Index 
Debates
PDF 1288k
Tuesday, 24 April 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Opening of the sitting
 2. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (announcement of motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes
 3. Decision on urgent procedure
 4. Discharge for the financial year 2005 (debate)
 5. Combating HIV/Aids within the EU and in the neighbouring countries 2006-2009 (debate)
 6. Welcome
 7. Voting time
  7.1. EC-Malaysia Agreement on certain aspects of air services (vote)
  7.2. Europol staff salaries and allowances (vote)
  7.3. Tariff quotas for imports into Bulgaria and Romania of raw cane sugar (vote)
  7.4. Waiver of the immunity of Vural Öger (vote)
  7.5. Discharge 2005: Section IV, Court of Justice (vote)
  7.6. Discharge 2005: Section V, Court of Auditors (vote)
  7.7. Discharge 2005: Section VI, European Economic and Social Committee (vote)
  7.8. Discharge 2005: Section VIIIA, European Ombudsman (vote)
  7.9. Discharge 2005: Section VIII B, European Data Protection Supervisor (vote)
  7.10. Discharge 2005: 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th EDFs (vote)
  7.11. Discharge 2005: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (vote)
  7.12. Discharge 2005: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (vote)
  7.13. Discharge 2005: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (vote)
  7.14. Discharge 2005: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (vote)
  7.15. Discharge 2005: European Environment Agency (vote)
  7.16. Discharge 2005: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (vote)
  7.17. Discharge 2005: Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union (vote)
  7.18. Discharge 2005: European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (vote)
  7.19. Discharge 2005: Eurojust (vote)
  7.20. Discharge 2005: European Training Foundation (vote)
  7.21. Discharge 2005: European Maritime Safety Agency (vote)
  7.22. Discharge 2005: European Aviation Safety Agency (vote)
  7.23. Discharge 2005: European Food Safety Authority (vote)
  7.24. Discharge 2005: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (vote)
  7.25. Discharge 2005: European Network and Information Security Agency (vote)
  7.26. Payment services in the internal market (vote)
  7.27. Quota system in relation to the production of potato starch (vote)
  7.28. Future enlargements and cohesion (vote)
  7.29. The Commission's annual strategic priorities (Budget 2008) (vote)
  7.30. Discharge 2005: Section III, Commission (vote)
  7.31. Discharge 2005: Section I, European Parliament (vote)
  7.32. Discharge 2005: Section II, Council (vote)
  7.33. Discharge 2005: Section VII, Committee of the Regions (vote)
  7.34. Discharge 2005: European Agency for Reconstruction (vote)
  7.35. Combating HIV/Aids within the EU and in the neighbouring countries 2006-2009 (vote)
 8. Explanations of vote
 9. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
 10. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes
 11. Community vessel traffic monitoring - Investigation of accidents - Liability of carriers of passengers by boat in the event of accidents - Port State control - Ship inspection and survey organisations (debate)
 12. Commission Question Time
 13. Moving the inadmissibility of a matter (homophobia in Europe): see Minutes
 14. Multilateral Agreement on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area: Commission statement and report (debate)
 15. Galileo (debate)
 16. Common rules in the field of civil aviation security (debate)
 17. Assessment and management of flood risks (debate)
 18. Thematic Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources (debate)
 19. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 20. Closure of sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR COCILOVO
Vice-President

 
1. Opening of the sitting
  

(The sitting was opened at 9 a.m.)

 

2. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (announcement of motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes

3. Decision on urgent procedure
  

Proposal for a Council regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products (COM(2005)0671 – C6-0032/2006 – 2005/0278(CNS)).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie-Hélène Aubert (Verts/ALE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, very quickly, I call on all of the groups to reject this request for application of the urgent procedure, which is totally unnecessary. On the one hand, we are talking about a regulation that will only come into force on 1 January 2009, and, on the other hand, the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development is doing its job perfectly well. It addressed this issue during its last meeting and it will address it again on 7 and 8 May with the aim of making progress in our discussions with the Council. There are still two plenary sessions to be held right here in Strasbourg before the end of the German Presidency, and we have taken things well in hand. We are continuing our discussions. There is therefore no need to vote in favour of this request by the Council to have the urgent procedure applied.

 
  
  

(Parliament rejected the request for urgent procedure)

 

4. Discharge for the financial year 2005 (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the joint debate on

- the report (A6-0095/2007) by Salvador Garriga Polledo, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section III – Commission [SEC(2006)0916 – C6-0263/2006 – 2006/2070(DEC)] [SEC(2006)0915 – C6-0262/2006 – 2006/2070(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0094/2007) by Bart Staes, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section I – European Parliament [C6-0465/2006 – 2006/2071(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0108/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section II – Council [C6-0466/2006 – 2006/2072(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0109/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section IV – Court of Justice [C6-0467/2006 – 2006/2073(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0107/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section V – Court of Auditors [C6-0468/2006 – 2006/2074(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0110/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section VI – European Economic and Social Committee [C6-0469/2006 – 2006/2075(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0106/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section VII – Committee of the Regions [C6-0470/2006 – 2006/2076(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0104/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section VIII A – European Ombudsman [C6-0471/2006 – 2006/2063(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0111/2007) by Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2005, Section VIII B – European Data Protection Supervisor [C6-0472/2006 – 2006/2170(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0115/2007) by Mogens N. J. Camre, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget for the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth European Development Funds for the financial year 2005 [COM(2006)0429 – C6-0264/2006 – 2006/2169(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0097/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training for the financial year 2005 [C6-0386/2006 – 2006/2153(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0098/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions for the financial year 2005 [C6-0387/2006 – 2006/2154(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0116/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Agency for Reconstruction for the financial year 2005 [C6-0388/2006 – 2006/2155(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0118/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia for the financial year 2005 [C6-0389/2006 – 2006/2156(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0100/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction for the financial year 2005 [C6-0390/2006 – 2006/2157(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0103/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Environment Agency for the financial year 2005 [C6-0391/2006 – 2006/2158(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0105/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work for the financial year 2005 [C6-0392/2006 – 2006/2159(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0101/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union for the financial year 2005 [C6-0393/2006 – 2006/2160(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0099/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products for the financial year 2005 [C6-0394/2006 – 2006/2161(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0120/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of Eurojust for the financial year 2005 [C6-0395/2006 – 2006/2162(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0113/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Training Foundation for the financial year 2005 [C6-0396/2006 – 2006/2163(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0114/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Maritime Safety Agency for the financial year 2005 [C6–0397/2006 – 2006/2164(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0121/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Aviation Safety Agency for the financial year 2005 [C6-0398/2006 – 2006/2165(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0112/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Food Safety Authority for the financial year 2005 [C6-0399/2006 – 2006/2166(DEC)],

- the report (A6-0119/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for the financial year 2005 [C6-0400/2006 – 2006/2167(DEC)], and

- the report (A6-0102/2007) by Edit Herczog, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the discharge for implementation of the budget of the European Network and Information Security Agency for the financial year 2005 [C6-0401/2006 – 2006/2168(DEC)].

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Salvador Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (ES) Ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner Kallas, we are finally reaching the end of the budgetary procedure for 2005, which was preceded by its drawing up, its approval, its execution and, subsequently, its discharge.

I must say that, from a budgetary point of view, 2005 has not been a bad year. It has been a difficult year, with the European Commission and the College of Commissioners having to face rather difficult circumstances, since this was the first full budget of the enlarged Union and, furthermore, the first budget entirely executed by this new College of Commissioners.

I must therefore begin by saying that the European Commission has not done a bad job. I therefore propose that we grant discharge for implementation of the Community budget for the financial year 2005, and that is what will be put to the honourable Members in the vote.

That does not mean, of course, that there is no strong and well-founded criticism, both of certain directorates-general and of a structural nature, and with regard to some of the issues of financial control which should be improved by the Commission over the coming years, which may be very difficult to resolve.

I would also like to point out that the Commission has reacted well to the report by the Court of Auditors and has moved forward several lines of its new action plan which I hope will allow for positive control over the coming years.

I have essentially based my resolution on the issue of national declarations. National declarations on the management of Community funding are very important to this Parliament. They were created in 2003 and they are intended to offer a guarantee that Member States have effective auditing systems for Community spending.

Furthermore, they should be signed by someone with a degree of authority at national level and, though the Treaty states that the European Commission is responsible for managing the budget, we must not forget that 80% of it is managed in the Member States.

We therefore believed that it was necessary to launch a new initiative on national declarations. We support what we believe to be the courageous initiatives of certain Member States – and I point in particular to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – which have launched, within the Council, these ideas on national control declarations which may not be followed by other Member States, since their territorial distribution and organisation is different. It is a step forward, however. What we propose in the report is that the form that future declarations may take be left open so that they can reflect the realities of the political systems of each Member State.

As a fundamental idea, however, we in the European Parliament want these national declarations to go ahead, because that will be the only way to provide the Member States with some genuine responsibility for control of Community funds, which is the true basis for this statement of discharge.

Furthermore, there is a very important issue relating to national declarations. The DAS, as we MEPs see it, is a road that leads nowhere, and those of us who have followed the statements of assurance very closely have known that for twelve years.

It is impossible today to establish the legality of underlying operations in the Member States, particularly in the Structural Funds.

We must therefore do something to improve the quality of auditing and the involvement of the Member States and we are therefore asking the Council for a national declaration of management that covers all co-managed funds, based on the declarations of the different national bodies responsible for the management of spending.

Finally, Mr President, although my report covers other things, I believe that we could achieve a positive DAS over the coming years, which is necessary for the Community institutions and, in particular, crucial for public opinion, which wants to see reliability, transparency and control right down to the last euro of the public funds managed both by the Commission and by the Member States.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bart Staes (Verts/ALE), rapporteur. (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my report is about the discharge of the Parliament budget, about which there are four points I should like to make.

First of all, I should like to share something that we have been articulating for years in different discharge resolutions, namely that Parliament’s discharge does not only involve the management of the Secretary-General or that of the administration, but also policy and the decisions made by administrative bodies in our House, such as decisions taken by the President, the Bureau and also the Conference of Presidents. Moreover, we do not grant discharge to Parliament’s Secretary-General, but to its President. In this sense, the paragraph according to which the President of Parliament should actually be available to the Committee on Budgetary Control during the discharge procedure to talk about the discharge in a public and formal debate, is, to my mind, of huge importance. In this respect, I prefer my wording to the amendment tabled by Mrs Grässle and the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats. In fact, I think that Mrs Grässle’s amendment is at odds with what we approved last year with the Ferber report.

Secondly, buildings policy is important. A huge sum of money is at stake, and I would draw your attention to the dispute between Parliament and the Belgian Government in this respect. Years ago, the Belgian Government guaranteed, as did other governments in countries where Parliament has buildings at its disposal, that the land and the land development costs would be reimbursed to Parliament. There is now a dispute about this very point in Brussels, and the sum involved is around EUR 15 million. This is a huge amount of money. The Belgian Government has failed to deliver in this respect, and this is why I, in this resolution, would urge them to make amends, because this would be a shot in the arm for our negotiators, the President of Parliament and the Vice-President responsible for buildings policy. In the resolution, I have also drawn specific attention to the impact Parliament has on the neighbourhood in which we stay in Brussels. The residents experience a great deal of nuisance in terms of traffic, work and living conditions, and I think that consultation between Parliament and the local residents is of vital importance. I think we should be good neighbours, and consultation is important in that sense. I would like to see a report issued on this subject by next year’s budgetary discharge.

My third point – a very thorny issue – is the voluntary pension fund, which, at the moment, suffers an actuarial shortage of EUR 28.8 million. This is a huge amount of money. I have to say that the shortage is dropping, because last year, it was EUR 43.7 million. This voluntary pension fund, as it stands, contains the total sum of EUR 202 million, which has been invested in the stock market. We all know that the stock market can be a risky business and that results on the stock market are not always positive. A stock market can be fickle. There is every chance, therefore, that great losses will be incurred with this money. Hence the request for low-risk investments and for implementing what we already decided on in a huge number of resolutions, namely promoting ethical investments. In the 2005 Budget, Parliament boosted this voluntary pension fund by EUR 11.4 million. That too, is a large sum of money, and it strikes me as normal for the list of end beneficiaries to be made public.

We would ask for the list of end beneficiaries in the agricultural world, which makes huge inroads into the European budget, to be made public. Everyone is in favour of this. This is what will be done, as is evident from a website. So why do we stand on the brakes when our own MEPs are involved? Surely this has to stop?

From the nominal list, I noticed that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats submitted four amendments to have certain things deleted and I also noticed that the Socialist Group in the European Parliament applied for a number of split votes. That is their democratic right. I suspect that it is the intention to vote all these paragraphs out. Well, for the sake of transparency, I should like to announce at this stage that I have applied for nominal votes, because that way, the Members who vote against will have the opportunity to justify themselves before their electorates. I at any rate find it unacceptable that, at the end of the journey, Parliament will need to foot the entire bill. This is unacceptable and smacks of poor management of money and public funds.

Finally, I should like to draw your attention to a Kyoto-plus Plan. In the fight against climate change, the European Union and this House are unchallenged leaders. We have approved sound and important resolutions in this area. Well, what we ask of the citizen, the consumer, households, industry, the world of transport we should also impose on ourselves; accordingly, my resolution, my report contains a host of concrete proposals to reduce the environmental impact of our House, of our European Parliament in a much more ambitious manner than was hitherto the case.

I should like to finish off by saying that the two amendments tabled by Mr Fjellner and others enjoy my full support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Daniel Caspary (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the institutions for whose budget discharge I have been responsible in the past include the Council, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, the Ombudsman and the Data Protection Ombudsman, and I currently see no reason to raise any queries about the last two of these.

If, though, I may start with the Council, what is termed a gentlemen’s agreement has been in place in respect of certain budget matters since 1970, but, since that time, the European Community has developed to an enormous degree. A number of things – none of them entirely lacking in relevance – have happened, and they make the gentlemen’s agreement seem inappropriate in today’s world; for example, the European Parliament is now directly elected in free elections with a secret ballot, and, being firmly persuaded that this agreement needs, as a matter of urgency, to be adapted to the present situation, I propose that the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on the Control of Budgets should, during the coming months, hold a joint meeting in order to discuss this important topic and, by means of a common position, demand that the Council make the changes that are so urgently needed.

While I am on the subject of the Council, I am pleased to see that the Common Foreign and Security Policy is carrying more and more weight, and rightly too, although it is intolerable that the Council is not keeping its side of the agreement and drawing clear distinctions between the operational costs that need to be entered in the Commission budget and the purely administrative expenditure, and so I urge it to play by these rules in future.

At both the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors, there is still room for improvement; for example, the publication of the business and financial interests of the judges and the auditors has yet to be clarified. This is something that we in this House have raised time and time again already, and so we, in our resolution, are setting a deadline of 30 September this year for the two institutions to indicate how they propose to comply with this House’s demand for the publication of those business and financial interests; we have already been waiting for far too long for such statements.

Even before the latest enlargement round, the question was being raised within the Court as to whether the number of auditors should remain as it was, and various models for the Court’s reform have been on the table for some time; for example, its former President, Professor Bernhard Friedmann, drafted a very sensible proposal with a rotation system similar to that used for the Council of the ECB. It might also make sense to replace the present collegiate arrangement by creating the position of Chief Auditor, and so the Court ought not to pray in aid the existing position under the Treaties in justifying its refusal to consider reform, for reforms are due in the short or long term, and it would be good if the Court were, off its own bat, to come up with a sensible, practical and well-thought-out proposal for it.

The future of the Joint Services is under discussion not only in the Committee of the Regions, but also in the Economic and Social Committee, for there is something wrong with the way those services are organised when even the Committee of the Regions gets the idea that it is being put at a disadvantage, so both committees should set in train a neutral analysis, based on suitable reference values, of the costs, benefits and savings involved and, where necessary for this purpose, seek the advice of the Court of Auditors or of some other advisory body. The objective of the debate must be to get the Joint Services, future, doing the work that needs to be done and doing it with good coordination and at reasonable cost.

This year’s discharge focussed particularly on the question of the questionable use of weighting, not only by the Committee of the Regions, but also in other institutions. The discharge procedure is neither the time nor the place for any judgment on the legality of these payments to be handed down; that is for the courts of law to do. The question is whether those at the top of the Committee of the Regions, the people who run it, reacted in an appropriate way, and what principles they applied to the case. I am persuaded that things still remain to be done by the Committee of the Regions; in all cases in which fraud is found to have been committed, disciplinary action needs to be instituted as soon as possible, with the persons responsible being called to account. This House will continue to keep an eye on this case, with respect to which we will have to examine the Staff Regulations with a view to ascertaining whether the interpretation of rules and transitional rules can be left to civil servants alone, and I do think that the legislative institutions of the Union should leave their administrators considerably less room for manoeuvre than they have done in the past.

Taken as a whole, the outcome of the Budget discharge highlights the importance of precise control of budgets by the European Parliament, and, with thanks to all the institutions for their cooperation and for making available the information required, I recommend that discharge be given to them, while also taking into account the points already made.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mogens N.J. Camre (UEN), rapporteur. (DA) Mr President, the annual approval of the accounts covers every account and partial account for every EU institution. A great deal of work takes place in terms of sifting through the Court of Auditors’ reports. The Commission has actively contributed to enlightening us, and the secretariat of the Committee on Budgetary Control has worked very hard to make it possible for the Members of this House to evaluate the content of the accounts.

There is, once again, scope this year to lament the fact that the Court of Auditors has been unable to provide an unqualified opinion. The view that the conditions under which the EU works make it almost impossible for the Court of Auditors to provide an unqualified opinion of that nature is beginning to gain currency. This comes back, to a large degree, to the fact that around 80% of EU resources are transferred back to the Member States and are administered there, which means that the chances of putting together an overall picture are highly variable, given the many forms and inconsistent quality of the administration at national level.

If we are to avoid the problems that arise in connection with the correct administration of EU resources, it is hardly enough just to require greater supervision. We have to ask ourselves whether the present legislation on aid both in the area of agriculture and in relation to the structural funds should be completely overhauled. The former Commissioner from the Netherlands, Mr Bolkestein, has recently pointed out that 85% of EU spending could beneficially be cut. It is clearly, in reality, pointless for the EU 15 countries to give money to each other. That is like making social security payments from the middle class to the middle class in an individual country. The old Member States could organise the aid necessary for their development far better by using their own funds. The situation whereby other countries, on the strength of EU legislation, have to pay for things that the country in question does not wish to pay for itself, or could pay for by itself, is a pretext for doing nothing. Those who do not carry out reforms receive help from those who have carried out reforms and thus need not do anything themselves. As former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said, ‘It cannot be right that we, who are willing to demand high taxes from our citizens, have to give money to countries that do not wish to tax their own citizens.’ My country, for example, charges 200% tax on private cars in order, amongst other things, to be able to send a lot of money to countries where I can see many more new cars than in Copenhagen – cars on which not a cent of duty has been paid. Clearly, that does not seem sensible.

My group, as far as most Members are concerned, wishes to vote in favour of granting discharge. Personally, I have some reservations as it is my opinion that certain areas of the management of expenditure in the Commission and in certain committees do not meet normal standards. I would very much like to thank the secretariat of the Committee on Budgetary Control for the very large amount of work it has done and also to thank my colleagues on the committee for their numerous significant observations in this debate and for the constructive cooperation that prevails, overall, within the committee.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edit Herczog (PSE), rapporteur. Mr President, I should like to present my opinion on the discharge of the 16 EU agencies for 2005.

The agencies play an important role in the EU institutions’ image, because their goals and commitments are shared by all EU citizens. Therefore, this 1% of the EU’s total budget is wisely spent.

I welcome the conclusions by the European Court of Auditors that certified that the accounts of all 16 agencies were, in all material respects, reliable, legal and regular, except for a few specific observations. The positive statement of assurance for all agencies is a major achievement and I take this opportunity to congratulate them all on their efforts.

I have focused on the agencies’ general functioning and I should like to devote the majority of my speech today to this issue. For the 2005 financial year, we can conclude that the agencies were by and large well managed. However, there are still areas for improvement. There were a number of problems in specific areas of financial accounting. A further problematic field in some agencies was non-compliance with procurement rules. IT systems were not always adapted to needs. Furthermore, we have to mention that shortcomings in human resources management, in particular recruitment procedures, posed a number of problems

Last but not least, it must be mentioned that, unsurprisingly, some typical start-up problems emerged in the newly-established agencies. Let me present to you the nine proposals I have developed in my report, which could considerably improve the agencies’ efficiency in the interest of the Union.

The ever-growing number of agencies does not always reflect the real needs of the Union and its citizens. Therefore, the setting-up of any new agency should be accompanied and underpinned by the cost-benefit study. The Court of Auditors should give its opinion on the cost-benefit study before Parliament takes its decision. The European Parliament should ask the Commission to present a report every five years on the added value of every existing agency. In the event of a negative evaluation of an agency’s added value, all relevant institutions should take the necessary step of reformulating the mandate of the agency in question or closing it.

I strongly urge Parliament to ask the Court of Auditors to insert an additional chapter into its annual report devoted to all agencies to be discharged under the Commission accounts, in order to have a much clearer picture of the use of EU funding in agencies. Parliament should ask the Commission to improve administrative and technical support to agencies. We should call on the Commission to come up with a proposal to harmonise the format for annual reporting from the agencies and to develop performance indicators that could allow the comparison and assessment of their efficiency.

In my report, I welcome the considerable improvements in coordination among EU agencies. We urge all agencies to make increasing use of SMART objectives, which should lead to more realistic planning and better implementation of goals. I insist that the agencies’ work programmes should express their contribution in operational and measurable terms and due consideration should be given to the Commission’s internal control standards.

Let me now say something specific about the discharge procedure for all agencies. Let me underline that all EU agencies are undergoing a discharge procedure but in two different ways. The 16 agencies with which we are dealing today are to receive individual discharge, while the rest are to be discharged within the framework of the Commission’s budget. There is no agency, therefore, that is not subject to the Court’s controls. However, there is a considerable lack of transparency in the management of those agencies receiving discharge within the framework of the Commission’s accounts only. In order to maintain the Commission’s co-responsibility and to increase the transparency and clarity of the discharge procedure for all agencies, I call on the European Court of Auditors to create a new chapter in its annual report that covers all EU agencies.

In my remaining time, I want to focus only on the European Agency for Reconstruction. The results achieved and the considerable improvements put in place by the agency in order to respond positively to the recommendations by the European Court of Auditors and by Parliament can be highly praised. I should like to congratulate the Director and the staff on their work. Taking into consideration the agency’s high value, Parliament should ask the Commission to change the agency’s mandate, which is scheduled to finish in 2008, and transform the agency into one responsible for implementing certain EU external actions, in particular in post-crisis areas.

Finally, I should like to thank the shadow rapporteurs and all my colleagues for their work, as well as the Secretariat. I recommend that Parliament give a positive discharge to all 16 agencies.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, I am grateful for the quality and balance of the report before us today. For this I would like to thank the Committee on Budgetary Control, the Committee’s previous chairman, Mr Fazakas, its current chairman, Mr Bösch, and, of course, the rapporteur, Mr Garriga Polledo.

Mr Garriga Polledo’s report proposes that Parliament grant the Commission discharge for its implementation of the budget and agree on the clearance of accounts. The Commission is pleased to take note of this. I wish to comment on why I think it is deserved.

To begin with, your recommendations will be followed up. In fact, we have done much already, including the following:

We are implementing the revised Financial Regulation, which implies, among other things, enforcing the agreed provisions requiring Member States to produce ‘an annual summary at the appropriate national level of available audits and declarations’.

We will continue to report progress on our action plan towards an integrated internal control framework, as you ask in paragraph 56. In fact, I will present the progress report to the Committee on Budgetary Control next week.

We have improved, can improve and will improve the accounts. For the 2006 accounts, we have already provided better information on recoveries and financial corrections. This means that you can count on our accounts’ reliability.

We are pursuing the European Transparency Initiative. With Parliament’s support progress on this file is being made every day.

In this year’s report, Parliament ‘assures the Commission of its full support in the rigorous application of the legislation on suspension of payments to Member States’. When I appeared before the Committee on Budgetary Control on 1 March to discuss the draft Garriga Polledo report, I said that I would propose to my colleagues in the Commission a very careful analysis of the issues leading to reserves in the declarations of the directors-general this year and, depending on the importance of the problems and the risk identified, suspend payments or apply financial corrections. We had serious discussions for more than two hours, and the outcome was a very strong affirmation of the determination of the College to take the necessary steps.

Today I would like to highlight several concrete decisions taken. First, as regards the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) in Greece and agricultural subsidies, a very clear action plan has now been agreed with Greece in order to ensure proper implementation of the IACS in that country. The action plan lays down unambiguous deadlines for action to be taken. As Commissioner Fischer Boel stated plainly during the discharge hearing in the Committee on Budgetary Control last November, the Commission will suspend payments to Greece for direct aid if the agreed action plan and the deadlines are not respected by the Greek authorities. The first important report from the Greek authorities is due on 15 May.

I would also recall that the Commission on a routine basis claws back EU farm money unduly spent by Member States, returning the funds to the Community budget in the ‘clearance of accounts’ procedure.

Under the latest decision taken last week, a total of EUR 285.3 million is being recovered from 14 Member States for reasons relating in particular to insufficiencies in controls as well as the non-respect of payment deadlines by Member States.

Second, in the area of structural action, on 4 April 2007, the Commission suspended payments to ERDF programmes in five of the nine regions of England, plus one programme in a sixth. If no, or insufficient, action is taken, a flat-rate correction ranging from 5 to 10 % or 25 % of the amounts paid out and specific to each programme will be decided by the Commission to address the infringement of the rules and the extent and financial implications of the remaining shortcomings.

Suspensions and reservations often lead to the necessary improvements. In 2005, for example, DG Regio had reservations on the adequacy of control systems in Spain. In 2006, the DG audited that again and found that progress had made it unnecessary to repeat the reserve.

Likewise, for the European Social Fund, in early 2006 the Commission signalled its reservations on the systems in place in the United Kingdom. Improvements were made by the UK and the reserve could be lifted.

These examples show that the Commission can and does interrupt payments. The basis for decisions like these must be well justified and explained in a detailed manner. We have therefore made great efforts again this year to improve the quality of the annual activity reports of Commission directorates-general.

The Court was rather critical of Commission controls in the research area. This is direct management by the Commission and we have given this issue the highest priority. An ex-post audit strategy is now in place across the research family of DGs for audits on the sixth Framework Programme (FP6). This is a robust strategy and is accompanied by a significant increase in the percentage of the research budget covered by ex-post audits. There will be 300 audits for FP6 in 2007, compared with 45 carried out in 2006.

Reflecting the priority given to this, the Commission is reallocating a significant number of staff to audit tasks and undertaking the necessary additional recruitment.

Furthermore, serious consideration is being given to the gradual introduction of lump sums in certain specific areas of the framework programme.

Let me say a few words on agencies. The Commission has noted the increasing concern in Parliament over regulatory agencies. We already provide a lot of support to the agencies and I think expectations and responsibilities must be clarified, in particular before new agencies are created.

We will therefore push for immediate progress on the proposed interinstitutional agreement. The Council has indicated its willingness to continue discussions on this. Its adoption would really help to address recommendations of Parliament on issues such as a systemic and regular evaluation and cost-benefit studies of the agencies and the harmonisation of their annual reporting.

The Commission remains accountable to the budgetary authority in implementing the budget. We do so by informing you openly and honestly about our strengths and weaknesses. We are grateful for your fair recognition of both.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ralf Walter (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Development. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start by expressing my warm gratitude for the cooperation between the Committee on Development and the Commission, the Court of Auditors and the two rapporteurs Mr Camre and Mr Garriga Polledo. It is good to see that the House is taking full account of our observations in reaching its decisions.

The function of our Committee on Development is to check to see that the funds that we disburse in order to give the world’s most vulnerable people a helping hand and guide them towards self-sufficiency, are put to proper and appropriate use. Public acceptance of this is to a very large degree dependent on the impression not being communicated that this is about this or that potentate getting their bath taps gilded, but rather that the money really does get to the people who actually need it, and so this is what we have scrutinised in very considerable depth.

As in so many other contexts, the Court of Auditors has ascertained that serious errors were made in the way the money was spent. We have looked at them all individually and have, of course, been forced to note that errors were made in the procedure for spending the money. Rather, though, than being the sort of errors that might prove disadvantageous to the European Union, they were in fact procedural in nature and in need of improvement if we are to be able to say unequivocally that the funds have been properly used.

It has to be said, though, that the discharge process also possesses a political character, in that we are examining whether the Commission has indeed done that which we intended when the Budget was drawn up. We therefore examined whether the environmental legislation really had been made a priority, whether any real improvements had been made on the crisis prevention front, and whether – and about this there was serious disagreement – it was indeed the case that 20% of the funds for basic education and health care had been spent in the developing countries. It has to be said that the figures are on the up, but they are still a long way off the 20% on which we had agreed. The statement that this is all tied together with there being so many donors and institutions to coordinate is reassuring only to a very limited degree.

I have to make it clear to the House that the European Union – together with its Member States – is far and away the biggest donor in the world, and that is something we can be allowed to say with self-confidence. At the same time, though, it is not acceptable that someone should get up in front of this House and tell us that they have concentrated on other subject areas, and we hope that the priorities laid down by Parliament and the Council in the framing of their resolutions will eventually be set as such.

Our cooperation with the officials from the Commission went very well; firm commitments have been made to the effect that we will, over the course of the year, be given the information and indicators that we need and that there will be evidence of marked improvements. Speaking as someone who has always put a lot into the Budget process, I can spell it out to you that I shall also, when the next Budget is drawn up, be seeing to it that we keep a very close eye out for the improvements in Budget implementation that have been heralded – not only as regards the use of the funds for their intended purpose but also the achievement of policy targets – and that our behaviour, as a parliament, will be determined by whether or not you actually do as you have undertaken to do.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jutta Haug (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the share of the Budget made available for the policies that are the particular concern of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is not a particularly large one; in 2005 – the financial year in respect of which we are now supposed to be confirming the proper handling of the European taxpayers’ money – it amounted to less than half a percent of the overall Budget of EUR 116 billion.

I will say right at the outset that there was nothing that prevented the directors of the four agencies – the EMEA, the EEA, the EFSA and the ECDC – from being given discharge in respect of their management of their respective budgets.

The first months of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s operations, in 2005, were successful, and the management of its budget was the responsibility of the DG Health.

In 2005, the European Food Safety Authority, in its third year of operations, was in the process of moving to Parma, which entailed difficulties in recruiting the necessary highly-qualified staff and without doubt made it impossible for all the funds allocated to it to be spent, so that over four million euros found their way back into the Community budget. How this money, which is the EFSA’s, is being, or is to be, made available for use again this year is not something for us to discuss in the course of this discharge procedure, but we will have to discuss this with the Commission.

The European Medicines Agency has done its work to our general satisfaction, and has not spent all its money, one reason for this being evidently that there were technical difficulties with the conversion of its IT system.

The European Environmental Agency did the excellent work to which we have become accustomed, made proper use of all its funds, and could certainly have done with even more.

The Committee on the Environment has no fundamental criticism to make of the management of its four agencies’ budgets, but we have taken the opportunity of this discharge procedure to demand of the two ‘old’ agencies – the EMEA and the EEA – that which is already required of the ‘new’ ones in accordance with the basic regulations establishing them, namely that their work be regularly reviewed and evaluated by independent experts. We would like to see added value to Europe assured by all forms of administrative activity in Europe – and that includes the agencies.

I will now turn to the side of the environment, public health and food safety for which the Commission bears responsibility, and here, although the take-up for commitment appropriations was highly satisfactory in all areas, it has to be said that the payment rates left much to be desired, being below 80% not only in health and food safety, but also in the environmental sphere. There are, of course, factors that explain why this is so; one is that the establishment of the executive agency for public health had not yet been completed, and, at the same time, staff were tied up in preparing the new health and consumer protection programme, while 2004’s problems with budget commitments resulted in payment problems in the environmental sector in 2005.

Understandable though the explanations given by the Commission’s offices are, the Commission must learn how to anticipate problems before they occur, in order to be able to take immediate action to address them; after all, it is not that lacking in experience of dealing with administrative problems.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Michael Cramer (Verts/ALE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Transport and Tourism. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Committee on Transport and Tourism notes that the 2005 Budget allocated not much more than one billion euros to commitment appropriations and little more than the same figure in payment appropriations for transport policy, most of which – namely EUR 670 million in commitment appropriations and EUR 750 million in payment appropriations – went to the Trans-European Networks, and the committee is very pleased to say that those figures include payments for road safety and commitments to Marco Polo, with EUR 70 million in commitments and EUR 60 million in payments being allocated to the transport agencies.

The committee is, however, concerned at the above-average high level of errors in research contracts in the transport sector and about the fact that only 51% of the funds available were allocated to road safety, which, in view of our desire to cut accident figures in half, is an important programme.

It is important, where the Trans-European Networks are concerned, that we should concentrate on the things that make for efficient transport, rather than beginning with the big projects straightaway, only then to discover that half the necessary funds are absent. There are many Member States in which projects have been suspended for lack of funds. What we have to do is give absolute priority to modernising the infrastructure we already have and only then think about new building works, which involves the need to use short resources in the most efficient way possible.

Nor must we think only of the projects connecting North and South, for Europe needs to grow together, and that is why the East to West rail projects also need to be modernised, for many of those lines are still as they were in the last century, in the age of steam locomotives.

Climate change is important too, of course. The transport sector is one of the great sources of CO2, accounting for 30% of output, and so our research projects must prioritise policy on climate and sustainability. In this respect, they have hitherto been wholly unsatisfactory, and that must change.

We have given the agencies discharge, but they still need the resources for the necessary tasks laid upon them.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Helga Trüpel (Verts/ALE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the first thing I would like to say in my capacity as draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education is that we are not convinced that what we are spending on culture and education is sufficient. The Committee on Culture and Education was much more ambitious and regrets that Parliament, the Commission and the Council have not as a whole made more funding available for what we want, which is to give Europe a soul, to enable all students to study in Europe, and, with that in mind, the Lisbon Strategy requires that changes be made in these areas over the next few years.

Speaking in very general terms, I would like to say that it is crucial, particularly in the major cultural and youth programmes, that we should, on the one hand, pursue a very careful – that is to say, a responsible and transparent – expenditure policy, while also, at the same time, refraining from excessive use of the existing rules in going down bureaucratic dead ends. I am aware that we must, after the case of corruption and scandals that we have had, be very wary, but, nevertheless, we should not overshoot the mark either. Particularly when projects are small and account for only some EUR 20 000, applicants should not be required to submit reams of paper in order to get their applications accepted.

My second observation is that, if we have 99 national cultural agencies, things will get out of hand in no time, and this is where better management would be desirable.

The third thing I want to say is that I take the view that our still funding this second parliament in Strasbourg through our Budget is the wrong way to go about it. If the French are unwilling to abandon this second seat and thus save money, then in future it should be the Council that takes responsibility for the money spent on it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bárbara Dührkop Dührkop (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (ES) I am speaking as rapporteur for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on the 2005 Budget.

There are many agencies involved, some of which Mrs Haug has mentioned already and, generally speaking, our observations are the same.

I would like to begin by commenting on the execution of the general budget of the Committee on Civil Liberties, and I can do so very briefly.

We note that progress has been made in relation to the execution of commitments, but the execution of payments needs to be given a kick start. We stand at 79.8% for 2005 compared to 80.3% for 2004. This is one of the committee’s lowest levels.

Mrs Haug has mentioned others that appear to be in the same situation. It goes without saying that this situation needs to be improved. Furthermore, we know that the money for the next year is in jeopardy if we are not able to use it properly.

With regard to the execution of the budget for Eurojust (the European judicial cooperation body), we note that the Court of Auditors has reasonable guarantees that the annual accounts for this financial year have been reliable and, with regard to the corresponding operations, that they are all legal, as they should be, and regular.

There is no situation that cannot be improved, however. In this case too, we must call upon Eurojust to continue in this direction, improving its financial management.

With regard to the execution of the budget of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, the committee is satisfied here as well, with regard to the legality of the underlying operations. Nevertheless, we note that the Monitoring Centre must be called upon to improve its clarity, and in particular the transparency of its tendering procedures.

Finally, I shall deal with the execution of the budget of the Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. In this case, the Committee on Civil Liberties, like the Court of Auditors, wishes to make two serious complaints.

Various unacceptable anomalies have been found in the tendering and contracting procedures and we must demand a substantial improvement in these processes. We must acknowledge, however, that certain measures are having an effect, but there is still a long way to go in order to make everything, shall we say, acceptable and correct.

Perhaps the most thorny issue of all – we have already asked the Commission for an explanation in this regard – is that, like the Court of Auditors, we note and deplore the bad administration in the case of an agent sent to Brussels on a long mission without any clear definition of his objectives; in particular, there is great uncertainty with regard to the subsequent allocation to the Commission. A lot of European taxpayers’ money needs to be explained here.

The Committee on Civil Liberties therefore asks for this case to be investigated thoroughly and for the adoption of the appropriate measures to prevent anything similar from happening in the future.

The Committee on Civil Liberties’ recommendation, therefore, like that of the Committee on Budgetary Control, is that discharge be granted.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lissy Gröner (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, for the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, this evaluation is not a simple matter, for we have already, and repeatedly, urged that gender-specific data are needed if the expenditure is to be assessed, and, to our regret, such data is still not available, and so there are still limits on the amount of gender budgeting and gender mainstreaming that it is possible to include in the assessment. We ask that these data be submitted in the next Budget discharge reports.

It is particularly in Structural Funds programmes and the like that precise data is vital if we are to see how much, in the final analysis, is allocated to the equal support of women. It has turned out that the flow of funds in the Daphne programme has been blocked, and that is a major problem, for we know that violence is going on against women, children and young people on an enormous scale. We know that the projects proposed were very good ones, yet even so the money has not been flowing, and that means that help is needed here.

In the actual case I am thinking of, a range of trans-European projects was rejected. We are in the course of preparing a European Year against Violence, and the Council of Europe has started up a campaign. There is massive need in this area, and the Commission must get a move on.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Véronique Mathieu, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, with regard to the discharge for the agencies, I should like to begin by making various observations. The first is that the number of agencies is constantly increasing, and that this increase is worrying because it seems to be taking place outside of any overall policy framework. This situation poses various problems: that of the financial control of these agencies and that of the organisational weaknesses observed, which are not always resolved.

With regard to the first aspect, it is vital, in my opinion, to establish clear rules on the discharge procedure. Indeed, 16 out of 35 agencies now receive individual discharge from Parliament. In order to prevent the current inconsistencies in the application of Article 185 of the Financial Regulation – since many agencies now receive an overall discharge under the general budget of the European Commission – it would be appropriate if, in the future, all the agencies, whatever their status, were to receive an individual discharge from the European Parliament.

The second aspect that I should like to mention concerns the effective administration of the agencies. Although progress has been observed in this area, it remains insufficient. The priority is to strengthen the accounting systems, to ensure the proper application of the tender procedures and internal control regulations and, finally, to make the recruitment procedures more transparent. At the same time, the Commission must continue its efforts to make the agencies more visible, by drafting an effective communications strategy, to develop synergies and, finally, to provide them with more technical and administrative services that are adapted to their needs.

Furthermore, I support the two proposals aimed at making it compulsory to publish a cost-benefit study before any agency is created, and at requesting the compilation, every five years, of an evaluation report on the added value generated by each agency in its field of activity. These two proposals are key to ensuring that the activities developed by the agencies meet the specific needs of the various sectors.

To conclude, I should like to stress that, even though the Court of Auditors has reservations about three agencies, I am delighted that the agencies have, on the whole, improved on the 2004 exercise, and I call on them to continue their efforts along these lines.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dan Jørgensen, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DA) Mr President, the Socialist Group in the European Parliament recommends granting discharge. We recommend that Parliament approve the budgets for 2005, but in doing so we have some comments to offer and some demands to make. We have two basic demands. Firstly, we consider it self-evident that supervision needs to be further tightened up. We do not believe that there is, as yet, sufficient control of tax-payers’ money. Secondly, we also believe that there is a need for more openness and more transparency.

In respect of the first point, it might be said that there has been some progress in this area. We do recognise that and we do laud the implementation of a new accounting system within the Commission. It has not been an easy process but it has surpassed all expectations. I also recognise that the integrated financial control system, in particular in relation to agricultural funds, has been implemented for a large proportion of the budget, and that is clearly a very positive thing. However, we are also critical in relation to those areas in which the Court of Auditors did, sadly, have some particularly marked criticisms. What are particularly at issue are internal policies and, unfortunately, a portion of the agricultural funds, too. We will, quite simply, have to tighten things up in these areas. The Commission needs to exercise greater stringency, but so too, in particular, do the Member States. The fact is that around 80% of EU funds, as Members are aware, are administered via shared management, meaning that it is out in the Member States that the money is actually put to use. In such circumstances it is clear that we are, of course, entirely dependent, – that is to say the Commission is dependent and we in Parliament are dependent – on this responsibility being taken seriously out in the Member States, and we do not feel, unfortunately, that that is being done. Political responsibility needs to be clearly assigned, and this is something that needs to be followed up in relation to next year.

Moreover, it is, of course, obvious that this whole debate on openness has been going on now for a couple of years, and that is something we are pleased about. We are also pleased about what have clearly been very positive initiatives on the part of the Commission. We believe that it must be possible for individual European citizens to log on to the Internet and see how the EU’s money has been allocated to agricultural funds, structural funds and so on. This process is under way but it must, of course, be followed up all the way to completion. What is more, we need greater openness surrounding the numerous working parties that there are. We must be given the names of those who take part in such working parties.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Mulder, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (NL) Mr President, first of all, I should like to congratulate the rapporteurs, and I can assure them that the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe shares their view. We too support the discharge as it has been recommended.

The year under consideration – 2006 – is the first full budgetary year for which this Commission has to take full responsibility. We have once again received a negative verdict from the Court of Auditors, for the twelfth time in a row, and everyone knows, of course, that things cannot go on like this. I am pleased that the Court of Auditors has announced that a peer review will be organised, that they will let others take a closer look at their own activities, their own method. This is all very well, but no matter how you look at it, the buck still stops with the Commission and it cannot pass it on to the Member States.

Last year, we signed the financial perspectives and for the first time, they contained a provision that the Member States must make national declarations at a suitable political level to declare that they have implemented the budget properly. My big question is: what exactly has the Commission done with this article in the financial perspectives? Did it issue a letter to the Member States to make them aware of this? What is the Commission’s strategy in this matter?

I should also like to draw the Commission’s attention to the fact that next year will be the crucial year for the Commission. In 2008, it will be ten years ago, in 1998, when Parliament refused to grant discharge. I will certainly not go so far as to say that this will happen again; this will depend on how things pan out, but there must be clear progress. It is unacceptable for this Parliament, in a year’s time, on the eve of the next European elections, to grant the Commission discharge once again without the slightest hesitation, when it is obvious that the Commission has not done everything in its power to improve the situation. One of the keys to overcome this is to abide by the financial perspectives.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Mr President, today this House will decide whether to discharge the budget for the institutions of the European Union for 2005.

As the report of the European Court of Auditors did not express any major reservations regarding any of these institutions, I am upholding the position that we can discharge every one of them. This, however, does not mean that the annual accounts submitted to Parliament are flawless.

Firstly, even though the Court of Auditors acknowledged that on the whole the financial report of the European Communities is an accurate reflection of the Community’s financial situation as at the end of December 2005, and that it found no significant errors, it did find numerous errors both in the amounts recorded in the central accounts systems, and in the reports submitted by individual Member States. Of particular concern is the fact that despite critical remarks both by the Court of Auditors and by the European Parliament, some of these inaccuracies are repeated year after year.

Secondly, I would like to join those voices that can be heard coming both from the Court of Auditors and from this House demanding greater transparency on the use and management of EU funds. In particular, I would like to support the Commission’s intention to publish the direct aid received by the largest agricultural producers in certain Member States, and also look forward to a simplification of the procedures as regards both procurement and grants, which will increase the transparency of the Commission’s activities and reduce the risk of corruption.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bart Staes, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (NL) Mr President, our group, too, is prepared to grant the Commission discharge, effectively under the same conditions as those outlined a moment ago by Mr Jørgensen. Mr Mulder just stated that it is the twelfth time in a row that the Court of Auditors has failed to issue a positive Statement of Assurance, which is, indeed, a situation that has to stop. During the hearing in our committee, Commissioner Kallas, upon being appointed, said that a positive Statement of Assurance should be reached during his mandate; at least that was his goal. I know that the Commissioner is currently somewhat at loggerheads with the Court of Auditors; there will be a peer review of the methods they are using, and I still hope that this positive Statement of Assurance will be issued at some point, certainly during this mandate. It is true that a couple of problems seem to be here to stay, not least in the area of agriculture. In that sense, I am pleased with the Commissioner’s statement with regard to what he said about the integrated management and control system. We all know that Greece does not come up to the mark, not by a long shot, something that has been mentioned on two occasions in the Court of Auditors' annual report. There is now a concrete action plan; the Commissioner has made it quite plain that he is prepared to suspend payments if Greece fails to meet the conditions or carry out the action plan correctly. Two amendments have been tabled to that effect, one by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats and one by our own group. I therefore hope that at least one of those two amendments will make it to the finishing line and that it will considerably help the Commissioner when he gets to the point where he has to decide to suspend payments.

I have noticed the Council’s absence with regard to the national management declarations. It is outrageous that the Council should absent itself from a debate on the discharge, which we also need to grant to the Council, at a time when we know that 80% of all financial resources are managed by the Member States themselves, and this is something I deeply regret.

I also support Mr Mulder in his question to the Commission as to what measures it has taken to ensure that the Member States issue national management declarations. In our debate with the German State Secretary, it was concluded that shortcomings were attributable to our federal structure. I cannot imagine this to be the case. What I can imagine, though, is for a federal state such as Belgium to say ‘OK, three of our regions have declarations, two of which are not up to scratch, and one is’. Why could this not be done? In this light, I am really pressing for positive management declarations from the Member States as well.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS WALLIS
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esko Seppänen, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (FI) Madam President, Commissioner, the Court of Auditors has not delivered a favourable statement of assurance on the Union’s accounts for ten years. One of the main reasons for this is probably that the money is allocated by the Commission, but it is the Member States which are responsible for overseeing how it is spent. The body responsible for allocating funds does not monitor their use. Some Member States are slacker than others in the way they monitor the funds they receive from the Union. Our group sympathises with the view expressed in the report that in future the Court of Auditors should more often mention by name those countries which are guilty of inadequate monitoring. There is no good reason not to expose Greece or other countries which are lax in this area.

Parliament’s view has always been that the Member States should issue a statement on the management at national level of the funds they receive from the Union. Some Member States have done just this, for example, the Netherlands, done properly with the signature of the minister. Most Member States are opposed to issuing a statement. On the other hand, it has to be said that the Martha Andreasen case has not resulted in a situation where the chief accountant in the Commission would approve the authenticity of the accounts with her signature. Parliament demands quite rightly that she be given legal powers.

Our group this year is in favour of granting discharge.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nils Lundgren, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (SV) Madam President, the demand for accountability is crucial to the democratic process. Parliament’s efforts in this area in the past have been appalling. In spite of report after report indicating fraud, irregularities, incompetence and waste, this House grants discharge year after year with majorities almost worthy of North Korea.

Last year was an exception. Parliament had paid too high a rent for the building in which are now sitting. It became impossible to sweep the problem under the carpet. Instead, the pathetic situation arose in which the leaders of the large groups appeared as ‘professional mourners’, giving their assurances that their refusal to give discharge was really only pretend. That is how the majority in this House carries out its democratic task.

Last year, I was rapporteur and found it impossible to propose granting discharge to the Committee of the Regions. A culture of corruption appeared to permeate its secretariat. Despite the fact that three different investigations of the Committee of the Regions were still under way, the House granted discharge in any case. Now, OLAF has submitted its report, and national authorities have taken the matter to court. There are therefore now still stronger reasons for not granting the Committee of the Regions discharge this year. Moreover, the rapporteur, Mrs Herczog, has shown that neither the European Maritime Safety Agency nor the European Food Safety Authority should be granted discharge. Let us, then, refuse to grant it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ashley Mote, on behalf of the ITS Group. Madam President, I believe the Council of Ministers should consider as a matter of urgency appointing a team of genuinely independent, internationally respected accountants to carry out a full-scale investigation and analysis of the audit of this institution, its treasury, its accounting systems and controls and all its operational institutions as well, many of which trade commercially and yet routinely escape the full vigour of the law in their financial and business management.

Just take the 2005 accounts: a team of independent forensic accountants have concluded that payments worth EUR 27 billion were simply not registered accurately in the accounts and such incredible unaccountability has produced some equally incredible and unacceptable consequences. We now know, for instance, that the EU has lost some EUR 600 billion over the years, which far exceeds the UK’s net contribution of GBP 75 billion since we joined.

The President of the Court of Auditors has admitted that there are serious ongoing problems: every annual report spells them out, page after page, and nothing much actually happens as a result. The statement of assurance is supposed to cover ‘down to the level of taxpayers’. Yet their interests are ignored year after year. The discrepancies between balances in one year and the next are regular, routine and unacceptable. In 2002, for instance, the difference was EUR 200 million. Last year, it was EUR 179 million, which is not much of an improvement over four years. And these are not just errors: accountants describe them as serious financial malpractice.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Madam President, a discharge procedure such as this one is not meant to be just about looking backwards, but also about considering what conclusions ought to be drawn from it. I am sure that the Commissioner is listening very carefully to what is being said about the agencies and is also aware of how those who want to exercise a degree of control are becoming less satisfied about what is going on in many areas in which there is considerable confusion and in which things have started to get out of hand. I am sure, Commissioner Kallas, that you too are aware of the direction in which the trilogue negotiations are going. There is something pretty disturbing about the sight of members of the Committee on Budgets, people who have been grappling with this sort of thing for years, admitting time and time again that even they cannot see their way through, and that there are no clear dividing lines between the operational budget and the administrative one, so that, obviously, is where abuses are going on to a massive degree, mostly involving the hiding of administrative expenditure in the programmes.

That, Commissioner, goes diametrically against what you are trying to do with your efforts towards transparency, and I would like to encourage you to try to do in your own area what you have already started to do with agriculture, namely to lay open to view the way funds are used, right down to the last euro. That is what every modern business is capable of doing. They always have cost centres and clear references; they even know exactly what has been done on business trips. That we do not do likewise is something I regard as extremely regrettable and damaging, and I am sure, Commissioner, that you share my view that across-the-board cutbacks are called for, since it is not a matter of doubt that greater efficiency is achieved by having fewer workers rather than the opposite, which is currently the case.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Esther de Lange (PPE-DE). – (NL) Madam President, I will confine myself to remarks pertaining to the European Parliament. I should first of all like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Staes, for a very sound report. We support his proposal to grant discharge, and we also support most of his remarks and comments made in this connection. Needless to say, we as a group will want to highlight a few things, including our Amendment 3, to which I would particularly like to draw your attention, because it, more so than the current text, calls for constructive teamwork and political dialogue with the President of this House, to which discharge is being granted, but who was not yet appointed in the budget under discussion.

I should also like to draw your attention to the amendments that Mr Fjellner has tabled, and I have co-signed, on the actual costs of maintaining three places of meeting at a time when we have 27 Member States. The current figures date back to a time when there were only 15 of them.

On a somewhat personal note, I should like to say that obviously, as a former assistant, I viewed the remarks about secretarial compensation and the situation of parliamentary staff in a critical light, where some cases still leave a great deal to be desired.

I should like to finish off with the never-ending story about the voluntary pension fund. As I see it, and so does my delegation, it is of the utmost importance that every impression be avoided that public resources – general cover of expenses – are used for private income, namely to boost the voluntary pension fund.

Finally, I should like to give the 20 seconds left to me to the next speaker.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edith Mastenbroek (PSE). – (NL) Madam President, I should first of all like to thank Mr Staes for his excellent report and the previous speaker for the 20 seconds extra speaking time. Could it be that we perhaps hail from the same Member State? There is every chance that we do, because the same points that you highlighted I should like to highlight as well.

Turning to Mr Staes’ report first, I should like to thank him once again, because the report is outstanding. For the first time since I was elected, you managed to grant discharge that did not lead to major controversy the week before. Allow me to single out a few points. It is unfortunate that in this procedure it is a rule rather than an exception that we have to keep asking for the same things over and over again – not only such things as electronic signatures or for red tape in this House to be reduced, but also matters of importance such as the question of to whom we actually grant discharge. We endorse what Mr Staes had to say about this.

I should, on a personal level, also like to draw your attention to Mr Fjellner’s amendments. I think it is of the utmost importance for us to know precisely what we spend Parliament’s money on, and, as I see it, it is consequently of the essence for the debate to know the exact cost of carving up our working hours across three places. Moving to the statute of assistants, certainly now that we have managed to reach mutual agreement on the members’ statute, this is an important topic which, I hope, we will not need to raise again next year, and which is being worked on by one of the Bureau’s working parties as we speak. It is vital, I think, for this assistants' statute to be in place as soon as possible and for us to gain a decent insight into the working position of these assistants, their social security and their tax regimes.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bill Newton Dunn (ALDE). – Madam President, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, presiding efficiently over us.

First of all a comment to Mr Mote, who, I am sorry to see, has not bothered to stay to listen to the rest of the debate. His solution to the problems of corruption and waste in Europe is to add another layer of bureaucracy by hiring a team of accountants from the private sector. It seems to me a completely absurd solution, piling cost on cost.

Our group will support Amendments 1 and 3 calling for clarification of the costs of our working in three different places, which is an absurdity that the public cannot understand and we cannot understand. We want clarification on that. However, we are very puzzled that the PPE-DE Group has tabled four amendments – 79, 80, 81 and 83 – that would delete other useful parts of this report. Mrs De Lange, who just spoke for the PPE-DE Group, baffles me. She said that we want to avoid giving the public impression that money is being wrongly spent for the pension fund. I agree with her. However, the PPE-DE Group is proposing under Amendment 83 to delete an audit of Members’ allowances and how they are spent, which does not make sense at all. I would urge her to persuade the rest of her colleagues to withdraw those amendments seeking to delete useful things in this report and to support it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janusz Wojciechowski (UEN). (PL) Madam President, I would like to congratulate the rapporteurs on their perceptive and very thorough reports. I would also like to thank the Court of Auditors, whose reports have given us a great deal of information on how the budget is drawn up. I do, however, feel that the reports have been written in a language that is not easily understandable for the average citizen, and that we should improve the clarity of our documents, as ultimately we are writing them not for ourselves, but also for the public.

As far as control procedures are concerned, most of the remarks relate to the accuracy of the accounts. This is important, but in accounting everything balances out, while in real life the funds are squandered and spent inefficiently. In future I would like more attention to be focused on a substantial assessment of individual expenses than on their formal correctness.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paul van Buitenen (Verts/ALE). – (NL) Madam President, since 2000, two internal accountants from the Committee of the Regions have successively established serious instances of fraud, something which has also been confirmed by the anti-fraud office in various reports. All those years, the Committee of the Regions played down the problems, promised improvement and we, Parliament, always granted discharge.

Only last year, a hearing was planned involving the two accountants who had been dismissed by the Committee of the Regions. By intense lobbying by the self-same committee though, the hearing was removed from the Committee on Budgetary Control’s agenda at the last minute, and we reacted once again simply by granting discharge to the Committee of the Regions. A few months ago, the last – for the time being – OLAF report on this saga came out. OLAF recommends not only disciplinary action, but even criminal prosecution. The Committee of the Regions having repeatedly refused to allow it, the Committee on Budgetary Control was finally allowed to read this report, which revealed structurally organised malversations at various levels within the hierarchy. Also, new anonymous reportings are once again coming in. The rules do not allow me to quote from the OLAF report , but even now, after years of fraud, no disciplinary action has been taken, while both accountants have been dismissed.

It is incredible to think that we are once again about to grant discharge to the Committee of the Regions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jiří Maštálka (GUE/NGL).(CS) Madam President, I should like to congratulate the rapporteurs and to make a few comments, both general and specific, based on my personal experience.

Firstly, point 1 states that not all agencies always have good a reputation. I should like to speak up for the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, based in Bilbao, which is certainly a major exception and to which this point does not apply.

As a rapporteur I worked with this Agency on drawing up an assessment of the framework directive on protecting health at work, and I am currently collaborating on drawing up new standards for statistics on accidents at work. Furthermore I have visited the agency twice and can confirm that it provides us with very good data.

As for point 11, calling for improved technical assistance for the agencies, I should like to say one thing: this is not solely a matter of technical support; it is a matter of better framing the requests that we make to Parliament’s agencies. On this issue we need to become more proactive as a Parliament.

Ultimately, this relates also to point 15, which is about cooperation with other organisations. In this context, I can report that the agency in Bilbao works closely with the World Health Organisation and provides very interesting statistical data.

One final comment: I am firmly in favour of point 25 and I am delighted to say that the agency has improved its communications, and that greater use is being made of its expertise, in particular by SMEs. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Whittaker (IND/DEM). – Madam President, time and again we hear the plea from the Commission, ‘It’s not our fault! How can we police our Community money?’ That is, Member States’ taxpayers’ money is spent by the Member States. Indeed, we have the remarkable event last year of the Commission castigating the Court of Auditors for picking on them.

But perhaps the Commission has a point and this line of thinking has persuaded the governments of the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands to agree to declarations about the future management of EU funds – for what that is worth. More deeply, the Commission’s point shows up the essential weakness of the system. The agencies in Member States that spend EU money have little incentive to worry about the taxpayers in some other Member State who provided it.

So what do we do about this? Well, I shall continue to tell the people of my country that waste and financial irregularity are an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the system – a flawed system in which the disconnection between the taxpayers who provide the funds and those who spend them becomes ever wider.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alexander Stubb (PPE-DE). – Madam President, like a scout, I’m always prepared. I have three points to make.

Firstly, I think we seem to be forgetting a little why we are here. We talk about the report, which is about sound financial management. I think there are three reasons why we have these reports. The first is trust. We need the markets to trust us. Secondly, it is democracy. We need the people to trust us. If we have sound financial management, others will follow. Thirdly, it is about transparency, in other words, reducing scepticism. We are trying to improve financial control. So my first point is that there is a reason why we are doing this. I think the Commission is doing a good job, contrary to what the previous speaker said.

Secondly – and this is a historic moment for me, because I am going to fundamentally agree with my compatriot from the left side of the House – Mr Seppänen is absolutely right, as are all those previous speakers who said that the fault lies not with the way the Commission is dealing with the money, but with the way the Member States are dealing with it. In other words, 80% of the funds are managed by Member States. There is absolutely no financial responsibility. Allow me to make a proposal. If we, in the next IGC, open up a couple of institutional questions, why not do the same with regard to the Member States as we do for the Commission? Why do we not put into the new treaties a legal obligation for the Member States to be held accountable for the EU money that they spend? Perhaps this is something that could give us a positive statement of assurance in the long run.

Thirdly and finally, I would like to agree with all of those who support Mr Fjellner’s amendments: Mr Newton Dunn, Mrs De Lange, Mr Staes and Mrs Mastenbroek. We need two things in this report. One is an environmental impact assessment of the cost of the three seats and the other is the cost of the three seats of the European Parliament.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paulo Casaca (PSE).(PT) Madam President, I should like to congratulate all of the rapporteurs on their excellent work. I extend these congratulations, of course, to the chairmen of our committee, Mr Fazakas and Mr Bösch. I should also like to express my appreciation for Mr Kallas’ words as regards ex-post audits set to take place in connection with everything regarding the direct management of funds. I must say right away that we shall be keeping a close eye on these audits, how they are carried out, the number of mistakes detected and the necessary comparison with the results obtained by the Court of Auditors.

Most importantly, I should like to say to our Vice-President that Parliament has the ultimate say on the discharge and that this power will certainly be used in full when we are back here next year discussing the issue of the recovery of funds.

I was the rapporteur of a highly critical report on the Commission’s handling of this issue. The Court of Auditors declared in the Committee on Budgetary Control that it was unable to find the billions of euros in funds that, according to the Commission, were to be recovered. I must say that I too am unable to find these amounts and I should like to point out that next year this issue must be tackled totally differently; otherwise, we shall have to take a much harder line.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyösti Virrankoski (ALDE). – (FI) Madam President, the administration of EU funds is quite an awkward task. If the budget is to be implemented effectively there need to be clear legal instruments and a clear division of labour. There is room for improvement in both these areas. Moreover, EU funds, as we know, are mainly managed by the national authorities.

There does not seem to be any progress being made in the simplification of legislation. Whilst the number of old regulations is being trimmed down, new ones are constantly being drafted. People are lured by meticulous micromanagement and nobody ventures to delegate decision-making downwards. This has led and is leading to an ever greater need for supervision. At least at the level of the law EU funds are controlled most stringently. On the other hand, the amount of supervision undertaken does not necessarily improve its quality or the way it is managed. Frequently, too much supervision only slows down and paralyses operations. For example, private companies are more unwilling now to participate in EU Structural Funds projects because they are so very bureaucratic. That is why it is good that such institutions as the Court of Auditors have begun to pay closer attention to the quality rather than to the amount of supervision that goes on.

Budget supervision requires a clearer division of responsibilities. The responsibility that a holder of office has should be absolutely clear. The system should not be too hierarchical. Collective accountability is not accountability at all. For that reason, financial supervision goes hand in hand with simplification of the laws and clarification of the responsibilities of office holders.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ingeborg Gräßle (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, speaking on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, I would like to thank all the rapporteurs most warmly, for the further headway we are able to make is thanks to their work, and it may well be that we have made more of it on the agencies front than elsewhere, so many thanks are owed to Mrs Herczog for the really good ideas she has contributed.

It is vital that there should be closer links between the agencies and the Commission, which needs to have a blocking minority on their supervisory boards, and must understand and accept that these agencies are partners in lawmaking and in the management of the EU’s programmes. Regrettably, though, the situation as regards the Commission’s budget is virtually unchanged.

From now on to the end of the period, we will have to pay attention to how an unconditional statement of assurance may be had, for the directly-managed funds at any rate, and, in its own sphere, the Commission shows itself capable of doing that, and should make a good job of it. We want to work with you on this and to support you, but that presupposes that you take the initiative; we will be with you all the way, from the tolerable risk to the single audits and all the issues connected with them.

I would also like to say a word of thanks to the Court of Auditors – which we see as a very important institution – and to the people who work in it, who have done a good job, on whom we rely, and on whom we will continue to rely over the coming years.

I have to tell the Commissioner that we still have work to catch up on, and there is something to which we should perhaps give priority, in that you still owe us information on the figures and the recovery of funds, which we have not as yet been able to get a grip on. We think it would be very important that you should tell this House on which figures we can then rely, for there are at least four that have been doing the rounds over the past six or eight weeks.

Turning to this House’s budget, we have tabled deleting amendments in relation to the pension fund, not because we object to it and want to say something about its substance, but because we do not want to pre-empt the work of the working party that we jointly appointed, for why should we now want to impose restrictions on its work? I therefore urge you to support these amendments. Far from pre-empting whatever might emerge later on these topics, they give the group a chance to do what it thinks to be right.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Herbert Bösch (PSE).(DE) Madam President, congratulations are in order to our rapporteurs, for the taxpayers attach importance to seeing that this House is doing a respectable job of work when it comes to the protection of their money.

I am perfectly well aware – and I think this is what Mrs Gräßle wanted to say – that it is always rather difficult to filter out what the real priorities are when a large number of people are sounding off about what they would like to see done, but it is precisely this technical problem that our committee sees as a challenge. I think the problem has been solved very well, and we will continue to keep tabs on the issues that have been raised; we want to fill in the hole in the IACS system, and I am grateful for the Commission’s support, of which we have again been assured by Vice-President Kallas.

We would like to be able to stand before the electorate and say that the CAP has been certified sound, and we are very close to being able to; progress has been made, and that we find very encouraging.

Secondly, we want the Member States to cough up for the 80% of this EUR 100 billion budget that are spent through them, and I see the Council’s absence today as a disgrace. They – currently from Germany, from another Member State some other time; I have no desire to single any one country out – may be our lords and masters, but we will remind them of that the next time they get on their hind legs before their own voters and talk about what a God-awful mess Brussels is in.

The Member States’ absence when we debate these things is something that we cannot expect our taxpayers to put up with, and I might add that the same can be said of the leadership of this House, for neither the Secretary-General nor the President are in the Chamber, and I say that, Madam Vice-President, without wishing to cast doubts on your own competence. What we want for the future is for the Member States to take responsibility.

Finally, Commissioner Kallas, I was rather perturbed by your statement – which I hope will not be repeated – since the Court of Auditors exists to monitor and criticise the Commission, rather than the other way round, and that happens to be the way things are done in a democratically-ordered state.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. We have noted what you said about the absence of certain parties.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Margarita Starkevičiūtė (ALDE). (LT) I would like to support the views expressed by Edit Herczog about agencies, and I would stress that compared with last year it can be clearly seen that there is more fiscal discipline in this area.

However, agencies are growing like mushrooms after a rain. If in 1990 we had three agencies, now, along with the executive agencies, we have 23. It is clear that there is no strategic plan for establishing agencies. In May of last year we were invited by the Commission to become acquainted with the activities of the Intelligent Energy Executive Agency. What a great example of agency operations that was: at the end of the year the Commission put forward a proposal that this agency be reorganised.

Clearly, we should give more attention to the wider problem: how many agencies do we need, and are they really necessary?

At the moment this process is haphazard. Different commissioners come to different committees of Parliament, which are responsible for certain areas, and they go to the Committee on Budgets. It is therefore hard to evaluate the whole process of establishing agencies and the need for them, though it seems that many procedural areas have been defined.

Therefore, I think our Committee on Budgetary Control should, together with the entire Parliament, support the initiative and encourage a speedier arrival at an agreement between institutions in relation to the operation of European agencies, their work procedures and their establishment.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  José Javier Pomés Ruiz (PPE-DE). – (ES) I would like to begin with a procedural question. Where is the Council, Madam President?

I would insist, where is the Council?

We are talking about a budget, 90% of which is spent by the Member States. So where is the Council? Where is the Council, Mr Kallas? My dear friend Herbert Bösch, ladies and gentlemen of the German press who are following our proceedings, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Die Welt, where is the Council? Why is it not here when we are talking about how the Council spends 90% of our budget?

My dear friends Herbert Bösch and Markus Ferber, German fellow Members, we have a German Presidency. Where is the Council? Why is the Council not showing its face here, listening to all of our views on how the Member States are spending the budget?

I hope that in the Committee on Budgetary Control, under the chairmanship of Herbert Bösch, we can take some sort of initiative to point out that it is scandalous – if the press has not already said so – that nobody from the Council is present, to show its face, so that it can respond if necessary to our comments. I cannot put it any more directly.

Moving on from that issue, which is a serious one, this debate is gaining weight year by year, and we appreciate, and I applaud, Vice-President Siim Kallas’s communication to the effect that we have now recovered EUR 2.1 billion from the Member States. That is money that they have spent badly and we are recovering it. I would love to know how this EUR 2.1 billion is distributed. We have asked for that information and we are sure that, within the context of the transparency initiative that he is heading and which this Parliament will support, we will find out the details.

This is perhaps where the Council is seeing sense. That what is not spent properly should return to the Community’s coffers. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome Siim Kallas’s initiative to be especially tough, honest and firm in the recovery of badly-spent funds.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. So that there be no doubt, and as a number of speakers have raised the point, it is quite clear that the agenda is set with the participation of the Council. It is free to be here; it has obviously made a decision not to be here. That will be noted and has clearly been remarked upon.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Szabolcs Fazakas (PSE). – (HU) The 2005 discharge represents one of the important milestones of the reforms begun three years ago by COCOBU. One of the aims of the reform was to simplify the procedure, which in addition to being welcomed by all participants is also something that can be implemented at once.

It has proven to be a much more difficult and complex task to realise the objective we share with Commissioner Siim Kallas, according to which a positive DAS would be guaranteed for 2009, thereby pre-empting the frequently unfounded criticisms. In order for the European Court of Auditors to issue a certification without reservations, we need the declarations of the Member States that use a total of 80% of the moneys. To date, the governments of Member States have avoided doing so. Last year we were also successful in reaching interinstitutional agreement on this, whereby the need for a positive declaration was signed, and the national audit offices are prepared to work together with the European Court of Auditors. For all this, we have the involvement of the national parliaments to thank, which meant that we were successful in securing the necessary political foundation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  James Elles (PPE-DE). – Madam President, I would like to congratulate the rapporteurs in this particular debate, especially Salvador Garriga Polledo for the discharge report on the Commission, on which I would like to focus most of my comments.

Commissioner, I think that we sense in Parliament and in this debate that real progress has been made in the Commission under Mr Barroso to be able to ensure that European citizens have proper accountability of funds. However, we know from the Court of Auditors report that even if the underlying transactions were legal and regular, for certain parts of the budget there are material errors which still remain for elements of the operational programmes, and therefore there is no statement of assurance for the 12th year running which, I think we all underline, is totally unacceptable. The question is, how do we get there?

Under the Treaties, the Commission stipulates that the Commission is responsible for managing the budget, but we know 80%, as other colleagues have said, is managed by the Member States. It is logical that no statement of assurance will be given until the Member States produce their national declarations. I welcome the Presidency of the Council coming at least at the end of our debate, because this refers to the Presidency and its responsibility in enabling national declarations to be done.

Obviously, in the interinstitutional agreement we have made some progress in asking Member States to have national declarations. I agree with our rapporteur that we need to have the Commission proposal to encourage Member States to do so, but one gets the feeling that Member States do not care for EU monies spent in their countries because they say it is not theirs. But of course it is! It is the taxpayers’ money and should be properly accounted for.

I therefore come to the conclusion, looking at the excellent report by Mr Garriga Polledo, that should there be an intergovernmental conference later this year, we have to make it a legally binding requirement for all Member States to produce national management declarations, because clearly the legal basis at this stage is insufficient and some Member States just slough it off and say that they do not worry because they are not concerned. But is concerns everybody.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Whilst we are pleased to note the presence of representatives from the Council, I am told that is actually for the next debate.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Markus Ferber (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, I should like to start by thanking all the rapporteurs for having done a splendid job of work. Perhaps the Health Minister will do her bit on behalf of the Council to make the Budget controls a bit more transparent, too, for she is working hard for that in the health sector, and maybe that is an example to us.

In Germany, we have a saying according to which, when you go out riding, your own stall must be clean, and what I am driving at here is that 80% of the funds are managed by the Member States, but when I consider the banner headlines of the past few years, or even of recent months, about the Commission’s buildings policy and certain structures that did nothing to help transparent procedures become the norm in the award of contracts, it becomes clear that we have to examine extremely carefully the 20% that the Commission manages.

The Commission and the Member States pass the buck back and forth among themselves, and that gets nobody anywhere; each has his own responsibility. In the Commission, too, a decent amount of work is needed if these sort of structures are to be broken down; I still remember clearly, all the things that the Commission, here in this House, promised us back in 1999 in connection with the resignation of the Commission at the time.

Where transparency is concerned, I sometimes have no idea what aspects of this debate make sense and which do not, and I hope that someone will be able to explain it all to me.

What I would like to say to Mr Bösch, on the subject of IACS, is that in my own country, the incidence of fraud – which is actually nothing to do with fraud, but rather, because of applications filled in wrong but without criminal intent, is really an incidence of errors – stands at 0.9%. When I see how much administrative effort has to go into cutting down from 0.9% to 0.5%, I do sometimes worry that the costs of the bureaucracy that we thereby create are much greater than what we are able to save for the taxpayers’ benefit, and this is where a fair balance has to be found if we are to get on the right track.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. Madam President, honourable Members, I just have some brief comments to make.

First of all, thank you all for your comments. Concerning some smaller issues, such as the secondment of agents, we will investigate or study the case raised about gender mainstreaming. A pilot study is under way and it is difficult to collect information about policies linked to gender issues.

I would also like to stress that interinstitutional dialogue concerning the agencies is extremely valuable, if Parliament is in favour of this idea. The Commission proposed an interinstitutional agreement concerning agencies in 2005 and this was blocked in the Council. Now, during the German Presidency, you have tried to revitalise interest in this agreement. This is vital if we are to really straighten out this issue.

As regards some small details, one Member asked about the size of the losses from the European budget. I just want to repeat that, in exact accounting terms, the losses are those amounts of money which are written off from our balance sheet. In the year 2005, the amount was EUR 90 805 147.47, which is 0.09% of our budget. This is the exact figure corresponding to the definition of losses.

Also, I must say to Mr Seppänen that the accounts for 2006 have already been signed by our chief accounting officer. Those agencies are an important issue. Secondly, national declarations were the main issue on which many participants touched, saying that there are problems with the shared management of EU funds. The wording from the interinstitutional agreement was included in the revised Financial Regulation. Article 53b says that Member States should produce an annual summary at the appropriate national level of the available audits and declarations. It has been agreed with the Council that on 15 February 2008 a summary of audits in agriculture will be made available. The technical aspects of doing this in other areas, in particular in relation to the structural funds, are still under discussion, but there will definitely be firm results.

The Commission raised this issue on 27 March in ECOFIN and yesterday it was discussed in the Council’s Financial Committee. We have been in contact with the German Presidency and the German Ministry of Finance with a view to discussing again in June how we can reach a definite outcome on the issue of shared management. The main problem here, visible throughout all these discussions, is that this must be done in such a way as to provide evidence for the Court of Auditors. A great deal of tension could arise if the Court of Auditors says, ‘You can provide us with your national declaration but this does not mean anything. We will still make our checks and audits and evaluate the situation’. There must be a workable solution.

From the beginning, the Commission has supported the idea of shared management. We are working with national audit institutions to involve them in this process, but there must also be clear evidence for the Court of Auditors. It is going ahead. Five countries have already declared their readiness to issue national declarations. When I compare the Council meetings I attended at the beginning of this Commission with the situation today, which is completely different, I see a great step forward.

I would like to make one last point on an issue raised by some Members. Yes, there will be an intergovernmental conference. As we understand it, quite intensive preparations are being made for this intergovernmental conference. This is a situation where we can also have some input concerning this issue of discharge, perhaps from the angle Mr Elles referred to, or in terms of the wording of the statement of assurance. In any case, something can be done. If Parliament also expresses its great interest in these possible amendments, it will definitely help to prepare the way for a positive statement of assurance.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bart Staes (Verts/ALE), rapporteur. (NL) Madam President, what I have to say is more like a point of order in accordance with Rule 165 of our Rules of Procedure. Various speakers have asked why the German Presidency, which came at the end of this debate – I assume to address this House in the next one – was absent.

I should like to ask the German Presidency very expressly what the reason was for not taking part in the discharge debate. It is an important debate, given that 80% of the resources spent by the Commission and the Member States are discussed, as various speakers have already pointed out. If I am not given a good reason, then I am reluctant to recommend to my group that discharge be granted to the Council. I would then prefer we voted against granting the Council discharge, so that we can have this debate again in six months' time.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Thank you, Mr Staes. The representatives from the Council that are now present with us are from the German Health Ministry and I think it would be unfair to ask them to respond to this point.

In the light of the tenor of a number of speeches, I have made it quite clear that we are dissatisfied with the non-attendance and that will be followed up. I will not ask the present representative to answer specifically, but the point has been noted and well made.

The debate is closed. The vote will be noon today.

 

5. Combating HIV/Aids within the EU and in the neighbouring countries 2006-2009 (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report by Mr Andrejevs, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on combating HIV/AIDS within the European Union and in the neighbouring countries, 2006-2009 (2006/2232(INI) (A6-0091/2007).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgs Andrejevs (ALDE), rapporteur. Madam President, I wish to begin by thanking the President-in-Office for her encouraging words made in Bremen – and I hope also here during our debate today – as well as for her continued commitment in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As the Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated in her keynote speech at the conference in Bremen, the fight against HIV/AIDS is the responsibility of all Member States. I strongly believe that every single national government should follow Germany’s example and take full political responsibility by putting the fight against HIV/AIDS on its list of top policy priorities.

Today, Parliament is being asked to vote on my report on combating HIV/AIDS within the European Union and in the neighbouring countries, 2006-2009, which contains many important suggestions on how to combat the disease. Various colleagues contributed to this final consolidated version, and I want to use this opportunity to thank all my colleagues who contributed to this report as shadow rapporteurs or by tabling amendments. Their input was of great value and is much appreciated.

As you know, after the vote in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, several new amendments were tabled by the political groups to be voted on during today’s sitting. The majority of those amendments have my support. However, I could not agree on some. If adopted, one of the amendments would, in reality, prolong the current situation where two Member States of the EU are not reporting data to the EU surveillance bodies concerning HIV/AIDS, especially to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Therefore, in my report I urged the responsible bodies in those two Member States to start reporting data. All the other 25 Member States report their national data anonymously, which does not contradict personal data protection.

I want to draw your attention to, and ask for your support for, amendment 4, tabled by the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, regarding equal access to medicines within the European Union. Let me briefly explain the motivation for tabling this amendment. As already stated in the report, access to anti-retroviral treatment and anti-retroviral drugs are different and varying among the Member States of the European Union. At the same time, let me remind you that Article 300 of the EC Treaty provides a legal basis for the Commission to conduct negotiations on behalf of all Member States if the Council authorises the Commission to do so. In such a case, if the European Parliament and the Council were to decide in favour of this proposal, the Commission’s mandate would be limited in scope and duration only to those particular negotiations, namely for equal access to anti-retroviral medicines. Negotiating on behalf of 27 Member States, the outcome could be beneficial for everyone and provide all citizens of the EU with equal access to those medicines.

To conclude, I should like to thank once more all my colleagues who contributed to the work done in this report. The work combating this pandemic will not stop after today’s vote: it will continue in the field. Therefore, I should like to call on all the national governments and the Commission to support non-governmental organisations, social organisations and society as a whole to fight against HIV/AIDS. I call for them to be empowered by allocating the necessary financial resources to strengthen those who fight this epidemic in the front line. The role of civic society in this fight is not to be underestimated, and we need to guarantee our full political support.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ulla Schmidt, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, honourable Members, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you here today, and Mr Andrejevs, too, for presenting his report, which makes it plain that HIV/AIDS remains a dangerous illness, which, although we often – and rightly – think of it as associated with Africa, is also an issue for our own continent of Europe.

In parts of our continent, infection is now spreading more rapidly than in other parts of the world, and it is, alas, on the increase in all the Member States of the European Union. We must, then, make this issue our own, for HIV/AIDS is more than a health problem; it also has to do with economic and social development in the states affected by it.

I am very glad, then, that we succeeded in getting over 41 European states, including some of our neighbours, represented by ministers or their deputies at the Bremen conference, that we were able to highlight the importance of the alliance between government and civil society in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that it was also made plain that HIV/AIDS has to be seen as the big issue. I am very grateful to the German Federal Chancellor for her clear statement and also for the fact that the results of this conference and its conclusions will be on the agenda not only of the Health Ministers’ Council, but also of the summit in June.

The main thing that the Bremen declaration did was to set out, in four core points and in clear terms, where our priorities have to be, and they coincide to a very large degree with what you have set out in your report and in its reasoning.

All our strategies must give priority to prevention, for neither medicines nor vaccinations are available to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

It is absolutely vital that the human rights of persons who have contracted the illness should be recognised, respected and promoted, and that includes their right to be protected from discrimination and against being stigmatised.

General access to diagnosis and treatment must be guaranteed; the question has just been raised as to whether we can negotiate prices for medicines. One advance achieved by Bremen is that the pharmaceutical industry has made it clear that good provision necessarily involves affordable medicines, and has indicated its willingness to join with the Commission, your House and the Member States in finding a way in which each Member State can, by negotiating prices, ensure access to affordable treatment and injections. Now, that is progress.

There must also be a renewed and greater commitment to research and development, with better interlinking of facilities in Europe, and more investment in vaccinations and microbicides.

I do believe that this conference has enabled us to make some headway, and would be delighted if our Member States, together with Parliament and the Commission, were to put this issue at the top of the agenda, thus making the point that AIDS is an issue for all of us. It is not just a problem for our neighbour states, but a problem for Europe; it has a great deal to do with our social and economic development, no less than it does with our success or failure in giving the public added value.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Markos Kyprianou, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Andrejevs, and the members of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety for their excellent work in drafting this report. I would also like to thank the other two committees, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, for their contributions on this important issue.

Let me also say how happy I am that Mrs Schmidt, the German Health Minister, is here today. It is the first time in my three years as Commissioner that my counterpart from the Council has attended such a debate in plenary. I am very happy, because it demonstrates the importance of all three institutions working together very closely, very firmly and very effectively in dealing with this disease.

HIV/AIDS: is it a forgotten problem or is it a hidden disease? Is our approach that if we do not talk about it, it will go away? Well, it does not work like that. The question, then, is have we become complacent? Do we take it for granted that we have overcome this problem, that there is no need for action or that it is a problem for others, for certain risk groups? That they, therefore, must deal with it, while we do not have to worry about it? Maybe that was in people’s minds in the past, but I am glad that today it is not the case. We now know that this is a problem for the whole of society. Perhaps society is now paying because of our complacency in the past and now is the time to take new effective action to deal with this problem.

Most of you know my frustration that in the European Union, where we have the highest level of education in the world, the highest level of healthcare and the highest standard of living, people still die because of the wrong lifestyle choices. Our efforts to ensure prevention aim to address that. For me it is frustrating, and even embarrassing, that 20 or 25 years on we still have to discuss the same issues regarding HIV/AIDS. We still have to discuss the same measures to be taken, measures that should now be standard and routine in the European Union. We still have to explain that the simple use of condoms is the most effective way to protect ourselves. It is a simple truth. We must also explain that everybody is at risk; we cannot start saying to some groups that it is their problem and that those not in the risk group do not have to worry about it. We still have to stress that simple preventative measures do protect.

The results of the Eurobarometer poll were, as you know, shocking. A large percentage of people in the European Union still believe that they can get infected with HIV/AIDS by kissing on the mouth, drinking from the same glass or by using the same toilet seat. It is embarrassing that after 25 years people still do not know more than that. Or, even worse, that taking care of patients who are HIV-positive could actually infect the healthcare worker.

I believe that we have to step up our efforts. It is now a problem for the general population, especially young people and women. A large number of young people became sexually active after the end of the campaigns of the 1980s. We saw a huge wave of campaigns by famous people – actors, heads of government and singers – who drew attention to this problem and helped focus on how to deal with it. Unfortunately that has stopped. We thought we had the matter under control, but we did not. The new generations are growing up unaware. I am therefore very grateful to the German Presidency, the Health Minister and the Chancellor herself for refocusing on this disease and the simple ways in which we can protect ourselves.

At the same time, it is extremely important to invest in research, and the Commission is doing that. It is very important to invest in medicine – I will not repeat what has already been said – and to ensure access to affordable and effective ARV medicines. These are important measures that we can take. For us it is a very high priority and, as I said, I am very happy that the Council and the German Presidency, and Parliament too, look at it in the same way.

We will resume and step up our campaigns to educate young people. We will again encourage the use of condoms. We will carry out research on preventative measures and medicine. This will be gender-related, because we realise that there are aspects that differ amongst men and women and we will adjust our research and our efforts to take account of this reality. I have noted the paragraph in the report and agree that, within the Commission, we must make sure that we cooperate among ourselves, among the individual departments responsible for defined areas, whilst also dealing with the subject as a global problem. We know that it affects the Neighbourhood countries but also developing countries, and we have a responsibility to work with them as well.

I would like to commend the rapporteur and Parliament on the report. It really touches on all the important issues. We will be working on those issues. In some cases, such as interdepartmental cooperation within the Commission, we were already doing so. We will also take action by means of funding and through programmes. For example, in 2007 we will be working on developing best practices in addressing the risky sexual behaviour among young people and the prevention of HIV/AIDS in men who have sex with men and developing training programmes for healthcare personnel and NGOs to improve the treatment and care of people living with HIV/AIDS.

For us it is a very high priority. It is not just about a policy or a strategy. It is a question of moral obligation. I believe that the system as a whole has failed our citizens over the past 20 years and it is now time to resume our efforts and correct our mistakes.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Thank you very much for your speech, Commissioner, which was full of feeling and commitment and also very much in line with Parliament's concerns and demands.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zita Gurmai (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. – (HU) HIV/AIDS, one of the most dangerous diseases today, knows no boundaries. In the past two years, the number of girls and women infected with HIV has grown in all parts of the world, and at a particularly fast pace in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. Taking measures against this epidemic can therefore not be confined to the territory of the EU, but urgently requires global collaboration. In 2005 there were close to 5 million new HIV infections worldwide, and AIDS-related diseases claimed the lives of 3 million people. Among these, some half a million were children.

The other increasingly at-risk group is women, since more and more of them are infected with the HIV virus without their being aware of it, and they in turn become carriers of a virus they can pass on to their children. An anti-HIV/AIDS strategy should make the protection of women and children the most important component. The most effective tools in this struggle are prevention, information, tools for public education, and the increased use of the most suitable communication channels, data gathering, research and early detection and treatment; we must ensure that high quality, non-exclusionary health care is available regardless of the person’s age and sex.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Antonios Trakatellis, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (EL) Mr President, in order to cure HIV/AIDS in the EU and neighbouring countries we need an integrated strategy that will promote prevention on a community level as well as in these countries, but also, I would say, on a worldwide scale.

The number of people infected by AIDS as well as of those living with AIDS is constantly on the rise and 12 000 new infections are registered worldwide everyday. There is no vaccine for the prevention of the disease and no therapeutic treatment has proved successful so far.

Following the ancient saying of Hippocrates: ‘prevention is better than cure’, an integrated strategy would consist of promoting effective prevention. Prevention can be achieved through public awareness as the Commissioner mentioned and thus all necessary preventive measures could be taken.

Furthermore, we must take certain steps towards eliminating prejudices related to the specific disease. People infected with the disease constantly face intolerance and discrimination. At the same time, of course, together with the prevention efforts, we must promote the fields of research and innovation that will give us the ability to have new medications and possibly vaccines.

To close, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Andrejevs, for the exceptional work he has done. We had an exceptional collaboration and I thank him for that. I believe that with this report we will be able to come up with an extraordinary prevention strategy both in the European Union and on a worldwide scale.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dorette Corbey, on behalf of the PSE Group. (NL) Mr President, AIDS is still an ongoing tragedy, not only in developing countries, but also in Europe, not only among homosexuals and drug users, but also among heterosexuals and the totally abstinent, and so I should like to extend warm thanks to our rapporteur. Mr Andrejevs, who has put a great deal into this work and has written a fine report.

Our group must pull out all the stops in order to call a halt to the AIDS epidemic, and we need to invest with this in mind. First of all, we must invest in people, in women. We must take prevention seriously. We must take the reality of women, young people, sex workers and drug users seriously, and that reality is what we need to take as a basis. It is essential that good information be provided in schools and hospitals, the sort of information that treats people’s moral choices with respect, and should also include information about all sexually transmittable diseases, since these increase vulnerability for AIDS.

Secondly, we must invest in new products, in microbicides, in products that enable women to protect themselves against AIDS, in medicines and vaccines, and in more environmentally-friendly medicines. Condoms for men and women must be become more widely available.

Thirdly, we need to invest in political innovation. We must overcome the existing obstacles without delay. Medicines and vaccines are often not affordable to groups that need them the most. Reasons for this are the high development costs of medicines and the relatively short recoup time, as a result of which new medicines are prohibatively expensive. We must face these problems and the public responsibility that goes with them. There are ways out of this situation, for example more public-private partnerships to develop AIDS medicines and vaccines, which may bring their cost down to some extent, while we should also make use of all the options open to us in order to invalidate patents in the public interest, something for which the TRIPS agreements set the right tone.

Finally, what is needed if essential medicines are to be available for the fight against AIDS is better negotiation with the pharmaceutical industry, something in which the Commission can play a key role, and I would warmly support the rapporteur’s amendment to this effect.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marios Matsakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, Minister, Commissioner, congratulations to Professor Andrejevs for his excellent report. AIDS is a major threat to global health, and oddly enough, it becomes even more so as the treatment of sufferers improves, because with improved treatment, patient survival also improves, and therefore the pool of infectivity grows.

I wish to take this opportunity to home in on just one aspect: infection due to the use of infected needles by drug-users. Many thousands of individuals are infected every year because of this. This problem can easily be dealt with at least in EU Member States if only governments could understand the simple fact that drug addiction is a disease, not a criminal offence, and therefore proper measures should be taken so that drug-addicted individuals are given clean, uninfected needles to use in the treatment of their illness. This should be done under proper medical supervision and surveillance and without the involvement of the police or judicial authorities. I hope that eventually governments will use medical common sense, and not a police sledgehammer approach, in dealing with drug-addicted ill people.

I am interested to hear the comments of the Commissioner and the Minister on this issue.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Rogalski, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Mr President, it is a pleasure for me to speak before this House in the important debate on one of the gravest problems and threats of modern times: the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The world today appears to have become rather blasé about the issue of HIV/AIDS, and is not paying sufficient attention to the problem, or investing enough in relation to the gravity and extent of the threat. And reality contrasts starkly with this: almost 40 million people have the HIV virus worldwide and over 95% of them live in the developing countries. This fact should induce us to give more aid to those countries. The alarming thing is that over half of new HIV cases are among the under-25s. Cases in the European Union and neighbouring countries are increasing at an alarming rate. We should also remember that the people most susceptible to HIV infection are drug addicts, migrants and men having sex with men. All of these groups require particular care and assistance. That is why it is so important for all institutions and organisations promoting safer lifestyles and risk avoidance should regularly include the fight against HIV in their programmes. It is also important that the Commission makes use of its neighbourhood policy to reach out to areas threatened in countries neighbouring the EU, with special focus on the Kaliningrad enclave, where the threat is also growing at an alarming rate. But what we should be focussing on most are clear information campaigns about HIV infection, as this is the most important means of stemming this modern plague. Once again, I would like to underline that only HIV prevention and education, especially among young people, will help to avert an epidemic on a global scale.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Umberto Guidoni, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, AIDS is a long way away from being vanquished. New cases are continuing to increase, taking on the proportions of a global epidemic. The most worrying thing is that half of new cases involve persons under the age of 25.

In Europe over 50% of the population believes that you can catch AIDS from a kiss. For this reason, we need information campaigns written in scientifically accurate language that give the population clear information on prevention, methods of protection and risky behaviour.

It is necessary to combat all forms of ghettoisation, by putting in place policies and programmes for the promotion of social inclusion and access to the employment market for those with the virus. We also need public funds to promote research and development activities focusing on public health needs, where access to research results is available to all, including the poorest patients.

The medicines that are needed to save millions of lives cannot be treated as ordinary goods, governed by the laws of the market. As the report states, we need to guarantee the right of every human being to health care, medical services and access to medicines.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Irena Belohorská (NI). – (SK) I would like to begin by thanking the rapporteur for a detailed report covering all aspects of the fight against this insidious disease. It is regrettable that EuroHIV lacks national data from Spain and Italy, even though the agency regards them as the two countries with the highest incidence of the epidemic, and despite the fact that the estimated number of people infected with the virus in some EU countries is nearly three times the official number. Slovakia, for example, is estimated to have ten times more infected patients than the official statistics indicate.

It is understandably difficult to obtain accurate statistics, because there are also patients who refuse treatment and disappear from sight as far as doctors are concerned. The legislation does not solve this problem, and in spite of the risk of infection, no one can force a person to have treatment. It is often difficult even to determine the source of infection. With syphilis, identifying an infected person is a simple matter. With HIV, it takes a very long time. I support Commissioner Kyprianou in the emphasis he places on the difficulty of research, and in his efforts to ensure that treatment is provided under the 7th Framework Programme.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Michael Cashman (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – Mr President, may I start by congratulating the rapporteur on the work that he has done on this extremely important report.

Can I first say that of course, AIDS and HIV are themselves not prejudiced. They affect anyone who actually becomes vulnerable either by the use of badly treated blood which is often contaminated and passed on, unsafe sex and the bad use of needles to list just some examples.

But what we have to deal with is how to prevent the transmission. It seems to me that highest on the agenda is the whole issue of information and education. We have to inform people about how they can protect themselves. We have to inform people about their rights and about access to medicines. At the same time we have to create a whole process for awareness-raising amongst communities and individuals who feel that they themselves are not under threat or will not be affected by AIDS and HIV.

When we look in particular at Africa, where millions and millions of lives are being ravaged, and when we look across Europe, where more and more young people are becoming infected with the HIV virus, what we have to look at is not only the accessibility of treatment, but also the cost of treatment. We must do everything we can to reduce the cost of that treatment and to make it available to all.

To those who say that condom use is not effective in preventing the transmission of the HIV virus, I say they do a great deal of damage and in fact they cost lives. Condoms do work. Needle exchange does work. Good practices do work and they save lives. And those who promote abstinence? Well, if abstinence can work in sexual relationships, of course it will. But what about when abstinence is not a choice? The young 14-year old girl raped on a highway in Africa: does she have a choice? No. She has no choice. And that is where education and the promotion of awareness-raising and ending the discrimination that blights the lives of people living with AIDS and HIV is so important.

Finally, I do not think she is often quoted in this House, but I want to quote Madonna – that is the pop star. She once said that to come out and declare your sexuality is to be a hero. To come out and say that you are HIV positive and to deal with the discrimination and the anger that you therefore suffer is to declare yourself a warrior: a warrior because you fight the battles that you never want another generation to have to fight again.

I commend the report and I commend it to the House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Åsa Westlund (PSE). – (SV) Mr President, according to official statistics, more than 215 000 people in the EU were infected by HIV between 1998 and 2005. In Europe, almost 650 000 people were infected, many of them under 25 years of age.

In a way, that makes me feel extremely sad and downcast. It also makes me very indignant because, just as Mr Kyprianou said earlier, this is happening quite unnecessarily. These people could have avoided becoming infected. That is why I am very pleased indeed that we are having this debate today. I am very pleased with the report that we are to vote on and by the fact that the Commission and the Council have said they are willing to give priority to these issues.

The fact is, it is a question of tackling the ignorance that clearly exists about the ways in which people are infected by HIV and Aids. This just goes to show that we need to concentrate even more on providing information and on encouraging openness about sexuality in general. We must dare to talk about gender equality and self-determination in sexual matters. The fact that it is mainly the most vulnerable groups in society that are affected by HIV and the spread of infection shows that we need to work in new ways if we are genuinely to reach all social groups. The fact that it is vulnerable groups that are affected also poses some very tough challenges for our work on preventing those with HIV from being stigmatised. That is something to which a very great deal of priority needs to be given.

I am also very pleased that the report highlights support for the global fund for combating HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. This is very important work, which I hope we can do more to support. I am also very pleased that the report and several of the amendments indicate the significance of combating tuberculosis and HIV in parallel. I am grateful for the work we have promised to do together to combat this quite unnecessary spread of infection.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karin Scheele (PSE).(DE) Mr President, what makes today’s debate on the fight against HIV/AIDS in the European Union and its neighbouring countries so important is the fact that even we in this House sometimes forget the facts about it.

HIV/AIDS remains a menace of an illness, not only in African countries, but also in our own Member States and in the countries that are our neighbours. The rate of HIV infection is on the increase, and it is estimated that the number of persons with the virus is – as has been said several times over today – three times higher than the official figure.

Good though it is that all the European institutions have, once again, spoken out in favour of an effective war on this menacing disease, I can do no other than share Commissioner Kyprianou’s frustration when we come up against figures like these on new infections and against such misleading information after the many years in which we believed that the upcoming generations had got the message. Information campaigns need to be organised not only in order to prevent new infections with HIV, but also to prevent people with the condition from being stigmatised and to give people the knowledge that they need, because it is pretty astonishing that people still believe that they can be infected through a kiss or a glass of water, and it is here, in the sphere of education and prevention, where far too little is being done, that a start has to be made.

I never cease to be horrified by the reception given by some religious groups to education and information campaigns sponsored by the relevant ministers in some Member States, and here, too, we have to nail our political colours to the mast.

What is at stake, among other things, is compliance with EU law as it stands; there is a directive that lays down quality and safety standards for the collection, processing and distribution of human blood, and we must insist on all Member States transposing it in full, not least for the protection of their own inhabitants.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ulla Schmidt, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, I would like to thank all the Members of the European Parliament, and also the Commission, for the debate we have had today, which shows very clearly how our common action in doing our utmost to keep new infections at as low a level as possible, and to guarantee unrestricted access to treatment for people who are infected, is to a very considerable degree dependent on the subject not being made taboo, and on the sufferers not being stigmatised and discriminated against.

I am glad that it has been spelled out, both here and at the major conference in Bremen, that HIV/AIDS must go to the top of the agenda, for I am firmly persuaded that it is only if the Heads of State or Government make this issue their own that we will, everywhere, and not least in our neighbouring countries, be able to ensure the creation of the infrastructure that is needed if cooperation with civil society and, above all, with sufferers, is to bear fruit, and if the things to which reference has been made are actually to be done.

The first thing we must do is to give some thought to prevention and information, asking ourselves how we get the message across to young people, to immigrants, or to those to whom access is difficult, such as, for example, those women who have been forced into prostitution; this can be done only through close cooperation between those with political power and those within civil society who accept responsibility and work with us, and mention of forced prostitution makes it clear that this is not just about health policy, for governments must do all they can to protect women.

Thirdly, prevention is possible only if we talk frankly about how infection can happen, and that might well lead to us, in our own countries, adopting a drugs policy that does not criminalise drugs, because, although action must be taken, including by means of the law, against drug pushers, those who have become ill as a result of their addiction must be assured of such things as access to clean needles and of easy access to help and services. All these things have a part to play in this. This is far from an easy path to take, not least in the countries around us, where the Member States and their governments face the accusation that, by adopting such a policy, they are themselves acting as dealers and encouraging drug dependency – a taboo subject in many countries.

It is for this reason that I was, in Bremen, very glad to see that the ministers from the new Eastern European Member States were willing to talk very frankly about these things, because I see in this frank and open approach to these problems, in the removal of taboos, a way in which we can move forward in the way we all hope to do.

That being so, then, if we pool best practices in the prevention field and exchange ideas, if we jointly invest in research and development and take up this cause, we have already taken a step forward.

Secondly, I am very much in favour of your House, the Member States and the Commission coming to the shared realisation that any real campaign against HIV/AIDS also needs the sort of infrastructure that makes health care possible while also ensuring that the people accessing treatment find qualified people to talk to when they do so.

Thirdly, we have to ensure that access to affordable medicines can be assured in every Member State by allowing 10% of the health budget to be spent on HIV vaccinations or treatments.

I appreciate the opportunity given for this debate here today, and am very glad that we will continue to cooperate closely in addressing this issue for the sake of the people who live alongside us and in order that young people may be protected against HIV/AIDS infection.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Markos Kyprianou, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to thank all Members and the Minister for a very interesting debate.

As you know, our motto this year for our HIV/AIDS campaign was ‘AIDS – remember me?’ Unfortunately, we still have to remind people – including, I regret to say, decision-makers – about the existence of this disease.

This must be done in several ways. First of all, concerning decision-makers, I repeat what the Minister has already said: ‘Spending on this effort is not a cost; it is an investment’. We have to remind our leaders and decision-makers of this. Also, dealing with HIV/AIDS in neighbouring countries and in developing countries is not just our moral obligation towards our partner third countries, it is also a self-protection measure. We have to use all practical arguments to convince those who take the decisions.

Of course, I agree that prevention is the most important policy, as we do not have a cure at the moment. But this can be done more effectively through education and information. It has to be done in a very balanced way: on the one hand, we have to educate people, especially young people, that this is a dangerous illness. It is not like the flu: you cannot take antibiotics and it will go away. It could eventually kill you. We have to show the risks of the disease, but not in a way that marginalises, stigmatises or discriminates against those who are infected. Stigmatisation also prevents dealing with the disease because people are afraid of the stigma. People do not get tested and remain unaware that they are infected. They end up infecting others and not seeking treatment themselves.

It is a delicate balancing act, but it is our task and we have to do it. As has already been mentioned, it is unfortunate that young people today practise unsafe sex. As I said in my opening remarks, the simple use of condoms is something that we have to keep reminding young people about: it is an important way for them to protect themselves. Abstinence is something that should be based on moral or religious beliefs, not as a measure against the disease, because we want people to know how to protect themselves if they decide to have sex. Everyone is entitled to their moral beliefs. They can act based on those, but the education has to be there. They have to know how to protect themselves.

As I said, we will also place particular emphasis on research and development measures, in particular protective measures for women, and especially measures that women can take that do not require the male partner’s agreement. Therefore, I am very much in agreement with that paragraph in the report.

Civil society is a very important factor for us. We have to develop partnerships – not just the European institutions, but European citizens as well – so we plan to, and do, work very closely with civil society. We established an HIV/AIDS Civil Society Forum in 2005 and we have made this a core aspect of our work in addressing HIV/AIDS in Europe. Indeed, the Civil Society Forum has been and is meeting yesterday and today in Luxembourg to discuss this important issue. It consists of NGOs, women’s groups, groups for men who have sex with men, sex workers, prisoners, drug users. We have to include the whole of society in dealing with this issue.

I agree with Mr Matsakis that we must work on dealing with the issue of drug addicts and the exchange of needles, because I agree that it is a health issue and not an issue for criminalisation.

Also, we have to mention the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the instrument we created together and which should be a very effective mechanism in surveillance and in dealing with this important problem. Therefore, I believe that this debate, and hopefully more to follow, will not only help in focusing the attention of all those who have to take the right decisions, but will also help European citizens to be informed about the continued existence of this problem. On behalf of the Commission, I can assure you that this will remain at the top of our political agenda.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

I believe that it is right to congratulate Mr Andrejevs once again on the magnificent report that he has prepared and that this debate has been one of the most gratifying debates that we have held in recent times, showing great harmony between the Council, the Commission and Parliament. A debate that demonstrates commitment and which I believe offers hope in terms of how the European Union should act as a whole, in terms of interinstitutional action in relation to a problem that is at the forefront of everybody’s concerns.

The vote will take place at 12 noon

Written statements (Rule 142 of the Rules of Procedure)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Véronique Mathieu (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) AIDS is the biggest epidemic in history, affecting all regions, all social sectors and all age groups. Today, one person is infected every six seconds.

The European Parliament must relaunch a campaign that is running out of steam, and I welcome the own-initiative report on which we are voting today.

AIDS is being forgotten about, but it has not forgotten about us – it is spreading mainly among the young, women, migrant populations and within the new EU Member States. Young Europeans are becoming less and less vigilant, and seem to confuse existing treatments with a cure. Let us remember: AIDS is still killing people today.

The disease knows no bounds, and, now more than ever, our solidarity must be transnational. That is why I am pleased that the report recommends not only European measures in the areas of prevention, information and research, but also international measures, by means of the neighbourhood policy and the TACIS programme.

The fight against AIDS is not merely a fight against a pandemic; it also plays a role in the promotion of health care and sexual rights, as well as women’s rights. This is not only a joint political measure; this is a universal duty.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alessandro Battilocchio (NI), in writing. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the data on the current state of the fight against AIDS are discouraging: worldwide over 39 million people are living with HIV, while in 2006 alone 4.3 million people were infected with the virus. The data on the European Union are also upsetting, showing a significant rise in new cases over the last seven years.

It is therefore necessary for both national and European institutions to adopt a new approach as quickly as possible. They need to identify prevention measures to be directed towards at-risk groups and to maintain information campaigns and sexual education campaigns in schools, since half of new cases involve young people under the age of 25. Worldwide, the European Union and the international community have a duty both to ensure access to medicines and treatments at prices that are accessible even for the poorest countries, by fighting the drug company lobby, and also to continue to carry out research to produce, as rapidly as possible, new innovative antiretroviral medicines, vaccines and microbicides.

In the light of these data I call on all the Member States that have not yet done so, among them Italy, to release the funds promised to the Global Fund. The Italian Government ought to make its financial contribution, which in this particular case is 260 million euros, to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as soon as possible.

 
  
  

(The sitting was suspended at 11.50 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR COCILOVO
Vice-President

 

6. Welcome
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I am pleased to be able to welcome to our Parliament Vicente Fox, the former President of Mexico, who is in the official gallery.

 

7. Voting time
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the vote.

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

 

7.1. EC-Malaysia Agreement on certain aspects of air services (vote)
  

- Report: Costa (A6-0093/2007)

 

7.2. Europol staff salaries and allowances (vote)
  

- Report: Cavada (A6-0136/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard Corbett (PSE). – Mr President, can you not take the entire group of reports under Rule 131 as single votes en bloc?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The budget procedure stipulates a separate vote on each report. All I can do to speed up voting is to avoid the reference to the simplified procedure for each report.

 

7.3. Tariff quotas for imports into Bulgaria and Romania of raw cane sugar (vote)
  

- Report: Graefe zu Baringdorf (A6-0072/2007)

 

7.4. Waiver of the immunity of Vural Öger (vote)
  

- Report: Speroni (A6-0140/2007)

 

7.5. Discharge 2005: Section IV, Court of Justice (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0109/2007)

 

7.6. Discharge 2005: Section V, Court of Auditors (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0107/2007)

 

7.7. Discharge 2005: Section VI, European Economic and Social Committee (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0110/2007)

 

7.8. Discharge 2005: Section VIIIA, European Ombudsman (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0104/2007)

 

7.9. Discharge 2005: Section VIII B, European Data Protection Supervisor (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0111/2007)

 

7.10. Discharge 2005: 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th EDFs (vote)
  

- Report: Camre (A6-0115/2007)

 

7.11. Discharge 2005: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0097/2007)

 

7.12. Discharge 2005: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0098/2007)

 

7.13. Discharge 2005: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0118/2007)

 

7.14. Discharge 2005: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0100/2007)

 

7.15. Discharge 2005: European Environment Agency (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0103/2007)

 

7.16. Discharge 2005: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0105/2007)

 

7.17. Discharge 2005: Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0101/2007)

 

7.18. Discharge 2005: European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0099/2007)

 

7.19. Discharge 2005: Eurojust (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0120/2007)

 

7.20. Discharge 2005: European Training Foundation (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0113/2007)

 

7.21. Discharge 2005: European Maritime Safety Agency (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0114/2007)

 

7.22. Discharge 2005: European Aviation Safety Agency (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0121/2007)

 

7.23. Discharge 2005: European Food Safety Authority (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0112/2007)

 

7.24. Discharge 2005: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0119/2007)

 

7.25. Discharge 2005: European Network and Information Security Agency (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0102/2007)

 

7.26. Payment services in the internal market (vote)
  

- Report: Gauzès (A6-0298/2006)

- Before the vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Paul Gauzès (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the report submitted to you is the result of extensive, concerted efforts with the Council of Ministers and the Commission to arrive at a vote at first reading. I therefore call on you to vote in favour.

On the other hand, I call on you to reject the amendment to Article 71, which has nothing to do with the draft directive. We are in fact talking here about an issue relating to the retention of data in the SWIFT system, in particular, and, in this regard, I must inform our fellow Members that, during yesterday’s debate, the Commission indicated that it would endeavour to ensure that data are kept secure. I have, incidentally, just received a letter from the German Presidency supporting this position. I would therefore ask you to reject the amendment to Article 71. On the other hand, I am in favour of the oral amendment that will be tabled by Mrs Berès during the vote on the legislative resolution.

To conclude, I should like to thank all those who helped draft this report – the committee, the shadow rapporteurs and the draftsmen of the opinion, and all the technical colleagues who assisted me.

 
  
  

- Before the vote on the legislative resolution:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pervenche Berès (PSE).(FR) Mr President, in line with the rapporteur, I should like to table an oral amendment to this report that will enable us to add a citation, the text of which I shall read out to you: ‘having regard to the letter sent to the President of the European Parliament on 1 March 2007 by the chairman of the working group laid down in Article 29 of Directive 95/46/EC, with regard to the issues linked to data protection, particularly in the administration of the SWIFT system,’. I call on you to have our Parliament validate this oral amendment to the excellent draft report by our fellow Member, Mr Gauzès.

 
  
  

(The oral amendment was accepted)

 

7.27. Quota system in relation to the production of potato starch (vote)
  

- Report: Wojciechowski, Janusz (A6-0137/2007)

- Before the vote on Amendment 8:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Janusz Wojciechowski (UEN), rapporteur. (PL) Mr President, We recently voted on an amendment to extend the system of starch quotas to four years. This is good news for the old Member States who have 90% of these quotas, which is enough to meet their requirements.

Let us now do something nice for the new Member States, which are less happy with their quotas, and adopt amendment eight. This will allow quotas to be carried over from one year to the next – what the old Member States do not use in one year should be allocated in the following year to the new Member States, with the agreement of the Commission.

I would like to point out that in the long term this amendment would not lead to an increase in quotas, and I ask that it be approved for the sake of European solidarity. If this amendment is adopted, I have been authorised by the Union for Europe of the Nations Group to withdraw amendments five, six and seven, which will result in an increase in quotas.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. We have received some information that would have been more appropriate during the course of the debate which has already taken place on the report.

 

7.28. Future enlargements and cohesion (vote)
  

- Report: Pieper (A6-0087/2007)

- Before the vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Markus Pieper (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I should like to thank the Members who have played their part in this report’s coming into being. In committee, we agreed on 19 compromise amendments. The majority in committee was a clear one, of 35 to 3, and I hope for a similar confirmation from the plenary.

 
  
  

- Before the vote on Amendment 26:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL). – Mr President, I would just like to point out that a mistake has been made which we would like to correct. It is in paragraph 2a. It starts ‘Regrets the agreement reached on the financial framework 2007-2013, in particular the reductions in the structural funds from 0.47%’. It should be ‘0.41%’.

 
  
  

(The oral amendment was accepted)

 

7.29. The Commission's annual strategic priorities (Budget 2008) (vote)
  

- Report: Virrankoski (A6-0123/2007)

- Before the vote on paragraph 17:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kyösti Virrankoski (ALDE), rapporteur. (FI) Mr President, could the word ‘revise’ please be changed to ‘improve’.

In English, instead of ‘revision’, the word ‘improvement’.

 
  
  

(The oral amendment was accepted)

 

7.30. Discharge 2005: Section III, Commission (vote)
  

- Report: Garriga Polledo (A6-0095/2007)

- Before the vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Salvador Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (ES) Mr President, I would like to table an oral amendment intended to remove two footnotes in paragraphs 37 and 108 of the report, on pages 16 and 25 of the English version. This is because both footnotes are redundant and contribute nothing to the report. I would call upon all of the groups in the House to accept this oral amendment, please.

 
  
  

(The oral amendments were accepted)

 

7.31. Discharge 2005: Section I, European Parliament (vote)
  

- Report: Staes (A6-0094/2007)

- Before the vote on Amendment 7:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edith Mastenbroek (PSE). – Mr President, I have a point of order based on Rules 166 and 71 of the Rules of Procedure. Besides the Fjellner amendment asking for the costs of maintaining Parliament’s three places of work, I would like to advise the House that paragraph 83 of the original text also called for specification of the environmental impact. 7D, the PPE-DE amendment, calls for a deletion.

 
  
  

- Before the vote on paragraph 77:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Daniel Caspary (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, I am not quite certain of this, but I do fear that you have not had paragraph 75 voted on. You said you would have us vote on paragraph 76, but the display indicated paragraph 75. You then said you would have us vote on paragraph 77, but the display indicated paragraph 76. I would ask you to dispel this uncertainty.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I think that everything has been done correctly. First we voted on paragraph 75, which was adopted. Then we voted on paragraph 76, again by roll call, and it was adopted. I am just now announcing the vote on paragraph 77, on which we are voting by roll call, and I declare voting open.

 

7.32. Discharge 2005: Section II, Council (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0108/2007)

- Before the vote:

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Herbert Bösch (PSE).(DE) Mr President, before we move on to give discharge to the Council, I should like to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Council was not present for the debate on the Budget discharge of the Commission and the other institutions and is not, as we can see, present for the decision.

In view of the fact that 80% of the EU’s Budget resources are handled via the Member States, which bear responsibility for these funds, we regard this as an intolerable state of affairs. We expect the Council, over the coming months, to come up with a definite action plan for the drafting of the national statements of assurance.

(Loud applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I note the comment by Mr Bösch, which clearly does not prevent us from continuing with the vote. Voting by roll call on the discharge is now open.

 

7.33. Discharge 2005: Section VII, Committee of the Regions (vote)
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0106/2007)

 

7.34. Discharge 2005: European Agency for Reconstruction (vote)
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0116/2007)

 

7.35. Combating HIV/Aids within the EU and in the neighbouring countries 2006-2009 (vote)
  

- Report: Andrejevs (A6-0091/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. That concludes the vote.

 

8. Explanations of vote
  

- Report: Cavada (A6-0136/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carlos Coelho (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) Although I understand the need for Europol to carry out internal changes with regard to salaries and subsidies, Parliament has, since 1998, consistently rejected all initiatives put to it when consulted on detailed issues relating to Europol.

Such consultation could not be considered relevant while Europol remained intergovernmental in scope, with neither democratic nor legal control.

I welcome the fact that Parliament’s repeated requests have finally been answered: in December 2006, the Commission stated its intention to give Europol a more acceptable legal framework, conferring on it the status of an EU agency, funded by the Community budget, and giving its staff the status of Community employees.

Although the process of transforming Europol has yet to be concluded, I have decided to vote in favour of this Finnish initiative on adapting the basic salaries and allowances of Europol, and this as a message of good faith and of complete support for this process of transformation, which I trust will be completed at the earliest opportunity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hélène Goudin and Nils Lundgren (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) The June List believes that increased democratic, legal and budget-related control over Europol is desirable. Because the Europol Convention constitutes intergovernmental cooperation, it is the national parliaments, however, that should exercise this control, and not the European Parliament. We have therefore voted against the report.

 
  
  

- Report: Graefe zu Baringdorf (A6-0072/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Duarte Freitas (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) Bulgarian and Romanian refiners depend to a great extent on the import of raw cane sugar from third countries.

That being the case, in order to prevent a break in the supply of raw cane sugar to full-time refiners, tariff quotas for imports of raw cane sugar to Bulgaria and Romania from third countries must be opened.

It is in this context that the Commission’s proposal, which will have no impact whatsoever on the refineries of other Member States, has appeared.

I agree with the Commission proposal, given the exceptional circumstances involved, and shall be voting in favour of the Graefe zu Baringdorf report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hélène Goudin and Nils Lundgren (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) We have voted against this report. The June List is of the view that comprehensive reform of the sugar market within the EU is necessary with a view to liberalising the market without delay and giving sugar-producing countries outside the EU the opportunity to compete on fair terms.

It is absurd, then, to induct new Member States into a system with no future and get them used to that system’s rules. Because Romania and Bulgaria have properly operating sugar markets, they should be allowed to keep them and not be inducted into the EU’s common organisation of the sugar market. This common organisation should instead be abolished.

 
  
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0118/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Glyn Ford (PSE), in writing. I will be voting for this report. As the Member representing the European Parliament on the Council of Ministers' Consultative Committee on Racism and Xenophobia, I strongly supported the establishment of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Since its inception it has done some excellent work. When it was initially established I resisted its remit extending to cover not just the EU but the territory of the Council of Europe as I believed it would dilute the Centre's work and cause it to lose its focus on the rising tide of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism inside the Union.

Now we are to make it a fundamental rights agency. I believe this is a similar mistake that will lessen the attention that must be paid to extreme right-wing organisations and parties in the Union, particularly within some of the new Member States. Some who supported the change were merely misguided, but others knew exactly what they were doing!

 
  
  

- Report: Herczog (A6-0121/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE), in writing. (PL) Mr President, I am voting in favour of Edit Herczog’s report on discharging the budget of the European Air Safety Agency for 2005.

Mrs Herczog has accurately assessed the problem of the growing number of Community agencies which do not always succeed in meeting the general requirements and whose tasks do not always meet the real needs of the European Union and the expectations of its citizens.

I support the appeal to the Commission to set out general framework requirements for the creation of new Community agencies, for a cost-benefit analysis before any new agency is set up, and for a report every five years analysing the value provided by all agencies in operation.

I am pleased to support the decision by the Agency’s Board of Management to adopt standards of internal control based on the standards adopted by the Commission and on ISO 9000.

 
  
  

- Report: Gauzès (A6-0298/2006)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) During this monopolist phase of capitalism, the response to the contradictions of a system that lives off financial speculation has been to put finance first, thus creating an ever greater need to bring more money to the financial sphere. The directive before us forms part of this scenario.

The aim of this proposal is to create an internal market for payment services and it forms part of the financial services action plan aimed at integrating the EU’s financial services markets. Once again, this area is characterised by private initiative, in this case from the banking sector, yet the intention is always the same, namely to promote the opening up of national markets to cross-border payment services, to water down the rules on prevention and to authorise operators not subject to the supervision of the banking sector to provide these services, whilst promoting the concentration of the sector at EU level.

Countries that, like Portugal, already have advanced payment operators and services, such as the Multibanco system, will be particularly badly hit, as the issue of the transmission of data to external information services has not been made clear.

We therefore voted against the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) EU citizens are interested in fast, affordable payment systems and in the creation of an internal market that is effective and functional when it comes to their making transfers and receiving payments.

We can be fully satisfied with the vote in favour of Mr Gauzès’ report, because, as far as the European Parliament is concerned, this is a piece of work that has been done well and done in everyone’s interests, proving to them that Europe makes their daily lives easier.

We could have obtained this result far quicker, however. We actually finished our work in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs on 12 September.

In spite of the goodwill of the European Parliament, it has taken the Council seven months to finally convince itself that our proposals are the best for protecting consumers, too.

It was also important to guarantee fair competition between the payment institutions that are created or recognised by this directive and the banks that are subject to strict regulations regarding capital. It is important to maintain the good reputation of the payment services sector by keeping any dubious payments agencies in the background.

The payment execution time set by the Council is more rigorous than the one that we are proposing.

(The explanation of vote abbreviated pursuant to Rule 163 of the Rules of Procedure)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I voted for this report as the Directive should ensure that European citizens have their payments processed more quickly by banks, that their cards will be more widely accepted in other countries and that their rights will be better safeguarded in the event of disputes. I believe that this will be an important improvement for European consumers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eoin Ryan (UEN), in writing. Payments are the financial lubricants that allow the real economy to function. Currently each EU citizen is making on average 138 non-cash payments per year and this is likely to grow. I firmly believe that if European citizens and businesses are to reap the full benefits of this internal market, then they have to be able to trust in efficient, cheap and secure payments. It is for this reason that I support the payment services report by Mr Gauzès.

Currently both consumers and retailers have to contend with the fact that goods can be physically moved across the EU in one or two days, yet the payment in relation to these goods can take between three and five days to clear. The slowness of payments is no longer tolerable in an age when we can boast of nanosecond technology.

I firmly believe that European competitiveness will only improve when, in Ireland for example, businesses and consumers can make a payment from Dublin to Madrid as easily as from Dublin to Cork.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marianne Thyssen (PPE-DE), in writing. (NL) Mr President, I have voted in favour, because I believe that the internal market works, and that payment services do too. If the Single European Payments Area initiative is properly implemented, it should lead to increased competition within a larger market, with higher levels of security, better services and attractive prices. We could call this ‘the best service at the lowest cost’.

I have one reservation, though. In countries with more advanced payment markets, such as Belgium – but we are not alone – there is the fear that the conversion from existing national payment schemes could lead to extra costs for businesses and consumers. Reference is made in this context to the level of the so-called ‘interbank settlement payments’.

In response to a question in writing in relation to this issue, the Commission has assured me that it will monitor the respect for competition rule and will retain the right, if necessary, to take regulatory action. I am relying on the Commission availing itself of the correction mechanisms that are at its disposal, should this prove necessary.

I hope, above all, that the bank sector will be smart enough to make this unnecessary and to lend its all-out cooperation to the further unification of the internal market for financial services.

 
  
  

- Report: Wojciechowski, Janusz (A6-0137/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). (LT) When Lithuania entered the European Union it was allotted a starch quota that allowed starch factories to work at only 9.32% of production capacity. Two years ago, in a session of the Council of European Union Agriculture and Fisheries, it was negotiated that the potato starch quota would be reviewed after two business years. The consumption of starch is increasing in Lithuania. At present it is 10 times greater than the permitted manufacturing quota.

Taking into consideration that as of January 2007, according to Commission data, European Union starch production quotas are under-utilised by 5%, an increase of the Lithuanian quota to ten thousand tonnes would not even amount to 0.5% of EU starch production quotas.

Therefore, Lithuania requests that its starch production quota be increased to ten thousand tonnes. This is essential not just for domestic consumption, but to provide a background for the renewal of potato starch production capacity, an increase in its consumption as well as ensuring a certain level of income for producers of starchy potatoes. It is unconscionable to hand out privileges to other countries at the expense of Lithuanian starch production capacity and agricultural producers in general.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hélène Goudin and Nils Lundgren (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) We are opposed to the common agricultural policy as it stands and object to changes of little fundamental importance within the current system. We demand a total overhaul and review of the whole of the common agricultural policy, so it is difficult to isolate individual areas such as the one we are now to vote on.

In our opinion, the quota system for potato starch should definitely not be extended. Instead, the EU must abolish quota systems of all kinds within the agricultural sphere.

As in May 2005, Parliament’s federalist majority continues to advocate extending the quota system. The June List observes that, in this situation, it is just as well that Parliament does not have powers of codecision in relation to the EU’s agricultural policy. Otherwise, the EU would end up in the trap of protectionism and of providing heavy subsidies to all the groups within the agricultural industry.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Diamanto Manolakou (GUE/NGL), in writing. (EL) Even though we are clearly opposed to quotas on any agricultural product, why does the EU set so many barriers on the development of production that each Member State could achieve depending on its needs and abilities, but we agree to increase quotas for Lithuania and Poland regarding the production of potatoes? Because once more, we acknowledge a flagrant injustice against the new Member States in the quota status, regarding the production of starch out of potatoes. It is a provocative injustice against new Member States to receive approximately only 10% of quotas, while having approximately 30% of production.

Today’s suggestion to increase duration and quotas is a partial remedy for Lithuania and Poland. I will prove my point by saying that even though Poland is the top producer of potatoes in Europe, with its allocation of quotas it is forced to import starch for potatoes due to the restrictions to its production and this naturally puts medium-sized farming enterprises out of business.

There are similar problems in Greece with regard to other products, which force our country to import them, despite favourable climate conditions for the production of agricultural products, thus giving a surge of millions of euro to the commercial agricultural deficit and forcing medium-sized farming enterprises to die out.

 
  
  

- Report: Pieper (A6-0087/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). (PL) Mr President, this report raises two fundamental problems faced by the European Union. The first is future enlargement, and the second is the new dimension of cohesion policy following the latest round of accessions. Advancing negotiations with Croatia, and the need for the complete stabilisation of the Western Balkans means that we need to analyse the impact of this enlargement on the entire European Union. What makes such an analysis all the more significant is that while we have had a long period of association, and are currently in negotiations, with Turkey, we should not forget countries such as Ukraine. The report is a good foundation for work on the 2009 budget review. It is good preparation for the future of the Community over the next 50 years of its existence. The accession of 10 countries from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004 and of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 has increased competition and energised the entire Community, as well as bringing about stability and security and firm democracy. Cohesion policy means solidarity, and it is a tool for integrating less developed countries. That is why this is such an important report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer (ITS).(DE) Mr President, I voted in favour of the Pieper report, since I am glad that the EU is at last appearing to recognise that Turkish accession would make excessive demands on us in financial, political and social terms. Croatia, on the other hand, has already drawn so close to the EU that its imminent accession can scarcely be in doubt, particularly as it has been established that the financial effects of it would be minimal. Existing disparities not only between Member States, but also between regions, have been accentuated as a consequence of the last wave of enlargement, of globalisation, of an ageing population, and also of migration from third countries to urban centres.

It may well be – as one does indeed read on the EU’s homepage – that cities such as London, Hamburg and Brussels are among the most prosperous places to be, but it must not be forgotten that in them, too, the gap has been widened and slums have already come into being. We have already, from the French example, seen where that can lead, so it is past high time that we paid more attention to internal cohesion in order to prevent these social powder kegs from going off.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) European cohesion policy is the driving force behind lasting, sustainable development, especially in the less developed regions. It contributes significantly towards raising the standard of living of the population. The European Parliament, together with the ministers of the Member States, has the final word when the EU budget is approved. In this seven-year programme period, a record 347 billion euro were earmarked for 84 regions in 17 Member States whose GDP is greatly below 75% of the EU average, and 16 regions whose GDP, due to statistical averaging after enlargement, was only marginally above 75% of the EU average. These regions are viewing the Irish boom with enormous hope. Ireland is the cohesion policy’s outstanding success. By drawing successfully on the structural funds, it was able to transform itself from the poorest region of Europe into one of the richest and to send aid from the European Solidarity Fund to those most in need.

I expressed support for Markus Pieper’s administration because the European Parliament is very concerned that cohesion policy should also achieve successes in Eastern Europe. For cohesion policy to be effective, we must reckon with the consequences of future enlargement, especially in the medium term as regards Turkey and Croatia, which already have official status as accession countries and with which the EU has already begun accession negotiations.

Then there are the seven East Balkan states which are potential candidates for IPA funds. These enlargements alone would require the cohesion policy budget to be increased by EUR 150 billion. If Europe is to become the most competitive economy ...

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Albert Deß (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, believing the Pieper report to be a good one, I did actually want to vote in favour of it, but, since both my amendments were rejected, I have ended up voting against. My view is that the accession of Turkey would overstretch the EU’s capacity to integrate by means of its cohesion policy, and I am astonished that a majority in this House does not share it.

My second amendment reads as follows: ‘believes that it is not possible, for financial and political reasons, to apply the principles of the EU’s structural policy to Turkey’. The majority may well have voted against this amendment today, but I am nonetheless convinced that my view will, in the longer term, be proved to be right.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bernadette Bourzai (PSE), in writing. – (FR) I was anxious to endorse the following amendments.

Amendments 25, 20 and 28, because adequate funding of regional policy is necessary in order to reduce the economic, social and territorial disparities between regions and to carry out future enlargements properly.

Amendments 22 and 39, because I feel that it is unacceptable to talk about ‘a special form of EU membership’ and ‘a graduated approach’ to regional policy exclusively for this country and also not to envisage, from this moment on, any outcome to the negotiations under way with Turkey other than membership.

Amendments 14 and 24, because the rapporteur’s proposal for an increase in national cofinancing in regions that have received structural funds over several programming periods would put an end to efforts to implement this policy in the most underdeveloped regions of the old Member States.

I am opposed to the overly penny-pinching approach of the rapporteur, who is proposing a maximum period of time during which regions may receive structural funding. As I see it, it is precisely these regions that are suffering from natural or human handicaps or from a difficult process of economic regeneration and that are not really equipped to deal with international competition that we must continue to help through the structural funds.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Glyn Ford (PSE), in writing. This report is negative as regards future enlargement, and in particular Turkey's possible membership of the EU. I do not entirely agree, although I believe that any further enlargement will be unacceptable to the people of Europe for some significant time while we assimilate and integrate the twelve new Member States from 2004 and after. As for Turkey, there is still much work for it to do by itself, including on the treatment of trade unionists and human rights for the Kurdish and Assyrian minorities before it would be in a political position to join, even if it manages to achieve the economic criteria required of new members. On this basis, I will abstain on this report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ambroise Guellec (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) Territorial cohesion in Europe aimed at reducing inter- and infra-regional disparities is a major objective of the European Union. I welcome the adoption of this report today. It raises the issue of the European Union’s absorption capacity and specifies, in particular, that, given the current state of the Union’s own resources system, any further enlargements could not be funded without the effectiveness of the current cohesion policies being harmed.

From this perspective, regional expenditure needs to be rationalised. An institutional, financial and political reform is desirable as part of a revision of the Community financial framework. Furthermore, it is impossible to have an honest and effective cohesion policy without the European Union’s budget being increased.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) We are delighted that some of the most damaging proposals have successfully been removed from this report following the adoption of our proposals and following the action we took. The proposals in question would have undermined cohesion policy and would have centred the debate around the interim review of the current financial framework and of cohesion policy. The rejected proposals were as follows:

- the increase in national cofinancing of cohesion policy;

- the establishment of a maximum period for receiving Structural Funds, regardless of eligibility criteria;

- making the award of funds conditional on compliance with certain criteria of economic and/or budgetary policy, such as the Stability and Growth Pact.

Furthermore, and regardless of prevailing opinion on the EU’s enlargement process, we welcome the removal from the report of proposals aimed at creating a different accession status for new countries whereby they would be completely integrated into the internal market but without any involvement in the institutions or in the decision-making process, thus creating a form of neo-colonialism in which the so-called aid would always be conditional on the countries concerned yielding to political pressure.

The report still contains some very worrying aspects, however, such as those relating to financial resources and the objectives of cohesion policy. We cannot possibly accept those points and accordingly are voting against the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I was concerned about the negative references to Turkey in this report and as they were supported by the plenary I had no alternative but to vote against this report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) Cohesion is one of the core principles and values of the EU, whether of 12 or 30 Member States.

This is based on the idea, firstly, that partners in the same project should all benefit equally, and, secondly, that the bigger and more widespread the economic development of the Community, the greater will be the success of the project as whole and of all the citizens. For this reason, I share many of the concerns raised by the rapporteur, even if I do not agree entirely with all of the proposed solutions.

There are other aspects to take into account, however. Given the type of economic challenge currently facing us, arising from the pressures of globalisation and from the accelerated modernisation of economic structures, we must seek the most appropriate instruments for changing the paradigms. Accordingly, I feel that, whilst we must stick firmly to the values and principles that guide us, we must also be creative and innovative in our responses to the fresh challenges that face us. Preparing the economically least privileged regions for the 21st century is no longer a visionary gesture, it is a current priority. Times have changed, and responses need to be innovative.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  José Albino Silva Peneda (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) I voted in favour of the report because, first of all, it draws attention to the budgetary difficulties that the Member States are expected to experience, given the demographic changes predicted to take place in the EU. This point is of major importance because, with EU enlargement, expenditure on cohesion policy will, from a political perspective, reach unrealistic proportions.

Secondly, it would be unacceptable if some EU regions no longer benefited solely because of the statistical effect caused by a fresh round of enlargement. Globalisation, moreover, will have a detrimental impact on some European regions.

This is an issue that requires a great deal of prudence, and I therefore support the call to the Commission to calculate the expenditure on regional policy likely to occur in relation to the forthcoming rounds of enlargement if the current criteria were to be applied, together with the consequences that such likely expenditure would have on regions that have so far been considered eligible for funding.

Lastly, I agree that there is a need to develop graduated models that will permit further differentiation between pre-accession assistance and full membership of the cohesion policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Catherine Stihler (PSE), in writing. The EPLP attempted to modify the Pieper report by removing the most contentious amendments. However, those amendments were carried and our efforts were unsuccessful. The EPLP voted against a very negative report in terms of its general view on future enlargement and its specific references to Turkey.

 
  
  

Report: Virrankoski (A6-0123/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer (ITS).(DE) Mr President, I voted against the Virrankoski report, and my reason for doing so is that the control of the Budget should be organised more efficiently in view of the imminence of the revision of the EU Budget heralded for 2009, which is intended to create greater transparency by, among other things, clearing a path through the rebate jungle. What is needed above all else is something for once to be done about recovering sums of money paid out in error, since fraudsters will otherwise keep on getting away without penalty and Member States will have no incentive to tighten up their excessively casual and lax controls.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The presentation of the Commission’s strategic policy for 2008 is the start of the process of negotiating the Community budget. Against a backdrop of attempts to revive the already rejected Constitutional Treaty and of the debate on the Community budget for 2008-2009, 2008 is intended to be viewed as the penultimate year of Parliament’s sixth legislature and of the Barroso Commission.

Among the political priorities put forward by the Commission, I should like to highlight negative aspects such as the liberalisation of the labour market by means of so-called flexicurity, the financing of European infrastructure supporting the liberalisation of gas and electricity, the creation of the European patent and the strengthening of the EU’s military element.

The Commission states that ‘the 2008 budget will build upon the 2007 budget’ – once again, it appears, falling short of the budgetary ceiling in the financial perspective for 2007-2013. This will clearly be insufficient to address the needs of economic and social cohesion in the enlarged EU.

We reject proposals of this nature and emphasise the need to adopt policies that promote sustainable economic development and employment, that combat unemployment, poverty, social exclusion and salary inequality and that reduce regional imbalances and promote genuine convergence.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Diamanto Manolakou (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) In the report on the annual strategic priorities of the Commission with regards to the 2008 Budget an effort is underway to make the EU capital budget more efficient in order to serve better its anti-grassroots policies.

Research studies are sought to confirm how efficiently resources were used with regards to the priorities of the regional imperialistic EU. Nobody tries to obtain data, however, on unemployment, the ‘extinction’ of medium-sized farming enterprises, other problems of the people with regards to health, education, social security, which have emerged due to the anti-grassroots EU policies.

They are pursuing more room for manoeuvre in the budget for ‘emergency situations’. This is a step towards satisfying the emergency needs of capitalism.

All anti-grassroots EU policies are being promoted intensively, while at the same time funding for the promotion of the anti-labour Lisbon Strategy is being increased and research studies are expected for the review of the CAP, in order to speed up the extinction of the medium-sized farming enterprises. Measures to suppress the resistance of workers are taken on an intensive basis (with the increase of Eurojust expenses) as well as steps for their subordination through the strengthening of propaganda mechanisms.

The funding of imperialistic intervention by the EU is given priority openly. The peoples have experienced ‘peace’ efforts aimed at their subordination in the interest of capitalism.

To conclude, the 2008 budgetary plan fortifies the aggressiveness of capitalism against the peoples. We are voting against it and are calling on people to fight against it, because the allocation of resources shows the reactionary policy of the EU.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andrzej Jan Szejna (PSE), in writing. (PL) I am voting in favour of Mr Virrankoski’s report on the annual strategic priorities of the Commission regarding the budget procedure for 2008.

This report is a first step in the annual budgeting procedure. It defines the strategic priorities of the European Parliament for 2008 and serves as a pointer for the Commission in preparing the draft budget for 2008.

The report covers most of the major issues. It raises the issue of increased integration between the legislative works programme and the budgetary procedure, and underlines the need to respect the basics of the financial perspective for 2007-2013.

In addition, the Members of this house have stated that during work on the budget for 2008, priority will again be given to the principle of a ‘results-based budget’, as was the case in the budget for 2007.

 
  
  

- Report: Garriga Polledo (A6-0095/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christopher Heaton-Harris (PPE-DE). – Mr President, obviously I voted against the discharge of the Commission’s accounts, as I always do. It has been such a long time that I cannot even remember when the Court of Auditors last gave a positive statement of assurance on the Commission’s accounts. I found it quite amusing that, on the day that this House’s Committee on Budgetary Control was voting to wipe the slate clean and pass the accounts, the Belgian police were piling into Commission offices to arrest individuals. They obviously thought there were some problems.

I did a massive survey in the region I represent. In one particular part, in the wonderful constituency of Daventry, I sent 15 000 surveys out and asked people whether they thought that Britain should continue with its contribution whilst the accounts have not been signed off. Over 10% of people returned that survey and 95% of those that returned it said we should not be paying any money in whilst this problem still goes on.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gabriele Stauner (PPE-DE), in writing. (DE) In today’s vote on the discharge to the Commission for the 2005 Budget, I voted against it being given discharge on the grounds that the Court of Auditors has issued no Statement of Assurance in respect of this year, any more than it did for the years before it. This amounts to a statement that prudent and efficient use of funds is no more guaranteed than it has been in previous years. As is well known, Mr Barroso, the President of the Commission, has stated his intention that an unconditional Statement of Assurance should be achieved by 2009, and it is clear to me from the discharge given today that no visible steps have been taken to that end.

 
  
  

- Report: Staes (A6-0094/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christofer Fjellner, (PPE-DE). – (SV) Mr President, I should just like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow MEPs for supporting the two amendments I tabled. I have been trying for a long time to find out what the travelling circus to Strasbourg really costs, and what is embarrassing is that no one has been able to give me an answer. No one knows, then, what the travelling circus costs.

It is, in any case, not our own but taxpayers’ money that we are spending. The least that we and the taxpayers are ultimately entitled to demand is that a serious investigation into the costs be carried out – a view I put forward in the two amendments I tabled today. According to the only information I have found, the travelling circus costs SEK 2 billion, but that is a figure from the year 2000 when we only had 15 EU Member States.

My hope is that we shall now obtain new figures and new fuel for this debate so that, following today’s vote, we might hopefully be able to take the first step towards abolishing the whole travelling circus.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Andersson, Göran Färm, Inger Segelström and Åsa Westlund (PSE), in writing. (SV) We Swedish Social Democrats have voted in favour of report A6-0094/2007 on granting discharge to the European Parliament for 2005.

The vote must be seen in part as a success, in spite of the fact that a number of amendments concerning increased scrutiny of MEPs’ pension conditions – amendments that we supported in the vote – were rejected.

We Swedish Social Democrats have chosen not to become members of the European Parliament’s pension system. We believe that the system is unethical in the way that it is designed and we have therefore chosen to remain outside it.

Because only a very small part of Parliament’s activity relates to pensions, we think it unnecessary, however, to vote against the whole report on the grounds that precisely these amendments were rejected.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) Our Committee on Budgetary Control has once again been over-zealous.

If we implemented some of its proposals, we would need to employ a small army of officials to carry out unnecessary tasks and controls, which do nothing to increase transparency or combat abuse, but merely result in pointless costs and squabbles.

I regret that neither the rapporteur nor the majority of the committee members were inclined to take into consideration the comments of the chairman of the Members’ voluntary pension fund in order to eliminate obvious falsehoods relating, among other things, to the statute due to enter into force in 2009.

Instead of behaving like irresponsible populists, certain members of the Committee on Budgetary Control would be better off dealing with real problems, such as the potentially exorbitant costs of the pension system for the French and Italian MEPs, costs that will be in the region of EUR 150 million.

I am in favour of the discharge, but I voted against a whole host of proposals that are as hare-brained as they are costly and perfectly unnecessary, and that have nothing to do with the 2005 discharge.

 
  
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0108/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jan Andersson, Anna Hedh, Inger Segelström and Åsa Westlund (PSE), in writing. (SV) We Swedish Social Democrats chose to support Amendment 1 about the need to debit the Council for the costs of the European Parliament’s activity in Strasbourg, because the Council denies Parliament the right to decide for itself about the location of its seat. The best solution, however, would be for Parliament itself to be allowed to decide and for Parliament to choose to carry on its activities only in Brussels.

 
  
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0106/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christopher Heaton-Harris (PPE-DE). – Mr President, ordinarily, I would just give one speech or explanation of vote on the discharges, saying why I voted against them. But in this particular case, I can imagine the champagne corks are already being popped in the Committee of the Regions because this House has quite happily swept under the carpet all sorts of problems that have been ongoing there for a number of years.

In this House, two or three years ago, we asked for an apology to be made to the Committee of the Regions’ then internal auditor, Mr Robert McCoy, who had made a plea to us for help in asking Parliament and the Committee on Budgetary Control to force the Committee of the Regions to change and to look after public money properly. We ignored that. We passed a resolution saying he should get an apology but the Committee of the Regions ignored that and, to this day, Mr McCoy has no apology and the Committee of the Regions knows it can flout whatever the Parliament decides because no one cares. It is a great shame.

 
  
  

- Report: Caspary (A6-0110/2007), Garriga Polledo (A6-0095/2007), Staes (A6-0094/2007), Caspary (A6-0108/2007) and Caspary (A6-0106/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  James Elles (PPE-DE), in writing. Conservatives will be voting against Parliament’s main reports on the budgetary discharge of the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the grounds that for the 12th year running, the Court of Auditors has been unable to give a positive statement of assurance of the overall EU accounts. Conservatives believe that this situation must be resolved as a matter of urgency by the Commission and that there must be zero tolerance in all cases of mismanagement and fraud.

Apart from the implementation of the new accountancy systems and encouraging whistleblowers to come forward, Conservatives are focused on the key priority area of the 80% of the budget that is spent in Member States which concerned the Auditors. Through the concept of ‘shared management’, the Union system splits power from responsibility: the Commission is responsible for the expenditure of all EU funds but, in reality, the power is delegated to paying agencies in the Member States. Some progress has been made by including in the agreement on the 2007-2013 financial perspectives a commitment that a certification of expenditure by Member States will be required in future. It is essential that this is implemented in full. There must be greater transparency of the use of EU funds by Member States ...

(Explanation of vote abbreviated in accordance with Rule 163)

 
  
  

- Report: Virrankoski (A6-0123/2007), Garriga Polledo (A6-0095/2007), Staes (A6-0094/2007), Caspary (A6-0108/2007), Caspary (A6-0106/2007) and Herczog (A6-0116/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I supported the Court of Auditors’ view that discharge can be given to all seven institutions.

 
  
  

- Report: Andrejevs (A6-0091/2007)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marcin Libicki (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I would like it to be noted that in the Andrejevs report, when voting for point L of the preamble (it was a roll-call vote) I accidentally voted in favour when I meant to vote against.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). (LT) The first occurrences of HIV infection were identified 25 years ago. The disease has spread all over the world. The exact number of people suffering from the disease is not known. Treatment is expensive and it is not accessible to all, especially in the new EU Member Countries. A very important observation was made in the report concerning the complex relationship of the HIV/AIDS issue to migration processes.

Streams of migrants, especially from countries where HIV/AIDS is widespread, and from Eastern countries, about which we have very little information, constitute a threat of the further spread of HIV/AIDS.

Research shows that migrants are becoming the largest HIV/AIDS risk group in the European Union and its vicinity. Health testing of twelve thousand migrants in Moscow revealed that 10% are suffering from HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

I support the proposal to use the framework of neighbourhood policy to provide aid for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in vulnerable groups, especially migrants. It is essential to give more attention to this problem.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Attard-Montalto, Louis Grech and Joseph Muscat (PSE), in writing. (MT) My vote on the Andrejevs report on combating HIV/AIDS within the European Union and in the neighbouring countries, 2006-2009 is a vote in favour of a coherent strategy aimed at tackling such a large and tragic problem.

I would like to make it clear that my vote should not be interpreted as approving abortion practices.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Liam Aylward, Brian Crowley, Seán Ó Neachtain and Eoin Ryan (UEN), in writing. It goes without saying that I and my colleagues from the Fianna Fáil delegation are very much in favour of the eradication and combating of HIV/AIDS within the EU and the neighbouring countries.

We and the Irish Government have concerns regarding references to a strong linking of HIV/AIDS prevention and sexual and reproductive rights in policies, programmes, strategies and public education. It is the Irish Government's position that such references should be contextualised by linking such rights to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, and the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the UNGA reviews of these in 1999 and 2000, so as to ensure that Irish national legislative/regulatory regimes are respected.

Both the ICPD in Cairo and the Beijing Declaration refer to the need to grant sexual and reproductive rights to women but these rights are qualified by the need to respect national legislative processes when considering the issue of abortion. 'Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process.' ...

(Explanation of vote abbreviated in accordance with Rule 163)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) We voted in favour of this report, as it contains many positive aspects, of which I wish to highlight the following:

- urges the Commission to allocate resources to prevention measures within the framework of the Public Health Action Programme to combat HIV/AIDS and to require that the beneficiaries of public funds devote a certain amount of their research to such diseases;

- highlights the fact that palliative care has an important part to play in the care of people with HIV/AIDS and urges its development and expansion throughout the European Union;

- asks the Commission to pay particular attention to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health programmes for women, in order to counter the increasing spread of the epidemic among the female population;

encourages the Commission and the Member States to subsidise and provide money for research and development of microbicides and female condoms which give women the power to protect themselves and a male partner from HIV/AIDS with or without the partner's agreement, since condoms continue to be the most well known and widely available protection against HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but require a male partner's agreement.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE), in writing. (PL) I am voting in favour of the report on combating HIV/AIDS in the European Union and neighbouring countries in the years 2006-2009.

Mr Georgs Andrejevs’ report is an excellent response to the European Commission’s Programme for 2006-2009 to combat HIV/AIDS in the European Union and neighbouring countries.

The rapporteur rightly sets out the need for a comprehensive public information campaign which will help both to increase awareness of how to avoid AIDS, and to start fighting the stigma and discrimination suffered by people suffering from the disease. The latest trends show an increasing numbers of people infected with the virus.

Georgs Andrejevs has underlined the role played by international organisations in combating AIDS, noting at the same time that they do not have sufficient funding to play that role properly.

The rapporteur’s initiative encouraging the Commission and the Member States to assess their methods of supporting their health services, which are at the forefront of the difficult situation of ensuring general accessibility to costly anti-retroviral treatment, deserves our support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Diamanto Manolakou (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) The 2006-2009 report on treating HIV/AIDS in EU and neighbouring countries highlights some correct aspects of the issue. It omits, however, to refer to the need of the people for prevention, treatment of HIV/AIDS through common, public and free of charge modern health systems of the Member States. It does not provide any answers to the demand of the people for the free provision of all necessary medications to patients. The research on HIV/AIDS treatment is part of the anti-grassroots 7th framework programme on research, tailored to the needs of multinational corporations.

The treatment of HIV/AIDS requires a comprehensive plan by Member States. NGOs cannot play such a role. The request to reinforce NGOs aims to disorientate the work force away from the responsibilities of Member State governments, away from the current needs of people in the health sector. Workers are once again being forced to carry the burden through volunteer work. The responsibility for the treatment of HIV/AIDS does not lie in the hands of one and joining forces with corporations will not prove effective, because they are only interested in making profit. It is an issue concerning all workers, for they have to fight and force governments to take comprehensive measures regarding prevention and research as well as access to medications and treatments which are currently overpriced..

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Martin (PSE), in writing. I voted for this report, which seeks to strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS by promoting prevention through education and information and by combating discrimination and inequalities with regard to access to treatment and drugs.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM), in writing. I have abstained because I do not feel this is an initiative that has any hope of reversing the upward trend in HIV/AIDS infection in the EU.

HIV/AIDS causes great suffering and yet Parliament at committee stage refused to include all approaches known to be effective.

I want to save lives and I will wait and give a positive vote to any truly positive initiative.

 

9. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
  

(The sitting was suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.05 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS ROTHE
Vice-President

 

10. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes

11. Community vessel traffic monitoring - Investigation of accidents - Liability of carriers of passengers by boat in the event of accidents - Port State control - Ship inspection and survey organisations (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the joint debate on

– the report (A6-0086/2007) by Mr Sterckx, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2002/59/EC establishing a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system (COM(2005)0589 – C6-0004/2006 – 2005/0239(COD)),

– the report (A6-0079/2007) by Mr Kohlíček, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector and amending Directives 1999/35/EC and 2002/59/EC (COM(2005)0590 – C6-0056/2006 – 2005/0240(COD)),

– the report (A6-0063/2007) by Mr Paolo Costa, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents (COM(2005)0592 – C6-0057/2006 – 2005/0241(COD)),

– the report (A6-0081/2007) by Mr Vlasto, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on port-State control (recast) (COM(2005)0588 – C6-0028/2006 – 2005/0238(COD)), and

– the report (A6-0070/2007) by Mr de Grandes Pascual, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules and standards for ship inspection and survey organisations and for the relevant activities of maritime administrations (recast) (COM(2005)0587 – C6-0038/2006 – 2005/0237(COD)).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karin Roth, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be back in Strasbourg today to discuss with you the parliamentary business of the next few days.

Before addressing the individual issues, I should like to make four preliminary remarks. The first is that improving maritime safety is a common concern of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. We have made considerable progress in this direction. I refer, for example, to the improvement in the safety of RoRo vessels in 2002, the early introduction of double hulls in 2003 and the imminent voluntary renunciation by the EU Member States of recourse to internationally authorised exemptions for single-hulled ships. This is all good news.

Secondly, I believe it is also important to refer to employees' working conditions. We have already made significant progress in the implementation of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention of 2006. This is another area where there is broad consensus within the European Parliament and with the representative bodies of management and labour.

My third point refers to protection of the climate. Key tasks await us here, and some of these relate to shipping operations. I hope we shall manage to make good progress on this issue too.

My fourth remark concerns our desire to enhance shipping and ports and the associated activities within the maritime economy. To this end, we adopted an opinion of the Council of Transport Ministers on the Lisbon Strategy on 28 February. Our aim is to make maritime companies more competitive, thereby promoting the European Union as a business location for such operators. This will be a major topic at our conference on the future maritime policy of the EU, to be held in Bremen from 2 to 4 May, and I hope that good proposals will be developed here too, for I know that the European Parliament shares our interest in a European vision for the oceans and seas.

Let me now turn to the seven proposals for the improvement of maritime safety, our topic for today. Shipping is a crucial mode of transport in the global economy. If the sustainability of maritime operations is to be guaranteed, their safety and environmental compatibility must be continually upgraded.

Tomorrow's vote in the European Parliament will enable the Council to make further progress in the decision-making process. The German Presidency of the Council attaches the utmost importance to the present proposals for improvements in ship safety. We have not only continued the discussions that were launched during the Austrian and Finnish Presidencies but have also intensified and indeed accelerated them. In so doing, we are pursuing realistic objectives and focusing on the feasible.

Thanks to the concentration of these efforts into a small number of legislative proposals and the support of the European Council and the European Parliament, we shall be able to take several political decisions for the June meeting of the Council. I shall gladly take this opportunity to report to you on the state of play with regard to the initiatives on maritime safety during the German Presidency of the Council. The proposal for a directive on the Community vessel-traffic monitoring and information system was one of the first proposals to be examined by the Council.

In June 2006, under the Austrian Presidency, agreement was reached on a general line of approach. Since then the competent Council body has examined the amendments adopted by the Committee on Transport and Tourism of the European Parliament and has identified some points – such as the characteristics of the competent authorities and the procedures for providing refuge for vessels in distress – that need further consultation. There is no doubt, however, that both legislative institutions seek to improve the safety of maritime transport and to prevent environmental disasters.

Following tomorrow's adoption of the relevant report, the Council would like to arrive at a political decision in June. Our work on the draft directive on port-State control has progressed well. In December of last year, under the Finnish Presidency, the Council was able to establish its general line of approach, and now the German Presidency, anticipating the adoption of your report, which is highly consistent in many points with the outcome of the Council's deliberations, intends to bring about a political agreement at the June meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers. This agreement should also take account of the outcome of the next meeting of the Port State Control Committee established by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding; the committee is due to meet in Bonn the week after next.

The negotiations on the proposal for a directive on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterway are turning out to be rather more difficult. The discussion of this proposal was launched under the Finnish Presidency. The German Presidency has not only continued the deliberations, it has also significantly intensified them. The Council's discussions have shown that there is agreement in principle on the proposal for a regulation. The inclusion of inland waterway transport, however, is rejected.

There are also a few points that still need to be discussed. These relate not only to matters of detail, such as the conditions in which an advance payment is to be made, but also to certain fundamental issues. To what extent should domestic traffic (cabotage) be covered by the regulation? That must be clarified. Last October, the Legal Committee of the IMO adopted the text of a reservation to the 2002 Protocol to the Athens Convention. What are the implications of this reservation for European legislation? That is another unresolved issue. What is the relationship between the proposed regulation and the provisions of the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims and its 1996 Protocol, the ratification of which is envisaged, as you know, in the proposal Parliament is examining for a directive on the civil liability of shipowners? Agreement in the Council depends on the clarification of these details and these fundamental issues.

The proposal for a directive on the investigation of accidents in maritime transport operations has been introduced during our presidency. The discussions so far have shown how much importance the Member States attach to improving the guidelines for the technical investigation of accidents at sea and have demonstrated the desire of the Member States to lay down the relevant Community rules without delay on the basis of the appropriate IMO code and the results of its current revision. In the light of the present deliberations of the Council bodies and the parliamentary report on which you will likewise be voting today, it will be possible to reach a political agreement on this draft directive too at the meeting of the Transport Council in June.

The proposal for a directive on the responsibility of flag States was presented by the Commission to the Council as a working document in November 2006. It emerged clearly then that most of the Member States did not support the proposal. The matter will be assessed by the Council in the light of the opinion delivered by the European Parliament in March 2007, with due regard to the subsidiarity principle.

This means that five legislative proposals on maritime safety have been placed on the agenda of the Council bodies and will be examined by them. The German Presidency is well aware that the European Parliament wants more progress. For this reason, following the meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers on 7 and 8 June, we intend to take the time to open discussions on the proposal for a directive on classification societies. A parliamentary opinion on this proposal is, of course, on the agenda for the present part-session too.

If substantive progress is to be achieved, all interested parties will have to cooperate. Accordingly, I should like to thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the European Parliament, and especially the rapporteurs, for helping to ensure that rapid progress could be made and objectives achieved during this presidency. We shall include the opinion of the European Parliament, in so far as this has not already been done, in the preparations for the meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers and then try to achieve further progress on this proposal too.

Thank you for your attention. I now look forward to the lively discussion to which I have, of course, become accustomed in this House.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, honourable Members of Parliament, I should like to begin by thanking Mrs Roth, who has just shown that the German Presidency is very committed to this problem of maritime safety, and I am extremely grateful to her for that.

In March, I presented to you two of the seven proposals from the third legislative package on maritime safety. The debate and the vote that took place back then clearly demonstrated Parliament’s broad support. I am confident that the same will be true today regarding the five other proposals.

Three of them are part of the preventive section of the package, and I shall start by mentioning the amendment to the Directive on classification societies. By granting Community-wide recognition to these societies, we are indirectly controlling almost 90% of the world’s tonnage. It is therefore vital that the work of these bodies is of a high quality. That is why the Commission has proposed the implementation of an independent body, in charge of certifying quality control systems.

Next, we are introducing a system of gradual and proportional financial penalties. This system is more flexible than the current one, which only provides for the withdrawal of recognition. Thus, it will be easier for the Commission to have any shortcomings corrected.

What is more, the certificates accompanying the equipment installed on board ships should benefit from the mutual recognition of the accredited bodies. Established as it is on the basis of equivalent standards of the highest technical level, this mutual recognition will have two positive effects. It will remove the pointless barriers to free movement within the internal market, and, for the manufacturers of marine equipment, it will reduce the costs associated with the countless number of certification procedures. The savings made can be usefully devoted to research into safety.

Quite apart from the necessary formal exercise of simplifying the directive on port State control, the Commission is seeking to promote a more effective use of resources. On the one hand, we are seeking to replace the target for each individual Member State to control 25% of ships with a Europe-wide collective target. In short, we want to control all ships. On the other hand, we are seeking to carry out more frequent inspections on ships with a high-risk profile. Too many sub-standard ships today are still escaping all controls.

The new system will help prevent this, while rewarding quality ships by making them undergo fewer controls. Sub-standard ships that pass through European waters without calling at a port pose a special risk. That is why we have sought to increase the inspections of anchorages off the coasts.

Finally, the strengthening of the provisions on refusal of access, particularly through the introduction of permanent banning measures, is a powerful measure. It is unacceptable for ships not only to be detained but also to be repeatedly banned. The Union must state very clearly that it will not accept persistent offenders in its waters.

The third text that is going to strengthen our range of preventive measures amends the directive on traffic monitoring. The legal framework applicable to places of refuge needs to be clarified so that decisions are taken more quickly and more effectively when accidents occur at sea. That means being ready to tackle all kinds of situations involving all kinds of ships. The key point in this regard is the independence of the decision-making process, the requirement for speed and, hence, the requirement for a dangerous situation not to turn into an environmental disaster affecting several Member States. It is also a question of consolidating the SafeSeaNet network as a system for exchanging information, throughout Europe, on the monitoring of vessel traffic and the movements of dangerous or polluting cargo.

A final element of the proposal consists in gradually equipping fishing vessels that are more than 15 metres long with automatic identification systems that reduce the risks of collision with merchant vessels. Many tragedies will be prevented in this way. That is all I have to say about the three initial preventive proposals.

The aim of the final two proposals is for the consequences of maritime accidents to be dealt with more effectively. The Commission is proposing to have technical investigations systematically carried out after a maritime accident. We are not talking here about replacing criminal investigations, but about providing the European Union with an effective tool, based on international rules, that will give us a better insight into the causes of accidents. Staying with this subject, the matter of the independence of the investigative bodies is crucial. The idea is also to promote cooperation between authorities, particularly when several Member States are affected by the same accident. The European Maritime Safety Agency, which is already working on a joint methodology for investigating maritime accidents, must help us to implement a framework for permanent Community cooperation.

Finally, the last proposal concerns compensation for accident victims. The idea is to incorporate the provisions of the 2002 Athens Convention on passengers’ rights into Community law, and to extend them to national traffic and to inland navigation. All European passengers will thus be able to benefit from the compensation system introduced by this convention, irrespective of the mode of transport used and the journey made. I would stress this point. What is the explanation for the fact that a passenger travelling between two ports in the same country is not treated the same as another passenger travelling internationally?

So much, ladies and gentlemen, for my introductory remarks. Later on, I shall explain the position adopted by the Commission on the reports by Mrs Vlasto, Mr Strerckx, Mr Kohlíček, Mr Costa and Mr Grandes Pascual. I should like to thank them in advance for the outstanding work that they have done.

I should like to conclude, Madam President, by saying that, if we wish to prevent further oil slicks, we must now be able to make the entire maritime transport chain safer and, in this respect, none of these proposals are pointless. These seven proposals are necessary if we are truly to have an effective system, a system that will really allow Europe to set an example to the world in the area of maritime safety.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dirk Sterckx (ALDE), rapporteur. (NL) Madam President, President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, my apologies for not being here to listen to you, but a conciliation meeting on a railway package is being held simultaneously, for which I am also one of the rapporteurs, and on which I have had a rather difficult discussion with your ambassador, which, I hope, will have a favourable ending.

Turning to maritime safety, how can we avoid problems, and how do we address shipping accidents, incidents and calamities? This is what the entire package that the Commission has submitted is about, and I regard the proposal on monitoring and airports as a key component in this. How can problems be avoided? By better monitoring shipping and by increased awareness of what is happening in our waters. This is why, in this report, we would demand stricter control via the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which may already be in place, but to which we would like to add a few things, including data about the crew, about the ship, but also more detailed data about cargo and fuel. Hence my proposal to include the ship's fuel as one of the items to be reported in AIS, because, after all, the quantities of fuel are sometimes huge and can cause enormous damage.

My second point is about AIS for fishing vessels. We are, in principle, in favour, but one remaining bone of contention is the size requirement of ships for which this equipment is required, a point on which I, as rapporteur, do not see eye to eye with the Committee on Transport and Tourism. I am with the Commission in believing that smaller vessels from 15 metres should also be included, while the Committee on Transport states that vessels should not be included unless they are longer than 24 metres. We will see what tomorrow’s vote brings. An important point is the use of data and confidentiality; we must ensure that data are used in a positive spirit, and that data for AIS are not misused in any way. One chapter and a number of amendments are about long range, the new generation; how do we include this new generation within the scope of the Safe Sea Net, because it is evident that Safe Sea Net must become the new tool for communicating between all Member States and within shipping, so that all data are universally known.

Thirdly, what will happen in case of an accident? Needless to say, we must prepare for such eventualities as well as we can. This is something we did not always do, the shipping disasters involving the Erika and the Prestige being two cases in point. I am pleased that the Commission has adopted a number of points from the report which the temporary committee on improving safety at sea drafted here in Parliament following the disaster with the Prestige. After all, the emphasis should, above all, be on the extent to which the Member States are in a state of readiness. What level of preparation is in place in the event of a problem occurring?

A major bone of contention for the Council was the creation of an independent competent body. Whilst the Commission would like every Member State to have an independent competent body to take decisions when a problem occurs, the Council is less enthusiastic. I can understand that the Council’s brief definition raises a few problems, and that is why we in this House will make it easier for the Member States; in Amendments 31 and 32, we explained exactly what we expect from independent competent bodies of this kind, namely that they save lives, protect the coastline, protect the environment, create safety and protect the economy. In my view, surely everyone should be agreed that this is this body’s task. Secondly, it should be able to take its own decisions. It must also have competency or be able to call on competency quickly. Thirdly, this body must also be able to do a number of things: it must be able to make certain demands of the captain. If necessary, it must be able to deploy rescue teams. It must, if necessary, be able to assess the precise damage itself, because not all ship’s owners or captains are prepared to admit to the extent of the damage. In some cases, they try to bide their time, in which case the competent body must be able to step in. This is the objective of Amendments 31 to 34, which I should like to ask the House to support, because they are essential. I should like to invite the Council to follow this logic too, namely not simply to reject the definition, but to examine its content and to enter into dialogue with us about it. All Member States must have a system that works. If they do not, we are in great danger. The situation at the moment, even after the Monitoring Directive with the document on airports has been laid down, is that a number of Member States still do not have an effective body to manage accidents; they still do not have the necessary plans or necessary means to deal with accidents. This is something we can no longer accept.

Seven reports are interrelated, as the Commission already stated; it is therefore in the Union’s interest that we should build an entire system in a bid to improve maritime safety, and so I would urge the Council to follow Parliament’s lead here.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL), rapporteur. – (CS) Thank you, Madam President. The third maritime package is a series of proposed directives aimed at improving maritime transport safety.

The fundamental objective of the entire package is to increase the responsibility of flag states. This responsibility is laid down under international maritime law, and it includes the task of carrying out technical investigations into all serious maritime incidents. Even if this package did not exist, there would still be a mandatory requirement to work with other participating countries.

The investigation, or rather the failure to investigate, which we witnessed following the Prestige tanker disaster, demonstrated – as was confirmed by the conclusions of the temporary committee on improving safety at sea (MARE) – the need to develop more precise instructions that would make it possible, when incidents occur, to carry out investigations the conclusions of which could be published in real time and used to prevent such incidents occurring again.

The package as whole also contains technical measures aimed at reducing the risk of any kind of incident occurring. Prevention is the key concept here. The technical investigation of incidents should therefore arise in situations where all preventative measures have failed. The findings of an investigation should be used to ensure that the incident in question does not occur again.

The reasons an incident occurred must therefore be investigated. The directive applies to accidents involving the craft defined in Article 2, that is to say fishing vessels under 24m and passenger boats with more than 12 passengers. Given that other parts of the third package also contain a similar definition of applicability, and following discussion with Commission Members and experts, I do not recommend an extension to cover all fishing vessels not under 24m in length, as proposed in Amendment 25, even though I did originally recommend such an extension. The logical limit remains at 15m, as in the previous report.

The overall Commission proposal, supplemented and improved upon by the Amendments adopted in committee and published under numbers 2 to 24, constitutes a good technical directive. Pursuant to the SOLAS and MARPOL agreements and in accordance with Article 2 of the UNCLOS agreement, this proposal will identify who investigates incidents, and will define a decision-making mechanism as well as deadlines for making decisions.

A major problem for some EU Member States remains that of establishing a permanent investigation committee that is genuinely independent. There are such committees operating in the northern countries, but in the Mediterranean countries there is still a problem with the formal independence of such bodies. Only Spain has declared that it will soon establish a similar committee.

A further question arises over whether it is also possible for an independent investigating committee to work with authorisation from another state. I have been questioned about this and my answer is that there is nothing on a formal level to prevent it, and that it is in fact enshrined in Article 7(2) of the proposed directive. Slovenia and other smaller countries have inquired about this possibility.

A fundamental requirement of the directive is that technical investigations are conducted on the understanding that only their conclusions can be made available for other investigations. Similarly important is the requirement to follow the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines on the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident. We know how the crew was treated in Spain and how badly the entire investigation appears to have been conducted.

The directive and the IMO guidelines certainly do not aim to criminalise the captain and crew. Furthermore, the Member States are charged with ensuring that statements or any other information provided by witnesses are not misused in criminal investigations.

Every three years, the Commission will notify Parliament of the results of implementation and of the measures adopted under this directive. A supervisory role will thereby be implemented by an independent body, in this case the European Parliament, and Parliament will be able to adopt appropriate measures on the basis of proposals from the Commission.

The technical part of the directive, comprising Annexes I and II, includes the format and content for accident investigation reports: Annex I provides a brief synopsis and Annex II a list of the items of information that will form part of every accident report. I believe that this information will form a good basis for assessing the directive, and that the technical measures adopted on the basis of the information collected will lead to a reduction in the number of incidents.

The content of this directive is very similar to the one for investigations into industrial accidents, on which I worked for a number of years, and I feel that it is well written from a technical standpoint. I hope that the overall scheme contained in this directive can be used in the future with regard to other accidents involving transport by ship, for example in the case of maritime transport involving smaller vessels, or when investigating accidents in river transport. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paolo Costa (ALDE), rapporteur. (IT) Madam President, Mrs Roth, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the European Union is regaining some of the trust of European citizens, partly because it is following a consumer protection strategy with a certain consistency – or at least I hope it is doing so. In our case this means a strategy to protect travellers, namely consumers when they are travelling.

This has already happened in the sphere of civil aviation and I hope that it is also happening in the rail sphere. I believe that the regulation on which I have had the honour to be rapporteur should also be read in this sense. This is a regulation that makes some small but significant steps in harmonising the protection of passengers and their baggage. To that end, it seeks to make compulsory, or at least to extend, the application of the Athens Convention, which already governs this field with regard to the definition of rules and liability, as well as to require anyone that transports people to have compulsory insurance, identifying means of immediate redress in the event of accidents, with prompt and satisfactory compensation.

The regulation under consideration takes a few steps that go further than the Athens Convention. I do not intend to dwell upon technical aspects at the moment, but I would like to stress that the scope of these protective measures is being extended. The Athens Convention was only able to deal with international transport. The Baltic and the Mediterranean are, however, basins in which much of the transport is internal transport. In addition, following the enlargement of the Union to encompass Bulgaria and Romania, the major internal European navigation routes must now be treated in the same way. For this reason I have endorsed and continue to endorse – and I hope that Parliament, the Council and the Commission will do likewise – the extension of passenger protection to internal transport too.

With regard to internal transport, the small amount of resistance that did exist has practically disappeared following the latest accident, which happened in early April with the Sea Diamond near the island of Santorini. It is unimaginable that the two persons who disappeared should not be protected, while they would have been if they had disappeared in the Atlantic or Indian Oceans. It is clear that discrimination of this kind is unacceptable. Since it seems to me that there are still some remaining difficulties in accepting the extension of protection to internal waters, I hope that we will not have to wait for an accident on some river before making the decision to extend cover to internal transport too. It seems clear to me that we cannot conceive of protecting people travelling on a large river vessel in a different way from those travelling on a small ship on the sea, whom we do protect.

In addition, if we consider the technical point that some ships now make both river and maritime voyages, it would be quite ridiculous for them to be covered only at sea and not when sailing on rivers. I therefore believe that the regulation that we are adopting goes doubly in the right direction, in the sense that it also takes into account this aspect of maritime security, thus putting those who travel by sea more at ease.

I would like to point out that persons with reduced mobility are protected more appropriately, that anyone who has an accident is immediately compensated, that there are also limits to carriers’ liability, because if they adopt the Athens Convention they do not have unlimited liability, and so forth. There are thousands of other aspects, but the basic point is the fact that we are treating all European citizens who are travelling in the same way, whether they are travelling internationally or nationally, on internal waterways or outside European waters, when they are covered by European provisions.

In view of this, I hope that we can go forward in this direction, and can thus gain the attention and recognition of European citizens. They can look at this section of the Union’s activities, which continues to provide solutions that are useful and important to all citizens and that can also, in some way, make up for other deficiencies in the more general debate that we are having at the moment.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dominique Vlasto (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (FR) Madam President, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, I shall start by saying that port State control is a key aspect of maritime safety, because it is preventive and it enables us to detect the main anomalies on board ships. Furthermore, this is a very far-reaching control that we, as Europeans, carry out in accordance with our rules, irrespective of the flag of the vessel, and this makes it very reliable.

The directive on which we are working dates back to 2001 and has made it possible to impose an obligation on the Member States to monitor 25% of the vessels calling at their ports. In order to arrive at this figure, the controls are very often carried out on vessels in a good state of repair; for this reason, the inspection is quicker and the State can therefore boast about having met its target. Well, we must ensure that priority is given to inspections carried out on the most dangerous vessels.

This is the new and powerful aspect of the inspection system that I support: monitoring 100% of vessels, according to the risk that they actually pose. I am in fact proposing to adjust the inspections in accordance with the risk profile established for each vessel. Three profiles will have to be adopted: high risk, standard risk and low risk, the outcome being established from parameters defined in the report. These risk profiles will determine the intervals between inspections, which cannot exceed six months for high-risk vessels. The scope of the inspections is given in more detail in the report.

Our aim is simple, but clear: to get rid of waste ships that pollute. To that end, we are proposing more coercive measures aimed at giving greater responsibility to those operating in the maritime transport sector. The text therefore provides for stronger measures, such as refusal of access to ports or anchorages for dangerous vessels, and introduces permanent banning for certain dangerous vessels. I should like us to be clear on this: we want shipping companies to comply with European rules. Today, some shipping companies are still too negligent; that is one of the reasons why we are proposing to establish a blacklist of poorly performing companies, which will be published on the Internet.

I should, however, like to stress that there is broad agreement on all of these proposals, even though the report is far more ambitious than it was at the outset. We have in fact decided, with the support of the European Commission – which I should like to thank for its work – to move up a gear, so that our control system continues to set an example at international level. That is why we must come to terms with the rules adopted within the framework of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding, so as to support the European Union’s position in its negotiations with the other States, and especially with Russia and Canada.

The Council has, by and large, come out in favour of the report, and I should like to thank the successive presidents who have moved this matter forward. However, I can see that there remain two major points on which views differ. The first is the application of this directive to anchorages, especially those located on the high seas. I would insist on this, otherwise I fear that high-risk vessels will avoid ports in favour of anchorages and will therefore escape inspection. The Council is opposed to this because it is worried about the high costs and the difficulties in implementing it. I would ask the question: is not this the price to be paid for more safety at sea? We cannot wait for the next disaster before we accept it!

Secondly, there is the flexibility issue: the Council wants flexibility to carry out the inspections. I consent to having an inspection planned for one port transferred to the following port of call, but I do not want a quantitative threshold for failed inspections to be set. I refuse to see the declared target of a 100% ship inspection not met.

The negotiations will continue, and I am confident about the possibilities of reaching a swift agreement with the Council. As for the rest, the unanimous vote within the Committee on Transport and Tourism highlights our great meeting of minds, which is a reminder that our Parliament has always been very committed to, and united in, defending and developing maritime safety. I am convinced, Madam President, that, with the determination of our Commissioner, Mr Barrot, the support of our Parliament and a consensus on the key points at the Council, we shall succeed in swiftly adopting this new system of port State control.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luis de Grandes Pascual (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (ES) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely believe that there are reasons to be satisfied with the results achieved, which are due to the cooperation and consensus that exists in this House with regard to the safety of our seas, such a sensitive issue amongst the citizens.

This is the attitude we need to communicate to the Council, urging it to take the same approach, because we need to learn a lesson. We must act now. We cannot wait for the consensus that always comes after disasters, after we have seen horrendous images of our polluted beaches, after seeing our fishermen’s boats stuck in ports because it is impossible to fish, and after seeing the great suffering of families and regions that live from the sea.

We must treat these seven proposals as one, despite the complexities that may arise, because they are all inter-related; all of the players in the maritime transport chain are involved.

It therefore makes no sense to consider whether any particular one of these proposals is unnecessary or inappropriate. Each and every one of them is essential.

Nevertheless, there is one issue that worries me immensely and I would like to comment on it since it relates to a crucial aspect of the package. I am talking about the independent nature of the bodies and authorities created for the purposes of adopting the best possible decisions within the shortest possible space of time.

In this regard, I am talking specifically about the independent authority that is intended to take the always extremely difficult decision on whether to receive a vessel in distress in a place of refuge. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express my disagreement with the, in my view, voluntarist, attitude adopted by the Committee on Transport and Tourism on this issue, which weakens even further the already fragile decision-making structure for places of refuge originally proposed by the European Commission.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no point in creating an authority that is independent of the influences of the politicians unless it is given the resources and capacities needed to take decisions. Even more serious, however, would be to give it powers if, when it came down to it, it is left with only one choice: to be obliged to accept a vessel even though it lacks insurance and guarantees.

In that case, the entire burden falls to the Member State in question, which furthermore is the victim of the ecological and social damage that may result from accepting a vessel in a place of refuge, as well as having to cover those damages.

We must be realistic and deal with this history that repeats itself over and over again. In Spain, over the last three months, we have suffered two cases of vessels in distress close to our shores and, in both cases, on the basis of a detailed assessment of the emergency situation, the competent authority decided, with a view to minimising risks, not to bring the vessel to our shores.

It is of course a huge relief for the civil population of the area to see the ships moving away, because it is one thing to see your beaches surrounded by expensive motorbikes and the latest perfumes, but it is quite another to see your beaches, your marine environment and wildlife soaked in tar or your fellow citizens affected by toxic gases.

So this authority should be created, but it should be given permanent powers and a vessel in distress should only be accepted if the prior assessment of the situation concludes that that is the best decision and if it reduces the risks.

Having said that, I am grateful for Mr Sterckx's tenacity in the difficult enterprise he has had to tackle. I am particularly pleased with the progress made on ships’ monitoring instruments, which are essential in order to tackle situations of risk.

Before going on to talk about my report, I would like, out of courtesy, to praise the work of Mrs Vlasto and of Mr Kohlícek and of course stress the immense job done by Mr Costa, We hope that that proposal will come to fruition because, now more than ever, after what has happened over recent days with the sinking of the cruise ship in Greek waters, we must increase the protection of passengers’ rights.

I shall finally comment on my report. As you will recall, we have been working on the fourth revision of Directive 94/57. It deals with the crucial role played by what are known as classification societies. Henceforth they will be recognised organisations.

The assessment carried out by the Commission over the last six months has revealed that there remain serious deficiencies in the safety inspection and certification process for the world fleet. It is therefore our duty once again to strengthen the action of these organisations even more and even more effectively.

To this end, the European Commission proposes a series of reforms that I support and that have been strengthened as a result of the dialogue with the Commission and the positive contributions of the parties involved and the members of the Committee on Transport.

Only in that way have we been able to strengthen the supervision mechanisms for recognised organisations through the creation of an assessment committee of an independent nature with permanent powers and which acts autonomously.

Only in that way have we been able to achieve a fairer and more flexible system of penalties, and a more effective one, since it penalises those who do not act as they should, but it does so according to the seriousness of the infringement committed and the economic capacity of the organisation. And only in that way have we been able to make progress on the thorny issue of the recognition of classification certificates, proposing the conditions under which recognised organisations will have to recognise each other mutually, without jeopardising maritime safety and using the strictest rules as a reference. Thank you very much.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Willi Piecyk (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Fisheries. – (DE) Madam President, Madam President-in-Office, ladies and gentlemen, this debate and tomorrow's vote on the five reports on maritime safety conclude the first reading of the Erika III package. I stress this because, as you know, we have already adopted the reports from Marta Vincenzi and Gilles Savary. This is why I must also remind the Council once again that Erika III comprises seven proposals and that we in Parliament are firmly convinced that they form a package, which we therefore want to deal with collectively.

Since I am speaking in more than one capacity – not only on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries but also for my political group – I would like to begin by thanking all the rapporteurs for their work. Like the votes in committee, tomorrow's plenary vote will show that we are addressing all these matters on the basis of a high degree of unanimity. As we have heard, the Council has not exactly been dancing for joy at some of our parliamentary decisions and votes and still has to engage in discussions on a number of points.

How closely the individual proposals are interconnected is illustrated by the Sterckx report. I need hardly say that it would be a good thing if the Member States designated emergency port facilities and places of refuge once and for all. It would also be beneficial if an independent authority in every country determined what should actually happen after a shipwreck, so that such an incident would not trigger the establishment of discussion forums but a decision. In the event of a shipping disaster, it is, of course, inconceivable that the skipper of the rescue craft would ask the captain whether he was insured, and, on being told that the shipowner had not insured the vessel properly, would then refuse to help and return to base. It goes without saying that the rescue crew would have to render assistance. The question about insurance has to be asked as part of the port-State control process. That is also what is envisaged in the Vlasto report, on which we reached agreement.

Where we were not entirely in agreement, as Dirk Sterckx has already mentioned, was the question of which fishing vessels should be equipped with which systems. This is all about maximising safety. I remain convinced that it makes little sense to equip vessels less than 24 metres in length with automatic identification systems and that the same results could certainly be achieved with other shore-based resources. Accident statistics do not tell us much. To be consistent, we would have to include all private craft, not only the small fishing vessels. It may be, however, that another technological solution will emerge in future.

Let me make a few remarks on port-State control, partly on behalf of my honourable colleague Robert Navarro, who cannot be here today. I believe it makes good sense to abandon the rigid principle of checking 25% of vessels. That was probably quite necessary as a first step, but checking 25% in every Member State is less useful than what is now in the offing, namely concentration on high-risk vessels. This means checking all suspect operators, from the black sheep to those in every tone of grey from dark to light. There is little point, however, in checking white sheep. A targeted checking process is undoubtedly the logical approach.

One thing, however, is absolutely crucial, and it has been missing from the Commission's proposals, although we stressed the need for it in both the Sterckx report and the report from the temporary committee on improving safety at sea (the MARE Committee). Everything relating to the human factor – the welfare dimension, in other words good working conditions on board – affects the safety of a ship. As well as a ship being in good technical order, it is certainly essential that the welfare of those on board should be guaranteed. If that is not the case, the general safety of the vessel will be diminished.

As we have repeatedly said in this House, 80% of accidents result from human error. This is why we need more proposals from the Commission that relate to this human factor, including ideas on safety monitoring. Only then can this matter be closed.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs. Madam President, I wish to begin by offering my congratulations to Mr Costa and those Members who have been involved in drafting the important report about liability of carriers.

As the draftswoman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs, I should like to draw your attention to a few points. I strongly support the incorporation of the International Maritime Organization’s Athens Protocol of 2002 into Community legislation. It is also vital that the legislation is mentioned in the EU maritime passenger liability regime, including inland waterways, in the event of accidents. I fully agree with our rapporteur that this greatly adds to passenger safety.

As for the question of insurance, it is important to understand that passenger carriers must have the possibility to have insurance that covers the liabilities mentioned in the Athens Protocol. Nevertheless, for small carriers operating in domestic waterways, attention should be given to the cyclical nature of their activities. It is not possible for those small companies to comply with the rules and they should apply only in cases where both parties have agreed that the carrier’s liability is strict.

I should also like to emphasise the importance of mentioning the rare cases of terrorism. As the target of terrorism is usually a government or a political group and not a carrier, it is unreasonable for the carrier to be responsible for damages caused by such acts. I hope this will be made absolutely clear in any further negotiations on the Athens Protocol.

Finally, it is very important that this regulation equates as much as possible to the Protocol and it should be implemented at the same time as the Protocol in the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ioannis Kasoulides, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. Madam President, as shadow rapporteur I would like, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group, to congratulate Mr Sterckx on his excellent report concerning the Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system and express our support for it as it stands.

On the particular issue of designated places of refuge, my comment is that it is correct to have this issue properly regulated all over the Union, as it is easy – and unfortunately it has happened in the past – for Member States to have the tendency to turn away vessels in distress, particularly tankers, out of a fear of the likelihood of disastrous pollution, and yet it has been proven that a major ecological catastrophe can be avoided if a vessel in distress and with limited damage can find refuge in designated places. I am sure that the Member States can rise to this responsibility.

The other important aspect of navigation safety – better interoperability of systems for improved information and communication – is also dealt with in this report.

In the general context of the debate on maritime transport, our Union is well motivated in terms of introducing regulations enhancing the safety of navigation, the protection of the environment – both maritime and of our shores – the protection of consumers and so on, as are dealt with in today’s reports and in some in the past.

What I would also like to see happening, though, at the same time and in parallel, is a concerted effort on the part of the European Union, as a global player this time, to work internationally through the IMO and through other multilateral or bilateral agreements so that similar measures also apply at a global level around the world. This industry operates globally. Our competitors should not be allowed to take advantage of our sensitivities at the expense of the competitiveness of our European commercial fleet.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS MORGANTINI
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Emanuel Jardim Fernandes, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) Madam President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, at a time when we are discussing the Erika 3 package for enhancing safety and are addressing the future European maritime strategy, I should like to begin by pointing out the importance of our seas and oceans as a public resource.

They make an enormous contribution to the geographical dimensions of the EU and its single market and, in turn, to the EU’s influence on the world stage. With the EU’s outermost regions and 320 000 km of coastline, where a third of Europe’s population lives, our seas and oceans have given the EU a larger global maritime area. They also give a boost to maritime transport to and from, and inside, the EU.

As shadow rapporteur for the Socialist Group in the European Parliament on the Costa report on the civil liability of carriers, I should like to congratulate Mr Costa and all of the rapporteurs on their openness and on the good work they have done. I have sought to promote the importance of this report among various interested parties, consulting them and canvassing their opinions. I also sought to strengthen the rights of passengers in the event of an accident or incident by ensuring that they receive appropriate financial compensation in order to alleviate the damage done when the worst happens and, as we all know, the worst does happen sometimes, as evidenced by the Erika and Prestige disasters.

I feel that it is maritime carriers which should bear the greatest liability when it comes to accidents or incidents because it is in them that we put all our trust when the worst happens. Victims should, in my view, obtain swift and fair compensation and, for this reason, I have tabled proposals to this end. Furthermore, I intend to vote against the amendments aimed at removing from the scope of this proposal any rights applicable to inland navigation routes, because tragedies happen there too and inland navigation is a means of transport worth boosting for environmental and economic reasons.

As Mr Barrot pointed out, the safety regulation should apply to all areas of maritime navigation, and hence to inland navigation too. As Mr Costa so rightly put it, would it be acceptable to offer protection to an international route and refuse it when a ship repeatedly enters inland river waters?

The single market cannot be created with legal vacuums in terms of liability or at the cost of fewer rights, in particular when the economic burden for the private sector has been lessened, as the Commission pointed out. The amendments are aimed at enhancing the information provided to passengers in order to make it clearer and more accessible and at delivering appropriate, direct financial support as quickly as possible. In this connection, I also welcome the possibility of the Member States extending the compensation laid down in the convention.

For these reasons, ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to vote in favour of these reports in the form in which they have been presented. If even one victim obtains adequate support as a result of what we are doing here and now, then our efforts will have been worthwhile, and once again Parliament will have shown itself to be the institution that genuinely represents the citizens of Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Josu Ortuondo Larrea, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (ES) Madam President, amongst other things, we are debating the fourth review of the Directive on ship inspection and survey organisations and the relevant activities of maritime administrations on behalf of flag States.

The previous review, which was the third, formed part of the first legislative package intended to put an end to the irresponsible conduct in maritime transport that has led to tragic accidents, such as the one involving the Erika, which had such a serious impact on our environment and on our coasts.

In this new proposal, the European Commission is seriously considering whether the system of classification and inspection as a whole makes sufficient efforts to achieve the required levels of quality.

As rapporteur for the third review, I must respond by saying that sufficient efforts are not really being made. Not only is the maritime sector to blame, however, but also the fact that certain Member States – which are ultimately responsible – and some MEPs, did not want to do more.

I remember how the majority of the amendments that I proposed in my report, in a quest for more requirements and control in inspections, were rejected. At that time I expressed my disappointment and my conviction that that review would not improve things. Unfortunately I was right and we saw the tragic episode of the Prestige accident, which once again called into question the most recent inspection to have been carried out on that ship and its insufficient compliance with the recommendations resulting from that inspection.

We are now once again amending the Directive on the organisations recognised for the carrying out of inspections of ships and, although I do not like the fact that those organisations can form part of the committee responsible for assessment, since that could affect their independence, I must acknowledge that the changes agreed in the Committee on Transport and Tourism substantially and positively improve it. For example, the prohibition of changing the class of ships without the aforementioned organisation passing the information on its inspections on to the new classification organisation, or the States’ monitoring of the recognised organisation and the control of the effectiveness of their inspection standards and rules by the European Commission, and also the mutual recognition of those rules amongst the different recognised organisations in accordance with stricter and more rigorous models.

I trust that all of these amendments will be approved by the plenary of the European Parliament, because they will mean that our seas and our environment face less risk and that will benefit all of us.

I regret that I cannot agree with everything Mr de Grandes Pascual – who is not currently in the Chamber – has said, but I do not share his opinion. I believe that the decision to move the Prestige away from the Galician coast was prejudicial and that the consequences we suffered were worse than they would have been had it been taken to a port of refuge. I would nevertheless like to congratulate Mr de Grandes Pascual on his report, and all of the other Members who have spoken and who have been responsible for this third legislative package.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Roberts Zīle, on behalf of the UEN Group. (LV) Thank you Madam President, Mrs Roth, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank all the rapporteurs of the Erika 3 package for the significant work they have accomplished. I would like to speak about two aspects in the report by Mrs Vlasto concerning port State control. Firstly, the draft report mentions the idea that inspections should be carried out in anchorages, without properly evaluating how this could actually be done or what it would achieve. If the definition of ‘anchorages’ includes all areas within a port’s jurisdiction, then in the case of the Baltic Sea, for instance, this would mean inspections in the open sea 8 to 10 miles from shore. The result achieved – a small quantity of vessels checked – would not be commensurate with the material resources that would be necessary to implement this directive, nor would it be commensurate with the risks to the safety and security of the inspectors involved in carrying out such inspections.

Moreover, in the climatic conditions of the Baltic States it is in fact not possible to carry out inspections of high quality at sea under such conditions, and so I call on my colleagues to reconsider the proposal allowing Member States themselves to define these anchorages. A second aspect concerns the ‘grey’ list and the ‘black’ list. For example, the percentage of Latvian vessels detained is no greater than in many other countries that are on the ‘white’ list, but Latvia’s vessels are on the ‘grey’ list and according to the procedure in the Paris Memorandum of Understanding their prospects are much worse than those of representatives of countries with large fleets. In turn, this does not encourage vessels to go back under the Latvian flag, which gives rise to something like a vicious circle – our vessels do not emerge from the ‘grey’ list and therefore there is no way in which to encourage the inclusion of Latvia’s list on the ‘white’ list. I therefore urge you to support the idea that within the framework of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding there could be a change in the procedure for carrying out these calculations. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacky Henin, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FR) Madam President, the transport sector is vital to the development of our societies. Within this sector, maritime transport becomes more powerful each year and could really improve the environmental and economic landscape. However, for thirty years, the number of ships carrying crude oil, heavy fuel oil and chemicals that have sunk off the coasts of the Union has multiplied, with tragic consequences for economic and leisure activities that are associated with the sea, such as fishing, oyster farming, tourism, pleasure boating, and so many others. One ship goes down every three days. 1 600 sailors die at sea each year. More than 6 000 ships officially recorded as dangerous sail on our oceans each day. This is unacceptable!

Taking serious action means forcefully tackling the main cause of a lack of safety at sea. The flags of convenience and tax havens that harbour and protect them, the criminal complicity between the classification societies and the insurance companies – they are responsible for the waste ships, operated by crews who are reduced to near slavery. Given this state of affairs, the inspections carried out in EU ports should focus both on the state of the vessels and on the circumstances of the crew, so as to check that their training, working conditions, pay and state of health are compatible with the safety requirements necessary for navigation.

Commissioner, Madam President-in-Office of the Council, would you board an aircraft that had a crew that was incapable of communicating in a common language, a pilot who had not been paid for three months and a co-pilot who had not had a rest break for six months? Obviously not! Then why accept this for a ship?

There is another important issue: the creation of an independent authority to take over the Member States’ job of managing maritime crisis situations is inept. It would be ineffective, dangerous and non-democratic. The track record of most of the Union’s independent authorities, starting with the work of the ECB, is so disastrous for the people of Europe as a whole that I would not hand over responsibility for maritime safety off the coast of my town, Calais, to a pseudo-independent body, whose sole aim would, as ever, be to protect the financial interests of a few large companies.

My final remark concerns the plan to fit fishing vessels with an anti-collision system – in other words, a cost of EUR 2 000. Could this cost be borne by charterers and, in particular, by charterers of oil tankers?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ian Hudghton, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Madam President, the Erika and Prestige disasters are quite rightly referred to in justification for having better and tighter safety regulation in maritime transport. Sadly, these are not the only examples. The Braer oil spill off the Shetland Islands of Scotland is another catastrophic disaster which had long-term devastating effects on that island’s community.

My group has generally supported the Committee on Transport and Tourism reports as they have gone through. In relation to monitoring and information, it is simply common sense to tighten the policy on the accommodation of ships in distress and for Member States to designate an independent competent authority in order to realise this. When speed of action is essential, it is vital that we have clear lines of responsibility in this matter.

I think that Mr Sterckx’s report from the Committee on Transport and Tourism has added constructively to the Commission’s proposals. I welcome Mr Sterckx’s recognition that there are practical and financial aspects in relation to the fishing industry that have to be borne in mind when considering an automatic identification system and the question of confidentiality of information relating thereto. I support the idea of a compensation fund for places of refuge and for ports. This is particularly important if a ship, for example, was poorly insured. We supported the Sterckx report in committee but as a group we have tabled two amendments which I hope will be accepted in the vote. We believe these are based simply on common sense and relate to mapping of environmentally sensitive areas. Surely in assessing a potential place of refuge it is important to identify vulnerable coastal resources as well as the potential impact of oil spills on these resources. While that information can vary seasonally and in many cases is already held for many European waters, it simply has not been collected together centrally and made accessible to decision-makers in order to speed up reaction time in the event of emergencies.

In port state control, while recasting the existing directive, we welcome the new inspection regime, the three types of inspection, the new provisions on refusal of access to EU ports. However, we believe that the report from the Committee on Transport and Tourism, again with common sense in mind, simplifies the structure of the proposal and makes it more coherent. It describes more precisely the future inspection database and strengthens and clarifies the link between Community inspection regimes and the Paris memorandum inspection regime, and for that reason we supported it in committee.

In terms of ship inspection and survey organisations, as others have mentioned, the issue of transparency and independence of organisations is very important. In the monitoring of their activities, surely it is common sense to ensure that the control and monitoring of the activities of inspection organisations are absolutely transparent, fair and strict. We had tabled amendments in committee on the de Grandes Pascual report which called for greater input by the European Maritime Safety Agency. These were not accepted on the basis that the Commission intends, we are told, to propose new regulation on the remit of EMSA. I would welcome an assurance that the Commission does indeed intend to look constructively in that area.

The kind of catastrophes that we have too often witnessed do not just cause short-term environmental damage. They can sometimes totally ruin local industries, from fisheries to aquaculture, as well as having other long-term effects. These need to be borne in mind. Significant progress has been made at EU level in terms of maritime transport safety and we should use the experiences that we have gained from previous maritime packages as a basis to achieve further improvement.

I hope that the Council will accept that Parliament’s reports from the Committee on Transport and Tourism constructively contribute to the process in what we believe is a common-sense way. I hope that our suggestions will be accepted and taken forward.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Graham Booth, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Madam President, the UK is one of the few countries that have signed the Athens Protocol, and it therefore has no need for the EU to do this on its behalf. More importantly, the UK’s consent explicitly protected small domestic and inland boats from the onerous compliance costs. Brussels, however, is not satisfied with this and wishes Europe to re-sign. This time it will include those craft least able to afford the regulations.

Moreover, its contention that domestic and inland waterways are essentially the same as international travel may indeed reflect the situation in most of continental Europe, but it does not reflect the reality in the UK. To us, going abroad actually means that: we have to cross water. It is what being an island means.

Mr Costa himself admits that this extension will create an unnecessary burden for operators in this sector. The British Government calls this problematic, but it is simply telling these small businesses, ‘It is bad, but tough luck. We are going to do it anyway!’ It is obvious to me that this report has had no serious impact assessment.

When my office contacted the British Government about whether the regulation would affect cable and chain ferries, such as the Sandbanks Ferry near Poole in my constituency, the answer came back with the casual phrase ‘as far as we know’. Well, they should know! The British Government and this regulation are at odds. One says that it covers seagoing craft, the other that it covers inland waterways.

This Assembly must remember that these are real businesses, real jobs, real people and real families, which could be blighted with all this ill-thought-out and proscriptive legislation. That is simply not good enough. In terms of the security and peace of mind of those who work in this sector, this shows contempt for their interests. Overall, it is apparent that this report is an excessively large hammer that will not just crack the nut but could completely destroy it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Fernand Le Rachinel, on behalf of the ITS Group. – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as the French elected representative of the large Nord-Ouest region, a region with many coastlines, I am naturally affected by issues relating to maritime safety. I therefore fully endorse the Commission initiative to create a mechanism, on the basis of a body of legislative texts, that is designed to protect Europe from the risks of pollution and maritime accidents.

Indeed, in spite of the progress made since the sinking of the ‘Erika’ and the ‘Prestige’ – with, for instance, the compulsory inspections of ships in ports and even the demise of single-hull oil tankers – I believe that the accident prevention system remains inadequate. This sad view is unfortunately shared by professional seafarers’ trade unions, environmental protection associations and even by elected representatives from across the political spectrum.

The main issue at stake is that of flags of convenience; despite the desire of the Commission and Parliament to reform them, there are still too many of them. Nearly 60% of the world fleet still sails under a flag of convenience, which, aside from the advantage of minimal taxation, offers the possibility of increasing the number of intermediaries, so that all liability can be avoided in the event of an accident or disaster. Furthermore, it permits the most lax of attitudes where ship safety and labour law are concerned.

Finally, maritime safety should obviously be based on three responsibilities: that of the flag State, that of the charterer and that of the classification societies, which are responsible for surveying ships. These measures certainly appear in the third package on maritime safety. Let us hope, however, that they are implemented in practice, as this is unfortunately not always the case.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE). – (NL) Madam President, Madam President of the Council, Mr Barrot, I am delighted with the European obligation for independent enquiries into shipping disasters, and the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats gives this initiative its unqualified support, since the aim of such enquiries is to find out the cause of the disaster, so that measures can be taken to prevent similar disasters from happening in future. We already have very good experience of this with disasters involving aircraft. Following the disasters with the oil tankers Erika and Prestige, there was no independent enquiry, and there was the risk of the buck being passed from one region or Member State to another. When a major disaster strikes in our international waters, this inevitably involves various Member States and many parties. This European directive will make it possible for us to get to the bottom of the matter and prevent Member States playing each other at the blame game.

We on the Committee on Transport and Tourism gave a sharper edge to the inquiry’s independence when we stipulated that the information it produces may be used only to improve safety at sea, and on this point my group does not agree with the Commission. Information from the enquiry into the cause of the disaster must not be made available for criminal proceedings in the Member States, because of the considerable risk that those involved would not dare produce important information for fear of criminal prosecution. A strict division between criminal enquiry and the enquiry into the cause of the disaster is therefore vital.

Despite the fact that in addition to amendments on this subject matter, along with amendments to speed up the enquiry, a number of amendments have been tabled that concern details and to which we do not attach particular value, I believe that the report before us is, on the whole, a sound one.

I should also like to make a comment about the directive on passenger rights, which was intended for maritime transport, but which now also covers inland shipping, something that, or so I gather, Commissioner Barrot supports. I cannot understand his position, because a passenger ship that sails on the Danube, the Meuse or the Rhine cannot be compared to an ocean-going vessel. To do so is like comparing a train to a coach: the risk profile is very different. In the framework of the Naiades action programme, you, Commissioner Barrot, committed to harmonising European legislation on inland shipping – the legislation involved is that on the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCR) – and you intend to apply maritime legislation to the next incident. This is going the wrong way. I do hope that you still intend to harmonise, and tighten up, CCR legislation. We have re-tabled the amendments to remove inland shipping from this, and I hope that it does not meet with a majority, or at least not a qualified majority, and that the Council is indulged in this area.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Rosa Miguélez Ramos (PSE). – (ES) Ladies and gentlemen, Madam President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, the Prestige disaster in 2002, like the Erika disaster in 1999, marked a turning point in the adoption of Community legislation in the field of maritime safety, and this Parliament can take pride in the role it has played in that regard.

The first point of the third resolution on the Prestige, approved by this House in September 2003, called upon the Conference of Presidents to take a positive view of the request to create a temporary committee intended to study in depth the causes and consequences of the disaster, so that nothing like that would ever happen again.

That temporary committee, which was very difficult to create, proved to be a very positive thing for this House. It enabled us to fulfil our responsibilities with regard to the political control of a disaster of a European nature and carry out the task of promoting a genuine European maritime transport policy, because technical and professional investigation and analysis of accidents and incidents – including maritime disasters – are essential in order to prevent them from happening again.

The Erika and the Prestige revealed the bad state of maritime transport, both from the commercial and trade union points of view and from the point of view of the vessels themselves.

We voted on the Mare Resolution on 21 April 2004. I recall one of the amendments that I presented on behalf of my group calling for a global and consistent European maritime policy which enables us to make maritime transport procedures more transparent, eradicate flags of convenience and improve the training and living and working conditions of crews.

Mr Barrot, you were responsible for drawing up these new proposals that we are finally debating today. It is odd though, Commissioner, that this package has no name. Some people call it Erika III, but this Parliament asked that it be called Prestige, Commissioner, and that is what appears in the resolution adopted.

It is perhaps a rather dubious honour, but it is in line with the idea that interest in implementing stricter legislation is only restored after an accident has taken place.

The fact is that we have two Erika packages but no Prestige package, and I would therefore like to insist that our request be accepted.

I would, however, like to congratulate you on the fact that other requests have been accepted. This package satisfies many of them. It deals with the issue of ports of refuge, the system of ship inspections – which is a crucial aspect of maritime safety – it extends that system to ships in transit – which should be in possession of documentation and guarantees indicating that they will be able to respond in the event of damages or accidents – it clarifies liabilities, strengthens and harmonises the Community system with regard to competent bodies, such as classification societies, and, of course, it improves the system of control.

Finally, Commissioner, something that I still feel is missing: the resources of ships have been reduced by half over the last 30 years. Everybody knows that they are currently insufficient to carry out proper maintenance.

I would therefore ask you for proposals on improving the living and working conditions and training of maritime professionals, increasing respect for the seafaring profession and the training of crews, including training in safety and an increase in social inspections onboard ships.

I would like to end by congratulating you and your team, and also the rapporteurs and the shadow rapporteurs for the work they have done.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Anne E. Jensen (ALDE). – (DA) Mr President, Minister Roth, Commissioner Barrot, if you were to single out one area in which the EU gets results for its citizens, the legislation on maritime safety would be a good example. There is a lot of sound international and global regulation of maritime safety, and we must never forget that shipping is a global industry. The EU has, in recent years, come to occupy a leading position in terms of requirements for effective maritime safety and is well prepared for oil spills and other accidents that cause pollution. This is a development that we can be pleased about, even if it has taken place against a tragic backdrop, namely the great disasters of the losses of the Erika and the Prestige. The third maritime safety package follows up on the legislation passed in the wake of these two disasters.

I would particularly like to highlight the two directives for which I was the rapporteur for my group, namely the directive on port State control and the directive on the investigation of marine accidents. I would like to thank Mrs Vlasto for her excellent and hard work on the directive on port State control. She backs up the principles proposed by the Commission – that is to say that all ships should be monitored, that the bad ships should be monitored even more and, indeed, that we do not want the very worst ships in European waters at all. She also states that port State control should maintain a suitable standard so that there is more uniform monitoring in all EU ports, and she clarifies the role of the pilots in terms of reporting bad ships.

Mrs Vlasto has reworked the Commission’s proposal with the result that what we have is a much clearer division of ships into good ones and bad ones. This, too, is something that she should be highly praised for, as she should for her amenable and compromise-based way of going about the work on this report. The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe has thus not tabled any amendments to the report from the Committee on Transport and Tourism.

I would also like to thank Mr Kohlíček for his constructive cooperation on the directive on the investigation of accidents. Incident investigations and the communication of their results are, of course, vital in ensuring that accidents are not repeated. We have to learn from the accidents that do take place, and as many people as possible must learn from the experience of others. I have attached importance to ensuring, in keeping with what has been learned in aviation, that there are incentives for all parties involved to provide as open and honest an account of the course of an accident as possible. A witness statement to the investigative inquiry must not be used in direct connection with any charge made, as, of course, in such cases, the accused must be granted proper rights during questioning. It is difficult to balance these interests, and I thank Mr Kohlíček for the positive result achieved. The ALDE Group proposes that fishing vessels of below 24 metres in length also be covered by investigations of the nature proposed, because there is a large number of accidents involving such vessels. However, I can accept the limit being set at fishing vessels below 15 metres if this will further the proposal. I am thus hopeful of the support of my fellow Members.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sebastiano (Nello) Musumeci (UEN). – (IT) Madam President, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, I am not saying anything new in stressing that the issue of maritime transport safety in the territorial waters of the European Union is, unfortunately, constantly and sometimes tragically topical.

Only three months ago we had the 45th accident in 50 years in the Strait of Messina, which is one of the busiest areas for Mediterranean maritime transport. The accident, which involved a ferry and a hydrofoil, again resulted in deaths and injuries. This tragedy could perhaps have been avoided if the sophisticated terrestrial radar system, which ought to have been controlling maritime traffic, had been fully functioning.

Today, all that is monitoring traffic in the Strait of Messina is the AIS – the satellite automatic identification system – which is compulsory for vessels with a tonnage of over 300 tonnes.

On this point, the Committee on Fisheries, with the aim of improving the safety of fishermen and their craft – let us remember that many serious maritime accidents are caused by the failure of merchant vessels to see fishing boats – has adopted an amendment in its opinion calling for AIS systems to be mandatory on all new fishing boats.

With regard to existing fishing boats, funding should be provided especially for small boats, since the majority of fishing boats operating in the Mediterranean belong to small operators who are already in serious financial difficulties, having had to make huge sacrifices to comply with fisheries policy with the so-called ‘blue boxes’.

Madam President, Mr Barrot, having faith in the growth of maritime transport means, therefore, guaranteeing the safety of everyone everywhere, both passengers and crew, in internal and external waters, but it also means increasing monitoring and imposing stiffer penalties on those who break the rules. The vote in this Chamber may therefore constitute hard evidence of Europe’s willingness to move in this direction.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Madam President, Commissioner, the majority of European citizens calls for stricter measures with regards to sea transport safety and the protection not only of the environment and public health, but also of fishery and tourism. The third package of proposals in the maritime sector constitutes an important positive step.

The 1974 Athens Convention, as amended by the 2002 Protocol, must come into force. To date the relevant protocol has unfortunately been signed by only five Member States and ten ratifications are needed. I would like to make an appeal to all Member States, and especially to my country, Greece. Greece is a world maritime force; therefore, it should not remain inactive, but should be at the forefront of safety at sea.

I support compulsory insurance that covers passengers aboard vessels. Passengers unfortunately are often not familiar with their institutional rights. Therefore public awareness must also be emphasised. At the same time, however, a further analysis of the cost of implementing the regulation is necessary, as is an allocation of costs, in order to avoid a disproportionate increase between tickets and cargos. In island countries, like Greece, this aspect is very important.

I personally, as well as my political group, clearly support the creation of a black list for ship-owners and maritime companies, as well as a grey or black list for flag states. We say ‘yes’ to a more effective control of vessels with stricter inspections. We say ‘yes’ to the adoption of stricter operation regulations and inspections by classification societies. But we say ‘no’ to unaccountable ship-owners and ‘no’ to classification societies that issue unreliable seaworthiness certificates. We say ‘yes’ to the creation of a permanent accidents investigative body and we say ‘yes’ to the establishment of a monitoring system for vessels transportation that will contribute both to accident prevention and to prompt intervention in the event of accidents.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Johannes Blokland (IND/DEM). – (NL) Madam President, I want to focus on the Costa report, which appears to contain two key points. First of all, there is the idea of a liability scheme in the event of terrorist activities, which has been discussed and handled in great detail in the International Maritime Organisation, and is a good example of the right solution being found at the right level.

Which brings me to my second point, namely the scope of the regulation. Since the Athens Convention is intended for sea shipping, I was surprised to see its scope extended to include inland shipping. The major differences between sea shipping and inland shipping do not justify the same liability regime, and neither do the consequences of bringing these into line. It is expected that the increase in liability for transporters in inland shipping will have consequences to the extent that the financial viability of the service will be put in the balance. Given the social importance of water-borne passenger transport in a number of countries, I find this unacceptable. For this reason, my group suggests removing inland shipping from this proposal and instead, to work in tandem with the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine to help improve the liability regime for inland shipping. I am happy with the position adopted by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats in this area, and I very much hope that the other groups will join them.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luca Romagnoli (ITS). – (IT) Madam President, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, maritime safety, which is the subject of five directives that Parliament is being asked to approve, is the subject of a packet of measures that commendably aims to achieve better prevention and more efficient intervention in the event of maritime accidents, as well as management of their environmental impact.

In my view, it is a good thing to incorporate the Athens Convention of 2002 into Community law, thus specifying the liability of carriers and the insurance cover of passengers and their baggage. This gives users fair guarantees and also sets in motion a kind of safety cycle that encourages better monitoring of shipping and equipment as well as safety procedures, precisely because the various maritime transport operators are involved.

With regard in particular to the Sterckx report, I think it is appropriate to develop the European system for the exchange of information and the use of the automatic identification system for fishing boats, provided that there is then concrete support of up to 90% from the EU for equipping fleets with new instrument systems, especially for small operators.

On the other hand, I am not in favour of taking away the Member States’ room for manoeuvre with regard to the management of emergencies and procedures for accommodating ships in distress. I endorse, however, the text of the amendment stating that a State cannot be exonerated from its obligation to provide assistance to a ship in distress. I also back the suggestions by Mrs Vlasto and the Commission regarding further strengthening of the system for inspection of vessels and their risk profiles.

To conclude, I approve of all the measures aiming at a continent-wide policy on the sea and safety as a human, environmental and economic asset, and of all the measures to promote the improvement and harmonisation of the services provided by maritime administrations, as well as the promotion of registration under European Union flags.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Philip Bradbourn (PPE-DE). – Madam President, I should like to refer specifically to the Sterckx report. I would like to address two of the rapporteur’s amendments dealing with restrictions on data access. Although I can sympathise with the intention of the rapporteur in seeking to reduce the risk of commercial misuse of data, I feel that the unintended consequences which will result will outweigh the advantages.

Given the fact that action has already been taken outside of the EU on this issue, this raises serious questions as to why we feel it is necessary to legislate here. I refer to action by Lloyd’s Register in London and its Dutch counterpart to set up a self-regulatory scheme. These discussions have resulted in AIS restructuring, in order to specifically alleviate the concerns raised and benefit legitimate industry as well as government users. Subsequently, all parties who use this AIS data have agreed to use these measures.

My fear is that if the proposals on restricting access to this data are adopted, European ports and companies will be put at a commercial disadvantage. This is due to overseas competititors being able to continue to be supplied with services which make use of the AIS data. Also, as the information which may lead to commercial misuse can easily be obtained from other sources in more detail, why are we only choosing this specific data system?

Finally, these clauses would be unenforceable. AIS data is transmitted using normal high-frequency signals and there are a number of receiving devices on the market which are completely untraceable, meaning that anyone who wishes to misuse the data can still do so. Therefore, I call on the House to think carefully about the content of this report and not to fall into the trap of over-regulation at a time when we are calling for less regulation from the Commission.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Robert Evans (PSE). – Madam President, I welcome the third maritime package. This Parliament has a long history of taking maritime safety extremely seriously. After the Erika and Prestige disasters we have to ensure that nothing of this kind ever happens again and that we are working towards being world leaders at achieving the highest safety standards at sea.

I specifically want to talk about Mr de Grandes Pascual’s report. I welcome this initiative to reform the workings of Europe’s classification societies and to improve the quality of these organisations. The report, I think, makes good progress on reforming the inspections, checking and certification tasks of ships carrying Member States’ flags, but I do have a few issues.

Firstly, Commissioner Barrot, in your opening remarks you spoke of the need for an independent structure for quality control. I do not take issue with you over that, but I believe that this report, as proposed, is contradictory. If it is to be of real value, the new committee proposed, the Assessment Committee, must be independent, not only of the recognised organisations but of the Member States and of the Commission. Yet at the moment, as things stand, the report says that the Commission ‘may require the Assessment Committee to adopt the measures the Commission deems necessary’. It is hardly giving the committee autonomy and independence if the Commission is going to require it to adopt the measures they deem necessary.

So I urge support for my Amendment 73, which, regrettably, Mr de Grandes Pascual says he is not minded to support at the moment. My Amendment 73 will tone that down and give the Commission the power to advise or suggest rather than require, because an independent committee cannot be required to do things, otherwise it completely loses its independence.

Regarding Article 8, I am very supportive of the approach establishing a graduated penalty scheme for the recognised organisations and I feel that there should be no significant changes to the liability regime. Regarding Article 12, I am supportive of penalties for failing recognised organisations and this is a much fairer system than the current decommissioning. This is a more flexible way of working and it will allow for a corrective action to be taken swiftly, should a recognised organisation be failing. I wholly support a maximum penalty of 5%, as against the original 10% figure, and I support the position in Article 20 on the mutual recognition of certificates by recognised organisations.

I think we are making progress here. I hope that the report can go through with my amendment and I will be one of the first to support it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marek Aleksander Czarnecki (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to take this opportunity to express my agreement with and support for incorporating the Athens Convention of the International Maritime Organisation into community legislation.

My position concurs fully with that of the Committee on Legal Affairs on which I sit. I am also in favour of extending liability when carrying passengers within the territory of the European Union, both for marine and road transport. In my view, any events in which passengers suffer are particularly important, which is to say that increasing passenger safety is paramount.

For this reason I believe that before the Athens Conference of the International Maritime Organisation is included in Community legislation, it should focus on the issue of carrier insurance which would meet the obligations set out in the 2002 protocol, and the application of reasonable tariff charges. It would also be worth looking at the possibility of reasonable rates for such insurance for carriers, and the issue of absolving carriers from liability in the case of terrorist events.

And one final point: In my view more attention should be paid to the situation of small operators on inland waterways as regards passenger safety.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Athanasios Pafilis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Madam President, recent events, such as the sinking of the vessel ‘Sea Diamond’ in Santorini, the stranding of ‘Napoli’ off the UK coast, the collision of two vessels in Messina, Italy and others, confirm our view that the safety of human lives at sea is the biggest political and social problem of the maritime industry.

The legislative framework of international treaties and regulations, unfortunately, does not contribute towards the solution of the problem and proves ineffective. The main cause of the problem is the fact that shipping companies as well as public and private bodies controlling seaworthiness and commercial activities of vessels operate based on profit. Therefore they violate safety regulations, having at the same time the political support of the European Union, but also of governments and Member States.

Safety is more of an issue when it comes to vessels flying flags of convenience in second registries. Living and working at sea in undermaintained and desolate vessels has become modern slavery for sea-workers. The view put forward by the Commission, the governments of Member States and ship-owners that the main factor behind sea accidents is the human factor is extremely dangerous. It downplays the importance of vessel conditions, the consequences of inadequate maintenance and increasing years of use. In this way, the responsibilities of ship-owners are downplayed, as well as of all the bodies involved in the issuance of seaworthiness certificates to vessels. The proposed plans with regards to the adoption of multiple duties increase the responsibilities of crews – especially of the captain and the engineer – and pose greater dangers for human lives at sea.

These plans must be refuted at the next general IMO meeting on sea safety next October. Public maritime education must be upgraded, the operational composition of vessel crews must be determined according to essential needs and the reduction of working hours as well as the improvement of working conditions of sea-workers must be promoted. A solution cannot be found on the basis of policies that in the interest of profit sacrifice human lives and the environment and use sea-workers as scapegoats for their crimes.

EU guidelines and regulations of a bureaucratic and technocratic nature cannot essentially protect human lives, the environment and the workers’ rights in an effective manner. We support the requests of the sea-workers movement for the upgrading of maritime education, the improvement of working conditions, the control – with the workers’ participation – over regulations, construction and seaworthiness of vessels and the creation of emergency stations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Karatzaferis (IND/DEM).(EL) Madam President, Commissioner, three weeks ago you visited my country, Greece. People working in the maritime sector expected a lot from you. They realised that you were quick to discharge Olympic Airways, but they did not hear what they expected from you, the main person in charge of issues concerning maritime transport.

Three days after your departure, there was a tragic shipwreck 20 metres away from the coast. A cruise ship with approximately 1 300 people onboard sank 20 metres away from the most touristic island of Greece, Santorini. Two French people died. This demonstrates that there is something wrong. The captain said: ‘I bear sole responsibility’. You have to evaluate captains more strictly. We cannot tolerate the current situation and yet no more attention be drawn. Both reports are on the right path but we have to ensure the safety of human lives. In this case, we have an accident in the Aegean and we do not know which is the competent body that will handle the investigation and salvage operation. There is uncertainty flying around. If the European Union cannot determine which waters belong to which country, how can we have an investigation and salvage operation?

Another important issue, of course, Commissioner, is how we are going to ensure jobs for the crews. There is a lack of jobs. We have the largest number of unemployed sailors. How will we ensure a communication line connecting the smaller islands? We have a thousand islands in Greece. Half of them have inhabitants. How will these people remain in contact with the centre? We have thus created a country whose population is treated unequally. All the above must be looked at and be dealt with. If you cannot deal with the above in the current report, you should in a future report of yours.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE).(PT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner, the issue of maritime safety is not only controversial and difficult to resolve, it is also, more importantly, a vital factor in raising ships, container ships, and oil tankers to the level of a safe and reliable form of transport following the accidents and environmental disasters that have taken place. We must not backslide on this principle. This is why I wish to congratulate our rapporteurs on their work and on the efforts they made to find workable solutions in conjunction with the representatives of the organisations affected by the proposals.

The measures we are debating today – both preventative and dealing with the consequences of accidents – along, of course, with the two already adopted in the last part-session are indicative of Parliament’s efforts to guarantee a prompt, consistent response to the issue of maritime safety. We therefore hope that the Commission and, above all, the Council will proceed with the same speed and along the same lines, using the approach put forward in this dossier.

We take this opportunity to congratulate the Council on the plan to take a political decision on this issue in July, as detailed in this House. Measures such as the strengthening of provisions for compensating people and indemnifying them for the loss of their property in the event of maritime accidents, the development and improvement of the system for exchanging data on the transport of dangerous substances, the monitoring of shipping traffic, the exchange of relevant information and the clarification of the nature and scope of safety investigations by permanent impartial bodies will help to establish clearer rules and to strengthen the joint work to be carried out by the various authorities concerned.

Further major initiatives that will help to deliver safer maritime transport with rules that users will find easier to understand and more user-friendly include increasing the frequency of port inspections of ships, with the focus on dangerous ships, and enhancing the monitoring systems of certified bodies by reforming the penalties system and by ensuring that the inspection bodies act independently.

To conclude, by making the law more dynamic and by ensuring closer links with the International Maritime Organisation conventions, we will be able to contribute to greater safety and better maritime transport, without oil slicks, and this will in turn benefit the environment and the people and the goods transported.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gilles Savary (PSE).(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it happens that I myself was rapporteur for the first part of this maritime package during the last part-session, in March, since we decided to deliberate on the Vincenzi report on flag States and on my report on civil liability.

I believe that it is very important to reaffirm today that this is indeed a comprehensive package and to send out a message to the Council that it should not act like the Horiaces and the Curiaces. We want to remain very cohesive, and I hope that we shall manage to do so, because this package is made up of a set of extremely important and particularly exemplary texts.

Just the once will not hurt: we are going to deliberate on maritime safety texts cold, that is to say, without having the pressure of disastrous events. I was here, in this Chamber, during the time of the two previous disasters, with the ‘Erika’ and the ‘Prestige’. I was also here for what were, at times, hypocritical questions from the Member States pointing out Europe’s shortcomings: well, what is Europe doing, then? It is Europe’s fault that there is such a lack of foresight, it is Europe’s fault that ships are allowed to sail in such a state, and it is Europe’s fault that there are no guidelines on how to compensate for the ecological disasters that have resulted from this. Well, it will not be the fault of Europe, but of the Member States, that we are getting to the end of the exercise to which we are summoned today. One can see, incidentally, from the first two packages, that, when the Member States are told to ‘go for it’ on legislative issues, well, they are far less enthusiastic and it takes far longer for the texts to be applied.

We therefore have here a legislative package of seven particularly consistent texts, in a European maritime environment that is undoubtedly – it must be said – one of the most fragile and most hazardous in the world. We have a complicated geography and risk areas: the Pas-de-Calais – the increase in traffic in the Pas-de-Calais has caused and continues to cause major accidents – the Baltic and the Oresund, and the Bosporus, without forgetting Gibraltar. Moreover, we are one of the world’s greatest maritime powers, probably the greatest, despite the fact that China is in the process of overtaking us. It is therefore absolutely vital for us to have a powerful body of law, allowing us to protect Europe and to send out a signal to everyone that we have safety requirements and that those requirements are first and foremost preventive.

None of us wants to make charterers pay and to force them to give back ill-gotten gains, but we do want charterers, together with all those operating in the maritime transport sector, to be far more careful and to know that pressure is going to be put on them by insurance companies and by all the partners, so that they are extremely rigorous and take the fewest possible risks. There will always be accidents, but I believe that we will pride ourselves on having done all that we can, whilst remaining within the framework of the international law of the International Maritime Organisation, to create an exemplary European area of maritime law.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stanisław Jałowiecki (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, I would like to begin by quoting from Joseph Conrad, possibly the greatest mariner in the world, who in ‘The Mirror of the Sea’ wrote: ‘Impenetrable and heartless, the sea has given nothing of itself to the suitors for its precarious favours. As if it were too great, too mighty for common virtues, the ocean has no compassion, no faith, no law, no memory.’

These words were written by Conrad towards the end of the great age of sail, but the sea still is a largely unpredictable element, and as Conrad may have said himself, subject not so much to itself, as to lawlessness. Marine navigation can therefore not be compared with inland navigation, particularly in Europe’s inland waterways, which frequently consist of man-made canals or artificially controlled and tamed rivers.

From this perspective, the Commission’s proposal to equate the liability of those carrying passengers at sea and those carrying them on inland waterways is completely erroneous. It is a good thing that the Committee on Transport and Tourism rejected this proposal. I hope that this is a course we can continue to steer in the voting at the plenary session.

I do not have enough time to enumerate all my other arguments, so I would like just to mention the fact that if we are seriously looking for a way to relieve road transport, which is what we are doing, we cannot put additional burdens on potential alternatives, of which inland navigation is one.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR ONESTA
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bogusław Liberadzki (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, the object of Mr Sterckx’s report is to avoid accidents and collisions. In this respect, identifying and analysing near collision events in aviation is important. But the proposal to appoint an independent body to protect safety at sea raises a number of questions. In Poland, for example, we already have marine offices empowered to enforce safety regulations, and already do so. Simply extending their powers of accident investigation may be sufficient, something for which the Baltic Sea states are well equipped. They could also share their experience with the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas. I thank the rapporteur Mr Kohlíček for the depth and flexibility of his report, particularly in light of the fact that he represents a landlocked country.

As regards Paolo Costa’s report, I find it good that we have combined the subject of accidents with liability insurance for marine carriers both at sea and on inland waterways. I am for uniform regulations and the inclusion of all types of carriage, including passengers on inland waterways and marine passengers, in the Athens Protocol. The regulatory package will increase responsibility for greater safety and protecting life and the environment, but it will cost money. The new regulations will therefore need to be implemented consistently. They must be implemented consistently so that all shipowners, ports, and countries will be required to make the same efforts. Any discrepancies in enforcing the regulations will bring about imbalanced internal competition within the European Union.

In conclusion I would like to thank Commissioner Barrot. I support the Commission’s comprehensive and joint 7 submissions on maritime affairs.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ville Itälä (PPE-DE). – (FI) Mr President, today we are debating an extremely important issue, the safety of navigation. The regulation proposed here to tighten up standards is vital for us to be able to reduce the risk of accidents at sea.

I would like to draw the Commissioner’s attention in particular to the situation in the Baltic Sea. In recent years Russia has significantly increased its consignments of oil transported in the Baltic. Just one accident in this small area of sea could be catastrophic both for the Baltic itself and for the countries that are located on its shores. For that reason it is excellent that legislative proposals have been made, for example, to prohibit the use of single-hull tankers to carry oil, and the Commissioner is to be thanked for that.

The special circumstances of the Baltic Sea, especially the icy conditions in winter, are such that ships need to have special safety features, although, unfortunately, not all flag States would seem to be very interested in safety. We actually need to monitor these sub-standard vessels. I hope that the Commissioner will hold a dialogue with Russia so that Russia too might commit to compliance with these common laws and so that we may reduce the risk of accidents in the Baltic Sea.

I would like to mention one other important matter, which is connected with safety at sea and the Baltic Sea in particular. Many vessels release bilge oil into the sea, and we need strict legislation which applies to all of us for this to stop. Every discharge of bilge oil is its own natural disaster, and the Baltic will not be able to tolerate it if this practice persists.

I think that the legislation which is now to be drafted is just what the public expects of us.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – Aş dori să încep prin a felicita raportorii pentru munca efectuată şi, mai ales, Comisia Europeană pentru importanţa acordată transportului maritim. Astăzi, pe căile maritime se realizează 39% din transportul intern de marfă şi 90% din schimburile de marfă dintre Uniunea Europeană şi ţările terţe. Până în 2020 se estimează că, în Uniunea Europeană ,55% din transportul de marfă se va realiza pe mare. De asemenea, 25% din flota maritimă internaţională se află sub pavilionul unui stat membru, iar 40% din navele maritime sunt în proprietatea armatorilor comunitari.

Prin aderarea României şi a Bulgariei, Uniunea Europeană a dobândit la frontiera de est vecinătatea cu Marea Neagră. Astfel, Uniunea Europeană are la nord, la vest, la sud şi la est frontiere maritime. Dezvoltarea transportului naval constituie o prioritate a politicii europene de transport deoarece este mai puţin poluant şi mai ieftin. Reţeaua europeană de transport, programul Marco Polo şi programul Naiades vor permite dezvoltarea transportului naval şi asigurarea transferului de marfă din sistem naval în sistem rutier, feroviar şi vice-versa. Din nefericire există însă şi accidente maritime şi imense pagube provocate de acestea. Tocmai de aceea, cel de al treilea pachet maritim va contribui la adoptarea de norme europene comune care să asigure îmbunătăţirea siguranţei maritime. Măsuri precum monitorizarea traficului şi echiparea navelor cu sisteme de identificare automată care să permită determinarea poziţiei, vitezei şi direcţiei unei nave maritime vor permite salvarea mai multor vieţi şi reducerea pagubelor datorate accidentelor maritime. Accidentele maritime trebuie investigate de către organisme independente şi în aceste investigaţii trebuie făcută o distincţie clară între intenţii criminale şi incidente tehnice. Inspecţia navelor ce intră în porturile maritime europene va determina armatorii şi statele membre să ia măsuri pentru ca navele aflate sub pavilionul lor să îndeplinească condiţiile de securitate maritimă impuse prin convenţiile internaţionale în vigoare. Este important ca pavilioanele statelor membre să nu se afle pe lista neagră a Organizaţiei Maritime Internaţionale. Deşi transportul maritim înregistrează un volum mic de pasageri, este important să fie clar definite răspunderile transportatorilor, despăgubirile pe care aceştia trebuie să le acorde persoanelor în caz de accident, iar pasagerii să-şi cunoască drepturile şi acestea să fie respectate. Dezvoltarea transportului maritim trebuie să se facă cu respectarea mediului şi, în acest context, siguranţa maritimă este esenţială.

Consider, însă, că pentru a creşte siguranţa maritimă trebuie ca şi condiţiile de muncă din acest sector să fie îmbunătăţite. Având în vedere că în Uniunea Europeană există aproximativ 3 000 000 de angajaţi, aştept cu interes viitoarele iniţiative ale Comisiei Europene în acest domeniu. Felicit încă o dată raportorii pentru munca depusă.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, we are having a very good debate today on maritime transport, although it is overrunning somewhat, as usual. I will try to make up some time by confining myself to a single point, which I do consider to be an important one. The Costa report deals with the Commission's proposal for a European Parliament and Council regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents.

I am anxious to ensure that the instruments which were previously adopted – and rightly so – for deep-sea shipping, namely the Athens Convention and the related legislation, are not extended indiscriminately to internal waterway transport. It has already been said that we may be doing more harm than good here. May I therefore ask you to vote in favour of the amendments we have tabled.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nikolaos Sifunakis (PSE). (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, with the seven legislative proposals of the Erika III package, and respective reports of the European Parliament, we have made another step, as Europe, towards increasing safety at sea transports, combating sea pollution and fortifying the passengers’ rights in case of a maritime accident.

The proposed measures, such as the reinforcement of ports of refuge, the monitoring of vessels, the investigation of maritime accidents, the strict and parallel control of vessels both from flag states and port states, the increase of inspections and the improvement of classification society standards, as well as the increase of the passengers’ restitution rights, constitute necessary measures towards the prevention of maritime accidents, but also towards dealing with their consequences.

The tragic shipwreck of the cruise ship ‘Sea Diamond’ three weeks ago in Greece, which resulted in the death of two passengers and led to sea pollution, highlighted not only human negligence, but also the incapability of the state authorities to deal with such incidents by taking the vessel to a port of refuge.

I would like to congratulate the European Union and the rapporteurs of the Committee on Transport and Tourism on their work and express a wish that the adoption of the Erika III measures will prevent such incidents in the future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karin Roth, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for an interesting debate. It has emerged clearly how much importance we all attach to the adoption of safety rules for maritime transport. The rapporteurs have also re-emphasised the importance of these rules, not only in the context of the recent shipping accident in Greece but also in connection with previous incidents. The question, therefore, is how we can improve preventive measures and take judicious action when accidents occur.

Before dealing with the various specific points, I would like to make it clear to you that I fully understand Parliament's desire to deliberate and perhaps even decide on all of these proposals together. The fact is, however, that there are very wide variations in the speed with which the Council is able to arrive at an agreement on the individual legislative proposals. Perhaps this is another of those areas where we should adopt the pragmatic approach of taking decisions in the Council, with the consent of the European Parliament, on the proposals that are ready for adoption and adopting at a later date the proposals that need further consideration. If we want to advance towards greater safety, acting on the basis of feasibility and pragmatism may be the wisest policy for the Council too.

I intend to focus on a few points, foremost among which is the checking of ships, to which a great deal of attention has been devoted here. Let me say that the Paris Memorandum of Understanding provides for the abandonment of the principle of checking 25% of all vessels in favour of a risk-based approach. This, of course, entails examination and classification of the risks associated with various ships. Your views are therefore very close to the approach envisaged in the Paris Memorandum of Understanding. Particular importance attaches to the fact that the Memorandum of Understanding also includes Russia and Canada. One of the last speakers referred to the Baltic. It is precisely the Baltic connection that makes Russia's support for this declaration of intent so very important.

My second point concerns places of refuge. This issue has also been extensively discussed here. When it comes to defining an independent authority and laying down the procedure for apportioning blame, the aim must surely be to find a pragmatic solution. The question of responsibility will have to be resolved. In general terms, however, there is solid agreement that places of refuge must be available everywhere. The question is only how they should be registered and publicised. This is another matter we shall be able to resolve together, because there are really no differences regarding the substance but only on the question of who regulates what. That will have to be discussed with the Member States.

Another question is how we can guarantee an independent institution and thus an independent investigation of accidents at sea. Here too, I have no doubt that we shall make progress during our presidency. It is prudent and necessary that an independent decision be taken regarding the investigation and the differentiated publication of its findings.

It has been pointed out – and I strongly endorse this analysis – that safety at sea is not only a matter of technical standards – of monitoring and information systems – but also of the quality of the work performed on board ships. That is why I stressed at the start of my introductory speech that we attach particular importance to the Maritime Labour Convention of the ILO. The implementation of that labour convention is an important form of quality assurance on board, not just because it requires crew members to have a certain level of qualification but also because the quality of the work performed by a ship's crew guarantees safety on board. This is another important aspect of safety which is not covered in this package but which features in other instruments and thereby supplements this package. For this reason I am particularly pleased that we are achieving progress in connection with this Maritime Labour Convention in the individual Member States of the European Union with a view to guaranteeing the rapid implementation of the ILO's minimum standards, which apply worldwide and are therefore applicable to ships entering European ports.

All in all, this has been a very important debate. You will decide in the next few days on the various proposals and we shall see how much scope there is for convergence of our positions. I hope that we shall soon be able to deal with this package as well as with the other proposals that are not yet on the Council agenda. I do believe we are all anxious to signal our commitment to safety at sea before the end of the German presidency in June.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I should like to thank all the Members of this Parliament, and also to congratulate and thank Mrs Roth, as this was a very rich debate. I trust you will forgive me if I do not respond to all the speakers, but we have taken a lot of notes and I am grateful to all of you.

I will start, Mr President, with port State control, and I would like to thank Mrs Vlasto for her work. She has set out to bring you round to the principle of a Community objective of an inspection scheme for all vessels, with the frequency depending on the risks posed. I am delighted at the level of support for other elements of the Commission's proposal, in particular for inspection of vessels at anchorages and for strengthening the banning rules. I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify that port State control allows us to verify that certain ILO conventions are being implemented, notably those relating to working time, and I am very pleased that Mrs Roth mentioned this point.

Returning again to port State control, you have proposed that, from now on, we take account of the technical work carried out within the framework of the Paris memorandum of understanding in specifying how the new system should be implemented. The Commission agrees wholeheartedly with Parliament on this point and can accept fully, or at least in principle, a large majority of the amendments, which will improve the clarity of the text that we proposed.

In Amendment 17, however, you propose inserting a definition of 'ports', and why not indeed, but in that case it needs to be linked properly to the definition of anchorages and Article 3(1), on the scope of the directive, needs to specify that inspections at anchorages will target the highest-risk vessels.

The only point on which we disagree with you on this text on port State control relates to Articles 34, 36 and 37, in which you have not provided any room for flexibility with regard to the conducting of inspections, a flexibility which the current directive does include. I understand Parliament's concern to develop a very strict framework for the conducting of inspections, but a certain amount of flexibility is vital if the new inspection system is to work properly. I am therefore pleased that Amendment 115 introduces greater flexibility for inspections at anchorages. In addition, though this is a more technical point, I stand by the opinion that stricter inspections should apply to vessels more than 12 years old, rather than 15 as proposed in Amendment 107. So much, then, for the first text on port State control.

I would now like, while Mr Sterckx is here, to thank him very much for his support and to discuss the proposal for an amendment to the Directive on vessel traffic monitoring, with particular regard to issues relating to places of refuge. I would also like to point out in this regard that, when we talk about an independent authority for places of refuge, we are not talking about a Community body. It is up to the Member States to establish these bodies at national level; for us, the important thing is that they be independent.

In Amendments 31, 32 and 33, you have put forward a slightly different presentation of two vital principles. First, with regard to the principle that ships in distress should be admitted to a place of refuge, it is possible to refuse entry, but it must remain an exceptional case, based on an objective assessment of the situation according to the elements included in the emergency plan drawn up beforehand. Secondly, the decision must be taken by an independent authority, not subject to political or economic pressures. I can accept this presentation, which is an improvement on our initial proposal. In contrast, I am not in favour of Amendments 55 and 56 with regard to the drawing up of marine environmental and human resources index maps, because the Commission has already proposed that a description of the environmental and social factors should be one of the elements making up a 'places of refuge' plan.

The Commission can also accept, in some cases subject to editorial amendments, a number of additions that it regards as very valuable. For example, Amendment 41 on full compensation for economic loss, Amendments 64 and 65 on the vital role of SafeSeaNet, which must be operational 24 hours a day, Amendments 13, 14, 20, 24 and 41 on the establishment of a European centre to handle long-distance messages transmitted by ships for maritime safety and security purposes, and Amendments 62 and 63 on the notification of bunker oil.

You also have my full support for Amendment 66, which aims to provide protection against the risk of abuse in the transmission of navigation data and undoubtedly constitutes an improvement over the previous wording of this amendment. Finally, concerning comitology, and in response to Amendments 58, 59, 60 and 61, I can tell you that the Commission will, if necessary, work to bring its proposals into line to take account of the new regulatory procedure with scrutiny.

In spite of everything, there is still one thing that I cannot accept. The Commission proposed that fishing vessels that are more than 15 metres long should be fitted with automatic identification systems – AISs – that reduce the risks of collision. By limiting this requirement to fishing vessels more than 24 metres long, we are, I fear, emptying this provision of most of its power, and I would like to stress this to Parliament, because we think that safeguarding human life is absolutely vital. There are currently accidents involving vessels less than 24 metres long, and it would be a shame not to make use of this opportunity.

So, Mr Sterckx, thank you once again. That is what I have to say on the proposal for which you were the rapporteur.

I now come to the proposal dealt with by Mr Kohlíček, on the investigation of accidents. Here too, I can tell that we have Parliament's full support, and I am prepared to accept a number of amendments that clarify or improve the text. For example, Amendment 12 setting a fixed deadline for the start of the investigation. With regard to the scope, the effect of Amendment 25, which aims to remove any limit for fishing vessels, would be to increase the associated administrative burden considerably, and the Commission cannot accept that. I also have some problems with Amendments 1 and 14, which, whilst putting the emphasis on the resources of the investigative bodies, removes their permanent nature and weakens the provisions relating to their independence, even though this is a vital guarantee for the quality of the investigations. In contrast, I agree fully with Amendment 26.

Amendments 5, 9, 15 and 16 also demonstrate the desire to ensure an even clearer separation between technical investigations and legal investigations, particularly criminal ones. Mrs Wortmann-Kool emphasised this point. The Commission recognises the need to minimise interference between the two types of procedure, but in this regard we need to take account of the varying legal traditions of the Member States. I would therefore propose to Parliament that we maintain a balance by affirming the principle that the two types of investigation must be conducted independently of one another, whilst still retaining, where appropriate, the judge's prerogatives.

Finally, the issue arises of how to integrate the IMO's guidelines on the fair treatment of seafarers, which were adopted in 2006, into the proposal for a directive – I am referring here to Amendment 22. The Commission is, of course, sensitive to this issue, but these guidelines go far beyond the scope of the investigations, and we need to be careful with any references introduced into the text.

I will now turn to the proposal on compensation for accident victims. I am grateful to Mr Costa for his wholehearted support for the Commission's proposal. I am delighted that the Committee on Transport and Tourism followed the rapporteur's approach, and I am now counting on the support of the whole of Parliament.

I am in favour of Amendment 8: its addition of a new regulation excluding competing conventions that could reduce the compensation paid to victims and result in disparate systems coexisting within the EU is very valuable.

I also support Amendments 13, 14 and 15, which provide for the regulation to enter into force in stages in order to take account of the adaptation difficulties faced by the various sectors, such as regular ferry lines and inland waterway transport. This is a pragmatic and absolutely reasonable solution.

The aim of Amendments 16 and 27 is to exclude inland waterway navigation from the scope of the regulation completely. Were we to do this, the law would remain a patchwork of national regulations, most of which are unsuitable and offer no real protection to victims of a sinking. I will also respond on this matter, because I have noticed that Parliament is very hesitant about extending the scope to cover inland waterway transport.

Accidents on inland waterways are, fortunately, rare, but they do happen: the Marchioness disaster on the Thames in 1989 caused 50 deaths, and the sinking of the Oca on Lake Banyoles in Spain in 1999 resulted in 20 deaths, most of them elderly people. Of course, some such incidents could be covered by the CLNI, the Convention on the limitation of liability in inland navigation, but do not forget that this convention currently only covers the Rhine and the Moselle, and does not relate to the other lakes and rivers in Europe. I would also emphasise, ladies and gentlemen, the liability limits, which are very low and have very limited prospects of increase. There is no strict liability scheme in the event of accidents, no compulsory insurance and no direct action from the insurers, and that means that I can say, having looked into this very carefully, that inland waterways must remain within the scope of this new system of compensation for accident victims.

In my view, it is also hard to justify Amendment 9, which aims to limit advance payment to cases in which the carrier has strict liability, in other words to navigation incidents such as sinkings and not to hotel-type incidents such as a passenger slipping on deck. Those are my comments on Mr Costa's report on compensation for accident victims.

I apologise, Mr President, for going on so long, but I have to be precise, because Parliament's work has been consistent. It is therefore logical that the Commission should put forward its point of view clearly. That is a precondition for good dialogue between Parliament and the Commission, under the watchful eye of the Presidency, to whom I am grateful for the close attention they have paid since the beginning of the debate.

I will now turn to Mr de Grandes Pascual's report on the proposal regarding classification societies. It has to be said, Mr de Grandes Pascual, that the majority of the amendments make the text clearer and provide effective additions to it, whether with regard to ultimately assessing the operation of the mutual recognition system for classification certificates or with regard to drawing possible conclusions from this from the legislative point of view – I am referring here to Amendment 53.

As I have said, one essential aspect of the proposal relates to the quality management system for classification societies authorised to operate within the Community. Parliament wants the body that will certify this system to be set up by the Member States and the recognised organisations: Amendments 58 and 74. Whilst the Commission can accept these amendments in principle, it feels that the involvement of the Member States will require the use of a comitology procedure, as this provides a clear and precise legal path. In addition, Amendment 73 would weaken the Commission's ability to assess and correct the operation of this body, and we must therefore reject it.

In more general terms, concerning comitology, and in response to Amendments 11 and 36, I can tell you that the Commission will, if necessary, work to bring its proposals into line to take account of the new regulatory procedure with scrutiny.

Finally, I must raise our serious doubts regarding certain amendments on the civil liability system for recognised organisations, namely Amendments 28, 30 and 31. In the report that the Commission presented to you and to the Council, we showed that it would be premature to start reforming this system at this stage. We must be cautious, and avoid diving headlong into reforms that would risk making victims even more vulnerable.

I am thinking in particular of the trap of automatically extending to recognised organisations the protections and immunities enjoyed by the flag State on whose behalf they work. To be honest, I think there needs to be a difference between the flag State and the recognised classification organisation and that if, in one case, immunity could be compromised, in the other it is highly questionable. We would be disregarding the fact that these organisations also work for the shipbuilders, in a strictly private relationship, and that this kind of immunity from legal process, this kind of protection, would be absolutely exorbitant.

That, in essence, is what I have to say on the amendments as a whole. Mr President, a complete list of the amendments and of the Commission position will be passed on to you and to the secretariat of Parliament(1).

I would like to conclude by once again thanking Parliament. As one of you said, Europe needs to be a world leader in safety standards. This is an excellent expression. It was Mr Evans who used it, and I am grateful to him. It was also pointed out just now that this was a coherent package and that the European maritime space was particularly fragile, with a number of straits, to the Baltic and Black Seas, and that this necessitates a sufficiently strong legal framework.

It is not a question, once again, of criminalisation at any cost, but of prevention: that is what is important to us. I am also convinced that the European arsenal, or rather the arsenals of our Member States, will come out on top in global competition thanks to the improvement in quality. I am absolutely convinced of that: there is no inherent contradiction between the quest for higher quality in the national arsenals of Europe and their competitiveness in the global market.

That, Mr President, is all I have to say. I am grateful to Parliament for the quality of this debate and for the work it has done.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – The joint debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow, at 11.30 a.m.

Annex – Commission position

Costa report (A6-0063/2007)

The Commission can accept Amendments 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

The Commission can accept Amendment 1 in part.

The Commission cannot accept Amendments 4, 9, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27.

De Grandes Pascual report (A6-0070/2007)

The Commission can accept Amendments 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 22, 25, 29, 32, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59, 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 70 and 72.

The Commission can accept Amendments 11, 36 and 69 in principle.

The Commission can accept Amendments 1, 4, 8, 16, 26, 45, 58, 62, 64, 65, 71 and 74 in part.

The Commission cannot accept Amendments 14, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33, 46, 47, 48, 49, 57, 67, 73 and 75.

Kohliček report (A6-0079/2007)

The Commission can accept Amendments 3, 4, 11, 12, 15, 17, 21, 24 and 26.

The Commission can accept Amendments 5, 8, 9, 10 and 22 in principle.

The Commission can accept Amendments 7 and 20 in part.

The Commission cannot accept Amendments 1, 2, 6, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 23 and 25.

Sterckx report (A6-0086/2007)

The Commission can accept Amendments 5, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, 38, 39, 40, 42, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66.

The Commission can accept Amendments 1, 4, 7, 9, 10, 16, 19, 26, 28, 29, 32, 35, 37, 41, 43, 48, 58, 59, 60 and 61 in principle.

The Commission can accept Amendments 15 and 49 in part.

The Commission cannot accept Amendments 2, 3, 6, 11, 21, 23, 44, 45, 46, 47, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56 and 57.

Vlasto report (A6-0081/2007)

The Commission can accept Amendments 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 32, 33, 38, 47, 52, 53, 55, 59, 60, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 72, 74, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 90, 94, 95, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105, 106, 108, 113 and 115.

The Commission can accept Amendments 2, 9, 13, 17, 25, 30, 39, 41, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 57, 58, 61, 63, 69, 75, 77, 88, 89, 92, 103, 110 and 114 in principle.

The Commission can accept Amendments 6, 10, 12, 21, 26, 29, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 42, 46, 56, 68, 70, 71, 93, 96, 107,109, 111 and 116 in part.

The Commission cannot accept Amendments 11, 73, 82 and 91.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Attard-Montalto (PSE), in writing. – No ship in distress should be refused entry to port or safe mooring. First of all because even one human life is too precious and secondly this is the only way to limit environmental and ecological disasters. Thirdly, the accommodation of the ship in distress may give rise to serious damage and costs for the port in question. A compensation scheme has to be devised for ports and places of refuge. Although a possibility for compensation may exist through the proposal for a directive on civil liability and financial guarantees of ship-owners, port authorities may be reluctant to accept ships in distress in the instance of poorly insured ships and even so cover would not extend to compensation for economic loss suffered by the port.

That is why a compensation scheme is so important. More so, it would encourage the decision-makers at the port authority not to procrastinate and immediately admit ships in distress without the hassle and time-wasting of checking on the validity of insurance and financial instruments in such emergency scenarios.

 
  
  

(The sitting was suspended at 5.40 p.m. and resumed for Question Time at 6 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  

(1)Commission's position on the amendments: see Annex


12. Commission Question Time
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is Question Time (B6-0017/2007).

The following questions have been submitted to the Commission.

Part One

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Question No 42 by Alain Hutchinson (H-0212/07)

Subject: Blackmail of VW Forest workers - reverse relocations

By making continued activity at VW Forest conditional on greater flexibility and an increase in hours of work without an increase in pay, WW Forest management has blackmailed the workforce over employment. The workers only had the choice of accepting or seeing the factory close. In its resolution of 14 March 2006 on relocation in the context of regional development, the European Parliament called for measures to be contemplated against this type of employment blackmail, which might be termed ‘reverse’ relocation as it results in poorer working conditions without relocation of the company's activities.

Can the Commission say what measures it will propose to prevent reverse relocations that lead to a deterioration in working conditions without relocation of the company's activities?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Mr President, honourable Members, according to current Community legislation the Commission expresses its opinion on decisions taken by countries and intervenes between the social partners only when Community law may have been infringed.

The EU can nevertheless contribute to changes and restructuring, and to ensuring that these are conducted responsibly, through the structural funds and in particular the European social fund. The Commission has also held political dialogue in the context of the restructuring forum, with the aim of enhancing the exchange of experiences and tried and tested approaches between the main actors, and in particular between governments, social partners and the regions.

The Union moreover has a legal framework for informing and consulting employees. I mention this because there are a number of measures that apply to the authorisation and management of restructuring, in particular the directives on collective redundancies, company relocations and European works councils, as well as the directive setting out the general framework for informing and consulting employees.

It is essential to ensure compliance with Community legislation when it comes to informing and consulting employees. I would emphasise, though, that the task of ensuring that Community legislation is upheld falls primarily to the Member States.

Furthermore, the Commission fully respects the principle of autonomy for the social partners and emphasises the key role of social dialogue in resolving issues relating to organised labour and industrial relations. In this regard, the European works councils have an important role to play in supporting social dialogue at national and Community levels.

In 2003, the social partners adopted European-level reference principles for managing change and the social impact of change. The Commission supports the social partners in promoting and introducing these principles throughout the EU.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Alain Hutchinson (PSE).(FR) Mr President, I am grateful to the Commissioner for his response. I would simply remind you that I asked this question with a specific context in mind, namely the events at Volkswagen, but that what has happened at Volkswagen is repeated everyday within the EU. Relocations have become a common occurrence these days: we only talk about the largest ones, but they happen all the time. In my own country of Belgium, Opel recently decided to sack thousands of workers. That is the result of a very, very aggressive economic policy.

I am sure, Commissioner, that you remember that we voted, by a very large majority, in favour of a resolution on relocations that aimed not to prevent them, because that would not be possible, but in any event to ensure that public money did not encourage them. When I say 'public money', I am referring mainly to the Structural Funds.

I would like to ask you whether it is possible to get a list of businesses that have relocated, along with any sanctions that may have been imposed on them.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) I have made a note of your question, Mr Hutchinson. At present I do not of course have the necessary information to hand but I shall ask my office to obtain that information within a reasonable amount of time. Thank you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jörg Leichtfried (PSE).(DE) Commissioner, let me put the question in somewhat more general terms. You said before, in an initial answer, that you, as a Commissioner, are a guardian of the laws and treaties of the Union. I am well aware that this role imposes certain obligations, but of course you are also an initiator of legislation. I would therefore be interested to learn whether you do not believe it would be beneficial if the Commission finally abandoned the path of making laws for large companies, for economic operators and for all who derive huge profits from business activity and began to make laws for employees too, in order to ensure that this sort of thing becomes a rather less common occurrence in future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) The Commission can of course initiate legislation within the framework of its powers and it does so in all cases.

I could mention the debate on optical radiation, which has now been successfully concluded, because it is a typical example of health and safety protection for workers in the workplace. There are other such directives that are either currently under negotiation or have already been finalised. In any event, I feel that it is important to make active use of the field that has been opened up by the possibility for social legislation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). (LT) The closure of factories is often treated as a product of globalisation. This is normal. It was explained to us, the new EU Member Countries, that we were ignorant of the correct thing to do: we had to outsource our textile factories to third countries, and then we would not have any problems.

My point is: what about the broader context? The world is a sphere, and if we transfer everything somewhere else, would something not have to come back to us? What are our thought processes? Should we not have a common manufacturing policy? Should we not invest in branches of manufacturing that we will not need to eventually outsource?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Mrs Budreikaitė, in my view the debate you have opened up belongs more under the heading of restructuring than mere corporate relocations.

I would like to mention some important research, which demonstrates that relocations, in the traditional sense of the term, account for less than 2% of annual changes in employment in the EU. In other words, it is not a large amount compared to the overall movement of workers. On the other hand, that 2% applies to the EU as a whole, which means that it involves tens of thousands of people, and that is a considerable amount.

Your question concerns restructuring. This world is constantly changing and a great many businesses are restructuring. In this case, the Commission is taking a proactive approach. The matter is also being tackled by the restructuring forum, which resolves issues such as how best to respond to restructuring from a social and economic perspective, and this includes the search for perspectives.

I would point out that some things are not as they may first appear. Although the textiles industry, for example, has undergone major restructuring, a number of firms, particularly in Sweden but also in other parts of the world, have found their place in the textile sector, especially with the production of fabrics that are, from a technical standpoint, very demanding to work with.

At the same time, a great many openings have arisen in the area of environmental goods, machinery and so forth. In any event, I cannot at this moment offer any specific suggestions and ideas. I can only point out that, on the one hand, there are companies and branches of industry that are in decline and on the other hand, there are sectors in these branches that are developing rapidly and even new areas appearing, such as that of environmental technology.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 43 by Ignasi Guardans Cambó (H-0244/07)

Subject: Potential arbitrary and contradictory application of the new air security measures

On 6 November 2006, Regulation (EC) No 1546/2006(1) amending Regulation (EC) No 622/2003(2) on aviation security entered into force. Given the confidential nature of the annex laying down the new security measures and the absence of clear instructions on how the measures are to be implemented, has the Commission given thought to the danger that this secrecy could result in differing interpretations as to the application of these measures, with discrepancies not only between Member States but between airports within one Member State?

Has the Commission carried out a study on the implementation of these measures in airports across the EU?

What will the Commission do to prevent inconsistencies in the application of these measures in European airports, which could result in the infringement of passenger rights?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. Firstly, I should like to thank the honourable Member for raising this question on this most interesting subject: we are all air travellers ourselves, so we very often come across these regulations.

While studying the records of the European Parliament, I noticed that there have been several oral questions on the topic of EU restrictions on the liquids which passengers may carry onto aircraft. The Commission answered Parliament in detail at its sitting of 12 February.

As you will know, I am not the Commissioner with primary expertise in this field and, therefore, I would humbly suggest that the answers already given by my more knowledgeable colleagues on this matter are sufficient. Nevertheless, to summarise the answers to previous questions, it must be said that, in spite of the legislation being classified as EU-restricted as required by Article 8(1) of framework Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002, the rules on liquids are being applied by the Member States in a proper and equal manner throughout the Community. The responsibility for applying the rules lies with the Member States and the Commission monitors this via its regular inspections.

If, however, the honourable Member wishes to have additional information on this question, I would propose that he raises his questions during the debate on aviation security. Coincidentally, this debate takes place tonight and my colleague Mr Barrot, the Vice-President with responsibilities for transport, will be present.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ignasi Guardans Cambó (ALDE). – Mr President, the Commissioner’s colleague is avoiding this question and will answer neither tonight nor at any other time.

The Commission to which you and the other Commissioners belong approved a secret regulation which imposes restrictions on citizens and creates an arbitrary situation. When citizens go to the airport, they are like schoolchildren before an authoritarian master whom they need to obey. We are faced with the application of a secret regulation and have no chance to complain. The consequence is that there are different interpretations of the regulation throughout Europe. What is forbidden in one airport is allowed in another. Therefore, you did not get the result intended by the Commission to which you and the other Commissioners belong. You may trust your fellow Commissioners of course but you are equally responsible.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. As I said in my original answer, I am an air traveller myself, so I often have mixed feelings, but it does not change the whole picture. First of all: why is it necessary to have secret regulations? The rules on aviation security, including those adopted in Regulation (EC) No 1546/2006, are not placed in the public domain because potential terrorists could use the information for their purposes.

The European Commission aviation security legislation is classified as ‘EU restricted’ in line with Commission Decision 2001/844/EC, ECSC, Euratom. How are our airports and airlines supposed to apply regulations – which are directly applicable rules – that are secret? The regulations on aviation security are addressed to the appropriate authority of each Member State. They have an obligation under Article 8(1) of framework Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002 to communicate the information to interested parties on a need-to-know basis in accordance with applicable national rules for the dissemination of sensitive information. Thus airport security staff will get clear instructions on their obligations, not from the Official Journal of the European Union, but from the appropriate national authority.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, you have already indicated that your colleague, Commissioner Barrot, will provide us with answers in due course. I must, however, spell out once again that six months have now elapsed since the new rules were introduced. Not once in the course of those six months has there been any report of these measures having successfully prevented or obstructed an act of terrorism. Day after day, on the other hand, we have had hundreds of reports of European citizens feeling aggrieved. Something is surely wrong there. Can you hold out the prospect of a review and withdrawal of these measures or convey this request in due form to Commissioner Barrot?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. Yes, I do think that the fact that there has been no reported terrorist attempt is a success in itself, because, if you cannot take more liquid than 100 ml – which, according to the experts, is not sufficient to create explosive materials – then terrorists are possibly not trying to violate this regulation. So that could explain why no terrorist attempt has been reported.

As far as complaints are concerned, I can confirm this because many times at the airport I have listened to debates and quarrels between security officials and passengers, but I have the feeling and the experience that the situation has become more relaxed and now goes more smoothly than it did at the very beginning of the new regulations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Justas Vincas Paleckis (PSE). (LT) All of us are experts on the situation at European airports. At certain European Union airports, standard safety procedures are performed politely, promptly and conveniently, while at other airports there are long queues, with every traveller being regarded as a potential terrorist.

Perhaps the European Commission could prepare guidelines and recommendations, using examples of best practice, on how travellers should be attended to politely and safely.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. I have had similar experiences of uncivilised behaviour by security officials outside the European Union. However, I do not think that the European Union, the Commission or any other Union institution can have any impact on the behaviour of countries outside the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 44 by Jacek Protasiewicz (H-0265/07)

Subject: Application of state aid rules to support for the employment of disabled persons

In view of the experience gained to date with implementation by Member States of measures in support of the employment of disabled persons in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 2204/2002(3), and with reference to the Commission's planned changes to state-aid legislation (State Aid Action Plan), does the Commission intend in the future to change the rules on monitoring support for the employment of such workers, together with the requirements for programmes exempted from compulsory notification under group exemptions, and to introduce, in keeping with common market principles, measures under which the additional costs involved in employing disabled persons are established on a flat-rate basis?

Does the Commission believe that support currently provided to employers of disabled persons should in future be treated as state aid?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. The experience gained from the application of Regulation (EC) No 2204/2002 is currently being used by the Commission in order to establish revised rules applying to aid for employment of disabled workers in the context of the preparation of a new Commission regulation, which will revise, consolidate, simplify and harmonise the existing block exemption regulations.

This new regulation, which forms part of the implementation of the state aid action plan, will replace existing instruments, including Regulation (EC) No 2204/2002. The Commission adopted a first draft of the regulation just today. This will allow the Commission to consult Member States and listen to the views of other interested stakeholders, including the European Parliament, in the coming months, in line with the procedure established by Council Regulation (EC) No 994/98 on the application of Articles 92 and 93 of the Treaty establishing the European Community to certain categories of horizontal state aid.

Block exemption regulations only apply to measures which constitute state aid within the meaning of Article 87 of the EC Treaty. The fact that Regulation (EC) No 2204/2002 includes provisions on employment aid in favour of disabled workers does not mean that all state measures in favour of disabled workers are to be considered as state aid. As made clear in recital 6 of Regulation (EC) No 2204/2002, some state measures in favour of disabled workers do not qualify as state aid, for instance because they are general in nature. Such measures will continue not to be considered as state aid in the future.

The purpose of the block exemption is to ensure that Member States are not obliged to notify the Commission of those state measures which do indeed constitute state aid under Article 88 of the EC Treaty, as long as the aid measure concerned fulfils a number of conditions as specified in the regulations.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacek Protasiewicz, (PPE-DE) . – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, thank you. The problem is the lack of legal certainty in some Member States, including my country, which means that since Poland’s accession to the European Union the number of companies and enterprises interested in employing disabled persons has dropped dramatically because of doubts about exceeding allowable levels of public aid.

For that reason I would like once again to ask about this. I am in favour of working so that the employment of disabled people, regardless of where they live or what industry they work in will not be treated by the Commission as public aid, but simply as another means of help for people who would otherwise remain on the fringes of becoming socially active.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. State support measures in favour of disabled workers will, like any other support measure, only be considered as state aid if the measure fulfils all the conditions of Article 87(1) of the EC Treaty. This implies, amongst other things, that if the aid is granted to disabled individuals and not to companies, the measure is not state aid. Similarly, any measure in favour of disabled workers which does not affect trade between Member States, for instance because it is considered as ‘de minimis’, does not fall foul of the Treaty rules.

 
  
  

Part Two

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Question no 45 by Martin Dimitrov (H-0219/07)

Subject: Amendment of Directive 92/84/EEC with a view to increasing the minimum rates of excise duty on alcoholic beverages

The European Commission proposes (COM(2006)0486 – C6-0319/2006 – 2006/0165(CNS)) to amend Directive 92/84/EEC(4) with a view to increasing the minimum rates of excise duty on alcoholic beverages. This proposal was backed by the argument that since 1992 the minimum rates of excise duty had not been adjusted to take inflation into account, which is 31%.

It is important to note that throughout the last 15 years the existence of minimum excise duties has not led to convergence of the rates of excise duty within the EU. The high excise duty on alcoholic beverages is the main reason and incentive for the increase of smuggling, in Eastern Europe in particular. For instance, taxation of home production of rakia was introduced in Bulgaria, and this caused considerable public discontent.

Does the Commission consider that, in view of the considerable differences in income within the EU, especially after the last two enlargements, there should still be minimum rates of excise duty on alcoholic products?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. I would inform the honourable Member that I consider that the minimum rates of excise duty on alcoholic products should continue. As I said in my press statement when the proposal was presented on 8 September 2006, the minimum rates are the cornerstone of the EU excise duty system, which was agreed in 1992 as the minimum necessary for the functioning of the internal market. Revalorising them is a necessary step to restore the position to that which was agreed in 1992.

I agree that greater convergence of the rates of excise duty in the different Member States is needed so as to reduce distortions of competition and fraud. However, as the honourable Member will be aware, without the agreement of all the Member States nothing can change. But to simply conclude, as the honourable Member suggests, that this is a reason for abolishing the minimum rate does not seem to be the appropriate solution in view of the need for some harmonisation within the common market, and is therefore not a viable proposal.

I would like to provide some more information on the issue. At the Council meeting, we found strong resistance from many new Member States, which claimed that they had nothing to do with the point of departure in 1993 when they were not part of the European Union. Together with the Presidency, we therefore presented a compromise proposal. In the compromise proposal, the point of departure was changed to 1 May 2004, the date of accession of the 10 new Member States. That immediately resulted in a much lower rate of inflation: instead of 31%, the new proposed rate is only 4.5%. That was the new proposal, but it was also vetoed by one Member State: the Czech Republic.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, it is not a point of order, but I was wondering whether Question 46 will be replied to in the House today, because, if not, I should like to ask a supplementary question to this particular question.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Question 46 has been withdrawn

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Мартин Димитров (PPE-DE). – Господин Ковач, уважаеми г-н Председател, не съм доволен от Вашия отговор. Оставам с впечатлението, че Вие сте решили да увеличите всички нива на акцизите. Вече има Ваши предложения за по-високи акцизи върху алкохолните продукти и върху дизела. Нивата на доходи в страни като България и Румъния са повече от десет пъти по-ниски в сравнение със „старите“ страни-членки на Европейския съюз. Това създава непропорционално по-висока данъчна тежест и сериозни стимули за неплащане на данъци и „сива“ икономика. Така че тези идеи за увеличение на акцизното облагане ще доведат до още по-сериозни протести, протести които вече са факт в България. Имаше митинги, имаше подписки срещу увеличението на акцизното облагане. Предложенията, които Вие сте внесли, не са обосновани. Не виждам икономическата логика зад тях. Те ще доведат единствено до още по-високи стимули за неплащане на данъци. Например, вземете предвид, че за 15 години акцизните ставки върху алкохолните продукти не са довели до сближаване на нивата. За 15 години. Така че това, което правите няма да има ефект.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. My understanding is that the Commission is aware of the problems in the new Member States. Before joining the European Union, they had to accept the acquis communautaire and had to apply minimum rates, although they received some derogations. It is now quite difficult for the new Member States, including Bulgaria, to raise the minimum excise duty on alcoholic beverages.

We therefore presented a proposal to the Council, which was made in general terms without any specific figures. Following a decision by the Council, we agreed that any Member States – without specifying whether they were new or old Member States – that find it difficult to increase the excise duty, may apply for a derogation. Bulgaria and Romania were not members of the European Union at that time but this certainly applies to those two countries. Therefore, if Bulgaria has any difficulty in complying with the regulation which was adopted at that time, it may request a derogation which I am certain the Commission will support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Following my exchange of views with Mr De Rossa, I shall this time accept three additional questions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  John Purvis (PPE-DE). – Commissioner, you and I have sparred on this issue several times in the past, but you will accept that the huge divergence around Europe in excise rates on alcoholic beverages and other excisable products is one of the major stumbling blocks to providing for a proper single market in Europe.

Would you agree that increasing minimum rates by any percentage on excise duties that are zero in some countries ends up in a zero increase, so the divergence gets even bigger? Are you not aiming at an impossible target, and would not the best thing be to eliminate minimum rates altogether and allow the free market to operate freely in commercial and personal-use products?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. If I understood you correctly, your proposal or idea would refer not only to alcoholic beverages but to all excise duty. But even if you did not mean that, if we did decide to abolish the minimum rate on alcoholic beverages, that would have an impact on the excise duty on energy and tobacco products.

I do not think it could be a solution, because if there were no minimum rate that would inspire some Member States to opt for very low or no excise duty at all. That in turn would generate more smuggling and more cross-border shopping, which would certainly result in further distortion in the internal market. I understand the logic of your thinking, but I do not think that it would solve the problem. On the contrary, it would create further distortions in the internal market.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). (LT) I do not believe that a low excise duty or the absence of an excise duty would increase the volume of contraband. It is precisely the presence of high excise duty rates that makes it possible for contraband to flow in from Eastern countries, where there are no such excise duties and where alcohol is cheap.

If we are talking in a broad sense about excise duties for motor fuel and other products, then a reduction in excise rates would help the economy to grow and to be more competitive.

The issue I raise is broader; namely, I would ask whether, while we are discussing excise rates for alcohol, we should not give some thought to how the public might be educated to use less of this product? Because at present, there is heavy alcohol use, especially among young people.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. Mr President, there are different considerations with regard to the excise duties on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, for instance health considerations. Many Member States do not want a low rate of excise duty because of health factors, and I understand their point of view.

As far as energy is concerned, if we do not increase the rate of excise duty on certain energy products like fuels, this would result in more fuel consumption, which would lead to more pollution as well as adding to the additional danger of climate change. Therefore, excise duty plays an important role in not only improving the internal market but also in other areas such as health, climate change and environmental factors. If we have an excise duty in place, then it is quite logical to set a minimum rate below which no Member State can go.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, I wanted to raise a question with regard to question 46 and I would ask Commissioner Kovács: in relation to tax issues, what plans or powers does the Commission have to be able to force a country like Ireland, for instance, to increase its corporate tax base? I take it your answer will be that you have none. However, I would really appreciate it if you would put on record the powers and plans the Commission has to force an increase in corporate tax rates on Ireland.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. The question has nothing to do with the issue we are discussing, but I am pleased to hear your questions and to have the possibility of answering them.

First, I want to clarify that the Commission is not even dreaming of increasing or harmonising the corporate tax rate – that is very far from our intention. What we have in mind, and what we have already tabled as a general proposal – not even a legislative proposal – is the harmonisation of the tax base only, i.e. the calculation of the tax base, which is now different in each and every Member State. We have 27 different ways of calculating the tax base, which results in enormous compliance costs and administrative burdens for companies. The lack of consolidation and of transparency makes it very difficult, or senseless, to compare the corporate tax rate of Ireland, which is 12.5 %, with the corporate tax rate of France, which is over 30 %, because we cannot compare the two tax bases.

We have no intention of harmonising the tax rates, only the method of calculation of the tax base, and certainly we have no power to force things. If the present legislative proposal, according to our time schedule, receives unanimity in early 2008, then of course Ireland, and all the other Member States, should comply. If there is no consensus – and I think that at least at the beginning there will be no consensus – then what we can do is to present a new proposal, not for all the 27 Member States but only for those who want to join. That is what we call enhanced cooperation. Enhanced cooperation is optional. Only those Member States that agree with the purpose of the exercise would participate, and Ireland, according to the best of my knowledge, will not be among the countries that will champion participation.

However, I believe that after a while, when the positive experiences are well known, then even those Member States that are reluctant for the time being and that will not join at the beginning of the enhanced cooperation can join later, because one of the conditions of enhanced cooperation is to leave the door open for other Member States who may wish to join in at a later stage.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE). – (SV) I asked to take the floor regarding Question 45, that is to say before Mr De Rossa was given the floor. I was not, however, given the opportunity to put my question to Mr Kovács. This concerned the question that we in actual fact debated in this House, namely Question 45 on the rates of excise duty on alcohol.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. As you will be aware, the Bureau only accepts two additional questions. I accepted three this time because Mr De Rossa was ready to speak on another question, which had since been withdrawn. Mr De Rossa’s question was answered out of kindness on Mr Kovács’ part.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question no 47 by Gianluca Susta (H-0216/07)

Subject: European Schools - enrolment

The enrolment procedure for the Brussels European Schools is currently under way, under the supervision of the Central Enrolment Authority.

That authority is, in practice, an empty shell, because it lacks the necessary staff and resources. In particular, it is not collecting the data required for effective monitoring of current and future enrolments (for example, there are no figures on the number of siblings to be enrolled over coming years). Furthermore, not enough information is being provided; among other things, families are not sent any acknowledgement of enrolment.

Would the Commission not agree that, once again, a lack of professionalism on the part of the schools secretariat together with negligence on the part of the relevant DG Admin departments are likely to mean that the Board of Governors' efforts to ensure a transparent, impartial enrolment procedure will come to nothing and, above all, that enrolment policy will not improve in the future?

What steps does the Commission intend to take to prevent the Berkendael enrolment process from ending in failure?

How does it intend to ensure that appeals against enrolment decisions may be lodged with the Complaints Boards, where there are suitable legal grounds for doing so, as from the current enrolment procedure?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. The subject of the European schools is one of the most complicated issues in my portfolio.

The Board of Governors of the European Schools created a Central Enrolment Authority in order to deal with the very difficult situation caused by the host country concerning the offer of a site for the fourth school in Brussels. The Commission has constantly worked in favour of a clear and objective enrolment policy with the necessary degree of flexibility and with the possibility for parents to appeal.

The Commission has also kept parents and their representatives regularly informed during the school year. Therefore, the Commission does not share the opinion of the honourable Member that it has neglected its responsibilities.

As clearly stipulated by the Board of Governors in its communication adopted in January 2007, the enrolment policy for 2007-2008 will apply for this school year only. The enrolment policy for next year will be based on an in-depth analysis and the close monitoring of the situation during and after the first year of functioning of the Berkendael European School. The policy will also take into account all the pertinent elements and the progress of the pupils of the different European schools in Brussels during the 2007-2008 school year.

The Secretary-General of the European Schools prepared clear procedures for individual appeals and submitted a proposal to the Board of Governors to be approved at its April meeting, in order to give parents the possibility to make appeals during the current enrolment campaign. A proposal to modify the general rules of the European Schools in order to extend the powers of the Complaints Board to decisions related to enrolment was discussed by the Mixed Pedagogical Committee in March 2007, the Administrative and Financial Committee on 19 to 21 March 2007 and the Central Enrolment Authority on 28 March before being submitted to the Board of Governors on 17 April.

Prior to the submission of the proposal to the Board of Governors, the Commission requested that the necessary measures should be taken to ensure that deadlines for replying to the appeals are compatible with the calendar of the beginning of the next school year. The Commission is pleased that an interim ruling was adopted by the Board of Governors on 17 and 18 April and that shorter deadlines for the potential lodging of appeals by parents have been set. During that meeting, the Commission nevertheless insisted that an evaluation of the changes to procedures and to the necessary means of the Complaints Board is carried out as soon as possible in order to meet the requirements associated with the extension of its powers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lapo Pistelli (ALDE) , deputising for the author. (IT) Mr President, I would like to thank Commissioner Kallas.

I wanted to ask the Commissioner if, in the event that the majority of the parents of pupils who currently are supposed to go to Berkendael do not consent to their children being enrolled at this temporary site, does the Commission intend to continue at any cost with the policy of filling the Berkendael site? Are any alternatives planned? Is it, for instance, possible, as the parents’ associations have asked, to accept requests for limited access to the old schools in Brussels? If so, what methods could be used to choose them?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. First of all, I must say that the issue of schools in Brussels is very complicated due to the large increase in pupils in recent years. All the main schools are overcrowded, so, as you probably know, the Belgian authorities have designated an additional site for the next school in Laeken. Berkendael is a temporary site. So far, I have no information that parents have refused to accept the Berkendael site. I know that there have been discussions but, as you know, the European schools are an autonomous entity managed by a Board of Governors, in which all Member States are represented. All alternative sites and any proposals concerning the infrastructure of schools depend on the Belgian authorities, for whom the issue of the social infrastructure for the European institutions has become increasingly difficult.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, are you aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents who do not work for the European institutions to have their children enrolled in the European Schools? This creates a kind of ghetto mentality and in particular increases opposition to these schools among the citizens of Brussels.

Secondly, given the very poor provision of public transport, I should like to ask you how anyone could have hit on the idea of locating the fourth school in Laeken. The school buses that will be laid on will have to transport pupils across the entire city, which will waste a great deal of the children's time. Why could a better location not have been found with the Belgian authorities?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. We have tried to work with the Belgian authorities to explore all possible sites. There are not too many sites in Brussels which meet all the necessary requirements of this complicated task. So far this has been in the hands of the Belgian authorities: they make proposals for annex sites and temporary sites and we cannot change a lot. We have tried to find other solutions together with the Board of Governors but so far that is fixed by the Belgian authorities.

With regard to category 3 and a possible ‘ghetto’ for European officials in category 3 schools – I am using a particular type of language that is very familiar to me – these are students who are not the children of staff in the European institutions. The children of staff in other international institutions are in what is known as category 2. Category 3 involves free places which are allocated to children of other parents, based on availability. As I said, it is increasingly complicated to provide parents working in our institutions with the necessary places in our childcare facilities and schools. Of course, under this framework of rules and conditions, we must give preference to our own staff - the children of those working in the European institutions. However, I fully agree with you that there is a problem and we must think of ways of developing the European school system. There are some additional ideas on how to make this system more flexible and to develop other types of schools, among which the most promising is the type 3 school, which is actually a type of European school. Under certain conditions, these schools may provide the European baccalaureate certificate. This is the most promising part of this project and we cannot do without it. The system is in a very serious impasse, but this proposal was adopted by the Member States at a Council meeting involving representatives of ministers of education, in which I also participated.

The basic idea is there, therefore, and we may have many more European schools providing the European baccalaureate as a particular type of education certificate, which would be a much more open system.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, based on a question posed today by a colleague I would like to ask whether children with various learning difficulties can register for school, taking their difficulties into consideration, as well as whether those already studying at schools of rarely spoken languages, like Greek can register. Why are learning difficulties not taken into consideration, like in the legislation of their countries of origin?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. Basically, yes: a system exists on how to deal with children with learning difficulties, but I do not know specifically. We have dealt with some specific cases where there have been big difficulties in adapting the system to the needs of children with certain problems, but a system exists and the board of governors, the secretariat-general and the administration of the European Schools try to adapt the schools to the needs of children who have specific problems.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question no 48 by Proinsias De Rossa (H-0247/07)

Subject: Restructuring of Eurydice

Is the Commission aware of the implications for European policy of the loss of the accumulated research skills and expertise in relation to European educational policies and programmes which will follow from the decision to replace the existing professional staff of the Eurydice Unit by personnel recruited through a general competition that is neither intended or designed to valorise the experience of the present Eurydice European Unit staff, or of personnel with directly comparable experience and skill in this domain? Can the Commission state what, if any, steps it proposes to take to avoid the reckless loss of such a valuable resource that must inevitably follow from that initiative?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, last February the Commission modified the Decision setting up the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. This modification extended the Agency’s mandate to 2015 and mandated the Agency to run the information network on education in Europe – Eurydice – from 2008. The decision was taken having heard the positive opinion from the European Parliament and the Council’s regulatory Executive Agency Committee.

A private body currently runs this programme on the basis of a contract with the Commission, which expires at the end of this year. The Commission has no particular difficulty in recruiting existing staff, but staff policy in executive agencies must ensure, in particular, that selection procedures for contract agents are transparent and give equal treatment to all interested candidates. To this end, the Agency has drawn to the attention of the staff working on the Eurydice activity that the selection process for contract agents was recently launched by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). If they take part in this selection process and are successful, the Agency will be able to offer them a contract as a contract agent.

In addition, the EPSO selection process covers a range of profiles. Provided they pass the EPSO selection process, the specific experience of staff currently working on the Eurydice activity would be taken into consideration upon recruitment. Moreover, the Agency has already committed itself to waiting for the results of the EPSO selection before recruiting the contract agents it will need for the Eurydice activity.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, the Commissioner will understand the concerns of those employed currently by the Eurydice unit, who fear that they are going to lose their jobs as a result of the recruitment procedure which is being put in place. EPSO was in fact intended to be a more general recruitment procedure, and not one for a specific agency, and here we have staff who are well experienced, who have a lot of expertise and who may be lost to the unit as a result of the procedure that has been put in place because, obviously, those who would achieve a place on the panel as a result of the EPSO process would be competing with those who are already in situ and have the expertise and the experience.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. Members have said that these people are losing their jobs due to a selection process. This is not the case. The contract between the European institution and the private body will end and the functions will be taken over by a European agency, so this is a different process and it is really impossible to transfer people from a private body to the staff of the European Union without normal procedures. You must understand that you have in the European institutions people who are working full- or part-time – up to 40 000 people – and the rules to recruit people are very strict and very seriously followed and watched by staff unions, so the Commission is committed to following these rules very clearly. The rules are that everybody must be treated equally, and to recruit people from outside, the procedure must be under very clear staff regulations and rules, so that is the basis.

We had these problems when, under the administrative reforms, we transferred people from different types of contracts to the contract agent model, which was adopted as part of the administrative reform. It worked quite smoothly, so I think that those people have every possibility to continue their work, but they must pass the necessary procedures, and this is the selection procedure of EPSO.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 49 by Leopold Józef Rutowicz (H-0251/07)

Subject: Management of EU funds

The funds earmarked for the running of Parliament's buildings in Strasbourg – the IPE-0, IPE-1 and IPE-2 (otherwise known as the WIC and SDM Buildings) – could be put to uses that are of greater benefit to society, such as scientific research. The existence of overpayments amounting, according to the estimates made by Parliament's Administration, to at least € 32 million over the 25-year lease period, has given rise to much controversy. (A6-0280/2006, Ferber report)

What plans are there for EU funds to be managed in such a way as to restrict spending on building leases and make better use of the buildings themselves, thus reducing administrative costs?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. The question concerned the funding of building policy. Of course, the Commission is solely responsible for its buildings and is not in a position to comment on the other institutions’ plans. As far as the Commission is concerned, every effort is made to ensure that the funding of accommodation for Commission staff is judiciously managed to minimise administrative costs in this area.

The Commission closely follows the property market in Brussels and Luxembourg and has proven to be a successful negotiator of the financial conditions for its buildings. The Commission analyses the cost-effectiveness of the various options – purchase or leasehold. The Commission has established a policy of decentralisation by locating some of its offices and DGs outside the European quarters of Brussels and Luxembourg. In so doing, not only are the prices of these decentralised buildings lower than those of the equivalent buildings in the European quarter, but there is also less pressure on property prices in the European quarter. And, very importantly, the Commission pays special attention to building efficiency by ensuring the flexibility of the fittings and by using the maximum available surface. Waste of space is reduced to a minimum. The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme was launched in 2002 to improve energy performance, consumption of resources and emissions checks in buildings.

The Commission is currently developing a new life-cycle cost methodology to assess the technical quality of buildings, including energy efficiency. This is expected to be applied as of September 2008. All the less efficient buildings are progressively being replaced by better designed buildings at lower cost.

Thank you very much for explaining Parliament’s buildings policy, but, as I said, this is the Commission and we do not comment on other institutions’ building plans.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Leopold Józef Rutowicz (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the important thing for us is that these savings are made not only in the Commission, but everywhere, because there are huge shortfalls in funding for various science or research programmes which will bring good returns in the future.

Meanwhile the cash being wasted in various unused buildings is a loss to us all – to the Commission, the Council and to Parliament. Is the view of the Commissioner that we should simply analyse the overall situation of the properties owned by the European Union and implement some strategic action plan for the more effective use of these buildings and eventually to gain something from it?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. I have only to say that we also have a good exchange of information and cooperation between the relevant services in the Commission which concern building policy and the relevant services within Parliament. We try, at least from the Commission side, to have the intention of discussing issues, such as how we locate all our services together with Parliament in Brussels. Of course the starting point must be efficiency and the most rational use of budgetary resources.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, we adopted a Directive on the certification of buildings for energy efficiency. Do you know of any building belonging to the European Union that already has a sign at its entrance indicating its energy-efficiency level?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. I probably did not catch all the nuances of your question, but it must be said that, from the point of view of the Commission, six of our buildings have received good marks from different certification agencies as regards their environmental requirements and energy efficiency. Of course, we have more than 60 buildings at our disposal in Brussels and some of them are very old and should be replaced, but six buildings have been commended for their energy efficiency. We also compare reductions in CO2 in the buildings, which show that the new buildings are very good.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. As the author is not present, Question No 50 lapses.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 51 by Claude Moraes (H-0180/07)

Subject: European Regional Development Funds

Can the Commission explain how the Operational Programmes submitted for the European Regional Development Funds will take into account the needs of disadvantage groups? Will the Commission ensure that the particular issues facing poorer communities are prioritised in the assessment of these Operational Programmes?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, on this first question: in our Community strategic guidelines for cohesion policy for 2007-2013, there is in fact an article which ensures equality between men and women, and non-discrimination in general. This provision clearly states that Member States should take appropriate steps to prevent any discrimination at any stage of the management or the preparation of the European structural funds.

In the course of the negotiations and of the monitoring of the programme and projects, the Commission pays particular attention to ensuring that this cross-cutting principle of non-discrimination is fully respected. The Commission implementing rules also contain the obligation for Member States and regions to report on the implementation of the operational programmes, also with regard to the respect and promotion of equal opportunities principles in the context of the annual and final implementation reforms.

With regard to the part of the question which refers to the less-favoured areas, countries and regions, cohesion policy takes a very strongly proactive approach towards the problem of poverty, which is certainly higher within those less-favoured countries and regions. Through the allocation method, this policy provides those less-favoured regions and countries with relatively higher financial resources. Also in the course of the programming and implementation of programmes, we also emphasise growth and job creation, supporting investment.

Within the European Social Fund in particular, we pursue very specific actions which are targeted to reinforcing the social inclusion of disadvantaged people with a view to their sustainable integration and employment. For the period 2007-2013 we have also done the categorisation of investment, which we use to monitor the programming. Then we will also monitor the implementation. In this categorisation of expenditures there are also several categories related to discrimination. For example, in the operational programmes we already have measures that are already visible at this stage to improve access to employment and increase the sustainable participation and progress of women at the level of EUR 2.7 billion to be invested across Europe. With regard to the specific actions to increase migrants’ participation in employment, this is EUR 1.9 billion.

There is also a category for improving the social inclusion of less-favoured people, especially the re-entry into employment of disadvantaged people. We already see today that across the Member States there will be nearly EUR 8 billion invested in the years to come in this category, addressing the concerns that you have expressed in your question.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Claude Moraes (PSE). – I particularly welcome the Commissioner’s answer to the question of more disadvantaged areas. I should specifically like to ask her about European Regional Development Fund payments to my own constituency, which is London, and some of its disadvantaged areas. I wrote to the Commissioner recently about this, and I wonder if she could please explain how any decision to suspend payments to projects in London could perhaps be reversed, and provide assurances that if the Commission auditors are satisfied, this could happen quickly. I do not want to put her at any disadvantage if she does not recall the letter, but I did write to her recently and I would appreciate a reply either now or in the near future.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. I would like to say briefly that, with regard to London, we hope to reach a solution with the authorities very soon. I hope that the suspension will soon be lifted, once all the changes we are awaiting from the authorities are made. I take on board your concerns about the disadvantaged areas of London. Two years ago, I visited one of the special programmes devoted to disadvantaged people and migrants in London. I hope that we will be able to address your concern soon.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, one of the main problems facing disadvantaged groups is a lack of proper sanitation. How do you see the likely impact on disadvantaged areas of developments in the realms of water policy and sewage-treatment strategy?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. I cannot tell you today exactly how much will go towards water treatment in disadvantaged areas, but certainly one of the priorities under the first objective of the European policy – the accessibility of the regions – is also addressing environmental issues. Among the environmental issues there is also the issue of access to water and water problems in all their diversity. If you are interested, I am sure that probably in a couple of weeks I can provide the more specific information on how much of the funds will go towards this kind of investment, but it is very high on our list of priorities. At this stage I can only say this.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 52 by Deputada Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (H-0182/07)

Subject: Regional policy in respect of island regions

The designation of 2007 as the 'European Year of Equal Opportunities for All' affects the regional policy of the EU. In order to have equal opportunities, island, mountainous, sub-mountainous, and sparsely populated areas, such as the Greek islands, need more flexible criteria for eligibility and some individual places with special problems (e.g. difficulty of access, climate, particular economic activity) require special treatment in the context of regional policy.

What is the Commission's view of the Union's treatment hitherto of such regions? How does it explain their continuing disadvantaged position compared with the spectacular progress of other mainland and densely populated areas?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. As far as I understand, the question concerns equal opportunities and the island regions.

As you know, the policy’s priority is to reduce socio-economic disparities between the regions and we do so through the allocation of available financial resources to the regions on the basis of their relative prosperity. However, we also examine the kinds of investment needed. We support growth-enhancing investment in the case of the less-advantaged regions, such as islands, in order to address their concerns. For the period 2007-2013 we have recognised the special situation of certain territories – not only islands but also sparsely populated and mountainous areas. We have proposed specific provisions, one of which is a higher cofinancing rate, but there are also additional financial allocations for many of those disadvantaged areas.

We have also included a specific chapter in our strategic guidelines to focus Member States’ attention on the territorial dimension of cohesion policy, in which we have underlined and emphasised the importance of those territorial units suffering from different kinds of handicaps. At this stage of the negotiations with the Member States, we are also ensuring that specific constraints which exist in those areas and islands are duly taken into account by the Member States, especially in the preparation of the operational programmes and adoption of measures for the following ten years.

We have already carried out a preliminary assessment of the programmes presented to the Commission for the negotiations to see to what extent islands will be beneficiaries in the future. So far, the Commission has earmarked EUR 3.6 billion for islands. There is also a specific allocation for the outermost regions, which are also islands, and this will be EUR 3.8 billion. We have also agreed with our colleagues responsible for ESPON in Luxembourg to work on better indicators for those disadvantaged areas, in order to have more up-to-date information on those specific territories.

In other portfolios too, especially that of Commissioner Kroes, who is responsible for state aid, we have asked for special treatment for small islands as regards aid to help business start-ups. A 5% bonus is offered to those islands.

The second part of your question states that those areas remain in a disadvantaged position compared to other territories. I must say that the performance of those territories so far has not been uniform and negative. We have a range of studies that clearly demonstrate that many of those areas, in particular islands, suffer rather from their size and demography than from their specific geographical location. Many areas have experienced a significant improvement. Madeira, the Canary Islands and also areas of Greece, such as Notio Aigaio, have clearly caught up well.

I wanted to make a lengthy reply, because many people come to us with the same concerns about those disadvantaged territories. They are very close to our heart. We really care about the situation in those regions and we can also see some results. That said, I know that there is still a long way to go and we need your cooperation in this area.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for her reply; I would like, however, to insist on the fact that in order to achieve uniform development in Europe there should be special care with regards to the planning of programmes that will bring areas in a disadvantageous position one step closer to development. Besides Madeira that you previously mentioned, there are other islands that do not possess any kind of maritime accessibility to a central area. Also, are there special provisions and better incentives in your programme in order for these areas to be chosen?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. We negotiate with Greece also now the national as well as the operational programmes. What we see there is that the authorities now propose also a special priority which is accessibility, especially for islands, so I hope that, within the operational programme that is addressing the Greek island territory, priority will also be given to helping with the accessibility of the islands. We clearly know the problems also with the accessibility of islands. We are sensitive to this and when there is this proposal, we are very responsive in a positive way also to do this, to work on this with you as well.

I do not know if you have any more specific requests for information related to a specific territory. We would in that case be very happy later on to receive the information on the specific concerns you are referring to.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, global tourist destinations cannot be used as a reliable comparison. We are talking about island complexes in Europe, islands in Greece cut off from the mainland, cut off from the central European backbone. Commissioner, consider the cost that is incurred to transport a product from a small Aegean island to the central European market. Regional and cohesion policies for island areas are not enough; we need a separate territorial agenda for islands in Europe: this is my suggestion.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. If you come up with such a proposal I just take it as a message, but let me also say that a substantial area of the Greek islands is still under the Convergence objective as far as I remember. In terms of the eligibility of the funding, everything is possible, so we should not have problems with this.

Let me also say that, for the islands, as I said at the beginning, we have also agreed on higher co-financing rates, so there are some additional facilities or measures which can also help the islands, but I am open to any discussion about the islands. We can continue the debate later on.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 53 by Deputada Glenis Willmott (H-0185/07)

Subject: Promoting EU funding in the regions

In the UK, as I am sure is the case in other European countries, there is little awareness and recognition of the various ways EU money has been used to regenerate less prosperous regions. EU-funded projects in the regions are among the most visible benefits of EU membership and as such European citizens should be made more aware of the contributions the EU makes to improve their daily lives.

What measures does the Commission take to ensure that those receiving structural funds promote and publicise the source of their funding? With a view to bringing the EU closer to the people, does the Commission have any intention to set up a central database, which would hold information on EU funding, classified region by region, allowing citizens to see clearly the money being invested in their region?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. This is a question which I think is very important for the future. We have introduced some changes also to our regulations, to our approach, to have this better visibility. This policy is based on the principle of shared management, and within this shared responsibility with Member States it is for the Member States in fact to ensure appropriate information and publicity on the structural funds intervention.

We have also put into the regulation for the period 2007-2013 the requirement which is in a way consolidating and strengthening the requirements that we have today in our regulation. It says clearly that for every operational programme there should be an operational officer; for every operational programme there should be a communication plan. We also put into the regulation the minimum requirements for this kind of operational plan for communication. The information obligation also concerns final beneficiaries who must inform the public by putting up a billboard during the implementation of big projects which are also linked with physical investment and the purchase of physical material. There is also the requirement to have a permanent explanatory plaque should inform the public of European participation in the project. This is also true for training projects, where the participants must be informed by the beneficiary that EU funding is involved.

We have also introduced a brand new element to this through a Commission regulation. We will also have a publication giving the list of beneficiaries, as well as the amounts of public funding that they receive. So there will be national databases which will have to be publicly accessible, then the Commission will also establish a website and include on that the links to those databases. All that should be in place early next year.

There will also be databases created by both DG REGIO and DG EMPL containing the information at programme level – not at project level, which concerns Member States, but at programme level. It will be classified by country and by region. This will also contain the description of the operational programmes. So there will certainly be access to information: that is absolutely clear.

We started the exchange of experience between all the communication officers involved in November or December last year, but we will continue, reaching full speed at the end of this year. So at the end of this year we will be having the first big meeting with the communication officers of all the operational programmes just to share best practice and to exchange information about the communication activities which will have been developed by that time. I hope that through those efforts and new regulations we will be able to make this policy even more visible to the citizens. We also hope that this increased transparency will also have a positive impact on the quality of the policy and on the management of the policy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Glenis Willmott (PSE). – In order for the EU to forge stronger links with its citizens, it is not enough for citizens to be aware of EU funding being poured into their regions. EU citizens also need to be more involved in the EU funding process and the way EU money is being spent to fulfil public policy objectives. Transparency and accountability are essential requirements for ensuring that EU citizens are involved in European policy-making. What measures are in place to ensure that not only the Member States, but also the Commission, operate as transparently as possible when it comes to distributing EU money via structural funds? Citizens should be able to process information on who receives EU funding, how much, and for what purpose. Is this information available?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. That is exactly what I was trying to say. We now have these new transparency initiatives so there will be national websites where the Member States and the regions are obliged to present and to publicise the information on the final beneficiaries and the amount of funds allocated to them. The Commission – all the DGs responsible for the structural funds – will have to provide a direct link from our website to those national websites with the information. We will also independently be producing information on the operational programmes, which will also be put on the web. There will be more activities through those information officers on the ground in the regions within the Member States.

I hope that in this way we will reach more citizens with the information, but also that we increase transparency and the quality of the programme and the projects.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President.

Question No 54 by Lambert van Nistelrooij (H-0195/07)

Subject: Status of Netherlands Antilles and the Structural Funds

Article 299 of the EU Treaty lists the EU's outermost regions. The islands of St. Martin and Curaçao, which currently form part of the Netherlands Antilles, announced in 2005 that from 1 July 2007 they are to have separate status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in the same way as Aruba. The other three islands, Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire, are to have a status similar to that of a Netherlands municipality, including the right to vote in European Parliament elections.

The authorities concerned are apparently now exploring the possibility of obtaining for these islands the status of outermost regions. That would make the islands concerned fully part of the EU.

Does the Commission know which of the Netherlands Antilles islands meet the conditions for being recognised as an outermost region? In the Commission's view, what are the implications for the granting of EU Structural Fund money?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. My services and I have been cooperating with the Netherlands Government for quite some months on this issue, in particular with the Foreign Minister. As far as I know there is a procedure about which I am sure Mr van Nistelrooij knows, but as far as we know today, there is still an internal discussion within the Dutch Government and no proposal has yet been made to the Council to modify the Treaty, because this process would require the modification of the Treaty and only at that stage would the Commission be asked to present its opinion.

But in the meantime, before the Council has asked us, or before the whole process is started, we have been working with the Netherlands Foreign Ministry, providing them with the information, what this would mean, what kind of pros and cons should be taken into account, what the consequences would be for those territories if they become new outermost regions, and I hope that this information that the Commission has provided so far can help the Dutch Government to make the decision.

Nevertheless, the whole process can only take place when the Council gets the application from the Dutch Government and, as I said, only then can the Commission formally make an assessment of the consequences.

What I can say today is that the three islands that we are talking about have a very small population – just 30 000. So in terms of adding to the challenges that the funds are facing, it is not much. However, we all know that the budgetary framework has been decided for the years up to 2013, so any additional funds would have to be negotiated and decided on by the Council in particular. This would most likely be part of the whole process of change of the budget, but we are still far from this stage at the moment.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Lambert van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner Hübner, we are, of course, talking here about something that the Dutch Antilles themselves have asked for, something that could lead to a constitutional change, and could offer scope for these islands in terms of employment, training, and so on.

My question to you is whether you would be prepared to carry out this follow-up study together with the Dutch Government. Assessment data are available from regions such as Guadeloupe and Martinique. Would you be prepared to collaborate, so that the decision taken in due course is the most favourable?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. As I said, we were approached by the governments so we provided all the information that was needed. We can do the same for the islands if we are asked to do so by anybody who requires this information. We can certainly do that, but if the islands were to change their status and the amendment of the Treaty were to take place, then EU law would be applicable and would be implemented in these territories, including all the regulations which are related to European regional policy. In the meantime, as I said, we can provide all the information which is needed.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The questions that have not been taken due to lack of time will be answered in writing (see Annex).

That concludes questions to the Commission.

 
  

(1) OJ L 286, 17.10.2006, p. 6.
(2) OJ L 89, 5.4.2003, p. 9.
(3) OJ L 337, 13.12.2002, p. 3.
(4) OJ L 316, 31.10.1992, p. 29.


13. Moving the inadmissibility of a matter (homophobia in Europe): see Minutes
  

(The sitting was suspended at 7.35 p.m. and resumed at 9.00 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO
Vice-President

 

14. Multilateral Agreement on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area: Commission statement and report (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the joint debate on

- the Commission statement on the Multilateral Agreement on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area, and

- the report (A6-0060/2007) by Mrs Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a Council decision on the conclusion of the Multilateral Agreement between the Republic of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Bulgaria, the Republic of Croatia, the European Community, the Republic of Iceland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Kingdom of Norway, Serbia and Montenegro, Romania and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) (COM(2006)0113 - C6-0218/2006 - 2006/0036(CNS)).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to start by congratulating Mrs Lichtenberger on her very constructive report. The stakes involved in the Agreement on the European Common Aviation Area are certainly significant.

The agreement was signed last June by 37 parties, a number which is undoubtedly unparalleled in aviation agreements. It helps us to create a single global network which will bring people, countries and cultures closer together. In this respect, air transport plays a vital role in the integration and subsequent development of Europe as a whole. The Agreement on the European Common Aviation Area thus goes beyond simply opening up the market: it creates a single area, and brings all of the countries of the Balkans and South-East Europe into the European family.

This agreement will encourage the development not only of more air links, but of better quality ones. These links will promote trade between populations, be it in the form of commercial relationships or of private travel, for example in the context of tourism, which is booming in most of the countries concerned. Air transport can thus act as a driving force for development in other sectors and contribute to the development of the entire Balkan region. Like the treaty on energy in South-East Europe, the Agreement on the European Common Aviation Area represents a vital step towards an ever closer union of Europeans, which continues to be the underlying aim of the EU. It represents a key step in establishing, by 2010, a single aviation area between the European Union and its neighbours, along with the recent agreement with Morocco and the negotiations that have just been opened with Ukraine.

The objective of the agreement is clear and forward-looking, but it is also worth emphasising the benefits of the method chosen. This method is based on two pillars. The first pillar is regulatory convergence, in other words harmonisation of the European rules and standards in air transport in fields as important as safety, security, competition, social policy, consumer rights and environmental protection. This harmonisation of national and Community legislation is an illustration of the desire of the Balkan countries to share the European Union's values and principles, and the level of regulatory convergence is unprecedented: all of the partners to this agreement have made a commitment to bring their national legislation into line with Community legislation.

The second pillar is the creation of new opportunities by opening up the markets. We are now in the process of creating a single aviation market in 35 countries for more than 500 million residents, and this market is growing. Since 2001, air traffic between the European Union and South-East Europe has grown by almost 120%, and this trend is now going to accelerate thanks to the complete integration of a region in which, it is predicted, air traffic will increase by 6% a year to 2011. Since 2005, the number of seats on flights between the European Union and the Balkans has risen from 12 million to 14 million. I am sure everyone is well aware of the positive consequences of this agreement.

In order for this venture to be a success, the Commission also needs to lean on a third pillar: technical assistance. We intend to keep a close eye on the implementation of this legislation, whilst at the same time providing the partners with all the help they need, and I will keep you informed, ladies and gentlemen, of the progress achieved and of developments in the situation.

I would like once again to thank your rapporteur, Mrs Lichtenberger, and you for lending your support to this European campaign to create a European common aviation area. Yet again, the alliance between Parliament and Commission has achieved some very important results that, Mr President, are in Europe's general interest.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Eva Lichtenberger (Verts/ALE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I am much obliged to the Commissioner for his introductory words. Let me also thank my honourable colleagues for the fact that we have jointly managed to produce a report which, in its main elements, constitutes a very cohesive document. May I say that this coordinated effort should not be underestimated.

It is always said of us Austrians that we have an affinity with the Balkans, and this is one reason why I am pleased that we have just reached an agreement with the Balkan States which regulates our common development in a particular area of activity and provides for a step-by-step approach that responds as effectively as possible to the diverse situations in those countries.

The countries of the Balkans, which have lived through extremely difficult times in the recent past, with wars, disputes and nationalist conflicts, differ sharply from each other in terms of their fleets, their infrastructure, their powers of control and their governmental structures. For that precise reason, a differentiated approach has to be adopted. That has undoubtedly been very successfully achieved in the present agreement.

I would like to highlight a few points that will be crucial to our joint efforts. We shall be monitoring this convergence process by means of aid and assistance in the introduction of safety and security measures – and I use the English terms because they enable me to draw a distinction between two aspects of the German word Sicherheit. It is all about daily routine, of course, about the practical details of everyday working procedures. Needless to say, it must be crystal-clear to us that the conditions have to be fulfilled, that we cannot turn a blind eye to deficiencies but must work together over the next few years on common safety and security rules for European aviation and that these efforts must be accompanied by the creation of market-access mechanisms.

Some points within the general set of rules appear to me to be especially central and important, such as passengers' rights, particularly the rights of passengers with disabilities, which will naturally apply in those countries just as they do in our own. People confined to wheelchairs must not be prevented from travelling by the absence of the appropriate infrastructure and personnel in the Balkan countries. Social dumping in the form of non-compliance with common rules governing working hours must naturally be prevented too, because that is a core issue which has now spread to the aviation sector.

It goes without saying that protection of the environment also plays a major role. Much has been said in the context of this agreement about high growth rates in future air traffic between the European Union and the Balkan countries. This growth must be accompanied by an environmental initiative to reduce emissions and noise levels so as to ensure that increasing volumes of air traffic do not mean sharp rises in environmental pollution.

One final important point concerns the functional airspace blocks. It will be difficult to form a common block or pursue common policies, but I am an incurable old optimist and hope that we can achieve a satisfactory outcome in this area too. We know to our regret, of course, that these things do not always run smoothly, even within the Union, but we can create the conditions for a common system of air-traffic management that serves to reduce emissions and to make life easier for air passengers and for airline and airport staff.

I hope that intergovernmental cooperation in the Balkans under this agreement might be a further step towards mutual understanding in other spheres too.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georg Jarzembowski, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Vice-President of the Commission, let me begin by warmly thanking the rapporteur for the immense volume of work she has put into this report, and particularly into the resolution, and let me reassure her that she is not an incurable old optimist but a youthful optimist!

The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats wholeheartedly supports the creation of a broader common air space comprising the European Union, Iceland and Norway from the European Economic Area and the neighbouring countries of south-eastern Europe, since all of these countries, through this multilateral agreement, will gradually incorporate the same code of aviation law and ultimately create a uniform legal area in Europe covering all aspects of aviation, from air-traffic control and airspace management to competition between airlines. In this way we shall also increase the safety and security of aviation and reinforce the rights of air travellers.

I am very grateful to the rapporteur for drafting the resolution. I do not seek to apply the eco-friendly label to every activity in any circumstances but would argue for a reasonable level of mobility. This is why we believe that all Member States should involve themselves without delay in practical measures to realise the concept of a single European sky by means of an effective system of airspace management. In this way we can cut CO2 emissions in the European Union by up to 12%.

We also support the efforts to introduce a sound European system of emissions-trading for air transport in order to achieve further environmental benefits. The wisdom of emissions-trading, however, is something we shall discuss later in another context.

Finally, let me point out that it is also important for us to assist each other in staff training and in the procurement and use of the latest air-traffic control technology, for we need a safe and efficient system to monitor the use of European air space.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Saïd El Khadraoui, on behalf of the PSE Group. (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I too should like to start by thanking the rapporteur, Mrs Lichtenberger, for the good work she has done on this issue, but also on other aviation issues, in which we had the pleasure of working together, often, in fact, in overwhelming consensus with most groups. We have been able to conclude time and again that we seek to achieve the same objectives, these being not only the gradual extension of the freed European aviation market, but also, and possibly above all, to seize this opportunity to ensure that we gradually export – as it were – the European acquis, the sum total of all European rules on aviation, to our neighbours and, in time, also to other parts of the world. In that way, our common rules in the area of safety, security, air traffic control, competition, social and environmental aspects can be adopted by third countries and can create, in that way, a level playing field, albeit elevated, of some kind. This is important when we open each other’s markets, but also in terms of the safety of our passengers or of maintenance of social cohesion in the sector.

It goes without saying that it will not be easy for all countries involved to apply the existing European rules, because they often lack the necessary know-how or the necessary technical baggage, and so it is important to stipulate in the agreement that the Commission is prepared to offer to those countries technical, legal and management support. It is equally important that in these agreements, we keep the option of taking necessary measures in future open, for example as the rapporteur already mentioned, to reduce the adverse effects on the climate to an absolute minimum. The emissions trading system has already been mentioned, and the System for Earth Sample Registration (SESAR) is another way of achieving this. Needless to say, we fully support the Lichtenberger report and the associated resolution, although we would like to tighten up certain things here and there, and have tabled a few amendments accordingly, which, I hope, will meet with parliamentary support. They may be symbolic, but are important and in line with comparable resolutions we already approved.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (NL) Mr President, a common aviation area based on free market access, freedom of establishment, a level playing field, based on common rules in the area of safety, security, air traffic control and naturally the social aspects and the environment, does, of course, create a considerable win-win situation for all parties involved, and nobody will say that such a thing is not necessary and useful.

This is, in fact, what sprang to mind when we commemorated the Tenerife air disaster on 27 March last. Exactly thirty years ago, two Boeing 747’s collided, and 583 people lost their lives, in what was the biggest disaster in our aviation history. I then realised that, since that time, we have taken many important steps where common rules on European aviation, and particularly where the safety of aviation passengers, are concerned, and was acutely aware of how much we have benefited from this.

Accordingly, I consider the establishment of a European common aviation area, based on the guiding principles which have more or less been covered by most speakers, to be another important step forward. After all, the agreement provides for the gradual extension of the aviation acquis to include the partner countries. Alongside safety, its economic importance is also obvious.

Like the rapporteur and previous speakers, I think it important to emphasise that not all partner countries are starting from the same position. Some, to put it mildly, face a considerable challenge, and the aviation sector in the partner countries is also at rather different stages of development.

In other words, progress in the direction of a common aviation area will not be uniform; in fact, we do not want that anyway, and so I see the proposed technical, legal and other support from the EU in the direction of these partner countries to be an essential tool in order actually to achieve the European common aviation area. I should, of course, like to conclude by adding my thanks to the rapporteur, Mrs Lichtenberger.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Mrs Lichtenberger on her work.

I would like, on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group, to express my support for this multilateral international agreement in which the European Union plays a prime role, despite some differences in technicalities among the partners. We are now coming to the end of a difficult and tortuous task which was started many years ago, and which will result in a free, safe and common civil aviation market in Europe. The rapid expansion of cargo as well as of passenger aviation has brought both positive and negative results. In this context, I am happy to say that the Polish aviation market is the fastest developing in Europe, at an average of over 11% over the year. Only in China has air transport been developing more quickly. The development of low cost airlines has clearly contributed to this growth, and it has helped to develop some very important regional hubs. We can now say that the levels of air traffic in Europe have reached saturation point, and a critical event such as poor weather, an accident or strikes would cause major disruption to the entire European system. I would like to stress that the European Common Aviation Area will be responsible for supervising aviation authorities in individual countries, and will collaborate with these authorities and with Eurocontrol. The SESAME system will have an important role to play in this.

And two final points. The ECAA should become the precursor for a common world aviation area. On this point I agree with the Commissioner’s comments. And secondly, in all activities covered by this agreement, the focus on passengers, including disabled passengers, as mentioned by the rapporteur, must not be lost. In this context, I think that the recent strike by firemen at Brussels airport set an extremely poor example.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vladimír Remek, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should first like to commend the rapporteur on her work and as a shadow rapporteur I would like to thank her for the good cooperation.

One of the most important contributions to be made by the agreement is, in my view, the fact that it will lead to the extension of specific European standards to a further region, in this case the Balkans, which is also a complex region.

As I spent part of my professional career in aviation, I know how important international cooperation is in this field and how necessary it is to have at least a number of specific rules. With the adoption of this document, we are satisfying further preconditions for the extension of a single European sky beyond EU territory. This is not only about helping to improve safety, but also about the possibility of enhancing the quality of passenger services. The agreement also represents further opportunities for European business. To my mind these are equally important consequences of the agreement before us. I also believe that this is an example of a project that will help, in a practical way, to disseminate European ideas. Further practical agreements of this kind, which are not mere attempts at bureaucratically managing life in European countries, and which enjoy broad support, would certainly raise the prestige of the EU.

Aviation in Europe is open to all countries that wish to be integrated into the European flying family under clear and generally accepted terms and conditions.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jean-Claude Martinez, on behalf of the ITS Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, a single market, a single currency, and now even the sky is to become single, this is confirmation that European integration is a legal, financial and economic monotheism, which, like all monotheisms, has the power to expand. We can see it here with the Council’s ultimately positive decision concerning a Multilateral Agreement for the Establishment of a European Aviation Area common to the European Union, to the Balkan States, to Iceland and to Norway, that is, if I have counted correctly, to 37 countries.

This legal corpus, once again positive, is a multilateral agreement: 35 articles, 4 annexes and 8 protocols. National laws are being brought into line with each other. We are establishing a common market for aviation transport, and, my God, unification happens more quickly in the sky than on earth. Here we have one agreement that establishes a continental aviation law under five main headings: the right of establishment, aviation safety in Article 11, aviation security particularly in times of terrorist threats and hijackings, air traffic management and, of course, competition, with State aid, public contracts and the marketing of goods.

In addition to all the classic rules common to all these multilateral treaties, that is, rules for the settlement of disputes, for interpretation, for implementation, and here, implementation that allows for application in stages, with the classic problem, once again, of the starting date and provisional application. For once, we can only welcome something that should make life easier both for companies and for natural persons.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (PPE-DE).(FR) Mr President, I agree with the previous speaker’s very positive comments. Mr President, 37 Member States will have to ratify this agreement before its final application. Until then, bilateral agreements, insofar as they exist, will be applied. Our rapporteur has stressed that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is inappropriate as far as the associated countries are concerned.

However, the intergovernmental approach for a joint committee that was larger than necessary, as she politely puts it – and I should like to congratulate Mrs Lichtenberger on her report – nonetheless makes cooperation considerably more cumbersome. It goes without saying that implementation of the SESAR system will make air traffic management easier, and we can only give our full support to Commissioner Barrot with a view to speeding up as far as possible the development phase of SESAR.

Need I remind you that this system would make a considerable contribution to the environment, one that would be more effective than the system of emissions trading, the imposition of which is being sought for civil aviation, with a better organised air space and genuine savings in aviation fuel? There would not only be an open sky but also a clean sky, as you said, Commissioner.

I would repeat, however, my fears that the agreements to be ratified by the Member States may delay the implementation of SESAR. The stage before us this evening is a major one, and the date of 2010 is ambitious. The development phase of SESAR should end in 2013. Commissioner, it is justifiable to have the ambition to progress in the interests of environmental protection, but I would ask the Commission to tell us whether it is not possible to progress also in the work and what the state of advancement is of the regulatory work done in the Member States. Could the Commission keep Parliament informed regularly about the state of progress of this work?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – Felicit raportorul pentru munca depusă. Încep prin a menţiona că România şi Bulgaria, ca state membre, respectă acquis-ul comunitar. De asemenea acestora se aplică regulamentele în vigoare. Acordul multilateral pentru stabilirea spaţiului aerian comun european se înscrie în politica de vecinătate a Uniunii Europene şi în procesul de extindere a pieţei interne de transport la statele vecine. Statele din Balcani sunt importante pentru Uniune Europeană. Este important pentru aceasta ca statele semnatare să respecte standardele şi reglementările europene privind siguranţa şi securitatea aviaţiei, drepturile pasagerilor, concurenţa, achiziţiile şi ajutorul de stat. Implementarea acordului se va face gradual, conform protocolului cu fiecare stat semnatar, urmând ca aplicarea integrală a acordului să se realizeze după ratificarea sa de către toate părţile semnatare. Până în acel moment se vor aplica acordurile bilaterale existente privind accesul la spaţiul aerian şi frecvenţele utilizate. Având în vedere importanţa spaţiului aerian comun european pentru politica comunitară de transport, este important ca statele semnatare să primească din partea Comisiei Europene sprijinul tehnic, legal şi procedural necesar pentru implementarea sa. Felicit încă o dată raportorul pentru activitatea depusă.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Arūnas Degutis (ALDE). (LT) The resolution being considered today is short, but crucial: with it we would agree to a multilateral agreement on the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). This agreement, which the Commission negotiated a year ago with the Balkan countries as well as Iceland and Norway, is important because it expands the application of European Community aviation norms to the partner countries mentioned.

This is of great importance not only for these countries, which are trying to gradually bring their aviation norms in line with European norms, but also for Europe, since European standards will gradually start to be applied in the above-mentioned geographic zone, above all in the field of aviation safety, which will enable our citizens to travel more safely. Travel to the Balkans is constantly increasing as these countries draw closer to Europe.

The field of international civil aviation is complex and multifaceted; therefore, it was correct to choose an asymmetrical negotiation approach with regard to the specific situation and the level of implementation of existing standards in each country with which a protocol was to be signed. This should make for faster implementation of the norms, not holding back the more advanced countries, while encouraging those lagging furthest behind.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I should like to thank Parliament for emphasising – as all the speakers have done – the importance of this agreement that establishes a European Common Aviation Area.

I should like to say to the rapporteur that, of course, environmental and social aspects are covered by the agreement that includes the European Union rules. The signatory States, moreover, are committed to implementing the acquis communautaire, and that applies, in particular, to the rights of passengers and to those, as you have stressed, Mrs Lichtenberger, of people with reduced mobility. The partners of this European Common Aviation Area are also committed to implementing all future European Union legislation, including, for example, social rights. Therefore, this European Aviation Area will serve as a common framework for aviation transport and will ensure equality of treatment in all circumstances for all parties concerned.

I should also like to point out that SESAR will encourage better management of the aviation area, which will also be a major factor. Many of you also have emphasised the fact that not only was compliance with the acquis communautaire essential, but that it was also essential to provide support and that this support should be proportionate to the needs of each of the Member States, which are not all at the same level. In answer to Mrs Hennicot-Schoepges on this point, I shall do as she wished and keep your Parliament informed of the regulatory progress in the Member States. You are right, Mrs Hennicot-Schoepges, to have emphasised the risk of seeing ratification fall behind when, in fact, this Area needs to come into being quickly. I am therefore very mindful of what you have said.

I think that I have covered almost all that has been said. I would add that the Commission will carry out annual assessment visits and will present to the European Parliament a detailed report on the progress achieved by the European Aviation Area partners.

I would also add, for Mrs Ticău’s benefit, that the accession of Bulgaria and of Romania had been provided for by the agreement. As the two States are now members of the European Union, they are parties to the agreement, and no amendment is to be envisaged.

Mr President, I shall say no more. I thank Parliament very much for the interest it has shown in this agreement which, indeed, is absolutely vital in order to unify the European sky and, as Mr Martinez said, sometimes, perhaps, we have to start with the sky in order to achieve unity on the ground.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The joint debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 11.30 a.m.

 

15. Galileo (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the Commission statement on Galileo.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful to Parliament for having taken the initiative for this resolution. The content of the resolution assists the efforts of the Commission. Its adoption in plenary is further testimony of the European Community’s clear and unwavering desire to bring to a successful conclusion this great European project that is Galileo.

What is the situation? In the face of a standstill in the contract negotiations with the consortium candidate and in the absence of progress on the conditions that I laid down a year ago, I have issued an ultimatum with precise deadlines in order to break this deadlock. On the basis of this ultimatum, supported by the Council, I have received a mandate from the Council to work on all the possible options. The work of the Commission on the basis of the Transport Council’s mandate of 22 March 2007, to which your resolution gives invaluable support, is progressing satisfactorily. The result of this work will be the subject of a communication to Parliament and to the Council, which the Commission intends to adopt on 10 May 2007, that is, a month before the next Transport Council in June 2007.

This communication will respond to all the demands made by the Council of 22 March 2007 and by Parliament in the resolution that you are going to adopt. This communication will include an examination of the current situation, of the difficulties faced by the programme, including the reasons for the deadlock in the concession contract negotiations, then an analysis of the chances of a rapid conclusion of the concession contract and also alternative solutions to the plan adopted until now. There will be no taboos, whether on the causes of the current difficulties, on the possible timetable, or on the issues relating to finance or to governance.

As far as alternative solutions are concerned, several options are possible. They range from retaining the project in its present form to, obviously, ending it, which I do not envisage, of course. An intermediate solution could be for the public sector to assume responsibility for the deployment of all or part of the satellite infrastructure, then, for its operation to be taken on by a private partner. That is one of the alternatives. Each of these alternatives, however, will be the subject of a detailed examination looking at their technical and financial implications, including in terms of governance.

The Commission’s concern is still to ensure the best cost-benefit ratio for the project while avoiding further delays. Avoiding fresh delays is crucial in the face of the risks that would arise from the modernisation of competing systems. Of course, should the current plan be pursued and the concession contract negotiations resume very actively over the coming weeks, I will inform Parliament of the progress achieved.

I should like now to speak to you about the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) programme, which improves the global positioning system for European users. The European Space Agency will complete the operational readiness review of this system by March 2008. EGNOS will then be ready for full operation, and an economic operator able to use the EGNOS applications will have to be found before March 2008. The European institutions will also be in a position to provide funding for the system from that same date. I am insisting on this slightly because EGNOS will give us the opportunity, already, to evaluate some applications for satellite navigation, and it is therefore of great interest, because it is the first step that will pave the way for Galileo.

Concerning the funding for the European satellite navigation programmes, you know that the Commission proposed from July 2004 a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council. This proposal provided for a specific legal instrument for the Galileo programme that was consistent with the future European Space Programme and that responded to the concern for sound financial management within the financial framework 2007-2013. This proposal mentions provisional arrangements for financial aid from the European community amounting to EUR 1 billion. The Council reached a partial general approach on this proposal on 21 April 2005. Parliament also adopted a positive opinion at first reading on 5 September 2005. The definitive costing will depend on which options are taken up and, of course, it will be submitted in good time to the budgetary authority.

Concerning governance of the Galileo programme, the Commission is currently considering ways that are likely to enable more effective coordination between the different actors in the programme: the Commission itself, the Supervisory Authority and the European Space Agency.

A word now about external relations. International agreements concerning the Galileo programme are negotiated on the basis of Article 300 of the Treaty. The procedure laid down in this article still includes consultation with Parliament prior to the conclusion of these negotiations. I am, of course, aware of Parliament’s concern to be closely involved in the monitoring of governance.

With regard to the applications of Galileo and to the Green Paper on these applications, the public debate phase is about to come to an end. More than 70 contributions have been received, from a wide range of actors. The Commission must now analyse the results before working out the plan of action to be implemented from 2008.

You know, ladies and gentlemen, that Galileo is the most ambitious industrial project that Europe has ever undertaken. Naturally, I am keen this evening to seek the support of Parliament, taking into account the difficulty of the undertaking, but also our desire to make it succeed. It is true that the month ahead is going to be a time of extremely hard work for the Commission and for the competent services, in order to find the best solutions that will enable us to emerge from the current situation and move the programme forward in due time.

That is what I wanted to bring to the attention of Parliament this evening. Of course, during the course of the studies under way, I shall make it a point of honour to keep Parliament informed, and I would thank it in advance, Mr President, for agreeing, in the proposed resolution to be voted on tomorrow, to give us the assistance we need to convince the Member States that a project such as this is too important for the future of Europe not to be pursued with determination.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Etelka Barsi-Pataky, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group.(HU) Mr Vice-President, thank you for the detailed information. This afternoon at the opening of the Airbus photo exhibit we heard of the impressive achievements of 21st century European developmental engineers. But we have also heard from the representative of Airbus that the problems arose with manufacturing, that the delay has caused irremediable damages, and also that Airbus was not European enough but was governed by considerations of the Member States.

Now Galileo has also embarked on this road, but since the spring Council, it seems the Council, the Commission and Parliament have agreed that these errors can still be avoided in time. Last autumn, Parliament drew the attention of the Commission and of the Council to the growing number of unsolved problems and delays, and therefore we welcome and are pleased, Mr Vice-President, with your bold move and decisive action. I can assure you, Mr Vice-President, that you will have the support of the European Parliament in the resolution of the most difficult questions if a transparent, clear and feasible timetable and affordable financing are finally worked out, either by means of negotiation or by an alternative solution. This is what we are waiting for: effective, better public governance, clear political lines of responsibility for the acquisition of the necessary tools. We are looking for an unambiguous response regarding the overall need for Community financing and responsibility. We are awaiting a clear answer at last from the players in the European space industry, regarding financial participation, the mode of funding based on a 2/3 formula, since this is what was stated in the call for tenders.

Galileo is the first Community infrastructure, and this is why the European Parliament is following it with great interest. Mr Vice-President, you mentioned that the EP voted almost 1 billion euro for the Galileo programme in its seven-year budget. The amount is available as of 1 January, and we would like to know what we will spend it on and how we will make use of it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Norbert Glante, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, it is certainly a bit frustrating to see the pretty pass we have gradually come to because of the delay in the Galileo project. It is unquestionably an ambitious venture to conduct a PPP project on a European scale for the first time. However, the small and medium-sized enterprises that took part in the survey conducted through the Green Paper are waiting for the go-ahead to devise, produce and market their applications, so that the jobs they all expect to create can actually materialise.

The business community expects us to keep it free from political interference. 'Business does business' is a familiar saying. Time and again, however, although I personally am always very business-friendly, I get the feeling that, whenever the business community hits difficulties, it reverts to appeals for political assistance and shies away from taking risks.

Fair sharing of investment, risks and profits is of paramount importance in the PPP model. The proposal in the opinion delivered by the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy that funds be held in reserve for the Supervisory Authority in the first instance was intended by us as an admonition to all parties to move forward and make up for lost time. We know full well that this is rather like kicking the dog and meaning the master, to quote an old proverb, but unfortunately we have no other means of exerting pressure.

We remain optimistic, and our Socialist Group in the European Parliament also continues to support the project, but our patience is not inexhaustible. I hope the time limits and deadlines that have been set will now serve to bring together the business participants and the requisite consortium. To close with another proverb, actions speak louder than words. It is time to let them speak.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Fiona Hall, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, Commissioner, I welcome the opportunity to have this discussion tonight on Galileo, but it gives me a very strange sensation of being in a time warp.

It was seven months ago that we last had a plenary discussion on this topic and it is very alarming to realise that no progress has been made since then. On that occasion in September I expressed my concern, as did other Members, at the spiralling cost of the project. We need to be brutally honest: no taboos, as the Commissioner said. Galileo has the potential to be a great European project, but technology moves very fast. There has been so much delay that the point could be reached where it is simply not worthwhile doing any more. Galileo is dependent on revenue and, if it offers no added value, then no one will pay to use it.

I listened with great interest to what Commissioner Barrot said. It seems that something which has at last changed is the Council and Commission’s willingness to take firm action. I very much welcome the 10 May deadline and the insistence that substantial, immediate progress be made by then on the heads of terms. I also welcome the undertaking to explore alternatives for delivering the project, but I am alarmed at the possibility of an interim solution dependent on the public purse.

Finally, the Commission has said that it may have to revisit some fundamental aspects of its earlier assumptions and approach. I would ask the Commissioner whether with hindsight he would concede that it was a mistake to agree in July 2005 to the merging of the two consortia. It seems to me that this was the point when the Commission lost all leverage. Would he now agree that it is the spur of competition and the existence of alternatives which is most likely to keep a public/private partnership on schedule and in budget?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  David Hammerstein Mintz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (ES) Mr President, in its financial perspective, the European Union is making a significant effort to launch this Galileo programme. We now have an obligation to ensure that the Union’s money is spent and managed properly.

If the programme’s private partners are not fulfilling their obligations, they must be replaced immediately. We trust that the Galileo system will be operational as soon as possible and will become a key element in helping transport and improving the observation of our environmental problems, such as climate change.

We would like the Galileo project also to be compatible and interoperable with the conventional navigation systems, such as the GSM, and others. It is important that they are interconnectable and complementary. Together with the US GPS and the Russian GLONASS, they must contribute to improving our navigation system.

At the same time we must continue to monitor the programme in order to ensure that Galileo’s applications respect the strictest ethical and human rights standards.

We are now asking ourselves, however, whether Galileo is simply an illusion or whether it will be a reality. I wonder whether the European Commission’s capacity for management is sufficient for the circumstances and challenges of Galileo. The European Union’s prestige is at stake.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gerard Batten, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Mr President, there is a perfectly good existing satellite system available for EU citizens' use. But we all know that Galileo is really about extending the power and dominion of the European Union and it is eventually intended to be used for military purposes by the planned EU armed forces.

Meanwhile, the funding plans of this grandiose project, which will run into billions of euros, are encountering severe difficulties. The British Government, ever with an eye for an additional taxation opportunity, plans to use it to implement road-charging schemes so that British citizens can help pay for it by being charged for the privilege of driving on their own roads.

Galileo has all the makings of an Airbus in space and, as Galileo Galilei pointed out, what goes up must come down. In this case it would be much better if it did not go up in the first place.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Józef Pinior (PSE). (PL) Mr President, the GALILEO satellite navigation system will secure the European Union’s place in global civilisation in the coming century. The selfish interests of individual corporations and countries will not succeed in undermining the entire Union’s justified interest in this. The European Parliament is concerned by the delays in implementing the GALILEO project and demands that the Commission submit a plan which will guarantee that the European Union’s own satellite navigation will actually take off. The European Parliament must support the Commission in its drive to get GALILEO built in an alternative way by a group of contractors different to the consortium set up in 2005. We have to remember that Europe may be overtaken by the Russian GLONASS or the Chinese BEIDOU system. The GALILEO system will guarantee the European Union’s future place in civilisation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, first of all I should like to thank Mrs Barsi-Pataky for the support she has given to this programme, at the same time as being very vigilant, because she has always asked the right questions about it.

I should like to be very clear before Parliament: I do not think, Mrs Hall, that the problem is due to the fact that there is only one consortium. The real problem is that the Galileo programme was launched with a public-private partnership that perhaps was not worked out as well as it might have been. The public-private partnership is still based on a very precise business plan, and I would add that, in the United States, independence in space was acquired from the Army’s military budget, which later allowed NASA to develop its services.

I think, therefore, that we have to ask ourselves the fundamental questions now. Does the public-private partnership – even if we keep it – have to have exactly the same dimension? That is the problem. I do not believe, in all conscience, that there being one consortium or two is really the problem. The real problem now is knowing whether the applications of Galileo offer an added value such that they justify a commitment from the Union at the level at which this commitment is envisaged.

I heard also that Galileo could be useless. We have to know whether we want for the European Union not only independence in space but also a whole series of advances in everyday life for the benefit of the citizens. This is not merely a prestige programme, but a programme that is intended fundamentally to meet needs, and I am in a good position to know how much, in the field of transport, we could benefit from the Galileo programme.

I have promised, Mr President, to keep Parliament regularly informed about the progress of our deliberations. I have to tell you that I have personally taken this issue very much to heart; I really want to take a very close look at things in order to make it clear that, if we have to modify somewhat the scenario that was conceived at the outset, it is so that we can be sure of its success. Mr Glante in particular spoke of the benefits that could be gained by the citizens, as well as by small and medium-sized companies to which Galileo will offer new opportunities: you are right, that is indeed the heart of the matter. We need to know what added value Galileo will provide and what all the applications that it will be possible to implement consist of.

We are in the process of studying all that very carefully. That is all I can say this evening, but I shall remain at Parliament’s disposal to talk about this fascinating, but difficult, subject.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. I have received a motion for a resolution(1) tabled in accordance with Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday at 12 noon.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.


16. Common rules in the field of civil aviation security (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the recommendation for second reading (A6-0134/2007), on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the Council common position for adopting a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules in the field of civil aviation security and repealing Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002 (14039/1/2006 C6-0041/2007 2005/0191(COD)) (Rapporteur: Paolo Costa).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Paolo Costa (ALDE), rapporteur. (IT) Mr President, Mr Barrot, ladies and gentlemen, I am disappointed that the ‘Transport live night show’ is not the Council’s favourite, since it was the Council in particular that I wanted to address. I believe, in fact, that what I am about to repeat to my colleagues and the Vice-President of the Commission is well-known to them and I think they support my views, while we know that we have some problems with the Council.

Parliament has welcomed with great interest and considerable understanding the Commission’s proposal to review the rules that attempt to tackle the problem of security with regard to any attack on airports, aircraft and the aviation system. The Commission has tackled the issue with great openness, keeping in mind that we are setting about performing an important task, namely the creation of a single security system that will reduce inconvenience for passengers and make it possible to increase security and organise ourselves better to achieve that aim.

I think I can say that we have also brought about some improvement by seeking to define the limits within which it is possible to authorise armed personnel on board and by attempting to resolve the technical problems of the difference between carrying standard cargo and mail, identify procedures for organising inspections in airports, and deal with many other technicalities.

We got stuck, however, on one problem with regard to which I have still not managed to understand the logic behind the Council’s opposition. The issue is very simple: security is both a private matter and a public matter. Each of us, when we travel, wants to travel safely. When security can be affected by terrorist attacks, however, it is clearly in everyone’s interests to defend ourselves collectively against such attacks.

In the United States, for example, this matter is considered to be an entirely public concern and the costs are borne wholly by the taxpayer. On this point, I would like to repeat the idea which we have already put forward – and which we continue to put forward, perhaps obstinately – that we should accept the principle that the costs of security ought to be borne both by the citizen who travels and by the States that are protecting themselves, not least in airports and in aircraft, particularly since all we were asking for was for this principle to be accepted, leaving each Member State free to decide how to balance the contributions from the two sources.

As a second principle, we were asking that the security costs borne by the citizens should be transparent and clearly defined, and as a third principle we were asking for a guarantee that every surcharge paid for security should be actually spent on security.

We only asked for these three principles to be accepted, and gave up on the interinstitutional agreement signed back in 2001, on the basis of which the Commission was supposed to put forward much more detailed proposals to tackle the problem of funding security, which would have then, obviously, been approved by the Council too. On this point we have not had a response and we have not been able to reach a conclusion.

I hope that, if the Chamber cannot recreate the unanimous vote in committee tomorrow, it can at least provide a substantial majority that will demonstrate not the power but the good will of Parliament to find a real solution to the problem for all European citizens.

I would like to stress the fact that unfortunately security is a subject that we will have to live with. Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending that the funding problem does not exist is not a response worthy of the times, the problem and our expectations. We therefore fully back more technically sophisticated organisation on the security front, but we ask that this issue be resolved, at least in principle. If we succeed in achieving this objective as soon as possible, I think that we will certainly have acted in the interest of our citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, Mr Costa, it is true that this proposal is important. The fight against the terrorist threat clearly remains a priority for all the European Union institutions. Aviation security requires constant adaptation. We need to continue to seek ways to provide greater, effective protection for European citizens. We need to draw lessons from experience and to reconcile the demands of security with the operational necessities of the parties involved: the administration responsible for the implementing rules, airport managers, airlines and, of course, passengers.

The existing regulatory framework on aviation security was established after the attacks of 11 September 2001. It was developed as a matter of urgency, which probably explains the excessively detailed nature of the annex to Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002. The prescriptive and detailed nature of this annex is a handicap that prevents us from introducing new, more effective, technologies or from providing security systems better adapted to the actual risks to be accounted for. Finally, it does not allow us to fill the regulatory gaps concerning air freight and the handling of flights from third countries. Therefore, this new proposal, the purpose of which is to replace Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002 with a new regulation that is better because it is both simpler and clearer, is obviously altogether desirable.

The adjustment of the rules on aviation security will improve the protection of citizens; it will make it possible to satisfy the legitimate interests of stakeholders because there will be a better balance between the risks to be taken into account and the extent of the checks to be carried out. I admit, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, that I would have preferred this proposal to have been adopted at first reading. This delay is all the more regrettable when one realises, as I am doing today, that Mr Costa’s draft report completely validates the necessity for this initiative, and we agree, Mr Costa, with most of the actual operational suggestions.

Mr President, I come now to the amendments that have been tabled. More than half take up the amendments adopted by Parliament at first reading. Obviously, the Commission’s position remains identical with regard to them.

I should like to make a few comments regarding some of the new amendments that have been tabled. Firstly, Amendment 46 seems timely to me. It will allow the Commission to cooperate more closely with the ICAO for the purpose of exchanging information and mutual support in connection with audits and inspections. Therefore, Mr Costa, we welcome the approach set out in this amendment.

Amendment 33 includes a sunset clause for all the implementing measures that are to be reexamined after six months. However, in a joint declaration annexed to the new decision on comitology, Parliament and the Council have nonetheless recognised that good legislation demands that the executive powers conferred on the Commission should be without time constraints. I do, of course, understand the argument whereby a text that has come into force as a matter of urgency subsequently has to be reexamined, but nonetheless I am worried. The systematic application of this principle could cause legal uncertainty, and the aviation sector may then be led to amend its procedures or to create new ones with disastrous consequences for the effectiveness of the procedures, passenger information and costs. That is why I would prefer to reject Amendment 33 as it stands. Having said that, I am inclined to accept the inclusion of a commitment to revise the text.

I shall take advantage of this opportunity to emphasise that the Commission constantly reviews the good functioning of measures adopted and that it does not hesitate to amend them if necessary. Last week, as part of a half-yearly review, the Commission postponed by a year the introduction of a restriction on the size of hand luggage in order to be able to review the merits of this measure and, if necessary, to ensure that operators are better prepared to implement it.

Amendment 37 gives Member States the opportunity not to implement measures that they consider to be disproportionate. This provision, if it were adopted, could undermine the system of EU-wide harmonised basic standards on aviation security. We would be in danger of going backwards, to a patchwork of 27 uncoordinated national regulatory systems, and of reducing to nothing five years of work towards harmonisation. This amendment is also liable to undermine the system of ‘one-stop security’ for intra-Community flights.

A series of amendments – Amendments 10, 67, 77, 79 and 81 – is intended to make it easier to draw up security agreements with third countries. The intention of these amendments is good, but unfortunately they are not linked with a mandate. They have the effect of making the task more difficult, contrary to their objective. Therefore, we must reexamine chapters 4 and 5 of the annex to the proposed regulation on the basis of the Council’s common position, in order to ascertain the aspects on which the Commission could reach an agreement. These amendments, however, do not seem to me to be necessary to achieve the intended objectives. That is why the Commission would prefer to reject them.

Mr Costa, you have identified, for the Council in particular, what the main stumbling block is: namely, funding for security in the field of aviation. Clearly, this is an important debate. For my part, I shall content myself with a more pragmatic approach to this issue. Europe needs an instrument that helps ensure that standards adopted in relation to aviation security are implemented in accordance with rules guaranteeing fair conditions of competition. This level playing field must apply both within the European Union but also with regard to global competitors

Having said that, it is true: who pays the bill? I should like to take as an example one proposed amendment. It says that Member States that introduce security procedures that are more numerous and more stringent than those required by European Union legislation should indemnify the operators for the extra costs that those stricter measures entail. I understand very well the underlying logic of this viewpoint. It is also true that the Commission has a tool in this field, and that is the Treaty rules on State aid. Therefore, we ourselves will look at how these rules can be used properly in the context of the financial support measures for service providers in the field of aviation security.

I fully understand what Mr Costa said in his address to the Council. I should like, however, to draw Parliament’s attention to the drawbacks of a delay in introducing an improved technical regulation on aviation security. There is somewhat of a danger that we will take this draft Community regulation as a kind of hostage against the financial decisions to be taken at Member State level. I would therefore like it if Parliament were to separate the technical standards of the security funding issue in order to clear the way for the swift implementation of a better regulation. That is my wish, but the decision is yours.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Philip Bradbourn, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. Mr President, firstly I would like to make one point. I would like to put on record my objection to legislation of such importance to European citizens being put on the agenda in the late evening. It seems to be common practice that codecision legislative proposals are discussed when the fewest MEPs and members of the public are present, and that is wrong.

The core issues being discussed in this graveyard slot are the revisions to the 2001 aviation security rules, which are very much welcomed. Having common regulations on this issue, as well as a common interpretation of the rules around all of the EU’s airports, means that security and passenger safety can be improved at a time when it is most needed.

However, we cannot expect the travelling public to have to foot the bill yet again. I refer here to short-term special security measures such as the ones we saw last year at Heathrow airport in London. These measures are a direct result of Member State decisions and therefore should be funded by general taxation, not by the passenger, who is already fleeced when travelling by air. This issue has been the most contentious with Council. Parliament, however, stands united. This should send a strong message that the issue is not for negotiation.

Also, when looking at our previous aviation security legislation, we see that problems have developed, especially in the context of implementation. As we say, the devil is in the detail. For example, tons of in-transit duty-free goods are being confiscated from consumers. I now hear that this issue is being addressed and that the Commission will be coming forward with proposals to alleviate this problem. I must pay tribute to Commissioner Barrot and to Commission President Barroso for taking action here and I hope to see Commission officials follow their political lead and come up with speedy and workable solutions.

I must also insist that Parliament be kept informed of developments in this and other areas, as it is MEPs who have to answer to their citizens when things start to go wrong at Europe’s airports. I do not want to see a delay to the implementation of these proposals over relatively minor issues.

To conclude, we must not play politics with passenger safety.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Saïd El Khadraoui, on behalf of the PSE Group. (NL) Mr President, I should like to start, on behalf of my group, by thanking the rapporteur for the good work, and express our support for the strategy he has proposed, namely to stand firm as long as the Council refuses to change its position. The issue in question is an important one for Europe’s citizens, and Parliament has its role to play.

For my group, there are two key aspects in the negotiation process. Firstly – and this is something to which the rapporteur has already made reference – anything related to funding. Let me give you a brief outline. There is, actually, not a problem with regard to funding the measures that are issued by the notorious committee of experts, because it is only logical that industry, passengers and the government should all contribute towards the costs. What is important is that this is done transparently, that, in other words, the consumer is informed of the cost of safety, and that what is set aside in terms of safety costs is also actually spent on safety and not on something else. There is, of course, the problem of additional costs which, as we see it, should be covered by the states, provided we can assume that the safety measures are of a high level and are commensurate to everyone's safety.

A second aspect, which is not unimportant either, Commissioner, is democratic control. You have to understand that we can hardly give this committee of experts some kind of carte blanche. It is not that we are in any doubt as to their competence, but when these measures have such an impact on the way our citizens move, then we have a duty to do our job, namely to check whether the decision is sound, whether it is proportionate to the threat, whether it is efficient, whether the people are sufficiently informed, etc.

This is why we would like to find a way of assessing these things and the impact they will have. We have tabled an amendment to this effect. We are prepared to thrash this out in a debate, but I think it is important that in the ultimate scheme, Parliament has a role to play.

I should like to make one final point, Commissioner, and it is that a few weeks ago, you announced that an evaluation of the liquids regulation was in the offing. I should now like to ask you when we can expect it.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vladimír Remek, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, first of all I should like to pay tribute to the work of the rapporteurs. The document before us is a complex one and it was certainly not easy to seek and find compromises, as the debate has ultimately demonstrated. Despite this, the report that has emerged is in my view a solid one, and as a shadow rapporteur I should like to thank both the translators and my colleagues for their cooperation.

I feel that it is possible to support the report in principle, although it does contain around four issues on which, following consultation with a number of experts, I still have reservations, and about which I should like to speak in more detail.

First and foremost is the question of the funding for safety measures in the area of civil aviation, as has already been mentioned. I feel that it would be difficult to resolve the funding issue within the framework of this regulation. For example, in the case of road and rail transport it took a parallel directive to resolve similar issues. In the case of civil aviation we do not have an adequate statutory act and we are proposing a different course of action.

Another controversial part of the report is, in my view, the proposals on incorporating transparency of the cost of safety into the price of plane tickets. This is difficult to accomplish because companies selling plane tickets do not have the necessary overview of security costs for airports. Those who do know what the costs are incorporate them into airport fees. Similarly problematic is the use of the expression ‘that protect the safety of civil aviation’. This phrase applies mainly to the protection of civil aviation from terrorism, which is important but forms only part of the package of measures on protection against unlawful acts. I believe that there is a danger of inaccurate interpretation here and of the problem being narrowed to include only terrorism, whereas there are many other unlawful acts in the area of civil aviation.

In referring to the controversial points of the report before us I would not like in any way to call into doubt the overall quality of the work and of the document as a whole. I will conclude, however, by warning that Amendments 4 and 45 will lead to the Commission’s position being very much strengthened, which, in my opinion, is not necessary at this time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am aware that these comments include more than the usual level of detail, which is due to the fact that the proposal has, to a certain extent, the character of a technical regulation, the objective of which is to establish basic parameters for safety standards in the area of civil aviation. I have attempted therefore not only to incorporate these into the proposed Amendments but also to express my views as a former pilot, where I considered it necessary, in respect of the document as a whole.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Georg Jarzembowski (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, Mr Vice-President, my group stands four-square behind the rapporteur.

Let us make no bones about this. Our Parliament reminded the Member States back in 2002 that they had to meet their share of the cost of measures for the protection of public safety and order. We asked you to formulate a strategy for resolving the issue of funding the security measures without distorting competition between airports. You then presented a report, but in that report you neither said, 'Here is a way we could resolve the issue without distorting competition', nor did you say there was no point in making a proposal. So we still await a proposal. We told the Council last year that we expected it to acknowledge clearly its financial responsibility. It stated once more that it was not prepared to do so. We are no longer prepared to play these games, which have been going on since 2002, in other words for five long years.

There is no real pressure to carry out this revision, because you were able to enact the basic regulations we now have – the measure regarding liquids in hand baggage being the prime example – on the strength of these rules. I am not entirely sure whether this measure will remain in place for long. There is no reason to say that it has to be scrapped now because it is blocking some other security measures. If you want to propose new security measures, bring them before Parliament. We are open to new proposals.

What we mean is that, besides the issue of liquids in hand baggage, on which the Committee on Transport and Tourism is to hold a hearing, we must tackle risk analysis as a matter of priority, and I hope we can do that together with you. I have serious doubts as to whether the present Regulation actually enhances security or whether it is too heavy-handed. But let us discuss that openly. Please do not say, ‘The intelligence people have information that they cannot pass on to us’. We have a responsibility to the public to provide straight answers. Your departments, and more particularly those of the Council, must be prepared to lay their cards on the table, for we will no longer tolerate the present tactics.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ulrich Stockmann (PSE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, the revised version of Regulation 2320/2002 is good and should be applied as quickly as possible.

First of all, let me make two points about the sunset clause. We are confronted here with a dilemma. No politician, and indeed no civil servant, will take responsibility for rolling back inefficient security structures. Accordingly, the burden of proof must lie with those who seek to extend an implementing regulation and not with those who want to let it expire. That is the main argument.

Secondly, there is sometimes a need to respond very quickly, as you did in the case of the liquids, but the fact is that the risk assessment and cost analysis must follow, so that the process takes its right and proper course. The sunset clause is also a good means to this end.

Now to the main issue, the dispute about funding. We should refocus on the problem that exercised us at the beginning, namely how we can eliminate distortions of competition and obtain transparent and, as far as possible, uniform funding models in Europe. The Commission must intervene here in a mediating role. We should not focus so sharply on the question whether taxpayers or passengers should foot the bill. That discussion, I believe, has become unproductive and no longer addresses the real issue. We need proposals on ways to achieve transparent funding models in Europe that are as uniform as possible.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jim Higgins (PPE-DE). – Mr President, while there is a lot of huffing and puffing about aviation security and its restrictions on international travel and inconvenience to passengers, the reality is that there is a real international security problem. 9/11 did happen; thousands of people died. The threat to British aviation was a real and not an imaginary threat. The people who perpetrated 9/11 as well as those responsible for the foiled attack on Britain are not only still in existence but they have also publicly stated that they intend continue their campaign of international terrorism.

Let us be real. The Committee on Transport and Tourism and the Council have a common cause here, and what is it? It is the protection of the aviation sector and the protection of the millions of passengers who travel annually. Looking at the standoff between the Council and the Committee on Transport and Tourism, one would imagine that we had a polarisation of two ends of the planet, representing two different interests, instead of two parallel political participants here in Europe who are supposedly looking after the common interest of the travelling public.

If there is to be conciliation, let us get on with it right away. What is needed is a civil aviation security agreement that guarantees security and safety. What is needed is a civil aviation security agreement that allows individual Member States to decide to opt out of certain proposed measures such as the sky marshals. What is needed is a commonly agreed set of measures designed for passenger security which – and this is a crucially important point – firstly, will be subject to a review every six months, secondly, to see if they are successful, thirdly, if they need modification and fourthly, how much they cost.

What is not needed is the kind of standoff that we are debating here this evening. We all have one common cause – passenger security– so let us get on with it. Is it any wonder that the people of Europe are, to put it mildly, sceptical about the way we operate in this Parliament when we have this kind of standoff between the Commission on the one hand, the Council on the other and Parliament, while we all have a common cause?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Robert Evans (PSE). – Mr President, I would also like to commend Mr Costa on his report. As he said in his introduction, we all want to travel safely and securely.

Both Mr Higgins, just now, and Mr Bradbourn, before him, referred to the alert over liquids in the UK last summer. Unlike Mr Jarzembowski, most of us think that this threat is not just ever-present, but that it is one that is changing all the time. We cannot let up or compromise where aviation safety and security is concerned. European countries need to work together to achieve the highest possible standards, and yes, that does mean that some countries may wish to go further and put additional measures in place.

But on other aspects passengers are confused. Why are some airports seemingly more secure than others? Why is there no European agreement yet on hand baggage allowances – on what is permitted and what is not? Mr Barrot, you said that we need to guarantee that safety rules are applied, and that is crucial. But you also spoke about fair competition, and I am not sure where competition comes into this debate. Competition could mean compromise and, as others have said, there is no compromise when talking about aviation security. We all have to work together in this field.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, we all want the highest possible standards. The only question is who should decide what will guarantee the highest possible level of security. To a certain extent, all of us here can regard ourselves as experts, simply because we are almost daily air travellers.

One thing we do know is that every single one of us can easily circumvent the new rules on liquids at any checkpoint. What is on the table here is a placebo, designed to ensure that people feel safe but certainly not increasing security. That is the real problem. We have to tackle it, which is the purpose of the two amendments tabled by Mr Stockmann and myself, through which we seek to ensure that this House debates what constitutes a genuine security-building measure and what is merely a placebo.

On this point we can truly regard ourselves as experts, and so we say in all clarity that, six months after the introduction of this provision, we have no need of special rules; what we need is a more rational consideration of this issue than it has previously been given. In actual fact, what we have here is a kind of extraterritorial US law, enacted jointly with Britain. That is how we see it. The British or even the American tail is wagging the European dog. That will not do.

We therefore call for the most rapid possible review, and if that review does not result in a real increase in security, the measures must be allowed to expire. That would compel us all to think seriously again about real potential remedies to the present problem.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I should like first of all to thank all of the speakers and, in particular, to thank Mr Costa for his report. It is clear that a better balance between security demands and operational aspects is a real challenge for all of us. That is why we need a new framework regulation that is simpler and more flexible; I must insist on that.

I am going to answer a few questions before turning to financing. Mr El Khadraoui, the Commission is endeavouring to keep the European Parliament regularly informed of developments, and in a few days’ time you will have a hearing of experts, for which Mr Costa has kindly taken the initiative. I believe that this is the right method for trying to understand and to have some information from those who were behind these provisions.

Mr Bradbourn, I must say to you that we are actively working on the problems relating to duty free goods. I hope that, in a few weeks’ time, I will be able to give you some answers on this point. He is not here, but I am speaking to all Members.

I come now to the problem of funding. Firstly I should like to say that I understand very well the position of the Commission and of Mr Costa. I think first of all that we must try to avoid distortions of competition. That seems perfectly logical to me. I realise, like Mr Jarzembowski, that we have to try to find a compromise. Nonetheless, together with the Council, we have to take account of the finance ministers. The transport ministers do not entirely lay down the law in this field. That, then, is where we come up against a problem.

What stays in my mind from this discussion between us, is your desire for transparency over the cost of security. On that point, I cannot contradict you. I think, in fact, that it is essential for the cost of security to be made transparent; this should at least be a first stage. What I can say to you is that we need this regulation, as I have explained to you. I would not want all that to fall apart because of a total lack of understanding on both sides between the Council and Parliament. That being so, the Commission will play its role as mediator and we shall try, as far as is possible, to find a solution, Mr President, because, in the field of security, we must have the right tools and the appropriate tools.

That is why I am insisting somewhat on the adoption of this revised proposal, recognising at the same time the validity of Parliament’s approach, which, on the subject of funding, requires greater transparency, more fair competition and, insofar as is possible, an effort towards harmonisation on the part of the Member States.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 11.30 a.m.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Christine De Veyrac (PPE-DE), in writing. (FR) The Commission proposal introduces provisions that will enable definite progress to be made in the area of aviation security. The issue of funding for these security measures has not been mentioned, however.

The amendments that we have adopted within the Committee on Transport and Tourism solve this problem and provide justified and balanced provisions.

It would not be fair to allow the whole burden of the cost of security measures to be passed on to air passengers. It is desirable to avoid overburdening financially the users who already pay very high taxes on flight tickets.

That is why in my opinion we should support the proposal for mixed funding of security measures, that is, by the Member States and by users, and for funding of the more stringent measures to be made the responsibility of the Member States, and of them alone.

Furthermore, I support Amendment 33, which makes extending security measures dependent upon a thorough assessment of the risks, costs and impact of these measures.

One cannot apply indefinitely security measures that cause great inconvenience to passengers, such as the restrictions on liquids in hand baggage, without examining closely whether they are still appropriate and their consequences for travellers.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  James Nicholson (PPE-DE), in writing. – Aviation security issues are of the utmost importance to our safety and need to be dealt with in a swifter manner than has so far been the case. A common minimum standard of security is needed not only because of the real threat of aviation crime, but also for the perceived threat that a lack of security shows the public.

It is essential that Member States pay for the cost of new security mechanisms and short-term special measures. Passengers should not need to pay for security. Smaller regional airports might have a hard time paying for new expensive measures, while airlines cannot be asked to increase their ticket prices. This is not a matter of passengers paying for the privilege of safety (this is no privilege but a given right), it is a matter of states keeping aeroplanes from crashing into populated areas on the ground.

An effective evaluation of the measures we put into place is essential. Some measures might turn out to be superficial; others might need to be more efficient. New mechanisms might need to be put into place.

 

17. Assessment and management of flood risks (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the recommendation for second reading (A6-0064/2007) by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on the Council common position with a view to adopting a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of flood risks (12131/6/2006 C6-0038/2007 2006/0005(COD)) (Rapporteur: Richard Seeber).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, let me take a moment to thank my friend Jacques Barrot for repeatedly confronting the problems involved in transalpine freight haulage and for being our comrade-in-arms on the long march towards the solution of these problems.

Today, however, we are speaking about floods and what can be done about them at the European level. At this juncture I wish to thank Commissioner Dimas and his staff, the shadow rapporteurs and the German Presidency, all of whom have worked very constructively with me to achieve an agreement at second reading, a far-reaching agreement that covers all the key issues.

I need hardly remind you that floods have become the commonest form of natural disaster in Europe. In 2002 and 2005 we had raging floods with devastating effects. They claimed people’s lives and caused serious damage to housing and infrastructure. Those floods hit us hard. There is sound scientific evidence that heavy rainfall is becoming increasingly frequent and severe and that this trend is directly linked to human activity.

The first reason lies in concentrated urbanisation, especially in high-risk areas, with the development of built-up areas and streets, river realignments and ill-considered construction schemes on flood plains. The second reason is deforestation, especially the authorised clearing of river valleys for developments such as the construction of holiday chalets but also for industrial estates and shopping centres. Thirdly, highly intensive farming practices result in topsoil being sealed in concrete and reduce the availability of meadows and flood plains. Fourthly, we have the phenomenon of soil erosion, which is also a contributory factor.

Following the catastrophic floods in 2002, the Commission presented a flood-response programme, which included provision for improvements in research and information. The Commission also presented a Communication on flood-risk management, which analysed the situation and proposed a concerted EU action programme. One of the components of that programme is the present proposal for a directive that has now culminated in the compromise package on which we shall vote tomorrow with a view to reducing the flood-related risks to human health, the environment, the infrastructure and the economy.

In view of the increased risk of flood-induced damage, it is truly essential to create a European regulatory framework alongside the national rules, because the great majority of rivers flow across national borders. A total of 80% of Europe’s rivers are not confined to a single country but straddle national borders. It therefore went without saying that Europe had to respond to the flood problem.

This also means, however, that due consideration must be given to the subsidiarity principle in this legislation. The fact is that conditions in a narrow Alpine valley differ from those on a Greek island or in the Finnish lowlands. We must take care to avoid the adoption of blanket provisions that cannot be applied in the real world.

The package on the table wisely provides for three steps. The first is an initial identification of the places where flood risks actually exist. It would, of course, be pointless to establish flood defences in places where there is no specific risk. The second step is the production of flood maps, and the third is the formulation of flood-risk management plans, but only where these are absolutely necessary.

Many Member States have already made great progress in the realm of flood prevention, and we also had to take care to avoid any duplication of effort. This is why there are very comprehensive rules designed to safeguard existing arrangements, and Member States need have no fear of being compelled to implement a second set of measures. Their own chosen measures can, of course, be implemented in full, as long as they are consistent with the aims of the Directive.

The Council’s common position contained a few points which, in our opinion, required improvement. In particular, we could not figure out why the phenomenon of climate change had received so little attention. In our negotiations with the Council, we have succeeded in incorporating the issue of climate change, which now runs like a thread through the entire package. That is only right and proper, for we must be seen to respond to public concerns.

To sum up the remainder of our efforts, there have been some changes in time limits, we have placed stronger emphasis on flood plains and other natural retention areas, and we have made the case for sustainable land use and asserted the principle of solidarity from start to finish. The rule is that those on the upper reaches must not take any action that is detrimental to their downstream neighbours. We managed to achieve this in a spirit of good European solidarity.

I can now present the report to the House with a clear conscience tomorrow, and I commend it to you.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, I would like to thank and congratulate the rapporteur Mr Seeber for his exceptional work in the flooding directive, as well as the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety for its positive contribution. I am extremely satisfied with the rapid progress in the first and second readings. The European Parliament played a significant role in order to achieve agreement on an exceptional text and I would like to praise these efforts.

The aim of the proposal is to minimise the risks of flooding for human health, economic activities and the environment. The text, in its current form, reflects these goals and allows the European Union to fulfil them. The main characteristics are as follows: the directive introduces a procedure as previously mentioned by Mr Seeber in three stages, which begins with identifying the areas at risk of flooding. The next step is mapping imminent flooding in the context of intermediate and extreme scenarios.

The third stage refers to the drawing up of flood risk management plans. They will be coordinated across river drainage basins, basins shared by more than one country as well as coastal areas.

Within the framework of flood risk management, a possible increase in the frequency and intensity of floods due to climate change has been provided for and I agree with Mr Seeber I am very pleased with the fact that Parliament insisted there should be strong mention of climate change.

As the climate is already changing, it is clear that besides facing and abating the phenomenon, we will have to adapt to it. The European Union will have to be prepared for unexpected floods on a larger scale that will be accompanied by intense and unforeseen rainfall. Coastal floods due to storms, together with the increase of sea levels, might pose more risks from floods in coastal areas. The European Union must be ready to face dangers posed by the said natural phenomena.

The improvement of coordination through the water framework directive is an important step forward. The comprehensive management of the river drainage basins must include both elements: controlling water quality and flood risk management. I am very pleased that the European Parliament has stood by the Commission on this issue and also for the fact that the scope of coexistence of both procedures has been expanded.

The basic points raised at first reading remained. Namely the implementation of the directive across the European Union and especially the emphasis on river drainage basins shared by more than one Member State. With this new and significant legislative act the European Union will be ready to decrease and minimise the potentially destructive consequences of floods.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Anja Weisgerber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, let me begin by thanking the rapporteur, Richard Seeber, for the cooperative spirit in which our discussions took place. He has negotiated a robust compromise with the Council Presidency, a compromise that makes significant improvements to the proposal from the Commission.

It is important to adopt a European approach to the prevention of flood damage. Rivers and floods are no respecters of national borders. The measures taken by the government of a country on the upper reaches of a river have specific effects on territories further downstream. In many cases these territories belong to another country. For this reason I consider it important that each and every Member State of the European Union should take preventive anti-flood measures rather than waiting until a disaster occurs.

As with other proposals from the Commission, it is our parliamentary duty to ensure that unnecessary red tape, excessive administrative input and pervasive reporting obligations are avoided. We managed to prevent and considerably improve a number of excessively bureaucratic provisions. I particularly approve of the compromise safeguarding flood plans and maps that already exist or are being prepared. Thanks to our intervention, all maps and plans already compiled by the Member States are now recognised along with those that are in the course of preparation, provided they are completed by the end of 2010.

The process of drawing and producing these flood maps is in full swing in some countries. Moving the goalposts at this stage would have caused unnecessary duplication of effort, and the new tendering procedure would have generated a great deal of additional expense without any recognisable benefit in terms of better flood prevention. For this reason I am pleased that the compromise provides for the possibility of recognising these maps and plans in the framework of the Directive. I shall therefore vote for the compromise, and may I once again thank the rapporteur for our constructive cooperation.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Edite Estrela, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by congratulating Mr Seeber on the manner in which he conducted the informal negotiation process. The negotiations were most fruitful and led to a package of compromise amendments that demonstrated broad consensus and that the Council should accept.

The Socialist Group in the European Parliament supports the compromise that has been reached as it corresponds to the key objective of this directive, namely to protect human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activities, while taking account of the impact of climate change on the occurrence of floods. There are increasing periods of extreme drought followed by heavy rainfall, which results in more flooding.

The proposal before us will ensure greater environmental protection by promoting the inclusion in risk maps of information on potential sources of environmental pollution arising from floods. I also welcome the idea of making the Member States responsible for promoting the sustainable use of soils. In other words, the Member States should take more care in their spatial planning policies. The report also calls for solidarity, dialogue and coordination between neighbouring countries.

We know that there is a cycle of natural disasters leaving a trail of death and destruction. According to the World Health Organisation, hundreds of people die each year on account of natural disasters. In order to prevent worse evils, the time has come to move from a culture of reaction to one of prevention. Prevention is better than cure. It is more effective and less costly.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vittorio Prodi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would naturally like to thank Mr Seeber for the collaboration that we enjoyed while debating and drafting this document. I would also like to thank Commissioner Dimas, because his presence at such times is always very valuable and highly appreciated.

This is a directive that I believe to be very important, partly in the context of other directives, such as the directive on water, the directive on waste and the directive on soil, which is yet to be debated. These directives form a very important framework of prevention, particularly with regard to climate change, which is a phenomenon with its origins in global warming and which consists, basically, in a worsening of extreme events, such as an increase in rain intensity.

We therefore need to adopt a preventive approach across the board, particularly in the conservation of our land. The directive in question is directed at this aim, since it has attempted to stress good practices that can be disseminated, as well as all the infrastructure and knowledge that can contribute to the long-term prevention and the short-term forecasting of floods, with a view to providing significant assistance to civil protection bodies in the management of emergencies.

This is a directive which I believe can easily be supported and I also welcome the compromise reached at trialogue. On behalf of my group, I too therefore call on you to support the text under consideration.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Leopold Józef Rutowicz, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, the Directive on the assessment and management of flood risks underlines the need for action which unfortunately is not always respected in business activity in practice. Flood risk assessment and management should be the basis of long-term plans for engineering works, information systems and other means of flood damage limitation.

This directive should be tied to the provisions on assessing and avoiding the risk of drought, which also causes great economic and environmental damage. Both these issues are related to water management and conservation. If flood water were collected, it could be used to offset the impact of droughts. Both systems should operate over entire river basins and take into account the interests of all the countries and regions involved.

I would like to thank Richard Seeber for his very competent report. The proposed amendments enhance and supplement his document.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (PL) Mr President, the seasonal and regional differences in precipitations, long-term climate change and lack of coordination between some countries have resulted in catastrophic floods which account for 43% of all natural disasters in Europe, and are often of a trans-border nature.

Human activity has played its role in this. It includes felling trees in forest regions, which has led to soil erosion and faster run-off of rain, or urban development in flood plains. The increasing frequency and intensity of flood events will probably be closely linked with meteorological conditions and climate change as well as changes in river flows. This makes it imperative to take measures to prevent flooding and to minimise its effects.

While preventing global warming is an important element in this, planning and coordination among Member States on the construction of retention reservoirs, dams, warning systems and disaster relief are just as important. In the past, emptying reservoirs in one country have resulted in flooding disasters in the next. Because of the trans-border nature of these events, we must ensure effective international cooperation, both regional and with neighbouring countries, including third countries, which will help us to prepare better and will lead to a reduction in the effects of flooding.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Andreas Mölzer, on behalf of the ITS Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Seeber, it may be the case that we suffer less frequently from floods than we used to because of increasingly effective preventive measures, but their effects are nevertheless disastrous.

Regrettably, technical progress has made us grow careless, with the result that buildings are ever more frequently erected in ever closer proximity to flood-prone areas. Together with what is often reckless interference with river alignments and the loss of natural retention areas such as flood plains, these actions have created a self-inflicted problem. The agricultural support provided by the European Community over the past few decades has no doubt done its bit too, and the interaction between agricultural use and changes in soil structure are one more reason to rethink the common agricultural policy with a view to focusing more support on organic cultivation. As part of the planned common system of flood-risk management, consideration must also be given, of course, to measures such as river restoration, the creation of links between flood plains and exposure of enclosed soil. If we are serious about pursing the aims of preserving natural habitats and coping with climate change, we shall also have to adopt new, innovative approaches.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE). – (HU) Hopefully tomorrow we will reach the end of a long journey. Two years ago, when we began debating this directive, we experienced flooding throughout Europe, water sweeping away houses and destroying dams everywhere.

My country, Hungary, is a downstream country, a basin into which a great deal of water flows from many sources. Two of Europe’s five largest rivers flow through my homeland, and so it is not surprising that it has the largest amount of water per capita. Naturally the damages, too, are enormous. In 2005, at the time of the great flood that has already been mentioned, we were obliged to invest more than EUR 200 million in flood protection. There was a lot at stake for us.

If I had to stress a particularly important element of the new directive, I would definitely speak of cooperation. I feel that joint, planned preparation, sharing of information, and the provision of mutual assistance are all elements that appear in this regulation, and make it clear that we can only deal with and resolve the problem of flooding if we work together.

I agree with Mr Dimas: the future, global climate change, and the responses to these challenges constitute one of the most important questions. It is probable that there will be more frequent and more unpredictable floods across Europe, along with more significant rises in water levels and greater destruction. I feel that this directive will soon be put to the test, and I am absolutely sure it will come through with flying colours. Fewer human lives will be lost and less damage caused thanks to this directive. I am completely satisfied with the compromises reached, and congratulate Mr Seeber for his excellent work. I feel that we have really succeeded in drafting a directive that will protect human lives and increase physical safety in Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Karin Scheele (PSE).(DE) Mr President, in the wake of climate change, inadequate river management and building activities in flood-prone areas, floods are set to become an increasingly frequent occurrence. Population growth and the accompanying increase in the number of economic assets in these areas give rise to higher risks and more costly damage. Besides their economic and social impact, floods can have serious environmental consequences, for example if they hit industrial plants where large volumes of toxic chemicals are stored. Our rapporteur has fully explained all of this.

The compromise package that our rapporteur has negotiated will enable us to pursue the aims of this Directive more successfully. I would like to offer him my warmest congratulations. Major points in his report have already been incorporated into the common position and can be put into even sharper focus through this compromise package.

It is important to the European Parliament that the impact of climate change is to be taken into account in the assessment of flood risks. It would have been very difficult to explain the decision to leave climate change out of the equation when assessing flood risks. One very important demand is that, in each of the three steps prescribed by this Directive, namely the flood-risk assessment, the production of maps and the formulation of management plans, best practices and the best available technology should be used.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Johannes Blokland (IND/DEM). – (NL) Mr President, Mr Dimas, ladies and gentlemen, the Netherlands has played a major role in the development of the High-Water Directive as it is now before us. It is important to have a legislative framework for assessing and managing flood risks, taking into account the principle of subsidiarity. What can be done at local level is done locally, such as measures to prevent sewage systems from overflowing. This is a way of protecting the environment, public health and the economy.

Since a low-lying country such as the Netherlands relies on many of its neighbouring countries where water management is concerned, it is important for Member States not to take measures that lead to increased flood risks in other countries. It is for this reason that a coordinated approach is called for, and I set great store by the concept of solidarity which is included in this proposed directive and mentioned more explicitly in Amendments 48 and 61 of the compromise package, which I wholeheartedly support.

In addition to the term ‘solidarity’, it is also important to involve the expected climate change and its potential implications in drafts of risk management plans for floods, so as to prepare ourselves for the future in the best way we can. All that is left for me to do now is to extend warm thanks to the rapporteur, Mr Seeber, for the excellent cooperation and to congratulate him on this result.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to thank all the speakers in tonight’s debate for their positive contributions.

A number of key elements have been included in the overall compromise package that is now proposed. Most importantly it contains: a clearer and earlier attention to the impact of climate change in the preliminary assessment of flood risks; an agreement on the earlier date of 2011 for the first preliminary flood risk assessment, thus leaving Member States more time to prepare the flood maps; a strengthened role of flood plains and the promotion of sustainable land use practices in flood risk management; sound coordination – also in relation to implementation – with the water framework directive and a link to the cost recovery principles in that directive; a further strengthening of the language on solidarity in river basin districts; and last but not least, a requirement to set clear priorities for the implementation of measures included in the flood risk management plans.

I know that these elements were all important to Parliament at first reading and in the committee this time around. I believe that the proposed current compromise will satisfy Parliament, as important ground has been won on key principles of sound flood risk management practices. I am also particularly pleased to note the importance placed by both Parliament and the Council on this directive, which was only proposed by the Commission 13 months ago. It shows that, faced with the serious challenge of preparing Europe for the risks of possibly increased flooding, agreements can be reached relatively rapidly.

To conclude, the Commission is very pleased with the outcome of negotiations. The Commission can accept the proposed compromise amendments in full and I wish to thank and congratulate once more the rapporteur, Mr Seeber, for all his efforts to reach an agreement at second reading.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 11.30 a.m.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gyula Hegyi (PSE), in writing. (HU) It is extremely important for Hungary that the European Union enact a directive regulating a common defence against flooding. My country is typically a downstream country to which 95% of fresh water comes from rivers outside its national borders. Therefore, it is important that within a flood plain area the downstream countries be involved as well in the tasks of prevention and defence. I trust that the Austrian, Slovak and Romanian experts will collaborate smoothly with Hungarian water officials in this task. Likewise, I consider it important that flood protection plans contain those potential sources of danger which can cause environmental pollution in the event of a flood. In such cases there is often a flooded industrial plant or another factory that causes more harm than the water damage itself. Since just like air pollution, flooding knows no borders, third countries, such as the Ukraine, should be involved in implementing the directive.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM), in writing. Through an organisation I chair in Ireland called Hope Project, I have been participating in Commission research entitled Rescuing Disabled People in Emergencies. In this research we have identified flooding as a most significant risk for elderly people, children and people with disabilities. We have just embarked on follow-up research that looks specifically at flooding.

There are two reasons why flooding is becoming such a problem. First is climate change, with the possibility of rising sea levels, and in Ireland, increased rainfall. Secondly, throughout Europe, but especially in Ireland, there is a trend of building on flood plains. It is not uncommon to have fields that were under water for several weeks every year to now be the site of estates with 200 houses. Eventually this practice will catch up with us.

I encourage the House to establish common sense and preventative action in the area of floods and flood control.

 

18. Thematic Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources (debate)
MPphoto
 
 

  President. The next item is the report (A6-0054/2007) by Kartika Tamara Liotard, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on a thematic strategy for the sustainable use of natural resources (2006/2210(INI)).

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kartika Tamara Liotard (GUE/NGL), rapporteur. (NL) Mr President and all those present at this late hour, I think that these are times when it is quality that matters, not quantity. This is, I think, how you should look at it anyway.

The Commission has taken five years to produce a strategy for the sustainable use of natural resources. That is a long time, and so it is very regrettable that the proposal it has submitted is so lacking in ambition. To be fair, the Commission has clearly identified the problem, namely that if we carry on in this way, we will be irrevocably faced with exhaustion of our resources, and, along with it, a serious threat to our economy and our quality of life.

Thereupon, though, it also fails to come up with concrete measures. It calls, inter alia, for more research and more data. This is all well and good, but we cannot afford to wait for much longer. Like climate change, the problem of natural resources is acute now, and now is the time we need to take concrete action. When you read the proposal, there is a vague lack of urgency on the part of the Commission. It does not invite the citizens to think about this issue all that much, although they are the people eventually who will bear the brunt of it all.

The heart of the matter is simple. Our ecological footprint, in other words the environmental effect of our consumption, is much greater than what the earth can cope with. By way of illustration, if this children’s shoe is the ecological footprint we would be allowed to have in order for our natural resources to be in balance, this large men’s shoe represents the current consumption level. As you can see, it is really far too big. This is, therefore, a good illustration of what we are doing at the moment.

I will be very honest, Commissioner. The gut reaction in our Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety was that the entire document should be sent back to you and the Commission asked to rework it. This, however, struck us as not very constructive and besides, we cannot afford to wait for another five years for action. This is why I decided to commit to producing a sound proposal and called on all my fellow Members to help me in this task. I can tell you, my fellow Members had a few amazing brainstorming sessions. Working together, we came up with a large number of ideas to improve the Commission’s document, and that took us not more than three or four months. I would like to thank them, because we have really achieved a great deal. On account of all these sound amendments, the lay-out of the report may not be anything to write home about, but I hope that the message is clear. Parliament wants to see concrete measures rather than deferral.

I should like to single out a few proposals, the first of which concerns agriculture. Agriculture does not feature in the thematic strategy, which is quite bizarre to my mind, if you consider that the agricultural sector is one of the largest users and consumers of natural resources. This sector is therefore being denied a great opportunity. I understand that the reason for this lies in the fact that DG Agriculture and DG Environment failed to see eye to eye on this. It is unacceptable, though, that mutual bickering between European officials would lead to the strategy lacking a wide support base.

I would also propose linking European agricultural subsidies straight to sustainability. To give you an example: subsidies for corn should be suspended if large-scale irrigation is needed and thus if water is being wasted, but subsidies should instead be given to farms that commit to using alternative energy sources, such as wind energy. In addition to agriculture, there are also other sectors, including transport, fisheries and construction, that are not included in the strategy – wrongly so. We will need to do something about that too. In short, the strategy should cover all areas of policy.

The structure of the strategy is largely determined by the consumer and manufacturer. Other proposals include a lifecycle approach, a top-10 list of priorities of threatened natural resources, tax incentives, the provision of information, the involvement of NGOs and experts, making use of alternative recycling and re-use. Too many to mention, really.

I suggest that the EU, in general, seeks to halve the use of resources by 2030. This is not science fiction, but a real necessity. Needless to say, European policy should not stop the Member States from performing even better. By setting the highest achieving Member State as an example to others, this trend can be promoted further.

During his most recent visit to the Committee on the Environment, Commissioner Dimas spoke about the importance of natural resources, and I was delighted to hear him do that. I have sent him a letter, asking for his cooperation. I live in hope, therefore, that this Commissioner will stand for a more ambitious policy than what the Commission’s current document suggests. If that is the case, a critical report from Parliament can only be something to which they can look forward.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. Mrs Liotard can be sure that this Parliament has listened to her to the best of its ability at this time.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, honourable Members, I would like, first of all, to thank the European Parliament for the special attention paid to this strategy. I would like to thank Mrs Liotard and the shadow rapporteurs for the preparation of the report under discussion today. Indeed, it contains many constructive and useful data that make us think about possible future measures and build on them.

The use of natural resources is of vital importance both for the state of the environment and our economic growth. The course of events is a cause for concern, while the consequences have become noticeable with the constant loss of biodiversity, the greenhouse gas emissions, the downgrading of the quality of water, of air and ground, but also at a significant financial cost.

It is evident that the way in which we use our natural resources constitutes a threat towards our ecosystems on which our quality of life and prosperity depend. Therefore we are obliged to adapt our economic activities to our planet’s endurance capabilities.

That is the aim of the strategy for natural resources, the result of vigorous often with disagreements but also extremely fruitful debate that has lasted for more than five years. This strategy offers an approach to environmental policy which focuses on natural resources on the one hand and a long-term framework for limiting the environmental consequences from the use of natural resources in a developing economy on the other. Moreover, it aims to improve efficiency when using natural resources.

Despite being very ambitious, these objectives are feasible. Europe has already managed to stabilise the use of natural resources in certain sectors of the economy. However, we lag behind other countries as for example in the case of Japan, which uses its natural resources much more efficiently compared to Europe. The strategy promotes products, technologies and consumption patterns that are more efficient with regards to the use of natural resources and less pollutant.

New initiatives have already been undertaken for the implementation of the strategy. Allow me to mention three examples:

First of all, the Commission is setting up a data centre, which will provide information for the policy planning, and this will lead to a better understanding of the use of resources and the consequences of various economic activities.

Secondly, in order to measure our progress in the direction of environmental protection and the conservation of natural resources, the Commission will pursue the development of a new generation of indicators. Already many quantitative indicators have been established with regards to the use of natural resources, as for example in the energy and climate change sectors. The determination of strict quality targets for atmospheric air and water and waste recycling targets contributes towards achieving the targets of the strategy on natural resources. Through this strategy we will be able to work out the general quantitative goal of natural resources conservation in our economy.

Thirdly, we must adapt all our policies to take account of the use of natural resources based on the entire life-cycle. We must take into consideration the environmental consequences of natural resources from their creation to their depletion, that is, from their birth to their death, so that the consequences are not transferred from one stage of life cycle to another or to other countries. When, for example, we import processed metals to Europe we must not overlook the environmental consequences of mining in other countries. The natural resources we actually use in Europe increasingly come from developing countries. Biofuel is another characteristic example.

Therefore we are talking about a global challenge and we have to assume responsibility. Together with the United Nations Environment Programme, we have set up an International Panel on the sustainable use of natural resources, which will start evaluating the consequences of the use of resources on our planet and will propose new measures. The work programme of this new International Panel already includes issues, such as environmental conditions for the production of biofuel and the implementation of measures on a worldwide scale in order to boost the recycling society. If this panel manages to reach the achievements of the International Panel on Climate Change, we will fulfil our goals to a great extent.

Honourable Members, the foundations have already been laid. Following the detailed examination on your behalf, and with the proposals you made, the Commission is committed to ensuring the successful implementation of the strategy for natural resources. In the long term, this strategy will lead us to sustainable use of natural resources and could constitute a benchmark for other policies. This is only the first stage of a long process. We should cooperate, now, with specific actions, so that its implementation can play a part in the development of all policies in all sectors of the economy.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Avril Doyle, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. Mr President, the Commissioner says that these are ‘ambitious goals’. I think not, Commissioner! The Commission’s report came under a lot of fire when the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety first discussed it in October, as the document is seriously limited in its ambition after five years of gestation. At best, it could be described as a reasonable basic document with which to start the discussion, but it lacks any concrete objectives and, as I said, any ambition. This can probably be attributed to a turf war between the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Directorate-General for the Environment – guess who won? DG ENVI’s strategy has been mainly restricted to knowledge-gathering and fails to address some key problematic sectors such as – unsurprisingly – agriculture, forestry, transport and many others.

Whilst some new initiatives are mentioned, such as a data centre for natural resources, a high-level forum and an international panel, the proposed time horizon of 25 years is totally unacceptable. By contrast, the rapporteur Mrs Liotard has worked hard to add some substance to the proposal. She correctly makes the point that the Commission communication does not comply with the requirements laid down in the Sixth Environmental Action Plan for concrete targets and timetables. The report calls on the Commission to replace this non-strategy with ambitious proposals, including clear targets and binding timetables.

I welcome the emphasis on an integrated policy approach and on the external impact of EU policy on sustainable resources. The only problem is that the rapporteur may have done too good a job. There is such a broad consensus for her report in the ENVI Committee that practically all amendments tabled were adopted, making the report somewhat long and repetitive in places. In my view, this takes away from the message. For this reason I have indicated on my group’s voting list a negative vote on certain paragraphs that duplicate points mentioned elsewhere in the report.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Gyula Hegyi, on behalf of the PSE Group. Mr President, we have inherited natural resources from nature or the Creator, but we are responsible for them with regard to future generations. We hear increasingly varying information on the threat to the balance of nature. Two-thirds of the ecosystems on which human beings depend are in decline. Europe’s demand on natural resources has risen by almost 70% since the early 1960s. This dangerous trend must be stopped.

We want economic growth, because many people are still in need, but without increasing the use of natural resources and with less environmental impact. This decoupling of economic growth and the increasing use of natural resources is the main message of this report. The strategy proposed by the Commission is rather weak and has no deadlines or targets. That is why I tabled around 25 amendments on behalf of the PSE Group. I am happy that all but one of them has found favour with the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

My fellow parliamentarians and I have proposed concrete targets to improve our commitment to the future. I propose specific targets regarding food, housing and the transport sector. In a market economy, taxation is the proper tool for regulating the use of resources. That is why it is so important to set up a European eco-taxation system. This report should be followed by specific regulations and directives to stop the self-destructive over-use of natural resources.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Mojca Drčar Murko, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SL) Greater efficiency in using energy and raw material resources is the objective of the thematic strategy being discussed here. This strategy is probably the most important partial strategy of the Sixth Environmental Action Plan. Its main objective is to prevent the unnecessary squandering of renewable and non-renewable sources which is threatening the environmental balance.

Product lifecycles is a philosophy which occupies a special place amongst the measures designed to limit excessive consumption. It is possible to increase significantly the volume of products that are channelled back into the economy at the end of their lifecycle and to reuse them. In this regard, the strategy is closely related to the process of revising EU legislation on waste management.

The ambitious goals that we want to see in this thematic strategy are not unrealistic. In fact, the priorities of the political debate on the economical use of natural resources have already enhanced the willingness of citizens to participate in the beneficial reuse of waste. Our cities, for instance, are potential mines of raw materials. Just as we extract ore from mines, we can use advanced waste collection and separation methods to extract iron, zinc, copper and plastic, and in the process we will use three times less energy than we would by producing them from fresh raw materials. Urban mining offers a promising vision of the modern city as a lucrative cache of recycled materials. And it is not the only method that considerably improves efficiency in using natural resources.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Wiesław Stefan Kuc, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, almost half a century has passed since the first report was delivered in Rome. Since then, natural resources have diminished, but we made great technological advances and learned to make more efficient use of raw materials and energy, harnessing resources which we could not have dreamed of fifty years ago. Have we done everything our knowledge, technology and experience are capable of? Definitely not. This is what this report clearly shows.

I am wholly in favour of the report, but I also see that the European Union is doing a great deal, much more than other countries, to protect the earth, air and water. It is doing a lot to recycle and re-use its raw materials. However, we need to intensify our activities for the better utilisation of manufacturing waste, which will not only reduce environmental pollution, but also make our use of natural resources more efficient.