Full text 
Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

27. Commission Question Time

  President. The next item is Question Time (B6-0339/2005).

We shall take a number of questions to the Commission.

Part 1


  David Martin (PSE). – Madam President, I am glad that Question Time is being extended to 8 p.m. because it is all too easy for the time allotted to it to be reduced, as has happened so often in the past.

My point of order concerns my own question, No 69, which I tabled specifically because Mr Mandelson was scheduled to address the House and take questions this evening. It is about the WTO, yet inexplicably it seems to have been listed as a general question. Could you explain why?


  President. The only explanation I can give to you is that it is customary in this House for the Commission to decide which Commissioner answers each question. That is why your question has been listed under Part 3 of Question Time.


  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – I have a question for Mr Mandelson on the same issue, so perhaps he might oblige and answer the question privately?


  President. That may well be one way of resolving the issue. Failing that, I can only give you the same answer I have already given to Mr Martin.


  President. Question No 37 by Manuel Medina Ortega (H-0893/05)

Subject: Taxation of passenger air traffic

Is the Commission considering ways of preventing national measures on the taxation of passenger air traffic, such as a tax on tickets or aviation fuel, becoming an obstacle to the internal market?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The issue of taxes on air traffic has been much debated lately, but it has been among the instruments considered in the search for new sources of funding for official aid to developing countries, in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The honourable Member is no doubt aware that the Council has been actively considering the issue and that the Commission has produced several staff working papers on the technical aspects at the request of the Council. Two types of tax instruments have been considered: the taxation of aviation fuel and a levy on airline tickets, also known as a departure tax. From the internal market point of view, the legal setting is not the same for those two types of taxes.

Taxes on aviation fuel are covered by Community legislation in the form of the energy tax directive, 2003/96/EC. Although aviation fuel is, in principle, exempt from taxes, the Member States may choose to tax fuel for domestic flights. They may also tax fuel for flights between Member States, provided they agree bilaterally to do so. However, in practice there is no scope to tax fuel used by third-country carriers operating in the EC.

As regards a levy on airline tickets, there are no specific Community provisions. Member States are therefore free to apply such levies on the obvious condition that they comply with their commitments under the EC Treaty.

The honourable Member has asked whether the Commission is considering ways to prevent such taxes on air travel becoming obstacles to the internal market. I would first like to stress that the fact that a product or service is taxed does not mean that its free movement is obstructed. There is an obstacle to the internal market only if a tax is heavier on transactions between Member States than on similar transactions within a Member State. The Commission will make full use of its powers to enforce the Treaty against any discriminatory taxes on air travel, as it does for all other taxes. However, I understand that the discussions between Member States at this stage focus mainly on airline ticket levies. In this respect I must stress that, in the absence of Community rules, this is first and foremost a matter for the Member States themselves, acting within their fiscal sovereignty.

Nevertheless, the Commission has argued in its staff working papers that there are good reasons to prefer a common approach to ticket levies. The Commission has also declared that it is willing to work on the technical aspects with the Member States that intend to pursue this option. That would help to ensure compatibility with Treaty obligations.

I should like to point out that the Commission is continuously monitoring the functioning of the internal market. Taxes of the kind mentioned in the honourable Member’s question are still rare. Should the Commission identify a structural problem linked to the taxation of air travel, be it fuel taxes or ticket levies, it could ultimately make use of its right to propose appropriate legislation.


  Manuel Medina Ortega (PSE). – (ES) Mr Mandelson, while you are here, and bearing in mind that you are responsible for the European Union’s external field, I would like to ask you whether you are aware that the countries that would be most harmed by a tax on air tickets, for the benefit of globalisation, would be the countries of the third world, who largely depend on tourism for their progress, tourism being moreover one of their few activities?

Secondly, a tax on air tickets and on aviation fuels would harm States of an island or peninsular nature. This tax has been thought up entirely from a continental point of view and would in fact genuinely restrict the traffic between the continental areas of the European Union and the regions and countries of an island nature, particularly outlying ones or those furthest from the centre of the European Union.

I hope that you can communicate my concern to Commissioner Kovács.


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. In response to your first question concerning tourism, increased taxation of air travel could in theory lead to a reduction in air travel demand. However, the increase in the price of the air ticket must be viewed in the context of the overall cost of a travel package – i.e. travel, accommodation and leisure spending – of which it is usually a minor part. The possible impact on tourism should also be set against the overall trend of a very strong growth in tourism demand. There are therefore good reasons for thinking that the overall impact on tourism will be moderate.

In answer to your second question about remote and peripheral regions, the increased cost of air travel may have a greater impact on regions that are highly dependent on air transportation. However, as air ticket taxes are primarily a matter for Member States, those who choose to apply such taxes will have latitude to design their taxes so as to provide correctives to take into account the special circumstances of remote regions and the social needs of their inhabitants.

The Commission has stated that it is prepared to work with Member States, as I have already said, on the technical aspects of airline tickets. This could include looking at various correctives for remote and peripheral regions within the framework of Community rules.


  Josu Ortuondo Larrea (ALDE). – (ES) Commissioner, I agree that the States should take measures to strengthen the development policy in those countries which, precisely because they do not offer their citizens opportunities, send us more and more immigrants, causing serious problems in the European Union.

In this regard, I would like to ask whether the Commission has sufficiently analysed other alternatives to this same end, such as the proposal by the economist Mr Tobin of creating a tax on financial transactions, which would not affect tourism.


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The short answer to that question is that the Commission is not considering alternatives, for example the envisaged Tobin tax, which is a rather controversial proposal contested by many.

The proposals that the Commission has examined are those that have emerged from discussions amongst our Member States. They are, as I say, subject to staff working papers. They are not currently subject to the initiation of the Commission itself.

Obviously, should a so-called Tobin tax start to be canvassed or promoted by a large number of our Member States, that is no doubt something that the Commission could examine and bring forward views on.


  Agnes Schierhuber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, we are all aware that developing countries are particularly worthy of our attention and concern. Yet the question that always occurs to me is why we are not prepared to impose a tax on aviation fuel in the same way that we do on other energy sources, in particular fossil fuels. Turning to the matter of environmental pollution, I should like to draw the House’s attention to the major problems that are sometimes experienced under airport flight paths.


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The honourable Member has made a perfectly valid observation. It should be pointed out that although a fuel tax would have an impact on prices, it may in fact contribute to putting air travel on an equal footing with alternative means of transportation, such as road travel, for which taxes are currently paid on fuel, and which are often the only option for the less well-off traveller. The point made by the honourable Member will no doubt be taken into consideration by those interested in pursuing this matter.


  President. Question No. 38 by Sarah Ludford (H-0896/05)

Subject: Data protection and EU databases

In both the first and the second annual reports to the Council and the European Parliament (SEC(2004)0557 and SEC(2005)0839) on the activities of the Central Unit of Eurodac, the EU database on asylum-seekers, it was reported that this unit had registered a surprisingly high number of 'special searches'. This is a category intended for the implementation of Article 18(2) et seq. of the Eurodac Regulation, i.e for data-protection purposes in order to safeguard the right of the data subject to access his or her own data.

However, these special searches have been made without the national supervisory authorities being able to confirm that these cases did indeed involve persons requesting access to their own data. What action has the Commission taken in order to find out the status of these special searches? Has the Commission fulfilled its commitment to continue monitoring the application of the Eurodac Regulation in this respect? If so, what was the result?


  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. The honourable Member Baroness Ludford asks for clarification regarding special searches in relation to Eurodac and action taken by the Commission. I am glad to respond to this question, which falls within the field of responsibility of Commission Vice-President Frattini.

Firstly, a search is defined as special when it aims not to determine the Member State responsible for an asylum application, but to guarantee to each individual the exercise of his or her rights as provided for in the Data Protection Directive.

Article 18 of the Eurodac Regulation sets out the procedures for the exercise of the right to information and to access to, correction or erasing of personal data processed by Eurodac. These rights are granted by EU data protection legislation and they aim to ensure the protection of the right to privacy of the individual. Indeed, in accordance with Article 18(2) and under the Eurodac Regulation, any person residing in a Member State has the right to obtain in any Member State data relating to her or him that is recorded in the central database and that the Member State transmitted to the Central Unit. She or he can subsequently ask that Member State to correct data that was factually inaccurate or to erase data that was unlawfully recorded. It is worth noting that only a few Member States sent such searches to the Central Unit.

Under the system laid down by EU data protection legislation, the Member States’ data protection authorities and the European data protection supervisor are the competent authorities to monitor the lawfulness of personal data-processing activities by Eurodac. During a recent Eurodac users’ meeting, the Commission reminded Eurodac users of their legal obligations. At another meeting organised by the European Data Protection Supervisor, the Commission drew the attention of the EDPS and the national supervisory authorities to the high number of special searches noted in the Eurodac Central Unit.

The Commission is following this issue closely since it is important to clarify whether activities carried out by national authorities within the framework of Eurodac comply with our established data protection rules.


  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Thank you, Commissioner Rehn, up to a point. What you are saying is that the Commission knows no more than national data protection supervisory authorities why these special searches are being made. The reason that the topic is so important is that demand for access to EU databases is growing at a fast pace.

In the case of Eurodac, how do we know that these special searches were not unauthorised access by national agencies masquerading as searches on behalf of individuals checking their own data? If the Commission does not know the answer, what trust can we have in its watchdog function as data protection comes under increasing pressure? I would remind you that the Commission is responsible for the enforcement of the rules of this regulation.


  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. First, I will pass on your concerns to Commissioner Frattini. Second, the Commission has asked for further clarification from one Member State where a particularly high number of searches were noticed in a very short period of time.

You will understand that at this stage, without knowing the exact reasons for these numbers, I do not want to name and blame any particular Member States. I repeat that, even if we are surprised by these numbers, there is no evidence at this stage that the Eurodac Regulation has been incorrectly applied.


  President Question No. 39 by Giorgos Dimitrakopoulos (H-0904/05)

Subject: Kosovo

Is the participation of the European Union in negotiations on the future of Kosovo secure? And has a list been drawn up of subjects and problems in respect of which the European Union, and in particular the Commission and European Parliament, could make a substantive contribution, especially since existing documents of EU institutions on Kosovo specifically mention the prospect of possible future membership?


  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Let me start by pointing out that the ultimate responsibility in decision-making to facilitate the political process to determine Kosovo’s future status is in the hands of the United Nations Secretary-General, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

The Commission is satisfied with the UN Secretary-General’s recent recommendation and its subsequent endorsement by the Security Council that says talks on Kosovo’s future status should go ahead. The Commission is also pleased with the appointment of President Martti Ahtisaari on 1 November this year as the UN Secretary General’s special representative or status envoy to lead the talks on the future of Kosovo. The Commission fully supports the efforts of the international community and of President Ahtisaari to prepare and work out a balanced and sustainable settlement in Kosovo and we shall obviously work closely with President Ahtisaari to achieve this objective. Concerning the EU’s participation and the Commission’s role, I would like to point out four things.

First of all, we must ensure that the outcome is compatible with the European perspective for Kosovo and covers the whole western Balkans region.

Secondly, we need to empower the local authorities, our future interlocutors and, at the same time, maintain a streamlined international presence as a security guarantee in Kosovo.

Thirdly, and I am sure that the European Parliament agrees with me on this issue in particular, our common goal must be ‘status with standards’. It is of paramount importance that the rights of minorities and the protection of cultural and historical sites are ensured in order to achieve a sustainable settlement that facilitates stability and the European perspective for the whole region.

And finally, economic development is crucial for the future of Kosovo. I shall soon present a joint paper on the EU’s overall policy on Kosovo with Javier Solana. In that document we will outline how we will facilitate the status process with appropriate financial resources, something on which the Commission would like to work closely with Parliament. I count on your support for this very important endeavour.


  Giorgos Dimitrakopoulos (PPE-DE).(EL) Madam President, I want to thank the Commissioner and his staff for their reply and cooperation and simply to reiterate two points.

Firstly, it is very important to support the European prospects of Kosovo, as the UN ambassador, Mr Eide, says in several paragraphs of his report.

Secondly, it is very important, given that a joint paper is to be drafted with Mr Solana, as the Commissioner said, for the European Union to have specific negotiating tactics on specific points, so that we can help to address the problems which arise and, at the same time, so that all this together can constitute its European prospects.


  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. I would like to thank Mr Dimitrakopoulos for his question and for the follow-up question. I can assure him that we have indeed a common objective in ensuring that the European perspective is the future of Kosovo.

I agree that this was very much underlined in the report by Ambassador Eide on standards in Kosovo. In my view, the Eide Report is very professional, of very high quality, is very objective and realistic. It also underlines the need to ensure both standards and status as we make progress in this negotiation process. I can also ensure that, in the joint paper with Mr Solana, we outline our objective of a balanced and sustainable settlement.


  Bart Staes (Verts/ALE). – (NL) Madam President, I could not agree more with the Commissioner when he says that Kosovo must be offered a European perspective. Even the local authorities agree that a military presence will be needed as soon as it has gained independence. I would like to ask the Commissioner whether this means that, in the fullness of time, when this independent status has been attained, the KFOR troops will be pulled out and will be replaced by European troops? If so, does he have any idea yet how much this is going to cost the European Union, and are the European Union and the Commission prepared to ensure that there are enough funds available?


  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. President Ahtisaari has just started his work and is engaged in shuttle diplomacy in Belgrade, Pristina and with the international community. Therefore, I would not like to jump the gun and predict the proposal of the UN envoy President Ahtisaari. In my view it is better to let him work, let him consult with the different parties and then, when the time is right, try to achieve a solution with the necessary determination. Therefore I do not think it wise to take a stand at this point on whether and in which format K-For should continue in Kosovo.

I want to say two things. First of all it is necessary for there to be an international presence in the future too, as a security guarantee. Second, we are starting our needs assessment work in regard to financing in Kosovo, so that we support the work of the international community and President Ahtisaari.


Part 2

Questions to Mr Michel


  President Question No. 40 by Bart Staes (H-0894/05)

Subject: Impact of FLEGT on the protection of social rights and the environment in developing countries

The FLEGT action programme to combat illegal logging focuses mainly on the legal aspects of logging, while largely neglecting sustainable forest management. Yet legal logging in itself affords no guarantee whatsoever of sustainable development of the developing countries concerned, of any improvement in the social situation of local people or protection of biodiversity and the environment. Does the Commission consider that, during the negotiations concerning partnerships under FLEGT, binding conditions should be agreed concerning development aspects (both social and environmental) in order to improve the living conditions of the local population, and is legality a basic precondition for access to the European market rather than an aim of FLEGT in its own right?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the EU action plan known as FLEGT – Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade – focuses solely on questions of legality and does not address the broader and more complex issues of the sustainable development of forestry. There is a clear difference between the two: legal timber can be harvested in an unsustainable way, for example through authorised land clearance; and illegal timber can come from sustainable sources, as in the case of timber harvested under indigenous management systems which are sustainable but do not comply with formal legal requirements.

In most countries, however, forest law is based on principles of sustainable development. Accordingly, improved governance and better implementation of the law will lead to more sustainable forest management. The partnership agreements to be concluded as part of the FLEGT action plan will also be a means of bringing together the parties concerned in order to address the broader aspects of governance in the forestry sector and, where applicable, to support the implementation of regulatory legislative reforms. The Commission hopes that these procedures will help to improve the quality and fairness of the law and governance in the partner States. In turn, I trust you will understand that, despite the importance attached to it, the issue of legality in the FLEGT action plan is not an end in itself but rather a means of working together with the partner States to improve governance in the forestry sector.

That being said, the EU’s FLEGT action plan is an initiative aimed at bringing about change through the commitment of the parties. It is therefore not a good idea to impose strict social and environmental conditions on potential partners; conditions that are too strict would be detrimental to their commitment to the partnership agreements. It is also true that, even though the EU’s FLEGT action plan places the emphasis on governance and legality, the Union remains determined to encourage sustainable forest management in developing countries. In the past ten years, the EU has earmarked more than EUR 700 million for sustainable forest management in Asia, Central Africa and South America.


  Bart Staes (Verts/ALE). – (NL) Madam President, Commissioner, I thank you for your response and some of your observations. Obviously, cooperation with those partnership countries can be a good thing, but we all know that nothing will prevent possible partnership countries, including China, for example, from importing timber into Europe illegally via third countries anyway. Greenpeace reported very recently that it has discovered illegal networks extending from Congo-Brazzaville to Italy, from Papua New Guinea to China and then on to Great Britain. My question is therefore how the Commission, and the Commissioner in particular, intends to put a stop to practices of that kind?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) The Commission naturally understands, for example, the desire – I have been questioned recently on this issue – to see the application of a unilateral ban on illegally sourced timber. However, we must accept that, in practice, this measure would not resolve the problem of the illegal exploitation of forests. Firstly, by implementing a unilateral ban on importing illegally sourced timber into the Union, we would not be providing the customs authorities with an instrument enabling them to establish whether or not the wood is legally sourced. In itself, this ban would not therefore be sufficient to prevent illegally sourced timber from entering the Union. In order to distinguish between legally and illegally sourced timber – and this is the enormous problem facing us – we clearly need the full cooperation of the exporting countries.

Secondly, a ban at European level will not provide a means for dealing with the problem of governance in the producing countries. This is why the Commission has proposed taking an approach based on establishing partnerships with the wood-producing countries. This method will facilitate the required cooperation between the European Union and the producing countries with a view to tackling the problem of corruption and the deficiencies noted in the field of governance, which lead to the clandestine exploitation of forests. Without redoubling and combining efforts to eradicate corruption in the wood sectors of the producing countries, the measures intended to halt the trade in illegally sourced timber associated with the clandestine exploitation of forests will have no impact.

Thirdly, the approach based on partnerships is targeted and proportional. It will allow us to focus attention and resources on the countries most affected by this problem without affecting trade with the countries in which the clandestine exploitation of forests does not pose serious problems. The majority of trade in wood-based products is not subject to presumptions of illegality.

That being the case, we must agree on how to react, when exchanges with non-partner countries are subject to presumptions of illegality. This issue will be examined in more depth during a later evaluation exercise. I would like to emphasise that the measures examined in the case of this evaluation exercise are not intended to replace the recommended voluntary approach, laid out in the FLEGT action plan, but to complement it where necessary. I would also like to point out that we are talking about an evaluation exercise and that we have no intention of putting forward new legislative proposals at this point.

The Commission is committed to reviewing and analysing the feasibility of supplementary legislation to support the FLEGT action plan, as has been requested of me here. As I promised, therefore, I have communicated the message to the Council. Unfortunately, this work has been slowed down by the delays linked to the confirmation of the active participation of the Member States and by the decision that we have taken to focus the meagre resources on the implementation of the voluntary approach laid out in the action plan. The assessment is under way and it is being carried out in close cooperation with the Member States, since many of the potential measures fall within national competence.

The options studied include the policy in the field of public procurement, money laundering, stolen goods and anti-corruption legislation, as well as the feasibility of the practical aspects of the new legislation for controlling imports of illegally harvested wood.

I would like to end by telling you that, during the short time I was Commissioner for Research, I had the opportunity to visit the Commission’s research centre near Milan, and I saw some extremely interesting work being done there. This included satellite surveillance which makes it possible to monitor very closely both deforestation and reforestation. I therefore believe that it would perhaps be useful also to assess whether this may be a tool that will enable us at least, in our political dialogue with the countries, to urge them to be rather more inclined to help us. It is a technological resource that would allow us to monitor how this situation develops much more closely. I do not know whether you have been able to go and visit that centre, to go and see what it can do, but I can assure you that I was extremely impressed. It is entirely possible to carry out relatively precise monitoring of the sometimes dramatic and sometimes rather more optimistic development of this situation.


  John Bowis (PPE-DE). – Commissioner, I am sure that Parliament wishes to strengthen your arm in terms of taking further action on the basis of the report which, under the Action Plan, was to be submitted by 2004.

One way in which we can strengthen your arm is to press for action under the very welcome summit agreement signed with China in September. Can the Commissioner state how he thinks that will help stop the laundering of wood in China and that region?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr Bowis, unfortunately, all I can tell you is that I am taking a proactive approach and that this issue will be on the agenda when we hold talks with our partners. I can only offer you my good intentions. There are two things that I should like to see happen. I should firstly like the Member States, by which I mean the Council, to be a little more proactive on this issue. I feel that it would help us if, for example, the examination of the requests we put together were not blocked, because I am not opposed to stronger legislation – far from it. We shall have to go through this at some stage, in any event.

I then mentioned an approach, which I would classify as technical, that would at least enable pressure to be brought to bear on the partner States and, naturally, on the Member States. What we actually need is a way – a scientific way, let us say – of identifying and classifying the origin of wood. This is something we managed to do on a technical level with diamonds, for example; there are now perfectly accurate ways of certifying the origin of a diamond. This is more or less the direction in which we should look to go.


  Agnes Schierhuber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, family-run forestry operations in Europe represent a convincing example of sustainable forestry practices that benefit the economy as a whole. I would ask the Commissioner whether he thinks it would be possible to provide on-the-ground support to the countries we are debating in the form of technical advice, in order to avoid having to react after the event yet again. You mentioned research, and this leads me to an obvious point, namely that in the future wood will continue to be a raw material used in the manufacture of many other products.


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) In all of our development programmes, it is clear that the action that you suggest in your question can fall under development projects. Furthermore it is perfectly eligible for similar projects, such as obtaining technical assistance, implants, and a number of other measures. Naturally, we are very attentive to this aspect of the issue. The question that you raise with regard to development projects is becoming an increasingly across-the-board one. Development projects affecting countries, regions or areas are perfectly eligible. Indeed, a number are already underway.


  President Question No. 41 by Othmar Karas (H-0902/05)

Subject: Development cooperation

There has been a call to increase donor countries' overseas development aid (ODA) to 0.7% of their respective GDP. This would make it possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the agreed deadline of 2015. For this to happen, national ODA needs to be increased in the following phases: a 'substantial increase' by 2006, 0.5% of GDP by 2009 and 0.7% of GDP by 2015.

In many countries, however, this percentage is calculated taking debt relief into account, meaning that no additional funding is provided, even though this funding is crucial to the achievement of the MDGs. What other elements are included in the calculation of 0.7% and how can a standard calculation basis be established? How can Member States be made legally accountable in this regard?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, it is perfectly clear that there must be a substantial increase in financial resources for development if the Millennium Goals are to be achieved by 2015.

As you are aware, the EU takes a serious approach to the challenges related to mobilising the budgetary funds required to reduce poverty by half by 2015. The EU accordingly set itself a first interim objective in 2002 of increasing development assistance in 2006. The Union as a whole would like to achieve a level of aid corresponding to 0.39% of GNP for official development assistance.

Last May, the Council adopted proposals to begin a new phase with the aim of jointly reaching a level of 0.56% by 2010, and subsequently 0.7% of GNP by 2015. I realise that these objectives are ambitious, but they are also realistic and have not been set by chance. I welcome the fact that four of our Member States have already achieved that level of aid, and that six others have indicated that they are seeking to achieve it by 2015.

There is a more precise definition of the term ‘official development assistance’, established by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and recognised worldwide, according to which debt relief is deemed to be development assistance. This is justified by the fact that debt relief releases funds for the purpose of helping poor countries develop that had previously been channelled into servicing that debt.

Since the Monterrey Conference on financing for development, there has been an increase in the flow of aid from the EU aimed at reaching the 2006 interim objective. A sizeable proportion of that increase is due to debt relief measures.

According to the Monterrey Consensus, however, the debt relief initiative for highly indebted poor countries should, and I quote, ‘be fully financed through additional resources’. Accordingly, the Commission indicated in its 2005 annual follow-up report on the Union’s Monterrey undertakings that the impact of debt relief efforts on aid flows must be examined carefully. We shall of course be keeping a watchful eye on this matter in future annual follow-up reports. In this connection, I would point out that the EU is committed to mobilising around EUR 66 billion annually from 2010, which amounts to EUR 20 billion more than the figure set for 2006. In light of the amounts of assistance envisaged, the impact of debt relief on official development assistance will be limited in the short to medium term.


  Othmar Karas (PPE-DE). – (DE) Commissioner, I note that you take it as read that we will achieve the interim goal in 2006. I would therefore ask when you will be able to submit a report on this issue, and what the consequences will be for those countries that do not achieve this goal, since if we do not achieve the first goal we will make only slow progress in achieving the second. What additional projects, by which I mean EU cofinanced projects, do you intend to propose to help countries achieve these goals, and what will their main emphasis be?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Perhaps I did not make myself clear in my first speech. I wanted to say that what has been promised for 2006 will not only be achieved but in fact surpassed. We will be doing more in 2006 than we promised, or, to put it another way, we are slightly ahead of schedule. In order not to lose that momentum, which is relative, I have proposed a new objective for 2010. I think I made this clear – it is fairly realistic to think that the 2010 objective will be met. Unfortunately, I do not have any stick with which to force Member States that backslide to honour their obligations.

That being said, I do feel that there is now an awareness of the fact that development policy is of central importance and that, whatever the circumstances, we no longer have any excuse not to honour our commitments. As regards the Millennium commitments, there are also no more excuses. If the will is there, the finances can be found, and I believe that the political will is indeed there. All that remains is to turn it into action.

The next question – and this is the question you are asking – is how additional resources are to be found. You are aware that some countries have already decided to operate a levy or to impose a surcharge on air tickets. You are also aware that we have spoken, and continue to speak, about the Tobin tax on financial transactions, although no consensus has been reached to give the go-ahead.

I should personally like to say that I am of course open to any new ideas on the subject. Some time ago I put forward the idea of a tax on the arms market. Yet there is a minor moral question that comes into play: the legal arms market accounts for USD 1 thousand billion per year, whereas the illegal market is put at more than USD 2 thousand billion. The problem is therefore whether to tax the legal arms trade while, unfortunately, the illegal market escapes?

As you know, in a few minutes Mr Rocard is set to ask a question on the creation of a worldwide lottery, an idea to which I am most open. You will also know that the proceeds from fines paid to the Commission for non-compliance with competition rules is under discussion. Why not set aside this money for development? There is a whole range of options that we are currently assessing to see if they are technically feasible.

I should like to inform you that I have other ideas, albeit subject to the Member States’ acceptance before they can be put in place. Most of these ideas will be neither useful nor genuinely effective if only three, four, five or six countries put them into practice. This has to be done on a far more widespread basis. In conclusion, I have the impression that we will be able to increase development assistance substantially in the years ahead.


  President. Question No. 42 by Marie-Hélène Aubert (H-0934/05)

Subject: Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

At a time when the holding of free elections still poses many problems in Africa, the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should be closely monitored. Alarming news has been reaching us about the credibility of the future ballots, including the lack of transparency of the electoral body, mass fraud during registration on the electoral roll, intimidation aimed at deterring participation at election centres, predominantly in the east of the country, and the exclusion of large swathes of the population, including Congolese expatriates (including over 3 million in the European Union). These irregularities will inevitably lead to democratic political forces refusing to take part in the ballot and one can expect the results to be disputed.

The European Union has actively supported the holding of these elections and should keep a close eye on what is happening in the DRC. Therefore, what information does the Commission have on the organisation of the elections in the DRC? How does it plan to support the smooth running of those elections? What action would it take in the event of mass fraud?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, together with the whole of the international community, the Commission is monitoring the election process in the DRC and its organisation by the independent electoral commission very closely. I personally carried out a mission to monitor the registration of voters at the end of August of this year with a view to observing the conditions in which that registration was being carried out. Despite the poor state of the country’s infrastructure, the number of voters registered to date has exceeded 21 million. This figure is largely consistent with the demographic projections calculated on the basis of the last general population census, which is currently the most reliable statistical basis on which to work.

Voter registration is governed by a specific law establishing the conditions for registration on a voluntary basis. Furthermore, the electoral commission had taken steps to guarantee that all registration centres were treated in the same way and that no region or zone suffered from the late opening of a centre. To give you a quick idea of the great technical difficulty faced, I must tell you that it has been necessary to distribute more than 10 000 registration kits throughout Congolese territory, despite the fact that, in certain areas, there are no more tracks, there are no more roads, and that helicopters have had to be used. You can perhaps imagine, therefore, what a huge job it is.

Furthermore, in order to prevent any danger of double registration or mass fraud as far as possible – since the question mentions it – the electoral commission, with the endorsement of the international community, opted for voter registration on the basis of biometric data, the immediate issuing of the voter’s card, the daily posting of lists of registered voters in each registration office, the use of indelible ink and the cleaning up of voter lists on the basis of biometric data. The Commission is supporting the organisation of the electoral process by means of a substantial contribution of EUR 149 million via a trust fund managed by the United Nations development programme. In this regard, it is participating actively in the steering committee of the project supporting the electoral process, which monitors the activities managed by the electoral commission within the framework of the project.

With a view to guaranteeing that the elections are carried out in accordance with international standards, the Commission has just decided to send a mission of electoral observers whose work will begin from the constitutional referendum of 18 December and will continue until the end of the electoral process.

At this point, there is no reason to suspect that there is mass fraud in the organisation and conduct of the elections. Naturally, when I say ‘mass’, I would point out that this must be viewed within the context of 22 million registrations. This afternoon I have received figures that indicate that fraud has been noted, that some of it is deliberate, that in some cases it is not clear whether it is deliberate, and that mistakes have also been made. People who work on this type of registration are generally Congolese citizens who have been trained by the company that has provided the kits and, when millions of people are being registered, we must of course expect a percentage of purely technical errors and handling errors. When a mistake is made with a name, once the machine has registered it, it cannot be removed straight away. Nevertheless, work can be done at central level. It is there that any duplications among these 22 million or so people who are registered at the moment are going to be eliminated. We may therefore assume that, once these duplications have been dealt with, there will undoubtedly be around 21 to 22 million voters legally registered, with no duplications.

In the event that irregularities that are sufficiently serious to jeopardise the transparency, credibility and representativeness of the process are noted by the mission of electoral observers, in accordance with the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement, the Commission is prepared to hold an enhanced political dialogue with a view to identifying corrective measures. That is not the case at the moment, we are far from that. I shall give you the figures.

The results of the deduplication – to use that very inelegant term – for the operational area of Kinshasa have been presented today at the meeting of the technical committee on the electoral process. Of a total of 2 963 101 voters registered in Kinshasa, 150 000 cases of duplications have been identified. There are 18 587 cases of technical duplications – which is what I was just talking about, handling errors – 10 490 cases of fraud and 121 000 cases of potential fraud. The total number of duplications therefore represents around 5% of the total number of registered voters.

With regard to the percentage of fraudulent duplications, it should be borne in mind that, once a duplication has been identified, each case does not involve one person, but at least two. That is why, even when we add up the cases of fraud and cases of potential fraud, there will be 2% of fraud at the most amongst the total number of cases registered. The figures relating to cases of potential fraud will be made known during next week, as well as the result of the deduplication for Lower Congo. So everything is going to be cleaned up at central level and there should therefore be an entirely correct general electoral list, with no fraud, so that it will be possible in any event to say that this election, if it takes place, will be conducted on an entirely correct basis in terms of registered voters.

I have also been able to observe how it was working on the ground, and I must tell you that it was rather impressive. All of those people who were registering and who wanted to register, who were very happy to do so, effectively were being given the opportunity for the first time to enjoy a legal status in relation to their State. For the first time they received a voter’s card which, to a certain extent, also served as an identity card, which was something new for those people who had never had any real papers. All of this was very impressive to see and the fact that more than 22 million voters have been able to register under those conditions – it is not yet entirely complete, since there are a few days left – is a very great success, a success also for the international community and in particular for the European Union, which has worked very hard to support the process.


  Marie-Hélène Aubert (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Thank you, Commissioner, for your encouraging and highly technical comments. You are aware that development aid cannot be truly effective unless there are minimum levels of democracy and rule of law.

I would like to put a supplementary question about freedom of expression and freedom of the press. We are aware of a number of events that demonstrate that there are considerable difficulties in this field, which involve journalists and a number of members of the opposition attempting to express their views. Voter lists are one thing, but freedom of expression is quite another. Could you provide us with more information about what the Commission would do in the event that abuse is observed?


  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) The level of political dialogue that we have achieved with the Congolese authorities would allow us, if necessary, to intervene and certainly convince them to change course.

With regard to freedom of the press, Mrs Aubert, I do not know whether you have been following the Congolese press on the ground. If you like, I can supply you with a number of newspapers, including all the newspapers that appear on a daily basis in Kinshasa and other towns. I must tell you that, as a whole, the Congolese press is characterised by a degree of freedom of expression, a freedom to make accusations against anybody they like – which are sometimes at my expense, by the way – which is found in few democracies. So if there is one area in which truly substantial progress has been made, it is the freedom of the press, though there is plenty to say about other issues, in particular governance. For journalists in Kinshasa and elsewhere, there is complete freedom of expression. I must point out that their particular positions do not matter. The accusation is entirely unfounded and, therefore, while I am not saying that all of the press is like this, I can tell you that the press can criticise anybody, whether it be the President or anybody else. So, with regard to freedom of the press in Congo, I believe that it is not a problem. There are other problems, enormous problems, but, to be absolutely frank, I do not have the feeling that there are problems in relation to this particular issue.

With regard to the opposition, I must tell you that, for my part, at the moment and for quite some time, I have not heard of any member of the opposition being prevented from taking part in the elections or, for example, from creating a political party, provided that they conform to the criteria, of course. I do not believe so. What I am saying does not mean that everything is perfect. We must simply bear in mind the progress made.

I have been following the Congo problem for many years, particularly in my other capacity, and I must point out that, over recent years, we have never been so close to having the opportunity to lead that country towards free and democratic elections, and to provide it with a degree of stability. It is my fervent hope that the Constitution will be ratified at the end of December and that the election will take place from March or April, in accordance with the latest timescale set. I have not said that I am indulging in blind optimism. I am simply saying that we have never been so close to achieving the minimum conditions for restoring stability in Congo.

It is true that I am extremely committed to this issue because I believe that stability in the DRC would undoubtedly be an extremely powerful factor in terms of stability throughout the region. It should be borne in mind that Central Africa practically represents a continent in itself. When we look at the number of deaths since 1994, when we look, I believe, at the progress made in Rwanda, the elections that have led to an unproblematic change of government in Burundi – which was rather unexpected – when I see, for example, the initial gestures and actions of President El Nkurunziza in Burundi for example, I hope that we can see the same kind of development in Congo in a few months time.


  President. Questions Nos 43 to 45 will be answered in writing(1).

Questions to Mr Mandelson


  President. Question No. 46 by Sajjad Karim (H-0906/05)

Subject: Greater transparency and accountability in the WTO negotiations

Trade is a matter of exclusive EU competence. It is, therefore, essential that MEPs, as elected representatives, are able to give EU trade policy full democratic scrutiny. The use of an unelected secretive committee, such as the Article 133 Committee which reports to the Council of Ministers, to formulate trade policy erodes the legitimate authority of MEPs to act on behalf of their constituents. With suggestions that even the strongest supporters of the WTO's NAMA, like the UK Government, are having trouble in proving that ‘free’ trade will actually satisfy their rhetoric on both poverty and sustainability, and with criticism from the European Ombudsmen concerning the transparency of trade discussions and negotiations, what plans does the Commission have to improve public access to the WTO negotiations? In particular, is the Commission going to conduct, and report on the findings of, full impact assessments in all areas of NAMA, including sensitive areas such as fisheries and forests?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The Commission is in favour of increasing the transparency and accountability of the WTO so as to reinforce the legitimacy of this institution.

On the functioning of the WTO, the EU has put forward a number of proposals for improvements, notably relating to the preparation and management of ministerial conferences, with the aim of facilitating more efficient negotiations and decision-making amongst an ever-growing membership. For instance, it should be possible to agree in the short term to a better definition of the role of the host of ministerial conferences. Equally, there is a need to improve the ability of smaller and non-resident delegations to negotiate effectively both in the Geneva process and at ministerial meetings.

Regarding parliamentary control, the Commission is in favour of granting the European Parliament more powers in terms of trade policy. It has therefore supported proposals putting the European Parliament on an equal footing with the Council in terms of trade policy-making in the Convention on the future of Europe.

Meanwhile, we are keeping the European Parliament fully informed of the conduct and conclusion of international negotiations by regularly taking part in formal and informal meetings of Parliament and transmitting policy documents to Parliament on a par with the Council, as well as consulting Parliament on the main trade policy orientations.

However, the Commission is bound to remain within the Treaty framework. The 133 Committee that is composed of representatives of the governments of the Member States is not a decision-making body, but a consultative body. Major policy decisions are taken by democratically elected ministers in the Council.

As regards transparency vis-à-vis the public in general, the Commission pursues a proactive policy of communication, amongst other things by putting relevant information on its website, through its regular dialogue with civil society and in replying to citizens’ requests for access to documents.

As far as sustainability impact assessments are concerned, they have already been conducted on the first batch of NAMA sectors in 2002/2003, i.e. textiles and clothing, pharmaceuticals and non-ferrous metals. The results have been available on the website of Manchester University since 2003, with suggestions for adjustment whenever imbalances have been revealed, both domestically or in third countries.

A study on forests has also been carried out and the results published in June 2005. A second batch of studies is currently being launched on another set of NAMA sectors and will include fisheries. The results of this second batch are likely to be published in the first half of next year.


  David Martin (PSE). – I welcome what the Commissioner said about keeping Parliament informed. Will he specifically commit himself to keeping Parliament’s delegation to the negotiations in Hong Kong fully informed as the WTO talks develop, so that it can play an active part in those talks and serve as a conduit for relaying information to the public to ensure full transparency?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. That is very important. Extensive arrangements have been put in place for the European Parliament’s delegation, not only to accompany us in Hong Kong, but to meet us every day, to be regularly informed. In fact, I have just written to the Chairman of the Committee on International Trade, informing him that there will be daily briefings every morning.

It is very important to note that what we are doing in Hong Kong is not some obscure, abstract process. It is about the daily lives and employment opportunities of billions of people. Our job is to justify what we do so as to secure public understanding and support for what we are negotiating at that very important ministerial meeting.


  James Hugh Allister (NI). – Commissioner, could I ask you to focus your attention for a moment on an aspect of substance in the WTO talks, namely the perception by many that agriculture is being made the whipping boy and the sacrifice in those talks.

CAP reform was undoubtedly sold as a means to protect agricultural tariffs from future attack. We were then told agriculture would be safe in the WTO. Now we find that you have, maybe somewhat precipitately, made a unilateral offer to slice those tariffs by a further massive percentage. One really does wonder whether there is an appreciation of the dire jeopardy in which agriculture in many regions like mine, with which you are familiar, is now being placed if that is the process that is to be followed.


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. It is all too tempting to say that if you were to persuade those with whom I am negotiating in the WTO that we are slashing our agricultural tariffs, then you will have done a better job of persuading them of the weight of our agricultural offer than I have. We have, of course, made a perfectly credible and serious offer concerning agricultural tariffs linked to proposals we have made in respect of domestic subsidies and the elimination of export subsidies. Those are proportionate, and are rooted very firmly within the envelope of the existing CAP reforms and do not go outside it. They are what we are required to do. We signed up to an original Doha mandate, and we then signed up to the framework agreement last summer which invites us to introduce measures that will bring about a substantial improvement in market access in agriculture. That is what I believe we are doing. However, we are not taking risks and we are not jeopardising or threatening the livelihoods of European farmers or farming communities. That is alarmist talk to which I do not subscribe.


  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, if the negotiations to be held in Hong Kong in accordance with the multilateral system break down – which is a distinct possibility, even if it is the last thing we all want – do you believe that it would then be easier or more difficult to establish a free trade area between Europe and America?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. I cannot think of anything more difficult or perhaps more painful than negotiating a free trade area between the European Union and the United States of America! However, I strongly believe there is scope for attacking some of the non-tariff barriers that stand in the way of growing trade and investment across the Atlantic.

As the honourable Member knows, this is something of great interest to me. I am particularly concerned about the regulatory differences, the lack of convergence and the obstacles that are thrown up because of the differences and frequent incompatibility between the different regulatory systems in Europe and the United States. However, both of those regulatory systems are rooted in tradition, past practice, and I suspect that we in Europe would have no greater luck in telling the Americans how to reform their regulatory systems than the Americans would have if they came over here and told us how to run our regulatory systems. Nevertheless, through patient dialogue and, I hope in due course, negotiation, we should be able to make some necessary and important improvements that will be of benefit to our respective business communities and, therefore, to jobs and livelihoods on both sides of the Atlantic.


  President. Question No. 47 by Hélène Goudin (H-0909/05)

Subject: Reduced tariffs on Thai prawns

The Commission has reduced tariffs on Thai prawns from 12% to 4.2%. It was originally planned to introduce the reduced tariffs on 1 July 2005 but the date was brought forward to 1 April as a result of the devastating tsunami. The hope is that, by reducing tariffs, the EU will help Thailand towards economic recovery. The Council previously agreed that EU aid to countries hit by the tsunami should help to reduce their vulnerability to any future natural disasters. Critics claim that the reduced tariffs on Thai prawns are contrary to the Council's agreement. The reason for this assertion is that prawn farmers cut down coastal mangrove forest to create lagoons. Mangrove forest provides important protection against storms, floods and giant waves. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation has emphasised that the tsunami would have had less of an impact if mangrove forest had not been razed to make way for prawn farms.

Does the Commission consider that support for prawn farms, in the form of reduced tariffs, is consistent with the Council's abovementioned decision? Has the Commission analysed the implications of prawn farming in Thailand with regard to the clearance of mangrove forest?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. Under the current Generalised System of Preferences – GSP – the unilateral scheme of tariff concessions granted to 180 developing countries which still applies until 1 January 2006, imports of fishery products including shrimps and prawns into the EU from Thailand’s main competitors – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil – are benefiting from reduced duties: from 12% to 4.2%. Thailand has been excluded from GSP preferences for fishery products since 1 January 1999 on the basis of its high level of competitiveness in the EU market.

The new GSP adopted by the Council on 27 June 2005 is based on different criteria and is also more generous to all GSP beneficiaries, including, it was decided, tsunami-affected countries like Thailand. Thus, from January 2006 onwards, Thailand will again benefit from reduced duties on its fishery products under the new GSP. This is consistent with the Commission and the Council’s overall aim to help tsunami-affected countries.

The Commission is aware that concerns have been raised about the issue of prawn farming in south-east Asia and the effects of removing mangrove forests to create lagoons. The Commission therefore supports the sustainable development of coastal-zone management in Asia via the transfer of best practices and environmental solutions from Europe to Asia.

The Commission’s EuropeAid Cooperation Office has so far committed funding for three projects dealing with rehabilitation of mangrove forests in tsunami-affected areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand through the Asia Pro Eco post-tsunami programme. This, moreover, should help safeguard shrimp production – an eligible sector under that programme – which is to address the development of environmental management in coastal areas engaging in aquaculture.


  President. Question No. 48 by Ilda Figueiredo (H-0930/05)

Subject: Problems in the footwear industry

As is well known, the footwear industry is currently undergoing grave problems thanks to international trade liberalisation. This is primarily affecting those Member States with more fragile economies, including Portugal, some of whose northern areas are now running the risk of high unemployment and the blockage of their development, as the author of this question has recently witnessed. A particularly grave factor has been the removal of quotas on imports from China, one of whose most visible results has been a fall in average import prices of approximately 50%.

Can the Commission state what action it is taking on the matter, especially with regard to the European Footwear Industry Confederation's request for an anti-dumping inquiry?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The Commission is aware of the recent development of imports into the Community of footwear originating in China and Vietnam. In that context, the Commission received earlier this year complaints submitted by the EU footwear industry containing convincing data indicating that the EU footwear industry is suffering from adverse effects caused by dumped prices of imports of footwear into the Community.

The Commission has acted promptly by initiating two anti-dumping investigations. The first concerns imports of footwear with a protective toe-cap originating in China and India. The second concerns imports of footwear with leather uppers from China and Vietnam.

The aim of those investigations is to establish whether the imports in question are dumped and have had a negative impact on the economic situation of the Community footwear industry. The investigations will also have to assess the impact and the possible adverse effect of any measures on the other economic operators in the Community.

The investigation has made progress. The Commission is now analysing the question of market economy treatment of the exporters concerned, the definition of the different categories and models of the products involved, the question of whether there is dumping, the impact of these imports on the Community’s shoe-producing industry and the position of traders, retailers and consumers. All that is in progress. It is not a surprise that it is a highly complicated case. Given the enormous technical problems, with hundreds of economic operators and a product that consists of thousands of different models, it is too early to give any concrete indication about the possible outcome.


  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) There are many small and medium-sized enterprises that are already closing down or on the brink of doing so. The effect of this is to exacerbate the unemployment problem in the areas in question – as in my country, for example, and in a number of other southern European countries – and seriously to hinder development in these areas. If the process does not move forward soon, it may be too late. I should therefore like to ask you how long the worst affected areas will have to wait before practical, effective measures, such as the safeguard clauses, will be put in place.


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The investigation will be completed within the prescribed time, though I am unable to say precisely when that will be. Provisional measures can be taken by the Commission between two and nine months after initiation of the investigation.

I should stress that this really is a very complex matter indeed; much more so than was originally anticipated when we began the investigation. We have to be very careful that we assess precisely not only what the effect on the Community interest is, but what the impact would be if we were to take anti-dumping action on a variety of different producers and economic operators in this sector. Some Community producers are themselves partly producing outside the Community.

Former fully-fledged Community producers have kept their research, design and development activities within the Community, but are getting supplies from a variety of sources, like China and Vietnam, but also Romania, Bulgaria and Brazil as well as Italy, Slovakia and other Member States. Those former producers also provide a considerable amount of jobs through these other economic activities.

You can see from this – and I could also identify other issues complicating this matter – that we have to be very careful in our assessment. We do not have a single homogenous set of European producers with one set of clearly identifiable and quantifiable interests. There are a variety of different producer interests and we have to ensure, after our initial judgement on whether the alleged dumping practices have been substantiated, what the impact would be on a variety of different producer interests should any action follow.


  David Martin (PSE). – I am pleased and relieved to hear the Commissioner’s response because I have been lobbied by European retailers who have invested considerable money in Asia, have improved health and safety conditions and working conditions in Asian countries, and are bringing economic benefits both to Asian workers and to European retailers. Would the Commissioner agree that it would be quite wrong if those companies were caught up in any anti-dumping duties?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The honourable Member has identified one such type of European producer whose interests I have to take into account. It will clearly not be easy to find a balanced and equitable solution in this very complex situation and, frankly, the Commission will need a fair amount of ingenuity and flexibility in order to lead this case to a solution acceptable for the Member States and the economic operators.

Having said that, Member States will soon receive a proposal from my services not to grant market economy treatment to the Vietnamese exporters, since state interference, subsidies and other competitive distortions are still widespread. The Commission has not yet assembled any results on China.


  Anne E. Jensen (ALDE). – (DA) Madam President, I also wish to thank Mr Mandelson for advocating free trade and speaking up for those industries that benefit from free trade. In specific connection with this matter, I should like to know why the anti-dumping investigation also extends to include sports shoes, which have been exempt from Regulation 467/98 and, overall, have been exempt from all import restrictions for many years. The kind of impression given is that the Commission has panicked at having been put under this pressure by forces in the EU that fear free competition. Can the Commissioner confirm that this is not the case?


  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. The honourable Member has put the finger on an important issue. She should not assume that anti-dumping duties will be levied on such sportswear producers. I have yet to satisfy myself that there is a direct Community competitor producing such sportswear. Therefore it is not yet clear to me as to what Community interest in that segment of the sector is being harmed. However, the investigation continues. I suspect that shortly we will be able to reach a view about the particular sector to which she refers.


  President. Questions Nos 49 to 53 will be answered in writing(2).

Questions to Mr Špidla


  President. Question No. 54 by Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (H-0890/05)

Subject: Restructuring forecasts

Which means is the Commission using to forecast the restructuring of enterprises and future economic and labour developments in each sector of the market and in each type of job, particularly in island, agricultural and remote areas?

Do the EU's bilateral and international commitments affect these forecasts?

Which mechanisms is the Commission using to maintain the sustainable development of these regions and preserve their social fabric, in particular by helping workers adjust to the new employment situation and planning training arrangements for the younger generation?


  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the Commission’s activities in the field of restructuring are carried out on a pan-European basis. It does not have special instruments at its disposal for forecasting the restructuring of enterprises and future economic and labour developments in each sector of the market and in each type of job in island, rural and outlying areas. Whereas each Member State has access to instruments for monitoring individual sectors and its own labour market, the Commission can only monitor specific sectors or regions on an individual basis. The Commission communication of 31 March 2005 on restructuring and employment provided the social partners with an opportunity to make their views on this matter known to the Commission. Furthermore, in its communication of 5 October on industrial policy, the Commission referred to certain industrial sectors in which structural changes may take place over the next few years. It follows that we must be able to anticipate these changes and to facilitate them at regional, national and European level. The tertiary sector may also be affected by restructuring, and detailed studies of this issue are needed.

The Commission is working together with the Dublin-based European Monitoring Centre on Change and actively participating in its projects, which are targeted at various sectors and at the monitoring of restructuring. The commitments the European Union has entered into and the treaties it has concluded on a bilateral and international basis have an impact on certain key aspects of restructuring, such as the extent to which markets are opened up, access to markets, technological innovation and technology sharing, and the social clauses in this type of treaty. The Commission has certain instruments at its disposal to promote the sustainable development of the regions, including and in particular the European Employment Strategy, the European Social Fund in the case of investment in human capital and the European Regional Development Fund in the case of investment in infrastructure, productive investment and the development of endogenous potential.

Assistance is available from the Structural Funds in the shape of medium-term strategy programmes aimed at forecasting and better managing industrial developments, and minimising their impact on workers. With this in mind, the Commission’s proposals for the 2007-2013 programming period prioritise the monitoring and management of change, under the goals of competitiveness and employment. The result of this will be a focus on three key issues; the major inequalities that exist in the field of employment, the continuing fast pace of economic and social restructuring, brought about by globalisation and the development of a knowledge-based economy, and demographic changes that will lead to an ageing of the workforce.

Among other things, this regulation provides for a contingency reserve of 1% for convergence regions and 3% for other regions. This will enable Member States to make use of the Funds to better manage economic and social restructuring and to better deal with the consequences of global market opening. On top of this, the Commission recently proposed setting up a Globalisation Adjustment Fund, aimed at tackling any adverse effects of restructuring. If this Fund is set up, it will support workers hit by globalisation-related crises.

As far as the education of future generations is concerned, the European education programmes Erasmus, Socrates and Leonardo enable thousands of young people to study abroad. In addition, the framework programmes for EU-funded research make it possible to fund key projects at EU level, particularly in the fields of employment, education, vocational training and innovation, and these projects will pave the way for further measures.


  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) Madam President, I thank the Commissioner for his fairly elucidating reply.

I specifically wished to ask if you have planned where the financing for this planned fund to strengthen restructurings is to come from and if provision has been made to publicise all these auxiliary measures in order to strengthen the confidence of Europeans in developments and prevent them from becoming discouraged in the face of the phenomenon of globalisation.


  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission (CS) It is of course the case that the funds currently at the Commission’s disposal mean that it can already respond to certain unexpected changes. To take one well-known example, 5 000 people were recently made redundant at Rover over a short period of time. The Commission made use of the Structural Funds to intervene, and this intervention has been widely acknowledged to have been a success. It goes without saying that this case was out of the ordinary, since it affected only one manufacturing plant in one country. The recent changes at Electrolux are an example of interrelated problems caused by major system restructuring, involving more than one country. At present we lack effective instruments to deal with cases of this kind, which is why the idea of a fund to tackle the effects of globalisation and restructuring has been mooted. Its aim would not be to protect non-competitive businesses, but to make it possible for people negatively affected by restructuring to find a new livelihood. To use a metaphor, if I may, our aim is not to save a sinking ship, but to rescue the crew and to get them to another ship or to dry land, so that they can carry on with their lives.

The fund will promote investment in human capital and in life-long learning, as well as the conclusion of agreements on employment and partnerships for innovation at national, regional and local level. It will also support the development of systems and instruments that make it easier to forecast social and economic change, encourage greater flexibility of workers and businesses affected by restructuring, and boost the administrative capacities and productivity of all stakeholders, for example by training managers involved in change. It will be possible to use instruments that already exist at Member State level, such as those used for the European Social Fund, to implement this fund.


  President. Question No. 55 by Joachim Wuermeling (H-0899/05)

Subject: Freedom of movement for workers

At the end of September, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, spoke on the subject of freedom of movement for workers at a meeting with social partners. Reports suggest that the Commission intends to lift the restriction on jobseekers from Eastern Europe as soon as possible.

However, the extremely high pay gap in the regions bordering the new Member States means that a delay in allowing the free movement of workers and services is of the utmost importance.

Does the Commission already have a firm plan to lift the restrictions for jobseekers from Eastern Europe? If so, how and when will this take place?


  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, when the treaties of accession were concluded, it was agreed that the ‘2+3+2’ policy would be adopted for the transition periods. One way of looking at these multiple transition periods, or intervals at which checks can be carried out in order to decide whether there is any point in extending them, is to view them as motivated by a desire both to sign the treaties of accession and to put an end to the transition periods, since the latter would make it impossible to achieve full freedom of movement for workers within as short a period of time as possible.

The Commission’s current obligation is to submit a report evaluating the impact of the transition periods in their first two years. Our aim is to draft a report which is credible and absolutely reliable in terms of methodology, and which takes all the surrounding circumstances into account, including the fact that some countries share borders with new Member States. I have to say that I attach a great deal of value to this report. As well as providing an authoritative basis for decision-making on such a sensitive issue, it must also serve as a platform for further work and evaluations in three years’ time. At this point decisions will again be taken in line with the treaty, since five years will have passed since the transitional period began, and there will be a great deal less room for manoeuvre then than after only two years. It is in our interest, not to say our supreme interest, to give due consideration to all the relevant circumstances surrounding this sensitive issue, including the geographical location of individual countries.


  Manfred Weber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Madam President, I should like to extend my sincere thanks to the Commissioner for his comments, and for his assurance that the report will be balanced. I should like to put the following supplementary question. Why is it that the public statements made by yourself and your officials have intimated that a decision has already been taken, and why is there such a rush to grant freedom of movement?

We all agree that freedom of movement is our goal, and we too uphold this fundamental principle of the European Union. The key issue, however, is ensuring that the concerns of all parties affected are taken seriously. To repeat my question, therefore, why have you already taken your decision on this matter?


  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission (CS) In a sense I have already answered this question in my previous response, but I believe that it is of such significance that it merits a more detailed answer. The treaty of accession divided up the transition periods into certain stages, on the assumption that these would be subject to in-depth evaluations. The implicit goal of these interim stages is to put an end to the transitional periods, and the sooner this happens the better. It is my firm belief that the free movement of workers is one of the major driving forces behind the European Union’s economic growth, by which I also mean job creation. It follows that this is therefore a matter of public interest.

Conversely, I am also very much aware that this is a highly sensitive issue. I would reiterate the point that our goal will be to submit a report that is regarded as authoritative, by which I mean that it will be above reproach methodologically speaking. Individual countries will naturally take their own decisions in line with the treaty, and they will be able to decide what is right for them on the basis of the facts. It is by no means the Commission’s intention to break up or bring about the destruction of the labour market in any country. The aim of the treaties of accession, however, is to create a common market and to achieve the free movement of workers within this common market, since this is one of the four key values which are upheld in the European Union and which underpin the concept of European integration. In view of this, I believe that we should act with due speed and with the necessary courage, after weighing up all the relevant information. It goes without saying that the responsibility for taking the decision lies with the governments.


  Claude Moraes (PSE). – Commissioner, thank you for restating your commitment to the principle of the free movement of workers. I very much agree.

However, I should like to ask you whether you plan to research or analyse, from the Commission point of view, the decision by the United Kingdom and other countries to open up their labour markets to free movement of labour immediately, as opposed to those countries which impose restrictions. Is this something that you plan to do and could you tell us if it is a feasible idea?


  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission (CS) There can be no question that the experience gained by the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden is a valuable source of information when it comes to assessing the impact of any termination or non-enforcement of transition periods. Careful evaluation is needed of these experiences, and this may well involve using certain studies.


  President. As the time allotted to Question Time is at an end, Questions Nos 56 to 90 will be answered in writing(3).

That concludes Question Time.

(The sitting was suspended at 8.15 p.m. and resumed at 9 p.m.)




(1) For questions not taken, see Annex: ‘Question Time’.
(2)For questions not taken, see Annex: ‘Question Time’.
(3) For questions not taken, see Annex: ‘Question Time’.

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