Index 
Verbatim report of proceedings
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Monday, 10 December 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Statement by the President
 3. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes
 4. Membership of Parliament
 5. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes
 6. Referral back to committee for reconsideration of amendments tabled in plenary (Rule 156): see Minutes
 7. Documents received: see Minutes
 8. Oral questions and written declarations (tabling): see Minutes
 9. Petitions: see Minutes
 10. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 11. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes
 12. Request for urgent procedure: see Minutes
 13. Fight against terrorism (motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes
 14. Order of business: see Minutes
 15. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
 16. Protection and conservation of the marine environment: Marine Strategy Directive (debate)
 17. Air pollution: ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (debate)
 18. Population and housing censuses (debate)
 19. Toy Safety (debate)
 20. Fire safety in hotels (debate)
 21. European Contract Law (debate)
 22. Tenth Anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention) (debate)
 23. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 24. Closure of sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

(The sitting was opened at 5 p.m.)

 
1. Resumption of the session
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  President. − I declare resumed the session of the European Parliament adjourned on Thursday 29 November 2007.

 

2. Statement by the President
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  President. − On 1 December two members of the Spanish security forces were shot by the terrorist organisation ETA in Capbreton in France. A young, 24-year-old Spanish police officer, Raúl Centeno, died instantly and a second police officer, Fernando Trapero, aged 23, was seriously injured and died last Wednesday.

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of you all I should like to convey our sincere sympathy to the members of the victims’ families.

I should also like to send a message of solidarity to the Spanish people, the Spanish authorities, the country’s democratic institutions and the security forces in particular. The European Parliament denounces every kind of violence as a means to an end. Terrorism is an assault on freedom and democracy. Terrorism must be fought and eliminated using every means available under the rule of law. There can be no justification for terror. We must not show any weakness when fighting terrorism. The terrorist threat will therefore never succeed in bringing democracy to its knees!

I am sure that we are all in agreement on these principles. Thank you.

(Applause)

 

3. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes

4. Membership of Parliament
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  President. − The 35 Romanian Members will be the voice of the Romanian people, representing their interests in the European Parliament. As President of the European Parliament, I wish our new fellow Members – many of whom we already know from their work to date – every success in the forthcoming 18 months of their mandate.

On this occasion I should also like once again to thank all the members of the Romanian Parliament, who have been observers since September 2005 and Members of the European Parliament since 1 January this year. I thank you for you tireless work and your commitment to European unity.

(Applause)

A total of 13 of the first MEPs were re-elected and I hope that they will assist their new fellow Members in their full and very quick integration into the work of Parliament so that together they contribute to the success of the European unification project for the benefit of their electors.

A list of these Members is published in the Minutes of today’s sitting. Once again, a very warm welcome to our fellow Members from Romania(1).

 
  

(1)For further details on Membership of Parliament: see Minutes.


5. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes

6. Referral back to committee for reconsideration of amendments tabled in plenary (Rule 156): see Minutes

7. Documents received: see Minutes

8. Oral questions and written declarations (tabling): see Minutes

9. Petitions: see Minutes

10. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes

11. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes

12. Request for urgent procedure: see Minutes

13. Fight against terrorism (motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes

14. Order of business: see Minutes

15. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
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  President. − The next item is one-minute speeches on matters of political importance.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, fellow Members, as you know, negotiations are in progress between the Union and South Korea on the creation of a free trade area. Within the scope of the parliamentary scrutiny, I drew the Commission’s attention to an issue which is of great importance for the economy of certain parts of Greece and other regions as well.

I am referring to the extremely high import duties imposed by South Korea on canned fruit. We know the limits to the role that the European Parliament can play in shaping foreign trade policy. However, the secrecy of the Commission’s negotiations should not result in a lack of transparency and democratic accountability, at least within the EU system.

 
  
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  András Gyürk (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you for the floor, Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen, the Russian elections held on 2 December may fill us with fear. The OSCE and European Council observers, if they were able to obtain visas at all, reported grave abuses. Prior to the election, the government forces did everything they could to make things impossible for the political movements opposing them. Their efforts have denied Russian society the most important pillar of democracy, the freedom of suffrage. We are convinced that, where anti-democratic processes are concerned, Europe cannot bury its head in the sand. Under no circumstances can an emphasis on stability of government justify restricting freedom of expression and suffrage. We cannot forget that the state that applies the policy of force within its borders will not be deterred from applying such a policy in international relations too. We feel that there is no alternative to deeper cooperation between the European Union and Russia. At the same time, the bilateral relationship must in any event be based on maintaining respect for human rights and real reciprocity. Thank you.

 
  
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  President. − He was the beneficiary of an error of mine. I had mistakenly read PPE-DE instead of PSE, which is not acceptable, of course. Two representatives from the Socialist Group in the European Parliament therefore now have the floor.

 
  
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  Antonio Masip Hidalgo (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, thank you for your words at the start of the sitting about the terrorism suffered by two young Spaniards, which speak for the whole House. Thank you very much, Mr President.

I would like to remind you that on 16 May two Spaniards, Miguel Ángel López and Edén Galván were detained in Riga, along with five Portuguese, for taking some Latvian flags that were hanging from street lamps.

They did not mean any offence; they did not have any legal assistance until the preliminary hearing, where they did not have an interpreter, and they only had a few seconds with a lawyer. They were beaten by the police, and they remained in isolation. One of them was left for a week without medication for his illness.

Some spent 13 days in prison before being released without charge. Miguel Ángel and Edén Galván spent 19 days in prison. This nightmare ended with a fine of EUR 4 000 each in November.

I know that there have been other cases of disproportionate treatment for alleged offences against Latvian symbols, which I think is extremely serious. On this Human Rights Day I ask the President, who is sensitive to human rights, to write to the Latvian President expressing our great concern.

 
  
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  Inés Ayala Sender (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, I would also like to join in thanking you for your words regarding the murder of two Civil Guard officers in Capbreton.

I would also like to make a complaint about the disappointing spectacle in this House during the visit of the President of the Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. As a Spaniard and as a representative of European citizens in Parliament, it is difficult for me to understand how our institution could invite the Spanish President and then not do everything possible to ensure a dignified visit. This was particularly noted among the ranks of the majority political group, as there almost appeared to have been an order given to the group, and this was commented on in the media in my country.

I think that we have wasted a wonderful opportunity to improve the visibility of the pro-European links that exist between Parliament and the Spanish people, who were represented here on that day by the President of their Government. This institution did not provide the level of hospitality that Spanish and European citizens might have expected.

Fortunately, with generosity of spirit and a strong pro-parliamentary attitude, the Spanish President preferred to comment on the standard and richness of the debate and on the excellent welcome from the rest of the groups, along with the large numbers of Spanish citizens that welcomed him at Council premises.

I trust that your considerable experience, Mr President, and your current responsibility as President of this House will tell you what you need to do in order to erase this unfortunate impression and to ensure that it does not happen again.

 
  
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  President. − The President is always pleased when the plenary is full and particularly for reasons such as these.

 
  
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  Metin Kazak (ALDE).(BG) Mr. Chairman, Colleagues,

Bulgaria has contibuted a functioning tolerance model unique for the Balkans and Europe upon its accession to the European Union. It builds on the balance between the priniple of integration of minorities in all spheres of the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country, and the principle of preservation of their ethnic and religious identity. This model offered a way out of the standstill of inter-ethnic tensions, which the so-called “revival process” had plunged Bulgaria into. It is precisely this model that has restored the goodneighbourly relations between Christians and Moslems, transforming ethnic conflicts into a political process.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms plays a fundamental role in the development of the Bulgarian ethnic model. The MRF as the largest liberal party in the Balkans defends individual rights and freedoms and protects minorities as provided by law and in accordance with the European values rather than on the basis of origin or religion. Unlike other neighbouring countries, even in the times of the most severe reprisals perpetrated by the communist regime, the MRF was never tempted to resort to violent methods. It has never supported cessesionist ideas or actions; instead, it seeks the agreement of all democratic parties at both the national and the European level to decisively oppose new tendencies towards ethnic, racial or religious intolerance.

 
  
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  Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, pesticides abuse and inappropriate waste management have led to a deterioration in soil quality and have given rise to a threat to our citizens. Providing them and future generations with the potential to produce healthy foods should be one of our priority tasks.

The solutions put forward in Mrs Gutiérrez-Cortines’s report, which include drawing up a list of contaminated areas in each Member State and a strategy for improving these areas, are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and I hope that there will be more such steps to come.

Chemical contamination and the elimination of its consequences are not the whole story, though. A new and more alarming problem has arisen alongside this, concerning the increased production of genetically modified foods, and that is biological contamination. I can assure you all that GMO are significantly more alarming than chemical contamination. While we combat chemical contamination, then, we must also combat biological contamination. The EU must say a decisive ‘no’ to the introduction of genetically modified organisms into foods.

 
  
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  Milan Horáček (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, the Duma elections on 2 December once again demonstrated that no surprises are to be expected in Russia. The approaches have provided for the targeted breakdown and intimidation of the opposition, by massive changes in election legislation, the imprisonment and elimination of potential opponents such as Khodorkovsky and the repeated arrests of Garry Kasparov.

We are not impressed by the result of the United Russia campaign. Putin’s party wins, democracy loses. This questionable success is reinforced by the fact that no party critical of the government entered into Parliament. These elections are no indication of a common basis for relations between Europe and Russia built on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This discouraging final rehearsal does not bode well at all for the Presidential elections in March 2008 and at the same time shows us the importance of our understanding of values.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer Pleite (GUE/NGL). – (ES) Mr President, thank you for your statement on behalf of our institution condemning the ETA murders.

Moving on to my question, I would like to say that last week I had the opportunity to meet with Mrs Yolanda Pulecio, the mother of Ingrid Betancourt, who as you know has been held as a hostage by FARC since 2001. She conveyed to me, as I am now conveying to you, to Parliament and the Commission, to the European institutions, the need for the Union to play a fundamental role in supporting the mediation by both Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela, and of President Sarkozy of France. On 9 October, the European institutions, through the Portuguese Presidency, also supported this mediation.

This is very important, because a way is opening up for mediation, to put an end to the torment of many hostages that have been held for a long time and to begin to restore normality in the conflict in Colombia.

I therefore ask the European institutions not to let this call from Mrs Yolanda Pulecio, the mother of Ingrid Betancourt, fall on deaf ears.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (IND/DEM). – Mr President, 23 November saw the first anniversary of the murder of my constituent, Alexander Litvinenko, in what was an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism. The substance used to kill him, polonium-210, is strictly controlled and is easily traceable back to its source in Russia, even down to the original batch from whence it came. The crime could only have been authorised at the highest level in the Russian political establishment.

The British authorities have requested the extradition of only one person, Andrei Lugovoi, but the murder was not the act of an individual: a team of trained operatives were involved. The British Government has ensured that Mr Lugovoi appears to carry sole responsibility, in order to divert attention from where guilt ultimately lies. The finger of suspicion points straight back to the Kremlin. If President Putin did not order the deed, he certainly knows who did.

 
  
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  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE). – (RO) Mr. President, at the end of the year, the European Commission draws up the report regarding the barriers imposed on access to the labour market.

In my opinion, this report should necessarily emphasize the following two issues: the restrictions imposed on the new Member States are not justified, since their accession has not caused any imbalances on the markets of the other European Union countries; secondly, these restrictions should not exceed the first two years specified by the European labour legislation.

The 2+3+2 formula tends to be used in the Member States as a response to certain current political requirements.

This is why I consider that a firm position of the European institutions from the first two years is necessary in order to stop the unjustified blocking of the labour force movement.

I also want to reaffirm the Community preference principle in the context in which the Parliament discusses the European Blue Card, which will create the possibility to import a labour force of over 20 million people from outside the European Union.

In virtue of this principle, it is abnormal to treat workers from the recently acceded European Union Member States more strictly than those of third countries.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis (PSE). – Mr President, the enlargement of the Schengen area is a magnificent Christmas present for 21st-century Europeans, yet a new European curtain is being drawn for our neighbours Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Belarus: a financial and bureaucratic one in place of the very old iron one. Before, our neighbours could obtain free or reduced-price visas to travel to many new Schengen countries. Now they must pay between EUR 35 and 60. This is a third of a monthly salary in some of these countries.

The financial gain from visa taxes is backfiring on the EU itself. For ordinary neighbours the EU is becoming a distant land. After all, the more people who visit the EU, the better they can see how we live, and, at the same time, our tourism industry will profit from it. Also, financially, it is better to permit than to restrain.

We do not need the fortress of Europe. I turn to my colleagues and to the President of this House and ask them to exert pressure on the Council to review the visa tax conditions for our eastern neighbours.

 
  
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  Toomas Savi (ALDE). – Mr President, I should like to draw your attention to a document that this House is about to work on: the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1228/2003 on conditions for access to the network for cross-border exchanges in electricity.

It concerns me that the proposal from the Commission does not contain articles that would allow Member States to limit the import of electricity from third countries if environmental regulations there are weaker than the ones applied here in the European Union.

The European Union should not make any concessions to energy suppliers that produce electricity at a low price but with a disastrous impact on the environment. This would be spineless disloyalty to our values, as well as unfair to European energy suppliers that comply with the necessary standards.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (UEN).(PL) Mr President, referring back to two speeches by my fellow Members, I would like to comment on the elections in Russia. It reminded me of the old joke about how every American has a choice of car as long as it is a black Ford. I have the impression, though, that many European politicians gave a sigh of relief that there was some continuity, and that there was still someone in Russia they could talk to.

Of course, I understand the economic interests of individual EU Member States, especially the large ones, and of individual lobby groups and individual industries, but our silent consent to the failure to observe human rights in Russia, our European Union blindness and deafness, can only encourage the Russian authorities to keep on arresting more and more Kasparovs. The quieter we are in the EU about what is going on in Russia, the less we say about it, the greater the policy of repression in that country – it is that simple; I therefore propose that we speak out about what is happening in Russia, and bad things are happening.

 
  
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  Gisela Kallenbach (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, I should like to draw attention to the situation of the Bulgarian art historian Martina Baleva and her German colleague from the Free University of Berlin, Ulf Brunnbauer. Both have been subjected to death threats and hate campaigns in connection with, and as a result of, scientific work on a painting, specifically by the television station Skat TV and the radical Ataka Party. More recently, at the end of Ataka’s European election campaign, a billboard displayed a banner stating: ‘Baleva on the scaffold – the German Jew tied to the stake!’ The complaint has not been processed by the Bulgarian public prosecutor’s office since June owing to public incitement to murder. For safety reasons Mrs Baleva is now staying in Germany; the TV station has offered a reward for information on her whereabouts. The Bulgarian Government is not reacting and this is unworthy of a Member State and unacceptable!

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, the EU-Africa Summit has taken place in Lisbon. In the joint statement which was agreed, great emphasis was placed on cooperation agreements between the Union and the countries of Africa. According to the Commissioners concerned, Mr Mandelson and Mr Michel, these agreements will give impetus to Africa’s development.

Leaving aside the fact that for years we have been ignoring political assistance in favour of economic assistance, it is worth considering what more we can offer the countries of Africa, when we know, for example, that over the past 15 years, EU exports to the continent of Africa have increased by 84%, which has forced poor countries to use 57% of their GDP to import food which they could have produced locally.

The only ones to profit from all this cooperation are the big European companies. Let us not delude ourselves, and let us be honest: we are giving money which we are taking right back.

 
  
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  Pál Schmitt (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. Four MEPs of Hungarian nationality were given a mandate in the Romanian elections to the European Parliament: Magor Csibi, Csaba Sógor, László Tőkés and Iuliu Winkler. This is an outstanding result and a wonderful chance for the Hungarian community to fight for the same autonomy proven in practice throughout Europe, mother-tongue education and an independent Hungarian-language university.

I would especially like to mention Bishop László Tőkés, since all of us have been enriched by an honest, genuine Member who is committed to democracy and human rights. He was elected as an independent, individual candidate, without any kind of party list, for which there are few precedents. The fact that his campaign was honest and based on values relating to fundamental human rights played a great role in his electoral success. Bishop Tőkés has become a sort of legend in Hungarian politics through his activities up to now, his role in the Romanian transition to democracy, and his persistent fight for the largest national minority native to Europe, the Hungarian community living in Romania. On behalf of the delegation from the Hungarian People’s Party, I feel a duty to welcome our compatriots as elected representatives of the Hungarian community living on the territory of Romania. Thank you.

 
  
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  Maria-Eleni Koppa (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, today I would like to put the question of Olympic Airlines to the Plenary. I believe that the Greek government has abandoned all attempts to negotiate on the future of Olympic Airlines, making the European Court’s impending decision a foregone conclusion.

There is no justification for this unacceptable stance when it is known that as part of its regional policy the European Union has already recognised the need to strengthen the airline with modern equipment, to ensure daily connections with the isolated island parts of the country.

It is clear that the Greek Government, on the basis of a pre-judged decision, has thrown away every right and every opportunity to negotiate to save jobs, thereby creating an enormous social problem. At the same time, all the requirements which would prevent the dispersal of Olympic Airlines’ intangible assets, which are of considerable economic value, are being quietly dropped.

In this way, the Greek Government and the European Commission, in the name of competition, are making Greece a second-class destination. This will be opposed by all the forces committed to the country’s future as a serious tourist destination.

 
  
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  Zsolt László Becsey (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. Yet again we have cause for concern about ethnic diversity in the Vojvodina region of Northern Serbia, since in many decisions the European Parliament has declared this to be a value to be protected. In the sense of the Readmission Agreement that was otherwise unfairly forced on Serbia by the European Union, some estimates indicate that many tens of thousands of people who are staying illegally in the integrated Member States will have to be sent back to Serbia. Since the Serbian Government has no strategy for socially and geographically reintegrating this mass, the Serbian Constitution in vain prohibits on paper any changes to the proportions of ethnic groups through settlement if those who are readmitted do not go back to the settlements from which they originally came but to Vojvodina, which is a more developed region. It is no accident that even empty flats here are put on the police list. In addition to this, the locals are rightly fearful of a wave of refugees from Kosovo. The tensions are increased by the military censuses of the recent past, for which the Hungarians of Vojvodina qualify as loyal Serbian citizens but which are regarded as unjustified by a country that is a partner for peace in NATO and that is striving for a peaceful settlement in Kosovo. Thank you, Mr President.

 
  
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  Marianne Mikko (PSE). – (ET) Ladies and gentlemen.

Europe must not sacrifice security to liberalisation of the energy market. At least not as long as third countries use energy as a foreign policy tool.

By buying up gas pipes in Moldova, Gazprom took advantage of the frozen conflict in Transnistria and cut off gas supplies and export channels.

In view of Moldova’s vulnerability, I have no doubt that establishing further partnerships between different market regions, Member States and third countries which meet our criteria will enhance our energy security.

Smaller Member States have to do even more to ensure their security. Estonia’s economy and military might have succumbed time and again to those of our neighbour, and are many times smaller than those of the conqueror Russia.

Both energy production and distribution are of strategic importance to Estonia. I believe that, in view of that situation, certain enterprises should not be unbundled and should remain in State ownership. Please believe us when we say that this is very important for us.

 
  
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  Emmanouil Angelakas (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, I would like to mention a brutal attack on an ethnic Greek journalist, which took place on 5 December in Istanbul. The journalist in question is Andreas Robopoulos, correspondent of the Greek television channel MEGA and editor of the Greek-language newspaper ECHO. He was clubbed on the back by purportedly unknown assailants, who may be known to the authorities, and as a result he suffered multiple fractures to his arms and head injuries requiring stitches.

This incident happened outside the ECHO offices in the Pera district. The perpetrators left their victim lying on the ground, covered in blood. This comes on the heels of many other incidents, such as the murder of the ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on 19 January in Istanbul, and the events of 13 December, when bulldozers from the Turkish forestry department destroyed the Monastery of the Transfiguration on the island of Heybeliada (Halki).

I call on the European Parliament, which is the highest political expression of democracy in the European Union, to conduct a thorough investigation and respond vigorously, with a condemnation of such crimes on the part of a country which, while aspiring to join the European Union, attacks its own citizens.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis (ALDE). – Mr President, it is Human Rights Day today, and the world is plagued by a plethora of examples of human rights violations. Amongst these examples is that of my tiny home country, Cyprus. For 33 years, Turkish forces have occupied part of the island and kept 200 000 refugees away from their homes. For 33 years, the Turkish army has held the uninhabited town of Famagusta and uses it to blackmail the Greek Cypriot community. For 33 years, Turkish soldiers have imposed a Berlin-like division of the capital, Nicosia. And all this because the Turkish military seem to dictate Turkish policy on Cyprus.

Let us hope that Mr Erdoğan’s new government, realising how unjustifiable it is to have an EU Member State occupied by its forces, will order his Turkish Chief of Staff, Mr Büyükanıt, to withdraw his forces from the island as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Hanna Foltyn-Kubicka (UEN). (PL) Mr President, it is difficult to describe the parliamentary elections in Russia that have just ended as anything other than a bad joke at the expense of democracy. The results from the area of Chechnya, where there was 99% turnout and support for United Russia, are particularly disturbing.

The example of the Chechens is symptomatic. People living in that country have no reason to vote for Putin’s team. The immensity of the suffering they have experienced from that team has been mentioned on numerous occasions. Virtually 100% turnout and support for a governing group does not happen in any democratic country. On the other hand it does vividly remind us of elections in totalitarian states.

There are further similarities. The elections revealed that there is no longer any place for an opposition in Russia. Freedom of speech is restricted and the media are controlled by the state. The category of political prisoners is making a return. This category is made up of those who have the courage to speak out openly against the regime, and democracy is becoming a facade behind which that pure-as-the-driven-snow democrat Putin can do exactly as he likes.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, in the run-up to Christmas, we would normally be in good humour. But I have to say that, in Ireland at the moment, the country is quite shocked by young people who are dying from taking cocaine. Just today a young girl is being buried, and it is the talk of the country because she was high-profile. But I think it raises a very serious issue, not just for Ireland but for many Member States and their young people, and how drug-taking is now part of recreation.

The European Union, and Member States individually, need to tackle this head-on in two directions. Obviously, we need to cut off the supply, but that may be extremely difficult. It has got to be done by better policing and better work between Member States. But we need to cut off demand and we need young people – indeed, all of us – to realise the dangers of drugs. And those who promote legalising them should take note.

Finally, I would just urge those who are currently dabbling to please stop, and I would express my sympathies to the families in Ireland who have lost loved ones.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) Mr. President, climate changes represent one of the most complex problems of the international community.

These days, the Bali Conference gathers delegations from 190 countries, hundreds of experts and non-governmental organizations and over 1,400 journalists.

The common objective is to establish a roadmap in order to reduce climate changes after 2012 as well.

We can respond to challenges related to climate changes by developing scientific research, adapting to climate changes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing and implementing a global energy strategy.

In the context of the Bali Conference, the European Union should undertake the role of leader in fighting climate changes.

The actions the Union has already taken in certain fields, such as aviation, promoting less-polluting vehicles, fuel quality and air quality will have effects both in fighting climate changes, and in stimulating economic development.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) Mr President, during the totalitarian regimes the people of Eastern Europe often feared customs controls and membership of the EU is for many closely associated with the end of these controls.

Euro-regions, which through their activities supported cooperation in border areas, significantly facilitated the removal of barrier at border areas. These cross-border associations encouraged us, the Members of Parliament, to put pressure on the parties concerned to stick to the original deadline for the expansion of the Schengen area.

I am happy that their expectations in that regard were fulfilled and that at midnight on 20 December the last remnants of the Iron Curtain will fall and the borderless Euro-regions will become a reality. With the Slovak Republic’s accession to the Schengen area and the opening of the borders with the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Austria, a new area for close cooperation will be created.

I hope that all the associations, villages and towns in the border areas will respond to the invitation of the Tatry region and on 21 December will celebrate at border crossings the greatest success of European integration, namely the elimination of the borders that used to divide them.

 
  
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  Richard Corbett (PSE). – Mr President, I just want to rise ahead of Christmas to say ‘thank you’, for once, to the European Commission for having announced the aid of over EUR 170 million out of the European Solidarity Fund to help towards the clean-up operations after the floods in my country, and especially in my region, this summer. I understand that, if it is confirmed, this will be the second-highest amount ever paid out of the European Solidarity Fund. As MEP for one of the regions most affected, I can say that every contribution is welcome. This gesture of solidarity from the rest of Europe will be most welcome in my constituency.

 
  
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  President. − Normally the President does not comment on what speakers have said, but on my list it says ‘EUR 170’ and not ‘EUR 170 million’, so I am happy that the United Kingdom has nothing to criticise in this case!

(Laughter)

 
  
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  Ljudmila Novak (PPE-DE). – (SL) I would like to inform you of certain events on the Croatian-Slovenian border.

The Croatian side is once again engaging in the practice of faits accomplis as a way of settling unresolved border issues with Slovenia. The Croats first started selling land in the disputed territory on the left bank of the Dragonja River and then built a bridge at Hotiza. Recently they have very slowly moved the border in the Snežniški Woods and their foresters have started felling trees.

In Razkrižje they have quietly marked out a new border control building without the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs giving the Slovenian side advance notice of its intentions, even though it is required to do so under the agreements that it has entered into. Nor has notice been given to the Slovenian owners of the plots of land on which it is intended to erect the crossing.

In spite of Slovenia's support in principle for Croatia's entry into the EU, Croatia should comply with the agreements that it has entered into with other countries if it wishes to justify its status as a credible candidate for EU membership.

 
  
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  Viktória Mohácsi (ALDE). – (HU) Thank you very much, Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen, on this day in 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so today we can celebrate Human Rights Day. I would like to ask, with all due respect, do we really have cause for celebration? There is no doubt that the values formulated in the document still form the basis for the Union and for our Europeanness today. But just because we are celebrating, we cannot ignore the phenomenon in many Member States of the Union, from Hungary to Greece and from Slovakia to the Netherlands – I could list the examples – where there are still in existence and on the increase political groups which hide in uniforms and which cast doubt on precisely these values, marching with the symbols of fallen dictatorships. I entreat all responsible European politicians: let’s make the celebration nicer; let’s act together against extremist groups! Hopefully my group will manage to propose a Parliamentary Decision to protest against manifestations of extremism. There cannot be a better time for collaboration than on the international Human Rights Day. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski (UEN). (PL) Mr President, I would like to remind you that 5 December was the anniversary of the birth of a great Pole and European – Polish Head of State Marshal Józef Piłsudski. This charismatic figure was not only an excellent and heroic commanding officer, but also, above all, an authentic statesman who made a major contribution to the rebirth of the Polish state.

Under his leadership in 1920 the Polish army halted the march of the Bolsheviks, who were intent on subduing the whole of Europe. He spoke out in favour of living in peace and harmony with neighbours, with respect for full sovereignty. He also said that Poland was faced with a big question: should it stand on equal terms with other great world powers, or should it be a minor state that needed the protection of the powerful? Poland has not yet come up with an answer to this question; it has still to sit that examination of its strengths. A major effort lies ahead of us in that regard, and we, the current generation, will have to gird ourselves up for it. These words remain relevant today, with Poland being one of the 27 Member States of the European Union.

 
  
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  Milan Gaľa (PPE-DE). – (SK) Mr President, on 19 November 2007 the A6 motorway connecting Bratislava and Vienna was inaugurated. I regard it as a historic event, which will significantly simplify the motorway links between the Slovak Republic and Austria.

After three years of intensive works on the A6, and once the Slovak Republic has joined the Schengen area, the contacts between the two countries will no doubt become even more productive.

I would like to thank Austria for having successfully completed the project, in collaboration with the Slovak Republic. The opening of the A6 heralds the first time that the Slovak Republic has been connected to the trans-European transport corridors. This will bring relief to the other transport routes that are already heavily used.

 
  
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  Jörg Leichtfried (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, last Friday more than 70 000 signatures in favour of tighter legislation on the transport of livestock were handed over to the President of the Austrian Parliament, Barbara Prammer. A citizens’ initiative was created by a small group of people, coordinated by one of my fellow countrymen, Helmut Schaupensteiner, and backed by a highly committed journalist, Maggie Entenfeller. They managed to find these 70 000 signatures in the shortest possible time.

This initiative has my full backing and 70 000 signatures show that the population is no longer willing either to allow these tragic circumstances to pass without comment. As a Member of the European Parliament I therefore regard it as my duty to inform you, ladies and gentlemen, about this splendid application of the initiative against the transport of livestock and to ask us all to finally do something here so that these things that are currently taking place on European roads will no longer be able to take place in future.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Ján Hudacký (PPE-DE). – (SK) Mr President, on 4 December 2007 the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic deemed that the legislation on termination of pregnancy, which permits induced abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy without justification, and I repeat without any justification, does not infringe the Constitution of the Slovak Republic.

The Constitution of the Slovak Republic nevertheless speaks about the safeguarding of human life even before birth. I am sorry to say that this day will be written in the history of the Slovak Republic with the blood of the children who will not get the chance to be born and live.

I regret that the majority of the judges were unable to summon up enough courage to confirm the supremacy of the higher principle of safeguarding human life. Condoning abortions of unborn children on the grounds of so-called human rights, or rather women’s rights, which do not have anything in common with human nature and dignity, is regrettable and is to be condemned.

 
  
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  Maria Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, we heard earlier about the concerns of the Greek people over the question of Olympic Airlines. We must ensure that Olympic stays airborne.

However, there is another problem which concerns the Greek people, and it was discussed in the Greek Parliament on the initiative of the Vice-President (First Speaker), Mr Sourlas: the serious risk posed to young people by the use of technologies and computers. Dependence on this new phenomenon causes illnesses in young people which make them unfit to participate in society, destroying their prospects for education or work.

At the same time, no safeguards are provided. Our question, then, is: Why does free competition on the open market allow the production and import of video games from third countries, and the dissemination of such games, and the uncontrolled, 24-hour operation of Internet cafes? How can this market be controlled? What is the European subsidy for providing a safe internet for young people? What measures are being taken to treat the illnesses which young people suffer because of their addiction to computers and the Internet? And how are the competent law-enforcement authorities controlling electronic crime at European level?

 
  
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  Dushana Zdravkova (PPE-DE). – (BG) Mr. Chairman, Colleagues, On the eve of the launch of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the signing of the Chater of Fundamental Rights, I would like to draw your attention to Bulgaria and to the fact that, unfortunately, the Bulgarian Government, its administration and the reprsentatives of the ruling coalition in Parliament are still far away from the application of some of the underlying fundamental principles. These are the principles of open governance, transparency and, above all, accountability in the decision-making process.

For the last few days, the Bulgagrian citizens have witnessed yet another attempt of the Government to apply obscure criteria so that to covertly re-dtsirbute the state budget surplus and enable the so-called “black coffers” of the ruling parties to absorb funds in an unregulated manner. This is one more example of the prevailing political practice over the recent years to come to and stay in power thanks to vote shopping rather than as a result of work well done.

Being a Member of the European Parliament and a representative of the biggest opposition party in Bulgaria and a right-wing political force sharing the values of the European People’s Party, I believe that the existing status quo of the political model in Bulgaria alienates citizens from the decision-making process and increases their perceptions of corruption. In the public awareness campaign related to the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, we are prepared to promote the principles of the efficient and transparent governance and to persuade the citizens in the values enshrined in these two documents.

 
  
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  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you very much, Mr President. This year, all 27 Member States of the Union have held a series of celebrations to commemorate the birth of the European Union and its 50th anniversary or birthday. Most recently, at the beginning of December, I took part in such an event at Mosonmagyaróvár. Mosonmagyaróvár is a town on the border of Slovakia, Austria and Hungary, so it is no surprise that there were very many mayors from all three countries. The participating mayors cited an initiative that has been formulated for the European Parliament or for its President. The essence of the initiative is that, following in the footsteps of the Ancient Greek traditions, the European Parliament should instigate a worldwide ceasefire for the first time in 2008 during the Olympic Games in Beijing. Mr President, the motto for this invitation is ‘17 Days of Peace’. The mayors started collecting signatures on 1 December and they would like to give the petition to you, Mr President, here in Strasbourg in the spring. They asked me to extend this invitation to you, which I have now done. Thank you.

 
  
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  Nickolay Mladenov (PPE-DE). – (BG) Mr. Chairman, I have been approached by reprsentatives of the Bulgarian Confederation for Health Protection established by twelve patient organisations to defend the interests of one million Bulgarians with chronical diseases. The pharmaceutical policy has been a source of serious concern in Bulgaria for the last few years. Although the resources allocated for health care increase, less and less medicines can be purchased with them from year to year. Unfortunately, their price includes also 20-percent VAT. Bulgarian patients are worried that their reprsentatives are not allowed to participate in the monitoring and supervision of health care spending. They insist on involvement in these processes so that to guarantee transparency. Having tried to appeal to the Bulgarian Government for years on end, now they have decided to approach the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Over a million Bulgarians suffer from chronical diseases and they do not receive sufficient health protection. Furthermore, the problems of the pharmaceutical policy affect the interests of more than 80 European pharmaceutical manufacturers who also seek greater transparency. Therefore I appeal from this rostrum to the Bulgarian authorities and to the EU institutions to support the request of patient organisations for more transparency.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer (PPE-DE). – (SK) Mr President, I would like to address the issue of minority radio broadcasting in the Slovak Republic, which is about to cease its activities.

The statutory radio of the Slovak Republic is bound by law to broadcast in national minority languages. Last week, however, the management of the radio decided to stop broadcasting Rádio Pátria in minority languages on medium wave due to a lack of funds. This would mean an end to broadcasting in Hungarian, Ruthenian and Ukrainian.

If the Slovak Parliament, in approving the budget for the coming year, has not allocate funds for medium wave broadcasting, broadcasting in minority languages will end on 1 January. In Slovakia this broadcasting has an 80-year-old tradition. It has also been decided that the broadcasting will continue via the Internet, although it has been estimated that only 1% of listeners own a computer and use it to listen to the radio. There are, however, alternative solutions...

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Mr President, this weekend the European Council will also discuss energy problems, which have become the issue of common security.

Against this background, let me address three wishes to the European Council.

First, I would like the Council to support the Commission’s proposals on ownership unbundling and restricting the majority hold of third countries’ capital on the electricity and gas markets. This is a key issue in securing fair competition and avoiding opaque deals between state monopolies.

Second, I would like Member States to be able to restrict their electricity imports from third countries in cases where this could substantially endanger long-term supply security.

Third, may I remind the Council of the European Parliament resolution on energy security from September, which proposes the post of an external official for energy security?

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). (PL) Mr President, today, at the beginning of the third millennium, the world is faced with problems from the past that are still unresolved, and these are accompanied by new challenges. We can be proud that the European Union is a creator of change and that our greatest values are human rights, freedom, democracy, tolerance, a free market, an improved standard of living and care for the natural environment.

If we are to act effectively to put these ideas and aims into effect, our Union must be businesslike and efficient. We are coming to the end of one particular phase of work: we are accepting the Reform Treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon. This is very fine, but life has sketched new challenges for us. In implementing all the provisions of the Treaty, in upgrading the functioning of the EU and its institutions, we must talk about – and we want to talk about – the future, a better future for Europe, for our Member States...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Eluned Morgan (PSE). – Mr President, I would like to continue my Strasbourg tradition of naming and shaming Member States who fail to comply with the Lisbon directives.

In 2005, all 27 Member States agreed to abide by the framework for the setting of eco-design requirements for energy-using products. By August 2007 only six Member States had declared that they had fully transposed this directive into domestic law. The Commission began infringement proceedings against 21 Member States and, to date, 15 Member States have still failed to comply with this law.

So the list of shame includes: Germany, Italy, Luxembourg (once again), Portugal, Malta, Cyprus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Finland, Denmark, Estonia and Greece.

In this week when the Bali conference is occurring, it is a scandal that Member States are failing to conform with measures that they have already agreed with and which could already have had a significant impact on tackling the issue of climate change.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (PSE). – (HU) Ladies and gentlemen, today is a turning point in the Western Balkans and also in the life of the whole European Union. Today the UN deadline passes for the Serbs and Albanians to reach agreement. We should have known in advance that the endeavours of the troika to achieve this were doomed to failure. In all probability, Kosovo will declare its independence within two months, and it is still difficult to assess the consequences of this beyond the Western Balkan region. Kosovo will be a protectorate of the Union. The Kosovo settlement will be the definitive test of common foreign and security policy. Will we be able to reach a unified position, or will we be the victims of bickering between America and Russia? If the Union is not unified, this will pose a serious danger for the alignment and European integration of the region, so it is very important that there is a good, fair settlement in Kosovo. This is the Union’s responsibility.

 
  
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  Jacky Hénin (GUE/NGL). (FR) Mr President, on 6 December the Strasbourg industrial tribunal issued its decision in the case of the European Parliament versus some of its employees. I quote: ‘Notes that the assignment contract between Manpower and the European Parliament is invalid; notes that the project contract between Manpower with the employees is invalid; states and rules that the contractual relationship between the applicant employee and the European Parliament should be put on a permanent contract footing’.

I applaud here the courage of the temporary officials, who ignored bullying and other provocation in order to have their rights recognised. I dare to hope, Mr President, that the administration will very quickly be instructed to bring a definitive end to this case, since all it will have done is discredit our institution in the eyes of the employment world.

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (PSE). – Mr President, today I intend to address the issue of the right balance between the fight against corruption and democracy. The international image of corruption in some countries, Romania included, is so powerful that it has apparently generated the belief that, in order to fight it, even bending democracy is permitted. Consequently, Brussels continuously calls for and salutes vocally the strengthening of the instruments to fight corruption, but usually keeps silent when those very instruments are abused, being primarily designed for internal political consumption.

Therefore, if the fight against corruption remains a priority – and it should stay so – the praise one gets from the keepers of democracy should be equally accompanied by criticism of exaggerations and breaking of fundamental citizens’ rights. Otherwise, under the pretence of fighting corruption, democracy itself will be gradually undermined, and, frankly, I consider that equally, if not more, damaging.

 
  
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  Manolis Mavrommatis (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, 1 December was World AIDS Day, a day of remembrance for all the victims of the disease which remains the scourge of our planet. The figures from the World Health Organisation’s latest research show that the percentage of carriers of the virus remains at the same level, whilst the number of new cases has fallen. In spite of this, the numbers are still far too high.

In a question I put to the European Commission, I proposed that a set of postage stamps should be issued to raise public awareness of AIDS, and the idea was then encouraged by Markos Kyprianou, the Commissioner responsible for health matters. Kostis Hatzidakis – our colleague until a few months ago, an MEP and now the Greek Minister for Transport and Communications – approved my proposal, and Greece printed and released a set of AIDS remembrance stamps; proceeds from sales of the stamps will be used to buy drugs for those suffering from the virus. The Commission encouraged all 27 Member States to take up the idea. Greece has made a start!

 
  
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  President. – That concludes the one-minute speeches.

 

16. Protection and conservation of the marine environment: Marine Strategy Directive (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the recommendation for second reading (A6-0389/2007), on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on the Council common position for adopting a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) [09388/2/2007 – C6-0261/2007 – 2005/0211(COD)] (Rapporteur: Marie-Noëlle Lienemann).

 
  
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  Marie-Noëlle Lienemann, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the directive that Parliament should adopt at its second reading is extremely important because it is the first directive that forces Member States to have an environmental strategy to restore the seas and oceans to a good ecological status. When we looked at it, at its first reading, we stressed its importance given that recent scientific reports show that the survival of fish stocks and the biodiversity of the seas and oceans are under particular threat. Some people are even saying that in fifty years’ time there will be no more fish. Furthermore, the oceans play a fundamental role in regulating the climate and by polluting them we are in danger of diminishing this regulating function and accentuating the negative effects of climate change. It was therefore urgent and necessary for the European Union, having adopted the water framework directive, particularly regarding freshwater, to swiftly address the issue of seawater.

At its first reading, we demonstrated our willingness to improve the existing text. First I will go over the structural points of this directive and the existing texts. The first aim is to restore our seas and oceans to a good ecological status. The second is to define the necessary steps to be taken by each Member State: firstly, to collaborate within Marine Regions or Sub-Regions; then to define the state of the water and of biodiversity in these seas; then to define a good ecological status and some priority environmental objectives; and finally to draw up a plan of action and some measures to be taken. We were therefore positive about this directive, but felt it did not go far enough in the state it came to us from the Commission.

There are a number of points we have stressed. The first is the need to make this directive tough. Tough, both as regards resources and as regards results. That has certainly been the most positive point of our collaboration with the Council and Commission: the directive is tough.

The second point is that we hope that good ecological status will be defined stringently, so that restoring this asset is not just all talk. We have largely been satisfied in that the criteria for good ecological status have been extended to include pressure from all pollutants affecting an ecosystem and the need to evaluate them and reduce their impact with this aim of restoring good ecological status.

The third point is that Parliament is very keen on setting up protected marine areas, the types of reserve that should play a key role in restoring the diversity of this biotope and particularly in reconstituting fish stocks. We would have liked a text that was more restrictive, more stringent, tougher about the need for these reserves, but the principle is still there; at any rate, the need for them to be sufficiently large to play a role in restoring biodiversity is still there.

Finally, Parliament wanted the scope of the directive to be extended. In particular we wanted coastal waters to be properly taken into account, and we did not want any uncertainty to remain about the need to take account of all tidal waters. At any rate, for a lot of them this has been the case. We would of course have liked a slightly better definition of the land covered by tidal waters, but the text we have is adequate.

I would like to stress the importance of the consistency of strategies by geographical area: we would have liked the text to be tougher, but the need for consistency is affirmed.

Finally, our fellow Members from the Baltic wanted the Baltic to be a sort of pilot project enabling us to move more quickly, in view of the urgency of the situation. They were not completely satisfied because the tradition in our institutions is not to single out any particular area. Nevertheless, the idea of a pilot area has been kept, and I am sure the Commission would choose the Baltic to be this area.

Lastly, there is the matter of timescale: the main thing for us was that the directive should be binding, even if it meant slightly lengthening the amount of time the Member States were given to achieve it. This was the compromise that was settled on in the end. The deadline is 2020, but the Member States must not drag their feet because they need to have the directive transposed by 2010. Anyway I would invite them not to waste time because, under the water framework directive, the delay is mounting up and our seas cannot wait.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I take this point on behalf of my colleague Mr Stavros Dimas, whose presence in Bali at the Climate Change Conference has prevented him from being here this evening. I would first like to thank and congratulate the rapporteur, Ms Lienemann, for her excellent work on the Marine Strategy Directive, and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety for its positive and constructive contribution.

This directive marks the beginning of a new approach for protecting our seas and our oceans. The next challenge will, of course, be its successful implementation. The efforts of Parliament to enhance the ambition of this legislative initiative have borne fruit, and they have made sure that the agreed directive will be an effective instrument for protecting our seas and our oceans in an integrated manner. The Commission is pleased that it was possible to reach an agreement at second reading. I would like, in particular, to highlight the constructive role of the European Parliament in this process. By preserving at all times its high political and environmental objectives, Parliament has played a helpful and constructive role to work towards this agreement.

The objective of the proposed directive is that Member States take the necessary measures to achieve good environmental status in the marine environment by the year 2020 at the latest. This will be done through the establishment and implementation of marine strategies in their marine waters. Therefore, the directive contains a very demanding objective. The Commission remains vigilant to ensure that all necessary measures are adopted to guarantee the effective protection of our marine environment. On some important points, Parliament has succeeded in going beyond the original Commission proposal.

I would like in particular to underline three issues that have been central to the negotiations: ensuring an ambitious objective for the directive; defining in a more precise way what is meant by good environmental status, including a set of specific descriptors, and requiring the establishment of marine protected areas in the context of this directive.

Parliament has insisted, throughout the negotiating process, on the need to ensure that the directive has a strong ambition on all the essential points. This directive sets out a new framework for working, for the first time, together in an integrated manner to protect our seas and oceans. We will continue to build on this policy initiative in order to allow this Marine Strategy Directive to concretely deliver the environmental pillar of the marine policy of the European Union. Therefore, the Commission can accept a compromise package in order to reach an agreement on this directive at second reading.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (FI) Mr President, as rapporteur for my group, it is with pleasure that I can say that the directive on which we have reached a compromise is one of those pieces of EU environmental legislation whose fruits our future generations will come to enjoy in a very real way. It is time at last to focus attention on our marine environment, whose deteriorating state has been sad to witness, the Baltic Sea being the most shocking example. This directive brings new hope to this situation, with its aim of halting the pollution of the seas and reviving their biodiversity.

The work over these two years has not always been easy. Although the aim was the same for everyone, the means the political groups employed often differed. One example of how our opinions differed related to the future prospects for a technique for carbon capture and storage. Mrs Lienemann’s opinion would in practice have prevented the development of such a technique. We, on the other hand, thought that in the light of climate change it was necessary and that the Marine Strategy Directive should not therefore be laden with details which would render it impossible.

I believe that the compromise we have now reached is satisfactory to all parties. It is ambitious in its targets, leaving the means of accomplishing them to the Member States, though obliging them to cooperate in each Marine Region for the best result. The compromise text clearly describes what sort of good maritime environmental status we are looking for and what the possible threats to it are. At the same time it will no longer specify in detail the various steps taken as being threats, since the list cannot be exhaustive, and it would accord the steps taken in the marine environment unequal status. The wording now selected places an obligation on the parties but does not accuse, and prompts without unjustified coercive action. The objectives are nevertheless clear, scientifically justifiable, and binding and so will also be effective.

I would like to thank my colleague, Mrs Lienemann, for her successful work. She has been a good leader in the negotiations and has also listened to the other groups. I am especially grateful that we managed to raise the profile of the serious situation in the Baltic Sea.

I am sure that the Marine Strategy Directive will be an excellent environmental pillar of a common EU maritime policy. It brilliantly supports the aim of a common maritime policy to boost growth, employment and sustainable development, at the same time building on a firm knowledge base of maritime research. This is the kind of legislation our Community needs.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (LT) Congratulations to the rapporteur on carrying out some important work. I would like to state that I agree that a more strongly opinionated report would have been even more effective. However, the strong opinions can wait until later; meanwhile, we can enjoy the compromise that had been achieved.

For some time now the protection of the seas and oceans has not been given due attention. Marine resources have been used relentlessly, the ecosystem is being exhausted, and we have been treating the marine environment as if we are sawing off the branch we are sitting on. That is why the establishment of marine protected areas is of great importance in terms of preserving living waters for future generations.

As is commonly known, the European Union’s marine territory is larger than its land territory. The wellbeing of all the EU regions and millions of EU citizens depends on the good environmental status and productivity of the surrounding seas and oceans. Therefore, it is essential that in future the European Union considers environmental protection as a whole, knowing that it cannot be ‘patched up’ by making separate insignificant decisions. When we reduce soil pollution, marine pollution is reduced as well. We need to allocate more funds for the construction of drainage, and it is no less important to develop this outside the EU as well.

I welcome the fact that the European Union is taking on the role of global leader once again and is committed to achieving good marine environmental status in 13 years time.

The issue of the Baltic Sea has already been mentioned. This sea is especially sensitive – its water changes only every 25-30 years, so the effect of pollution is stronger than average. We are still feeling the consequences of decades of irresponsible application of chemicals. Before starting oil extraction and making plans for the construction of pipelines in the Baltic Sea, we should consider the environmental issues. We should make sure that the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren is not adversely affected by our decisions.

 
  
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  Adamos Adamou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (EL) Mr President, I would like to thank and congratulate Mrs Lienemann on her efforts and the way she conducted the negotiations with the Council and the Commission. I shall focus on some of the main positive issues.

The directive as a whole will place sufficient emphasis on the necessary measures for compliance and for achieving good environmental status, any deterioration in which will be avoided. Although the European Parliament had originally called for 2017, the schedule for compliance by the Member States is now set to run until 2020, a realistic date which is proposed by the Council in coordination with the national representatives.

The Member States will provide an initial assessment up to 2012, defining good environmental status and declaring coherent environmental goals. The European Parliament was able to obtain clear commitments from the Council for integrated policies and approaches which will encourage the Member States to cooperate in achieving EU-wide good environmental status.

This directive also takes account of the Common Fisheries Policy, providing for viable exploitation of fishery resources while at the same time respecting the integrity of ecosystems, so that they can be preserved or restored and, where necessary, egg-laying, shelter and feeding sites can be protected.

Lastly, as regards funding resources, implementation will apply to the existing funds within the scope of the financial resources and in line with economic prospects for 2007-2013, and will be renegotiated for the next period, given that the overall duration of the directive is until 2020.

 
  
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  Ioannis Gklavakis (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, I shall likewise begin by congratulating the rapporteur, Mrs Lienemann, on the excellent work she has done. The directive aims to protect – as indeed it should – the marine environment. However, as rapporteur for the Committee on Fisheries, there are a few things I would like to comment on.

The Committee on the Environment must put more emphasis on fishing and the problems facing it as a result of marine pollution. Sailors and fishermen know the seas better than anyone. They live on them and from them. Their participation is needed in combating this problem. I also wish to express my satisfaction at the enlargement of the protected marine areas.

To sum up, I shall say that success in safeguarding the marine strategy depends on four main factors: firstly, committing the parties to comply with the schedule laid down in the directive. We cannot and must not allow postponements in our programme. The targets must all be achieved by 2020. If we do not achieve them then, it will be too late to remedy things.

Secondly, cooperation with third countries: the seas have no borders. We should get round the table together and discuss things with all our neighbours. Let us not forget that there are 27 countries around the Mediterranean, and only seven of them are Member States. We should therefore all sit down together and see what we can do.

Thirdly, there should be adequate funds allocated for this purpose.

Fourthly, we should get fishermen to participate in this effort. This is our only hope of success.

To conclude and round off these comments, I shall repeat that the Directive on Marine Strategy, if correctly applied, will contribute to viable, sustainable fisheries and a healthy sea, so that we have clean seas whose beauty we can all enjoy.

 
  
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  Inger Segelström (PSE). – (SV) Mr President, let me begin by thanking Marie-Noëlle Lienemann for her good work on the Framework Directive. As a Swede living in Stockholm by the Baltic, one of the world’s most polluted seas, I really welcome this Directive. Forty per cent of Sweden’s population live less than five kilometres from the coast, and tourism provides 71 000 jobs in our country, including our islands. Fishing accounts for an additional 4 000 jobs. Thanks to our fishing industry we can enjoy fish, which is so important to us Swedes.

A damaged marine environment leads to impaired quality of life for many and is an unwelcome development. There is a risk that commercial and leisure fishing in boats, sea-bathing and marine recreation may disappear unless we in the EU do something together, here and now. A common marine environmental policy will serve to strengthen and protect the marine ecosystem and to set up databases for monitoring and knowledge acquisition. We in the European Parliament have higher ambitions than the Commission and I am glad that we have set the deadline for achieving a good environmental status at 2017 and not 2021. I am also glad that the Member States are to present programmes of measures for the marine environment by 2015.

I should like to thank Commissioner Frattini for coming on board. As a citizen with an environmental commitment, I would like to make faster progress, but if all 27 Member States put on some speed we can do something and make a start now. This is a prime example of an area in which cross-border cooperation is necessary. I hope that the Baltic can become a pilot area, since eight out of nine countries around the Baltic Sea are EU Member States. It is our problem and our responsibility. It is also important that we who are committed to environmental foreign policy cooperate with Russia on the Baltic Sea and the marine environment. We have before us decisions in the field of both environmental and energy policy. Let us make the marine environment the main focus of attention now!

 
  
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  Georgios Toussas (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, development under the Lisbon Strategy, guided by the principle of support for competitiveness, i.e. increasing the profitability of the monopoly business groups in the European Union, not only intensifies to the utmost the exploitation of the working class and of workers generally, but also severely aggravates environmental problems, by systematically destroying marine ecosystems and the biodiversity of the seas, and causing a steady deterioration in the quality of sea water.

In addition to the damage caused to sea water by pollution from ships, industrial pollution bears a huge share of the responsibility for the contamination of sea water. It causes an incalculable level of contamination in the water table, and this is subsequently transferred to sea water. Pollution from the ever increasing number of fish-farming units also places severe strain on the marine environment and the functioning of ecosystems.

The problems of the marine environment are seriously aggravated by the invasion of monopolies into a number of operations which were previously in public ownership, as a result of the privatisation of utilities and public infrastructures, and also by the commercialisation of public assets such as sea water. Huge tourist complexes owned by monopoly groups are leading to a high-income model of tourist development, while public assets such as coastlines, beaches and sea water are being despoiled.

The pollution of sea water is no longer solely due to the discharge of waste and sewage from those tourist complexes into the sea, but also to the construction of industrial units to serve their business activities, including the installation of desalination units to irrigate golf courses and generally to serve their needs. The consequences are dire for the residents of entire areas.

I would like to end, Mr President, by pointing out that the common position of the Council and the Commission report does not actually provide the solution which is needed, if we are to solve or at least mitigate serious problems relating to the environment.

 
  
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  Andres Tarand (PSE). – (ET) The seas are the least studied and least well-known part of the biosphere. More importantly, the exploitation of the seas should be based on the known precautionary principles of environmental protection.

Fortunately the rapporteur, Mrs Lienemann shares that approach, and for that I thank her.

Hopefully at the second reading we will come to an agreement with the Council and a rapid start can be made to implementation of the marine strategy.

I also wish separately to emphasise my own support for Amendment 29 to the report, which seeks to establish the Baltic Sea Marine Region as a pilot area for implementing the European Union Marine Strategy.

Of all the seas surrounding Europe, the Baltic is undoubtedly the most vulnerable thanks to its shallow waters and the fact that there is little water exchange with the Atlantic Ocean. As a result there is, for example, no construction of gas pipelines as there is in the North Sea or the Mediterranean.

If the Baltic Sea Marine Region were already a pilot area for implementing the European Union Marine Strategy, then it would probably not be part of the NordStream project.

Fortunately the European Union does not have to create the Baltic Sea programme of measures from scratch. The Helsinki Convention, which established protection for the Baltic Sea, did the necessary groundwork to that end in the context of the Baltic Sea Action Plan.

As a result it is possible to use the Baltic Sea successfully as a pilot area for the marine strategy. Another positive aspect is that, through HELCOM, Russia is also able to participate in the implementation of the Baltic Sea programme of measures; without Russia’s involvement it is difficult to protect the Baltic and ensure good environmental status.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (PSE). – (RO) Mr. President, first of all, I would like to thank and congratulate Madam Rapporteur.

A fundamental element of the European maritime strategy is the recognition of the negative effects of human activity on the ecosystem and the increase of efforts to fight such effects. Human and tourism development along the coasts has a major impact on the sea environment following the intensification of fishing activities, maritime transportation and recreational tourism. Climate changes, waste, fishing activities, acoustic, biological and chemical factors threaten maritime waters and this directive represents an important step toward improving the integrity of ecosystems and preserving biodiversity.

The oil and sulphur pollution in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which has occurred recently because of a storm and has caused the sinking of several commercial ships, will affect us for at least 10 years from now. The disaster occurred due to a system deficiency, since the ships were designed for river and not maritime shipping, which points out the absence of any efforts to prevent and protect the maritime environment. This serious accident complicates the process of ecological improvement of these waters, which are already classified among the most polluted maritime areas in the world.

The degradation of the Black Sea water affects both public health and marine biodiversity, and considerable efforts are necessary in order to recover the ecosystem’s integrity. Moreover, maritime transport of hazardous cargo must meet the requirements of international conventions and ensure minimum safety in order to prevent any future similar disastrous accidents, which cause significant damage both to the marine life and to human life.

Through this directive, we will make sure that the European Union maritime environment is better protected and human activities and transportation will not affect the quality of water and biodiversity.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, on the basis of the agreed texts, Member States will now have to establish marine strategies for their marine waters. Such strategies will begin with an assessment of the status of marine waters and their existing impacts and pressures and will develop targets to find good environmental status.

The Member States will establish monitoring programmes and will then elaborate, as from 2015, programmes and measures necessary to achieve the objectives. This series of steps will be taken again every six years on a cyclical basis.

A number of key elements have been included in the overall compromise package that is now proposed. Most importantly, the objective of the directive is now clear and ambitious, as Member States are required to take the necessary measures to achieve good environmental status in the marine environment by the year 2020 at the latest.

The legislators have agreed on a definition of good environmental status, including a series of associated descriptors, which will have to be met. A revised timetable has now been agreed, which in fact is more demanding than what was included in the Commission’s original proposal, but at the same time providing a sufficient time for taking appropriate action at each step.

Exceptions and derogations, including disproportionate costs, have been better qualified. Member States will have to establish marine-protected areas to meet their objectives under this directive in accordance with the international commitments of the Community and the Member States. Action will be required in the context of each marine region, and, therefore, to develop marine strategies will involve strong cooperation with and within regional sea conventions.

The implementation of this directive will, in fact, require this enhanced coordination. In this context, I would like to recall the importance given by Parliament during all the negotiations to important regional processes. I would particularly like to mention the Baltic Sea Action Plan, which was adopted in the context of the Helsinki Convention. As highlighted by Parliament, this integrated action plan is a useful first example and a resource that will facilitate progress in the implementation of the directive.

Such an integrated approach must be an important component in all the actions that have been undertaken by the different regional sea conventions to protect the European seas – the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, the Black Sea and the Baltic.

To conclude, the Commission is very pleased with the outcome of negotiations. The Commission can accept the proposed compromise amendments in full.

 
  
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  President – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE), in writing. (DE) Under the terms of effective environmental protection, the world’s oceans, particularly the marine waters around Europe, must be given greater consideration in the policies of the EU. The present Marine Strategy Framework Directive is a reaction to the challenges arising from climate change and provides for measures by both the EU and the Member States. In order to take the appropriate steps at European level, it is vital in the first instance that the environmental status in the marine environment is charted by uniform criteria. Furthermore, the Directive forces the Member States to achieve good environmental status in the marine environment by 2017 and to create the regulations necessary for this.

I would ask the Member States, in the context of the report, to take the necessary steps to verify and trace marine pollution so that the ‘polluter pays’ principle can be applied. The steps already taken by the EU with regard to the capture of CO2 in the seabed must be strengthened, since these are an innovative contribution to combating climate change. Pilot projects already in existence, however, must be critically reviewed, mainly with regard to their efficiency and possible consequential damage. In order to counter climate change effectively, we should not be shutting out innovations, but incorporating them into a broad EU environmental policy.

 

17. Air pollution: ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the recommendation for second reading (A6-0389/2007), on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on the Council common position for adopting a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) [09388/2/2007 – C6-0261/2007 – 2005/0211(COD)] (Rapporteur: Marie-Noëlle Lienemann).

 
  
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  Holger Krahmer, rapporteur. − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the compromise on the Air Quality Directive is primarily the result of successful team work. I wish to emphasise this at the outset. My thanks especially to all my fellow Members who have taken an active part in defining the text of this Directive, particularly to the rapporteurs, Mrs Weisgerber of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats and Mrs Corbey of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, as well as Mrs Hassi of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. I should also like to thank the Commission for its valuable assistance and the Portuguese Council Presidency, which has made a vital contribution to this good result as an open and constructive negotiating partner.

The compromise puts the EU’s future air quality policy on a sound footing. The new Directive maintains the balance between ambitious targets and limits and the necessary flexibility for implementation in the Member States. In addition, the focus is directed more towards exposure and increased awareness of the need for measures at the sources of pollution.

Let me first outline the key elements of the compromise. There has been decisive progress, which is the intention with the amendment of air quality legislation, in the regulation of the finest PM2.5 particulates. In the opinion of all the experts, the finest particulates originating exclusively from human sources pose the greatest risks to human health. Fine PM2.5 dust particulates less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter and therefore not visible to the naked eye can penetrate the lungs and lead to serious, long-term respiratory diseases. Focussing on the smallest particles in European policy on air quality is therefore long overdue.

In the United States, there has been a strict PM2.5 limit since 1997. The United States is a good 10 years ahead of the EU with regard to legislation in this sector. However, with all due respect for US air quality policy, I should like to state that we cannot simply copy what the United States has been doing for years. We have completely different conditions in Europe, particularly with regard to population and traffic density.

The demand by environmental groups for the immediate introduction of a strict PM2.5 limit is unrealistic. Data in Europe is not strong and measurement experience is inadequate – not good conditions for a hasty introduction of a limit. The Council and Parliament have been in agreement since the outset on regulating PM2.5 in two phases. Firstly, there should be a target from 2010 onwards and then a limit from 2015 onwards of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Parliament has constantly been lobbying the Commission as well as campaigning against the Council’s opposition for a stricter value for PM2.5. It is therefore to Parliament’s credit that today we want to reduce the limit for PM2.5 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter in a second stage in 2020.

In addition to a target and limit for PM2.5, an exposure concentration obligation of 20 micrograms will be introduced for the Member States in 2015. This has the aim of reducing background concentration and will have a positive effect on the protection of human health particularly in urban conurbations. The model proposed by the European Parliament for reducing concentrations of PM2.5 by 2020 has likewise been implemented. There is a differentiation according to the Member States and greater account will be taken of inputs.

As regards PM10, a majority in Parliament lobbied at first reading for an ambitious annual limit, which is also better correlated to the daily limit in force. The position of the Council and the Commission not to touch the current limits at all has won recognition in the negotiations. With a three-year extension to the deadline for PM10, the deadline extension is guaranteed until 2012 after the new Directive comes into force for local authorities, which have not been able to keep to the limits owing to their geographical position or meteorological conditions, despite all demonstrable efforts.

Even though improving the quality of the ambient air will also be a major challenge for the EU in the future, I should like to raise three points that in my view should be noted when implementing this Directive and when revising the legislation in 2013.

Firstly, the pollution of ambient air has fallen drastically in recent decades. As a new study by the European Environment Agency shows, around 50% of fine dust emissions were reduced in the period between 1990 and 2004 – therefore even before the introduction of the PM10 limits. This has been achieved less through legislation than through technical progress.

Secondly, conditions in the European Union and between the Member States vary enormously. I have already mentioned meteorological and geographical conditions. However, it is principally the widely differing population, traffic and industry densities that have the greatest influence. More consideration must be given to this when implementing future legislation.

Thirdly, in order to reduce air pollution even further, neither short-term actions such as road blocks and traffic bans, nor stricter, paper-based limits will lead to success.

Parliament greatly welcomes the Commission’s statement, to be published together with the new Directive in the Official Journal in 2008, on the adoption of measures at source. Air pollution can be reduced only in the long term and at EU level specifically by strengthening cross-border measures. The policy on sources, which has been given little consideration to date, should be the main focus in future, particularly private combustion plants, the shipping industry and also agriculture.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I am taking this file on behalf of my colleague, Commissioner Dimas, who is at the Bali Conference.

I wish to begin by thanking and congratulating the rapporteur, Mr Krahmer, for his excellent work on the ambient air quality directive, and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, in particular the shadow rapporteurs, for their positive contribution.

Bringing the proposal to this stage has not been an easy journey. The European Parliament has played a constructive role in working towards an agreement on a sound and effective text. I should like to express the Commission’s appreciation for this.

In the preparation of the Commission proposal, as well as during the negotiations, we have been clearly guided by the scientific evidence on the importance of the continuous effort to improve air quality, and specifically on the need to address the fine particles (PM2.5). On average, the life expectancy of EU citizens is reduced by more than eight months due to air pollution. This is unacceptable, and we need to do more.

Only limited improvements in air quality have been achieved in the past few years in the EU, and the attainability of the PM2.5, as well as the existing standards, has been at the centre of the debate.

Further measures are clearly needed at Community, national, regional and local levels. The Community measures addressing emissions at source have been outlined in the thematic strategy on air pollution. We are well on track with the development and adoption of these measures. The last progress update can also be found in the declaration adjoined to the compromise package. The Commission and Parliament share a common understanding on the importance of these measures to achieve an effective reduction of emissions.

The main features of the directive are the following. The directive maintains the existing limit and target values, while allowing for some time to achieve full compliance in specific zones, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled. The compromise text ensures that the postponement is limited and does not create incentives to delay the measures that need to be taken. As air knows no borders, those measures will support the efforts to achieve compliance, also in the neighbouring regions and states.

As regards the PM10 annual limit value, I understand the ambition behind the committee’s proposal to threaten this. The scientific evidence, however, states that, for chronic exposure, the fine PM2.5 sub-fraction of PM10 is the most important, so the Commission has proposed leaving the PM10 limit value unchanged and addressing this ambition through the new PM2.5 objectives. PM10 standards will be fully reassessed at the review in 2013 to ensure that the latest scientific knowledge and the implementation experience are properly reflected in the standards.

Setting timely, realistic, yet ambitious objectives for PM2.5 has been the main challenge in the negotiation. The compromise package sets out very clear commitments in the text of the review article, demonstrating that a more ambitious annual limit value will be considered as part of the mandatory review in 2013 and by setting the indicative limit value for PM2.5.

The significance of the introduction of a new, legally binding exposure concentration already in 2015 cannot be overstated. While the new exposure-reduction approach already provides the flexibility for the Member States to most effectively maximise public health benefits of their abatement efforts, the new legal obligation and its relatively short time for implementation ensure that the Member States will take prompt action and seriously address the reduction of population exposure to fine particles.

I am very pleased to acknowledge the specific importance the committee attached to sensitive groups, including children. The additions will support the appropriate consideration of sensitive groups in designing the abatement measures.

With this important piece of legislation, the European Union will stand ready to continue to effectively reduce and minimise the significant adverse effects of air pollution. The Commission is actively supporting the process through the development of Community measures and through its continuous support to the implementation of the directives by the Member States by providing guidance and facilitating the exchange between the Member States.

 
  
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  Anja Weisgerber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, I too should like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Krahmer, and the shadow rapporteurs for their effective cooperation. Agreement with the Council at second reading is a success for the European Parliament. This agreement is a major step towards better air quality in Europe. However, we do need the assistance of all those involved. The cities and towns have to draw up clean air plans and create environmental zones, for example, if they do not keep to the limits. The Member States have to create the conditions for this – such as the enactment of the regulation on motor vehicle stickers in Germany, for example.

However, this is also called for in Europe. Only about 20-30% of air-borne soot particles come from inner-city traffic. It is only here, however, that the local authorities are able ultimately to have any influence. Local authorities have no chance of keeping to the limits if measures are not taken at European level to reduce emissions from sources other than transport. The measurement of emissions alone does not improve air quality. We need measures that combat the discharge of fine dust directly at source. This will provide genuine health protection.

The Commission has now also committed itself politically to taking these steps. It wants to make legislative proposals, such as the Euro 6 standard for lorries (which ultimately also leads to the compulsory introduction of soot particle filters), emission standards for smaller industrial installations and new regulations for ship’s engines. The local authorities’ measures must be flanked by these regulations in order to achieve a genuine improvement in air quality.

Firstly, there will be limits for the smallest dust particles. These particles are more harmful to human health because they can be breathed in. We therefore have to assess this. Through ambitious, yet realistic values we are sending out another signal for health protection. The legislator has demonstrated a sense of proportion here and at the same time ensured a high degree of health protection. Since we as Parliament have been able to achieve a good result on the smallest dust particles, we have accepted the Council’s position not to change anything in the existing PM10 limits, including in daily limits. This also means, however, that there is no tightening of the annual PM10 limits. The text of the Directive makes it explicitly clear that the local authorities are not obliged to take ineffective short-term measures such as road blocks, for example. The focus should be on long-term, sustainable measures such as environmental zones. Local authorities are already doing a great deal here and they should continue to do so.

Cities and towns, however, can in future apply for an extension to the deadline for meeting the existing PM10 limits under strict conditions. This means, however – and I deliberately wish to emphasise this – no free ticket for local authorities. They cannot exceed the limits indefinitely and they can obtain a deadline extension only under two strict conditions: that they are suffering from unfavourable climatic conditions or unfavourable field conditions such as hot spots, for example, and they have taken all appropriate and reasonable measures at local level. This flexibility for local authorities contributes to the Directive’s practicability, without disregarding the level of health protection.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have put forward a responsible package. We have achieved progress on the health protection front.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR SIWIEC
Vice-President

 
  
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  Dorette Corbey, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (NL) Mr President, clean air is a basic necessity of life. Air has become cleaner over the last 30 years, but is still far too polluted. Compliance with the directives currently in force is inadequate. The Directive on ambient air quality needs to be revised if we are to tackle pollution more effectively. Last week, Parliament and the Council reached agreement on the new Directive. I welcome the outcome and wish to thank Mr Krahmer, Mrs Weisgerber and the other shadow rapporteurs for their constructive cooperation over the last two years. I should like to highlight three points.

First of all, the stricter standards. My group has been consistently committed to more ambitious standards for particulates and other pollutants harmful to humans and the environment, and so I am pleased that, thanks to us, there is to be a new standard for microparticulates. Microparticulate pollution can neither be seen nor smelt, but is responsible for the most health damage, leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths among Europeans. Large numbers of people suffer from asthma and other complaints. The new standard will enable us to take a much more targeted approach to tackling this health damage.

This agreement is therefore good news for public health. Parliament did not resign itself to the lukewarm ambition of the Commission and the Council; we called for greater commitment, and obtained it. The PM2.5 standard was to be reduced from 25 to 20 micrograms. According to scientists, this will increase average life expectancy by a further four to five months. However, even the new standards are not enough. Further improvements are still required, including more attention being given to children. Ultimately, we must arrive at a standard of no more than 10 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre of air. This is the ceiling recommended by the World Health Organization, and guarantees genuinely clean air. The present Directive is a step in the right direction.

The second point is that Europe must not only set sound standards, but also develop instruments to meet these objectives. After all, Europe is often good at setting general policy objectives, but much less effective when it comes to creating the right instruments for actually meeting those objectives. Without cleaner cars, ships, agriculture and industry the air-quality standards will remain a paper tiger.

We recently voted on Euro V and Euro VI: cleaner passenger cars from 2009 and even cleaner cars from 2014. This kind of legislation must be introduced quickly for heavy goods vehicles and buses. Parliament has urged the Council and the Commission to hasten to make complementary policy to tackle the sources of pollution. This has resulted in a Commission statement listing all the measures to be taken in coming years. The statement will be annexed to the Directive, and will make reference to the Directive. This is a clear political signal to the public that Europe is taking action and launching cleanup operations in all manner of sectors.

A third point of discussion has been the flexibility of the standards. Twenty-four Member States cannot meet the standards laid down by the existing Directive. That does not strike me as a good example of effective legislation. My position has always been that it is quite acceptable for Member States who are taking a number of measures but are unable to meet the standards to be given extra time to tackle hotspots; provided, however, that much stricter standards are introduced in the medium term. It is very important that the legislation we produce here is workable and practicable.

Today we are showing that the European Parliament takes complaints from Member States about impracticable legislation seriously. Experience has taught us that the air does not become any cleaner if we neglect the implementation of the Directive. The new Directive on ambient air quality is an improvement on the old. Better, stricter standards are good news for public health, local authorities and construction firms alike. We can breathe again!

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, firstly I wish to congratulate Mr Krahmer for his excellent report on this difficult and most important subject.

At the same time I wish to congratulate the shadows and all those colleagues who have contributed suggestions, advice and amendments, which, at the end of the day, have formulated a piece of compromise legislation agreed to in negotiation, and which will attempt, if implemented, to have a better air quality directive and provide, to some degree, for cleaner and healthier air for Europe.

At a time when respiratory tract infections such as asthma, emphysema and lung cancer are on the increase in many areas of Europe, with those affected being mainly the most vulnerable, i.e. children and the elderly, we as legislators have a duty to ensure that we do our utmost to secure more healthy breathing for our citizens.

To this end, we were united in our determination not to give in to the unreasonable demands of the Council, which did not accept any changes to the provisions regarding the existing daily and yearly limit values of PM10 and rejected outright Parliament’s proposal to link any derogation with the adoption of additional EU measures on sources of pollution.

Although an agreement has been reached, the Council must nevertheless understand that this House gives greater priority to the health of its millions of citizens than to the wealth of a few European industrial giants. Everybody must fully comprehend that Parliament is much more concerned with preventing people’s lungs from being destroyed by disease than helping the purses of greedy industrial barons become fatter.

I am confident that this House will have a future opportunity to have all its provisions successfully adopted in a less compromised piece of legislation that will truly and comprehensively protect citizens from major respiratory damage.

 
  
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  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group, I would like to express our recognition of the quality of Mr Krahmer’s report. We are continuing our work on the directive, which is of considerable importance for the entire ecosystem, including improvements to the state of health of residents of Europe and – taking a broader view – the world.

The economic aspect of these provisions should not be concealed either. Our aim should therefore be to find a compromise that will genuinely enable Member States to implement the adopted parameters specifying the admissible emissions ceiling for particulates and gases that contaminate the atmosphere. I am referring here to the concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 particulates, and of the gases carbon monoxide and dioxide, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and ozone, benzene, volatile organic compounds and also lead.

This consequently means reliable and regular monitoring. Major expenditure will be required for the radical upgrading of many enterprises, including those supplying energy, and especially heat. Fundamental changes will be needed in the methods and organisation of overland, air and water transport.

These and other costs will have to be borne, it is true. It is also true, though, that not all countries are in a position to take rigorous action in this matter in the relatively short time that has been suggested without suffering clear economic losses. This particularly concerns the new Member States, including Poland, which is doing a great deal in this area.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that it is also important for actions undertaken by the EU to find followers elsewhere, especially in the United States, China, Russia, Japan and Brazil. Air is, after all, common to all the world.

 
  
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  Marie Anne Isler Béguin, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we remember the WHO appeal launched on 5 October 2006, challenging the international community to improve air quality. Very strict standards needed to be adopted for atmospheric pollution, and the target was to cut the number of deaths in polluted cities by 15%. The European Union, often at the forefront of environmental regulations, was a great disappointment at the first reading, to the point that our Environment Commissioner Mr Dimas was personally outraged at the position of the European Parliament, which was weakening legislation in force that already had few teeth.

At the second reading on 9 October 2007, the Verts had alerted the Committee on the Environment to the counterproductive effects of administrative simplification and more specifically to the increase in the permitted number of days on which the maximum values could be exceeded and the extension of the exemptions of certain pollutants. The recently negotiated compromise at the European Parliament’s second reading is a damage limitation exercise on the first reading. Regarding PM2,5 in urban areas, a new limit value is proposed of 20 micrograms per cubic metre, which is to be reviewed by the European Commission in 2015.

Of course, additional measures can be implemented to take account of the circumstances of sensitive populations such as children and the elderly. Although it is an improvement on the initial situation, this compromise does not constitute a major step forward for the European Parliament. It will not force Member States to take the restrictive measures necessary to improve the health of the European people. The impact of atmospheric pollution is still being estimated at a nine-month reduction in life expectancy for our fellow citizens. We therefore need to go further, integrating the restriction of particles in suspension earlier on using preventive instruments aimed at limiting emissions from various sectors, particularly transport, and those from industry.

 
  
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  Dimitrios Papadimoulis, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, fellow Members, every year 370 000 people in Europe die prematurely from illnesses associated with air pollution. According to the Commission’s official figures, life expectancy in some European countries has shown a decline of between eight months and two years as a result of exposure to dangerous airborne pollutants. The great majority of deaths are due to fine airborne particulates. My political group supports the final conciliation agreement and the hesitant, but at any rate positive steps which it takes in response to this situation.

However, I would like to focus on some serious weaknesses: the limits set by this conciliation for fine airborne particulates are more than double the relevant WHO recommendations. The US Environmental Protection Agency sets stricter limits than the European Union. No agreement has been reached on safer limits for fine airborne particulates (PM10). Monitoring requirements have been reduced, although constant monitoring of critical pollutant loads is very important for improving the situation.

The compliance deadlines for benzene have been put back, leaving the big culprit, fuel quality, untouched. Although everyone says we need improved fuels and cleaner cars, air quality and its monitoring in the workplace have been exempted. Furthermore, the Member States are given considerable leeway not to enforce the existing legislation and not to monitor its correct enforcement. We are making a positive step, then, but it is not enough, and for exactly this reason my political group is supporting the European Parliament’s conciliation agreement but at the same time asking the Council and Commission to take bolder steps.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (NL) Mr President, I am speaking here on behalf of my colleague Mr Blokland, who is currently attending the Climate Change Conference in Bali.

Following lengthy negotiations, an agreement on ambient air quality has been achieved at long last. This is no mean feat, and is also very important, because ambient air quality has a direct impact on environmental and human health. Therefore, I should like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Krahmer, most warmly for all the work he has done to achieve this.

This Directive makes a realistic contribution to improving health and the environment. Ambient air quality has already significantly improved in recent years, and this Directive will bring further improvement in the future. Nevertheless, a number of countries are still finding it difficult to comply with strict standards so soon. For this reason, I am pleased that this agreement permits a postponement to enable Member States to bring their ambient air quality in line with these standards, provided they make sufficient efforts.

Another important aspect is that measurement is not required at locations to which the public does not have access and which are not permanently inhabited. This flexibility is particularly important in port areas. I also particularly welcome the fact that specific reference has been made to measures at the source. In my view, such measures, for example the new Euro VI standard for heavy goods vehicles, are vital in order to achieve good ambient air quality.

In conclusion I can therefore say that I welcome the present agreement, and shall be voting in favour of it.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, the increase in respiratory diseases currently being recorded – particularly among children, the elderly and the sick – as well as the rise in allergy-based breathing difficulties is directly related to a traffic avalanche rolling through our conurbations and along the major transport routes on a daily basis.

The failed EU policy on subsidies has been reflected in recent decades principally in intercity transport. For particularly sensitive regions – such as the Alps – we have not as is generally known been able to bring ourselves hitherto to turn the fine words of the past into deeds by implementing the Alpine Convention, for instance. The selling off of our public enterprises, however, which has led to a disastrously deficient public rapid transit network, is also now avenging itself.

To what extent actions such as traffic restrictions and the establishment of environmental zones or city tolls are still able to take hold here at all is highly debatable in my view. First and foremost, the main culprits of pollutant emissions, such as commercial vehicles with ageing diesel engines, must therefore be replaced very quickly.

 
  
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  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, 30 million of them in Europe and 200 000 of them in Hungary. Eighteen per cent of asthmatics in Western Europe are classified in the severe group. The number of asthma patients in my home country of Hungary has increased by 250% over the last ten years. The number of new patients diagnosed each year has doubled over the same period. First among the causes that trigger asthma and asthma attacks is air pollution. I think that the data in the report before us speaks for itself and its fate, which we will decide tomorrow, is only partly about environmental protection and much more about quality of life and health protection.

One of the greatest problems in Union legislation today is its lack of implementation. Unfortunately this is also true of legislation on air quality. Therefore, our primary task now is not to vote for more rules that are even more stringent but to promote compliance with the existing rules. The place where I live, Budapest, is a city of two million people, and with regard to air particles, for example, it exceeds the permitted limits even in the first four months of the year, and indeed excesses of 4-5 times are not uncommon. Our task is therefore to develop the current legislation further in a sensible way and to prepare guidelines that do not stipulate additional tasks but refine the existing ones to really contribute to cleaner air for the population of the EU.

I think the Krahmer report fulfils this requirement. Its virtue is that it wants to measure and capture air pollution primarily at the place of pollution, which is technically the right approach. The compromise is therefore not ambitious but progressive. I trust that the cities and Member States concerned will now be able to implement it more consistently and that we will perhaps be able to pass on a more habitable Europe to our children. Thank you very much, Mr President.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis (PSE).(LT) My congratulations to the rapporteur. I would like to begin by saying that it is always pleasant to have nice weather. We are in no position to influence the weather, but we can and need to do something about its quality. The levels of air pollution in the densely populated and industrial urban areas of the European Union are still unacceptable. If you find yourself in the biggest cities of Europe, you can feel the threat of air pollution only too clearly. It causes the premature death of tens of thousands of Europeans every year. Pollution has an adverse effect not only on the length of human life, but also on its quality.

Recent years have seen a significant a reduction in harmful gas emissions in the EU countries. However, this is only the beginning. We have to tame the monsters who are spitting the gas into the air, the worst air polluters on the roads. We need to take decisive measures to develop public transport, to encourage people to use private means of transport less often. This is a key issue in the new Member States, where 20 or even 30-year-old cars in an appalling condition are continuing to pollute the environment.

The position of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament and that of Parliament in general is very important to the countries that joined the EU in the 21st century, particularly as regards more stringent terms and objectives for reducing air pollution, the flexibility of implementation of these objectives and the coordination of long-term and short-term goals.

We must do everything in our power to achieve the smallest possible concentration of different sized airborne particulates in most parts of Europe by 2015. Countries that are taking active measures to reduce pollution but have not yet achieved the set objectives should be given a chance to do so. It is important to cut down the derogation period from ‘four plus two’ to ‘three plus two’ years.

 
  
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  Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański (UEN). (PL) Mr President, today the European Parliament is taking a second look at the draft directive on ambient air quality. One of the aims of this directive is to restrict the quantity of suspended dust particles in the atmosphere in the next few years, particles that we inhale, ranging from 2.5 to 10 microns in size. Scientists warn that the finest particles constitute a serious threat to human life, and it is these that the directive under discussion has in mind.

The compromise between Parliament and the Council has introduced concessions to the Council, which is in favour of less restrictive regulations. I hope that the actions envisaged in this directive will not prove inadequate and that when this problem is reconsidered by the European Commission in 2013 more ambitious aims will be adopted, since we are talking here about the health of current and future generations.

Finally, may I thank the rapporteur for his good work and remind you that avoidance is better than dealing with the consequences.

 
  
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  Hiltrud Breyer (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, the compromise found is better than expected, but celebrating it as a great success would be a sham because it was watered down. Wherever it is measured against the revised provisions, it has been watered down because heavily polluted locations can now be factored out.

The negotiated compromise, however, is also damage limitation, because the planned period of grace should now be understood as nothing more than an invitation to do nothing. In order that the exception does not become the rule, the Commission must monitor the action plans under consideration and compliance with the limits and sanction the failure to transpose them. It should not therefore be celebrated as a great success because we indeed know that this Directive should in reality have been in force long ago.

Nor should it, however – and this is a positive aspect of the compromise – give German local authorities carte blanche to twiddle their thumbs. The fresh invitation to do nothing has thereby prevented the local authorities and the federal states from having to produce action plans.

We must also stress, however, that the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court in Germany means and has emphasised for Germany that the local authorities are duty bound to act in any case. We know that there are already good initiatives in the European Union such as, for example, environmental zones and vehicle fleet conversion. It must also be quite clear now, though, that this is the last reprieve. Actions really do have to follow words now to ensure that an ambitious clean air policy does not become absurd.

 
  
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  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL). – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, the monitoring of air pollution and efforts aimed at improving air quality are laudable activities. The fact that certain parts of the proposal under discussion set quite high requirements whereas others somewhat simplify the reality is not a concern. What is more serious is that whilst the focus of the debate on the monitoring and removing of fine particles has rightly moved from coarse to finer particles – PM10 to PM2.5 – it should also apply to particles even smaller than PM2.5. These penetrate as far as the alveoli and because they have a broad surface area they can potentially absorb large amounts of harmful substances. Because these particles are not deposited in the upper airways they are potentially very dangerous. Notwithstanding these reservations, I support the proposal for a directive, as does the GUE/NGL Group, of which I am a member, and I trust that we will return to this topic in a more comprehensive manner in the near future.

 
  
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  Françoise Grossetête (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, we all recognise, and we have all said so, that our built-up areas, our cities are becoming increasingly polluted and that, unfortunately, deaths due to this pollution are becoming more and more common. As chairwoman of an air quality monitoring network in my department that I set up more than sixteen years ago, I would like to remind you that reducing air pollution is seen by citizens as a priority action for the public authorities as regards environmental protection, and that it is even the biggest cause for concern of 54% of French citizens.

This text therefore comes in response to the renewed outbreak of respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, which affects young children most of all – all we talk about during the winter is bronchiolitis in young children – and lung cancer in older people.

That is why the introduction of new standards for the finest and most harmful particles, which have not been regulated until now, is a satisfactory measure. However, we have a multitude of solutions at our fingertips for better air quality, such as action on fuels, on modes of transport and on vehicles. We still need to apply the raft of EU legislation that we already have, which most Member States unfortunately do not comply with. Under the terms of the texts we will be voting on tomorrow, Member States will have to set up sampling points in urban areas. In fact, everyone will have to have ‘particle plans’. We also have to provide the public with daily information, especially for those with particular sensitivities, on particulate matter in the air.

Finally, we should not forget air quality in enclosed spaces, where we can spend more than 80% of our time. Little interest is taken in studies of the environmental quality of homes, though its health impact is bound to be at least as great as that of the outdoor environment.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) Mr. President, I would like to start by congratulating the rapporteur, Mr. Kramer.

The proposal for a directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe approaches the relation between air quality and human health and proposes Community actions to improve air quality in Europe.

Urban traffic generates 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions and 70% of the emissions of other pollutants generated by vehicles, and congestion, especially in metropolitan areas, costs the European Union approximately 1% of the GDP.

In many European capitals, traffic is congested and pollution seriously affects their inhabitants. Over 66% of European citizens consider urban congestion and related pollution to be problems that seriously affect the quality of their lives and request the Union to act in a coherent and, especially, firm manner.

At the European Council of 8 and 9 March 2007, the European Union firmly undertook to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 as compared to 1990.

The European Union and the Member States must focus their actions on crowded metropolitan and urban areas and approach the issue of air quality in urban agglomerations by complying with the principle of subsidiarity in a more ambitious manner, by implementing a strategy of cooperation and coordination at European level. The Green Paper on urban mobility promotes the development of public passenger transport, but also approaches measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to road traffic.

Regarding amendment 31, I would like to specify that some actions in the field of mandatory technical standards for reducing pollution generated by land vehicles, as well as by inland water ships, have already been taken in other pieces of legislation.

I believe it is extremely important for the Parliament to be informed every 5 years about the progress achieved by the Member States in improving air quality, but I consider it especially important for such actions to be financed from the Structural Funds as well.

 
  
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  Leopold Józef Rutowicz (UEN). (PL) Mr President, the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on ambient air quality and cleaner air is of major significance for the health of European citizens, particularly since the substances emitted by industry, transport and power plants may be transported over great distances, such as particles and oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and lead.

The directive lays down limits for their emission and emphasises the importance of reducing contaminant emissions and their sources. The conditions for meeting these requirements vary, however. In zones and conurbations where many contaminant-emitting entities function, for example coal-fired furnaces and plants using old technologies, adaptation to meet the directive’s requirements will require time and considerable financial outlay.

In justified cases, therefore, pursuant to Amendment 2, the date of introduction of the directive’s requirements should be postponed. The directive is right to stress the need to monitor contaminant emissions, which is of great significance in restricting contaminants, including those of cross-border origin. I congratulate Mr Krahmer, the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I am delighted that we have found agreement so quickly here in all the groups on this important dossier. Air quality is central to our citizens’ health and wellbeing. I am also delighted that we have set strict limits, particularly new limits in the PM2.5 sector, as these are particularly harmful to health. Unfortunately, there has been no tightening up in many other sectors, which would have been desirable. This concerns PM10 as well as the NOx sector, of course.

What alarms me more than the limits we have set, however, is the current air situation in the Member States. As you all know, almost all the Member States are exceeding current limits. The ball really is in our court now to implement this ambitious legislative package, as it is in that of the Commission to monitor it. The Commission has so far not introduced any infringement procedures, although limits are continually being exceeded. On the one hand implementation must therefore be clean, but on the other hand the Commission must also take practical action if Member States are still not able or willing to adhere to the limits.

It is also important that we have found consistent criteria for measurements. Practice differs widely here in individual Member States. With regard to transport – one of the primary causes of air pollution even in my homeland – it has to be said that the Commission is to some extent not prepared either to support initiatives here that countries are taking in order to adhere to air limits. The Commission should really be asking for Member States to be supported and not obstructed here in their aims to keep the air clean. We have seen some very significant increases in traffic passing through the Alps and here, too, something must be done with regard to the air.

 
  
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  Lambert van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). (NL) Mr President, today, the European Parliament is providing clarity in the long-running debate on the specification of the standards required for reasons of public health with regard to particulates: PM25 and PM10. Today, we are bringing about a substantial improvement for people sensitive to these: children and the elderly. I support this policy wholeheartedly.

It is also clear that more customised measures are possible. Zoning of our rather urbanised regions is to be possible, thus improving practicability without compromising our ultimate objectives. It is also clear that the source policy is now being tackled seriously and that there is cross-border cooperation in Europe.

Mr President, what is not clear – at least not to me – is whether the blockade in Dutch legislation in respect of a number of projects on account of integrated authorisation for environment and physical planning has really been removed. It is for the Netherlands, including the lower house of the Dutch Parliament and the legislation, to see whether this can be clarified in the Air Quality Cooperation Programme.

Today, Europe is providing a very clear framework for what is practicable, including in the Netherlands. It is now for the Netherlands to manage the link between physical planning and environmental policy sensibly to avoid further unnecessary blockades. That is the spirit in which I am happy to pledge support today to the agreement reached.

 
  
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  Charlie McCreevy, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, a number of key elements have been included in the overall compromise package that is now proposed.

Most importantly, it contains the following elements:

- the time extension option for PM10 is kept at the level of the common position; there can be no delay in taking the measures and a single step approach will reduce the administrative burden;

- standards for particulate matter PM10 are unchanged in accordance with the original Commission proposal;

- a realistic and timely annual PM2.5 target and a limit value set at 25 µg per cubic metre to be achieved at 2010 and 2015 respectively;

- an indicative limit value for 2020 that adds to the ambitious PM2.5 agenda for the mandatory review in 2013;

- a legally binding exposure concentration obligation in 2015 that complements the exposure reduction target in triggering prompt measures that are expected to provide the maximum public health benefit; and

- a Commission declaration on the progress in developing the Community measures at source.

The new recital 15 also strengthens the determination of the two co-legislators to consider as a matter of priority the legislative proposals put forward by the Commission to address emission at source at Community level.

I know that these elements were all-important to Parliament at first reading and in the committee this time round. I believe that the proposed current compromise will satisfy Parliament as important ground was won on the key principle of the ambitious yet realistic ambient air quality standard setting, with a clear roadmap including the adoption of the necessary Community measures and a well-defined review in 2013.

I am also particularly pleased to note the importance given by both Parliament and the Council to finding a compromise in this directive. The resulting compromise, as well as the demonstrated resolve, enables the European Union to take the effective next steps in ensuring healthier air for its citizens.

To conclude, the Commission is very pleased with the outcome of the negotiations. It can accept the proposed compromise amendments in full.

I wish to thank and to congratulate, once more, the rapporteur, Mr Krahmer, for all his efforts to reach an agreement at second reading.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday 11 December 2007.

Written declarations (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE-DE), in writing. – (PL) The importance of having good air around us needs neither explanation nor emphasis. The current European policy priority which concentrates on the rapid and far-reaching introduction of cohesive and uniform legislation aimed at guaranteeing air quality is the right approach.

The proposal in the directive currently under debate combines and streamlines existing European law by creating a single, cohesive proposal. Following analysis of the proposal that it currently contains, it may be stated with assurance that the compromise package approved by the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, The Socialist Group in the European Parliament and the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe fully reflects the interests of all parties concerned that will be directly affected by the directive. This is a balanced proposal for the Member States that will feel the weight of its provisions, with a simultaneous improvement in air quality in Europe and, in the longer term, a significant reduction in PM.

Besides the very detailed treatment of individual target values for PM10 and PM2,5, I believe it is very important to concentrate on the provisions relating to flexibility in the attainment of admissible values for Member States. It is worth pointing out that the Member States already have very considerable difficulties in complying with pre-existing provisions on air quality improvement.

It is also important to emphasise long-term air quality measures. We know from experience that short-term measures are often not as effective as long-term ones. Member States should be encouraged to apply long-term political strategies on air pollution on a voluntary basis.

 
  
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  Gyula Hegyi (PSE), in writing. (HU) The right to clean air may also be interpreted as a human right, since the task of the Member States and the European Union is to ensure basic human living conditions (clean water and air). Fifty to a hundred years ago, the symbol of industrial society was a smoking factory chimney. Our values have changed in the meantime and we value a clean and natural way of life, at least in words. Unfortunately, the air in our cities only partly testifies to this. With the collapse of heavy industry, or its relocation to the Third World, industrial pollution has fallen, but motorisation has multiplied. Twenty-five years ago there were one million cars in Hungary, which has ten million people, and now there are three times as many, nearly a million of which pollute the air of Budapest, together with all the catastrophic health consequences that this entails. Lung cancer has multiplied and the number of asthma cases has grown ninefold. Young children who live beside main roads are essentially exposed to a continuous risk. It has also emerged that pollution by microparticles originating from diesel vehicles is particularly harmful to human health. Europe should be ashamed that in this respect the standards in the EU are lower than in the United States. We should not just talk, but act. We need to use defined instruments to restrict road traffic in populated settlements, and to create much more stringent emission rules than up to now for the vehicles that remain in use. We must change from being a society of polluters to being the society of a healthy life!

 
  
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  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE), in writing. (RO) The European Directive on air quality will improve the health of European citizens and will contribute to increasing the standard of living in the urban environment. Due to the binding nature of this piece of legislation, this will be achieved on the entire territory of the European Union.

A weak point of the Directive is the financing of measures to adjust to the objectives undertaken by the Member States until 2010, or 2015 respectively. As a first step, a considerable financial effort will have to be submitted in order to establish centres for sampling and measuring air pollution. The structural funds already allocated to the Member States eligible for the environmental policy will also be accessible for achieving the objectives described by the directive, but this will reduce the initially estimated amounts. I believe an additional budget line should be established when the directive becomes effective.

At the same time, I support the insertion of a flexibility clause that would allow transitional periods of up to two years to the Member States, provided that they can prove that they have made a considerable effort to achieve the targets of reducing air pollution.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE-DE), in writing. (FI) Today we are discussing at second reading two important directives on improving the quality of the environment. One relates to the sea, the other to the air. Protection of the air is one of the key and most traditional areas of environmental protection, because ambient air quality and human health are directly linked. As the Commission has said, life expectancy has shortened in the EU by 8.5 months owing to air pollution. The quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people is declining daily, and the natural environment is under threat, despite significant reductions in emissions in recent years. The importance of the air quality directive probably cannot be stressed too much: it brings together a set of norms which were previously dispersed, and this is a better approach to the problem all round.

I wish first of all to thank the Council for meeting Parliament to discuss some important issues. Almost half the amendments adopted at first reading were accepted overall. The Council eventually showed its support for certain very crucial amendments by Parliament. These related to replacing certain target values for particle concentrations with binding limit values, the deadlines for doing this and how they would be applied. The limit value norm for PM2.5 particles, which are the most harmful to human health, is critically important.

We therefore need an extremely strict directive. Mere limit values, however, are not enough in themselves. Attention also needs to be paid to techniques which improve ambient air quality.

 

18. Population and housing censuses (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0471/2007) by Mrs Juknevičienė, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on population and housing censuses (COM(2007)0069 – C6-0078/2007 – 2007/0032(COD)) .

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, population and housing censuses are the central building block for all statistical reporting on the people that live in the European Union. In almost every policy area in which the EU is active, be it economic, social or environmental, high-quality population data are required to help formulate operational objectives and to evaluate progress. International, European and national institutions need census data to make valid comparisons between EU Member States.

Accurate data on the population are required to comply with important legislation. Examples are the qualified majority voting within the Council, or the distribution of Structural Funds (on the basis of ‘GDP per head’ figures.)

The purpose of the present regulation is to provide a clear European framework to achieve comparability of the results of the censuses conducted in the EU Member States. It clarifies the responsibilities and roles of the statistical bodies on the national and the European levels and sets common requirements concerning the quality and transparency of results, methods and the technology used.

This will be a major step forward to the harmonisation of demographic and social statistics. Population censuses have a long tradition in the countries of today’s European Union, in some countries reaching back over centuries. For the first time there will be a European legislative framework for the censuses. The word ‘historic’ might well be appropriate to describe this development. The regulation will also be an important milestone for international cooperation in the area of population and housing censuses in which the European Commission, via Eurostat, has been active over many years.

There is a broad agreement across all the institutions involved – the Commission, the Council and Parliament – about the importance of the legislation. It is only natural and appreciated that the legislation about censuses raises debate. After all, you will decide upon the collection of data about all European citizens as well as upon the most cost- and burden-intensive statistical exercise.

The issue is politically sensitive and requires a considerable investment of taxpayers’ money and citizens’ goodwill in the Member States.

However, we should not forget that the absence of subjective and comparable census data would lead to negative consequences. The data are used for policy formulation and evaluation, administrative purposes and social research that increases the welfare of the people living in the European Union. The benefits of harmonised census data by far outweigh the efforts to collect it.

The Member States have been carrying out their national censuses for many decades. What we can achieve with this European legislation is to make their efforts pay off even better by ensuring census data that are of the highest possible quality and comparable between the regions of the European Union.

This is why the European Commission supports the debate that is still ongoing and sincerely hopes that a solution will be found that is acceptable to a broad majority within this House, as well as to the Member States represented in the Council. We appeal to all to support the rapporteur, Ms Juknevičienė, in her quest to find such a compromise.

 
  
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  Ona Juknevičienė, rapporteur. – (LT) The Commissioner has just said that this regulation is a historical event. I would like to begin by saying that yes, it is a historical event, but at the same time it happens to be one of the most scandalous in Europe. Today, could we admit to ourselves, even though it seems obvious, that up to now we have had no reliable statistics and no idea about how many people live in the European Union and in what kind of accommodation. First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues, particularly the shadow rapporteurs, representatives of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and members of regional committees, for their close cooperation in preparing this document. Many thanks to the representatives of the Commission and the Council who took an active part in the discussions and participated in our joint efforts to achieve the compromise that only necessary information should be included in this regulation. Any unnecessary data that in some cases might be in breach of a person’s right to privacy should not be collected.

The EU statistics and, accordingly, the regulation have a juridical basis, provided for in Article 285 of the EU Treaty. There is no doubt that the foundations for this document are in place. This article specifies the need to conform to very important criteria – impartiality, reliability, objectivity, scientific independence, cost-effectiveness and statistical confidentiality.

The main objective of the regulation is to provide a detailed account of population structure and characteristics with a view to analysing the data and using the results to develop a strategy in many EU policy areas.

The data from the annual population census is used, as the Commissioner said, to ascertain such important criteria as voting and establishing the majority of votes in the Council. High-quality regional data is necessary for the purpose of identifying regions that qualify for EU assistance, as well as for assessing progress in regional cohesion policy. Therefore, could any other document be of greater importance in terms of being able to compare and trust the data contained in it?

The regulation provides an opportunity to collect high-quality data on housing. This data is necessary to establish the number of consumers of water, energy and other commodities and to determine housing demand and supply and the necessary funding.

The last census, taken in 2001, was based on a gentleman’s agreement and did not achieve any positive results. I believe the data are insufficiently thorough, unreliable, difficult to compare and relate to different time periods. That is why there is some doubt regarding whether EU funds have been distributed and used gratuitously. Of course, this makes it difficult to develop plans for the future too.

The proposed regulation would guarantee reliable, transparent and comparable results. It would also require only the essential information on certain issues.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I am asking you to support the amendments I have proposed, which aim to relieve the Member States of the burden of collecting and storing unnecessary information.

The vote on this regulation has been adjourned until the next plenary session. It is very important to find a compromise. We need to get this regulation up and running in order to achieve our objectives.

We also need the support of EU citizens. It is important that they realise the importance of the census and support it. People need to be sure that the common statistics system is reliable and essential for their wellbeing. Most importantly, the information must be stored safely and used only for the correct purpose.

 
  
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  José Albino Silva Peneda, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group.(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as shadow rapporteur for the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, I have been following the preparation of this report as well as the negotiations with the Commission. It is in fact a very important report with a view to the planning and assessment of regional and social policies in the various Member States and, in that respect, the socio-economic profile of the population of Europe and housing conditions are among the most decisive aspects for measuring the improvement in living conditions.

In our view the Commission seems to be taking the correct line, which we support, on the indicators that make this type of analysis possible. We therefore need to continue to improve the coverage, quality and reliability of this type of statistical data. We think, however, that care should always be taken to strike a good cost/benefit balance as regards the degree of detail in the information to be provided, while also bearing in mind personal privacy.

This report will be useful only if it helps to increase the frequency, comparability and accuracy of these data at EU level. For that it is essential to take very special care as regards the data supplied by the Member States, which needs to be consistent, complete and reliable. That is the only way to make comparative studies and analyses of the socio-economic situation at regional, national and Community levels. The way in which those data are processed is even more significant, since the classification of the regions for the purpose of applying the Structural Funds is based largely on such indicators, which means that in the normal course of events, this process leads to decisions that may have major consequences for the various European regions and for the Member States themselves.

I hope that, as a result of the negotiations with the Council, we shall achieve greater coherence, clarity and accuracy throughout. I should just like to place on record that the PPE-DE Group has maintained its original position on this report, even after hearing the explanations given by the Commission, in line with the rapporteur’s position; I hope we shall maintain that position to the end. We are in favour in particular of deleting sections 1.3 and 2.3 of the Annex, as well as certain subsequent amendments that in our view are not consistent with the aims of improving the quality and reliability of the information.

 
  
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  Emanuel Jardim Fernandes, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, Mrs Madeira, who was to have spoken on behalf of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, is unable to be with us because of transport problems. I shall therefore be presenting her views on the importance of this report and her concerns, which I share, and which I expressed previously in this plenary session regarding development policies.

The approval of the Treaty of Lisbon, which is to be signed this week by the Heads of State or Government, makes it absolutely vital to have reliable European Union population data. The new voting method included in that Treaty, which will henceforth take account not only of the Member States’ vote, but also of the population figures, means that we must be aware that population censuses are crucial for the effective operation of the European Union. However, this regulation is important for other reasons apart from the voting method – it is important also for all indicators concerning employment, regional, structural or social matters that take account of the data provided by each of the Member States and that, often, in view of the discrepancies in the data collection methods used or in the reference periods, produce inadequate analyses and results of questionable validity. The last time this exercise was carried out, in 2000, the data were available only in 2005 and thus were of questionable validity.

The regulation under consideration today, purged of certain incongruities that shocked even the most inattentive reader, takes account of a series of factors that are essential in order to obtain good results from population and housing censuses and will enable us to have pre-defined reference years common to the Member States and listed questions that will allow reliable comparisons.

Finally, I repeat that I am in favour of including the non-obligatory topics in the regulation. Using questions not covered in the obligatory topics will not only give Member States a consistent and coherent list to serve as a basis for collecting further data rather than leaving it to them which might produce interesting but totally redundant results. The argument that censuses should be removed from the text because they cost money does not make sense. It is precisely because high costs are involved that we should clearly place topics to be analysed within a legal framework so that the results do not prove to be worthless for future use for various purposes.

 
  
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  Ewa Tomaszewska, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, the draft regulation on population and housing censuses is a document of considerable importance. Data gleaned from population and housing censuses provide an opportunity for rational drafting of development strategies and for intervention action to be taken. This is why it is so important for the data to be transparent and comparable. In that case, Community solutions will apply to real and well-studied phenomena.

Comparability is not just a matter of well-defined data; it also means that such data have been collected over identical periods of time. Clear specification of collection periods and updating, correction and publication dates is of great significance and this has been clearly stated in the document and amendments.

One important question is the way in which data on local communities are gathered. I support the amendment introducing a separate definition for this. I also support the amendment introducing environmental policies alongside regional ones. Regular statistical studies looking at family, social, economic and residential characteristics are undoubtedly needed in view of the demographic and social problems Europe faces.

This is why I think that the amendment deleting recommended topics for geographical levels, and in particular not derived topics such as location of schools and higher education institutions, means of getting to work or school, distance from work or school, number of children born alive, type of economic activity, duration of unemployment, main source of livelihood, income, housing conditions or disability, which describe families’ actual living conditions, is wrong.

The emphasis on respect for national personal data protection rights in the text is important, and the principle of subsidiarity has rightly been retained in this area. I congratulate Mrs Juknevičienė on a thorough piece of work on the draft report.

 
  
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  President. − May I point out that we have been joined in our discussion by a Member who just yesterday became a full Member of the Chamber, Mr Krzysztof Hołowczyc, a very well-known figure in Poland. Welcome, Mr Hołowczyc! Please familiarise yourself with proceedings.

Mr Hołowczyc is a rally driver, very well-known in Poland, and on Saturday he won a legendary stage of the Barbórka Rally. My sincere congratulations! Here we practise a different kind of sport, though, so please change seats quickly if you would, Mr Hołowczyc.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Schroedter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it is right that the capture and harmonisation of statistics on the most important economic and social characteristics of the regions is essential for the European Union. The allocation of structural funds, one third of the budget, actually relies on this base data. What the Commission is proposing here in its regulation on population censuses, however, in reality has nothing to do with these necessities. The data that it wants to capture and harmonise in this statutory text, which directly applies to all EU Member States, is personal data on our fellow human beings, which is not really of any concern to the EU. Included in this are personal data on family and sex life, housing situation and religious affiliation. Furthermore, it also has the audacity to want to include this data by law in uniform standards without including any reference in the law to data protection.

It is therefore our duty as representatives of our citizens to stop any such intrusion into individual rights, particularly as there is no reason to harmonise data on family life, personal circumstances or the housing situation when this does not in any way fall within the competence of the European Union and is not provided for in the Reform Treaty. The EU cannot be allowed, through the back door, to claim competences here that should remain solely with the Member States, and the supervision of data collection would presume this. For us it is not a question of time or speed, but a question of the prime necessity that the protection of personal data has absolute priority. This Commission text does not guarantee this. I am happy that the rapporteur wants to delete the non-mandatory text here. We already backed this, even at committee level. Unfortunately, she had not obtained a majority for it at that time.

The citizens expect us to ensure that what the judgment now stipulates, namely adjournment, will actually compel the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to make sure that data protection is checked here once again and that only then will the decision on Parliament’s position and first reading be made. I would ask all groups to be true to their word here.

 
  
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  Jiří Maštálka, for the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on population and housing censuses presented by the Commission is a step in the right direction, like the previous proposals on statistics on health and safety at work and on job vacancies. I also agree with the Commission’s statement during the last population and housing censuses for 2001 that the collection of data from individual Member States based solely on ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ is inadequate for achieving sufficiently comparable results. It is therefore necessary to adopt legislation at European level. Only in this way can we guarantee the reliability, transparency and comparability of the results.

On the other hand, I was alarmed when I saw the list of data requested by Eurostat in section 1.3 of the annex to the proposed regulation. Even allowing for the fact that these are only recommended indicators, I believe that the Commission went too far in this respect. There are no grounds for asking people intimate questions about their private life. I was even more taken aback by the fact that this data was only to be collected from women. I therefore wholeheartedly welcomed the decision of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs to remove these intrusive and inappropriate requirements from the Commission’s proposal.

Such information is perhaps more appropriate in a medical centre. As far as the anonymity of this data goes, in my view it should be comparable to banking data. I think that in compiling any statistical information we must above all respect the protection of personal data and the privacy of individuals, and we must prevent a disproportional increase in the number of tasks required of the data providers. I will recommend that the GUE/NGL Group vote in this sense.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Mr President, on 20 November, in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, I was pleased to support the rapporteur, Ms Juknevičienė, in her Amendment 32 to delete paragraph 1.3.2 so as to exclude the intrusive and offensive question about women’s first sexual act, dressed up as ‘consensual union’. The Commission representative at that time present in committee promised me that this ‘insensitive question’ would be removed and not come back. I took that as a victory for me, for my party UKIP, but, mostly, as a victory for common sense, and I was ready to congratulate the Commission on it. By the way, that retraction proves that I was right to describe it as being about the sex act because, if it was just cohabitation following, which it was claimed to be, why did the Commission representative promise to withdraw what was an innocent question? I am proved right.

Now, when I saw today that the vote on this proposal would not be held tomorrow as originally scheduled but postponed indefinitely, although the debate is obviously still going on, I smelled a rat because votes usually follow debates very closely. I was right. The latest version that I printed off from the computer just an hour ago shows as indicated on page 1, Text by the Commission, that a new Amendment 39 is here. It bears no relation to the original Amendment 39, which is an innocent thing about technicalities, but it is the old 1.3.2 – complete with the whole list of questions, including the intrusive question about women’s consensual union.

At the time, in committee, I did not like the fact that, when votes came up the following day, the rapporteur had allowed her Amendment 32 to be somewhat watered down to Compromise A, which only deleted the list of questions in 1.3.2, and left the 1.3 and 1.3.1 preamble paragraphs, which was a peg, of course, to hang further questions on – and I was right to be suspicious of that.

This objectionable, intrusive and insulting question has been disgracefully reintroduced as Amendment 39 by the Commission – against the Commission promise to me in committee – and I am more angry, Mr President, than I have been at any time recently. I was promised that this would disappear and it has been brought back by the Commission – a disgraceful question which no woman should be asked to put up with. It is a disgrace to women; it is a disgrace to the committee which has to debate the thing. I therefore ask all colleagues to vote against Amendment 39 and – to make sure – vote against the whole of this rotten, distorted proposal.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, in view of the ethnically based conflicts which are constantly flaring up, manifesting themselves to excess in the most recent Paris riots, for example, it is pleasing to note that we in the EU seem to be finally awakening from our multicultural dreams and are wanting to ask questions on ethnic origin and religion in an EU-wide population census in 2011.

This data should definitely be collected so that we are better able to evaluate the risk potential in this regard. Cultural differences can – as we have seen increasingly in recent times – escalate all too easily. In this respect we in Europe – where some countries have boastfully declared themselves immigration countries – are sitting right over a powder keg that should not be underestimated, even in the metropolitan conurbations.

The most recent conflicts between the Kurds and the Turks have thus required massive police presence in our towns and cities, as is generally known. Statistics on the ethnic and cultural composition of the resident population could therefore be of paramount necessity and benefit for the prevention of violence.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Edward McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
  
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  Jan Březina (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the proposal on population and housing censuses is a completely new piece of EU legislation in an area that has not been previously regulated. The question arises as to whether there is any need for such legislation. The Commission’s arguments concerning the need to guarantee comparability and quality of statistical data are relatively convincing, particularly on a general level. However, we must take a critical eye to the proposed areas of information to be collected and evaluated. The Commission’s proposal contains a large group of data whose sustainability is highly questionable. I regard as controversial the collection of housing data based on the conclusions of the Laeken European Council. These can be only considered an expression of political will, not a valid legal document. Besides, the EU does not have any competence in the area of housing, and so the statistics obtained on housing, contrary to other data, cannot serve to support the implementation of existing policies, unless the results are intended to serve as a possible catalyst for introducing a new common housing policy. This would be, however, an abuse of power and a breach of the Treaty.

The proposal to collect a large amount of data on citizens’ private lives is entirely without justification. From the point of view of implementation of common policies, there is no reason why the EU institutions should have access to data on the number of marriages and partners of each female citizen or the length of these relationships. This is more like playing ‘Big Brother’, interfering in peoples’ private lives and improperly infringing their personal freedom. If some of the EU institutions are tempted to do so, it is right to intervene and lay down clear limits, which cannot be transgressed. In my view, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs did so by limiting substantially the areas of data to be collected and is to be commended for that. The most transparent solution is that proposed by my Group, the PPE-DE, which omits all references in the annex to concrete types of statistical data. I recommend that you give this proposal for your attention and your support.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) Mr. President, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur and to appreciate the importance of this proposal of regulation regarding statistics collected by Member States on housing.

Member States have to use a common system for the standard data to be regularly collected and reported. Accurate and precise statistics regarding housing allow the Union and the Member States to implement adequate policies in this field. Nevertheless, any data collection must observe the private life of individuals. The Union is not only based upon economic criteria, but we also have to build a social Europe.

Decent living obviously involves decent housing. Unfortunately, today, there are over 60 million citizens living below the poverty line in the European Union, and children are most exposed to the risk of poverty. Obviously, these people also have difficulties in getting decent housing.

The main social and demographic tendencies affecting subsidized housing policies are generated by population aging, migration of population inside the Union, migration of population from rural areas to urban areas and predominant development of urban areas.

Yet, there is no unique model applicable to all Member States: in some Member States, there is a big number of houses in which many generations of the same family live together. Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic and Poland have programmes for providing subsidized housing to young people. In France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Great Britain, the number of houses with only one tenant has increased. In Romania, 95% of the houses are private property and only 5% of the houses are rented or are subsidized houses. In Denmark, 47% of the houses are inhabited by tenants or are subsidized houses, in Austria 42%, in Finland 37%, in France 44% and in Germany 57%.

Statistics represent only a starting point in developing adequate housing policies for each Member State. These policies depend on the allocation of public funds at national, regional or local level, as well as on the real estate market evolution. I believe Member States should also use the Structural Funds for building houses, especially those for regional development.

Yet, the issue of housing requires an approach based upon statistical data, as well as a global, multidimensional approach, based upon national and Community law. Nevertheless, a pragmatic approach, based upon the needs of the citizens, is also required. Unfortunately, there are European citizens who live in inadequate, unsafe houses, but there are also European citizens who have no house or even a roof over their heads. What is Europe’s answer and support for the needs of these citizens?

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM). – Mr President, one of the more important services Europe can provide is to support the collection of reliable, comparable information. For this reason, I can give qualified support to the idea of a European census.

However, a few points need to be considered. First of all, there needs to be some recognition of national censuses in the report. Member States already hold censuses, and they will now be in a position of having to organise national and European censuses.

Taking a census is very expensive – it is a labour-intensive activity – and it is reasonable to expect that Member States are going to increasingly combine the national with the European census. This needs to be taken into account. It is very important that we allow Member States to use the opportunity of a European census to ask questions that are relevant to their own nation and to collate those questions separately from the shared questions or the exclusively European ones.

Further, more attention has to be given to the census questions. These questions must be chosen carefully and must not cross the line separating valid information from intrusion and attacks on privacy. We want to understand trends, to try to make policies more relevant; we do not want to pry into people’s personal lives. Once respectful questions are chosen, then we have to be very careful that they must go through not just a linguistic process but also a cultural translation. As the report does not intend to harmonise the rules on census, this step must be taken to ensure that accurate comparability of data between Member States is achieved.

 
  
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  Lambert van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). (NL) Mr President, I should like to draw attention to the relationship between the objective of collecting data and the amount of data actually included in an analysis such as this, as something is clearly amiss in this respect. Something is wrong in the relationship between the tasks of the European Union with regard to housing policy, for example, and what we are now calling for. The Union does not have competence in this field. Nor does this Parliament have competence to discuss the relationship between religious beliefs, ethnic origin and possible integration issues; it is not for the European Union as a whole to make pronouncements on this.

What is up for consideration, however, is how we allocate funds, how we distribute our Structural Funds. The important thing here is having a precise insight into the number of inhabitants in the regions concerned, the regions under the NUTS classification of territorial units for statistics. Until there are precise data on this, and until orientation towards outcomes – in financial terms – is possible, this action is indeed necessary. Homogeneity and reliability are the primary considerations here.

I should like to make one more point, on which Mrs Novak made some very interesting proposals in the Committee on Regional Development. With regard to interference in the family circle, the private sphere of citizens, we shall be voting against the proposal if this is not removed from it. Perhaps these aspects will be removed during the trialogue – I am relying on the rapporteur in this regard. Only in that case will Parliament and the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats ultimately be able to give it our support; only on this condition.

 
  
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  Maria Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, as has been mentioned by the rapporteur and almost all the speakers, it is important to compare the data from the Member States on population and the main social, economic, family and housing indicators, so that on the basis of that information, each Member State can better deal with the issues which concern it, within the framework of its policy. At European level, however, we need to target the data which will lead to a better cohesion policy and improved regional development, so that inequalities are eliminated and the gap between different social groups and different European regions is narrowed.

By laying down common definitions and indicators, the proposed regulation ensures the comparability of data and, as a result, promotes better practice in the Member States. However, there is a need for regular evaluation and corroboration of the statistics gathered by the competent agencies, and these agencies must undergo quality control and transparency checks. Objectivity, representativeness and accuracy of data are important issues. Paradoxically, although the Commission is revoking the annexes to the regulation, it is in favour of including recommended topics which may affect the clarity and accuracy of the data, since it is leaving it to the Member States to do as they wish. If the aim of the proposal is to adopt binding legislation establishing common definitions for the comparability of data, I believe these points should be deleted.

We must proceed with a cost-benefit analysis, as provided for in Article 5a, since the cost of collecting such data is particularly high for Member States which have limited capacity to analyse the details.

Lastly, I would like to point out that if the amendments are not approved, the draft regulation will touch on very sensitive issues relating to personal, family and private life, such as the request for collection of data on cohabitation – which must be deleted – or the temperature of the bathwater! Why should we collect information and details which are not related to European policies? Poverty is not controlled with numbers and data.

 
  
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  Ljudmila Novak (PPE-DE). – (SL) I support the regulation on population and housing censuses.

With the data collected on the basis of this regulation we will be able better to assess the socio-economic conditions in which the inhabitants of the European Union live at regional and national level, and at European Union level. Furthermore, with this data it will be possible to evaluate more accurately the effectiveness of the implementation of regional policy and progress in achieving regional cohesion, to which the EU is assigning an increasing amount of funds.

Two things must be ensured if we are to attain the desired objectives through the regulation: the volume of the data that we collect under this regulation must not be too great and the data collected must be of high quality and comparable. Data which do not create the necessary added value and merely increase administration and expense must be excluded. These are proposals which are to be found in Annexes 1.3 and 2.3 and on which the Member States should report of their own accord.

At the same time, care must be taken not to encroach excessively on the privacy of the men and women living in the European Union. Nor may we use the collection of these data to discriminate against one sex or another.

Comparability of basic data between Member States and reliability of the data collected from the census are necessary for the assessment of European policies and for the comparison of the results of national policies at European level. Therefore, the regulation must ensure that all the Member States use the same method and criteria in data collection.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE-DE). – (SK) Mr President, precise population data and reliable data on housing within the EU are at present an essential prerequisite for the correct evaluation of all areas of European policies, as well as for the formulation of operational objectives and evaluation of the progress in individual Member States.

Because they serve many fundamental objectives, I would above all like to underscore the importance of the reliability and quality of this data. Of the many examples where exact census data are relevant, I would like to mention two: the process of qualified majority voting by the Council and the allocation of resources from Structural Funds for the development of less-favoured regions. I believe that it is important that this area be regulated in a unified manner. In this way the data provided by individual Member States will be comparable at both European and regional level, as is often necessary.

As a member of the Committee on Regional Development, I would like to highlight the importance of the classification of statistical units. The quality and comparability of this type of information can only be guaranteed by a clear European framework, in other words European legislation on population and housing censuses.

I agree with the view that the legislation must be aimed mainly at the end results and not at the information being collected. This will reliably ensure the comparability of the statistical data, which, if missing, can lower data quality.

The Member States should be free to select the best census modes and methods in accordance, however, with certain binding standards and quality requirements. It goes without saying that the topics, as well as the time frames and the implementing deadlines, should remain the same for all countries. Only in this way will the census data be transparent, reliable and comparable, a fundamental factor in fulfilling many important objectives.

 
  
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  President. − Before I give the floor to the Commissioner, I am reminded that about 2000 years ago King Herod instituted a census, but on that occasion it was boys only.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, this will be a very encouraging start for me.

I am glad to announce that the Commission is ready to accept the majority of Parliament’s amendments. As this debate has shown, there are currently negotiations under way that will address your concerns. A compromise could open the door to future development. The Commission supports the debate that is still ongoing and sincerely hopes that a solution will be found that is acceptable to a broad majority within this House, as well as to the Member States represented in the Council.

However, it should not be forgotten that the inclusion of new topics in a census takes in-depth and long-haul preparation. I am confident that the correct balance will be found between the very important reporting on the EU population and housing, and the cost and effort of collecting the data.

I would like to pay special attention to the question by Ms Schroedter. The main point was that this legislation does not sufficiently assure data confidentiality. My answer is that data confidentiality is being taken most seriously by Eurostat and all national statistical offices. There is framework legislation on data confidentiality on the national as well as on the European level. The proposal on censuses does not violate or modify any of this legislation. In contrast, it fully respects all provisions, be they national or European.

There is no need to repeat established framework legislation on data confidentiality within this specific proposal on censuses. No data transmitted to Eurostat allows insight into the data of any particular individual person. It is anonymous data. Moreover, the legislation in this current draft allows only the transmission of aggregated data, not of microdata.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at a later part-session.

 

19. Toy Safety (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the Commission statement on toy safety.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I would like to thank Parliament for its continued interest in product safety issues, and for this opportunity to give you a short presentation on the first results of the product safety stocktaking, released on 22 November 2007. I attended the IMCO Committee meeting on 26 November and I am now pleased to address the European Parliament meeting in plenary.

My three starting points and principles are still valid and can be confirmed: there can be no compromise on consumer safety; we believe in open markets and fair competition; and we want to work in international partnership with the Chinese and the Americans.

These stocktaking results indicate that the regulatory framework is fit for the purpose, if and when it is properly applied. In particular, the rapid alert system RAPEX is working efficiently and ensuring that dangerous products are recalled from the market throughout the European Union.

The stocktaking report nonetheless identifies certain scope for improvements, in preventive actions and international cooperation as well as in enhanced enforcement.

Some envisaged improvements are already at an advanced stage towards becoming concrete actions, as is notably the case of the revision of the Toy Safety Directive.

I intend to propose to my colleagues in the Commission that we adopt a temporary measure to require that warnings be given on magnetic toys, pending revision of the standard, to address the risks that these toys could pose. We have this right under Article 13 of the General Product Safety Directive. I hope that this measure will become effective soon, but I am also aware that it is just a partial stop-gap solution until the relevant standard addresses the risk associated with magnets comprehensively.

The Commission is assisting the Member States’ market surveillance authorities to identify and share best practices with a view to improved market surveillance. In October 2007, Member States reported on initiatives for better cooperation with economic operators and on specific surveillance campaigns on toys. The Commission intends to publish comparative enforcement capacity data on the Consumer Scoreboard in the first quarter of 2008.

The Commission also continues concretely to reinforce the market surveillance capacity of the Member States by participating in the financing of well-designed joint market surveillance projects (which in 2007 will receive EUR 1.3 million in Community funding).

The protection of consumers against dangerous products requires a consistent level of protection not only within the Community, but also at the EU external borders. In addition to actions to improve protection within the European Union, various actions are under way to strengthen protection at borders. Recent major changes to EU customs legislation will help in identifying high-risk consignments for control. Secure customs exchange mechanisms will also enable rapid action to be taken when information becomes available on new types of dangerous products.

Cooperation between these two networks, in practical terms, is being stepped up through regular exchanges of alerts between the RAPEX system and the customs authorities’ ‘risk information form’ system. The latter draws border inspectors’ attention to specific, potentially dangerous, cargo.

The Commission has highlighted traceability, which is a very important area for further improvement. Statistics show that products of unknown origin notified through RAPEX were down for the first time in October 2007, standing at 3% as compared to 17% in 2006. The Commission is currently assessing, with the help of the Member States, how to ensure that this improvement is not just temporary.

The Commission has already included, in the ‘internal market for goods’ legislation package, a provision requiring economic operators to have available the identity of their supplier, which should be helpful for market surveillance interventions once this legislation enters into force.

The Commission has also asked what China could do about traceability, and welcomes the initiatives in China to require the bar-coding, at factory level, of certain categories of high-risk product.

The Commission also consistently highlights the responsibility of economic operators for product safety. I welcome the commitment from the industry to work on measures to build consumer confidence. We have agreed on what I call a ‘safety pact’. I will also send experts to carry out a study of business safety measures in the supply chain, and report further on this in the first quarter of 2008, because in the era of globalisation we are only as strong as the weakest part of our chain.

I also find it important to communicate with the citizens of Europe on product safety issues, and to listen to their concerns. This is essential because both you and I want to respond ever better to their queries and needs. I found my recent web chat under the topic ‘Have a Safe Christmas’ (which I very much enjoyed) most enlightening and engaging, and answered nearly 50 interesting questions.

Finally, our product safety concerns were communicated to the Chinese leaders at the EU-China Summit on 28 November 2007. The leaders on both sides shared the view that a high level of product safety is key to consumer confidence and reciprocal trade. To this end, the competent authorities have established a comprehensive cooperative relationship. Both sides are willing to continue and deepen the dialogue, regularly exchange information and aim at measurable, continuous improvements.

Likewise, the Commission has agreed with the United States Government, in the context of the Trans-Atlantic Economic Council, to enhance our cooperation on import safety issues.

I believe this report to you has shown that I and all my colleagues in the Commission have taken the necessary steps to enhance consumer product safety, in association with all the relevant actors, in the most effective, proportionate and committed manner.

I would like once again to thank Parliament for our many inspiring debates on this issue.

 
  
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  Marianne Thyssen, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it is no coincidence, of course, that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats has called for this topical and urgent debate just before Christmas, particularly as this issue was discussed back in September, surprising as it may be. The PPE-DE Group also wants this debate to send out a clear political signal and has a political objective in mind. We want to go all out for a high level of consumer protection, and want attention to the smallest, most vulnerable consumers – children – to remain high on the agenda.

Commissioner, I welcome your statements here. We note that you have already done a particularly large amount of work in the Commission, and we should of course like to see Member States, too, being inspired to take on their share of the work. After all, they, too, must continue to be committed to tightening up supervision of their toys markets. We also know, Commissioner, that you personally have spared no effort when it comes to consumer protection. We particularly value these efforts, and also agree with you that, when it comes to toy safety, we should not be devising the umpteenth new approach, but rather closing the gaps in the existing system.

There are a couple of points on which I should like further clarification: you have said – and you also referred to it just now – that the Chinese authorities are particularly hard at work too. Some time ago, you announced that they were going to set up a kind of Chinese RAPEX system. Perhaps you could elucidate this further.

Secondly, I also wonder whether any specific agreements have actually been made with the toy industry, or whether each Member State has its own way of doing things? I should also have liked to hear how it is that we are still awaiting the new Toys Directive, or the Commission proposal for amendment of the existing Toys Directive. We had expected this round about now. There has obviously been a delay. Perhaps you could explain the reason for this? In addition, you are absolutely right: the internal market is also there for consumers. If consumers have no confidence in it, they will not make sufficient use of it. This is a most particularly important dossier.

 
  
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  Evelyne Gebhardt, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, many thanks for the briefing you have given us today once again on the progress of discussions.

We have definitely made progress already, but this is still not enough for me, of course. Various matters still lie ahead of us. One of them we have already repeatedly discussed: the European Union must carry out the preliminary work itself. I am also rather sorry about the fact that the amendment of the Toy Directive has still not been tabled. When I heard we would be getting an amendment in December, I assumed that it would be in December 2007, not December 2008. We are now in December and we know we shall not have it. I hope it will be available not in December 2008, but by this January at the latest, because it is urgent.

The second matter, Commissioner, is that the Member States also have to fulfil their obligations. They must make much more efficient and more consistent use of RAPEX. That is one thing. They must also, however, take market monitoring, for which they are responsible, much more seriously. We also have to move matters further forward here so that we can also actually achieve the necessary security.

It is not just governments or their agencies that are being interrogated in this regard, however; toy manufacturers are being interrogated too. They themselves also have to ensure that the quality of their products is appropriate. They cannot continue simply shifting responsibility on to others. We cannot let them go to China and say: yes, we want toys, but they must not cost more than so much. This will be at the expense of quality, which they must know. We must not let manufacturers off the hook, but must demand that they do this, too. As we have said, however, supervision is even better and this is what we have to achieve.

I hope that you will manage to move this forward in real terms in the safety package you have been addressing.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, for some families, this Christmas will be a period of tragedy – tragedy because of the loss of a child. What makes such tragedy even more painful is that (a) it could have easily been prevented and (b) that it was caused by a gift of love – a joy that turned into a murder weapon. Yes, a murder weapon. Because those that produce unsafe toys know full well that those toys can and eventually, perhaps, will kill a child. Therefore putting such a deadly toy on the market constitutes, in my view, the committing of murder and consequently those that through their omissions fail to prevent such a crime from taking place are accomplices to the act.

Madam Commissioner, we all know who are the culprits that, in this respect, kill or injure our children. They are the cheap Chinese toy manufacturers. And what protection have you to offer our citizens? Not enough, I am sorry to say. You are happy, it seems, that in 43% of cases reported in the latest RAPEX-China report corrective action was taken, but, Madam Commissioner, how about the 57% of cases where no corrective action was taken? And how about those potentially dangerous toys which were not reported at all?

You have said that ‘in this world you cannot given 100% guarantees’ but ‘you can make sure the system is fit for purpose’. What purpose, Madam Commissioner? The purpose of cutting safety corners in order not to upset the Chinese Government?

There is only one way of dealing with this problem, Madam Commissioner: ban all imports of Chinese toys till the Chinese Government can give a 100% guarantee that no dangerous toys will be sold in Europe. Only then will you be fulfilling your most important function of truly protecting our children from death caused by Chinese toys. And remember, Madam Commissioner, mere progress from China is not enough, because even one child’s death is one too many.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Matsakis, I apologise for announcing that you had one minute’s speaking time. It was our mistake and you did, indeed, have two minutes. I always give extra time to people who speak in a language other than their own. Your English is wonderful!

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli, on behalf of the UEN Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, there can be no concessions on toy safety and the mass withdrawal from the market of toys from China has put consumer safety back at the centre of the debate, particularly the safety of our smallest consumers, who often do not have the voice or the strength to defend themselves.

There is, in fact, a very profitable market in products that are a health hazard, a market that makes staggering amounts of money each year and that finds endless routes and subterfuges for legalising what is in reality illegal and harmful. For this very reason, we welcome the Commission’s proposals to strengthen the application of checks on the safety of products, especially toys.

In particular, we believe cooperation with China and the United States is of fundamental importance in blocking the flow of dangerous products heading for the European market. A number of actions, such as an overall examination of safety measures and the safety pact between producers and importers, must be prioritised in order to restore consumer confidence.

As regards the Member States, it is fundamentally important to improve cooperation between customs and the authorities responsible for controlling the markets. A revision of the toy safety directive is essential, so that there are definite rules for planning adequate checks at the production and customs stages.

I will finish, however, by saying that China absolutely must play its part and the Commission must demand that it does so. China must give guarantees, and must engage in a hard and uncompromising fight against illegal practices, otherwise the European Union will have to take serious measures and close the door on counterfeiting and unfair and unlawful competition.

 
  
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  Hiltrud Breyer, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, this debate criss-crosses the Directives. Commissioner, you are confusing the Product Safety Directive with the Toy Safety Directive! We do in fact have an implementation problem with the Product Directive, whereas we have a legislative deficit with the Toy Safety Directive. Greater supervision does not help us here because we have safety loopholes, namely that dangerous chemicals, for example, are not banned.

Two months ago Commissioner Verheugen guaranteed that the Toy Safety Directive would be presented this month. He said that toys containing lead should not be entering the European market. In the first case there is no sign of the review of the Toy Safety Directive.

In the second case, Commissioner Verheugen has admitted to me in writing that he was wrong when he said that toys containing lead were banned in Europe. This is not right either. You are confusing the Product Safety Directive and the Toy Safety Directive. It is therefore very odd when you say we need a bar code for particularly dangerous products. Hopefully you do not mean that for toys! Dangerous products have lost nothing in children’s hands!

We need the principle of prevention. Nor are there any warning messages here about magnets. What about warnings on toys that contain carcinogenic substances? In Europe we have polyaromatic hydrocarbons. We shall be banning them in car tyres, but they are permitted in toys even though these are carcinogenic substances. This debate is absurd because you are criss-crossing both Directives.

Please concentrate in your second answer on the Toy Safety Directive and answer the questions on when this Directive is finally to be submitted and when – as we proposed in our resolution – the legal loopholes are to be filled, and please do not continue to mix them both up. Supervision is good; laws are better.

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (SV) Mr President, it is of course entirely unacceptable that children should be exposed to toys which pose risks to their health. Pretty well all of us think that we can buy CE-labelled toys in the EU with peace of mind. Anything else is unthinkable. But in reality we involuntarily buy toys which contain carcinogens and lead. It beggars belief that these substances are used in toys, which children often stuff into their mouths! The safety of children demands immediate action by the Commission. The profit interests of manufacturers, suppliers and importers must never take precedence over children’s health. A single dangerous toy is one too many.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I wish to thank Commissioner Kuneva for coming to the Chamber today, at our suggestion, and congratulate her for being very positive and strong in the action that she has taken. Since we had the original debates back in September, she has been to China. We have seen the results of that. She has also been absolutely clear in stating that ‘there can be no compromise on consumer safety’. We all firmly believe that to be the case.

Turning to the practical aspects, a number of colleagues have already made the point that this an extremely complex issue in which many players are involved. I therefore welcome Commissioner Kuneva’s reassurance that she will be working with the Member States to reinforce their capacity to inspect, to test and also to stop dangerous consignments, which can be properly identified because flows of information have been established. Let us be realistic. We are dealing with a very large number of manufacturers and a very large number of products.

However, one of the last things we want to do is to demonise those toy manufacturers who are already doing an outstanding job and producing attractive, well-designed, good-value toys that are valued by consumers and their children across the European Union and which, as we all know, are very important in children’s development. It is entirely wrong to single out the Chinese, as our colleague from Cyprus did in what was a very emotional and illiberal speech. There are many other countries that are sourcing products. The most important thing is to ensure quality of design from the outset, and that the engineers responsible work with their suppliers to see that all the controls are in place. Believe me, there are many companies producing toys in China to outstanding quality standards. We want everyone to do that and we want that to happen now. This is because the key decisions being made now, before Christmas this year, concern the toys that will be in the hands of children next Christmas. That is what we are talking about, that is why we are working ahead and that is why it was very important that the Commissioner was here tonight.

 
  
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  Arlene McCarthy (PSE). – Mr President, the objective of tonight’s debate and the Commissioner’s statement must, of course, be to send a very strong signal to consumers and to China – and those who supply toys from other third countries – that we are determined to rid our markets of toxic toys. We have seen that numerous toy recalls in the run-up to Christmas mean that we have to keep up pressure for action. And I want to add, Commissioner, that in recent raids in my own region – in Manchester – over 20 000 illegal and counterfeit toys were seized, with a value of EUR 150 000. They were clearly destined to fill the gaps as a result of the toy recalls.

Therefore, we need the legitimate toy suppliers and manufacturers to meet the highest safety standards if children are not to be put at risk by dangerous counterfeit toys. So, let me be clear, as chair of Parliament’s Consumer Protection Committee, what we are calling for you to do with our support, Commissioner. We want an urgent review of Europe’s toy safety laws, to tackle the problems of new problems from third countries, Chinese imports and, of course, new and dangerous toy designs, such as magnets, which have emerged since the original directive of 1995. It is out of date, and it does need to be reviewed. We need to fill that law with stronger, intelligence-led enforcement and surveillance, to make sure we crack down on poor producers.

Commissioner, I personally give you my support, and I will continue to do that, to go as far as banning dangerous toy imports from China if necessary. But it has to be said that your action has got results; we have now seen 93 bans from China itself and, since July, 184 more investigations, which means that we are seeing less dangerous toys leaving China’s borders. We need to step up that action and give you support; but importers, too, must bear the responsibility for the import of dangerous toy products, and I therefore welcome the supply chain review to close the gaps left by manufacturers.

Commissioner, we are not prepared to make any compromises on toy safety; warnings may not be enough. We can see, for example in the US, that we have bans for under-threes on some toys and we have warnings for over-six-year-olds; they complain that they are importing our dangerous toys from the European market, so perhaps we need to follow the US model in this area. So let us get swift and effective measures to restore the confidence of our consumers in the toy market. I pledge, Commissioner, that my committee will work with you to achieve that.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN).(PL) Mr President, in speaking in the debate on toy safety, I wish to draw attention to several more general matters.

Firstly, the liberalisation of trade carried out under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, making the European market increasingly accessible, is not only bringing benefits to consumers in the form of lower prices for many goods, but is also bringing dangers, and an eloquent example of this is the matter of dangerous toys that we are discussing today.

Secondly, South-East Asian countries are competitive in the European market because they do not cover the full costs of manufacturing the products. They often fail to bear environmental protection costs, costs linked to observing employee rights or costs linked to the safety of goods, to name but a few.

Thirdly, it is therefore necessary for consumer and competition protection institutions in EU countries to make use of the instruments they have available to them to react more rapidly and effectively to such situations and eliminate from the market not only hazardous products, but also their manufacturers or importers.

Fourthly, and finally, the European Union, in ongoing negotiations under WTO auspices concerning expansion of access to the European market, must demand of third countries that they observe the rules of fair competition, and particularly the inclusion in product prices of the full costs of manufacture, counted using European standards.

 
  
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  Heide Rühle (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I have already stated in committee that we appreciate your efforts and that we thank you for those efforts.

Nevertheless, some of these things highlight where something is in a bad state. If you want to provide warnings about magnets, for example, this just shows that the Toy Safety Directive is not adequate. The Toy Safety Directive is unfortunately based on the new approach. The new approach implies that the equivalent standardisation committees are active. Unfortunately, the standardisation committees have not been active regarding magnets, just as they have not been active as regards carcinogenic substances. Only three carcinogenic substances are currently banned; the rest are not. We must check as a matter of urgency when we are revising the Toy Safety Directive whether this new approach really is the right way or whether it is not considerably more important for European legislators to lay down standards right now in the toy sector, because toys appeal mainly to children and children must be given special protection. I appeal to you to check once again whether the new approach really is the right way here or whether we in fact need a different approach when revising the Toy Safety Directive.

I should also like to point out that we have underlined the responsibility of importers when revising the product package. These importers must take their responsibilities seriously. I hope that you and the Commission will also be supporting this in the trialogue. Importers must be held responsible in the same way as manufacturers.

One final point: the Member States. Here it can be shown that the Product Safety Directive has simply been too weak. The Member States must be forced to monitor it and they must also be forced to actually phase out certain products. Unfortunately, not all of them have actually been phased out.

 
  
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  Iliana Malinova Iotova (PSE). – (BG) Mme Commissioner, There are several reasons for my question today. The firt one is your answer during the discussion on this issue at IMCO Committee, which was too general, in my opinion. The second one is the question in writing which I have already asked and I hope to receive an answer together with the other answers today. And the third reason is the following: I would like to specially draw your attention to the Christensen Report adopted in 2005 on the integration of the new Member States in the consumer protection system supplementing the internal market regime in the European Community. The report contains recommendations to the European Commission to draw special attention to the new Member States, which includes also my country.

I would like to express my personal opionion that, notwithstanding the efforts made by the Commission in this sphere, only three percent of the Bulgarian citizens feel protected as consumers. Therefore my specific question goes as follows: what has the European Commission done to guarantee the safety of the Chinese toys distributed during the Christmas and New Year holidays on the markets of the new Member States, given their relatively weaker consumer protection system?

 
  
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  Vicente Miguel Garcés Ramón (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, without being dramatic, we are dealing with a problem that affects the whole of the Union. To give just one example: every day 40 000 goods containers enter Spain; many thousands of those containers carry toys.

We wonder whether the authorised economic operator system, which will be introduced from 1 January 2008, will really facilitate effective measures to tackle the commercial actions that endanger children’s health, and which have been condemned so many times.

In its resolution of 26 September on the safety of products and especially toys, the European Parliament urged the Commission and the Member States to take measures to ensure that consumer goods sold do not pose a risk to health.

It is time to speed up the adoption of the necessary measures in order to implement the European Parliament resolution. We need to improve the control and monitoring of the markets that we have mentioned. At a time of globalisation, toys are not just another type of goods. Without controls, we will see repeats of the incidents that have been repeatedly reported; time and time again there is a relapse into commercial dumping, as well as a possibility of seriously affecting the health of consumers, especially children.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, let me start by responding to Ms Thyssen on what we are doing to enhance our positive influence on the Chinese market. If we are to achieve success, Europe should develop its role as a standard-bearer, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. RAPEX-China gives the Chinese authorities access to details of risks found in Chinese products sold in Europe, and this is a very valuable source of information for them.

China is currently setting up its own national rapid-warning system, copying the European one. This really represents a great success for product safety at world level. It ensures that information is spread swiftly to local offices for action, and this should start by the end of the year. If this continues to develop as envisaged, Europe will be able to congratulate itself, by the end of the year, on a major success, as it has established the pattern for the Chinese authorities.

I would like also to highlight that next year will be a very intensive one for me in respect of elaborating a new memorandum of understanding with China, owing to the fact that the current memorandum, which has been in effect since 2006, will expire at the beginning of 2009. This will be a matter for very concrete work by the Commission.

Many of you have referred to the Toys Directive. I cannot comment on something which comes under the responsibility of Vice-President Verheugen, as the Toys Directive is part of his portfolio, although we enjoy excellent cooperation. However, you should be aware that a revision of the Toys Directive is in the pipeline and will be presented very soon. Before my meeting with you, I checked with the services of Commissioner Verheugen, and with him in person, and know that this directive will soon be discussed by the Commission. I am sure that his services are working flat out.

There is no mixing of our two approaches – the industry approach, which includes the Toys Directive and the approach on which I base my activities, which includes a general product safety directive. I can assure you that the distinction within the Commission is really very clear.

That is exactly what we are trying to do through the new approach – to keep these two sets of checks parallel to each other. One set concerns requirements on toys as industrial goods, and the other one, over and above those efforts, concerns checks at any given point on how safe the toys are for our children. One good example is the magnets used in toys. These now come under the General Product Safety Directive, and we are able to carry out checks, ban dangerous products and ask for a new standard, with the toys in the mean time being covered by a warning, and then we will come up with a proposal. There will most probably be standardisation, and a ban on certain uses for magnets. This approach is based precisely on filling the gap on safety, through a true General Product Safety Directive. This is an excellent example of why we need to keep the two approaches together.

I started to respond to Ms Rühle concerning magnets. The College will consider my proposal to adopt a targeted measure to require specific warnings on magnetic toys, and this would fill the gap until the relevant standards properly address this risk. As you know, this process is a little long, but that is not up to the Commission. This is legislation which we are simply executing concerning the way we implement on our standards.

I would like to dwell for a second on the opinion expressed by Mr Matsakis. My line is quite simple, because I believe that Mr Harbour answered in a very consistent manner. I do not think that dangerous toys have a passport, and we should address the danger from wherever the danger comes. Let me just remind you that although 50% of the dangerous toys in Europe come from China, I am surprised that we have not discussed at all where the other 50% comes from. I have to tell you that 30% of dangerous toys come precisely from Europe. That is why I really insist on safety, regardless of passports. We must consider again how important confidence is to our markets. I am not going to outsource that responsibility.

Article 1 of the General Product Safety Directive states that all producers should only produce safe goods, and that whoever places a good on the market for the first time – be it the importer, the retailer or the producer – should check the safety of toys, for which he is liable.

With reference to Ms Iotova, I would like to answer in Bulgarian because it was in that language that she put her question.

(BG) My answer was very specific according to the standards of the Commission. What we have done over the last year is intended to improve legislation. Yes, part of this legislation relates to industrial goods and it is within the portfolio of another Commissioner but we work together on a number of issues. Some of the questions asked relate also to the REACH Directive that is not in my portfolio either but, again, we are doing what is necessary to ensure the safety on the basis of the existing legislation.

Many meetings have been held with all stakeholders in the process – manufacturers, competent national authorities, retailers, and numerous non-governmental organisations.

Besides, I would like to tell you that we make no judgments and do not divide countries into old and new Member States. The safety of goods is equally important for new and old members alike. I would like to reassure you that there are some old Member States, prior to the accession of the twelve new countries, which have their serious problems and I have no intention to abandon them. Of course, the responsibility of the Commission with regard to the implementation of the legislation, especially in the new Member States, is something which, undoubtedly, stands very close to my heart. Therefore what I am doing in the new Member States is talk more to the authorities, insist more on a national budget for the development of market surveillance authorities.

I can tell you, Mme Iotova, that the Bulgarian market has 180 inspectors. Yeasterday, actually it was earlier this morning, I had further talks with all participants in the safety chain and we concluded “the Christmas Pact”, involving manufacturers at the European level, as well as traders and government authorities in Bulgaria. After the insistent talks I had with the Ministry of the Economy in Bulgaria, inspections increased four times. Therefore I shall continue to work along these lines and, as I had the pleasure of doing it last time, I would like to renew my invitation from this plenary hall to do it together. I am confident that we shall be more successful in this way.

I would like to end where I started, which is to say that all our actions should be proportional and based on solidarity and subsidiarity, which will give us additional strength to tackle this very important problem.

I have listened carefully to all of you, to your kind words and to your calls to step up our work. If at any point there are specific cases which you would like to discuss with me, I would be more than happy to continue doing this.

 
  
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  President. − I should like to thank the Commissioner and all colleagues who spoke in that debate.

I wish to make one little observation: some years ago my elder daughter was given a present of a rubber doll made in China. The head came off and inside was a little rubber knob to put the head on, and whoever made this toy had put a little face on it; but it was not a smiley face, it was a very sad face, and whoever did this was trying to get some sort of message out about the conditions in which they working. So I am glad to have this opportunity of making it public tonight.

The debate is closed.

 

20. Fire safety in hotels (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission on fire safety in hotels by Glyn Ford, Giles Chichester, Graham Watson, Arlene McCarthy, Peter Skinner, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Elizabeth Lynne, Sarah Ludford, Toine Manders, David Martin, Glenys Kinnock, Claude Moraes, Erika Mann, Alexandra Dobolyi, Ana Maria Gomes, Robert Evans, Christopher Heaton-Harris, Reino Paasilinna, Marianne Mikko, Stephen Hughes, Stavros Lambrinidis, Malcolm Harbour, Bill Newton Dunn, Catherine Stihler, Sérgio Sousa Pinto, Jan Andersson, Linda McAvan, Luisa Morgantini, Jan Marinus Wiersma, Harlem Désir, Jo Leinen, Zita Gurmai, Caroline Lucas, Brian Simpson, Barbara Weiler, Christel Schaldemose, Neena Gill, Benoît Hamon, Michael Cashman, Udo Bullmann and Corina Creţu (O-0066/2007 – B6-0385/2007).

 
  
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  Glyn Ford, author. − Mr President, the issue of fire safety is important for the European Union and its citizens. The Treaty of Rome established the collective principle of free movement of goods, services, capital and people. In terms of people, we have put a great deal of emphasis on health and safety issues in the workplace and consumer protection.

Yet, whilst the mobility of business and workers, along with tourism, is vital to our economic well-being and the fulfilment of the Lisbon competition agenda, we cannot do a simple thing like guaranteeing that European citizens, whether as consumers or workers, are equally safe from the dangers of fire when they stay or work in hotels across the Member States of the EU.

The Union has competence for health and safety. We limit lawnmower noise but not the prospect of being burnt to death. Consumer protection means that we are concerned about the safety of lifts and escalators but not the safety of hotels. The Commissioner has just said that all our actions are proportional. I wonder if she considers that it is proportional that no action has been taken with respect to safety in hotels.

Fire-sprinkler systems are highly effective, extinguishing or controlling 99% of fires at the earliest stage. No one has, reportedly, ever died in a fully-sprinkled hotel in the EU. However, since 2003 alone, over 60 people in the Union have died in fires in hotels where no sprinklers were fitted.

Tragically, three of these were in my own constituency over the summer in the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, where a fire got out of hand because there were no sprinklers. One of the people who died was a disabled woman who was unable to make her way out of the building unaided. What is the Commission doing to protect people like her?

The Commission will claim subsidiarity. Get real! How many people have died in the EU from lawnmower noise or from lift or escalator accidents since 2003? Yet the Commission has seen fit to take away Member State autonomy with regard to these areas.

Fire regulations with regard to sprinkler provision vary widely across the EU, with Hungary probably having the best, and France, which has the highest recent death rate, having none at all.

Some more enlightened European hotel chains, such as the Accor Group, are now adopting the sprinkling of new hotels, following in the footsteps of the American brands Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton.

But it is not good enough to leave it to self-regulation. At least one federal state is not prepared to excuse inaction by talking about subsidiarity. In the US, all new hotels are sprinkler-protected by law. Indeed, federal employees cannot claim expenses unless they stay in sprinkled hotels when on business trips.

We, therefore, call on the Commission to look into the introduction of a directive laying down minimum provision in all Member States that mandates that all new hotels over 20 beds should be fully sprinkled and that existing hotels over 20 beds should at least, have corridors and exit routes sprinkler-protected. That would not be a huge economic burden: it would cost less than an additional 2%. Of course, existing hotels should be given adequate time to comply, but what we want is to act now and not wait until we are forced into action by the public following a major tragedy when hundreds die.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR ONESTA
Vice-President

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I agree that fire is a permanent threat to consumers’ lives. Research estimates that the number of fatalities per million inhabitants per year is 10.8 in the UK, 6 in Spain, 11.8 in France, 15.7 in Sweden and 7.3 in Germany. So, as Commissioner for Consumer Protection, this is a matter of major concern for me. Thank you for remembering this important issue.

Let me recall the tragic case involving a British family whose two children were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in a hotel room in Corfu in October 2006. I have received several letters from you about this case. We contacted the Greek authorities and they informed us that the hotel where the accident happened had its licence immediately revoked and has not been operating since then. I know that legal proceedings are taking place in Greece and I hope they will come to a clear conclusion very soon. This is an emblematic case, but unfortunately this is not the only one.

Fire safety in hotels has been at the centre of discussions with the Member States for the last 20 years.

First, the results that have been achieved so far. Council Recommendation 86/666/EC on fire safety in existing hotels has helped to improve safety levels, especially in those countries where no or scarce regulation was available.

Furthermore, the Construction Products Directive sets up specific requirements in the event of an outbreak of fire for all construction works, including hotels. Several measures have been adopted to ensure a consistent application of this directive in the Member States, such as a common system for classifying fire resistance of construction products and a number of harmonised European standards in the fields of fire-fighting, alarm and alerting equipment.

In addition, the requirements of the Council recommendation addressing the risks linked to electrical lighting have been implemented by the Low Voltage Directive.

However, there is still a lot of ground to cover in making all hotels in Europe equally safe, whether existing or new and regardless of their size and accommodation facilities. As we know, the requirements are for the hotels that have at least 20 rooms.

In its various discussions with the Member States, the Commission has noted that no common way forward for an EU-wide action has yet been agreed upon and that the proper enforcement of national legislation is, so far, the main priority. This issue of compliance is indeed a problem that should not be underestimated, and I am really sad to say this.

This is why I have asked the major hotel chains present in Europe to come to Brussels for a meeting with me on 8 February 2008. Obviously, until we have this legislation in place, we should take our immediate action. We will discuss the hotel safety issue and I will report back to you on the results of this consultation. If we can do it together with Parliament – if Parliament would like to participate in this meeting on 8 February – I will be more than glad to have this meeting with you.

The collection of EU-wide data and statistics is a critical point: absence of statistical definitions and homogeneity in the way fire accidents are registered in the Member States makes comparability a very difficult and inaccurate exercise.

I would like to move on to the point of standardisation. Standardisation without the support of a legal framework, such as a European directive or even a revised recommendation, would severely reduce its impact, and the ultimate objective of ensuring fire safety in hotels would be frustrated as a result.

Coming to the issue of sprinklers: their efficiency in reducing the devastating effect of fires has been largely demonstrated, but the cost of their installation and maintenance is not always compatible with the type of hotels that are mostly present in Europe, such as small, family-type hotels.

Next to this, the decision of whether sprinklers or any other fire-fighting device should be compulsory in hotels falls within the exclusive competence of the Member States. I would be glad to discuss with the Member States and to support such measures if they are ready to take such steps.

Parallel to these developments on the regulatory side, it should be mentioned that hotels are adopting self-regulating performance-based codes and design methods. I think that hotel chains such as Accor should be really supported in their efforts.

The Commission is not only dealing with fire safety in hotels under its profile as a service, but is also targeting, in a comprehensive strategy against fire risk, all those products that are largely present in hotels and most likely to be either the source of a fire or its accelerant. The initiatives of RIP cigarettes, on which the chair of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, Ms McCarthy, gave us a very important contribution, flammability of upholstered furniture, and nightwear and child-resistant lighters are the pillars of such a strategy.

I am looking forward to continuing our cooperation on this very important issue which is a major concern for all of us.

I would like once more again to thank Parliament and especially the President because we are taking concrete measures with what is in our hands right now.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, first of all I would like to thank my colleague Mr Ford for taking the initiative to table this question, and I am speaking tonight on behalf of all my Conservative colleagues who have jointly signed this, in particular Giles Chichester, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Group, in whose constituency the dreadful fire in August, to which Mr Ford referred, happened. He wants me to associate him very much with the thrust of the question that Mr Ford has tabled.

From my own side it is rather poignant also, because the issues about fires are, of course, not just confined to hotels. A few weeks ago, in the heart of my own constituency in Warwickshire, there was a truly dreadful fire in an industrial building, in which four volunteer firemen tragically lost their lives. We have not had the full results of the inquiry on that tragic incident yet, but it is clear that the building was supposed to have a sprinkler system but apparently did not have one fitted. So I want to draw attention of colleagues to that tonight, in perhaps just thinking about some of the broader issues that the Commissioner has raised.

The Commissioner quite rightly pointed to the fact that in the Construction Products Directive, which will be coming to our committee early next year, issues about building flammability and construction materials are dealt with and I think will be looked at again. And, of course, the whole issue of building standards and the potential for fire prevention devices like sprinklers is opened up by Mr Ford’s question.

I am perhaps more sympathetic to the Commissioner’s position, as I think one has to be careful about trying to impose a very expensive single solution, particularly in the hotel sector, where we have such an enormous range of facilities in size and scale on offer.

But it does seem to me that something needs to move forward on this and I am delighted to hear that the Commissioner, with her characteristic initiative that we have just heard in the previous debate, is already moving on this and inviting some of the major hotel chains to meet her. But it seems to me that one of the ways in which we can move this forward very quickly is by giving consumers more information in a consistently presented way and heightening their awareness of it. So when they make bookings for hotels, they may look on the internet – and hotels now increasingly do provide fire-protection information, but I think that varies considerably from country to country. So, maybe, having some sort of rating system for hotels, based on their inspections and equipment – a star rating system if you like, which is applied consistently – is something that would be worthwhile raising and considering with the hotel proprietors.

It operates in a number of other areas: for example, in motor vehicles, where the Commission has successfully promoted an initiative to have a star rating for cars. Perhaps we could consider something to move quickly on this, to deal with the problem that Mr Ford has raised and which this motion places before the House.

 
  
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  Arlene McCarthy, on behalf of the PSE Group. – Mr President, as the Commissioner is aware, we have had several discussions around the general problem of the safety of services. I very much welcome the Commissioner’s willingness to look seriously at how we can improve the situation for consumers.

I believe there is a serious consumer-protection gap on the provision of services. If a consumer travelling on business or on holiday in the EU books a hotel, can he or she be sure that safety measures are in place to prevent fire or the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or, indeed, whether the swimming pool is safe for children to swim in?

Yet, as we have seen with toys and products, we are prepared to protect our consumers. When they are accessing or purchasing a service in the internal market, consumer protection does not seem to be there in the same way.

Yet many consumers assume that, when they stay in a hotel, there are adequate and very basic safety standards there. And, of course, as we have seen, they are inadequate.

I do not believe it is rocket science to install fire sprinklers or carbon monoxide detectors. I think fires and deaths are preventable if the right standards and systems are in place.

Frankly, I think it is too late – and not good enough – to revoke a licence after children have died, when in fact they should never have had the licence in the first place.

We want to help the Commissioner take action to drive up standards, to cut fire risks and deaths and protect the consumer, so yes, let us think about how we can best achieve this. Mr Harbour’s proposal around an EU rating system is certainly something we may want to look at, but that is something, I believe, that the consumer needs to have easy access to, and I believe the tour operators’ hotel systems should actually put that out for the consumer, so I can then decide I do not wish to go to the hotel or the villa that does not have a safe swimming pool, does not have fire sprinklers or does not have carbon monoxide detectors.

I believe we can do better for our citizens: we can prevent deaths. I think tonight we have launched the debate, but I do believe – and I think it can be seen from the interventions – that it is the beginning of a campaign for safer services, for the very basic minimum standards to be protected, and I hope that we can make further progress in this area in the not too distant future.

 
  
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  Wolfgang Bulfon (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a matter of regret that people have to die before the issue of fire safety in hotels is finally addressed. We all know that effective fire safety measures cannot be implemented easily at European level because building regulations are administered very unevenly across the Member States and regions.

I am convinced that this problem can be solved only if there are binding specifications for compliance with fire safety standards. This will be effective only if there are compulsory, routine checks, which should logically involve the uniform system of quality standard assessments already called for in Parliament.

We must not forget, of course, that technical measures always involve a financial cost. This can be a very great and often insurmountable financial burden for small and medium-sized hotels. In these circumstances the Member States should support fire safety measures by providing aid so that guests can be guaranteed the best possible safety standards.

Please allow me to make one final comment: I do not believe that in the majority of hotels in Europe, which are all small and medium-sized hotels, the solution can lie in negotiating with the industrial complex, therefore the large conglomerates.

 
  
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  Linda McAvan (PSE). – Mr President, I know the Commissioner has been very concerned about the issue of carbon monoxide safety in hotels since we had discussions about the death of two children from Yorkshire over the last few months. I am glad that the Commissioner recognises that hotel safety goes beyond fire safety. I think the kind of solution that Ms McCarthy suggested in the long term is the right one.

We should be looking at improvements to safety of services but in the short term I hope that at the meeting with hotel owners in February, which I am very pleased about, the Commissioner can raise with them the issue of carbon monoxide safety. Here it is not a question of huge financial layout for hotel chains because you can go on the internet and find that the safest carbon monoxide detector costs GBP 36 in the UK, which is not a lot of money even for the smallest hotel or the smallest company owning caravans. So I think that we should be asking companies to put these safety measures in place now and not wait for several years until there is some EU legislation.

Families cannot go on holidays expecting not to bring their children home, any more than they can buy Christmas presents for their children expecting them to do damage to them. So I really hope that the Commissioner will raise this issue with the hotel chains and report back to Parliament on this very important issue.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I will immediately make a commitment before you that I will address this issue during our meeting with the tourist sector. This is not a secret; we have told you that this meeting is very much provoked by our conversation and by the very sad loss of two children.

How to make this legislation obligatory is part of the possible way of thinking, but we should really look very carefully at the discussion in the Council and see what the opinion of the Member States is, and to make a good balance between what some of the Member States are already doing – they are some way ahead – and what they are ready to do at the level of obligatory measures taken by the Community.

I am absolutely convinced that we need to address the safety of services and, more than convinced, I included this in the strategy for consumer protection 2007-2013. The 21st century is not a manufacturing one. The 21st century, I believe, will be much more the century of services, which is why I am convinced that these issues should be addressed through the concept of the safety of services, focusing on where we need to legislate to do this and where we need to rely more on self-regulation – which could very usefully be stepped up – to do our best and to cooperate very closely with Member States, which, in the end, will provide support, if this legislation is approved.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

 

21. European Contract Law (debate)
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission on a common frame of reference for European contract law by Mr Gargani, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs (O-0073/2007 - B6-0386/2007).

 
  
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  Rainer Wieland, author. − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret that we have already failed once with just such an ambitious and necessary project: a European Civil Code. This is also most certainly connected with the fact that some legal systems here in the European Union have difficulty with written law. It is also most certainly connected with some others having difficulty with the idea that substantive rules on related themes are combined to some degree and administered conclusively and comprehensively enough and that ground rules are set outside the parentheses. The difficulties are also related to the fact that we in the European Union have common roots, yet these go way back, some having developed differently, some being buried and some being sacrificed to an arbitrary interpretation for the sake of the politics of the day.

As the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss, so aptly put it in 1956 – and please note that he was a Liberal – Europe is built on three hills: Golgotha, the Acropolis in Athens and the Capitol in Rome. The Acropolis is the symbol here for Greek scholarship, which with its great philosophers and political thinkers established the core of our democracies and state-building. Golgotha stands for Europe’s social and moral values, spreading widely across every area of our lives, from an understanding of family to human rights. The Capitol typifies Roman law, which helps us on the way to the rule of law and a sense of justice.

As stated, however, our legal practices, while originating from the same roots, have grown apart – often so far apart that these roots are no longer recognisable. The sole foundation of this European Union appears to be the internal market. Some would say that all legal traditions of the nation states can continue to exist. However, this is far removed from any reality and also incidentally from any experience of life, when we live in an increasingly smaller, faster moving and more communicative world. The better we spell out the four Gospels of the Internal Market – the free movement of people, goods, capital and services – the more perfectly we can express them democratically and against a background of European moral concepts, and the clearer it becomes that all this is of no value if we cannot put its form on the test bench of the rule of law and justice, between individuals themselves as well as between individuals and state control.

We have already failed once, when the Iron Curtain fell in Europe and countries were asking: do you have a law for us? Perhaps this was understandable against a background of belief that any ramification of national legal traditions could survive, at any rate in a Union only able to negotiate unanimously. We must not fail a second time, however. This is perhaps the most serious challenge alongside the issue of language. The clearer we are in spelling out our internal market, the clearer the basic need for the unity of the law, not just vertically, but also horizontally over the entire geography of the continent.

We have moved forward. We already have competition now in the legal systems. It would be good, and we would have enough time, if this were not the external reality. Conflict among Europeans can benefit only those who are powerful and already have redundant legal systems. We are not a family with brothers and sisters who quarrel with one another so that sparks fly, but are united in the face of outside challenges. We do not allow ourselves to be fazed by outside challenges. Oblivious to the world – self-obsessed. People’s desire for unity is therefore there, even though it subsequently creates a problem in individual regulations. Fears are created on the basis of the powers of national policies to cultivate doctrines of self-interest – a strategy that threatens the collapse of the historical dimensions on a continental scale.

We have to come to an agreement because otherwise we ourselves will ultimately not hold on to anything. Since the grand plan has not succeeded, we need to agree on what is possible. The toolbox is therefore good, the reference framework is therefore good, and so it is good to sort out what is possible and a little bit more perhaps as well. The European Parliament is therefore largely in agreement and has also repeatedly expressed this in its resolutions. We therefore want to know from the Commission how ambitious it is in wanting to tackle this aim. This is why we are asking questions the way we have.

The Continent and its people require a uniform rule of law, at least in the form … at any rate in what the legal practitioner calls the general part. We can build on this; we need justice in terms of a balanced compromise of legitimate interests, we need speed, law in the public domain and law intelligible to everyone. Even if it is only contract law that is up for debate today, the need for action in other fields is evident: family law, inheritance law, administrative law – yes, even criminal law. It is the method that is on the test bench in what the Commission is now starting. The method will essentially be the determining factor when answering the question of how much, how quickly and how well we are able to react to the obvious challenges. Many of us throughout the world are waiting for a successful example and many are simply expecting us to fail.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, it comes as no surprise that this question attracts such attention, because this is a really pivotal and very important issue.

The Commission, as a whole, welcomes wholeheartedly the interest that Parliament is taking in the Common Frame of Reference (CFR).

In its second progress report, the Commission announced that, after the academic CFR has been provided by the researchers, the Commission will carefully select the parts of this draft that correspond to the common legislative objectives. As we know from the decision, this academic CFR is due by the end of this year.

The selection process will be done in consultation with the other institutions, including Parliament and stakeholders, and I think that Parliament, which has many experts here, will play an important role as usual.

The Commission has not yet decided how to proceed in selecting those parts of the academic CFR which will be incorporated into the final Commission CFR, as this decision also depends on the content of the draft CFR that the researchers will deliver. Also, the Commission has not yet decided which topics of the EU contract law acquis the CFR should cover.

In adopting this decision, the Commission will also take into account the content of the academic CFR – which we have not had so far – the outcome of the new CFR workshops, and the position of Parliament and the Council.

The Commission has, however, clearly stated several times that the CFR will not be a large-scale harmonisation of private law or a European civil code. The future framework directive, as a result of the review of the consumer contract law acquis, is not dependent on the outcome of the CFR, which is a longer-term project and run separately.

The Commission will ensure that the parts of the research draft selected for the CFR – and possibly modified – are coherent with each other and with the future framework directive.

All this preparatory work will be carried out by all the Commission directorates-general involved, in close coordination.

In respect of consumer issues, my services have already carried out the respective workshops and analysed the outcome. The results already serve as a starting point for the review of the consumer contract law acquis, and it was very helpful.

My fellow Commissioner, Mr McCreevy, recently held two workshops on information requirements in financial services legislation and on unfair competition rules for business-to-business (‘B-to-B’) contracts.

Concerning general contract law, the services of Vice-President Frattini plan to organise several workshops during next year.

The Commission fully understands that Parliament wants to be kept informed of, and involved in, the ongoing work on the CFR. We welcome Parliament’s involvement in the CFR process. In addition to the consultation which I mentioned earlier, the Commission will continue to keep Parliament informed of developments in the most appropriate way, in particular through the Parliament working group dedicated to the CFR.

I would like to conclude by thanking Parliament for its support of the Commission’s work on this important dossier. I know that one of the major events in 2006 – if I am not mistaken – took place in Vienna, and the outcome of that conference was very inspiring for our work.

 
  
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  Klaus-Heiner Lehne, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I should like to thank you most sincerely for your commitment to this matter. It has brought with it great progress in the development of this project in past months. I should say at this juncture that I regard this project as the most important in the entire legislative term, although it is actually a pre-legislative rather than a legislative project.

Of course, we as Parliament do have an enormous interest – and this is also the key reason why this oral question was tabled again today – in the fact that we are very consciously keeping up the suspense and keeping the discussion going not only at the level of the working group we have set up and at committee level, but also here with you in plenary. It is therefore also important that we have put this on the agenda today.

We also want to find something out from you – you are still not able to say much about the definite schedule – because from Parliament’s point of view it is also significant, of course, in view of the upcoming elections in 2009, for our strategy as to how we continue to deal with the Frame of Reference. Over the coming year there will be a preliminary draft, but there will not be a final text until April 2009. In any case it will be so late that it will presumably no longer be possible to deal with the content in depth in this legislative term and the next Parliament will therefore have to do so in the next term of office.

I wish to emphasise very clearly once again that we think the Frame of Reference, if it is adopted by the Commission and inserted into the consultation document, must not to refer to subjects of contract law alone, and Parliament has continually made it clear by an outsize majority that this must go beyond the framework of pure contract law in order to have the desired effect.

We also want specifically to be able to consider the option of whether we can subsequently solve the many problems we have in the internal market in the shape of an optional instrument for cross-border businesses.

At the moment we have a situation in which we are having to live in a happy coexistence of the country of origin principle and country of destination principle alongside the many directives and European legislative decisions with up to 28 legal systems, all of which have also to be simultaneously applied – depending on the circumstances. This is not right in practice because nobody – no solicitor, judge or barrister – is in a position to know 28 European legal systems.

Against this background one optional instrument could be an instrument that actually opens up the internal market, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as for the consumer, and throws open every kind of possibility in the internal market. All the activities of the Commission and Parliament should be aimed at keeping this option open so that a final decision can be made on this in the next legislative term.

 
  
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  Manuel Medina Ortega, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, the fact that we are here, at this late hour, discussing the common frame of reference, is an indication that at least those of us who are here have a strong interest in this issue, and the Commissioner herself has indicated the interest that she and other Commissioners have in the matter.

I think, as we all do, that the procedure being adopted by the Commission is the correct one. Before launching into a codification project, it is important that we understand its elements from an academic point of view, and we think that the initiative is a magnificent one: not just launching into legislative proposals without having considered them first. I think that the result could be quite good.

With regard to the second phase, however, with which we are concerned, as some MEPs are working on or taking part in the parliamentary group that is monitoring the common frame of reference, what we are finding is that apparently so much material has now been accumulated that selection seems to be difficult. My fellow Member, Mr Lehne, referred to the temporary framework; in other words, although the codification project is a long-term project, it is nevertheless helpful for us to at least start to look at the guidelines for the project.

The idea of a framework directive on this issue seems to be a good starting point. In any case, it is clear that what we have done in recent years towards harmonisation through procedures, legislation and the recognition and enforcement of sentences is useful, but does have huge limitations.

European law in general and contractual law in particular can only be developed by establishing certain principles. I think that Parliament as an institution could be a magnificent instrument for the Commission to use, because the different legal systems and different national legislations are represented here, and it could be an excellent framework of reference in order to see the extent to which the harmonising proposals are ultimately going to clash with the national legal systems.

The harmonisation of the European Union is quite difficult for reasons that we are all aware of, but the correct procedure is the one undertaken by the Commission, with this initial academic phase and a second legislative phase.

What we are saying to the Commission at the moment is that, in Parliament, we feel a certain amount of time pressure, because European integration is already happening: European citizens are facing practical problems every day that can only be resolved through legal harmonisation. These practical problems were considered by the Commissioner herself when she presented her proposals for the harmonisation of contractual law on consumer protection, which is just one of the aspects, but quite an important one, because, in short, in the European Union we are all consumers and to some extent it is an excellent principle for taking action.

I do not think that it is a question of creating a common frame of reference that is purely theoretical. As far as possible, specifics are the most useful thing. My fellow Member Mr Lehne referred to establishing some type of optional document. The model would be something like the United States Uniform Commercial Code, which has been described as the least uniform code of all, giving the least possibility of unification. This is a possibility, but perhaps the most important thing may be to see which principles can be recognised by all the legal systems, and we will really only have this information once we have studied and taken into account what the academics give us.

Therefore, Commissioner, I think that Parliament will be a good collaborator in the subsequent development of this legislation and here we already have a degree of impatience to get to work, so that, in the year and a half that remains of the legislature, we can contribute positively to the development of this legislation.

 
  
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  Diana Wallis, on behalf of the ALDE Group . – Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for her answer, and indeed for her commitment to this subject, which has been mentioned by other colleagues.

However, I have to express a little surprise. This morning and yesterday evening I was in Munster, at the University of Munster, on the occasion of the presentation of an honorary degree to the President of the Court of Justice. Taking place at the same time was a meeting of the acquis group on the common frame of reference. They told me that they were discussing, amongst other things, those bits of the academic Common Frame of Reference (CFR) that might be used by your services. So this exchange is already going on, and I would point out that, clearly, Parliament wants to know what is happening at any moment, so that it can see how the process is developing.

The Commissioner will know how keen this Parliament is on this whole issue, and how much it has tried to champion it. Indeed, the Committee to which I and my colleagues belong will, in the new year, be hosting a reception with the Slovene Presidency to celebrate the arrival of the academic CFR. So we really want to make something of this and continue the work.

But we need to be included along the way. We have felt for a long time that this is an essential part of the whole better legislation agenda. I do not know how many times I have risen, in relation to this, to talk about coherence. We know that the CFR is almost there, is almost usable, and yet still we are proceeding with various bits of legislation that contain contract law, without looking at some of the basic ground rules which we are already beginning to formulate in the CFR. We are looking at the consumer acquis review, and separately we are looking at time share. There are other colleagues dealing with payments or with issues to do with passenger transport. We have a tremendous tool here in the making. We need it, and we need it urgently.

We accept and are grateful for the work the Commission as a whole has done in trying to get this matter dealt with in all the different directorates-general. That is good news.

I can only finish with the plea that I have already made, Commissioner, which is to please keep us involved. We know there is ongoing work. We can be at your side. We know this is a difficult issue vis-à-vis the Council. Please use our voices along with your own in order to give this project as much push and drive as it deserves in order to best serve our citizens through the internal market.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, this is not just a courtesy: it is always a great pleasure to listen to such distinguished lawyers talking about one of the most important things to have happened in recent years in the area of civil law.

However, I know that you want me to be as practical as possible. So let me just tell you that in 2008 the Commission needs to decide on the scope – in respect of the time schedule, content and form – of the CFR, and how to carry out the above work in terms of methodology, human and financial resources and distribution of work amongst the DGs concerned: Justice, Freedom and Security, the Internal Market and Services, Enterprise and Industry, the Secretary-General, and Health and Consumer Protection. A meeting of director-generals or their representatives will take place on the 11 December – which means tomorrow – and the intention is to prepare a college decision in 2008 on the scope, contents and form of the CFR.

As you know, and I kept you informed, I asked the College of Commissioners about the CFR and sent them a note on the subject this year. On optional instruments, the Commission has announced in the single market review that it will look at the merits of such an initiative in the area of financial services, and I think that this is a good sign.

All of you referred to the framework directive relating to the consumer acquis. I believe that this is a very good exercise and, whatever we are doing with consumer credit or with the timeshare, we are trying to avoid this concentration on the horizontal instrument because I believe that we currently need a discussion on the timeshare in Parliament. But we need to define the framework scope, and I believe that we will have an excellent test of how united we are when we harmonise the main pillars of contract law as a backbone during the framework directive. I will, of course, gladly undertake to keep you personally informed of what is going on in this very important field.

 
  
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  President. – I have received, in accordance with Rule 108(5) of the Rules of Procedure, a motion for a resolution to wind up the debate(1).

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday, 12 December 2007.

 
  

(1) See Minutes


22. Tenth Anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention) (debate)
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  President. – The next item is the Commission statement on the tenth anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention).

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I would like to thank Parliament for the opportunity to discuss this very important issue and to comment briefly on the motion for a resolution on a mine-free world, which we received today.

Ten years after the approval of the Ottawa Convention we can celebrate considerable progress in the achievement of its objectives. One hundred and fifty-six states have ratified the Convention, and the use of anti-personnel landmines has been markedly reduced in recent years. Fewer mines are being produced and there is virtually no trade in this hazardous weapon.

Since the adoption of the Ottawa Convention in 1997, the European Community has been highly committed to its universalisation and to the achievement of its objectives. Mine action has been part of the European Community’s assistance and development programmes in third countries, which have covered a wide range of activities – stockpile destruction, mine risk education, mine victim assistance, rehabilitation and socioeconomic reintegration. A dedicated budget line, complemented by funding from other geographic instruments, underpinned the EC Mine Action Strategy and Programming. In total, approximately EUR 275 million was committed over the 2002-2007 period, making the EC one of the leading donors worldwide. As Parliament has noted in its resolution, the EC Mine Action Strategy comes to an end this year. An evaluation will be carried out to assess whether it responded adequately to the Nairobi Action Plan. A preliminary internal analysis shows positive outcomes.

With the changes in the Commission external funding mechanisms in 2007, the anti-personnel landmine budget line has been replaced by new instruments for EC external assistance which can be used for funding appropriate mine actions. Geographical budgets for development, pre-accession and the Neighbourhood Policy are now the key financial instruments. In urgent cases, action in the area of anti-personnel landmines and explosive remnants of war can also be funded by the humanitarian aid budget and the new Instrument for Stability, which allow for funds to be mobilised rapidly in cases of crisis or emerging crisis.

This is the new legislative environment, agreed by the budgetary authority, in which we must operate. The EC’s overall approach, however, remains unchanged: landmines and other explosive remnants of war must be considered within a broad context of humanitarian assistance, long-term and sustainable socioeconomic development programmes. Countries wanting assistance need to prioritise mine action in their requests to the European Commission. We fully share Parliament’s concern, also expressed in its comments on the Instrument for Stability strategy, that a security gap in this important humanitarian field has to be avoided.

Although means and methods have changed, the EC’s commitment to the Ottawa Convention continues. In 2007, the European Community committed assistance for mine action for a total of at least EUR 33 million in the following countries: Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Jordan, Lebanon, Senegal and Sudan.

I want to assure Parliament that the Commission remains firmly engaged in continuing its support for the implementation of the Ottawa Convention and its assistance to third countries in destroying stockpiled anti-personnel mines, clearing mined areas and assisting victims.

 
  
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  Stefano Zappalà, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank the Commissioner for the comprehensive and exhaustive speech she made, effectively explaining what has already happened in this area. This is a subject, however, that I believe should continue to engage us and others – as the Commissioner has already said, and I have noted it – because the numbers are terrifying.

Earlier we were given figures for the safety of hotels and other types of safety and, though every human life is very important, these were quite low numbers. Here we are talking about a very different situation: 10 000 to 20 000 people affected each year. There are probably more than half a million people who have been maimed in countries outside the EU, and therefore this is a very topical matter and it is no accident, in fact, that it is being discussed ten years on from the Ottawa Convention, but that in this Chamber it is being dealt with again after only two years. We dealt with it in a resolution in 2005 and we are discussing it again now. We are discussing it again now because there is a danger that people will stop talking about it.

The Commissioner – and once again, I thank her for what she said – highlighted a few channels for finance with which we can continue to fight anti-personnel mines, and I mean specifically anti-personnel mines. I believe, however, that there much more should be done. Too many of the world’s countries have not yet signed the Ottawa Convention, too many countries still have arsenals of these implements of war, too many countries and too much land are still covered with these mines and therefore we need to take mine clearance very seriously.

I should mention, to add to what the Commissioner said, that 34% – those are the data, but it remains to be seen whether the statistics are realistic or not – anyway, in principle 34% of victims of anti-personnel mines left in land where wars have been fought are children, making this matter even more serious. I therefore believe, Commissioner, that we should not only continue with the programme, but that it should be financed better and for longer.

The Commission has already done a great deal; the European Union has already done a great deal: 335 million over the last ten years, 33 million in 2007 alone; however, I think that the Council, the Commission and the Member States should call a meeting to review the Ottawa Convention and should do more to ensure all the countries in the world act on this matter and to bring about mine clearance and the total abolition of anti-personnel mines in the immediate future, as quickly as possible.

 
  
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  Ana Maria Gomes, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) The Ottawa Convention was the result of a global and effective effort for a just cause which united and continues to unite governments, public opinion and non-governmental organisations. Even some States not party to the Convention, and unfortunately there are still 37, have already partially complied with the Convention.

This instrument therefore acts as a barometer for measuring the degree of participation of countries in the global community of values. As the Commissioner said, it is worth remembering what has already been achieved. Over a period of 10 years the States Parties to the Ottawa Convention have already destroyed more than 41 million mines. Last year alone, Serbia, Montenegro, Angola, Cyprus, Cape Verde and Latvia fulfilled their obligations and got rid of their mine arsenals. Thirty-eight out of fifty mine-producing countries ceased production, including four States not party to the Convention: Egypt, Finland, Poland and Israel.

However, the celebration of the Convention’s 10 years of achievements should also be the occasion to highlight how much there is still to do. Ten States Parties have still not completely destroyed their arsenals which total 14 million mines. Two of the ten States Parties have significant arsenals of anti-personnel mines and do not envisage any measures for their destruction: they are Ethiopia and Iraq. The overwhelming majority of mines, however, are in the hands of States not party to the Convention. China alone still retains an arsenal of 110 million of these inhuman weapons, whilst at the same time continuing production. Even more shocking, perhaps because it is an ally of ours, alongside which European armies are fighting on fronts such as Afghanistan, the USA, another State not party to the Convention, not only continues to maintain an arsenal of more than 10 million mines, but also, last year, the Pentagon requested new financing for two new types of mines incompatible with the Convention.

It is to be hoped that the efforts of the American Congress will once more curb the generosity of the White House as regards the new toys of war.

The European Union still has its own glass houses with Finland and Poland continuing to refuse to ratify the Convention. That should not, however, stand in the way of Europe fighting for as broad an interpretation as possible of what constitutes an anti-personnel mine. It is scandalous to see how some in this Parliament insist on drawing distinctions based on the formal military definition of the device rather than on the nature of the damage it causes. A civilian blown up after activating an anti-vehicle mine is hardly going to be interested in the complexities of the technical terminology.

Colonel Gaddafi, on his website and in the full-page advert he placed in the Portuguese press in the final days of the EU-Africa Summit, attacked the Ottawa Convention and defended anti-personnel mines as the weapons of the poor. There are some in this House who, like that criminal madman, want to interpret the Convention in such a way as to allow rich countries to develop and use more sophisticated versions of mines to meet a supposed military need. Finally, Mr President, faced with such obscene positions, the objective of the European Union should be simple: a world free of mines, all kinds of mines, and no more civilian victims of mines.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the Ottawa Convention on banning mines has been very successful in saving thousands of lives and in preventing thousands of people from becoming severely wounded.

Unfortunately, however, there is still a lot to be done and a long way to go in order to achieve a more drastic reduction in the manufacture and use of mines.

So, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ottawa Convention, we must turn our attention to how to achieve the signing and ratification of this treaty by all states in the world. My opinion is that we should proceed as follows. Firstly, we must produce a much-publicised name-and-shame blacklist of all countries that have not signed and have not ratified the Convention. This concerns 31 countries to date, amongst them, unfortunately, the biggest countries in the world, i.e. China, India, Russia, the USA and others.

Secondly, we must try to impose strict and effective sanctions on the countries on this list so as to attempt, at least, to force them into signing.

Thirdly, we must set up a very effective and quick mine-clearing service which would be available on request to states that are not capable, i.e. for reasons of cost or lack of expertise, of dealing with such a problem on their own. Consequently, we must invest more in research on how to carry out demining more efficiently.

Fourthly, we must make sure the obligation to deal adequately with the health and social assistance to victims of landmines is fulfilled by all countries concerned. To this end, a more sufficient funding system must be made available to poorer nations.

Fifthly, the time has come to direct our attention, not just to anti-personnel mines but to all mines, as well as to other types of weapons that have the capacity to go on killing after a conflict has finished, an example being cluster bombs.

 
  
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  Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (LV) Commissioner, I too would like to recognise the achievements of the Ottawa Convention. I would also like to praise the European Union’s considerable achievements in supporting the Convention. There are a few problems, however. In their defence strategies, Pakistan, India and China still insist on retaining anti-personnel mines. Unfortunately, in the EU Member State of Finland, this issue is being reviewed, with an attempt to debate the possibility of replacing anti-personnel mines with cluster bombs, which would not be acceptable to the European Union. As is well known, the United States and Russia are developing a new alternative to the Convention: controlled and self-destructing mines. The question therefore arises: How should the EU Member States and the Ottawa Convention act now? These countries could possibly be encouraged to acquire next-generation, more humane anti-personnel mines. I therefore call upon the European Union to immediately prepare its position with regard to the wish of the United States and Russia to develop these new-generation anti-personnel mines and to take action against it.

 
  
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  Angelika Beer, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, what is the actual point of this debate today? On Friday we as Parliament want to adopt a resolution in which we firstly point out that we have recognised the 10th anniversary of the Ottawa Convention here with an exhibition in Strasbourg, but in which we also very clearly state that it is not enough to outlaw anti-personnel mines, but that anti-vehicle mines also have to be included.

The 10 years in which the Ottawa Convention has been in existence are so important because for the first time it was a civil society law suit that led to an international ban on a weapon of mass destruction, namely the anti-personnel mine. It is very revealing that the only group not to support this consensus in Parliament disappeared after Mr Zappalà’s speech. The point is that I wanted to ask Mr Zappalà – in view of the fact that in 2005, for example, 100 accidents took place with anti-vehicle mines in Afghanistan alone – whether he had ever looked a crippled child blown up in a school bus in the eye and given a reason why he thought anti-personnel mines were bad, yet anti-vehicle mines were good.

The point is that I would like to know from him and his group whether they have just once looked soldiers who are now crippled in the eye, or the relatives of the dead who were crippled and murdered by anti-vehicle mines, and how they justify that. There is no difference between good and bad mines, but there is a need to ban anti-vehicle mines internationally as well.

I should like to say something else on the issue of funding. The Instrument for Stability is necessary and helpful, of course – and I, too, continue to do what I can to ensure this as rapporteur – in carrying out mine-clearing work in short-term measures. We also know, however, that a short-term measure, a strategy for clearing our world of mines, is not sufficient. With 2009 fast approaching, we are therefore pleading that we again discuss the adoption of an independent budget line. If we are talking about humanity here, then we need clear resolutions.

 
  
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  Tobias Pflüger, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, the Ottawa Convention is a success thanks to the upward pressure from social movements. It was not governments that started it, but the anti-land mine movement. In the meantime 156 countries have signed it, as have 30 armed non-state actors, interestingly enough. The problem is that it does not cover anti-tank mines. These anti-tank mines must also be banned, because trucks, buses, etc. are also affected.

Exports must be stopped so that further exports across other countries are no longer possible. The point is also that other mines associated with land mines must likewise be banned. Jean-Claude Juncker pinpointed it beautifully in 2004. He said that a ban on cluster bombs would be the logical extension of the ban on land mines. I must state very clearly that EU defence procurement groups are producing land mines. I refer to the German firms Diehl, Rheinmetall and EADS. There must finally be an end to these brutal murder weapons, land mines, not just here in the European Union, but throughout the world.

 
  
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  Geoffrey Van Orden (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I am delighted to see Commissioner Kuneva here this evening. I have literally just got off a plane and I was not expecting to speak, but I am delighted to have the opportunity. I am probably one of the few people in Parliament who was actually at the signing of the Ottawa Convention 10 years ago. The campaign against anti-personnel landmines is something that I have been very heavily involved in over many years. So I very much welcome this debate.

I think it is very important that we keep our minds on the real problem. When we were all at Ottawa 10 years ago, we hoped that this would be a problem that we would really eradicate over the coming 10 years. Well here we are, 10 years on, and we are still saying more or less the same things that we said 10 years ago, which I think is a great pity.

We have got to get the thing into perspective. We managed to have that ban on anti-personnel landmines because responsible armed forces recognised that they could take this particular weapon out of their armouries and they were fully behind it. We have got to be very careful that we keep our armed forces on board in these debates, so trying to widen the ban into all these other areas is sometimes unhelpful – when we talk about anti-tank mines, for example. These are weapons which we still need, to be used by responsible armed forces in our democracies. We should always point the finger at the real culprits. The real culprits are what some people politely term ‘armed non-state actors’. These are actually insurgents and terrorists and these are the people who are making greatest use of these weapons around the world.

If we look at the problem in Afghanistan at this moment: the anti-personnel landmines which are still being laid are being laid by the Taliban in Afghanistan. These are the people who are causing these problems at the moment. So we need to direct our attention in the right sort of way. I very much welcome the debate. I would like to think that we are putting the right resources into overcoming this problem, and that has my full backing.

 
  
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  Thijs Berman (PSE). (NL) Mr President, sometimes it is a shame that there is no open debate, then I could reply to Mr Van Orden, but I shall not do so.

The worldwide campaign against landmines could be seen as a great success. Thousands of square kilometres of land are now free of landmines thanks to the work of people taking great risks in Bosnia, Angola and many other countries. However, 10 years after the Ottawa Convention, there is still no reason to be cheerful.

Although 156 countries have signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, and there has been a decrease – a drastic decrease – in trade, there is still investment in the production of landmines, including by financial institutions in Europe. Dutch and other banks and pension funds are guilty of this. It is good to point out to these institutions the consequences of their investment in landmines.

After all, since 1975, landmines have been responsible for one million deaths. They claim tens of thousands of lives each year. During this debate they will claim at least three lives, 70 per day. Landmines have made 200 000 square kilometres of land inaccessible, and there are still 250 million of them in circulation.

The governments of Burma and Russia still lay mines, and that, Mr Van Orden, is rather different from ‘terrorist clubs’, but then again ... the Russian Government ... There are still 13 countries in the world that either produce them or reserve the right to do so again in future. In the US, companies such as Alliant Techsystems and Textron continue to produce mines undisturbed, with orders from the US Government.

Mr President, Commissioner Kuneva, investment in landmines is banned in Belgium, but companies are active in the rest of Europe; one Member referred to Rheinmetall and Thales. This activity has to stop, and that is exactly what our resolution is calling for, or rather is calling for again, as the European Parliament made the same demand back in July 2005. The EU Member States must agree together that there should be not one European company or financial institution still investing in companies that develop and produce landmines in the future. The same must happen in the case of cluster bombs and anti-vehicle mines, which explode as soon as someone comes into the vicinity.

The arms industry is not influenced by ethical arguments. The threat of an investment ban has the potential to help. Let the EU take this initiative and make an exception to the rule that politics does not interfere in the investment policy of trade and industry. In respect of matters that are banned under international treaties, political intervention is a moral and political obligation – and this should be incorporated into European and national legislation, in the interests of a world without landmines and without anti-vehicle mines, as Mrs Beer quite rightly said.

We should like to hear your opinion on this, Commissioner Kuneva. The European Commission needs to show initiative in this field at long last. Finally, it needs to do more in the way of mine-clearance effort. We have the money, we have the know-how, but the European effort is lagging behind.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, success has been achieved in the last 10 years, as many of you mentioned, but it is clear that significant challenges still lie ahead.

Every year, landmines still leave thousands of civilians dead and thousands more with missing limbs, and they contribute to keeping countries in post-conflict poverty. This is why we will continue to pursue action in support of the Ottawa Convention.

The European Commission is determined to continue its efforts to financially assist communities and individuals affected by landmines, through all available instruments.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis (ALDE). – Mr President, may I note with regret that, in this debate, as indeed in the previous debates, i.e. in the dangerous toys debate and in the fire safety debate, there has been no representative of the Council in this Chamber. I think that this is shameful.

 
  
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  President. – We will pass it on to the Council.

The debate is closed.

 

23. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes

24. Closure of sitting
  

(The sitting was closed at 10.30 p.m.)

 
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