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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 11 February 2004 - Strasbourg OJ edition

7. Question Time (Council)
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  President. The next item is Question Time (B5-0007/2004).

The following questions are addressed to the Council.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 1 by María Izquierdo Rojo (H-0845/03):

Subject: Disappearance of crops and of the social fabric in Andalusia as a consequence of the new proposals relating to the COMs in olive oil, cotton and tobacco

The Commission's proposals concerning the olive oil, cotton and tobacco crops produced in the Mediterranean will, as they stand at present, lead to a drastic shrinkage in production and to the collapse of the associated social and economic fabric in the most disadvantaged Objective 1 regions. The problem is made all the more acute by the fact that there are no economic alternatives to those crops which have the same ability to generate employment and prosperity in the production areas. Furthermore, the Commission has not put forward any serious proposals with a view to retraining agricultural workers who lose their jobs and it is trying to modify certain COMs which have operated satisfactorily.

Ever since the EU's structural policies were introduced, copious sums of money have been invested in nurturing this agriculture-based socio-economic fabric, only now for a substantial amount of that painstaking investment simply to be swept away.

Will the Irish Presidency ensure that approval of the Commission's proposals is made conditional upon the submission of programmes and projects incorporating viable alternatives which will protect jobs and safeguard the existing social fabric?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. In November 2003 the Council started its examination of the legislative proposals that the Commission had forwarded to it on 18 November 2003, aimed, inter alia, at integrating the support schemes for cotton, olive oil and table olives, tobacco and hops into the regulation on general reform of the CAP, which the Council adopted in September 2003. An initial general debate was held on these two proposals for regulations at the Agricultural and Fisheries Council on 17 December 2003. At that meeting the producer Member States' delegations voiced their misgivings about the impact which the proposed measures would have on the sectors concerned, in the knowledge that it involved crops located, for the most part, in Objective 1 areas with conversion difficulties.

These discussions are ongoing and it would be premature to prejudge the outcome of the proceedings and discussions to be held in the Council. Nonetheless, the Council will pay special attention to the impact of the reform on regions whose agricultural economy relies heavily on crops covered by the reform. The Council and the Commission have taken due account of the European Parliament's opinion in the framework of the reconciliation procedure and will endeavour to find a balanced solution, taking into account the various interests at stake.

 
  
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  Izquierdo Rojo (PSE).(ES) I would like to thank the Council very much for that reply, even though I feel it was not very full.

I would like to ask the Council whether it would be willing to consider these measures due to be approved in the COMs as provisional, until we have the relevant information relating to the impact on employment in agriculture.

I conclude from this response that there may be a negative effect on employment in agriculture and that the Council does not want this to come about. I would like to ask whether it would be possible for the Council to class these measures as provisional until their impact is evident.

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I take the point made by the Member. I am not sure whether one could attach the term 'provisional'. The presidency is aware that these proposals could have an impact on the social fabric, particularly in regions such as Andalusia. We are very concerned about that. The presidency is aware of the concerns of producer Member States that, if alternative enterprises are not available for farmers who are in receipt of decoupled or partly-decoupled payments, they could opt out of production altogether and that would leave the area with resulting damage to the rural fabric. I believe that is the point of the Member's question.

The Commission has taken this into consideration in formulating its proposals. It proposes that a percentage of the producers' support expenditure be retained as national envelopes to address such problems. So there is an element of contingency built into the proposals. The Council will look closely at those elements of the Commission's proposals and will try to find a compromise solution that will be acceptable to producer Member States. As I have said, the Irish presidency is particularly aware of this type of potentially negative regional impact. We are very concerned that it should be minimised.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 2 by Mary Elizabeth Banotti (H-0847/03):

Subject: Social inclusion, third sector

Given the fact that much of the funding for the development of the third sector and improving social inclusion in Ireland and other Member States came from the European Union, what priority is the Irish Presidency giving to tackling social exclusion and poverty, and how does the Council intend to promote social inclusion in disadvantaged areas of the Union?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. It is actually a very interesting and comprehensive question, as I would have expected from Mary Banotti. As Mrs Banotti is undoubtedly aware, the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 asked the Member States and the Commission in particular to take steps to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty; the whole Lisbon Agenda was not just focused on enterprise. It also agreed that Member States should coordinate their policies to combat poverty and social exclusion on the basis of the open method of coordination, combining common objectives, national action plans and commonly-agreed indicators with the aim of promoting more ambitious and effective policy strategies for social inclusion, together with a Community action programme to run from 2002 to 2006 and designed to encourage cooperation and the sharing of experience and best practice between the Member States. That was a rather long-winded sentence, but the proposition was focused in a way that makes sense.

Following the submission of the second round national action programmes on social inclusion for the period 2003-2005, the Commission adopted its second report on social inclusion in December 2003. This report identifies key trends and challenges across the Union. It is also interesting in that it identifies group practice and innovative approaches of common interest. That will form the basis of the joint Council and Commission report on social inclusion which will be presented in March at the spring European Council.

An important feature of the report is the increased attention given to regional and local variations in the levels of poverty and social exclusion, and how the underlying causes of poverty and social exclusion can vary from region to region. I suspect that this was an issue that was very much in Mrs Banotti's mind when she framed her question.

On a regional basis, in particular, declining regions with negative migration, high unemployment and increasing dependency contrast with problems of congested and growing regions where issues of accommodation feature more highly. There are differences and regional disparities which feed into the overall picture.

The issue of marginal rural areas with ageing populations, poor services and higher dependency levels is also highlighted in the study. In addition, specific emphasis is being given to the particular concentrations of poverty and multiple deprivation in communities, particularly urban communities, for example amongst migrant populations.

The point I am making about poverty is that there are regional differences and disparities, as we are all aware. This is the background and against this background the report stresses the importance for Member States to develop integrated and coordinated strategies at local and regional level. This is particularly important in communities facing multiple disadvantages. Such strategies should adapt policies to the local situation, facilitate the mobilisation and involvement of all actors – including the third sector – and ensure more accessible and quality services for the poor and for socially-excluded citizens.

As far as the Irish presidency is concerned, the presidency will take all necessary steps to ensure that the Union's social inclusion goals are fully reflected during the course of the preparation and in the follow-up to the spring European Council. For the first time, for example, in March 2004, the meeting of the Employment and Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will forward to the spring Council a key messages paper which will include its views on the issue. It will also report on the Lisbon goals relating to social protection and employment policy, including the goals of combating poverty and fostering social inclusion in Member States.

Finally, the Irish presidency will take a number of initiatives to assist Member States to develop further policies and programmes to combat poverty and foster social inclusion. There will be three specific conferences during the course of the Irish presidency. The first of these is to be held on 1 and 2 April in Bundoran in County Donegal, a particularly appropriate location given its regional position. It will address reconciling mobility and social inclusion and the role of social and economic policy.

The second will be held on 13 and 14 May in Dublin: the Families, Change and Social Policy in Europe Conference. This will include a discussion on the family as a focus of social inclusion and social cohesion.

The third will be on 28 and 29 May in Brussels. It will be a follow-up to a previous conference. It will be a special meeting of people from European Union countries who have experienced poverty. The aim of this conference will be to develop further ways to promote the participation, at all levels, of people experienced in poverty and to promote the creation of structural networks to facilitate this.

I am sure the Member will agree with me that in framing policy, no matter how good policy-makers are, it is only by listening to people who have had the experience on the ground that you really make policies which are focused efficiently and effectively on the needs of families and communities in poverty.

 
  
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  Banotti (PPE-DE). Mr President, I hardly dared to think that I would get such a long and comprehensive answer to what was in fact a three-line question. It was really a trap for the Minister because naturally I am interested in what is happening throughout Europe, but I am particularly interested in what is happening within my own constituency, where there is considerable concern that the Irish government is in fact not fulfilling previous promises to various groups that have put considerable effort into devising programmes and projects under this heading.

I refer particularly to Dun Laoghaire, Rathdown, which in many cases is recognised as being an affluent area but does, of course, have serious pockets of disadvantage, which local organisations have made a significant effort to address. I am very glad to hear that the Irish Government and presidency are as committed as the Minister has said. Minister, what are you going to do closer to home to ensure that many of these projects that are extremely well thought-out are actually going to survive?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I am sure the honourable Member would not want me to dwell on the excellent policies – in particular the social inclusion policies – that the government of Ireland has recently introduced, but would perhaps want me to make sure that I address this appropriately in a Council dimension.

In my reply I made the particular point that even in affluent areas – indeed the Member mentioned an area which is generally perceived as very affluent, and quite rightly so – there is poverty and deprivation.

One of the issues we face in Ireland is that, in many ways – particularly when people produce statistics to support the kind of contention which has just been made – we are the victims of our own success; that is one of the charges which is made. I am aware that some of the studies focused on in the honourable Member's question have suggested, for example, that in Ireland a lower proportion of GDP is devoted to social protection than in the rest of the EU. The figures often used are 14% or 14.7%, compared with an EU average of 27.5%. That is where some of these basic comparisons are made. That is, however, a statistical aberration if you look in detail at the statistical base on which the comparisons are made. Ireland's GDP, for example, is up to 15% more than its gross national income. That is very unusual in a Member State. It arises largely because of the nature of our economic development, as the honourable Member will know, and arises predominantly because of repatriation of capital funds. Social protection, as a percentage of GDP, would be over 70%, which is a more realistic indicator.

Rather than get involved in a big statistical debate, the point can, and should, be made that poverty and pockets of poverty will be found in any society, irrespective of how affluent it is. That is why anti-poverty programmes must be more strategically focused and based on listening experiences, and we in the Irish presidency are trying to achieve this.

Poverty is very much a relative issue. Any objective observer would say that most Member States – including my own Member State – have done extremely well recently. However, one always has to be focused on the specific type of poverty which was addressed in the supplementary question and which I sought to address in my original response. Individual pockets will inevitably occur. However, to get back to reality, the situation in the place we both hail from is rather better than the prognosis sometimes suggests.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 3 by Lennart Sacrédeus (H-0849/03):

Subject: Dawit Isaac, journalist missing in Eritrea

In September 2001, the Eritrean Government banned independent newspapers. Ten journalists, including Dawit Isaac, were imprisoned. Dawit Isaac is both a Swedish and an Eritrean citizen and was one of the founders of Setit, Eritrea's first private newspaper.

The government in Eritrea refuses to say where Dawit and the others are. According to the Eritrean Government, he is being held in custody for reasons of national security. Dawit Isaac has not yet been allowed to meet representatives of the Swedish authorities and there is growing concern that he is not alive.

In what way is the Council prepared to exert pressure on the Eritrean Government to ensure that the fate of Dawit Isaac, an EU citizen, is clarified and his family and Swedish authorities are allowed to meet him?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I am aware of this case. The Council remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea in general, not just this specific case. The European Union's relations with the Eritrean Government have progressed over the last two years, after the difficult situation in late 2001, and a dialogue on the internal situation and on the peace process has been re-established. That is very welcome.

In meetings at local level the heads of mission have expressed, on several occasions, the Union's concern at the imprisonment of a number of people – among them many journalists – and the suppression of the independent press. Requests that those arrested be either charged or released have been reiterated. In October 2003 the Council welcomed the recent steps taken by the government of Eritrea to restore a climate of general communication and to develop a meaningful political dialogue with the Union. The EU also called upon the government to operationalise the dialogue, which is based on democracy, the rule of law and other essential elements of the Cotonou Agreement. In this context the Council will continue to raise individual cases, such as the case mentioned, with the government of Eritrea.

I reiterate that the issue of detainees has been formally raised within the framework of political dialogue. The Italian presidency specifically raised cases such as that of Mr Dawit Isaac – who is of dual nationality – directly with the Eritrean authorities. The Irish presidency will do everything that it can to support the hard work of the Swedish authorities who have been attempting to secure information on – and, more importantly, access to – Mr Isaac.

 
  
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  Sacrédeus (PPE-DE). (SV) Mr President, I also wish to thank the Irish Presidency for its answer and also sincerely welcome Ireland as the new country holding the Presidency of the European Union.

Specifically within the area of human rights, the EU can do significantly more than can be done by the governments of the individual Member States, for example those of Ireland or Sweden. I am therefore pleased about your commitment to human rights in Eritrea.

From the Irish Presidency’s answer, I understand that no new information has appeared. I would appeal to you, before your Presidency ends at the beginning of the summer, not to spare any effort whatsoever when it comes to obtaining more details concerning the Swedish-Eritrean journalist, Dawit Isaacs. We have warranted, and increasingly deep, concern regarding his fate and fear that he may no longer be alive. I would appeal to you to do everything you can to ensure that Dawit Isaacs returns to Sweden alive.

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I can well understand the concerns here. It has been some time since we have had news of Mr Isaac. All I can do is reiterate the point I made: the Council reaffirms very much the European Union's commitment to and respect for human rights. In fact, as the Member mentioned, human rights are not determined geographically; they are a universal fact of life, and every state with which this Union has any contact must be aware of our concerns in this regard, particularly where a person holds dual nationality which involves them being a citizen of an EU Member State.

I can well appreciate and support the Member's comments.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 4 by Gerard Collins (H-0850/03):

Subject: EU and South Africa

Will the President-in-Office of the Council make a statement on how the Council sees EU relations with South Africa developing during 2004? Does the Council consider that the EU and South Africa can constructively work together to mobilise and coordinate EU and international support for the Great Lakes Conference on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development, the convening of which the UN Security Council first supported as long ago as October 1994?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I would like to thank Mr Collins, who has a long-held and active interest in all matters relating to Africa, and indeed a very distinguished record in this particular regard.

The European Union sees South Africa as a major partner in its relations with Africa, not only in bilateral terms but also because of its role in SADC, in the African Union and in general in conflict resolution in Africa. South Africa has successfully organised and chaired conferences to solve the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Burundi, and this month the EU paid tribute to South Africa's decisive contribution in the conclusion of the political agreement with the Comoros.

South Africa has also contributed peace-keeping troops within UNAC-mandated missions to such an extent that the country has become the largest contributor to peace-keeping operations in Africa, and that by any standards is an extraordinarily distinguished record. The European Union has recognised these activities through public statements and has helped South Africa to finance its deployment with the African mission in Burundi, since it is a considerable financial drain on a country like South Africa, which still faces significant internal challenges – poverty, unemployment and of course the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

South Africa has played a very helpful and positive role in getting the EU-Africa dialogue back on track after the planned summit in Lisbon was postponed. South Africa is also a key supporter of the NEPAD initiative.

In the coming months under the Irish presidency of the Council, we will provide a number of occasions to deepen the dialogue with South Africa. Following the political dialogue meeting in the margins of the fourth meeting of the EU-South Africa Cooperation Council in Pretoria in December 2003, the presidency is organising a senior officials' meeting in South Africa early in its term, as well as a ministerial troika, a meeting which will be held in Dublin.

The meetings will allow an opportunity to deepen our dialogue and to discuss issues of mutual concern. 2004 is a particularly important year for South Africa as it celebrates ten years of democracy on 27 April. It is expected that EU Member States will be represented on this important occasion. Such an occasion is a cause of pride in South Africa, and we should share fully in that country's pride and in its achievements.

A planned conference on the Great Lakes is a UNAU initiative, building very much on African ownership. Ibrahima Fall, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, is responsible for the organisation of this conference and prepares it together with national preparatory committees in the seven core countries. The EU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region has offered his assistance and participated in some of the preparatory meetings. We will remain focused on this important conference which will seek to bring peace fully to this troubled region.

Let me again assure the honourable Member and you, Mr President, that the Irish presidency will engage with South Africa and other key African partners on this very significant and important issue.

 
  
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  Collins (UEN). I would like offer my thanks and appreciation to Minister Roche for his comprehensive reply, which I welcome. It is something that we will be able to refer to time and again in future.

I would like to say to the Minister that we must take into account, when dealing with South Africa, the fact that Zimbabwe is a country neighbouring South Africa and the political situation there is certainly a cause of very grave international concern and is an issue which has been raised on many occasions.

Could the presidency explain how it views the future relationship between South Africa and Zimbabwe, how it views the relationship between the EU and Zimbabwe, and could it say what effort the EU can make to bring about attitudinal change by the authorities in South Africa, to try and come to terms, in a pragmatic way, with the dreadful situation existing in Zimbabwe, which they have not yet faced up to?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. Mr President, that is a very interesting question. It is, as the Member has suggested, critically important that the European Union engage with South Africa on the sensitive issue of Zimbabwe. Issues in Africa cannot be resolved by people externally wagging fingers. The European Union acknowledges the leading role of South Africa, not just on the Zimbabwe issue but generally on the continent. It has a particularly significant role to play in its own southern African region. Therefore, we will engage bilaterally with South Africa on the issue of Zimbabwe, as we do with the Southern Africa Development Community of which South Africa is the leading member.

It has been agreed with both SADC and the African Union that Zimbabwe should be discussed as an issue of mutual concern. To take the point made by Mr Collins, the crisis in Zimbabwe directly affects its neighbouring countries and affects South Africa too. The impact of the situation in that troubled land on its surrounding countries has been the subject of discussion in the EU-Africa Ministerial Troika as recently as November 2003. The recent European Union-SADC joint committee of senior officials also discussed the issue. In our political dialogue with South Africa last December, there was a constructive exchange of views in relation to Zimbabwe and the South African side acknowledged EU humanitarian assistance to that troubled state.

To return to the point made by Mr Collins, I absolutely agree with him. A part of the key to resolving the problems in Zimbabwe will be found in South Africa. South Africa is a key player and the Union, as Mr Collins suggests, must engage with South Africa in that regard.

 
  
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  Rübig (PPE-DE).(DE) We know that business relations can also be a basis for improvements in political relations, and so my question is this: are there any plans to enhance the overall framework for business relations between small- and medium-sized enterprises or family companies between Europe and South Africa, because that could form a basis on which to create, in the poorer regions, prosperity – which is ultimately also the basis for building peace?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. 'Yes' is the obvious answer. Better business relations very frequently come after peace processes, rather than before them, but clearly anything that could contribute to the economic wellbeing of the particular area would be significant and important. There is no particular initiative in mind at the moment with regard to SME involvement in that part of the continent.

There are a number of areas that would be of significance during the course of the Irish presidency. We do not have formal agendas but we are looking, for example, at a review of South African developments in the context of the tenth anniversary of freedom and at a review of EU developments, particularly enlargement. We will also be looking in terms of developments in the African Union and in the New Partnership for African Development. The formation of the African Union and NEPAD is another important initiative. There is no substitute for African states taking ownership. Africa will have to take ownership but we in Europe have to support Africa in that. There is no substitute for African states taking ownership of the continent on the basis of a united approach.

Initiatives such as the African Union and NEPAD are of great importance. One of the ambitions of the Irish presidency is to raise issues relating to Africa higher up the agenda of the European Union. It would not only be positive in itself for Europe to take a more active role and interest in Africa, but Europe also has some moral responsibilities in the matter.

 
  
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  President. Question No 5 has been withdrawn.

Question No 6 by Brian Crowley (H-0853/03):

Subject: Promoting good practice in child protection for youth work across Europe

As the Council is aware, the EU's Youth Programme provides for mobility and non-formal education for thousands of young people aged between 15 and 25 years and is open to youth in 30 European countries. It offers possibilities to young people in the form of both group exchanges and individual voluntary work as well as support activities.

In the context of ensuring that the European Union takes the lead in protecting young people participating in such programmes from the risk of child abuse, and aware of the Irish 'Code of Good Practice: Child Protection for the Youth Work Sector' (September 2002), will the Council take immediate action to ensure that a child protection policy or strategy is incorporated in the Youth Programme, and will it propose the adoption of a resolution on the issue at the next Council of Youth Ministers, and will it also take the necessary action to ensure that a high level task force on the issue of child protection in the context of the review of the EU's Youth Programme is established?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. That is a very interesting question – as I would expect from one of the more youthful Members of this House.

The Council will begin its discussion of the Commission's proposal for the post-2006 Youth programme once it has been formally adopted by the Commission and forwarded to Parliament and the Council. In the meantime, it would not be appropriate for the Council to prejudge in any way the content of the proposal, which is entirely within the Commission's initiative.

In parallel, the presidency will take forward work on the new generation of European education, training and youth programmes. The presidency programme in the youth field includes a draft resolution on social inclusion with regard to young people which will, inter alia, invite Member States, in pursuance of the social integration issues contained in the White Paper on Youth, to develop strategies and proposals to ensure that meaningful social inclusion measures are developed in the context of youth policy.

I should also like to underline that the Council is conscious of the need to protect children against exploitation in all forms. This is an area in which the Council has adopted a number of measures, in particular, on 22 December 2003, a framework decision on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The framework decision obliges Member States to punish specific conduct linked to the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography as criminal offences under their individual national laws.

 
  
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  Crowley (UEN). Thank you for that answer, President-in-Office. You touched on some of the issues that I wanted to ask in my supplementary. As new communications technologies – the Internet, mobile telephones and so on – become available, we see cases such as those reported recently in Ireland, France, Italy and Germany whereby pornographic images of teenagers in schools were being distributed via mobile phones amongst fellow pupils. Can you lay down any specific proposals to be brought forward during the presidency, not only to tackle this in the legislative sense, but also with the aim of building partnerships between those involved in the industry on the technical as well as the distribution side and to put some of the responsibility and emphasis on those players to manage the way these networks operate?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. Mr Crowley is correct: modern technology and the evolution of modern technology bring a particular challenge. The cases which have been highlighted, for example in the Irish national media and the media in other countries, illustrate just how difficult it is for Member States to keep abreast of technologies and the abuse of technologies.

The protection of children – particularly in terms of the Internet and other evolving technologies – is clearly something to be concerned about.

With regard to pornography, and the actual peddling of pornographic images – whether on the Internet or via the new mobile phone networks – the framework decision of 22 December 2003 on combating sexual exploitation of children and child pornography is relevant. According to the framework decision, each Member State should take the necessary measures to ensure that all forms of child abuse are punishable.

What the framework decision had in mind – and this again illustrates how correct Mr Crowley is – was the exploitation by commercial interests of technologies. What it did not have in mind, clearly, was the type of abuse that has been highlighted in the press commentary to which Mr Crowley has drawn attention. The focus is obviously on prohibiting commercial exploitation and commercial abuse of new technologies as a form of child pornography and exploitation.

The proposals provide that in respect of offences concerning child pornography, each Member State should take the necessary measures to ensure that the production, distribution, supply and acquisition of child pornography are punishable. This will touch on the specific point that Mr Crowley was making about the new technology of mobile phones with photographic or video capacity. The framework directive is able to address the type of problem that he highlights.

It makes the primarily responsibility in this regard for dealing with issues as they arise a matter for each individual Member State.

 
  
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  Rübig (PPE-DE). (DE) One problem which of course affects young people in particular is unemployment. Unemployment gives rise to certain activities that are undesirable. The President of Eurochambers, Dr Leitl, recently said that unemployment is quite unacceptable as a matter of principle among young adults in the 15-25 age group, and that they should have a choice – either work or study – so that they can integrate into society. Do you think this type of initiative could also be launched within the Youth programme?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. The honourable Member is correct because unemployment, youth unemployment in particular, is a particularly difficult area. Part of the overall, general Lisbon process is to address unemployment at all levels. A famous political leader in my own country once said that a rising tide lifts all boats, in other words, that the best answer to poverty and the best answer to unemployment is to create jobs and to create the appropriate economic environment.

Within the Council's working party on promoting good practice in child protection and youth work across Europe you will find a reference to creating more coherence across policies, creating more coordination and cooperation in the formulation of policies of a social nature to address difficulties that appear in this sector. That call includes policies in relation to housing, education, training, social welfare, employment, health issues, crime prevention measures and many others.

Poverty produces many ugly results and when poverty affects young people, particularly in a modern society, it poses specific challenges for policy-makers, as the honourable Member has suggested. I take note of his comment and his suggestions.

 
  
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  President. Question No 7 has been withdrawn.

Question No 8 by Liam Hyland (H-0857/03):

Subject: Labelling of meats

A recent consumer survey organised by the Department of Agriculture and Food in Ireland reveals that most consumers want specific country of origin information in relation to all meat sales.

What is the Council's position on extending beef labelling regulations to the food service sector?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I am sure we would all join in sending good wishes and a speedy recovery to Mr Fitzsimons: a colourful man.

Mr Hyland asked a very important question, given some of the scares about foods, in general, and health risks. The Council is aware of the concerns that have been expressed by Mr Hyland. However, a proposal from the Commission, which would provide the basis for a detailed examination by the Council, is still awaited. The question anticipates something that will happen. I understand that shortly the Commission will submit to the European Parliament and to the Council a report on the application of current rules on beef labelling that will examine, in particular, the issue raised. The Council will then have the opportunity to discuss it in depth and will wish to ensure the greatest possible protection of consumers' interests.

I should like to make a further remark to my good friend Liam Hyland on this matter. The whole issue of labelling and of how labelling and consumer protection are interrelated has been something that Mr Hyland has been very active in for years. His question anticipates something that the Commission is about to do. His thinking has been in advance in this area for such a long time. In his question he identified an area that will require attention from the Commission, the Council and Parliament.

 
  
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  Hyland (UEN). With such very kind comments from the President-in-Office I am almost sorry that I have announced my retirement from the European Parliament.

As we have seen with the recent outbreak of avian flu in Thailand, the question of country of origin is one of genuine concern to European consumers. If proper traceability exists, then every food outlet should know the country of origin of the meat and other food products it serves. I know, and I am sure the minister knows, that producers and consumers in my own country, Ireland, are concerned that many restaurants are not able to provide this information. Apart from the safety and quality issues, this denies the consumers the right to support home or European production as opposed to third-country production.

My supplementary question is: does the Council accept that consumers had valid concerns in this area? I know now that it does and I am grateful to the President-in-Office for acknowledging this fact. What further action can the presidency take to ensure that this issue is addressed in future proposals on labelling? I know the Council will have a very positive input into the eventual outcome of this vital area of consumer concern.

 
  
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  Roche, Council. As one of Liam Hyland's many satisfied constituents all I would like to say to the House is that I too am sad that he has decided to hang up his spurs in this House. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will take his extraordinary energies and talents and employ them very well elsewhere. Ireland's gain in getting Liam back full-time will be this House's loss.

The Member is absolutely correct, because there are valid concerns about food safety and about the issue of labelling and the issue of traceability. For example, the BSE and foot-and-mouth scares shook consumer confidence right across Europe. The recent issues relating to avian flu mentioned by Mr Hyland have certainly shaken consumer confidence. In fact, it is not just an important issue: consumers have a right to be informed on an ongoing basis on any issue that is significant in terms of food safety.

The Irish presidency intends to facilitate the discussion of the labelling issue – which is the core of My Hyland's question – when the Commission presents its report, which we hope to see in the near future. We are particularly concerned to get this matter on the Council's table as soon as possible. In fact, in Ireland a detailed study on the issue was carried out by a specially-established food labelling group. Arising from the report of this group my colleague, Minister Walsh, Minister for Agriculture and Food, wrote to Commissioner Byrne in the autumn of 2003 and suggested that labelling regulations, specifically beef labelling regulations, should be extended to the catering sector. This is the very point that Mr Hyland has been making. Consumers have an absolute right to know where beef comes from and they have an absolute right to know what has gone into it because the adulteration of food products is a very serious matter.

My colleague, Minister Walsh, has asked that concerns in this matter be taken into account when the Commission is drawing up its report, and we look forward to the Commission communication in this regard sooner rather than later.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 9 by Seán Ó Neachtain (H-0859/03):

Subject: Consulting stakeholders in the fishing sector

Does the Council agree that fishermen and their representative organisations must be allowed greater participation and involvement in the decision-making process of the common fisheries policy? Does the Council agree that in order for fishermen to have confidence in the scientific advice which is used to take fisheries management decisions, there must be closer links developed between fishermen and scientists to improve the transparency of scientific advice? Does it also agree that regional advisory councils, which will include fishermen and their organisations in the decision-making process, are the way forward?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. This is a question from Mr Ó Neachtain: a good west-of-Ireland name.

The Council shares the view of the honourable Member that fishermen and their representative organisations not only should but must be allowed to have greater participation and involvement in the decision-making processes of the common fisheries policy. This is one of the principles agreed in the reform of the CFP adopted by the Council in December 2002. Closer links between fishermen and scientists would improve the transparency of scientific advice and that type of link is also to be encouraged.

The Council believes that regional advisory councils – RACs – are the way forward. As the President of the Council said to the Fisheries Committee in January, these regional advisory councils will provide a forum where all stakeholders can come together and discuss issues of concern. This process of dialogue should gradually lead to greater mutual understanding and trust. A few years back, as a Member of the Irish Parliament, I chaired a parliamentary committee which looked at the difficulties which the fishery industry had relating to officials in various regulatory agencies in Ireland. One of the suggestions we made at that time was that the very type of dialogue which Mr Ó Neachtain has actually been promoting in the fishing industry is centrally important if both actors are to understand their respective roles.

The Council aims to adopt the decision on establishing the RACs as soon as possible once it has heard the views of this Parliament on the matter. The Council looks forward to receiving these; again, sooner rather than later. I know that Mr Ó Neachtain will make a distinguished and very vigorous contribution to that debate.

 
  
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  Ó Neachtain (UEN). I want to thank the President-in-Office for his comprehensive reply and also for his support for the principle of regional advisory committees. I believe strongly that this new measure, which is included in the common fisheries policy for the first time, will be to the overall advantage of the fisheries sector in the years to come.

Does Minister Roche foresee, if it is successful, that this would become a more involved part of the common fisheries policy and would lead to fishermen and stakeholders having a statutory role in the development of the CFP in the future?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I should like to thank Mr Ó Neachtain for that. The response to his supplementary question was implicit in my response to the original question. The presidency indicated clearly last month that the regional advisory councils would provide an important forum for all stakeholders. There are issues to be resolved but I would agree with the general tenet that consulting stakeholders in the fishing sector is critically important,

The Irish presidency will be pushing forward the issue of how we communicate with citizens at all levels – corporate groups of citizens and private citizens at all levels. The type of development which Mr Ó Neachtain has actually been pushing for some time is very consistent with the central policy plank of the Irish presidency, and that is to improve, across the board, the relationship between the Community and the citizens of Europe, whether those citizens are involved in fishing or farming or any other enterprise.

 
  
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  President. As they deal with the same subject, the following questions No 10 and 11 will be taken together.

Question No 10 by Alexandros Alavanos, which has been taken over by Dimitrios Koulourianos (H-0861/03):

Subject: Attempts to solve the Cyprus problem

Many analysts believe that the elections in the self-styled 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' may provide a new impetus in reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem.

In the light of the results of the elections, does the Council consider that favourable conditions for a solution are developing? Are the positions adopted by Turkey bolstering initiatives to solve the Cyprus problem?

Question No 11 by Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (H-0042/04):

Subject: New developments regarding Cyprus and prospects of a settlement

During his recent visit to the USA, the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayip Erdogan, stated unequivocally before the Council on Foreign Relations that the Annan plan did not constitute a basis for negotiations but a point of reference for conducting them. He also stressed that an independent, impartial and politically influential country should take part in the negotiations as well as a new representative of Kofi Annan.

In the light of this information and the fact that Rauf Denktash continues to be the official Turkish Cypriot negotiator, does the Council believe that there is a possibility of swiftly finding a permanent solution to the political problem of the island?

Does it see any possibility of Cyprus becoming a member of the EU as a single entity on 1 May 2004 and implementing the acquis communautaire across the whole of its territory?

Does it intend to take practical measures to pursue such a policy?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. These are very timely questions. The European Council has repeatedly expressed its preference for the accession of a united Cyprus to the Union on 1 May 2004. The December 2003 European Council urged all parties – in particular Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership – to give their strong support to UN Secretary-General Annan's efforts and, in this context, called for an immediate resumption of the talks on the basis of his proposals. The UN reiterated its willingness to accommodate the terms of a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.

In the weeks since the European Council there have been a number of developments – in fact there have been developments within the last 24 hours – which have a bearing on the prospects for a comprehensive settlement. In northern Cyprus, following the December elections, for example, a coalition administration has been formed under Mr Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the CTP Party, which has been in favour of the settlement of the Cyprus problem and the accession of a united Cyprus to the European Union. Mr Denktash – the leader of the Democratic Party – is the other party to that coalition.

In Turkey, following an intensive consultation process, the National Security Council stated on 23 January 2004 that it had reached a consensus position in favour of negotiations, taking the Annan plan as a reference, on the basis of the realities on the island.

Prime Minister Erdogan himself discussed the situation with Secretary-General Annan in Davos on 24 January and subsequently stated publicly that Turkey supported the resumption of negotiations on the basis of the Annan plan with a view to approval of a settlement by referendum before 1 May.

Prime Minister Erdogan met with the political leaders of northern Cyprus, including Rauf Denktash, on his return from Davos. President Papadopoulos has reiterated the readiness of the government of the Republic of Cyprus to participate in resumed negotiations without preconditions.

Last week Secretary-General Annan invited the parties to resume talks on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of his proposals. He stated in his letters of invitation that he would take acceptance of the invitation as a commitment to finalising the plan with United Nations assistance by 31 March 2004, and to put a finalised plan to a separate, simultaneous referendum on 21 April 2004. The Secretary-General appealed to the leaders to summon the political will needed to bring about this result in the short time available.

Under the timetable set out in his letter, the parties would agree to conclude negotiations by 26 March. If a completed text has not emerged by then, Secretary-General Annan will make whatever indispensable suggestions are necessary to complete the text by 31 March. That is a very ambitious timetable.

The talks involving the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot leaders opened in New York yesterday, 10 February. This resumption offers a real opportunity to achieve the historic objective of the accession of a united Cyprus to the European Union on 1 May 2004.

We all accept that there are still issues to be resolved. But this Union strongly supports the central role of the United Nations in the search for a comprehensive settlement. We fully support this latest initiative by Secretary-General Annan, and the Council is ready to assist in any way he considers useful to encourage agreement.

The Commission will play an integral role in resumed negotiations in order to assist a speedy solution within the framework of the acquis. Following a settlement, the Union is ready to provide financial assistance for the development of the northern part of Cyprus.

The Council continues to hope that it will be possible to welcome a reunited Cyprus to the Union on 1 May 2004. I should say to the House that I have a personal reason for hoping that will happen on 1 May, in that the town in which I live will be host to Cyprus for the Day of Welcomes on 1 May 2004. The time remaining, however, is short and if negotiations are to be successfully concluded, difficult compromises – and, of course, political will – will be required on all sides.

The accession of a united Cyprus is in the clear interests of the people of the island; it is also clearly in the interests of the people of Greece and Turkey and this Union.

 
  
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  Posselt (PPE-DE). (DE) My question is simply this: can the Council assure us, in the context of the Cyprus negotiations, which I greatly welcome and support, that no deals on the opening of accession negotiations or accession itself are being made with Turkey behind the scenes?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I understand the question, but this is a very delicate period. The Member will be aware that talks involving the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders are continuing as we speak at the United Nations headquarters in New York under the auspices of the Secretary-General. Therefore we all have a responsibility to exercise great care in commenting publicly on the prospects for progress at this time. There is no question that side issues, nudges or winks are going to be made in order to produce a resolution.

In accordance with the clear commitment given to Turkey at the Copenhagen European Council in December 2002, the European Council will decide in December this year, on the basis of the report and recommendations from the Commission, whether Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria. When very detailed and delicate negotiations are ongoing in New York, this is not the moment to get into speculations about other deals. The reality of it is that the offer has been made, it is on the table, it is there for discussion and will be decided on in December next year. It relates to the objective Copenhagen criteria, which Members of this House and the Turkish Government understand.

 
  
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  Sacrédeus (PPE-DE). (SV) The European Parliament has previously expressed the view that it sees the Turkish presence in Northern Cyprus as an occupation. The European Community was born as a peace project, and our desire is to safeguard the heritage received from De Gasperi, Schuman, Monet and Adenauer. Against that background, is it in line with the EU’s ideas of peace and the heritage from our founding fathers to give Turkey a starting date for negotiations concerning membership of the European Union at the same time as Turkey continues to be an occupying power in Northern Cyprus? In other words, can a country occupy another Member State of the European Union and, at the same time, be offered talks on membership?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I have already indicated the objective basis on which an adjudication will be made on the issue of Turkish membership.

The Union has been the strongest and most consistent supporter of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's mission of good offices in Cyprus. Quite clearly, we are all very conscious of the role that the Turkish Government can play to bring about a resolution there.

I go back to the earlier point that I made. The objective basis on which any application for European Union membership will be decided is full and thorough compliance with the Copenhagen criteria. That is the basis; there is no other kind of bargaining to be done.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 12 by Josu Ortuondo Larrea (H-0001/04):

Subject: Is the Spanish Government in breach of Article 6(1) of the EU Treaty?

Over a hundred lecturers and professors of criminal law at public universities from all over Spain have published a manifesto in which they harshly criticise the 'lamentable and continuing spectacle' of the criminal law reforms promoted by the Aznar Government in 2003.

The publication condemns the latest amendment to the Criminal Code, which is intended to prevent the President of the Basque Government holding a referendum of the Basque people, and to cast him into prison if he does so. Similarly, it warns that the Spanish Government's policy of 'exacerbating the repression' in legal matters could result in the 'collapse of the rule of law, leaving nothing but barbarism'.

Is the Council fully aware of this situation? Article 7(1) of the EU Treaty states that 'the Council … may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of principles mentioned in Article 6(1), and address appropriate recommendations to that State.' Does the Council not feel that it has a moral, political and legal duty to check whether the points which have been raised are valid and, if needs be, to adopt the appropriate recommendations and measures?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. The Council refers the honourable Member to the reply it gave to his oral question H-0806/03 on the same subject during question time at the January 2004 part-session.

In this context, the Council would highlight the fact that the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – principles that are common to all Member States.

 
  
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  Ortuondo Larrea (Verts/ALE).(ES) I wish those Irish citizens still alive who remember being ruled from London were listening to this debate.

Ever since the European Union was created, peace has been one of its key objectives. Over a hundred lecturers and professors of criminal law from all over Spain have felt bound to publicly expose the collapse of the rule of law instigated by the present Spanish Government. I believe this cannot be ignored if the common objective is to maintain peace and integration. Peace and integration in Europe have to involve respect for democratic principles.

Are you satisfied that the Spanish Government is upholding democratic principles and the rule of law?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I understand the passion in the question but I would make the point that I really cannot add anything further to the responses to this question which have already been supplied to the Member, both on this occasion and on the previous occasion.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 13 by Bernd Posselt (H-0003/04):

Subject: Status of Kosovo

Does the Irish Council Presidency have any thoughts on how to tackle the question of the status of Kosovo?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. The Western Balkans will of course remain an important European Union foreign policy priority during the Irish presidency, as it has been during the preceding presidencies. We will seek in particular to build on the progress and good work by the Greek and Italian presidencies last year. The institutional framework for the Irish presidency is provided by the agenda agreed by the EU-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki last June, which I attended. That summit confirmed that the future of the countries of the Western Balkans lies in their integration into the European Union structures.

Real progress has been made in Kosovo in recent times, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The Council fully supports Harri Holkeri, the UN Special Representative for Kosovo, as he works to operationalise the policy of 'standards before status' and to ensure progress on the direct dialogue on practical issues between Belgrade and Pristina. Indeed, there could be no better special representative in this regard than Mr Holkeri; we in Ireland have reason to be grateful for his skills and particularly his negotiating skills. These are essential elements for further progress towards an eventual settlement to the status question.

In December the Council underlined the importance of structural economic reforms in Kosovo. Progress in the privatisation process is a key element in implementing economic reforms. The Council called on the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government to exercise their responsibilities constructively so as to enable the privatisation process to resume as soon as possible.

The Irish presidency will work to ensure the closest possible cooperation between the European Union and the wider international community in support of Special Representative Mr Holkeri.

In November, the Council reaffirmed the Union's readiness to assist in the realisation of a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo, within its place in Europe, in the context of the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1244 and the 'standards before status' policy.

We look forward to an early discussion of the report which the November Council requested High Representative Javier Solana to prepare, in close cooperation with the Commission and also in cooperation with Mr Holkeri. This will explore ways and means of further enhancing the European Union's contribution to the implementation of resolution 1244, taking full account of the stabilisation and association process tracking mechanism and the importance of the effective implementation of the 'standards before status' benchmarks.

 
  
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  Posselt (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, I would like to thank the Council President for his very full and detailed reply. I simply wish to add two critical comments or questions.

Firstly, we are constantly hearing the phrase 'standards before status'. I am told, however, by all the major investors in Kosovo that they will not be investing in Kosovo in the long term unless they have some idea of how status is likely to develop. In other words, the 'standards before status' concept only functions to a limited extent because there is simply no certainty about Kosovo’s future. That is a problem for economic progress.

The second point I would like to raise in this context is that the Americans have announced that discussions on Kosovo's final status could open in 2005. Should the EU not be preparing for these negotiations this year, in 2004, at the latest so that it is not presented with a fait accompli?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. Yes, the first point I have to make is that the Member is obviously correct: economic progress very much depends on circumstances. As a lecturer for many years in one of our universities in Ireland, I said that economic progress is the most delicate of all flowers and has to be nurtured by a very specific eco-environment which is especially friendly to its own needs. Private investment in any troubled region is very obviously determined by the general climate.

The EU is, however, anxious to support the economic development in Kosovo. In UNMIK Pillar 4 – I hate acronyms, by the way – the EU is assisting the revitalisation of economic activity in Kosovo towards the creation of conditions of a modern, open-market economy. This is the point which is at the heart of the supplementary question. The aim must be to establish a sustainable private sector which can create employment because that is the only hope for the region. The aim is to provide a long-term perspective. The requirement would be to bring Kosovo's legislative and administrative framework closer to European standards. If European companies are going to invest, that is what they will require.

The European Agency for Reconstruction continues to finance and manage sustainable reconstruction and development programmes in Kosovo. Ultimately, the solution will have to be found on the ground in that state by creating the kind of conditions that the Member has in mind. The presidency urges the provisional institutions to engage constructively in that process.

The Standards for Kosovo document – agreed on 10 December 2003 – and the ongoing development of the implementation work can provide a clear framework with which the provisional institutions must comply, but they can also provide a framework in which the necessary confidence can be built up. The review mechanism announced on 5 November 2003 envisages that progress made by the provisional institutions towards meeting the benchmarks will be assessed during quarterly period reviews.

If there is compliance with all of this it will build the type of confidence that is necessary if a sustainable economic development is to take place. Sustainable economic development will only take place if and when the conditions for investment are adjudicated to be appropriate by private enterprise and by private investors.

 
  
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  Ortuondo Larrea (Verts/ALE). –– (ES) I would like to congratulate the Irish Presidency and the Council on all the efforts they are making to resolve the Kosovo conflict and other conflicts around the world.

The Council and the Institutions are very concerned about what is happening in the world. They try to offer solutions and contributions to promote peace in the world and resolve conflicts. The European Union is also involved in helping to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. This even includes providing financial support for the peace process.

Mr President-in-Office of the Council, would it be too much to ask that some small efforts might be made too to help resolve the political conflict in the Basque Country, which is also part of the European Union?

 
  
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  President. – Although the question is valid, it is not relevant, as it does not relate to the Kosovo problem.

 
  
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  President. As they deal with the same subject, questions No 14, 15, 16, and 17 will be taken together:

No 14 by Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez (H-0007/04):

Subject: Violation of human rights inherent in the conditions in which Cuban prisoners are being held in the United States

The conditions in which five Cuban nationals are being imprisoned in the United States, in particular the obstacles to their relations with their families, constitute a blatant infringement of international law and a violation of human rights on the part of the US Administration. The European Union should intervene in order to protect human rights wherever they are violated and it is unacceptable for us to evade our responsibilities on the grounds that these violations are an issue of concern only to the United States and Cuba.

Will the Council take any steps to urge the US authorities to respect human rights and international law as regards these prisoners and their relations with their families?

Question No 15 by Pedro Marset Campos (H-0036/04):

Subject: Violation of human rights of Cuban citizens in the United States

The prison conditions under which five Cuban citizens are being held in the United States and the lack of direct contact with members of their families represent a flagrant breach of international law and a human rights violation by the United States Administration.

Does the Council not believe that the European Union should act to protect human rights, rather than evading responsibility by maintaining that such violations are a bilateral issue between Cuba and the United States? Will the Council take any action on this matter? Is the Irish Presidency aware of the failure of its Italian predecessor to respond to the questions tabled by the many Members concerned by this issue?

Question No 16 by Ilda Figueiredo (H-0058/04):

Subject: Violation by the USA of the human rights of Cuban citizens

The situation in which five Cuban citizens unjustly convicted and imprisoned in Miami find themselves, and the complete lack of contact between two of them and their close families amount to a serious violation of human rights by the U.S. Administration.

Is the Council aware of the situation these people are in? Will it take a stand on this issue to ensure genuine protection of human rights for all and not just for a few?

Question No 17 by Efstratios Korakas, which has been taken over by Ioannis Patakis (H-0061/04):

Subject: Human rights violations by the United States affecting five illegally detained Cuban citizens

The inhuman prison conditions under which five Cuban citizens are being detained in the United States for crimes of which they are innocent, and the ban on any direct contact with their families, represent a flagrant violation of international law and basic human rights by the United States Government.

Will the Council take steps to ensure that the United States respect the human rights of the five prisoners, abandoning the essentially complicit approach it has so far adopted? Will the Irish Presidency address this serious problem, or will it avoid the issue like its Italian predecessor, which did not even deign to reply to similar questions by numerous Members?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. The Council has nothing to add to the answers which were given at the September 2003 part-session, nor to those given to similar questions – Numbers H-0629/03 and H-0743/03 – at the November and December part-sessions.

 
  
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  President. – Although in principle there is no scope for supplementary questions following the reply by the President-in-Office of the Council, I will allow further questions to be tabled.

 
  
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  Martínez Martínez (PSE).(ES) Thank you Mr President. I should make it clear to the House that we will go on asking questions until the underlying problem and suffering cease to be an issue. We shall certainly continue to press for answers until we receive something better than mere bureaucratic responses. I would go so far as to say that the latter are unworthy of the person providing them.

The five prisoners in question received extraordinarily heavy sentences following trials deemed by US witnesses and legal experts to lack all legal validity. These trials were condemned as show trials. Further, human rights are being violated twice over. Not only are the prisoners being denied their rights, their families are too. The latter are being denied the fundamental right to visit their relatives.

I would like to ask whether the Council is concerned about the human rights of these particular Cubans or whether it is only concerned about the human rights of those other Cubans who have been so much in the limelight over the last few months.

Can a selective approach to human rights in Cuba really be justified? Should the approach really vary, depending on the identity of the violator of human rights and the identity of the victim of violation? Is the President-in-Office of the Council aware that the credibility and the authority of the European Union depend on it acting consistently? In this case, the Union’s approach has been entirely inconsistent. Nonetheless, all this could appear to be of minor importance in the broader context of the whole outrageous situation in Guantanamo Bay.

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I would hate to give Mr Martínez Martínez a bureaucratic answer, because I have a great deal of respect for him, knowing him, as I have done, for many years. He is a good friend.

The Council again emphasises that it deplores any situation where human rights are not upheld. They are a universal concern. As would be the case for citizens in any other country, if the Cuban Government is concerned about the welfare of any of its citizens in the United States, it is free to raise the matter with the US authorities, as provided for in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

I must support the answers given during previous presidencies. The reality is that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations provides the framework on which issues of this nature are dealt with and the means by which the Cuban Government is entitled to make representations on behalf of any of its citizens.

There is one other issue on which I anticipate a supplementary question: access. I know access to prisoners by their relatives is one of Mr Martínez Martínez's concerns. The position is that all states have an exclusive and unqualified right to decide on entry into their territory by non-nationals. I cannot add a great deal more than has already been said. However, I emphasise that the Council deplores any situation where human rights are not upheld. As Mr Martínez Martínez may be aware, I am a past human rights fellow of the United Nations. I take all human rights issues very seriously indeed – irrespective of where they arise and irrespective of which states are involved.

 
  
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  Marset Campos (GUE/NGL).(ES) I would first like to thank the President-in-Office of the Council for his helpful reply. I do not find it fully satisfactory, however, because he has cited the Vienna Convention as the legal basis in this case.

The European Union certainly has taken action in similar cases in other parts of the world. It is therefore my understanding that the reply given is not correct. When difficulties concerning human rights have arisen elsewhere between two countries covered by this Convention, the European Union has in fact expressed its concern for human rights. It has interceded and asked for human rights to be respected.

I therefore call on you to revise your argument and develop it further. Failure to do so would be construed as prejudice.

 
  
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  Roche, Council. Again, I stand by the answers that I have already given on this issue. I would hate to think that anything I have said could be interpreted as indicating any partial approach to any human rights issue anywhere. Human rights is a universal concern and I would not like it to be thought that the Irish presidency, or indeed any other presidency of the European Union, would adopt a partial approach to issues relating to human rights. We have to be consistent, and, as I have already said, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations provides the framework in the light of which any issues arising should first be addressed.

 
  
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  Figueiredo (GUE/NGL). (PT) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, I too am dissatisfied with your answer, as I have heard accounts from relatives of Cuban citizens unjustly held in US prisons, who have been denied any visiting rights. In one case, a mother was denied any access whatsoever to her son, and in another, the wife of one of these detainees also told me that she had been prevented from visiting her husband in US prisons. This is, obviously, a flagrant violation of human rights. Consequently, I ask you once again what measures the Council must take to intervene in order to uphold the rights of this mother and this wife, so that they may be able to visit their relatives held totally unjustly in US prisons.

 
  
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  Roche, Council. At the risk of repeating myself, as regards access by relatives to prisoners, the honourable Member well knows that the position is that all states have an exclusive and unqualified right to decide on entry to their territory by non-nationals. That is well recognised in international law.

The second point is that if the Cuban Government, which is clearly responsible for its own citizens, feels that issues arise that constitute an infringement of the Vienna Convention, it has an opportunity to address those issues. There is really nothing further the presidency can add to this.

 
  
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  Patakis (GUE/NGL), – (EL) Mr President-in-Office, I really appreciate the difficult position you are in, having to give a reply on this acute problem, a reply on which we insist and which we demand from the European Union, from the Council, when it takes initiatives on other matters. On this particular issue, we are fully aware of the inhumane treatment of these people, which violates international law and human rights.

What have these people done, Mr President-in-Office? They were sentenced as criminals because they tried to prevent criminal terrorist organisations paid by the USA to work against Cuba and the murder of its leaders, including Fidel Castro himself.

This incident clearly proves how hypocritical and selective everything said by the USA and the European Union about combating terrorism is. As long as the European Union does not say a word about the release of these patriotic fighters for democracy, it is aligning itself fully and participating in the strategy against Cuba, which is a beacon for the peoples in the area.

I ask you, Mr President-in-Office, how does the European Union feel when, on the one hand, it talks about combating terrorism and, on the other hand, it is basically becoming the accomplice of the USA in the measures which they are taking against anti-terrorist fighters?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. I certainly reject the suggestion that the European Union, and certainly this presidency, is in any way equivocal on matters relating to human rights. As I have already said, the Council and the European Union deplore any situation where human rights are not upheld, but again, as I have already said, if the Cuban Government is concerned about the welfare of any of its citizens in the US, it is free to raise the matter directly with the US authorities, as provided for by the Vienna Convention on consular relations.

That is the issue. That is where this matter lies. There is a right to raise the matter there. Whether Members are satisfied or not with that answer, it happens to be the position in international law. It is established by the Convention and I can go no further.

 
  
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  Crowley (UEN). I am afraid that I am going to add to the President-in-Office's misery and woe with regard to these questions.

I should like to make a suggestion, rather than ask a supplementary question. Could you, Mr President-in-Office, give us in this House an indication that, to achieve the result we all wish to see, you might, at some stage in the course of the presidency, bring up this issue – on a quiet basis – with your counterparts from other Member States, as well as from the US and perhaps Cuba?

 
  
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  Roche, Council. If I answered Mr Crowley's question in the affirmative it would not be very quiet. However, he knows me well enough to know that I am bold enough to raise issues where they need to be discussed, even though they may sometimes cause discomfort. I do not want to create any false hopes, but I make the point that there are facilities, particularly within the context of the Vienna Convention, for the government of Cuba – which is primarily responsible for the wellbeing of its citizens – to raise this issue if it so wishes.

 
  
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  President. As the time allotted to questions to the Council has elapsed, Questions Nos 18 to 33 will be replied to in writing (1).

That concludes Question Time to the Council

(The sitting was adjourned at 7.01 p.m. and resumed at 9 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR FRIEDRICH
Vice-President (2)

see Minutes.

 
  

(1) See Annex 'Question Time'.
(2) Composition of Parliament:

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