The Agriculture Committee today gave its full backing to the Commission's proposal for mandatory, detailed labelling of the materials in animal feedingstuffs, issued as part of a raft of legislation to tighten up animal feed rules heralded in the Commission's White Paper on Food Safety.
In his report, which was adopted unanimously, committee chair Friedrich-Wilhelm GRAEFE zu BARINGDORF (Greens/EFA, D), welcomes the Commission's response to Parliament's demand, first made in 1997 following the BSE crisis and forcefully repeated after the dioxin-in-feed scandal last year, for a full "open declaration", i.e. compulsory labelling explicitly indicating the components, quantities and origins of the ingredients of compound feedingstuffs.
At present, manufacturers are only obliged to list the ingredients of compound feed materials in descending order of their proportion by weight and need only indicate the category of ingredients (e.g. "oils and fats") without detailing the actual ingredients themselves (a "semi-open declaration").
In line with Parliament's consistent position of demanding clear labelling to guarantee effective consumer protection at the same time as consumer choice, the committee is tabling an amendment to add the requirement that manufacturers submit, on request, internal company documentation as evidence of the composition of compound feedingstuffs. It is also calling for a binding, exhaustive list of permissible feed materials. As the original deadline of 1 July 2000 for implementing the legislation has passed, it wants to allow an extra six months.
Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf will present the committee's position to the full House for its first reading at the beginning of October in Strasbourg. In the meantime, the Council has signalled its intention of watering down the Commission's proposal so that manufacturers would only be legally obliged to indicate, on the label or packaging leaflet, the quantities of ingredients in percentage bands by weight, and not the actual percentages. Individual farmers would have to request a detailed list of all the ingredients and their actual percentages by weight if the manufacturer chose not to include the information with the product. This could mean some tough negotiating between Parliament, which has codecision powers in this area, and the Council, when Parliament comes to consider the Council's common position at second reading.
13.09.2000 Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Chaired by Friedrich-Wilhelm GRAEFE zu BARINGDORF (Greens/EFA, D)
The Foreign Affairs Committee has adopted the reports on the membership applications of the three Baltic countries and the position reached in the accession negotiations.
The reports welcome the progress made by the three countries. The report by Gunilla CARLSSON (EPP-ED, S) says that Estonia could be one of the first new countries to join the EU. The reports by Magdalene HOFF (PES, D) on Lithuania and Elisabeth SCHROEDTER (Greens/EFA, D) on Latvia call for the negotiations to be conducted in such a way as to enable these two countries to join the leading group of applicants.
The reports also hail the work done by the three countries in incorporating Community law into their national legislation and urge them to push ahead on this front. Ms Schroedter's report welcomes the fact that Latvia has decided to stop entering the ethnic origin of individuals in their passports and identity documents, and to introduce an identity card showing just their nationality. The committee is also glad that Estonia has adopted new legislation on language issues which conforms entirely with international norms.
The Baltic states are asked to carry on with their economic reforms. At the same time the reports call for EU aid to help restructure the farming sector. They note that the EU's common agricultural policy will also cause distortions in competition in the market for agricultural products in the applicant countries. This is particularly true of Estonia, whose farmers receive minimal subsidies and face competition from imports from the EU sold at artificially low prices. The need for "asymmetry" in trade liberalisation during the pre-accession process is mentioned in the report on Lithuania.
13.09.2000 Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy Chaired by Elmar BROK (EPP-ED, D)
Following its 1996 Green Paper "Education, Training and Research; the obstacles to mobility", the Commission in January 2000 presented a proposal for a recommendation on mobility within the Community for students, persons undergoing training, young volunteers, teachers and trainers. The proposal, which comes under the codecision procedure, was examined by Robert EVANS (PES, UK), whose report has now been unanimously adopted by the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport.
While considering the Commission proposal a step in the right direction, the committee regrets a number of deficiencies and omissions. It says it fails to understand why researchers, a category covered in the 1996 Green Paper, were not included in the recommendation. It also stresses the need to remove legal, administrative, language, cultural and financial barriers to mobility and suggests specific measures to achieve this, e.g. promoting the learning of at least two Community languages, encouraging linguistic and cultural preparation prior to any mobility scheme, promoting wider use of various means of financial assistance and fostering a European qualifications area, including a common European format for CVs.
The committee believes that participants in such schemes must be made more aware of their social security and health cover entitlements when temporarily residing in another Member State and that fees currently charged for the renewal of residence permits should be regarded as a tax on mobility and hence an obstacle to it.
Voluntary work should be considered as an activity in its own right, distinct from waged labour, and due account should be taken of this distinction. In addition, experience gained by teachers and trainers in another Member State should be taken into account for promotion purposes.
Against the background of enlargement the candidate countries should be involved as early as possible in order to encourage their nationals to take part in mobility schemes. Efforts should therefore be made by Member States to remove obstacles to the mobility of third country nationals under Community programmes. Finally, the report calls on the Commission to play an active role in promoting mutual recognition of qualifications and in disseminating information about mobility. More should be done, it says, to improve awareness and understanding of cultural concepts and differences.
The debate on this report is scheduled for the October I part-session in Strasbourg.
13.09.2000 Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport Chaired by Giuseppe GARGANI (EPP-ED, I)
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Commission proposal on ECSC budget to be adjusted
The Budgets Committee has adopted a report by Heide RÜHLE (Greens/EFA, D) proposing that the overall figure of EUR 190m proposed by the Commission for the 2001 ECSC operating budget be accepted but that the funds be allocated differently.
The committee argues that the figure for redeployment aid should be EUR 70m (compared to the Commission's proposal of 80m). It wants more funds for research in the coal and steel industries (85m as compared to the Commission's figure of 76m) as well as increased support for social measures (31m as against the Commission's 29m). Looking ahead to the expiry of the ECSC Treaty in 2002, the committee calls on the Commission to submit a financial estimate of the new activities to be included under the general budget, as these could have an impact on Category 3 (Internal policies) of the financial perspective.
The report will be debated at the October II part-session in Strasbourg.
13.09.2000 Committee on Budgets Chaired by Terence WYNN (PES, UK)
The Temporary Committee on Echelon, chaired by Carlos COELHO (EPP-ED, P), started work on Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 September, when it held talks with Commissioners António VITORINO (responsible for justice and home affairs) and Erkki LIIKANEN (enterprise and the information society) respectively.
Mr Vitorino stressed the need to guarantee and protect fundamental civil rights, for which purpose the laws governing wiretapping and data surveillance would have to be harmonised. As to whether Echelon actually existed, the Commissioner would not give a direct answer. Instead he joked: "I believe in God and Echelon but have never met either". The committee's rapporteur, Gerhard SCHMID (PES, D), was concerned that privacy was being violated not only by illegal cases of wiretapping but also by similar activities authorised by the courts. He highlighted the problems that could be caused by the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by the intelligence services, pointing out that there were major differences between the Member States in this area. The intelligence services were governed by national law and it was therefore national authorities which decided whether their activities were legal or legitimate.
Speaking the next day, Mr Liikanen said that data protection was dependent on the design and use of reliable encryption systems. A high degree of protection was essential, he said, if the public was to trust and use the new information and communication technologies - and trust was a prerequisite for the development of such technology. He therefore believed that existing directives on data protection should be updated to cover electronic communications and not just telephone and fax messages, as was currently the case. As to whether Echelon existed, Mr Liikanen would only say that the technology which would enable such activities to be carried out did exist. In reply to Mr Coelho, who asked what the Commission planned to do with regard to Echelon, the Commissioner ruled out the idea of setting up a task force within the Commission itself, preferring to leave the initiative with Parliament's Temporary Committee on Echelon.
During the meeting the committee also adopted the work programme presented by its rapporteur, Mr Schmid, who said "if one wishes to make political judgments it is essential to know what one is talking about". For this reason he proposed that the committee begin by hearing from technical experts before hearing from politicians. The aim would be to find out whether a comprehensive surveillance system was really technically possible in the first place.