Index 
Verbatim report of proceedings
PDF 1215k
Thursday, 27 October 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Opening of the sitting
 2. Documents received: see Minutes
 3. Activities of the European Ombudsman (2004)
 4. Human rights in Western Sahara
 5. Voting time
 6. Draft general budget of the European Union - Financial year 2006
 7. Draft general budget for 2006 (Section III)
 8. Draft general budget for 2006 - other sections
 9. Situation in Azerbaijan before the elections
 10. The Barcelona Process revisited
 11. Activities of the European Ombudsman (2004)
 12. Explanations of vote
 13. Corrections to votes: see Minutes
 14. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes
 15. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Rule 115)
 16. Human rights in Western Sahara
 17. Uzbekistan
 18. Case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
 19. Voting time
 20. Human rights in Western Sahara
 21. Uzbekistan
 22. Case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
 23. Corrections to votes: see Minutes
 24. Membership of Parliament: see Minutes
 25. Membership of committees and delegations: see Minutes
 26. Written declarations for entry in the register (Rule 116): see Minutes
 27. Decisions concerning certain documents: see Minutes
 28. Forwarding of texts adopted during the sitting: see Minutes
 29. Dates for next sittings: see Minutes
 30. Adjournment of the session
 ANNEX


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR FRIEDRICH
Vice-President

 
1. Opening of the sitting
  

(The sitting was resumed at 10.05 a.m.)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hans-Gert Poettering, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I dare say you have taken note of yesterday’s statement by President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has expressed a desire to wipe the State of Israel off the map, claiming that this is what Ayatollah Khomeini would want. That is a monstrous thing to say, and in saying it, the President of Iran is aligning himself with terrorists. We see Israel’s integrity and security as being of great value, and we defend them.

Speaking on behalf of my group, I wish to announce our intention to make an issue of this. We will be proposing it at the next part-session of this House, and I would welcome support from the other groups. I see that Mrs Koch-Mehrin and Mr Swoboda are here, along with others who might well give their support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DE) Mr President, if this statement really was made in these terms, that is of course utterly unacceptable to anyone in this House and cannot be passed over in silence. It is because this demands an appropriate response that I wish, on behalf of my group, to express my strong support for Mr Poettering’s idea that this should be put on the order of business for the next part-session.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvana Koch-Mehrin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (DE) Mr President, if these statements have indeed been made, we too find them unacceptable, scandalous and dangerous. It is in itself staggering enough for a president to address a conference with the theme of ‘a world without Zionism’ and to express himself in such terms. Such a thing is absolutely unacceptable, and we endorse the motion that it be made the subject of a debate in this House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Your proposals have been noted, as has your stated intention of, in due course, bringing this matter before such bodies as the Conference of Presidents.

 

2. Documents received: see Minutes

3. Activities of the European Ombudsman (2004)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the debate on the report (A6-0276/2005) by Mr Mavrommatis, on behalf of the Committee on Petitions, on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman for the year 2004 (2005/2136(INI)).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nikiforos Diamandouros, Ombudsman. Mr President, I wish to thank you for this opportunity to address Parliament and to present the annual report for 2004, my first full year in office.

The year 2004 was hugely significant for the European Union: a year of historic enlargement, European elections, a new Commission and intense debate about the Constitution. These events and the popular attention they attracted had important consequences for the Ombudsman, as I will explain in a minute.

The annual report records our progress in handling complaints, in promoting good administration and in making the Ombudsman’s work better known to citizens. In total, 3 726 complaints were received, a 53% increase compared with the previous year. The rise in complaints does not result from worsening administrative behaviour by the institutions; rather, it reflects citizens’ increased general awareness of matters European and growing knowledge about their rights and about how to exercise those rights.

As I have mentioned, 2004 was a year in which European subjects figured prominently in headlines throughout the Union. I also made intensive efforts to inform citizens about their right to complain to the European Ombudsman and to spread the word about the positive results that have been achieved. All in all, I gave over 30 public lectures and presentations and held over 150 meetings with ombudsmen, public officials and other interlocutors in the Member States and candidate countries.

During 2004, I was able to help almost 70 % of the people who complained to me. The help took one of three forms: opening an inquiry, transferring the case to a competent body or advising on where to turn for a prompt and effective solution to the problem. I closed 251 inquires during the year. In 45 % of the cases, the inquiry revealed no maladministration. Such a finding is not always negative for the complainant, who at least has the benefit of a full explanation from the institutional body concerned of its actions. Furthermore, even when there is no maladministration, I may identify an opportunity for the institutional body to improve the quality of its administration in the future. If so, I point this out in a further remark in the closing decision.

Whenever there is maladministration, I try, if possible, to achieve a positive-sum outcome that satisfies both the complainant and the institution. In 28 % of cases, my inquiries resulted either in the institution concerned settling the case to the satisfaction of the complainant or in a friendly solution. When a friendly solution is not possible, I close the case with a critical remark or make a draft recommendation.

An example of a draft recommendation accepted in 2004 was a case in which the Commission granted ex gratia compensation to a small company that had been given insufficient time to prepare a proposal for a research and development contract.

If a Community institutional body fails to respond satisfactorily to a draft recommendation, the Ombudsman’s ultimate weapon is a special report to the European Parliament. Only one special report was made in 2004, following the Commission’s refusal to reconsider its rules on the grading of press officers in its delegations. I made the draft recommendation in this case because the Commission failed to provide a coherent and convincing explanation of the variations in its current practice, despite having every opportunity to do so during my inquiry.

In my view, it is important that the European institutions should be willing to think again, rather than give the appearance of acting in an arbitrary way. I am grateful for Parliament’s support in this important issue of principle, as expressed in paragraph 11 of Mr Mavrommatis’s report.

Two own-initiative inquiries addressing systemic issues were closed during the year with positive results. The Commission accepted the need to improve the administration of the European schools and gave a commitment to cooperate with parents. I encouraged the Commission to seek to ensure that the schools themselves acknowledge the need to empower parents and to win their trust. The Commission also accepted and implemented a draft recommendation to introduce an internal complaints procedure for seconded national experts.

I would now like to say a few words about my priorities for the future. The first priority is to promote a citizen-centred approach by the EU institutions and bodies in all their activities. To this end, I will seek every opportunity systematically to reach out to the institutions to encourage best practice and promote friendly solutions. The active cooperation of the institutions and bodies is essential to the success of the Ombudsman’s work for citizens. The annual report contains many examples of the institutions taking prompt action to settle cases brought to their attention and responding positively to my proposals and recommendations.

During visits to the institutions and bodies, I underlined the value of reacting promptly and constructively to complaints. The ultimate goal for us all must be to ensure the best possible service for the citizen. I will continue to push for an end to the present confusing situation in which different institutions and bodies apply different codes of good administration.

Parliament has already approved, on 6 September 2001, the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour. That text contains the rules and principles that should apply to all the Union institutions and bodies. The Code has received wide recognition internationally, in the Member States and candidate states, in the Council of Europe and elsewhere in the world. It is, by all accounts, a European success story of which both Parliament and the Ombudsman can be justly proud.

I was encouraged by the positive reaction of the President of the Commission on this point when I met the College of Commissioners in May this year. With the cooperation of the Commission, I believe that it would be possible for a common code to be adopted in 2006.

I also intend to revisit the question of the Ombudsman’s statute. My principal objective here is to ensure that citizens can have full confidence in the Ombudsman’s power to find the truth when hearing witnesses or inspecting documents. I would also like to cooperate with Parliament to ensure that citizens’ complaints about violations of the fundamental rights mentioned in the Charter can be brought before the Court of Justice if an important issue of principle cannot be resolved in any other way. Parliament already has full rights as an institution to initiate cases before the Court. In that context, it could be useful for the Ombudsman to have the power to intervene in such cases; a power, I note, that has already been given to the European Data Protection Supervisor, with whom I had a very friendly and productive meeting last week.

A third priority is to deepen my close cooperation with ombudsmen in the Member States through the European Network of Ombudsmen. The network makes it possible to transfer cases rapidly, share best practice and promote a free flow of information about European law and its implementation at the national, regional and local levels. The aim is to promote good administration throughout the Union so that citizens can enjoy their rights under European law. I am delighted that, following a valuable proposal from the De Rossa report last year, the Committee on Petitions participates in the network as a full member and was represented at the meeting of national ombudsmen, which took place in The Hague in September.

I would like to thank the Members of the Committee on Petitions and, in particular, this year’s rapporteur, Mr Mavrommatis, for their support and constructive proposals as set out in Parliament’s report.

I have already mentioned today many of the matters on which the report contains wise advice, at least to the Ombudsman. As regards other points, I have already undertaken to ask to appear before the Committee on Petitions whenever I deem it advisable and necessary to submit a special report to this House following the rejection of a friendly solution or draft recommendation.

Earlier this month, I presented the Committee with two special reports. The first was on the financial treatment of Commission staff whose children cannot attend the European Schools because of their degree of disability. The second report found that the Council has given no valid reason for continuing to legislate behind closed doors. The Council could easily amend its Rules of Procedure to provide for open legislative meetings.

I am also committed to improving information to citizens about the services provided by members of the European Network of Ombudsmen. I intend to introduce an interactive guide on our website to help complainants find the appropriate ombudsman to deal with, be it at the European, national or regional level.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the first ten years of the European Ombudsman. To mark the occasion we published a volume tracing the history of the institution. We have also held a number of successful commemorative events, including one for the European Parliament on 27 September this year. Further events will take place in the next few weeks in both Strasbourg and Brussels.

I believe that the relationships of goodwill, trust and understanding that have been built up over the last decade are a precious resource for improving the quality of public administration in Europe to the benefit of citizens. The European Parliament and its Committee on Petitions constitute vital partners for the European Ombudsman in this regard.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Manolis Mavrommatis (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (EL) Mr President, I thank Mr Diamandouros for the cooperation which we enjoyed throughout the preparation and drafting of this report. My sincere thanks also to the Committee on Petitions, Mr Libicki, all my colleagues here today, Sir Robert Atkins and everyone else who helped with this report.

Commissioner, Mr Diamandouros, ladies and gentlemen, the Ombudsman is an independent institution and a mechanism for controlling the administration of the European Union. The report presented to us by Mr Diamandouros at the meeting of the Committee on Petitions in Strasbourg constitutes a basic source for the drafting of the annual report by the European Parliament on the activities of the European Ombudsman.

It is a fact that complaints increased by 53% in 2004, compared with the previous year. Although it was assumed that enlargement would be the main cause for the increase in complaints to the European Ombudsman, only 51% of the increase was accounted for by the 10 new states. Nonetheless, the increase in complaints does not necessarily mean that there are more cases of maladministration by the institutions of the European Union; it means that the citizens are better informed about their rights. This is due mainly to the intense activity of the Ombudsman. His numerous visits to Member States and third countries, public lectures, press interviews and other meetings in 2004 helped to inform citizens about his role and about the right of citizens to complain. However, despite Mr Diamandouros's activity to inform the public, confusion continues to reign as regards the sectors of competence of the European Ombudsman. To be specific, in 2004, 74.8% of complaints received by the European Ombudsman fell outside his mandate. Consequently, as the European Parliament, we too must contribute to the clear differentiation of the competences of the Community institutions to which European citizens can take recourse in order to exercise their rights.

I also wish to comment on certain statistics in the Ombudsman's annual report. In 2004, 251 enquiries were closed, of which 4 were opened on his own initiative. Twelve friendly solutions were proposed, 36 cases resulted in critical remarks, including one to Parliament for failing to take adequate measures to promote fundamental compliance with smoking rules on its premises, 17 draft recommendations were prepared and one special report was submitted.

An important factor in the efficacy of the institution of the Ombudsman is his cooperation with the institutions of the European Union and the European Parliament in general. I would refer, by way of example, to the regular briefings and meetings between Mr Diamandouros and the Committee on Petitions and its chairman, and his meeting on 25 May 2005 with the College of Commissioners. The conclusions of this meeting emphasise the genuine community of interests between the Commission and the European Ombudsman in ensuring that both the corrective and the interventionist aspect of the Ombudsman's job are carried out successfully.

It is a fact that most complaints concern cases of maladministration. A case of maladministration, in accordance with the Ombudsman's 1997 annual report, occurs when a public body fails to act in accordance with the rule or principle which is binding upon it. 22% of cases of maladministration were based on lack of transparency and refusal of information, 19% were based on discrimination and 12% were based on avoidable delay. In addition, 9% concerned unsatisfactory procedures, 7% unfairness or abuse of power, 6% negligence and 5% legal error.

Bearing these statistics in mind, therefore, the Ombudsman should define the concept of maladministration with reference both to the institutions and bodies to which it applies and to matters which may be the subject of complaints.

Mr President, Mrs Wallstöm, I should also like to point out, as I mention in my report, that it would be most helpful for the Ombudsman to be present in the Committee of Petitions of the European Parliament in order to discuss all forms of refusal on the part of the institution or to organise a friendly solution. The Ombudsman's annual report also demonstrates, among other things, the efforts being made by the Ombudsman to extend and energise the network of national and regional ombudsmen by developing exchanges of information and best practices.

Participation by the European Parliament's Committee on Petitions in this network could facilitate practical cooperation between the European institutions and national and regional ombudsmen and would allow regular contacts with the committees on petitions of the national parliaments and with the ombudsmen of the Member States to be increased.

The finding that 69% of complaints were against the Commission is particularly interesting. For its part, the European Commission should examine the complaints which concern infringements within a reasonable time, in order to ensure that citizens' complaints are examined immediately and effectively.

Finally, a reference point for the preparation of my report was also last year's De Rossa report on the European Ombudsman's 2003 report. Comparing the Ombudsman's 2003 and 2004 reports, the result was positive and guides us to focus on the points of particular interest to the Committee on Petitions. In addition, in this way we can see the material progress made within a year.

To close, I should like to thank all of you and the secretariat of the Committee on Petitions, of course, and all my honourable friends who helped with their amendments in the drafting of this report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, I wish to begin by thanking the rapporteur, Mr Mavrommatis, for his report, which is a very useful document. It allows the Commission to take into account the views of the European Parliament on a number of important issues raised by the Ombudsman in his annual report for 2004.

Let me say that, for me, the Commission’s relationship with the Ombudsman is about firmly engaging ourselves to guarantee good administration and openness and, ultimately, democracy. The same applies to our relations with Parliament’s Committee on Petitions. To me, the European Ombudsman has an essential role in building bridges between citizens and the European Union. His actions contribute to enhancing the Commission’s interaction and communication with citizens. The Commission, therefore, will continue to look at different ways of further promoting its cooperation with and commitment to the European Ombudsman.

As is rightly pointed out in Mr Mavrommatis’ report, the number of complaints to the European institutions and bodies addressed by the Ombudsman rose by 53% in 2004. I agree with the Ombudsman’s annual report that this reflects Europeans’ increasing awareness of the European Ombudsman, which is a development that we should welcome.

In light of the Commission’s dedication further to improving and promoting its cooperation with the Ombudsman, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the very recent reform of the Commission’s internal procedures. The reform aims at strengthening the guarantees of strong political ownership by each commissioner as regards Ombudsman enquiries within his or her domain.

The Commission has decided to replace the existing empowerment – at present granted to the President alone – with an empowerment granted to the Commissioner in charge of the subject-matter of the enquiry addressed to the Ombudsman. In parallel, the Commission Secretariat-General reinforces its role as guardian of the political and administrative coherence and consistency of the Commission’s final replies to the Ombudsman. This reform will enter into force on 1 November 2005.

Furthermore, the Commission needs to strengthen its efforts to agree to friendly solutions proposed by the European Ombudsman. Recommendations for the Commission to follow up certain aspects in order to remedy problems highlighted by different cases need to be taken into account promptly. Proposing solutions that give satisfaction to the citizen and to the administration is one of the main tools of the Ombudsman.

It should be underlined again that the Ombudsman’s inquiries often not only produce positive results for the complainants but also help to improve the quality of our administrative services.

Mr Mavrommatis’ report touches upon the issue of transparency, regarding in particular the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 on access to documents, a fundamental right of citizens. The report also points out that Regulation 1049/2001 now applies to Community agencies.

We can also confirm that we examine applications for access to documents with the utmost care and that derogations from the right of access are applied on a case-by-case basis.

The role of the Ombudsman in this field is really important. We have made significant progress in the direction of better and more transparency. This is the case in particular for access to documents in infringement procedures. It is essential that the Commission should have the necessary room for manoeuvre to conduct its procedure totally independently. In these cases, a balance needs to be found between the transparency principle and confidentiality. For closed infringement procedures, the Commission has reviewed its practices and, in principle, documents have now been made available.

The Commission is set on applying procedures that will allow the European Ombudsman to do his job. For example, it is now possible for the Ombudsman to inspect files. It allows him to verify the completeness and accuracy of the information supplied by the Community institution or body concerned. It is, therefore, an important guarantee to the complainant and to the public that the Ombudsman can conduct a thorough and complete investigation.

The Commission attaches great importance to the issue of a code of good administrative behaviour, with binding effect upon all the EU institutions and bodies. We consider this matter with an open mind.

The Commission’s own code entered into force in November 2000. We will report to the bodies concerned the results of our reflections on this issue. The recent creation of a European School of Administration increases the importance of this matter.

The proposal for a new Constitutional Treaty would give the Union a specific legal base to act on this. However, considering the situation, we need to look at the issue differently. Nevertheless, a positive conclusion on this dossier is possible and I hope that we can arrive at the result proposed by the Ombudsman and the rapporteur.

Let me say a few words on the Ombudsman’s Statute. During his visit to the College of Commissioners on 25 May 2005, Mr Diamandouros informed the Commission that he had asked the European Parliament to review certain aspects of the Ombudsman’s Statute. He would like in particular to be entitled to intervene in proceedings before the Court of Justice in cases relating to alleged violations of the rights set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It should be noted that, on this subject, it is the European Parliament that has the right of initiative and acts by majority vote, subject to Council approval, with the Commission merely issuing an opinion. The Commission will examine any new initiative in this respect with the utmost care and an open mind.

Our willingness to cooperate with the Ombudsman is not only our obligation but is also very important for better administration. This is the reason why we welcome your report. Let me assure you that we continue to engage the Commission to work even closer with the Ombudsman and with Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard Seeber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Diamandouros, I welcome the Ombudsman’s report and would also like to express the warmest congratulations to my colleague Mr Mavrommatis on his draft.

There is little doubt that the Ombudsman is one of the most important aids to securing the citizen’s position in his dealings with the institutions. Whenever people have dealings with large administrative units, an independent, straightforward and, above all, free external monitor is indispensable. I do not suppose it is accidental that it was the Scandinavian states that acquired such an instrument at a very early stage and that thought was given as early as the 1970s to establishing such an office in the Community, something that was eventually accomplished by the Treaty of Maastricht.

The original idea was that the European Ombudsman would have a role as a parliamentary commissioner who would mainly advise and monitor, but the developments in practice have been speedy and have meant that the Ombudsman of today acts as the external monitor for European public administration and highlights recurrent abuses.

Look at the figures for complaints and you find a constant increase, but, as I see it, the primary significance of that is not that European administration has become worse, but that more and more members of the public are endeavouring to assert their rights. That makes it less significant that inadmissible complaints have remained at a constant high level, amounting to some 70-75% on average. What they do indicate is that someone believes they have been on the receiving end of unfair treatment and wants to do something about it.

If dealing with these things is not a permanent feature of daily life, finding the correct form is not always easy, and people ask themselves such questions as: ‘Have I supplied a full description of the facts of the case?’ ‘What, in real terms, makes me feel that I have a complaint?’ ‘Which right has been violated?’ ‘Which institution should take action?’ What the inadmissible complaints should really do, then, is to present us with an opportunity to think about how we can create systems that offer the public a clear and cogent answer or the beginnings of a solution, both quickly and without red tape.

It is for these reasons that the Ombudsman’s efforts to create closer networks among the national complaints offices and between them and himself deserve our wholehearted support, as do his efforts at improving communication. It is by these means alone that we will meet the citizen where he is at the moment, and will be able to allay some of his fears of a Community that is still, alas, largely a faceless entity. There are things that it is very definitely incumbent on the EU to do in this respect: it needs to improve administration, make for more transparency, speedier processes and easier access to the law, not least through non-judicial instruments such as the Ombudsman himself, as well as, of course, this House’s Committee on Petitions.

For that reason, too, I am not particularly happy about the section in the draft report headed ‘Reflections on developments in the Ombudsman's role’ in which there is reference to the present time when ‘a debate is in progress on the failure on the part of European institutions and national governments to educate the peoples of the Union, following the twin referendum failures in France and the Netherlands on the European Constitutional Treaty’, and more of the same besides.

What is this saying? What is at issue here, surely, is not so much a failure to educate as the question of how we can improve the Community’s communications and policies. This is not about our didactic proclamation from on high of things that the population at large do not support.

In this sense, what this report presents us with is both an inventory analysis and a mission, a mission not only to lay down improved rules that will enjoy public support, but also, and at the same time, to ensure that they are properly enforced, while equipping one of these instruments, namely the Ombudsman, with the powers and responsibilities he will need to perform his monitoring role independently, without reference to the courts, free of charge and in a citizen-friendly manner.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa, on behalf of the PSE Group. Mr President, I welcome Mr Mavrommatis's report and, indeed, I welcome the European Ombudsman here today to the European Parliament. The Ombudsman's office is a direct link between the citizen and Europe; it enables citizens to make known their concerns about maladministration at European level.

The committee of which I am a member and which prepared this report, the Committee on Petitions, equally, is a direct link with the citizen, but has a different role in that it enables citizens to ensure that authorities in the Member State comply with European rules, regulations, funding etc. So the Ombudsman and the European Parliament's Petitions Committee are, in a sense, complementary to each other.

The very existence of the Ombudsman's office, I believe, is a deterrent to maladministration, and the 10th anniversary of that office deserves a review of the statute. I do hope that this Parliament, which has that responsibility, will undertake that in the course of the next 12 months.

The Ombudsman's office clearly has resolved many problems, but it has not been in a position to resolve them all. Indeed, the fact that 75 % of the complaints the Ombudsman's office receives do not relate directly to European Union institutions and problems therein is, in my view, not necessarily a bad thing. It demonstrates that people are aware that there is a body there that can help them, and the fact that the Ombudsman's office refers them to the appropriate area where they may receive a resolution of their problem is an important service.

I would like to mention a number of issues here; one relates to the European schools. A report is in preparation on the issue of funding for the European schools to enable children with special needs to be catered for, in the same way that all children attending European schools are catered for, free of charge with compulsory education. That is a matter the Commission, and specifically the Commissioner responsible for the budget of the European schools, has to address. Unless the Commission brings forward a detailed analysis of the money required in order to enable the schools to do their job properly, either in providing the special needs education within the schools or providing that education outside of those schools, then we are failing as a Union, and, indeed, as an employer of the parents of these children.

The other issue I want to refer to is the code of good administrative behaviour. As has already been mentioned, this has been adopted by this Parliament; this Parliament itself operates by it and the Council operates by it. There is absolutely no reason why the Commission should not buy into that code of good administrative behaviour, so that we would have a common code for all three institutions. I would appeal to Commissioner Wallström to address that issue and to raise the matter with the college of Commissioners.

The final point I want to make relates to the most recent special report, which is a rarity – special reports from the Ombudsman are a rarity – relating to the need for the Council to meet in public when making law. Your job in promoting the Plan D – debate, democracy and dialogue – is being undermined by the fact that the Council continues to refuse to make law in public. We would not accept that from this Parliament or from any national parliament; the Council should not be allowed to get away with it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luciana Sbarbati, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank Mr Mavrommatis for his excellent report, and also the Ombudsman.

The institution of the first ombudsman in Europe dates back to 1809 in Sweden. As an Italian citizen, I should, however, like to mention that it was Giuseppe Mazzini – the bicentenary of whose birth is this year – who instituted the petition by allowing people, both individually and collectively, to submit petitions under Article 10 of the Constitution of the Roman Republic of 1849. It was he who had the idea of a political association of Europe’s peoples in a Europe made up of free nation states federated together: the precursors of the concept of Europe that gained shape and substance a century later in the initial core of the current Union.

Our Ombudsman’s annual report, which is being examined today, gives us an idea of the desire of citizens to interact with Community institutions. The fact that we have to consider, however, is that 72% of the 3 726 complaints received lay outside his competence. It is also significant that 51% of cases were reported by citizens in the enlargement countries. That means that the perception that citizens have of the Union and of their representatives is still confused, that Community citizens are undeniably well aware of their rights, and that they want to exercise their citizenship by complaining. It is also obvious, however, that they are not able to identify the right recipients for their complaints.

The Ombudsman figure and the petition have been a success. That is a fact that cannot be ignored. Today, however, we have to look more closely into the reasons for the mistakes and why people make use of them wrongly. I believe an effort should also be made to reduce the time needed to examine complaints – as was also mentioned in the Mavrommatis report – by improving information exchange and cooperation among the institutions wherever possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, the office of the European Ombudsman was set up by the Maastricht Treaty as a part of European citizenship, which is still an ongoing issue that requires new rights as a result of enlargement and the complexity of migration and globalisation. I think our Ombudsman has fully met the three objectives that he undertook to fulfil: promoting the rule of law; good administration and respect for human rights; and enlargement – and hence closer contact with all citizens, including constant relations with ombudsmen throughout Europe. A political analysis of the data shows, however, that Europeans recognise and thus complain to Community institutions while effectively bypassing national institutions. Therefore, even though people’s perception of Europe corresponds to a different entity – which they imagine endowed with powers and competences – that perception often cannot be made real. We therefore have to do better at orienting European citizens towards our institutions, while accepting the people’s mandate to call on governments to be more open and to transfer areas of sovereignty for the sake of making European action more incisive.

As has been mentioned, the Ombudsman is an independent, impartial body. He has to cooperate with all the other institutions and I believe he will do so to the best of his abilities, with our cooperation and that of all the institutions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Hammerstein Mintz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (ES) Mr President, I would like to begin by thanking the rapporteur for his excellent report, and the European Ombudsman for the work he does every day and for his annual report.

Commissioner Wallström, although your so-called Plan D to bring us closer to the European citizens, to open up the doors of this Institution and to promote dialogue, is worthy of our support, this does not preclude the right to complain to the Ombudsman, since it is he who offers the citizens an independent analysis in the event that they want to make a complaint about bad government or bad conduct on the part of the European institutions.

There is absolutely no doubt that one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the referendums in France and Holland is that the citizens do not want to be treated as mere passive spectators, but as dynamic players in the process of European integration, who want more transparency and more means for participation.

I believe that the Ombudsman does a very good job. But I would like to mention some of the problems we have faced, one in particular: I would like to express my concern and disapproval at the way in which the Conference of Presidents has dealt with the recent very important special report by Mr Diamandouros.

This report contains an issue which is of great significance to the citizens: the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) apparently did not fully cooperate with the Ombudsman while he was investigating a complaint against it.

The Committee on Petitions — the appropriate Committee — decided, therefore, to draw up a report and listen to both the Ombudsman and the Director of OLAF.

I must express my surprise and amazement at the way in which the leaders of the two main political groups blocked the report and did not allow that hearing to take place. And to make matters even worse, the Conference of Presidents, on the insistence of the two main groups, prevented the Committee on Petitions from hearing the Ombudsman and the Director of OLAF, something which I believe Parliament’s Rules of Procedure do not allow it to do.

I believe that the reasons given — that we were immersed in the process of electing a new Director of OLAF — were not acceptable, and that this House should examine this issue, because it has done no good, either in terms of transparency or in terms of responding to the citizens’ complaints.

I believe that these actions cause collateral damage: they weaken the role of the European Ombudsman, which is completely irresponsible.

In reaction to this, in agreement with the rapporteur, Mr Mavrommatis, I have presented several amendments to his report, so that Parliament may respond to the Ombudsman whenever he presents us with a special report.

Since the amendments presented were supported by my colleagues in the Committee on Petitions, they are now part of the report that will be presented to the House. Naturally, it falls to Parliament to decide whether or not it agrees with the recommendations of the Ombudsman.

What is unacceptable is that no position should be adopted, thereby damaging and weakening the crucial and extremely important role of the European Ombudsman.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mario Borghezio, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Ombudsman’s report for 2004 does not, in our opinion, contain an overall view of the principles involved, even though the need for one could certainly be felt. As many speakers have emphasised, the referendum results, which sank the draft European Constitution in some major countries with great democratic traditions, show that there is a strong sense of impatience and widespread dissatisfaction among European citizens with regard to the democratic nature of the European institutions.

In the eyes of the vast majority of European citizens, the European Union is seen as a Moloch, and the European Ombudsman should have felt the need to voice this feeling, which has been expressed so clearly. The report before us, however, is like a document from a statistics bureau: it is sterile and gives no hint of any battle over the principles and motivations behind the subjects dealt with.

We need only think of the sensitive area of subsidies and public funding, for instance, which are responsible for perhaps the major part of the impression that European citizens have of the lack of transparency in Europe’s institutions. To whom can European citizens turn when they see a sign for huge and perhaps useless works bearing the words ‘funded by the European Union’ and they think of the money they have paid in taxes? Why have you never thought of demanding that, wherever such signs are erected or EU-funded works are carried out, there should be an indication of how citizens – ordinary people – can reach the institution that should be upholding their desire for transparency?

If I think of what comes out every time that the anti-Mafia commission in my country touches on the use of European funds in certain regions, I wonder what an honest citizen from Sicily, Apulia, Calabria or Campania thinks when he or she sees such public works undertaken perhaps through non-transparent tendering processes.

I believe that the office of the European Ombudsman needs to change direction and that the essential, sensitive subject of the role of a modern democracy in Europe should be addressed. The report talks in general terms of contacts with national ombudsmen, without specifying what was discussed at such meetings or explaining the spirit behind this cooperation. Although this network is certainly useful and we welcome it, there is no explanation, either, of the ramifications of the work that it can accomplish through the presence of national ombudsmen in the individual Member States.

The idea of the European Ombudsman’s role that emerges from the report is somewhat ‘over-bureaucratic’, for a change. In addition, Mr Diamandouros, your statement of intent for your first five years of work is very general: you confine yourself to saying that citizens must know their rights, without mentioning the fact that a measure is currently being implemented that greatly endangers citizens’ freedom: the European arrest warrant. Let us therefore uphold the freedom of Europe’s citizens!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marcin Libicki, on behalf of the UEN Group (PL) Mr President, I am delighted to take the floor during this debate, since I am sharing it with individuals for whom I have a great deal of respect. I refer to the Ombudsman, Mr Diamandouros, with whom the Committee on Petitions, of which I am Chairman, cooperates very closely, the rapporteur, Mr Mavrommatis, who is one of the most active members of our committee, and Commissioner Wallström, with whom our committee maintains close and friendly contacts.

I believe that an ombudsman needs three characteristics in order to perform his duties well. The first is to be professional and competent, and Professor Diamandouros possesses these attributes to a very high degree. The second is to be objective and impartial, and there can be no doubt that these are also qualities that can be ascribed to him. We are not aware of anyone ever having accused him of failing to perform his duties objectively, and it would have come to our attention had this been the case. I repeat, we have never come across any such accusations. The third characteristic is something that is less frequently mentioned nowadays, namely performing one’s duties with dignity. Professor Diamandouros demonstrates a great deal of dignity in the course of his duties. The role of ombudsman also demands a certain ability to make the job one’s own. This is very much apparent in Professor Diamandouros’ energetic approach, and we are delighted that this is the case.

Every official should enjoy the respect of others, and this is true in the case of Professor Diamandouros. I am very much aware of this, since I am in close contact with the national ombudsmen, who are the best judges. Professor Zoll, the Polish Ombudsman, has always expressed his respect for Professor Diamandouros’ activities, and we find this very convincing proof. After all, our Committee on Petitions is fully aware of the high standard of Professor Diamandouros’ work, and he was also re-elected by an overwhelming majority. We should like to thank you on all these counts, Professor Diamandouros, and I should also like to thank the rapporteur.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Claude Martinez (NI). – (FR) Mr President, Mr Diamandouros, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the European Ombudsman, as our rapporteur, Mr Mavrommatis, points out in his very comprehensive and pleasing report.

Forgive me for saying so, Mr Diamandouros, but you only have competence with regard to maladministration issues. Therefore, as regards the issue of the feta cheese made by my Greek friends, you are not acknowledged as having competence with regard to feta cheese, which is produced in Lozère using goats’ milk from the south of France.

On the other hand, you do have competence with regard to the violation of fundamental rights, in the European Parliament itself, to which 10% of your work relates. For example, a person’s fundamental right to speak his or her own language: the 35 non-attached Members do not benefit from interpretation services at group meetings. Why is this so? Because between a monkey and a political homo sapiens, the non-attached Member is the missing link of humankind. Therefore, when we, the non-attached Members, communicate among ourselves, we scratch under our armpits, we stick our tongues out and we make grunting noises. That is obviously the reason why we do not need any interpreters.

Second example: everyone has the right to accommodation, water and toilets here in Parliament. Well, we, the non-attached Members, have offices without toilets and without water. That is why we are calling for the Geneva Conventions on the rights of political prisoners and, in particular, on the right to go to the toilet, to be implemented. That is why, Mr Diamandouros, I will be nominating you as a candidate for next year’s Sakharov Prize if you denounce the violation of the human rights of the 35 Members who are being denied their right to use the toilet.

It is true that the arrival of the Turks will resolve matters for the non-attached Members, inasmuch as we will perhaps have the right to use the toilets of the Turkish Members. That goes to show that the Lord works in mysterious ways. It is Turkey’s joining the EU that will finally mean that the political minorities – the non-attached Members – are respected within the European Parliament …

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Schwab (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Madam Vice-President, Mr Diamandouros, Mr Mavrommatis, let me start by saying how very grateful I am for the report that the Committee on Petitions and its rapporteur Mr Mavrommatis have produced; what makes it so very successful is that it revisits the most important problems that the Ombudsman addresses in his report and seeks to find a solution to them.

Over the past year, the Petitions Committee and the Ombudsman worked very well together; I believe that the way in which they managed this should be a model not only for the cooperation between the Ombudsman and the Commission but also – and this is a point to which I shall return later – for the cooperation between the Ombudsman and the Council. While this working relationship was, in the overwhelming majority of cases in 2004, marked by a great willingness to cooperate, it has to be said that there were a number of cases in which things could have turned out much better.

The functions of an ombudsman – a position that the state from which I come has abolished – are of fundamental importance to the European Union, as he or she communicates directly with the European Union’s citizens and thereby brings them closer to its institutions. Despite all the difficulties to which Mr Seeber referred, this has already made it possible for much to be achieved, but we should nevertheless keep trying to persuade the public of the advantages that the Ombudsman can offer in bringing to light those abuses in European administration that are rather more serious than the case just described by Mr Martinez, and in following these problems up.

Through his work, the Ombudsman ensures adherence to the highest administrative standards within the European Union, its institutions and bodies. Even in the 113 – out of a total of 251 – cases in which it was not possible to establish maladministration, the Ombudsman does do helpful work, since the institution concerned – the Commission, for example – can indicate ways in which quality might be improved in future. In individual cases, the Ombudsman can spare the institution unjustified criticism, being, as a sort of outsider, able to lay claim to absolute objectivity.

As Mr Mavrommatis pointed out, the figures have, over the past few years, been on a constant upward curve. I am sure that reflects the confidence that is placed in you. We should, however, strive for a closer link between representing the interests of those members of the public who turn to their MEPs, and the work of your own institution, enabling us to make a better and more efficient job of handling their concerns.

There is one thing left for which I would like to offer you the warmest thanks, and that is for your positive response to the question from the German Junge Union – of which I am still a member – that was brought in by Mr Brok. I will take this opportunity to point out that the Council, which is the object of my criticism in this regard, is again, today, distinguishing itself by its lamentable absence. By holding its meetings behind closed doors, the Council does nothing to achieve the goal of the European Constitution that it played a part in adopting, which has to do with the most open possible approach to defending the interests of the public and speaking up for Europe’s citizens and inhabitants. It is indeed a positive sign that one European institution should be able to take a critical view of the actions of another and be guided in so doing by nothing other than the goals of the European Constitution. For that, Mr Diamandouros, I should like to thank you most warmly.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alexandra Dobolyi (PSE). – (HU) Mr President, firstly I would like to thank both the Ombudsman and Mr Mavrommatis for their excellent report, and would like to begin by making a personal observation. I am an MEP from a new Member State, and when we discussed the annual report of the Ombudsman last year, I had no personal experience with the Committee on Petitions or with the institution of the Ombudsman.

However, as Mr Mavrommatis mentioned in his report, in the course of the activities of the Ombudsman last year and his campaign in the new Member States, a great number of Hungarian citizens became aware of their right to submit a petition to the European Union. I am delighted to see that they are actually exercising this right, as well, and – even if the petitions submitted do not always comply with the expectations of the Union and we do not always know what to do with them – it is of considerable assistance to citizens of new Member States to have another forum to contact.

As mentioned by Mrs Wallström in her speech, the Commission has a reform plan to assist our efforts. European citizens are justified to expect public institutions to work efficiently and openly. I hope that in the future the Commission will implement the reform endeavours formulated in the speech.

Echoing the opinions communicated by many of my colleagues in the course of the debate, I, too, would like to ask the Council – as expressed by the Ombudsman in his special report – to consider opening up all Council sessions to the personnel of the other EU institutions. But if the Council insists on making all political decisions behind closed doors, at least the legislation procedure should be made transparent to us, and we should be allowed to be present when such decisions are made. Mr Diamandouros prepared a material last year resulting in an even closer cooperation between the Ombudsman and the Committee on Petitions, and created the so-called European Network of Ombudsmen, mentioned in his introduction. This is also to be welcome, and I am very pleased that this year the delegates of the Committee on Petitions have been able to take part in the meeting of this network, too.

I would like to summarise my comments by pointing out to all of us that the activity of the European Ombudsman in the past ten years has been really successful, but there are still a great number of tasks to be tackled. And all of us, as well as all EU institutions and bodies must focus on these tasks, so that European citizens can feel that we are working for them, for the assertion of their rights and for finding solutions to public matters in their interest.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski (UEN).   (PL) Mr President, Mr Diamandouros, I should like to thank the Ombudsman for his detailed statement on his activities in 2004. This was a particularly significant year in view of the EU’s enlargement to include 10 new Member States. I should also like to pay tribute to Mr Mavrommatis and to thank him for his excellent report.

The European Ombudsman referred to the three challenges that he faces. These include enforcing the rights of citizens as set out in EU legislation, adhering to the highest standards of administration and ensuring that measures taken on behalf of citizens are effective and of the highest quality. Professor Diamandouros has responded positively to all these key challenges. I should therefore like to pay tribute to him, not least for his attempts to help people in cases that fall outside his jurisdiction.

The fact that this institution has been in existence for 10 years serves as an excellent example of the growing awareness of citizens’ rights in our Community. I say this as a representative of Poland, a new Member State, which has gained experience in this field through the institutions of the Polish Ombudsman and the Polish Ombudsman for Children. These factors all help to create a European society of citizens who are aware of their rights and obligations, and this is a point I should like to stress.

It goes without saying that a great deal remains to be done. I have found that young people in particular are aware of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, and this means there is reason to be hopeful. It is also crucially important for the principle of transparency be adhered to wherever possible.

There is one small point I should like to make to the Ombudsman. In my opinion, it was a mistake for him to refer to the Constitutional Treaty, since this document has no legal force, and we are all aware of the state of affairs following the two referendums. I believe that the current arrangements enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht still hold. Finally, I would stress that it would be a fine thing if this institution became redundant, because absolute compliance with legislation had been achieved. If I may, I should also like to congratulate Mr Diamandouros on his anniversary, and to wish him ad multos annos!

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ryszard Czarnecki (NI).   (PL) Mr President, Mr Diamandouros, the Ombudsman’s home country of Greece won the European basketball championships a few weeks ago for the first time in over a decade. I mention this because Parliament’s motion for a resolution states that the Ombudsman provided effective assistance in almost 70% of cases referred to him. I can assure the Ombudsman that his fellow countrymen, who are the best basketball players in Europe, would tell him that a 70% success rate for two-or three-point field goals is unheard of, and I should like to congratulate him on his achievement. I should also like to congratulate him on the increase in the number of complaints, since this is proof that people take his institution seriously and believe there is a genuine need for it.

I do not agree with the claim that only half of this increase is due to the 10 new Member States, as stated in the draft resolution. The word ‘only’ in this sentence should be replaced by ‘as much as’, since the institution of the European Ombudsman is a very new concept for the citizens of the new Member States. The Ombudsman should rest assured that in time he will be bombarded with our complaints.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE). – (HU) Mr President, first of all, please allow me to congratulate my colleague, the rapporteur Manolis Mavrommatis, who has reviewed with great care the anniversary report of the European Ombudsman on his activities in 2004, submitted to the European Parliament. I, too, support the close cooperation of the Ombudsman with the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament, because this enables citizens’ petitions to reach the decision-makers of the European Parliament directly, providing a direct feedback on the efficiency of EU legislation.

The 2004 annual report issued by the European Ombudsman reveals that the number of complaints received increased by 53% in 2004 compared to 2003. Even more surprisingly, only half of this increase originates from the ten newly joined Member States. In other words, it may seem that the citizens and businesses of the new Member States have fewer grievances in the EU, or are less prone to complaining.

As the representative of one of the newly joined Member States, I can tell you from experience that neither of these is true. Although it is true that the majority of the ten new Member States submitted fewer complaints compared to the proportion of their population, the main reason for this lies in their relative unfamiliarity with the institution of the European Ombudsman, and not in a lower number of grievances.

Unfortunately, under information, as well as an ingrained negative conditioning, a fear of making a complaint rooted in past experiences still persists in the eight newly joined post-socialist states. It is an unfortunate fact that to this day citizens are still contacting us, MEPs, informally, to tell us about discrimination suffered in European institutions. Therefore I know from experience that it is difficult even for us to persuade them to take their complaint to the Ombudsman.

As an MEP, but not as a European employee, I often see discrimination even one and a half years after accession. One example I could mention is the Parliament practice whereby the questions we ask in writing are only translated into our mother tongues and the languages of the fifteen old Member States, and the answers received are only given in our mother tongue, English and French.

In particular, I would like to call the attention of Mr Diamandouros to a discriminative phenomenon experienced in the course of admission to European institutions. One of the conditions of the admission exams announced to the 25 Member States is that the exam will be conducted in two of the 15 languages of the EU. This means that while a candidate from an old Member State may take the exam in his/her mother tongue and a foreign language, a candidate from a new Member State cannot use his/her mother tongue.

Countless similar complaints are received day by day. The Parliament debated the Vaxholm issue of Sweden on Tuesday, but we see similar discrimination committed against businesses in new Member States, as well. Allow me to mention the case code named Soko Bunda and Soko Pannonia, involving the exclusion of several dozens of Hungarian businesses from the German market with methods that are finally considered wrong even by the courts. Incidentally, my fellow MEPs and I have also contacted the competent Commissioner in this matter.

In view of these issues, I believe that the continuous information of citizens is of utmost importance. I was delighted to read that citizens in Member States are increasingly aware of their right to contact the Ombudsman concerning any administrative irregularities they experience. In particular, I find it very important to stress that the institution of the Ombudsman is not just one of the many superior authorities or an enforcement office – it is a special institution established to assist citizens with their concerns and complaints. An additional plus in the Ombudsman’s report for 2004 is that apart from a presentation of cases and investigations it also provides a topical analysis of the work carried out. I am particularly delighted by the fact that the Ombudsman undertakes an active public role in order to inform citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE).  (PL) Mr Diamandouros, as Ombudsman you represent the 450 million citizens of the European Union. This is the case both when they write to you as individuals and when they take collective action. The law states that any citizen of the EU and any natural person residing in a Member State can refer a complaint to you. As well as adults, who can protect their own interests, this includes those of the EU’s citizens who are not yet of age, or in other words children. Your report contains certain indications that your institution takes an interest in this issue, but I should like to ask a more general question. To what extent do you personally feel responsible for representing the youngest citizens of the EU, and for representing their interests and needs in their dealings with EU institutions?

Before I put my second question to the Ombudsman, I should like to congratulate him on his consistent application of the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour. This Code has been adopted by the administrations of the Member States, and it is gaining in popularity throughout Europe, including in my country, Poland. Good administration starts with the proper selection of staff, however, and with the recruitment and employment of officials in an entirely non-discriminatory fashion and in full respect of the principle of equality. In this context, I should therefore like to ask your opinion of the procedures for employing citizens from the new Member States in the EU institutions. Does the fact that few or none of these citizens are employed as officials, and in particular as high-ranking EU officials, not amount to discrimination?

Mr Diamandouros, our goal is an EU that is closer to its citizens, and you have taken the first step in this direction. You are closest to the EU’s citizens, and they both need and appreciate you. I should like to congratulate you on this score.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE). –  (PL) Mr President, the European Ombudsman performs an extremely important role in democratic European society. He is a direct point of contact for citizens, who refer complaints about cases of maladministration within the European institutions to him. Although the vast majority of complaints, 75% to be more precise, concern matters that are outside his competence, this would indicate that the Ombudsman is frequently regarded as a last resort in the fight against the incompetence of national authorities. In view of this fact, the provision of reliable and detailed information to citizens about their rights and the role of the European Ombudsman should be regarded as a priority.

Professor Diamandouros deserves much credit for his activities to date in the role of Ombudsman, which include the drafting and distribution of annual reports and a strong public presence in terms of the provision of information to citizens. Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential that efforts continue to make these activities more effective. The Ombudsman should be a guardian of good administration within the European institutions, and he should cooperate even more closely with his counterparts at local and regional level. Citizens’ complaints must be dealt with rapidly and effectively, and the Ombudsman should therefore be supported in his efforts to encourage the European institutions to deal with complaints more speedily. These complaints relate, inter alia, to refusals of access to documents. Public access to information relating to the European institutions serves as proof that the actions of the latter are open and transparent, and our aim should therefore also be to guarantee this right to all citizens of the European Union. These citizens are after all the ones for whom these institutions are working.

In particular, I would suggest firstly that the European Commission should stop refusing to distribute its documents, and secondly that it should adopt the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour without delay. This would put an end to the current situation whereby the European institutions apply different codes of practice.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nikiforos Diamandouros, Ombudsman. Mr President, I wish to begin by thanking Members of Parliament for their kind remarks on the work of the Ombudsman during the past year. I am deeply appreciative of the attention and the very careful and constructive comments. I note that a great many of the comments came from the new Member States, which I welcome very much as an indication of their commitment to this institution. I welcome the tenor, the nature, the thrust and the intent of the remarks by the Vice-President of the Commission, Mrs Wallström. I am delighted to hear her formally announce the reform that the Commission is about to adopt as of 1 November, which will make it possible for the complaints to be handled at a higher level, with a greater degree of responsibility and uniformity.

I appreciate the Commissioner’s commitment to greater cooperation, particularly the encouraging words concerning the proposed revision of the Statute. I note, finally, that we can look forward to a binding code. I see that from your positive remarks and I am very grateful for the political will you have demonstrated on issues to do with the Ombudsman. That is exactly the kind of cooperation I look forward to from the Commission. I want to thank the Commissioner for that publicly.

Concerning the various comments from Members, allow me to mention briefly those of Mr Seeber. Clearly we have a high percentage of inadmissibles, but we have managed to help 70% of those who come to us and whose complaints are not admissible. I find that to be a satisfactory percentage of citizens we can help, even though they are outside the mandate.

I wish to thank Mr De Rossa for his remarks. At the last meeting of the national ombudsmen held in September in The Hague, we took specific decisions on how to address, through the network, mechanisms to expedite the handling of issues outside the mandate. I hope to be able to take further steps to reduce the number of inadmissibles.

Concerning Mr Hammerstein Mintz’s remarks, for which I thank him, the report that he referred to relates to 2005. It is therefore not part of my report to this body for 2004; it is a report concerning OLAF that will be examined next year. As far as I am concerned, I have completed my duty to Parliament and have submitted a special report. It is now up to this august body as to how it wishes to move forward.

I appreciate the remarks from Mr Borghezio and Mr Martinez, but I need to point out that the Ombudsman, unlike Parliament, is not a political body. Therefore, it is not within my mandate to get involved in the kind of political activities that you are asking of me. I fear that, were I to do so, this body – to which I am ultimately accountable – would object to my taking political initiatives which are beyond my mandate.

(FR) I am aware, Mr Martinez, of the problem that arises as a result of your being a non-attached Member. Yet, once again, I will confine what I have to say to the content of your remarks. However, your remarks fall outside the scope of my mandate as they are, instead, to do with political issues.

I want to thank Mr Libicki for his cooperation in his capacity as chairman of the Committee on Petitions. I am also grateful to all the staff of the committee for their help and I hope that this cooperation will continue.

The remarks by Mrs Dobolyi and Mr Olajos were very constructive. Let me just say to Mr Olajos that I am currently dealing with a case concerning discrimination in language candidacies. I have asked for further information. That particular case is still being examined and I hope to be able to report to this body next year on the outcome.

Finally, let me say to Mrs Grabowska that I am, as you know, very sensitive to issues concerning children. One of my special reports to this body this year had to do with the special education needs of severely disabled children. Therefore this is very much a concern of mine and I will be happy to consider any other complaints. I have not in fact received any other complaints relating to children. Nor I am aware of having received any complaint about recruitment and the filling of senior posts. However, because I receive many complaints concerning recruitment, I shall be very sensitive to that issue.

Lastly, I know there is a case concerning recruitment pending before the Court of First Instance. That is therefore automatically outside my mandate and I will have to await the decision of the judicial authorities.

I should like to thank Members of Parliament and the Commissioner again for their remarks and support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11.30 a.m.

(The sitting was suspended at 11.25 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR VIDAL-QUADRAS ROCA
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hannes Swoboda (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, I wish to say something pursuant to Rules 142 and 143 of the Rules of Procedure. Many Members of this House were surprised to note that yesterday’s budget debate was over just after 11 a.m., although it had been allotted time up until midday. Now it may well be that the time had not been properly worked out, and it is the case that a number of Members did not turn up, and that there were those – the Commission and the Council, for example – who spoke with unexpected brevity.

I would ask the House’s Bureau, however, to give some thought to whether it might not be possible to respond more flexibly under such circumstances, particularly by giving the floor to those Members who were present in the Chamber right up to the very end of the debate – if they so desire it, that is – or by letting them speak for longer. Instead, Members were given only a minute each in which to speak, and we wasted almost an hour in which no business was transacted.

Could the Bureau perhaps introduce a rule on this, so that this debate may be conducted flexibly, and the time available used to the full?

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Thank you very much, Mr Swoboda. We take good note of your request.

 

4. Human rights in Western Sahara
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Ladies and gentlemen, before starting the vote I must put a specific issue to the House: in its meeting yesterday, the Conference of Presidents decided to propose that, on an exceptional basis, the debate on human rights in the Western Sahara should not conclude with the vote on a motion for a resolution, in order not to prejudice the visit by the ad hoc Delegation to that region from 11 to 15 January of next year.

In accordance with our Rules of Procedure, I must submit this exceptional decision by the Conference of Presidents to the House and I shall allow one Member to speak in favour and one to speak against this proposal.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hans-Gert Poettering (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I would in fact like to put the case for a vote on the resolution. In the Conference of Presidents, I saw fit to argue that there should be no resolution, my justification for this being that we should wait to see what comes back from the delegation before drafting one.

As its Chairman, I am of course dependent on my Group’s support, and so I reported this to them this morning. The Group was unanimous in its view that we should in fact frame a resolution today. What that means – and I am not ashamed to admit it – is that the Group’s opinion differed from my own.

(Applause)

I am under an obligation to act in accordance with the Group’s vote, and so, good democrat that I am, I am in favour ...

(Heckling)

... yes, and I wish others would do likewise and say that they accept what the group bids its chairman do. Our group’s opinion is that we should not await the outcome of the delegation, but should instead make our views on the subject known now. It is for that reason that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats is in favour of us coming to a decision on a resolution today.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Francis Wurtz (GUE/NGL). – (FR) Mr President, the situation has changed, inasmuch as Mr Poettering, a member of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, has finally come round to the position held by his group, which was the position that I myself had upheld at the Conference of Presidents. It consisted of saying that no tactical consideration whatsoever should prevent Parliament from expressing its opinion on the urgency of the human rights situation in Western Sahara

(Applause)

and that, before sending a delegation, it would make more sense for Parliament to outline its position on, in particular, the very recent and serious revelations involving the discovery of common graves, to enable it to highlight this issue and to call on the Moroccan authorities and, indeed, everyone to work with the new UN representative. I therefore welcome the position outlined a few moments ago, which will undoubtedly be the one upheld by our entire Assembly, namely that in favour of holding a vote at the end of our debate this afternoon.

 
  
  

(Parliament rejected the proposed amendment to the agenda)

 

5. Voting time
MPphoto
 
 

  President. We shall now proceed to the vote.

 

6. Draft general budget of the European Union - Financial year 2006
  

- Before the vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Giovanni Pittella (PSE), rapporteur. – (IT) Mr President, before I propose a few technical adjustments, please allow me to thank all my fellow Members for the excellent debate – concise and to the point – that we had yesterday and for the loyal cooperation that they have given so far and, I hope, will continue to give during the vote and in the subsequent stages.

As happens every year, before we proceed to the vote I ask that a few technical adjustments be accepted. With regard to line 15 06 06 on special annual events, in the second indent of the text the words ‘at the new Museum of Europe’ should be deleted. In line 19 03 06 on European Union special representatives, the word ‘envoy’ in the remark should be replaced with the word ‘representative’ for the sake of consistency with the title of the line. The remainder of the remark on this line has been struck through because of a technical error; that part of the text therefore is not supposed to be deleted.

In Amendment 771 in block 4, the total amount of payment appropriations for budget line 22 02 01 01 should be written in the line and, finally, in the lines on the European Development Fund, a reminder should be introduced to restore the preliminary draft budget. This specifically affects lines 21 03 01 to 21 03 015.

 
  
  

(Parliament approved the technical amendments proposed by the rapporteur)

- Before the vote on Amendments 779 and 231:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Catherine Guy-Quint (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, what I am about to do is not standard practice. In the following heading, we have two amendments: one amendment tabled by the Committee on Budgets and another concerning orphan medicinal products, which was tabled by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. We have to vote in favour of the amendment tabled by the Committee on Budgets. As far as the second amendment is concerned, it is calling for an additional EUR 1 million for orphan medicinal products, which the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products requires. I should like to know if it would be possible for us to vote on Amendment 231, so that the Agency might be able to work this year with all of the resources it requires.

You will realise that, technically speaking, this is not correct procedure. I entirely agree. However, it turns out that, since the vote in the Committee on Budgets, we have received additional details. If it were possible to vote in favour of Amendment 231, which would add EUR 1 million still available in the budget margin, this would enable us substantially to improve working conditions in such a very important area to us.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. If we have understood properly, you want us to vote first on Amendment 231 and then on Amendment 779.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Catherine Guy-Quint (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, we can also vote in favour of Amendment 779. However, I should like it if, in addition to Amendment 779, we were able to vote in favour of granting a further EUR 1 million to the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products for orphan medicinal products. I should like to point out to you that, if anyone objects to this, we are obliged to accept his or her objection.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Is there any opposition from the political groups?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Salvador Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE). – (ES) Mr President, we prefer to conform to procedural principles. The original distribution of the voting list is therefore preferable.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Then we shall proceed as planned.

- Before the vote on Amendment 446:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Giovanni Pittella (PSE), rapporteur. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, if this amendment is adopted, I also ask that the standard phrase that we have used for all similar amendments be adopted, which is ‘part of the appropriation is intended for’, because we cannot reserve specific funds.

 
  
  

- Before the vote on Amendments 74 and 223:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Giovanni Pittella (PSE), rapporteur. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, to avoid confusion during the vote, I propose we vote on Amendment 74 for the remarks and Amendment 223 for the amounts.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Is there any opposition?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Salvador Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE). – (ES) Mr President, we are returning to the same thing; we prefer the voting order established in the procedure. We do not understand these last-minute changes.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kathalijne Maria Buitenweg (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, in the amendments before us there is no change in the amounts. We are not voting on the amounts. There is only a remark on it. That is the only change. We will vote only on the remark. We will vote on the figures later.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. You are absolutely right. We shall proceed as planned.

- Before the vote on Amendment 292:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Giovanni Pittella (PSE), rapporteur. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, what I said before also applies to this amendment: if it is approved, the standard phrase should be adopted, because we cannot specifically reserve funds: hence ‘part of the appropriation is intended for’.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Having taken note of this, we shall proceed to the vote on Amendment 292.

- Before the vote on Amendments 473 and 475:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Valdis Dombrovskis (PPE-DE). – (LV) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, with regard to the ‘other institutions’ section of the 2006 budget, the following technical correction is necessary. The date mentioned in Amendments 473 and 475 — 31 October 2005 — should be removed from the notes and added to the explanatory statements.

 
  
  

(Parliament approved the technical amendments proposed by Mr Dombrovskis)

 

7. Draft general budget for 2006 (Section III)
  

- After the final vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). – (ES) Mr President, there is a problem: in this row we do not have any interpretation or any microphone service. It is the whole row.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I would ask the technical services to come and resolve this technical problem.

 

8. Draft general budget for 2006 - other sections
  

- Before the vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Valdis Dombrovskis (PPE-DE), rapporteur. Mr President, due to technical problems I shall speak English in order that those colleagues who also have technical problems can better understand.

As a result of the vote on the draft general budget, the following technical adjustments should be made. First, in paragraph 5, the amount should be EUR 7.7 million. Paragraph 27(b) should begin ‘to create 46 posts (21 A*, 1 temporary A*, 19 B* and 5 C*)’. In paragraph 41, the amount should be EUR 3 398 000. In addition, the date mentioned in paragraphs 17, 23 and 25 should be replaced by 30 November 2005.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Francesco Enrico Speroni (IND/DEM).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Dombrovskis has spoken in English instead of Polish. I am aware that many Members understand English better than Polish, but all the languages have the same status and interpretation should therefore be available for all of them or for none of them.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. It has been a technical problem beyond the control of this House and Mr Dombrovskis has been kind enough to cooperate with his fellow Members.

 

9. Situation in Azerbaijan before the elections

10. The Barcelona Process revisited

11. Activities of the European Ombudsman (2004)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. That concludes the vote.

 

12. Explanations of vote
  

- Draft general budget of the European Union – Financial Year 2006

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Agnes Schierhuber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, today, at the first reading of the general budget, I voted against Amendments 543, 301, 344 and 345 on the grounds that they draw no distinction between breeding animals, production animals and animals for slaughter. I speak not only for myself but also for Austria when I say that I am opposed to the export of live cattle for slaughter, but as there is no difference in valuation between breeding animals and animals for slaughter, the abolition of export subsidies amounts to the destruction of European production and of cattle farmers’ livelihoods.

Secondly, I voted in favour of Amendment 99 on the grounds that the Common Market Organisation for tobacco still exists and is in force.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Andersson, Ewa Hedkvist Petersen, Inger Segelström and Åsa Westlund (PSE), in writing. (SV) We want the budget to contribute to sustainable social, economic and environmental development for the EU in accordance with the Lisbon Strategy. In the vote, we have therefore chosen to support those amendments that accord priority to research, development and education. We do not, however, wish to support those amendments that would give more money to direct agricultural aid, since such aid is already disproportionate and leads to inefficient agriculture that harms the environment and that, through the dumping of surpluses, helps widen the gap between the world’s rich and poor.

Nor do we wish to provide money for aid for tobacco cultivation since this directly contributes to public health problems. We believe that this aid should quickly be phased out with a view to its being completely abolished before long. The money thereby saved could be spent, for example, on measures designed to reduce the use of tobacco and people’s dependency on it. We want to see direct aid to sugar producers reformed, since we cannot in the long term support production that is in large part superfluous. We do not, however, want producers in developing countries to lose their livelihood, and we have therefore voted in favour of transitional aid to compensate them until they have had time to convert to other forms of production.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hélène Goudin, Nils Lundgren and Lars Wohlin (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) The June List believes that the EU budget should be limited to 1.00% of the Member States’ average gross national income and therefore supports the Council’s position in principle. The 2006 budget is the last budget within the present financial perspective, which is why it is additionally unfortunate that the European Parliament should be trying to promote its own positions prior to the forthcoming negotiations by proposing hefty increases. We have therefore chosen to vote against all the increases proposed by the European Parliament, at the same time as having welcomed the few savings proposed in the form of amendments by one or other of the budget committees or by individual Members.

There are further unfortunate budget items, but the June List particularly regrets the high amount of aid for the EU’s agricultural policy, Cohesion Fund and fishing industry, as well as those budget items providing aid to various forms of information campaign.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE), in writing.

Amendment 263:

This budget line would have given an authorisation to use funds to communicate the benefits of the euro. As Scotland, as a current part of the UK, is not a member of the euro I have accordingly abstained as this is not a matter for me.

Amendment 440:

This budget line would have extended the translation facilities of the ACP assembly to include all languages, as opposed to the current working languages of that assembly. While I would in principle support the extension of translation on the basis that all languages are of equal dignity, the costs of this move to such a vast number of languages would be prohibitive. It would also, I suspect, be unnecessary as the current system has worked well enough up till now.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Catherine Stihler (PSE), in writing. It is a real pity that Parliament today has voted to maintain tobacco subsidies. Half a million EU citizens die needlessly each year from tobacco related illnesses. It is only through concerted action that we can fight against the tobacco industry and protect public health.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE), in writing.(NL) I hereby declare that I voted in favour of the amendment about CESI 446 concerning budget line 04030302.

 
  
  

- Report: Pittella (A6-0309/2005)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard James Ashworth (PPE-DE), in writing. British Conservative policy is firmly committed to ensuring that budgetary commitments should not exceed 1.0% of GNI contributions. We would like to see an EU that spends taxpayers' money wisely on initiatives that support the Lisbon objectives while eliminating fraud, mismanagement and wasteful spending such as tobacco subsidies.

For these reasons, we have voted against amendments or proposals that would breach the 1.0% ceiling without, in our view, contributing to the promotion of sustainable growth and jobs in Europe. However, we do support projects that will encourage the development and supply of new-generation energy solutions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Niels Busk and Anne E. Jensen (ALDE), in writing. (DA) The Members of the European Parliament from Denmark’s Liberal Party voted against Amendment 7, tabled by Mr Bonde on behalf of the Independence and Democracy Group. The Liberal Party is opposed to the export of live animals and has voted against budget line 05 02 13 04. Mr Bonde’s proposal cannot, however, be implemented in practice and must be considered unrealistic and ill thought-out.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE), in writing. I support the Pittella Report including Amendments 3004 & 3005, which restore €12 million of the 2006 funding for PEACE 11 to the technical assistance/innovative actions budget-heading. The Member States must ensure the budgetary flexibility required in no way endangers continued full funding of PEACE 11, as envisaged last year when funding for that programme was guaranteed into 2006.

The Socialist Group played a key role in securing €108 million for Ireland's Peace 11 programme for 2006, and continues to pledge its full support for the programme. John Hume, a former member of the Socialist Group was the architect of the PEACE programme and its contribution to reconciliation has been enormous. If we are to succeed in bringing communities together from both sides of the sectarian divide continued funding for the PEACE programme is crucial

We must also support the SDLP campaign for a PEACE 111 programme by earmarking €200 million in the 2007-2013 budget. I hope Minister Noel Tracy takes this up urgently and all Member States ensure smooth administration of arrangements for finalising the PEACE 11 funding, and guarantee continuing funding for a PEACE 111 programme for 2007-2013.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ana Maria Gomes (PSE), in writing. (PT) I voted in favour of the scrapping of tobacco production subsidies. I feel that tobacco production, a key component in the tobacco industry, should no longer be subsidised. The harmful impact of tobacco use on public health (over 500 000 deaths per year due to illnesses linked to tobacco use), and in turn on the economies of the Member States and the EU, leads me to conclude that the EUR 100 000-plus spent on subsidies to these producers under the CAP is morally, politically and economically indefensible. To my mind, tobacco production and the tobacco industry should not only lose our support but should gradually, but quickly, be eliminated. Parliament must exert pressure on the Member States and the Commission to effect such a change, through the EU budget that it adopts.

Naturally, I am sensitive to the problem of the 3 500 jobs that depend on tobacco production in Portugal. I therefore believe that efforts to convert this industry must be redoubled, in order to guarantee jobs and the economic survival of producers in Portugal and all of the European tobacco-producing countries. In this regard, I support all of the financial backing that can be given to them, on the part of Community or national institutions. To persevere with the policy of European subsidies, however, represents ...

(Explanation of vote abbreviated in accordance with Rule 163 of the Rules of Procedure)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The purpose of this explanation of vote is to condemn the hypocrisy of the majority in Parliament, which, having previously approved plans to set up a ‘Community programme’ with ‘adequate resources’ for the textiles and clothing sector, ‘especially’ designed to help the ‘least favoured regions’, with support for ‘research, innovation, vocational training and the SMEs’, has now rejected a clear proposal aimed at putting this programme into practice under the Community budget for 2006. In other words, the majority in Parliament is guilty of shameless inconsistency.

From our perspective, we are bitterly disappointed at the rejection of proposals which we tabled and which enjoyed the support of various Members of this House. They were aimed at:

- creating a pilot project for action in the textiles and clothing sector with a view to the future creation of a Community programme;

- creating recovery plans for fisheries resources, in light of the social and economic impact of the closed seasons;

- and promoting multilingualism, not least in the ACP-EU parliamentary assemblies.

We also campaigned for the adoption of other proposals that we tabled, aimed at reforestation and forest fire prevention, the preservation of cultural heritage, and support for cooperation amongst SMEs.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin, (PSE), in writing. In the budget vote I voted for CAP reform, for cuts in Tobacco subsidies, for the end of the transport of lives animals over 8 hours, against cuts in the Northern Ireland peace programme and for assistance to ACP banana and sugar producers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Claude Moraes (PSE), in writing. I voted for Heading 3 of the Budget Vote today because I want to add no less than 200 million euros in payment appropriations to a range of budget headings for the Lisbon strategy which the Council reduced at first reading.

The main areas which would boost EU competitiveness include increases for programmes to support small and medium-sized companies, but above all for the 6th framework research programme. The payments for education programmes are also increased, by 35 million euros for Socrates, 20 million euros for Leonardo da Vinci and 3 million euros for e-learning, which I fully support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE), in writing. I voted to delete this budget line because I do not believe that we should in this day and age be refunding the export of live animals, often in dreadful conditions. I accordingly voted to end this practice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Toussas (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) The Communist Party of Greece is categorically opposed to the anti-grass roots preliminary draft budget of the European Union for 2006.

Its approval by the members of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, the social democrats and so on marks the intensity of the anti-grass roots attack by the European Union and urban governments in the Member States against the working and grass-roots classes, in order to increase the profits of euro-unifying big business.

It is an 'escort' of the anti-grass roots, reactionary action plan being discussed at the informal summit in England to extend capitalist restructurings within the framework of the Lisbon Strategy, make drastic cuts to social benefits, agricultural production and small and medium-sized enterprises and transfer resources to strengthen the military capitalist mechanisms.

Tobacco farmers are in the firing line with cuts of EUR 1 billion. On the pretext of identifying tobacco farming with the anti-smoking campaign, Community tobacco is being proclaimed dangerous and imported tobacco is being proclaimed 'innocent'. These decisions by the EU on the anti-grass roots reform of the CAP are also trampling over the limited support for agriculture up to 2013.

While unemployment and poverty are increasing exponentially and there are huge requirements for public health, education and so on, capital is being transferred to communications policy in order to camouflage the imperialist and anti-grass roots nature of the EU.

The fight by the workers' movement against the draft budget needs to include the entire anti-grass roots policy of the EU.

 
  
  

- Report: Dombrovskis (A6-0307/2005)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Niels Busk and Anne E. Jensen (ALDE), in writing. (DA) The Members of the European Parliament from Denmark’s Liberal Party voted against Amendment 4, tabled by Mr Bonde on behalf of the Independence and Democracy Group. The Liberal Party is in favour of reforming the reimbursement of travel expenses, so that all reasonable and necessary travel expenses are refunded. Mr Bonde’s proposal is, however, absurd and could not be implemented in practice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I wish to record that I abstained on amendments dealing with travel allowances at cost because I believe this is covered in the Member's Statute.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mechtild Rothe (PSE), in writing. (DE) Whilst the Members of this House belonging to the SPD are in favour of a statement of travel expense that reflects the costs actually incurred, we will not agree to any amendment calling on the President to break the House rules.

 
  
  

- Report: Jäätteenmäki (A6-0280/2005)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie-Arlette Carlotti (PSE), in writing.(FR) In one month’s time in Barcelona, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is due to be radically reformed on the basis of a number of forceful ideas.

Firstly, in the fight against poverty, a Mediterranean version of the Millennium Development Goals needs to be drafted and funded and progress made with solidarity structures comparable to those found in European regional policy.

Promoting democracy and human rights has to be at the heart of the partnership by practically implementing Article 2 of the Association Agreements and by bringing into widespread use the sub-committees on human rights.

The fight to eliminate discrimination against women and to promote gender equality has to be the subject of a specific and priority policy area for the EU. It is women who will act as the vehicles for genuinely bringing together the different peoples and cultures around the Mediterranean basin.

Common responses to the issue of immigration are required. Let us put a stop to the hypocrisy and cynicism. Let us not think about keeping our hands clean while we let our southern partners do the dirty work. We have to lay the foundations for shared management of migratory flows by adopting a generous and united approach to the issue of the movement of persons in the Mediterranean area.

We require an ‘area of sustainable development’ in the Mediterranean, with a programme aimed at eliminating pollution in the Mediterranean Sea by 2020, along with a precise timescale in which this is to be carried out.

(The explanation of vote was abbreviated in accordance with Rule 163 of the Rules of Procedure)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I welcome this report. I would like the Barcelona Process and structures to be used to a greater extent to encourage dialogue and interaction (economic, social cultural, educational, technical etc) between Israel and its neighbours. I am convinced this is the only way that the peoples of this region will be able to live in peace. There can be no security behind barriers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. (DE) Recently, in the course of one night, over 1 000 black Africans tried to storm the border of Melilla as a means of finding their way into the ‘promised land’. The attempt cost an untold number of them their lives, while large numbers of others surrendered themselves into the merciless clutches of the people-traffickers who, as ever, dangle before them the prospect of Europe, the land of milk and honey of which they dream.

So it is that desperate people find themselves forced into a hopeless situation, not least since they often have no prospect of returning home. It has to be said, though, that local decision-makers must bear their share of responsibility for the tragedy, in that they encourage this development by surreptitiously granting residence to illegal immigrants en masse.

An excessively liberal and naive attitude towards illegal immigration, lamentably exemplified not least by the recent ‘Kiev Affair’, far from helping anyone, does nothing but create more problems, primarily by benefiting people-traffickers and others who engage in organised crime.

Uncontrolled population growth will further swell the flood of economic refugees on Morocco’s borders and off the coasts of Italy and Malta, necessitating not only an EU-wide approach to the problem but also action to dispel the unrealistic images of paradise Europe in the countries from which the refugees come, to the end that we may free up the resources to improve living conditions on the ground. It is for precisely that reason that it is so important to retain the Barcelona process as a means of combating poverty and to press on with the development of the action plans specific to each country.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) The purpose of the Barcelona Process was to act as a turning point in relations between the EU and its southern neighbours and, in turn, as a framework for a concerted and mutually supportive development of the Mediterranean countries.

As the process celebrates its tenth birthday, its implementation needs to be adjusted and enhanced, to help the partnership to face current challenges and to adapt to a modified regional and international environment.

By combining bilateral and regional levels of economic and social dialogue, as well as opportunities for interaction, the Barcelona Process helps to strengthen ties and to build confidence between peoples.

I feel that the most pertinent point is the proposed setting up of a Euro-Mediterranean Free-trade area, which is scheduled for 2010 and which will cover some 40 countries and around 700 million consumers.

There is no doubt in my mind that a relationship based on an enlarged free trade area will be a more effective one. Furthermore, the boost that the southern countries’ economies will receive might contribute towards the region’s development and, in so doing, help, for example, to prevent the kind of migratory tensions that we have seen recently.

I voted in favour of the Jäätteenmäki report.

 
  
  

- Situation in Azerbaijan (B6-0558/2005) and report: Jäätteenmäki (A6-0280/2005)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hélène Goudin, Nils Lundgren and Lars Wohlin (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) We believe that the EU has an important role within its immediate surroundings in promoting democracy and human rights. Both resolutions are concerned, however, with countries and areas that cannot be regarded as being in the EU’s immediate vicinity. Clearly, the aim is to promote the EU’s role in the sphere of foreign and security policy. Other organisations – for example, the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe – are suited to these purposes. The latter two organisations should be given priority when it comes to election monitoring and the protection of human rights within Europe.

In the light of the above, we choose to abstain in the final vote on the two resolutions. We have, however, chosen to support a number of proposals not, in our view, related to the EU’s foreign and security policy. These include the proposals to set up a free trade area between the EU and the Mediterranean region by 2010 and to develop cooperation with a view to civil and environmental protection.

 
  
  

- Report: Mavrommatis (A6-0276/2005)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) Although this report refers to the work of the previous Ombudsman during the mandate that has come to a close, we welcome the way in which he carried out his work. He sought to bring the citizens’ complaints to the attention of the institutions, and in some cases, managed to resolve those complaints.

He also tabled proposals aimed at ensuring that the European institutions in question respond more promptly, which if accepted may enhance the Ombudsman’s ability to take action and resolve the citizens’ problems.

Furthermore, we agreed with the rapporteur that there needs to be greater cooperation between the European Ombudsman and Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, and that efforts should be made to give greater prominence to people’s rights.

Hence our vote in favour.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I welcome this report which rightly praises the ombudsman during 2004. The Ombudsman has show diligence and forcefulness in dealing with complaints from the EU citizens regarding the activities of the EU institutions. He is proving to be a true champion of citizens rights to fair and open treatment by the Institutions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) Europe is facing a crisis of dialogue with its citizens. The European Ombudsman continues to receive complaints that do not fall under his mandate.

It therefore strikes me as vitally important that dialogue be re-established with the citizens, whereby the powers of the institutions are explained clearly and simply.

The European Ombudsman has taken initiatives in this respect and must continue to do so. Moreover, by proposing to step up cooperation with his national or regional counterparts and measures to promote the highest standards of European public administration, the current Ombudsman has shown us that he is well aware of his role.

Lastly, I wish to point out that it is crucial to maintain the impartiality of this influential body, which acts as a conciliator between the European public administration and the citizens and offers extrajudicial remedies.

I therefore voted in favour of the Mavrommattis report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Toussas (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) The institution of the European Ombudsman was decided at the Maastricht summit and has been applied for 10 years. Its purpose is to investigate complaints of maladministration by the institutions of the ΕU and by the governments of the Member States.

It is clear that this institution serves the need to embellish the EU in the eyes of the citizens, to shift reactions to the anti-grass roots policy towards harmless channels; in other words towards whether the privatisation of everything, the abolition of workers' wage and social rights, the policing and repression of trade union and political action and so on are being well or badly administered.

Good administration and anti-grass roots/anti-democratic policy are irreconcilable.

We do not underestimate the suffering of the workers from cases of maladministration or the value of facilitating their relations with the 'Brussels bureaucracy' or the governments of the Member States. However, the institution has very little to do with the broad grass-roots classes, was not created to resolve their problems and is used to buffer dissatisfaction with the anti-grass roots policy itself and with the administrative means used to impose it.

In order to pave the way for resolving the worsening problems of the workers, the fight by the working, grass-roots movement against the anti-grass roots policy of the EU needs to be stepped up overall.

 

13. Corrections to votes: see Minutes
  

(The sitting was suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 3.00 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 

14. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes

15. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Rule 115)

16. Human rights in Western Sahara
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on human rights in Western Sahara(1).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karin Scheele (PSE), author. (DE) Mr President, although I think the process of bringing the resolution on human rights in the Western Sahara into being was such a difficult one that everyone involved in it must be rather exhausted, I am glad that this House has resisted Moroccan pressure, and that the plenary has, today, resolved almost unanimously that this item should remain on the order of business rather than being deleted from it, which is what the Conference of Presidents decided yesterday. That was very important in terms of our self-confidence and of the image of a self-confident parliament that we present to the world.

One thing that is important about this resolution is that it calls for the release of the Saharan political detainees, the most prominent among them being Aminatou Haidar, who, having been seriously injured, was taken prisoner on 17 June in El Ayoun and thrown into the so-called ‘black prison’ there. Parliament has taken an initiative on her behalf before, for in July 178 MEPs signed up to demand for her release. What is so very good about this text, though, is that it highlights the real problem, which is that international law still does not apply in the Western Sahara and that no political solution has been found to this conflict.

I am very glad that we are at least attempting to include reference to raw materials in this resolution, for we know that one reason for the conflict in the Western Sahara is the region’s wealth of raw materials and fish. Parliament also has the task of spelling out in clear terms the reasons for this conflict if it wants to help improve the situation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), author. (ES) I would like to begin by expressing my regret at the incomprehensible attempt we have just seen to prevent this House from giving its opinion on such an important issue as this one of human rights in the Western Sahara.

If that initiative had successfully prevented us from issuing this opinion, it would have set a very worrying precedent for future urgent debates and resolutions on other issues relating to human rights.

I am therefore glad that common sense has finally prevailed and I am pleased that today we are not just debating, but also approving, I hope, an important resolution.

A resolution which, furthermore, is urgent, for some of the reasons already mentioned by Mrs Scheele and on which I would like to insist, because I believe that we must also take this opportunity to call upon the Moroccans to play a significant role in resolving this conflict.

At the moment, several people are in Moroccan prisons in entirely unacceptable conditions, an aspect that has been identified, criticised and condemned in reports by Amnesty International and the World Organisation against Torture.

Furthermore, in August many political prisoners were released, hundreds of Moroccan prisoners of war, by the Polisario Front. That was the right time for Morocco to demonstrate its good will with regard to the management of this conflict, by making a positive gesture, releasing prisoners and providing information on the treatment they are receiving in Moroccan prisons.

That has not been done. This House — the European Parliament — therefore had to issue its opinion, this resolution is important and it is urgent that we speak loud and clear for the sake of improving European Union-Moroccan relations and in order to be able to resolve — I insist — not only the specific problem of the people being held, but also the conflict in the Western Sahara once and for all.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Simon Coveney (PPE-DE), author. Mr President, I am pleased and relieved to have an opportunity to speak in favour of the joint resolution. I want to make quite clear my absolute rejection of attempts by the President of Parliament and the Conference of Presidents to set aside this motion on the human rights situation in Western Sahara until after the visit and conclusion of some future EU delegation. The decision was made to move ahead with this urgency on the Western Sahara through the normal and proper channels. Different Group motions were debated and a compromise common text was agreed and a decision taken by plenary. Last-minute efforts to shelve the motion, without consultation, threatened to set a dangerous precedent that, in my view, would have significantly damaged the credibility both of the urgency procedure and perhaps, more importantly, Parliament’s work on human rights issues generally.

On human rights questions, the politics of the issue should be secondary to the need to outline concerns and criticisms – if they are warranted – based on credible facts. The politics of the Western Sahara issue is complex and I want to focus my remarks primarily on human rights, although, obviously, there is a crossover between the two.

This motion welcomes and recognises the freeing of Moroccan prisoners of war but demands that the Moroccan authorities release human rights defenders. It also calls for the release of Sahrawi political prisoners and assistance from the authorities in solving the question of the disappeared. We are calling on both sides to cooperate fully with the International Red Cross on the question of the disappeared and missing since the conflict began.

The motion insists on the protection of the population of Western Sahara generally and in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically in the area of freedom of expression and freedom of movement and calls for any final political resolution to be consistent with international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolution.

Finally, the motion demands open access to all territories in Western Sahara for independent observers, NGOs and the free media. I am glad to support the motion and commend it to the House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marios Matsakis (ALDE), author. Mr President, firstly I should like to add my voice to that of the previous speakers and say how wonderful it has been to see that the attempts made by some to stop Parliament from passing a joint resolution today on Western Sahara have been unsuccessful. Let this be a precedent and a warning for the future: hypocrisy and false, pretentious tactics should never stand in the way of our will and determination to express condemnation for human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

Refugees are protected by various UN resolutions, UN protocols and UN conventions. In some cases this protection is effective, and in many cases it is lifesaving. In others, unfortunately, the situation is not as it should be and innocent civilians suffer hunger, ill treatment, disease and even death.

Such is the case currently for a large number of refugees in Western Sahara. It is reported reliably that hundreds of people have been subjected to inhumane treatment by the Moroccan authorities in the regions of the so-called Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, where many migrants have been shot dead while attempting to enter Spanish territory. Now, why there is Spanish territory in Morocco is another story. There is a similar reason, I suppose, as to why there is British soil in Cyprus, or why there is – or has been until recently – French soil in faraway oceanic lands.

Perhaps modern colonisation is not entirely finished, but then, who wants to talk about such sensitive matters? After all, some of the old colonising powers – of which we are all constantly reminded in this House – are splendid examples of fighters for the principles of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. That is fair enough.

Coming back to the subject-matter of this resolution and in conclusion, this joint resolution makes it absolutely clear to the Moroccan Government, and to all other interested parties, that we expect nothing less than their doing their utmost fully to safeguard the rights of refugees in Western Sahara.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL), author. – (PT) I should first like to express my delight that attempts to scupper the resolution on Western Sahara have failed. In our view, this debate should be concluded with a show of solidarity with the Sahrawi people’s just fight for self-determination, in line with United Nations resolutions. As the motion for a resolution states, a just and lasting solution must involve putting an end to colonial rule, of which Western Sahara is a victim, and creating a sovereign, independent and viable Sahrawi state.

In spite of the strenuous efforts, unilateral concessions and goodwill gestures made by the Polisario Front, the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people’s interests, such as the recent release of all prisoners of war, the process remains hampered by the intransigent attitude of the Moroccan Government – albeit the least of its crimes – which refuses to grant fundamental rights to the Sahrawi people. Urgent, effective measures must therefore be taken with the clear aim of completing the process of decolonising Western Sahara. There must also be initiatives to condemn the repression of the Sahrawi people in the occupied territories and to demand the release of Sahrawi patriots held by the Moroccan authorities.

Furthermore, the Sahrawi people must be provided with decent living conditions; all those in refugee camps require substantial aid in the form of food, healthcare and education.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, I too am glad that we are having this debate today; let it be an unmistakeable shot across the bows of the President and of the Conference of Presidents, for without it, a dangerous precedent would have been set. On Thursday, the Conference of Presidents was giving it as its opinion that the Western Sahara was one of the three most pressing human rights problems with which we had to deal, and there was no dissent from this view even on Monday.

Then an ambassador did the rounds of this place, and, shortly afterwards, it turned out that a delegation was on its way. That would have created a precedent. The next thing might then have been that a human rights issue could have been arbitrarily wiped off the order of business because of a dinner with Mr Putin, and the time after that it would have been because of lunch with the Chinese Consul-General or some such reason, and it would have kept on like that. That is something that no group here in this House can tolerate.

Let me move on to the matter in hand. I am very much a friend of Morocco, and I do indeed believe that both sides share responsibility for this conflict. Both Morocco and the Western Sahara were victims of colonialism, the colonial powers having simply drawn their borders in the desert with a ruler, and that is why the issue is a problematic one, one that can be resolved only through negotiation and mutual agreement. It is in the interests of both sides that our delegation should be able to do its work there without let or hindrance; that is indeed a minimum and something that should go without saying. It is monstrous that the threat should be made that it might not be allowed to do so. While we respect both sides, and want to do our bit in establishing peace, it must be clear beyond doubt that peace is possible only on the basis of law, which, in this case, means international law, with particular reference to human rights. There can be no peace negotiations without unconditional adherence to human rights or without all political prisoners being released. That is why we stand ready as a partner and as an intermediary; that is why our good offices are at the parties’ disposal. We will not take one side or another – the European People’s Party will certainly do no such thing – but we are not mincing words when we express our view that human rights are human rights, that political detainees are political detainees, and that, if there is any real desire for a solution to this knotty problem, these latter must be set at liberty with neither ifs nor buts.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo García, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President, I would like to bring together some of the opinions that have been expressed, which include those of some of my good friends with whom I share many things: values, ideas and objectives.

My long political experience, particularly in foreign policy, has taught me that it is not always those who shout the loudest or pass the most forceful resolutions who achieve the best results. When a position is adopted, many factors must be taken into account. We are discussing a procedural issue, but nobody has pointed out that what the outside world is going to see is the hypocrisy of a parliamentary vote: 600 Members say that there must be a debate ― and that is how I voted, and here I am ― but then we are only 20 in the debate, and at the vote there will be 70. Is that really good enough, or is it only we who believe in the importance of these debates on Thursday afternoons? We must be a little more realistic and take account of these factors.

I agree with the joint Resolution and with the objective of supporting the demands of the Saharawi people and, above all, their demand for self-determination ― which they have still not achieved after thirty years ― but also that this issue must always be balanced with the problem of security and stability that we are facing on the southern border of the European Union, and that we must take account of the Morocco factor, a country of 30 million people, where there is a latent danger of Islamic regression.

Through our action, or through our inaction, we must contribute to political reform and a democratic process in that country.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alyn Smith, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Mr President, I would wholeheartedly endorse the previous comments of my group colleague, Mr Romeva i Rueda, and add my own disbelief that the situation in the Western Sahara remains as bad as it so clearly does after all these years of European hand-wringing and alleged involvement. The situation today remains as grave as it has been for many years. The unseemly, shabby debate in the Conference of Presidents yesterday demonstrated Europe at its very worst.

When we Europeans concern ourselves with tactics, internal politics, the considerations of our own domestic situations, we are weak and divided. If we remember our core principles of the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom from torture and above all of dialogue, then we will speak with a loud and clear voice. This motion goes some way towards that.

We must take a view on the motion before us today, otherwise, what is this Parliament for? The motion is worthy and valid and I hope the delegation of our Parliament will speak with a suitably clear voice on this matter when it visits the region.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jaromír Kohlíček, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) In Africa today, there are no colonies, nor any remnants thereof; this, at least, is the theory often put forward in Parliament by certain conservative Members of the House. The reality is of course entirely different. The two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla remain under colonial rule, and Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony of Rio de Oro, has now been occupied by Morocco for some 20 years. In the resolution before us, Parliament lends its backing to the referendum on the future of the country, which has been on the table for some considerable time. Let us not forget, ladies and gentlemen, that it will be necessary not only to support the actual holding of the referendum itself, but also to determine technical details, such as who is eligible to vote.

I welcome the decision, announced today, to arrange for a Parliament delegation to visit the country next January. I feel that those Members taking part should not lose sight of the fact that this is a desert land, which is rich in phosphate deposits, and should broach every aspect of the problem with representatives of the Polisario Front, the Moroccan Government, and the two other countries sharing its borders, especially Algeria. This is the only way in which we can ensure an even-handed view of the whole situation. It would also be useful to take on board the opinions of the African Union.

It is important to lay down the rules for taking part in the referendum. There is a large community of immigrants from Morocco living in the country, for example, whilst a number of people from the former Spanish colony remain outside the territory. Therein lies a series of further, as yet unanswered, questions, and I believe that meeting the requirements laid down in the resolution may pave the way for those questions to be addressed and, in turn, for a solution to the issue of decolonising Western Sahara to be found.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Charles Tannock (PPE-DE). – Mr President, 1975 to 1991 was a period of bloody conflict in Western Sahara between Morocco and Polisario, ending with a UN-brokered ceasefire, which called for a referendum for independence, yet to happen I have to say, monitored by MINURSO. Seventy-six countries now recognise the Sahrawi Democratic Republic.

In 2001 James Baker proposed a five-year period of autonomy within Morocco before holding the referendum, but Polisario rejected it, particularly on the issue of who would be allowed to vote. So, legally, the 1991 UN Settlement Plan remains in place. In the meantime Morocco has continued its repression, including the recent alarming allegations of arbitrary arrests, ill treatment of prisoners in custody and even allegations of torture.

Algeria has now come into a large windfall profit from the high oil revenues it is enjoying and is therefore in a position to rearm Polisario. That is extremely dangerous, because there could be a resurgence of hostilities. We must avoid hostilities and stop war breaking out again at all costs.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Iratxe García Pérez (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, a few months ago, in this very Chamber, we debated the need to assist the Saharawi people by means of humanitarian aid. We took that opportunity to point out that this situation is the result of a political conflict which we have so far been unable to resolve.

We are talking today about a serious and worrying situation, relating to the violation of the human rights of the Saharawi people: their rights to free expression, to demonstrate and to freedom of movement, of which we have become aware over recent months both via human rights organisations and via the media.

We in this Parliament are therefore today appealing strongly to the Moroccan authorities to release the Saharawi political prisoners. Furthermore, we believe the visit of this delegation from the European Parliament to be vital, in order to acquire first hand accurate information about the current situation in Saharan territory.

There is no question that this conflict requires decisive intervention, both by international bodies and by the European Union, in order to put an end to three decades of injustice and suffering. The appointment by the United Nations of the new representative for MINURSO is a good sign. It is now time to make it possible to establish the conditions to resolve this conflict and to recognise the legitimate aspiration of the Saharawi people to determine their own future.

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s debate must not be just one more debate, and nor must today’s resolution be just one more to add to the many we have passed on this subject. For the sake of human rights and social justice, we have the duty to work in this direction.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the Commission continues fully to support the role of the United Nations and its efforts to bring a political solution to the conflict in Western Sahara.

We share the hope that the new personal envoy to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Peter Van Walsum, as well as the new Special Representative, Mr Francesco Bastagli, will bring new impetus to the search for a political solution. The Commission encourages all the parties involved and the international community fully to cooperate with them towards this objective.

The Commission also welcomes the release of 404 Moroccan prisoners of war by the Polisario Front. This is a very positive measure that will no doubt contribute to finding a solution.

Regarding recent tensions in Western Sahara, the Commission followed last month’s demonstrations, arrests, trials and hunger strikes very closely, and continues to monitor the situation.

The Commission, through its delegation in Rabat, and in cooperation with the Member States, has undertaken high-level demarches to the Moroccan authorities and other parties involved, expressing concern and requiring direct information about the situation and the measures to be taken. Moreover, the Commission continues to work resolutely on human rights, since respect for human rights is an essential principle of the European Union’s external relations.

In the context of our bilateral relationship with Morocco, a sub-committee on human rights, democratisation and good governance is being set up. The date of its first meeting will probably be fixed at the Association Council with Morocco in November. This sub-committee will allow the Commission to approach the human rights issue as a whole, including freedom of expression and assembly.

These issues – human rights, democratisation, political and institutional reform – are also considered in the action plan agreed between the Commission and Morocco within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 4 p.m.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.


17. Uzbekistan
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on human rights in Uzbekistan(1).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Józef Pinior (PSE), author.  (PL) Mr President, Uzbekistan is home to over 20 million people, and was the birthplace of the legendary Tamerlane. It lies on the Silk Road, and, ever mindful of its historical heritage, plays a key geostrategic role at the point where Europe meets the Middle East and Asia. The Uzbek people and the country’s rich culture mean that it is destined to play a key part in establishing an international political order based on peace, democracy and respect for human rights.

Islam Karimov’s authoritarian regime is stifling the democratic ambitions of the Uzbek people. It violates fundamental human rights, and was responsible for the Andijan massacre. Last Saturday, 22 October 2005, an opposition leader, the businessman Sanjar Umarov, was taken into custody. There have been alarming reports from his lawyer, Vitaly Krasilovsky, about the humiliating treatment of Mr Umarov during his stay in custody. Mr Krasilovsky is concerned about the well-being of his client, since he was only allowed to visit him in prison for a few minutes, and Mr Umarov was incapable of providing coherent answers to his questions during this time. This is one of many violations of human rights by the Karimov regime.

The European Union cannot remain unmoved by the situation in Uzbekistan. Our actions must be geared towards Uzbek civil society, and they must serve to establish good relations with the Uzbek people, as well as helping those who have suffered political persecution under the authoritarian regime. A visit by Parliament representatives to Uzbekistan remains a matter of fundamental importance. The Uzbek authorities must agree to our visit to Andijan, and to meetings with representatives of the media, the opposition and NGOs. If I may, I should like to express my hope that the good relations between the European Union and Uzbekistan will continue to flourish further, since these relations will boost the development and prosperity of the Uzbek people. They will also promote the advancement of democracy and human rights in Uzbekistan and in Central Asia as a whole.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE), author. (SV) Mr President, the Council made a good decision on 3 October in favour of an arms embargo. Uzbekistan does not need any weapons, which may be used to oppress its own population. It is good that we are now demanding that an independent investigation be carried out into what happened in Andijan.

The media are tightly controlled, and the opposition and members of popular movements are prevented from meeting. The demands we are making of President Karimov should not be so difficult to fulfil. He needs only to comply with his own country’s constitution, which states that freedom of movement, association and assembly must prevail and that the courts must be independent. It is not unreasonable to demand that a president comply with his own country’s constitution, and that is what we are demanding in this Chamber today.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Simon Coveney (PPE-DE), author. Mr President, I apologise. I should, of course, have acknowledged the presence of the Commissioner the last time I spoke, but I will this time.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak briefly on the motion on Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is a large and very influential country in Central Asia. Its stability directly impinges on the whole region and the EU has rightly attempted to build contacts and a relationship with this geographically close and significant neighbour. For me, however, this motion has one main focus: to ask again what happened in Andijan last May and to make a further call for an open and independent inquiry. There seems to be a view that, by asking for the truth to be established, we are in some way taking sides against the Uzbek authorities. The EU has human rights and international law at the centre of its value system and it is our responsibility to call for the truth behind this tragedy.

To date, there are three versions of the ‘truth’. Firstly, the official Uzbek and the President Karimov version, according to which the killings were ‘a measured response to an Islamist uprising where 187 criminals were killed’. Next, there is the media and NGO version, which reports a bloodbath where women and children were mowed down by armed police, bodies were dragged to a school nearby and left lying there until the following day, some of them not dead, and then taken to hospital. We do not even know the numbers that were killed. Reports vary between 500 and 1500 people. Thirdly, there are the locals in Andijan, most of them silenced or suffering from amnesia, basically afraid to speak out because some who have done so have disappeared.

The EU must insist on an independent inquiry and we must take action that will ensure that, if we are refused that, it will have implications for the relationship between Uzbekistan and the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ona Juknevičienė (ALDE), author. (LT) The President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov is openly and blatantly ignoring the international community's desire to reveal the whole truth about what happened in Andizhan in May this year. He is creating his own version of the truth. President Karimov is creating this truth by openly violating human rights, erasing traces of killings and neutralising witnesses and their relatives. It seems that there can only be one truth in Uzbekistan the one thoroughly censored by the authorities. Terrorism and economic crime these are the two vague labels which are used to conceal the open and violent treatment of so-called enemies of the state. Nevertheless, I believe that there must be a distinct line between ensuring security and repression. Since it was banned, the opposition has taken on a radical form. Social injustice and the repression of diversity of opinion encourage religious extremism. It can be acknowledged that Uzbekistan is an appealing target for Islamic extremists; however, such actions by the authorities do not stop Islamic radicalism, as only democracy and an independent judiciary can help to fight radicalism, not repression. Mr President, Members of Parliament, I urge you to vote for the resolution today, as I believe it is a further investment in trying to encourage diversity of opinion among the citizens of Uzbekistan, together with free speech and human rights. This is the true road to democracy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL), author. (NL) Mr President, it was not only in Ukraine, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan that authoritarian regimes took power following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but this was also, and especially, the case in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. There, it was not democracy that triumphed, but rather a group of people who had gained experience in the old state apparatus and the intelligence services. Having no objective other than to stay in power, these people turn state enterprises into their own private property, manipulate the electoral results, give oppositions as little room as possible, hamper free organisations, restrict the press and, if need be, use violence against their own people.

Uzbekistan is ready for radical change, but the initial impetus in this direction by demonstrators was nipped in the bud on 13 May, with brute force that claimed hundreds of lives. Ever since, the outside world has remained conspicuously silent. Might that have something to do with its economic and military interests? Is the dictatorship in Uzbekistan to be allowed to stay on because it proved itself useful in the military intervention in Afghanistan? Are we leaving its inhabitants in the lurch? Europe must not make their rights and freedoms secondary to other considerations. The draft resolution helps us to adopt the necessary position.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marcin Libicki (UEN), author (PL) Mr President, it is an unfortunate fact that the historic breakthrough which in Poland led to the formation of a democratic government in 1989, and which subsequently brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the entire Moscow-led Communist bloc, did not lead to the emergence of a democratic regime respectful of human rights in all the former Communist bloc countries. The transformations we witnessed in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, during which systems based on respect for human rights were established, did not initially take place in Ukraine. We are still awaiting such transformations in Belarus, and unfortunately there is no sign of them in Uzbekistan either.

The events of 13 May 2005 were a measure of sorts of the current conditions in Uzbekistan. The attitude of the government, which refuses to allow foreign observers to investigate the causes of the many deaths, as well as intimidating journalists and preventing external monitoring, means that Parliament must take a firm stance on this issue. It is for this reason that we are calling for investigations to be carried out into all these issues, and for democracy to be established in Uzbekistan.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, Uzbekistan is an ancient cultural landscape which, having brought forth such states as the Khanates of Bukhara and Kokand, fell victim to aggressive colonialism. Today, we have been discussing European colonialism in Africa, but in this instance the colonialism was Soviet and Communist in character, following on the heels of Tsarist colonialism in Central Asia. It was only in 1989, with the overthrow of the Communist regime in Central Europe, that this colonialism was brought to an end – something I would like to say for Mr Kohlíček’s benefit.

We are under the obligation to consider the situation there in a realistic light. These countries were punished by being turned into monocultures, they were plundered and bled dry, and now they have set out on the laborious road to statehood. One has to have a certain sympathy for their situation, and they also need all the intensive help we can offer. That does not mean, however, that we can turn a blind eye to human rights abuses.

What we call for is clear and unambiguous: we demand that the Uzbek Government should cease from obstructing the investigations that are already overdue, that it should release all detainees and grant fundamental and human rights. If we are to make any headway here, though, it will be by dialogue and not by treating the other party as a child.

We have to be aware of the presence of terrorists and destabilising elements throughout the region, not to mention the continuing influence of Moscow, which has recently been supplying Uzbekistan with large quantities of plate mines, which we have often had cause to discuss in this House, and which are intended, among other things, for the further fortification of the borders. Russian troops are still present, acting as if this were still colonial territory. That is something else that we cannot accept just like that, since this is a region in which the powers’ vital geo-strategic interests collide, not least in the energy sector.

So let it be said loud and clear that, in this area, there are two opposites: human rights and open and fair partnership on the one hand, and colonialism in whatever shape or form on the other.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karin Scheele, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DE) Mr President, today’s resolution condemns the Uzbek Government’s denial of any transparency in connection with the investigation into the events of May 2005, and it stresses how important it is that there should be an independent international commission of inquiry, one that is in a position to bring the details to light without delay and to observe ongoing processes without interference.

Precisely how many people lost their lives on those May days in Andijan is something that the global public has until now been unable to find out. Human rights organisations’ figures vary between 500 and 1 000, while the Uzbek Government gives the number of victims as 176. Over and over again, President Karimov uses Islamism as a blunt instrument with which to put his political opponents – of whatever stripe – out of action. That is why it is vital that we should press home our demands for the setting at liberty of those human rights activists, journalists and members of the political opposition who are still in prison.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tobias Pflüger, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (DE) Mr President, anyone who has observed the brutal violations of human rights in Uzbekistan would expect trenchant criticism of the regime in Uzbekistan, rather than these to be played down, as we have just heard Mr Posselt do. Instead, Uzbekistan is enjoying the closest possible cooperation from an EU Member State. That Member State is Germany, which, in Termes, is operating a military base of crucial geopolitical importance, particularly in terms of military operations in Afghanistan. I am told by NATO that it is not one of their bases, even though it is used by NATO states, and also by the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Greece and Spain – all of them EU Member States.

Germany is granting Uzbekistan extensive economic and military aid, said to amount to EUR 2 billion, along with weapons factories, old weapons and so on. The EU’s human rights policy is hypocritical if, on the one hand, the brutal human rights violations come in for justified criticism, while, on the other, geopolitical considerations mean that the regime in Uzbekistan receives military and economic aid.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group (PL) Mr President, in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan, which have been called for December, the European Parliament is once again holding a debate on human rights violations.

Uzbekistan is a former Soviet republic, yet although it has achieved partial independence from the Communist regime, power continues to be exercised in the same way. Islam Karimov, the former Communist First Secretary who holds the position of president, has proved himself to be a dictator. He is attempting to placate the rival powers of Russia, Europe and the United States, with the latter having used military bases in the country until recently. Uzbekistan is a region of strategic political and economic importance for both Russia and the United States, which makes the situation in the republic even more complex. Since 2001, the country has been one of the USA’s key allies in the fight against terrorism in Asia.

Together with Russia, Uzbekistan is also a member of the Shanghai Five, a forum aimed at combating terrorism in Asia. Moscow uses the threat of Islamic fundamentalism as a means of scaring Uzbekistan into remaining within its sphere of influence.

Uzbekistan is a country with abundant natural resources, including oil and gas. Mainly due to US aid, it has chalked up a certain amount of economic success. It is also a country where ethnically diverse populations of Islamic, Orthodox and Catholic faith previously lived together peacefully. In recent times, however, inter alia as a result of clashes between foreign pressures and Karimov’s authoritarian practices, the country has been witness to human rights violations and persecution of the opposition, in particular the Islamic opposition.

On 13 May, a demonstration in Andijan was violently suppressed, and it is thought that several hundred civilians may have died. In spite of protests, the perpetrators of the massacre have not been brought to justice, and the press has passed over the tragedy in silence. Reports from foreign observers, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch talk of unprecedented and barbaric torture perpetrated in Uzbek prisons against the regime’s opponents, of human rights violations and of the persecution of the independent journalists and political activists who uncovered the truth about the events of 13 May. Following a number of unsuccessful attempts on his life, President Karimov now refers to Muslim critics as fanatics and terrorists, in so doing justifying the persecution of independent political thinkers in the opposition.

The Holy Father, John Paul II, reminded us that freedom is always a challenge. He also said that power is a challenge to freedom, and that it can only be wielded by serving others. The international community and those in positions of power should always give human dignity and human rights precedence over economic interests. It is for this reason that we are calling for an end to persecution, respect for human dignity and compliance with the basic obligations arising from the Charter of Fundamental Rights and democratic principles.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, following the Andijan massacre and Uzbekistan's persistent rejection of an independent international inquiry into these events, the European Union has taken a very firm stance vis-à-vis Uzbekistan through the adoption of the Council conclusions of 3 October, following the earlier conclusions adopted since May.

The package of restrictive measures includes the partial suspension of the partnership and cooperation agreement, an arms embargo, a selective visa ban as well as consideration of actions in the framework of the United Nations and the OSCE. That is a very clear and strong political signal by the Union to Uzbekistan.

The Commission fully supports the Member States on the imposition of the visa ban, the arrangements for the implementation of which are currently being finalised. The Commission equally fully supports the implementation of the arms embargo and has prepared the legislation for the Council to be effective immediately.

In terms of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), the Commission has immediately suspended all further technical meetings with Uzbekistan. That means that we have suspended the Subcommittees on Trade and Investment and on Justice, Liberty and Security, along with the Cooperation Committee.

Although the initiative for the Cooperation Council meeting rests with the Member States, the Commission takes the view that the meeting could be maintained in order not to sever our political dialogue with Uzbekistan altogether.

The Commission takes note of the decision to postpone the Sixth EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee meeting and regrets that the delegation would not be allowed to travel to the Andijan region nor to have unrestricted access to members of the opposition, non-governmental organisations and the independent media.

With reference to Community assistance, the Commission has agreed to a reduction and reorientation of EU assistance from EUR 11 million to EUR 9.25 million in this year, and from EUR 9 million to EUR 7.25 million next year. In spite of those cuts, we strongly believe that targeted EU assistance should continue. It should focus on poverty reduction in the Ferghana valley and the development of a civil society, as well as on legal and judicial reforms and on the development of higher education.

I should like to take this opportunity to stress that the human rights situation which existed before the events in May was already very bleak and a source of deep concern to the Commission. To name but one of our concerns, the Commission would very much welcome a public commitment in support of President Karimov's condemnation of torture.

In addition, the Commission will continue to press the Uzbeks to establish an immediate moratorium on all death sentences before the abolition of the death penalty in 2008. The Commission is also concerned about reports of the detention and harassment of people including human rights defenders, journalists and local activists who have questioned the authorities' version of events.

The Commission will continue its efforts in the fight against drug trafficking, improving border management, energy networks and transport networks. The exclusion of Uzbekistan from such regional programmes would damage Uzbekistan's neighbours more than Uzbekistan itself.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 4 p.m.

 
  

(1)See Minutes.


18. Case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on the case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche(1).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE), author (PL) Mr President, one of the last great Tibetan lamas, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, has spent the past 20 years engaged in efforts to protect Tibetan culture. As a leading religious figure in Tibet, he has also played an active role in economic, cultural and social affairs. This Tibetan lama has long been a thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities, even though he has never taken part in political demonstrations.

As a spiritual leader who is wholeheartedly committed to key social measures such as the construction of schools for orphaned children, hospices, local roads and help for older people, he is a leading advocate of peace, whose actions are not in the least aggressive. His popularity led to him being labelled a threat to the local Chinese authorities, however, and the latter arrested him on the pretext that he had allegedly helped to organise a number of attacks. He was accused of terrorism and sentenced to death, without any evidence or a fair trial. He has been held in inhumane conditions for many months awaiting execution, and his current poor health is a direct result of prolonged torture.

In view of the above, we are calling on the Chinese authorities to improve the conditions in which he is held. We are also calling on the Chinese government to undertake efforts to improve the conditions in which other prisoners are held, to abolish torture and, most importantly, to abolish the death penalty. As part of the international community we must make it quite clear that we will not consent to people being imprisoned if they have not been proven guilty. China must respect international human rights standards, human dignity and civil liberties. I would therefore also call on international organisations to bring pressure to bear on China to engage at long last in constructive dialogue with a view to settling the Tibet issue once and for all.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eva Lichtenberger (Verts/ALE), author. (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, this is not the first time that we have had to discuss the terrible case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and take note of China’s unwillingness to go down the road of reconciliation. Far from it: no more than before is he guaranteed a transparent and fair trial, and what is even worse is that torture and the inhumane conditions under which he is incarcerated – without, let it be noted, due process of law – have now brought him to the point where his life is in danger, and this is something about which we absolutely must speak out, and not for the first time.

We in this House owe it to ourselves to take action now, for we have already demanded fair treatment for this man who is almost at the point of death, and whose only crime was to be a beloved teacher and spiritual guide. Now is the time for us to take action and press anew our demands on the Chinese Government.

What makes this all the more necessary is that it would appear that, the greater the appetite the Member States and their governments have for the Chinese market, the more cautious they are about raising human rights issues with their Chinese partners in dialogue. At a time like this and in a context such as this, we owe it to ourselves to defend our values. It is we Members of this House who must do what our governments are failing to do.

In a situation in which Tibet is autonomous only on paper and not in reality, in which the dialogue with the Dalai Lama, having begun so promisingly, is either not continued or deferred again and again, and in which China still does not guarantee human rights, we must speak up and speak out, demanding that this state of affairs be brought to an end and that order be restored.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Thomas Mann (PPE-DE), author. (DE) Mr President, the resolutions we adopted on 18 November 2004 and 13 January 2005, combined with massive diplomatic protests and the actions of human rights organisations did have some results, for they did bring about the commutation of the death sentence passed on the respected Lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to one of life imprisonment. The Chinese authorities regard him as a criminal, accusing him of undermining the security of the state, and – without any evidence – of involvement in bomb attacks. They continue to refuse him a fair trial with international observers present.

Where I am in full agreement with both the previous speakers is that the real reason for his imprisonment is his great influence on the Tibetan people and his support for the Dalai Lama. The death sentence may well have been annulled, but it appears to be being carried out by other means; having endured torture and solitary confinement, he is now unable either to speak or to move, and his life is hanging in the balance.

All this House’s political groupings call on the Chinese to delay no longer in improving the conditions under which he is held and to comply strictly with the terms of the UN Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners. We insist that Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, be given free access to Tenzin Rinpoche; he will be arriving in China on an inspection mission in three weeks’ time.

The European Commission, the Council and the Member States must establish a close connection between the ongoing fate of China’s political prisoners and the maintenance of the arms embargo imposed on that country. The embargo must remain in place, without any relaxation, for as long as human rights abuses continue. The Chinese Embassy in Brussels has attempted to intervene, claiming that these are internal matters, and that no external organisations or individuals have the right to interfere. These oppressive utterances constitute yet another example of the unsatisfactory outcome of the EU/China Summit of 5 September and of the failure of the human rights dialogue to yield tangible fruit. The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats wishes to stress the need for international standards and values to be maintained.

What does send a powerful signal to all those who are persecuted for political, religious or cultural reasons is the European Union’s insistence on cooperation with any country being conditional – without any exception – on its respect for human rights. Those who want confrontation to give way to cooperation must uphold human rights and refrain from violating them, for human rights are universal in their application.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Elizabeth Lynne (ALDE), author. Mr President, it is not our place to say whether Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is innocent or guilty. However, it is our place to point out human rights violations when we see them. There are real concerns about his detention, trial and sentencing, which were, I believe, miscarriages of justice.

In a news bulletin of 24 October, the Chinese Government said that it was an internal affair for China and that we had no right to interfere. If it is a matter of human rights, we have every right to interfere; that is our job. It is unclear whether he had full access to legal advice throughout the trial process. The Chinese said that he had two lawyers. My sources said that he had no defence counsel whatsoever. My sources also said that he did not confess and he has never confessed to this alleged crime, despite the torture he allegedly suffered for several months before his trial. When he was tried three years ago, there was international outcry, and at that time I understand that the Chinese Government promised a retrial in the Supreme Court. That has not happened. He must be given a fair trial in full accordance with international fair trial standards or released forthwith. There is no other option.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL), author. (NL) Mr President, oppression in Tibet is often on this House’s order of business. China sees that country as a virtually blank canvas that has to be colonised and made accessible, after which it can be further developed in the modern Chinese manner. At the moment, everything is about discipline and economic growth without any leeway for different opinions. This is at odds with the culture, the traditions and the interests of the Tibetans who have learnt to survive in their inhospitable country and want to be left in peace.

This problem is also reflected within China among other peoples with a different language and culture, such as the Uighurs, who are related to the Turkish peoples in the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia, but, ever since the Dalai Lama’s escape to India, most of the attention has been focused on Tibet.

We cannot really see any improvements in the way in which China deals with the Tibetans. Even though our statements in this House have definitely not had the results that we intended to achieve, it is still right that we should carry on relentlessly. China should not be given the impression that Europe has accepted the status quo for the sake of its own economic interests.

Finally, capital punishment in China has to go, just as it has to go in the USA and the rest of the world. We should fight this point globally and fight for human rights.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marcin Libicki (UEN), author (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, Tibet is once again the subject of debate in this House. During today’s debate, we must ask ourselves whether the measures taken by Parliament and the Commission have been effective. Unfortunately, the fact that we are holding yet another debate on this issue would suggest not.

Certain Members of the House have claimed that such matters come under the heading of China’s internal affairs, and indeed this is the line taken by the Chinese Embassy in Brussels. This is not the case, however. The concept of internal affairs, which is used to justify all crimes against one’s own nation, is a doctrine espoused only by tyrants, and one that has never been held in civilised Europe. In centuries gone by, the Catholic Church and other religions demanded that citizens be treated properly, and they opposed the notion that rulers could do whatever they wanted with their own citizens. International organisations nowadays never fail to emphasise the fact that internal affairs that violate basic moral principles concern all of humanity.

We must be aware that this issue is about more than just one monk. It is about nothing less than the destruction of Tibet and the Tibetan culture and nation, for no other reason than that this peaceful nation exists. The existence of a nation that differs from their own in cultural, historical and social terms is sufficient reason for the Chinese authorities to attempt to destroy it. Instead of welcoming the completion of a railway link between Tibet and China, we should be alarmed by this development, since one of its purposes is to destroy Tibet further by inundating it with Chinese people and entrepreneurs.

Parliament is very active in this field, and its Intergroup for Tibet has a very committed and energetic president in the shape of Mr Mann. We must do more, however. I would remind the Commissioner that it is high time that the Commission took decisive steps to settle the problems in China once and for all, since its status as a powerful EU body means that it is undoubtedly in a position to do so. Its first step should be to come to the rescue of this poor Tibetan monk.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the human rights situation in Tibet is of constant concern to the European Union and it features very high on the agenda of the EU-China human rights dialogue. In that context, the European Union has always addressed the rights of minorities, especially in Tibet, and urges the Chinese authorities to preserve the cultural, religious and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people.

The case of the Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has regularly been brought to the attention of the Chinese authorities in the course of this dialogue. In addition, the EU troika has made three approaches to the Chinese Government, twice last year and in the early part of this year, when the troika met Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

In all those instances, the European Union voiced its urgent demand for the abolition of the death penalty in China, expressed the hope that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche would not be executed, and asked for information about the conditions of his arrest and his state of health. Whilst welcoming the decision by the Chinese authorities on 26 January 2005 this year to commute Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death sentence to life imprisonment, the European Union remains deeply concerned about the persistent doubts surrounding his trial and the heavy sentence handed down to him. The European Union is fully committed to continuing to follow this issue very closely in the framework of the EU-China human rights dialogue.

On a more general level, as part of its overall policy on Tibet, for many years the European Union has called for and will continue to call for the establishment of a direct dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities as the only realistic way to find a lasting solution to the question of Tibet. The third visit of the Dalai Lama’s special envoys at the end of last year was an encouraging move that should be pursued further.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 4 p.m.

WRITTEN STATEMENT (RULE 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Filip Andrzej Kaczmarek (PPE-DE).   (PL) I am all in favour of free trade, but the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we should trade freely with a country that pays no regard to freedoms of other kinds. I do not believe that cultural diversity is any justification for China’s actions. The death penalty is unacceptable in any culture, since it is an insult to the very nature of humanity. China is proud of its new railway line to Tibet, which is the highest in the world. It is worth pointing out, however, that investments in infrastructure are not the only mark of a great civilisation.

If China can build railways of this kind, then it could also improve the living conditions of its prisoners. All it needs is the political will to do so. It is crucially important that the arms embargo against China be maintained, because the fate of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is ample proof that the country has not learnt its lesson from the events of 4 June 1989. This is a significant date for people in both Poland and China. It is a symbol of hope for the former, since it was the date of the first partially free parliamentary elections.

In China, however, this date has become a symbol of repression, since it is the anniversary of the Tiananmen tragedy. Back in 1989, I wore a badge bearing the Chinese words for freedom and democracy. These two values are what I would wish the Tibetan and Chinese people today.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE). – (SV) Mr President, on at least five occasions during this part-session, the earphones – and thus the interpretation service - for the whole of the row behind me where I normally sit have not worked. Nor has the microphone worked, so that it has not been possible to complain about the situation to the President. We have shown great flexibility during the votes and continued with these from the row concerned. Next time, however, many important matters are to be dealt with, including REACH, so we need to ensure that the technology works. Otherwise, the part-session may be interrupted in the most inopportune way. I hope, therefore, that you can resolve this problem by next month.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Unfortunately, this is a recurring problem. We shall be looking into this carefully and trust that it will not happen in the next part-session.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.


19. Voting time
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the vote.

(For the outcome of the vote and other details: see Minutes)

 

20. Human rights in Western Sahara

21. Uzbekistan

22. Case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The vote is closed.

 

23. Corrections to votes: see Minutes

24. Membership of Parliament: see Minutes

25. Membership of committees and delegations: see Minutes

26. Written declarations for entry in the register (Rule 116): see Minutes

27. Decisions concerning certain documents: see Minutes

28. Forwarding of texts adopted during the sitting: see Minutes

29. Dates for next sittings: see Minutes

30. Adjournment of the session
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I declare the session of the European Parliament adjourned.

(The sitting was closed at 4.20 p.m.)

 

ANNEX
QUESTIONS TO THE COUNCIL - (The Presidency-in-Office of the Council of the EU is responsible for these answers.)
Question no 18 by Brian Crowley (H-0810/05)
 Subject: Child mortality in developing countries
 

The recent polio outbreak in Indonesia is still spreading, could spread further afield and could pose a global health threat, according to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.

UNICEF also warns that the outbreak, which is a major setback to UN plans to eliminate this waterborne disease by the end of 2005, could spread more easily during the wet season, which usually starts in October.

Furthermore, just five diseases — pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and AIDS — account for half of all deaths in children under five. According to the latest UN report ‘eleven million children a year — i.e. 30 000 a day — die before their fifth birthday from preventable or treatable causes. Most of these lives could be saved by expanding existing programmes that promote simple, low-cost solutions’.

Does the Council agree with the UN findings and will it give a commitment that it will take whatever concrete and positive steps that are necessary to ensure that the existing simple and low cost solutions are applied, in practice, without further unnecessary delay?

 
  
 

(EN)I am grateful to the Honourable Member for reminding us of the continuing horror of childhood poverty and disease in the developing world. The Council indeed shares this concern.

It is clear that children form an essential facet of the EU's development policy, and the Council intends that this should be adequately reflected in the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals Summit of September 2005, in the formulation of future EC development policy and during examination of the future Commission Communication on this subject.

In the Conclusions of 24 May this year, the Council firmly supported the programme of action to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis through external actions presented by the Commission at the end of April 2005. This programme provides for specific attention to be focused on children's rights and on the needs of orphans and vulnerable children, as well as on school security, particularly with regard to girls. The Commission provides a significant level of support through the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria as a way of supporting and helping to finance country plans for services essential to child health. The Commission also support the Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunisation, which is focused on helping countries improve child immunisation against disease. We plan a joint action by the EC and the Member States, in collaboration with the main international organisations in the sector, and with teachers and parents' associations in the partner countries is planned.

The joint statement of November 2000 on EU development policy is under review. A new interinstitutional statement on future EU development policy should be adopted shortly by the three institutions. Child protection is among the many subjects identified as possible thematic priorities by the Council.

Lastly, at the request of the Council, the European Commission intends to submit in 2006 a Communication on children in the context of development policy, so that all questions relating to children in developing countries, including reduction of the mortality rate, are dealt with consistently.

 

Question no 19 by Seán Ó Neachtain (H-0812/05)
 Subject: The Israeli wall
 

Israel has recently issued instructions to seize more Palestinian land close to the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank. According to the Israeli Justice Minister, the government plans to use the land to continue building the controversial West Bank barrier around the settlement of Maale Adumim.

In view of the fact that, in July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory ruling that Israel's West Bank barrier was illegal because it is being built on occupied territory and construction of it should be stopped, will the Council comment on these recent developments?

 
  
 

(EN)In a number of replies to recent questions raised by Members of the European Parliament, the Council set out the EU's unchanged position relating to the Wall and the Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the "Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory".

The Council and its Presidencies have repeatedly demanded in the past that Israel stops and reverses the construction of the Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. In addition the Council and its Presidencies have done so with respect to the Israeli orders requisitioning the land to which the Honourable Member referred in his question.

 

Question no 20 by Liam Aylward (H-0814/05)
 Subject: Millenium Development Goals - universal primary education
 

Achieving universal primary education is one of the main Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

However the MDG 2005 annual report, which was recently published by the United Nations, states that 'in sub-Saharan Africa, less than two thirds of children are enrolled in primary school. Other regions, including Southern Asia and Oceania, also have a long way to go. In these regions and elsewhere, increased enrolment must be accompanied by efforts to ensure that all children remain in school and receive a high-quality education'.

Does the Council agree that without education there can be no real progress in the countries concerned? Furthermore does the Council have ideas as to how the situation can be seriously improved and the relevant action speeded up?

 
  
 

(EN)The second Millennium Development Goal is to "Achieve universal primary education" aims to "ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling".

The Council's view on this subject is clearly set out in the Resolution of the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States called: "Education and training in the context of poverty reduction in developing countries" which was adopted on 30 May 2002.

In that Resolution the Council recalled its strong commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, which include achieving universal primary education by 2015 and eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and to all levels of education no later than 2015. The Council also reaffirmed its commitment to the Framework for Action on Education for All agreed at the World Education Forum in Dakar, and to the goals it contains.

In addition, the ACP-EC Council of Ministers decided in Luxembourg on 24 June 2005 to allocate an indicative amount of EUR 63 million from the conditional billion of the 9th European Development Fund as a contribution to the "Education for All" Fast Track Initiative. The bulk of EU funding on education to ACP states is channelled through country programmes, increasingly in the form of budgetary support.

 

Question no 21 by Eoin Ryan (H-0816/05)
 Subject: Democracy in Uzbekistan
 

As the Council are aware, earlier this year Uzbek soldiers opened fire on a crowd of some ten thousand peaceful protestors. Human Rights Watch, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have all placed the number of slain civilians at no less than five hundred.

Given the fact that Uzbekistan has entered into a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the European Union, will the Council indicate if this matter has been discussed at Council level and, in the affirmative, what were the conclusions reached?

 
  
 

(EN)I can indeed confirm that the Council has discussed the issue, most recently on 3 October.

The Council has expressed its profound concern at the developments in Eastern Uzbekistan and strongly condemned the reported excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Uzbek security authorities. The Council has called upon the Uzbek authorities to respect their international commitments to democracy, the rule of law and human rights and to allow an independent international inquiry into the events in Andijan.

As the Honourable Member is probably aware, on 3 October the General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted conclusions on Uzbekistan, which spelt out detailed measures to be applied, including suspension of all scheduled technical meetings under the PCA, an arms embargo, a targeted visa ban, as well as use of the relevant mechanisms of the OSCE and the UN to secure an independent inquiry into the events in Andijan.

 

Question no 22 by Mairead McGuinness (H-0820/05)
 Subject: The detention of illegal immigrants in European countries in prison facilities
 

Can the Council outline its view and position on the issue of the detention of migrants in prison facilities in European Member States? In Ireland, illegal immigrants are detained in Cloverhill Prison. On a recent visit to the prison a delegation of MEPs found that the treatment of detainees was good and that the facilities provided were also of a good standard. However, MEPs are concerned about whether prison is an appropriate place to detain illegal immigrants.

What is the Council's view of the detention of illegal immigrants and of the very varied standard of facilities provided across the European Member States?

 
  
 

(EN)The attention of the Honourable Member of Parliament is drawn to the fact that the Council is not competent to reply to her question, insofar as the issue of the conditions under which irregular immigrants are detained is not covered by EU legislation at present, except as far as asylum seekers are concerned.

The Council has not yet taken a view on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning third-country nationals, which includes proposals on temporary custody, including where a Member State must resort to prison accommodation.

 

Question no 23 by Anna Hedh (H-0823/05)
 Subject: Gender mainstreaming in the EU
 

Equality occupies a strong position in EU cooperation and is among the EU's fundamental values and the objectives of all activity within the Union. Equality is supposed to permeate all EU policies. Integrating equality is an obligation both on the EU Member States and on the Community Institutions. What is the Presidency doing to ensure that gender mainstreaming becomes a reality within all the EU Institutions and particularly in the work of the Council?

 
  
 

(EN)The UK is working with the Council, the European Commission and this Parliament, to progress gender mainstreaming throughout its Presidency. The UK Minister for Women and Equality, Meg Munn, addressed the European Parliament Women's Affairs Committee on 13 July 2005, to outline Presidency plans on gender equality, including the following initiatives;

on 30 September, the Presidency hosted a meeting of the European Commission High Level Group on Gender Mainstreaming, comprising representatives from every Member State. The main discussion item was the preparation of the Third Annual Report on Gender Equality, that is to be presented to the Spring European Council in March 2006;

and on 8-9 November, the Presidency will host an Informal meeting of Equality Ministers in Birmingham. Ministers will focus discussions on the EU Lisbon Strategy, in the context of "what works for women". They will exchange models of good practice on issues from education and skills for women, to worklife balance and childcare, to entrepreneurship and business creation for women.

The UK Presidency will also present a statement on gender equality to the Employment and Social Council on 8-9 December. It will outline EU progress towards implementation in acknowledgement of the tenth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Presidency is pleased with the EU's achievements in the field of gender equality and believes that progress has gone beyond purely creating a legislative framework. For example, the integration of gender equality into the employment policies of the Member States under the EU Employment Guidelines for 2005-2008 is a positive step forward in calling for "resolute action to increase female participation and reduce gender gaps in employment, unemployment and pay" as well as "better reconciliation of work and private life and the provision of accessible and affordable childcare facilities and care for other dependants".

However, the Presidency recognises that much work remains to be done and will continue to strive, in cooperation with the European Parliament and the Commission, towards achieving more progress in this area.

 

Question no 24 by Gay Mitchell (H-0829/05)
 Subject: Funds to fight disease
 

Leaders at the UN World Summit made commitments for the provision of universal access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs for all those who need it by 2010. It has been reported, however, that the actual financial commitments made fall well short of what is needed to achieve this goal. The UK Government announced in August that it will double its aid to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Has the Council raised this issue, and what steps has it taken to encourage more financial aid from other EU Member States in this area?

 
  
 

(EN)The fight against HIV/AIDS is a top priority for the EU in general and for the Council in particular, both in the context of poverty reduction (which is the overarching objective of the EU Development Policy) and in the framework of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The European Council, in the framework of the Multi-Annual Strategic Programme adopted in December 2003, agreed to give priority to ensuring improvements in aid effectiveness, coherence, co-ordination and complementarity in support of the primary objective of poverty reduction. This includes the fight against diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

On the basis of the Commission communication on a new coherent European Policy Framework for External Action to Confront HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, the Council adopted in May 2005 a comprehensive Plan of Action on different areas of intervention, including proposals for the future implementation, monitoring and co-ordination of the EU action to confront HIV/AIDS and the other major poverty-related diseases.

As regards the issue of funding, all EU Member States are contributing to the global EU effort in fighting poverty diseases. In May 2005(1), the Council decided on a new collective European Union target of an ODA(2)/GNI ratio of 0.56% by 2010. This implies an additional EUR 20 billion a year in Official Development Assistance, part of which will certainly be spent on HIV/AIDS prevention, care and research.

EU Member States and the European Commission were founding members of the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2001 and the European Union is currently the Fund’s largest donor. The EU has so far provided more than US$2 billion to the Fund. At the Global Fund Replenishment Conference held in London on 6 September 2005 and chaired by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, EU Member States and the European Commission pledged an additional US$2.3 billion for 2006 and 2007, which will see Europe provide 60% of contributions to the Fund for that period.

 
 

(1) Conclusions of 24 May 2005 (doc. 9266/05, p. 4), reaffirmed by the European Council in June 2005 (doc. 10255/05, p. 7-8).
(2) Official Development Assistance

 

Question no 25 by Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (H-0839/05)
 Subject: Measures to stop the fall in the number of visitors to museums in the EU
 

According to the latest data, the number of visitors to archaeological sites and, in particular, museums, last year fell significantly. There were in total 500 million fewer visitors to the 30 000 public and private museums in Europe compared with previous years. Furthermore, Eurobarometer data on the cultural activities of Europeans show museum visits to be among the lowest ranked categories, with respondents' answers being close to 'almost never'.

The UK Presidency has included among its priorities in the cultural sector the promotion of initiatives to make it easier for museums to organise exhibitions through exchanges of cultural artefacts. Does the Council intend to present specific proposals along these lines to the Council meeting on 14-15 November? Will it ask the Commission to carry out a study into the number of visitors to European museums, using qualitative and quantitative indicators, in order to tackle those factors which dissuade Europeans from visiting them (role of travel agencies, impact of terrorist threats, thoroughness of security checks, lack of modernisation of museum premises with interesting presentations, etc.)? Will it take practical measures to promote wide-ranging consultation with the Member States and competent bodies, and draw up guidelines for the 25 Member States to attract the public to European museums?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council notes with interest the question posed by the Honourable Member, and would like to refer initially to the report Lending to Europe - Recommendations on Collection Mobility for European Museums, which was drawn up by an independent group of experts as part of the Work Plan for Culture, as set out in the November 2004 Education, Youth and Culture Council Conclusions.

This report refers to studies which show that active exhibition programmes and temporary exhibitions tend to increase visitor numbers. In view of this, and given that only 300 of the 30,000 museums in Europe hold major temporary exhibitions on a regular basis, it is clear that the mobility of works of art, art collections and exhibitions has become an important issue for the European Union.

At the 14 to15 November 2005 Council Meeting on Education, Youth and Culture, the Council will be called upon to achieve a partial political agreement - leaving budgetary aspects to be decided later - on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Culture 2007 Programme(1). One of the three objectives of this draft legislative instrument is "to encourage the transnational circulation of works and cultural and artistic products".

A Mobility of Collections Conference will also be held in Manchester on 28 November 2005 where museum experts and cultural administrators from across Europe will come together to draw up comprehensive plans to build contacts and trust, share best practice and work towards developing suitable common standards for loan agreements and insurance or state indemnity schemes. This should go a long way to combating the worrying trend that the Honourable Member has identified.

 
 

(1) 13206/05

 

Question no 26 by Proinsias De Rossa (H-0842/05)
 Subject: Respect for human rights and democracy
 

The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) is the only educational institution active at European level which is explicitly mandated to reinforcing and disseminating the core Community values of respect for human rights and democracy. The European Parliament's Committee on Culture, Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Civil Liberties have called for continued EU funding for the EIUC by incorporating references in the EP Report on Lifelong Learning to its reintegration in the Lifelong Learning Action Programme.

Will the Council ensure that, irrespective of whether the EIUC's budget is allocated under Education or RELEX, it will continue to be fully funded, and will the Council support its reintegration in Article 42 of the Integrated Action programme in the field of lifelong learning to that end?

Will the Council further undertake that it will ensure that the EU's continuing commitment to the important principles of human rights and democracy are not undermined by the dispute between Commissioners Figel and Ferrero-Waldner about the source of the EIUC budget?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council has taken note of the concern expressed by the Honourable Member regarding continued funding for the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EUIC). This issue is part of ongoing discussions in the Council on the overall EU budget.

 

Question no 27 by Adamos Adamou (H-0845/05)
 Subject: Erosion of women's rights following the American occupation of Iraq
 

The USA called the American invasion and occupation of Iraq the liberation of Iraq and its people. Despite that, and as expected, human rights in Iraq have been curtailed.

The new Constitution, which incorporates a religious declaration, imposed severe restrictions on women's rights and, instead of upholding the rights of women, puts them in a position of semi-slavery. At the same time, while a war rages in the name of extending their rights, women who once led fairly independent and productive lives have been silenced and their freedoms restricted instead of extended. This situation is also confirmed by the Human Rights Watch report of July 2003.

How does the Presidency of the Council intend to contribute towards improving women's rights in Iraq, bearing in mind that they continue to be violated by the regime imposed by the American occupying forces?

 
  
 

(EN)It is not true to say that human rights in Iraq have been curtailed since the fall of Saddam Hussein. People now have freedom of speech and action and the draft constitution offers significant protection of women’s rights. It contains specific provisions that guarantee equal opportunities for all Iraqis, men and women, including mandatory 25% participation by women in the new Parliament.

In its bilateral relations with third states as well as in multilateral and regional fora, the EU regularly raises the ratification and application of the UN human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Iraq has been a party since 1986.

The Presidency will, of course, ensure that the important issue of protection of women's rights is raised during the EU political dialogue with Iraq at all levels as part of discussions on protection of human rights in general.

 

Question no 28 by Philip Bradbourn (H-0847/05)
 Subject: Aviation fuel
 

Given the current instability in oil prices, will the Council state its position on the introduction of an EU kerosene tax in the aviation sector?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council has not received any proposal from the Commission on this subject and cannot take a position on it.

 

Question no 29 by Jonathan Evans (H-0850/05)
 Subject: Stability and Growth Pact
 

Given the acknowledged need for fiscal discipline implicit in the Stability and Growth Pact, to what extent does the Presidency agree that countries in breach of the budget deficit limit of three per cent of GDP should be subject to sanctions? How appropriate does the Presidency consider the sanctions currently in place to be?

 
  
 

(EN)Article 104 of the EC Treaty and Regulations governing the Excessive Deficit Procedure provide a clear legal framework. This culminates in the possible application by the Council of sanctions set out in Article 104, paragraph 11. Member States outside the Euro area do not face sanctions or fines.

While the Commission has the right to initiate any recommendations for sanctions to be applied, the Council has the final say on excessive deficit procedures. This balance between the discretion of the Council and a clear procedural framework has not been questioned by any Member State in the negotiations leading to the recent revision of the Stability and Growth Pact.

Both the existing range of sanctions and the 3% budget reference value were confirmed in the recent review of the Stability and Growth Pact and the ECOFIN Council unanimously adopted their report in March of this year.

The Presidency therefore considers that the framework currently in place is appropriate and that the Council should continue to exercise its judgment within that framework.

 

Question no 30 by Philip Bushill-Matthews (H-0851/05)
 Subject: Simplification of legislation
 

Given that Member States were asked to submit their proposals to the Commission for simplification and reduction of EU legislation by mid-October, will the Council ensure that these submissions are freely available on the web, in the interests of transparency?

 
  
 

(EN)As the Honourable Member rightly notes, Commissioner Verheugen wrote to Competitiveness Council Ministers in April seeking contributions from national governments to the next phase of the Commission’s simplification programme. [The Honourable Member will be aware that the Commission announced its plans for taking forward this work earlier this week (25 October)].

Governments submitted their contribution directly to the Commission. It is for the Commission and individual Member States to decide whether to release this information.

The simplification project is important strand of the wider campaign to improve the Europe’s regulatory environment. Better Regulation is a Presidency priority. We look forward to continuing to work with EU partners - this Parliament, the Commission and other Member States - to secure real progress on this agenda, during our Presidency and beyond.

 

Question no 31 by Den Dover (H-0852/05)
 Subject: Reduced rates of VAT
 

Why has the Presidency not made any progress towards a unanimous agreement in Council to renew or make permanent Directive 1999/85/EC(1) which allows Member States to apply reduced VAT rates for renovation and maintenance work on residential property? How well would such a VAT incentive scheme, encompassing both renovation and maintenance work on residential dwellings and energy-efficient building work, complement the Lisbon Strategy and jobs and the EU's aim to cut carbon emissions while maximising energy efficiency? To what extent does the Presidency agree that such a provision should cover the alteration of buildings to meet the special requirements of vulnerable people such as the old and the disabled? What interim measures will the Presidency propose, both now and to the next Presidency, so as to ensure that homeowners and construction companies are protected from additional VAT in the event that the Council fails to reach agreement before the Directive expires on 31 December 2005?

 
  
 

(EN)Since July 2003 the issue of VAT reduced rates has been discussed several times by the Council and its preparatory bodies, but no consensus could be reached, despite the efforts of the last four Presidencies.

The Presidency is fully aware that the expiry on 31 December (2005) of reduced rates applicable to labour-intensive services, including the renovation and repair of private dwellings, makes it all the more important for Council to reach agreement on this dossier.

The Presidency would like to assure the Honourable Member that it is committed to making its best efforts to facilitating a unanimous agreement on the VAT reduced-rate package and is taking all the necessary steps to do so. The dossier has been considered by Coreper and will be discussed by Finance Ministers at the ECOFIN Council on 8 November.

 
 

(1) OJ L 277, 28.10.1999, p. 34.

 

Question no 32 by Timothy Kirkhope (H-0853/05)
 Subject: European Social Model
 

The forthcoming meeting of EU Heads of State or Government will consider the future of the European Social Model. Given the high rates of unemployment and tax and the low rates of growth in Europe, what lessons does the Presidency think that Member States can learn from the failure of the European Social Model as they try to promote the Lisbon Agenda?

 
  
 

(EN)As the Honourable Member will recall, one of the three key challenges highlighted by Tony Blair, in his keynote speech to this Parliament in June [and again earlier today], was how to respond to the challenge of globalisation, particularly the need to modernise the European Social Model.

As the European Council stressed at its meeting in March 2005, five years after the launch of the Lisbon Strategy, the results are mixed. Alongside undeniable progress, there are serious shortcomings and delay in Europe’s delivery on its ambitious reform commitments. We only have to look at the figures on potential growth and productivity to recognise the scale of the challenge. EU Heads agreed the need for action in March and committed to reinvigorating the Lisbon Strategy, with a particular focus on “jobs and growth”. The submission of National Reform Programmes by each Member State is an important demonstration of this renewed commitment.

It’s vital to focus on delivering the results that matter to our citizens. With around 19 million people unemployed across Europe, and almost half of them long-term unemployed, its clear that much progress needs to be made. For that, we need concerted effort - between Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament. We need to clearly identify where EU level action is needed and where national and indeed regional governments are best placed to deliver the necessary changes. As the Commission’s paper for the Informal Heads of Government Meeting tomorrow makes clear, “with growth, and more Europeans in more productive jobs, we can achieve the outcomes which meet Europeans’ expectations and values.”….“modernisation is essential to continue to keep Europe’s historically high levels of prosperity, social cohesion, environmental protection and quality of life.”

 

Question no 33 by Robert Atkins (H-0855/05)
 Subject: Treatment of journalists
 

Why has the Presidency provided such poor facilities and extended such poor treatment to journalists during Ministerial meetings in the United Kingdom since 1 July 2005? To what extent is the Presidency embarrassed by this state of affairs? To what extent has it has had a negative effect on the image and public perception of Britain and Britain's Presidency of the EU? How accurately does this treatment reflect media reports which claim that it is symbolic of the British Government's coolness towards the EU? What steps has the Presidency taken to ensure that journalists are treated with more courtesy and provided with better facilities at meetings during the remainder of the British Presidency?

 
  
 

(EN)The informal meetings which take place in the country of the Presidency are exclusively and directly managed by the Presidency's administration.

 

Question no 34 by Neil Parish (H-0856/05)
 Subject: Effective policy for agriculture
 

In the light of the hostile reception given to the President-in-Office of the Agriculture Council when he appeared before the European Parliament, does the British Presidency really believe that it can take effective action in the agricultural sphere, especially when we see attempts being made on a number of key issues - reform the EU sugar regime, the new rural development guidelines and avian influenza - to delay the procedures so that the final decisions on these legislative proposals will be taken under the Austrian Presidency?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council wishes to assure the Honourable Member of its firm intention to make progress on the full range of agricultural dossiers currently under examination with co-operation of the European Parliament.

As regards sugar, the Presidency intends to keep up the pace of preparation so as to ensure that the EU will be in a position to present a clear position on sugar at the Doha Round, and will be able to adopt the legislative package, as soon as the European Parliament has given its opinion. Early decisions on the Commission’s reform proposals are vital given the expiry of the existing regime on 1 July 2006.

Regarding the Community's strategic guidelines for rural development, the technical examination of the proposal by the different Council bodies of the Council is well advanced. So the Presidency foresees a discussion on this item by the Council in November. It hopes that the Council Decision will be adopted later, following receipt of the European Parliament's opinion.

With regard to avian influenza, work within the competent Council bodies is also well advanced. The Presidency intends to complete work on this dossier by the December Agriculture Council. The Council has of course activated the urgency procedure and requested the European Parliament to give its Opinion at its mini session in November, so that the Council can still adopt the Directive on avian influenza in December 2005.

 

Question no 35 by Syed Kamall (H-0859/05)
 Subject: Corporate tax
 

The European Commission has taken steps towards the development of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), despite the opposition of a number of Member States, including the United Kingdom. The Commission has said that there are no plans to harmonise tax rates and that it will create a system that is more transparent and which offers easier comparisons. What are the Presidency's main objections to the Commission's proposals?

 
  
 

(EN)There are, at present, no legislative proposals from the Commission before the Council for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, as referred to by the Honourable Member.

 

Question no 36 by Malcolm Harbour (H-0860/05)
 Subject: De-regulation
 

Given the UK Presidency's stated aim of reducing bureaucracy, what specific percentage targets for the reduction of the 80 000-page acquis communautaire has the Council set for the Commission and over what period? How far has the Council progressed in setting targets for a reduction in the cost burden of European regulation, and when will those targets be published?

 
  
 

(EN)The Honourable Member will be aware that Better regulation – including simplification of existing legislation, strengthened use of impact assessments in and efforts to reduce the administrative burdens on business – is a high priority for the Council and for this Presidency. The Competitiveness Council will hold a policy debate on the Better Regulation agenda at its meeting on 28/29 November and will address the Commission's [recent] Communication on simplification and the result of the Commission's screening package. Pending that debate, the Council is not in a position to set precise targets for simplifying the regulatory framework. It is clear, however, that the Council is fully committed to playing its part. We look forward to continuing to work with this Parliament and the Commission to deliver better quality legislation, that is easier to apply, less burdensome on economic operators and thereby more effective.

 

Question no 37 by Ryszard Czarnecki (H-0863/05)
 Subject: EU involvement in the elections to the Palestinian Authority
 

The European Commission is supporting the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council scheduled for January 2006. Hamas, a terror organisation which, time and again, has called for the destruction of the State of Israel and an ascendant power among the Palestinian public, was placed on the EU list of terrorist organisations in June 2004. The EU has clearly stated in the past that armed actions cannot be part of an electoral process.

What actual measures will the EU and the EUEOM implement to prevent the possibility of Hamas gaining official political power, and in what ways will the EU and the EUEOM coordinate its efforts with the Israeli authorities?

 
  
 

(EN)The way in which the EU would support the forthcoming elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, to which the Honourable Member of the European Parliament refers in his question, remains at present under consideration by the Council and the Commission.

The EU unreservedly stands by the view of the Quartet that ultimately those who want to be a part of the political process should not engage in armed activities.

 

Question no 38 by Pedro Guerreiro (H-0865/05)
 Subject: Fishing activity and rising fuel prices
 

Following the positions stated by fishermen and their representative body with regard to the impact of rising fuel prices on the fishing industry, the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers of 19 and 20 September quite incomprehensibly yet again merely 'took note' of the situation, without deciding to take any measures in response to the problem.


As the fishermen have highlighted, the rise in fuel prices is causing major difficulties for the industry, endangering the viability of many vessels if measures are not taken immediately, e.g. to provide financial support which will minimise the added costs represented by higher fuel prices.


It should be stressed that rising fuel prices are worsening the already difficult situation faced by many small scale traditional fishermen, who have no support helping to reduce the impact of successive fuel price increases.

Independently of other, long-term action, what immediate support measures for the fishing industry and specifically for small scale traditional fisheries does the Council intend to take?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council is aware of the importance of this issue to the fishing industry. However, the Council cannot take any decisions on the rising fuel prices for fishermen without a Commission proposal to address the problem. Nonetheless, Ministers at the Agricultural and Fisheries Council in September had a useful exchange of views on this subject.

 

Question no 39 by Athanasios Pafilis (H-0869/05)
 Subject: Arrest of Sean Garland
 

On 8 October British special forces arrested Sean Garland, president of the Irish Workers' Party, in a restaurant in central Belfast. Following the politically-motivated prosecution of the president of the Irish Workers' Party, a man known for his anti-imperialist stance, on bogus and trumped up charges and his arrest during the Party's annual conference, he is now threatened with extradition to the US on false charges about a communist conspiracy to undermine the US dollar spread by the secret services.

What measures does the Council intend to take to ensure respect for fundamental rights and human freedoms, put an end to the persecution of and political intrigues against Sean Garland and to block his unwarranted extradition to the US?

 
  
 

(EN)This is not an issue for the Council, but one for the UK and US Governments.

 

Question no 40 by Johan Van Hecke (H-0872/05)
 Subject: Ship carrying food aid hijacked in Somalia
 

Another ship carrying food aid has been hijacked in Somalia. This is the second time in a few months that a ship carrying emergency aid has been hijacked. The relief aid is the property of the UN food agency, which has said it is a scandal that a small group of profiteers have been stealing aid intended for their needy fellow citizens of Somalia.

As you know, Somalia is completely in the hands of armed gangs and it is the poor sections of the population that are suffering. What is the Council's reaction to this incident? Has it already had consultations with the United Nations with a view to preventing this happening in the future? What measures have been taken? Will the aid programme for Somalia be modified in the light of this situation?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council holds the view that episodes such as the recent hijackings of ships carrying food aid to Somalia can be prevented only by lasting peace in Somalia and the re-establishment of a functioning State. This can be achieved solely through a peaceful and inclusive process, led by the Somalis themselves.

The EU therefore continues to give its full support to the Somali peace and reconciliation process and the Transitional Federal Institutions and to actively work for dialogue and consensus-building among all parties in Somalia.

 

Question no 41 by Kader Arif (H-0876/05)
 Subject: Barcelona Process, cooperation between regions
 

Next month the European Union’s Heads of State and Government will meet ten of their Mediterranean counterparts on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Barcelona Process to celebrate the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. In September 2004 the Commission presented a regulation aimed at establishing a European neighbourhood and partnership instrument.

How does the Council intend to relaunch the Barcelona Process without loss of its visibility and content in the wider context of the neighbourhood policy? In the neighbourhood instrument particular attention is given to cooperation between regions. Like many regions of Europe, I am convinced of the need for a policy based on the model of the regional cohesion policy, which will complement measures taken within the new neighbourhood policy. The instrument also provides for the ERDF to co-finance the cross-border cooperation chapter.

What role does the Council intend to give to the regions in relaunching the Process? And what technical and financial support could the European Union give to joint measures by regions on the two shores of the Mediterranean?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council hopes that, by holding, for the first time ever, of a Euro-Mediterranean Summit of Heads of State and Government on 27-28 November, it will indeed increase the visibility of the Barcelona Process. The event will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration and give a strong signal in support of the Barcelona Process. The intention is to adopt a Declaration of commitments and a five year work programme with concrete medium term commitments on essential economic, educational, governance, counter-terrorism and migration reforms. This will contribute to making the Process more visible and meaningful and also more relevant to the citizens of the region. The upcoming Summit will also be an opportunity to underline the need to strengthen dialogue at all levels, including between regional and local administrations.

The Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference held in Luxembourg on 30-31 May 2005 recognised the need to bring the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership closer to citizens’ concerns and acknowledged the importance of cities and regions in the area: local and regional authorities need to be more closely involved in, take stock of their common challenges and exchange experiences and best practices.

The European Neighbourhood Policy should enhance the Barcelona Process by building on its achievements and by encompassing measures to develop its regional and national dimensions. With regard to the EU technical and financial support to the Euro-Mediterranean region, the Commission has submitted a proposal for a ENPI (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument) draft Regulation. This proposal is currently under discussion within the Council.

 

Question no 42 by Georgios Toussas (H-0877/05)
 Subject: Surveillance cameras
 

The Greek Ministry of Public Order has appealed to the Council of State to annul the decision by the Personal Data Authority allowing the conditional operation of hundreds of cameras recording images and sound only for traffic and to extend the use of the cameras, with all their capabilities, making the data collected, even that of a strictly personal nature, available to the prosecution and judicial authorities for the prevention and detection of serious criminal acts during meetings, mass gatherings etc. It is well known, however, as a special inquiry carried out on the instructions of the UK Home Office has shown, that measures of this kind do not help to reduce crime, whereas they drastically restrict, to the point of completely abolishing, basic rights, such as the right to personal and social life.

Does the Council consider that oppressive policing and making suspects of everyone are effective means of improving the life of a nation, and that the surveillance and recording of gatherings of people constitutes a flagrant violation of fundamental democratic rights?

 
  
 

(EN)As set out in Article 33 of the Treaty of the European Union, measures to maintain law and order and the safeguarding of internal security are a matter for the Member States. In adopting any policing measures, all Member States are bound by common standards on human rights as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

As the Home Secretary said in his speech to the European Parliament on 7 September, we all need to be sure that we are striking the right balance between our collective security and our fundamental rights.

 

Question no 43 by Laima Liucija Andrikienė (H-0879/05)
 Subject: Security in the Baltic Sea region: Demilitarisation of the Kaliningrad Oblast
 

On 15 September 2005, a Russian fighter aircraft flying to Kaliningrad equipped with missiles crashed in Lithuania. This time, there were no victims or major damage. This is, however, a deeply alarming incident, which forms part of a wider pattern of issues involving violations of the airspace of EU Member States by Russia, despite the explicit written undertakings given by Russia and the EU and international principles which call for respect for the territorial integrity of all parties.

What is the Council's opinion about the demilitarisation of Kaliningrad Oblast? Does it not think that the heavily armed and fortified region of the Kaliningrad Oblast should be demilitarised so as to increase security in the Baltic region and avoid such accidents in the future?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council confirms that it is indeed fully aware of the incident referred to. The Council has not taken a position on the fighter jet crash or the demilitarisation of Kaliningrad.

 

Question no 44 by Reino Paasilinna (H-0881/05)
 Subject: i2010 Strategy
 

The Commission's i2010 Strategy has a central role to play in attaining the Lisbon Objectives of employment and growth. The prime aim of the Strategy is to ensure that an operating environment is created in Europe which enables the markets for information and communication technologies to flourish at the same time as guaranteeing that the interests of society and of citizens are satisfied. These objectives can be achieved only if adequate resources are allocated to them.

How will the Council encourage the Member States to undertake concrete measures to attain the Lisbon Objectives and particularly to meet the targets for investment in research and product development set in the i2010 Strategy for Europe's biggest growth area, information and communication technologies?

What political support will the Council give to the i2010 initiative? How will the Council take account of Parliament's view of the matter? How will the Council advocate the attainment of the i2010 objectives? Can the Council confirm that these views will be taken into account when adopting decisions on financial frameworks?

 
  
 

(EN)The March Spring Council confirmed knowledge and innovation as the engines of sustainable growth and important elements of a reinvigorated Lisbon “jobs and growth” strategy. ICT take-up is cited among the Lisbon integrated guidelines and should feature in many Member States’ Lisbon National Reform Programmes.

i2010 is an important strand of the EU's ICT work. As Presidency, we hosted a conference in September for governments and business representatives from across the EU, as well a number of other countries, including South Korea, Japan and Switzerland, to explore and actively contribute to defining the i2010 ICT strategy. We would like to see a forward-looking i2010 initiative that commits the EU to developing a competitive, inclusive and innovative information society that helps deliver our Lisbon goals. We welcome this Parliament’s contribution to this important project.

The Council is currently examining the Commission's i2010 proposal. Of course, any funding for i2010 will have to be consistent with the budget agreed for the next financial perspective (2007-2013).

 

Question no 45 by Diamanto Manolakou (H-0882/05)
 Subject: Thousands of children serving life sentences in the USA
 

According to a report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, thousands of children under the age of 18 are serving life sentences in prisons in the USA because 42 states allow such sentences to be imposed on minors. Of the 2225 young 'lifers' currently held in American prisons, 16% committed their offence between the ages of 13 and 15, while 59% have been sentenced to life without the right of reprieve, despite it being their first criminal act. The same report notes that ten times more young blacks are given this kind of sentence than whites.

Is the Council aware of this shocking legal and actual situation in the USA, which is a violation of the very notion of the rule of law? Has it taken account of the consequences of passing on information to the US authorities when the USA is applying laws which flagrantly violate fundamental rights and institute blatant discrimination? Will it take initiatives at international level to condemn such actions and to protect children's rights and human dignity?

 
  
 

(EN)The Council is of course aware of these reports. The EU holds bi-annual human rights consultations with the United States. During those meetings, as well during meetings in the context of the United Nations and other relevant organisations, the EU regularly raises the ratification and application of international human rights standards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Forms of Racial Discrimination The EU successfully submitted an amicus curiae letter to the US Supreme Court on the abolition of capital punishment for minors, following which on 1 March this year, the Court held that the execution of juvenile offenders is “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.

 

Question no 46 by Hans-Peter Martin (H-0883/05)
 Subject: Retirement of officials
 

What is the Council’s evaluation of developments regarding retirement for European Commission officials, with particular reference to early retirement? Does the Council see any cause for concern?

Is it correct that, under Annex XIII, Article 23 of the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Communities, officials may already retire at the age of 50, and, seen from a present-day standpoint, would the Council approve such a decision again?

 
  
 

(EN)The retirement measures to which the Honourable Member refers were introduced in the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Communities, which entered into force on 1 May 2004.

They form part of an in-depth reform of retirement arrangements for officials which, in particular, raised the minimum pensionable age from 60 to 63 and the minimum age for early retirement from 50 to 55. These decisions affect not only new officials but also, with transitional measures, those in service before the reform's entry into force.

The only officials who would benefit from transitional measures permitting them to retire at 50 would be those who were at least 45 years of age as of 1 May 2004. Moreover, the transitional measures also include financial disincentives for those choosing to retire before the age of 65.

The reform of the Staff Regulations was the most significant part of the EU's work to modernise the institutions under the last Commission. The compromise package agreed included many important elements, including the modernisation of the pay and allowances system as well as the overhaul of the pensions system.

 

QUESTIONS TO THE COMMISSION
Question no 53 by Markus Pieper (H-0783/05)
 Subject: Climate change
 

For natural reasons (the earth’s orbit, volcanoes) and because of exogenous factors (meteorites), the earth is subject to climate change. Man-made factors from the past 2 000 years are not yet exactly quantifiable. Current studies estimate that in the next 100 years all the counter-measures put together will result in a temperature reduction of 0.1° C.

Are EU coercive energy-saving measures (with the economic sacrifices and bureaucracy they entail) proportionate to the temperature reductions that can actually be achieved?

What environmental and infrastructure plans is the Commission making to prepare the human race for the shift in climate zones which is certainly going to take place?

 
  
 

(EN)Climate Change is happening. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that it is caused by emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. This has been accepted and re-iterated by the European Union’s Heads of State and government, most recently at this year’s Spring Council meeting. The European Council acknowledged that climate change is likely to have major negative global environmental, economic and social implications. It confirmed that, with a view to achieving the ultimate objective of the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change, the global annual mean surface temperature increase should not exceed 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.

A first step to achieve this target is through the Kyoto Protocol. The EU is committed to meeting its Kyoto target through a series of cost-effective mitigation policies, such as the EU emissions trading scheme. The Commission has also recently put forward a Green Paper on Energy Efficiency which sets out a series of cost-effective options to significantly reduce the EU’s energy consumption. These policies will also have other important benefits, such as strengthening the security of the EU’s energy supply. Under the new phase of the European Climate Change Programme, the Commission will review progress and explore new actions to systematically exploit cost-effective emission reduction options.

The EU will maintain its leadership on climate change policy. However, in discussions on the future international climate change regime, the EU will call for broad international participation on the basis of common but differentiated responsibility, in order to ensure the efficiency of the regime.

The EU will also need to adapt to unavoidable climate change. Member States are already taking various initiatives. The Commission will explore the EU’s role in adaptation policies in view of the need to integrate adaptation fully into EU policy making under the new phase of the European Climate Change Programme, which started(1) with the ECCP stakeholder conference in Brussels.

 
 

(1) yesterday, on Monday 24 October

 

Question no 54 by John Purvis (H-0785/05)
 Subject: Animal tallow and the Waste Incineration Directive 2000/76/CE
 

Rendered animal tallow (animal fat) is included in the Waste Incineration Directive 2000/76/EC(1) (WID), and after December this year it will have to be incinerated under very strict conditions. Currently it is used as a fuel in steam boilers in rendering plants and in the production of biodiesel. However, the conditions of the WID directive appear to preclude its use for these purposes. Is this not inconsistent with the Commission's environmental policy of encouraging competitive and efficient alternative energy sources?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission can confirm that the Waste Incineration Directive(2) is not intended to discourage uses of waste as competitive and efficient alternative energy sources, and agrees that it is desirable that it does not have such an effect. Indeed, it favours all uses of waste that can contribute to sustainable development. In this respect, the aim of the Directive is to prevent or to limit as far as practicable negative effects on the environment, in particular pollution by emissions into air, soil, surface water and ground water, and the resulting risks to human health, when waste is incinerated or co-incinerated.

The Directive will only apply to the burning of tallow if it takes place in an incineration or co-incineration plant, and the tallow is considered “waste” as defined under the Waste Framework Directive(3). In practical cases, it is the competent authorities of the Member States that will assess on whether or not tallow is waste.

The Commission has recently received a number of representations suggesting that the costs of applying the Directive at rendering plants and slaughterhouses outweigh the benefits and will inhibit their use of tallow as a fuel. It is unfortunate that this issue has only been raised recently, and so close to the implementation deadline, even though the Directive was adopted by the Council and the Parliament five years ago, but nevertheless we must still deal with it. The Commission recognises that there is a problem in this respect, and that this issue needs to be further investigated. In this context, the Commission’s services have been instructed to undertake further analysis.

The Thematic Strategy on prevention and recycling of waste will contain measures to improve the implementation of the waste definition. This will address the issue of by-products and the specification of when particular wastes cease to be waste.

 
 

(1) OJ L 332, 28.12.2000, p. 91.
(2) Directive 2000/76/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 December 2000 on the incineration of waste, OJ L 332, 28.12.2000, p. 91
(3) Directive 75/442/EEC on waste, OJ L 194, 25.7.1975, p. 39, as amended

 

Question no 55 by Georgios Papastamkos (H-0796/05)
 Subject: Community environment legislation
 

Proper and better implementation of environmental legislation at both international and European level is a priority if environmental challenges are to be met effectively. Given the volume and the fragmentation of the European environmental acquis and the need for the clearest and fullest knowledge and implementation as possible thereof by the Member States' competent authorities and European citizens, the need for codification of the European environment legislation in force is more pressing and imperative than ever.

In the light of the above, will the Commission say whether it intends to consolidate, codify and redraft existing environmental protection legislation and, if so, when? Does the Commission intend to improve the quality of the relevant legislation and simplify it, avoiding any unnecessary technicality which renders it difficult to read, to use and, therefore, only partly effective?

 
  
 

(EN)Over the last 4 years, the EU has launched a broad strategy to improve the regulatory environment and thus provide a more effective, efficient and transparent regulatory system for the benefit of citizens and reinforce competitiveness, growth and sustainable development, contributing to the Lisbon’s objectives.

The Commission proposed in June 2002 a comprehensive Action Plan for ‘simplifying and improving the regulatory environment’(1) and in February 2003 presented an ambitious simplification programme designed to simplify and up-date the existing EU legislation, and reduce its volume(2).

In March 2005, the Commission adopted a communication on “Better Regulation for Growth and Jobs(3) as a contribution to re-launch the Lisbon strategy, announcing its intention to launch a new phase of its simplification programme by October 2005 building on sectoral approach and with extensive stakeholder involvement.

The Commission attaches great importance to proper and better implementation of environmental legislation. It has engaged in a continuous codification and consolidation programme, which includes, inter alia, Community environmental legislation. As of October 2005, codification is ongoing in respect of acts in fields such as water protection and nature conservation.

But, far beyond codification and what could be seen a looking backward approach, the Commission has, as already said, committed itself to improve the lawmaking process by assessing the impacts of new proposals, holding public consultations and ensuring that policy options are suitable for effective implementation on the ground; the Commission intends to develop further this new approach. This commitment finds its demonstration in particular in the preparation of seven thematic strategies for the environment, which will greatly contribute to modernising environmental policy and legislation. The first thematic strategy was adopted by the Commission on 21 September 2005 and concerns air quality. It will lead, inter alia, to five pieces of existing legislation being merged into one comprehensive ambient air quality Directive. The forthcoming thematic strategy on waste prevention and recycling will also entail, as a follow-up measure, the recast and repeal of four waste Directives. A similar exercise should also be undertaken in the coming years in the field of emissions from industrial installations. These initiatives should be part, among others, of the simplification rolling programme the Commission will adopt in principle on 25 October 2005.

 
 

(1) COM(2002) 278, June 2002. The key measures are: (1) minimum standards of consultation; (2) guidelines on the collection and use of expertise; (3) impact assessment; (4) up-dating and simplifying existing legislation; (5) reinforcing control of transposition of Community law; (6) more attention to the choice of instruments and more use of alternatives to legislation; (7) use of a review clause in legislative acts; (8) closer monitoring of the decision-making process of EU legislation, notably through wider use of the possibility to withdraw proposals when they are obsolete or when amendments introduced by the Parliament and/or the Council denature the proposals.
(2) Communication on ‘Updating and simplifying the Community acquis’, COM(2003) 71, February 2003.
(3) Cf. COM (2005) 97.

 

Question no 56 by Åsa Westlund (H-0822/05)
 Subject: More active Commission role in environment policy
 

People living around the Baltic Sea can no longer fish in the same manner as in the past. Last summer, it was not even possible to swim in the Baltic owing to the proliferation of algae. Depletion of fish stocks and water pollution are just two of the many threats to the environment faced by the EU. Eurobarometer surveys show that the population of the EU has great expectations that the EU will pursue an ambitious environmental policy. It is, therefore, of serious concern that the Commission's work on new environment legislation has been reined in.

Why has the Commission not managed to adhere to the timetable, inter alia, for the thematic strategies which were promised? When does the Commission intend to present the thematic strategies, including the strategy for sustainable development, as promised?

 
  
 

(EN)Our environment is endangered by very important threats and pressures. The Commission remains firmly committed to tackling and pursuing all three dimensions of Sustainable Development, including its environment component, in an integrated and balanced manner and in full compliance with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles. This is reflected in this year’s work programme.

The review of the Sustainable Development Strategy is ongoing and the Thematic Strategies called for in the 6th Environment Action Programme were all foreseen for adoption in the 2005 Commission Legislative and Work Programme. There has been no decision to remove them from the Work Programme or to deliberately delay their adoption.

Rather, given that the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy and the Thematic Strategies are important initiatives that include actions to be taken in many sectors (e.g. agriculture, industry) and concern directly EU citizens, the Commission wants to give them very careful consideration. For instance, the Commission held an orientation debate on the Thematic Strategies in July which showed general support for maintaining ambitious but realistic objectives for the environment. The review of the Sustainable Development Strategy has involved a step-wise approach with extensive stakeholder consultations in 2004 and 2005, a first Commission Communication in February 2005 about the main orientations of the review and adoption of a declaration on guiding principles by the European Council in June.

We are now in a final phase. The Commission adopted the first Thematic Strategy on Air pollution, on 21 September. The Marine Strategy is scheduled for adoption this month and will contribute to addressing some of the issues the Honourable Member is specifically concerned about.

Four Strategies will be adopted in November and December 2005. The remaining Pesticides Strategy will come in 2006 given that two substantial measures to be referred to in the Strategy the revision of Directive 91/414/EEC on placing pesticides on the market and the Eurostat proposal on pesticide statistics will not be ready in 2005. It makes sense to wait until these proposals are ready and present one single package of measures.

The revised Sustainable Development Strategy is scheduled for adoption by the Commission in December. The Commission looks forward to broad-based support from the Council and the Parliament, and endorsement by the Heads of States and Government at the June European Council.

 

Question no 57 by Jamila Madeira (H-0837/05)
 Subject: Thematic Strategies for the environment
 

Can the Commission explain on what grounds it has decided to postpone the presentation, and therefore the implementation, of the Thematic Strategies for the environment under the Sixth Environment Action Programme? In view of the failure to meet the deadlines laid down in the Commission's 2005 legislative programme (environment section) for the presentation of these strategies, can the Commission state when it will submit its proposals?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission’s legislative and work programme foresees the adoption of all Thematic Strategies in 2005. There has been no decision to delay their adoption.

Rather, given that the Thematic Strategies are important initiatives that include actions to be taken in other sectors (e.g. agriculture, industry) the Commission held an orientation debate on them in July. This showed general support for maintaining ambitious objectives for the environment. The Commission therefore confirmed that it was necessary to bring forward the Thematic Strategies in 2005.

Current planning foresees the adoption of six of the seven Strategies in 2005. The Commission adopted the first, on Air pollution, on 21 September. The Marine Strategy is scheduled for adoption this month. The 5 remaining ones will be adopted in the last months of the year. The Pesticides Strategy will come in 2006 given that two substantial measures to be referred to in the Strategy the revision of Directive 91/414/EEC on placing pesticides on the market and the Eurostat proposal on pesticide statistics will not be ready this year.

 

Question no 58 by Marie Anne Isler Béguin (H-0840/05)
 Subject: Public access to toxicity and environmental studies on GMOs
 

At the meeting of the Council's committee of experts on 19 September 2005, France placed on the agenda (document: ENV/05/11) a debate on the issue of how to interpret Article 25 of Directive 2001/18/EC concerning the confidentiality of data relating to a GMO dossier. Furthermore, on 8 April 2005, the French committee on access to administrative documents delivered an opinion stating that only information relating to the process for producing a GMO or the marketing thereof, the divulging of which might harm the competitive position of the company applying for authorisation, may be regarded as protected by the obligation laid down in Article 25. The decision by the Münster Court of Justice of 20 June 2005 to force Monsanto to publish its 'confidential' toxicological study on genetically modified maize MON 863 was along similar lines. We consider that toxicological and environmental studies drawn up within the context of the risk assessment for a GMO must be made available to the public, pursuant to Article 25(4) and Annex II (C.2) to Directive 2001/18/EC(1).

Does the Commission agree? If not, on what legal and political grounds? If so, does it agree that toxicological and environmental studies relating to all GMOs approved by the Union or in the process of being examined with a view to approval in the Union should immediately be made available to the European Parliament and European citizens?

 
  
 

(EN)Directive 2001/18/EC, on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment, stipulates that it is the competent authority of the Member State, not the Commission, which decides, after consultation with the notifier of the GM product, which information in the notification should be kept confidential. The Directive also specifies certain information which can in no case be kept confidential. Apart from this, the Member State competent authority is required to respect national legislation in this domain as well as to protect the competitive position of the notifier in its decisions on confidentiality.

There are currently differing opinions among Member States on whether the disclosure of documents such as toxicological studies could be harmful to the competitive position of a notifier and should therefore be treated as confidential. This is why France raised this question at the meeting on 19 September. It is important that Member States and the Commission exchange information on this issue so as to ensure consistency in decision-making. As a general principle, the Commission considers that it is preferable to be as transparent as possible and to limit confidentiality to aspects of the notification which represent a real risk to the competitive position of the notifier. It also considers that documents required for the analysis of a risk assessment should be made available to the public.

The Commission has asked the Member States to submit, in writing, the principles applied in practice in the Member States regarding confidentiality under Directive 2001/18/EC. There will then be a fuller discussion at the next meeting of the competent authorities, provisionally scheduled for 8 November 2005.

 
 

(1) OJ L 106, 17.4.2001, p. 1

 

Question no 59 by Athanasios Pafilis (H-0870/05)
 Subject: Pollution of the River Pinios
 

The River Pinios is of vital importance for preserving and developing the ecosystem of Thessaly. According to recent measurements, it is one of the most polluted rivers in Europe, with all the adverse implications that has for the ecosystem. This state of affairs is attributable to the discharging of waste from industries, slaughterhouses, dye-works etc., the dumping of refuse from various municipalities and residues of pesticides and fertilizers.

Will the Commission support measures which prevent the further pollution of the river and help restore the ecosystem?

 
  
 

(EN)The Honourable Member’s question about the pollution of the River Pinios raises the issue of implementation of EU environmental legislation. There are already a number of instruments in Community environmental legislation which Member States can use to reduce the pollution of rivers and to improve the quality of associated ecosystems. For example, the Water Framework Directive requires Member States to achieve good quality of all waters by 2015. This demands that Member States take a step-by-step approach, which consists, firstly, in the analysis of pressures and impacts, secondly, in the identification and elaboration of the necessary measures to reach the good quality of all waters, and, finally, in the implementation of these measures. Equally, the implementation of a number of other Directives is expected to be relevant in this context. This is for example the case of the Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, of the Nitrates Directive and of the Habitats Directive.

Appropriate EU legislative instruments, therefore, already exist in this area. The problems mentioned by the Honourable Member in his questions are due to a lack of correct implementation of the existing legislation.

In this context, the Commission is particularly worried that Greece is one of only two EU countries which have not yet delivered the crucial first step of the Water Framework Directive, the environmental assessment of pressures and impacts under this Directive.

Consequently, the Commission has commenced a legal procedure against Greece for not complying with the relevant provisions of the Directive. A few days ago, on 18 October 2005, the Commission has sent final warnings to Greece – as well as to Italy and Spain – for not complying with basic provisions under the EU Water Framework Directive. The timely designation of their river basin districts, which should have been done already in June 2004, is one of the important building blocs needed to achieve good quality of all water resources.

These legal steps are complementary to already ongoing scrutiny of the implementation of the Directive on Nitrates Pollution from Agricultural Sources and the Habitats Directive. In relation to this latter, the Commission refers for more detail to its response to written question E-1700/05 by Mr Dimitrios Papadimoulis.

At the same time, the Commission would like to recall the comprehensive funding instruments that are available for water protection and to assist in implementation of the Community acquis when the funding conditions are met. This is particularly the case for the Cohesion Fund Regulation and the Rural Development Regulation under the new Common Agricultural Policy.

 

Question no 64 by Anna Hedh (H-0824/05)
 Subject: Participation of European women in peace-building
 

At the recently concluded UN Summit held in New York, a decision was taken by a number of women foreign ministers to set up a peace-building commission to assist countries in managing the transition from conflict to sustainable peace. Experience shows that the involvement of women in peace-building is tremendously important. What steps will the Commission take to promote the participation of European women and representatives of women's organisations in this process?

 
  
 

(EN)The establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission is one of the centrepieces of the decisions taken by the more than 170 Heads of State and Government who gathered in New York for the United Nations (UN) Summit this September.

This should become operational already by the end of this year. This is good – the Peacebuilding Commission fills a current gap in the UN system. It should allow the international community to respond to the needs of countries emerging from a conflict in a more effective and coordinated way, and ensure a better transition from immediate post-conflict assistance to the development of strategies for a peaceful and sustainable development in the longer term.

As Europeans we can bring leadership and expertise to the Peacebuilding Commission, based on our longstanding experience of peacebuilding all over the world.

In relation to the Distinguished Member’s question, the Commission would in this context like to underline that it fully agrees on the importance of the involvement of both women and men in peacebuilding. We need to ensure the involvement not only of European women and organisations in the process, but also, and this is particularly important, the women of the country struggling to rebuild after a conflict.

Gender equality is a fundamental principle of the EU’s foreign and security policy and external relations. The EU is in this context fully committed to implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of October 2000 concerning women, peace and security. This was underlined by the Council earlier this year (GAERC February). It can be noted that several Council bodies are in fact right now working on specific recommendations on how to implement this Resolution in concrete terms within the European Security and Defence Policy.

 

Question no 65 by Gay Mitchell (H-0830/05)
 Subject: Parliament's role in foreign policy
 

What role does the Commission see for Parliament in the area of foreign policy?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission attaches great importance to Parliament’s contribution to shaping the Union’s foreign policy. Together with other RELEX Commissioners, the Commissioner in charge of External Relations made this clear during the confirmation hearings of this Commission and the Commission values the constructive two-way exchanges with Parliament on this important policy area.

The Parliament’s formal role in the Common Foreign and Security Policy/European Security and Defence Policy is defined by the limits of the Treaties. But in practical terms the Parliament has made full use of its consultative and supervisory opportunities.

The Commission sees foreign policy in a broader sense covering the full range of external actions of the European Union including development policy and trade policy. Other first pillar policies, such as the environment, energy, research and transport, also all have an important external dimension, and the Parliament exercises important powers as co-legislator and as one arm of the budgetary authority. Besides this, the Commission is attentive to the need for Parliament’s assent to the accession of new Member States and the conclusion of certain international agreements. Indeed, in the revised Framework Agreement between our two institutions, the Commission has renewed and even heightened its commitment to keeping the Parliament informed about the negotiations for and conclusion of international agreements.

The Commission sees the Parliament as a valuable player in projecting European values around the world. This it does by means of its work in the Election Observation Missions, where this Commission has been happy to continue the tradition of appointing Members of Parliament as Chief Observers; by means of the continuing dialogue with parliaments around the world carried on in the inter-parliamentary delegations, and participation of Members of the Parliament as observers at international conferences such as the recent United Nations summit in New York where, as stated on an earlier occasion, the Commission very much appreciated the contribution of the Parliament delegation.

In conclusion, the Commission sees a very important role for the Parliament in foreign policy and external relations and it continues to consider a good working relationship with the Parliament and its committees as vital for the conduct of a strong and efficient European foreign policy.

 

Question no 66 by Ilda Figueiredo (H-0833/05)
 Subject: Situation of the five Cuban prisoners in the US
 

Following the decision of 27 May 2005 of the UN working group concerning the five Cuban citizens imprisoned in the US, which stated that 'the trial did not take place in a climate of objectivity and impartiality', on 9 August 2005 the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting in Atlanta, decided unanimously to overturn the Miami judgment and annul the convictions of the five, ordering a retrial.

However, the five Cubans (Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Sabañino and René González) are still imprisoned, and visiting rights are still being denied by the US Administration to the wives of René and Gerardo, who are thus unable to see their husbands.

Does the Commission not consider that, in the light of the circumstances, the US Administration should immediately release these five Cubans, who have spent almost seven years in jail and whose convictions have now been annulled by the Atlanta court?

Does the Commission not consider it unacceptable that the wives of René González and Gerardo Hernández are being prevented from visiting their husbands?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission is aware of the case from press reporting.

However, it sees no legal or other basis on which it could offer an opinion either on the legal proceedings to which the five individuals are subject, or on conditions relating to prison visits in this case.

 

Question no 67 by Alojz Peterle (H-0844/05)
 Subject: How the Commission ensures that EU public funds help in the protection and promotion of human rights throughout the world?
 

Although the European Union strictly respects human rights, foreign aid continues to be given to countries that repeatedly ignore international standards such as those laid down in the Geneva Convention. Although foreign aid is sometimes directed towards specific projects such as housing for refugees and the provision of food to the needy, and given that the poorest countries in the world often suffer from high levels of corruption, how does the Commission ensure that public funds help in the protection and promotion of human rights throughout the world?

 
  
 

(EN)Respect for Human rights is an essential element in all the association and partnership agreements between the EU and third countries. Human Rights are equally a very important topic in the global and joint action plans we have set up with our partner countries in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy which has introduced an element of conditionality. With some countries, as for example with Tunisia, we have set up through the Neighbourhood Action Plan a human rights subcommittee where the implementation of commitments will be assessed and monitored.

Generally speaking, mechanisms of consultation and of political dialogue are set out in all these agreements with third countries. Serious violations of human rights and democratic principles have led in some cases to suspension or restriction of cooperation between the EU and the country concerned, for instance for Zimbabwe and Burma, where EC cooperation with the government has been suspended and only social programmes directly benefiting the populations continue to be funded.

Corruption is also part of the policy dialogue with third countries. For instance, in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the EU and ACP(1) countries, specific provisions under articles 9 and 97 are made for consultations between partners for serious corruption cases which can lead to appropriate measures, suspension of cooperation being the last resort. The fight against corruption is an issue considered in the preparation and the implementation of all EC development cooperation programmes. A standard clause for the fight against fraud and corruption is included in all the models of the financing agreements concluded by the Commission with beneficiary countries.

In accordance with the EC Development policy, good governance (and hence the protection of Human Rights) is considered as a cross cutting theme and is therefore systematically taken into account while designing and implementing the Commission's cooperation programmes.

Support to Human Rights and Democratisation is a priority area of EU cooperation with third countries. For the period 2000 to 2005, more than € 1 billion has been allocated by the Commission for programmes in developing countries and countries in transition providing technical and financial assistance in the following fields: Democratisation, Human Rights, Rule of Law, Elections, Support to Parliaments, Support to the Judiciary and good Governance.

 
 

(1) African, Caribbean and Pacific countries

 

Question no 68 by Kader Arif (H-0846/05)
 Subject: Neighbourhood instrument, Barcelona process
 

In relation to the Barcelona process, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next month, I should like to ask about the new European neighbourhood and partnership instrument. This is one of the six future instruments of EU external relations which will be implemented as from 2007. While it was undoubtedly necessary to rationalise the existing instruments, I nonetheless wonder whether instrument proposed by the Commission, which covers a heterogeneous group of countries and members of different partnerships, can really be effective. How does the Commission plan to meet the specific needs of Mediterranean partner countries which face real economic problems and demographic challenges? How will it manage to maintain adequate funding for combating poverty through this instrument, given that some of the countries covered by the neighbourhood instrument are also developing countries which will therefore no longer be eligible for funding from the new European development cooperation and economic cooperation instrument. More specifically, will this instrument refer to the aid required by these countries to achieve the Millennium Goals? In practical terms, how does the Commission plan to incorporate the Millennium Goals into the instrument?

 
  
 

(EN)Through the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) the EU aims at promoting an area of stability, prosperity and friendly neighbourhood involving both our Eastern and Southern Neighbours.

The ENP works on the basis of bilateral Action Plans that identify priorities for action. Action Plans are jointly agreed with each partner, and keyed to its particular needs and capacities.

The European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), which should be operational from 2007 and replace both Co-operation Instrument financing assistance to Southern Mediterranean Countries (MEDA) and Technical Assistance to the Community of Independent States (Tacis), is a policy driven instrument, specifically conceived to support the ENP and the implementation of the ENP Action Plans.

Experience shows that linking more closely assistance and policy increases ownership and impact.

Many neighbouring countries are developing countries (not only across the Mediterranean). Thus ENPI has sustainable development and poverty reduction among its explicit objectives.

“Poverty reduction” and other Millennium Development Goals (MDG) objectives are Action Plan priorities. They will be part of our policy dialogue and supported with community assistance.

The specific needs and circumstances of each country, already reflected in ENP Action Plans where these have been adopted, will also be fully taken into account in our country programming.

Under ENPI the Commission has proposed a substantial increase in the assistance budget for neighbouring countries, and we count on the support of the Parliament in achieving this.

 

Question no 69 by Justas Vincas Paleckis (H-0861/05)
 Subject: Strengthening of cooperation between the European Union and the Kaliningrad Region
 

The EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee met in the Kaliningrad Region two weeks ago, providing Members of the European Parliament with the opportunity to find out more about the Kaliningrad Region and its problems. It would appear that more opportunities are being created for cooperation between the EU and this region of the Russian Federation: the Russian Duma is soon to adopt a law concerning a special economic area in the Kaliningrad Region, further opening the door to EU investors; the influential Russian politician G. Boos has been appointed governor of the region and Russia has begun to talk more willingly of a ‘pilot project’ of cooperation between the EU and the Russian Federation in the Kaliningrad Region.

How does the Commission intend to take advantage of these new circumstances so that EU cooperation with the Kaliningrad Region can become an example for the whole of Russia and that people living in the Kaliningrad Region can travel more easily to neighbouring countries and to other EU Member States? After Lithuania and Poland have acceded to the Schengen Agreement, will citizens of those countries wishing to enter the Kaliningrad Region, and inhabitants of the Kaliningrad Region wishing to enter Lithuania and Poland, continue to be able to obtain visas free of charge?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission continues to be interested to cooperate with Russia to further promote development of Kaliningrad for the benefit of the whole Baltic region. Significant efforts have been made, including with regard to assistance. The Commission is happy to note that recent economic and trade indicators show that Kaliningrad is developing fast. Kaliningrad is making good use of the economic opportunities created by the EU enlargement.

Kaliningrad is a unique region, which deserves and gets exceptional attention from the EU. It is easy to agree that Kaliningrad should become an example of successful EU-Russia cooperation. But, it is difficult to see how it could become a ‘pilot project’ of EU-Russia cooperation. Development of regional legislation must be in line with the legislation of the Russian Federation. Tax benefits granted to Kaliningrad can hardly be made a general practice in Russia. And extension of similar amounts of EU-assistance to other regions of Russia would be financially impossible.

With regard to movement of people, the recently initialled Agreement on visa facilitation will ensure easier travel and contacts of people between the EU and Russia through a number of simplified procedures for issuing short-term visas. After the entry into force of the Agreement, its provisions are applicable to Kaliningrad residents, Lithuania and Poland, including after the accession of Lithuania and Poland into the Schengen agreement.

 

Question no 70 by Raül Romeva i Rueda (H-0867/05)
 Subject: Human rights in Western Sahara
 

The last few days have seen a series of important events concerning the situation in Western Sahara which, from an EU perspective, should be seen as fresh windows of opportunity to unblock once and for all the disputes between the Moroccan authorities and the Polisario Front with regard to the region. Given the release of the Moroccan prisoners who had been held in the Saharawis camps in Algeria on the one hand, and on the other, the delicate situation of Saharawis prisoners in the Moroccan prisons of El Aaiun:

Does the Commission intend to urge the Moroccan authorities to release the Saharawis political prisoners being held in El Aaiun? Does the Commission intend to adopt any measures to bring pressure to bear, should Morocco refuse to release these prisoners?

 
  
 

(FR)The Commission has kept a very close eye on the events of recent months in Western Sahara. The Commission also took an active role in Council discussions leading to a number of high-level measures involving all parties. For this kind of political issue, the Commission does not have any other legal framework than EU procedures and, in this context, will continue to lend its support to a solution that upholds human rights.

Whilst the Commission hopes that all of the efforts undertaken by the various parties can quickly bear fruit with regard to the question before us, it is nonetheless maintaining an open mind on whether this question should be placed on the agenda at the forthcoming Association Council, in view of future discussions in the Council’s Maghreb-Mashrek working group.

 

Question no 71 by Inese Vaidere (H-0875/05)
 Subject: EU external borders
 

As the Commission knows, Russia is refusing to sign border agreements regarding the EU`s external border in two EU Member States: Latvia and Estonia.

It is clear that the signing of the border treaties between these countries and Russia is an imperative for the EU since they are the EU's most easterly external borders. In order to avoid a situation where different EU regions enjoy varying security levels, particularly cross-border security, this issue requires the specific attention of the EU, and it should be included in the EU-Russia dialogue, especially when EU-Russia negotiations on visa facilitation and re-admission are going on.

I and my colleagues in Parliament were surprised and disappointed to hear from Council and Commission officials (e.g. Mrs Ferrero-Waldner and Mr Solana) that the issue of the Latvian-Russian and Estonian-Russian border agreements are bilateral issues.

Does the Commission consider that this issue is bilateral and must be dealt with by the national governments of Latvia and Estonia? What are the Commission's plans and suggestions regarding the future action required for the conclusion of the Latvian-Russian and Estonian-Russian border agreements?

 
  
 

(EN)There is a clear EU interest in promoting the early signature and ratification of the Latvian-Russian and Estonian-Russian border agreements since they concern the external borders of the EU. For this reason signature and ratification of these agreements are a priority of the road map of the EU/Russia Common Space on Freedom, Security and Justice, agreed at the EU/Russia summit on 10 May 2005. The issue was most recently raised by Vice-President of the Commission in charge of Justice, Liberty and Security and by the Presidency at the meeting of the EU/Russia Permanent Partnership Council on Justice and Home Affairs on 13 October. They clearly spelled out the EU's position that legal certainty of the borders is a precondition for a stable EU-Russia relationship and for improved cooperation at the common border. The Commissioner in charge of External Relations personally raised the matter at a meeting with the Russian Ambassador on 14 October and urged the need for a flexible and pragmatic solution. The Commission will take all opportunities to encourage the early resolution of this issue.

 

Question no 72 by Laima Liucija Andrikienė (H-0880/05)
 Subject: Situation on human rights, fundamental freedoms and freedom of the press in Kazakhstan in 2005
 

On 4 December 2005, presidential elections are to be held in Kazakhstan. The President, N. Nazarbayev, has confirmed Kazakhstan's determination to seek the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. The forthcoming elections should be a litmus test for this country's determination to seek and long-term goal of securing the chairmanship of the OSCE.

Is the European Commission following the developments in Kazakhstan in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as freedom of the media? Is the Commission monitoring recent developments in Kazakhstan during the election campaign? What is the Commission's opinion about the law on political parties in Kazakhstan? Is it in conformity with international democratic standards?

 
  
 

(EN)Issues of human rights and democratisation are regularly raised under our political dialogue on the occasion of the annual meetings of the EU-Kazakhstan Co-operation Council in the framework of the Partnership and

Co-operation Agreement and, in the Sub-committee on Justice and Home Affairs.

Kazakhstan’s progress in democratisation and protection of human rights is significantly slower than its progress in establishing a market economy.

Particularly worrisome issues are the excessive accumulation of powers in the person of the President and the institutional system of the country, the strong dependence of the judiciary on the executive, excessive control over the civil society by the security services and systemic corruption.

However, some positive aspects should be also mentioned, notably the introduction of an open-ended moratorium on the death penalty and the establishment of an Ombudsman. The Commission, amongst other things, is urging the complete abolition of the death penalty and the strengthening of the Ombudsman.

The Commission is monitoring with concern recent developments during the election campaign through the Commission Delegation in Almaty and is aware of a number of developments currently taking place in Kazakhstan.

The media situation is worsening with the closure of several newspapers following doubtful Court decisions, forcible removal from circulation of regularly registered newspapers, and pressure on private dealers and media distributors.

Political freedom is deteriorating with repeated detentions of representatives of the democratic opposition, dispersals of peaceful demonstrations, a case of arson attack against a local office of Mr Tuyakbai, the opposition candidate for President, and use of official resources to obstruct opposition parties in disseminating their campaign materials and ideas.

A number of control visits to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and opposition movements’ premises by law-enforcement bodies have been reported. Wide-ranging pressures on State employees and students to induce them to vote for the President in office have been independently confirmed.

The Commission has on several occasions underlined that only free and fair elections in line with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments would give a real chance to Kazakhstan for its bid to chair the OSCE in 2009. It is only this basis that the EU should consider its support for the Kazakhstan’s bid for the OSCE Chairmanship in 2009.

The Commission would like to draw the attention of the Parliament, and specifically of the Honourable Members who will monitor the elections, to the key issue concerning Kazakhstan Presidential elections. An electronic voting system is expected to be introduced in up to 20% of polling stations around the country which could involve up to 35% of voters. The system lacks manual audit capabilities, does not provide a paper trail, and provides widespread opportunities for abuse. Moreover, the prevalent opinion is that the system violates the secrecy of the vote. There is a need to tackle the question of acceptable international election control/verification standards and to satisfactory agreed norms in this respect.

The Commission is very well aware of the Law on Political Parties adopted in Kazakhstan in July 2002. This law, amongst other things, raised the threshold for minimum party membership from 3.000 to 50.000. It should be noted that the population in Kazakhstan is about 15 million people. This law still represents a threat to political pluralism and is still a hindrance to the full development of political parties.

The Commission supported the OSCE/ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights), that gave its expert opinion of the new Law On Political Parties concluding that the new registration procedures impose a “substantial restriction on the freedom of association and on the rights of citizens to establish political parties” and consequently “restrict the participation of citizens in political and democratic processes”.

However it should also be noted that it is exactly this Law that obliged the opposition to gather its forces. The unified opposition block “For a Just Kazakhstan” put forward a single presidential candidate as a result of this Law.

 

Question no 79 by Bart Staes (H-0765/05)
 Subject: Status for Kosovo
 

Contacts with policy-makers and political leaders in Kosovo and studying analyses by eminent observers of the Kosovan situation have made clear to me the urgent need for a final status for Kosovo. In order to rectify the appalling social and economic situation, with unemployment standing at 70%, only a status can provide the vital leverage required for economic recovery. The recently established Kosovan institutions have no real decision-making power over budgetary matters or taxation, which is at the heart of the democratic process. Institutions must be bound to a status. The best standard for a state is a status. Standards and status must go hand in hand. Failure would jeopardise the stability of the region of south-eastern Europe. The recent elections in Kosovo demonstrated overwhelming support for independence.

For all these reasons, what initiatives will the Commission take to grant Kosovo conditional independence, as called for by the European Parliament?

 
  
 

(EN)The ultimate responsibility in decision-making to facilitate the political process designed to determine Kosovo’s future status is in the hands of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, in accordance with the orientations of UN Security Council resolution 1244.

Six years after the adoption of this resolution, the Commission is very pleased of the recent recommendation (7 October) by the UN Secretary-General that talks on Kosovo's future go ahead. It is now confident that the Security Council will endorse this decision so that the process can be launched before the end of this year.

The Commission has made the United Nations aware that there is a common objective in all the Western Balkans, including Kosovo, to become members of the European Union family. It expects that the future status of Kosovo will contribute to the long-term sustainable stability of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and of the whole region in its approximation towards the EU.

The Commission has also made clear to all the countries of this region, including Serbia and Montenegro (via an explicit reference in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) Feasibility Report) that it expects they will work closely and constructively together to fulfil their European perspective.

Until the resolution of its final status is reached, the Commission is making all efforts to keep Kosovo firmly anchored in the Stabilisation and Association process (SAP).

It is making sure that our political and financial instruments(1) are consistent and mutually reinforcing with the implementation of the Kosovo Standards with a long term EU approximation optic, to counterbalance the perception that once the status talks start, standards will no longer be necessary.

The Commission is also ready to play its part in the contribution of the European Union to the efforts of the international community in supporting the UN Special Envoy for the status talks and in implementing any post-UNSC Resolution 1244. It supports the idea of a streamlined international presence, handing over as much responsibility as possible to local authorities which should be our direct interlocutors in the future.

 
 

(1) (e.g. Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Process Tracking Mechanism (STM), European Partnership, financial CARDS assistance, Autonomous Trade Measures and other instruments of the Thessaloniki agenda for the Western Balkans such as TAEIX, opening of Community Programmes,etc)

 

Question no 80 by Catherine Stihler (H-0772/05)
 Subject: Chinese collagen traffic
 

On Tuesday September 13, 2005 the Guardian newspaper reported that a Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe. Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK (and most likely to other EU states), and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is 'traditional' and nothing to 'make such a big fuss about'. Doctors and politicians say the discovery highlights the dangers faced by the increasing numbers seeking to improve their looks. Apart from the ethical concerns, there is also the potential risk of infection. In the light of these shocking revelations what plans does the Commission have to bring forward European regulations to control cosmetic treatments such as collagen and to put a stop to this outrageous trade?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission is appalled by the information put forward by the Honourable Member, concerning the fact that skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts may be used to develop beauty products for sale in Europe.

First of all human collagen for lip and wrinkle treatment is not considered as a cosmetic product under Community legislation. The Commission would like to note also that in any case, because of the risk of transmission of communicable diseases, the EU law prohibits the use of human cells, tissues and products of human origin in cosmetic products.

Therefore, those products fall under the scope of the Tissues and Cells Directive.

This directive was adopted by the European Union in March last year and establishes the quality and safety requirements for human tissues and cells. This Directive does not allow practices such as those described in the media in relation to obtaining collagen for beauty products.

The Directive (2004/23/EC) ensures that the increasing number of patients in Europe, who are treated with human tissues and cells, can trust that these substances are safe and also of good quality.

The Tissues and Cells Directive includes provisions on standards, among other things, for the donation of human tissues and cells. It also deals with the requirements for the authorisation of their procurement and the authorisation of the tissue establishments that undertake activities covered by the Directive.

The Directive also incorporates a provision to regulate import of tissues and cells from third countries. The Directive states clearly that Member States shall take all necessary measures to ensure that all imports of tissues and cells from third countries are undertaken by tissue establishments authorised for that purpose. Member States and tissue establishments, which receive such imports, shall ensure that they meet standards of quality and safety equivalent to the ones laid down in the Directive.

The Directive also states as a matter of principle that tissue and cell application programmes should be founded on the philosophy of voluntary and unpaid donation, altruism of the donor and solidarity between donor and recipient. Article 13 states that “The procurement of human tissues or cells shall be authorised only after all mandatory consent or authorisation requirements in force in the Member State concerned have been met”.

The Directive has to be transposed into national law by no later than 7th April 2006.

Once in force, the Directive will explicitly respond to the concerns expressed in the Parliamentary question.

However, Member States cannot escape their responsibility that the key elements, in particular those of the ethical nature, of the Directive are enforced already today.

The Commission would like to assure the Honourable Member that it will examine further the information provided.

 

Question no 81 by David Martin (H-0778/05)
 Subject: World Trade Organisation: animal welfare as a criterion for sensitive products
 

The EU’s Comprehensive Negotiating Proposal to the WTO stresses the importance of ensuring that trade liberalisation does not undermine EU efforts to improve the welfare of animals. Will the Commission therefore make animal welfare one of the criteria for identifying Europe’s sensitive products that need to be protected in the context of such liberalisation?

The recent Eurobarometer survey on farm animal welfare reports that across the EU more people are concerned about the welfare of chickens than of any other species, and the EU’s Directive on Laying Hens (1999/74/ΕC)(1) makes major progress in addressing that. This progress is threatened by imports of dried and liquid egg products from hens kept in worse conditions abroad. Will the Commission list egg products as sensitive products in the WTO negotiations for the Agreement on Agriculture?

 
  
 

(EN)In his question the Honourable Member request that animal welfare should be a relevant criterion for the selection of sensitive products in the framework of the ongoing Doha trade negotiations on agriculture.

Sensitive products are a concept introduced by the Framework Agreement agreed on 1 August 2004 which provides for a different treatment for sensitive products than for non-sensitive products but contains no specific reference to animal welfare. Whether treatment as sensitive is better for the specific products the Honourable Member refers to depends on the modalities which remain to be agreed upon in Geneva.

Nevertheless, as far as the progress in the Doha negotiations is concerned, the Commission can assure the Honourable Member that it is fully committed to a balanced deal across all the three agricultural negotiating pillars, taking into consideration non-trade concerns in December this year at the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting. As the Honourable Member knows, here is still considerable work to be done to finally come to a full modalities agreement in Hong Kong, including the number and the nature of sensitive products, a issue which is of high importance for the EU.

 
 

(1) OJ L 203, 3.8.1999, p. 53.

 

Question no 82 by Carl Schlyter (H-0779/05)
 Subject: Competition policy
 

Goods are often traded today with a percentage mark-up, which puts goods within the same product group with a high cost price at a competitive disadvantage, making it difficult to compete with high-quality goods. A mark-up in 'kronor, euro etc.' would improve the situation and make for a more level playing field. For example:

Last week, the cost price of conventionally grown tomatoes was SEK 8; the cost price of organic tomatoes was SEK 14. A percentage mark-up of 100% produces a trading price of SEK 16 and SEK 28. The difference in price between the tomatoes increases from SEK 6 to SEK 12 per kilo. The handling cost is approximately the same and, therefore, does not justify a bigger mark-up; only VAT should have such an effect.

Is it possible for organic growers to claim that this is restraint of competition and contrary to legislation since they are disadvantaged compared with conventional growers?

Is it possible for growers and traders in a particular country to conclude agreements on fixed instead of percentage mark-ups per product group without contravening any competition rules?

 
  
 

(EN)The Honourable Member is concerned about the allegedly fixed mark-ups that retail stores practice on agricultural products. He cites cases where the retail stores practice results in higher mark-ups (in absolute terms, e.g. in Euros) on organic products. He asks if such higher mark-ups are against competition rules and if the agricultural producers and retailers of a country could under competition rules enter agreements to fix mark-ups in Euros/crowns per product group.

Community competition rules do not prevent individual retail stores to set their mark-ups as they wish.

In the case at hand higher mark-ups for organic products may reflect the high demand for such products rather than an attempt to discriminate against them.

There are no Community provisions imposing same mark-ups for conventional and organic products, neither in per cent nor in certain amounts of money.

Article 81 (1) (a) of the Treaty prohibits fixing directly or indirectly purchase or selling prices or any other trading condition. Therefore any price fixing between private parties may constitute a violation of Community law, if such price fixing affects the trade between the Member States.

Without knowing the details of the case and the products involved it is impossible to say whether certain agreements between private parties on prices constitute price fixing prohibited by Article 81 (1) or a violation of the applicable Common Market Organisation.

 

Question no 83 by Jacky Henin (H-0781/05)
 Subject: Review of the Transport White Paper
 

Rising oil prices, the fight against atmospheric pollution, the fire in the Frejus tunnel, road safety, the cost of infrastructure deteriorating under the impact of road freight – everything today points to the absolute priority that must be given to developing rail transport in order to counteract the saturation of our roads.

The review of the 2001 Transport White Paper is getting off to an inauspicious start. Not only are the major rail infrastructure projects at a standstill from lack of funding, but also, on 12 July, the Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot attended a meeting of the road transport employers’ association which was clearly intended, in the run-up to the review of the White Paper, to promote the roads at the cost of the railways.

Mr Barrot is alleged to have said at the meeting, for example, that he would ‘pay more attention to the relevance of investment in the railways’, and that he would not be opposed to the new Member States’ investing in motorways, while indicating that road tolls for lorries weighing over 3.5 tonnes should be very reasonable.

So is the Commission really going to encourage a proactive policy of developing rail freight, based on cooperation among the great European public-service railway companies?

 
  
 

(FR)The Commission is currently working on a review of the White Paper scheduled for early 2006, which entails a wide-ranging consultation process with all of the sectors and the stakeholders concerned.

This consultation process does not in any way undermine the objectives of the White Paper and the Commission’s political commitment to helping develop rail transport. The adoption of the first and second rail packages are evidence of the progress that has been made. The Commission remains committed to the adoption of the third package. Without wishing to pre-empt the outcome of the mid-term review, we see the issue in terms of two key axes:

The first is the improvement of the infrastructure, especially that of rail transport. It should be remembered that, of the 30 Trans-European network priority projects, 22 are rail projects; in other words, 80% of investment. The Commission has demonstrated the proactive nature of its policy by proposing in the financial perspective 2007-2013 a Community budget that allows for sufficient leveraging. The decision rests with the Council and Parliament. The Vice-President of the Commission in charge of transport wasted no time in appointing coordinators, as long ago as July, to oversee five particularly complex projects and to promote interoperability through the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). In this context, the Vice-President attended the inauguration of the first cross-border ERTMS, Vienna/Budapest, following the communication of 4 July, which clarified the issues involved in interoperability for the development of rail transport;

The second axis centres on more efficient use of existing infrastructure. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that there is already effective competition in a number of countries. For example, in the United Kingdom and Germany, where the market has been open since 1995, rail freight rose by 60% and 40% respectively between 1995 and 2004.

The new Member States have specific needs that the Commission must not overlook, and it is important to improve the rail infrastructure whilst keeping an eye on improving road transport, especially from a safety point of view. After all, the protection of the citizens and workers should not be limited to one single means of transport.

Irrespective of the review of the White Paper, boosting the development of rail freight in Europe will remain a priority for the Commission, which has scheduled for 2006 a communication on the development of corridors dedicated to rail freight.

 

Question no 84 by Panayiotis Demetriou (H-0782/05)
 Subject: Period of reflection in respect of the Constitution
 

At the European Council meeting of 16-17 June 2005, the leaders of the Member States of the European Union decided to initiate a period of reflection over the question of the ratification of the draft Treaty on the Constitution. The statement issued to that effect declared that in the wide-ranging and intensive debate to be conducted around this subject, all the European institutions would put forward their advice, with the Commission playing a particular role in this process.

Will the Commission inform Parliament of what action it has taken in these three months or plans to take during the period of reflection, which effectively ends in the first half of 2006 according to the above statement by the European Council?

 
  
 

(FR)The Commission has taken heed of the statement adopted on 18 June 2005 by the Heads of State or Government of EU Member States regarding the ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. As the President of the Commission said to Parliament on 27 September 2005, the Commission is in favour, as things stand, of a period of thorough-going reflection on the future of the European project and is ready to play the role expected of it during this period.

The Commission recently submitted its contribution to the period of reflection in the form of a communication to the Council, Parliament and the Union’s other institutions and bodies. The communication proposes a Plan D aimed at ‘dialogue, debate and democracy’ and contains a range of measures to assist the national debates which individual Member States are primarily charged with arranging. It goes on to set out a number of measures to be taken at Community level by the Commission, such as visits by groups of Commissioners to the Member States, holding democracy round tables and supporting European citizens’ panels. As far as possible, the Commission hopes that these initiatives are undertaken in conjunction with the other institutions, and, first and foremost, Parliament.

 

Question no 85 by Glyn Ford (H-0788/05)
 Subject: The European Football Club
 

Is the Commission aware of the allegation that the European Football Club is being used for money-laundering?

If the Commission is not aware of this issue, does it intend to contact UEFA about it?

If the Commission is aware of this allegation, what steps is it taking to investigate the allegation?

 
  
 

(FR)By virtue of the attraction it has for large sections of the population, the financial interests at stake in professional sport are becoming ever more significant, in particular in connection with the advertising surrounding sporting events and television broadcasting rights. This trend is particularly marked in the case of football, where more and more leading clubs are becoming fully-fledged companies quoted on the stock market. In addition, some matches are the subject of betting, which merely adds to the financial stakes involved. In the light of these developments, sport can in no way regard itself as immune from the threat posed by organised crime in the form of money laundering.

The effectiveness of any measures to combat money laundering, whether in the European Union or at international level, depends on the involvement of the bodies and individuals concerned (financial institutions and certain persons active in business and the professions), who, as a result of their particular exposure to this type of crime, have a duty to apply more stringent measures designed to prevent and detect money laundering.

The anti-money-laundering provisions developed by the Commission represent a response to the need to establish firm barriers against the infiltration of all sectors of the economy by organised crime. It is for the Member States, therefore, to implement the rules as laid down in the relevant Community texts. The first EU anti-money-laundering directive (1991), as modified by the second directive (2001), was adopted precisely with the aim of protecting the legal economy against criminal abuses. When the FATF agreed on a revision of its standards in June 2003, the existing directive needed to be updated in order to continue to reflect best international practices, as embodied in the revised Forty Recommendations, as well as the European Community's commitment to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. In accordance with the provisions of the third anti-money-laundering directive recently adopted by Parliament and the Council, financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions have a duty to show vigilance by reliably identifying their clients and the final beneficiaries of financial transactions. Moreover, the role of such institutions and designated professions consists of identifying at an early stage, in the sports sector, as in all other sectors, transactions which may be used for money-laundering purposes so that they can alert the competent national authorities responsible for the fight against money laundering.

The Commission would like to state that it has no information suggesting that certain European football clubs are being used for money-laundering purposes. It would like to point out once again that it has no investigatory powers in this area and that it is a matter for the European Union Member States to carry out appropriate checks, in particular when a sports club is purchased by individuals or with capital of unknown origin.

 

Question no 86 by Claude Moraes (H-0791/05)
 Subject: European City Guide scam
 

What action is the Commission taking and does it plan to take regarding misleading direct mail marketing to ensure that citizens are protected from companies pursuing such practices now and in the future?

For example, I have received correspondence from a number of my constituents, and complaints have been made from various EU countries about the dishonest business practices employed by the European City Guide (ECG).

The ECG is an online company which sends out misleading forms to businesses requesting information and inviting them to enter their directory. Whilst these forms give the impression that entry is free, once they are completed and signed, the businesses actually enter a contract which requires them to pay fees. The company then sends letters threatening legal action if payment is not made, and debt collection agencies are employed to intimidate businesses into paying. A campaign has been set up against the ECG and a petition has been tabled to the European Parliament.

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission is committed to ensuring a high level of consumer protection throughout the EU.

Regarding business-to-business misleading advertising, the Misleading Advertising Directive(1) bans misleading advertising, including advertising directed to business customers, such as the European City Guide scam. The enforcement of EU consumer legislation lying in the hands of national courts and authorities, there is limited room for action by the Commission.

As far as non-regulatory measures regarding unfair practices in business-to-business relationships are concerned, the Commission would like to point out that it also supports the development and application of Codes of Conduct. In addition, it will soon publish a “Legal study on unfair commercial practices within business-to-business e-markets”.

Notwithstanding, as regards the specific and recurrent case of the European City Guide, the Commission would like to inform the Honourable Member that, despite the absence of enforcement competence by the Commission, the Commissioner responsible for Health and Consumer Protection, wants to follow this subject closely. In this sense, he will personally write to his counterparts in the Member States concerned by the practices, such as the one by the European City Guide, drawing their attention to the weak enforcement of the respective Community legislation.

 
 

(1) Directive 84/450/EC of 10 September 1984 as amended by Directive 97/55/EC of 6 October 1997

 

Question no 87 by Richard Corbett (H-0793/05)
 Subject: Benefits of the single market
 

What are the latest figures available to the Commission on the total economic benefits to European citizens of the existence of the European single market?

 
  
 

(EN)A comprehensive study on the total economic impact of the Internal Market was carried out in 1996 and published in 1998. It concluded that in 1994, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was between 1.1% and 1.5% higher than it would have been if the Internal Market did not exist. For the same year, the employment gain was estimated to have accounted for over 300.000 jobs.

Since then, there have been partial assessments. Among the latest are:

The Communication on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Internal Market included a new round of macroeconomic estimates of the impact of the 1992 programme. According to these estimates, EU GDP in 2002 was 1.8 percentage points, or €164.5 billion, higher thanks to the Internal Market. In addition, about 2.5 million jobs had been created in the EU since 1992 as a result of the opening up of frontiers between Member States;(1)

A study by Commission services based on accounting data of EU firms, has found evidence of a significant impact of the Internal Market programme on productivity. Efficiency, as measured by the productivity of assets, increased by approximately 25% between 1993 and 2001;(2)

In the field of Public Procurement, a study for the Commission estimated the economic benefits from the application of EU Directives. Results show that the application of the transparency procedures required by the Directives could reduce prices of goods, services and works contracts by approximately 30%. The study also showed that the success rates of foreign firms operating in other Member States to win contracts are actually comparable to those of domestic firms bidding in their home countries.(3)

 
 

(1) See the publication “The Macroeconomic Effects of the Single Market Programme after 10 Years”, and the background document “The Macroeconomic Effects of the Single Market Programme after 10 Years”. Both documents are available for download at http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/10years/background_en.htm
(2) See “The Impact of the Implementation of the Single Market Programme on Productive Efficiency and on Mark-Ups in the European Union Manufacturing Industry”, ready for download at http://europa.eu.int/comm/economy_finance/publications/economic_papers/economicpapers192_en.htm
(3) See the press release and link to the background document available for download at http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/publicprocurement/studies_en.htm

 

Question no 88 by Philip Bushill-Matthews (H-0797/05)
 Subject: Atypical workers' Directive
 

Can the Commission please share its thoughts on the next steps regarding the Atypical Workers' Directive?

 
  
 

(FR)The proposal for a directive on working conditions for temporary workers, to which the Honourable Member is doubtless referring, is still under consideration by the Council. It has to adopt a position on the Commission's amended proposal, which incorporated a number of Parliament's amendments at the first reading of the initial proposal.

Naturally, as with any Commission initiative, this proposal should be assessed with reference to the context of legislative developments. That is why, in its Communication of 27 September 2005(1), the Commission stated that it reserved the right to re-examine the proposal on temporary workers in the light of future discussions on other proposals.

 
 

(1) COM (2005) 462 final

 

Question no 89 by Michl Ebner (H-0799/05)
 Subject: Protecting and promoting alpine mountain cattle breeds
 

Under Regulation (EC) No 639/2003(1) the age of cows and heifers for which export refunds can be claimed was reduced from 36 to 30 months. Previously, under Regulation (EC) No 615/1998(2), animals had been eligible for export refunds up to an age at export of 36 months.

This makes things more difficult for cattle breeders in mountain areas. Mountain breeders are tied to autumn calving in the alpine cycle. Owing to the harsh conditions, mountain cattle breeds grazing on alpine pastures also develop more slowly, and biological factors mean that they cannot be mated until they are 24 months old.

Can the Commission grant a derogation for alpine mountain cattle breeds as a matter of urgency, raising the export age for mountain cattle to the earlier limit of 36 months?

 
  
 

(EN)The decision to reduce from 36 to 30 months the age for eligibility for export refunds for female pure-bred animals was taken on the basis of statistics on our exports of pure-bred bovine animals which showed that mainly young pure-bred female animals were exported. Today the request is still predominant for the category of animals under 30 months.

From a technical point of view, the Commission believes that with an average mating age at 24 months, young heifers and even in some cases young cows of alpine mountain cattle breeds can still benefit from refunds when exported.

In addition from an administrative point of view, it appears difficult to set up a specific regime for alpine mountain cattle breed as requested given the fact that the export nomenclature used to define eligible categories of animals does not allow such specificity. Moreover, some of those breeds are also kept and raised by breeders outside mountain area, where the conditions of production are different.

Finally, public concern in relation to exports of live animals with refunds has been continuously rising. The Commission agrees that mainly exports of cattle for slaughter have been subject to heavy criticism in the past. But pure-bred animals, because of long distance transport, have also been criticised.

In view of all these elements, the Commission is not in a position to proceed to the requested adjustment.

 
 

(1) OJ L 93, 10.4.2003, p. 10.
(2) OJ L 82, 19.3.1998, p. 19.

 

Question no 90 by Jan Andersson (H-0800/05)
 Subject: Commission's new position on 'REACH'
 

Parliament is fully engaged in the process of discussing the Commission's proposal for a regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). The basis for Parliament's consideration of the subject is the proposal submitted by the Commission on 29 October 2003 (COM(2003)0644 final). While Parliament is in the midst of considering this proposal, the Commission now evidently has plans to submit a new proposal for a regulation. To do so without waiting for Parliament's position is exceptional. For what reason is the Commission not waiting for Parliament's first reading before taking action?

 
 

Question no 91 by Hélène Goudin (H-0805/05)
 Subject: Informal document on REACH
 

According to reports in the media, the Commission has drafted an amended proposal for the REACH chemicals legislation package. This informal document is dated 20 September 2005. The Commission's new proposals incorporate various points of view which were put forwarded within the Committees on Industry and the Internal Market, two of the committees which have considered REACH. The Commission's action has caused irritation in the environmental movement. There are complaints that, by adopting this approach, the Commission is trying to influence Parliament's further consideration of REACH.

Can the Commission clarify why it is submitting a new document on the REACH package in the middle of the on-going debate at the European Parliament? What is the aim of this document?

 
  
 

(EN)The Honourable Member may rest assured that the Commission has no plans to submit a new proposal for a Regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

The Commission would like to recall that in its Communication to the spring 2005 European Council it has stressed with regard to the proposed REACH regulation, the need to arrive at a decision which will be consistent with the Lisbon goals as regards the competitiveness of the European industries and encouraging innovation, and which will achieve a marked improvement in health and environment to the benefit of Europe’s citizens. The Commission further signalled its willingness to cooperate fully with Parliament and with Council in search for pragmatic solutions to key issues which have emerged in the examination of REACH in order to improve its workability. This approach has been broadly welcomed.

In the course of the examination of REACH in Council and in Parliament the responsible Commissioners have been frequently exhorted to indicate their positions on the main issues which have emerged, and which have been the subject of specific amendments by the responsible committees and/or by the Council Presidency.

In response to such requests, and in the perspective of encouraging early progress towards a political agreement in Council, and a first reading in Parliament, the Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry and the Commissioner for the Environment have considered it opportune to put the Commission negotiators in the position to participate in the debate.

The Commission will only present an amended proposal in the light of the first reading in the Parliament.

 

Question no 92 by Katerina Batzeli (H-0801/05)
 Subject: Securitisation of debt and the Greek public deficit
 

The Greek Government intends to proceed with the securitisation of debt to generate government revenue to cover part of the public deficit which has arisen since the inventory which it carried out in 2004.

The securitisation of debt is purely a temporary measure which does not essentially improve the actual financial situation; there are also significant divergences from the government's forecasts in the level of tax revenues, owing to underperformance of control mechanisms, and the rate of growth.

What stage has been reached in the Commission's deliberations with the Greek Government on the subject of whether or not to approve the securitisation of debt as a mechanism for covering the public deficit?

What terms, conditions and guarantees will the Commission and Eurostat lay down in the event of approving the request, given that similar requests by other Member States have been rejected and in other countries did not produce the results expected?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission is aware of the Greek authorities’ intention of securitising claims, notably in relation to tax arrears.

From the accounting viewpoint, Eurostat is currently in contact with the Greek statistical authorities on the treatment of that operation. While the Greek authorities have already provided some general description of their intention, Eurostat has not received yet full documentation.

According to the accounting rules, the impact of securitisations on the government deficit depends notably on the transfer of risks to the private sector. To be recorded as deficit reducing, the government must have shifted most risks and rewards to the private sector; otherwise, the securitisation is recorded as borrowing. The assessment of all relevant elements (possible substitution of assets, guarantees, existence of a deferred purchase price, management of the assets, etc.) for each specific transaction is only possible after a careful analysis of the contract.

More generally, Eurostat intends, as soon as possible, to clarify for all Member States the rules on securitisation operations in the ESA 95 Manual on government deficit and debt. This is due to the fact that problems of interpretation of existing rules have recently appeared, especially as regards the provision of guarantees and the transfer of risks and benefits by government.

 

Question no 93 by Ewa Klamt (H-0802/05)
 Subject: Lifting Chinese visa obligation
 

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány pressed for lifting the visa obligation for Chinese citizens in a lecture given at Qinghua University, Beijing, on 9 September, 2005.

As quoted by the Hungarian and international media, Gyurcsány stated that Hungary is among those EU countries that support the abolition of the visa requirement for Chinese visitors and added that there are only a few states left within the EU who wish to maintain it.

Has the Commission any plan to lift the Chinese visa obligation?

Could the Commission, please, comment on the statement of the Hungarian Prime Minister in light of the ongoing 'construction' of the common EU visa policy?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission would refer the Honourable Member to its answer to priority written question P-3399/05 by Ms Kinga Gál on the same subject.

 

Question no 94 by Vittorio Agnoletto (H-0803/05)
 Subject: The European Commission and the monitoring of non-profit organisations (NPOs)
 

On 22 July 2005 the Commission (Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security) drew up a 'Draft Recommendation to Member States regarding a code of conduct for non-profit organisations (NPOs)'. The document goes so far as to claim 'there is (....) evidence that non-profit organisations have been exploited for the financing of terrorism and for other kinds of criminal abuse'. Although it recognises their role as of fundamental importance in carrying out 'vital humanitarian and other much-needed public work', the draft lists a series of proposed 'oversight mechanisms' that would upset their activities and even make them meaningless. At no point does the document mention the reasons why NPOs are 'vulnerable to criminal abuse'. It is obviously desirable to ensure the transparency and validity of their operations, but to propose setting up a body to oversee them that would be answerable to governments would jeopardise any kind of autonomy and freedom of action for the NPOs.

Does not the Commission consider that it should withdraw the proposal, which would in practice subject NPOs to supervision that would deny their democratic legitimacy, and instead of this promote a structured form of dialogue with the NPOs on quite different bases, and not draw up rules unilaterally, but in agreement with the NPOs themselves?

 
  
 

(EN)The Honourable Member is surely aware of the Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) “Special Recommendations” on terrorist financing. The task of the FATF is to coordinate and spearhead the international campaign against criminal money laundering and terrorist financing. Special Recommendation VIII requests that countries should address the vulnerabilities of the non profit sector to terrorist financing.

Furthermore, the Conclusions of the European Council of 16-17 December 2004 invited the Commission to come up with proposals to prevent the misuse of non-profit organisations to terrorist financing by the end of 2005. Additionally, the Council Declaration on the EU response to the London bombings of 13th July 2005 calls on setting up “a Code of Conduct to prevent the misuse of charities by terrorists”.

In this context, the Commission is planning to issue this year a Communication on Terrorist Financing, which will contain a Recommendation to Member States to encourage compliance with the first principles of a Code of Conduct.

The draft Commission Communication has been significantly revised on the basis of comments received during the public consultation. Through the Communication the Commission will promote a structured form of dialogue with the non-profit sector. The Communication will represent a start of a new phase in the debate with the non-profit sector on the issue. The Commission foresees to organise a conference in 2006 with the participation of the non-profit sector and public bodies to find a common understanding of the problem of prevention and fight against misuse of non-profit organisations to terrorist financing and other criminal ends.

Finally, the Commission would like to emphasise that the aim of the Recommendation and Framework for a Code of Conduct is not in any way to undermine the vital humanitarian and other important activities carried out by non-profit organisations of the European Union. The purpose of the planned Commission proposal is to encourage non-profit organisations to take reasonable measures to protect themselves from vulnerabilities to terrorist financing and other forms of criminal abuse.

 

Question no 95 by Cristobal Montoro Romero (H-0806/05)
 Subject: Electricity interconnections
 

The Barcelona European Council of 15 and 16 March 2002 agreed a target level of electricity interconnections equivalent to at least 10% of the installed production capacity in each Member State, so as to improve the reliability and security of the networks and ensure security of supply and the functioning of the internal market. The interconnections form part of the trans-European energy networks and are a vital element giving electricity market operators access to other national markets.

Will the Commission give details of the current situation as regards electricity interconnections between France and the Iberian peninsula and say what effects the strengthening of these interconnections would have on Spain, Portugal and the Iberian electricity market?

 
  
 

(EN)The Parliament and Council Decision on the Transeuropean network in the field of Energy specifies the priority projects “EL.3 France-Spain Portugal”, which have in particular the objective to increase electricity interconnection capacities between these countries.

France and Spain have agreed to add some 1 200 MW of additional capacity by 2006 to the current 1400 MW with the objective of reaching 4 000 MW in the future. Towards that end, a number of feasibility studies are exploring various alternatives for transporting extra wattage across the Eastern, Central and Western Pyrenees. Under the Transeuropean Network budget line, studies of various interconnections between Spain and France were supported for a total of € 2.5 million.

The current 1400 MW interconnection capacity between Spain and France is only 2.3 % of the capacity installed in Spain. In consequence, the line in the Eastern Pyrenees is used at the limit of its capacity, which leads to frequent congestion, and most of the time even exceeds the available limit. Even the envisaged target of 4000 MW transmission capacity is still well below the 10% target.

The Spanish and Portuguese Governments signed an agreement in 2001 to develop a common Iberian power market. A new east-west interconnection between Sines (PT) and Balboa (ES) is under construction as well as an upgrade for the connection between Aldeadavilla (ES) and Recarei (PT). In addition, the north-south connection in Portugal will also be strengthened (Valdigem–Viseu–Anadia). The present transmission capacity between Portugal and Spain is above the 10% target, which makes it feasible that up to 10% of Portugal's power demand can be imported from and/or through Spain.

However, it should be noted that although already in 2003 9% of Portuguese demand were imported from Spain, the average congestion levels from Spain to Portugal in the first half of 2004 were 25%, and reached 66% in July 2004 and 47% in August 2004 (see COMP.M. 3440 EDP/ENI/GDP – recitals 80-83).

 

Question no 96 by José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil (H-0807/05)
 Subject: Notification requirements
 

There are concerns that the recently launched takeover bid by a Spanish energy consortium may distort competition in the Spanish and Portuguese energy sectors and may not be compatible with the Treaty objective of ensuring a fair competitive environment.

What are the time-limits for notification of such bids? Has any government or competition agency in the Member States asked the Commission to intervene? If so, when?

 
  
 

(EN)The concentration Gas Natural/Endesa has been notified to the Spanish competition authority on September 12, 2005 on the assumption that it does not have a Community dimension. On Endesa’s request, the Commission is now carefully verifying if this assumption is correct and will announce the result of this investigation as soon as possible.

Pursuant to Article 4(1) of the Merger regulation(1), “concentrations with a Community dimension shall be notified to the Commission prior to their implementation and following the conclusion of the agreement, the announcement of the public bid […]”

Pursuant to the same article, “notification may also be made where the undertakings concerned demonstrate to the Commission a good faith intention to conclude an agreement or, in the case of a public bid, where they have publicly announced an intention to make such a bid […].”

Always on the assumption that the Gas Natural/Endesa has not a Community dimension, on September 21 the Portuguese antitrust authority requested the Commission, pursuant to Article 22 of the EC Merger Regulation, to assess the competitive impact of this concentration in the territory of its State. On October 7, the Italian antitrust authority joined this request. The Commission will decide on those requests by October 27 2005.

 
 

(1) Council Regulation No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings, OJ L 24, 29.1.2004, p. 1

 

Question no 97 by Bill Newton Dunn (H-0809/05)
 Subject: Harmonising of national statistics about crime
 

In Question Time last January I asked the Commissioner when his proposal would be produced. It is now October, well past the promised date. When does he now promise to make the proposal? Meanwhile we continue to have no clear picture of organised criminal gang activity across the Union - a lack which is good for the criminals but bad for the citizens.

 
  
 

(EN)As the Honourable Member is aware, the Commission is devoted to developing high quality statistics on crime and criminal justice. In the medium term, the project aims at collecting available indicators and statistics in different areas and enhancing the quality of those; in the longer term, harmonised statistics on crime and criminal justice will be developed. The work follows several different but coordinated strands. The harmonisation of statistics on crime and criminal justice will require great economic and human resources, both in the Member States and in the Commission, and will have to be done step by step and on the basis of knowledge, so that all Member States agree the usefulness of the harmonised definitions and rules, and the validity of the produced statistics.

As regards organised crime in general, Europol has decided not to take part in the work to develop long-term harmonised quantitative measures, but to devote their energy to develop qualitative information for the Organised Crime Threat Assessment, which will be published for the first time in 2006. This will assess the threat that organised crime poses, as a basis for adequate measures.

The formidable methodological problems posed by differing national statistical systems were examined by a task force of experts from twelve Member States convened by Eurostat in May-June 2005. Based on the task force’s evaluation of data already available in the Member States, data collection will begin late 2005 with information based upon police reports and prison populations. The Commission is in the process of engaging independent experts to complement that collection.

The task force confirmed that quantitative information on organised crime does not at present exist in the Member States in any systematic form, but the Commission has initiated a number of studies which it is hoped will provide some useful guidelines to enable organised crime to be included in the data collection. By 2007 Eurostat will propose a common module on victimisation for inclusion in national surveys in order that this information may be more easily comparable.

To be able to provide for a continuous and overall evaluation of the Action Plan on Drugs 2005-2008, the Commission has created a set of assessment tools/indicators, in collaboration with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol, for each action of the Plan. Data on this field is collected regularly by the EMCDDA as well as Europol, allowing an overview of the situation in the EU in this field.

In the particular field of racist crime, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) is also a very active player. The EUMC produces reports on racism, and, in particular, made public last spring a specific report on racist violence. In order to overcome the stumbling blocks to data collection identified in that report, and in order to improve the quantity and quality of the data available on racist violence, the EUMC will undertake in 2006 a pilot survey on victims on racism. The Commission supports these efforts.

A Communication that is planned for late 2005 will outline the development for the coming years, and set up an expert group to advise the Commission, in addition to the Task Force.

 

Question no 98 by Brian Crowley (H-0811/05)
 Subject: Action not words on AIDS
 

Will the Commission indicate if it has drawn up a specific report on tangible actions undertaken by the EU to combat and ultimately eradicate the scourge of AIDS in the developing world?

In the affirmative will the Commission make this report available immediately to the Members of this Parliament?

 
  
 

(FR)From the year 2005 the Commission has resolved to adopt a concerted approach to the major challenges resulting from the three principal transmissible diseases, HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis within a coherent and coordinated political and strategic framework. Accordingly, on 26 October 2004, it adopted a second report on progress made by the European Community programme of action for HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis(1) which has in the meantime been forwarded to the Council and Parliament.

The principle objective of the report was to provide a comprehensive picture of progress and/or results obtained in each of the following areas: impact of the measures, accessibility to medication and assistance for research and development regarding new therapeutic resources to combat these illnesses.

While the Commission is allocating appropriations to health programmes in partner countries, the amounts specifically earmarked for HIV/Aids are not quantifiable. Funding for the health sector of individual countries under various programmes has correspondingly diminished (from an annual amount of €393 million between 1998 and 2002 to €246.6 million between 2003 and 2006). Aside from budgetary and sectoral aid, appropriations specifically earmarked for combating the three diseases have increased considerably from € 59.3 million annually between 1994 and 2002 to €235 million annually between 2003 and 2006 from all sources (European Development Fund, specific budget items, Research Fund). In particular, between 2003 and 2006 there has been a steady increase in budget entries for Community assistance to developing countries in combating these three diseases, the regional fund appropriations for the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) and appropriations allocated under the Sixth Framework Programme of Research into these three illnesses (four times under the Fifth Framework Programme).

For the period 2003-2006, the Commission has earmarked an amount of €200 million to the EDCTP under the Sixth Framework Programme of Research(2). This pilot project, known as the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, received an equivalent contribution (€200 million) from the European countries participating and concentrates on developing new medicines, vaccines and microbicides effective against the three diseases in question and stepping up clinic research capacity in the sub-Saharan African countries. An additional €220 million has been earmarked for the implementation of numerous basic and preclinical research projects for the duration of the Sixth Framework Programme.

The Commission has made a substantial contribution to the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other partnership programmes such as the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM). The Commission's total contribution to the Global Fund between 2001 and 2005 amounted to €432,5 million. In 2006, the Commission's contribution to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria amounted to almost €90 million, of which €62 million was drawn from the European Development Fund.

 
 

(1) Doc. SEC/2004 1326, 26.10.2004.
(2) European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership.

 

Question no 99 by Liam Aylward (H-0815/05)
 Subject: Farmers' contribution to controlling climate change
 

The Commission recognises the importance of the bio-ethanol industry and also the fact that EU farmers who are guardians of the rural environment could and would seriously contribute to controlling climate change by alternative use of agricultural land for the production of alternative and renewable energy resources.

As alternative energy sources are vital for our future, will the Commission comment on the uptake of available EU funds, by the Member States, for the creation of European biofuels projects and if they consider the uptake to be satisfactory or not?

 
  
 

(EN)With the 2003 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy farmers may now grow any biomass for energy purpose without loosing decoupled income support.

Under the decoupled income support, farmers do not have to declare how they use their agricultural areas. Therefore the Commission information on energy crops cultivated on land eligible for decoupled support is limited. More precise information is available for farmers’ applications to the set-aside and energy crops regimes.

Under the set-aside regime which allows growing non-food crops on obligatory set-aside land an area of about 900 000 hectares is used for energy crop production.

In addition, the 2003 reform introduced a specific energy crop premium of € 45 per hectare for a maximum guaranteed area of 1.5 million hectares. In 2004, the first year of application, the energy crop premium was granted for about 300 000 hectares.

The Commission expects that the number of hectares which apply for the energy crop premium will increase in 2005 and the following years.

The current production of energy crops is not sufficient to achieve the EU targets on renewable energy for 2010.

A report on the implementation of the energy crop premium is scheduled for the end of 2006 and, where appropriate, will be accompanied by proposals for amendment. For biofuels, a market share of 2% should be reached this year, increasing to 5.75% by 2010. Member States had to report to the Commission on the development in this area in 2004 and 2005, and the Commission will present a report to the European Council and Parliament in 2006, based on this information. Further actions may be proposed by the Commission if appearing necessary to achieve the envisaged objective.

Biofuels result in different life cycle greenhouse gas savings depending on how they are produced. It is desirable for policy to take account of this and encourage the introduction of more desirable biofuel technologies.

The European Union has provided significant financial support over the years to research and development in the field of biofuels. In the fifth framework programme, biofuels were supported in the Quality of life and Energy thematic programmes. In the current sixth framework programme, a number of Integrated Projects in the field of biofuels are being financed.

The Commission is currently preparing a Biomass Action Plan to further promote the debate on encouraging biomass, including biofuels. Moreover, a specific Communication on biofuels will take up this debate and complement the strategies outlined, in particular concerning the supply of biofuels feedstock and the global context for the EU biofuels policy.

 

Question no 100 by Eoin Ryan (H-0817/05)
 Subject: Television broadcasting rights
 

DG Competition recently stated that the English Premier Football League must ensure that the broadcasting rights on offer make 'a meaningful slice of the cake' available to a second broadcaster".

The Premier League should by now have shown the Commission that it is 'realistically' implementing a 2003 agreement on the marketing of football TV broadcasting rights. Will the Commission confirm that they have indeed received a reply from the English Premier League and will they indicate if they intend to send out a statement of objection or not?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission can confirm that there have been ongoing discussions with the Football Association Premier League (FAPL) over their collective sale of media rights in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In December 2003, the FAPL proposed a set of commitments, which contained a rule that no one buyer would win all live TV rights in the United Kingdom from 2007 onwards. This set of commitments was subject to a public consultation in 2004 and discussions on the outcome of that consultation continued in 2004 and 2005.

In June 2005, the FAPL submitted a revised proposal, which the Commission indicated was insufficient. In a meeting between the Commissioner in charge of Competition and the FAPL on Tuesday 18 October 2005, the FAPL submitted significantly revised proposal which moved the two sides closer to an amicable result in this case. In particular, the FAPL have agreed that the rights will be sold to the highest bidder on a standalone basis, subject to a rule that no one buyer can buy all of the packages of live TV rights. The Commission has considered this proposal and replied to the FAPL on Friday 21 October 2005, requesting FAPL to take a clear position regarding a number of clarifications. The Commission can further confirm that it received a reply from FAPL in the evening of Monday 24 October, and that it is currently giving this reply its full consideration.

 

Question no 101 by Luisa Fernanda Rudi Ubeda (H-0826/05)
 Subject: Liberalising the markets in gas and electricity
 

Directives 2003/54/EC(1) and 2003/55/EC(2) laid down the basic criteria for an adequate liberalisation of the markets in gas and electricity; they contain certain minimum necessary requirements regarding freedom of competition in order to achieve reasonable prices, while promoting quality service, protection of the most vulnerable consumers and supply security. The Directives guarantee that from 1 July 2007, all domestic clients will enjoy complete freedom to choose their electricity and gas suppliers.

What does the Commission think are the major current obstacles to establishing a genuine European market in gas and electricity?

 
  
 

(EN)Most of the provisions in Directives 2003/54 and 2003/55 should have been transposed by Member States by 1 July 2004. The most important requirements were the opening of competition to all non-household customers, the establishment of ex-ante regulation for access to electricity and gas networks, and the separation of transmission and distribution system operators from the other parts of vertically integrated businesses.

Most Member States have now fulfilled these requirements. However there were several where implementation was up to one year behind schedule. There remain seven Member States which have not yet notified the measures taken to transpose the Directives and infringement cases are underway.(3)

The Commission is currently preparing a comprehensive report on the implementation of the Directives, as envisaged in the texts (Article 28 – electricity, and Article 31 – gas). Work is still ongoing on the report but, aside from the above delays in implementation, the important obstacles to real competition relate – amongst others - to the levels of concentration in many markets concerned, to the lack of available interconnection capacity between Member States, to different levels of powers and independence of regulators, to insufficient transparency in certain markets, to the lack of liquidity in certain wholesale markets and possibly inadequate unbundling provisions. It is anticipated that some of these issues will be progressively resolved both the Directives, the Regulation for Cross Border Electricity Exchanges (1228/03), and the forthcoming Regulation on Gas Transmission.

In order to clarify the competitive conditions in european gas and electricity markets the Commission launched an inquiry into the european gas and electricity sectors on 13 June 2005. The sector inquiry, which is an enforcement tool under european Competition law, was triggered following complaints about price increases and lack of customer’s choice. First results of the inquiry can be expected at the end of 2005. The final report is foreseen for 2006.

 
 

(1) OJ L 176, 15.7.2003, p. 37.
(2) OJ L 176, 15.7.2003, p. 57.
(3) These are as follows: Greece (electricity), Ireland (gas), Luxembourg (both), Spain (both), Portugal (electricity), Estonia (gas), Slovenia (gas).

 

Question no 102 by Reinhard Rack (H-0827/05)
 Subject: Ratification procedure of the Ankara Protocol by Turkey
 

Following the final votes of the European Parliament, after the submission by the Turkish Government to the Turkish Parliament of the Protocol extending the customs union to the ten new Member States and after its ratification, the Protocol will be transposed into the Turkish legislation and will have binding force erga omnes, i.e. inside and outside Turkey, regarding its relations with the EU and the third countries. If its ratification is recognised as a ratification of an international treaty by the Turkish Constitution, it will have constitutional force. If the submission of the Protocol is accompanied by Turkey's unilateral statement on Cyprus - even if the latter is considered by European legislation as devoid of legal effect- the unilateral statement will have the same force as the law, in the light of the aforegoing.

What measures have the European institutions undertaken, especially the European Commission, in order to avoid a situation where the declaration is submitted for ratification and remains just a political declaration without legal implications?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission welcomes the signature by the EU and Turkey of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement. The Commission expects that Turkey will ratify and fully implement the Protocol in good faith and in due course. This was stressed by Commissioner in charge of Enlargement during his visit to Turkey in early October.

It is the Commission’s understanding that when the Turkish Parliament will have approved the ratification of the Protocol, the Turkish President will sign the decision expressing the consent of the Republic of Turkey to be bound by the Protocol, and that this instrument will be deposited with the Secretariat General of the Council.

The declaration by the European Community and its Member States, in response to the declaration by Turkey made at the time of signature of the Additional Protocol, set out clearly that Turkey’s declaration is unilateral, does not form part of the Protocol and has no legal effect on Turkey’s obligations under the Protocol. The ratification procedure relates only to the Protocol.

 

Question no 103 by Avril Doyle (H-0831/05)
 Subject: Safety and security at Sellafield
 

In view of the decision announced by BNFL on 30 September 2005 to sell off key operations, including British Nuclear Group, i.e. the business that maintains the safety of the UK´s nuclear power stations:

Can the Commission give assurances that, if the private sector becomes involved, there will be no short cuts on safety and security at the £470 million loss-making Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant and that there will be adequate transparency and accountability on these issues?

 
  
 

(EN)Every operator must comply with Community and national regulations on safety and security.

With respect to nuclear material safeguards, all nuclear operators, whether private or public, are obliged under the provisions set out in Title II, chapter 7 of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) to fully account for their nuclear inventories. The Commission ensures the operators’ compliance with their legal obligations.

For nuclear safety, the competent national authorities are responsible for the implementation of Community regulations, as set out in Title II, Chapter 3 of the Euratom Treaty on Health and Safety, irrespective of any internal financial restructuring of the industry.

The national safety and radiation protection authorities are entrusted with the necessary controls; the Commission has the mission of independently monitoring and verifying the respect of the Euratom Treaty, including its health and safety provisions, as well as the secondary legislation based on it.

Finally, the Commission has proposed a Directive setting out basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations. The Directive is still under discussion.

 

Question no 104 by Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (H-0832/05)
 Subject: Crimes of honour and enlargement
 

The occurrence of crimes of honour in the Member States continues to be alarming. According to data produced by non-governmental organisations, 5000 women fall victim to crimes of honour each year on a world scale, while a large number are affected in Europe, principally women from third countries, immigrant members of Muslim communities.

Does the Commission have qualitative and quantitative data concerning this phenomenon and does it intend to take practical steps to urge the Member States to tackle it with a view to the protection of human rights and the rule of law in the EU?

Such cases involve women of Turkish nationality, as also evidenced by Parliament's resolution on the role of women in Turkey in social, economic and political life (P6_TA(2005)0287). Has the Commission taken account of this aspect in the preaccession negotiations with Turkey? Will it promote a coordinated awareness and information policy on this subject in the Member States and the candidate countries?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission does not have reliable data available on the extent of honour killings in Europe. Given the lack of good quality statistics on crime at the EU-level, the Commission is committed to developing a system of EU comparable statistics on crime and criminal justice, in cooperation between Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security and Eurostat.

The Commission will shortly issue a Communication on the establishment of a system for comparable statistics on crime and criminal justice, which will present a long-term action plan to develop comparable statistics. Moreover, in order to contribute to better statistical surveying of violence against women, young people and children in particular, and to harmonized and comparable data collection, the Commission has identified as one of its priority areas under the Daphne Programme the development of indicators and related data collection on violence.

The Commission supports efforts to prevent and eliminate crimes against women committed in the name of honour by encouraging Member States in particular to:

address the root causes of patriarchal violence with the aim of changing the attitudes in societies and communities that encourage, accept or at least tolerate violent behaviour in the name of honour;

collect data on honour-related violence and create statistics;

enact and implement appropriate legislation based on international resolutions to combat patriarchal violence;

adopt gender equality policies;

cooperate with, support and learn from civil society and grassroots organizations.

The Commission can in particular through the Daphne II Programme provide assistance to local-level organisations that provide, inter alia, long-term and short term education and training of all groups of society to prevent the occurrence of honour-related violence. The Daphne Programme can also support social services, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, to ensure protective and supportive measures for victims through shelters/alternative housing and counselling.

During the accession negotiations, political reforms in Turkey and their implementation will continue to be closely monitored by the Commission and women’s rights will remain a priority. The negotiating framework agreed on 3 October, which will form the basis for negotiations, requires Turkey to “consolidate and broaden legislation and implementation measures” in the area of women’s rights.

In Turkey steps have already been taken towards ensuring greater protection of women’s rights. A new Parliamentary Committee on Violence against Women and Children began its work this month. Among other things, it will conduct research on the causes of honour killings in Turkey and propose measures aimed at preventing such crimes.

The Law N° 5251 on the organization and duties of the Directorate General for Women's Status from October 2004 provides for this government department to "conduct work for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women". Violence against women had also been highlighted in the conference held on 26 and 27 June 2005 in Elazig, organised by the Turkish Government and the Commission und funded within the gender equality framework strategy programme.

The new Turkish Penal Code, which entered into force in June 2005, envisages life imprisonment for crimes against life that are motivated by “tradition and customs”. The Commission is aware of two recent court decisions where, in accordance with the new code, the perpetrators of honour killings have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

 

Question no 105 by Esko Seppänen (H-0834/05)
 Subject: Shooting-down of airliners
 

The Finnish Parliament has amended the country's Police Law so as to permit executive assistance by the army for the purpose of shooting down airliners as part of efforts to combat terrorism. Does such destruction of civil targets possibly derive from EU legislation or from commitments given to the EU by the Finnish Government, and if so, have all EU Member States undertaken to shoot down civil airliners?

 
  
 

There does not exist any EC legislation or EU common position or joint action on the issue of the interception of civil aircrafts in case they are under a terrorist threat. How a Member State uses its military means remains in the sole competence of the Member State in question.

Finland nor any other Member State has given any commitment at EU level to adopt national legislation that would permit using military means to intercept civil aircrafts in case of terrorist attack. However, the issue is by no means a novelty; several Member States have already respective legislation in place that permits using military capabilities in case of terrorist attacks, e.g. Denmark, United Kingdom, Latvia, the Czech Republic etc. The question has also been extensively debated at the North Atlantic Organisation (NATO) and at the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL).

 

Question no 106 by Yiannakis Matsis (H-0835/05)
 Subject: Colonisation of Cyprus by Turkey
 

Under international law, the colonisation of Cyprus by Turkey constitutes a war crime. Two reports by the Council of Europe on this subject, one by Mr Cuco, the other by Mr Laakso, condemn Turkey's policy towards Cyprus and emphasise that colonisation is one of the basic obstacles to a viable settlement.

Is the Commission in a position, if requested by the Republic of Cyprus, to undertake the supervision and monitoring of a population census throughout the island in order to ascertain the exact number of the indigenous population and colonists?

 
  
 

(EN)As regards the issue of monitoring and supervising a census, the Commission does not have the necessary competence in this respect and considers that the Council of Europe is the appropriate institution to undertake such action. Nonetheless, the Commission would provide any possible support to such an initiative.

A comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem will obviously have to address the issue of settlers.

 

Question no 107 by Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (H-0836/05)
 Subject: Construction of the north European gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea
 

On 8 September 2005 the Russian firm Gazprom and the German groups E.ON Ruhrgas and BASF concluded an agreement on the building of a gas pipeline under the Baltic. The pipeline is to run directly between Germany and Russia, thus avoiding the Baltic States and Poland. Poland sees this project as a threat to both its energy security and its economic interests, given that it places on hold the building of the second section of the Yamal pipeline through Poland.

What is the Commission's position on the matter? Will EU budget support be provided for the project?

 
  
 

(EN)The trans-European energy networks (TEN-E) guidelines(1) define a number of priority projects for increasing the EU’s security of energy supplies, amongst which is a new additional gas supply route from Russian sources to Northern Europe. Given the expected significant increase in EU gas demand over the coming years, it is clearly in the EU’s interest to promote the development of new gas transport infrastructure.

Two potential routes have been under discussion for some time, namely:

An off-shore pipeline from Russia directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea (“North European Pipeline ” – possibly with branches to the Scandinavian and Baltic states),

From Russia via Belarus and Poland to Germany along the existing Yamal Pipeline (“Yamal II”), including its variant from Russia via the Baltic States to Poland, Germany (“Amber”).

The final route of the Yamal Europe Gaspipeline is clearly the decision of the commercial actors involved, in consultation with the interested national authorities.

Financial assistance from the Community budget for infrastructure projects can be provided only in the framework of the TEN-Energy annual work programme if there is an application submitted following the call for proposals and it is selected for funding.

Under the call for proposals of the TEN-Energy 2003 an application was made by a consortium of European and Russian companies to investigate technical feasibility of the North European Pipeline including environmental, safety and health matters. The project was selected for funding. However, the applicant did not sign the grant agreement offered by the Commission and the feasibility study did not start. There was no application under the 2004 call for proposals for this project. Thus, the North European Pipeline project has not received so far any funding from the Community budget.

Regarding other routes, under the Call for Proposal TEN Energy 2004, a study proposed by Poland has been selected for funding to investigate the feasibility of the two alternative projects “Amber” and “Yamal II”. For both routes, it includes investigations of technical, economic, financial, legal and market issues and the impact on the environment. The aim is to provide the basis for a decision as to which of the two on-shore alternatives is more advantageous taking all relevant aspects into account. The final Commission Decision on the funding is expected to be made shortly.

 
 

(1) Decision no 1229/2003/EC adopted on 26 June 2003

 

Question no 108 by Mary Lou McDonald (H-0838/05)
 Subject: European Ferries Directive
 

What measures is the Commission proposing to take in relation to intra-EU passenger and ferry services operating under flags of convenience and subjecting workers to pay and conditions below the minimum standards applicable in the EU? Does the Commission intend to submit a proposal for a directive on this issue?

 
  
 

(EN)As regards regular passenger and ferry services between the Member States, the Commission had presented a proposal intended to ensure for third-country seafarers, who are employed on ships engaged in such trades, comparable terms and conditions of employment to those applicable to Community citizens. This proposal was the subject of long controversial discussions within the Council of Ministers that failed to reach a majority agreement. For this reason, the Commission was bound to withdraw its proposal in October 2004.

Following the withdrawal of this proposal, the Commission is exploring other ways likely to attain the same objectives. In the framework of the social dialogue committee for maritime transport, the Commission is discussing how the social partners could contribute to achieving the goals of the proposal. While these discussions are ongoing, the Commission does not intend to present a new proposal on manning conditions.

 

Question no 109 by Alexander Nuno Alvaro (H-0841/05)
 Subject: Access to customers' personal data
 

Is the Commission aware of the fact that, according to a press article in the Wall Street Journal Europe of 30 May, a number of US-based companies, such as Western Union, America Online and Wal-Mart, have granted to US law enforcement authorities access to the personal data of their customers, including EU citizens. In addition, the shipping company FedEx has granted customs' inspectors access to the company's database of international shipments, which includes, among other things, the name and the address of a shipper?

Does not the Commission think that, since these data also concern EU citizens, the fundamental right of those citizens to privacy and data protection, as conferred by EU Directives, is being violated?

Which measures does the Commission intend to take to stop this breach of EU law?

Will the Commission raise this issue with the US Administration, with EU Member States and with national data protection authorities?

 
  
 

(EN)The question refers to a press report describing the cooperation of various American based companies with United States (US) law enforcement agencies which may entail the disclosure of EU customers’ personal information to such enforcement agencies.

Whether the disclosure of EU customers’ personal information from various American based companies to US law enforcement agencies constitute a violation of the EU citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and data protection notably as recognized by the data protection Directives must be examined on a case by case basis. The disclosure of EU citizens’ personal information to US enforcement agencies does not necessarily mean that the personal right to data protection of these individuals has been violated. To reach a conclusion therein, it is necessary to know the facts and circumstances by virtue of which each US based company collected the personal information of EU citizens in the first place.

In this context the Commission would like to recall that, in accordance with the data protection Directives, the analysis of the lawfulness of the reported disclosures must be carried out primarily by national data protection authorities, which are the bodies competent, among others, for the application of the national provisions that implement the data protection Directive, including the monitoring of international transfers. To engage in such activity, national data protection authorities are endowed with investigative, effective powers of intervention and the power to engage in legal proceedings.

The Commission trusts that national data protection authorities, either triggered by third party complaints or on their own initiative, will exercise their obligations towards ensuring the application of the Directive, in particular the monitoring of international transfers, to guarantee the protection of personal data of EU citizens. The Commission is not aware of the existence of any claim made to national data protection authorities nor has been informed by the latter of any problems in this matter. However, the Commission will raise this issue with US authorities competent for data protection matters.

 

Question no 110 by Proinsias De Rossa (H-0843/05)
 Subject: Respect for human rights and democracy
 

The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) is the only educational institution active at European level which is explicitly mandated to reinforcing and disseminating the core Community values of respect for human rights and democracy. The European Parliament's Committee on Culture, Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Civil Liberties have called for continued EU funding for the EIUC by incorporating references in the EP Report on Lifelong Learning, to its reintegration in the Lifelong Learning Action Programme.

Will the Commission ensure that, irrespective of whether the EIUC's budget is allocated under Education or RELEX, it will continue to be fully funded, and will it support its reintegration in Article 42 of the Integrated Action programme in the field of lifelong learning to that end?

Will the Commission further undertake that it will ensure that the EU's continuing commitment to the important principles of human rights and democracy are not undermined by the dispute between Commissioners Figel and Ferrero-Waldner about the source of the EIUC budget?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission reaffirms its continuing and deep commitment to promoting education and training in the fields of human rights and democracy. The Commission intends to propose a thematic programme for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide, replacing the current European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights.

With regard to the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation in Venice, this is currently funded from Budget Line 19.04.01, under the external relations Heading of the budget.

In the Proposal for a Decision establishing an integrated action programme in the field of lifelong learning that is now in the legislative procedure of adoption, the institutions that the Commission proposes should be designated for operating grant funding under Article 42(2) of the draft Decision are those with intergovernmental representation in their governance or funding. The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation does not fulfil this criterion and, for this reason, has not been included in the list.

The Commission would point out that institutions or associations active in the fields of education and training which are not included in the designated list in Article 42(2) will be able to receive operating grant funding, in response to calls for proposals under Article 42(3), if they meet the eligibility and selection criteria defined in those calls.

 

Question no 111 by Luis de Grandes Pascual (H-0848/05)
 Subject: Further accident in the Bay of Algeciras (Spain)
 

A few weeks ago an accident occurred in the Bay of Algeciras (Spain), involving a leak of more than 7000 litres of fuel from the tanker 'Eileen' opposite the Cadiz coast. Is the Commission in possession of information on the deficiencies of that vessel, in particular those identified when it was inspected in December 2004? Given that most marine pollution results from small-scale leaks of this kind, does the Commission intend to take new initiatives in order to tighten the legal safety requirements for smaller vessels?

Can the Commission also confirm whether the single-hull vessel 'Moskovsky Festival' has recently carried out any prospection activities or fuel cargo manoeuvres in the Bay of Algeciras?

 
  
 

(EN)With regards to the spill caused by the vessel “Eileen”, the Commission, on the basis of the information available, has found no apparent relation between the deficiencies reported in the inspection of December 2004 and the recent pollution off the coast of Cadiz. The deficiencies were mainly related with the personal equipment.

The Commission shares the concerns raised by the Honourable Member about the global impact of a high number of relatively small spills, often linked to the ships’ operations. In this context, Article 10 of the Directive 2005/35/CE on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements provides for "accompanying measures" which will help enforce the system of dissuasive sanctions to better prevent ship-source pollution. Such "accompanying measures" will notably focus on the tracing of pollution and the early identification of ships discharging polluting substances in violation of the Directive. The Commission has already started to work on the development of such "accompanying measures" in the perspective of the entry into force of the Directive in April 2007.

According to the information published by the classification society Lloyd’s Register, the “Moskovsky Festival” is a double hull oil tanker. The conditions of operation of this vessel into the Bay of Algeciras is a matter of national competence.

 

Question no 112 by Christopher Beazley (H-0849/05)
 Subject: Labour mobility and the recognition of teaching qualifications in the single market
 

Under the single market agreement to enable the free movement of working people throughout the EU, what action does the Commission propose taking and within what timescale against the educational authorities in Italy and France, who currently persist in failing to recognise the professional qualifications of experienced teachers from other Member States, thereby preventing them from pursuing their careers in French and Italian schools, colleges and universities?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission monitors the application by Member States of the rules on the recognition of professional qualifications in the teaching sector on a constant basis. And it believes that the European citizens are its greatest ally in this task the most reliable source of information on how these rules are applied in practice. They contact the Commission regularly and report the difficulties they are confronted with when applying for the recognition of their qualifications in other Member States.

The Commission’s actions aimed at dismantling existing barriers to labour mobility vary according to the circumstances. The Commission works closely with national administrations, for instance via SOLVIT, or other informal contacts. However, where such contacts fail to produce a satisfactory outcome, the Commission opens infringement proceedings against those Member States who repeatedly breach Community rules.

There are no infringement procedures currently pending against either France or Italy concerning the recognition of qualifications for the purposes of the right to exercise a teaching profession. If the Honourable Member has any specific information about cases of maladministration by the Italian or French authorities with regard to the recognition of teachers’ diplomas, the Commission will of course investigate.

However, in relation to other questions of cross-border mobility of teaching staff the Commission can provide the following additional information:

In relation to the recruitment of teachers, the Commission would like to draw the attention to the latest developments in this area. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) clarified in the Burbaud case that the organisation of competitions as a means of recruitment is not as such contrary to EU law. Fully qualified professionals may however not be required to undergo recruitment procedures designed to select candidates who are not fully qualified for a training course which will lead to a final qualification which is a precondition for access to a post in the public sector. The Commission services are currently holding discussions with the French authorities to assist them in setting up of a legal framework that could be applied for such competitions across all professions in the public sector;

The Commission has opened a number of infringement cases against Italy concerning entry barriers that language lecturers face when they present themselves for competitions.;

Another issue concerns the taking into account of qualifications in the recruitment procedure (e.g. by granting points for qualifications in the recruitment procedure in order to place persons on a higher place on the reserve list). An infringement procedure is pending against Italy on this issue.

Finally the issue of taking into account professional experience for the purposes of access to the public sector and for determining professional advantages (e.g. salary; grade) is an important issue. In view of the ECJ's case law the Commission considers that migrant workers' previous periods of comparable employment acquired in another Member State must be taken into account by Member States' administrations for the purposes of access to their own public sector and for determining professional advantages in the same way as applies to experience acquired in their own system. The Commission has opened numerous infringement procedures against a number of Member States including Italy and France. France has adopted a set of new rules on the issue of taking into account of professional experience for the purpose of determining the salary; the Commission continues to monitor the way in which the new rules are applied in practice. In relation to Italy the ECJ recently concluded that the Italian authorities had infringed the principle of free movement of workers because they did not appropriately take into account the professional teaching experience acquired by migrant teachers who entered a competition for a teaching vacancy at an Italian state school (decision of the ECJ of 12 May 2005). In relation to the question of taking into account of professional experience for the purpose of determining professional advantages another infringement procedure is pending against Italy (C-371/04).

 

Question no 113 by Georgios Karatzaferis (H-0854/05)
 Subject: Unfair treatment of supply teachers in Greece
 

Greece has a system of supply teachers who provide cover where required in secondary education. They have graduated from Greek institutions of higher education (as is the case with their colleagues who have permanent posts), perform exactly the same duties as those colleagues and the overwhelming majority of them are sent to teach in remote areas of Greece. Despite their situation, they are unjustly rewarded as they are not paid during the summer months when the schools are closed, nor do they receive additional pay at Christmas or Easter (which all their colleagues with permanent posts do), while they exist in a particularly soul-destroying state of uncertainty because they are never sure if they will be called upon to work.

Are the above arrangements consistent with the principle of equal pay for equal work? How can the Commission intervene to put an end to this peculiar form of discrimination against secondary school supply teachers?

 
  
 

(EN)The Directive 1999/70/EC of 28 June 1999 concerning the framework agreement on fixed-term work concluded by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation (CEEP)(1) obliges the Member States to introduce rules in order to implement the principle of non-discrimination between fixed-term workers and comparable permanent workers as regards employment conditions and periods of service qualifications. The Directive applies to fixed-term workers who have an employment contract or employment relationship as defined at the national level.

Greece has notified the Commission that the Directive in the respects mentioned above has been transposed by Decree 81/2003 and subsequently for the public sector by Presidential Decree 164/2004. Both of these Decrees contain rules on the principle of non-discrimination between fixed-term workers and comparable permanent workers in respect of employment conditions and periods of service qualifications. In the view of the Commission these rules are in conformity with the requirements stipulated by the Directive.

The question whether the treatment of supply teachers in Greece is in accordance with the rules laid down at the national level in order to transpose the Community legislation in this field is in the first instance a matter for the competent Greek authorities. The Commission can intervene if the rules at the national level in practice are applied in a manner which is contrary to Community law. It can be added that the Commission for the moment has no indications that this would be the case.

 
 

(1) OJ L 175, 10.7.1999

 

Question no 114 by Ryszard Czarnecki (H-0857/05)
 Subject: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and other countries of south-eastern Europe
 

Does the Commission have at least a provisional timetable for pre-accession negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and subsequently with the other countries of south-eastern Europe (Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania)? With the launch of negotiations with Turkey, the Union's relations with south-eastern Europe have acquired a special significance.

 
  
 

(EN)There is no timetable for accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or with any of the other countries of South East Europe mentioned by the Honourable Member (Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania).

The Honourable Member will recall that accession negotiations take place once the Council has decided so, following an application for accession by the aspiring country, in accordance with Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union. The Council decides on the basis of an Opinion emitted by the Commission.

The countries of the Western Balkans are all potential candidates for membership and the European Union has repeatedly stated that their future lies within the EU. However, at this stage, only Croatia is a candidate negotiating its accession.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia tabled its application for membership in March 2004 and the Council requested the Commission to prepare an Opinion in May of the same year. The Commission will adopt its Opinion on 9 November. The Commission is in no position today to pre-empt its recommendation, notably on the possible opening of accession negotiations with that country.

In the case of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, no application for membership has been filed by these countries, which indeed have not yet concluded Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) with the European Union. A recommendation on possible conclusion of negotiations for a SAA with Albania could be presented by the Commission in the near future; similar negotiations have just started with Serbia and Montenegro, and will also probably start in the next few months with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Relations with south-eastern Europe are a high priority for the EU, regardless of the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey. The European perspective of this region is particularly significant in the context of forthcoming developments in the area, such as the opening of status talks on Kosovo. Important progress on the road towards the EU has been achieved throughout the region, reflecting both the reform efforts of the countries in question and the political will on our side. However, in most cases there is still a long way to go. The pace of advancement of each country and, hence, the timetable for steps ahead, depends on its own progress in fulfilling the established criteria for coming closer and eventually joining the Union.

 

Question no 115 by Manuel Medina Ortega (H-0858/05)
 Subject: Infringement proceedings relating to air safety
 

Has the Commission opened any infringement proceedings in respect of violations of Community air safety measures, or will it be doing so?

 
  
 

On 3 October 2005, the Commission opened a series of infringement proceedings for failure to notify national measures implementing Directive 2003/42/EC(1) of the European Parliament and the Council of 13 June 2003 on occurrence reporting in civil aviation.

The Commission has also opened a number of infringement proceedings for unsatisfactory implementation of Regulation (EC) No 549/2004(2) of the European Parliament and the Council laying down the framework for the creation of a single European sky, as regards establishing national supervisory authorities and notifying the Commission thereof, as laid down in Article 4 of the Regulation.

 
 

(1) OJ L 167 of 04.07.2003
(2) OJ L 096 of 31.03.2004

 

Question no 116 by Milan Gaľa (H-0862/05)
 Subject: Better access to adequate medical care for political prisoners in Cuba
 

Together with my colleagues from the PPE-DE Group, I recently symbolically adopted a political prisoner, Antonio Díaz Sánchez, who was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by the Cuban regime in March 2003. I am kept informed of his situation by representatives of the civic association Človek v ohrození (‘People in Peril’) and the Pontis Foundation in Slovakia. At the start of October, I received a letter from Mr Sánchez’s wife, Gisela (a member of the ‘Women in White’ movement and nominated for the Andrei Sakharov Prize), in which she outlined the seriousness of her husband’s state of health and stated that he is constantly refused medical care. Conditions in Cuba have not changed for a long time. Can the Commission indicate how we can intervene diplomatically to ensure that Mr Sánchez and others wrongfully imprisoned on account of their political convictions have better access to adequate medical care?

 
  
 

(FR)The Commission welcomes this fresh expression of support from MEPs towards those imprisoned in Cuba on account of their political convictions. It shares the deep concern over the fate of political prisoners in Cuba.

On a visit to Cuba last month, the Development Commissioner met a number of relatives of political prisoners, including Mrs Gisela Sanchez Verdecia, the wife of Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and several prominent peaceful dissidents. During the visit, the Commissioner brought up the issue of political prisoners with all of the representatives from the authorities with whom he spoke, including President Castro. The Commission delegation in Havana is in regular, close contact with political prisoners’ families and human rights organisations in Cuba, including the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Since March 2003, the EU has firmly and repeatedly called on the Cuban authorities to release all political prisoners and to ensure in the meantime that those prisoners are treated humanely. In its press release of 24 July 2005, the Commission expressed its concern over the political situation in Cuba and condemned the fresh arrests of dissidents in Havana. The Presidency, acting on the Union’s behalf, expressed the same concern in two statements, on 15 and 25 July 2005, and repeated its demands that all political prisoners be released.

On 29 September 2005, the EU released a further statement calling on the Cuban authorities to ‘take immediate action to improve the conditions of detention of all political prisoners who are being held in circumstances that fall below the UN minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners’. Improving conditions of detention naturally includes access to adequate healthcare for political prisoners.

The Commission remains in favour of constructive political engagement through political dialogue with the Cuban authorities, in tandem with stronger ties with the dissident movement and representatives from civil society. The Council decision of 13 June 2005 reinforced the need to use this dialogue to support practical advances in the area of human rights. The Commission feels that this policy of constructive political engagement has the best chance of leading to the release of all political prisoners in Cuba.

 

Question no 117 by Panagiotis Beglitis (H-0864/05)
 Subject: Funding of joint arrangements for twinning bodies of the Member States and their counterparts in the Western Balkans
 

The European strategy for the Western Balkans which was adopted at the Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003 provides for the funding by the Community programme CARDS of joint arrangements for twinning bodies of the public administration of the Member States with their counterparts in the countries of the Western Balkans in order to strengthen the process of the democratization and to modernise institutions with a view to their prospects in Europe.

Which arrangements were submitted by the Greek authorities in 2004-2005 and which arrangements are being implemented in the countries of the Western Balkans? Which arrangements have been submitted by other EU Member States? More generally, what progress is being made in the process of twinning in the Western Balkans decided on by the Thessaloniki European Council?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission has launched twinning projects in the framework of the CARDS since 2001, i.e. before the adoption of the European strategy for the Western Balkans at the Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003.

Between 2001 and 2005 the Commission has initiated 54 CARDS twinning projects and called on the public administrations of the Member States to propose public sector expertise to that effect. According to the presently available data, Greece has submitted 25 twinning proposals for these projects and the Greek administration has been selected to implement two projects.

More generally it has been recognised that twinning, as a tested institution building instrument for targeted administrative co-operation, should be more widely used to follow up on the Thessaloniki European Council conclusions in order to strengthen the process of democratisation and stabilisation in the Western Balkans. This is and will be reflected in an increasing number of CARDS twinning projects.

 

Question no 118 by Sharon Margaret Bowles (H-0871/05)
 Subject: Sectoral inquiry
 

During the discussion on the Commission's presentation of the New Legal Framework for Payments (NLF) to the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, it was stated that the results of DG Competition's sectoral inquiry into debit and credit cards is expected next year. It seems likely that there could be some overlap with NLF. If so, would the Commission agree that Parliament should have available to it the relevant parts of this inquiry when it discusses this directive?

More generally, it seems possible that other parts of the sectoral inquiry could also be relevant. Can the Commission indicate whether it is intending to coordinate at least provisional responses to the sectoral inquiry with the New Legal Framework and make the information available to Parliament?

 
  
 

(EN)The proposal for a New Legal Framework (NLF) for payments has been fully considered by the Commission services from the angle of ensuring that it is pro-competitive in its effects. Directorate General (DG) Internal Market and DG Competition closely co-operated in the preparation of the proposal. It has also undergone a proper impact assessment.

The NLF proposal focuses on the relationship between payment service providers and their users and addresses relevant competition aspects in this respect, including harmonization of market access conditions of national payment markets and improved market transparency for users. The sector inquiry into retail banking is a distinct exercise, based on the competition rules. Payment services are one part of the inquiry.

The Commission will, of course, share the results of its sector inquiry with the Parliament once available. However, the Commission does not expect that the findings of the sector inquiry will change the justification and impact assessment on which the current proposal for the New Legal Framework (NLF) for payments is based. The Commission therefore sees no obstacle to discussing this important piece of proposed legislation before the findings of the sector inquiry are available.

 

Question no 119 by Johan Van Hecke (H-0873/05)
 Subject: Imports of European liqueurs into Sweden
 

According to recent reports, Sweden plans to introduce import restrictions on liqueurs from other EU Member States. Sweden still has a State monopoly on strong alcoholic beverages, known as the 'Systembolaget', which was originally introduced to tackle the drink problem of many Swedish citizens.

The Swedish government apparently now plans to introduce import restrictions on liqueurs purchased by its nationals outside Sweden, primarily in neighbouring countries. The reason for this is that in recent years alcohol consumption has again risen alarmingly. However, this seems to me to be in breach of the principle of the internal market and the free movement of goods. It is mainly neighbouring countries and European liqueur producers that will bear the brunt of this measure. In taking this action, is the Swedish government not trying to solve a domestic problem at the expense of other EU Member States? Will the Commission permit this and, if so, under what conditions? Will this not spark off retaliatory measures by other Member States putting the whole system of free movement at risk?

 
  
 

(EN)The question of the Honourable Member seems to concern a possible proposal by the Swedish Government to restrict the import of the alcoholic beverage of the type “liqueur” into Sweden on the basis of the protection of public health. The Commission was not aware of the existence of such a proposal, which has not yet been notified under Directive 98/34/EC.

The Commission would like to inform the Honourable Member that the Commission decided on 7 July 2004 within the infringement procedure of Article 226 of the EC Treaty to bring Sweden before the European Court of Justice for maintaining a ban on Swedish consumers using independent intermediaries to import alcoholic beverages for their private use into Sweden from other Member States. Having regard to the public health objective that it is supposed to achieve, the Commission believes that the ban represents a disproportionate obstacle to the free movement of goods in contravention of Articles 28 and 30 of the EC Treaty. In the Commission’s view, the protection of public health can be achieved by other means that are less restrictive for trade between Member States, such as public information campaigns and introducing procedures which check the age of those buying alcoholic drinks.

Furthermore, the Commission would like to bring the Honourable Member’s attention to the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Franzén case (Case C-189/95, Harry Franzén, judgment of 23 October 1997). The European Court of Justice confirmed in that judgment that for public health reasons, the existence and the operation of a domestic monopoly on retail of alcohol beverages, such as “Systembolaget”, was compatible with the EC Treaty, more particularly with Article 31 concerning national monopolies. Article 31 of the EC Treaty does indeed not require national monopolies having a commercial character to be abolished, but requires them to be adjusted in such a way as to ensure that no discrimination regarding the conditions under which goods are procured and marketed exists.

The Commission will follow the developments regarding possible intentions to restrict the import of alcoholic beverages into Sweden with utmost attention.

 

Question no 120 by Diamanto Manolakou (H-0874/05)
 Subject: Financial deduction from agricultural aid
 

On the recommendation of the Greek government, the tertiary-level cooperative organisation in Greece, PASEGES, is illegally and wrongfully withholding from farmers a sum of 10 to 25 euros per application for the correction of errors made by the Organisation for Payments and the Control of Community Guarantee and Guidance Aid (OPEKEPE) in calculating the single subsidy to which each farmer is entitled under the new CAP. This is illegal and an abuse of authority, because the management costs of the single subsidy form part of public spending, and there is a general rule prohibiting any withholding of agricultural aid, but mainly because farmers are being required to pay for errors made not by them, but by the OPEKEPE.

Is the Commission aware of this matter? What steps does it intend to take to put and end to the illegal deductions and ensure the return of whatever monies have been wrongfully withheld?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission will remind the Greek authorities of the legal obligation that payments of direct aids to farmers have to be made in full without any reductions to cover administrative costs. In addition, in the framework of the clearance of account procedure this important aspect of the implementation of the single payment system will be verified.

Farmers who are dissatisfied with the way the payments have been executed should request clarification from the Greek authorities and ask for full payment. They also have the option of using the legal remedies in force at national level.

 

Question no 121 by Anne E. Jensen (H-0878/05)
 Subject: Community interest in introducing an anti-dumping levy on footwear
 

On 7 July the Commission started an anti-dumping investigation into imports of leather-upper shoes from China and Vietnam. The investigation was launched after strong pressure from an organisation representing companies accounting for less than half of the EU's production of the goods in question.

This case has already had harmful consequences for the globally oriented part of the European footwear industry and in a few months the consequences will be felt by the retail trade and consumers in the EU who will experience rising prices even before any anti-dumping levy has been introduced.

Will the Commission confirm that it will propose the introduction of an anti-dumping levy only if it believes that this will be in the interest of the Community? At the same time, how does it intend to ensure that the interests both of the entire footwear industry and of consumers are included in the assessment of what is in the Community's interest?

 
  
 

(EN)Any industry operating in the European Community, or any producers representing such industry, has the legal right to lodge an anti-dumping complaint containing evidence that it suffers from an injury caused by dumping practices. If this complaint contains sufficient elements showing evidence of injurious dumping, the Commission has no choice but to initiate an investigation.

In this specific case, a complaint was received from more than 800 footwear producers in the Community, representing around 60,000 employees. Those companies represent a major proportion of the European footwear industry, i.e. in this case more than 40% of the overall Community production of footwear with uppers of leather. Those producers are deemed to legally represent the Community footwear industry.

It should be underlined that the opening of an investigation is obviously without prejudice to its outcome. The on-going investigation will determine whether there is dumping, injury and a causal link between them.

In the event that the investigation confirms the allegations of injurious dumping then the Commission will be faced with the task of balancing the various interests of all parties concerned including those of EU producers, importers, distributors and consumers and to determine whether it, on balance, is in the Interest of the Community to impose measures.

Like in any other anti-dumping investigation, the Commission has given the opportunity to all economic operators, directly concerned by any imposition of measures, to come forward and to co-operate to the investigation by providing their views and any relevant information necessary to analyse to what extent they would be affected by any measures. Association of consumers have also been contacted in that respect.

The investigation will entail a thorough analysis of those comments, in order to ensure that any measures would only be imposed if it is determined that, on balance, the economic interest of retailers and consumers, does not carry more weight than those of the Community industry and the effect of the remedial action. The Commission will conduct this analysis with the utmost care.

 

Question no 122 by Hans-Peter Martin (H-0884/05)
 Subject: Retirement of officials
 

Is it correct that, under Annex XIII, Article 23 of the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Communities, EU officials may retire at the age of only 50?

 
  
 

(DE)According to Annex XIII, Article 23 of the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Communities, an official who was already 45 years of age at the time the Staff Regulations were reformed (1 May 2004), or had at that time already completed 20 years of service, can leave the service at the age of 50. His retirement benefits shall be reduced commensurately (Annex XIII, Article 23, paragraph 2)(1).

(EN)It is important to note that this provision was included in the transitional measures applying to the revised Staff Rules to ensure the legitimate expectations of existing staff were protected. Since the reform of the Staff Regulations, the usual minimum age for early retirement has been raised to 55. Moreover, in practice retirement before the age of 55 has always been extremely rare in the Commission, probably because the reduction in the pension payable is very substantial in such cases. Retirement before the old normal retirement age of 60 is also relatively uncommon.

 
 

(1) ‘In such cases, in addition to the reduction in retirement pension rights referred to in Article 9 of Annex VIII for officials who leave the service at the age of at least 55 years, acquired pension rights shall be further reduced by 4,483% if receipt of pension commences at the age of 54 years; by 8,573% if receipt commences at the age of 53 years; by 12,316% if receipt commences at the age of 52 years; by 15,778% if receipt commences at the age of 51 years; and by 18,934% if receipt of retirement pension commences at the age of 50 years.’

 

Question no 123 by Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines (H-0885/05)
 Subject: Ebro Transfer construction projects
 

In 2003 the Spanish Government submitted to the Commission five projects for the construction of the Ebro Transfer for an amount totalling around 1 200 million euros. Part of the financing for those projects came from structural funding for Objective 1 regions (Valencia, Murcia and Andalusia), and the remainder from the Cohesion Fund. The projects were examined by the Directorate-General for Regional Policy.

Bearing in mind that the Spanish Government subsequently shelved those projects, could the Commission indicate what projects the funds were earmarked for and what their current administrative status is; whether there was any automatic decommitment of the funds involved; whether the 'Water Supply Plan' submitted by the Spanish Government was proposed for financing under those funds and, if so, what projects are involved and what amounts have been applied for?

 
  
 

(EN)The projects for the Ebro transfer were submitted for Community financing by the Spanish authorities in December 2003 and January 2004, as a set of four large projects with a total cost of € 2,728 Million and requested Community financing of € 1,262 Million. The situation concerning the possible Community financing of works included in the Spanish National Hydrological Plan (SNHP) was the subject of intense discussion between all parties concerned, in particular as regards to the proposed transfer of 1050 Hm³ of water per year from the Ebro river to the Spanish Mediterranean coastal regions of Cataluña, Valencia, Murcia and the province of Almería in Andalucía. There was no unanimity between the different Spanish regions regarding this transfer. After the change of government in Spain as a result of the general elections of March 2004, the new Spanish authorities declared that the “Ebro transfer” would be withdrawn and substituted by alternative projects. These requests for co-financing were officially withdrawn by letter from the Spanish Permanent Representation of 29 June 2004.

Therefore, the “Ebro transfer” projects have never been approved by the Commission and no funds were ever committed to co-finance these projects.

Through Royal Decree 2/2004 of 18 June 2004, the new Spanish government modified the articles and projects in the NHP law related to the Ebro river transfer and proposed, for the watersheds affected, a set of alternative priority and urgent measures.

These measures have been presented by the Ministry of Environment on the 2nd of September 2004 under the new name of Programme A.G.U.A. (Actuaciones para la Gestión y la Utilización del Agua – Interventions for the Management and the Use of Water).

A series of urgent interventions in the Mediterranean watersheds in the framework of the A.G.U.A. programme is intended to deliver to the same regions plus the province of Málaga, in Andalucía, a total of 1.063 Hm³ of water per year (practically equivalent to the proposed 1.050 Hm³/year proposed to be transferred from the Ebro, though affecting a larger area) through a mixture of measures including water savings and management improvement, the reuse of treated wastewaters and the construction of desalination plants.

On October 1st, 2005, the estimated investment for the more than one hundred AGUA interventions was € 4,360 Million. In declarations to the press at the presentation of the A.G.U.A. programme, the Spanish Minister for the Environment stated that Spain counts on € 1,362 Million of Community funds.

Following the latest information received from the Spanish Ministry of Environment, from the investment envisaged of € 4,360 Million, € 432 Million correspond to 11 projects in implementation phase, € 26 Million to projects completed, € 71 Million to projects for which a call for tenders has been published, € 3,350Million to projects being in project definition phase and € 481 Million for projects for which feasibility studies are ongoing.

 

Question no 124 by Elizabeth Lynne (H-0886/05)
 Subject: Electromagnetic Fields Directive
 

Will the Commission undertake to review the Electromagnetic Fields Directive (2004/40/EC(1)), given the consensus among leading scientific experts in this field of the damage that this Directive will inflict on the future development and provision of medical devices across the EU, in particular the impact on clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is potentially disastrous?

 
  
 

(EN)Directive 2004/40/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risk arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields) is designed to protect workers against excessive exposure to MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and electromagnetic fields which scientific experts agree is dangerous for health as well as other radiations. It was drafted by the Commission based on the results and recommendations issued by ICNIRP (International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection), an independent world wide recognized organisation using the expertise of technicians, scientists and doctors working in the field.

The Parliament and the Council (unanimously) agreed in April 2004 that it is essential to have the same standards for the health and safety of workers regarding electromagnetic fields since the risk is the same for nurses and doctors throughout Europe. The Directive was adopted unanimously and has to be implemented by April 2008.

The Commission is aware of the concern expressed by some doctors and scientists about the coming into force of this Directive. To this effect, the Commission would like to recall that the risk of MRI is a real one for everybody who is exposed to it regularly and that this directive will give a solid protection to doctors and nurses exposed to MRI and should have no negative impact on the quality of health care.

In any case, the Directive foresees a review mechanism every five years based on the implementation reports received from the Member States. Any unintended effect on the quality of health care will be addressed in this context-

 
 

(1) OJ L 159, 30.4.2004, p. 1.

 

Question no 125 by Richard Seeber (H-0887/05)
 Subject: Biological fuels
 

Road transport is one of the biggest users of energy and is, in addition, responsible for more than a fifth of all CO2 emissions in the European Union. One way of making road transport more environmentally friendly is to use biological fuels. One particularly interesting possibility would appear to be the use of rape methyl ester, known as biodiesel, which is made from rape, a sustainable raw material. Use of biodiesel would help to reduce soot emissions. When burnt, rape methyl ester would give off approximately the same amount of CO2 as is absorbed by the plants during growth. Rape can be produced in the EU, so that use of biodiesel would mean no longer being dependent on petroleum imports. Furthermore, greater demand for biodiesel, and hence for rape, would give a positive impetus to agriculture.

Does the Commission know of studies on the use of rape oil as an alternative fuel which show its environmental usefulness? If so, could biodiesel not help achieve the Kyoto targets?

What conditions would be needed for biodiesel to be competitive? Could the Commission envisage using consumption taxes to make rape oil competitive?

 
  
 

(EN)The Commission agrees completely. The Union has committed itself to use more transport biofuels. It is true that biofuels are expensive (biodiesel would need an oil price of about €75/barrel to become as cheap as conventional fuel, bioethanol €95). But they are one of the few measures we have that can significantly reducing transport’s dependence on oil and its ever-growing emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, they offer important benefits for economic activity in rural areas.

The Union has already done several things to promote biofuels. In 2003, it adopted Directives setting targets for their use(1) and making it easier to adjust consumption taxes to support them.(2) The reform of the common agricultural policy will help biofuels by permitting farmers to choose the markets they grow crops for. Biofuels also receive support from Community financial instruments like the European Regional Development Fund, the Rural Development Programme and the Energy Crops Credit. The Research and Technological Development (RTD) framework programmes are supporting research into “2nd-generation” biofuels that can be made from wood and wastes. If the remaining technical obstacles can be overcome, it is hoped that these will offer greater greenhouse gas savings.

The biofuels directive set the objective of a 2% market share for biofuels at the end of 2005. It is becoming clear that this will not be achieved. At best, if all Member States achieve the targets they have set, the share will be 1.4%. In the light of this, and the added importance given to biofuels by high oil prices, the Commission will look closely, in its forthcoming Biomass Action Plan, at what more needs to be done. And it will bring forward a more detailed communication on aspects of biofuels policy in early 2006.

 
 

(1) The biofuels directive, 2003/30
(2) The energy taxation directive, 2003/96

 

Question no 126 by Frank Vanhecke (H-0888/05)
 Subject: EU anti-discrimination campaign
 

In 2003 the European Commission launched a major anti-discrimination campaign. A great many national and EU organisations, such as employers organisations, trade unions and NGOs have been actively involved in the campaign. Most of the campaign activities were not organised centrally from Brussels, but separately on a national and regional basis in each Member State.

On 13 October 2005 I tried to obtain information from the relevant website about the national partners and the national campaign in Belgium. I found, sure enough, that this information is available only in French. A version in Dutch, the language spoken by the majority of Belgium's population, the Flemings, is simply not available.

Is the European Commission aware of the fact that Flemings make up the majority of the population of Belgium and that Dutch is also an official language of the Kingdom of Belgium, along with French? Does the European Commission not consider that this is totally unacceptable in a campaign whose official aim is to promote diversity and respect for other people? Who is responsible for this? Did Belgium produce only a French version or is it the case that the services of the European Commission only considered it necessary to put the French version of the relevant text on the Commission's official website?

 
  
 

(EN)The website of the information campaign ‘For Diversity. Against Discrimination’ (www.stop-discrimination.info) is available in all 20 EU languages. From the index page information is available according to language rather than country. To access country specific information, all further webpages of the site are accompanied by a drop down menu in the right hand column. For information about the Belgian campaign, in both Dutch and French, Belgique/België should be selected.

 
Legal notice - Privacy policy