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Debates
Monday, 1 October 2001 - Strasbourg OJ edition

7. Expiry of ECSC Treaty
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  President. – The next item is the joint debate on the following reports:

- A5-0303/2001 by Mr Turchi, on behalf of the Committee on Budgets, on

I. the amended proposal for a Council decision on establishing the measures necessary for the implementation of the Protocol, annexed to the Treaty of Nice, on the financial consequences of the expiry of the ECSC Treaty and on the Research Fund for Coal and Steel

[COM(2000) 519 + COM(2001) 121 – C5-0165/2001 – 2001/0061(CNS)]

II. the amended proposal for a Council decision laying down multiannual financial guidelines for managing the assets of the ‘ECSC in liquidation’ and, on completion of the liquidation, the ‘Assets of the Coal and Steel Research Fund’

[COM(2000) 520 + COM(2001) 121 – C5-0166/2001 – 2000/0363(CNS)]

III. the communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the ECSC Consultative Committee, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Expiry of the ECSC Treaty: Financial activities after 2002

[COM(2000) 518 – C5-0204/2001 – 2001/2095(COS)]

and

- A5-0297/2001 by Linkohr, on behalf of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy, on the amended proposal for a Council decision laying down the multiannual technical guidelines for the research programme of the Coal and Steel Research Fund

[COM(2001) 121 – C5-0167/2001 – 2000/0364(CNS)]

 
  
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  Turchi (UEN), rapporteur.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the framework proposal before us establishes the succession of the European Community to the ECSC. According to the proposal, the net revenue deriving from the investments of the assets of the Coal and Steel Research Fund would constitute revenue in the EU budget. This revenue would be earmarked for a specific purpose, namely for financing research projects in the sectors related to the coal and steel industry. The Research Fund would be managed by the Commission. Out of the amounts yielded by the Fund, 27.2% would be allocated to the coal sector and 72.8% to the steel sector. This breakdown could be modified only by a unanimous decision by the Council. Lastly, the proposal states that the administrative expenditure resulting from the liquidation, investment and management of the Research Fund will be covered by the general budget.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this brief summary I have not forgotten our role: quite simply, in its future form, what was the first European Treaty, the first stone set in place for the creation of a united Europe, completely abolishes our institution. I am firmly opposed to the approach of the Commission, whose framework proposal provides for Parliament merely to be consulted on matters concerning the fund’s financial and technical guidelines. Such a passive role is envisaged for us that it is completely contradictory to the present-day requirements of transparency and accountability, and Parliament would have even less power than it does in budgetary matters.

In my report, I made a number of demands to the Council: firstly, I asked for the codecision procedure to be applied; secondly, I requested the full budgetisation of the annual interests of the fund as preallocated revenue, through the creation of a specific budget line in the revenue and expenditure side of the budget following the principles of budgetary specificity and neutrality, in line with the provisions of the Interinstitutional Agreement and the Financial Regulation; thirdly, I requested that the related administrative costs, estimated at around EUR 8.4 million, should be included in this budget line, for otherwise they would have to be met from the general budget.

In addition, I included the possibility of revising the ratio of appropriations dedicated for coal and steel research respectively, as production will increase as a result of enlargement. I have noticed that the resolution tabled before the House still contains a reference to the ECB, which I would ask you to disregard: this is an amendment which I have withdrawn and which has remained in the resolution due to a technical error.

With regard to the request for the codecision procedure to be applied, I would stress that the Commission’s legislative proposal is based on the Treaties and on the Nice Protocol, which states that the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission after consulting the European Parliament, is to adopt all the necessary provisions for the implementation of this Protocol. In practice, Parliament is deprived of any power, despite the fact that the administrative expenditure of the Coal and Steel Fund would have to be met from the general budget.

This means that Parliament would have to approve this additional expenditure and give discharge to the Fund without having any influence at all over the implementation of its activities. My request for the codecision procedure to be applied is not, therefore, a request for a different legal basis to be used, just for reference to be made to a different article. Indeed, the Commission’s document refers to the Treaty establishing the European Community, without specifying any particular article, and to the Protocol annexed to the Treaty of Nice, Article 2 – under which the European Parliament has consultation powers only – a Treaty which, however, is not yet in force and which it is highly unlikely will become effective before July 2002.

Consequently, we are in a very fluid situation which has never occurred in the past and will never occur again, since the ECSC Treaty is the only Treaty to have an expiry date, and I would stress this. Moreover, even if the Protocol annexed to the Treaty of Nice does come into force, it only refers to the procedure for approving the package as a whole and makes no mention of the multiannual decisions. I therefore propose to request that the codecision procedure be applied, as laid down in Article 2.5.1 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, and in this I believe and hope I can count on the same support from this House that I received in the Committee on Budgets.

Then, with regard to the full budgetisation of interests and the possibility of the administrative costs being met from this budget line, Parliament gave its consent in 1998 for all the interests of the Fund to be used for research.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I said before, the situation which we have to address is highly unusual and will certainly never be repeated: we are dealing with the only Treaty to have an expiry date, the succession of the European Community to which depends largely on a Treaty which has not yet been ratified and may well not be ratified in time.

In my opinion, and in this I am supported by the coordinators of the political groups in the Committee on Budgets, if the line I have taken in the legislative amendments is endorsed by this House, before expressing the European Parliament’s opinion, we should enter into negotiations with the Council and the Commission, seeking to increase our institution’s role. Therefore, when we have voted on the legislative amendments, I will ask the presidency to postpone the vote on the legislative resolution until the possibility of an agreement with the Commission and the Council increasing Parliament’s role can be verified. I hope that you will agree with this line of approach.

 
  
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  Linkohr (PSE), rapporteur. (DE) – Mr President, Mr Turchi deserves our agreement. What the Council is offering us is a bit rich. In Nice, fundamental democratic values were invoked, and in the same breath the ECSC Treaty is annulled and a research fund established, without the possibility of Parliament having any part in deciding the matter. I must say, they really have a nerve!

Back to the matter in hand. We are, in fact, funeral orators here, for we are burying a treaty which, almost fifty years ago, was the prelude to the European Union, but whose death is a remarkable one. It is a death and a rebirth together, for other treaties arose from this one, and at the end of the day, the European Union is based on what it had in mind.

In this context, I would like to point out that Robert Schuman at the Paris Conference in 1950 – held on 9 May, which is of course our Europe Day – observed that this was the first stage of European federation. He did not speak in terms of a coalition of nation states but of a European Federation, showing himself to be much more far-sighted than many of our statesmen and stateswomen and, indeed, than those among us who cannot yet bring themselves to utter the word 'federation'. I am just pointing this out; I assume that it will be mentioned in the history books.

Secondly, this treaty is now to give birth to a research fund. Mr Turchi has pointed out that the money is not simply being returned to the Member States, but is being invested in a fund which is in future to finance research into coal and steel. This is sensible, but it does create problems. One is that Parliament has no control over this fund. I mentioned this contradiction at the outset. A second is that it creates difficulties for the research framework programme. What demarcation is there between the research framework programme, which we decide on democratically, and the Research Fund?

Thirdly, what is to happen to the acceding countries? Every one of them wanting to belong to the Research Fund must in fact make an initial contribution to it in order to take any part in it. Even that creates more than one class of research in the European Union. What I suggest – something which has been taken on board by the Research Committee – is that we should resolve this conflict, and, moreover, in a positive way by, in the course of the next few years, creating from this Research Fund a Research Foundation which would develop alongside the research framework programme. Funds could be paid into it by Member States, but also from private sources – it is above all the private sources I am thinking of – in order to finance research projects other than into coal and steel.

In the meantime, we are fortunate in having many affluent people who do not know what to do with their money when they reach a certain age, and who make donations. Trust funds come into being, and this Foundation can be built up by donations of this sort and so be able to concern itself with subject areas far more wide-ranging than coal and steel. I hope that Parliament will agree to this recommendation. The consequence would be that the Commission would reconsider and would perhaps present a report on how this could be translated into action.

We have some experience of this in Germany. Parallel with State support for research, we have a research foundation which has functioned well ever since the 1920s and uses a minimum of bureaucracy in putting wind in the sails of German research. It would be no bad idea to do that on a European scale.

Let me finally observe that proposals 1 to 5 in my report are founded on an error. I recommend that we should not vote on them. They are in any case covered by their inclusion in the Turchi report and in the amendments. I therefore recommend that there should be no vote on them. I might add that they were not voted on in committee either. This really is a mistake. Apart from that, I hope that this research fund really will give rise, in the next five to ten years, to a second support for research in the European Union. We would thereby be making good this undemocratic error which is, in this day and age, really intolerable.

 
  
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  Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the PPE-DE Group is going to vote in favour of the Turchi report on the two amended proposals for Council decisions and the communication from the Commission on the financial activities resulting from the expiry of the ECSC Treaty and those resulting from the creation of the Research Fund for Coal and Steel. We also agree, like all the other coordinators of the political groups – we have already done so in the Committee on Budgets – with the strategy proposed by the rapporteur.

From a budgetary point of view, the report proposes certain innovations which, after discussion in our parliamentary committee, have been accepted by all the political groups in that committee.

In particular, the rapporteur accepted the suggestion to extend the list of advisory bodies by adding the European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank and other European institutions that are relevant and competent in this field. Furthermore, the original conditions on the financial programme which should be presented to explain the activities of the Research Fund were also relaxed. The original idea of producing annual financial plans seemed excessively restrictive.

Basically, however, the Turchi report requests parliamentary control of the Research Fund for Coal and Steel and that request is totally coherent with this Parliament’s role.

We would not be representative of European citizens if we accepted being left out of the control of research funds. We in the Committee on Budgets do not question where the ECSC reserves should end up, and neither do we enter into whether or not those companies maintain differential treatment in relation to other strategic sectors. We simply ask that co-decision be applied here, which the Council is repeatedly denying us.

If, as Mr Linkohr said, a European policy on coal and steel is going to continue to exist after the expiry of the ECSC Treaty and if that policy is going to be developed largely by means of this Research Fund, the European Parliament must naturally be involved in the processes of management and control of that fund.

We therefore ask that the income of the fund be included within the general budget of the Union. More budgetary control, more parliamentary control, means more transparency and more responsibility. We cannot understand why our institution should be left out of such an important area. We are therefore voting in favour of the Turchi report and the whole strategy it proposes.

 
  
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  De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, I support the proposals in the Linkohr report. The situation in which we are seeing the Commission and Council fail to give Parliament codecision in relation to this Fund and the technical guidelines which will be produced in relation to it is not acceptable and there should be a change of attitude in relation to that.

It is a great pity that we are moving away from the social policy aspects of these Funds, which provided some relief for companies and, in particular, the workers of companies who were being restructured. ISPAT in Cork, Ireland, which was formerly a state company, was bought over some years ago by a private company and is now in liquidation. The 400 workers there are in receipt of statutory redundancy – a few thousand pounds for literally a lifetime's work – and yet when government and trade unions sought support from the social policy aspects of this Fund they were refused. It is quite extraordinary that we have this situation. It is even more extraordinary because ISPAT was a plant which recycled scrapped steel: the objective of the new Research Fund is to improve environmental standards and the impact of the steel industry on the environment, and here was a company that was actually doing that.

It must be emphasised very strongly that, insofar as this Research Fund has any impact, it must be on safety at work. In January this year there was an unfortunate case where a man lost his life in this steel factory. The company had failed to invest in fire-fighter training and to provide for escape hatches and this man lost his life as a result of the company's negligence. We need to ensure that health and safety regulations are strictly enforced.

 
  
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  Ahern (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, I would like to welcome and endorse my colleague, Mr Linkohr's report, particularly his comments on the involvement of Parliament and on the evolution of European Union democratic structures. This Treaty, along with the Euratom Treaty, remained outside the treaties establishing the European Union and therefore outside democratic scrutiny and control. This is totally unacceptable, particularly at a time when energy installations, both nuclear and non-nuclear, could be a focus of terror attacks. Therefore health and safety should be our foremost concern.

As other colleagues have pointed out, the lack of parliamentary scrutiny has made the Commission's proposals unacceptable and the Greens cannot, therefore, agree to the Commission's proposal on the expenditure for the research fund. For how could Parliament's Committee on Budgets discharge the budget without exercising its function to scrutinise the financial management and allocation of funds?

Finally, the expiry of the ECSC Treaty after 50 years reminds us that the Euratom Treaty, which has also existed outside the democratic scrutiny and control of this Parliament, is an anomaly as more and more Member States are moving away from nuclear energy and towards new forms of energy and that this anomaly, which happily will end with the Coal and Steel Community, still continues with the Euratom Treaty.

 
  
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  Seppänen (GUE/NGL). – (FI) Mr. President, over the previous decade the European Coal and Steel Community has borrowed money from the markets and in turn has loaned funds for research activity in the coal and steel sector. With the Coal and Steel Community now ceasing its operations, it was found during the winding-up proceedings that it still has a surplus of 1.1 billion euros. Now, rules of the game are being created to govern how the yield on this money will be used for research activity in the coal and steel sector. I regard the setting up of the Research Fund as a positive thing, while on the other hand the ending of funds for use in combating social ills is a bad thing. According to the Commission proposal, the management of funds investment activities is being handled and research projects are being prepared by an army of about thirty officials, the maintenance of which will cost three and a half million euros; this gives the impression of an oversized bureaucracy, and therefore Parliament must take another look at the matter when it discusses the questions of releases of liability.

According to the revisions contained in Mr. Linkohr's report, a special European Research Foundation should be set up; the activity of the Coal and Steel Research Fund should be extended to other areas; and funding from the private sector should also be accepted. Mr. Linkohr, this is a dubious proposal. We already have the EU's Joint Research Centre and a framework programme for science and research. I understand Mr. Linkohr's positive approach to research activity, but we must not create a new bureaucracy. It is necessary to set up a Coal and Steel Research Fund, since the ECSC is winding up its operations. It is justified that its funds be ploughed back to the sectors from which they were accrued, but the idea of a Research Foundation which would be funded by the money of the EU's taxpayers and of firms will increase the amount of inefficient bureaucracy. It would be better for Parliament to demand the codecision procedure for the science and research sector, and to leave all aspects of implementation of the programmes to the Commission. We do not question Mr. Linkohr's good will towards science and research.

 
  
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  Mombaur (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, a treaty expires, but the foundations remain, for the foundation, the ECSC Treaty, has long been part of the structure of the European Union. We still, too, have the day of commemoration of 9 May 1950, that day when Robert Schumann presented the brilliant plan of Jean Monnet from the South of France and thereby laid the foundations of what we today call the European work for peace. The ECSC Treaty has two successors: the subject of our speeches today and, as regards future coal mining, the aid issues with which we will deal later on.

I would like to make four brief remarks about the two reports before us. First, the procedure proposed here is distinguished by pre-democratic conceptions. This was tolerable in 1952, but it is of course no longer acceptable to let the Council alone decide when, in the meantime, the Union's citizens have elected us to be their fifth democratic Parliament. We must be clear about that.

Second, it is right to use the annual revenue of EUR 45 million to support coal and steel research. One could say in legal terms that it is an anticipated form of reinforced co-operation among a few. It is of course just as right to consider how the committee recommends, on the basis of Mr Linkohr's presentation, to progressively make the fund into a foundation, because then the problem of new members will be easier to solve than if they had to have a share in the old members' contributions.

Third, the Commission has done the right thing in subordinating the Research Fund to fundamental rights, for the Charter of Fundamental Rights recapitulates the laws in force. That means that everything that is to be organised at a European level must be measured against the yardstick of fundamental rights and is bound by them. I find it objectionable that the Council, in its deliberations, struck out these three proposals by the Commission and wants to remove the text's reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. That constitutes an incredible legal scandal, which we must denounce, and for that reason I call it by its name.

So I come to my fourth point, and am particularly curious to know how you, Commissioner, will respond to it. Your Commission originally rested on a different legal foundation. You now refer to the protocol to the Treaty of Nice, and that is pretty breathtaking, as the Treaty of Nice is not expected to enter into force before 23 July 2002. On that day, however, the ECSC Treaty ceases to have effect, and we can hardly allow a lawless state of affairs. So I would very much like a reply from you as to how you intend to proceed and as to what you intend to propose, so that there will be no state of lawlessness from midnight on 23 July 2002, for then the gripping question would arise of to whom this money, which would then no longer have an owner in law, actually belonged.

 
  
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  Rovsing (PPE-DE).(DA) Mr President, I agree with the many speakers who have criticised the lack of democracy in the continued administration of the funds. As has been pointed out, the treaty expires on 23 July of next year. This treaty formed the basis for the European Union as we know it today. It launched the concept of the ‘Common Market’ and, with the introduction of the High Authority, a common assembly, a special Council of Ministers and a court, those institutions were established which now operate as the Commission, the European Parliament the Council and the Court of Justice. I think it is worth mentioning this.

Where the political objectives are concerned, it has of course to be said that these have been fulfilled in many areas. When we debated the future employment of the funds to be administered, it would have been desirable if a larger proportion of the budget could have gone on coal, and I am certain that the Commission will bear this in mind when the future arrangements for the Research Fund are discussed.

I think there is cause here today for expressing appreciation for the work done in those institutions, bodies and companies which, for 50 years, have been responsible for the ECSC’s activities and, specifically, for the contributions from the Commission and the advisory committee. As has been said, more research will take place, and this research will be of benefit to the environment, industry and our electorate in the European Union.

 
  
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  Wallström, Commission. – First of all I thank Parliament's responsible committees and their rapporteurs.

These proposals are the final product of a long discussion process initiated by the Commission ten years ago. The concept proposed by the Commission is to revert the ECSC assets to the remaining Communities upon expiry of the Treaty and to use the resources produced from these assets for the sole purpose of funding research in the sectors related to the steel and coal industry. This concept has been discussed with industry, the social partners, the European Parliament and the Member States. Eventually all stakeholders endorsed it.

The Member States have been very closely associated in this discussion, which is completely justified since together they are the owners of the ECSC assets. If there were no agreement on the Member States' side these assets would simply revert to them, in line with the principles of international law.

The European Council has provided us with detailed guidance on the subject, firstly at the Amsterdam European Summit in 1997 and more recently at the Nice intergovernmental conference last year. On this latter occasion the Member States adopted a protocol attached to the Nice Treaty which details the arrangements regarding the expiry of this Treaty. The Commission is bound to respect the decisions taken in Nice. It is in this context that the Commission has to address your amendments.

You have requested that all three decisions should be adopted through the codecision procedure. I regret to say that the Commission cannot accept this request. In the case of the framework decision, the decisional procedure has already been agreed upon by the intergovernmental conference in Nice. For the two decisions on the financial and research guidelines respectively, the Commission has followed the same line as for other, similar proposals in research policy or regarding our financial regulation. For example, the specific programmes of the European Union Research and Development Framework Programme are submitted to Parliament for its opinion, as is the case for the Financial Regulation. If the Commission departed from this line it would not be consistent. On the other hand, I would like to stress that Parliament's involvement in the proposed arrangements is much stronger than it was under the ECSC Treaty.

As regards the budgetisation of the funds after the expiry of the Treaty, the Commission agrees that the resources and the expenditure will be incorporated into the general EC budget. However, they will consist of earmarked revenue which, according to our Interinstitutional Agreement, is not covered by the financial perspectives. Therefore we could not go along with the proposal to simply incorporate the resources and the expenditure into Chapter III, internal policies of the budget, and to delete any reference to earmarked revenue.

You also suggested that within two years, by 24 July 2004, the Commission should make proposals to enlarge the post-ECSC research fund into a European research foundation covering all research sectors over and above steel and coal. Indeed, I am aware that such a foundation has been suggested to us on several occasions. I have noticed that the corresponding amendment refers to the draft decision on the research guidelines only. From a legal point of view the research guidelines lay down the technical provisions related to the implementation of the research activities, but they cannot cope with an issue of an institutional nature like this one.

More generally speaking, the proposal to set up a research foundation has already been made to the Commission on several occasions, in particular in the course of the discussion in the Council, but it was rejected. The first reason is that the management of the ECSC funds after 23 July 2002 will involve three aspects: firstly, the management of the ECSC commitments existing on that day until their expiry – and in some cases they will continue for 20 years or more; secondly, the financial management of the ECSC assets; and thirdly, the management of the research fund financed from the resources produced from this financial management. The three elements are therefore closely interlinked and it is not possible to isolate any one of them. Furthermore it is clear that a majority of Member States oppose the implementation of the research fund through a foundation. Finally, the very small amount involved in the proposed research fund would not justify the creation of a foundation. Therefore the most sensible solution is that the Commission, which has managed all ECSC operations so far, should continue to manage them all.

Finally, I have taken note with particular interest of your request that environmental considerations should be given priority in the operations of this coal and steel research fund. I am pleased to say that current research projects financed under the ECSC Treaty already put much emphasis on cleaner technologies, energy saving and the protection of the environment in both the coal and steel sectors. I can assure you that we will continue to attach great importance to these considerations, as well as the issue of safety at work, in the research guidelines which we are now proposing.

To conclude, let me answer Mr Mombaur's question on the specific issue concerning the legal basis of the three-year Commission proposals. As you know, they are based on a protocol annexed to the Nice Treaty and we will now have to reflect on how to deal with the uncertainty surrounding the entry into force of the Treaty. The Commission's services are currently exploring this issue and considering alternative scenarios. So the answer is that we will have to continue to look at that particular issue. Thank you once again for the careful analysis of the Commission proposals, your contributions to this debate and for your attention.

 
  
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  President. – Thank you very much, Commissioner.

The joint debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12.30 p.m.(1)

(The sitting was closed at 8.55 p.m.)

 
  

(1) Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes.

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