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Debates
Wednesday, 28 September 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

25. Council Question Time
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  President. The next item is questions to the Council (B6-0331/2005).

 
  
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  President.

Question No 1 by Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (H-0659/05)

Subject: The problem of waste and how to deal with it

Have the Member States given a firm undertaking regarding the separate collection of waste by category?

What view does the Council take of the implementation of such measures to date in the Member States, in particular regarding the collection, destruction and recycling of chemical, toxic, lubricant and radioactive wastes?

Does the Council consider it necessary to heighten awareness of the problem and provide funding for measures such as the above to protect the environment and health of future European generations?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Council considers that separate collection systems have been and will continue to be widely implemented to achieve the objectives of Community directives on waste. Separate collection leads to higher recycling rates and makes final disposal safer.

A number of Community directives on specific waste streams provide for separate collections of wastes, especially for end-of-life products that would otherwise enter the municipal solid waste stream. Much has been achieved in Member States through Community legislation to meet this environmental challenge. Important hazardous waste, such as waste oils and batteries, has been tackled. Recycling and recovery targets have been set for some key complex waste flows, such as packaging, end-of-life vehicles and waste from electrical and electronic equipment. Some of these measures have still to be implemented in some Member States.

Changing behaviour, whether that of producers, consumers or public authorities, takes time. This is particularly true with regard to achieving a specific environmental outcome requiring significant investment in infrastructure. Therefore, future initiatives on waste will need to have realistic timescales to allow the stakeholders concerned sufficient time to plan their investment.

The experience of Member States shows the importance of heightening public awareness of waste-related issues. I am confident that the Commission will take full account of this when it brings forward its thematic strategy on waste.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) Thank you for your reply, Minister, but when I went down to Greece from Brussels I got the opposite impression from the one you have given and I ask the Council if it has evaluated the direct and indirect damage to date and the damage which will be caused in all the Member States from their failure to comply with the directives.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Clearly each Member State is subject to the obligations imposed upon it by European Union law. Therefore it is important to recognise that, particularly in relation to directives that have been passed, there are processes whereby infringement procedures can follow. Whilst we recognise that not all Member States have implemented EU waste legislation fully, in general I would suggest that implementation of European Union environmental law has actually improved in recent years.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 2 by Sajjad Karim (H-0661/05)

Subject: Harmonisation of the Member States' approach to combating terrorism

The counter-terrorism provisions adopted by certain Member States, under the guise of the fight against terrorism, means that the EU must now face the reality that one of the effects of the terrorist threat is that the hard-won liberties, which underpin the shared values and principles of the Union, are being challenged and undermined. In the light of the bombings in Madrid on 11 March 2004 and in London on 7 July 2005, the EU is now facing a defining moment in its approach to combating this attack on the European way of life.

How does the Council, under the leadership of the UK Presidency, plan to work together to overcome national differences and the bureaucratic hurdles within the 25 EU Member States in order to develop a harmonised approach to combating terrorism which achieves a balance between providing security to EU citizens whilst simultaneously guaranteeing their human rights and civil liberties, regardless of religious beliefs or ethnic origins?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I really could not agree more with the honourable Member about the importance of these issues, not least following the attacks in Madrid, and in London on 7 July. The Council has always endeavoured to strike a balance between providing security to European Union citizens while simultaneously guaranteeing their human rights and civil liberties, regardless of religious belief or ethnic origin.

On 13 June 2002, the Council adopted a framework decision on combating terrorism. This framework decision approximates Member State legislation as regards acts of terrorism, offences relating to a terrorist group and offences linked to terrorist activities. It is specifically mentioned in Article 1 of the framework decision that it 'shall not have the effect of altering the obligation to respect fundamental rights and fundamental legal principles as enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty'. It is in particular in defence of those rights that the Member States need to combat terrorism, which is the antithesis of human rights as we see it in democratic societies.

In his address to the European Parliament on 7 September, my colleague, the British Home Secretary Charles Clarke, emphasised the need to find a balance between civil liberties and the increase in security. On that occasion the Vice-President of the Commission, Mr Frattini, also stressed the need for a balance between law enforcement activities and the protection of fundamental rights.

 
  
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  Sajjad Karim (ALDE). – May I, once again, welcome the Minister back to this House. It is very pleasing to see you here, to provide a detailed answer to the question that I had tabled.

You make reference to statements made by your colleague, the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, Mr Clarke. May I draw your attention to comments that he has made since the date that you mention and ask you to what extent the Presidency is committed to doing away with certain provisions of the Convention on Human Rights?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Let me address the question by being very clear that the priority of our Presidency, not least given the attacks in Madrid and London, is to give renewed momentum to the EU Counter-terrorism Action Plan, which has been agreed by all Member States. We believe that, by focusing our efforts on this plan, we can achieve the harmonisation and establish the common ground of which I spoke earlier.

 
  
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  David Martin (PSE). – Mr President-in-Office, the European arrest warrant is a very sensible and welcome measure to try and counter terrorism, but it has not been implemented by several Member States because of a fear that people extradited under the warrant will not receive a fair trial, appropriate legal support or appropriate language support. Will you examine this, as the President-in-Office, to see if you can reassure all Member States that the arrest warrant may be implemented in full?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I can give an undertaking to the honourable Member that this is an issue which we should have concern for, given our commitment not only to the common arrest warrant but also to action to take forward a common evidence warrant across the European Union. If there are practical reasons, given concerns within Member States, which are preventing the deepening of the cooperation of which I spoke earlier, then that is exactly within the concern of the Council. In particular I will ensure that the honourable Member's remarks are brought to the attention of the Home Secretary.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 3 by Chris Davies (H-0663/05)

Subject: Council of Ministers' website

Is the Council aware of any website maintained by a European public authority which is better designed to frustrate the ability of citizens to access information than that of the Council of Ministers?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. First of all, I should like to congratulate the European Parliament on the launch of its own website before I try to defend the Council's website.

(Applause)

Let me do my best. The objective of the Council's website is twofold: to provide information on the role and activities of the Council and to enable the institution to comply with its obligations as regards access to documents. Thus, in addition to the homepage of Javier Solana, the Secretary General of the Council and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Council website provides access to press releases and a wide range of information of particular interest to the media on the activities of the Council within the different policy areas.

In addition, the website includes the public register of Council documents and provides information concerning the use of the register and about the rules governing transparency and access to documents. It should be pointed out that the somewhat specialised Council website has been designed with a view to avoiding, as far as possible, overlap and duplication of work in relation to the interinstitutional website Europa, which is managed by the European Commission and addressed to the public in general.

 
  
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  Chris Davies (ALDE). – 'Yes, Minister!' Is the Presidency-in-Office aware that when asked to consider the inadequacies of the Council's website, journalists and NGOs seem at a loss whether to laugh hysterically or to gnash their teeth in anger?

Would he agree that if the European Union is to connect better with its citizens, then the public sources of information need to reflect the principles of openness and transparency? Will he take steps to initiate a review and public consultation aimed at sweeping aside the backward-looking approach of the Council Secretariat and providing the public with a first-class source of honest, factual and accurate information?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. On the basis of my inquiries since this question was tabled, I have some sympathy with the points raised by the honourable Member. I can assure him that the structure and content of the Council's website undergoes continuous review and this process will be continued in parallel with the improvements to the Europa website, of which I spoke a moment or two ago.

I feel the only point of difference between us, in terms of the question that was put to me, is to suggest that in the first instance the public should visit the Council website, rather than the Europa website. I think there is a genuine question as to how we ensure the kind of duplication, which has been all too common amongst the government websites of Member States, and ensure that the product offered to the citizenry of Europe better reflects the single access point that we wish the public to move towards. That, most clearly, in terms of the public, is the Europa website. The Commission has recently announced its action plan to improve communicating in Europe and I am sure that will have a direct bearing on the Europa site.

 
  
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  David Martin (PSE). – Mr President-in-Office, perhaps you would like to visit a website that really does frustrate one, that really does contain inaccuracies. That is the UK Liberal Democrat website, which, for example, claims that Liberal Democrats are the main opposition to the British Government and that they have policies.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Ever mindful of my responsibilities as a representative of the Presidency, rather than speaking as a partisan figure here today, I would respectfully suggest that those inaccuracies are perhaps not so much technological as ideological.

 
  
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  Bill Newton Dunn (ALDE). I should like to ask the President-in-Office of the Council to kindly answer Mr Davis' original question: is the Council aware of any website maintained by a public authority which is better designed to frustrate? He did not actually answer the question.

Can we therefore take it that he agrees that the Council's website is the worst of all public websites?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I suggest to the honourable Member that if he believes it is an efficient and effective use of the Council's time to visit every public website on the worldwide web, then I would respectfully disagree with him.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 4 by Sarah Ludford (H-0665/05)

Subject: Obstacles to the right of access to Council documents

The EU institutions are required by Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001(1) on access to documents to keep a register of documents and to grant direct access to documents in electronic form. Despite recent improvements, the Council Register is not organised in a user-friendly way. Will the Council reorganise its Register and its website, perhaps in a way similar to the European Parliament’s Legislative Observatory and create special webpages for each meeting which allow citizens to trace all relevant agenda documents and follow the decision-making process through its various stages?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. As pointed out by the honourable Member, the European Union institutions are required by law to keep a register of documents and to grant direct access to documents in electronic form. By setting up its public register of documents, which I understand became operational in January of 1999, the Council fulfilled that requirement well before the relevant regulation entered into force.

The number of users of the Council register has been steadily increasing ever since. Thus in 2004, close to 300 000 different users logged on to the Council's public document register, as opposed to roughly 180 000 in 2003. This represents an almost 63% increase in the number of users in one year. The total number of visits increased by just under 20%: 920 000 in 2004 against 770 000 in 2003, representing more than 2 500 visits per day.

Consultations in terms of number of screens viewed totalled more than 5.5 million. As these figures on the use by the public of the register of Council documents indicate, the register has indeed become a frequently used research tool for citizens wishing to closely follow the development of Community affairs. This is all the more understandable as the Council register is constantly updated via an automatic archiving system. By 9 September 2005, the Council register contained references to more than 640 000 documents.

Moreover, a considerable amount of Council documents are automatically made available, in full text format, via the Council register as soon as they are produced. Thus in 2004, around 70 000 documents, or roughly 60% of the more than 100 000 documents produced and registered that year, could be consulted full-text online immediately upon circulation.

Provisional agendas for meetings of the Council and its preparatory bodies can be consulted online as soon as they have been circulated, thus enabling users of the register to easily identify the reference numbers of documents discussed at any given meeting.

Moreover, apart from the document number entry, the users of the register can search for documents on a given subject via other entries of the register, such as the meeting date, the interinstitutional file number or a subject code.

Nevertheless, in order to further improve the quality of the register, the Council will study the technical feasibility of performing an automatic search via interactive agendas for documents on a given issue or that are part of the same file.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – I should like to thank the Presidency, but let me give an example.

If you put 'data retention' – a subject much in the news – in the subject-matter search box, you get no documents at all. It is as if Charles Clarke's frenzy of activity on this topic was a mirage. If you put the words 'data retention' in the title box you get 45 documents, but with no way of navigating what meeting they relate to.

You have not answered the specific request in my question. Will you copy the Parliament's Legislative Observatory to make the Council website easy to navigate?

If you use the help section on the website, you get 'regarding suffixes on documents'. There may be multiple suffixes indicating the different versions, for example, REV 1 (the first revision), REV 2 COR 1 (the first corrigendum to the second revision), COR 1 REV 2 (the second revision of the first corrigendum). I do not believe that helps public enlightenment.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I am not entirely convinced that public enlightenment is assisted when what I clearly stated in the final paragraph of my answer appears not to have been heard. So, let me repeat it for the record. In order to further improve the quality of the register, the Council will study the technical feasibility of performing an automatic search via interactive agendas for documents on a given issue or being part of the same file.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 5 by Nigel Farage (H-0666/05)

Subject: Fisheries Partnership Agreements

The Fisheries Partnership Agreements concluded with third countries are totally unfair and extremely damaging for the local population, and they have environmentally disastrous consequences.

Like WWF, Oxfam and some others, I strongly believe that they do not constitute ‘sustainable development’.

Could an inquiry be carried out into these Agreements? Will the Council support this position and stop these appalling fisheries deals?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Council is aware that various organisations have voiced concerns over the alleged adverse effects of fisheries agreements between the Community and third countries. The Commission, in response to such criticism, issued a communication on 27 December 2002 on an integrated framework for fisheries partnership agreements with third countries. Subsequently, in July 2004, the Council endorsed the policy changes advocated by the Commission in its communication.

It is important to stress the word 'partnership'. This is about more than just buying up fishing rights from third countries and denuding their stocks. The Community will enter into a dialogue with the third country on the basis of scientific evidence to establish whether there are surplus fishing possibilities which the Community vessels can extract sustainably. The Community will discuss with the third country how the money paid can be used for the benefit of the people of that country. As these are fisheries partnership agreements, the Council will seek to ensure that this money is to the benefit of the local fisheries sector, including fishermen and the coastal populations.

Finally, in the preparation of new agreements or renewal of existing ones, the Commission systematically presents to the Council assessment reports on the effects of these agreements. The Council considers these agreements to be beneficial to both parties and looks forward to concluding future fisheries partnership agreements with third countries. The United Kingdom Presidency is also working with the Commission to host a seminar later this year on the question of third-country agreements.

 
  
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  Nigel Farage (IND/DEM). – Minister, I find it absolutely extraordinary that a government such as yours and that of your leader Tony Blair – who has made such a big play on Africa, what is going wrong in Africa, and what we have to do to try to help Africa – can be turning a blind eye to this issue. I am afraid that these third-country fisheries deals are the most appalling combination of European commercial greed and bad African government corruption.

There is absolutely no question if you look at every independent report that in environmental terms these fisheries deals off the west coast of Africa are the environmental equivalent of setting fire to the Serengeti! The local populations are being left without any hope of earning a living and I am very disappointed that you will not at least promise us an inquiry.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I have no doubt that the honourable Member is sincere in his comments and I am respectful of the organisations that he consulted in preparing his contribution to this debate today, so I would be grateful if he could forward, both to the Commission and to the Council, the evidence he referred to in his question and I will ensure that it is passed on to the relevant officials.

 
  
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  Christopher Beazley (PPE-DE). – I thank the President-in-Office for his reply. I clearly do not have the unerring experience of fisheries questions that my colleague, Mr Farage, has just demonstrated. I did serve, however, representing Cornwall and Plymouth. Fishing in that part of the world relies totally on partnerships and agreements. If there were no agreements – and I disagree with Mr Farage here – what happens is that a number of mavericks simply abuse the quantity of fish stocks present. It seems to me an excellent idea that the European Union concludes these agreements, and I personally hope that they continue.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I have great sympathy with the point that the honourable Member has made. It is a debate which is in some way similar to the debate on economic partnership agreements in general. Few would disagree with the principle that partnership agreements of this kind can genuinely be of benefit to the developing countries concerned. However, if in practice the effect of those agreements is inimical and detrimental to their very objectives, then that is rightfully a matter of concern. That is why I have undertaken, if evidence is produced, to pass it on to the relevant individuals.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (PSE). – It is extraordinary that Mr Farage should raise this issue when he barely attends the Committee on Fisheries, and I would urge him to attend on a more regular basis, so that he can put forward his views on this.

I worry that what he is referring to is every fishing agreement. For example, the Norwegian fishing agreement is vital for Scottish fishermen. He needs to be consistent in his approach.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I shall resist the very considerable opportunity that has been presented to me to discuss the inconsistencies inherent in UKIP's position and simply say that I fully recognise, not least on the basis of the tireless work in Scotland of the honourable lady who asked the question, that fisheries partnership agreements can have a very important role to play. It is a clear example of where working independently rather than in partnership offers no future either to Europe or, I would suggest, to fish stocks.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 6 by Bernd Posselt (H-0668/05)

Subject: Minority rights in Serbia

Whilst the minorities in Kosovo have guaranteed seats in Parliament, in response to pressure from the Radical Party led by Vojslav Seselj, who is facing trial in The Hague, Serbia has been turned into a single constituency with no local seats and a 5% threshold. As a result, the ethnic minorities living in potential crisis areas, that is, the Vojvodina, the Sandzak region around Novi Pazar and the Presevo Valley, have been excluded on a de facto basis from involvement in parliamentary politics, even though they make up a majority of the population in their home regions.

Does the Council acknowledge the risks which may stem from this imbalance in the demands made on Kosovo and Serbia respectively, and what impact will this imbalance have on the preparations for the EU Treaty negotiations with Belgrade?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The future of Serbia and Montenegro is within the European family, as I was indeed able to communicate when I recently visited the Western Balkans and had the opportunity to meet with the authorities in that country.

It follows that the participation of all ethnic groups in the democratic process is crucial to that country moving towards a European future. However, we do not recognise that the situation in Serbia is as bleak as the question implies.

While the political situations in Kosovo and Serbia are not directly analogous, we judge that there are opportunities for minorities in Serbia to enjoy full involvement in parliamentary politics.

One of the first measures taken by the new Serbian Parliament in early 2004 was to abolish the threshold for parliamentary representation – that is, 5% – in the case of parties representing ethnic minorities. Therefore at future general elections minorities are also likely to be represented in the parliament.

The Serbian local election law stipulates a 3% threshold but interethnic relation councils are also set up in ethnically mixed municipalities and comprise members of all ethnic communities, accounting for more than 1% of the municipal population.

In addition, questions concerning national minorities can be brought to the attention of the central government of Serbia, notably through the National Council of Ethnic Minorities, established in 2004. That is a forum in which all relevant issues for minorities can be discussed.

We hope to open stabilisation and association agreement negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro during our Presidency. To conclude this agreement Belgrade will need to meet a range of conditions set down by the European Union. To eventually join the European Union Belgrade will need to have met all the Copenhagen political criteria.

The honourable Member is right to highlight the need for democratic standards in Serbia to be at the heart of this process.

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I am obliged to the President-in-Office for his very good, very specific answer. I should just like to add that the Preševo Valley, that is to say, the Albanian-inhabited region of southern Serbia, has no parliamentary representation at all, whilst the Serbian minority in Kosovo is guaranteed seats, at least in theory: they have not yet been taken up. Could the President-in-Office envisage, as part of a solution to the Kosovo issue, endeavours towards a bilateral settlement – so that borders do not have to be changed, because of course we do not want to change any borders – which gives the Albanians in Serbia the same rights as the Serbians in Kosovo?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. With the greatest of respect to the questioner I do not believe, especially at this time of some sensitivity and anticipation, that it is right to anticipate Ambassador Eide's report in relation to Kosovo. We only have to wait a little longer for that report, and it in the light of it will be better able to continue the discussion on the final status of Kosovo.

 
  
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  Zsolt László Becsey (PPE-DE). – (HU) Mr President, Mr Alexander, I would like to call to your attention the fact that there is a province in northern Serbia named Vojvodina that had the same status as Kosovo before 1989, whereas now it is practically a ‘territory on paper’ only, without a status. No one knows why its status cannot be restored five years after the fall of Milosevic. Since the large native Hungarian and Croatian minorities do not have a representation in the parliament of Belgrade, they are politically discriminated against in Vojvodina. When saying that there are positive ethnic changes in Serbia, I wonder whether you are aware of the fact that members of a European nation, namely of the Hungarian nation are persecuted and assaulted only because they speak Hungarian, while the police refuses to record their complaints, there are more and more judges of a doubtful reputation from Kosovo and Krajina in the region, and now there are murders ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I would respectfully suggest to the questioner that an awareness is needed of what the legitimate responsibilities of the European Union Presidency are and what the responsibilities of the Serbian Government are.

In relation to the specific matter of concern, the recent attack on József Kasza, the Chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, and the general position of the Hungarian minority, I believe a quick and decisive approach by the Serbian Government did much to calm the fears of the ethnic Hungarian community that the attack on Kasza might be the beginning of a series of further attacks. We are thankful that no one was hurt, according to the reports we have received, but I am aware of the concerns that the honourable Member has expressed.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I am glad that negotiations with Croatia are now actually set to begin in a few days’ time. This represents a considerable step forward for the British Presidency. When does the President-in-Office expect accession negotiations with Belgrade to begin?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. There seems to be a presumption inherent in the question which I am not in a position to echo in my response. There are still further reports to be received in terms of the position of Croatia, not least in terms of the Croatia Task Force. That is where matters rest at the moment – no further than that.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 7 by Dimitrios Papadimoulis (H-0671/05)

Subject: Property rights of religious minorities in Turkey

The Directorate-General for Foundations in Turkey has announced its intention of renting out property belonging to religious minority philanthropic foundations and which had previously been expropriated, persisting in its practice of violating the property rights of religious minorities. At the same time, the Turkish Government is tacitly consenting to this practice and has also brought before the national assembly a draft law on religious foundations, which stipulates that the Turkish State will return to its rightful owners only property under its jurisdiction and not property which has been sold illegally to third parties.

Is the Council aware of the practice followed by the Directorate-General for Foundations and the draft law tabled by the Turkish Government? Will it include this draft law on the agenda for the discussions it is to hold with the Turkish authorities? What steps will it take to safeguard the property rights of religious minorities in Turkey, in the light of the accession negotiations due to begin on 3 October 2005?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. We are aware of the issues raised by the honourable Member. While freedom of religious belief is guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, and the European Commission's 2004 Regular Report on Turkey's progress towards accession noted that freedom to worship is largely unhampered, important issues in this area remain outstanding. Under the revised accession partnership adopted in May 2003, Turkey is required inter alia to establish conditions for the functioning of non-Muslim religious communities which are in line with the practice of European Union Member States. However, the Council notes that some Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities and communities continue to experience difficulties connected with legal personality, property rights, training, residence rights and work permits for Turkish and non-Turkish clergy, schools and internal management. The European Union is particularly worried by the continuous confiscation by the state of property belonging to non-Muslim religious foundations. The European Union has urged Turkey to adopt promptly a law on foundations that fully complies with European standards and expects the Commission's comments on the draft law that were sent by Commissioner Rehn to the Turkish Foreign Minister Gül in June to be seriously considered. The European Union has also urged Turkey to reopen the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary.

As the honourable Member is well aware, on 16 and 17 December 2004 the European Council, when deciding that Turkey sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria to open accession negotiations, clearly stated that the Union would continue to monitor closely the progress of political reforms in Turkey. The Council can therefore assure the honourable Member that it continues to follow developments in this area very closely indeed.

 
  
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  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Mr President-in-Office, the European Parliament considered, in a resolution passed just today, that the specific legal arrangements are inadequate. Does the Council share this appraisal? Have you made any comments on the specific bill? Do you intend to put these issues on the negotiation agenda and, if so, when?

While we are on the subject of religious freedoms, does the British Presidency have any comments on the unacceptable and disparaging treatment of the Pope by the Turkish Government, following his invitation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch to visit Istanbul?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I am not sure whether the honourable Member had the opportunity, as I did this morning, to participate in a three-hour debate on the issue of Turkey in this Parliament. I can assure you that the British Presidency is fully aware of the range of issues involved in Turkish accession.

I would however suggest that many of us believe that the very process which Turkey has been through, and which it would continue to move through, is the best guarantee that these very issues that need to be addressed are being addressed and will continue to be addressed in the future.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (PSE). – Obviously, the issue of religious freedom is absolutely critical in negotiations with Turkey. In the next few weeks the NGO First Step Forum will be visiting Turkey to investigate the situation on the ground and I will be happy to forward a copy of its report to the President-in-Office.

Can the President-in-Office reassure me that religious freedom and expression thereof will be emphasised throughout the accession process with Turkey?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I can give that assurance but I would also point out to the honourable Member that leaders of Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox churches in Turkey have said that as a result of the European Union harmonisation reforms, their communities now find it easier to worship and that attitudes towards them have changed.

I fully recognise that there is a great deal of further work still to be done, and that is why I pay due tribute to the work that Mrs Stihler and other members of the NGO community have undertaken in this field. Nonetheless, I think the words from the leaders of the Catholic, the Greek Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox churches in Turkey to which I have just referred tell their own story about the real progress that has already been made.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 8 by James Hugh Allister (H-0673/05)

Subject: IRA terrorists

Following the unimpeded return of the convicted terrorist fugitives Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley to the Republic of Ireland from Colombia, and given the EU’s declared commitment to support the fight against international terrorism, what steps has the Council of Ministers taken to ensure that the Irish Government does not provide sanctuary for these international terrorists, and is it satisfied that Europol did everything possible to thwart their return?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. As I made clear earlier this month in this Parliament, this is not an issue for the Council, but for the Irish and Colombian governments.

 
  
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  James Hugh Allister (NI). – Minister, is that answer not a pitiful and cowardly cop-out? The Council, with collegiate emphasis, has repeatedly stressed its commitment to the fight against international terrorism and yet when faced with flagrant contradiction of that commitment through a Member State harbouring notorious international terrorists, all it can do is shrug its shoulders in lamentable indifference.

This is a challenge to the Council. Is it in a position to prove its credentials in fighting international terrorism, or is it only interested in ducking its responsibility? You can do better. The question is: have you the will to do better, or is all the talk mere platitudes and empty words?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. With the greatest of respect to the questioner, I would suggest that the issue is not one of will, but one of locus, and given that the Council has received no request from either of the two governments involved, the Council does not have a direct locus in this matter.

 
  
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  James Nicholson (PPE-DE). – I find the President-in-Office's remarks quite amazing. Considering that he is part of a government that has taken such a strong line on international terrorism, the way in which he has ducked the issue – his cop-out here this evening – is totally amazing.

Would he not agree that he should be encouraging the two governments of the Republic of Ireland and Colombia to ensure that there is no hiding place for those people who were convicted in Colombia, sent to jail, and who then absconded? Would he not agree that he should be leading to ensure that in the light of international terrorism he takes a positive role and does not try to duck out of this position?

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. It will not surprise you that I reject the terms of the accusation levelled at me by the supplementary questioner. I am somewhat intrigued, given the position of his party in relation to the importance of the nation state, that he does not accept the basic legal proposition as to where the legal locus to take action in relation to this matter lies. That legal locus lies with the Member State and I would suggest that, rather than rehearse the arguments that we first had the opportunity to discuss in this Parliament earlier this month, he should express his concern directly to those governments which have it within their powers to take action on the matter.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – I am not that keen to get into this issue, but I simply want to say that the legal and justice provisions in the Republic of Ireland are already under way. That system is independent of the political influence of any party in the Republic of Ireland, as I am sure the system also is in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

I want to appeal to you to take Question 9, which is the next one and in my name. I would particularly like to put a supplementary to the Council representative on the issue of the temporary agency workers directive.

 
  
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  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, I am grateful to you for that direction. I would suggest that, given the concern expressed by the questioner and the pressure I am under to catch a plane, it might be best if we were to correspond so that he can have a full reply to his concerns in relation to the directive.

 
  
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  Christopher Beazley (PPE-DE). – My question is Question No 32 on the list, but you have already answered by saying that it will be answered in writing. I look forward to that reply. I hope the Minister catches his plane. I look forward to continuing this discussion.

 
  
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  President. Questions 9 to 38 will be answered in writing(2).

That concludes Question Time.

(The sitting was suspended at 7.05 p.m. and resumed at 9.05 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MOSCOVICI
Vice-President

 
  

(1) OJ L 145, 31.5.2001, p. 43.
(2)See Annex ‘Question Time’

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