weak in dealing with globalisation," he said.  On the constitution he wanted a timetable to have a result all can accept.  Finally on energy, he said prosperity was worth nothing if not based in democracy.  "We will not accept a G8 country making difference in price between a democracy like Ukraine and horrific dictatorship like  Belarus."



Martin SCHULZ (DE), leader of the Socialist group, said the presidency must have  the necessary perspectives of growth and jobs. He agreed that citizens do not want Javier Solana and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner having "to pass the hat round to stabilise energy supplies, create stability in hotspots of world, work for peace in the Middle East.  We will have citizens on our side if there is an effective fight against terrorism with an effective European police force supporting Member States in tackling organised crime."  He highlighted the fact that Mr Schüssel had supported a budget deal which gave far less funding to these areas than that proposed by the Parliament.    He said he could not understand how the Commission President could be satisfied with the deal done by the British presidency.  He concluded: "The European Parliament is prepared to work towards the objectives you have set, but only with necessary resources and structures. Europe needs less grey and black and more red!"

ALDE group leader Graham WATSON (UK) told the Austrian Chancellor: "Your main task is to reach agreement on seven year spending plans, but your backed a bid to slash the budget to a level which will not even meet the demands of Europe's leaders, let alone what citizens want.  We will vote to reject this deal."  The Council, he said, wanted to cut funding for successful programmes like Erasmus and to cut the research spending that might lead to future successes like Airbus.  He called for unspent EU funds to be kept by the EU to improve funding for priority areas, not redistributed to the Member States, and for the budget framework to be set in percentage terms of GNI not in nominal figures, which would provide more funds in growth was better than expected. He continued: "Growth and jobs mean embracing opportunities offered by EU, not shrinking under pressure from protectionists.  The Austrian way of life is not under threat from the Court of Justice."  In the year of worker mobility, he condemned Austria's plans to prolong transitional arrangements seeking to prevent workers from the new Member States entering the labour market. He also called on Mr Schüssel to maintain the commitment to transparency in the Council so that citizens will understand Europe better.

Daniel  COHN-BENDIT (DE), for the Greens/EFA group, paraphrased Albert Einstein saying it was what was not included in the question which was often the most important.  There were clear choices to be made on energy.  It was right to increase spending on research but choices had to be made on priorities between renewable energy such as hydrogen based power and solar and hydro energy and old technologies such as nuclear and coal.  Mr Cohn-Bendit wanted to know the presidency's position on the country of origin principle and the services directive.

Francis WURTZ (GUE/NGL, FR) commenced by noting that the presidency was "starting at top speed", but warned that the directive on port services, and the Presidency's financial plans would be called into question.  He acknowledged Chancellor Schüssel's notion that a European constitution should meet the concerns of the European people but declared that "in the present atmosphere of unease and trust, words are no longer enough" and advised that the Chancellor had to do something tangible: "the proof of the pudding is in the eating". He called on the Commission to withdraw the directive on services, noting that "all Unions reject this; employers in Europe reject this out of hand".  He advised that the presidency would not restore the European people's trust "without breaking off from that neo-liberal approach…these are the standards we will judge you by"

Roger KNAPMAN (IND/DEM, UK) opened his speech with "so wonderful was Mr. Blair's presidency to Euro-Sceptics that we had hoped for an encore, but it was not to be". He warned that, after listening to the President's speech, the "Constitution is not dead but merely sleeping". Continuing on this tone, Mr. Knapman quipped that the Presidency should "carry-on" and "never mind  the fact that" 70% of Austrians do not approve of what the President had said in the debate, that two-thirds of Britons cannot see any benefit of remaining in the EU, and that France and the Netherlands voted against a European constitution.  He described the European Union as a "very expensive club to belong to" and had a message for the Eastern European newcomers: "sorry - the cheque is not in the post.



Christiana MUSCARDINI (IT), speaking for the UEN group, declared her full confidence in the Austrian Presidency's capacity to fulfil their promises on the EU and to deliver what the European people need. However, she advised that Europe needs a coherent economic policy with competition and openness, and that it "has to find new strengths and the will to work together". She also urged the presidency to open up the debate on the constitution, to create a streamlined text and to have the "boldness to dare to commit to a more united Europe, with clearly defined tasks and clearly defined powers". Ms: Muscardini demanded that the presidency consider immigration, security, energy, and the environment as its priorities for the coming term.

 

Hans-Peter MARTIN (NI, AT) was concerned with the financial aspects of the President's agenda, and noted that "you can do something with money" but "more money doesn't mean you can achieve something better". He accused the Austrians of favouritism when it came to spending, alleging that 427 Austrian farmers get more than €72,000 in direct payments, and accordingly declared a need for greater transparency: "who's going to get what from the pot?". In creating this transparency he also encouraged taking a look at the media landscape as well, and advised the Austrians to put an end to their silence on domestic policy. He ended by asserting that "EU citizens would thank you for it" 



British speakers  



Timothy KIRKHOPE (EPP-ED, UK), leader of the British Conservative delegation in the European Parliament, welcomed the Austrian presidency and called on it to focus on the "economic reform agenda which had stalled under the last presidency."  Mr Kirkhope said he was "concerned" about some proposals from the presidency on the services directive including the plans to co-ordinate Europe's social security systems.  He also urged the presidency not to alter the UK's opt-out on the working-time directive which had contributed to the UK's recent economic growth.  He welcomed Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel's comments on the European Court of Justice stating that the Court had extended its competences into areas where there was no European law.  Mr Kirkhope said that it would be better if the Constitution was not "resurrected".  Europe's citizens were concerned with jobs, growth, the environment, fighting terrorism and crime in order to achieve a better quality of life.

Andrew DUFF (ALDE, UK) gave an overview of various politicians' positions on the Constitution.  "President Chirac wanted piece-meal reform, Mr Zarkozy wanted a concentrated version of the Constitution, Prime Minister Juncker of Luxembourg and Prime Minister Verhofstadt of Belgium wanted a renegotiation of the Treaties, Dutch Foreign Minister Bot said the project is finished." He asked Chancellor Schüssel which of his colleagues was right.

Response to the debate

Responding to points raised in the debate, Mr Schüssel spoke of enlargement and future for the Balkans. The choice was either to export stability or import instability: "The Balkans is a European success story. US defeated Milosevic militarily but 90 per cent of peace keeping troops there are now Europeans. This is Europe's peaceful face, not a military face."



He called on Iran to go back to its moratorium on nuclear development and not to do anything to destabilise the situation.  On energy, he repeated his position that each country must decide for itself, but called for more investment in renewable energy including biofuel, which could be an opportunity for agriculture.  He called for more progress on deciding on Trans-European Networks, with at least a decision on the Brenner Pass rail link.



Human rights, he said, were indivisible. "The rule of law is indivisible.  This is a major issue for us ... on CIA flights and extraordinary rendition - when law is broken, those who break it must be taken into account, but within out legal framework." He also defended his government's record on rights for minority populations in Austria.

On the labour market, he pointed out that the transitional periods had been agreed by all sides in drawing up the accession treaties, and that should be respected.  Regarding the Court of Justice, he said "We need balance on respect for and implementation of community law and subsidiarity. We have national legislation and case law as well as European. The proportionality principle is also important." 



Mr Schüssel continued: "Six months of an Austrian presidency cannot change Europe forever, but can offer impulses, and bring the new Financial Perspective to life."  There would be some room for manoeuvre in the negotiations, but first he needed the mandate from the Council, he said.  There would be more spending on research and competitiveness than in the past, and the costs of Bulgarian and Romanian accession were already factored in. "So the realistic and practical view is that constructive dialogue can lead to agreement.  I have no baton or magic flute, but nothing is as awful as revenge.  The great thing is to forgive and work together for Europe," he concluded.

President Barroso, in his response to the debate, said that the two key points of the Austrian Presidency would be the Spring European Council and the June European Council. At the Spring summit, European leaders would debate the new growth and employment strategy.  At the June summit, important decisions would be taken on the future constitutional status of Europe.  First, the institutions would have to agree on the EU's budget and there was some limited room for negotiations but the budget had to be ready to be implemented by 1 January 2007 otherwise the new Member States in particular would lose out.  President Barroso stressed the importance of the single market and particularly the free movement of persons and said the completion of the single market should be a priority for the EU. 



 



 
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MEPs call for a Constitution by 2009

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The European Parliament has given its view on how to overcome the constitutional crisis. The report adopted argues that no further enlargement, after Romania and Bulgaria, is possible on the basis of the Treaty of Nice and calls for a Constitution for 2009, to ensure a democratic and effective EU. MEPs also stress the need of a broad public debate on the future of European integration guided by common topics and with clear political goals.
 
After four months of impassioned debate following the French and Dutch no votes, the EP launched a Europe-wide debate to find a solution to the deadlock.  Responding to the decision by the European Council in June 2005 to set in train a period of dialogue or reflection, MEPs stressed the need to involve all European citizens in the process of building Europe's future.  Members also criticised the Council and Commission for failing to ensure that the reflection period has a clear focus. By approving, by 385 in favour, 125 against and 51 abstentions, the report by Andrew DUFF (ALDE, UK) and Johannes VOGGENHUBER (Greens/EFA, AT), MEPs want to ensure that the new debate delivers tangible results.

Comprehensive institutional reform is seen as necessary to ensure that an enlarged EU functions properly, since the Nice Treaty is inappropriate for the continuation of the integration process.  MEPs also criticise the suggestion that a core group of Member States could start implementing reforms, leaving the other countries behind. The EP also confirmed its endorsement of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe and asked the Council to declare its commitment for a settlement on the future of Europe.

Different outcomes of the debate are envisaged in the report, from abandoning the constitutional project to continuing with ratification, from seeking to clarify the present text to complete re-drafting. Although Members agree that it is important not to pre-empt the outcome of such a debate, there were differences of views among the groups that supported the report. Richard CORBETT (PES, UK), and Alexander STUBB (EPP-ED, FI), shadow rapporteurs for their groups, considered that a positive outcome of the debate would be to keep the current text, although only if accompanied by significant measures. Eventually, these measures could be declarations or extra protocols to be added to the constitutional Treaty. On the contrary, the two co-rapporteurs support the idea of keeping only the constitutional core of the current text and use it as a basis to substantially improve the Treaty. Finally, Members opted for the first alternative.

Format for the new public debate 

Members agree that, to increase public participation, the proposed European debate should be guided by common topics and have clear political goals. The Parliament wants to play a leading role in the debate.  As part of the process, MEPs are calling for a number of conferences and meetings to be held as a way of advancing the debate on the future of the EU. These would be known as Parliamentary Forums and Citizens' Forums. Moreover, the EP Constitutional Affairs committee will prepare a series of 'European Papers' to be used as basis for discussion.
Under the proposed schedule, the Parliamentary Forums, a number of conferences between national parliaments and the EP, would be held in Spring this year. The first forum is scheduled for 9 May 2006. These events would also provide an opportunity to hear reports from the French and Dutch parliaments about their suggestions for a way forward. 
At the same time, to ensure public participation, the EP asks to Member States to hold a large number of Citizens Forums, i.e. public meetings and media debates at national and local level. The two co-rapporteurs stressed that all these debates should be structured around specific topics to deliver clear results. They should involve political parties, employers' and employees' representatives, civil society, the academic community and the media.

According to the approved report, the public is concerned more about the context, i.e. the EU's political role and policies, than the constitutional text itself. MEPs believe the main issues on which the debate should focus are: the integration process, the EU's global role, the European social and economic model, security and justice and the financing of the Union.
Therefore the EP asks for the prolongation of the period of reflection. In fact, after taking into account the results of the debate, a clear decision on the way forward should be taken by second half of 2007. The European Parliament will monitor the whole process and summarise the proposals put forward during the debates.
 
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Parliament sinks port services proposals

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The European Parliament, for the second time, torpedoed proposals on market access to port services by rejecting the Commission proposal by 532 votes in favour, to 120 against and 25 abstentions. Many MEPs demanded in its place legislation on transparency and fair competition between ports. A number of MEPs also criticised the omission of Parliament's wishes on self-handling and pilot services, which were extremely controversial points of the first ports package.
 
A majority of MEPs, namely from the PES, ALDE, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL, IND/DEM and UEN groups but also from  the EPP-ED group felt that the present proposal was counterproductive and would create uncertainty on the future of ports in the EU.

This result voices Parliament's concern that the draft Commission text still does not meet the need for clear a clear legal and legislative framework for Community ports. Key issues such as transparent state aid and other supports to ports and fair competition between ports should be reconsidered with the involvement of Parliament and all those represented in the sector.
The European Parliament rejected a conciliation agreement between the Council and Parliament on port services in November 2003.  At the end of Commission's last term in office, the Commission presented fresh proposals, to the dismay of many MEPs.

Commissioner Barrot stated that he would consult the college of Commissioners before deciding whether or not to withdraw the proposal.
Debate preceding the vote

Transport Commissioner Jacques BARROT said the package met the needs first identified by the Commission when it came up with its first proposal in 2001. The goals of the present proposal, presented by former Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, were to establish freedom to provide port services, reflecting the Treaties, the Lisbon strategy and the aim of reducing road congestion. It included respect for environmental rules and safety at sea, along with employment and social security concerns.  The package called for guidelines on port services and financial transparency.

"I want to underline the importance of efficient ports as an essential link in the transport chain and development of sea motorways. Ninety per cent of our external trade goes through sea ports. We need a clear set of rules to foster investment. The Commission has made the changes it believed necessary from the original version.  I am aware of the reservations of some, and I intend to listen carefully to the debate."
Rapporteur

Parliament's rapporteur, Georg JARZEMBOWSKI (EPP-ED, DE), thanked the Commission for its readiness to listen.  He said that after months of intensive debate, all participants were in favour of fair conditions for competition between sea ports.  There were no major amendments to transparency provisions.  "I find it incomprehensible why four groups want to refer this back to the committee ... European rules are needed.  It is a matter of free establishment and the right to provide services. This needs clear cut rules."

Mr Jarzembowski made five specific points. Firstly, if there was to be opening of market access for new service providers, this means opening up leases and introducing calls for tender. Secondly, the transitional rules meant leases could continue for up to 45 years, so there was no risk to jobs or present IT contracts.  Thirdly, self handling should be removed from the directive, but there was  no risk of social dumping as the Member States' social rules and collective bargaining arrangements would not be affected.  Fourthly, market access for new companies would mean the most efficient, best priced bid winning.  Fifthly, Europe's import and export businesses require efficient and cost effective ports, in a way that respects the interests of existing providers and supports employment in the sector.
"If it is to be rejected, there will be no European rules, which  would create planning and legal uncertainty.  I want to say to my colleagues, try not to worry too much about yesterday's strikes.  We should not allow the actions of some to influence us," he said.

Speaking for the Employment Committee, Stephen HUGHES (PES, UK) said that yesterday's violence was unacceptable, but that MEPs should understand the frustration of dockers. It was ill informed and an insult to the European Parliament  to bring back an almost unchanged proposal only 18 months after MEPs rejected it.  "Self handling is ludicrous.  It would create a health and safety nightmare. Opening pilot services to tender at the lowest price is ludicrous.  In my area of Teesside, with its major chemical industries, it would expose the entire population to danger.  The Commission should revise its proposal completely before bringing it forward."

Political Group Speakers
Speaking for the EPP-ED group, Marianne THYSSEN (BE) said that when Parliament rejected the first package, "the Commission has sent us a new container with some extra cargo, but the load is much the same.  The Commission's proposal ignores Parliament's voice. It sees our contribution as superfluous.  Self handling is not the only problem.  Our group sees us heading towards rejection.  The rapporteur is worthy of our respect, but he no longer has the opportunity to find a majority for a feasible and useful solution.  Whether this is the end of the package, I don't know, but we need to set course for a solution to investment and for people too, with legal certainty, equanimity and calm." 

Willi PIECYK (DE), speaking for the Socialist group, said what some dockers had  done in Strasbourg the day before had gone beyond the pale. Such acts of violence were unacceptable.  He said, however, that he would be voting against the Commission proposal: "It overlooks the realities of EU ports.  They are functioning economic structures.  We want to export the competition which already exists in most ports.  This directive would bring more red tape and put lives and livelihoods at risk.  Why jeopardise safety standards?  There is already cut-throat competition in most ports."  He said we should not be replacing European social standards with Asian ones.  "We want you to stop this inherited package and develop a fair competition policy and good example for ports across the world," he told the Commissioner.

Anne  JENSEN (DK), speaking for the Liberal group, said that after 50 years of the EU, there was no specific legal framework for port services.  Port services, she said, did not come under the free-movement provisions in the Treaties.  However, the current proposal did not take into account the full needs of ports.  Mrs Jensen said that she was in favour of a port services directive but not the current proposal and welcomed the work of the rapporteur, Mr JARZEMBOWSKI, who had tried to improve the proposal.  She was surprised at the protests against the European Parliament, given that  Parliament had supported the dockers' requests.  She was in favour of freer competition between service providers and ports but was opposed to state-aid and monopolies.  She said that the Liberal Group was split but many MEPs would vote against the current proposal.

Joost LAGENDIJK (NL), for the Greens/EFA group, quipped that it was an "achievement" for the Commission to spend so much time on a proposal that was so dramatically criticised.  He regretted the "small minority" of dockers who demonstrated violently at the European Parliament.  The directive, he said, was opposed both by the trade unions and by service providers.  He called for the Commission's proposal to be withdrawn and for better control of state aid.
Erik MEIJER (GUE/NGL, NL) was against the proposal, understanding that it would "cause more problems than it solves."  He anticipated that if the directive was passed, it would mean job losses, very little continuity within port services and unfair competition.  He rejected the idea of self-handling, noting that its only purpose is to replace skilled workers with cheap labour brought in from outside Europe.  He also described the proposal as a "time bomb" and a "repeat" of the original one, noting how the same arguments against the original are still relevant now.

Patrick LOUIS (IND/DEM, FR) spoke against the directive, declaring that the proposal was nearly identical to the first, with the same list of services and the same objectives.  He noted that the rare changes which the new proposal does contain do nothing to improve the original.  He talked of its potential damage to small business and the higher costs it would incur relating to market access.  He acknowledged the fact that the port services are in need of a reform, but, however, considered that this directive in no way satisfies that need.

Roberts ZĪLE (LV), for the UEN group, said that the Commission proposal "was typical and usual" because "it was presented without an impact assessment."  He also said that Baltic ports would suffer from competition from Russian ports.  He, however, regretted that the "violent minority and the position of the Left in the Parliament would claim victory following an eventual rejection".
Ashley MOTE (NA, UK) spoke against the directive declaring it as a proposal that "imposes controls that are neither necessary nor desirable."  He described the privatised sector of the British port services sector, and considered that the directive threatens to undermine the confidence of British investors by interfering with freely negotiated contracts.  He asserted that "whenever the EU starts talking about creating a level playing field it reveals a fundamental ignorance of enterprise", and expressed disappointment at the Commission's "indifference" to the problems posed by the inclusion of pilotage in the proposal.  Mr. Mote said he was in favour of rejecting the proposal saying that "if passed, this directive will cost without yielding benefit, and slow down progress - the house should throw it out."

UK speakers during the debate
Jeffrey  TITFORD (IND/DEM, UK) recalled that Parliament had rejected the first port services directive in 2003 and nothing had changed since.  The proposal represented great danger to UK ports including Mr Titford's local ports of Felixstowe and Harwich.  He questioned why UK ports should be subjected to these dangerous proposals which would not lead to greater competition but rather endanger jobs.
Philip BRADBOURN (EPP-ED, UK) said that he had serious concerns about the current Commission proposal.  He could not understand "why the Commission could not take no for an answer". Not one UK port, he said, supported the Commission proposal and the authorisation and tendering parts of the proposed directive would not lead to greater competition as the Commission had suggested.  Ports would "cherry-pick" from the directive and lead to distortions in the market.  Mr Bradbourn said that he was in favour of any proposal based on free-market principles but this was not the case with the current proposal.  The Commission, he said, should use the UK model as a way forward. He told the Commission "no means no in any language".
Sajjad Haider KARIM (ALDE, UK) had a message for the dockers who protested outside the European Parliament: MEP after MEP had stood up and supported the dockers, he said, and therefore he called for the dockers to support  Parliament.  He also recalled that Parliament had effectively rejected the directive in 2003 and therefore said that the process was "democratically deficient."  He also recalled that UK ports were already privatised and this proposal was mainly aimed at continental ports.  He said it would damage considerably the UK ports including, Liverpool and Manchester in the north west of England.  He said that the proposals were fundamentally flawed and should be rejected.
Richard HOWITT (PES, UK) said that given that the European Parliament had rejected the directive in 2003, no one would have believed that the Commission would bring back the procedure.  It would endanger jobs of highly skilled workers including in the East of England ports in his constituency.  In 2005, there was a 50 per cent reduction in accidents in the port of Tilbury and no accidents at all in Great Yarmouth.  He stated that the UKIP MEPs had voted in favour of the legislation in the Transport Committee.  "Competition should be between ports but not within ports", he said.
Response to the debate
Responding to the debate, Commissioner BARROT said he wanted to explain the history behind the proposal from the previous Commission. This had been tabled based on the need for a clear legal and legislative framework for ports, which handle 90 per cent of EU exports. The new proposal contained a strict limitation of self-handling.  It would not violate existing social rights.  There was a binding commitment on all port service suppliers to be licensed, accepting base line rules on EU social legislation. The directive, he said, would not affect application of national legislation on working or employment conditions.  "I would not have supported it if I saw the risks in it that some of you do," he said.  He agreed that other important problems existed. There needed to be more transparency in costs and services and creation of fairer competition.  The aim was to incite more investment.

He agreed with speakers who has said there was much diversity in situations of sea ports across Europe and the call to avoid an over-centralising approach was reasonable.  "There has been rapid technological change - this is another factor which changes the situation from when the directive was originally put together ...  I want to express my respect for Parliament, but I must also respect the work carried out by the Commission..  It is reasonable to wait for the vote and then draw the appropriate conclusions."
 
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Strategies to prevent trafficking in women and children

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Parliament adopted a report by 622 votes in favour, 12 against and 19 abstentions, proposing strategies to tackle the growing world-wide problem of trafficking in women and children, including measures to deal with the supply and demand sides as well as the traffickers.
 
The report calls on the Member States, especially Germany, to take appropriate measures in the course of the World Cup football tournament in 2006 to prevent trafficking of women and forced prostitution.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to this modern form of slavery.  Of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year approximately 80 percent are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors*.  Over 100,000 women are the victims of trafficking in the EU.

Successful strategies are needed to deal with the main causes of trafficking.  It is, however, not possible to address the prevention of trafficking through individual actions by each Member State, notes the European Parliament.  Instead, MEPs suggest a holistic and integrated multidisciplinary approach at the EU and international level.  The European Parliament also calls for research, at national and European level, into the underlying causes, particularly of trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation, i.e. what factors place people at risk and what factors affect demand for sexual services and sexual exploitation of women and children.

Prevention also means examining the "triangle of trafficking": victim, trafficker and client.  The report suggests practical action, such as awareness raising campaigns to inform of the dangers and educate the vulnerable members of society in the countries of origin, to alert and sensitise the public about the problem and reduce demand in the countries of destination. Another measure envisaged is national and international telephone help-lines.  MEPs also highlight the need to tackle the tendency to use the Internet for sexual exploitation.  .

The European Parliament calls on the Member States to enforce the law and strengthen the prosecution and punishment of traffickers, accomplices, persons seeking sexual services from minors and to prosecute the laundering of the proceeds of trafficking.

* According to the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2005/

 

 
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Parliament says proposed EU budget for 2007-2013 is unacceptably low

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The European Parliament took a firm grip of the EU's long-term budget, overwhelmingly rejecting the agreement reached by the heads of government in December and calling for negotiations over the level of the provisions for 2007-2013 as well as spending plans. MEPs were particularly critical of the €862 billion in funding agreed by leaders, which compares unfavourably with the €975 billion proposed by the Parliament in June.
 
MEPs rejected the European Council’s common position in its current form, because it does not guarantee an EU budget enhancing prosperity, competitiveness, solidarity, cohesion and security in future, in compliance with policies already decided by the Council itself.

The agreement fails to fulfil commitments made towards the new Member States and does not provide for a sufficient and detailed flexibility mechanism, a firm commitment to undertake the review with a clear role for the European Parliament or sufficient accompanying measures for example to ensure better implementation and control of expenditure of funds in Member States.

The resolution was adopted with 541 in favour, 56 against and 76 abstentions.

Nevertheless, Parliament welcomes the fact that Council managed to come up with a position, which allow the opening of negotiations.  The European Parliament wants a firm commitment that it will be involved in talks on the revision of the EU budget as well as an improved mechanism to come up with supplementary funds should the need arise, i.e. a new, better version of the so-called "flexibility instrument"

Talks will continue on Monday 23 January in a trialogue to be held in camera after the first meeting on 18 January between President Borrell, President Barroso and Chancellor Schüssel.  The Commission is expected to hand in its draft inter-institutional agreement on the financial perspective in early February upon which parties will then negotiate.  While there is no deadline as such for the completion of the negotiations, there is a shared willingness to wrap it up by this spring.
 
 
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Safer bathing in cleaner water

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Fancy a swim? From 2013 at the latest, consumers will be able to check out the safety of EU bathing sites on the Internet before taking to the water, thanks to legislation approved by the European Parliament. Information will also be posted at the locations. The Parliament negotiated ruthlessly with EU ministers over three years to strengthen standards and to improve the quality of conditions across the EU.
 
Parliament voted to approve the conciliation agreement on bathing water with 584 votes in favour 11 against and 56 abstentions. For years the European Union has struggled to replace its existing directive on bathing water, which dates from 1976. An agreement was reached between MEPs and representatives of the Member States in a conciliation meeting in October 2005.
The provisions of the old directive and the parameters it required to be measured had been overtaken by scientific developments.  But the European Parliament and the Council, in their efforts to strike a balance between health standards and the need to avoid administrative and financial burdens, had stuck to their different positions at the end of the second reading of the co-decision procedure.  This meant conciliation was needed, i.e. direct negotiations between 25 Council representatives and 25 MEPs.  The two sides had a maximum of six weeks to reach a deal but they achieved an agreement at the first meeting of the official negotiations.
Jules MAATEN (ALDE, NL), rapporteur described the outcome of the vote as: "less bureaucracy, less risk and more information".  

Final obstacles removed

The main obstacle in the final round of talks was the question of the standards to be applied to a new category of intermediate quality - known as "sufficient quality" - which would be lower than "excellent quality" and "good quality".  Parliament had accepted this new suggestion from the Council provided the standard required was raised.  The negotiations produced an agreement on tougher reference values than those proposed by the Council, both for inland waters and coastal waters.  From now on, in the "sufficient" category, the parameters for intestinal enterococchi will be 330 (inland waters) and 185 (coastal waters), measured at 90 percentiles.  The values for the bacterium Escherichia coli were not changed.  Overall, this represents a reduction in health risks to bathers from 12% to around 8%.
Once MEPs had obtained satisfaction on tightening up the standards, their demand to make this category a transitional one was no longer necessary.  The report to be submitted later by the Commission to Parliament has been brought forward from 2018 to 2008 and, at the insistence of MEPs, will have to include an analysis of viruses.  On the basis of this report, the Commission will have to review the directive by 2020.  At that point it is envisaged that the "sufficient" category may disappear.

During the negotiations, Parliament also obtained a commitment from the Member States that constantly updated information should be provided to bathers.  New standard signs will be devised in the near future and must be placed at all bathing sites to indicate the quality of the water.  The findings of regular tests will also be made available swiftly, in particular on the Internet.
The directive is scheduled to be implemented within two years after it has entered into force, namely at the start of 2008.

 
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Stricter control of mining waste - conciliation approved

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Parliament voted to approve the conciliation agreement on mining waste. With over 400 million tonnes of waste per year, the European mining industry accounts for around 30% of all waste generated in the EU. Following an agreement reached in conciliation between the European Parliament and the Council, this waste will soon be managed according to rules laid down in a new European directive.
 
Mining waste is often produced in large quantities and storing it can be hazardous, either because of the sometimes defective techniques used or because it can contain polluting substances such as heavy metals or cyanide.  The EU directive was drafted in the wake of the accident in 2000 at Baia Mare in Romania, where quantities of waste water spilled into a river, taking with them 120 tonnes of cyanide. The pollution spread as far as Hungary and into the Danube.  In 1998 a similar accident spilled heavy metals in Andalusia.  Other disasters, involving landslides, have occurred in Italy in 1985 (268 dead) and Wales in 1966 (144 dead).
The European Parliament had to go to conciliation, the last stage of the codecision procedure, to make the Council accept its main demands. On 29 November the EP delegation to the conciliation committee unanimously approved a deal reached by its negotiators with the Council.  The permanent representatives of the Member States had approved the deal on 23 November.  If the full Parliament approves this new text, the Member States will then have two years to enact the directive in national law.

Parliament's rapporteur Jonas SJÖSTEDT (GUE/NGL, SE) welcomed the outcome of the conciliation talks: "The new legislation imposes much tougher requirements on several EU Member States and applicant states. Dangerous tailings dams with high concentrations of cyanide, such as in the accident in Baia Mare in Romania, will no longer be allowed. The industry will have to restore the sites of mining activities and provide financial guarantees that they can do this."  He added: "With the new directive it will be possible to reduce leaks, not least into water, both from mines in use today and from old closed-down sites". 
Dagmar ROTH-BEHRENDT (PES, DE), chair of the EP delegation and vice-president of Parliament, said: "The agreement reached includes a clear guarantee from Bulgaria and Romania that they are ready to take over this part of the body of Community law (the acquis) in the environmental field.  The accident a few days ago involving a spillage of cyanide into the Cisla river in Romania underlines the importance - especially in the accession states - of this piece of legislation."

This accident, which was far less serious than that of 2000, happened on 26 November. It is the third of its kind in five years in the same region of Romania with potentially harmful consequences reaching as far as Hungary.  MEPs therefore welcomed the fact that the agreement includes a joint statement by Bulgaria and Romania in which these two candidate countries undertake to meet the deadlines laid down for the implementation of the new EU legislation.

Tougher rules on financial guarantees
Financial guarantees will have to cover not only the waste facility itself but also the land affected by the waste facility; funds must be readily available at any given time for the rehabilitation of the land affected by the waste facility; and the size of the guarantee must be periodically adjusted in accordance with any rehabilitation work needing to be carried out as described in the waste management plan.
Operators must respect the principle of sustainable development.  Several aspects of waste management have been tightened up, in particular where the operator places the waste back in excavation voids in order to restore the site.  This type of rehabilitation must adhere to strict rules to prevent any contamination of soil and water. In addition, controls, maintenance and corrective measures must be carried out by the operator, who must for example collect and process contaminated water and leachate.

Parliament successfully pushed for the Member States to be required to compile inventories of closed sites, even abandoned ones, so as to identify those most dangerous to the environment and health. These inventories of "historic" waste now included in the legislation will provide a basis for defining measures to be taken in future.
 
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Investigation into allegations of transport and illegal detention of prisoners in Europe by CIA - committee membership approved

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Do CIA detention centres exist in Europe? Has the CIA been using European airports to transport terrorist suspects to places where they could face torture? These are two questions that lie at the heart of a new temporary committee set up by the Parliament . The cross-party committee of 46 MEPs will also examine whether European governments knew about these alleged practices - and if EU citizens have been involved.
 
MEPs voted on Wednesday to set up the Temporary Committee of Inquiry to investigate allegations of the transport and illegal detention of prisoners by the CIA in European countries. Membership was agreed on Thursday and the list of members is included hereunder in this article.
 
The temporary committee's mandate will be to collect and analyse information to find out:

- whether the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other US agents or intelligence services of other third countries have carried out abductions, "extraordinary rendition", detentions at secret sites, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners on EU territory or in acceding or candidate countries, or have used this territory to these ends, for example by through flights to or from such countries;

- whether such actions, which would have been carried out as part of the fight against terrorism, could be considered a violation of Article 6 of the EU Treaty, of certain provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and of other international treaties and agreements, including EU-US agreements on extradition;
- whether EU citizens or the candidate countries, or any other person entitled to protection from the EU have been detained;
- whether EU Member States or institutions have been involved or have been complicit in the illegal deprivation of the liberty of individuals.

Parliament also states that the temporary committee will liaise and cooperate "as closely as possible" with, inter alia, the Council of Europe, the European Commissioner responsible for human rights, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and with national parliaments.  It also states that the committee should submit an interim report within four months after it starts work.
Under Rule 175 of its Rules of Procedure, the European Parliament may set up a temporary committee at any time.  The mandate runs for a maximum of twelve months, unless Parliament decides to extend it.
Members of the Temporary Committee:
EPP-ED group

Frederika BREPOELS (DE)

Carlos COELHO (PT)

Simon COVENEY (IE)

Giorgos DIMITRAKOPOULOS (EL)

Camiel EURLINGS (NL)

Patrick GAUBERT (FR)

Jas GAWRONSKI (IT)

Ewa KLAMT (DE)

Barbara KUDRYCKA (PL)

Miroslav MIKOLÁŠIK (SK)

José Ignacio SALAFRANCA SÁNCHEZ-NEYRA (ES)

György SCHÖPFLIN (HU)

Ursula STENZEL (AT)

Charles TANNOCK (UK)

Anders WIJKMAN (SE)

Karl von WOGAU (DE)

Jan ZAHRADIL (CZ)

PES group

Monika BEŇOVÁ (SK)

Giovanni Claudio FAVA (IT)

Toomas Hendrik ILVES (ET)

Magda KÓSÁNÉ KOVÁCS (HU) 

Wolfgang KREISSL-DÖRFLER (DE)

Stavros LAMBRINIDIS (EL)

Claude MORAES (UK)

Józef PINIOR (PL)

Martine ROURE (FR)

Inger SEGELSTRÖM (SE) 

Hannes SWOBODA (AT)

María Elena VALENCIAN MARTÍNEZ-OROZCO (ES)

Jan Marinus WIERSMA (NL)
ALDE group

Alexander Nuno ALVARO (DE)

Ignasi GUARDANS CAMBÓ (ES)

Sophia in 't VELD (NL)

Baroness Sarah LUDFORD (UK)

Cecilia MALMSTRÖM (SE)

Janusz ONYSZKIEWICZ (PL)
Greens/EFA group

Kathalijne Maria BUITENWEG (NL)

Cem ÖZDEMIR (DE)
GUE/NGLgroup

Giusto CATANIA (IT)

Sylvia-Yvonne KAUFMANN (DE)
IND/DEM group

Mirosław Mariusz PIOTROWSKI (PL)

Bogusław ROGALSKI (PL)
UEN group

Eoin RYAN (IE)

Konrad SZYMAŃSKI (PL)
Non attached members

Philip CLAEYS (BE)

Gianni DE MICHELIS (IT) 



 
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Equitable Life case Committee of Inquiry - membership confirmed

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On Thursday, the plenary approved the full list of 22 members for the Committee of Inquiry to look into the collapse of the Equitable Life Assurance Society..
 
Over a million UK policy holders and more than 15,000 policy holders in other EU countries, notably Germany and Ireland, incurred major losses to their pensions, savings or investments following alleged mismanagement at Equitable Life. The question has arisen as to whether the relevant EU legislation was properly applied in the UK.  

The committee's mandate requires it to investigate the way in which the UK authorities applied the relevant Council directives, examine whether the European Commission properly monitored the transposition of Community law and assess allegations that UK regulators consistently failed to protect policy holders by rigorous supervision of accounting and provisioning practices and of the financial situation of Equitable Life.  The committee will have twelve months to complete its work and submit a report to Parliament.  An interim report will be delivered after four months.
The European Parliament has the power to set up a committee of inquiry to investigate "alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Community law" (Article 193 of the EC Treaty).  The committee can hold hearings and invite EC institutions or national governments to send representatives to testify at those hearings. It may also request national or EC authorities to provide any documents necessary to carry out its duties.
Membership of the Committee:

EPP-ED group

Sir Robert Atkins (UK)

Bert Doorn (NL)

Giuseppe Gargani (IT)

Jean-Paul Gauzès (FR)

Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines (ES)

Mairead McGuinness (IE)

Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (EL)

Rainer Wieland (DE)
PES group

Michael Cashman (UK)

Proinsias De Rossa (IE)

Harald Ettl (AT)

Manuel Medina Ortega (ES)

Peter Skinner (UK)

Anne Van Lancker (BE)
ALDE group

Sharon Bowles (UK)

Wolf Klinz (DE)

Diana Wallis (UK)
Greens/EFA group

Heide Rühle (DE)
GUE/NGL group

Willy Meyer Pleite (ES)
IND/DEM group

Godfrey Bloom (UK)
UEN group

Seán Ó Neachtain (IE)
Non-attached

Ashley Mote (UK)

 
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Reform of the sugar sector : MEPs demand more moderate price cuts

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White sugar prices should be cut by no more than 30% and restructuring aid should be made available for the most deeply affected workers in the sector. Sugar imports from third countries should be monitored and new outlet sources such as bio-ethanol found for sugar production. These were the main points in a report adopted by the European Parliament on sugar reform.
 
The European Parliament adopted three reports by Jean-Claude FRUTEAU (PES, FR) on the European Commission's proposal for a reform of the community's sugar sector. It calls for a more moderate reduction in the price of white sugar (30% instead of 39%), raw sugar (26% instead of 36%) and quota beet (11% over four years instead of 24% over two years). MEPs also demand that the intervention mechanism stay in place during the four transitional years, to help prevent disruption to the industry.
MEPs also call for stricter control of sugar imports into the Community. In order to avoid triangular trade that would take advantage of the EU's intervention mechanism, the House demands to limit the quantities of exported sugar from least developed countries (LDCs) to be the difference between their annual production and annual consumption. Parliament also approved a measure to give the Commission power to suspend imports. This six-month suspension would be possible for any country whose sugar imports increase substantially from one year to the next.
The House calls on the Commission to "carry out a study in order to identify transitional outlets for sugar surpluses for energy use," and strongly emphasised "bio-ethanol for energy purposes" as an alternative use of European sugar production.
In a report on the support schemes for sugar, Parliament suggests making funds available for switching from sugar to different crops, in the amount of 80 euros per hectare with a maximum of 2.2 million hectares eligible for such aid. In addition, Members approved an amendment asking for an extra 200 million euros of annual financial assistance to ACP countries who will be affected by the price cuts.

In order to ensure that the most vulnerable receive the majority of the community aid, the House called for "at least 50%" of the total restructuring aid proposed by the Commission to be made available for sugar beet and chicory growers. Responding to a question by Friedrich-Wilhelm GRAEFE ZU BARINGDORF (Greens/EFA, DE) the Commission representative indicated that a minimum amount of 10% of the restructuring funds going to sugar farmers and machinery workers would be acceptable, with the possibility of Member States providing additional aid.

In November of 2005, Council had reached a political agreement on a 36% cut in the price of white sugar. The Parliament "considers it unacceptable that the EU Council of Ministers announced a political agreement on sugar reform, with far-reaching implications for the future of the industry in many Member States, without first having obtained the opinion of the European Parliament. The Council may never reach a final political agreement before consultation of the European Parliament has been completed."
 
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Parliament against air service agreement with Russia

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Parliament adopted an own-initiative report sending a clear message to Russia regarding a future air service agreement. In the report, MEPs insist that no agreement should be concluded without "the immediate and complete abolition of Russian overflight charges". A comprehensive aviation agreement between the European Union and China, however, is considered desirable.
 
Parliament regards the charges imposed by Russia for flights over its territory a "violation of international law".  Russia is the only country in the world where such payments are made. The annual cost of these fees for European carriers in 2003 amount to €250 million.  MEPs also underline that those overflight charges have not been used for the promised improvement of air traffic control management but rather to subsidise its own airline.  This is "in breach of competition law" and no comprehensive agreement should therefore be concluded without the immediate and complete abolition of Russian overflight charges.
Also, the House calls on the Commission not to conclude an agreement on the Russian Federation's accession to the World Trade Organisation while Russia continues to charge for Siberian overflights.
MEPs also oppose the Commission's approach to modernise the charging system by 2013 and to ensure that charges applied after the transition period will be transparent, cost-based and not lead to discrimination between airlines. The House, in contrast, insists that "no modified charging scheme should be agreed to replace the current overflight charging regime"
 
Agreement with China

With regard to a future air service agreement with China, one of the most important aviation markets with massive annual growth rates, MEPs are in favour of a comprehensive aviation agreement.  Additionally, they call on the Council to extend the Commission's negotiating mandate to cover the provision of the necessary infrastructure in Chinese airports and air traffic control over Chinese airspace. Both are "inadequate at present and pose an obstacle to the development of aviation relations."
 
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Freezing funds of persons suspected of murdering Rafiq Hariri

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MEPs adopted a Council regulation which will allow the freezing of funds and economic resources of a list of persons suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. MEPs agreed to treat the issue by the urgency procedure as the Council had requested.
 
The purpose of this Council Regulation is to impose specific restrictive measures against designated persons suspected of involvement in the planning, sponsoring, organising or perpetrating of the assassination of Hariri.  This is in line with measures taken by the United Nations Security Council, which in October 2005 decided to launch an international independent investigation commission looking into the February 2005 bombing that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister and 22 others.
The freezing of funds and economic resources falls within the scope of the Treaty on the European Union and the measures are similar to those imposed on persons and entities associated with Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda network, the Taliban and for the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former-Yugoslavia.  The last time the European Parliament adopted a similar consultation procedure was to freeze the assets of weapon dealers in Sudan and Congo in June 2005.
In the case of Hariri's murder suspects, the list of persons and entities concerned (detailed in annex 1 to the proposal) is  to be established by the Council. The Commission's role is to update the list, which can be supervised by the UN Sanctions Committee.

 
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MEPs urge Member States to ensure respect for same sex partnerships

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Member States need to ensure that "same-sex partners enjoy the same respect, dignity and protection as the rest of society" urged MEPs in a resolution condemning homophobia in Europe.
 
Following "a series of worrying events which has recently taken place in a number of EU Member States, (...) from banning gay pride or equality marches to leading political and religious leaders' inflammatory/hate/threatening language (...)", MEPs strongly condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. They also urge the Commission to start infringement proceedings against those Member States that fail to implement the directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation, and to consider the use of criminal penalties in cases of violation.
The Commission is also asked to put forward proposals guaranteeing the freedom of movement of "EU citizens and their family members and registered partners of either gender".  One of the main complaints of homosexual associations and NGOs is that registered homosexual couples from Member States where same-sex marriages or partnerships are legal loose all their rights as official partners - most importantly the right of family reunification - when they move to another Member State which does not recognize same-sex couples.
EU countries should also enact legislation to end discrimination faced by same-sex partners as regards inheritance rights, property arrangements, tenancy, pensions, tax, social security.  Finally, Parliament urges Member States to step up the fight against homophobia through education and to fully recognise homosexuals as targets and victims of the Nazi regime.

 

Further information :

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Chechnya after the elections and civil society in Russia

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In adopting a joint resolution on Chechnya after the elections and civil society in Russia,  MEPs reiterated their strong condemnation of all acts of terrorism throughout the Russian Federation, for which there can be no justification.
 
MEPs are deeply concerned that the Council and Commission have failed to address the ongoing serious human rights violations in the Chechen Republic, despite the fact that these violations are still occurring on a large scale on both sides of the conflict and in a climate of almost complete impunity.
Parliament urges the Council and Commission to confront their responsibilities in the face of the most serious human rights issues in the immediate neighbourhood of the European Union.  MEPs regret the fact that, during the preparation and conduct of the parliamentary elections in Chechnya, an opportunity for a truly political and democratic process involving all sections of Chechen society was missed.  The House stresses that special emphasis must be placed on investigations into crimes against human rights activists, lawyers, prosecutors, judges and applicants to the European Court of Human Rights and their family members.

MEPs urge the Commission to investigate whether the humanitarian aid it has provided for the Northern Caucasus region has in fact reached the people in need and to assess the effectiveness of this aid.
Parliament is concerned about reports of administrative and judicial harassment of some NGOs active in Chechnya, which seems to be part of a more general process threatening freedom of expression and of association in the Russian Federation, and urges the Russian authorities to put an end to this harassment.  
MEPs regret that the bill strengthening government control over NGOs in Russia was passed easily in both houses of parliament and failed to take fully into account the recommendations made by the Council of Europe in its provisional opinion on the matter. The House hopes that President Putin, before signing the bill into law, can still ensure that it is fully in line with the Council of Europe's recommendations and clearly designed to prevent harassment of NGO activists in Russia.  The House calls, in this regard, on the Council and Commission to make every effort to support the development and consolidation of a strong, lively, independent and genuine civil society in Russia as a fundamental and indispensable element of a functioning democracy.
Finally, MEPs call for the dropping of all charges against Stanislav Dmitriyevsky and calls on the Russian authorities to respect the freedom of the media and journalists.

 
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Standards of conduct for MEPs

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MEPs adopted a report from Gérard Onesta (Greens/EFA, FR) with 399 votes in favour, 90 against and 35 abstentions which makes a number of changes to Parliament's Rules of Procedure, aimed at updating the provisions on MEPs' conduct during debates. It notably adapts and clarifies the powers granted to Parliament's President to penalise Members who disturb parliamentary sittings.

 
 
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European Neighbourhood Policy: a tool for promoting democracy

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Parliament adopted a report calling for the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) to be used as a strong tool for consolidating democracy and the rule of law in the EU's neighbouring countries and promoting democratisation in non-democratic countries such as Belarus. The European Commission should give vigorous support to democratic forces in neighbouring countries, in particular by providing access to independent media and information.
 
In a report by Charles TANNOCK (EPP-ED, UK) MEPs call for clear priorities and evaluation criteria.  If countries violate international and European standards of respect for human rights and democracy, the EU should be ready to restrict or suspend aid and even to cancel agreements, says the report. 

MEPs welcome the idea of providing European neighbourhood agreements at the end of the ENP process, adding that such agreements can encourage step-by-step progress towards full access to the internal market, participation in the European security and defence policy and close cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs. However, they say the ENP should not only strengthen ties between the EU and the neighbouring countries but also promote regional integration between these countries.

Parliament believes the EU should leave its door open to membership for Ukraine and Moldova. It also proposes a European stability pact for the Southern Caucasus, modelled on the EU stability pact for South-eastern Europe.

Other points mentioned in the report are an improvement in energy network links as benefiting both the EU and its partner countries; an increase in trade and tourism, which will mean enhancing transport networks and will probably improve links between the partner countries; cooperation in environmental matters, such as water management, waste management, air pollution and combating desertification; and cooperation on legal and illegal immigration.
The House emphasises that the Nice Treaty is not an acceptable basis for further decisions on the accession of any more new Member States and therefore insists that the necessary reforms be brought into force within the framework of the constitutional process.

MEPs expresses their deep concern about the conviction of Ayman Nour, a prominent liberal opposition leader, who has been recently sentenced to five years' hard labour by an Egyptian court for supposedly forging signatures on petitions used to create his political party; regards this as a seriously retrograde step and calls on the Egyptian authorities to make every effort to ensure that this case is correctly dealt with.
Parliament welcomes the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, and the holding of legislative elections in Lebanon in June; calls for redoubled efforts to achieve a sovereign and democratic state of Lebanon in which all political and religious groups and communities take part in political and social life and human rights are fully respected, and calls for the full implementation of UNSCR 1559 including the disarmament of Hezbollah.

The European Neighbourhood Policy covers Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority.
 
 

Further information :

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Rejection of EU Citizenship Report

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Parliament rejected (347 votes to 276 votes with 22 abstentions) an own-initiative report by Giusto CATANIA (GUE/NGL, IT) on citizenship in the EU.
 
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Human rights: extradition of Alberto Fujimori, Sudanese refugees in Egypt, repression in Cambodia

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Three resolutions on human rights issues around the world were adopted, as usual, at the end of the Strasbourg session. MEPs supported the extradition of Alberto Fujimori from Chile to Peru, condemned the violence of the Egyptian police in clearing a group of Sudanese refugees from outside the Egyptian office of the UNHCR, and called for EU action in response to repression in Cambodia.
 
Peru - extradition of Alberto Fujumori from Chile
In its resolution on Peru and in particular the arrest of former President Alberto Fujimori in Chile on the basis of the international arrest warrant issued against him by the Peruvian authorities, Parliament congratulates the Chilean and Peruvian authorities on their effective cooperation in the detention of Mr Fujimori and welcomes the Chilean authorities' decision to formally initiate the extradition procedure.  It reiterates that the fight against impunity is one of the cornerstones of the Union's policy in the field of human rights; is of the view that it is the primary duty of all the partners to work together for respect for democracy and human rights.

MEPs therefore support the extradition of Mr Fujimori to Peru, which has already been formally requested, so as to ensure that Mr Fujimori appears in court to face the charges against him. Parliament expresses total confidence in the Chilean and Peruvian judicial systems, and trusts that this extradition will take place on the basis of full respect for the procedures and applicable legislation, and that Mr. Fujimori's trial will be conducted according to international standards.  MEPs urge the Peruvian government to take all necessary steps to ensure a policy of full protection of the witnesses in respect of the charges against Fujimori, as recommended by the ombudsman's office in September 2005
Egypt - violence against Sudanese refugees

On 30 December 2005, the Egyptian security forces evacuated by force more than 2500 Sudanese migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who were settled in Moustafa Mahmoud Square in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Headquarters, requesting to be  relocated to third countries since 29 September 2005. Reportedly, 2000 police officers surrounded the improvised encampment, fired water cannon into the crowd and beat individuals with clubs in order to end the sit-in. Eyewitnesses, the international press and human rights organisations have reported over 200 deaths. According to official information from the Egyptian authorities, only 27 people, all Sudanese and most of them women, children and elderly people, were killed, others were imprisoned and many others were injured following the Egyptian security forces’ attack.  A large number of refugees were arrested and brought to detention centres outside the capital following the incident.
In a resolution adopted by a clear majority the European Parliament condemns the violence of the Egyptian police, that resulted in deaths and injuries, and insists that the situation could and should have been resolved peacefully  It calls on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that police officers act in compliance with international standards and to put an end to the disproportionate use of force.

MEPs welcome the decision of the Egyptian authorities to start an investigation into the tragic events of 30 December and urge the Egyptian Government to involve UN human rights experts and members of independent Egyptian human rights organisations.  They recall that Egypt is a state party to the Convention against Torture and other international agreements which expressly prohibit the forcible return of anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.  They ask the Egyptian authorities to halt the forced deportation to Sudan of up to 650 Sudanese nationals, as the group is believed to include asylum seekers and refugees recognised by the UNHCR, and to respect the principle of non-refoulement.
Parliament calls on the Egyptian authorities to provide information on the places where Sudanese migrants and refugees arrested are settled or detained since 30 December 2005 and to release all Sudanese nationals detained during or following the events, unless they are to be charged with a recognisable criminal offence and, moreover, to ensure that all those held have full access to lawyers and their families, and receive adequate medical treatment when necessary.  It expresses its concern at the allegation of torture and ill treatment and appeals to the Egyptian authorities to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all migrants and refugees and to adopt a law on the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants which complies with international law, in particular the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
MEPs recognise the mandate of the UNHCR and the importance of its efforts to protect and promote durable solutions for refugees and other uprooted people who are its concern, and their support for the UNHCR’s work. However, they criticise the UNHCR for having been too slow in finding a solution for the Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers, and call on the UNHCR to clarify the procedure used in considering the requests submitted by Sudanese asylum seekers and the various initiatives taken to break the deadlock.
They also call on the European Commission and the Member States to establish a true partnership with the UNHCR by offering both political and financial support to assist the work of the UNHCR in Cairo, in order to maintain a constant dialogue with the Egyptian authorities, emphasising that the situation of the Sudanese migrants and refugees needs to be resolved peacefully.  They stress that respect for human rights is a fundamental value of the EU-Egypt Association Agreement, saying that the incidents of 30 December represent a serious violation of Article 2 of the Association Agreement.  Parliament calls on the Council and the Commission to emphasise this issue at the next meeting of the EU-Egypt Association Council and when continuing the EU-Egypt discussions towards a national Action Plan.  It also says the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) should have a specific programme to combat the use of torture and degrading and inhuman treatment.
Among other points, Parliament also welcomes and supports the worldwide calls to release the leader of the secular El Ghad party and former member of parliament Ayman Nour, and strongly urges the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the Ayman Nour is well treated and not subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment and that he is given prompt, regular and unrestricted access to his lawyers, doctors (as he is diabetic) and family.
Cambodia - political repression

In  recent weeks political repression in Cambodia has dramatically increased with several arrests of human rights workers, journalists and trade unionists for defamation offences.   Kem Sokha, President of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), Pa Nguon Teang, Acting Director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and radio director, Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association (CITA), and Mam Sonando, Director of the Beehive Radio, are facing trial. Yeng Virak and Kem Sokha were released on bail but the charges were not dropped.  For the same reasons, the Cambodian authorities are searching for Chea Mony, President of the Free Trade Union of Workers, Ea Channa, Deputy Secretary General of the Students' Movement for Democracy, Men Nath, President of the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants' Association, Prince Sisowath Tomico, secretary to former King Sihanouk, and Say Bory, advisor to former King Sihanouk. Several other activists and members of the opposition have left the country under the threat of arrest and persecution. On 22 December 2005 the leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, was sentenced in absentia to 18 months' imprisonment on defamation charges brought by the Prime Minister and the President of the National Assembly. Cheam Channy, Member of the Cambodian Parliament, was tried and convicted in August 2005, and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.

In a resolution adopted by a clear majority, Parliament says it is deeply concerned about the recent arrests and prosecutions and urges the Cambodian Government to consider very carefully the compatibility of such actions with the commitments it has given to its people and to donors to build a more open, democratic and just society.  It takes note of the release of the recently arrested human rights activists and calls for the annulment of all charges against them, as well as the annulment of all charges and arrest warrants issued on human rights defenders who are not currently detained.  It calls moreover for all acts of intimidation and harassment of human rights activists in Cambodia to be halted.

MEPs urge Cambodia to stop breaching its obligations under international law, and in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and immediately release Cheam Channy. They call for the judgment against Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch to be overturned and their parliamentary immunity restored.
Parliament strongly believes that the continuing detentions of leading figures from the political opposition, trade unions, the media and NGOs and the use of the criminal law in cases of expression of dissenting opinions on matters of politics and policy send a worrying message to the donor community on which the government relies for about 50% of its annual budget. It reminds the Cambodian Government that it has to meet its obligations and commitments regarding the democratic principles and fundamental human rights which are an essential element of the Cooperation Agreement of 1997 between the EC and Cambodia as defined in Article 1 of the Agreement.
MEPs call on the Commission and the Council to respond to the latest crackdown on civil and political rights in clear and unambiguous terms, in coordination with the donor community, at the forthcoming Consultative Group meeting. They express their support for the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose mandate includes protection and monitoring.

Parliament is concerned that the use of the Cambodian judiciary as an instrument of repression against the political opposition and civil society casts serious doubts on the Cambodian Government's commitment to establish the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in accordance with international standards of judicial independence, fair trials and due legal process, as agreed with the UN in June 2003.  Parliament questions the need for defamation of the office of the Prime Minister to be a criminal offence. It strongly believes that dissenting views and opinions should be challenged through public debate rather than criminal law suits and calls for prosecutions on defamation charges to be abolished, as they could easily be abused for political purposes.

MEPs call on the EU to take steps to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected and that attacks on civil liberties have consequences. They say the EU should also make continuation of its financial aid conditional upon an improvement in Cambodia's human rights record.  They call for an EP ad hoc delegation visit Cambodia to evaluate respect for Article 1 of the Cooperation Agreement and the situation of detained parliamentarians, media representatives and trade union leaders in the country.
Finally, Parliament call on the Cambodian authorities to fully implement the 1953 UNHCR Convention both with regard to the protection of Montagnard refugees, refraining from illegal forced deportation to Vietnam, and to granting refugee status to ethnic Khmer Krom escaping from Vietnam.
 
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