Index 
 Previous 
 Next 
 Full text 
Debates
Tuesday, 11 January 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Question Time (Commission)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is Question Time, with questions to the Commission (B6-0001/2005).

Part I

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 26 by Jacky Henin (H-0505/04)

Subject: Disappearance of textile quotas

As a result of the proposal adopted by the Commission on 26 October, textile import quotas are going to be abolished from 1 January 2005.

In terms of industrial restructuring and employment, this decision is going to have very major consequences for some of the Union's regions. Economists in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region are already speaking about the loss of 9 000 of the 29 000 direct jobs in the textile industry in that area.

A veritable human tragedy awaits the workers concerned and their families.

What specific aid measures is the Commission going to take to safeguard and develop employment in the EU’s major textile industry regions, particularly in terms of structural funding and combating intra- and extra-European relocation processes?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission Honourable Members, I am responding to this question on behalf of my colleague, Mr Mandelson, who is unable to be here today as he is currently on his way to India.

The WTO Agreement on Textile and Clothing, which established a ten-year period for the elimination of the quotas, expired on 31 December 2004, and trade in textile and clothing products is henceforth subject to the general WTO rules.

Quota removal is likely to reshape the export of textile and clothing and global outsourcing trends. There may be a substitution effect among suppliers to the advantage of the countries that are able to offer a full range of products, economies of scale, competitive prices and efficient services. The impact of abolishing quotas will indeed be considerable, though it is difficult to assess at this stage. Moreover, it is likely to vary greatly depending on country conditions, the ability to achieve competitive advantages in the higher value added production segment and domestic policy responses. Sustained efforts are needed to help upgrade the skill levels of workers, improve the quality of their jobs and empower social partners at all levels to address the many challenges in the sector.

As far as Europe is concerned, this sector definitely has assets for the future. Investment, a move upmarket and world leadership in the fashion industry have made Europe the world's biggest exporter of textiles and its second biggest exporter of clothing.

The Commission believes that this entails a three-pronged response: monitor the level of imports into the EU, help the sector strengthen its competitiveness and remain a key industry in the EU, and keep a special focus on the poorest and more vulnerable developing countries. The Commission communication of 13 October 2004, entitled 'Textiles and Clothing after 2005', is a key element of this strategy. This communication was a response to the set of recommendations by the High Level Group on Textiles and Clothing, in which trade unions were represented.

On structural funding and relocation processes, the participation of the textile and clothing sector in multisectoral programmes should provide an efficient framework for supporting the sector, allow for diversification of production and ultimately serve the economic interests of the regions in question.

In addition, the Commission proposes that in all future programmes, Member States should reserve an amount of 1% of the Structural Fund’s annual contribution for the 'Convergence' objective and 3% of the Structural Fund’s annual contribution for the 'Regional competitiveness and employment' objective, to cover unforeseen local or sectoral crises linked to economic and social restructuring or to the consequences of trade opening.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Henin (GUE/NGL). (FR) Madam President, allow me to express to this House my heartfelt solidarity with the millions of employees who will see their lives shattered in the interests of satisfying, once again, a minority of affluent people.

Indeed, the economists of the International Federation of Trade Unions talk of what they, if not the Commission, know will be the destruction of thirty million jobs, a million of them in Europe, North Africa, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. As if what a number of these countries have just experienced were not enough, they now find themselves in even deeper trouble. It is, I strongly emphasise, the Commission’s, the Council’s and Parliament’s responsibility and duty to put a stop to this social disaster.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 27 by Robert Evans (H-0509/04)

Subject: Slavery in chocolate production

The Commission must be aware of the problem of forced and illegal child labour in the cocoa industry.

West Africa provides most of the world’s cocoa, where over 200 000 children are thought to be working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, July 2002). European consumers are faced with the possibility that some of the chocolate they eat has been produced by forced labour.

Could the Commission inform me of what initiatives it has undertaken to ensure that the taste of slavery is irradicated from the European diet?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. Honourable Members, I am responding to this question on behalf of my colleague, Mr Michel, who is unable to be here this afternoon, as he must attend the donors' conference on the tsunami disaster.

On this issue, the approach of the Commission is twofold. Firstly, on the one hand, we support the initiatives and programmes of the ILO. Secondly, we reinforce the capacity of the countries in the region to implement the relevant Cotonou provisions and different Economic Community of West African States protocols and initiatives in the area of child protection.

The International Labour Organisation, through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, launched in 2000 a new initiative called 'Combating Trafficking in Children for Labour Exploitation in West and Central Africa'. In 2003 a 'West Africa Cocoa/Commercial Agricultural Programme to Combat Hazardous and Exploitative Child Labour' was added, focusing in particular on cocoa farming.

The Commission has a strategic partnership with the ILO, in which the fight against child labour is a priority. In that context, a programme of EUR 15 million under the ACP funds is currently under consideration. The objectives would be, inter alia, firstly, to establish a sustainable mechanism to prevent children from carrying out all sorts of labour in the agricultural and other sectors. Secondly, to strengthen the capacity of national and community-level agencies and organisations in planning, initiating, implementing and evaluating action to prevent and progressively eliminate child labour. Thirdly, to remove all children involved in work in the cocoa sector, to prevent children at risk from entering such work, and to improve the income-earning capacity of adult family members, particularly women, through social protection schemes.

ECOWAS is active as a regional organisation in the fight against child labour. In addition to the Cotonou provisions on trade and labour standards, the ECOWAS Heads of State have adopted a declaration and a plan of action to fight child exploitation, and ECOWAS has recently set up a child unit in its secretariat. The 9th EDF Regional Indicative Programme will provide capacity-building to this new unit within ECOWAS, with a view to promoting the effectiveness of its work.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Evans, Robert (PSE). I thank the Commissioner for giving me information on the ILO and various other organisations and activity which is already in the public domain. I wonder whether the Commission is actually considering a more positive agenda with regard to companies who are making profits out of this at the moment, by perhaps insisting that unless European companies – and do not forget that Europeans and North Americans consume most of these cocoa products – can give a guarantee that they are not making their products and profits on the back of child labour, then they cannot import them into Europe. Has the Commission considered that and will the Commission consider it?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. The Commission believes that the framework of the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the 77 ACP countries gives real opportunities to address the human and social aspects of this practice, as well as the corruption element that may be linked to it, through political dialogue and support for good governance in ACP countries. Moreover, it considers that poverty and the lack of local opportunities are amongst the main reasons for exploitative child labour and child trafficking. The poverty- reduction approach through EU development cooperation is a sound basis for tackling the problem as it gives priority to equitable growth and to better access to education.

Finally, the Cotonou Agreement represents an important step forward in promoting CLS in bilateral agreements. Article 50 includes a specific provision on trade and labour standards, which reaffirms the commitments of the Parties to international CLS as defined by the relevant ILO Conventions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Harbour (PPE-DE). Is the Commission aware of the fact that the world Chocolate Manufacturers Association concluded an agreement back in 2001 specifically to deal with this issue? Would the Commission therefore undertake to look at the report that is due in the middle of this year from the international chocolate manufacturers, commend them on the work that they have been doing and encourage them to continue to develop their certification programme?

I am at a loss as to why chocolate has been singled out in this respect because there are many other food products being sourced from Third World countries where the same issues pertain – labelling issues and quality standards are very important across the whole of the sector.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. I will certainly bring Mr Harbour's comments to Mr Michel's attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 28 by Bogusław Sonik (H-0572/04)

Subject: Suspension of food exports from the new Member States to Russia

I propose that the Commission immediately commence talks with the Russian Federation on the threat of a suspension of and raising barriers against food exports to Russia from Poland and other new Member States. These talks should help facilitate, normalise, accelerate and define the inspection criteria. I wish to express my indignation at the Commission's stated position that the issue of veterinary inspections by the Russian Federation is an internal matter for the above states. This statement smacks of discrimination against the new Member States in EU internal relations, because Member States do not have the power to make independent decisions regarding veterinary matters related to the import of products from third countries. Hence, it will be impossible to resolve the problem without dialogue between all the parties. This situation is not new to the Commission, as it has already 'supported' talks between France and the United States on a similar matter.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. I am responding to this question on behalf of my colleague, Mr Kyprianou, who is unable to be here today, as he is unwell.

The Commission has made all reasonable efforts to avoid disruption in exports of animal and plant products from the European Union to Russia. This potential disruption arises from Russian insistence that EU exports meet its specific import requirements.

For animal products, there was the concrete concern that trade would be totally blocked from 1 January 2005. From this date, in fact, Russia insists on a single set of sanitary certificates for imports. However, negotiations led by the Commission on behalf of the EU have averted this risk.

As regards plant products, where a similar risk to exports could materialise from 1 April 2005, the Commission intended to start negotiations as soon as the risk emerged, and asked the Council to endorse this. Following a debate among Member States on the basis of this request, the AGRI Council in December 2004 agreed and the Commission immediately started negotiations on these issues on behalf of the EU. The Commission is confident that this will lead to a successful outcome.

The honourable Member can be assured, therefore, that although the Commission has very little competence in relation to export requirements in third countries, it has expressed its willingness and has been proactive in view of helping to solve this kind of problem and, as soon as the Commission was given the green light from the Council, it engaged in timely negotiations.

In the course of negotiations, no distinction has been made between the new and former Member States. However, Russia has insisted on inspecting all establishments in the new Member States which have requested approval for export. The Commission has highlighted that these same establishments have been approved for intra-EU trade following the enlargement process. It has also pressed for the inspection process to be carried out as quickly as possible.

Overall, this situation has undoubtedly led to disruption in the trade of these Member States with Russia, and it is not made easier by the fact that Russia is not a member of the WTO and does not therefore consider itself bound by the rules of the WTO.

The honourable Member may rest assured that the Commission has involved all Member States in the efforts to avoid trade disruption, in particular the new Member States. These efforts are continuing and the Commission will continue to defend the Community interest.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sonik (PPE-DE). (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, the situation is more dramatic than might be supposed from the Commissioner’s reply. Since 1 May, Russia has been playing games and not accepting goods from Poland in retaliation for the refusal by certain countries, such as the Baltic countries, to accept Russian imports because they failed to meet the sanitary requirements laid down by the EU. Member States do not, however, have the power to take independent decisions on veterinary matters relating to imports of products from third countries. I would ask you to take urgent action on this matter.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. As I stated in my reply, the Commission has treated this matter with considerable urgency, when we asked the Council to give us the go-ahead and when we engaged in negotiations. The honourable Member is correct that it imposes certain major difficulties on some of these countries and the Commission will do its very best to achieve a satisfactory solution. However, I must stress the limits of what we can achieve. Hopefully, with goodwill on all sides, the matter can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion in the near future.

 
  
  

Part II

Questions to Commissioner McCreevy

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 29 by Proinsias De Rossa (H-0515/04)

Subject: Services in the internal market

There is widespread concern that the draft Services Directive, particularly its 'country of origin' provision, may lead to social dumping and a 'race to the bottom' in service provision.

Will the Commission now withdraw the draft directive and initiate a process of consultation aimed at producing a more balanced proposal, while also taking into account the need for a Framework Directive to enable delivery of high-quality services of general interest/public services?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. The Commission wishes to stress that removing internal market barriers is not tantamount to undermining the quality of services, or that the Services Directive will lead to social dumping – quite the contrary.

As regards the protection of workers, the proposed directive does not affect the existing Community acquis, namely the Posted Workers’ Directive from 1996. This directive provides that posted workers, including temporary workers, enjoy, irrespective of the law applicable to the employment relationship, a number of important protective provisions concerning working conditions in force in the Member State where the worker is posted. Therefore, companies cannot use this proposal in order to establish themselves in low-wage countries to circumvent the social protection of the host Member State.

In addition, the proposed directive reinforces the control of posted workers because it establishes a system of cooperation between Member States and obliges the country of origin of the service provider to assist the authorities of the host Member State in the supervision of working conditions. The proposed directive will thus help to prevent social dumping.

The Commission does not share the concern that the directive will lead to a 'race to the bottom' in service provision. First, the country of origin principle only applies to the temporary cross-border provision of services. For services provided via an establishment in another Member State – for example a hospital or a home for the elderly – the service provider will have to comply with all the relevant rules in that Member State.

Second, the country of origin principle is embedded in harmonisation and enhanced administrative cooperation between Member States. Moreover, a number of derogations from the country of origin principle cover, for instance, the applicable working conditions in the context of posting of workers, consumer contracts, health and safety on building sites and public health.

Finally, the Commission wishes to stress that the proposed directive does not require the liberalisation or privatisation of services which are currently provided at national, regional or local level by the public sector or public entities. Neither does the proposal affect the freedom of the Member States to define what they consider to be services of general economic interest and how they should be organised or financed.

Furthermore, it does not affect Member States' ability to maintain appropriate regulations concerning the quality, availability and performance of services of general interest, or other regulations ensuring consumer and user rights. It is also important to note that the proposal does not prejudge the work on, or the outcome of, specific Community initiatives, in particular the follow-up to the White Paper on services of general interest.

The Commission has committed to a genuine dialogue with both co-legislators and interested parties with a view to finding solutions to specific areas of concern. To date, the need for a major step forward in opening the internal market has not yet been validly contested.

I am confident that also the honourable Member would like to see companies, consumers and workers enjoy the benefits of an open and competitive integrated services market. We are all aware of the economic and social challenges facing the European Union. Bearing in mind the importance of the services sector, the proposed directive will contribute significantly to addressing these challenges.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  De Rossa (PSE). Firstly I would like to welcome the Commissioner to his first Question Time in Parliament. I look forward to more.

I am a little bewildered by the Commissioner's reply. His reply indicates that this directive will do nothing, that it is not going to affect any of the areas about which we have expressed concern. He says it will only apply to temporary cross-border provision of services. In what way, then, will this directive lead to a competitive integrated services market? If it is simply to provide for the provision of temporary cross-border provisions, how does it lead to a competitive integrated services market?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. As I pointed out in my reply, the country of origin principle applies only to the temporary cross-border provision of services. The rest of the directive deals with any other areas. If services are provided via an establishment in another Member State, the service provider will have to comply with all the relevant rules in that Member State.

I should like to point out to the honourable Member that I would accept that the Services Directive is very ambitious: it aims to provide an overarching framework. I am aware of the concerns of many Members of this Parliament and people outside this Parliament. I am very conscious that it has raised the political temperature in a number of Member States. I have entered into an open and constructive dialogue with Members, and I will continue to do that. I look forward to future communications from your rapporteur to assess parliamentarians' views within the committee responsible.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Harbour (PPE-DE). Would the Commissioner agree that it is vitally important for Members of this House to understand the huge variety of discriminatory and anti-competitive practices that Member States currently apply against service providers? It would be very helpful if you could explain these in more detail to Members of this Parliament who persist in describing this directive in the entirely unjustified terms you have so convincingly dismissed in your answer of 'social dumping' and a 'race to the bottom'. There is no evidence whatsoever that either of those things will happen, and it would be helpful if the job creation facet inherent in this directive were properly communicated.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. I certainly agree with the honourable Member that the opportunities for job creation from an opening-up of the services market throughout Europe are immense. Various studies have been initiated, and there are great opportunities for job creation. Given that services account for well over 60% of the Union's GDP, it is clear that any improvement in the services area is going to lead to an increase in wealth and jobs for people in the Union.

I agree with the honourable Member that many anti-competitive practices exist in lots of Member States that prevent the real opening-up of the services market. The services directive is attempting to open up the services area to the benefit of everybody in Europe. But having said that, and in reply to the earlier question from Mr De Rossa, I am also conscious of the specific concerns expressed by Members. Hopefully, during the parliamentary process and other processes we will be able to tease these concerns out further.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Martin, David (PSE). If you take the qualifications that the Commissioner expressed in his answer to the first question at face value, it is clear that this directive would not apply to the UK health service, which is based on care that is free at the point of use. If we can take his reassurances at face value, why does he not simply exclude health from the scope of this directive?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. The approach that I have adopted with the European Parliament and others who have raised concerns is to have those concerns and problems put on the table and into a document. I would not wish to start with a list of the items I think should be removed. That would not be the correct approach.

I accept that this is a very ambitious document, what we are trying to achieve is worth fighting for. People come to various issues in this House from various perspectives, with their own experiences and political and economic philosophies. What we all have to accept is that if Europe is to meet the challenges of the future and keep the social protection model and other things that we aspire to and want in Europe, we have to ensure that the European economy grows. Standing still is not an option. The Services Directive attempts to open up this particular market. As I pointed out in reply to Mr Harbour, services make up the bulk of the European Union's economic activity, therefore it is a goal well worth fighting for.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 30 by Brian Crowley (H-0528/04)

Subject: The Lisbon Objectives

In early 2004, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive on services as a crucial contribution to the pursuit of the Lisbon Strategy. This proposal has provoked a great deal of debate, including strong support as well as fierce opposition from some quarters.

What conclusions does the Commission draw from the reactions that the proposal has generated?

Could the Commission indicate why it has chosen to table a proposal with such a broad scope and why it is putting so much emphasis on the role of the country of establishment of the service provider? Why did the Commission not opt for a sector-by-sector approach?

What is the role of the service sector in the EU's economy, and what part of this involves cross-border activities? What tangible results relevant to the Lisbon Objectives does the Commission hope to achieve with this proposal?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. As the honourable Member has pointed out, the proposed Directive on services in the internal market is at the heart of our efforts to reform the European economy. Services account for approximately 70% of EU GDP and employment. The removal of internal market barriers in the area of services, as foreseen by the proposal, is essential for meeting the growth and employment targets which lie at the heart of the Lisbon Agenda. The potential economic opportunities arising from this proposal are indeed huge. This has been underlined by recent Dutch economic research which shows that implementation of the proposal in its current form could result in an increase in bilateral trade and direct foreign investment in commercial services by 15% to 35%.

The Commission has proposed a horizontal directive for several different reasons. First, a broad range of services is dealt with because many of the barriers identified are common to various service activities.

The most efficient way to address these barriers is in a horizontal way. Secondly, a large scale and detailed harmonisation process through sectoral directives would be unnecessary, unrealistic and inconsistent with better regulation and subsidiarity principles. Thirdly, the services proposal takes into account the specificity of certain activities, proposes specific harmonisation where this is deemed necessary and adopts a phased approach to implementation.

It is clear that the proposal has provoked a great deal of discussion. However, this is exactly what a proposal this ambitious and far-reaching can be expected to do. It shows that the proposal is addressing some very important questions. At the same time, this also means that there is a lot of work to be done to achieve a common goal.

The country of origin approach is a central element of the proposal, as far as the cross-border supply of services is concerned. It eliminates the problem of cross-border services being subject to a multitude of different rules. This will stimulate the offer of cross-border services and improve the competitiveness of the EU economy.

The country of origin approach is in particular essential for SMEs, who do not have the means to establish a subsidiary or an office in another Member State and therefore can export their know-how only by the temporary cross-border provision of services. I wish to note, however, that the country of origin approach does not apply for services provided through a fixed commercial presence in the host country.

At the same time, I wish to reiterate that the country of origin approach does not operate in isolation. Over and above the specific harmonisation foreseen for certain activities, the proposal also foresees the further development of administrative cooperation between Member State authorities and administrations. This harmonisation and cooperation will generate the degree of confidence between Member States required for the effective application of the country of origin approach.

Finally, a number of derogations are foreseen for services demonstrating a particular sensitivity because of the need to protect consumers, public health or public security, or where the current divergence of Member States' legislation does not allow the application of the country of origin approach.

As pointed out in my earlier reply, the Commission is confident that the proposal is the best way to allow the economic potential of the services sector to materialise, in the interest of our workers, our consumers and our companies.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Crowley (UEN). I also wish to welcome Commissioner McCreevy to his first Question Time in Parliament and to re-emphasise at the outset that I am fully in favour of the Lisbon Strategy and objectives because they can create greater wealth and employment within the European Union.

However, turning to his reply, one of the biggest hindrances to cross-border trade and protection of the country of origin principle is the idea of a one-stop shop for registration of a company, that is if one Member State approves a company to provide that service in that Member State, it should be reciprocal in all other Member States, because the same basis for decision-making under the internal market rules should apply.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. The country of origin approach which lies at the heart of the Services Directive will allow for the circumstances Mr Crowley has outlined. As I said in my reply, it will allow companies to operate in another Member State without having to go through a multitude of further tests. That is the basis of the country of origin principle as it would apply to the circumstances outlined.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mitchell (PPE-DE). I also welcome the Commissioner to his first Question Time in this House.

I should like to ask him, in relation to competitiveness and economic capacity – aspects of the Lisbon Agenda – if he would confirm that he shares my view that structural labour problems need to be addressed, especially when Europe is compared to the United States? In this regard, would the Commissioner agree that access by women to the workplace – which is greatly restricted in the EU compared to the situation in the US, in part because of the lack of affordable childcare facilities – needs to be addressed? Will the Commission address this issue?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. I welcome Mr Mitchell's contribution, but would like to point out that the matters referred to come under the remit of my colleague, Mr Spidla. Mr Mitchell has gone into further problems relating to growth within the European Community. The Lisbon process is about addressing these matters and, as you will be aware, Mr Barroso has made the Lisbon Agenda his top priority for our period in office.

I note what the honourable Member has said regarding access by women to the labour market and his comments about childcare. I am sure other colleagues in the Commission will address these matters.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Cederschiöld (PPE-DE). (SV) I too wish to welcome Commissioner McCreevy. When it comes to the Services Directive, it is clear that not everyone has understood why it is needed. I therefore think it would be appropriate, and shall also ask the Commissioner if it might not be appropriate, to produce a list of examples clearly showing how companies have, in practical terms, been prevented from contributing to economic development. One example is the case of a French company that wishes to produce gravestones being prevented from doing so by Germans and exposed to threats of fines.

Can the Commissioner come back with a full and practical list of the host of problems we have seen in SOLVIT and in other contexts – problems to which companies are exposed and that prevent economic development?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  McCreevy, Commission. We have produced such a document and I shall gladly send a copy of it to the honourable Member.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Martin, David (PSE). Madam President, I know how hard it is to chair these sessions, but I wonder what relevance that supplementary had to Mr Mitchell's original question? Mrs Cederschiöld seemed to have jumped back to the previous question. I know my colleague Mr De Rossa had a genuine supplementary on the previous question and was refused the floor!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Mr Martin, it is evident that the whole House takes a great deal of interest in this matter. A great many Members had asked to speak, and there is no way for me to know in advance what Members’ supplementary questions will relate to when I give them the floor. Perhaps you should discuss the matter again with Mrs Cederschiöld.

The second part of Question Time has already overrun in any case, which means that Questions Nos 31 to 33 can no longer be taken, and will instead be answered in writing. We shall now proceed to the next set of questions.

Questions to Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 34 by Luis Yañez-Barnuevo García (H-0506/04)

Subject: Education programmes in Latin America following the Costa Rica Heads of State or Government Summit

The Summit of Iberoamerican Heads of State or Government agreed in San José de Costa Rica last November to focus on encouraging education programmes, as the key to Latin American development.

Does this also provide the Commission with a window of opportunity in the field of EU-Latin American relations?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. (DE) Madam President, I must admit that this is my first Question Time, but I am looking forward to it. An opportunity to deal with specific issues should always be welcomed.

I shall now speak in English.

 
  
  

This was a question on education, which is indeed a very important sector in the framework of the Commission's relations with Latin America. The importance of this sector has been stressed by the Heads of State and Government of both regions in Rio, in Madrid, in Guadalajara and at various different summits, calling in particular for the reinforcement of regional cooperation at the level of higher education.

The Commission is currently implementing cooperation programmes at national, subregional and regional levels in the field of education worth about EUR 300 million. In particular the Commission is financing two regional programmes in the field of higher education. One is the Alfa programme – America-Latina Formación Académica, and the other is the Alban programme – America-Latina Becas de Nivel.

The Alfa programme promotes cooperation between higher education institutions and other relevant organisations in the two regions with a view to human and institutional capacity-building, mobilising the civil society of both the EU and Latin America regions as a whole and therefore creating and reinforcing lasting bonds. Alfa 1 covers the period 1994-1999 and Alfa 2 the period 2000-2005.

Concerning allocations, Alfa 1 has a budget of EUR 32 million and Alfa 2 a budget of EUR 42 million.

The Alban programme was launched in 2002 at the EU-Latin America Madrid summit, thereby responding to the recommendations of the Rio de Janeiro summit. The programme awards scholarships to Latin American nationals for education training at master and doctorate levels in institutions in the EU, as well as for higher training for professionals from Latin America in organisations in the Union.

At regional and national level, several education projects are being implemented, notably in basic education. It is worth noting that the EUR 74.6 million programme is dedicated to education in the context of the programme for reconstruction and rehabilitation in Central America following Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

In Nicaragua the Commission is contributing to the improvement of the education sector through budget support totalling EUR 62.5 million.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Yañez-Barnuevo García (PSE). (ES) Madam President, I would like first of all to welcome the Commissioner, Mrs Ferrero, who, as well as having an adopted Hispanic surname, has a mastery of Spanish and is knowledgeable about Latin America. Her reply has satisfied me. She has told me what I wanted to know about the Commission’s support for the education programmes and, in particular, for the instrument I referred to in my question, the Summit of Iberoamerican Heads of State or Government, which is made up of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America, as well as Spain and Portugal.

I thank you once again, Commissioner. We will have the opportunity to discuss these issues further in the future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. Since the answer has already been given, I have nothing to add.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No. 35 by Bart Staes (H-0510/04)

Subject: Leaving development cooperation to chance

In its campaign entitled 'Would you leave it to chance? – We don't' the Commission is sending out the message that Europe has a substantial amount of money available for development cooperation. The statement by Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner in this campaign says that the world must become a better place, but this evidently means primarily for Europeans and that development cooperation must in the first instance bring stability to our 'immediate neighbourhood'. Combating poverty has been relegated to a secondary role.

Can the Commission say whether this approach, which is primarily designed to make Europe more secure rather than providing permanent solutions to third world development, is compatible with the development agenda of the developing countries and consistent with Article 177 of the Treaty and the UN Millennium goals?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. As the Commission pointed out when it launched the poster campaign, the priorities of European Commission development cooperation are: to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty; promote sustainable development; build democracies; contribute to the integration of developing countries into the world economy; support good governance and promote respect for human rights.

The Commission is committed to helping developing countries achieve the development goals of the millennium. However, there are important objectives and activities that go far beyond the millennium development goals. For example, promoting peace and security and also supporting institution building.

A comprehensive, integrated approach is therefore essential in achieving sustainable development, as made clear also by the Treaty on European Union in Article 3, which emphasises the importance of assuring consistency of external policies and instruments in the context of external relations, security, development, economic and trade policy. This is also clearly stressed in the 2004 annual report on the Community's development policy.

The Community's external actions, including assistance, are further adapted to the diversity of our partner regions and countries. The European neighbourhood policy is an expression of such a comprehensive and integrated partner strategy. Similarly, our relations with the larger developing countries in Asia and Latin America in particular cover a broad range of objectives. In this context, it is clear that bringing concrete benefits to our partners will make the world a better place, not only for the people directly benefiting from EC assistance but also for European citizens. However, this does not change the overriding objective of the development policy of the European Commission, that is to eradicate poverty.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Staes (Verts/ALE). (NL) Madam President, I am pleased with the Commissioner’s response, because I have to say that I was a little shocked when I read her statement of 2 December. Indeed, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the objectives that she listed did not agree with the millennium objectives.

Commissioner, this issue has been discussed in the Committee on Budgetary Control before. In this respect too, you have encroached upon the area of development cooperation. Mr Michel is the Commissioner for Development and I think that good agreements will need to be made, also in terms of statements made, to prevent what you said from being misinterpreted in the broader context of the millennium objectives. I should like to ask you to consult with Mr Michel very carefully on this score.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. Thank you for acknowledging that this campaign is going to the right development goals. It underlines the key sectors of the external assistance policy, as defined in the development policy communication and in the development goals.

There are seven elements to the seven priorities of the European Commission intervention. One is prosperity, achieved by trade and the private sector. Second, security, which is being achieved via justice and regional cooperation. Third is freedom, achieved by human rights and good governance. Fourth is food: food security and rural development. Fifth, water: the water initiative protecting sustainable development. Sixth, education: education systems and access to schools. Lastly, the EuropeAid message – 'partnerships improving lives worldwide' – evokes the how and why of external assistance. With regard to scope, the campaign is reaching out to over 150 countries worldwide. It is establishing long-term partnerships, and its approach is to focus on ownership of projects in partner countries. Priority areas results are also to be focused upon: there must be a demonstrable impact on people's lives. This campaign has really gone to the heart of what we want to do and comes under the umbrella of the overall goals.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No. 36 by David Martin (H-0553/04)

Subject: Continued breach of EU-Israel Protocols by Israel

In the light of Israel's continued breach of the EU-Israel Protocols, will the Commission consider the suspension of these agreements?

The human rights clause in the EU-Israel Association Agreement places ‘economic freedom and the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the observance of human rights and democracy’ as ‘the very basis of the Association’.

Article 2, the Operative Clause, clearly states that ‘relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement’.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. In response to your call for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, it is the Commission's judgement that measures such as sanctions would make the Israeli authorities less, rather than more, responsive to the efforts of the international community to promote a lasting solution. This is at a time when the EU is seeking to have a very constructive role in ensuring that the withdrawal from Gaza takes place in a positive climate, in cooperation with a new, and now democratically-elected, Palestinian leadership. I fully recognise the frustrations of those seeking to promote the peace process when confronted by Israel's expansion of its settlement activities.

The European Commission has regularly expressed its concerns not only at the continuing terrorism and violence but also at the route of the separation barrier and the expansion of settlements. Our wish is to address these issues through dialogue. The Commission is seeking to develop relations with Israel and the Palestinians through the European Neighbourhood Policy, through support for Palestinian reforms and the development of political dialogue with Israel.

The action plan adopted for Israel includes measures to strengthen dialogue and cooperation on the importance of adherence to international law and the need to preserve the perspective of a viable, comprehensive settlement, which involves minimising the impact of security and counter-terrorism measures on the civilian population.

It is the Commission's view – and I believe this is shared by the Member States – that measures to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement would therefore be counterproductive.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Martin, David (PSE). I fully accept what the Commissioner says about the changing circumstances. Since I tabled this question, Mr Abbas has been elected as leader of the Palestinians and we have seen Mr Peres join the Israeli Government. That gives us some hope for dialogue between the two sides.

However, I would ask her, in her new role, to keep this Protocol under constant review and to keep the pressure on Israel to observe the contents of the Protocol. I know that in the past the Commission has taken action on products that have come from East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I ask her to continue to monitor the situation to ensure that products from those areas are not labelled as 'products of Israel'.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. I can assure you that the Commission will certainly do that, because just before Christmas we had such a Council meeting. This has of course been one of the important issues in the Council so we will try to do our best to get both parties to abide by their obligations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 37 by Justas Vincas Paleckis (H-0559/04)

Subject: New Neighbourhood Policy and Belarus

On 9 December, at the time of the adoption of the initial action plans for the new European neighbourhood policy, the Commissioner responsible for external relations and European neighbourhood policy stated that his objective was to create a circle of friends around the enlarged Union's borders. Of the seven countries with which the first action plans were concluded, only Ukraine directly shares terrestrial borders with the enlarged Union. On the other hand, Belarus, which shares borders with three new EU Member States is, according to the Commissioner, not democratic enough to be included in the programme.

Does the Commission plan to implement other internal measures to resolve the Belarus problem? Does it intend to take account of the proposals to set up a cross-cutting Community assistance programme in the field of human rights and democracy or to broadcast radio or TV programmes from neighbouring countries? Are there plans to set up an EU delegation in Minsk or to appoint an EU representative to Belarus? These initiatives would contribute to the building-up of civil society in Belarus and to the process of democratisation, without in any way compromising with the country's authoritarian regime.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. The Commission underlines that the European Neighbourhood Policy framework is very important, and it wants to reinforce further the relationship between the enlarged European Union and its neighbours, including Belarus.

A key principle of the 'Ring of Friends' is forging joint ownership. The Union cannot impose its policy on anyone, but it is ready to convince its neighbours of the benefits of the ENP. The Union is offering closer cooperation across the spectrum of its relations – from political dialogue to economic integration – on the basis of commitment to common values. This offer is, in principle, also valid for Belarus.

Through the ENP, the Union is ready to reinforce its lasting commitment to supporting democratic development in Belarus. If and when fundamental political and economic reforms take place, it will be possible for Belarus to be fully involved in the ENP, with all the benefits that would bring. Under current conditions, however, there can be no fully-fledged ENP action plan for Belarus. The October 2004 parliamentary elections and the referendum were important milestones for Belarus under the ENP, but, unfortunately, Belarus failed to achieve them. However, there remains a clear prospect for deepening relations, including under the framework of the ENP, provided that fundamental reforms are carried out.

At present, a key element – and this is also an issue in EU policy towards Belarus – is to support civil society and the process of democratisation. In addition, Belarus will continue to be able to benefit from the relevant regional, cross-border and thematic programmes. The Commission is stepping up its effort to coordinate assistance for democratisation and civil society.

Moreover, the Commission is also looking – and here I want go into detail – into the possibility of supporting civil society and the democratic process in a flexible manner. In the first place, the assistance should be operational and managed in the country concerned. But the Commission does not a priori exclude specific situations where a project would be implemented mainly outside Belarus. The modalities for doing so need to be carefully considered in the light of the relevant rules and regulations.

Support for independent media and information dissemination is among the key priorities of EU assistance. A radio or television station broadcasting to Belarus outside the country is an interesting idea, but requires further clarification as to whether such an initiative could be supported by EU funds under the existing rules and regulations.

As to the question of opening a delegation in Belarus, it must be borne in mind that the EU has limited resources for extending its network of fully-fledged delegations. Belarus is covered by the European Commission delegation in Kiev, which has a technical assistance office in Minsk. The Commission will look into the possibilities of allocating, within the existing structures, additional human resources for work in Belarus. At the moment, opening a European Commission delegation in Minsk is not, however, being considered.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paleckis (PSE). (DE) Commissioner, I should also like to congratulate you on your first Question Time. Your detailed replies would seem to indicate that the Commission will in fact be working very actively in Belarus. I should like to ask whether you believe cooperation with the current Belarussian authorities to be possible, even in the present circumstances?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. (DE) Madam President, there can be no question of us cooperating with the authorities at present. What we can do, however, and as I mentioned before, is to provide particular support for civil society, and also to focus efforts on working with the academic community. I can tell you that we are planning to hold three workshops in order to identify exactly what we can do, involving non-governmental organisations and as many neighbouring countries as possible, as we share the view that support for civil society is the only opportunity available to us at present to bring about change in Belarus.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kudrycka (PPE-DE).   (PL) Many thanks. Commissioner, it would seem that it is indeed essential to involve Belarus’s neighbours in efforts to support the development of civil society in that country. Academic programmes and programmes relating to the independent media can only be implemented with the cooperation of neighbouring countries. I believe that finding projects that might lead to additional funding for such measures would be the best way of ensuring that in future we will be able to establish cooperation with a genuine democratic government in Belarus.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. First I should like to point out that I have already answered, in principle, the question of the media. I clearly pointed out the Commission's opinion for the time being. However, with regard to projects and money I can give you some examples: the EU's support for civil society is to be strengthened; the EU's TACIS programme – which amounts to EUR 10 million for Belarus in 2005 and 2006 – will focus on support for civil society, independent media – exactly what you wanted us to focus on; higher education cooperation including exchanges of students and professors; and alleviation of the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. The provision of information to the general public with regard to the European Union and the European Neighbourhood Policy will also be strengthened. In addition, the Tempus Programme will finance exchanges of young Belarusian university students abroad, curriculum development on European studies and capacity-building in local universities.

As I said, Belarus is indeed eligible under the New Neighbourhood programmes. It will therefore benefit from the European Neighbourhood Policy instrument as of 2007.

Finally, the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights – the EIDHR – will have a more active role in Belarus in the years to come. In 2005-2006 Belarusian applicants will be able to apply for support under two campaigns: 'fostering a culture of human rights' and 'promoting democratic processes'.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Onyszkiewicz (ALDE).   (PL) I should like to know whether the European Commission is aware that these much-needed educational programmes are under the control of the Belarussian authorities, and therefore cannot be regarded as true support for the process of democratisation in Belarus. I should also like to ask whether, in the light of the Commissioner’s comments, a sum of money will be earmarked under the EIDHR (European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights) programme to support independent initiatives in Belarus, bearing in mind that over recent years not a single euro from the fund has yet been set aside for this purpose.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ferrero-Waldner, Commission. As I said before, we will have three workshops. The last of them will be in Lithuania, which invited the Commission to work together with some neighbouring countries on new ideas and strategies; on what can be done with NGOs and others. I will certainly take up this suggestion in those workshops to see what can be done, but it must fit into the framework of the regulations that are there. However, we will certainly consider that.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Questions Nos 38 to 41 will be answered in writing. Questions Nos 39 and 40 lapse, as they are already on the agenda for this part-session.

Questions to Commissioner Frattini

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No. 42 by Dimitrios Papadimoulis (H-0511/04)

Subject: Telephone tapping without a court order

Articles appearing in the highly reputable 'Vima' newspaper of 5 and 7 December 2004 reveal the discovery of a telephone tapping network set up by the Italian authorities and used to eavesdrop on mobile and fixed telephone conversations by Greek citizens in Greece. This has been confirmed in a report produced by the Public Prosecutor's Office in Bari (Italy) and quoted by the newspaper. It emerges that the network was set up without any court order having been issued by the Greek authorities, while senior Greek police and fraud squad officers indicate that they were tipped off once the network had already been set up by Italian functionaries.

Will the Commission request information from the Italian and Greek authorities on this matter? Does it know whether any form of complaint has been registered to date by the Greek authorities at the eavesdropping by the Italian authorities on Greek citizens without a court order? Is it admissible, in the absence of a court order by a Member State, for telephone conversations by citizens of that Member State to be monitored by the authorities of another Member State?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. The Commission has not been informed of any deposition by the Greek authorities concerning any of the facts mentioned by the honourable Member. Since phone taps always require an assessment of the proportionality of the potential infringement of fundamental rights in relation to the public interest served by such measures, permitting phone taps as a means of conducting criminal investigations are in most cases subject to a court warrant. When the competent authorities of one Member State in the course of criminal investigations in their own country need to carry out taps on phones or telecommunication services located in another Member State they must follow the procedures that have been put in place for that purpose.

The European Commission obviously does not have the means to judge the behaviour of independent judicial authorities. The main European instrument providing for this situation is the 2000 Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union. Until such time as this Convention enters into force, Member States can have recourse to the 1959 Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and to Council of Europe Recommendation (85)10 concerning letters rogatory for the interception of telecommunications.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL). (EL) Madam President, Commissioner, I welcome you but you surprise me. It is incomprehensible that the Commission should avoid commenting on a serious infringement of the basic rules of data protection. We have had telephone tapping in Greece of Greek citizens by the Italian authorities in the absence of any Greek authorities. Commissioner, a few weeks ago you were a minister in the Italian Government. Why can you not pick up the telephone and ask both the Italian and the Greek Government what happened?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) I would like to apologise to Mr Papadimoulis, but I can only repeat that the Commission has not received any information about this case. At any rate, the Commission does not have the legal right to rule on a breach which, if committed, would have been committed by an independent judicial authority and not by a governmental authority of a Member State. There are legal instruments available, which I pointed out: in particular, Council of Europe recommendations and the Council of Europe’s Convention on Mutual Assistance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mavrommatis (PPE-DE).(EL) Madam President, Commissioner, I think there has been another mistake here or something has escaped you. Last December, the Republica and Corriere della Sera newspapers reported extensively on telephone tapping; they even had special diagrams of a device which perpetrates this crime, in or out of inverted commas. This device exists somewhere in Milan or southern Italy. I wonder, therefore, how is it that you too have not yet found out about it, so that you can make the relevant observations today.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Of course, what Mr Mavrommatis said is correct. The Italian newspapers have reported certain facts; nevertheless the Commission can and must remain within the scope of its legal powers, which do not include the power to subject the behaviour of judicial authorities to investigations or actions. There are instruments, including within the national states, which allow a judge who has carried out an illegal activity to be prosecuted, but that clearly cannot happen at the request of the Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Martin, David (PSE). Commissioner, regardless of the facts of this case, when you next meet the justice ministers, will you make it clear to them that, under the various international conventions you mention and in the spirit of membership of the European Union, it is unacceptable for the authorities of one Member State – be they political or judicial – to carry out phone tapping in another Member State, without the express approval of that Member State?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr Martin, you are absolutely correct and this is certainly the right path to take. As you are probably aware, in Italy it falls on the one hand to the Minister for Justice and, on the other, to the judiciary’s self-governing body to take action against judges who commit illegal acts. I have naturally passed this request on to the Italian Minister for Justice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Question No. 43 by Claude Moraes (H-0522/04)

Subject: The Commission's annual report on Migration

What is the Commission's view on reactions to the Commission's annual report on Migration (July 2004), including the view of experts such as SOLIDAR (Katrin Hugendubel) and the Social Platform of NGOs that it is difficult to establish 'best practice' on integration policy when the contexts of each EU Member State are so different?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. It is certainly true that there are different approaches to integration represented in the Member States. Concept and practice varies due to a number of factors: different immigration histories and variations in the roles of government and civil society with respect to integration policies are just two examples.

The Commission consistently stressed that integration policy was by definition an area where subsidiarity is at stake. On the other hand, all Member States adhere to human rights standards and shared values such as equality anti-discrimination, solidarity, tolerance, etc..

Through the ongoing exchange of information and experience, particularly through the work of national contact points for integration, we are now seeing a certain degree of convergence with respect to policy approaches, goals and targets. This was confirmed in December with the adoption by the Council of common basic principles on integration.

The publication by the Commission in November 2004 of a handbook on integration for policy makers and practitioners, which brings together examples of good practice from throughout the Union on introduction programmes, civic participation and integration indicators, illustrates that there are many common problems and shows how much we can learn from each other. Best practice must be taken for what it is: ideas, lessons to be learned and suggestions which can inspire and inform policy makers in the definition of the policies required.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Moraes (PSE). I thank the Commissioner for that clear answer. I know from the previous debate that you take the issue of integration seriously.

The Commission has a real impact on integration policy and a direct role, for example, in the enforcement of existing directives, which are crucial to integration – I refer explicitly to the Employment Directive and the Race Equality Directive. The Commission has played a strong role in trying to enforce these directives. They remain unimplemented in at least two Member States that I am aware of. Will you use your powers in office to enforce such directives, which play such an important part in the integration process? You have that power.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. Yes, of course the Commission has such power, and I can reassure you that the Commission will use all its power to guarantee, stimulate and encourage Member States to fully implement all directives in the common European interest.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Muscat (PSE). (IT) Commissioner, I shall speak in your mother tongue in order to be forthright with regard to an old question: illegal immigration. The landings of illegal immigrants will certainly not wait for us to come up with a common strategy before they resume in the Mediterranean. Certainly, the only reason they are not continuing at the moment as well is because the poor wretches are lying on the seabed. So I would like to ask, what is the Commission doing and what has been planned for the near future to help countries on the borders of the European Union – I am referring in particular to my country, Malta – in order to provide aid and to receive illegal immigrants in a proper manner? What level of funding will be allocated for this?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) The question of illegal immigration is one which the Commission considers to be a priority. While we are preparing political actions and common European solutions, as you pointed out, we must also address the daily tragedy of desperate people. The Commission can and must take action, and it will, in order to ensure that the fundamental rights of persons entering European territory are respected, obviously including those who enter illegally: the right to respect for human life and dignity is not a question of legal differences.

Having said that, we must speed up the strategic policies. We cannot take advantage of a delay and thereby continue to allow an illegal influx, but we must immediately respect the fundamental rights of individuals and at the same time prepare common policies on reception, on the one hand, and the prevention of illegal activities, on the other.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Question No. 44 by Ignasi Guardans Cambó (H-0523/04)

Subject: Terrorism

In the Council framework decision of 13 June 2002 on the fight against terrorism, the Member States were required to pass legislation in a number of areas related to combating terrorism, with a view to establishing common definitions in the face of the threats in question. Article 11 of this framework decision called on the Commission and Council to make an assessment by the end of 2003 of the forms of implementation by the Member States of specific anti-terrorism measures.

These texts were finally submitted by the Commission (8 June 2004 – COM(2004)0409/final) and the Council (12 October 2004 – 11687/2/04/rev.2). Both reports stress, in clear and objective fashion, the passivity of the Member States and their failure to comply with the objectives set out in the Council framework decision.

The Commission does not possess binding legal instruments to oblige the Member States to comply with framework decisions. Despite this and with a view to ensuring the EU's credibility in the fight against terrorism, can the Commission state how it intends to promote and obtain a genuine anti-terrorist policy at Union level and ensure that the Member States act on their promises regarding legislative action?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. According to Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, framework decisions are binding upon the Member States as to the result to be achieved but leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods. However, framework decisions 'shall not entail direct effect'.

Whereas, within the first pillar, the Commission has the authority to initiate an infringement procedure against a Member State, this possibility does not exist within the Treaty on European Union. The situation described by the honourable Member certainly does not facilitate the Commission's role, but it does not prevent it from producing a broad range of policy initiatives, which have been the basis for the policy definition of the Union in the important area of the fight against terrorism.

The Commission has been playing this role very actively in establishing in June 2004 the revised action plan on combating terrorism, in updating it in December 2004 and in implementing more than half of the respective measures. This is also evident from the submission, in October 2004, of four communications covering different aspects of the prevention, preparedness and response to terrorist attacks and from the adoption, in the same year, of a communication on mutual access to data relevant to the fight against terrorism and of several classified documents in the field of consequence management and the protection of critical infrastructures.

The Commission in general and President Barroso and I in particular are determined to work in close cooperation with Council presidencies to maintain the fight against terrorism. This is very high on the agenda of the Council, including that of the JHA Council and the European Council comprising the Heads of State and Government.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Guardans Cambó (ALDE). (IT) I am well aware of the legal framework in which the European anti-terrorism policy can operate as far as the Commission is concerned and you described it very well. If, however, we do not wish to demonstrate collective hypocrisy, we need to say how things stand. And the way they stand is that we have major conferences, with all the Heads of Government present, and afterwards they have a press conference, set out a decision and following this decision nothing happens. The Commission itself admitted as much on 8 June 2004. The question is, therefore: what is the Commission going to do in political terms to put the policy into practice?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) The Commission will begin to set out the action plan for the implementation of the Hague Programme at the informal meeting of the Ministers for Internal Affairs and for Justice at the end of the month. The action plan will be presented in May this year and I hope that it will be adopted by the European Council in June.

The action plan on combating terrorism will contain tangible measures and guidelines, precise deadlines for the Member States and binding obligations for a common policy to enhance cooperation, information exchange and protection for the victims of terrorist attacks. These are the measures that the Commission initially intends to put before Parliament, something which we shall do at the beginning of February, that is, well before we draw up our proposal, and we shall then listen to Parliament’s opinion on the concrete proposals.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Question No. 45 by Bill Newton Dunn (H-0524/04)

Subject: Reporting of crimes and collection of statistics about crimes across the Union

What progress is the Commission making towards proposing a standardised set of criteria for the reporting of crimes and collection of statistics about crimes across the European Union?

Until such a system is established, it is difficult for law enforcement officers to have a clear picture of the extent of organised criminal activity, and it is therefore very difficult to counter the gangs effectively.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. The Commission agrees that the absence of comparable crime statistics makes the development of an effective EU law enforcement policy more difficult.

The Commission is working on a draft action plan on EU crime statistics. Member State crime statistics experts are being consulted on this draft action plan, which will be presented in the form of a Commission communication in the spring of 2005. The two main blocks of the draft action plan are: first, the setting up of appropriate coordination machinery to ensure that Member States, the Commission and other key actors are part of the process of working towards common data-gathering methods and harmonised definition; the second element concerns the implementation of developing comparable statistics. This will include many different components, to be developed over a period of time, such as definitions of crime types and an inventory of definitions where there is already EU-level agreement.

The Commission, in close cooperation with Europol and other providers and users of EU crime statistics, is developing this project on a step-by-step basis in accordance with Member States' ability to provide relevant data. The Commission's draft action plan was discussed with European directors of social statistics in September 2004. It was agreed to set up a task force to examine appropriate statistical methods for monitoring crime. This task force will begin its work in May 2005.

I should also mention that the Commission is providing support for work being undertaken to measure statistically the quality and effectiveness of the judicial process. A seminar on this subject, co-financed by the EU's AGIS Programme, was hosted by the Italian Ministry of Justice in Rome in October 2004.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Newton Dunn (ALDE). Thank you, Commissioner, for staying to answer the question. I am very grateful that you recognise the urgency of this problem because with open borders across the Union, organised crime is free to operate and to prosper, while our police forces are national and cannot cross the frontiers. So we have a real problem. I am glad that you are treating this with considerable urgency.

Could you tell us who will be responsible for the coordinating machinery? Will this be done by Europol or will it be done by the Commission – or maybe a new agency?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) I do not think that we can or should create new bodies; I think that on the one hand the Commission should give strategic, or rather political direction to this sector and, on the other hand, the sector should have the chance to find different ways to use Europol, which as we all know is trying to extend its duties and its remit. The Commission intends to encourage this progression, this expansion of Europol’s duties. This is undoubtedly one of the sectors where work can be done.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sbarbati (ALDE). (IT) Madam President, I would like to make a few remarks: some of my fellow Members, like myself, have been here since the start of the sitting, have submitted written questions and have not had the opportunity of receiving a reply in the Chamber which they could then counter with a further question, whether they were satisfied or not.

The Bureau and the legal departments should better consider the matter of Question Time and give proper thought as to the time allotted and how many questions can be answered in that time, because we cannot oblige a Member to stay in the Chamber all this time and then not have the satisfaction of receiving an immediate, direct reply from the competent Commissioner.

The situation deserves to be looked into by Parliament’s administration. It is absolutely intolerable for a situation of this kind to arise.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Mrs Sbarbati, the Rules of Procedure lay down quite clear rules for the holding of Question Time. A great many Members asked to speak on a certain topic earlier, and I could not give the floor to everyone. In my opinion, the main problem is that many Members spend a long time asking supplementary questions, and do not abide by the 30-second time limit, which of course means that we are often delayed. I will, however, bear your comments in mind. I should like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone, and especially to Commissioner Frattini again for being prepared to remain so long in the Chamber with us for Question Time.

Questions Nos 46 to 76 will be answered in writing.

 
Legal notice - Privacy policy