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Debates
Tuesday, 10 July 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition

16. Commission Question Time
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  President. – The next item is Question Time (B6-0133/2007).

The following questions have been submitted to the Commission.

Part One

At Commissioner Verheugen’s request, Question Time will begin with Question No 28.

 
  
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  President. Question No 28 by Catherine Stihler (H-0493/07)

Subject: Consultation on patient information

How does the Commission intend formally to consult consumer organisations in the production of the report on current practice in information to patients, as directed to in Article 88a of Directive 2004/27/EC(1)? "Within three years of entry into force of Directive 2004/726/EC, the Commission shall, following consultation with patients’ and consumers’ organizations, Member States and other interested parties, present to the European Parliament and the Council a report on current practice with regard to information provision – particularly on the Internet – and its risks and benefits for patients".

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission. – (DE) Mr President, Mrs Stihler, pursuant to Article 88a of Directive 2001/83/EC, the Commission is currently drawing up a report on current practice in information to patients on medicinal products. The report will summarise the current state of affairs, but will not set out any political guidelines or proposals as yet since, in accordance with Article 88a, these are to be made later, as a second step. As soon as the final version of the report is available, it will be presented immediately to the Council and the European Parliament.

When preparing this report, the Commission services have held extensive consultations with patients’ and consumers’ organisations, Member States and other interested parties. According to the usual procedure, the public consultation lasted for more than two months – from April to June of this year. The draft has been published on the website of the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, and opinions have been requested.

So far, more than 50 contributions have been received already, and several more arrive every day. Ten of these contributions are from patients’ or consumers’ organisations. This is strong proof that consumers’ organisations and all other interested parties, and also the general public, have had the opportunity to give their opinions on, and make contributions to, this report – and indeed they have done so abundantly.

The responses received are being examined very carefully, and the final report will have to consider, on the basis of this examination, the best strategy to give all European citizens the same access to the clearest possible information on medicinal products.

I should like to assure the honourable Member that this issue is a great personal concern of mine and that I shall do my utmost to bring the process to a conclusion as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, it is most crucial that our proposals be based on comprehensive information and extensive consultation with the public; and, as I see it, precision and quality are definitely more important in this matter than speed.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (PSE). – Thank you, Commissioner. I think there is great concern over how parties have been consulted. Many of us here feel that there should be no change to the current legislation, i.e. keep the ban on direct consumer advertising and no backdoor routes to direct advertising of pharmaceuticals. We need to allow more consumer involvement in the pharmaceutical forum with a focus on what patients and ordinary consumers want and need to know rather than what industry wants to provide. Therefore, will the Commissioner consider changes to the timetable adopted to allow for appropriate consideration of all alternative points of view and to address the problem of information in a patient-centred way with patient-centred solutions?

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission. – (DE) Mrs Stihler, I should like to start by assuring you that we fully agree on the political assessment that the door must not be opened to product advertising in the field of prescription medicinal products; nor will this happen if I can help it. The sole objective must be to provide patients with objective, comprehensive, neutral information, and to do so in such a way as to avoid confusing them, and as to ensure that they all have equal access to this objective, neutral information.

The problem we face today is that some groups of patients have access to all manner of information via the Internet and other modern communication technologies, whereas many patients do not have this information, and that is a situation we must eliminate.

I should like to reiterate quite clearly that we shall not cross the line separating patient information from product advertising. In addition, we shall lay down quite clearly what rules and criteria apply to the information concerned.

Regarding the timetable, I said before that the consultation stage has been concluded. We are now working at full stretch towards completing the final report on the basis of these consultations. As I said before, I shall do my utmost to speed this process up. At all events, it will be complete by the end of this year.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 26 by Brian Crowley (H-0467/07)

Subject: Combating youth and long-term unemployment within the EU

Can the European Commission make a statement as to what measures it is pursuing this year to combat youth and long-term unemployment within the European Union and to ensure that these EU citizens who are unemployed have access to quality training courses in the field of information technologies?

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission.(CS) Mr President, honourable Members, the labour market in Europe is improving overall, and is doing so very quickly and very positively. Never have so many people worked in Europe, and unemployment figures are at their lowest for a long time. It remains true, however, that the unemployment rate among young people remains high, at around twice the EU average. Youth unemployment is first and foremost the responsibility of the Member States, within the context of their labour market policies. It is also true, however, that the EU must contribute towards resolving this problem.

The EU’s key task consists of supporting the Member States in the following two areas:

– coordination and monitoring of national Member State policy on unemployment in the context of the Lisbon Strategy and

– financial support, in particular via the European social fund.

The framework for policy coordination is provided by the relaunched Lisbon Strategy. The Commission is monitoring national unemployment policies very closely. In the latest Community report on unemployment, the Commission and the Council underlined the urgent need to improve the situation for young people in the labour market. Although the Member States have undertaken to offer young people a fresh start, most of the 4.6 million unemployed young people do not receive a job offer, an offer of education or vocational training in the first six months of their unemployment. Young people who do find a job often have insecure contractual conditions. The Commission takes the view that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and has recommended that the Member States improve the situation for young people, in particular in the field of education or vocational training.

In the Commission’s view, steps should be taken in particular in the following three areas:

firstly, social inclusion, which is a vital prerequisite for sustainable development in Europe. The Commission will support active cohesion aimed at helping people who are on the margins of the labour market to integrate into the labour market, as well as programmes ensuring an appropriate minimum wage and access to high-quality social services.

secondly, lifelong learning, because there can be no doubt that education engenders education and people who are educated and who have higher qualifications have greater access to lifelong learning than those who most need it, that is, people with low qualifications or older people with outdated skills. As regards the Lisbon Strategy, the Commission has issued a number of recommendations to the Member States in the area of education and vocational training, especially concerning early school leaving, with a view to raising the levels of the education that Europeans receive. I should like to point out that the EU’s reference target is to bring the number of early school leavers down to below 10%. The figure is currently 15.2% and in some countries significantly higher than that. Reducing early school leaving is in our view one of the most important factors in improving opportunities for young people on the labour market. Another Commission recommendation is that of supporting geographical mobility. Despite unemployment, we are in a situation where some regions and sectors do not have enough people in the labour force. Young people should therefore be urged to take advantage of these opportunities to work.

A further possibility is EU financial support via the European social fund. As well as coordinating policy, the Union supports the Member States’ efforts to modernise the labour market. During the period 2007-2013 the Member States will receive EUR 72.6 billion towards funding the reform of national labour markets, over 90% of which will go directly towards fulfilling the Lisbon goals. Investment in human capital, which represents one third of the budget of the European social fund, is the most important priority for 2007-2013. A further 30% of that amount will be earmarked for social cohesion in respect of disadvantaged groups.

The European social fund has already yielded practical results. Every year, some 2 million people gain access to employment after taking advantage of support from European social fund projects. In 2007, 25% of unemployed people in the EU will take part in European social fund projects, from which some 1 million of society’s marginalised or disadvantaged people benefit every year. Around 4 million people every year graduate from vocational courses as part of the lifelong learning programme, which is supported by the European social fund.

Given that, as I emphasised, the issue of youth unemployment remains a problem, the Commission is looking for more effective solutions. For this reason, the Commission is now finalising a draft communication on bringing young people into education, employment and society, the adoption of which is planned for September of this year. This communication will be accompanied by a Commission working document on youth employment.

Honourable Members, as I emphasised, the question of youth unemployment is of course mainly a matter for the Member States, their employment policies, their education policies and so forth, although the EU cannot and will not remain inactive.

 
  
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  Brian Crowley (UEN). – Mr President, I thank the Commissioner for his response. In the short time available to me, I will focus on three specific areas.

First of all, with regard to youth unemployment, we see that there is a huge skills shortage, not just in the areas of the internet, communications or technology, but also in terms of the traditional skills used, for example, by carpenters, electricians, stonemasons and so on. There does not seem to be any new initiative to try and enforce extra training out of resources in there.

Secondly, with regard to the mobility question, there are barriers that are put in place that affect young people, in particular, in travelling to get jobs and have their qualifications recognised where they have them.

Thirdly, and finally, with regard to long-term unemployment, back-to-work schemes are important, allowing people to retain some of their social rights and thus helping them integrate back into the work system again. What proposals are there for that in particular?

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission.(CS) These two points are extremely important, of course, and it would be possible to go into them at great length, but I will answer very briefly, if I may. Naturally, within the framework of the European social fund’s active employment policy, we are striving to open up qualifications, and as you correctly pointed out qualifications are not a purely intellectual matter but also involve manual trades and other activities. The Commission is therefore preparing a forum, within the framework of the forum for restructuring, to address the future labour market, that is to say, a labour market with jobs that can be viewed in the long term as either stable or newly-arising, and part of our efforts will be to formulate appropriate requirements for qualifications, appropriate modules for acquiring qualifications and flexible, resilient methods for pursuing the balance between the future labour market and qualifications.

As regards workers’ mobility, there is once again a series of different points and ways in which we can support mobility. The most important of these is the objective set out by my colleague Mr Figel, namely the draft policy on recognising qualifications not only in sectors in which qualifications are already recognised but in other sectors too, including so-called trades. I feel that if we embark on this project, we will significantly improve the situation for young people in the labour market.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 27 by Olle Schmidt (H-0487/07)

Subject: European refuge for persecuted writers and journalists

The EU is under an obligation to support an open debate in closed societies and dictatorships. However, in far too many countries, the expression of opinions continues to be life-threatening. Journalists and writers are murdered, kidnapped and persecuted worldwide. Freedom of expression is important if dictatorships are to develop into open, democratic societies. The Commission could send a clear signal about the value of freedom of expression by offering temporary refuge to writers and journalists persecuted as a result of restrictions on such freedom. The Danish Government recently put forward such a proposal.

Is the Commission prepared to take the initiative to offer refuge in the EU to writers who are at risk of persecution owing to restrictions on freedom of expression?

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. The conditions under which third-country nationals can be granted international protection like refugee subsidiary protection status in a Member State have been harmonised at Community level. In fact, the Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC imposes on the EU Member States concerned the obligation to grant refugee status to third-country nationals who seek protection on the grounds of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of political opinion.

In this context, the concept of political opinion encompasses any opinion concerning matters on which the state, government or society is engaged, going beyond identification with a specific political party or recognised ideology.

Member States are therefore obliged by virtue of EU law to offer protection to journalists and writers who, as a result of exercising their freedom of expression, have in their countries of origin a well-founded fear of persecution in the form of a threat to their life, physical freedom or other serious violations of their human rights.

The Commission welcomes any initiatives by individual Member States to raise the level of protection granted to writers and journalists persecuted as a result of restrictions on their freedom of expression.

 
  
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  Olle Schmidt (ALDE). - (SV) That is a positive response. I want to use my question to call on the Commissioner to join with the Member States in taking an initiative to regulate matters more and to ensure that writers and journalists who are able to come to Europe actually get to do so. I think that that is our duty, given the incredibly difficult world situation. Allow me to remind the Commissioner that, last year, 113 people working in the media were murdered, 807 were put in prison, almost 1 500 were physically attacked and 56 were kidnapped. Among writers, 18 were killed and 144 put in prison. It is high time that we took action. An EU grant might be considered on the lines of that mooted by the Commissioner.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. - (IT) Mr President, I am most willing to answer Mr Schmidt. Since the directive is in force, all the Member States are obliged to comply with it. One aspect on which more can probably be done is that of the provision of information and communication with the country of origin: on this point journalists probably have little knowledge of the possibilities offered to them by European law to find protection if they are in danger.

With regard to the communication programmes, all the Member States should know that the European Commission is willing not only to jointly fund them but also to promote them. Thus, more knowledge is needed for improved application of a directive that exists precisely in the terms that I have described to you.

 
  
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  Jörg Leichtfried (PSE).(DE) Mr President, I should like to state my express support for the Member’s question, as the spirit that inspires and drives the European Union does not reign in countries that see the banning and burning of books followed by the persecution of the authors. I should like to extend the question a little. As I see it, not only should these people be given particular protection, but also the EU must concern itself with ensuring that what these authors write can be disseminated, that it is passed on, in order to bring down the very dictatorships under which they are suffering. Is the Commission considering supporting these people by not only allowing them to stay here but also promoting what they are doing?

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr President, we have already, in fact, thought of programmes to make known the views of persons who, in their own countries, are defined as dissident writers, in such a way as to promote the spread of liberal, democratic ideas. Our ultimate objective is to make these ideas known in the very countries from which these writers or journalists come.

Our task is to spread democratic values outside the borders of Europe, and I believe that it is appropriate to do this also by using the voices of courageous writers and journalists, who should be protected in Europe but whose ideas should also be known in the countries from which they have fled. Thus, as a matter of principle I agree with this approach.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI). – When we think of persecuted and threatened journalists, it is difficult not to mention the recent release of Alan Johnston in Gaza, which was welcomed by us all. Would the Commission agree, however, that a careful balance has to be struck in ensuring that terrorist organisations, such as Hamas, are not enhanced or rewarded for a role in delivering that which never should have happened, namely, the removal of the liberty of a brave journalist like Alan Johnston? Would the Commissioner care to comment on that?

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr President, it is clear that, on this matter, Europe has already expressed itself through the voices of the Foreign Ministers of the European Union: the release of persons who have been seized is a duty that Europe has a diplomatic responsibility to fulfil.

The release of Alan Johnston was an act that we welcomed but obviously, as you said, nobody believes that Hamas should be rewarded; as everybody knows, it is still on the list of terrorist organisations.

That said, it is clear that what matters most to us is that human lives are saved and that journalists can carry out their activities, including in difficult areas and in conflict or high-risk zones. If this were not the case, it would detract from the very mission of journalists, which is to go to places including those that are dangerous, and to report what they have seen and heard.

 
  
  

Part Two

 
  
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  President. Question No 29 by Stavros Arnaoutakis (H-0500/07)

Subject: Risk of total depletion of fish stocks in the Aegean

According to published scientific studies, fish stocks in the Aegean are falling to dangerous levels and there is an immediate threat that fishing grounds will be devastated. This situation is exacerbated by the failure to implement effective measures to promote the sustainable management of fishing activities and by uncontrolled use of fishing gear and methods which cause lasting damage, particularly to habitats where fish stocks reproduce.

It is the Commission's duty, as a matter of urgency to protect this region against the further development of these problems in order, at least to preserve the level of fish stocks and protect coastal fishermen, for whom fishing is a means of survival. What action will the Commission take to tackle this serious problem?

 
  
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  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. I thank Mr Arnaoutakis for his question concerning the Aegean Sea and its fisheries resources. It will be recalled that the Council of Ministers adopted the proposed regulation concerning management measures for the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources in the Mediterranean Sea in late 2006. That regulation consequently entered into force in January 2007. The Commission believes that the regulation represents a fair and vigorous response to the problems raised by the honourable Member as far as both demersal and small pelagic species are concerned. For other highly migratory species like bluefin tuna, the Community also recently adopted new legislation that will contribute to improving the conservation status of these stocks.

Let me underline here that establishing management measures is, however, not enough if adequate implementation and follow-up of the measures are not carried out. Both Member States and fishermen’s organisations have a fundamental role to play in this respect. The Commission will be very attentive to ensure proper enforcement of all the measures. It is for this reason that on 2 April 2007 I wrote to the Ministers of the Member States concerned to assess where we stand as regards the application of the regulation a few months after its adoption. My departments will continue to monitor the situation and the implementation by the Member States of the various provisions contained in that regulation.

In addition to Community measures that may be further complemented in the future, it is also fundamental to promote fisheries management measures in the framework of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), so that Mediterranean countries that are not members of the European Union can also contribute to the sustainability of marine living resources.

Active participation of Member States’ scientists in the proceedings of the GFCM Scientific Advisory Committee is an important way to achieve this. In the case of the Aegean Sea, it is primarily the responsibility of Greece and Turkey to ensure adequate scientific cooperation in order to provide sound scientific advice for fisheries management.

In order to facilitate and promote further scientific cooperation in the Mediterranean eastern basin, the Commission, together with Greece and Italy, is planning to support a new FAO regional project named EastMed.

 
  
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  Stavros Arnaoutakis (PSE).(EL) Mr President, I thank the Commissioner for his reply and I should like to tell him that fishermen from Member States of the European Union and third countries are active in the Aegean and in the Mediterranean in general.

Nonetheless, Greek and Community fishermen in the area suffer all the restrictions and apply Community directives, unlike fishermen from third countries, who fish without restrictions and often without control.

What does the Commission intend to do in order to resolve this problem immediately?

 
  
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  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. Yes, as I said, the Commission can intervene directly with regard to the management of fisheries within Community waters, in particular involving Community fishers. In that regard I made reference specifically to the Mediterranean regulation, which has just come into effect and we are monitoring it closely in order to see that there is proper implementation.

Obviously the Mediterranean Sea, and your part of the Mediterranean Sea, involves third countries with whom we have relationships. With Turkey in particular there is the association relationship, and Turkey is also a candidate for membership. With regard to fisheries, we try to work closely with these third countries in other fora which are responsible for the management of fisheries in the Mediterranean, in particular the GFCM, which is the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. As regards highly migratory species there is ICCAT, which is the commission that has responsibility for blue fin tuna, in particular, and swordfish. Here we are trying to work closely with third countries who are also members of these fora in order to push forward common regulatory measures. In that way we are trying to maintain and establish as level a playing field as possible.

Obviously it is essential that European Union take the lead, and therefore in establishing our own regulatory regime for fisheries in Community waters, we set the example and do our utmost to see to it that third countries with fishing rights in the Mediterranean adopt similar measures through GFCM or ICCAT so that our fishers would not be prejudiced as a result of having more stringent fishing rules for the management of the fishery.

 
  
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  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE).(DE) Over the last week, we have heard of problems in your home country, Malta, concerning in-shore fisheries in another part of the Mediterranean. Are there any special possibilities, programmes or strategies to specifically promote in-shore fisheries and the protection of local fishermen?

 
  
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  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. Coastal fishing in the Mediterranean is a particularly sensitive issue, given the fact that the Mediterranean fishery is somewhat more specific than fisheries one would find in the North Sea, for example, which principally comprises mixed fisheries. Therefore, one cannot be as selective as one would like to be and the measures that apply in the Mediterranean are based more on technical measures than on setting total allowable catches and quotas.

However, having said that, the Mediterranean fisheries policy has introduced regulations, for the first time, that are quite tough in order to regulate Mediterranean fisheries and in particular coastal fisheries. There is a requirement on the part of Member States to draw up management plans for fisheries with regard to the coastal dimension and, in particular, measures relating to the types of gear used, as well as measures relating to minimum landing sizes.

We are now monitoring the implementation of this regulation, as I said in my reply to the question. This was adopted just at the end of last year and came into effect at the beginning of this year. The timeframes are being introduced during the course of this year and next year. I hope that within the timeframes set in the regulation, the Member States will have the necessary measures in place so that we will be able to have a much more sustainable fishery in the Mediterranean, especially with regard to coastal fisheries.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) I congratulate my honourable friend Mr Arnaoutakis on his question and thank the Commissioner for his reply. I would, however, like to ask on what terms catches by fishermen from third countries are imported into and marketed in the European Union.

Increased fishing also means increased demand due to cheaper prices. It is not just the method of fishing.

 
  
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  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. The rules applicable to the importation of fish are regulated under the general provisions relating to WTO negotiations and the WTO regime. There are certain elements whereby, with regard to fisheries in particular, there is not total liberalisation and, therefore, there are certain measures to protect the Community industry. However, one needs to see how the discussions will unfold during the course of this year in order to see what further liberalisation concerning imported fisheries products will occur.

Having said that, however, it is important to underline that we will submit measures later this year to fight illegal fishing. Under these, if fish are caught by vessels operating under a third-country flag and those vessels cannot prove that the fish have been caught sustainably – in other words, within, for example, quota limits and within the parameters of the rules applicable in different regional fisheries management organisations, such as, in the case of the Mediterranean, the GFCM – then those fish will be considered illegal and authorisation will not be given for them to be landed in the Member State where they would have been landed. This would provide us with a very effective measure, which, I hope, will help us curtail the landing of illegally caught fish.

 
  
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  President. Question No 30 by Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (H-0452/07)

Subject: Protection of children's rights in the context of the EU's foreign relations

The Commission communication of 4 July 2006 'Towards a European strategy on the rights of the child' estimates, under the heading 'Global situation', that some 300 000 children are fighting as child soldiers in more than 30 armed conflicts around the world. Although it might be thought that the problem of child soldiers had been dealt with and the extreme violations of their rights reduced, there are frequent reports in the international press regarding the recruitment of child soldiers, with specific examples involving the countries of Africa and Asia.

What view does the Commission take of the use of children in military operations, in the context of its external relations? What specific measures will it take to put efforts to combat the recruitment of child soldiers at the top of its political agenda in its relations with countries which force children to take part in military operations? What will it do to promote the application of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, so that states comply with the requirement that young people must be aged 18 in order to take part in military training or operations?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. The Commission not only thoroughly and strongly condemns the recruitment and the use of children in armed forces and groups, it is also actively contributing to a sustained international effort using all the available means in combating this phenomenon. And we are working actively, both at the policy level and also through our different funding instruments, to promote the rights of the child in armed conflict.

There are three levels here. One is the policy level. The European Union has established a particularly robust basis to work on these issues. Since 2003, several important policy documents have been adopted including the EU guidelines on children and armed conflict, the EU concept for support for this disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and the checklist for integration of the protection of children affected by armed conflict into ESDP operations and, finally, the Commission communication towards an EU strategy on children’s rights from 2006.

Now, in our political dialogues with partner countries, we regularly raise issues related to children’s rights. For example, we raised with the Lebanese Government the ratification of the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We also urge states that have not yet done so to ratify and fully implement the statute of the International Criminal Court which classifies enlisting children as a war crime. And we have been financially supporting the recent revision of the Cape Town principle, resulting in February of this year in the adoption of the Paris principles. Furthermore, we also continue to work with and actively support the UN’s special representatives for children in armed conflict, UNICEF, OHCHR, UNHCR and other non-governmental bodies.

Secondly, we have made this issue a high priority in our assistance efforts at individual country level, for instance, with regard to projects on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes, for instance, in Sudan or with regard to prevention of child recruitment in Colombia or demobilisation, reintegration and prevention of recruitment of child soldiers. That has facilitated the demobilisation of more than 3000 children.

Finally, within the new European instrument for democracy and human rights, we have also earmarked an amount of EUR 6.8 million for 2007 to 2010, aiming to protect children’s rights in armed-conflict situations.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) I thank the Commissioner for her reply. However, I would like her to tell me what specific action is being taken to welcome such children to the European Union.

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. As I just said, we have quite a number of these different guidelines and we are implementing the guidelines that are there. I just mentioned, for instance, the EU strategy on the rights of the child. This is done first by political dialogue. Secondly, we are also helping them with their own strategies. That means we are working with the individual countries and we are also supporting financially the recent revision of the Cape Town principles. As I said, that resulted in the Paris principles and we are also officially expressing political support for those guidelines.

So we are trying to work on all the different fronts by helping the countries but by also using our own projects.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 31 by Bernd Posselt (H-0460/07)

Subject: Strategy for the Black Sea region

What is the EU's foreign policy strategy for the development of the Black Sea region? What bearing do human rights, security and foreign energy policy issues have on this strategy?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. This is a question on the strategy of the Black Sea region. Beyond the three EU Member States, the Black Sea region comprises seven other countries covered by European Union policies: one is the neighbourhood policy, the pre-accession process in the case of Turkey is the second, and then we have the strategic partnership with Russia. These, and mainly the European neighbourhood policy, determine our strategy towards the region as a whole.

Promoting prosperity and stability is therefore one of our main goals, and we offer substantial cooperation programmes. Recently we have, as you know, put forward a Black Sea synergy initiative that has just been adopted under the German Presidency.

The region is of key importance to us, particularly for EU energy supplies – not only security of energy supplies but also diversification. We are also promoting a dialogue with all the Black Sea countries on energy security to provide a transparent framework for production, transport and transit, not only in a regional context but also to enhance our own energy security and supplies through diversification.

We are also working on upgrading the existing energy infrastructure and on promoting the development of new infrastructure in the context of a Caspian Sea-Black Sea-EU energy corridor. There are also all the human rights standards as set out by the Council of Europe and the OSCE that also apply to all the Black Sea states. We therefore want to improve human rights standards, but we also want to support and strengthen democratic structures and civil society in particular. This is key.

Finally, security is the third point and, in particular, the ‘frozen conflicts’ that present a huge challenge. We hope that active EU involvement in ongoing efforts to address these conflicts will provide an opportunity to resolve them in the not too distant future.

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, many thanks for that very detailed, exhaustive reply. I now have two supplementary questions. Firstly, we shall be dealing with Transnistria in a topical and urgent debate on Thursday. What is the Commissioner’s assessment of the situation in Moldova?

My second question relates to the tensions in the three states of the South Caucasus, which have escalated greatly in recent days and weeks into some kind of proxy conflicts. Has the Commission taken on a mediating role here?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (DE) Firstly, on the subject of Transnistria and Moldova, we held important talks with President Voronin in person just recently, and I can tell you that we are working together very closely with Mr Voronin – within the framework of our neighbourhood policy, of course.

We know that talks have been held between President Voronin and President Putin of Russia, but the important thing is that these link up with the ‘five plus two’ talks we are holding. We are making a great effort to give Moldova every possible support along the way. Time and again, there are human-rights issues to be raised – as I have done personally, both in a letter to President Voronin and directly in our talks – but it is imperative that we support this country, the poorest in Europe, and that is what we are doing with our programmes.

Regarding the tensions in the South Caucasus, it is true that these have escalated. We have pointed out time and again that a solution to the conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and of course Nagorno-Karabakh is only possible by stepping up political dialogue. We are in very close contact with the various Special Representatives of the High Representative, and we have channelled our neighbourhood policy towards the creation of an environment conducive to finding a solution.

Whereas, on the one hand, Nagorno-Karabakh has had an opportunity – sadly, the President has yet to take it, but we all hope for a breakthrough – and certain improvements are discernible in South Ossetia; on the other hand, ever greater problems can be seen in Abkhazia, and we have to be particularly vigilant with regard to that country.

 
  
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  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE).(DE) The Commissioner mentioned a series of important policy fields in her answer to Mr Posselt’s question. There is a further matter that I should like to address. The situation in the Black Sea area has led to the EU having an important external border there, too. This raises questions regarding both the legal and the illegal crossing of the border. Do the fields of visa and immigration policy and the prevention of illegal immigration present any opportunities in this regard?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (DE) Mr Rack, I should like to say in that regard that several states are involved here. On the one hand there are the new EU Member States Bulgaria and Romania, who are making an appropriate contribution to the joint formulation of the EU migration policy.

On the other hand, of course, there are other countries, such as the applicant country Turkey. When the time comes and this issue is dealt with as a chapter, Turkey will have to accept and adopt the acquis communautaire.

Relations with some of these countries fall within the neighbourhood policy, and in this regard we are tackling two main fields – on the one hand, certain visa-facilitation measures and, on the other, the issue of readmission agreements – to prevent illegal migration as far as possible.

 
  
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  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) I would like to ask about the closure of Bulgaria's Kozloduy Blocks 3 and 4. Although the Accession Treaty required that they be closed, do you think that now, given the current energy situation in Europe and the world, it is right to shut down one or all of the blocks of a well run and safe electricity generating plant that is operating economically?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. I would say that this is one of the important reasons for having this Black Sea synergy cooperation and for having the Economic Council of the Black Sea as the instrument for bringing this cooperation forward. We would like to see, on the one hand, our partner countries, the neighbourhood countries and, on the other hand, our own Member States, working closely together with the candidate country, that is Turkey, but then particularly also with the strategic partner, i.e. Russia.

We are at the very beginning of this new policy and I think this policy has to grow. There was a very important meeting in Istanbul which I hope henceforth will provide the opportunity for intensifying and deepening our cooperation. However, I think that it is too early to make an assessment just now. Now is the time to go forward and see what we can achieve, but this is clearly the intention.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 32 by Evgeni Kirilov (H-0479/07)

Subject: The situation with the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor in Libya

Can the Commission please update us on the situation with the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor in Libya following the recent visit of Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner and the German Federal Minister Steinmeier in the country? Can the Commission draw some conclusions and give us a political assessment of the way to continue the negotiations with the Libyan authorities?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the case of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical personnel is one of my top priorities. During the visit to Libya, together with Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who was at that time the President-in-Office of the Council, we recorded progress in the discussions with the Libyan authorities and with the representatives of the children’s families. It appears that we are now getting closer to finding a solution based on human solidarity that might produce results.

The families and the Government have been constructive, and we have confirmed our readiness to take into consideration continuing the Benghazi Action Plan in favour of the children and, in particular, in favour of the Benghazi Centre for Infectious Diseases and Immunology.

Now we are waiting for the verdict of the Supreme Court that is expected tomorrow, on 11 July, but this will not be the end because another step is planned before the Libyan High Judicial Council.

We are in very close contact with the Libyan authorities and of course we hope that there will be a positive outcome to the story, but we are not there yet.

 
  
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  Евгени Кирилов (PSE). – Г-жо комисар, благодаря на Вас и на немското председателство за огромните усилия, които положихте.

Вие, г-жо комисар, характеризирате тези преговори като деликатни. Обикновено често казвате така. Всъщност търпение и деликатност проявява Европейската комисия. Либийският режим, който не иска да търси истинската причина за СПИН-епидемията до този момент, не проявява деликатност и си е намерил за тази цел дългосрочни заложници. Той драстично нарушава човешките права на европейски граждани вече 8 години и развива удобната му теза за независимото либийско правосъдие. А то е толкова независимо, колкото например са либийските медии, които за този период не посмяха нито един път да представят другата гледна точка, за разлика от българските и европейските медии.

Попитах Ви за политическата оценка, защото този процес е политически. Логично е за утрешното заседание на съда в Либия и неговото решение, както и за всички решения до сега, либийските власти да носят отговорност. Бих желал да Ви попитам: „Имате ли алтернативен план за действие (председателят се опитва да го прекъсне.), ако Либия продължи да използва преговорите за удължаването на агонията на медицинските сестри и палестинския лекар?“

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. I would like to say that I am for the first time hopeful that there might be positive movement. But for the moment we are not yet there, as I said. We do not want to have a plan B because we really want to work for what we have been trying to do: help the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian medic find their freedom again.

The next days will be crucial. We will be very attentive and we have offered the Libyan authorities the opportunity of really having a mid-term plan for working towards a Benghazi centre that will not only be a centre for the town, but will also be a regional centre and a centre for HIV/AIDS treatment for that part of sub-Saharan Africa.

So let us hope and let us work together in order to find a good solution.

 
  
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  Glyn Ford (PSE). – This case really is an outrageous one. My colleague, David Martin, was one of the first to raise this issue in the last Parliament, before 2004. Yet we are still here. The Libyan Government has to recognise that this has threatened to sour relations permanently between the EU and Libya, which is a great pity given that Libya has just come out of the cold. I welcome your proposal for a Benghazi centre. I hope the decision tomorrow is the right one. If not, I hope that the High Judicial Authority will be able to make the right decision. But if not – and I understand you do not want a plan B now – will you come back to us with further proposals for action if we do not get the right decision in the last two opportunities we have?

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. I would like to say again that the Libyan authorities see more and more that they too would like to have good relations with the European Union. I think they have understood how important it is to get out of isolation and, and that this case is still an obstacle.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will most probably come forward with its verdict, but we also know – and I think it is important to emphasise this – that this will not be the end of the road. There will still be the political decision of the High Judicial Council.

If there is no solution, we will certainly come back and we will have to see what has to be done. But as I said before, I have a cautious optimism this time. Let us hope, let us not only cross our fingers but work together as much as we can. And this is what we will do right up to the last minute. I can assure you of that.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Commissioner, please let us avoid a situation where the European Union, following the example of the United States, will pay ransom, such as the ransom recently demanded for the release of the nurses and the doctor by Colonel Gadaffi, who asked for an extortionate amount of money to free the victims. We must not allow this to happen.

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. I do not want to go into any details of what we are talking about with the Libyan authorities. However, I can assure you that there is no ransom to be paid. Our sole strategy from the outset has been to say that there is solidarity with the Libyan people, and especially with the children that have been affected. There is also solidarity with their families. We also think it is sometimes a possibility to convert a risk or a difficult situation into a chance. The chance could be that this Benghazi Centre could not only be a centre for treating those children and their families, but also a centre of excellence in the future for the region, and even maybe for a part of sub-Saharan Africa. I can absolutely assure you there is no ransom being paid.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 35 by Georgios Papastamkos (H-0453/07)

Subject: Nuclear power in the Balkans

What projects for the construction of new nuclear power stations in the EU Member States of the Balkans peninsula, and in south-eastern Europe generally, have been notified to the Commission? In view of the gradual closure of the nuclear reactors at Kozlodui and the parallel construction of a nuclear power plant at Belene, how is the region's energy map taking shape? Is nuclear energy a correct and appropriate strategic choice for the Member States of the region to meet their energy requirements, bearing in mind the reservations that have been expressed in connection with the many powerful earthquakes this region has endured in the past?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. With respect to the region in question, there is one notification on the construction of a new nuclear power plant and one commitment on closure. On 27 February of this year, Natsionalna Elektricheska Kompania (National Electric Company) notified the Commission, under Article 41 of Euratom, of its investment project. The notification concerns the construction of a new third-generation VVER-1000 nuclear plant in Belene (Bulgaria).

The closure of units three and four of Kozlodui nuclear power plant, as an integral part of Bulgaria’s Treaty of Accession to the European Union, is also happening. The Commission, in its role as Guardian of the Treaties, will oversee the correct implementation of the relevant clauses of this Treaty. The closure of these units should not cause major energy supply concerns. The Community assistance for decommissioning, based on the Treaty of Accession, also covers measures consequential to the closure of the reactors in the field of replacement capacity, energy efficiency and supply actions.

In addition, in the opinion of both the Commission and the World Bank, new base load investments are needed throughout the whole region. However, there are no particular structural problems in generation at present.

The Commission has consistently underlined that it is for each Member State to decide whether or not to rely on nuclear power for the generation of electricity. Should Member States decide to invest in new nuclear power generation, the Commission will exercise available powers to ensure that new investment projects meet the highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation, as required by the Euratom Treaty.

On the seismic issue, pursuant to Article 37 of Euratom, Bulgaria is required to provide the Commission with general data relating to the plan for the disposal of radioactive waste. This will apply to the new nuclear power plant in Belene. The submission of this data is due at least six months before any discharge authorisation of radioactive effluents is granted by the Bulgarian competent authorities. On the basis of this data, and after consultation of the Article 31 Group of Experts, the Commission will deliver an opinion. The latter will check whether the implementation of the plan, both in normal operation and in the event of accident, is liable to result in a radioactive contamination of the water, soil or air space of another Member State. As the Commission review also covers accidental scenarios, the general data to be provided by Member States should contain information on the degree of seismic activity in the region, on probable maximum seismic activity and on the designed seismic resistance of the nuclear installation.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE).(EL) I thank the Commissioner for his reply.

Mr President, it is twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, with an incalculable number of direct and indirect, slow deaths. Neither the World Health Organisation nor the Commission has given the public reliable data on this tragedy.

A study codenamed Pegasos, which correlates seismic risks and nuclear energy was recently published in Switzerland. This study saw the light of day in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Does the Commission have probability statistics on the seismic risk? We are waiting for this information, not whether each Member State is free to have or not to have nuclear energy.

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. According to the Euratom Treaty, we must deliver an opinion. We definitely will require all the necessary data from the companies which would like to build the nuclear reactor and, in our opinion, we will give the matter due thought on the basis of the information that we receive from the authorities.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, there are still two Directives with the Council concerning disposal. I believe that it is now high time we continued discussions on these Directives, which were proposed by the Commission and had the strong support of Parliament. Does the Commissioner envisage any prospect that, with the liberalisation of the energy market, the conditions for final storage and decommissioning will also be made subject to common standards?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. Unfortunately, I do not see the link with liberalisation and how it would influence the position of a Member State. A much stronger instrument of influence is the high level group on the treatment of safety and nuclear waste, because this is the way to proceed and to gather together all the member countries – those that have nuclear power and those that do not – and to really push these issues forward. The liberalisation of the market will not have any effect, because nuclear energy is a part of national energy mix and each country would like to make its own decisions.

It is a highly sensitive political issue, so I believe that market liberalisation will have no influence on this type of decision. Countries that normally oppose the use of nuclear power will not change their mind. Those countries that use nuclear power continue to use it. Therefore, I believe that the best way to promote the directive is to work in a high level group of all 27 Member States and, in this way, to establish a broader consensus on establishing higher nuclear safety standards and better treatment of nuclear waste.

 
  
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  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) I would like to ask about the possibility of creating a Black Sea Dimension. We have a Northern Dimension, in which Russia was successfully included and agreements are being adhered to (although Russia does not always adhere to them). Would it be possible to use some elements of the Northern Dimension for a Black Sea Dimension, and thus to adopt a comprehensive position on all the issues?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. The main reason for closure was doubt about safety levels. It was well debated during the whole pre-accession strategy, and a decision was taken by the Bulgarian authorities based on the safety evaluation. The closure is not about supply or lack of it, but about safety. That is why I believe there is no way we can compromise on this. If it was for any other reason, such as excess of power – but it was not, it was only for safety reasons, recognised by Bulgarian authorities when they subscribed to the Treaty. Moreover, this Treaty has been ratified in all the Member States, meaning that not only have the governments that signed it made an obligation, but this obligation has been endorsed by the citizens of all other Member States. In my opinion there is no new data that would allow us to come back to this decision.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 36 by Dimitrios Papadimoulis (H-0474/07)

Subject: Maintenance of fuel stocks in Greece

By decision 334/V/2007, adopted after a review of the market in petroleum products, the Hellenic Competition Commission (EEA) put forward a number of measures and proposals with particular reference to the maintenance of stocks. The EEA had already identified certain problems with the stock maintenance system at the public consultation stage. It pointed out that the current legal arrangements governing the maintenance of security stocks effectively obstruct imports of petroleum products, thereby confining competition for refining to the two domestic refineries. This situation arises because those refineries are not subjected to strong competitive pressure from (low) import prices and the prices which they both charge the distributing companies in Greece are higher than those in the other Member States despite the low cost of crude which the domestic refineries enjoy.

Has the Greek Government implemented the measures proposed by the EEA? What are the Commission's views on the current system of stock maintenance and the solutions proposed? Will the Commission make representations to the Greek Government to implement the above and other, related proposals and strengthen competition?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. The existing EU legislation leaves it up to Member States to decide the system of stock maintenance. The EU legislation imposes certain obligations on stock levels. It does impose requirements on internal arrangements to keep those stocks apart from some general conditions which apply to stockholding arrangements such as the principles of fairness, non-discrimination and transparency.

On the basis of the information provided by the Greek authorities, the European Commission considers for the time being that there is no evidence to justify an infringement procedure in relation to the stockholding arrangements undertaken in relation to the directive.

Taking the above into consideration, the Commission will continue to monitor regularly the level of stocks held in Greece in order to ensure levels required by EU legislation. At the same time, the European Commission would like to point out that in 2001 the European Court of Justice decided that a stockholding arrangement in Greece, not regulated by the above-mentioned directive, breached Article 28 of the European Community Treaty on the free movement of goods. The case was closed after the Commission was informed that the Greek authorities complied with the judgement of the Court of Justice.

However, if there are new elements which would amount to a breach of Article 28, such as banning or inhibiting imported goods, the European Commission would examine this new detailed information.

 
  
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  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Commissioner, the new elements are the proposals of the Hellenic Competition Commission itself, which says that the current high levels of stocks imposed by current legislation are in practice preventing imports of ready products and fostering oligopoly situations, given that two oil refineries prevail in Greece.

Greece has some of the highest pre-tax fuel prices in the European Union.

The question is: will you intervene vis-à-vis the Greek authorities as regards the application of the Hellenic Competition Commission’s proposals or do you prefer the role of Pontius Pilate?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. The Commission carries out its duties very responsibly, and we really monitor the level of stocks and the arrangement. At this stage, we have no evidence that Greece is in breach of legislation on stocks. If we receive new information that Greece is in breach of that legislation, we will launch infringement proceedings immediately. At the same time, it would be wrong to equate stocks with higher prices, because stocks have a very minimal influence on the price level of petroleum products.

 
  
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  President.

Question No 37 by Justas Vincas Paleckis (H-0480/07)

Subject: 'Druzhba' pipeline

In July 2006 Russia broke off oil supplies to Lithuania and Latvia through the 'Druzhba' pipeline. For almost a year, we have received no official information on the reasons for supplies being halted or the prospects for a resumption. Russia cites the ongoing economic and technical studies on the renovation of the 'Druzhba' pipeline, which will show whether it is viable for Russia to repair the pipeline or whether a new pipeline will need to be built running from Unecha to Primorsk via Velikie Luki. Experts believe that the Russian Government has already taken the politically motivated decision to abandon the 'Druzhba' pipeline, since the new pipeline would mean that Russia would no longer have to transport the oil through the territory of Belarus and Poland but could ship it to the European Union through the Baltic port of Primorsk. This would run counter to the EU strategy of transporting less oil by sea in order to prevent the negative ecological impact and would have considerable repercussions on oil supplies to eight countries, six of them EU Member States, namely Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany.

The EU Heads of State and Government declared in March that the objective of energy policy was the security of energy supply to EU countries and the diversification of energy infrastructure. The closure of the 'Druzhba' pipeline would represent the clear failure of this EU policy. What practical steps will the Commission take in these circumstances? What forecasts and recommendations are being made by the Network of Energy Security Correspondents (Nesco)?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. Since the beginning of the disruption of oil supplies via the Druzhba pipeline, the European Commission has asked the Russian side to provide transparency and information about envisaged steps to remedy the situation. This transparency was repeatedly requested by letter and in several bilateral meetings up to the highest level, including the last EU-Russia Summit in May of summer this year. The Commission notes the resolution of the Russian Government of 21 May 2007 to go ahead with the preparation for the construction of a pipeline from Unecha to the Primorsk terminal on the Baltic, a development which could presumably lead to reduced deliveries via the Druzhba pipeline.

The possibility of further increases in oil exports via Primorsk underline the importance of a strong legislative framework for maritime safety and environmental risks related to the tanker traffic and effective implementation of that framework. The Baltic Sea is a focus of particular attention, its establishment of traffic lines, monitoring of single hub tanker traffic by the European Maritime Safety Agency – EMSA. In the dialogue on transport, it has been agreed that maritime safety is one of the most important subjects.

The Commission considers that pipeline transport of oil is preferable to tanker transport when there is maritime safety or environmental risks. Such risks need to be taken into account by investors and promoters. In March 2007 the European Council endorsed an energy policy for Europe containing an extensive action plan which sets out the strategy. The strategy should be assessed as a whole. Security of supply should be achieved by advances in several parts of the action plan, notably the establishment and functioning of the internal energy market and solidarity arrangement between the Member States within the market. These also include the diversification of energy, making an effort in terms of energy efficiency and last, but not least, work towards a strong single voice in external energy relations.

The network of energy security correspondents set up in May has just started preparing its work but it will be a very good instrument in the future in assessing the external supply risks.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis (PSE). – Thank you, Commissioner, for your comprehensive answer. In Lithuania, the people and also the government very much appreciate the efforts of the Commission but, nevertheless, the Druzhba pipeline does not function. I am afraid to say that the Russian side is not willing to cooperate. What is the role of the Network of Energy Security Correspondents in this story?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. As for the Druzhba pipeline there is no other instrument that continues to keep this question on the agenda. Nesco really cannot help: its role is to prevent or anticipate the disruption of supplies and it therefore cannot provide the necessary information.

We are not asking too much. We need clear data and commitments. Will they use the pipe? If so, when do they expect to use it? We are not asking for secret data. We are just asking normal questions that good neighbours should exchange because it is not related to security of supply. We are saying that it is a good idea to use the pipeline because it stops congestion on the seas and diminishes environmental risks.

We are all hoping that the pipeline will be back in use as soon as possible and, if necessary, we would be willing to provide whatever support was necessary. Therefore, Nesco has a very limited role in this because it is an instrument for alleviating supply risks.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE).(DE) Commissioner, we have employed coordinators to take care of various pipelines. Do you think that the appointment of a coordinator would be a good solution in the case of the Druzhba pipeline, too?

 
  
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  Andris Piebalgs, Member of the Commission. For oil, we have not, so far, had trans-European energy networks. I would say it is high time to reconsider this because we have undervalued supply risks concerning oil. So we should bring oil back into our energy debate in this House, as well as in the Council and in the Commission.

We are now preparing a study evaluating all the risks of oil supply, which parts of the world we get it from, what role is played by congestion, where the risks come from etc. I believe at some stage we should move to promote particular projects. One very obvious oil project where we would like to promote development is the reversal of the flow of the Odessa-Brody-Płock-Gdańsk pipeline because it brings oil from the congested Black Sea region to its markets. This is a project I can already mention where I would envisage the need for such a coordinator, but today the legal framework does not apply to oil.

 
  
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  President. – The questions that have not been taken due to lack of time will be answered in writing (see Annex).

That concludes Question Time.

(The sitting was suspended at 7.10 p.m. and resumed at 9.00 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO
Vice-President

 
  

(1) OJ L 136, 30.4.2004, p. 34.

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