Index 
Verbatim report of proceedings
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Monday, 18 February 2008 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Statement by the President
 3. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes
 4. Dispute as to the validity of the mandate of a Member: see Minutes
 5. Request for the defence of parliamentary immunity: see Minutes
 6. Membership of committees and delegations: see Minutes
 7. Temporary Committee on Climate Change (extension of term of office): see Minutes
 8. Corrigenda to texts adopted: see Minutes
 9. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes
 10. Abuse of power by large supermarkets operating in the European Union (written declaration): see Minutes
 11. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 12. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes
 13. Documents received: see Minutes
 14. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 15. Petitions: see Minutes
 16. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes
 17. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes
 18. Order of business
 19. One-minute speeches (Rule 144)
 20. Request for defence of the parliamentary immunity of Mr Witold Tomczak (debate)
 21. Transparency in financial matters (debate)
 22. Protection of the Communities’ financial interests – Fight against fraud – Annual reports 2005 and 2006 (debate)
 23. Application of the law on customs and agricultural matters (debate)
 24. Community Customs Code (debate)
 25. The factors favouring support for terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists (debate)
 26. EU Market access for European Companies (debate)
 27. Reform of trade protection instruments (debate)
 28. Agenda for the next sitting: see Minutes
 29. Closure of the 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, 31 January 2008.

 

2. Statement by the President
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, the Kosovo Parliament declared Kosovo's independence yesterday. This decision was expected and reflects the will of the citizens in Kosovo to take their political fate and institutional shaping of independence peacefully into their own hands.

About a year ago, the European Parliament, as a consequence of the Ahtisaari report, agreed on the supervised sovereignty of Kosovo. The negotiations between Belgrade and Priština were extremely difficult and regrettably did not lead to a solution which was acceptable politically to all participants. As so often in politics, there was no magic formula. The heavy burden of recent history contributed to this situation. However, the case of Kosovo is not a precedent. The situation of Kosovo as a UN protectorate is unique and is a special case which cannot be compared with others.

I would like to call upon all those involved and appeal to them for reason and calm. I am sure that everyone in Kosovo – Serbs and Kosovans –wishes to achieve stability and prosperity in their region. Indeed, that is the primary objective of the European Union and the European Parliament. It is our task and duty to encourage the political leaders in Kosovo to assume their responsibilities and to create democratic political institutions which respect the rights and freedoms of all citizens in the context of a multiethnic Kosovo which lives in good-neighbourly relations with its neighbours.

In that connection, I also welcome the decision by the Council to send the EULEX Kosovo mission led by Yves de Kermabon. The task of the mission will be to provide assistance to the Kosovans in the field of policing and the rule of law to ensure a smooth transition.

I also welcome the appointment of Pieter Feith as EU Special Representative in Kosovo. This demonstrates the European Union's clear and resolute commitment and our will to do something practical for lasting stability in the Balkans.

I trust in the wisdom of the decision to be made by the General Affairs Council at its meeting this afternoon. The countries of the Western Balkans have European prospects. Their accession will not be able to take place in the near future, but each of these countries has this prospect. In light of that, we should help the people in Serbia and in Kosovo to overcome their differences from the point of view of European integration, as has already happened in other parts of Europe. The debate scheduled for Wednesday will be an initial opportunity to do this.

 

3. Approval of Minutes of previous sitting: see Minutes

4. Dispute as to the validity of the mandate of a Member: see Minutes

5. Request for the defence of parliamentary immunity: see Minutes

6. Membership of committees and delegations: see Minutes

7. Temporary Committee on Climate Change (extension of term of office): see Minutes

8. Corrigenda to texts adopted: see Minutes

9. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes

10. Abuse of power by large supermarkets operating in the European Union (written declaration): see Minutes

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

12. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes

13. Documents received: see Minutes

14. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes

15. Petitions: see Minutes

16. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes

17. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes

18. Order of business
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  President. − The final version of the draft agenda for the current part-session, as drawn up by the Conference of Presidents at its meeting of Thursday, 14 February 2008, pursuant to Rules 130 and 131 of the Rules of Procedure, has been distributed. The following amendments have been proposed:

Monday/Tuesday:

No amendments.

Wednesday:

The IND/DEM Group has requested that the vote on the report by Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo on the Lisbon Treaty (A6-0013/2008) be adjourned to a subsequent part-session.

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Mr President, it is your task to give this Parliament a good image as a serious scrutiniser of European affairs. I would therefore ask you to reschedule the vote on the Treaty.

The deadline for amendments to the report was set before we received the Treaty from the committee. We have still not received the consolidated version you promised. That runs contrary to a unanimous decision adopted in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

I started asking questions on the basis of a private consolidated version and have already found misleading mistakes in the translations.

For 29 years you and I have disagreed on constitutional matters, except for transparency. Our disagreements have always been dealt with in a serious way, after proper scrutiny in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

I fight for transferring competences from the non-elected Commission to this directly-elected Parliament. We have proposed that no EU law should be passed without the approval of this House. How can we defend this report to the European Parliament when you close our decision-making process before anyone in this House has read a readable version of the Treaty?

The last IGC represents the most secretive negotiations on a treaty we have ever seen. I urge you to keep the debate on Wednesday, but to move the vote so that we can be seen to be a serious parliament by all the citizens of Europe.

We are not part of the executive. We represent the voters.

 
  
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  Richard Corbett, rapporteur. – Mr President, what we are voting on is not the Consolidated Treaty, but the Treaty of Lisbon. That was published in the Official Journal on 17 December 2007. I have it here. We have all had it.

Admittedly, that is a text that amends the existing Treaties, and to work on it you need to look at the amendments contained in the Lisbon Treaty and also at the original Treaties. But that is exactly what we, as elected representatives, are paid to do: to look at the details, and to take the trouble to compare the texts and see what changes have been made.

It is true that it would also be helpful to have a consolidated treaty that shows what the Treaties will look like when this Treaty is ratified – I say ‘when’ it is ratified, because I am sure it will be – and which citizens will find much easier to read.

However, almost all our national governments have already published consolidated versions of the Treaty in their own language. I have here the English version of the consolidated Treaties, as they will look once the Lisbon Treaty has been adopted. I understand, furthermore, that one of the first governments to publish a consolidated version was the Danish Government – in Danish. So I am sure Mr Bonde has had no difficulty in finding a consolidated, readable version of the Treaties to help him in his work in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, I will keep this very brief. I must say, I am rather surprised why, for weeks and months, there has been such active, massive and, in part, aggressive opposition to a Treaty when the Members opposing it do not even know which Treaty we are talking about.

(Applause)

Mr Corbett has made the essential point: this is not about the Consolidated Treaty, it is about the contents of the Reform Treaty. There are different opinions. That is quite normal in a democracy; indeed, it is a good thing that opinions differ and that there is a lively debate. However, everyone should also take note of others' opinions and allow a vote to take place.

We have been discussing this Treaty very earnestly for weeks and months and it is now time to send out a clear signal as to whether the majority of this House is in favour or against it. Outbursts and attempts to prevent others from speaking, which is what we have witnessed here, could give the wrong message to the public. Please, let the majority of this House decide this week whether it is for or against the Treaty. That is what democracy is all about.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde (IND/DEM). – Mr President, in response to Mr Corbett, who says that a consolidated version is available in Danish, I can confirm that there is a version based on a draft from October 2007, but that no consolidated version is yet available based on what was approved in Lisbon on 13 December 2007. There are 7 000 more words in the new edition, and I would like Mr Swoboda – who seems to be the expert – to explain what the content of those 7 000 new words is.

(Laughter)

 
  
  

(Parliament rejected the request by roll-call vote)

Thursday:

No amendments.

(The agenda was therefore adopted)

 

19. One-minute speeches (Rule 144)
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  President. − We now come to the one-minute speeches on important political issues.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, it is no secret that the declared target for biofuels has been set at 10% of renewable energy sources.

I have the impression that the Commissioners for energy, the environment, industry and agriculture have different views. In the interests of saving time I will not refer to private communications. Nevertheless, how is it that there are four Commissioners and four different views?

What message, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, can I pass on to Greek farmers who have converted or wish to convert their crops to produce first-generation biofuels following the restructuring of the CMO in sugar?

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (PSE). – (RO) For the near festival organized by the European Parliament as part of the intercultural dialogue, each country was requested to produce a film on this theme. From what I understand, Romania’s initial proposal was not accepted for the reason of not answering to the theme, but the production replacing it, namely the film California Dreaming, has even bigger shortcomings.

The first one is that it answers even less to the theme, despite its opening night at Cannes, mystifying the reality and altering my country’s image. While all the other films transpose the intercultural dialogue at a personal, human level, the film California Dreaming relates an imaginary case of an American transport through Romania, which is stopped by the local authorities and ends in a civil war.

Moreover, the film is pigmented with obscene language, and scenes of explicit sex and violence, a unique case in the festival. I don’t believe all these are virtues of the intercultural dialogue. But the biggest shortcoming is that, apparently, this film was not selected by the Romanian party, but by the European Parliament public servants.

If this is true, the situation is serious, because an apolitical concept, such as the intercultural dialogue, is consciously politicized for obscure reasons, thus damaging the image of a European Union Member State. Consequently, I request the European Parliament to examine this matter.

 
  
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  Ignasi Guardans Cambó (ALDE). – (ES) Mr President, transparency must be one of the cornerstones of EU institutions: for this Parliament too, and even more so for the European Commission, where senior officials have immense power, but hardly any political control at all.

Thus I wish to denounce in this House the Commission’s practice of replying to political resolutions of this House through mechanisms similar to the times of the ‘Politburo’ or ‘Kremlinologists’ who analysed documents. I refer, for instance, although this is only one example, to the Minutes of the sitting of 13 December 2007, under the heading ‘Action taken on Parliament's resolutions', where it is stated that a Commission communication on the action taken on a resolution adopted by Parliament had been distributed.

This text, Mr President, is published in English and French, not in all the official Community languages, as SP/207/5401, on a web page it took me three weeks to find with the assistance of secretarial staff and other House officials. Without transparency there can be no democracy; what we have here is hypocrisy in the Commission’s discourse, claiming it has consulted Parliament and subsequently burying its documents and replies on the web without publicising them in any way.

 
  
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  Jan Tadeusz Masiel (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the debate on genetically modified organisms has come to the fore again in recent weeks. Polish farmers could reduce production costs by introducing GMOs, but do not wish to do so. This is because they want to protect European consumers and ensure that Polish agri-food products remain both healthy and good to eat.

Unfortunately, however, Polish farmers are bound by Union provisions. Each Member State of the Union ought to be able to decide for itself whether or not to introduce genetically modified organisms on its territory. Given that European taxpayers are already making a substantial contribution to supporting agriculture, agricultural products ought at least to be healthy, good to eat, and not contain any surprises.

 
  
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  Claude Turmes (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, on Wednesday this week, Parliament will discuss the Lisbon Treaty, and citizens will watch this House on these institutional questions. But citizens are even more interested to see European institutions tackle the practical question of European policy-making. One of the most important issues is transparency and lobbying.

The EU Commission was well-advised, three years ago, to launch a so-called transparency initiative, but now we hear that the Commission wants to present a register in which no names of lobbyists would appear and no meaningful information on how much money is spent on lobbying would be available.

I warn the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, and I also warn Mr Kallas not to undermine the credibility you have in Europe on the transparency initiative, but to come up with a meaningful register.

This is what citizens need, to believe in fair policy-making and decision-making in Brussels.

 
  
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  Daniel Strož (GUE/NGL). – (CS) My original intention was to address an entirely different topic. Circumstances however, have forced me to express my opinion on a particularly serious matter, the proclamation of independence of Kosovo by Albanian separatists.

I am convinced that this development, which is contrary to international law, will have tragic consequences and repercussions for all of Europe. It is particularly tragic that the EU intends to endorse this act of separatism carried out at the expense of Serbia, an already heavily tried sovereign state. This is fundamentally unacceptable.

The whole scenario of this separatist act reminds me vividly of events that took place in 1938 in my own home country of Czechoslovakia. At the time an act of separatism carried out by German nationalists and also supported at the time by the Western powers was followed by the most terrible war in history. It is well known that history either repeats itself as a farce or as a tragedy.

We must not allow either of these situations to arise. I call on this House to oppose this separatist act and infringement of Serbian sovereignty.

 
  
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  Slavi Binev (NI). – (BG) Mr. Chairman, Dear colleagues, I am taking the floor, urged by a huge social, economic, environmental and moral problem which has been eroding the Bulgarian society for 18 years now. Instead of being resolved, it continues to grow like a malignant tumour with unpredictable consequences.

I am talking about Kremikovtzi Metallurgical Works, which is supposed to play a strategic role in the Bulgarian economy. Unfortunately, over the last decade and a half, instead of generating revenues to the treasury, it has turned into a canker for the whole society. It is used only for the private gain of certain mafia groups and as a source to fill the coffers of political parties. And all this has been going on under the protection of several governments in a row, including the incumbent one.

It is particularly alarming that the current crisis of Kremikovtzi, faced with the real threat of closing down and depriving ten thousand workers and their families of livelihood, is the direct result of the actions of people linked to both the criminal underworld and the top establishment.

These are the former CEO Valentin Zakhariev, the former Prosecutor General Nikola Filchev, and the former head of the specialised police task forces (“the berrets”) Filko Slavov. Their names are associated not only with the management of Kremikovtzi but also with the darkest sides of Bulgagria’s transition to democracy, including the assassination of the military prosecutor Nikolay Kolev.

As it turns out these people have enjoyed and continue to enjoy protection by the judiciary and the government. They continue to feel above the laws. I am confident that it is inconceivable for a member state to…

(The Chairman interrupts the speaker)

 
  
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  Nicolae Vlad Popa (PPE-DE). – (RO) Mr. President, dear colleagues, at the beginning of February, the European Commission published the Interim Report on Progress in Romania with Judiciary Reform. This year’s Final Report is prepared for June and will decide whether the safeguard clause will be applied or not. I believe this will not be the case, since the institutions criticized for staying behind can solve their problems in the four monitored fields during this period.

The enforcement of the safeguard clause would mean non-recognition of the court orders in the Member States, which would affect the citizens and parties to proceedings who are not to blame for the fact that the relevant institutions, the Government and the Parliament, fail to fulfil their obligations. The enforcement of the safeguard clause should be considered as not to be directed against the Romanian citizens because it is normal for those who are guilty of not meeting their obligations to answer for it, and not the Romanian citizens.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (PSE). – (HU) Mr President, on 13 February Australia’s Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the Australian government for the indignities inflicted on the indigenous Aboriginal population over two centuries. This gesture speaks for itself, and it is especially topical for us here in Europe.

More than 60 years on from the tragic events that occurred during and after the second World War, there is a country in Europe where three million people – your people, Mr President – were driven into exile, while another half a million citizens were deprived of their citizenship, their human rights and their property. To this date, no apology has been made.

Europe is built not on nationalism and confrontation, but on apologies and forgiveness, on the politics of reconciliation. Instead of focusing on collective guilt and scapegoat-seeking, it would be good if the leaders of every Member State in the European Union and in Europe were guided by a commitment to adhere unconditionally to fundamental European values, to respect each other, to apologise, and to protect human and minority rights. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Mr President, next Sunday, on 24 February, Estonians will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the birth of their independent statehood. In spite of being a relatively young state, Estonia has been part of European cultural heritage and shared values since the 13th century. However, a special feature of the 90 years since the proclamation of independence that we share with our neighbours – Latvians and Lithuanians – is that we have enjoyed freedom for only 39 years, because of foreign occupations. Therefore, I would like to recall one important fact: exactly 25 years ago, the European Parliament, as the first European institution to do so, reacted to the appeal of 45 freedom fighters from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and adopted a resolution supporting the idea of restoring sovereignty to the three occupied Baltic nations. I would like to thank all previous and current Members of the European Parliament who courageously expressed solidarity with the three Baltic nations.

 
  
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  Neena Gill (PSE). – Mr President, in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, the focus of the international community is on China’s record for violations of human rights. However, we must not forget that other species, primarily the tigers, are suffering too. Their numbers are being devastated due to huge demand – largely from China – for tiger-related products.

The cause of their looming extinction is the illegal poaching of tigers in India. Even in reserves, keepers have been shot to get at the tigers. These are then illegally transported across the border to China. It is estimated that one tiger is killed every day. At this rate the tiger will be virtually extinct within the next five years.

I welcome the news last week that the Indian Government plans to create eight new reserves to protect their dwindling population of tigers. Nevertheless, it will take five years to set up new reserves, and in the last five years the population of tigers has already dropped by over 50%. Therefore, unless the European Union and international community take urgent action in curbing demand and tackling illegal poaching and trafficking, and changing attitudes in China on tiger-related products, the new reserves will be too little too late.

Finally, I hope you will support me on Tiger Protection Awareness Day.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Viktória Mohácsi (ALDE).(HU) Thank you, Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen, the blatantly racist comments made by Mr Silvio Berlusconi last week, in which he called for zero tolerance towards Roma, illegal immigrants and criminals, are shocking and unacceptable.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Francesco Storace, who is running for mayor of the Italian capital, spoke of 'denomadising' Rome, thereby making it clear that Roma have no place in the eternal city. Can these statements be happening just 18 days after the European Parliament adopted a resolution on a European Strategy on the Roma?

I would ask my fellow Members from Italy to explain to their colleagues at home why it was that we supported this resolution, the objectives it contains that we formulated together, and why abusing Gypsies is inappropriate in the 21st century. The open letter published by me in connection with these anti-Romani statements was signed by a total of 72 Roma non-governmental organisations including 33 in Italy, 12 in Hungary, 9 in Macedonia, 4 in Romania, 3 in Turkey, 2 in Moldova, 5 in Bulgaria, and 2 in France. Thank you.

 
  
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  Hanna Foltyn-Kubicka (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, Mr Alexander Milinkiewicz, the leader of the opposition in Belarus, has been detained once again in Minsk today. Mr Milinkiewicz is a Sakharov laureate. The European Parliament awarded him this prize in 2006. Mrs Olga Kazulin has also been detained. She is the wife of Mr Alexander Kazulin, a prominent opponent of Mr Lukaszenko.

Mr Milinkiewicz took part in a demonstration organised by private entrepreneurs, whose freedom of action has been restricted by new provisions increasing their tax burden and restricting their freedom to employ workers. It was not the first demonstration in which this social group had expressed its discontent. The march organisers were also detained and interrogated along with Mr Milinkiewicz and Mrs Kazulin, who had not participated in the march. How many times has Europe watched passively whilst the one of its own laureates was detained? How many times have human rights been violated with impunity just beyond the Union’s eastern border?

 
  
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  Urszula Gacek (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, last week the Polish media reported the story of Karolina, a young girl whose life has been ruined by her former boyfriend. Without her knowledge or consent, the boyfriend recorded their shared private experiences and posted the recordings on the Internet after the end of their relationship. Karolina’s family and friends received e-mails containing pornographic material. As she is not a minor, Karolina is not protected under Polish law and the perpetrator of this action remains unpunished. The Polish authorities have undertaken to change the law at the earliest opportunity, so as to protect individuals whose privacy and dignity have been violated in this way. The Internet transcends national borders, however, and there is no common Union legislation to deter potential perpetrators and penalise those who commit actions of this kind.

I appeal to the Commission and to the Member States to combat such behaviour, which could be described as rape over the Internet.

 
  
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  Jörg Leichtfried (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, too many animal sanctuaries in Europe basically serve only one purpose, and that is to dispose of stray cats and dogs. This sounds cruel in itself, but the real cruelty is only revealed in the methods deployed for this purpose, which entail every conceivable form of barbarity, from poisoning to starvation and clubbing to death. The worst aspect of this scenario, however, is that these cruel acts are not taking place far away in distant countries; no, as committed activists from Austria have told me, they are happening right on our doorsteps. Cases of animal cruelty only recently came to light in the Czech Republic, for example.

What is also worrying is the Commission's brief and pithy statement that the protection of domestic animals still falls within the jurisdiction of the Member States. It seems that the Commission very often acts when it is not supposed to, and takes far too little action when it ought to. This situation must change, for a national competence does not mean that the EU should distance itself from an issue entirely.

I therefore appeal to all Members not to kill off the issue of animal killing stations in their own countries by remaining silent. I also appeal to the Commission and the Council to condemn these cruel acts.

 
  
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  Toomas Savi (ALDE). – Mr President, I am seriously concerned by the misconception that a colleague of mine, Sahra Wagenknecht, spread in an interview with the Russian news agency ‘Regnum’ on 7 February this year. She accused the Estonian Government of disregarding human rights, and the European Union of conducting a silent cover-up with regard to the ‘Bronze Night’ and the trials that followed in Estonia.

I can assure you that the ongoing trials of the people accused of organising the riots are being carried out in accordance with the rule of law and with respect for human rights. I would also like to remind my colleague that one of the purposes of the state is to guard the sanctity of private property.

The marauding in Tallinn last year had nothing to do with freedom of expression or the right to demonstrate. Criminal acts were committed, and that is why the state was obliged to intervene. Justification of crime is no ennoblement to a politician and, fortunately, the views of Sahra Wagenknecht cannot to be said to extend to all the political left.

 
  
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  Bogusław Rogalski (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the Parliament in Kosovo declared independence yesterday. Serbia has therefore lost the cradle of its nationhood for the second time in history. I would remind the House that the Turks first seized this province from Serbia in the Middle Ages. In our times, supported by Member States of the Union and by our own silence, Serbia has once again suffered the loss of this territory, which is so precious to it. Ladies and gentlemen, Kosovo’s declaration of independence constitutes a violation of international law on the inviolability and integrity of borders and countries. Kosovo’s declaration of independence also amounts to opening Pandora’s box, because it will foster extremism and nationalism and may fuel extremism of all kinds within Europe and beyond. We already have to deal, amongst other things, with similar claims in Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Basque Country. This is a very ill-judged move as far as one particular Member State is concerned, namely Cyprus. How is that country supposed to respond? Cyprus is striving for reunification at the same time as we are supporting separatist movements. We should not accept the independence of Kosovo, because it poses a threat to the security of Europe and above all to the internal security of Serbia.

 
  
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  Milan Horáček (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, Russia will be holding presidential elections at the beginning of March, but there are few signs of a positive outcome being likely. What has happened in the run-up to these elections? The opposition has been systematically obstructed and silenced, press freedom comprehensively curtailed, and the arrangements for the elections disrupted.

Let me give you just one example: the Russian opposition politician Garry Kasparov, who is highly critical of the Kremlin, was arrested again by the police last week on completely spurious grounds. What will happen during the election? There will be no transparency in these elections, for Russia has put obstacles in the way of election monitoring by the OSCE. What will happen after the election? It is highly unlikely that the human rights situation will improve under a President Dmitry Medvedev enthroned by Putin. The EU must take action here. The Russian population should not be left to cope on its own.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Zsolt László Becsey (PPE-DE).(HU) Mr President, Kosovo’s independence signifies a major change in the Balkans. This step, albeit painful, seems to be another inevitable rung on the ladder towards settlement in the Balkans.

As far as Kosovo’s future is concerned, we need a solution that will secure the collective and individual rights of an indigenous minority, the Serbs, and ensure that they can continue to live as a community in their historic birthplace. If some of them nevertheless wish to leave Kosovo, however, we must prevent them from going to areas of Serbia inhabited by other ethnic groups, such as the Albanian-populated southern areas or the Hungarian-populated northern regions. A mass influx of this sort would simply create new tensions between the Serbs, who are understandably irritated at present, and these minorities.

By averting this risk we could facilitate another settlement that would include the long-term, and not merely superficial, regulation of relations between Belgrade and Novi Sad, and between the indigenous minorities in Vojvodina and the state; it could also help to break the deadlock and enable a functioning state to be established in Bosnia. Desirable developments such as these would be fostered by the system of ethnic rights and tolerance that is now to be put in place in Kosovo. Thank you, Mr President.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, I wish to point out that there are genuine concerns amongst trade unions in many Member States about the recent European Court judgment on the Laval issue. The Commission must urgently publish its view on how this decision impacts on the labour relations systems and, indeed, the collective bargaining systems of each of our Member States. I know the impact in Sweden is significant, and it is much less so in Ireland. Nevertheless, action is needed to make clear that the EU does not sanction social dumping anywhere.

It is particularly important that the Commission and the Member States take steps to prevent the catastrophist predictions of the Euro-sceptics becoming the common view of the issue. Genuine concerns need to be addressed and any loopholes for the unscrupulous to exploit must be closed off in European and legislative initiatives by European and national parliaments. I urge you, Mr President, to convey this matter to Commissioner Špidla and Commissioner McCreevy, both of whom have a role in this matter.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. In my earlier intervention I mentioned that I am able to speak in my mother tongue here, but am not able to do so at home. By 'here' of course I was referring to the European Parliament, and 'at home', obviously enough, refers to the Slovak national parliament.

Outside parliament we can of course use our mother tongue; we can even use it in some higher education institutions, albeit to a much lesser extent than is warranted in view of the proportion of Hungarian speakers in the population. Of the 6.4% ethnic Hungarians in the population, barely 4% are represented in higher education and only 1.6% are studying in their mother tongue. For the first time in around 50 years, Hungarian-speaking Csángó children in eastern parts of Romania are able to learn Hungarian again, although in some villages this only takes place outside of school, if at all.

In spite of this, the statement made by Commissioner Orban on the so-called 'second mother tongue' was encouraging. We are sure that from now on the majority ethnic groups in European countries will place importance not only on the acquisition of the official language of the state, but also on ensuring that other groups living alongside them are able to preserve their mother tongue and learn it at every level in their own education institutions, and that they are able to use their mother tongue in the public administration, in the courts and in the legislature.

2008 is the Year of Intercultural Dialogue. May it live up to its name. Thank you.

 
  
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  Marusya Ivanova Lubcheva (PSE). – (BG) Mr. Chairman, All countries are affected by the problem of raising children in a disadvantaged position. Children’s rights and their protection call for an integrated policy.

The reduction of the number of institutionalised children is a wonderful goal but, in all countries, there will always be children in need of care by society because they have no parents or they are socially disadvantaged for other reasons. What we need is solidarity with these children and these countries rather than ostentatious clout that degrades their dignity.

I call upon the European Commission to undertake the development of special programmes for children in disadvantaged position, taking into account what the Member States have achieved and preventing any attempts at tarnishing their good name.

The dissemination of biased information, as is the case with a home in Bulgaria, should not be encouraged. This affects the image of my country. It does not contribute positively to the common European policy.

We need programmes for productive education of socially disadvantaged children, regardless of the manner and place in which they are raised; prevention of the exploitation of child labour and the involvement of children in various activities which affect their behaviour negatively.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, I should like to remind you that on 13 December 2006 the United Nations plenary session ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The ratification of this convention has been ongoing since March 2007, but only 16 countries, two of which are EU Member States, have ratified it.

I think that since the EU has promoted a policy supporting the rights of the disabled in culture and human dignity, all Member States should ratify this convention. Its 50 articles describe in detail the rights of persons with special needs in every area of human activity (health, justice, family) and call for them to participate in decision making.

 
  
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  Magor Imre Csibi (ALDE). – (RO) The European nationality offers a series of rights and freedoms on the entire EU territory. For this reason, by signing the Treaty establishing the European Community, the Member States undertook the obligation to prohibit any discrimination.

Nevertheless, a few days ago, I was informed about the case of a Romanian citizen who was not allowed to rent a car in Brussels for the reason of having Romanian nationality. The employee’s refusal was merely based on an internal rule of the given car rental office. In recent days, I have found out from various citizens of my country of many other cases of discrimination on the criterion of Romanian nationality.

Dear colleagues, it is our duty, as representatives of over 490,000,000 Europeans, to raise an alarm. Through an active dialogue with our fellow citizens, we can contribute so that such incidents would be avoided in the future. I consider it to be the European Union’s duty, as a democratic entity, to promote respect for the rights of all the Union’s citizens by initiating European programmes of education and information against discrimination.

I also request the European Commission to verify whether the Member States comply with the obligations they undertook via treaties, regarding discrimination based on nationality.

 
  
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  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL). – (CS) In your contribution you spoke about the importance of ensuring that the International Protectorate in Kosovo remains part of Serbia in conformity with Resolution 1244 and international law. I am not sure what relation this has with the proclamation of independence of Kosovo, with which you seem to agree. You are certainly right in saying that it is our duty to ensure that Kosovo become once more multiethnic and democratic.

This unilateral proclamation of independence is an unprecedented breach of international law. Several hundred thousand inhabitants of this territory, who belong to eight different ethnic groups, were banned from their homes with the silent consent of the occupation forces. It is difficult to believe that these forces have not been able to create conditions for their return. Today, instead of helping to create such conditions, you agree with the unilateral proclamation of a second Albanian state. Mr President, does it not matter to you that the economy of this state seems to be dependant on opium trade in Europe?

The Parliament of the Czech Republic as well as Parliaments of other countries has demanded a solution to this issue through international negotiations. Let us realise that one-off solutions, as mentioned in your contribution, do not exist. Any solution sets a precedent. Let us not allow the breach of the Serbian sovereignty.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Kohlíček, may I recommend that you read my statement through again. I think that might clear up any misunderstandings.

 
  
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  László Tőkés (NI).(HU) Mr President, I would like to offer my congratulations to the Albanian people of Kosovo on achieving independence, and to pay tribute to the memory of Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova.

Every settlement plan put forward in the past decade and a half of the Yugoslav region’s tragic history has been conceived in terms of peoples’ self-regulation, of autonomies, and of power-sharing. The realisation of the Ahtisaari plan, the latest in a series that includes the Carrington Plan, the Dayton Agreement, the Rambouillet negotiations, and the Ohrid Agreement, also demonstrates that there is still a long way to go before we can consider relations among the different ethnic groups and national communities in our region to have been settled. It also shows, however, that in future a solution to every crisis can be found by means of international cooperation.

In this sense the Kosovo settlement sets an example and a precedent for us. We are confident that a successful outcome to the peaceful struggle for autonomy by ethnic Hungarians in Romania, and that of the Szekler Land for territorial autonomy, can also be achieved with the beneficial involvement of the European Union.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE-DE). – (SK) On 25 February 1948 the communists carried out a coup d’état and established a totalitarian regime in our country. This was the result of events that had been taking place in the country since 1946. Czechoslovakia was gradually losing freedom within the democratic environment of the re-established state. This is extremely important. Not only the defeat of Nazism but also the defeat of Communism is part of the heritage of united and peaceful Europe. Thanks to this event the representatives of ten Member States are able to sit in this House today.

I would like to draw your attention to three issues. There must be an equal condemnation of the rehabilitation of both the communist and nazi symbols. Both Communism and Nazism must be perceived as being equal, in particular because of the victims for whom they are responsible. Both the communist and the nazi totalitarian regimes were established in democratic states through the abuse of democracy. This is a reason for being vigilant even today, in the European Union. The victims of Communism would also deserve a minute silence observed in this House.

 
  
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  Ioannis Gklavakis (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, according to the provisions of the CMO in tobacco, from 2009 the resources that are now given as direct subsidies to growers from pillar 1 will be transferred to pillar 2, which deals with structural measures.

In my country, Greece, tobacco is usually grown in semi-barren areas by poor farmers who have no other options. Therefore, if tobacco-growing is stopped in certain areas we will have social, economic and environmental problems.

I have also observed that the aim is tobacco-growing rather than smoking. Thus if we put a stop to tobacco-growing at the same time as smoking, we should all be in agreement, and this is how things ought to be. This is not the case, however. The European cigarette industry will continue to produce cigarettes, but all the tobacco will simply be imported from third countries.

We should therefore take the opportunity presented by the CAP review to try to remedy this wrong; we must show that the EU is a place of equality, justice and solidarity. This is why I ask for the present regime to be maintained after 2009 and for tobacco growers to continue...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) On 4 February 2008, the Romanian Parliament ratified the European Union Reform Treaty. We welcome this ratification in the Romanian Parliament.

The Reform Treaty reaffirms the principle of equality of its citizens, gives legal force to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, introduces the control of subsidiarity by national parliaments, recognizes universal access to the services of general economic interest, emphasizes the importance of energy security and strengthens the spirit of solidarity between Member States in this field, and imposes special measures to the fight against climate changes.

The introduction of the territorial cohesion concept and its recognition as an objective caused the European Parliament committees, with an important role in defining the structural and cohesion policies, to have increased activity after the ratification of the treaty.

From the point of view of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, the Reform Treaty legalizes the procedure of co-decision, which is already used in the field of maritime and air navigation and provides a legal basis for the European Parliament to be able to propose support actions for consolidating the identity of the tourism sector.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. This is the umpteenth time that I have spoken in this Parliament about the ongoing contamination of the River Raba over the past seven years. We have obtained several promises from the Austrian agencies concerned, and indeed the Austrian and Hungarian authorities have devised a plan of action. The European Union has been observing this process closely, and the river committee set up by the two countries confers regularly – most recently just this week.

It seems that the politicians are doing their bit, but the thing is that in the meantime the river is dying. Now, moreover, it is dying not only on the Hungarian side, but on the Austrian side too. Eleven species of fish have so far died out, and 13 are seriously endangered. Greenpeace has carried out spot checks on water samples on several occasions, and has established that the Austrian factories are illegally contaminating the water, exceeding permitted levels many times over. On the river itself, meanwhile, there is more foam than ever.

The river I am speaking of is not a sewer, Mr President, but a Natura 2000 site, a genuine river wetland. The people who live there feel that either the EU legislation is not good, or compliance with it is inadequate. I think that we in this House must keep this matter on the agenda until it has been resolved once and for all. Thank you. I will certainly be doing so.

 
  
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  Iuliu Winkler (PPE-DE). – (RO) Mr. President, dear colleagues, the financial instruments related to the European Union cohesion policy have a major importance in reducing discrepancies between the regions of Europe.

In the case of the newest European Union Member States, the funds allocated by way of the cohesion policy have a crucial contribution to ensuring the future development of the less prosperous regions in these countries. The absorption rate of these funds in the new Member States is continuously increasing. The Union has to adjust the resources allocated by the instruments of the cohesion policy to the reality of an enlarged Europe.

Following Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession, the guarantee of increasing the financial resources of the cohesion policy after 2013 has become a requirement. The increase of the cohesion funds is a logical consequence of the recent Union enlargement and it will prove the consistency of the Union’s policy as regards the European regions that are less developed and will represent a strong political signal to the new Member States.

 
  
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  Milan Gaľa (PPE-DE). – (SK) Recently we have had much debate about energy efficiency. Practice shows that current labelling of domestic appliances that informs consumers about how energy-intensive the appliances are does not represent reliable evidence. Since most appliances sold in shops belong to category A, clear information about the energy savings generated from the use of the appliance is lost and the manufacturer loses the motivation to produce an energy-efficient appliance.

If we want to motivate consumers and manufacturers, we have to ensure that domestic appliances are sorted according to new energy categories. The original categorisation of appliances has been in operation since 1994. I appeal to the European Commission to speed up both the preparation of the new system of labelling appliances and the process of including other appliances in this system that is also under way.

 
  
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  Colm Burke (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I wish to raise an issue in relation to the payment of REPS to farmers. Over the last 14 years, REPS have been paid at a very early stage once the documentation has been filed with the Commission or with the Department of Agriculture in Ireland. I now understand that the payments are going to be delayed, and that over 6 000 farmers are already behind in respect of receiving payments. I also understand that this figure will rise to over 60 000 in the next few months.

The point is that farmers have planned their financial affairs for a 12-month period and have planned with their banks, and now many of them will not be able to make their repayments to the banks as a result of this change.

I would ask for my views to be conveyed to the Commissioner and for this matter to be resolved so that the old procedure –which was in place for 14 years – can be restored.

 
  
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  Jean-Claude Martinez (NI).(FR) Mr President, international law is quite clear on this point. As far as Kosovo is concerned a state is said to exist when, firstly, it has a population, secondly a territory and, thirdly, public services. There are no public services in Kosovo, and the Commission only needs to go there to see as much. The only service that operates there is the mafia.

A state is sovereign when it has full powers of authority. Proof, as the President of Parliament has just told us, that Kosovo’s powers of authority have been in a state of supervised sovereignty.

A state is sovereign when its authority is independent, autonomos in Greek, that is to say when it can decide for itself what it does. In Kosovo it is NATO and the United States that decide.

A state is sovereign when its authority is exclusive. Within the territory of Kosovo, however, there are several forces at work, not just a single one.

A state is sovereign when it respects the principle of uti possidetis, the inviolability of borders.

In other words, Kosovo does not meet any of the criteria required of a sovereign state under international law. And why? Because after setting up delinquent states and gangster states we are now inventing laboratory states where the European Commission tests and invents federalism by breaking-up countries.

 
  
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  Ján Hudacký (PPE-DE). – (SK) Kosovo’s declaration of independence yesterday probably is, and will be, a dangerous precedent for the development of various countries and regions of the world. The fact that this act has enjoyed significant political and diplomatic support of the US and of the majority of the large states of the European Union makes it even more questionable, as it has been clear since the beginning that this is a violation of international law.

A much better solution for the Balkans would be for the European Union to contribute to greater democratisation in Serbia. This would in turn create a more positive atmosphere in the process of consolidation of relations between the Serbs and the Albanian minority in their common territory. Of course this would clearly be a long-term affair. It is also naive to think that the calls for the rights of minorities to territorial autonomy, boosted by this precedent, will not become an irresolvable problem even for the Member States of the European Union themselves in the near future.

 
  
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  Avril Doyle (PPE-DE). – Mr President, could I support my colleague and urge the Commission not to keep picking rows with different sections of the Irish authorities for the next few months, because we have a rather important job on hand? Need I spell out exactly what will be required of the Irish in relation to the Lisbon Treaty?

I rise particularly to complain about the way the officials have picked on the REPS payment system in Ireland. For over 14 years the Department of Agriculture authorities in Ireland – with the acquiescence of the Commission – had a scheduled payment of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme payments to thousands of farmers and their families. Now this year, in the last month, the Commission have decided that it cannot be paid now, it must be paid at the end of the year. Please do not pick rows with Irish farmers or any section in Ireland this year above all years, and let them have the monies they are entitled to have, in the way they have been paid for over 14 years now. Now is not the time to pick rows. Please hear us.

 
  
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  President. − That concludes the item.

 

20. Request for defence of the parliamentary immunity of Mr Witold Tomczak (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0008/2008) by Mr Sakalas, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the request for defence of the immunity and privileges of Witold Tomczak [2007/2130(IMM)].

 
  
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  Aloyzas Sakalas, rapporteur. − Mr President, in April 2005 Mr Tomczak requested that the European Parliament defend his immunity in criminal proceedings, but Parliament decided, a year later, not to defend his immunity.

On 21 May 2007, Mr Tomczak again requested that the European Parliament defend his immunity. In the new request, Mr Tomczak presented three new arguments concerning the same case. The first argument: Mr Tomczak complains that the Court of Ostrów did not grant him access to the files of the case. However, after examination of his complaint, it was found that Mr Tomczak was granted access to the files when he visited the court himself. He even photographed at least one of the documents.

The second argument: Mr Tomczak claims that the proceedings are not objective, as the supervisory judge made a request to the judge presiding in the case to deliver the judgment as soon as possible, even without the presence of the accused. However, this request was issued after Mr Tomczak had failed to appear at the court hearings on as many as 12 occasions.

The third argument: Mr Tomczak alleges that the Court of Ostrów is prejudiced against his person. However, the fact, declared by Mr Tomczak, that the judge presiding in the case lives in the same town as the prosecutor against whom Mr Tomczak had previously filed charges does not in itself prevent that judge from acting objectively.

In addition, Mr Tomczak has the opportunity to appeal to a higher court and to make a cassation complaint to the Polish Supreme Court. The argument put forward by Mr Tomczak, who was a member of the Polish Parliament in 1999, that his national parliamentary immunity remained a formal obstacle to the criminal proceedings should be duly considered by the Polish judicial authorities.

The problematic legal consequence that, according to Polish law, Mr Tomczak might lose his seat in this Parliament has been noted by the Committee on Legal Affairs, and its chairman put an oral question to the Commission. It was answered on 14 January 2008 by Commissioner Frattini, who promised to address the Polish authorities, with the aim of ensuring that Polish law does not discriminate between Members of the European Parliament and national parliamentarians.

After the debate with the Commission, the Committee on Legal Affairs took a decision not to recommend the defence of Mr Tomczak’s parliamentary immunity on the above grounds.

It is clear that Articles 8 and 9 of the Protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Communities are not applicable in the case of Mr Tomczak. His request should be treated as a request for a decision of the European Parliament to ask for suspension of the proceedings against him, as, for example, is possible under Article 105 of the Polish constitution.

Following its established practice, Parliament could decide to defend the immunity of one of its Members if a suspicion existed that the prosecution was based on an intention to prejudice a member’s political activities (fumus persecutionis). There is no clear evidence of this kind in the case of Mr Tomczak.

In the light of the above considerations, I recommend that the immunity of Mr Tomczak should not be defended.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PL) Mr President, the main purpose of parliamentary immunity is to protect Parliament itself as a democratically elected representative body. It ensures the collective independence of this institution against external pressure and guarantees Members freedom of speech and action whilst undertaking their parliamentary duties. The legal basis of the immunity of Members of the European Parliament is laid down in the 1965 Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities. Article 8 of the Protocol states that Members of the European Parliament shall not be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings in respect of opinions expressed or votes cast by them in the performance of their duties. Similarly, Article 9 states that during sessions of the European Parliament, its Members shall enjoy in the territory of their own State, the immunities accorded to members of their parliament, and in the territory of any other Member State, immunity from any measure of detention and from legal proceedings. This immunity also applies to Members while they are travelling to and from the place of meeting of the European Parliament.

Pursuant to the above, it should be noted that the charge against Mr Tomczak does not relate to opinions expressed or votes cast by him in the course of his official duties, because he was not a Member of the European Parliament at the time of the events in question. In view of the circumstances, therefore, there is no legal basis for granting Mr Tomczak parliamentary immunity. Mr Tomczak’s case has, however, highlighted the lack of consistency between arrangements for election to the Polish Sejm and the European Parliament in Poland regarding conditions to be met by candidates for election, and the circumstances in which after being elected individuals may be deprived of their seat.

This matter was debated at a special sitting and when Poland joined the Union it undertook to comply with the EU legislation in force, notably regarding its direct implications for the internal legislation of a Member State. I would like to take this opportunity to call for legislation relating to the status of Members of the Polish Sejm and European Parliament to be harmonised at the earliest opportunity. As things stand at present, a Member of the European Parliament may automatically lose his or her seat as a result of certain actions, whilst a Member of the Polish Sejm may not be penalised in any way for the same actions.

 
  
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  Marek Aleksander Czarnecki, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, Mr Tomczak’s case is an example of the Polish judicial system’s failure to recognise that when Poland became a Member of the European Union it undertook to comply with the legal system in force in the latter. The European Parliament has not yet taken a decision on Mr Tomczak’s immunity, but the competent court nonetheless set 15 February, last week, as the date for a sitting.

Not only does such action by the court amount to contempt of the European Parliament, but it also fails to comply with the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure and with the Polish Penal Code, pursuant to which no penal proceedings may be brought against a Member until the European Parliament has ruled on the issue of immunity. The situation I have outlined leads to the conclusion that in Mr Tomczak’s case we are dealing either with an exceptionally incompetent court or, alternatively, with a court intent on convicting Mr Tomczak for a minor incident, which in his case would result in him losing his seat in the European Parliament.

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde (IND/DEM). – Mr President, I urge all Members to vote against the lifting of immunity in the Tomczak case. We have had a very good debate in the Chamber. Everyone has agreed that we cannot allow Poland to set double standards: one for MPs at home and another, much stricter one, for MEPs here. The responsible Commissioner, Mr Frattini, promised to send a letter to the Polish Minister for Justice to insist on identical rules for waiving immunity.

I talked with Commissioner Frattini after the meeting on 14 January, and met with him again two weeks ago, when he said that he had instructed the services to send the letter. Last week I was in contact with his office. It confirmed that the letter had been sent, and that I would receive a copy of the letter the same day. Then somebody suddenly called from Commissioner Frattini’s office telling me a different story, saying that the letter was still pending. So here we are, with no letter and no answer from the Polish Government.

Our rules are very clear: we have to have a vote. I would therefore ask you to vote against the waiving of immunity, and request that the case be referred back to the committee for a possible new decision once we have received the letter from Commissioner Frattini and the answer from Poland.

 
  
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  Aloyzas Sakalas, rapporteur. − Mr President, I think that the consequences of the issue of waiving immunity are not the same as waiving immunity. Mr Tomczak was expected and summoned to appear before a court 12 times, but he did not appear at court.

All the procedural and substantive questions raised in connection with Mr Tomczak’s case, and especially the question of the alleged insulting language used against the police officers, should be resolved objectively by the Polish judicial authorities. Therefore, I would like to stress two points. The question of whether the immunity of Mr Tomczak was properly waived at the beginning of the proceedings, when he was a member of the Polish Parliament, is a question that can be verified only by the appropriate judicial authority in Poland, in this case the District Court in Ostrów Wielkopolski. There is always the possibility of appeal.

Secondly, the possibility of Mr Tomczak’s losing his seat in this Parliament cannot be considered as a motive for the prosecution, as, at the time of the incident of 19 June 2004, Mr Tomczak was not a Member of the European Parliament, and the law applicable to national parliamentarians does not contain provisions for such consequences.

On the basis of the above considerations, the Committee on Legal Affairs recommends that the European Parliament should not defend the parliamentary immunity of Mr Tomczak.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow.

 

21. Transparency in financial matters (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0010/2008) by Mr Pomés Ruiz, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on transparency in financial matters [2007/2141(INI)].

 
  
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  José Javier Pomés Ruiz, rapporteur. − (ES) Mr President, our European Parliament has always wished to implement a policy of transparency with regard to our funds, the EU’s funds. Such was the case when, perhaps through mismanagement, problems arose that forced the Commission headed by Mr Santer to resign.

Since then it must be said that things have improved considerably; this Parliament has propelled a policy of transparency, and the Commission has supported the Parliament. The result of this interest on the part of the Barroso Commission is the creation of nothing less than a Vice-Presidency to achieve this objective, represented here by Vice-President Siim Kallas, whom I welcome.

European citizens must know what we do with the very small amount of money they pay to the EU, what we do with that scant 1%; we must have more control over Community funds through visibility. Visibility is no longer just a notice hung up in a town hall or on a building site financed with regional funds or the Cohesion Fund; we have to go much further, and it must be possible to determine the whereabouts of that small amount of money provided by European taxpayers through Member States.

That is the Transparency Initiative, which this Parliament supports wholeheartedly. This own-initiative report we are submitting says two things. The first is that a little more must be done. In the text we have chosen to say that transparency must be manifested by the publication of black lists and information as to which tenderers have been accepted and which have been excluded, and OLAF must have a code to guarantee the presumption of innocence, which has not been the case on many occasions. In other words, within the EU, the European Parliament already has its own code of ethics. We are not officials, we are politicians; we must be transparent too, and we already are.

Thus in Amendment 2 to paragraph 22, I request that the list proposed by the Transparency Initiative be removed, in the main not only because this Parliament has already taken decisions on our financial interests, missions and travel, but because we also feel there must be rules for the entire European Union. This Parliament has its own rules, but they will have to improve and perhaps go even further.

There is another amendment where I remove the reference to MEPs as holding public posts; we do not hold public posts, we are politicians. This confusion could lead to problems in some national legislation.

Through this idea of increasing transparency, which we support, we also wish to draw attention to the fact that Member States share the management of 80% of the funds, and so we again call for Member States to submit National Declarations of Assurance. This is urgent and necessary, and we insist it must be done. We are saying that the initiative presented by Commissioner Kallas must include the recovery of Community funds. This cannot be excluded: when our money is misused, we must know where it is, how it is to be recovered, and when it is to be recovered.

We have made many improvements in terms of transparency, Commissioner, but this Parliament will strive to make many more.

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I am very pleased to be here today to speak on behalf of the Commission on this key issue of transparency. I must thank Mr Pomés Ruiz for this own-initiative report and the Committee on Budgetary Control for its valuable contribution.

The report addresses five main issues. First, the report gives guidance on the publication of information about those receiving EU funds through grants and contracts. We are working to implement the terms of the modified Financial Regulation on transparency. These terms were included through Parliament’s efforts and came into force in May 2007.

With regard to direct management, the Commission launched a website last year, with a single portal giving access to all relevant sites in the various directorates-general. Although we continue to update these sites, the portal still seems a rather confusing and complicated entry point. The Commission services are working to improve this.

Regarding shared management, the role of the Commission is to ‘finalise and agree with Member States on the common standards of these sets of information before April 2008’. I am quoting here from the draft discharge report by Mr Jørgensen. The Member States will remain responsible for the data. The Commission assumes responsibility for the standards applicable and checking that Member States respect the terms of the Financial Regulation.

The second issue in Mr Pomés Ruiz’s report is the issue of recoveries. I clearly said in the Committee on Budgetary Control in January 2008 that ‘the Commission has so far been unable to give Parliament a comprehensive picture of all our recovery efforts’. I gave an estimate for the recoveries made in 2006 and announced improvements to our own systems, so that, this year, the ABAC accounting system will include more detailed and complete data on recoveries. We are discussing the methodology for doing so with the European Court of Auditors.

Information about recoveries would be incomplete without reliable input from the Member States. For agriculture, the picture is encouraging. Tomorrow, the Commission will adopt an action plan to strengthen our supervisory role regarding the Structural Funds, addressing this issue among other things.

The third issue in the report relates to the declaration of financial interests and, in particular, to the results of an independent comparative study launched in July 2006, in the context of the European Transparency Initiative, and published in 2007.

The study concluded that most of the European institutions are regulated more intensively than institutions at national level. The Commission and the European Investment Bank have the most comprehensive ethical rules of the EU institutions.

While the study noted that the Commission has a relatively well developed system for notification of conflicts of interests, it suggests that consideration be given to enlarging the mandate of our ad hoc Ethical Committee to include a broader advisory role. I invite you to examine the study and draw whatever conclusions you think are relevant for the European Parliament.

The fourth issue raised by Mr Pomés Ruiz concerns the composition of experts groups advising the Commission. I would like to thank Mr Pomés Ruiz for recognising the value of the work done so far. We will study the recommendations you make for further improvements.

The fifth and final main issue concerns governance within the institutions. Last Friday, 15 February 2008, was the deadline for Member States to send in ‘annual summaries’. As of noon today, we had received 22 replies from the Member States. We are assessing the compliance of these reports with the obligations under the Financial Regulation, and we will report to you as soon as we have a clear picture of this, including with regard to the quality of these reports.

In conclusion, I can declare that we are taking transparency very seriously and that the European Transparency Initiative is delivering on many points raised in the report.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Ingeborg Grässle, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the transparency initiative is probably the greatest success achieved by the Barroso Commission.

I am grateful to you, Commissioner, for your words and for the fact that you want harmonisation of the publication of information on beneficiaries of subsidies. This was a major point of discussion between Parliament and the Commission last year. As you know, this House and the PPE-DE Group have always stood by you on the issue of transparency because we want to know whether we are meeting our political objectives via the beneficiaries of the subsidies, in other words, the recipients of the funding. This is about meeting our political objectives, nothing else, and we need to know more than we do at present.

Commissioner, you are working on new ethical rules. We believe that the institutions need these rules and the Commissioners themselves need a new code of conduct. However, in order to avoid misunderstandings, may I remind you that it is not up to the Commission to lay down rules for Parliament. We make our rules ourselves. We are not public officials, unlike the members of other EU institutions, although imprecise use of language could create this impression.

We have an amendment to paragraph 22, and I would like to ask you very warmly for your support. We want to replace the list with a reference to the existing rules. Lists are all very well, but we want an open form of words which allows us to decide whether we want so many, or perhaps more – or, indeed, fewer – criteria.

We are not satisfied – and this is part of the report – with the difficult question of the recovery of funds which have been paid out incorrectly. Commissioner, I think this is going to be the major issue for us this year and the main point of conflict between Parliament and the Commission. This is an area which is anything but transparent. I would ask you to tackle this problem vigorously. Recoveries cannot continue in the same random fashion as in the past.

We welcome this week's action plan for the Structural Funds, but this needs to be underpinned with credibility, both for Parliament and for the discharge of the Commission.

Our rapporteur, Javier Pomés Ruiz, has drafted a good and interesting report, and I am sure that with this report as the opinion of Parliament, we will help the Commission to make further progress.

 
  
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  Dan Jørgensen, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DA) Mr President, there is no doubt that the public debate in Europe has focused a great deal on the fact that there is a democratic deficit in the EU and that this deficit is due to not least the lack of sufficient transparency. In particular it may be due to the fact that there has been too little transparency concerning how the funds that the EU manages – that is, the funds that the EU pays to individual countries for good, well-intentioned projects – are used; and it is a problem! It is fortunately a problem that is now being resolved. It is fortunately a problem that the Commission has long recognised and is actually doing something to resolve, and the Commission deserves much praise for this. Mr Kallas, you personally deserve much praise for the enormous contribution that you have made in connection with this. There are of course some matters that need to be addressed. This is the reason why Mr Pomés Ruiz has produced a report. I support his report, which highlights many points of criticism that naturally must be tackled. It is clear that the data available should be comparable etc., but this is a minor matter, as we have now taken the key decision that there should of course be transparency.

Another very important decision for which the Commission deserves praise is the decision to establish greater transparency in connection with the ‘expert groups’. It is simply not acceptable that a ‘democratic’ system has people in office whose names are unknown. There are all kinds of democratic arguments for why you cannot operate in such a way, and it is of course unacceptable from a financial perspective too. I can well imagine, Commissioner, that you could confirm a statement that you made in the recently completed hearing in the Committee on Budgetary Control in connection with discharge. In this statement, you assured us that this would naturally also apply to the groups that fall within the comitology procedure. There are of course many different types of expert groups. Some of the most important groups are actually those that fall within the comitology procedure. In addition, you gave this approval on several occasions in the Committee on Budgetary Control. Commissioner, could you not repeat this here in front of the entire assembly?

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Mr President, on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group, I would like to thank Mr Pomés Ruiz for a very good report which I support in its entirety. Transparency must be a fundamental principle of the functioning of the European Union. I should like to begin by saying that I consider the sections of the report concerning better information on the beneficiaries of Union funds and more transparent information on the Commission’s web pages to be particularly valuable. These are important issues. I would also like to state that those parts of the report underlining the importance of divulging and providing information on the financial interests of holders of public office in the European institutions are equally important.

European Union citizens need to be certain that those who handle Union funds and those who oversee their allocation act impartially and not with a view furthering their private interests. I believe it was right and proper for this issue to be dealt with so extensively in the report.

 
  
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  Bart Staes, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, this debate is really a warm-up act for the discharge procedure currently taking place in the Committee on Budgetary Control, and for the extraordinary hearing that we are to have next week with Commissioners Špidla and Hübner. A key issue in that debate is paragraph 41 of Mr Pomés Ruiz’s report, in which the Commission is urged to support the issuing of National Declarations of Assurance. Commissioner, if you pledge to support this, the struggle we are waging in the discharge procedure will not be a struggle of Parliament against the Commission but a joint struggle: the Commission and Parliament against the Member States. This is the best strategy, for the internal cohesion of the Commission too. Transparency does indeed ensure credibility and accountability; everyone agrees on that. One aspect of this is indeed the publication of information about the ultimate beneficiaries of EU funds.

It is compulsory under the Financial Regulation to provide information on this, but this information must be made accessible, it must be reliable and it must be suitable for further research. With all due respect, Commissioner, attempts are being made on your website but there is a long way to go. Some private initiatives really are doing this better.

This report by Mr Pomés Ruiz also sets out very clearly what needs to be improved: the presentation, the content and the organisation of the information. The Committee on Budgetary Control is asking for this to be completed before 2009. I want to submit an amendment to bring this forward by one year. If we manage to do that, then the new Commission and the new Parliament will be able to start with a clean slate in 2009. I ask my fellow Members to support that amendment.

Commissioner, I have another question to put to you: what is the state of affairs regarding the undertaking on your part set out in paragraph 34 to publish the names of all members of formal and informal groups from 2008? I also endorse the question put by Dan Jørgensen on this topic.

Finally, Mr President, I have a question for you: when will Parliament’s Secretariat decide to opt for complete transparency and publish the names of all members of Parliament’s voluntary pension fund? After all, these people are also beneficiaries of substantial European funds. I ask you to convey this message to the Secretariat.

 
  
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  President. − With regard to the question asked by Mr Staes, this has of course been discussed in the Bureau and a solution will be found.

 
  
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  Esko Seppänen, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Pomés Ruiz’s report is a comprehensive one. The problem areas are set out well and await the necessary measures. In this connection I would like to say to the Commission Vice-President, Mr Kallas, that during his term there have been major improvements generally to the Union’s openness and transparency and he has been extremely active in this area. Evidence of this are the many new databases on the internet, but the problem, which the report also mentions is – and this needs to be put right – that the search procedures are still unsatisfactory. This being the case, the material on the search engines ought to be standardised. In other words, if there is no proper search procedure there is a danger that a lot of information will be obtained but that its very abundance will harm the quality.

The question of the ‘blacklist’ of proven fraudulent actions needs to be considered. In principle our group approves of and is in favour of this list, but we need to ensure in particular that the data protection of individuals is guaranteed and that no one will be blacklisted this way for no good reason or because mistaken procedures were carried out.

Then there is the question of the Advisory Committee on Standards in Public Life. For the Members of the European Parliament, who are directly elected by the people, it is obviously good to have a procedure which is different from that for civil servants, as Mrs Grässle has already said here. The procedure for elected Members must also be at least as strict, however, because there can be no grounds for asserting that ethical requirements should be relaxed as far as Members of Parliament are concerned. In many countries money used to finance the election of Members of Parliament is public knowledge, and it might be in order for Parliament to move in that direction, so that national declarations on election funding, on the campaign publicity of candidates and on its financing are included in Parliament’s databases, making them visible at European Union level too.

Finally I wish to say that political parties and foundations at European level cannot be made exempt from the general obligation to declare interests and sources of finance.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Nils Lundgren, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (SV) Mr President, it is very unusual for me to be able to respond favourably to the reports that come before us here. However, this is an exception.

What the rapporteur has argued for here is greater transparency, and I warmly support that. But I would remind the House that, as long as we have such things as the agricultural policy and the structural funds, our task of scrutiny will be an entirely superhuman one. What we are forced to do is constantly introduce new rules, more monitoring, and we end up with a bureaucracy beyond all reason.

The solution, as we all know, is to let the richer countries in the EU give money to the poorer countries without discussing in detail what it is to be used for. The major part of the scrutiny process will disappear, and that must be the long-term aim. We should not have to count cows and set-aside fields and all that kind of thing. We should concentrate on what the EU is there for – the internal market.

 
  
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  Esther De Lange (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President, I would also like to thank the rapporteur for his excellent report and I would like to mention a couple of points before making an appeal to the Council and the Commission.

The first point is that we need to publish the recipients of financial support from the European Union. This concerns the agricultural sector in particular. We should treat this information with caution and fairness. We cannot have a situation where some Member States comply with the disclosure requirement and others do not. There are links on the Commission website to 14 national websites concerning the recipients of agricultural support, which means that there are another 13 missing. Perhaps the Commission could explain why that is. Is this information not available in electronic format or have the Member States still not supplied the figures?

In addition to this, the Commission should think about the protection of those recipients whose details are to be published: protection from radical animal rights activists, for instance, a problem that several Member States, including my own, are having to deal with at the moment.

Finally, the fact is that the data are difficult to compare and so more direction from the Commission is needed. I understand from the Commissioner that he will take the initiative on this tomorrow in relation to the Structural Funds and I am pleased to hear that.

My second point concerns the annual reports on the activities of the institutions, where there has been some improvement, but this is a sensitive topic.

Now to my appeal, which is related to the fact that 80% of the funds in Europe are not managed centrally but through the Member States or in collaboration with the Member States. We could improve and tighten up transparency and control at European level for all eternity but as long as the Member States do not take responsibility by means of the National Declarations of Assurance, ensuring balanced control will remain difficult. It takes two to tango.

We can dance the most brilliant spirited dance through the field of budgetary control at European level, but as long as the Member States do not dance along it will never be a prize-winning performance. I therefore call on the Member States to accept their responsibilities and I call on the Commission to support this process in connection with the national declarations, like a good conductor, shall we say, or like a dance teacher: you should know that yourself, Commissioner. We on this side would like to count on your support.

 
  
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  Paulo Casaca (PSE).(PT) Mr President, I must congratulate our rapporteur and also Mr Kallas on this initiative. However, in the same breath, I must tell Mr Kallas that I would be much happier if he had taken the steps needed to ensure that the European Commission was complying with the Financial Regulation rules which entered into force on 1 January 2007, particularly on the designation of end beneficiaries of the various Community funds.

It is really a matter of great concern that the European Commission’s answer to the question of whether the IMG has been lawfully and properly designated as an international organisation is wholly unsatisfactory. I would like to know, Commissioner, whether, in addition to this new international organisation, the European Commission has also decided to meet with others, so that we can find out who has access to Community funds without having to go through the tender procedure.

 
  
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  Wiesław Stefan Kuc (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the allocation of funds from the various budget lines always awakens the strongest emotions and debate. It is entirely understandable that those who are awarded funding should rejoice, and that those who are not awarded any despite their merits should voice their criticism. If, however, as in the recent notorious Polish case, an entity obtains funding from one government only to have it taken away by another, a number of concerns emerge.

What principles determine the allocation of funds, and what procedures apply? Are decisions made on the basis of facts or of base politics? That is why, pursuant to the report by Mr Pomés Ruiz, we should focus not only on the clarity and transparency of procedures, but also enable society to assess the actions involved in awarding funding. Publishing information on beneficiaries of Union funding is a fundamental condition of the transparency of the intentions of the European Commission and the government. Why then are certain countries so opposed to publication? Do they have something to hide? This also involves information on individuals holding public office and experts at the European institutions. Our Union would benefit greatly from the creation of a common ethical space.

 
  
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  Alexander Stubb (PPE-DE). – Mr President, let me begin by congratulating the rapporteur, Mr Pomés Ruiz. I am not doing it only because he is standing next to me and kicking me in the ankle, but because I think his report is very good indeed.

I would like to make three points, if you would allow me. Firstly, I think that the aim of this report is basically to improve transparency and improve controls. Usually you do that three ways. One is to have transparency in terms of documentation: that is quite well provided for under Article 255 of the EC Treaty; secondly, transparency of finances, which is what we are doing in this report; and thirdly, of course, transparency of meetings.

The sad thing I find in this debate – not so much inside but outside this Chamber – is that there are a lot of anti-Europeans that are using transparency in a very populist way, in the sense that, on one hand, they call for transparency, then when transparency is given, they start attacking people for it. I find this debate, in that sense, a little bit sad, and I think that, when we go transparent, we should be honest and straightforward about it.

Point number two is on national declarations. I would like to second what Ms De Lange said about those. We should always stress that. I think Mr Kallas is doing a very good job. The Commission is doing a good job. But 80% of all the funds are actually spent by the Member States. That is where we need a little bit more in the financial declarations. I am sure, Mr Mulder, if he was here, would agree with me.

The final point I have is on the famous, or perhaps infamous, paragraph 22 of this report. I see where it is coming from, but I think we should not throw the baby out with the bath-water. Therefore, I would recommend that we get rid of paragraph 22, so that all of us can easily vote for this report, because, after all, being against transparency is a little bit like being against peace and motherhood.

 
  
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  Inés Ayala Sender (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, I wish to add my congratulations to the rapporteur, who has produced an extremely interesting report, and of course also thank the Commission, represented by its Vice-President Kallas, for all its work, positive dialogue and cooperation with the House.

Here I simply wish to expand a little on the comments already made, most of which I agree with, and say, beyond the actual need for this information and for transparency, that it must be easily accessible, reliable and comparison-friendly; the information should be organised and classified and be of real practical use, not only for the greatest experts, but for the public at large.

As regards shared management funds, in addition to what has already been said, we need to put pressure on the Member States in this regard, and in particular try to find instruments that improve the situation with international organisations, which often seem opaque.

I certainly welcome the idea of creating a common ethical space. This is a luxury the Commission can certainly afford, and it could be exported or proposed in certain global negotiations as an example of good practice. I therefore particularly welcome the study being carried out by the Commission on the ethical codes and standards that may subsequently be applied to each institution.

Finally, I congratulate the rapporteur and thank him for accepting my request concerning a code of ethics for OLAF, which is absolutely essential: on one side we have those responsible and the guilty parties, and on the other the innocent parties, whom we must protect by all means.

 
  
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  Ville Itälä (PPE-DE). – (FI) Mr President, first I want to join those who have congratulated and thanked the rapporteur, Mr Pomés Ruiz, for an absolutely splendid report. At the same time I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Commissioner Kallas, who over the years has worked very hard to promote these issues.

The idea behind this report is such that hardly anyone here can disagree with its objectives. Any form of openness and transparency regarding the misuse of EU funds can only be for the good. In general the use of appropriations financed though tax revenues must be open. The taxpayer must always have accurate and proper knowledge of what their money is being spent on. The public must always be able to tell who is spending the money, and on what, and how much is being spent.

We must in particular adhere to the principle of right of access and transparency when these funds are being misused. In my opinion, publishing the ‘blacklist’ of fraudulent uses of EU funds would also pre-empt possible cases of abuse and so promote openness and transparency in the use of EU resources. This kind of monitoring is obviously made challenging by the fact that the systems in different countries vary greatly, and for that reason it is difficult.

I believe the report is an important step forward, and we need to find a common compromise so that the report can be adopted here and not thrown out because of a few small details.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I think this is a particularly good debate. However, I would like to warn about the abuse of transparency. Some populists – although they are not here in this chamber today – abuse this debate in the public arena, but in doing so, make no distinction between the private sphere and what is appropriate in the public interest.

We must not lose sight of this privacy debate. We are aware that there is also justification for data protection. Finding a balance here is the right response from the European Parliament for the future.

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde (IND/DEM). – (DA) Mr President, it is a pleasure to attend the debate today. I recall a few years back that there were a few idiots who were demanding transparency, but now Parliament consists of nothing but idiots who are insisting upon transparency regarding the presentation of accounts. In addition, we have a commissioner whom we cannot criticise; instead we must also praise him for his personal contribution towards including the more sluggish parts of the Commission within the transparency reforms.

However, I have not been elected to offer praise; I have been elected to highlight the more thorny aspects of the debate. Therefore, I would like to ask Mr Kallas whether next year there will be exceptions within the area of agriculture for which there will not be a full presentation of accounts on the Internet, and for which we will not be able to see who receives what and the corresponding amounts in other areas. Will there be exceptions, or will every expense be accounted for on the Internet? And what about the working groups: will the names of all the experts be given?

Finally, now that we have progressed so far with transparency, would it not also be a good idea to send an apology to the heroes Dorte Schmidt-Brown, Hans-Martin Tillack, Marta Andreasen and all those who have been badmouthed over the years, but who were the reason that you, Mr Kallas, have been able to achieve such success with your reforms?

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, clarity and transparency are fundamental principles of life in society. Particular responsibility for the challenges involved rests with us parliamentarians. We are the ones who meet the voters and it falls to us to explain the current situation in the Union and its administration to them. We cannot say: ‘It is not us, it is the Commission’. European citizens look to their Members of Parliament for answers. All too often, on the pretext of creating transparency, we complicate procedures and impose too many requirements regarding beneficiaries. For example, we insist on documents that are often unnecessary. As we build transparency, we must define roles clearly and distribute them. I repeat, we must distribute roles and tasks between the Member States and the European Union.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I want to make two points. First of all, if we want to follow the Lisbon Strategy we have to know who in the field of science gets the money and what for. Is it really the best, or are there some divisions between the more privileged Western countries and the other, new ones? I, as an academic, would claim that there has to be more justice and evenness.

My second point is that, when we give money – with a pretty generous heart – to third countries, to those that are underdeveloped and less privileged, I would like to get some feedback on how that money is used, in particular under those soft programmes like democratisation or similar, which do not produce tangible things but change minds, or entrepreneurship. We know little of how that money is used in Africa, and in all ACP countries. I would really claim that we have to have some more knowledge about it.

 
  
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  Alexander Stubb (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I want to take issue with three of the speakers. Firstly, Mr Seppänen, I would like to congratulate him on his speech, because it was extremely moderate, and he is slowly moving – almost – towards the pro-European camp.

Secondly, Mr Bonde: the way in which he talks about transparency makes me believe that he is a federalist. So, in that sense, I think that he is also moving in exactly the right direction – even if the request to publish all the people who sit on comitology committees is, perhaps, pushing it a little bit!

My final comment concerns Mr Rübig. I agree with him 100%: the type of populism that we see in the Austrian media from the anti-European side is simply abominable, and I really would not like to see any more of that.

I have one more question for the rapporteur, Mr Pomés Ruiz: if there was one thing he would like to take out of this report, what would it be?

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I wish to thank honourable Members very much for their support for this transparency action, which has been a common action: in all issues, the Commission has always felt it had strong support from Parliament.

There are two things I want to say. The first concerns the information available on end beneficiaries. I consider this to be an amazing change. When, together with some Members of Parliament, we started to initiate this at the beginning of 2004, there was no great hope that it would be implemented. But the political decision has now been taken, and the year 2009 is the final year by which the information on end beneficiaries of 2008 will and must be published.

So, politically the decision has been taken. This is a great step forward. Now the technicalities remain to be solved. That is not easy at all, because guidelines have now been issued on what this information on end beneficiaries should look like. But of course many of you raised the issue of workable search engines, and this is really not an easy task. Of course, we will have a portal via which it will be possible to access the information in the Member States, and access information about end beneficiaries.

I foresee a lot of technical problems, but those technical problems – nothing is perfect, and everything takes a little time – definitely should not undermine the importance of this great change.

Concerning the famous national declarations, I must again say that the situation has completely changed in these three years. When I first appeared in Council to discuss these issues, these were completely out of the question. Today you have the annual summaries – we had already received 22 so far, and perhaps even more now. We will assess the quality together, and there definitely will be an improvement.

So the understanding is that we have shared management problems, and we must also share information about the work – how we manage the Structural Funds. That understanding has increased tremendously in Member States too. We will also try to fill out the idea of more comprehensive national declarations with specific substance. You know as well as I do that there are certain Member States that are still very reluctant to have this greater involvement, but we already have a certain degree of involvement.

As concerns international money, that is a something of a different issue. The issue of how this information should be made available will probably also be discussed within the framework of COCOBU. However, we are partners in international agreements and do not manage them directly. Information on what we manage directly must be made available, but we are partners in very big international poolings. That is a little different.

Concerning expert groups, as I said in COCOBU, I can repeat here that we have a commitment to publish the list of permanent experts. This is really a question of definition: what kind of experts should be included on this list. This is a debate, and some experts who fulfil certain confidential tasks of assessing projects and people should not be so transparent, probably. There are some nuances. However, the commitment exists and I have been informed that we are ready to publish a long list of permanent experts. There is the question of all those national experts sent by Member States participating in certain bodies, whose names will be sent afterwards, not before, but there is at least the commitment that there should be no big secret as to who is advising us.

My last point, in response to an issue which was raised, is that the Commission has no intention to propose how Parliament should deal with its own rules, and what the declarations of economic interest should consist of. I can say only two things: this ethical space is a common space – if something happens in one institution, it definitely has an immediate effect on other institutions. We must, of course, address all these questions on the basis of common sense, and not go to absurd lengths and into unnecessary details, but only into the relevant issues, in order to avoid a real conflict of interests.

 
  
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  José Javier Pomés Ruiz, rapporteur. − (ES) Mr President, Mr Kallas can feel pleased with himself because he realises the transparency initiative is one which is much appreciated and dear to the hearts of the entire House, and because he has now experienced the support that can be found here.

Mr Kallas, we wish to go further with regard to transparency, and in the report we outlined some of the areas in which progress ought to be made: recoveries, expert groups or the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, I urge you: this must remain within the confines of common sense, with no consideration for the populism of certain elements of the gutter press that seems to devote itself to earning money through its populist exaggerations of serious topics in the European Union. I wish to thank Inés Ayala for her suggestion that OLAF should concern itself with these matters too, and Mr Jørgensen, Paulo Casaca, Mr Bösch, who is present, and my colleagues Ingeborg Grässle, Alex Stubb, etc.

I would like to say that Alex Stubb also asked me what I would take out, and I must say that, for instance, I would remove the reference to a spouse’s activity. I remember that the greatest problem in the European Union was caused not by a spouse, but something similar: I refer to the case of Edith Cresson. By this I mean that we should not be placing such restrictions on ourselves, and we should do what is logical, not what is illogical. Indeed, even Members of this House also have a right to family life and private life.

I also wish to say that we will continue to set an example for many Member States of how the EU is spending its funds better and more efficiently, with low administrative costs and much more effectively than certain Member States. In this preliminary mission on which we all agree, several Member States – those that refuse to give explain how they spend 80% of Community funds and then seem to be all smiles when we refuse to approve the EU accounts – use this to justify giving less money to the common fund, limiting EU activity, abusing our accusations that it is the Member States that do not spend correctly and using this argument to refuse to give this House more than 1%.

Thank you, Mr President, and may I also wish Mr Kallas well in securing an objective so warmly supported by Parliament.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow.

Written Statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) The Pomés Ruiz report, on the other hand, quite rightly takes the view that major efforts still have to be made before we achieve transparency in financial matters. An analysis of the 2006 Annual Activity Report of the Budget DG has in effect identified what still needs to be done before achieving transparency in the EU’s accounts. An examination of the funds allocated to the common agricultural policy, for example, shows that the instruments available to the Commission do not always allow it to guarantee the accuracy of the data supplied by the Member States.

If we are to prevent the budgetary slides of the past the Commission needs to improve the quality of the information supplied to the public concerning the beneficiaries of Community funds and must do this without delay by taking a number of concrete measures: rationalisation of published information on those receiving Community funding, creation of an overall search-engine, publication of a ‘blacklist’ of fraudsters, and so on. In order to ensure rigorous, effective and transparent control of the Community funds allocated to the Member States the Commission should in future assume political responsibility for the information it publishes.

 

22. Protection of the Communities’ financial interests – Fight against fraud – Annual reports 2005 and 2006 (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0009/2008) by Mr Musotto, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on protection of the Communities’ financial interests – Fight against fraud – Annual reports 2005 and 2006 [2006/2268(INI)].

 
  
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  Francesco Musotto, rapporteur. − (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by thanking Mr Kallas for his valuable cooperation with Parliament during its work. I am likewise grateful to OLAF, in the person of the Director, Franz-Hermann Brüner, for its unstinting support and for the vital work it does, which is far from easy. Finally, I would thank all my colleagues for their helpful contributions, as well as all the national bodies and institutions that have cooperated with us in this arduous task, especially - if I may - the Italian Guardia di finanza, whose approach in this field has been highly professional.

Protection of the Communities' financial interests is a subject of capital importance which affects us directly as States and as citizens; it must therefore be tackled with all due rigour and determination.

Today’s resolution is intended as a practical response to the alarming phenomenon of Community fraud. The data gathered…

(The President interrupted the speaker to reprimand some Members who were causing a disturbance)

Thank you, Mr President. We are talking about transparency and there is also a need for common courtesy.

Today’s resolution is intended as a practical response to the alarming phenomenon of Community fraud. The data gathered are worrying: in the areas of own resources, agricultural expenditure and structural actions, irregularities notified in 2006 totalled EUR 1 143 million, compared to EUR 1 024 million in the previous year. The statistics reveal an ever-increasing number of irregularities.

I would however point out that a large number of irregularities does not necessarily imply a high level of fraud; it may also demonstrate that the supervisory arrangements in place are effective and that there is close cooperation between the Member States and the Commission. In its annual report for 2006, the Commission rightly emphasised the importance of such cooperation for prevention purposes and for recovery work. So far, the statistics have relied on very diverse national structures with different administrative, judicial, supervisory and inspection systems.

In particular, we consider it unacceptable that Spain and Germany have not been forwarding information on irregularities to the Commission in electronic form, despite an obligation on all Member States to do so. The Community rules and the obligations arising from the fight against fraud must be implemented in the same way by all countries. To this end, closer cooperation between Member States and the Commission is vital to protect the Community's financial interests, which must be perceived as common interests going beyond those of individual states.

Greater synergy is required between the supervisory authorities and local administrations in terms of coordinating and exchanging information. Keeping the organisation and disbursement of funds at central level necessitates complex implementation arrangements and increases distances between the financial authorities and the final beneficiaries.

Simplification of the rules is another fundamental point touched upon in the report. The 2000-2006 programming period in fact proved that overly complicated rules contributed to the irregularities detected.

Finally, despite a slight improvement in recovery activity, recovery is still a problem which causes immense damage to the Community budget. In particular, a period of 39 months between the time when an irregularity is committed and the time when it is notified to the Commission is unacceptable, as such a delay makes recovery more difficult if not impossible.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MARIO MAURO
Vice-President

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, Mr Musotto’s report covers two years of efforts to improve the protection of the financial interests of the European Union. A sound system of financial management needs to focus on expenditure and the control and fighting of irregularities, and especially those committed with fraudulent intent.

The report contains many of the same preoccupations as the discharge report, with the protection of financial interests being viewed, of course, as a core element of sound financial management, but the focus is different.

I would like to warmly thank the rapporteur, Mr Musotto, for a very focused report, which concentrates on the main issues and makes many calls on the Commission to strengthen efforts.

Allow me to comment on four of them. Firstly, the role of Member States: the report makes use of the wealth of figures and statistics on irregularities by Member States, and their financial impact. It does not hesitate to point out that some Member States perform better than others. I would stress once again that a high number of irregularities does not necessarily mean a high level of fraud, but it can be a good indicator of effective and thorough controls.

When I presented the Commission report in July, I emphasised the need for Member States to ensure a correct, complete and timely communication of data on irregularities. A good flow of information between the Member States and the Commission is essential for effective recovery and joint action against fraudsters. Many of them are doing this, but for some there is still room for improvement. The Commission, with the support of the European Parliament, will not shy away from reminding them of their responsibility.

I fully agree with the invitation expressed in the report for the Council to take up the annual reports and consider them at ministerial level. The EU’s financial management system is complex, because responsibility is shared with the Member States. The increased focus on the national declarations, placing responsibility for spending with the Member States, should go hand in hand with cooperation over tackling irregularities and fighting fraud.

I very much welcome the report’s focus on systemic and general issues rather than on individual cases, for which, as you know, OLAF is independent in its investigations.

The Commission fully agrees with the European Parliament on the need to analyse in greater depth the structures existing in Member States in charge of combating irregularities, to support them and facilitate cooperation and the exchange of information. This will be taken up in the 2008 report. This year’s Commission report highlights the topics of risk analysis and risk management, exclusion databases and early-warning/whistleblower tools. In addition, the report examines the steps taken by Member States to improve recovery of amounts not collected or wrongly paid, as well as the mechanisms under national law for recovery by offsetting. The report also contains information on amounts recovered and the financial corrections, in particular when a payment has not been made in conformity with Community rules.

The role of organised crime, such as the Mafia, in undermining the EU’s financial interests is a subject close to the heart of the rapporteur. OLAF has contributed to the Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA) produced by Europol. I am happy to report that I have asked both bodies to continue to cooperate on the matter.

Value added tax and customs fraud is where the big money is. Sadly, it is an area where cooperation with Member States is often difficult. I will be very brief, and refer to what I will say on the Newton Dunn report, and thank the European Parliament for its ongoing support in underlining the useful role that cooperation at EU level can bring in this area.

My fourth and last comment will be on the revision of the OLAF regulation. The Commission tabled a proposal in this regard in May 2006. I remain convinced that it raises the main important issues relating to the effective functioning of the anti-fraud office, namely the flow of information, procedural rights and the complaints mechanism, the role of the supervisory committee and, more generally, governance and accountability. I very much hope that we can enter into interinstitutional discussions on finding solutions in the very near future and make progress on these important points.

The Musotto report reiterates the desire to group together anti-fraud legislation. From a political viewpoint I fully support this, but technically it will be a challenging task. The Commission will be ready to forward the requested analysis to the European Parliament by May this year.

 
  
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  Jan Březina, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development. − (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we have before us a report on the protection of the financial interests of the EU with the somewhat equivocal subheading: ‘Fight against fraud’.

The actual focus of the report is not fraud as such, but rather irregularities. While fraud presupposes malicious intent, an irregularity can result from negligence or incorrect accounting procedures. In delicate areas such as financial relations within the EU such terminology, should be used circumspectly.

As the rapporteur for the Committee on Regional Development, I regret the increase in the number of irregularities detected in projects financed from Structural Funds. This reflects negatively on some Member States and their internal control mechanisms. Difficulties on the part of these countries should not, however, become a reason to re-evaluate the existing system of decentralised controls governing the use of Structural Funds. The responsibility is evident; it is individual and as such it also has to be enforceable.

Attaining an appropriate level in financial control mechanisms in individual Member States is the first necessary step. The following step is to ensure the recovery of sums unduly paid. A possible approach to this could be the suspension of regular payments to those Member States procrastinating over returning amounts paid under irregular circumstances.

The existence of imperfect control mechanisms has the potential to undermine confidence in the Structural Funds system and could cast a negative light on the EU as a whole.

Furthermore, we need controls with greater openness and transparency. I would therefore like to express my support for the European Transparency Initiative, according to which information on beneficiaries of assistance from Structural Funds would be published. As we are talking about managing public funds, certain demands should be placed on the beneficiaries of such assistance.

A prerequisite of a better assessment of control systems is closer collaboration with the Court of Auditors, which has to date been lacking. Whilst it is true that reports from the Court of Auditors make for tedious reading for the European institutions, this should be all the more reason to devote more attention to them, and is certainly preferable to burying one’s head in the sand and avoiding responsibility.

 
  
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  Kyösti Virrankoski, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. − (FI) Mr President, Francesco Musotto has produced an excellent report on the annual reports of the European Anti-Fraud Office 2005-2006, and I want to express my sincerest thanks for that. The number of irregularities notified by the Member States rose in 2006 to the equivalent of EUR 1 143 million. Of this, the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund accounts for an amount of EUR 87 million. Although this is just 0.17% of the total for agricultural expenditure, EUR 49.7 billion, it nonetheless has to be viewed seriously. Approximately a third of these irregularities were cases of direct fraud.

With the new Regulation the Member States will be able to recover unjustified payments of aid more easily than before. That is why the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee on Budgetary Control consider it regrettable that the level of recovery of this aid remains low. The Commission should speed up the recovery process and if necessary apply corrective measures. Both committees also assure the Commission of their full support in rigorously applying the option of suspension of payments if the Commission does not have absolute guarantees that the Member State which is the beneficiary of funds has a reliable management and control system.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Ingeborg Grässle, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the EPP-ED Group is responsible for the report on the fight against fraud for the first time and we are very grateful to Mr Musotto for making OLAF's work and the cooperation with the Member States the focus of his report. He had to work very hard, having to contend with 630 pages of statistical material from 2005 and 2006 on the fight against fraud. His review reveals a very mixed picture and I believe that we really need to take action here. Uncovering irregularities does not appear to be a very important issue for the Member States. This is apparent from the fact that, yet again, the Council is absent from this very important debate, despite the fact that as the second arm of the budgetary authority, it should be concerned about what is happening to the taxpayers' money, which it is responsible for managing and disbursing.

The rapporteur proposes taking formal steps against Germany and Spain for their violations of EU law. Spain is only providing paper information about irregularities. Moreover, this information is extremely sketchy, as is apparent from the 18th Structural Funds report.

Germany is a very specific case. It takes longer to provide the information than the other Member States, and it is the only country which does not disclose names. How can OLAF do its job without names? The fraudsters are hiding behind data protection here, for the fact is, Mr Březina, that between 15% and 20% of the irregularities have some kind of fraudulent background. Germany is also putting obstacles in the way of OLAF's investigative work at local level, notably in cases of customs offences and export refunds. We are calling on the Commission to report on every Member State and its willingness or lack of willingness to cooperate, and to do so by the time the next OLAF report is due.

From our Group's perspective, the forthcoming reform of OLAF's legal basis must be utilised, first and foremost, to improve the working conditions in OLAF's cooperation with the Member States. I would like to express my warm thanks to OLAF itself and to the staff who are working in a very difficult area. I think that the outcomes really do stand up to scrutiny. However, I am also convinced that these outcomes could be improved through better cooperation with the Member States.

 
  
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  Szabolcs Fazakas, on behalf of the PSE group. – (HU) Mr President, Mr Vice-President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Parliament considers protection of the European Union’s financial interests to be one of its most important tasks since, like all parliaments, it has the right and the duty to monitor expenditure. Moreover, the view that EU funds are inadequately looked after is increasingly widespread in Europe, so we also have a political debt to the public, to our constituents and to our taxpayers in this regard.

We put this legislative and political obligation into practice primarily by means of the discharge procedure, but in addition to this we have been producing regular reports on the protection of EU financial interests and the fight against fraud. Our aim in doing so is not to create a sensation or cause a scandal, but to expose the situation objectively and resolve any problems.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Member, Mr Musotto, for this excellent report, and to express my gratitude to the Commission Vice-President, Mr Kallas, and OLAF Director-General, Mr Brüner, for the constructive cooperation they have demonstrated in this area too.

Despite the fact that these high-level reports are greeted with much appreciation year on year, we in the European institutions sometimes feel as if we are tilting at windmills, since the findings of the reports encounter resistance on the part of the Council, with the result that the Commission has not been able to put the necessary measures in place for years.

We believe that the weakest link is the attitude of Member States, since in some Member States – our fellow Member Mrs Grässle spoke just now about Germany in this connection – there is a failure to recognise how very important it is to ensure that EU funds are spent in accordance with the rules, that expenditures are subject to scrutiny, and that any amounts unduly paid are recovered.

We consider it particularly lamentable that VAT fraud in the form of 'carousel' transactions is becoming increasingly widespread throughout Europe, to the extent that we have no global figures on the amount involved, although some estimates suggest that it may be around 35-40% of the EU budget. It is time to take resolute action in this regard too, both in the interests of managing European affairs and in the interests of public opinion. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Mr President, as I take the floor on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group regarding protection of the Communities’ financial interests, I should like to draw attention to the following issues. Firstly, there has been a significant increase in the sums affected by irregularities in the area of own resources, EUR 328 million in 2005 and EUR 353 million in 2006, compared with EUR 212 million in 2004. I should also mention the increase in irregularities in the area of structural actions: EUR 703 million in 2006 compared with EUR 601 million in 2005.

Secondly, there has been a marked reduction in the sums affected by irregularities in the area of agriculture. In 2006 the figure was EUR 82 million, compared with EUR 102 million in 2005. This reduction is worthy of particular note because very often expenditure on agriculture involves huge numbers of beneficiaries – farmers – who often have to cope on their own with the complicated procedure of accounting for the funding received.

Thirdly, I would like to highlight the statement in the report that some of the main reasons for the emergence of irregularities in budgetary expenditure are the complicated programming principles and ineffective monitoring and control methods.

Fourthly, the call for greater transparency when awarding resources should also be noted.

An important feature of this transparency is a commitment by the Member States to publish information on projects and beneficiaries of resources originating in all Community funds.

 
  
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  Bart Staes, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) Mr President, the Commissioner said the same thing: the report does indeed overlap with the discharge procedure. In this sense, too, this debate is a warm-up act for the hearing next week with Commissioners Špidla and Hübner. We know the figures for reported irregularities. They do not tell the whole story, of course, but they do tell us a lot about the problems reported in the policy areas of own resources, agriculture and the Structural Funds. The report mentions a total of EUR 1.1 billion worth of reported irregularities and the trend is upward. We are back to the level of 2002, following better figures in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Agriculture is doing relatively well.

The problem sectors are clearly own resources and the Structural Funds: own resources accounted for EUR 325 million of reported irregularities and the Structural Funds accounted for EUR 700 million. Within the Structural Funds, five Member States accounted for 84% of the reported irregularities. Anyone who is interested can read which countries they are in Mr Musotto’s report. It really is quite remarkable. It also has to be remembered that in the period before 2006, another EUR 1 billion of resources had yet to be recovered and that the Court of Auditors says that 12% of the Structural Funds in 2006 could not be paid out. This is the context in which the present discharge procedure is taking place and it is a cause of great concern to us. We will come back to this.

As far as own resources are concerned, the problem of cigarette fraud is being tackled properly. We had the agreement with Philip Morris. There is a new agreement with Japan Tobacco, which should deliver a lot of money and will also bring about a reduction in smuggling. The main problem area in own resources is the VAT ‘carrousel’ transactions. The figures are quoted: enormous amounts are involved, running into billions of euros. An investigation by the British House of Lords highlights this further. I am pleased that Parliament is tackling this. The Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs has already organised a hearing and the Committee on Budgetary Control will do the same on 4 or 5 May. I hope that I, as rapporteur, will be able to produce as good a report on the VAT carrousels as my report on cigarette fraud.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Mr President, this report is a long catalogue of failure. It graphically illustrates how the amount of fraud, described as ‘irregularities’, is steadily rising and that attempts to deal with it are failing. It openly admits that fraud in 2006 in the areas of own resources – agricultural expenditure and Member States’ structural actions – totalled EUR 1 143 million. It was EUR 922 million in 2003, so in just four years fraud has risen by over EUR 200 million.

I would remind everyone in this institution that these are not meaningless sums of money, but taxpayers’ money. The EU is funded by its citizens, including hard-pressed taxpayers in the UK. They deserve better than this for their money. Governments of all Member States should be saying ‘enough’ already, and these appalling figures provide all the more reason why the government of my country should honour its manifesto commitment to give the British people a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, it is no secret that the European Union has been battling for years to get its finances under control. We fund major companies which then relocate from one Member State to another, while small and medium-sized enterprises go away empty-handed. Indeed, the EU often does not appear to know who it is actually funding and who is pulling its strings. In my view, a register of lobbyists is long overdue.

The numerous irregularities also leave a bitter aftertaste, especially when they have a direct connection to the EU's institutions. In this context, freezing the EU funding for Bulgaria until the cases of corruption have been cleared up sends out an important signal. There is also the fact that some Member States apparently have little interest in recovering funds that have been paid out incorrectly. If cases from the 1990s are only now being closed, then obviously things are moving far too slowly in the EU.

 
  
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  Ville Itälä (PPE-DE).(FI) Mr President, I want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Musotto. He has done a very thorough and excellent job. This report is crucially important, and the fight against fraud is something over which the confidence of the public is either won or lost. I think there are three very important problems contained in this report which need to be put right.

First of all, it is intolerable that some countries do not even provide information on agricultural expenditure. Germany and Spain are prime examples of this, and Germany does not even provide details of the individuals and companies which the European Anti-Fraud Office would definitely need in order to be able to address these matters. This is obviously something we cannot allow: all Member States must obey the rules. If a few big countries set a bad example, the situation does not look very good.

The second issue is that notification of irregularities can take up to 39 months – more than three years. That is far too long and does not inspire trust in the notion that the Member States are acting with sufficient vigilance.

The third issue, which is very interesting and important, is that specialised and organised crime is also occurring in this area. This is now so serious that all measures need to be taken to cut this sort of crime.

This is a very important report and every effort needs to be made to improve the situation in order to gain public confidence.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Herbert Bösch (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express my sincere congratulations to the rapporteur. It is not an easy task, coming in new to such a comprehensive dossier, and I think we can be proud that Mr Musotto has done such a magnificent job. I think we can say this with confidence today, given that there are no amendments to this report for tomorrow. That, too, is a tribute to the rapporteur.

Secondly, it is apparently of no interest whatsoever to one of the budgetary authorities to find out what is happening to the taxpayers' money. Once again, the Council is shirking its responsibility. Whenever we talk about how European taxpayers' money is being spent and try to seek solutions to difficult issues, the Council simply absents itself. However, we have seen – and this brings me to the issue of what will happen with the discharges in our committee – that for years in the field of agricultural policy, where we have been resolute in our action and developed systems to control direct payments, irregularities have decreased.

In structural policy, on the other hand, where nothing has been done and where we have sat back and watched events unfold for years, the figures have gone up and up. This has been apparent for years, and has repeatedly featured in the fraud reports for years. Commissioner Kallas will see in the 2006 discharge that this is a problem and we will expect him to take action and not just sit back and watch.

That is why I would like you, Commissioner, to say this to those Member States which behave as if the rules that we have all devised do not apply to them, and this is also what the rapporteur says, with the full support of all the previous speakers: we want you to say, ‘okay, we will put 10% of your funding on ice. It will form a reserve, and you can have the money once you have taken appropriate action’. That is a very practical demand from Parliament. It is not a plan of action; it is practical action. This is what we expect from the Commission, and then we will be very satisfied.

Once again, congratulations to the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, like the other speakers, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on what is a very important report.

I am prompted to take part in this debate because of the focus on agriculture. Other speakers have said that there has been an improvement in terms of the controls and inspections, particularly when it comes to money given to farmers, and there is now the transparency initiative to publish what farmers are getting.

One of the difficulties for those in the farming community is that they believe very often they are guilty until proven innocent. Obviously, none of us can or will condone fraud, and because there is fraud in the EU budget there is a very poor public perception of the European Union and how it accounts for the money collected. If the public understood the European budget better, they might clamour a little louder for us to be harder on fraud.

It is important to stress the difference between fraud and irregularities, of which many are discovered, because they are very different. We cannot punish ourselves for irregularities, but we should punish fraud against the Community budget. This is an issue involving the Member States – as the last speaker said – because all the Member States signed up to the European Union in good faith and have pooled resources in certain policies, and it is up to us to ensure that the money we have pooled is well spent and that there is no fraud against the public purse.

Member States which are light on fraud, and take a light-touch approach, need to be punished in some way, but it is very important that Member States that perform well in this area are not penalised. It is therefore important for the Commission to take action at Member State level.

I shall finish by reiterating the very important point that, on the farming side, there is now a very strong feeling among those who farm that they are sometimes guilty until proven innocent. That is unacceptable, and we therefore need to be careful to get the balance right.

 
  
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  Bart Staes (Verts/ALE). – (NL) Mr President, thank you for allowing me to speak again. Anyone who follows me in my political office and my statements knows that I am a critical politician and that I am also highly critical of the European Union but that I am still very strongly pro-European. I cannot therefore ignore the words of Mr Clark, who has meanwhile left the room. Like all Eurosceptics, Mr Clark uses half truths, complete lies and lots of oversimplifications on a frequent basis. He talked in his speech, for instance, of several million euros worth of fraud, while the report clearly states that we are dealing with irregularities. He invariably substitutes ‘fraud’ for the word ‘irregularities’. That is crass, because that is not what it says in the report.

Secondly, he talks as if every disaster that befalls us comes from the European Union. I would just like to ask Mr Clark to read the report of the British House of Lords on VAT carrousels. Then he will see that his own authorities have not managed to put a stop to this VAT fraud. We are talking about GBP 3.5 to 4.5 billion of fraud a year. That is more than GBP 10 million a day! That is significantly more ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Dumitru Oprea (PPE-DE). – (RO) Congratulations on Mr. Musotto’s report. I consider that many irregularities from 2003-2006 would have the support of changing the rule of presentation of the Framework Programme 6, for instance, as compared to Framework 5. In Framework 5, the B party was anonymous and any reference to the country and to the person behind the project was penalized. In Frameworks 6 and 7, the anonymity disappeared. In Framework 8 is it possible to no longer resort to this system of advanced submission of projects?

 
  
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  Ingeborg Grässle (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak again. I would like to thank Mr Bösch, not only for his praise of our rapporteur, but also for his fairness and help. Mr Bösch has been dealing with the fraud report for many years. Now we have this honour, and I think it is a great sign of strength in the Committee on Budgetary Control that we are in agreement here.

We have focused our full attention on the Member States. The Commission should also take with it the message that we want to help to bring this lack of clarity to an end. If we look at the figures on the recovery of funds, we see that we are dealing with a very wide range of opinions. That is why we are having this discussion as part of the current discharge procedure. Consequently, I really must ask the Commission to have the courage to say if it does not know certain things, so that we can help. I think that if we tackle the issue together, then together, we will be successful. Once again, very many thanks to Mr Bösch.

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I would like to thank the honourable Members for their comments on this report. We consider the report to be very focused and constructive. I have just two remarks on an issue raised by very many of you – namely, what is irregularity, what is fraud, and how should one approach recovery?

I can say that we have had one preliminary meeting with the relevant people at the Court of Auditors, and tried to harmonise the understanding of what is what. That will probably also help in all our future debates on discharge, and of course all the three reports – including the next one – are all very closely interrelated.

Secondly, I have raised this issue with the Council Presidency, and asked it to consider this parliamentary report during its proceedings, by which I mean to discuss this document within the framework of Ecofin. I hope it will do that. We will definitely, after the vote on this report, when it becomes an official document, also try to initiate this discussion in the Council, including at the level of the relevant subcommittees.

 
  
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  Francesco Musotto, rapporteur. − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, allow me firstly to thank all my colleagues for their kind words, and especially Mr Bösch whose earlier work laid the foundations for my own report.

I should like to emphasise a few points, the main one being the meeting of minds with Commissioner Kallas, particularly as concerns the nature of the regulatory mechanisms governing the disbursement of funds. The Commission has made an undertaking here. One important aspect underscored by Mr Kallas is that the more difficulties and complications there are, the harder it becomes to understand the rules and the easier it becomes for organised crime above all and for all forms of unlawful activity to move into these grey areas. Therefore simplification and, even more, a closing of the gap between those disbursing the sums of money and the beneficiaries is another means of achieving clarity, transparency and ease of understanding of the whole system.

The problem of recovery is a very real one. The procedures are too lengthy, and the capacity to punish those who defraud the European Community must be ensured by some kind of security or guarantee, to be applied through the banks. It is essential to devise methods of ensuring disbursement and, especially, of making it possible to recover these sums and hence assisting, improving and facilitating the speed of recovery.

I believe that, thanks to the cooperation, good will and political commitment of all of my colleagues, we have done a crucial job of work. There can be no doubt that this cooperation, this willingness and desire to stamp out a phenomenon that does enormous damage to the European Community is motivated solely by political concerns.

Of course, the absence of the Council has not made matters any easier; the presence of a representative would have enabled us to find out what the Council thinks. But Parliament is absolutely united and unanimous on these principles, and we therefore believe that we have done something positive which gives us hope for the future.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on 19 February 2008.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Edit Herczog (PSE), in writing.(HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, congratulations on this report, which highlights not only the successes of the recent past, but also some lamentable shortcomings and long-standing debts.

For me this report is very topical because in Hungary a decision has been made to establish a national anti-counterfeiting body. This body will primarily have a coordinating function linking the Hungarian Patent Office, other government agencies and actors in the economy, including functions connected with European Union-related data services.

We need to prepare ourselves for a long and futile battle. Knowledge – whether protected or in the public domain – is becoming increasingly widely accessible. A car on display in one room can be copied in the space of 5 minutes in the room next door. The result will not be any worse, just cheaper: it is up to us to decide whether to go ahead and buy the more expensive item anyway. We have to decide whether we are willing to pay for the intellectual achievement, the innovation, even if we have the option of choosing the secondary product or service that has no value added.

To do this requires considerable awareness and commitment. We cannot expect individual citizens to recognise these connections and make decisions based on values if our legislators or governments are unable to do so.

It is particularly important to reduce the number of irregularities relating to use of EU funds to below the tolerable error rate: fraud of this sort makes the European Union as a whole look ridiculous when it involves EU funds being used in a manner that contradicts the declared aims of the EU.

 

23. Application of the law on customs and agricultural matters (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0488/2007) by Bill Newton Dunn, on behalf of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 515/97 on mutual assistance between the administrative authorities of the Member States and cooperation between the latter and the Commission to ensure the correct application of the law on customs and agricultural matters (COM(2006)0866 – C6-0033/2007 – 2006/0290(COD)).

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, this third report is very much linked to the two previous ones. Council Regulation (EC) No 515/97 on mutual assistance between the administrative authorities of the Member States and cooperation between the latter and the Commission to ensure the correct application of the law on customs or agricultural matters is a very important piece of legislation dating back to 1997, when we had 15 Member States.

It was essential to propose an amendment to Regulation (EC) No 515/97 in the light of developments in the last decade, technological progress, successful experience with joint customs operations coordinated in Brussels, and the enlargement of the Union to 27 Members.

I would like to pay tribute to the rapporteur, Mr Newton-Dunn, for the way he has guided this proposal through Parliament. I would also like to thank Mr Audy, who drafted the opinion. The two committees, IMCO and COCOBU, worked closely together using the enhanced cooperation mechanism. Their excellent work has enabled a compromise to be brokered between the various political actors. Thanks to the constructive approach of Parliament, a first-reading adoption of this legislation can now be achieved.

Customs authorities apply controls on goods entering and exiting the Community based upon a common risk management framework, including the use of random checks. In this context, their task is generally not limited to the enforcement of customs legislation: they also apply Community law in the fields of VAT, excise and agricultural legislation.

I also note that the issue of the fight against VAT fraud and the need for closer cooperation between the Member States and the Commission is strongly emphasised in the Musotto report which we have just discussed.

For this reason, it is crucial that customs authorities and the Commission are allowed to exchange VAT information. In the case of certain types of data, the new Article 2a makes such an exchange of information possible.

The Commission regards this as the first step in the direction of closer cooperation in the field of the protection of the Community’s financial interests against VAT fraud.

 
  
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  Bill Newton Dunn, rapporteur. − Mr President, I thank the Commissioner. I believe this should be a very uncontroversial proposal by the Commission. As the Commissioner said: enlargement, more Member States, new technology, new equipment, computers. We need updated Commission legislation to allow good cooperation across internal borders in the Union against the bad guys – the organised criminals and so on.

I talked to the director of a major Anglo-Dutch company last week and he says that he finds organised crime is increasing and – I use the word which he used – ‘exponentially’, increasing incredibly fast, and yet the Member State governments do nothing about it, because the public does not know the full picture and does not push the governments, so they say, ‘Well, don’t worry, everything is okay’. We have a serious problem. So we need this proposal from the Commission, and everybody should agree and it should go through.

There should be nothing more for me to say, but actually there is a whole story to tell you, Mr President, which I would now like to do. To my amazement, my own Member State, the UK, threw in a veto in the Council of Ministers, saying that they would not agree to this. They did not tell me, though I am British, and from the same Member State. Not a single Labour MEP from the Labour Government in London tabled an amendment to anything, but they chose my good Conservative friend, Christopher Heaton-Harris, a very honourable man, who is going to speak, to pick up the Labour Government’s objection and he tabled an amendment, which is slightly weird, but I wish Chris good luck; he is entitled to do that. But what was the Labour Party doing in all this? So, I thought, this is very strange, and there are a lot of other British objections and vetoes and opt-outs going on in lots of different policy areas, so I thought I would investigate what the overall UK policy was on all these directives that they are opting out of, what was going on?

I went to OLAF, which deals with fraud in the EU, as we know. OLAF tells me that the UK refuses to cooperate with it, even though the UK loses billions on VAT carousel fraud. London says, ‘If we give OLAF a finger, they will take our whole arm, so we are afraid, and we will not cooperate’. This is very weird, so I made further enquiries in London. How does this work? And I am told this is what happens: the Commission makes a proposal, then a junior official in the appropriate government department in London has to write a briefing paper to recommend what the Government should do about it. He is very careful; he is a bit nervous; he does not know what to do, so he says, ‘We must not do anything about this. I recommend great caution. I do not think we should approve. Perhaps we should even opt out’. And his careful paper – because he wants to be promoted and not sacked – goes up the tree in his department, and officials who are busy doing other things say ‘okay’ and tick it. Other government departments asked for their opinion do not know either, so they say, ‘It seems okay to us’. It goes finally to a cabinet committee chaired by our Foreign Secretary – and he has a million other things to think about – and so it gets rubber-stamped. So, suddenly, the Government’s position in London is negative, cautious, in favour of an opt-out: ‘We do not understand. We do not really know what is going on’. Very strange indeed!

So what happens next? Well, back to the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection in the Parliament. The blockage in the Council has meant that I have attended several informal tripartite conciliations with the Council, first of all led by the Portuguese, now led by the Slovenes, in both cases excellently. And, although no UK official has ever briefed me about anything, and I was therefore the only British person present at the conciliation, even though the British Government apparently has a veto situation on this, it went through.

Finally, the Commission and the Council have found a form of words which has enabled the British objection to be got round, or overcome, or whatever words you like to use. So the amendments before the Parliament, for voting tomorrow, were all approved by the IMCO Committee and I hope very much that Parliament will vote for them tomorrow. But what is going on in London, Mr President, I just do not understand.

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Budgetary Control. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, my colleague Mr Audy, who is draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Budgetary Control, has been delayed at the last minute and so I am speaking on his behalf.

The correct application of the law on customs and agricultural matters plays a decisive role in ensuring that the internal market functions properly. It is also essential for protecting the financial interests of the Community and, more generally, those of European economic operators and citizens.

The customs files identification database will allow the different services of the Member States and the Commission to cooperate more effectively. Some of the amendments are aimed at implementing the Court of Auditors’ proposals with a view to making the database more useful.

The draftsman shares the Court’s concerns about the integrated approach to managing the various databases relating to the fight against fraud, but considers this to be a discussion going beyond the bounds of this Regulation and therefore one which should be conducted in a different context.

The draftsman, Mr Audy, supports the Commission’s proposals aiming to promote the added value of cooperation at European level, in particular the European data directory and the platform of services. In the absence of a more uniform legal framework, an exchange of best practice will ensure an increasingly coherent approach in the medium term.

On the question of financing, the draftsman emphasises that expenses must be clearly identified so as to avoid an overlap between this proposal and other instruments, such as the Hercule II programme.

Finally, the draftsman would like to keep the legislative procedure for the decision on other communication and information exchange systems, including the mandatory opinion of the Court of Auditors, rather than apply the ‘comitology’ procedure.

 
  
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  Christopher Heaton-Harris, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I would like to start by thanking Mr Newton Dunn, another honourable Member of this institution, for eloquently painting the picture of how EU matters are dealt with – or how he believes they are dealt with – in London.

Perhaps I can explain what was going on in London and why they came to a Conservative Member of the European Parliament rather than go to a Labour MEP, or indeed to himself. Actually, I think they should have gone to him, and I cannot believe they did not. He might not believe me, but I had more contact with the current Presidency-in-Office than I did with anybody from London or the British civil service.

But perhaps it was just the fact that this young civil servant he described had forgotten to read the newspapers and believed that the general election had been called in October, that my party had won it and that the Prime Minister had not dithered, and that, therefore, he was dealing with a member of the Government party.

Alas, that is not the case. But I do understand what he says about London being concerned about giving OLAF a finger and it taking an arm. This actually goes back to the structure of OLAF itself, to the wise men’s paper back in 1999, and the fact that OLAF is simply not independent of the Commission – something that will be addressed in the future.

There were other problems with this particular dossier: the fact that VAT was being dragged between pillars, possibly – and we needed to get legal advice on that – and the fact that much of this information is already exchanged electronically. The British Government did believe – and I can see from reading between the lines how it came to that conclusion – that it would need a permanent coordination unit and would need to second people to this, therefore having lots of people in a place rather than just exchanging information electronically.

However, there is no problem with the amendments. There is no problem with the debate. This should go through very quickly, and I hope it does.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Mr Heaton-Harris. Now that all is clear in London, Europe too feels more at ease.

 
  
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  Catherine Neris, on behalf of the PSE Group.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for having produced an excellent piece of work and for having collaborated so well on what is a particularly sensitive issue.

At a time of increasing trade not only within the Union but also with third countries, the opening-up of markets and expanding commercial activity are set to represent key development factors for Europe for years to come. However, the gradual removal of the barriers that define the European Economic Area also opens the door to a host of fraudulent activities that threaten the viability of the internal market, with Community producers, and by extension European consumers, counting among the first victims. This problem is especially prominent in the agricultural sector, where the crucial measures that have been put in place to provide farmers with financial aid and solidarity have attracted the greedy eyes of international crime on both a small and large scale.

In this context, and given the shortcomings of the present controls, Europe is preparing to arm itself with a new regulation that will permit a better distribution of data among the Member States with regard to the movement of goods and the various investigations that are being carried out in the different countries of the Union. I welcome the compromise that has been found with the Council, which now gives us a more balanced document, the details of which are to be voted on tomorrow by the Members of this Parliament. While continuing to protect the various aspects of private life, the agreement should help improve the effectiveness of surveillance procedures and lead to better coordination of actions undertaken between each of the Member States.

In the area of customs controls, as elsewhere, I am convinced that Europe can only develop through greater combination of effort and by the pooling of our respective resources so that we can give our citizens the level of protection they desire. In this respect, any improvement in the measures we have for combating fraud cannot be achieved without also maintaining a consistent level of regulation, for this is essential if we are to retain sound and effective control from above of the commercial activities under way both within the Union and with third countries.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I rather enjoyed the remarks by my eminent colleagues from the UK and their storytelling about how things are done in the UK. I think we should write that down and translate that into many languages, because I think it happens in many Member States that junior officials have a dossier and prepare various reports on it. I think we should not point the finger at the junior official but rather at the department that allows that to happen.

I would just like to put to the House that there are concerns about the UK and Ireland – and maybe the Commission can update me, if there is an update about this particular issue – because, while there is support for the principle of mutual assistance between the customs authorities, I think that both Member States, Ireland and the UK, have reservations on the exchange of information between these authorities on the use of VAT numbers in Article 2a(f) and contend that the exchange of information using VAT numbers is de facto, the exchange of fiscal information falling outside the scope of the proposed legal base. So perhaps there could be a comment on that.

 
  
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  Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I also enjoy seeing how things are debated in the UK. However, I can assure you, with regard to what had just been said, that this does not happen only in the UK.

I have met several chiefs of finance, and several ministers, and promoted the idea of mutual administrative assistance, and can state that this reluctance is not just limited to the United Kingdom. It has been viewed as a suspicious matter, but I can assure you that there are no grounds for this kind of suspicion. As an investigative body within the Commission, OLAF can only provide a platform for cooperation, and it is absolutely clear that value added tax fraud can only be fought in cooperation between Member States and the European Commission, because, basically, major fraud can only happen cross-border.

So there is a real need for better cooperation, and to exchange information. I cannot comment on the last question, as to the substance of the information. We are only talking about smoothing the fight against value added tax fraud, which is a major type of fraud. That would indeed be the case, and I am very happy to hear the opinion being clearly expressed that Parliament would support this legislative proposal in the form proposed.

 
  
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  Bill Newton Dunn, rapporteur. − Mr President, I should like to thank everybody who spoke in the debate. To the very perceptive comment from Ms McGuinness, representing Dublin, I would say: when she said this is widespread and should be written down, she probably is aware that there was a very famous TV programme about 15, or even 20, years ago in the UK called Yes, Minister, in which the minister, who was a bumbling idiot, imagined he was in full control and was eventually promoted to Prime Minister. But the words ‘Yes, Minister’ were actually the words of his civil servants, who were telling him what to say and what to do – ‘Yes, Minister. No, Minister. Of course, you are all-powerful, Minister.’ But it was the civil servants who were in control.

This was happening 20 years ago and, clearly, it is still happening today. And it is happening all over Europe, which is very interesting. So perhaps we need an updated European programme – Ja, Herr Minister or Sí, Señor Ministro. But perhaps scriptwriters could actually entertain us with a new programme on the same theme, because the old truths remain as true as ever.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on 19 February 2008.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Bogdan Golik (PSE), in writing. (PL) The latest two enlargements have resulted in a significant increase in the length of the European Union’s land and sea borders. This calls for closer cooperation between Member States and between Member States and the Commission. It also requires coordination and cohesion of actions aimed at combating international economic and financial crime. I agree with the rapporteur that the role of third countries should not be overlooked in relation to these activities. I fully support authorising the Commission as appropriate, so it can provide technical aid and training to liaison officials from third countries and from European and international agencies and organisations. I welcome the proposal to improve the procedures for transferring data obtained from another Member State to third countries. I am confident that the proposed changes will have a positive impact on limiting financial irregularities.

I should like to highlight the text of Article 18a regarding the creation and management by the Commission of a directory to help detect consignments that may not comply with legal provisions in the areas of customs and agriculture. In this connection, I believe specific provision should be made in the text to enable every Member State to access the aforementioned database if it submits a request to the Commission to that effect. As it currently stands, the text refers to assistance to the relevant authorities.

 

24. Community Customs Code (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the recommendation for second reading (A6-0011/2008), on behalf of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, on the Common Position adopted by the Council on 15 October 2007 with a view to the adoption of a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the Community Customs Code (Modernized Customs Code) (11272/6/2007 - C6-0354/2007 - 2005/0246(COD)) (Rapporteur: Janelly Fourtou).

 
  
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  Janelly Fourtou, rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, now that we have come to the end of three years of hard work I am delighted at what has been achieved in respect of the key points in this document.

The customs union is one of the pillars of the European Union and an essential element in the functioning of the internal market. The present Community Customs Code, which was drawn up in the 1980s and adopted in the 1990s, is now outdated. Our customs services are faced with new challenges. In 2007 world trade totalled nearly 16 billion dollars, or 31% of global GDP, and the European Union alone accounted for 20% of the total volume of global imports and exports.

The customs services are therefore responsible for maintaining the smooth flow of trade and the controls that are needed to provide for this, while at the same time ensuring that the safety and security of EU citizens is protected. If a satisfactory balance is to be reached the control methods used have to be modernised and the level of cooperation strengthened between the different services and economic operators.

The Code also has to be adapted to other radical changes that have occurred in the international commercial environment, mainly resulting from the growing and irreversible recourse to IT and electronic data exchange technologies. This particular subject was also the focus of a report that was drawn up by my colleague Mr Heaton-Harris and adopted by Parliament last December.

The first reading of the modernised customs code was adopted on 12 December 2006 and the German Presidency managed to secure a political agreement on 25 June 2007. Parliament adopted 51 amendments to the proposal at first reading, 34 of which, mostly of a substantive nature, were taken over fully or in part in the Council common position.

The main subjects of disagreement were the status of authorised economic operator, the right to act as a customs representative, centralised customs clearance and comitology. The status of authorised economic operator, which is directly related to the events of 11 September, was introduced by the so-called ‘security amendment’ Regulation, whose aim was to offer greater facilities to operators and hence offset the new burdens they had to shoulder in order to cope with security-related aspects.

Your rapporteur is satisfied that the concept developed by Parliament at first reading has been taken over; this involves drawing a distinction between two types of authorisation, namely ‘customs simplification’, on one hand, and ‘safety and security’, on the other. This pragmatic solution allows for the different needs of the economic operators.

Turning to the subject of customs representatives, emotions have been running fairly high in those countries which have had a long history of this profession. While the Council has not adopted Parliament’s proposals to the letter, it has nevertheless proceeded from the premise that customs representatives and authorised economic operators should interact along the lines we desired.

Your rapporteur believes that the Council has arrived at a good compromise. Moreover, this solution has been accepted by customs representatives associations, even though they have lost their monopoly in certain Member States.

As far as centralised customs clearance is concerned, we have another novelty in that the Council has introduced a new Article 106, taking the view that it is more logical and transparent for all of the provisions of the Code related to this concept to be encompassed within a single article.

Henceforth all economic operators may benefit from centralised clearance on the territory of any one Member State. In cases involving several Member States they have to satisfy the eligibility criteria for authorised economic operator status.

Finally, of all the areas in which this document has made significant progress we can also be very pleased that we have broadened out the comitology process to cover 44 provisions of the modernised customs code.

For this reason I am calling on Parliament to support the Council common position without amendment.

 
  
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  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, after more than two years of active interinstitutional work, we are now very close to the completion of the codecision procedure on this proposal, thanks in particular to the commitment of Ms Fourtou and the support of the members of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection.

I am very pleased that the legal framework for a future-oriented reform of European customs will – hopefully – be in place this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of our Customs Union. That will provide encouraging impetus for the work that still lies ahead of us.

The customs union is usually presented as an ‘old’ pillar of the Community. It cannot, however, be reduced to a simple legacy of the past. It is in operation today – and not just to ensure the collection of own resources. More and more, customs administrations, legislation and procedures will secure the internal market, contribute to consumer protection, support the external aspects of common policies and, at the same time, contribute to the facilitation of our international trade. To this end, customs legislation will evolve to respond to major changes and challenges, inside and outside the Union, and resort to the most effective rules and efficient techniques.

What will modernisation of the Community Customs Code actually mean?

First, better customs regulations, including simpler and streamlined rules and procedures, clarifying the rights and obligations of economic operators and guaranteeing their more uniform treatment, while providing for an equivalent level of security and safety.

Second, a progressive computerisation of all customs formalities, with a view to a completely ‘paperless’ environment for customs and trade, whose development will be supported and framed by the e-customs Decision (No 70/2008/EC) of the Parliament and of the Council, adopted on 15 January 2008.

These changes include interoperability between national computerised customs systems. They will allow, in particular, customs clearance of goods at the place of establishment of the declarant, irrespective of the place of entry into, exit from or supply within the Community of those goods – so-called ‘centralised clearance’. They will also permit an exchange of data elements, in real time, between customs authorities, in order to perform risk analysis and improve controls within the framework of common risk management.

By supporting the Commission’s proposal at first reading, Parliament has acknowledged the essential contribution of this legislative initiative to the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs. The Council common position of October 2007, which incorporates most of the amendments adopted by Parliament at first reading, is considered by the Commission to be a well balanced compromise.

The Commission therefore welcomes Ms Fourtou’s report recommending approval of the common position without amendment.

 
  
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  Christopher Heaton-Harris, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, firstly I would like to thank Ms Fourtou. I am always in awe of her grasp of the detail in this very complex matter.

The Modernised Customs Code, as the Commissioner has heard me say before, is an amazingly boring but ever so important piece of law from the Commission. In 1975, when the United Kingdom voted in a referendum that we should actually be having now (a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty) – a referendum to come into this club – we thought we were voting to come into a free-trade area. What people got was, in fact, a customs union, and since I have been here I have been working hard on this particular report, because getting this Customs Code right and modernising it correctly is possibly the most important thing we can do until the whole thing is rejuvenated, as the Commissioner said, within the system of e-customs, making trade much more easy and duty collection much more simple across the Union.

However, as with all things European, we do not move forward as quickly as some of us would like – if we move forward at all. There are still barriers that are contained within this text. Some are pretty much built-in, until there is a complete wipe-clean of the slate and we start all over. What is an Authorised Economic Operator? What qualification should customs representatives – or AEOs, as they are known – have? Could these be used in the future as barriers to stop people coming into the business as start-ups, or indeed existing businesses running in Europe spreading across the rest of it?

This Modernised Customs Code is actually a very good document, on balance, but it could have been very much better as well. Alas, we have to compromise in this House a little too often, but I hope that, on balance, this will be good for the continent of Europe.

 
  
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  Manuel Medina Ortega, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, in my opinion, the Community Customs Code as presented by the Commission and debated by Parliament and the Council has proved an exemplary procedure. Our rapporteur, Mrs Fourtou, has put in an enormous amount of work on this and in the end, as is almost always the case, Parliament, the Council and the Commission have agreed on the final text we will be adopting.

I think that, as Mr Heaton-Harris has already mentioned, the European Union is above all a customs union, and so the customs code is an important component to allow it to function. However, the customs service as such does not function as a totally free operation: the authorities are involved to a great extent, since certain goods and values affect us all. What we are talking about here is smuggling and some of its more dangerous varieties, such as arms and drug smuggling, and controls of capital outflows.

It is therefore logical that the Community Customs Code should include the normal restrictions operated by each of the Member States, and make an attempt at harmonisation. I feel the points of debate we had here were satisfactorily resolved by the dual concept of customs representation rights and the Authorised Economic Operator: the idea of two concepts that are theoretically different but can find common ground for harmonisation. I think the solution adopted is quite a good and proper solution.

Commissioner Kovács insisted on the concept of centralised customs clearance insofar as the customs union constitutes a single unit. It does not, of course, make sense for there to be differences between the various customs facilities. I feel this is a good and practical solution that will allow us to operate in the appropriate fashion.

The last aspect to be mentioned is the comitology procedure. Both the Commission and the Council have now acknowledged the importance of Parliament’s involvement in the procedure. The agreement reached means that the 28 provisions with respect to which this procedure was applied with the involvement of Parliament have now increased to 44, i.e. Parliament may intervene in an increasingly effective fashion in the creation of provisions for the customs code.

Finally, Mr President, I wish to thank Mrs Fourtou for her work and the Commissioner for his efforts to encompass the proposals of this House.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the European Union is undoubtedly much more than just a customs union. We will not reduce it to a customs union in today's debate and in the decision we take tomorrow. Nonetheless, the customs policy at the EU's external borders is an important element of the European Union's activities and a functioning internal market.

The ÖVP Europe Club in the European Parliament welcomes the proposal for a regulation on a modernised Community Customs Code. Why? Because it streamlines customs procedures, because it establishes the basis for simpler, speedier common customs procedures at the external borders, because it means that the radical changes in the international trade environment – for example, in relation to information technology, electronic data, etc. – will now be taken into account, and because customs representatives will now be subject to clearly defined common criteria, which will result in greater reliability and professionalism.

This regulation strengthens cooperation between the Member States and the European Union. It creates a stronger Community, which is also reflected in the fact that all the amendments tabled by Parliament have been taken over by the Council. From my perspective, it means simpler, speedier common customs clearance, and that is good for business and for the European Union as a whole.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the rapporteur and, of course, to our shadow rapporteur, both of whom have done valuable work on a highly technical dossier.

With the new customs code the aim is to replace the existing code and the related regulations with a modernised code, streamline current customs procedures and create the bases for accessible interoperable customs systems across the European Union. This is something which we greatly welcome, for it will mean that companies will benefit from the adaptation to current developments in information technology and faster and more secure processing of the increasing volumes of goods passing the EU's borders.

Business associations and chambers of trade have rightly warned from the outset about the excessive red tape being generated by the EU's security initiatives which have spilled over from the US. Through our deliberations in Parliament and intensive contact with the Commission's offices, we have finally achieved a relatively sound and unbureaucratic solution, for which I am grateful.

A key point for companies that is now being implemented is centralised customs clearance through a single point of contact. We have also been able to push through our demand – and I am very proud of this – for privileged status for those businesses which fulfil the requisite criteria.

As a Member from South Baden, I must point out, however, that the customs code could cause considerable problems at the EU's external borders with countries which are not EU Member States, unless precautionary measures are taken in time. I know that the Commission wishes to take these precautions – I am talking about Switzerland here – and I hope that the Member States in the EU-Swiss Joint Committee will also play their part.

Switzerland is one of the most important markets for EU goods. Switzerland's four immediate neighbours in the EU account for 41% of its total exports and 59% of its total imports, which is why there is a need for action here. We cannot allow kilometre-long queues to form at the Swiss borders as a result of the introduction of the customs code, simply because the Swiss system of customs clearance differs slightly from that of the EU.

Commissioner Kovács, I would ask you to look at this problem and draw it to the attention of the Member States concerned as a matter of urgency. We are talking about an economic centre in the heart of Europe which must not be cut off from the international flow of goods as a result of our activities.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I trust that tomorrow we will approve at second reading the Council’s common position on the customs code. It is a successful modernisation of European customs legislation. It is a true gateway to an electronic, centralised, interoperable and automated customs system. All EU bodies will be able to avail of a single management point – a one-stop-shop – for their operations, making the much-needed controls more effective. Thanks to a unified customs information portal – single window – entrepreneurs will be able to communicate with only one customs office in the EU at the place of their establishment. This rule simplifies and unifies terminology and definitions, as well as making them more user-friendly. It is a good example of the ability, even in an enlarged EU, to simplify bureaucracy and improve the legal environment for entrepreneurs and citizens. Moreover, the project will reportedly have paid for itself by 2010. I thank the rapporteurs, Mrs Fourtou and Mr Newton Dunn, the Commission and the Council for the excellent work carried out over the last three years.

 
  
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  Bill Newton Dunn (ALDE). – Mr President, I would just like to make one comment in response to Mr Heaton-Harris saying that he thought that Britain in 1975 was joining a free-trade area. I am very worried about his memory, or perhaps it is his education. Britain was leaving a European free-trade area – it was called EFTA. We chose to leave it to join the European Community, and Mrs Thatcher, who was the Conservative leader at the time of the 1975 referendum in the UK, said that it was ‘more than a free-trade area’. Very simple, very clear, on the record.

Now, since Mr Heaton-Harris wants a referendum today on the Lisbon Treaty in the UK, he is clearly confident that the British public would read all the documents to make up their minds how to vote. And that must have been true in 1975. The British public in 1975 will have read in the documents that this is about an ever closer union and not a free-trade area. The European Union is about an ever closer union. So please, Mr President, can we get a pill for Mr Heaton-Harris’s memory?

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Mr Newton Dunn. How gloomy our evenings in the European Parliament would be without these interesting British discussions.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I will resist the temptation to join in. I would like to thank the rapporteur for the detailed work on this report.

Let us be honest, this is not the stuff that people talk about in public houses and on social occasions. But getting our customs laws right is very important for business and for jobs, and that is why we are doing it. So the idea of centralised clearance makes good sense, if it works – and let us hope that it does, under these new rules.

Also, the idea of a single window has potential to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. But can I make just one point: let us take feedback, when this all is up and running, from the economic operators, and be willing to adjust it where we see problems which have been identified by other speakers this evening.

 
  
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  László Kovács, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, my point of departure is that I am not only pleased but also very proud that we have reached this point, because I agree with all those speakers who consider it a very great achievement for the Union as a whole.

First of all, I would like to express my thanks for your support for the Modernised Customs Code and for your interest in future developments. As you have recalled, the adoption and subsequent entry into force of the Code will not be the end of the story, since its application will depend on the finalisation and application of its implementing provisions.

The new regulatory procedure with scrutiny will be used for the adoption of these provisions. It will give Parliament the possibility to check the way the Commission intends to implement in detail, with the assistance of the Customs Code Committee, the general provisions resulting from the Code.

Besides this procedural requirement, the Commission intends to keep Parliament, through its Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, properly informed about the state of preparation of the draft implementing measures and the time-schedule envisaged for the application of the Modernised Customs Code.

Concerning the problem of Switzerland and the European Union, which Mr Schwab raised, on 1 July 2009 the security amendment to the Community Customs Code will be fully implemented. This means that all goods entering or leaving the Community shall be the subject of a pre-arrival or pre-departure declaration. The Authorised Economic Operator will benefit from the facilitations envisaged in the Code.

As with other third countries, we are currently negotiating with Switzerland on the mutual recognition of control centres, the results of controls and the status of Authorised Economic Operator. The negotiations are ongoing, and we are looking for a mutually satisfactory solution to be in place by 1 July 2009.

Now let me finish by inviting you to join the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Customs Union on 1 July 2008. The Customs Union was the first cornerstone in building the internal market and remains one of its essential components. I am looking forward to continuing our discussion about the future role of customs in the context of the celebrations. Thank you very much, once again, for your support.

 
  
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  Janelly Fourtou, rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, I would like to thank all those who have spoken and all those who have contributed to the drafting of this report.

Since Mr Medina Ortega has spoken about smuggling I cannot resist the urge to bring up the subject of counterfeiting. Between 1998 and 2004 the number of arrests for counterfeiting rose by 1 000%. This just goes to show that the controls currently in place need to be updated and a new approach adopted as far as the duties of customs officials are concerned.

I also wish to pay tribute to the professionals themselves, who have displayed a real openness of mind, and I would like to say to them that I still feel a debt of gratitude towards them. This will no doubt answer the concerns voiced by Mrs McGuinness. As far as the implementing measures are concerned, I will do my best to encourage dialogue between the customs authorities and the Community institutions, including the Commission, with which there has always been a good measure of close and productive cooperation.

I therefore call on you to support the common position and would conclude by thanking you all for your attention.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on 19 February 2008.

 

25. The factors favouring support for terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0015/2008) by Gérard Deprez, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, with a proposal for a European Parliament recommendation to the Council on the factors favouring support for terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists (2006/2092(INI)).

 
  
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  Gérard Deprez, rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, the report that I have the honour of presenting to you today on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has its beginnings in a proposal that was tabled at the end of 2005 by our colleague Mr Duquesne, to whom I now pay tribute.

I also wish to point out that the bulk of the work relating to this report was carried out by our colleague Mr Mayor Oreja, who for reasons that I cannot comment on here decided to withdraw his name following the vote that was held in committee.

As regards the content of the report that has been presented to Parliament, I believe that it can be summarised by structuring the numerous elements it contains around four main themes.

Theme one is the gravity and permanence of the threat. It is an undeniable fact that terrorism in general, and Jihadist terrorism in particular, is now one of the most serious threats to the security of the citizens of the European Union. The bloody attacks on Madrid in 2004 and on London in 2005, and let us also not forget all the other attempts that have been foiled since then, all testify to the permanent and serious nature of this threat. From this it follows – and the report is fairly emphatic on this point – that the fight against terrorism must remain one of the priorities of the European Union and its Member States.

However, and this is the report’s second theme, this determined fight against terrorism has to be waged in a certain way. There are fundamental principles to be respected; otherwise, we shall distort the basic values that govern our societies. The fight against terrorism has to be carried out on the basis of scrupulous respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial.

At the same time, and especially where Jihadist terrorism is concerned, it is important to draw a distinction between cultures and religions, on the one hand, and terrorism, on the other. The vast majority of Muslims, and here it must not be forgotten that it is they who have been the main victims of terrorism in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, have nothing whatsoever to do with the extremists; it is these groups, who distort the religion they claim to follow, that we have to combat.

Finally, setting out from the principle that hatred and frustration are two of the factors that drive radicalisation, the report reminds the Member States that combating all forms of discrimination, and in particular those measures that seek to integrate minority groups, are priority policies to be implemented in order to promote calm, tolerance and good relations in our society.

The third theme relates to the measures specifically aimed at preventing terrorist activities. While there is a long list of recommendations for Member States in this area, the report emphasises the need for greater vigilance against propaganda sites, especially via the Internet, places where preaching sessions are held and the audiovisual media in general.

The fourth theme concerns repressive measures. Here there is obviously one action that needs to be highlighted above all others, for it will certainly cause no shortage of controversy. It is presented in paragraph 10 of the report and proposes extending the scope of the definition for acts of terrorism to the justification of terrorism. Now while I am not sure whether the term ‘justification’ is adequate here – and personally I think that in French it would have been preferable to use the term ‘praise’ or ‘apologia’ for terrorism – and whether it would not have been better to change it, I will be interested to see how this House reacts tomorrow to this somewhat delicate point, which goes to the very heart of the debate, namely where to draw the line between security, fundamental rights and freedom of expression.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, addressing radicalisation into violence is at the core of the Commission’s counter-terrorism policy, and I therefore welcome the report being discussed today and the very vital issues it tackles. I also welcome the progress in interinstitutional cooperation in the area of recognition of the enormous challenge we face in developing a coherent EU policy that prevents, interrupts or reverses radicalisation processes.

After a series of initiatives in recent years, since my first communication on the subject in September 2005, a communication will be presented to the Council and Parliament in July this year, identifying good practices in the Member States and making concrete recommendations for the way forward. I notice that the report makes a recommendation to the Commission in this regard.

We have devoted time and resources in the last three years to better understanding this phenomenon, its trends, its manifestations and its dynamics. We have commissioned four separate comparative studies which are now being completed. We have sent a questionnaire to all the Member States and are currently analysing the answers received. We have organised a conference on the role of education in preventing radicalisation, which brought together educators, religious leaders and policy-makers to brainstorm new ideas.

We are working on drafting the communication at the moment. The first three studies – on trigger factors, narrative and mobilisation tactics – are to be approved in the coming month. A fourth study on civil society engagement (best practices) is likely to be published around the time of the communication’s adoption in July. Its main results will by that stage already have been incorporated into the communication. Analysis of the questionnaire sent to the Member States is ongoing and will also feed into the reflection on the communication.

We can therefore now formulate our policy with much deeper insight into the problem. Our communication will deal with important issues like the narrative used by violent radicals and radicalisation in prisons and in other places of vulnerability. We will also be talking about the role of education, and civil society engagement in countering radicalisation.

Members will be aware that, in relation to incitement, we have presented a proposal for the amendment of the Framework Decision on combating terrorism that is one part of the ‘terrorism package’ introduced last November. That instrument aims to introduce into the Framework Decision offences parallel to those covered in the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism: public provocation, recruitment and training for terrorism – including via the internet – and in particular internet instructions on how to produce home-made bombs.

The Commission is strongly committed to supporting the victims of terrorism. We have, since 2004, demonstrated our support through financial assistance to numerous projects intended to help associations of victims of terrorism and to promote solidarity among European citizens. We envisage creating, in 2008, a European Network of Associations of Victims of Terrorism, in order to represent victims’ interests at European level and to strengthen European citizens’ solidarity with victims of terrorism.

In conclusion, in order to tackle the terrorist threat at European level, it is absolutely necessary to implement a global prevention policy on the factors leading to radicalisation and recruitment, in order to explore its deep roots, while never justifying terrorist behaviour. Jihadist terrorism remains the biggest threat to democratic societies, including thousands of millions of honest Muslim people in the EU and in many other parts of the world.

 
  
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  Manfred Weber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Vice-President, ladies and gentlemen, I think it is sad that we have to hold yet another debate about terrorism. Radicalisation and terrorism do not fit with Europe. The Europe which we are building is a Europe of tolerance, so it is always sad when we have to discuss this issue.

There is a great deal that unites us. Terrorism is recognised as a major threat. Recruitment must be stopped. We must respect fundamental rights. Dialogue is the key to tolerance. We must be particularly aware of the Internet, particularly its significance in communication.

In our foreign policy we view anti-terrorism as being particularly important. In Europe we need better networking of services to ensure that we can combat radicalisation and terrorism. I would particularly like to thank the Vice-President of the Commission for his suggestions here and for his summary.

For my group, therefore, it is a great pity that the outstretched hand of our own rapporteur, Mr Mayor Oreja, was not taken and that we could not reach a compromise at the end of the process. The EPP-ED therefore has a number of key points which we have defined for tomorrow's vote: for example, when there are motions for deletions which state that the violation of individual rights and the rule of law lead to terrorism; when there are motions for deletions which put school and religious centres under special surveillance; and when there are motions to delete references to Jihadist terror.

If we want to combat a threat, we need to know where the threat comes from. That is why we must identify Jihadist terror as the key challenge and state this in the report. If it is deleted, we will not be able to vote in favour of the report. We will not support any further watering-down of the report. I therefore hope that we can achieve a good result in tomorrow's vote.

 
  
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  Claudio Fava, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank my colleagues and say immediately that we were, quite frankly, obliged to work on a report that got off to a bad start, sent out mixed messages and contained shaky proposals. I believe that the Committee on Civil Liberties did a remarkable job of restoring a meaningful, tangible political profile to this report.

The basic premise was of course shared by us all. The violent radicalisation of individuals and groups in recent years has shown up one of the greatest weaknesses in our legal system and represented one of the greatest onslaughts on our democratic institutions. It is essential to combat this phenomenon. In this sense, European Union action offers added value since it provides harmonisation, because if we pool our instruments we shall have a sum of instruments, each of which will have its own intrinsic weakness.

However, this is a new challenge which calls for well-balanced efforts without giving way to the natural human temptation – inevitable, given the attacks we have suffered in the years since 11 September – to generalise or to build a Fortress Europe, or to sideline a priority that is central to the process of EU integration, namely the safeguarding of fundamental rights.

That is why we believe it is essential to move in the three directions set out by this report. The first step is to uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law, particularly – as Mr Frattini said – religious freedom and freedom of expression. Unless these rights are guaranteed, the very idea of Europe will be a failure, as will an integration process predicated above all else on the fundamental rights of European citizens.

We need to strengthen judicial cooperation so as to strike at radical, violent, organised fringe groups. We need full harmonisation of terrorist crimes at European Union level, and that of condoning criminal activity should be added to the proposal of the Committee on Civil Liberties. Of course we also need careful prevention work: we must attack the causes and factors – which are numerous, and it is pointless to pretend otherwise – leading to the radicalisation of various population groups within our societies. This entails expanding the rights of citizenship, active citizenship, in other words a form of citizenship comprising responsibilities and participation in political life, as well as dialogue with religious movements.

As the Vice-President has said, we must also fight in favour of, and protect, the millions – tens of millions – of European citizens who profess a religion different from our own, as well as the Muslim non-Community citizens who have always lived by the rules of our democracy and complied with our laws, which makes them worthy of our full respect.

Lastly, we need to build a dialogue which genuinely represents an alliance of civilisations and not a clash of civilisations. ‘Alliance of civilisations’ – I am concluding now, Mr President – Is not a term we have borrowed from a political polemic; it is the term coined by the United Nations Security Council. It expresses a major responsibility and a strong commitment for this House and our communities. I believe it is vital to keep this term in tomorrow's resolution.

 
  
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  Ignasi Guardans Cambó, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (ES) I feel, Mr President, that beyond its actual format the report is balanced, extremely important, and deals with an issue that is all too familiar to us nowadays.

There can be no doubt that terrorism is a policing phenomenon and we are all aware that it has a policing dimension. Nevertheless, the reasons behind terrorism, or rather the reasons that lead certain people to become terrorists, lie well beyond this. Jaime Mayor Oreja set this out in his first report, in an extremely debatable fashion at the outset, but after many meetings and many amendments he produced a result that was fully acceptable, including to his own Group.

I wish to testify before this House, as one might testify in court, that it is not true that Jaime Mayor Oreja’s outstretched hand was rejected. I would testify to this under oath if it were the practice of Parliament. This is not true. The reasons why stumbling blocks are now being produced for this report are best known to the European People’s Party and the Group. I can testify to meetings in Mr Mayor Oreja’s office at which we accepted 99% of what is to be put to the vote tomorrow. They cannot tell us that certain items have been rejected or that the offer has been rejected, since this is purely and simply their misrepresentation of the truth.

The position to be adopted by the Partido Popular tomorrow, therefore, remains a mystery, and doubtless this will serve to weaken the joint political message we wish to convey. I therefore wish to express my regret at this attitude. I feel that to say the problem is that the word ‘Jihad’ must disappear in one section, when it subsequently appears in three sections, and again in recital H that Jihadism is doubtless the main focus of the type of terrorism we are dealing with, is looking for excuses that do not hold water.

In any case, this report talks of freedom, religious freedom, freedom of thought and even freedom to reject a social model, but makes it clear that Europe cannot accept incitement to violence, incitement to hatred or the destruction of the very pillars of society under the cloak of religion.

The State is entitled to instruments to be used in its own defence, instruments to defend its citizens. It may, in fact, fully implement this right in terms of the police and the judiciary, while simultaneously maintaining dialogue, participation, and working towards the full integration of people who may one day become such fanatics that they could attack their own society, the society into which they have integrated, or simply their own society, since in many cases these people were actually born among us.

It is debatable, and my Group has debated this, to what extent current legislation is or is not sufficient; concepts such as apology and justification for terrorist acts are necessary for some, while they are rejected by others as potential excessive curtailment of freedom of expression. This, then, is the position of my Group: to go no further in modifying the law and to reject the concept of apologia.

At any rate, and I am finishing up now, Mr President, I welcome this report. I hope that the European People’s Party reconsiders and reflects on the support it could lend to the contents. As a guideline towards a global policy, I welcome a Commission policy whereby police forces act in close cooperation throughout Europe and measures are adopted that, beyond the polish, produce a result which respects the rights of one and all.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Mr President, paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway I would say: ‘Do not ask for whom the terrorist bell tolls, it tolls for thee’. Following the attacks in Spain four years ago and those in England three years ago, this is a very relevant message. If Oriana Fallaci, a fellow-countryman of Commissioner Frattini, could read the document we are debating, she would most probably be shocked. Mrs Fallaci was a distinguished Italian intellectual renowned for being uncompromising and controversial She believed Islamic terrorists essentially represent Islam in a nutshell, and are the quintessence of Islam.

Clearly, the European Parliament may have a different view on the matter. It is worth considering, however, why Muslim terrorists are able to garner so much support amongst young people of Arab descent born in Member States of the European Union.

I fully support the statements that the war on terror will remain a priority for the European Union. It is very important for us to focus on terrorist propaganda conducted over the Internet. I would add that satellite television broadcasts in Arabic can also be used to promote radical Islam.

 
  
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  Georgios Georgiou, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (EL) Mr President, time is of the essence. I must, however, tell you that I received the report favourably, as I understood that it was limited mainly to detection, on the one hand, and to suppression, on the other.

I should like to stress that we should have been concerned primarily with the recruitment of terrorists.

Next door to us, in the Middle East, there is an ‘academy’ that produces terrorists. Why is this? For 60 years we in Europe did not try to solve their problem, nor did we have any reason to do so.

Today a similar situation is emerging, and I am glad that I have been given the floor now, one day after the declaration of Kosovo’s independence.

You know that something untoward may well happen there again. What if tomorrow the Serbs of Mitrovica put on a show of resistance or, if you prefer, disaffection? Shall we call them terrorists?

We must examine the reasons for the emergence of terrorists who are willing to attack our European system, which does not support them.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI). – Mr President, I represent Northern Ireland in this House, a region which, as everyone will know, has suffered decades of vicious terrorism. And from that experience, I have two points to make in this debate.

Firstly, terrorism should never be appeased; it has to be defeated. Start treating with terrorism, giving its prisoners special status and, ultimately, early release, and soon you will end up like Northern Ireland has ended up: with unrepentant terrorists at the heart of our Government. Appeasement only whets the appetite – the insatiable appetite – of terrorists.

The second point I want to make is this: whereas state abuse is wrong, the naive belief, such as I find in this report, that lavishing so-called ‘human rights’ on terrorists will neutralise them will, in fact, only strengthen their cause as they expertly exploit and misuse every such right to their own advantage, while they go on denying their victims the most basic right of them all: the right to life.

Because of the excesses of their murderous strategy, sometimes the defence of society requires a choice between the uninhibited rights of terrorists and the rights of the innocent. In such circumstances, I have no difficulty in choosing the right of society to defend itself over the supposed human rights of the terrorist. The battle against terrorism is a battle of good against evil, and, if needs be, the right of the terrorist is secondary to that of society.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President, Mr Vice-President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I must start by reiterating that the unrelenting fight against terrorism must be pursued within the law, with respect for the rule of law and without infringing fundamental rights. I am not sure whether terrorism is, as the report states, the main threat to the security of the citizens of the Union, but I agree with Mr Deprez that it is definitely one of the main threats. I believe that underestimating this threat will prevent us from fighting it effectively and increasing the security of our citizens. I will therefore vote against the proposed amendments.

Terrorism does not just affect the citizens of those countries which have suffered attacks; it also threatens the security of everyone else. It spreads the fear and threat of terror. Terrorism is an irrational manifestation of fanaticism which disregards the value of life and the dignity of human beings. The Union and also Commissioner Frattini have placed the fight against terrorism at the top of their priorities. We need a global strategy that can dismantle the terrorist networks. This strategy must recognise the value of prevention, including the fight against the recruitment of terrorists and all factors favouring violent radicalisation.

It is important to analyse and understand the reasons, grounds and processes leading to radicalisation and terrorism, particularly among young people living in our Member States. There have definitely been failures in the integration processes. I agree that, within the law and with respect for the freedom of expression, the terrorist propaganda aimed at encouraging terrorist acts must be prevented.

To end, I must agree with Mr Mayor that a European initiative, particularly in this area, cannot and must not be used as a platform for the promotion of national electoral strategies.

 
  
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  Inger Segelström (PSE).(SV) Mr President, let me begin by thanking Mr Deprez for the report and the much needed discussion on terrorism. I also think that it has come at the right time, as we are now in the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue.

What I do not think the report conveys sufficiently well is the reason why people, mainly young men, become or are lured into becoming terrorists and place themselves outside democratic society. If we look around us, we cannot ignore the poverty that is there and injustices that are manifest. There are many young people to whom we cannot offer training, jobs, housing or hope for the future. This is a breeding ground for fanaticism and the conditioning of young people into acting to secure more rights for their group or people. An analysis of this is lacking in the report.

I urge you especially to vote for Amendment 12, since terrorist propaganda today is usually spread on the internet, something which too few of us here see or can control. It is a generation question, and we must increase and improve our knowledge of recruitment and become better at preventing it. Otherwise I support the amendments of the PSE Group.

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE). – (DE) Mr President, many thanks to Mr Deprez and Mr Guardans Cambó for their comments. I think they are very much in line with our group's position.

The report is entitled 'The factors favouring support for terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists'. Other speakers have welcomed the fact that we are talking about this issue, and they are right to do so. However, we are not discussing it for the first time. The European Parliament and the Union as a whole have talked about the preachers of hate and have taken preventive measures to cut off the flow of funds to terrorist organisations. These are certainly useful measures.

In that respect, I think that the report largely hits the right note. I think it would be slightly overstating the case to view the Internet as the root of all evil or as a safe haven. It is undoubtedly a space which reflects social trends just as much as real life does, and I do not believe that we should be focusing all our efforts on quelling it once and for all. We simply will not manage it.

The question, then, is what can we do instead? We have talked about audiovisual services, and the question which arises here is: why does the European Union not take action if certain channels are broadcasting hate programmes on EU territory that are aimed directly at children?

In one of Hezbollah's programmes, for example, a figure disguised as Mickey Mouse – in whatever form – attacks Jewish settlers. This is intended to teach small Palestinian children about their history. It is not the case that a Member State intervened to put an end to this problem. Instead, the Walt Disney company asserted its rights over Mickey Mouse, and at the end of the series, Mickey Mouse was killed off by a Jewish settler.

This was broadcast on European territory! Why is Hezbollah still not on the EU's list of terrorist organisations? We have just had an interesting discussion with Dick Marty on this issue. I believe that, in general, more building blocks are needed to curb terrorism as a whole. This must certainly include tackling the roots of terrorism in the countries concerned, for example by creating healthcare systems, infrastructure and education systems. We should not leave it to terrorist organisations like Hamas in the Gaza Strip or Hezbollah to provide these services, for these havens within society are the very places where these organisations recruit their supporters.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR BIELAN
Vice-President

 
  
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  Bárbara Dührkop Dührkop (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, our proposal for a recommendation to the Council and the Commission today wishes to make a contribution to the efforts of the institutions and civil society to eliminate the factors encourage support for terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists.

Mr Frattini, the process to bring this to the House has been long and laborious, but there can be no doubt it will be well worth voting for the final result tomorrow. The proposal focuses on the fight against Islamist extremism, a new phenomenon within the EU that requires a certain amount of reflection and the means to oppose it.

It may, however, be easily extrapolated to any other terrorist cause that may be invoked amid patriotism and flags. We therefore wish to ask the Council to consider apologia as such as a crime in the framework decision against terrorism. It would be desirable to extend harmonisation of this crime to the 27 Member States, although always, I repeat, always, with the most scrupulous respect for freedom of expression.

Repression and prevention of radicalisation must act in parallel. If we wish to prevent radicalisation, we must provide education and integration for the 13 million Muslims living in the EU, and refrain from stigmatising this 3.5% of the population. In terms of the EU’s external relations, we call for dialogue and not a clash between civilisations. It is for this reason that we refer to the ‘alliance of civilisations’ adopted by the UN, and we fail to understand the gut rejection of certain Members.

This is the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. We have no wish to assist in the perversion of religion: we must encourage social participation and dialogue. These are some of the achievements of the recommendation. Are its suggestions so destructive that the speaker simply could not face them?

Mr Weber, I must say that Mr Mayor Oreja showed a lack of parliamentary courtesy by not explaining to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs why he voted against and subsequently rejected the report. His obsession with conveying to Parliament the systematic opposition at national level says a great deal about the previous speaker’s democratic stance. This kind of attitude will be of little use to us if we wish to make progress in terms of democracy, and this House operates with consensus, not blinkered postures.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, I believe that this is a good report and I subscribe almost entirely to the remarks of my chairman and political colleague, Mr Deprez. But I disagree with him and others on the proper scope of the anti-terrorist laws.

I do not believe it is helpful to criminalise glorification of, or apologia for, terrorism. I think the term ‘justification’ is also problematic. As many of us were earlier discussing with Dick Marty on the subject of terrorist blacklists and asset freezing, the law needs to be both just and effective if it is to remain credible and sustainable and have public support. There is a profound risk that extending the criminal law as proposed, beyond actions and intentions and into the realm of opinion, commentary, and even fantasy, carries the danger of creating thought-crimes.

This would have a potentially chilling effect on free speech. If I say I understand that the Kurds in Turkey have felt anger and disaffection at the suppression of their culture, language and identity and denial of their political aspirations, am I justifying PKK bombs?

There is hardly a person in the House – unfortunately, there are maybe a few – who would not glorify Nelson Mandela. But the ANC committed terrorist acts in fighting the utterly repressive apartheid state. There are people, now statesmen, who have been honoured guests in this Chamber, who have a past as freedom fighters.

So am I just a woolly liberal, concerned only with free speech? No, because the law has to be effective. We already properly criminalise incitement to commit terrorism. And that gives wide scope to target behaviour and speech that has, as its purpose, the instigation of a terrorist offence.

Last week, the UK’s second highest court, the Court of Appeal, quashed the convictions of five men for possession of jihadist material precisely because there was no evidence of intention to encourage terrorism. The original convictions in this case created resentment among those – mainly young Muslims – who wanted to discuss, debate and criticise the foreign policies of Europe and the United States. That does not help combat radicalism. But these cases have also, by their collapse, left the law in a state of confusion and disarray, and that is good for terrorists.

Let us stick to getting convictions on the basis of incitement. Let us not stray into glorification and apologia.

 
  
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  Jan Marinus Wiersma (PSE). – (NL) Mr President, I would also like to express my appreciation of the report now before us and also of the Commissioner’s words and of what he wants to do. In my country too, the Netherlands, a lot of attention is being given to radicalisation and its tragic consequences. We ourselves in the Netherlands were faced with a horrific murder of a Dutch TV producer committed by young people who came from these radicalised circles. We are only talking about a small group, but what they do can have major consequences. It is very important that we work together and that every effort is made to track down and isolate groups and individual young people who may turn to terrorist attacks.

However, as others here have said already, the prevention of radicalisation is also vitally important. The point is to keep the group who may turn to violence as small as possible. Nor does radicalisation always end in violence. It is a bad thing in any case if young people feel totally isolated from society and do not want to have anything more to do with it. In our experience it also comes down to the fact that the policy on tackling radicalisation is directed at local authorities. Of course it is important to look at what you can do in the prisons and, more generally, in the area of education to look at what you can do to prevent misuse of the Internet. However, it is still mainly the local authorities who are able to be active in the communities to tackle the causes of radicalisation and to trace the youngsters who are susceptible to it. I think that the European Union, and the Commissioner in particular, can play an important role in bringing together the experience we have gained in various cities. Last week our group made a working visit to Rotterdam, a city where a great deal is being done to tackle and prevent radicalisation and to reach groups that are susceptible to it.

It is also important to engage in a broader dialogue with the Muslim communities in our countries. Some of the young people involved come from those larger communities and if we isolate that large group we will never be able to reach that small group. It is important, therefore, to enter into the dialogue with the assumption that the vast majority of the Muslim communities who live in our society want nothing to do with what is a perverse interpretation of their faith, and that we invest a great deal in that broad dialogue of my group, this year too, the year of cultural dialogue.

 
  
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  Olle Schmidt (ALDE).(SV) Thank you Mr President, Commissioner. The EU needs to show clearly that the fight against terrorism is, both symbolically and practically, a demonstration of solidarity. More resources are needed to enable Europol to cooperate with our national security services and achieve results. This is shown, in particular, by the recent unrest following the rekindling of antagonism over the Muhammad cartoons.

As has been said here, the fight against terrorism must always be waged by legal and proportionate means. The CIA flights in Europe, the use of torture, mock executions and waterboarding, which the CIA now acknowledges did happen, and the establishment of special secret jails must be vigorously condemned. In these cases, Mr Frattini, the EU should have acted much more firmly than it did.

It is good that the report adopts a broader approach and addresses the factors which contribute to increased support for and renewed recruitment to groups which reject our models of society in favour of violence and sectarianism.

The fact that the perpetrators of the terrible outrages we have witnessed in recent years were born or grew up in Europe is a shrill wake-up call urging us also to look at our own societies with more critical eyes. We need a dialogue and an honest discussion on our integration and visa policy. Here we cannot and must not avoid difficult questions. But, to me, one thing is self-evident. It is our thinking on what should be the basis of our common legislation. The current debate on sharia law in Britain shows that good intentions can often be more of a hindrance than a help.

We must also ensure that Community legislation does not jeopardise or set aside important constitutional principles, such as those governing freedom of expression. The report speaks of introducing a new concept in the Framework Decision: ‘justification of terrorism’. I believe that this is unfortunate. Not because it is not a good idea to ensure that all Member States have good laws against incitement but because it is difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a definition which could be applied uniformly and which would not lead to thorny problems of interpretation. On the one hand, there is the important task of devising ways of combating terrorism and saving lives. On the other hand, there is the principle of freedom of expression and the concern to maintain a high level of legal certainty in Europe. It is a question of finding the right balance.

 
  
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  Hubert Pirker (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, by the time the fanatics have snuffed out innocent lives and carried out bomb attacks on democratic societies, it is already too late. For that reason, no effort must be spared, especially – as Commissioner Frattini says – when it comes to prevention. Dialogue, as the key to tolerance, must be at the forefront of our attention. However, we also need better police cooperation and exchange of data; indeed, all the tools which can be used both within and beyond the European Union should be reinforced.

I particularly welcome the fact that the Commissioner has drawn attention to the importance of helping victims. It is not just about tolerance, it is also about practical measures. Let me stress that there must be surveillance of the preachers of hate: that is a necessity. However, the information must then be acted on. Glorification of terrorism is never acceptable, so we need a zero-tolerance strategy towards crimes against our society.

I think it is most regrettable that on an issue which has always been a very serious topic of discussion in this House, the national polemic has once again loomed so large in relation to this report.

 
  
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  Manfred Weber (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, I have been asked by fellow Members from the ALDE group how the PPE-DE intends to vote. Let me say again that the PPE-DE Group supports 95% of what is in the report. I would also like to underscore that I think it is very sad that both the ALDE representative and the PSE representative, Spanish colleagues, have attacked the PPE-DE today. I think it is a great pity that domestic issues are preventing us from finding common ground in this Parliament.

Anyone who wants this House as a whole to achieve a major decision tomorrow should please vote for the PPE-DE amendments. We are not changing anything of the substance of the motion, but we are removing the domestic policy aspect. Anyone who wants to grasp the outstretched hand of the PPE-DE Group can do so tomorrow.

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE). – (DE) Mr President, I am delighted that you have given us leave to speak again, as that has been handled differently in another debate. Nonetheless, although Mr Pirker and I may not always see eye to eye – we often argue, and do so with great enjoyment and fervour — he is quite right to say that such debates should not be abused for national purposes. It disrupts everything and it simply leads to false compromises.

I am sure that the Spanish colleagues here in the House will give a different answer. I simply know from my own experience that this type of thing is very often dragged into the national debate. I am also getting rather tired of the fact that – not for the first time – we are being used as a ping pong ball between the PPE-DE and the PSE on these matters. However, I am glad that the Liberals have been able to mediate and are still up to the challenge.

Our colleague from Northern Ireland is unfortunately no longer present. I find that rather galling because he said something that I view as quite incredible: he said that terrorists do not have the same basic human rights as everyone else. However, that is precisely what distinguishes us from terrorists: the fact that we regard human rights as universal. We should never give the impression that this House could ever take a different view.

 
  
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  Ignasi Guardans Cambó (ALDE). – Mr President, owing to the importance of this debate, I have a question for the PPE-DE Group. The issue was raised that if the PPE-DE Group was to support the report, it would withdraw, and ask the other groups to withdraw, any element relating to internal Spanish politics. I would ask the PPE-DE Group’s representative which amendment tabled by that group is linked to Spanish politics. It would be very interesting to know, and then it could be made public which of the amendments of the PPE-DE Group concern internal politics. Is it the reference to the United Nations in Amendment 1 which they want to delete? Do they want to delete a reference to the United Nations? Is that Spanish internal politics? One has to be coherent. The only person who is trying to introduce internal politics is Mr Mayor Oreja, who did not even have the courtesy to attend this part-session.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, I would be extremely grateful if anyone who is supporting the amendments to criminalise glorification could be so kind as to try and answer the points that I raised, which are, first of all, that I fear a chilling effect on free speech and, secondly, that I do not know how they can be made operational.

What is the connection between glorifying an act of terrorism and another terrorist act being committed? It seems to me that there are legal problems, as was found in the UK Court of Appeal last week, because there is no direct connection between glorification and a new terrorist act, which there obviously is when there is incitement, or encouragement at least. If you just ‘glorify’ a terrorist act, then what is the straight-line connection between that and another act being committed?

If you cannot establish that connection, you risk being undercut in the courts and then end up in a much worse position than before you started. I would be very grateful if anyone who actually supports the criminalisation of glorification or apologia could perhaps educate me, because this is something I do not quite understand.

 
  
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  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I too believe that this evening’s debate has been of considerable political significance. I also believe that we must jointly come up with a widely shared political solution that will form the subject of a report acceptable to all of humanity or, if not, to a large majority of parliamentary groups.

I have no doubt that today’s terrorists are seeking to establish a new form of global dictatorship. We experienced powerful dictatorships in the last century, but this one is a dictatorship based on violating the primary fundamental right, namely the right to life. It is clear, in addition, that this strategy, along with violence and hatred, has regrettably become a global strategy.

That is why our reaction must consist not merely of cooperation among police forces and information services, but of a political response to avert and remove the causes that lead to terrorism. I believe, and many of you have emphasised, that prevention means eradicating hatred and eliminating the reasons for hatred, without ever justifying violence, since the gravest risk we run is to begin justifying violence. We must eradicate hatred without justifying violence.

Someone spoke of a conflict of civilisations. In my view, that theory leaves a lot to be desired. Personally I am not convinced that a clash of civilisations is underway. I am convinced that an internal conflict is going on within the Islamic world, that is, a conflict between a minority which misappropriates the religious message and the vast majority of Muslims who, I believe, are absolutely peace-loving and want to live in a spirit of peace and tolerance. If we are to provide a political response, ladies and gentlemen, I think the only option is to strengthen reformist, peace-loving Islam against that minority which is neither reformist nor peace-loving.

All of these are political measures; they are not police or security measures. I have referred to the rights of victims and I believe that more work is needed in this area. Victims' rights must be given greater consideration than in the past, so as to offer them practical help which – believe me, I am convinced of this – means not just financial help but in many cases assistance for them or their survivors, for the relatives of victims of attacks and murders, to help them reintegrate into society after the terrible trauma they have suffered. Another right of victims is not to be left alone after having survived an attack or having lost a relative or loved one.

Someone said that we need to understand the causes of terrorism. I agree, and have said so myself, but I believe that terrorist groups, organisations and methods must not be given legitimacy by our attempt to understand them. Understanding is one thing; lending legitimacy is another: there is a fundamental difference.

I should like to recall one last point. The European Union would play a significant political role in the world, in my opinion, if it could achieve something that has not yet been achieved. That something is to encourage the United Nations to adopt at long last the international convention on the definition of terrorism. That definition still does not exist, which causes us a number of difficulties outside Europe. Europe has its own definition of terrorism, but as you know some member countries of the UN General Assembly have still not endorsed either the substance or the procedure of a UN convention on terrorism.

I believe that if Europe really is united in this area, it could do something akin to what we did concerning the moratorium on the death penalty: make the United Nations take a stance on an important, consolidated European position, thereby giving global legitimacy to the response to terrorism. If terrorism is global, our response must be absolutely firm but likewise global.

 
  
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  Gérard Deprez, rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, I would like to make three comments at the conclusion of this debate.

The first is that if we listen to the Commissioner and then listen to most of the contributors the first thing that really strikes us is that – as regards the analysis of the phenomenon, the seriousness of the threat and the balance that has to be drawn between measures aimed at prevention and those aimed at suppression – there is a great deal of common ground between us all once we start to discuss the operational side of things: what we need to analyse, what we need to prevent and what we need to suppress.

Secondly, and regrettably, I have the feeling that when it comes to certain elements that are more symbolic than anything else we shall not be able tomorrow to reach the consensus that is needed and I would regret this because after having examined the list of amendments it seems to me that most of the differences are symbolic rather than substantive in nature. The problem is that these symbolic conflicts of interest could be alleviated if the parties decided to make a gesture, something that is not always a defining characteristic of the political groups that make up this Parliament.

Thirdly, there are several comments that I would like to direct at some of those present in this House, especially – and Mr Alvaro feels the same way – with regard to my fellow Member from Ireland, who considers that respect for human rights is not needed in the fight against terrorism. I find that this attitude poses a risk, and a serious one at that, to the values on which our society is based. There is a certain Head of State, and I heard him talk on the television one day, a European Head of State who said that he would take a knife to the terrorists and do for every last one of them. Well that particular regime is now one that poisons its opponents, allows its journalists to be murdered and holds elections that may be free but may also be fraudulent. To play with human rights in the fight against terrorism is to run the risk of an unacceptable slide in our democratic societies.

We have also been questioned directly by Mrs Ludford on the problem of apologia for terrorism. I am unable to respond to her in any great depth but would simply say that I am the rapporteur for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, the terms of which are known to her, and that when I presented my views just now I was basing them on paragraph 10 of the report that was adopted by the committee, which states quite clearly, Mrs Ludford, that the committee, and hence Parliament, calls for open discussions on amending Framework Decision such and such in order to include the justification of terrorism within its scope, and so on.

I was not therefore making any kind of plea, I was simply expressing what had been agreed by the Committee on Civil Liberties; nevertheless, I will respond to her directly. When I speak of apologia for terrorism, apologia means incitement and I believe that incitement is a criminal offence.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 19 February 2008.

Written Statements (Article 142)

 
  
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  Lena Ek (ALDE), in writing. – (SV) The fight against terrorism must only be fought in a way which is appropriate to an open, democratic and just society. It is absolutely essential that threats to an open society are countered by the methods of an open society.

We must balance our action and the measures we take by safeguarding human rights and the rule of law and must not resort to measures which jeopardise personal integrity.

I have therefore decided to vote against Mr Deprez's proposal for a recommendation to the Council on the factors favouring support for terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (PSE) , in writing. – (RO) The cooperation between the EU institutions on the fight against terrorism should be perfected, taking into consideration that this phenomenon has increased.

I believe terrorism has become the main enemy of European values, global stability and peace. If we remember the events of 11 September 2001 or those in Madrid a few years ago, we have the perfect configuration of a picture expressing horror, fear and suffering.

The European institutions should have developed a strategy for becoming acquainted with, reducing and eliminating this phenomenon ever since that time. It is necessary for us to start a study as thorough as possible in this regard: to show its causes, what keeps the terrorists so fierce and capable of giving up their lives in order to become martyrs, whose martyrs they are, how the recruitment is done, who finances it and how we can intervene in any way to discourage this phenomenon.

Therefore, in order to find out all these things and to control them in the EU’s interest, the European institutions should be concerned with drawing up this strategy.

In this way, the EU will give a signal of unity and strength to the entire world.

 

26. EU Market access for European Companies (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0002/2008) by Mr Guardans Cambó, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, on the EU’s strategy to deliver market access for European companies (2007/2185(INI)).

 
  
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  Ignasi Guardans Cambó, rapporteur. − (ES) Mr President, during discussions on the Lisbon Strategy and all it meant for growth and competitiveness in Europe, unfortunately the issue of external trade did not receive the attention it deserved as a substantial part of a strategy for competitiveness, growth and employment within the European Union. We have now moved on and the European Commission has corrected this situation, it has set things straight and it has clearly positioned external trade, access to foreign markets, as yet another pillar of the structure that must lead to growth and welfare in the European Union.

The export of goods and services is a basic component of competitiveness in our economies, and is thus a factor of employment and wealth in the European Union. The main export access difficulties arise from non-tariff barriers in particular, rather than from generally recognised tariffs. The Commission has already carried out a wide-ranging consultation, thereby demonstrating its intentions within the context of its broader strategy for a global Europe, intentions that we support. This report, in fact, covers a good many of the replies received during the consultation, or some of them at any rate, which the Commission decided not to include at the time.

Globalisation is not an external threat from which we need to be protected. In my view, it is a huge opportunity to achieve what we could not achieve before, and a larger market is one way of creating wealth, in other words, creating employment and improve the citizens’ welfare. Clearly, and here I am speaking to a certain section of the House, that what this report is calling for is market access, market access that must be enhanced, a strategy that can and must respect the circumstances prevailing in each country. European leadership in this area respect the legitimate concerns of emerging economies, and must continue to do so.

One of the world’s most open economies, however, such as the European model, cannot allow itself to be carried away by certain dogmatisms. The export of goods and services cannot be subject to unjustifiable barriers, nor can public contracts, and the Commission can and must do more in both these areas. It can and must improve its instruments in Brussels, in the framework of the EU, through better coordination with the trade promotion bodies in Member States and regions, and with the actual businesses involved. It is here, Commissioner, that the word subsidiarity ought to be understood in its broadest sense. It is here that the Commission has a role to play that cannot be played by any other entity, a role that elbows no one out of the way and enhances every one of us, coordinating the work that others already do, perhaps less effectively than the Commission might.

Thus the report sets out a number of specific points, some very specific indeed, which the Commission can improve within the context of its market access strategy. I do not intend to read them out here, but they are extremely clear and precise, and may be assessed with the same kind of precision. We are also making an extremely specific request for the Commission to define ad hoc courses of action to defend and improve the presence of SME products in third country markets, since it is these products that encounter most difficulties when they have no protection.

The Commission also can, and must, secure better coordination of resources on the ground without offending sensibilities or excluding anyone. Each state, each export support body, each trade delegation from a Member State: without offending anyone, the EU trade delegations can strengthen their role in third countries. There can be no justification for the lack of communication between certain foreign trade actors, whom anyone who has made a visit will know. Nor can we discard, whenever possible, a genuine multilateral approach with a view to improving standardisation, and the need to improve mechanisms within the WTO framework; all this will prove extremely useful.

I therefore feel that we can all welcome the adoption of this report, presumably by a large majority. I particularly wish to thank the secretariat of the Committee on International Trade, which helped with the drafting of the report, and the shadow rapporteurs in the various parliamentary groups who tabled amendments and improved the text.

This signals the start of a new political impetus. It is not just a piece of paper to be approved, framed and hung on the wall. This is the beginning of a strategy, as the name suggests, and a strategy requires a whole range of measures: these measures must be implemented and we must be able to ask the Commission at a later date to come back to Parliament and explain to us how they have been implemented.

 
  
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  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Guardans Cambó, and the Committee on International Trade very much indeed for this very constructive report. It confirms that we share a common vision, both on the importance of a proactive market access strategy for European businesses and workers, and on the basic principles that should underlie this strategy.

The priorities that are set out here – SMEs, barriers to services and investment, public procurement and IPR – are very much my priorities. That is the same message that the European Council sent last June, and again in response to our progress report last month. We have built a strong new consensus on the importance of this work.

At the heart of the global Europe strategy that we launched in 2006 was the commitment both to keeping our own markets in Europe open, and also to refocusing our resources on creating new opportunities for European workers and companies in the markets of our main trading partners. We can do that above all through a successful WTO trade deal, but we can also do it through a new generation of free-trade agreements. It also means taking a more hard-headed approach to modern trade barriers, and especially non-tariff barriers which operate not at the border, but behind the border. Europe’s workers and companies can compete almost anywhere if they are given a fair opportunity and a level playing field on which to compete. Our job is to support them and provide them with a platform to do that, which means focusing on the barriers, conditions and discriminatory regulatory practices that operate against them and deny them that fair opportunity to compete and to trade.

The challenge in 2007 has been to put this policy into practice. In particular, we have focused on strengthening our resources on the ground in our most important markets by creating market access teams that bring together a business, a Member State and Commission staff and experts. These are the people who really know the markets and who have a feel for the local politics and a clear sense of both what is necessary and what is possible. This has produced good results. In the last six months we have scored important successes in South America, Central Asia, South Asia, Japan and Russia. We have also stepped up our cooperation with the United States on market access issues, which has been instrumental in some of these successes.

We have also introduced an on-line complaint register for EU companies and launched real-time and monthly reporting on market access work. I therefore mildly disagree with the suggestion in the report that the Commission has not done enough to bring out the full potential of this partnership during the launch phase. That does not mean either that I consider the collaboration to be perfect or that I feel in the least bit complacent about what we could do differently, and even better, than we are at the moment.

I agree that this new strategy is a dynamic process which requires constant vigilance and constant commitment. Frankly, it also needs some more high-profile advocates of what we are doing and how we are setting about pursuing our objectives, both in this House and also among the Member States – people who believe in economic openness, but who are also not afraid to speak up for reciprocal market opening, especially amongst those emerging economies whose own growth is being driven by their access to our markets. That is right, that is fair and that is the principle of international trade that we believe in – that whilst we remain open to others they too should progressively open their markets to us if the principle of international trade is going to be well and properly served.

I agree with the rapporteur when he calls on all stakeholders to participate actively in this partnership. We are continuing to improve our coordination work on the ground with Member States and industry, but we need these experts to step up as well if we are to achieve our potential.

On the question of resources, I am grateful for the additional staff that the budgetary authorities have allocated to DG Trade. We will continue to push for more resources for the most important markets in Asia and, for example, in Brazil. In the mean time we have strengthened our staffing on market access activities in Brussels.

Finally, I also take note of your request to receive an annual report from the Commission. Along with the regular reporting, I would be pleased to discuss the annual activity report with Parliament.

So, my thanks again to the rapporteur and to Parliament for its engagement in this very important work. It is vital that we maintain our energy and engagement in 2008 and beyond. This priority means a lot to me and to my services; it means a lot to our businesses in Europe and for the employment they are able to create for our workers, flowing from increased market access and from the strengthening of world trade that is at the heart of our trade policy strategy for a global Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău, Rapporteur for approval Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. − (RO) Mr. President, Mr. Commissioner, the European Union’s Market Access Strategy was initiated in 1996. The Commission developed a free service that provides the European exporters with an electronic, public, updated register regarding the market access conditions in approximately 100 countries.

In 2007, in the euro zone, trade recorded a surplus of 28.3 billion euros, as compared to a deficit of 9.3 billion euros in 2006. In 2007, the EU-27 recorded a deficit of 185.7 billion euros, as compared to a deficit of 192.1 billion euros in 2006. Therefore, at Community level, actions should be taken so that the Member States outside the euro zone would become more competitive.

We consider that the market access will be facilitated by promoting the European Union’s values and principles to third countries by promoting open markets, by approaching social standards and environmental standards and by ensuring the protection of intellectual rights.

Investments in research, promotional campaigns to make the available services and information public, improving the Community computer system regarding market access, interconnecting the specific databases and training specialists who would support the European companies should be part of the Commission’s partnership with the Member States and the European companies.

 
  
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  Corien Wortmann-Kool, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (NL) Mr President, the new market access strategy of the Commission should really help to remove barriers in third countries. It is, therefore, as the Commissioner says, an appropriate addition to the WTO and an important addition to free trade agreements. I am very pleased with the positive report from Parliament, and would like to thank our rapporteur, Ignasi Guardans Cambó, who also managed to set out such clear priorities: better cooperation with European businesses and more support for small and medium-sized enterprises; the help-desk at the Commission but also on the ground in the third countries. I think that the European Institute in China for small and medium-sized European companies is an excellent Commission initiative.

It is a matter of reciprocity. We open up our market to third countries and then the markets in those third countries should also be opened up to our European companies, especially in the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and Russia. We should therefore give this priority in the market access strategy, with market access teams that will assist European companies in those countries. This means that we have to put in sufficient personnel to do this, including in those European embassies, as you already said. European business is the biggest exporter in the world and we have to compete constantly against protectionist measures, even in those third countries. Set your priorities for the areas that are important: services, public procurement, investments, intellectual property and customs procedures.

I am pleased that you have announced that you will report to us annually and it would be good to discuss the priorities once a year. You have demonstrated ambition here and that is a precious thing to us. I really hope that you also show ambition when it comes to adapting the trade defence instruments, the same ambition as you have shown in this strategy.

 
  
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  Carlos Carnero González, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, I wish to begin my speech by congratulating the rapporteur on his important work in terms of proposals and analysis.

This Parliament does not vote on explanatory statements, but if it did so on this report, I would vote in favour because it certainly justifies the main proposals for provisions. Thus I feel able to announce the support of the Socialist Group, with a request that the rapporteur take into account some of the main amendments we have tabled, in due accordance with the ideals of a left-wing group.

Europe certainly is the world’s largest goods exporter and its leading service provider. Moreover, in a globalised context we have a legitimate right to market as many of our products and services as possible, in the markets of emerging countries in this case. Why not? It is logical and normal, and it is what our citizens would want. Thus the proposals put forward in the report and set out in the Commission communication are correct, starting with the prevention of non-tariff barriers, a ‘Hydra’, as the rapporteur so rightly calls them: a Hydra working behind the scenes, not only preventing European products and services from reaching markets, but also preventing balanced development in those countries and markets.

I am therefore of the opinion that this report is on the right path, for what we must do is secure our Lisbon agenda and strengthen our social model. We also need to ensure that this model can penetrate the emerging countries with which we wish to trade. I have no doubt this will be beneficial to both European workers and workers in the other countries.

We place a considerable emphasis on working conditions, security, protection of the environment and, above all, human rights. Those are our principal amendments.

I must repeat our request that the rapporteur take account of these. Indeed, how do we actually achieve these goals? We achieve them through much more intense cooperation – I do not know if it can be called ‘enhanced’ cooperation, since that creates confusion with institutional provisions in the new Treaty – between the EU, Member States and businesses, starting with support for SMEs. Congratulations, therefore, and good night.

 
  
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  Cristiana Muscardini, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we are all aware of the sensitivity of this matter and how much attention is paid to it in our respective countries.

The UEN Group is very satisfied with the proposal put forward by Mr Guardans Cambó and the additional work done by the Committee on International Trade. I would compliment the rapporteur on his analysis and European focus, and consequently his emphasis on the difficulties often caused by the unwarranted obstacles confronting European industry on international markets.

Improving competitiveness means doing whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the Lisbon strategy. If we are able to give European industry better access to international markets, we will enable companies to grow, invest in know-how and technology, and create more jobs. This is what many economic sectors in our countries are asking of us.

Various kinds of obstacles impede access to foreign markets by European industry. These barriers consist of a number of different measures ranging from confused regulations and disincentives to investment or market access, to unfair trading practices, scant regard for intellectual property rights and widespread counterfeiting, which is detrimental to European goods, and, more generally, serious and systematic violations of the WTO rules and other rules governing international trade.

The Commission's communication goes in the right direction and Parliament wishes to support the initiatives it sets out, aimed at improving access to foreign markets. These include the formation of a stronger strategic partnership between the Commission, maintaining its coordinating role, the Member States, and European Union businesses, with a view to supporting economic operators and especially SMEs wishing to make contact with or export to third countries.

The Commission delegations in certain key countries need a stronger presence. This should form part of a broader strategy carried out in conjunction with our main trading partners, such as the United States, Japan and Canada; they have the same concerns as ourselves internationally and could join the Union in promoting a multilateral agreement in this field, backing WTO mechanisms that ensure a faster response to any new non-tariff barriers.

Multilateral action, the most effective type of action owing to the number of countries involved but also the most difficult, therefore needs to be accompanied by agreements identifying and resolving the inconsistencies connected with the existence of unwarranted obstacles in third countries.

 
  
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  Carl Schlyter , on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (SV) Mr President, when one reads the Commission Communication and, in particular, Parliament’s report, one might think that the poor little EU is being discriminated against by malign foreign forces. This emerges especially from paragraph 4 of the report, which says that we urge the Commission to ensure that the European Union’s trade interests are defended against the abusive or unfair trade practices of third countries. And again: ‘when third countries unjustifiably restrict access to their markets by European Union companies, the European Union should react rapidly and firmly’.

We should be careful when using that kind of language to former colonies. They remember when Europe last acted firmly to defend its interests. That kind of talk can damage us more than any trade restrictions.

Certainly the Commission has a point in that there are technical barriers to trade and unfair rules. Of course we must discuss them with our partners calmly and reasonably and solve any problems there may be. But invite, not only businesses, but also voluntary organisations, including those from third countries. Then perhaps we can understand how the rules came about and understand whether they are reasonable or not.

I am uneasy about the ten-point list. Restrictive export procedures for raw materials, a ceiling on foreign ownership in the services sector, restrictions on foreign direct investment, state procurement procedures and the application of state aid must be seen as barriers to trade which have their justification; they arise from legitimate legislation and are administrative measures from public authorities. They cannot be removed without public consultation and deliberation, if stability in those countries is not to be compromised.

Countries must have the right to protect health and the environment and have procurement procedures which ensure that their local businesses are not completely excluded from international competition, thereby creating mass unemployment. Also we cannot be so unreasonable as to expect countries to protect our intangible property rights when they hardly have the resources to protect human rights. We should promote freedom rather than set traps.

We must come down on those rules which seek to favour businesses in their countries which have foreign operations and which act against other foreign players. That is where we can remove rules. We should be able to turn a blind eye to rules which are directly or indirectly intended to protect the population or businesses active locally. We ourselves protected our industries until they were strong enough to compete internationally. Others must be allowed to do the same.

 
  
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  Christofer Fjellner (PPE-DE).(SV) To create market access means abolishing tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade around the world. It is an immensely important priority for the Union’s trade policy. It creates not only business opportunities for European companies but also gives them access to better and cheaper products in other parts of the world. It creates prosperity across the world.

It is also a matter on which I feel there is unaccustomed agreement in the European Parliament. It is gratifying at a time when protectionism is on the march all around the world. I therefore also think that the Commission Communication and Mr Guardans Cambó's report are more welcome than at any other time. They are really very good.

In this discussion I would like to draw attention to another question which we must not ignore – the other side of openness. I think that they belong together. European firms also need openness within Europe in order to be competitive on a global basis and make use of the market access which we can create in other countries. In our globalised world, with ever more companies having global supply chains, our own tariffs can be just as damaging to our successful businesses as those tariffs we oppose in other countries.

I have a concrete proposal for the Commissioner, a proposal which may help a little in resolving this question. When firms have problems trading within the EU they report them to Solvit, which is an excellent tool for increasing mobility on the internal market. If a firm has a problem exporting to a country outside the EU, it refers it to the Market Access Database. That too is immensely important. Both of these systems provide a basis for negotiations on how trade can be facilitated. Let us hope that we can also develop either the Market Access Database or Solvit in order to deal with problems which importing firms in the EU may experience.

If we do that, both we ourselves and the rest of the world can continue to move in a direction which is more conducive to free trade. Then we can show that Europe is taking the lead in opening up markets, both abroad and at home.

 
  
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  Leopold Józef Rutowicz (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, the report by Mr Guardans Cambó deals with all the areas involved in strengthening partnership to allow European exporters easier access to third country markets.

Protectionist practices, unfair competition and the erection of bureaucratic barriers often restrict access to those markets. Small and medium-sized enterprises create the most jobs in Europe but experience particular problems exporting. Their opportunities are limited due to lack of resources needed for research, new technology, to gain a foothold in those markets and adjust their products and services to consumers.

The report rightly emphasises the need for European, governmental and diplomatic sources to offer meaningful assistance to SMEs. The European Union should increase its logistic action and offer proper support to make it easier for these entrepreneurs to be active on third country markets.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE). – (EL) Like you, Commissioner, we are particularly concerned about the lack of reciprocal terms of access to the market and the unequal treatment of European products encountered by many partners.

In the textile industry and clothing sector, for instance, the EU applies an average tariff of 9%, which is one of the lowest in the world. On the other hand, many competitors impose tariffs of up to and above 30% together with a host of non-tariff barriers.

Thus the emerging economies also need to accept, to a certain extent, the principle of reciprocity in concessions in line with their level of development and their competitiveness in a given sector. The protection of intellectual property rights and geographical indications at global level remains fairly inadequate; it neutralises the competitive advantage of the high added value of European industrial and agricultural products.

The harmonisation of international regulatory models and rules facilitates access to foreign markets and must not render the European regulatory framework of environmental, social, public health and consumer protection more flexible.

Quite the reverse: the object is convergence, but in an upward direction. Of special importance is the classification of imports according to the relevant specifications and requirements, as well as the search for successful methods for tackling environmental and social dumping.

Finally, I should like to stress that small and medium-sized enterprises must be at the heart of the new market access strategy.

I congratulate the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteur as well the Commissioner. We welcome the Commission’s initiative on the new market access strategy.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE). – (CS) Commissioner, I, too, am convinced that the Commission delegations and the new market access teams operating in third countries require a considerably stronger mandate. The Commission should, in my view, reconsider its priorities in the allocation of human resources in the EU delegations and increase the number of delegation staff, especially those operating in China, India, Russia and Brazil. The Member States should play a more substantial part in contributing to the human and financial resources of these delegations, proportional to their trade interests. Moreover, the Commission and the Member States should improve cooperation with European chambers of commerce, trade associations and Member State agencies in third countries. This is fundamental for the exchange of information among delegations, diplomatic missions and European business associations. This would benefit SMEs in particular. The main objective of our strategy, however, has to be reciprocity of trade relations, especially for example in China, and more rigorous enforcement of international trade legislation, rather than labelling this enforcement as protectionism.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I was interested that the Commissioner was the only one who mentioned the World Trade talks. Perhaps this is an opportunity to get some information referring to the new opportunities in the markets of our main trading partners that a successful WTO deal would give us. But you also said, Commissioner, that perhaps a new generation of free-trade agreements might do it. Are you conceding defeat at the WTO? Perhaps you could give us some up-to-date information on that, because I think that is a crucial part of this debate.

Could I ask you, also, to clarify some concerns in relation to the current situation on the agriculture part of the WTO? There are concerns about further concessions being made by the EU on import tariffs on sensitive products, and some large tariff-rate quota increases as being part of the agenda, because there is also the issue of what progress you are making at the WTO on access for non-agricultural goods and services. I think we need an update, if you can give us that, as part of this debate.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, as we take the floor in this debate we wish to draw attention to three issues. Firstly, it is essential for the European Union to adopt a firm and unambiguous stance in every situation in which the export interests of a Member State are threatened as a result of unfair practices by third countries. In this connection, we should recognise the stance adopted by the European Union in the case of the embargo preventing Polish meat and agricultural products from accessing the Russian market. Unfortunately, this stance towards Russia was only adopted after more than a year of restrictions by Russia on Polish exports, and after Poland used its veto to hold up preparations for the EU-Russia agreement.

Secondly, opening up the Union’s markets to goods and services from third countries should be governed by the principle of reciprocity. The Union as a whole should therefore monitor whether exporters from third countries include in their manufacturing costs the contributions to be made to provide for compliance with environmental standards and social security for workers in their countries. European products will always be beaten by their competitors on the world’s markets if the aforementioned costs are not taken into account.

Thirdly, great caution should be exercised when opening up the Union’s market for access of agricultural products from third countries. If the market is opened up fully many sectors of European agriculture will simply disappear, which would threaten Europe’s food security.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, open economies and markets are features of the contemporary market economy, the economy of the 21st century. This is a first for the global economy. Not all economic entities are in a position to deal with competition, however, especially when competition is not always fair, and is dominated by the great and powerful.

Both large and small firms can import, but large firms have more opportunities to develop export. This is because entering new markets requires substantial investment in promotion and in setting up the whole logistical system. It therefore seems appropriate for SMEs to organise joint action to develop exports, especially to promote the latter.

A certain degree of aid and State support for companies in the area of export promotion should be allowed, notably in the area of know-how. At WTO level, too, agreement should be reached on the development of trade between SMEs. Accessibility of information on entities active on the global market is particularly important. The quality of trade should be improved and priority given to creating equal opportunities for market access.

 
  
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  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I wish to thank you and the honourable Members for what has been a very constructive and useful debate on this excellent report. I am particularly grateful to the Member who intervened to urge a reassessment of the staffing allocations of Commission delegations in key economies. I thought this was an excellent proposal, and one that I will have no hesitation at all in communicating to my colleagues. I could rehearse for you the details of the small number of delegation staff working, for example, on trade matters in China compared to the considerably larger numbers of staff working on what is a very small amount of development aid and cooperation in that country, set alongside the billions that are at stake for Europe in trade. But I will not; I will simply pocket the suggestion and pass it on.

It is certainly not the case that I am advocating free-trade agreements at the expense of the world trade talks. Anyone who is familiar with the global Europe trade strategy that we presented in November 2006 will realise that my advocacy of deep, comprehensive free-trade agreements that really contribute to increasing the sum total of world trade, and not simply divert it, has been a feature of our approach alongside our commitment to the WTO talks – the Doha Round. I can assure the honourable Member that I am continuing to work for their success rather than their failure. Rumours about further unacceptable or inappropriate concessions on agriculture are unfounded. Indeed, the only rumours that I have picked up about such unwarranted concessions actually came from the Irish Foreign Minister in the General Affairs Council today. These rumours seem to be circulating within a relatively small community of interest.

The fact is that on agriculture – and other areas of the Doha talks – we will move as far as it is prudent for us to go in order to contribute to the success of the world trade talks, but ultimately this must be within the limits of the mandate we have been given on the basis of the 2003 CAP reform.

It is true that we have two new negotiating texts that have been presented by negotiating group chairs in recent weeks. On agriculture, we have a text in which not everything is to our liking, but there is nothing that we cannot handle in that agriculture text or that will push us beyond our mandate.

In the case of non-agricultural market access – industrial goods – the situation, in my view, is not so satisfactory. There, the new text presented by the chairman has created a greater fluidity in the negotiations, rather than more concrete foundations. I regret that, but again it is something that we have to work with and negotiate our way through.

These debates would not be so enjoyable if it were not for Mr Schlyter’s contributions. Whenever he intervenes I always feel reinforced in my personal commitment and conviction concerning free trade. His interventions always reassure me that we are indeed on the right track. It is not a question of the poor little European Union struggling against the mighty titans amongst the emerging economies, nor is it about a sort of fit of aggressive bullying that has taken over the Commission in the area of trade, in which we seek without consultation or consideration to impose our interests on others.

The fact is that those of us who believe in international trade are seeking balance and we are seeking reciprocity, but we are also seeking mutual advantage. When we seek openings in the economies of others, we are not doing that in order simply to satisfy ourselves, or to serve our own interests and our own needs. We are also contributing to the welfare and growth of the economies whose greater opening we are trying to bring about.

Of course, the liberalisation of economies is something that has to be achieved progressively. It is an incremental process, rather than a big bang or a sudden shock. The fact is that emerging economies benefit from greater opening. This means useful competition to stimulate innovation and to spur productivity in those economies, it means lowering the costs of inputs to local industry, it means lower-priced goods for consumers in those emerging economies, and it means bringing capital, technologies, creativity and modern management skills to those emerging economies.

The fact is that this process of opening and integration to the global economy secures the growth and strengthening of those emerging economies to enable their businesses to grow, to create much-needed employment for their workers in these economies, and to generate products and services for export so that they can create and secure a growing share of international trade. In other words, opening begets opening; trade begets trade. Our prosperity and our opportunities beget opportunities for those who live and work in those emerging economies. It is, in other words, a virtuous process that we are talking about, and that is what the market access strategy which our rapporteur has presented such an excellent report on is all about.

In concluding, I would say that when it comes to local procurement it is indeed important to support and encourage the capacity of emerging economies and developing countries to supply their local procurement markets. However, if this means higher costs for public procurement in those economies, if it means inefficiencies, if it means a lack of transparency, and indeed in some cases corruption in the operation of public procurement, who shoulders the costs of that? The answer is the very local people, the very local workers and the very local taxpayers in emerging economies and developing countries who can ill afford to shoulder those costs.

That is why it is important to bring openness and transparency to public procurement policies and behaviour in emerging economies. It is not simply to please and to satisfy the ‘poor little’ European Union.

 
  
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  Ignasi Guardans Cambó, rapporteur. − Mr President, there is not much more to say. First of all, let me thank again all those who have enriched this debate, not just today but ever since the debate started, through their contributions, amendments and even the informal conversations we have had, which has resulted in a final text which is not the work of one rapporteur but of everyone involved.

We mostly shared the diagnosis, and I was very surprised at the tone of some of the comments from the Green corner of this House. It would be interesting to have the colleague in question go and see the results and consequences of free trade in situ and also to go and explain to a medium-sized enterprise, say near Barcelona where I live, that this was a ‘colonial approach’. I could quote so many companies who are fighting to export, with a great part of their activities depending on exports. He might like to tell the employees of those factories that they are just acting as European colonisers in trying to enlarge the export market share of the product they are manufacturing, when if China introduces barriers which prevent them from exporting what they are manufacturing it is their jobs which are at stake.

This is not just about big words on big European companies being colonial, it is about something much more real. Although everyone has the right to portray things as they wish, I must say that the idea of this being a ‘colonialist’ report really surprised me and might be even be viewed as comic by a lot of exporters in my country.

It is clear, though, that we do, in general, agree on the diagnosis, and as the Commission has said it is something that was started by the Council, was followed up by the Commission and is today being supported by Parliament, which of course puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, Commissioner, because we do have a common approach. Again, let me underline that this is a dynamic process and a fresh strategy, and some elements are indeed new and need to be followed up. May I quote a point in the report which was underlined by our colleague and which you liked so much: ‘We call on the Commission to reprioritise the deployment and eventually to increase the human resources available for European Union delegations, so that more staff are available to start up and ensure the successful functioning of market access teams’. The same is true, inter alia, of what the report says on SMEs. There are a lot of new things in this report, and we wish you all the best in implementing them.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 19 February 2008.

Written Statements (Article 142)

 
  
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  Tokia Saïfi (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) The competitiveness of European industry needs to be placed at the heart of the Community agenda, for this alone will allow us to create skilled jobs, secure Europe’s economic growth, guarantee the survival of the European welfare system and ensure that the EU can remain a major trading power in the 21st century.

To ensure that this competitiveness is maintained we need to establish market access conditions that are fair, equitable and reciprocal. In fact, the European market is one of the most open and competitive in the world, thanks mainly to the right of free competition, which guarantees open and fair trading within the EU.

Nevertheless, the European Union is still faced with numerous commercial obstacles when it comes to foreign trade, for the markets of Europe’s main trading partners do not present the same degree of openness and transparency as the Community market. We therefore need to take urgent steps to re-establish reciprocal conditions for market access to third countries and, more particularly, to emerging countries, and to combat restrictive commercial practices. We need to act quickly and firmly to ensure that our SMEs have full and unrestricted access to all markets, especially in the public procurement sector.

 

27. Reform of trade protection instruments (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the Commission statement on reform of trade protection instruments.

 
  
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  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, it is my good fortune to be able to respond happily to two subjects in Parliament this evening. I am very pleased that I made it all the way back from Kiev in order to do so.

So let me start by thanking Parliament for the invitation and the opportunity to make this statement on trade defence. I would like to thank Parliament for its close interest in this dossier, evidenced by our discussions both in plenary and in the Committee on International Trade.

In 2006, the Commission and the Council agreed on the need for a review of Europe’s trade defence instruments. The intention of this review was to ensure that Europe’s vital tools were defending its workers and businesses against unfair trade and were continuing to work as effectively as possible, especially taking into account the dramatic changes in the global economy, where European businesses operate global supply chains, and where the mix of economic interests amongst European businesses is inevitably becoming more and more complex and difficult to judge and to call.

Following our review and public consultation, and with the backing of the College, I worked with my officials on a set of proposals for adjustments to the EU’s trade defence rules that would offer real improvements in accessibility, transparency and speed and clarity for businesses. They would include, for example, greater access to documents, greater assistance for small businesses using the trade defence system and faster provisional measures.

We would also propose to clarify, through the drafting of guidelines, the application of EU rules in two important areas. First, the considerations for determining what degree of production outside of Europe disqualifies a company from being treated as European for the purposes of our investigations and trade defence assessments.

Second, regarding the considerations that should be used in the Community interest test, which allows us to determine that trade defence action is indeed in the wider economic interest of the European Union – something which, as I say, is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to analyse, where situations are not quite as straightforward and not quite as black and white as they perhaps might appear on the surface, or indeed as was the case in the classic operation of trade defence machinery in the past.

The intention in both these areas is largely to codify established practice, which would create clarity and predictability for businesses and decision-making in contentious cases, which we have had experience of in recent years and which, I suggest, are going to increase, not decrease, in number in the coming years.

Whatever your position on the merits or demerits of anti-dumping, those, I think, are useful things to improve upon and to clarify and to issue guidelines upon, in order to give greater certainty and predictability to those who are appealing for the use of these instruments.

A set of proposals along these lines would be balanced. It would reflect a middle ground of the debate among all the interested parties and the Member States. There is no point and no advantage in trying to push the centre of gravity, in the design and operation of our trade defence instruments, to one side or the other in the range of opinions in the European Union that inhabit the subject of trade defence. It is necessary to devise and to identify a route that takes you, broadly speaking, down the middle.

Although our attempts have often been portrayed by people as an attempt to go to one side or the other, these impressions can only have been formed by people who cannot have seen our preliminary conclusions and proposals, because there is nothing in such a package that weakens our ability to tackle unfair trade, and nothing which fundamentally alters the basis of the operation of our trade defence instruments.

However, it is clear from consultation that this issue is politically sensitive and continues to attract vigorous debate and, I have to say, some disagreement.

A package that balances the different concerns in the debate will not currently, in my view, attract the necessary support, and it is better to build on consensus than seek to reconcile presently irreconcilable viewpoints on what clarification and what reform should take place.

The political environment in which this subject has been discussed is not easy. Some argue that, at a time when we are pressing partners like China to trade fairly, we must not risk even the perception that the EU will lower its guard on trade defence. No such motivation, no such intention is present, but, nonetheless, some have argued that even risking the perception would be unwise at this moment.

Furthermore, the rules negotiations in the Doha Round, in particular the chairs’ text, have also put the international TDI environment into considerable flux, because of the text’s surprising and, frankly, unacceptable content. I do not think there has been a chairs’ text in the history of chairs’ texts in the Doha Round that has attracted less support from right across the membership of the WTO than the current chairs’ text on rules.

But, above all, our objective has been to strengthen unity on the operation of trade defence instruments in order to make them more workable, and it is not my job as Commissioner to weaken that unity.

The reality is that, as of today, this unity that I would like to see is not sufficiently in evidence amongst our Member States. That does not mean one side of this debate is right and that the other is wrong, just that both sides need to continue working towards a greater consensus and, frankly, a greater sense of solidarity in the operation of these instruments.

That is what I propose to encourage. We will continue to consult on the ideas that we have floated and to build agreement by drawing on our experience.

I would finish by making this observation. The pressures that global economic change is exerting on our trade defence system are here to stay. They are not going to go away; they are actually going to grow. The pressures are going to become greater. Our ability to operate the traditional consensus and solidarity is going to become harder, not easier, which makes it all the more important that the role of the Commission grows in navigating our way through the different and competing interests and views that businesses and Member States have on this subject.

I believe that future cases will demonstrate the need for clarity and will demonstrate the need for the sort of guidelines that we have originally drafted. The questions with which we started this review will still be present in six months, in a year and in two years, and I firmly believe that, in due course, they are going to have to be addressed.

Our challenge is together to find economically and politically credible answers, and the Commission will continue to work with that in mind.

 
  
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  Christofer Fjellner, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (SV) Thank you, Mr Mandelson. When you stood here last, you spoke about the need for a reform of the trade protection instruments. You spoke with conviction on how globalisation and global supply chains had changed the preconditions for the trade protection instruments and that they therefore needed to be updated in order to remain effective and take account of Community interests. Everything you said then is still true. We need a reform of the instruments.

Since then, however, it has proved tremendously difficult to bring about a reform. The conflicts between European companies and between the Member States are considerable. But that does not diminish the need for reform, on the contrary. The fact that everything is so infected and that, in example after example, we see the same battle formations drawn up on the same predictable lines in my opinion shows that we need change. We need a new focus on the instrument and a consensus which unites us.

Now reform is postponed and looks quite remote. Certainly that is regretted by others as well as myself. But to argue about whose fault it was, whether it was the fault of the Member States, whether it was the Commission’s fault or which Member States threw a spanner into the works, serves no purpose. The blame game will not do anyone any good.

For, although the proposal has been halted for the moment, the ideas must not be buried. We must not forget the matter. We must continue to debate it and focus on what we are actually agreed on. I think there is quite a lot. It is about transparency and openness. It is probably also about clearer rules on how we safeguard the Community interest. Perhaps even about how to modernise the definition of Community industry.

But that presupposes that we keep the debate alive and continue to debate and make compromises. I hope that we will do that here in the European Parliament. I also hope that the Member States and the Commission will keep the debate alive.

 
  
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  Jan Marinus Wiersma, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (NL) Mr President, I would like to start by thanking the Commissioner for his account and also for his honesty in setting out the dilemmas with which he is confronted when he speaks to his colleagues and with the Member States about reforming the trade defence mechanism of the European Union. That is one thing, and I am also pleased that you are open in saying why you cannot come up with proposals right now, because it is simply very difficult to reach agreement in the European Union about what is the best way forward now.

What the Commissioner also emphasised is that it is important to find a way to build a bridge between those countries that mainly earn their money from trade and those which have to get most of it from production. I myself come from a trading country, the Netherlands, but I understand very well the concerns that countries like France and Germany, which have a large production base, have about the development of global trade and protection. For them there is also the need to protect their own industry. It is thus very important to find that bridge and it is also important that the Commissioner wants to make a particular effort on this.

I think that this is a discussion that we need to have. We must not be afraid to talk about the need for reform of those trade defence instruments because we are facing rapid changes in the international economy. What do we need to discuss then? I specifically say ‘discuss’, because I do not have all the answers yet either. We need to discuss transparency in the system, the greater flexibility that is necessary, a better definition of what a European company is, and the social and environmental aspects in terms of determining the interests of the European Community. These are a number of points that we as Parliament should discuss and on which we should try to come to conclusions that we can then exchange again with the Commissioner.

I think that it is too soon, even from my own group, to come up with very concrete proposals about how this should go. I am willing to start the discussion about the need for reform and then to think about how we can define a number of areas on which we would like to do more work. That will take a huge amount of discussion in my group too, just as it will in the Council and the Commission. Let us give it a try. I agree with the Commissioner. Whether it takes six months, twelve months or two years, let us at least get the debate going. We cannot simply ignore the fact that changes are afoot in the world, including in the global economy, and our trade defence system has to be adapted to meet those changes. That seems to me an important starting point for a discussion and I am pleased that the Commissioner has been so candid about the problems that he himself faces.

 
  
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  Carl Schlyter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (SV) Thank you, Commissioner. Debates with you are always entertaining! I am also comforted in my view that fair trade is better than free trade, and of course that trade on the basis of solidarity with a weaker partner is more important than formally fair and reciprocal trade.

But now to the TDI, the Trade and Development Index.

As for the rest, perhaps we should examine each other’s bookshelves and perhaps get to understand the background over a cup of rooibos tea sometime? Otherwise, you can come with me to the refuse tip where I became politically active and meet my street children in Brazil.

But back to the TDI. What is a European enterprise? It is difficult to define now and therefore it may also be difficult to apply the concept. What interest is a genuine Community interest? The consumers? The voluntary organisations? Small businesses? Large companies? It is not at all easy to define, which means that it is currently difficult to apply the instrument, except in certain obvious cases.

There is a dimension to all this which is entirely lacking, and I think it would be immensely interesting if you could return to it when you present new proposals. Should not ecological and social dumping be equated with direct dumping? What is the difference if a firm evades environmental regulations and social provisions worth a billion euros, or gets a billion euros in state aid? It would be interesting if you could have a discussion with the WTO and see whether we can move forward on that question.

 
  
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  Helmuth Markov, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, to be quite frank, I am glad that the reform of the trade defence instruments proposed by you has failed. You tried to push the TDI reform forward by taking up this reform in the Global Europe Strategy. Even if we assume that this reform would have been useful, it is quite clear that we need to strengthen these instruments where they are going to be beneficial, rather than abolishing them altogether. However, this latter aim was the purpose of your communication of November 2007. You bypassed the large majority who were in favour of retaining the existing system, with only a small minority being against its retention and in favour of progressively eroding it. The way in which the reform project has ground to a halt at Commission level shows that the large majority of Member States and many of your own colleagues considered these proposals to be unacceptable and that they were actually geared towards a small but very vocal lobby.

Who would have benefited from this reform? Not the European workforce, who are at risk of losing their jobs because major companies have been able to make use of your much-vaunted comparative advantages in the emerging economies. Not the workers in those countries, who have to endure unacceptable working conditions, and certainly not European businesses – and I speak as an entrepreneur – which conduct their production operations in accordance with the relevant European legislation and have no plans to send their profits soaring by exploiting poor environmental and social standards in certain third countries.

These proposals had nothing to do with fairness and justice in global trade relations and between companies. In fact, the main beneficiaries would have been the major importers, who are naturally annoyed by any attempt to curb their abusive practices. The beneficiaries would have been the major wholesalers and distributors who ride roughshod over consumers' interests and who prefer to draw a veil over the fact that consumers are also workers, citizens and taxpayers. The beneficiaries would be those in the EU whose main concern is their profits, forgetting that the European Union is supposed to be developed, first and foremost, on mutual solidarity and support.

The TDI system that we have in place is not perfect, but it is the one which works best compared with others around the world. Incidentally, that is not just my opinion; you – the Commission – undertook a study in 2006 which makes this same point. We should wait and see what happens in terms of developments in the World Trade Organisation before we introduce any new reforms in this area. Such a reform would have to consider what our trading partners are doing rather than unilaterally giving up any legal mechanisms to protect ourselves from dumping: legal mechanisms, incidentally, which are based on an internationally agreed set of rules.

Regrettably, I must add that I cannot endorse the Commission's conduct in the application of the TDIs in 2007. Many Member States and other stakeholders have protested that the changes proposed by the Commission were put into effect before the Council and Parliament had the chance to reach an opinion on them. DG Trade has, on its own initiative, quite simply suspended some of the established principles of interinstitutional cooperation in recent months. As a result, absolutely no cases have been taken up. I can only hope, and I would ask you to ensure, that this style of cooperation between the Commission and Parliament does not continue in future. I would also ask you to bring your key proposals on the framework for the TDIs before the Committee on International Trade and have serious discussions with Parliament before they are put into effect.

 
  
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  Daniel Caspary (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, this issue has been too much for some people in recent days and weeks. In the committee, some people nearly had a heart attack when they read the first draft report.

The Commission has halted the initiative because you, Commissioner, were apparently overwhelmed by the task of producing a reform proposal that was capable of securing a majority. Our parliamentary administration was overwhelmed and put today's debate on the agenda with the nonsensical title ‘Commission statement - Reform of trade protection instruments’, while the list of speakers says Reform of consumer protection instruments, which is not much better. Looking at the public gallery, it seems that the members of the public are overwhelmed as well and have taken themselves off to a restaurant or gone home. Perhaps somebody is at least watching on the Internet, and hopefully, we will maintain an overview here in the Chamber.

I find it most regrettable that the Commission has not managed to produce a reform proposal which could secure a majority in the Council and Parliament. This is certainly not the right time for this type of reform, but no one here would have anticipated that the reform would fail so miserably.

What is important now? First of all, will the Commission inform Parliament in good time of its intentions to take up this reform again and involve us at every stage? Let me draw your attention specifically to the codecision rights under the Lisbon Treaty.

Secondly, will there now be a reform by the back door, without a decision by the Council and Parliament? Or will you, Commissioner, genuinely – as has just been said – attempt to restore confidence? The trade defence instruments must be applied according to the current rules and practice.

Thirdly, why are you undertaking staff changes in the relevant department at this particular time? We will be monitoring the conduct of the Commission and DG Trade very closely in the coming weeks.

 
  
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  Erika Mann (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, you certainly do not have an easy task. You have one of the most difficult portfolios to deal with. The area of trade/external trade is one which faces completely new challenges. We have been talking about globalisation for years, but I think we are only now beginning to understand what it is about.

In your famous speech in Berlin, the Churchill Lecture, you said that Europe is exposed to new challenges and that since the end of the war, the challenges have changed because the frame of reference is no longer Berlin or Paris but Mumbai, Shanghai and the other major cities of the emerging economies. We share your view. You are absolutely right. We see this just as you do. We see the challenges which the European Union must face up to in a new international and global context. China is real. China is not just a myth or an image; China has become a reality to all of us and is a symbol of change. The question is, which conclusions do we draw from this? You conclude that we must change the instruments. You conclude that we must face up to the challenges by adapting the trade defence instruments or other areas.

My group has not found the conclusive answer, but we certainly have many more doubts. As you can hear, these doubts are shared in this House. We have doubts because these defence instruments have proved their worth. The defence instruments have a certain flexibility. They can be interpreted in different ways. They can take account of the different industry interests, and they can interpret the Community interest in different ways. The test can be applied in different ways, and no, it is not always perfect.

Incidentally, I know that you have not made many mistakes. I myself can identify two points where the evaluation was wrong, but I think that will be the case with new instruments as well. Where are we going then? You say you would like to continue down this road and you would like to continue the consultations. You have not yet closed the drawer. Where should this road take us then? Where should the consultations take us? How would you like to conduct the consultations with this House and with the committee responsible? These are three questions which follow on from what my colleagues have asked. I would be most grateful for some information from you, as I am receiving e-mails every day. Are the changes taking place in your DG an indication that you are pursuing the restructuring with a view to your forthcoming communication? Are the technical changes which are apparently under way in your DG an indicator of this? Can the non-application of the trade defence instruments in 2007 also be interpreted as an indicator, or is it just coincidence, and other factors are in play?

 
  
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  Tokia Saïfi (PPE-DE).(FR) Mr President, the Commission has decided to postpone the project for the reform of the trade defence instruments and, Commissioner, I welcome this wise decision, for it will help maintain the fight against unfair competition. These instruments are indeed an essential part of the international trading system, for they ensure that companies, and more especially SMEs, which are the prime victims of dumping, are able to operate in a fair and stable competitive environment, which in turn ensures a healthy economy.

I would therefore repeat what Mr Verheugen said at a conference on textiles that was held in Milan at the end of last week: ‘Trade defence instruments are beneficial for the competitiveness of our industries and can never be considered as instruments of protectionism.’ I believe indeed that this says it all. These instruments are not a disguised way of protecting Community industry from the free movement of international trade, but rather are intended as a way of improving its competitiveness by re-establishing normal competition conditions, as and when necessary.

It is not therefore by weakening the implementation of these instruments that we will be better able to adapt the European Union’s trade policy to a changing global economy. In fact, quite the contrary, for the interests of the manufacturers would have been diluted and the measures that would have been taken could have indirectly encouraged industrial relocation and the migration of our centres of research and innovation.

Europe has to play the role of protector in today’s globalised world. If we are to stay competitive we must not lower our guard in our dealings with partners but must respect the rules of fair and equitable international trade.

 
  
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  Kader Arif (PSE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, what has just been said demonstrates that your proposal was at the very least controversial. At the start, however there was no debate to be had. The Commission had launched an independent study and a public consultation, both of which indicated that there was a broad consensus on the efficiency and stability of the current system. The only improvements sought by the various parties involved were for greater transparency, greater speed and better access for SMEs.

However, masking this reality, the Commission introduced a reform that will go down in history for the general opposition that it has created. Trade unions and businesses alike, along with most of the members of the Council, protested against a plan that threatened the Union’s capacity to defend itself against unfair trading practices.

The Commission has withdrawn its proposal and I am very pleased about that. The approach that it favoured was in fact dangerous and had sown seeds of division. It is worth pointing out that the Commission’s role is to ensure solidarity between Member States and to respect the various interests that exist, not to be divisive by playing consumers against workers, or importers against producers. Commissioner, may I remind you that any project for reform requires two things: it has to take account of the recommendations and results of its own investigations and it has to inform the Members of this House in advance of the precise direction the proposal is to take, especially when it comes to its more controversial aspects.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira (PSE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, in one minute I can only congratulate Mr Mandelson on the decision not to proceed with the review of trade protection instruments.

Imagine that, in a system of raging rivers, there is a series of dams. The sluices are managed according to common rules. Is it acceptable to decide to alter one of the dams without anyone else doing the same, simply because some believe that the water will not reach their homes this winter? To unilaterally alter the rules of the trade protection instruments would be to weaken the dam in order to avoid managing the sluices. This is not what Europe needs and the Commission did well to pick up on the very clear messages sent to it by this House and also by the trade unions, European industry and most of the Member States.

Free trade will not survive if the rules governing it are broken. However, these rules must be modernised and must incorporate universal values, such as the protection of decent jobs, the environment and climate and public health. In this respect, and in no other, Europe must use its political weight and trade strength in bilateral agreements with the world’s main producers. It is only through reciprocal action and modern and universal rules that trade can help improve not only the living conditions of citizens outside Europe, in the world in general, but also the living conditions and survival of European workers and entrepreneurs who want to keep producing and living in and exporting from Europe.

This is what is expected of the Commissioner who represents Europe on the world stage. Congratulations, Mr Mandelson.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, Commissioner Mandelson expressed delight that he was here for two debates, and I am quite delighted too, because I would request some clarification on his very useful response in relation to the WTO, and I thank him for the detail contained therein.

He suggests that the rumours about advancing too far on agriculture come from a very small community of interests; I would suggest they (I presume we are speaking of Irish farmers and agri-business) are usually well informed, and I suppose that what I want to get clear before midnight is that they are wrong – I hope they are wrong – and that what you are telling us tonight is fact. I would also note your comment in relation to the non-agriculture side of the WTO. You also expressed regret about the text that is there.

My original question is, given your comments about WTO and free trade agreements, are you less confident now than at any other time that you will conclude a deal at the WTO? It is a bit direct, but an answer would be helpful.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – Mr President, we face a dilemma between the free trade we believe in and the fair trade that is violated. If the fairness is not fulfilled, we have to protect, at least temporarily, those who act in a just way.

I would like to present the position of the Polish Government, which is, at the moment, against the reform, saying that, in the Caspary report, it was mentioned that what we had was enough. Why is it so? There is an assumption that some countries have companies based in China, for instance. And protection would mean that they were favoured more than other companies in the countries of Europe, so this is not fair. I think that free trade in textiles taught us a lesson in 2005, and I think that now we should approach the new reform in a very wise way. I hope the Commissioner will make every effort to run it in a good way.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, the extent of trade is indicative of the level of economic development. High exports are a feature of developed economies, but this ought to be a two-way street and imports should flow the other way too. If the movement is largely one-way, it leads to imbalance, lack of partnership and an increasing gap in the level of development. It is therefore necessary to establish some kind of principles to help define relevant quality standards and regulations, thus creating stability and partnership in the area of trade.

It is all too often the case that we talk of mutual solidarity and equality, when in fact we are intent on protecting our national interests to the detriment of those we have in common. It all too often the case, too, that we promote the development of exports and the possibility of investing in certain countries without checking whether democratic principles and human rights are respected there, not to mention the situation regarding environmental requirements, wage levels and social protection. Trade protection instruments must provide for justice and equal opportunities.

 
  
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  Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE). (NL) Mr President, Commissioner Mandelson, thank you for your candid explanation of why you have not been successful in this. When I listen to some of my fellow Members, I hear that they are pleased that you have not succeeded in reforming the trade defence instruments, and I think that is because they are afraid that you will abolish them. That is not what I have heard you say, but would it not be much fairer to say that you have perhaps been too ambitious, that you wanted to go too far with the reforms? I am referring, in particular, to the reform of the balance between the industrial countries and trade interests.

Because this has been unsuccessful, we will not now manage to implement a number of necessary changes in the field of access for small and medium-sized businesses that enjoy widespread support. Moreover, the necessary changes in connection with transparency, speed, accessibility of documents, which are broadly supported, will not now come in the next two years unfortunately. Can we find a way to make sure that these changes do come in and that we debate the more far-reaching proposals properly some time?

 
  
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  Kader Arif (PSE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, if you are considering a new reform project that is close to the original version, how can you imagine defending before the WTO a policy that penalises dumping when it is practised by foreign companies but accepts it when it benefits European businesses? The problem is knowing not who produces the goods that are arriving in Europe but rather whether they are being exported under fair and equitable conditions. We cannot accept that a company claiming to be European, and that practises dumping, would become unchallengeable simply because it is European according to your new definition.

What is more, given that this debate is to be held on a multilateral level, why not be even more visionary and include social and environmental dumping within the scope of the trade defence instruments? It would serve Europe well, and be greatly to its credit, if it were to be in the vanguard of this campaign.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira (PSE).(PT) Commissioner, further to the question that I asked you previously or the comment that I made previously, I must say that, in terms of Europe, the cases that were pursued in relation to textiles and footwear brought about, particularly in my country, changes that have prevented any unemployment. However, this was in no way a protectionist-type movement and the companies concerned have moved and relocated their factories outside Europe and are now creating jobs outside and inside Europe. It was therefore an interesting movement.

However, despite this, it appears that during 2007 no new cases were initiated by the Commission.

Therefore, what I want to ask you is this: was the Commission’s intention in not initiating any cases (not Portuguese, but from other countries), in not initiating any anti-dumping or anti-subsidy investigations, to wait for a decision on the review process in hand or was its intention to shelve those cases which it had already started to investigate? That is my question to you.

 
  
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  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I am afraid I did not catch the interpretation of all of the last question that was put to me. I got just the last fragment, which seemed to suggest that we had suspended the operation of the trade defence instruments and that we were no longer initiating or pursuing cases.

I do not quite understand the premise of the question, because any examination of DG Trade’s website will be able to yield the information that the Member wants about cases that are currently being initiated and investigated and on which proposals will be brought forward in the ordinary way.

I do not complain about being accused of being unduly ambitious – that is the benchmark for what I do and how I set about my job. If a Commissioner lacks ambition, then he or she is going to be judged, I think, by pretty low standards. I am, however, not sufficiently ambitious to embrace straight away my friend Mr Schlyter’s proposal of moving from my inability to propose consensual reforms of trade defence instruments against the low cost of production dumping to a new concept of organic or ecological dumping. I think we will continue to concentrate on the former before we shift our focus to the latter, but I hope he does not take that as a sign of any lack of ambition on my part, only great realism.

Mr Caspary seemed to suggest that he was disappointed that proposals were not being brought forward. Well, I can understand his disappointment, but I am really not sure that even this Parliament would have shown any greater ability to arrive at a simple consensual view about what reform should take place than the Member States have been able to achieve.

Mr Arif has suggested that my motivation is to play off consumers against workers and to play off importers against producers. I am not playing anyone off against anyone – it is just that, in the real world, people do have different interests, and they have different viewpoints and different needs. We do not yet live, I am afraid, in an ideal socialist society, where no one has a different view, no one has a different need and no one has a different interest. I am afraid that we have to operate in the real world and we have to navigate our way through these interests and needs and arrive at a fair and equitable and acceptable outcome in our attempts to steer these policies forward.

I thought that Ms Mann’s understanding of the dilemmas that we face in this policy area was very realistic. It is not that I was seeking greater flexibility per se. What I was seeking to do, in approaching this review, was to arrive at a set of trade instruments that were not fundamentally different or changed from those that we have at the moment, but that operated within a framework that was clearly understood, that were clearly predictable and clearly reasonable and balanced in their impact on the range of different businesses, which are trading in increasingly different circumstances in the global economy in the 21st century. And I make no apology for doing that.

I would just say in conclusion, really in response to Mr Markov: yes it is probably an accurate summing-up that the system of trade defence that we have is not the best, but it is the one we have got. I think that is a fair description of our system.

The questions that I had to put and that remain to be answered were not whether our system is the best – it probably is not, but it is, nonetheless, the one we have got and it is in reasonable working order. I had to ask, will it remain workable, in the way that it is now, in the future? Will it become increasingly controversial and contested amongst European businesses in the future? Will it fit the changing production models and supply chains of increasing numbers of European businesses that are becoming far more internationalised and that will continue to do so more than ever before? Those are the questions that I put. They have not yet been satisfactorily answered, but answers, I think, will remain to be found and we need to continue seeking them.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

Written Statements (Article 142)

 
  
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  David Martin (PSE), in writing. It is ten years since the trade defence instuments were revised. They need modernising to ensure that they remain relevant to the global commercial enivoronment in which EU business operates.

Open markets benefit everyone and should be our goal, but it is true that trade defence action remains necessary to protect us from unfair trade. However, in deciding what is unfair trade we must also take into account a wider Community interest than the present rules allow and we must avoid damage to European countries that set up global supply chains. We must also make sure that the interests of millions of consumers are weighed carefully against the sometimes narrow interests of a few producers.

I hope the Commission will soon find the political environment suitable for it to bring back proposals for reforming our trade defence instruments.

 

28. Agenda for the next sitting: see Minutes

29. Closure of the sitting
  

(The sitting was closed at 11.10 p.m.)

 
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