Index 
Debates
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Wednesday, 7 May 2008 - Brussels OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Statement by the President
 3. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
 4. Membership of Parliament: see Minutes
 5. Microcredit (written declaration): see Minutes
 6. Corrigendum (Rule 204a): see Minutes
 7. Action taken on Parliament’s positions and resolutions: see Minutes
 8. Documents received: see Minutes
 9. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 10. Order of business
 11. EMU@10 – The first ten years of Economic and Monetary Union (Commission communication) (debate)
 12. Deterioration of the situation in Georgia (debate)
 13. Transatlantic Economic Council (debate)
 14. Revision of Council Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 on the establishment of a European Works Council (debate)
 15. Human Rights in the World 2007 and the EU's policy on the matter - EU Election Observation Missions (debate)
 16. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
 17. Trade and Economic Relations with the countries of South East Asia (ASEAN) (debate)
 18. Support schemes for farmers (support for cotton) (debate)
 19. Management of deep-sea fish stocks (debate)
 20. Declaration of financial interests: see Minutes
 21. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 22. Closure of the sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

(The sitting was opened at 3 p.m.)

 
1. Resumption of the session
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  President. − I declare resumed the session of the European Parliament adjourned on Thursday 24 April 2008.

 

2. Statement by the President
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, we are all aware of the dreadful tropical cyclone, Nargis, which ravaged Burma/Myanmar last Saturday. It was a tragedy in which tens of thousands of people lost their lives, hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and the infrastructure in the most densely populated areas of the country was destroyed. This is the greatest disaster the country has ever experienced, and the full extent of the loss of human life and damage is not yet known.

The military junta that rules the country has apparently not managed to deal with the situation properly. No preventive measures were taken, nor was the population given adequate support.

Although it is welcome news that the constitutional referendum has been postponed until 24 May in the regions worst affected by the cyclone (the Rangoon and Irrawaddy Delta regions), this postponement must be extended throughout the country if the government's concern for its own people is to be expressed by focusing on urgent humanitarian support and immediate action.

The authorities have indicated that they would welcome international support. This should be seen as a positive gesture, and we expect the government to facilitate the implementation of international assistance measures.

The European Union has already begun initiating emergency assistance measures. During our next plenary session in Strasbourg we will hear the European Commission’ report on the humanitarian aid provided and the conditions for the provision of aid there.

The people of Burma/Myanmar deserve our heartfelt solidarity. Therefore, I would like to express this on behalf of the European Parliament, and in all sincerity, and I would add that at this time we are also thinking of our Sakharov Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. We stand with her in a bond of solidarity and demand that she be released so that she can work for the freedom of her people and for democracy in their country.

 

3. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes

4. Membership of Parliament: see Minutes

5. Microcredit (written declaration): see Minutes

6. Corrigendum (Rule 204a): see Minutes

7. Action taken on Parliament’s positions and resolutions: see Minutes

8. Documents received: see Minutes

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

10. Order of business
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  President. − In view of the fact that the oral question to the Council on misleading ‘directory companies’ cannot be dealt with until after 8 p.m., and the Council cannot be present at that time, which, of course, is regrettable – that is not written here but I am adding it – it has been requested that we postpone the oral question to a later part-session.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, we have no other option but to agree. However, you said that the Council ‘could not’ be present. I doubt that it is unable to be present. I do not mean to say anything against the Slovenian Presidency, which is always very helpful. As I have said several times before, since political life does not run according to the Council’s timetable, it ought to be possible to tell the Council, when the agenda is set, that some flexibility is required, so that, when new topics arise, they can be discussed with the Council. This is what I would like to ask for.

Secondly, Mr President, I would ask that we put it on the agenda for the next sitting, because it is an urgent matter. If those prerequisites are met, then we can agree.

 
  
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  Simon Busuttil, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I would just like to agree with the previous speaker on the importance of this oral question. I am greatly disappointed that the Council will not be there to discuss it.

This is a matter that affects thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of businesses throughout Europe who are being misled and actually cheated out of their own money. So it is a great pity that the Council will not be there. I think that the Council should give more importance to businesses, especially small businesses, and more importance to this Chamber.

 
  
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  President. − I appreciate what you are saying. The Slovenian Presidency is usually very helpful, but unfortunately today’s situation is such that you are right to complain.

We are agreed, then, that we will deal with this in the next sitting.

(The order of business was adopted thus amended)(1)

 
  

(1)For other amendments to the order of business: See Minutes.


11. EMU@10 – The first ten years of Economic and Monetary Union (Commission communication) (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the Commission communication on the first ten years of Economic and Monetary Union.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Member of the Commission. − (ES) Thank you very much, Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the historic decision to introduce the euro, to launch the third stage of Economic and Monetary Union, a decision that was adopted by the European Council meeting from 1 to 3 May 1998.

This decision has marked the development of the European Union over the last ten years. Today, both within and beyond our borders, the euro is a symbol of European integration used by 320 million European citizens every day.

The Commission felt that the end of the first decade of a major political initiative and the end of a complete economic cycle was a good time to take stock and reflect on the challenges that Economic and Monetary Union will face in the coming years.

This is the aim of the Communication adopted this very morning by the Commission, that I have the honour of presenting to you now.

The Communication is based on an extensive report drawn up by the Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, which provides a detailed analysis of the functioning of Economic and Monetary Union and the impact of the euro over the last ten years, as well as analysing the prospects for the future.

The conclusion of this evaluation of what the euro has meant in the first decade of its existence could not be clearer: the euro is an undeniable economic and political success.

Thanks to the euro, we Europeans now enjoy greater macroeconomic stability, lower interest rates and much more moderate price rises than in previous decades, despite the recent rise in inflation.

Thanks to the euro, the European Union – and in particular the 15 countries of the euro area – is a much more economically integrated area, with more trade, more opportunities, more employment and markets that operate more efficiently.

Thanks to the euro, our economies are better protected from external shocks and have become more important and influential on world markets.

All of this has translated into many tangible benefits, but if you will allow me to mention it, the greatest of all of them has been that in the last ten years 16 million jobs have been created in the euro area.

Thanks to the euro, Europe is now stronger. It is in a better position to withstand turbulence and crises of the kind we have been experiencing in the last few months, and thanks to the euro, we have a more solid foundation to support our growth and our model of social protection in the future.

Nevertheless, however positive our verdict may be, it does not mean that all of the hopes that we placed in the single currency ten years ago have been realised.

Firstly, economic growth over the last ten years has been lower than expected.

Secondly, there are still divergences between the economies in the area, as a result of, among other things, the lack of sufficient incentives to carry out all the necessary structural reforms.

Thirdly, in the euro area we have still not built up a solid, uniform external presence to enable us to carry weight at global level in accordance with the size and importance of our economy and our currency.

Finally, the public image of the euro – a currency that is widely identified with the image of the European Union – does not reflect all the objective benefits that it brings to citizens.

This diagnosis provides sufficient material to consider what still needs to be done, and our conclusion is that there is a great deal still to be done.

We also need to take into account the new challenges that we are facing now, with an enlarged Europe, with the acceleration of social, economic and technological changes, with underlying trends as profound as globalisation, an ageing population and climate change; we need to bring up to date the principles and the vision that inspire Economic and Monetary Union.

It is obvious that the new context that we are living in today was not easy to predict 20 years ago when it was being decided what was to be included in the Maastricht Treaty, or 10 years ago when the decision was made to launch the third phase of Economic and Monetary Union.

We now need to work on the basis of these parameters in order to achieve a more solid Economic and Monetary Union that is more efficient internally and projects itself more uniformly to the outside world.

Therefore, in the Communication that we adopted this morning, the Commission not only wishes to take stock of the past, but we also propose starting a debate on what needs to be improved for the future. As an initial contribution to this debate we propose an agenda based on three pillars.

The first relates to the internal functioning of the Union. The interdependence between the economies of the area is now greater than ever. We need to be aware of this and move forward with determination, in the interests of Economic and Monetary Union as a whole and of each of its Member States in particular, towards genuine economic policy coordination. How can we achieve this? We need to strengthen budgetary surveillance provided for in the Stability and Growth Pact, deepening it in relation to the quality of public finances and their long-term sustainability, extending the surveillance objective beyond strictly budgetary aspects to macroeconomic aspects, and establishing a closer link between budgetary surveillance and the development of structural reforms.

The second pillar is the external agenda. The euro has, to all our satisfaction, become the second world reference currency in a very short time. However, it makes no sense for us to note with satisfaction the dominant position of the euro in the global markets whilst at the same time refusing to act collectively in a manner in line with this new status. The position achieved by the euro in the international markets brings undoubted benefits, such as better protection from external shocks. In the last decade we have experienced critical periods in which this protective role has been put to the test. However, the status of the euro also brings with it responsibilities and risks. Europe must fully assume its responsibility for achieving greater global economic stability. In order to do this, it needs to set out a strategy in keeping with the interests of the euro area and defend it consistently externally, and there is no doubt that the best way of ensuring such consistency is through a single external representation of the euro. Although I know that it is difficult to achieve this in the short term, given the interests that are involved, I would also like to say to Parliament – and I know that Parliament agrees with me – that this is a strictly necessary objective.

Finally, the third pillar of our agenda for the future is improving the governance of Economic and Monetary Union. The institutions and instruments that govern this Union are appropriate, especially if we take into account the improvements introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. The issue now is not to change the instruments but to use them, and to use them to the full. Better governance of the euro area will come from the Ecofin Council being fully involved in matters of Economic and Monetary Union; it will come from a strengthening of the agenda and the debates of the Eurogroup, in particular in terms of the economic policy coordination I have already mentioned; and it will come from an even closer dialogue between the Commission and Parliament, and between the Eurogroup and Parliament.

In addition, in the coming years the composition of the Eurogroup will increasingly become more like that of the Ecofin Council itself.

This very morning, the Commission adopted the Convergence Report paving the way for Slovakia to join the euro area on 1 January 2009. In the coming weeks I will have the opportunity to have a specific debate with you on this report and the corresponding proposals.

Something which should also be a collective concern for our institutions is communicating with the public on matters relating to Economic and Monetary Union, so that citizens have a perception of the euro that is in line with the objective benefits it brings to us citizens who have this currency in our pockets.

I am drawing to a close, Mr President. We have a matter of the utmost importance on the table that merits this initial debate we are having today. Obviously I cannot explain all the details of the analysis set out in our Communication and in the report, but you can count on my full availability to debate it over the coming months.

The Commission’s objective, as I have said, is to build a solid political consensus on the steps that need to be taken in order to ensure that Economic and Monetary Union can deal with the huge challenges we face. We think that these, above all else are the issues meriting our attention in the debate that is beginning today.

Those who drew up the Maastricht Treaty and decided to launch Economic and Monetary Union 10 years ago were equal to the task then, creating an instrument that has brought us protection and benefits. The most difficult part has been done: the euro is a reality and it is a success. We can therefore tackle this new phase with confidence and optimism, but we should also do it with the same determination and with the understanding that what is good for Economic and Monetary Union is good for the European Union as a whole, for all of its Member States and all of its citizens. Thank you very much, Mr President.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Commissioner, and I want to thank you for your responsible and great engagement.

 
  
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  Werner Langen, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Commissioner Almunia on having the courage to present proposed improvements on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the euro area. We will examine these proposals carefully but, judging by what we have seen so far, I can say that our group will agree as much as possible. We want to improve conditions but we do not want what the Members of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament are calling for, which is to establish a type of economic governance. You have our full support in this matter.

Ten years of the euro also means that it is time to take stock of what has taken place over the last decade. We have seen that the euro has been extremely successful. Nobody predicted that today, 10 years after the political decision, the euro would be the world’s second most important reserve currency. You mentioned jobs, the low inflation rate, the convergence of economies, and the successes that have enabled the euro to become an anchor of stability for Europe in an age of globalisation. If we pause to think about why it is that we are coping with the high commodity and energy prices, then that is another question to which the euro provides an excellent answer.

Despite the scepticism of many citizens in the European Union and the euro area, I am totally convinced that introducing the euro at that point in time under these strict conditions was the right thing to do. Now that we are looking at modifying the conditions, Commissioner, then we are on your side and I can only say, looking back, that you have made many bold decisions in the past. If I think of Lithuania, if I look at Slovakia now, then I wonder whether the same boldness was there, because although the criteria may be met on paper in Slovakia’s case, whether that country can maintain this is questionable given the current convergence and the steady inflation rate. We will have to discuss the matter; the European Central Bank expressed misgivings in its preliminary remarks. Unfortunately, however, it is not mentioned in the Commission’s decision today. Perhaps we really do need to talk about this.

At the moment, the procedure works like this: you propose accession to the euro area, we are consulted, along with the Council comprising the Heads of State or Government, and then the Economic and Financial Affairs Council has to make a decision. Thus we currently have no way of delaying or declining this accession. I am concerned, however, that conditions are presently being created for accepting a medium-sized country with a significantly industrial infrastructure and that later on, when the larger countries want to join, this will lead to rebates that we will no longer be able to justify.

That is the concern that we share when we express misgivings about this unconditional accession, and even about the concerns already expressed by the European Central Bank. We must not forget that the current strength of the euro as a world currency is also a result of a weak dollar – it is not all down to the strength of the euro itself. When I think back to how we debated the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, then I can only say that it is a challenge for the Member States. You have just mentioned this in your three-point agenda: the Member States are having difficulty meeting the conditions that they themselves signed up to.

I note with some concern that you have now closed deficit proceedings against Italy and other countries. Although the data support this, I regard the developments in France, Italy and, in the next few years, Spain, too, with considerable concern. At the start of this decade, it was Germany that was the main offender. The Germans have got everything under control again, but the stability of the euro will depend on the solidarity and solidity of the larger Member States. Hence my appeal to you as Commissioner: do not give in to these special requests. Make sure that, for all the reforms, it is not representation to the outside, not the ‘who is representing whom, and where’ that is the focus, but the inner stability of the euro area. What matters is that the conditions are fulfilled and that emphasis is placed on price stability. Then we will all be able to say, in 20 years’ time, that the euro is the anchor of stability for Europe in the world and the foundation of prosperity and progress in Europe.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès, on behalf of the PSE Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, thank you for this communication, for this chance both to take stock and to look at what we need to do for tomorrow.

The euro is a success, no-one doubts that. The euro has protected us. What kind of state would our financial markets, our currencies be in with the turbulence of today's world, if we did not have the euro? But this success has strings attached. It means we have to be even more daring, because we are not a simply monetary area; we have a particular responsibility.

Yes, the euro is a success, and yet it reveals some of our intrinsic failings. We often do better on the defensive than on the offensive. We often do well when it comes to totting up points, something that the Stability Pact enables us to do, but when it comes to organising the best possible game, to optimising the potential offered by the single currency, we are often below par.

This is true within the EU. Why do we not use our currency to improve our ability to implement the Lisbon strategy? Why do we not use our currency to implement the objectives we have set ourselves for energy and the environment? As for outside the EU, you talked about this and I agree with your diagnosis.

You propose mechanisms for improving multilateral surveillance, and you are undoubtedly right, but this is based on two premises. The first is that the long-term presidency of the Eurogroup, held by Mr Juncker, has brought improvements in the way in which this body operates. The second is that the independence of the European Central Bank is not in question and cannot be challenged by anyone. Starting from these two premises, we still have a lot to do and I am counting on you, Commissioner, to restore some balance to the Economic and Monetary Union, which is still out of balance. The economic arm of it has required improvement from day one, as we know, and we need to work out how it should be reformed as it moves forward. Ten years on, we still have a lot to do.

Today, the questions we have been asking from the start need to be addressed, though obviously in quite a different context now. We need to look at this context in the light of two major phenomena. The first is obviously the current crisis that has come from the United States, which reflects the fact that we are in the second stage of globalisation, where inflation is back and which is marked by a euro/dollar exchange rate unfavourable to our exports – though it does have its advantages – and which is also marked by an unbelievable rise in the prices of commodities, oil and food.

The second element of context we have to take account of is the Treaty of Lisbon, which changes things for the Eurogroup, giving it new responsibilities in terms of external representation and coordination. We need to be aware of this and really get the most out of the potential of this Treaty.

Commissioner, you ask us to help reach a consensus. If it is a good one, we will be there. However, we also think that perhaps there is a need to go further, with concrete proposals. If I have understood you correctly, you would like to receive a roadmap from the Council. Very well! You must tell us, though, under what conditions the European Parliament will have its say in the proposals this will contain for improving the governance of the euro, so that the potential of this currency is deployed fully for the benefit of citizens and so that in the future there is greater acceptance of the European Central Bank by our fellow citizens. The fact that it has become an institution perhaps allows us to look again at the way its members are appointed. You know that this Parliament is on your side, that it is the Commission’s ally when the Commission wants to move forward, but we will also be a demanding ally. Do not listen just to the Council; regardless of what is written in the treaties, take account of any excellent proposals that might come from the European Parliament too.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS KRATSA-TSAGAROPOULOU
Vice-President

 
  
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  Wolf Klinz, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in the past there have been various attempts by politically sovereign states to organise common monetary unions. These attempts lasted varying amounts of time but they all failed in the end.

Therefore, it was no wonder that in the 1970s the rest of the world was very critical of suggestions that Europe was going to undertake such a venture. Pierre Werner, a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, along with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, when they were still Finance Ministers, submitted blueprints heading in this direction.

Even in the early 1990s, setting up an economic and monetary union was regarded very critically. Many experts, including Nobel Prize winners from the United States, dismissed it as being unrealistic. Nevertheless, contrary to all expectations, the euro was introduced after all – and it became a success.

The European monetary union is indeed something of a minor political miracle, an example of sui generis. To that extent, former Commission President Hallstein’s statement has once again proved true: he said that anyone who does not believe in miracles in matters relating to Europe is not a realist.

However, the introduction of the euro was greeted very sceptically by people in many countries. If there had been a referendum in the first 12 Member States in the euro area at that time, we would not have the euro today, at least not in any of those countries. Since then, however, citizens have developed a more positive opinion of the euro. Perhaps not 100% of them are in favour of it, but probably the majority are. Most of the sometimes wistful memories of the old currencies, whether the mark, the guilder, the schilling or the franc, have given way to the conviction that the introduction of the euro brought advantages not only for the economy as a whole, but also for individual citizens.

Naturally, this is most evident when people travel. Passport checks are a thing of the past within the Schengen area and there is no longer any need for expensive, time-consuming currency changing. Most citizens have also understood that we would not be able to deal with the financial crisis that we are currently experiencing nearly as well as we are now doing without the European Central Bank and a single currency. In addition, increases in commodity prices have been slowed down somewhat by the strong currency.

Despite all this, there are still some citizens who associate the euro with negative experiences. Price increases, in particular, are often blamed on the Teuro, which translates as the ‘expensive euro’. However, the fact is that the euro is stable. It has proved to be a stable currency. The inflation rate in the last 10 years was lower than in the previous 10 years, even in very stability-conscious countries like Germany. Thanks not only to this stability, the euro has become increasingly significant internationally and is now the second most important international reserve currency after the dollar.

We have the independence of the Central Bank to thank for the stability of the euro, and that makes it difficult to understand why attempts are always being made to undermine this independence. The first presidents, Wim Duisenberg and Jean-Claude Trichet, did exceptionally good work here.

Nothing has changed: a common currency without common fiscal and economic policy is and remains a risky undertaking. The EU faces significant challenges: ongoing high unemployment, demographic change, migratory pressure, the increasing poverty of certain groups in society and tougher competition as a result of globalisation. The euro area can meet these challenges only if the economic politicians of the Member States are linked together even more closely. The appointment of a President for the euro area was a first step in this direction, but that is all it was. Further steps must follow.

Most importantly, the euro area must present a united front to the world and to organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the OECD.

 
  
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  Alain Lipietz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I hope not to overrun my time any more than Mr Klinz overran his.

I am not going to talk again about the great success of the euro, both as an institution and as an instrument for stabilising inflation. However, I would like to thank you, Commissioner, and also thank the Commission, for finally having lifted a taboo. After ten years, it is high time that we looked at the aspects that have not worked.

What has not worked, as you have said, is that the growth promised by the euro has not materialised. Worse still, the European Union Member States not in the euro zone have experienced higher growth than those in it. There is therefore a genuine problem with the way in which the euro was constructed with the Maastricht agreement, and we need to address this.

There are three points as far as I can see. The first, which you highlighted, is the need to reform the governance of the euro, with coordination between budgetary policy and monetary policy. It is clear – and I differ from Mrs Berès on this point – that we cannot simultaneously ask for greater coordination between the two and say that the European Central Bank must remain totally independent. Alternatively, this could mean that budgetary policy in turn – and that means the Ecofin Council – should itself become an independent institution that is no longer democratically accountable. That would be completely unacceptable. We therefore need to define the word ‘independent’. Independent from what? From private interests, yes; from national interests, yes; but not from the EU’s budgetary and general economic policy.

The second problem is that Maastricht gave the Council responsibility for exchange rate policy, although the weapon of exchange rate policy is the interest rate, and the interest rate is controlled by the European Central Bank. It therefore needs to be very clearly stated that, when it comes to exchange rates, the European Central Bank must subordinate its interest rate to the exchange rate policy defined by the Council.

The third point is that on the basis of the subprime crisis, we have learned that it is necessary to distinguish between several types of loan. However, this was not in the Treaty of Maastricht. I believe it needs to be very clearly stated that the loans required for sustainable development and for real action to combat climate change must be issued at very low interest rates.

 
  
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  Mario Borghezio, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the many calm words contained in the lengthy report tabled here offer reassurance, but only up to a point: the fact remains that we would need only to listen to what our citizens made of this technical report with its 32-page bibliography. We only need to talk to people, women in the home and pensioners anywhere in Europe, in Italy, France or wherever, to know that people are finding it hard to make ends meet.

We need to start by focusing on the problems of the real economy and on the impact that the euro and the ECB policies have had on our workers and producers, starting with small and medium-sized enterprises, which are struggling under the weight of policies liable to draw specific, constructive criticism, and such criticism is necessary in the interests of our citizens and the economies of the Member States.

For example, I have two suggestions: one, aimed at banks, is a selective lending policy, biased towards productivity and capital, as well as workers and producers. The second is to maintain and guarantee the independence of cooperative and regional banks, which, with their ‘one person, one vote’ and maximum shareholdings, are a bulwark of the real economy.

Unfortunately, the ECB – granted monetary sovereignty by the Maastricht Treaty and therefore economic sovereignty over the Member States – does not always seem to make decisions – keeping interest rates high or low, for example – that reflect the wider interests of real production and the productivity of our countries.

Therefore, we take a dim view of the fact that since the introduction of the euro, the prime lending rate has doubled. This has resulted in high bank charges, particularly in Italy. We take a dim view of the fact that it has continued its policy of reducing money supply in the internal market using any means available – such as Basel II – with the result that it has stifled consumption and internal trade throughout Europe.

We are calling for Europe’s prime objective to be placing the European Central Bank under the control of the political institutions. There must be political control of the European Central Bank and its activities, because the question – which European citizens are asking their banks and which we are repeating – is this: who is the ECB’s policy helping? We will leave you to ponder the answer.

 
  
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  Adamos Adamou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (EL) Madam President, Commissioner, in order to confirm the success of the policies followed, the Commission report on the new round of the Lisbon Strategy lays undue emphasis on the fact that economic growth in Europe has risen from 1.8% in 2005 to 2.9% in 2007, and is forecast at 2.4% for 2008.

Now, however, a correction has been made, as we have recently heard from Mr Almunia: economic growth will drop to 2% this year, and then to 1.8% in 2009.

We are pointing this out because it clearly proves what happens in liberalised market conditions. Inevitably, as a result of the EMU and, naturally, neoliberal globalisation, overall rather than sporadic growth is by no means a certainty because the mechanisms resorted to are dictated exclusively by rigid market forces. Although limiting inflation, purportedly the paramount priority of the European Central Bank (ECB), the rate will reach 3.6% this year.

What on earth is going on? Could it be that even for their limited purposes the laissez-faire procedures are failing? Now that the EMU has been in existence for 10 years, things may justifiably be brought into question.

What can we hope to gain from the rigid conservatism of the Stability Pact? According to that, all Member States are assumed to have started on an equal footing, budgets must be balanced and the deficit must be reduced annually, regardless of the standard of living or whether the deficit is already below 3%.

What social benefit do young people and workers stand to gain from the insistence that social expenditure must not increase, even in prosperous times? What framework and what policies are being put in place for workers, whose minimum income in most Member States is EUR 92-668, at a time of long-term price rises and inflation?

Unemployment may be in decline compared with 1999. However, there is an even greater rise in uninsured, uncertain employment, which not only does nothing to improve the population’s standard of living, but also undermines it.

What is needed now is a complete change of course, away from today’s frameworks and policies. This is what the majority of the EU’s population demands, in the face of Shell and BP’s EUR 4.2 million-an-hour profits for the sake of the so-called free market, while workers are being hit by ever-increasing job insecurity and a drop in the real value of wages.

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (DA) Madam President, if we were to exclude all the countries that had breached the rules of monetary union, there would soon not be many members left. Inflation is now at around 3.6%, even though 2% was promised. Monetary union is based on a design fault. The inflation target was taken from the German model, even though the Germans only met the requirement in 6 of the 30 years prior to the introduction of European monetary union. How crazy! How can we take such a target seriously and make it sacred without regard to other targets? The price of money is a means, not an end. The goal of economic policy must be to create full employment and to ensure that everyone goes home with a salary instead of benefit.

Monetary and currency policy must help people, not plunge them into poverty. In the United States, the annual rate of growth from 1990 to 2007 over 17 years was 2.9%, while in the EU it was just 2%. Every single citizen in the monetary union could have been EUR 38 000 better off with a different policy if the growth rate in Europe had only matched that in the United States before the latest crisis. It is a very high price to pay for an ideological project to eliminate the national currencies. We must either have a common state with a common government and a common parliament with responsibility for all economic policy, or we must allow the individual countries to manage their own currencies and be content with a common currency with which to finance cross-border trade. That is the lesson to be learned from the monetary union fiasco.

Without reforms, it is not difficult to foresee the breakdown of monetary union. Perhaps it will be Berlusconi’s Italy who will fall overboard first and have to rediscover the lira. I am pleased that we still have the good old Danish krone in Denmark! All the statements from our politicians concerning the economic difficulties they said would arise if we rejected the euro have been exposed as a sham. The Danes voted ‘no’ on 2 June 1992. We again voted ‘no’ on 28 September 2000. I wonder whether, if we do not also vote ‘no’ for a third time, the politicians will offer to take the money from us.

 
  
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  Reinhard Rack (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, it is appropriate to celebrate the introduction of the common European currency as a success story. Although some points have already been mentioned, there are a few question marks, two of which I would like to mention.

Firstly, there is one country in the European Union that, unlike many of the candidate countries at the time, deliberately opted to stay outside, which it has the right to do, according to the provisions of the current Treaty. Let the British stay on their island. However, there is another country – Sweden – that did not reserve this option in its accession conditions but has since been consistently behaving as if, like the United Kingdom, it had the right to make its own decision on accepting the euro and joining the euro area. This contradicts the undertaking made at the time. Perhaps a bit of tidying up is needed here too.

 
  
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  Monika Beňová (PSE). – (SK) I would like to thank the Commission and the Commissioner both personally and on behalf of the Government of the Slovak Republic for today’s positive Commission position on the Slovak Republic.

The Government of the Slovak Republic adopted a responsible approach not only to fulfilling the compulsory criteria, but also to ensuring a smooth transition for the final changeover to the euro on 1 January 2009, including the ongoing sustainability of those criteria.

In this respect, I feel I must respond to Mr Langen’s comments. Mr Langen, if other euro zone countries had as much budgetary discipline and even half the economic growth of the Slovak Republic, the euro might have been an even stronger currency, not to mention the restrictive measures on labour market access that some countries continue to apply in relation to some new EU Member States. If these restrictions were removed, perhaps we would be able to talk about a better economic outlook for the EU.

 
  
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  Olle Schmidt (ALDE). – (SV) Madam President, Commissioner, I have no difficulty joining in with the chorus of congratulations for the euro and the first ten years with the euro. Few people, if any, could believe that the introduction of the euro would be as generally accepted as it has now become. Mr Bonde is a brave man. He is a pleasant and able colleague, but he is wrong about most things, and he is totally wrong in this case. Madam President, Commissioner, the prophets of doom were wrong. The euro is a resounding success. In the wake of the financial crisis, the ECB showed what it meant to be able to act quickly and collectively, even more quickly than the Federal Reserve in Washington. This is yet another tremendous badge of honour.

To my German fellow Member who mentioned Sweden I can say nothing except that I agree that it is not good. It is my hope that within a five-year period my own homeland, Sweden, will become a full member of EMU. Personally I would really like to see a new Swedish referendum in the autumn of 2010 or the spring of 2011. I can promise the Commissioner and other Members that I will do all I can to get Sweden to introduce the euro. It would be good for Sweden and for the EU.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, the euro’s founding mandate has more than been fulfilled. The euro and the internal market are our most successful answer to globalisation. The euro makes the internal market the domestic market and the euro, the flag and the anthem are the three symbols that cement our identity. The Maastricht criteria and the Stability and Growth Pact motivated the necessary reforms in the Member States and supported and therefore enabled the euro’s success story.

However, I would like to make two points in closing: the criteria are meant to be observed, and Slovakia must be treated in the same way as Lithuania. We must not create the feeling, with each individual decision, that we interpret the criteria inconsistently.

What we are saying here is not anchored firmly enough in the public consciousness. I would like to see a ‘Ten years of the euro’ publicity campaign that highlights the advantages of the euro for citizens in the Member States, and I call on the Commission, the ECB and the Member States to communicate the additional value of the euro to citizens this year in concrete terms.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) Today we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the euro as a single currency. It is an important day for the Slovak Republic, which will in all likelihood start using the euro on 1 January 2009. In its Convergence Report the Commission states that the Slovak Republic has met the Maastricht criteria in a sustainable manner and recommends that the Slovak Republic become the 16th member of the euro zone from January 2009.

On this occasion I would like to emphasise that the Slovak Republic has been given the opportunity to become a member of the euro zone as a result of the significant reforms adopted by the former Slovak Government led by Mikuláš Dzurinda. I trust that the current government will also take seriously the recommendations made by the Commission and will learn from the Slovenian experience. I trust, too, that the Slovak Republic will manage to rise above the sceptical views expressed by Mr Langen in today’s debate.

I firmly believe that the success stories related by Commissioner Almunia will bring a sense of optimism to the Slovak people. The Slovak Republic will learn from Malta and Cyprus with their apparently stable inflation figures to date.

 
  
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  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) Ten years is long enough to be able to assess the benefits – or lack thereof – of the Economic and Monetary Union. It is now possible to see its advantages as well as its disadvantages and failures.

I would like to draw your attention to the Maastricht criteria, the theoretical framework of which was developed before that of the Economic and Monetary Union. Today these criteria are really out of date. The factor of stability and growth has been revised, as none of the countries has succeeded in its implementation. In the course of the period of implementation of these criteria none of the countries in the euro area has actually implemented a single Maastricht criterion.

I would also like to mention the new Member States, to which stringent requirements are being applied in the finance area. On the subject of inflation, the rates set were purely theoretical and do not conform to today’s realities. The way of setting the inflation rate based on non-euro area countries is actually not right and should be revised.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (IND/DEM). – Madam President, the basic economic problems of the euro cannot be reconciled. In the long term, it is not possible to have one common interest rate for a multitude of differently performing national economies. It is not possible to have one common external exchange rate for a multitude of differently performing economies. It is possible in the short term and even the midterm, but eventually these irreconcilable economic contradictions will pull the European single currency apart. This does not even take into account the undemocratic and unaccountable decision-making processes of the European Central Bank. There is an economic crisis looming and, when one eventually comes that is big enough, it will destroy the European single currency.

 
  
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  Zsolt László Becsey (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Madam President. First of all, congratulations on the tenth birthday of the Economic and Monetary Union. The euro has been a success: a stable currency with a low interest rate has come into being, an effective move to combat speculation, and we have been able to create many more jobs than before since the introduction of the euro. We know this. This is why the euro is attractive to countries that have joined the European Union but are not yet members of the euro zone. Discipline is vitally important and central bank independence is vitally important, I agree. However, the euro zone should not be an elite club, an elite political club, and we should not be saying that membership is open only to countries that have already implemented some degree of convergence in real terms. The euro is in fact an instrument that could be of particular benefit to those countries that most are desperately in need of stability, of cohesion, and of measures to fight speculation and combat unemployment in order to become genuinely European. For this reason, let us be wary of orthodox principles, even with regard to the inflation criterion. It is also absolutely vital that the criteria should be established according to uniform standards. Thank you very much, Madam President.

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (PSE).(ES) Madam President, I would like to join in this celebration of the euro, one of the most outstanding achievements of the process of European integration.

It took Europe 40 years to have a Central Bank, but we should not forget that it took the United States 140 years after independence.

The results have been very positive, as the Commissioner has said, in terms of macroeconomic stability, jobs, purchasing power, European cohesion and even benefits for the States that are not members of the euro area, and it has given us greater political capacity.

Looking to the future, I agree with what the Commissioner said: in order to face the challenges of globalisation, an ageing population and climate change, internally we will need to take in the new countries, improve coordination in order to make the Lisbon Strategy a reality and make changes in order to monitor the stability of the capital markets.

Externally we will need to assume our responsibilities as a new global player. The euro area is also destined to be the driving force behind the next stage of Community integration.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, if the introduction of the euro has been such a success and provided such practical and economic benefits, I am wondering – and here I am addressing Commissioner Almunia – whether it would not be worth investing a few euros in education, in motivating the new Member States even more to get involved in this common euro area as soon as possible. As the Latin saying goes, bona pecunia non olet, or euphemistically, good money smells but does not stink, so who knows, maybe even the British will come round to the idea that it might be worth introducing the euro, since it brings with it such a swathe of benefits.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Member of the Commission. (ES) Thank you very much, Madam President, and thank you very much to all the Members who have spoken during this debate.

I am very grateful to you for the comments you have made regarding the initiative and the work of the Commission that I have presented to you today and that we will undoubtedly continue to debate over the coming months.

The euro, Economic and Monetary Union – as many of you said in your speeches – is a dream that has become a reality, and this has happened in the space of 10 years.

I think that this is a reason to thank those who launched this initiative in the first few decades of European integration: Mr Werner in 1970, for the first report on Economic and Monetary Union; Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt in the 1970s and 1980s; of course Jacques Delors and all those who, along with him, worked to make the Maastricht Treaty and the idea of Economic and Monetary Union itself that we are developing a possibility.

There is reason to be pleased not just because we have made what they dreamed into a reality, but because this reality is giving us results that ordinary citizens can appreciate.

Some of you spoke about the results among citizens and in the real economy: what will be the understanding of people outside this Chamber? The public understand much more than some of us imagine that, thanks to the euro and thanks to European integration, there are now sixteen million more jobs in the euro area than there were ten years ago. Sixteen million more jobs. Much more employment created in the euro area than in the United States. Five times more employment created in the euro area since the euro has been in existence than in the decade prior to the existence of the euro.

The public understand this perfectly well. Citizens understand it perfectly well, just as they understand and are asking us, in the face of the current situation, with major challenges and with very tense and difficult situations in the markets and in the economic environment, not to remain inactive and to continue taking initiatives.

Now that we have instruments for economic integration, we need to use those instruments: those that are provided for in the Treaty, those that were set up ten years ago on the basis of what had been achieved and learning from our experience of how difficult it is to achieve some objectives.

We need better coordination of economic policies, not only budgetary policies. This is what we are talking about when we talk about the Lisbon Strategy; but in particular, when we talk about the euro area we need to talk about the specific needs of the euro area, both in terms of the coordination of budgetary policies and in terms of the coordination of structural reforms, the implementation of which is essential in order for the euro area to function properly and to achieve good results in terms of employment, growth, low price increases and greater opportunities for citizens, for those whom we represent.

There have undoubtedly been achievements, and we should not hide them.

For example, one achievement is that all of the excessive deficits in the euro area have been corrected. Today the Commission has also approved the abrogation of the excessive deficit procedure for Portugal and Italy. There are no countries in the euro area with a deficit above the limit laid down in the Treaty and by the Stability and Growth Pact.

Only a few years ago, when we debated the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact here, many of you could not imagine this, but the success of the Stability Pact and of the commitments made by the governments of the euro area Member States has resulted in there being no excessive deficits.

However, there are very important things to be done, and we need to do them. This is what this initiative is about: getting us moving again, and I will bring you a list of issues to debate in Parliament and in the Eurogroup, and I agree with those of you who have said that the work of the Eurogroup is incredibly important and that the work that it has been doing under the chairmanship of Jean-Claude Juncker is very positive. This needs to be debated in parliaments, with national public opinion and with the governments of the Member States, and we need to dialogue with the European Central Bank without fear, with respect and with satisfaction, given the way in which the European Central Bank exercises its independence. It is an incredibly effective bank even though it is an incredibly young bank in comparison with the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan or any other central bank.

Two final comments. Firstly, regarding the countries that are not and do not appear to want to be in the euro area. I am not referring to the candidate countries that will be in it in the coming years, provided that they fulfil the conditions, but to those who have decided either through an opt-out clause or through a referendum that they do not want to be part of it.

Some of you have said that the euro area will have problems in the future. I predict that it is those who do not want to be in the euro area that are going to have problems.

In the global economy, those who will suffer the consequences of being isolated are those who wish to be isolated. Those who integrate, those who are prepared to share and to decide their economic policy together will adopt the correct decisions, the right decisions, and will obtain the benefits of integration for their citizens.

 
  
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  President. – (EL) The debate is closed.

Written statements (Article 142)

 
  
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  Alessandro Battilocchio (PSE), in writing. – (IT) Economic growth forecasts for the EU for the next few years point to a worrying slowdown of our productive system. From 2.8% in 2007, economic growth in the EU will fall by one point in two years to 2.0% in 2008 and 1.8% in 2009. Evidently this fall does not just come from the internal market, but from a wider slowdown in global economic activity, influenced by the difficult situation in the US and rising commodity prices.

The Commission expects inflation to peak in the near future due to soaring food, energy and commodity prices. This is a particularly worrying phenomenon because it has a direct impact on the lives of our citizens and reduces purchasing power. It also creates an additional burden for our businesses, which are gradually losing their competitive edge compared with the new emerging economies. However, despite this we are seeing positive signs for the ‘employment’ objective of the Lisbon Strategy, since 4 million new jobs have been created in Europe.

Our task is to establish whether this ‘new’ dynamism of the job market is in fact due to precarious employment, since this information only has a positive impact on the economy when it fuels expectations of stability.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (PT) It is impressive to hear the Commission and the European Union’s leading figures still talking about the successes of the euro area, even though the actual statistics show the opposite, whether in terms of economic growth or the quality of life of Europe’s peoples. Clearly the successes in question relate to the increase in profits and the fabulous earnings which the economic and financial groups have managed to achieve during these first 10 years of Economic and Monetary Union.

It is, however, unacceptable that they should systematically forget the increase in social inequalities, the increase in precarious and poor paid work leading ever more millions of workers into poverty, so that they are further exploited and deprived of the conditions to guarantee their children a decent life.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the plan that the European Commission is presenting should be more of the same: more economic checks to ensure greater competitiveness and financial stability for the economic groups, increased budgetary supervision in order to press ahead with the liberalisation of public services and more pressure and controls in order to prevent wage increases.

That will lead to increased social tension and more struggles to protect social and labour rights and to prevent increased exploitation.

 
  
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  Diamanto Manolakou (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) As a result of the anti-popular, anti-labour aims of the Maastricht Treaty, the EMU and euro were created, preparing the ground for the reactionary Lisbon Treaty and the escalating attack on workers’ rights and freedoms.

The centre-right and centre-left have ratified these EU and government decisions. In Greece, New Democracy, PASOK and the Left-Wing Coalition have voted in favour of the Maastricht Treaty. There has been a refusal to hold referendums. This serves capitalist interests admirably and shows how much capitalists fear popular reaction.

Transferring a key economic policy mechanism from Member States to the control of the ECB has helped capitalists to reduce the cost of labour and multiply profits. The squeeze on wages, which the ECB has encouraged since its very foundation, has led to a sharp fall in workers’ purchasing power, a rapid deterioration in the working class family’s standard of living and to poverty.

In most countries, the EMU and euro are increasingly being brought into question. The arguments about price stability, protection of economies, etc., have proved to be a sham. The euro protects only the profits of monopolies; it facilitates privatisation and mergers, and paves the way for even greater exploitation.

 
  
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  Cătălin-Ioan Nechifor (PSE), in writing. – (RO) The creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has determined not only the construction of a simple free trade area at the level of the Union, but it has also given the Union more political power at international level, has imposed the criteria that have led to the reunification of the continent and the appearance of the single currency – the euro, which is able to compete with the American dollar.

The EMU advantage is that it has ensured low inflation and interest rates to the benefit of consumers and enterprises and has encouraged the solidity and viability of public finance, while the introduction of the single currency has led to the disappearance of the costs related to foreign exchange, and has facilitated trade and the equivalence of prices in the countries that presently represent the Euro Zone.

At present, Europe prepares to celebrate one decade since the adoption of the single currency and, even if the EU’s southern states have dealt with a series of difficulties following the adoption of the single currency, the authorities have not complained yet. The analysts’ explanation is that, despite the changes on the Unites States financial market, Europe has remained stable. I would also say that the success of the euro can be proved by the fact that the Danish, who initially refused the introduction of the single currency, now want the euro.

For Romania, the introduction of the euro remains an important objective at present and important efforts are still necessary in order to meet the convergence criteria and increase the competitiveness of Romanian companies on the single market.

 
  
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  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL), in writing. (FI) When Finland joined the EU this followed a referendum. At the time the political elite promised the people a new referendum if Finland gave up its own currency, the mark. The promise was broken – unlike in Sweden – and many Finns wanted their own money back.

The euro has been a success in the sense that tourists can use the same money in all the EMU countries and compare prices. Travel money, however, is not the true essence of Economic and Monetary Union: it is the common monetary policy. That has not been the same sort of success story on account of the sheer size of the euro zone and the difference in its economies.

First it was devalued by a third against the dollar, and that was followed by a revaluation of two thirds. The effects of EMU should also be assessed from the point of view of the common interest rate policy, which resulted in a house price bubble in many countries.

 
  
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  Winkler, Iuliu (PPE-DE), in writing. – (RO) The year 2008 marks the celebration of 10 years since the creation of the European Central Bank (ECB), one of the most daring projects of the European construction. 10 years after its creation, the results obtained by the Economic and Monetary Union represent unquestionable successes. The exclusive use of economic criteria in grounding the ECB decisions and the elimination of all political influence in making decisions have caused the success of this project that has brought benefits to the economies of participant Member States.

At the moment of joining the EU, both the Government and the Central Bank of Romania evaluated the perspective of our country’s accession to the EMU for the year 2014. The euro adoption in Romania entails the prior participation in the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) for two years, namely as of 2012.

For these time limits to remain feasible we have to continue the efforts to coordinate the fiscal policies of the government with the monetary policies of the central bank and this takes moderation and prudence in the budget execution. For keeping inflation within the parameters proposed by the NBR, we need to avoid the temptations specific to electoral years. The NBR’s inflation targeting policy has to be supported by fiscal stability, responsible decisions in the Parliament of Romania and balanced and efficient budget execution at the level of all State institutions.

 

12. Deterioration of the situation in Georgia (debate)
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  President. – (EL) The next item is the statements by the Council and the Commission on the deterioration of the situation in Georgia.

 
  
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  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office of the Council. (SL) Before I begin speaking about Georgia, I would like to respond to the statement by the President of the European Parliament at the beginning of today’s sitting in connection with Burma/Myanmar. Since this is the first time that I have spoken today, I would like, on behalf of the Presidency, to convey my sincere condolences to all the relatives of the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma/Myanmar. I would also draw your attention to the Presidency statement published yesterday in which the Presidency expressed the willingness of the European Union to provide that country with emergency humanitarian assistance.

Returning to Georgia, honourable Members, I welcome the decision of the European Parliament to place the situation in Georgia on the agenda because relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation are very unstable. The Council is monitoring the situation in that country very closely. The General Affairs and External Relations Council discussed Georgia recently, on 29 April. The matter was also discussed yesterday by the Political and Security Committee, which was also addressed by Deputy Prime Minister Baramidze.

On 2 May the Presidency responded, on behalf of the European Union, by publishing a statement on the escalation of tension between Georgia and Russia. The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana had previously spoken twice to President Saakashvili and on 30 April met Georgian special envoy Mr Bakradze. The Presidency also discussed recent events with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the meeting between the European Union Troika and Russia held in Luxembourg.

I would like to emphasise that the European Union is very concerned by the recent series of events which have brought about an escalation of tension between Georgia and the Russian Federation. We are particularly concerned by the announcement of an increase in Abkhazia in the number of peacekeepers from the Commonwealth of Independent States and the introduction of an additional fifteen checkpoints along the administrative border. We are also concerned by the downing of an unmanned Georgian aircraft in Georgian airspace on 20 April. We are further concerned by the decision of the Russian Federation to establish official contacts with the institutions of de facto authority in South Ossetia and Abkhazia which were set up without the agreement of the Georgian authorities.

The European Union reaffirms its commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders, as confirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution No 1808. The European Union continues to support international efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In particular, we support the activities of the United Nations under the auspices of the Group of Friends of the United Nations Secretary-General and the efforts of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The European Union urges all the parties to refrain from any action which might increase tension and to take measures to restore confidence. In that connection the European Union welcomes the Georgian President's initiative to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia. We hope that this initiative will promote constructive dialogue on the matter. The European Union Special Representative and the European Commission will also continue their efforts to build confidence in support of a resolution of the conflicts in Georgia.

The European Union also welcomes the decision by the Russian Federation to normalise relations with Georgia in certain areas. This would result in the lifting of visa restrictions on Georgian nationals, the restoration of postal links, and other positive measures. As regards the internal political situation in Georgia, I would like, at this juncture, to express the European Union's hope that the forthcoming parliamentary elections on 21 May will be free and fair. It is important that the Georgian authorities take all possible measures to build public confidence in the conduct of the elections. We therefore endorse the launch of an electoral assistance programme funded by the Instrument for Stability.

We also welcome Poland's offer to make the Speaker of the Polish Senate available to facilitate dialogue between the government and the opposition. All the political parties in Georgia – both government and opposition – must do everything within their power to improve the atmosphere in the run-up to the elections and to establish a truly democratic political culture.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the crucial importance of free and independent media in building democracy. Equal access of representatives of the government and the opposition to the media is one of the preconditions for free and fair elections. Honourable Members, that brings me to a close. I look forward to hearing your views on the situation in Georgia.

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, first of all I fully share the views expressed by the EU presidency about the seriousness of the latest development in Georgia.

The mission of the EU political directors tomorrow will indeed be a very useful opportunity to confirm our wholehearted support for Georgia at this very difficult juncture.

Tensions around the unresolved conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are, unfortunately, escalating rapidly. The recent decisions taken by the Russian Federation on strengthening links with the separatist de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia represent an erosion of Georgia’s territorial integrity, and these measures have increased expectations of future recognition in the two separatist regions and, therefore, undermine efforts to find a peaceful solution. The Commission therefore calls on the Russian Federation to withdraw these decisions – or, at least, not to implement them,

as the European Union has also clearly expressed in its statement.

We should concentrate now on how to stop this chess game, where each move provokes a counter-move. Any proposed action should be measured against its capacity to lower the temperature.

I say this not least because a further deterioration of the present crisis could jeopardise stability not only in Georgia, but in the whole Southern Caucasus.

We have welcomed President Saakashvili’s proposed new peace initiative for Abkhazia. I think it is important that this is developed in a way that constitutes a basis for a constructive dialogue with all parties involved. That means, in the first instance, with the Abkhaz themselves, who I hope will be ready – and I hope also will be allowed – to engage in the diplomatic process.

Russia remains an essential actor if we want to reach a sustainable, peaceful settlement on these conflicts.

The Commission has taken note of Georgia’s request to the European Union to adopt steps that could induce Russia to revise its present policy. I think we will look at further steps, but we need to beware taking symbolic actions that might not improve the chances for a solution of the crisis and, indeed, might lead to further tensions.

That said, I think that an overall revision of peace mechanisms, as for instance suggested by the UN Secretary General in his latest report on Abkhazia, could help bring forward the peaceful settlement of these conflicts, if this is supported by all parties. We should all stand ready to play a more active role in supporting these efforts.

Let us not forget that, in the past four years, Georgia has made tremendous efforts to move forward toward a democratic and market-oriented society.

We have just issued a progress report which shows that, while Georgia still has much work to do, it has made substantial progress in several areas of the ENP Action Plan. These achievements confirm Georgia’s commitment to strengthening its ties with the European Union under the ENP.

As regards the forthcoming legislative elections, we have mobilised a EUR 2 million electoral assistance package (which has already been quoted), with a view to ensuring the conditions for a fairer and more transparent electoral process. We are also providing substantial EU assistance, supporting rehabilitation programmes which benefit the population in the conflict zones beyond ethnic divides.

The Commission will therefore continue to support Georgia in its political, social and economic development, convinced that the country has the strength to overcome the challenges it faces.

 
  
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  Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Madam President, here in Parliament we should be very seriously concerned about the recent escalation of an already tense situation in Georgia. The European Parliament should show firm commitment and support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.

The recent decision of the Russian Government to establish official ties and to bolster the Russian military presence in Abkhazia goes beyond and violates existing agreements and the territorial integrity of Georgia. It further increases the tensions in the conflict zones and thus undermines the international peace efforts.

What could be done to restore peace and stability in the whole region? Here are some possible recommendations for this House with a view to our resolution. Firstly, we should call on Russia and Georgia to show restraint, to continue to pursue peaceful solutions to the conflict and to allow for EU mediation. Secondly, we should call on the Russian Government to reverse its decision to establish official ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to withdraw Russian forces from Abkhazia. Thirdly, we should call on the UN Security Council to boost the mandate and resources of UNAMIG to progressively establish truly independent international peacekeeping forces. We should recommend that the EU Council and Commission take a more active role and engage in conflict resolution, possibly by considering an ESDP mission. We should support an incident-assessment mission to be sent as soon as possible by the European Union. Lastly, we should call on the international community to join EU efforts aimed at stabilising the situation and resolving the conflict in the region.

This conflict is a challenge for the EU’s common European foreign and security policy. It will offer the EU the opportunity to act in line with its ambitions, underpinning the Lisbon Treaty’s CFSP provisions – to be not only a payer in conflict situations, but also a player.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Madam President, President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, last week I had the opportunity, with the delegation, to spend time not only in Tbilisi, but also in Abkhazia and the occupied part of the district of Gali. Two things touched me particularly: firstly, the fate of the people there who were forced to flee, only some of whom have been able to return to cultivate their fields, and who of course have difficulty selling their produce over a border that has suddenly been drawn through their country.

What also concerned me was the representative of the de facto government we spoke to, who was obviously rather incompetent. Commissioner, I fear that, as a result – you mentioned this specifically – Russia will give the people of Abkhazia very little opportunity or possibility to enter into a peace plan.

Our sympathies therefore naturally lie with Georgia, a small country being put under pressure by a very large neighbour. However, I believe that both sides must exercise restraint, especially at present, and I therefore support the statements by the Council and the Commission.

Another reason I do so is because I found what the Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia told our committee yesterday, and the way in which he said it, rather unsatisfactory, as it smacked of warmongering talk that ought to be avoided at this critical stage.

The elections are imminent and some things, including in the direction of the elections, are naturally being exploited. Russia is falling into exactly this trap and even indirectly and unwittingly supporting those forces in Georgia that might want to use the conflict for their own political ends. Let me repeat: we fully support Georgia and its aspirations for independence and integrity – there is no room for discussion on that point. We hope, too, that the upcoming elections really will be conducted freely and fairly.

Two things, in particular, are pushing Georgia towards the European Union and this is important too, in my view. The first is the relaxation of visa restrictions. It is unacceptable that Russians – and, indirectly, Abkhazian and Georgian citizens issued with Russian passports – have visa freedoms that Georgians themselves do not. That is unfair and unjust, and it must be rectified. Secondly, a truly multilateral peace-keeping mission needs to be set up in Georgia. We cannot allow a peace group to be active there that is made up, on the one hand, of Russia, one party to the conflict, and on the other hand, of the major party that has virtually occupied the area and is now also providing the peacekeeping force.

I believe that Georgia’s desire to prevent this is justified and it is crucial – the Commissioner has already said as much to the committee – that we maintain the ability to keep negotiating. Naturally, we cannot admit one hundred per cent of the details and the wordings that Georgia comes up with – we are the European Union – but these two demands from Georgia deserve particular support. I hope that the Commission will be active and will indeed be successful in supporting Georgia’s concerns here.

 
  
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  Georgs Andrejevs, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (LV) Madam President, Minister, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, a week ago I too was able to ascertain the situation in Georgia in person, when I visited Tbilisi as a member of the European Parliament delegation. On behalf of my political group, the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, I would like to draw the international community’s attention to the destabilising role of the Russian Federation military forces present in the conflict zone. Georgia’s appeal to the international community and international organisations to consider the possibility of replacing the Russian ‘peace-keeping’ forces with another format ought to be taken into consideration and supported by the Council and the European Commission, which should also examine the possibility of providing a peace-keeping mission under EU supervision in Georgia’s Abkhazia region. Strong international support and cooperation with Georgia are needed in order to resolve this conflict, but I would also like to call upon the Georgian Government to make its best efforts to improve the domestic political climate within the Republic of Georgia itself. The presidential election on 5 January this year was a decision to escape from deadlock, but during the election process itself several infringements and ambiguities were observed, and regretfully I have to admit that actions by the relevant Georgian authorities were insufficient to convince voters and candidates that they had the political will to investigate all electoral infringements that took place at the time of those elections. I am convinced that during the parliamentary elections taking place this May the relevant Georgian authorities will take all the requisite steps to increase public confidence in the election process. In this context, I would like to welcome the electoral assistance programme, funded by the European Commission, in which four NGOs, the United Nations and the Council of Europe are participating. All the political parties, the government and the opposition must do everything they can to improve the current highly polarised climate in Georgia and to establish a truly democratic political culture. Both sides – the coalition and the opposition – and, of course, civil society, too, must understand that internal instability increases the risk and likelihood of further destructive influences from neighbouring states, particularly from the Russian Federation. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Marie Anne Isler Béguin, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, Mr Lenarčič, I am also speaking for the delegation; I am in fact chairwoman of the European Parliament delegation to the three Caucasus countries.

You are right to say that the situation is worrying and serious, and I do not think we can just stand by and watch this escalation in provocation. Personally, I would say it almost amounted to the annexation of one country by another. When Russia withdrew in March from the sanctions regime ordered by the CIS, it opened up for itself the possibility of giving military assistance to Abkhazia. On 16 April, Russia legalised the bilateral relations and official documents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Surely this means recognition, indirectly, of these two separatist regions? Then of course, on 24 April, Russia unilaterally increased the number of troops and sent armed equipment. We do not know. Even the UN, in the country, does not know how much Russia has increased its peacekeeping forces. As my colleagues have said, we were in Gali last week and apparently there was nothing that justified increasing these troops, up from 2 000 to 3 000 troops. For any fellow Members who do not know, this agreement dates from 1994 when Russia put itself forward as a mediator and suggested sending peacekeeping forces on to Abkhazian territory, between the Abkhazian area and the area of Abkhazia where the Georgian populations were living. Today, as the CIS talks about diversity, only Russian troops are present. As a mediator ourselves we might ask the question: what kind of result has this mediation achieved?

I also want to ask what our responsibility is. I have, of course, heard all your suggestions, but I think that at the moment we need to stop the escalation of violence. I also heard the Council’s last two statements. The European Union is only supporting the restoration of trust. Mr Lenarčič, there is no trust today in this area. There is not even dialogue any more. Abkhazia broke off its dialogue with Georgia in 2006. As regards communication by the European Union, the Commission is also taking steps. It is saying that the European Union will only get involved in this conflict if both parties present ask for it. In response, I can say: that will never happen. Russia will never ask us to help sort out the problem because Russia has always said it was not a stakeholder in this conflict. Therefore, the issue of the European Union’s responsibility now arises.

Though you also announce that there is UN support, we know very well that there is complete deadlock at the UN, and failure too, because when there was a call for a UN resolution, Russia did not respond. Russia is therefore also stalling this process. I believe that with this we have enough arguments, as well as the possibility of helping in a much more concrete way. This is no longer a question of conflict resolution; we are clearly at the stage of preventing a possible conflict. We therefore need to act, and that is why, in the context of the resolution we voted for in Tbilisi last week, we are considering, for example, suggesting that Russia share the burden of peacekeeping by sending a civil peace corps over there. I think we should remember the Balkans. I think history will not forgive us for failing to act a second time. The Balkan war should have been the last, and I think it is up to us to nip the conflict in the South Caucasus in the bud.

 
  
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  Konrad Szymański, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Minister, Commissioner, at the last moment we are breaking the EU’s rather compromising silence on the matter of Georgia.

In the conflict that is taking place in Abkhazia and Ossetia the rights of a Russian minority are not at issue. Despite the ethnic cleansing experienced by three hundred thousand Georgians in this region after 1993, democratic Georgia has for some years been offering Abkhazia autonomous freedoms. Despite this, Russia has recently taken steps towards recognising a puppet administration in Abkhazia by strengthening trade links and expanding the scope of Russian family, civil and commercial law to cover this area.

Today we need to ask ourselves a very important question: by opposing Georgia’s membership of NATO, have we not encouraged Russia to take these actions? This question should be posed in Berlin in particular. This conflict is about geopolitics. The credibility of the European Union and peace in the region are at stake. If we cannot manage to stop Russia from pushing ahead with actions aimed at breaking up one of our key partners in the Caucasus, no one will set store by us in the future.

We should join the United States in arranging a meeting of the Security Council and the OSCE on this issue. Besides firm diplomatic support for Georgia’s integrity, we should demand that the Russian military is replaced by forces acting under a UN or OSCE mandate. It would be worth sending a parliamentary mission to Tbilisi. If we do not succeed in that, Russia and its neo-imperialist policy may push the entire region to the brink of war.

 
  
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  Miloslav Ransdorf, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Since 1991 Georgia has had three Presidents: the dissident Gamsakhurdia, the Communist establishmentarian Shevardnadze and recently the American protegé Saakashvili.

It is difficult to say which of the three has been worst. During his visit Mr Saakashvili shared with us just one thought: he encouraged us to buy Georgian wines, which he called ‘wines of freedom’. I am not sure whether, for example, Stalin’s preferred wine, Chvanchkhara wine, can be considered such; in any case the situation in Georgia is serious. One quarter of the population has emigrated: 1 300 000 Georgians work in Russian Federation territory. This fact in itself shows that it is of paramount importance that the two countries resolve their mutual issues, now that the new president, Mr Medvedev, has taken office in the Kremlin. I think that he needs to be given time to fulfil his promises, namely to offer a helping hand to Georgia and help to solve the situation, which is today very serious.

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten (PPE-DE).(NL) I should like to thank both the Presidency and the Commissioner for their answers. There is indeed tremendous concern about the escalating tension in the region. I agree with the comments made and the calls for restraint.

However, the question is: what is the use, as the Council’s conclusions back in November 2007 also called for restraint, yet sadly the tension has escalated. What now, Madam President? Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Baramidze, has said, ‘Help us, help us!’ – and what is more in very unrefined language, language that has done little to reduce the tensions, including on the Georgian side. What should we do, though?

First of all, there is the mission. Not only Georgia but also Russia must participate in mediation. The second point is the UN peacekeeping mission. It is unacceptable for Russia alone to determine that Russian troops be sent there.

The third point, Madam President, concerns reducing the pressure. I have just watched the splendid swearing-in ceremony of President Medvedev on the computer in my office. I heard President Medvedev, the new president, emphatically declare his intention to preserve Russia’s sovereignty and independence. His counterpart in Georgia has done likewise. I should like to ask everyone here who wishes to congratulate President Medvedev today to also call on him to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Georgian territory.

Madam President, constructive cooperation – that is what is important; constructive cooperation on both sides. A new president in Russia also presents a new opportunity for us to make a firmer appeal to convince him of this. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Jan Marinus Wiersma (PSE). (NL) I should like to join previous speakers, including the Commissioner and the President-in-Office of the Council, in expressing the concern we all share about the situation that has arisen in the region – specifically the Caucasus – regarding Georgia and the problems with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Whereas until recently we were talking of frozen conflicts, the situation is now such that these risk becoming dormant conflicts; and we must of course all take care that they do not become open conflicts. The European Union, the UN and everyone capable of playing a role has a responsibility to defuse the situation.

We must of course reject the moves that have been made by Russia. These are – or at least appear to be – moves towards formalisation, towards a possible recognition of independence. Geostrategic interests play a major role in this regard, of course. I can imagine that there is frustration in Moscow about the recent NATO Summit, which agreed to allow Georgia to join NATO in the longer term, and that there is naturally also the requisite annoyance about the reaction of most EU countries to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. We think that such matters must be kept strictly separate from the situation in Georgia. In the past, agreements have been made on this in the OSCE, and we think that the UN, in particular, must endeavour to put the matter, the consultations and dialogue, back on the rails.

Now we are actually seeing a kind of escalation on both sides, an escalation in the war of words; a chess game, indeed, as the Commissioner says, but one that I fear will be without winners – which is no good to anyone.

On the one hand, there is the reaction of Russia, which is increasing the number of ‘peacekeepers’. On the other hand, Georgia is creating problems in the WTO negotiations on Russia’s membership. I believe that the nationalistic undertone discernible on both sides must be eliminated from the discussion.

All parties should show restraint, as many have said, and in the longer term there must of course be endeavours towards a structural solution. I believe that the European Union can play an important role in this regard, including in direct dialogue with Russia during the forthcoming EU-Russia Summit. This may present an opportunity to question the new president on what his country plans to do about these frozen conflicts, not only in the Caucasus but also in Transnistria; perhaps there the new president can indicate his intentions with regard to the agreements that were made in the OSCE back in 1999, I believe, regarding the situation in these breakaway countries, republics, states and so on.

Finally – and I agree with everyone who has criticised Russia’s interpretation of UN decisions – these ‘peacekeepers’ are not peacekeepers, of course; they should rather be seen as troops serving a Russian strategic military interest and certainly not UN objectives. New agreements must be made in this regard, and the European Union may be able to play a role in these.

In addition, of course, Georgia’s territorial integrity must be preserved, as must its respect for minorities and their problems – Mr Swoboda has said a few things about this – since the people on the ground risk being crushed between Moscow and Tbilisi. It is of course important that something be done to tackle the refugee problem. Perhaps the best way for the European Union to help is for it to invest in confidence-building measures to help both sides on the road to renewed dialogue.

 
  
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  Árpád Duka-Zólyomi (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Madam President. Georgia is very close to war, according to a statement made yesterday by Georgia’s Minister of State for Reintegration. The situation between Georgia and Russia is indeed increasingly tense. Mr Putin’s edict calling upon state agencies to step up cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the shooting down of an unmanned Georgian aircraft, and the deployment of more Russian military units to Abkhazia provide good grounds for the serious concerns voiced by Mr Saakashvili’s government.

Russia – disregarding Georgia’s territorial integrity – wants to bring the two breakaway regions of Georgia gradually under its control. The Russians’ motives are illustrative of their dominant-power politics. 80% of Abkhazia’s population now have Russian citizenship and the Russians claim that they therefore have a responsibility to defend them. Equally illustrative is the statement made yesterday by General Alexey Maslov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces: ‘Increasing the number of troops in Abkhazia is in the interests of preventing armed conflict and fostering stability in the Transcaucasus region.’

The Russian powers simply cannot bear to see that Georgia has chosen the path of autonomy and independence and Euro-Atlantic integration. Georgia is an integral part of the European Neighbourhood Policy. We have a responsibility to provide the utmost support for the reforms in Georgia and for developing democracy and the rule of law.

This is also the purpose of the consistent efforts of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. A week ago we convened in Tbilisi, where we adopted a number of decisive recommendations. We also visited Abkhazia’s ‘conflict zone’, where conditions at present are intolerable. It is my belief that we must be more energetic and unambiguous in our support for Georgia, and exert stronger pressure on Russia. The peacekeeping forces should be transformed to make them international and neutral. Tbilisi is dealing calmly with the situation, and would like to resolve the problems by peaceful means. The parliamentary elections in Georgia have been brought forward and are now imminent. These elections will be an important test for Georgia’s young and fragile democracy, and we must give them every possible assistance to ensure their success. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Józef Pinior (PSE). – (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, the European Parliament has involved itself on numerous occasions in the issue of building democracy in Georgia. We have been admiring onlookers at the way the Georgian people have striven to build a liberal democracy, a strong civil society and free elections. The European Parliament is still standing firmly on the side of democracy in Georgia today, guarding the territorial integrity of the Georgian State.

Yesterday we heard an address by the Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Baramidze. The matters described by Mr Baramidze from a Georgian angle reveal the seriousness of the situation we are currently dealing with in the Caucasus. Of course, we are appealing to all sides, to Georgia as well as Russia, for prudence. It must be clear, though, that there is no consent in Europe for a neo-imperialist policy on the part of Russia in relation to Caucasian countries, or in relation to Georgia. Russia bears the burden of a special responsibility to guarantee peace and security in this region.

At the same time we wish to say that what is of the greatest importance in the international situation, in Georgia, is Georgian democracy. That is why we are appealing to the Georgian authorities and to the Georgian people to further reinforce liberal democracy in Georgia, along with a civil society and the rule of law.

What the Commissioner said about EU aid to support the forthcoming elections in Georgia is a step by the European Union that should characterise European policy in the Caucasus: defence of Georgia, admiration for the building of democracy, no consent to the breakdown of this country’s territorial integrity. We appeal to Russia and to Georgia for stability, peace and security in this region.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (PPE-DE). – Madam President, Russia has a new President today, but Vladimir Putin’s new job as Prime Minister will enable him to maintain his grip on power and supervise his protégé Dmitry Medvedev. As result, Russian foreign policy will not change.

A flood of petrodollars is making Russia a resurgent power but, regrettably, it sees everything in zero-sum terms. Putin’s foreign policy priority – to reconstruct something looking like the old Soviet Union – has been focused on what Russia patronisingly refers to as its ‘near abroad’ – the former Soviet republics in the Baltics, Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus, where Russia is determined to retain its sphere of influence. They are being punished for looking westwards towards NATO and the EU, rather than towards Moscow.

Georgia, under the Western-oriented reformist President Saakashvili, has suffered considerably from Russia’s heavy-handedness. Aside from using trade and energy supplies as diplomatic weapons, Putin has consistently sought to undermine Georgia’s territorial integrity through tacit support for the breakaway, self-styled republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The arrival of yet more Russian soldiers in Abkhazia – supposedly as peacekeepers but undoubtedly combat ready – and the shooting down of a Georgian drone recently has provocatively increased tension in the region.

However, given the West’s rush to embrace an independent Kosovo without any UN resolution or international agreement, Russia’s actions – regrettably – have a certain logic. Recognition of Kosovo has opened a can of worms and given Russia the moral high ground. We should not be surprised that Russia sees this as a precedent. It would indeed be tragic if, through our approach to Kosovo, we have irreparably damaged Georgia and precipitated armed conflict in a country whose territorial integrity we should be defending very strongly.

 
  
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  Alessandro Battilocchio (PSE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I attended meetings last week in Tbilisi together with my colleagues from the interparliamentary delegation, led by Mrs Isler Béguin, whose comments I fully endorse: the situation is really deteriorating and the escalating tensions could erupt in open armed confrontation. During the official meeting, President Saakashvili confirmed that this time it could be a matter of hours rather than days.

The deadlock over the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is being resolved and Moscow has officially confirmed that it wants to establish a legal relationship with each region. This will reopen the debate over Georgia’s territorial integrity, which has been recognised by UN resolutions.

The hope is that Europe will eventually have one voice and play a more decisive role in the search for peaceful solutions, before it is too late. If relationships break down, it is all too easy to predict a series of chain reactions throughout the region, events that would eventually reach our borders. We therefore hope for a real commitment in this regard from the Council and the Commission.

Either we address the situation and redouble our efforts at mediation, or unfortunately we will have the terrible responsibility of not having desired or been able to do enough.

 
  
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  Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE). (NL) We are friends of Georgia. True friendship means offering support and assistance, and that is what Europe must stand for now that Georgia’s territorial integrity is at issue. Yet true friendship also means voicing criticism where criticism is due.

Madam President, the Georgian Government is faced with a difficult task. It must build democracy, based on European values, in a country where the history is quite different. It must also build the economy, and the Commissioner rightly states that good progress has been made with regard to the ENP, although much remains to be done. It is a difficult task for the Georgian Government at a time when the country’s territorial integrity is at issue and is threatened by Russia.

Europe must take a clear position on this and must support the parties involved in the conflict. President Saakashvili’s proposals deserve a fair chance. They represent a better solution than sabre rattling. The mission in which the Council Presidency is to take part is a good one, as the days are gone when we could sit back and wait until things were back on an even keel. The Council and the Commission must show willingness to act.

The fact that parliamentary elections are to be held on 21 May increases the tension. I am taking part in the observation mission, and we shall be observing the elections conscientiously. These parliamentary elections will be a litmus test for the Saakashvili government. Hence the responsibility to ensure that the elections are fair and democratic. That will be the basis in Europe for joining forces and ensuring that the citizens of the whole of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia too, in other words – can live in freedom and democracy. That is why Georgia deserves our support. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Robert Evans (PSE). – Madam President, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner opened her remarks a few minutes ago by stating how serious this situation is, a view also expressed by Mr Lenarčič on behalf of the Council. All the speakers since have emphasised the severity of the current situation.

I know from my visits to Georgia that the country is making real efforts to strengthen its ties with the European Union. I think, colleagues, that we should now support Georgia at this time of crisis and in the face of what a colleague a few moments ago described as Russian imperialism.

Russia has never accepted the territorial integrity of Georgia with respect to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. We know from what we have heard in recent weeks that Russian and Abkhazian separatists have apparently been involved in the spy plane incidents which have led to this rise in tension and we must all recognise that one thing has led on to another. I do not know all the diplomatic measures that are taking place, but I am concerned that the European Union is not doing enough to stop this escalating violence. Mrs Isler Béguin said a few minutes ago that history will not pardon us if we do nothing. Do nothing and the whole area could dissolve into a war – a war which no one will win.

So my message this afternoon – not just to this Parliament, but to Mr Lenarčič for the Council and, indeed, to Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner – is to do everything within your means, at the highest level, to ensure that everyone, above all the Russians, understands how dangerous the moves are that are taking place in this area and that we have got to stop this escalation before we have another Balkan crisis.

 
  
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  Vytautas Landsbergis (PPE-DE). – Madam President, we need a clear wording: Stop the war! Ruki proch ot Gruzii – Hands off Georgia! No more UN mandate for conflict-keepers! That is the only way to get the Kremlin to listen. If the EU is not able to say it, the EU shares responsibility. We may say it here, requesting that Russian paratroopers land back in Russia.

Nobody issued such a warning before the January 1991 bloodshed in Vilnius, when paratroopers were already at the site.

As Russia now goes about escalating tensions around and against Georgia, as well as giving them an increasingly military character, the reasons may be seen as political ones, but not only. What insights may be gained here?

To get incoming President Medvedev tied by the fait accompli if fighting occurs today between the Russian and Georgian military, which can easily be orchestrated by Russia’s secret services – or, by contrast, to give him the chance to play a dove; to affect the forthcoming elections in Georgia; to take revenge on the EU over Kosovo by punishing Georgia; to stop Georgia’s progress in economic growth and fighting corruption after a major shift from a Russian to a Western type of state management.

Unfortunately, there is also a direct danger of a war against disobedient Georgia. In such an event, recalling a possible link between the Bucharest veto on a NATO MAP for Georgia and the rapidly growing aggressiveness of Russia, we could ask Germany to take a mediatory role in the Russia-Georgia conflict to avoid the worst. There is no more time to play local, ethnic or frozen gimmicks. The case is European.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Urszula Gacek (PPE-DE). – Madam President, many issues have been raised in today’s debate – visas, free-trade agreements and the forthcoming elections. All matters worth discussing. However, the key issue we must focus on is the volatile security situation. We must give Georgia our support at a moment when the country fears further provocation, and even aggression, by Russia.

Let us not dilute today’s message. Firstly, there will be no tolerance of provocative acts by Russia. Secondly, the territorial integrity of Georgia cannot be undermined in any way and, thirdly, peacekeepers in the potential breakaway regions must be neutral and trusted by all sides. Russian troops clearly do not meet these criteria.

These are the issues we need to address, and we need to address them now.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Katrin Saks (PSE). – (ET) At yesterday’s meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, the opinion was repeatedly expressed that the approach taken in Kosovo was the cause of escalating tension in Georgia.

It is true that Russia is exploiting the situation but it is equally clear that Russia’s imperial interests would also find other justifications should the need arise.

The issue today is not what Georgia has done or has failed to do. The issue today is that war is being provoked under the mantle of peacekeeping, and we are perilously close to that war.

The important thing now is that we make a very clear assessment of the situation in Abkhazia and offer our unambiguous support to Georgia.

 
  
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  Ewa Tomaszewska (UEN). – (PL) Madam President, under the banner of the fight against terror, Russia has now murdered over half of the Chechen people. At present Russia is exerting an influence on the infringement of human rights in Belarus, and this influence is quite clear. What is happening in Georgia is just another threat. We simply cannot regard these matters as Russia’s internal affairs; we cannot let military action by Russia once again cause dependence and warfare in countries that until recently were subordinate to Russia. Russia is unable to respect other people’s freedom. I would prefer it not to be that way, but over the centuries that is how it has been, and sadly this is a major drama.

The European Union cannot treat such matters as if all this were just a matter of delicate diplomatic procedures. We simply have to take this matter very seriously.

 
  
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  Janusz Onyszkiewicz (ALDE). – (PL) For quite some time now Russia has been trying to fuel a sort of spiral of fear with regard to Georgia. One indication of this is the shooting down of an unmanned drone by a Russian aircraft, as there is no doubt whatsoever that this was not done by an Abkhazian air force plane. There is a video that we can watch, in which we can clearly see a MiG-29 approaching and firing a rocket, and this rocket then hitting the drone. Recently two more appear to have been downed by Abkhazian security forces.

The following question arises: how can it be that, despite the agreement reached back in 1994 in Moscow, the Abkhazian forces have such means at their disposal? We in this House must support the Georgian Government’s appeal to the United Nations High Representative in Georgia to launch an investigation into this matter and get to the bottom of it.

We cannot allow the Russians to fuel up this spiral of fear.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Madam President, I think today it has become clear that the term ‘frozen conflicts’ could be a misleading one. In fact, our own understanding of the substance of these conflicts has often been frozen. What we see today is post-imperialist near-abroad policies in action: policies which the Russian Government was committed to abandoning 12 years ago when it became a member of the Council of Europe.

Today we need to make very clear that Russia’s interpretation of its UN peacekeeping role is absolutely unacceptable. We must not hesitate, either, to make it clear that unity and integrity should apply equally for Georgia and for Russia.

It is the time of action now. It is not the time for words any more.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Siiri Oviir (ALDE). – (ET) Today, listening to speeches here, it is clear that all of us here in this Chamber, whether we represent the Council, the Commission or the European Parliament, all of us are of the view that Georgia is on the verge of crisis, on the brink of war, if we do not take action immediately as a matter of urgency and with substantial resources.

As my time is short I would like to address just one point, specifically the so-called Russian peacekeepers which have so far spent 14 years on Georgian territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And to what end? During that time there have been many, many provocations, including unmanned reconnaissance flights, one-sided peace, and an increase in so-called peacekeepers. There has been a rise in instability.

In Abkhazia, where 80% of Abkhazians live, Russia has issued Russian passports to 90% of citizens in the region. Why are we discussing visa waivers here? They are doing everything to further destabilise the situation.

I have just one proposal as a result: peacekeepers, Russia’s peacekeepers must be replaced with genuine, effective peacekeepers.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, firstly the European Union has to rectify a visa error, secondly it should unaggressively but firmly state the facts about what Russia is up to in Georgia, and thirdly it should help Georgia to solve its internal problems.

While on the subject of Georgia, I would like to speak and appeal to Russia: the new Russian Presidency could be launched in a new high-class style, on the scale of a great actor. Instead of thinking in imperialist terms, perhaps Russia could begin to think cooperatively. This will not harm the sense of national pride. Secondly, a great, proud and rich Russia can afford to respect the integral territory of Georgia, just as we respect the rather odd Russian territory in the Kaliningrad region.

 
  
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  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office of the Council. (SL) I have listened very carefully to the statements made in this debate and I thank you very much for them. I would first like to respond to the statement by Mr Wiersma who took the view that the European Union can play an important role in de-escalating the current situation. I agree, and the Slovenian Presidency and, I believe, the Council will make efforts in this regard. How? First of all, within the framework of the United Nations. We can agree with Isler Béguin’s assessment that progress within the framework of the United Nations has been modest and we certainly cannot be satisfied with it, but the United Nations framework remains one of the basic frameworks for discussing this matter.

I have already referred in my introductory address to United Nations Security Council Resolution No 1808 which reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. That Security Council resolution was adopted recently – on 15 April – and at this juncture I would like to point out and emphasise, in particular in connection with the statement made by Mr Evans, the fact that without the agreement of the Russian Federation this resolution would not have been adopted.

Therefore, the United Nations remains an important framework for addressing this problem. Another important framework is the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and here too the European Union will continue and, we hope, step up, its efforts to bring about de-escalation. De-escalation, that is to say calming the situation and reducing tension, is an absolute priority for the European Union at this time. It is the number one priority.

At the same time, we will endeavour to step up our efforts to bring about a lasting and peaceful resolution of this matter. Not only in the multilateral fora I have mentioned but also in our bilateral contracts with both the Russian Federation and Georgia. The Presidency is active in this regard. I have already mentioned that this matter was recently the subject of ministerial talks between the European Union Troika and the Russian Federation. Just today Minister Rupel, the President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, met the Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Baramidze and discussed this issue. The European Union-Russian Federation Summit next month will provide one of the many opportunities to discuss this matter in future.

I should emphasise that the European Union is being active. To date the issue of Georgia has featured frequently on the agenda of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. We have a European Union Special Representative for Georgia and the Caucasus. It is possible that shortly, in the next few days, the Political Director will pay a special visit to the country, and so forth. I should stress that the European Union will continue steadfastly to support Georgia in its efforts to find a peaceful settlement of the unresolved conflicts both in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I should also stress that it will be a constant topic of our dialogue with the Russian Federation in which we will always emphasise the need for a peaceful resolution and urge and encourage a constructive approach by the Russian Federation to the offer of a peaceful resolution which was made recently by President Saakashvili.

The efforts of the European Union Special Representative will certainly continue and the efforts of the European Commission will continue and be stepped up, in particular as regards the implementation of a package of confidence-building measures – we very much appreciate Georgia’s support for this package. In brief, I can assure you, on behalf of the Presidency, that we will push for the continuation and stepping up of efforts aimed at, one, de-escalation and, two, finding a peaceful and lasting resolution of this matter.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS ROTHE
Vice-President

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, this has been an important debate at an important and difficult moment. Before I respond to some of your ideas, questions and opinions, may I say that I also very much welcome the report of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, which agrees with much of our analysis in the Commission and shares common ground with our progress reports.

It is very clear that we must support Georgia but, as some of you have said, good friends also have to take good advice, and I think the first thing that we have to tell them is: dialogue is the only way forward. If Georgia is being provoked, it is essential that it does not fall into the trap of reacting aggressively.

As many of you have pointed out, it is more important than ever for Georgia to strengthen its democracy and hold free and fair elections, and we will see what happens on 21 May. But it is also clear that there is no question of the European Union standing idly by at this very difficult moment.

We will certainly continue to urge Russia to revoke its recent decision and indeed, as our Council President has said, we have just had the Troika meeting of the EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council – I myself was present – where this question was tackled in a quite open way. Then of course there will be the June summit and we will use every opportunity to make this point very clear.

We will also continue to support Georgia in its efforts to grow stronger. I repeat that we will also support any initiative that promotes dialogue between all the parties.

I agree, as I said earlier, with proposals to revise the peace mechanisms, if an agreement can be reached on this with all partners: this is of course the difficulty, again. With regard to visa facilitation, we have begun talks in the Council. More and more Member States now see the urgency of visa facilitation and readmission. We do not yet have the unanimity that is absolutely necessary, but maybe this is now moving in the right direction.

With regards to refugees, we have already provided significant humanitarian assistance to the IDPs who had to leave Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This year we are additionally supporting the implementation of a new Georgian law on the reintegration of IDPs away from their miserable temporary shelters, which involves a EUR 2 million programme.

But of course we will continue to be active, because this is one of the things that we must constantly keep our eyes on.

To conclude, we will indeed do all we practically can to bring about a return to stability in Georgia and will of course also give unfailing support to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on 5 June.

Written statements (Rule142)

 
  
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  Adam Bielan (UEN), in writing. – (PL) During the last few days and weeks the Russian authorities have taken some provocative steps with regard to Georgia, causing a conflict with the threat of war. A few days ago Russia, without the consent of Georgia, increased its military contingent in Abkhazia from two to three thousand soldiers and also appointed a high-ranking Russian officer to command the so-called Abkhazian army staff. This is a clear sign of Russian preparations for military aggression in Georgia.

I am appealing for support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, and I am calling on the Russian authorities to end the escalation of this conflict and to validate the military actions taken. The confrontational rhetoric and provocation from the Kremlin are making the peaceful resolution of this situation impossible and are threatening the destabilisation of the entire region.

The supposedly ‘peaceful’ Russian armed forces should immediately be replaced by independent, peaceful forces under EU or UN command.

The role of the EU should be to ‘disarm’ this conflict and to restrain the neo-imperialist strivings of Russia in relation to former republics in the Southern Caucasus.

The EU should demonstrate its full support for Georgia, systematically increase cooperation and facilitate visa arrangements for Georgians without delay.

 

13. Transatlantic Economic Council (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the Commission statement on the Transatlantic Economic Council.

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission. − (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, taken together, the European Union and the United States have 60% of the world’s gross domestic product and 40% of world trade. Transatlantic commercial services and revision flows amount to USD 3 billion a day. Transatlantic economic relationships create jobs for 14 million people. That is the scale of what we are talking about here today.

In April 2007 the European Union and the United States signed a framework agreement to strengthen transatlantic economic integration between the United States and the European Union. This agreement is based on recognising not only that the European Union and the United States are each other’s most important economic partners but also that we have common interests and challenges and share a wide range of shared values, such as a commitment to free trade and openness for investment, a commitment to free, undistorted competition, respect for property rights, including intellectual property rights, and effective protection for consumers, employees and the environment.

The transatlantic agreement is a strengthening of our shared commitments to achieving closer economic cooperation and speeding up the dismantling of transatlantic barriers to trade and investment. The Transatlantic Economic Council was created to ensure that this cooperation will function. Its goal is to dismantle barriers to a true transatlantic market. At the same time, however, we are also involved with common challenges in our relationships with other countries. The Transatlantic Economic Council has already proved a valuable forum for strategic dialogue on how to proceed in relation to China and in relation to state funds. The product security of imported goods and the assertion of intellectual property rights in third countries are specific examples of practical cooperation in specific matters.

The biggest barrier to trade between our highly developed economies is different rules and approaches to regulation. Non-tariff barriers to trade have been virtually eliminated in the eight major world trade rounds over the last 60 years. Non-tariff barriers, such as unnecessarily strict regulations and administrative procedures that limit trade, are now the main type of barrier. These barriers are often less visible and more complex, and they can be very politically sensitive, as they are frequently the result of deliberate internal political decisions.

The good news for us is that the United States, which in the past was always very sceptical of regulations that it had not passed itself, is increasingly open to international cooperation on regulatory issues, especially with us. The decision by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to accept the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) was a historic step forward.

As the European Chair of the Transatlantic Economic Council, I have grasped an important concept in these early stages. Transatlantic cooperation is not possible without political leadership. To agree that it is desirable to have a market without trade barriers is one thing; but as soon as we begin tackling specific barriers, we find that economic integration requires a great deal of hard work, patience, perseverance and, as I said, political leadership. By the way, it was the same when we wanted to make the European internal market a reality. I recall that 30 years of economic and political integration paved the way for our European internal market project.

Changing existing regulations and ingrained procedures is not always popular. There will always be groups who, thanks to the status quo, do not have to surrender their privileges. Some group always feels threatened on its home ground. When we give in and ease off this pressure, losing sight of the advantages for the European economy as a whole, then we are sealing ourselves off and putting our collective head in the sand.

Today I would like to point out not only that economic integration and reducing the regulatory load are being hindered by existing regulations, but also that new statutory initiatives can undermine the desired goal. One example is the act by the US Congress that proposes prior checking of 100% of the freight that leaves our ports destined for the United States. Naturally, this is something that will be discussed within the framework of the Transatlantic Economic Council.

The Transatlantic Economic Council’s next meeting is next Tuesday, here in Brussels. It will be the first meeting on European soil. The Americans are bringing a large number of government politicians. We have a broad agenda that will feature progress in many areas. As at our first meeting, in Washington, this meeting will continue the strategic dialogue. The topics planned are the integration of Russia into the world economy, the question of how to respond to the growing dangers of protectionism and, most especially, what conclusions we can all draw from the crisis in the financial markets. As you can see, we cover a very broad spectrum.

The Parliaments on both sides of the Atlantic have a major role to play in the whole process. I am very grateful to the European Parliament for the keen interest it has shown in this process. I am also grateful to the European Parliament for the close contacts it maintains with Congress and I must say that as Members of Parliament, you have a very important task, because much of what we want to, and can, agree upon politically then has to be formalised in law. For that to happen, we need approval from Congress in the United States and from you in Europe. This is also the reason why the statutory dialogue is included in the overall project.

To close, let me point out that the approach recently chosen is very different from all previous attempts, all of which failed, more or less spectacularly, and that both sides are convinced that it is the most promising approach so far in terms of achieving real change. It is important to have permanent political scrutiny and a clear allocation of responsibilities for the initiatives, as initiatives were taken in the past but unfortunately did not achieve the goal.

Therefore, it is very important to clarify the point that this is an exercise in cooperation that is not being put together in a hurry. It is a long-term project. Both sides are fully agreed that neither the lifespan of the current US Government, whose term of office expires next January, nor the lifespan of the current European Commission, whose term of office expires in November next year, can be allowed to play a role in the medium- or long-term planning of this work.

We are absolutely determined to ensure that this project will extend beyond legislative terms and terms of office.

 
  
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  Jonathan Evans, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Madam President, I would like to begin by thanking Vice-President Verheugen. He has spoken of the need for political leadership, for hard work and for patience. He has demonstrated all of those qualities, and I must say we would not be at the stage we are at today were it not for the hard work and personal commitment that he has shown to this project.

The joint motion for a resolution that will be before the House is one that, I think, reflects representations that have been received on this occasion from all of the parliamentary committees. I want to congratulate them firstly for their engagement, and secondly also for their focus, because this is a document limited to 47 paragraphs, believe it or not, coming from all of the committees of Parliament.

This is a positive process. It is one that must continue, in my view, for the future. I want to thank the business dialogue and the consumer dialogue for engaging with legislators. I also draw attention to the remark made by Vice-President Verheugen about the engagement of Congress. In fact I met with our congressional colleagues last week in Washington and, amazingly – I think a first here – I have been asked to present their viewpoint at the meeting that is to be held on 13 May. I think that that is a very different relationship to the one that we had as a Parliament with the Congress going back three or four years ago.

Why are these things important? Because what we are aiming to do is to take forward regulatory cooperation, proper risk assessment – including on the safety of imported products – bridging differences on technical standards, resisting protectionism, removing barriers to transatlantic trade and promoting capital markets liberalisation.

But I also think that we can mark out for ourselves a role as a global standard-setter against the challenges of globalisation. We can show that, on a transatlantic basis, we can ensure that standards are not reduced in the challenges that we face with China and India.

Will you please allow me just at the end to say a word about one other person who has contributed to this process? The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Congress, chairman Tom Lantos, who sadly died a few weeks ago. I just want to say that he was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress, a man whose life was saved by Raoul Wallenberg. I think that his commitment to this process is something I want to read into the record of our Parliament and to thank him on all of our behalf.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Jan Marinus Wiersma, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (NL) We too compliment Commissioner Verheugen on his commitment to cooperation between the EU and the United States and to the development and establishment of the Transatlantic Economic Council with the aim of strengthening economic cooperation, of creating one large common market – not only in the interests of the EU and of the United States, but also in order to tackle the problems facing both of us, such as the shaping of globalisation, the regulation of matters needing to be regulated at global level, and sometimes also deregulation where necessary.

Commissioner Verheugen is right in saying that political factors play a tremendously important role in this regard, and that the role of the political executive is also important here – which is an issue in itself. It is election year in the United States: a year leading to uncertainty regarding the country’s future direction. We do not know who the new president will be, although I do have a personal preference. The country’s economic development differs from ours. We are still doing reasonably well; in the United States, pessimism has set in. Overdevelopment of the economy, rising unemployment, bitter complaints about high energy prices, for example: all of this leads to a degree of uncertainty, which will of course have an effect on the leading actors in the country.

Nevertheless, we need each other so that we can implement a broad agenda, as Commissioner Verheugen has already said. This is not just about the development of a common market; it is also about our commitment to the global problems associated with trade and trade policy and with our relations with the new economic powers known by the acronym BRIC. This is an important aspect.

It is also important to consider how we can develop a common trade agenda that also includes social and environmental aspects. The points I have highlighted are some that are very important to my group.

I should like to mention a number of priorities for the shorter term in addition to the development of this market. I think that tackling the food crisis should also be on the agenda, as should secure and sustainable energy supplies – we are both primarily consumers of energy and dependent on producer countries – and of course the stability of the financial markets. I think that what this is ultimately about is preventing the development of a Fortress Europe and a Fortress America as a reaction to all kinds of new economic developments; we must endeavour to act together in the international arena when it comes to our own economic future and that of the many other countries dependent on us. Thank you.

 
  
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  Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (NL) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner Verheugen has reminded us of a number of very important elements in connection with today’s topic: firstly, that trade between the United States and the European Union is worth USD 3 billion a day.

Secondly, he has reminded us that the single market between our Member States has taken more than 30 years to develop – and, as we all know, it is still not perfect. In other words, we are reminded that the development of a single market between the United States and Europe can only be a long-term project.

Finally, he has emphasised the importance in this regard of the role of politics: of political circles and institutions.

My group helped work on the present resolution and therefore backs the leitmotivs it contains. Firstly, we must strive for the maximum possible harmonisation of standards, be it regarding product safety or other financial elements; a system of unified, harmonised standards, therefore. However, we know how difficult this is, so if this should prove impossible or if it would take too long, the resolution advocates acceptance of each other’s standards with regard to the various economic aspects, on the principle that if it is good enough for us it must also be good enough for our partners – and vice versa, of course.

Now, as we all know, that too is easier said than done, and there are still a number of problems that we need to solve together, be it regarding poultry, hormones, cattle, or the very sensitive issue – which the Commissioner mentioned – of the US requirement that every container be scanned.

With the necessary positive attitude, I believe we can succeed in solving all these problems one by one; and, if both our Parliament and the US Congress make a contribution, a good outcome is possible.

 
  
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  Dariusz Maciej Grabowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Madam President, some words of recognition for Commissioner Verheugen for taking up and involving himself in such an important matter. The 19th century was a time of European expansion, the 20th century was a period when the United States was dominant, and the 21st century appears to be the era of China and South-East Asia. In order to avoid a repetition of the conflicts that accompanied the economic changes of the 19th and 20th centuries, and in view of the rapidity of the economic processes of the last few decades, we must anticipate potential battlefields and come up with methods for preventing confrontation.

Now something needs to be said about the three most important threats – inequality of access to information and transmission of information; inequality of access to raw materials; and thirdly, inequality of access to research and technology. This is where the role and significance of the Transatlantic Council become apparent.

We must diagnose, foresee and prevent crises, and economic freedom must not mean economic anarchy. Europe should not show disregard or protectionism in relation to the United States, nor the United States in relation to Europe. Both the United States and Europe, which have a dominant superiority where access to information is concerned, should act in such a way that disproportions in development do not become deeper, and should prevent this from happening.

 
  
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  Umberto Guidoni, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that there is a need for greater consistency between bilateral trade agreements and WTO multilateral rules to ensure that international trade becomes more balanced. Without such consistency, the Transatlantic Economic Council risks being used to create a special economic relationship between two major powers, a protectionist market straddling the Atlantic versus other global markets.

Instead Europe and the US should join forces to create fairer trade, putting the application of environmental and social standards on the agenda and giving priority to development, poverty reduction, protection of the environment and of cultural diversity, rather than imposing deregulation, which helps move capital around rapidly and means more profits for the multinationals.

It is partly because of financial speculation that the food crisis is spreading across the world. The Commission must put the issue of commodity prices, and food in particular, on the agenda, so that a mechanism to stabilise prices can be defined to tackle speculation on the main capital markets.

We need to work to ensure that the protection of intellectual property rights does not create barriers to knowledge by encouraging and rewarding the transfer of knowledge and technology to developing countries.

Numerous trade disputes between the EU and the US relate to the use of GMOs and meat hormones. The Council and the Commission must act in line with and in defence of EC legislation so that European citizens are guaranteed the right to secure food and a safe environment. We need to start with European agriculture and look at whether there is really a need to have GMO-contaminated products, as always based on the precautionary principle and providing for the traceability and labelling of products containing GMOs.

The EU and the US must also take the lead in the development of renewable energy sources, finding ecologically sustainable technical solutions.

 
  
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  Bernard Wojciechowski, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Madam President, I am pleased that there is political will on both sides of the Atlantic for the great partnership between our two continents. I would like to extend my thanks to the Commission for their work on building this mutually beneficial structure. I am glad that this House, despite there being some communists among us, supports the efforts to lower barriers to trade and investment between the United States and the European Union and awaits the establishment of a transatlantic market by 2015.

There were great hopes across Europe that the new President of France would bring economic reform to a country stuck in socialist hibernation. Yet it seems that he is more concerned with a retired fashion model than liberalising the economy. There were high expectations that the new Chancellor would reform Germany’s outdated social security model, while at the same time sending a fresh impulse to the rest of Europe during the German Presidency. The result: nada, zero, zip. What was once the engine of European integration is today a stumbling block to a liberal European economy. The jargon of ‘social Europe’ or a ‘Europe of solidarity’ is misleading to our people. It is high time that we set to work on reducing economic barriers at home and building a thorough partnership with the United States. That is the only way we can pursue a competitive Europe.

 
  
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  Jana Bobošíková (NI). – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I expect the upcoming Transatlantic Council to seek first and foremost solutions to prevent further rises in food prices. I expect a reaction to this jump in prices but also to the fact that this year tens of millions of people will die and a further 100 million will sink into deeper poverty.

The situation whereby famine in developing countries can lead to uprisings while developed countries ration foods is not a result of a natural disaster. It is a result of unwise policies on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to high subsidies and import customs charges, agricultural products are not grown where the highest quantity could be grown at the lowest price. Instead of crops in the fields we find rape, corn, reeds, which once processed end up in the fuel tanks of cars. At the same time it is well known that the price of wheat would immediately drop by 10% and the price of corn by as much as 20% if states issued a moratorium on biofuels, and I am not even dwelling on the comical aspect of matter, namely that in order to produce one litre of biofuel more than one litre of diesel is often needed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that in one week of discussions in the Transatlantic Council it will become clear whether the EU and the US really feel a true global responsibility or whether they are maintaining a purely populist stance. In the light of the literally deadly results of food policy to date, they should put an immediate end to the unjust agricultural subsidies and customs charges and stop promoting senseless biofuels. This is the only way to ensure that food prices drop and more people on the planet have the chance to live without the fear of dying of hunger. It is the only way to ensure true global responsibility.

 
  
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  Erika Mann (PSE).(DE) Madam President, I must say, I am startled at what Mr Wojciechowski has just said about Germany, and what a disturbance to the fabric of Europe Germany represents. I have always seen it differently. I find it odd to hear comments like that made here in the European Parliament.

Commissioner Verheugen, I believe you addressed the most important points, but there was one thing you did not mention, and that is how difficult the negotiations were this time. It is still very early days for the Transatlantic Economic Council and expectations are, naturally, very high. There is a lot on the ‘to do’ list and I personally believe that healthy realism would be appropriate, because there are some on the team who are simply overloading the Council with too many topics - including psychologically difficult matters such as the poultry issue. My personal recommendation would be to be a little more realistic here, and perhaps to pare down the agenda.

Mr Wiersma also pointed out that it is a difficult year politically for the United States. Here in Europe we are also facing a difficult year; in fact, it is already beginning. Many are involved in pre-election campaigns and need to ensure that they will be re-elected and from next year we will have a different Parliament and a different Commission, so it would be good for both sides to cultivate realism so as not to get into difficulty, as has happened so often.

We should never forget why we did this. We did it so that we could better understand what the integration of the two markets means – not that we want to integrate them, but that they are in fact already integrated. Mrs Neyts-Uyttebroeck was right to highlight the figures. What we would still very much like to do – and that was the goal, after all – is to remove the barriers that we can remove. We cannot remove them all. We will just have to live with some of them. We live with barriers within the European market too, not all of which can be removed, yet the world does not fall apart. We need only remove those barriers that we can remove, the ones that are difficult to live with, that are difficult for consumers to live with, the ones whose removal will create more jobs, the ones that are irrational.

Some barriers are ridiculous. You have only to visit small businesses; they will tell you that there are some absolutely stupid barriers. Indeed, there are many silly barriers, and those are the ones we should get rid of.

I very much hope that the Commission and Parliament will continue to work together in such a committed way. Many problems start in Parliament or have to be dealt with by Parliament. Therefore, thank you very much for the close cooperation, and all the best for a successful next meeting.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Madam President, in 2000 there was an agreement on safe harbour arrangements for business data transferred to the US. But we have never got beyond that to draw up common transatlantic standards. What is happening increasingly is the transfer of commercial data, notably passenger data but also banking and telecom data, to public authorities for security purposes.

This is not the context to raise the civil liberties concerns, but there is an important economic dimension. Obviously, if business travellers experience undue delays, that is a cost. But even more burdensome is the considerable cost imposed on companies.

In the United States my understanding is that there is provision for cost reimbursement, but in the EU there is no consistent policy. For instance, in the Data Retention Directive, we left it to Member States to decide if they would compensate telecoms companies. It would be interesting to do a check how many actually do. But the result is that the European Union is hardly in a strong position to push for a common transatlantic framework not only for privacy standards, which is vitally important, but also for dealing with the economic impact of data collection when companies are used as agents for public authorities.

 
  
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  Karl von Wogau (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in recent years, Europe has made great progress towards a common market. However, even today there are still markets, even within the European Union, that are being opened only gradually, for example in the area of financial services, where we do not really have a common European market. For vehicles, too, although there is a common market within Europe, we stopped half-way through the process in the transatlantic area. Progress towards a common market in the area of security and defence has been achieved. A first step in this direction was the introduction of the European Defence Agency, and another step was the decision to make EUR 1.4 billion available for defence research as part of the Seventh Research Framework Programme.

However, the most important step forward is the current directive proposals by the Commission, firstly for procurement in the area of security and defence, and secondly in the area of the internal shipment of defence goods. These are decisive steps towards a common European market in the area of defence, but how does the transatlantic market fare in this area? Here there are two important changes. One becomes apparent in that the United States recently decided to purchase refuelling aircraft from a European firm. Secondly, the proposed directive put forward by the European Commission for the procurement of defence goods does not contain any ‘Buy European’ rules comparable with the present ‘Buy American’ rules. The crux of the matter is to obtain the best equipment for our armed forces and this involves intensive dialogue between the European Union and NATO.

It is equally important to seek direct discussions between the European Union and the United States in these economic matters, however. The Transatlantic Economic Council will therefore have to discuss this matter – either this time or perhaps at some later opportunity.

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (PSE).(ES) Madam President, the strengthening of relations between the European Union and the United States is key in the transatlantic context and in an increasingly multipolar world.

In economic terms, the United States and Europe have the best bilateral relationship of economic cooperation, trade and investment in the world.

Breaking down the barriers to transatlantic economic integration will promote mutual prosperity. In order to complete the transatlantic market by 2015 there will need to be political will.

The adoption at the 2007 Summit of the framework agreement to enhance economic integration was a major milestone in restoring the spirit of the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda of Madrid and giving fresh impetus to the Transatlantic Economic Partnership.

We need to send a message to the Transatlantic Economic Council that it has the support of the European Parliament to move forward in this direction.

The United States and Europe are two giants of the global economy, and are therefore particularly responsible for shaping a globalisation with a human face. Their economic integration is a positive reference point for building an open, reliable and globally sustainable economy.

This process, which is compatible with the multilateral commitments, should go further, opening up new pathways and setting new guidelines for developing more transparent, reliable and equitable relationships under common standards.

It will also help to unite efforts in response to the problems of financial stability, climate change and the needs of human development.

Product safety, consumer protection, fair trade, defending reputations, promoting technological inventions and innovation, accounting rules, developing financial services and regulatory cooperation are all on the agenda.

We hope and trust, Mr Verheugen, that you will not return to Parliament empty handed.

 
  
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  Sophia in ’t Veld (ALDE). – Madam President, although I am aware of the risk of overburdening the agenda of the Transatlantic Economic Council, I would still call for the insertion of the issue of data protection in the agenda, because data protection – contrary to what many people think – is very much an economic issue. It actually used to be the responsibility of DG Internal Market in the Commission, but that has since changed.

Personal data has become big business, and it is a growing business. We are currently witnessing, for example, some multibillion mergers in the sector. Think of Google/Double Click, which we discussed back in January; the merger between Microsoft and Yahoo!, which has now been called off; and, shortly, Reed Elsevier and ChoicePoint. That indicates the importance of personal data.

The business is also global in nature. Businesses are increasingly confronted with different legal regimes across the world, or even within Europe or within the United States – for example: rules on breach notification, data protection, profiling and behavioural advertising. Businesses and citizens need global rules for more legal certainty and transparency. Therefore we should start elaborating global standards. I think that the Transatlantic Economic Council would be the appropriate platform for doing this and, therefore, I would like to hear whether Commissioner Verheugen agrees with me that this issue should be included in the agenda for the TEC.

 
  
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  Urszula Gacek (PPE-DE). – Madam President, the recent subprime mortgage crisis in the United States has sent shock waves through Europe’s largest financial institutions, showing us all how closely the US and European markets are interconnected.

The ensuing reluctance of bankers to lend – even to themselves – has resulted in a credit crisis which will have a negative impact on economic growth and on the prosperity of businesses and households alike, whether they are in Paris, Texas, or Paris, France.

Many governments have failed ordinary citizens. They have been ineffective regulators of financial markets, where increasingly novel financial instruments have been allowed to circulate, like in a child’s game of pass-the-parcel. But when the music finally stopped, no one wanted to be holding this parcel, which was just a bundle of bad debts.

The report very rightly stresses the need for strengthening cooperation between supervisory authorities on both sides of the Atlantic, especially at a time when governments will focus on short-term salvage operations, bailing out or propping up bankers and individual creditors.

Governments must be careful not to give the wrong signal to the unscrupulous and foolhardy. Via their financial market regulators they must demand transparent accounting methods and prudent lending criteria from financial institutions.

A concerted effort by both US and European parties will, hopefully, allow us to avoid such crises in the future.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès (PSE). (FR) Madam President, Vice-President of the Commission, you are right. After other attempts have failed, this one aims to improve our transatlantic relations on a case-by-case legislative basis. However, there is immediately a dimension that is clearly lacking from our examination of the situation today, and that is the context in which this debate is taking place. Dossier after dossier, we can see what progress has been made on each piece of legislation on either side of the Atlantic.

What about the basic discussion we should be having, though, with our American partners about the situation, the risk of their economy going into a recession, the problem with organising decoupling at the start of this recession, and of course, the exchange rate issue? The purpose of this resolution is not to deal with the exchange rate, and yet we know very well that the state of transatlantic relations will depend largely on our ability to regulate trade internationally. When you look at the status of discussions with our US counterparts on dossier after dossier, we are also entitled to talk about dossiers that are perhaps not part of the transatlantic dialogue in the Council which you helped to establish.

I will give you just one example: the property market situation. Obviously it is up to US legislators to decide how to improve their ability to issue property loans that reflect the real needs and borrowing capabilities of the US population and to take account of the reality of what it means to finance social housing. We in Europe realise that restoring the financial markets to normal conditions of operation depends largely on the American financial market returning to normal. In our dialogue with our American partners we should therefore also be stressing these issues, which depend on their ability to change their legislation.

 
  
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  Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE).(NL) After last night, it does not look as though a female president will be elected in the United States. Nevertheless, regardless of who is elected, trade will continue to play an important role in relations with the United States.

We are each other’s main trading partner, and therefore constructive economic cooperation is very important. Compliments are due to Commissioner Verheugen on his approach, therefore. We have high hopes of this Transatlantic Economic Council, although we must realise that it will be a long-term investment. However, this Council must play an important role in regulatory harmonisation, bureaucracy reduction and the elimination of barriers to trade – so that our companies can do business more easily in the United States and our markets mesh better with each other.

Also, Commissioner, would you please prioritise die verrückten Maßnahmen, as Mrs Mann so nicely put it: we do not have such a good word for it in Dutch. These verrückte Maßnahmen certainly include the 100% scanning of containers, which should actually be off the table, as it is an absurd measure that would have a very negative impact and be far too costly.

Madam President, we must also join forces with the United States when it comes to our interests in the rest of the world, particularly the fight against unsafe toys from China and the production of counterfeit articles in Asia. With these counterfeit articles it is like banging our heads against a brick wall; we do not seem to be able to stem the influx to any real degree.

I should also like to draw attention specifically to joint action in the current financial crisis. There, too, the Transatlantic Economic Council must play a positive role as a matter of urgency.

Madam President, the responsibility to sustain the dialogue with the US Congress lies not only with the Transatlantic Economic Council and the Commissioner, but also with us: if we join forces, we can reinforce each other; indeed, this is our goal.

 
  
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  Benoît Hamon (PSE). (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, the Transatlantic Economic Dialogue comes in a context which is marked by a triple crisis: the global banking and financial crisis, to which we still cannot see an end, the crisis in food prices, and finally, the ongoing crisis in oil prices. All these shocks have appeared against a general background of global warming and climate change, which calls for cycles to be reversed and certain dogmas on which we have based the prosperity of Western society to be challenged.

Could strengthening our transatlantic relations serve this objective? I do believe so, though it will be difficult, complex and not without conflict. This resolution sketches out a few responses that chime with the demands and aspirations of European and American public opinion. Firstly, it is not a matter of lowering our sights merely to the creation of a transatlantic free trade area, but of making sure the development of our trade serves other more laudable objectives, which promote social and environmental standards.

From this point of view, the resolution we will be voting on tomorrow is well balanced. It recognises that the so-called obstacles to trade between the European Union and the USA are often laws with a specific social, environmental, cultural or public health purpose, and that these obstacles cannot be removed without a democratic decision and positive legislative action to protect these objectives.

The text also encourages the European Union to draw inspiration from certain bilateral trade agreements signed by the USA, containing detailed provisions on labour law. It is for these reasons in particular that I believe this resolution is useful for the transatlantic dialogue.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour (PPE-DE). – Madam President, it is a great tribute to the work of Günther Verheugen, Jonathan Evans and others that we are meeting here today to follow up this really important initiative.

I particularly want to pay tribute to Mr Evans for his political leadership because I think that political and parliamentary component has been absolutely crucial.

I had the privilege of going to Washington for the first time with the delegation of the Internal Market Committee last year when we were able to go to Congress and to emphasise the fact that engagement with these issues was widely spread across Parliament.

Also, I want to record that we were privileged recently in the Internal Market Committee to have a visit from Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Committee. That resulted directly from our visit to Washington and it shows, I think, that we are now grasping the political dimension.

Now, why do we need to grasp that political dimension? The answer is because the work on technical product-safety issues and harmonisation issues in particular does have to have a political dimension. The problem lies at a bureaucratic level. If we take motorcars that Mr von Wogau talked about earlier on, the problem there is actually that the experts in the European Union and the experts in the United States not the politicians are still failing to agree on fundamental issues like emission standards for heavy trucks or how we test cars for safety.

Those are not political issues. They are issues that bureaucrats are failing to agree on. I think we need to get to grips with that because it is actually costing all of us large amounts of unnecessary money that we should be spending and investing on making safer and greener products for consumers. That is what it is all about in the end.

I know I can count on you, Commissioner, with your political leadership to deal with that, but I think we all need to be engaged in that process, not to make those detailed decisions but to say to the people involved: get together and step up those efforts, because we all want you to succeed.

 
  
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  Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, the Transatlantic Economic Council set up a year ago is a good idea for enhancing transatlantic cooperation on the economic front. We must not forget, after all, that the United States is our largest trade partner. I am convinced that the effective identification of existing barriers followed by their removal will do the most to stimulate economic growth. I hope that the two sides will soon be drawing up a detailed plan that will highlight the actions to be taken by individual sectors in order for the creation of a transatlantic market to be crowned with success.

Ladies and gentlemen, cooperation under the Transatlantic Economic Council encompasses problems that are important for the functioning of a common market. I am particularly pleased that among the priorities for this cooperation were issues concerning the protection of intellectual property rights. May I remind you that last year the European Commission published a Communication on enhancing the patenting system in Europe, in which an attempt was made to revitalise the debate on a Community patent. This year I am impatiently awaiting a Communication on strategy in the field of intellectual property rights. Transatlantic cooperation is particularly important in this area. Our economies are to a large extent knowledge-based. This is one reason why the protection and execution of intellectual property rights is so very important.

It is in the interests of our economies, however, that the solutions promoted by us should be respected by third countries. Without their understanding and involvement, our efforts will not bring the anticipated effects. This is why applying influence to improve the protection of intellectual property rights in third countries has to be part of transatlantic cooperation.

I am counting on the Transatlantic Economic Council publishing a report in the near future on progress in cooperation in the sphere of the introduction of intellectual property rights, in which it will present the actions to be taken in the future to strengthen cooperation in combating counterfeit goods and piracy.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, the Transatlantic Economic Council is an institution that exists in order to come up with better solutions for economic cooperation and an increase in turnover of trade between the EU and the United States. This Council is also a place where the foundations of a consolidated common market are being worked out. Let us recall that we are approaching a time when we must jointly propose to other regions of the world a change to the regulations and principles of functioning in the world economy and in global trade.

One important area of our cooperation is the monitoring of financial markets and the adoption of transparent principles in this area in order to avoid the hazards that we have experienced as a result of the crisis on the mortgages market, which has moved on to cause turbulence in world food markets.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (PSE). – (RO) Our debate takes place before the Ljubljana meeting of the European and the American lawmakers, which you have also mentioned, Mr. Commissioner, as well as the head of our delegation, Mr. Evans, and I am convinced that this meeting will emphasize, one more time, the need for consolidating transatlantic dialogue.

The creation of the Transatlantic Economic Council reflects the need to harmonize both parties’ positions in managing the crises we are dealing with globally, especially as regards the food and energy crisis, as well as in other fields.

Unfortunately, poverty is and remains the main enemy for humankind and it cannot be mitigated without real cooperation between international bodies and national states, but especially between the European Union and the United States of America.

Lastly, I would like to use this opportunity to request again the support of the European Commission in solving the visa issue, as a sign of necessary solidarity with the new European Union Member States that have not solved this problem yet.

 
  
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  Peter Skinner (PSE). – Madam President, many have spoken about very serious issues. Of course it is quite important that we realise that there is always an ongoing dialogue between the United States and the European Union, but TEC really is about deliverables. It is about punching through the rhetoric and removing some of the scurrilous excuses on both sides of the Atlantic for those things that we need to do in order to be able to lift our economies and reward the people in those economies with growth, especially at the present time with the financial crisis around us.

That is why I am so pleased to see that progress really has been made. I welcome the fact that many like Jonathan Evans and Commissioner Verheugen and colleagues around this Chamber worked very hard on this issue to try to move things along. International financial reporting standards have been mentioned, as have broker-dealer agreements. These are all good steps forward and very solid issues, but this cannot be a shopping list. TEC has seven priorities which should move forward and make sure that they cut through the rhetoric. Insurance is one of those and it is one which could be a deliverable – maybe not today but definitely tomorrow.

 
  
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  Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the Commission. − (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like first to thank you very much for the broad support this debate has shown for the transatlantic economic cooperation project and reemphasise that this project can be successful only if all institutions are involved. The Council has its role to play, Parliament has its role, and the Commission is making an effort to play its part too.

I would like to disagree with and reassure those who expressed the concern that this is a type of transatlantic protectionism or that the two largest and most powerful economic regions in the world are walling themselves in. Transatlantic economic cooperation is not directed against anybody. It is very interesting to know that the economic regions already mentioned in this debate are already showing great interest in this work and have already asked, more or less outright, whether we could imagine doing something similar with other entities.

My answer is always the same: we would like to wait and see whether the model that we have created here actually works, because we are still in the early stages. I would like to try again to show that there are a variety of dimensions here. The actual core business is eliminating trade barriers. It is just as Mr Harbour said: these are trade barriers. When you look at it closely, it is incomprehensible, unbelievable, that we have been carrying on like this for so many years. He is absolutely right. It is because the bureaucrats cannot agree. What we are doing here is prodding the bureaucrats into action, forcing them to speak to each other, setting terms of reference for them.

Madam President, let me add an aside here. Although I have been in this business for a long time, I learnt something new by being involved in this. I always thought that if a political process in the United States was controlled by the White House, all it took was the touch of a button and the entire administration and the executive did what the President wanted. Even in the United States, that is not the case. Europe is not alone in having problems activating its bureaucracy – the Americans have the same problem. That, then, is our core task. We are talking here about things that free the economy on both sides from many many billions of euros of unnecessary expenses, money that could be invested, or used to create jobs and promote clever innovations. That is the key task.

The second dimension involves looking much farther ahead to consider whether we could perhaps manage to work with common standards. For example, the US co-chairman and I agreed that it does not make sense for the United States and Europe to develop standards and compete against each other with these standards in third markets. The attempt to do a lot more together and to prevent problems in future regulations is one reason why we are holding close talks about nanotechnology, and why we are discussing standards for biofuels. We are doing all this so that it does not have to be repeated in the future, so that things will not grow apart.

I also wish to share my personal vision. I think that, given the very different philosophies on both sides of the Atlantic, for example about how to achieve product safety, we can ultimately achieve the goal only if we are prepared to recognise each other’s philosophies and regulatory methods, if, for example, we recognise that the Americans are just as reluctant to poison their citizens as we are, and if the Americans admit that we are just as reluctant to expose our citizens to danger from electrical appliances as they are. Thus there is a basic foundation of mutual recognition of sensible regulations.

Now the third dimension. This is the area that this afternoon’s discussion concentrated on almost exclusively – the big, far-reaching issues, sometimes involving global politics, that have been mentioned here. I agree with Erika Mann and would like to ask you not to overload the Council, apart from the fact that we have a framework agreement that prescribes what topics we can tackle and what we cannot. Many topics were mentioned that were definitely not provided for in the framework agreement and for which there are other forums. Nevertheless, experience has already shown that practical cooperation does make it necessary to debate the big strategic issues with each other, such as the future of the world trade system, the issue of protectionism, how to deal with investments from state funds, the issue of food and energy prices and that of the potential need to regulate financial services. That is exactly what we are doing. We have found a way of responding very quickly and very flexibly. Therefore, I cannot exclude that over the long term, we may discuss topics that go beyond what was actually set out in the framework agreement.

Let me repeat: this debate has encouraged me to keep going along the well-worn path and to make sure that this time we will be successful. Together, we have enormous potential, which we have not even begun to make the most of. When we eliminate the barriers that prevent us tapping our full economic potential, then we can do a great deal more to achieve our political, social and ecological goals. That is what it is all about.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. – I have received six motions for a resolution(1) in accordance with Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE), in writing. – The global challenges are looming large on the background of today’s debate. Instead of bickering over the past problems and details of mutual relationship we need to realise that on the global scale the EU represents 7% of the world’s population. To really face these ever growing challenges, there is only one solution: the two biggest democratic free-trade areas have to join forces. There is absolutely no alternative to the closest possible transatlantic cooperation. This is not a matter of a wishful long-term perspective.

Last year the European Parliament and the US Congress made a promising start. An ambitious goal, to complete the transatlantic market by the year 2015, has been set. To realise this goal, we need the full cooperation of both the Council and the Commission.

The first task is to chart and remove all existing obstacles – political as well as technical. The second task will be to draw up a concise document that will explain its essential reasons and advantages to the general public.

Finally, let us not forget that the goals of the Lisbon Strategy will be best achieved by creating genuine and efficient transatlantic integration.

 
  

(1)See Minutes.


14. Revision of Council Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 on the establishment of a European Works Council (debate)
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  President. – The next item is the Commission Statement on the revision of Council Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 on the establishment of a European Works Council.

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. − (CS) Thank you for the opportunity to discuss two closely connected issues, the European Works Council and responsible restructuring, which the Commission considers to be of paramount importance and on which we have made significant progress during the past year.

As far as the European Works Council is concerned, the Commission believes that in order to improve the legal framework of the European Works Council action at Community level is required. European Works Councils are not automatically consulted on instances of restructuring. In addition, there is legal uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the Directive, and it is necessary to ensure a better link between the information and consultation of workers at national and supranational levels and between the relevant Directives.

As you know, on 20 February the Commission launched a second consultation with the social partners regarding the revision of the Directive. In doing so, the Commission suggested several approaches the Directive could take with a view to solving the aforementioned issues. These relate primarily to changing the definitions, strengthening the rules to be applied where is no agreement, employee training, amendments to the agreements in the case of significant changes such as mergers, and implementation of an agreed system for mutual dialogue at national and supranational levels.

This consultation preceded the submission of the Commission’s legislative proposal. It gave the social partners an opportunity to discuss the issue. The social partners are undoubtedly in the best position to ensure a positive impact of the revision of the Directive, which is fundamental. The Commission therefore invited them to the negotiations on the European Works Councils. The European Trade Union Confederation stated at the end that it was unable to open negotiations on the European Works Councils with the employer organisations. On behalf of the Commission, I invited the social partners once again to make every effort to improve the framework for these activities. The Commission is currently reviewing the options available for Community action, taking into account the responses and contributions of the social partners.

If the conclusions of this assessment confirm that the best way of solving the existing issues is to revise the Directive, and if the social partners do not respond to the latest invitation to them, in summer I will propose to the Members of the Commission that we adopt a balanced legislative proposal that takes into account the interests of all sides and the views they have expressed.

European Works Councils need a new impetus, they need to develop genuine supranational dialogue and they must be in a position to play a full part when it comes to anticipating and implementing changes. They must be stronger and more effective. This is one of the Commission’s priorities for 2008 and in this regard it will strive for close collaboration with Parliament and the Council.

The second topic is restructuring. Restructuring is an inevitable response to the significant economic and social changes in Europe brought about by technological progress, globalisation and the ageing of the population, as well as to the necessary steps enabling us to tackle global warming and the threats to the natural environment. It is companies that are primarily responsible for adapting because they are familiar with the market conditions and technologies and they assume the risks that come with any decision to restructure.

The social, economic and regional impact of restructuring, especially when on a large scale, is such that subcontractors, businesses, employees and their representatives must have their say during the various adaptation phases. For the same reasons adaptations to economic changes also require public measures aimed not only at creating an overall framework to promote economic competitiveness, but also at targeted support to anticipate preparations for restructuring and socially responsible management of restructuring.

Along with the regions in question, businesses are on the front line of restructuring. On the one hand, they must be able to develop quickly and to maintain their competitiveness, whilst on the other hand they must fulfil their social and regional responsibilities by anticipating changes, ensuring that the parties involved are properly informed as early as possible and, in particular, introducing mechanisms to prepare employees and regions for the foreseeable restructuring.

In 2003 the social partners agreed on a general framework, which fulfils these requirements. Based on this framework, Directives were drawn up but they are seldom applied at present. For this reason the Commission will soon submit a report aimed at helping the social partners to take further steps in this area, for example through more effective implementation of the existing guidelines and by extending the scope of the principles and defining ways of dealing with the serious problems that exist.

I would like to emphasise that the Commission is ready to collaborate with Parliament as closely as possible on both priority issues, namely European Works Councils and restructuring, and indeed on the social agenda, taking us beyond the scope of today’s debate.

 
  
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  Philip Bushill-Matthews, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I take the floor in various capacities, not just as a coordinator for the largest political group here in Parliament, but also as someone who played a leading role in discussing this dossier during the previous mandate and, above all, as somebody who, in a previous business career, actually introduced works councils into several different businesses: somebody who fundamentally believes in developing information and consultation and who does know something about what works and what does not work – certainly a true champion of the philosophy.

Commissioner, it is surely a supreme irony that such an issue – which is all about social dialogue and two sides of industry getting together – should actually fall at the first fence because the ETUC refuses to sit down and discuss it. I do commend you for having tried, and for still trying, to kick-start the dialogue. But if you say that if there is no dialogue then you will introduce legislation anyway, where is the incentive for both sides to sit down? Where is the penalty on one side for not having been prepared to sit down? I suggest to you – and I say this with a heavy heart – that the solution surely for you, Commissioner, is, when you are ‘reviewing your options’, for any proposal from you to reflect the fact that one party was prepared to talk and one party was not.

Finally, in a world of increasing globalisation and the need, of course, to restructure companies in order to keep pace, the issues of information and consultation of workers are of critical importance. Yet what do we see? A failure of social dialogue, a failure of the social partnership, and a failure by the very people who should be giving a lead. By refusing to negotiate, the European trade unions have not just failed themselves; they have failed the workers they claim to represent. When the issue finally does come before the Parliament, we as MEPs must make sure that we do not fail.

 
  
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  Harlem Désir, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the directive on European Works Councils was pioneering at the time of its adoption in 1994. Although it only set minimum requirements, it opened the way for employees of Community-scale groups to have the right to be informed and consulted, and was one of the founding elements of European labour law. But today, it lags behind changes in corporate reality, and behind the financial focus of the governance of companies, and it even lags behind other directives on informing and consulting employees that have been adopted since. It is therefore absolutely necessary to revise it, to ensure that in Community-scale groups, receiving information in good time and ensuring a high standard of consultation mean that alternatives can be found where employees are facing decisions about restructuring, site closures and massive job cuts.

Too often over the last few years we have witnessed sudden decisions to make collective redundancies without the possibility of employees really being consulted or their representatives really being able to have their say. Sometimes employees hear on the radio that they are going to be made redundant. Their representatives are only informed a few minutes before the decision is made public, generally at the time the stock exchanges open.

All of this underlines the urgent need for a revision. Furthermore, this revision was provided for in the text of the original directive, and in 2000 the mechanisms of this directive should have been updated. Since then, BusinessEurope – or UNICE as it was at the time – has done everything it can to block this revision, to ensure that the consultation ended in nothing.

That is why, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Bushill-Matthews, as rapporteur for the European Parliament with others in 2001, and having helped to get the request for an ambitious revision of this directive adopted by a large majority in Parliament, as was the case again in 2007, I cannot accept this criticism of the European Trade Union Confederation. It is sincere and it is prepared to negotiate. If this consultation, this negotiation results in nothing, it is up to the Commission to use its right of initiative. The Commission has a monopoly on the right of initiative. We respect that. However, that also gives it a responsibility, that of defending the general interest of Europe, of not allowing it to be held hostage by private interests, of ensuring that employees on our continent can count on the European Commission to defend their right to consultation and information, in good time, so that a genuine European social dialogue can exist in the major Community-scale groups.

 
  
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  Siiri Oviir, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (ET) Ladies and gentlemen, it is a very positive thing that the Commission has raised awareness of problems concerning the European Works Council, concerning the need to consult and inform workers in a situation where global conditions make a degree of genuine economic restructuring inevitable.

I fully agree with the previous speaker to my left that consultation is very important. But consultation is not the only important thing: constructive and positive information-sharing is also very important. Great emphasis has been placed here on the need for social dialogue.

But today’s European Union no longer comprises the 15 old democratic countries; there are 27 of us. And in my country for example, membership of trade unions, which are a natural party on one side of the social dialogue, covers some 5% of the work force. The workforce is not members of trade unions of its own free will. They have their own reasons for this, one of which is undoubtedly that they do not see trade unions as having the clout to protect their interests.

The Commission is now drafting a legal framework and legislation, and should be aware that there are many countries in this kind of situation. I would urge consideration to be given to this point, otherwise we will end up with legislation which does not work for many Member States and cannot be applied.

 
  
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  Ewa Tomaszewska, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) As a member of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’, I am also speaking now on behalf of my trade union colleagues. Employers are dragging their heels as regards opening a dialogue. A dialogue is in the interests of trade unionists and workplace environments.

Directive 94/45 has long since lost currency and it is not harmonised with other EU directives, especially Directive 2001/86 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees and Directive 2002/14 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community. There is also no proper definition of the role of trade unions in the setting up and functioning of European works councils. The procedure for their establishment is complicated, and this is why only one third of those that potentially could exist do.

The lack of a precise definition of information and consultation is causing serious difficulties for employees in gaining access to information, primarily during the privatisation or takeover of an establishment. We await a prompt amendment of this legal enactment.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Schroedter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I can only say how glad I am, Commissioner, that you are finally bringing European social policy out of its holding pattern. It is high time this happened. After all, it was clear that negotiations between the unions and the Federation of European Employers were doomed to failure when one side categorically refused any revision. The delaying of this key statutory project by the Commission leaves people with the impression that the Commission is pressing ahead with an exclusively liberal model of the internal market and is doing nothing for the social European model.

It is not enough just to talk about a social Europe; people want to see action on the ground. It has been clear for a long time that the minimum number of 1 000 employees is far too high to be able to represent employees sufficiently in the ever-changing company management situation throughout Europe.

It is also clear that European works councils cannot play their representative role properly if they are informed too late about mergers or the sale or partial sale of undertakings. If, on the one hand, the Commission is convinced that the Danish flexicurity model is so eminently suited to the European employment strategy, then, naturally, it must also ensure that the preconditions are created at European level to support the Danish employment market model, by which I mean effective employee representation.

Then the Commission must also strengthen the rights of the unions within the framework of the revised Works Council Directive. Moreover, the Commission should, as a result of the European Transparency Initiative and the Corporate Governance Codex, ensure that all companies covered by the Works Council Directive also form European works councils. I can speak only about my own country: of the companies with headquarters in Germany that are supposed to have established works councils, only 30% have done so. The evasion of European employment law in practice must bring consequences! This is a real challenge for the Commission.

 
  
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  Francis Wurtz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, eight years ago the Commission published a report, provided for in the 1994 directive on European Works Councils, in which it recognised that the application of this text in some cases seems – I quote – ‘to guarantee only a very low level of transnational consultation and information’. It concluded, and I quote again, that it would, ‘at the given moment decide on the possible revision of the Directive’. That was eight years ago. Four years passed and nothing happened. In 2004 the Commission finally launched the first phase of consultation with the social partners. Then another four years were lost, even though the position of all sides was well known and had not changed.

According to employers’ organisations, any revision of the directive is pointless, while the trade unions believe that it is vital. I should add that the Commission itself acknowledged that in 2006, only one third of companies had set up such a Council, that 20% of the European Works Councils that did exist were only consulted after the public announcement of management decisions and that 30% were not consulted at all. During this time, there was an explosion in the number of mergers, restructurings and relocations.

Finally today we are coming out of this unjustifiable hibernation. Some proposals are on the table. They are indeed so timid that BusinessEurope, which was against the revision, is delighted that they are, in its words, less prescriptive than inspirational, but at least the debate can begin. The ball is now in Parliament’s court, and Parliament does not have to start from scratch. I should recall that in 2001, our PPE fellow Member at the time, Mr Menrad, had a report adopted on the subject. It mentioned, among other requirements for the enforcement of the directive, – I quote – ‘adequate sanctions at national and European level for non-compliance with the Directive’ – specific and heavy sanctions –, the right to suspend the management’s decision at the request of employees’ representatives, and a more prominent role for the trade unions.

Our Group will support taking up the proposals in the old PPE report, which gained a majority in 2001, and suggests being more specific about them, in particular on two points. Firstly, the European Works Councils must have access to strategic information about the group so that consultation is not merely a formality, and above all they must have the right to suspend any restructuring plan: not just to push back the deadline, but so they can carry out a counter-assessment, present counter-proposals and participate in real negotiations. We only have a little time. The end of this parliamentary term is approaching. I think the moment of truth has come.

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten (PPE-DE).(NL) I opt for a rather different approach from the one just taken by my colleague Mr Bushill-Matthews. I do agree with him on a number of points, for example that, as a result of mergers, relocations, restructuring – and all of this across national borders – in a world of increasing globalisation there is more and more need for better information and consultation.

There are currently a good 800 to 820 European works councils representing approximately 145 million workers. The way I see it, in a socially oriented market economy, the worker interests that can also ensure calm and stability on that labour market must be capable of functioning as well as possible.

Mr President, this is why European works councils mean so much to me. Employers and workers have yet to reach agreement, and I would call on workers to continue their attempts to reach such agreement. If they are to return to the negotiating table, however, there must also be an offer from employers on which to base the negotiations.

I fully endorse what we voted for in 2001 within the framework of the report by my colleague Mr Menrad. What was it we said at that time? We said that new legislation had to be introduced to ensure earlier, more timely provision of information and improve consultation, to reduce the limit on the number of workers to a European works council, to bring in more, different and better-functioning sanctions for the eventuality of the legislation not functioning properly, and to improve the circumstances under which European works councils must function.

Mr President, I would call on everyone to go the negotiating table. If this does not happen, it is up to you, Commissioner Špidla, to ensure that this new text is brought in this year. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  President. – We have a problem with time, since the Council is due to speak in the next debate and the Council representative will have to leave at a particular time, so I am sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but I shall therefore have to be fairly strict about keeping to the speaking time.

 
  
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  Jan Andersson (PSE). – (SV) Mr President, everyone appears to agree that this is an important directive. It is important, not least in times of increased restructuring, that information and consultation work properly. I also share the Commission’s view and Commissioner Špidla’s view that the directive as it operates today is not good enough. Improvements are needed. We know that major restructuring has taken place without information and consultation having taken place at all.

I also share the view that it was quite right to leave this issue to the social partners. However, as things now stand, the chances must be against producing a directive at all during this parliamentary term. If it is the case that one party in a negotiation uses the negotiation solely to draw out the process and there is no agreement after nine months, then we will get no directive, and then we will get no change. There is a clear risk that that will happen in this case. That is the reason why one party has withdrawn. There is, you see, a clear risk that this is just procrastination.

That is the situation we are in today. That being so, the Commission has a duty to act. We find ourselves in this situation because the negotiations have not succeeded. That being so, the Commission must present a proposal based on the principles Mr Špidla mentioned and the analysis he has made. That being so, we in Parliament promise, as we have already discussed at the coordinators’ meeting on the Labour Market Committee, that we will do our best to bring about a directive which can be ready during this parliamentary term. That is what is important at the moment. The Commission must act.

 
  
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  José Albino Silva Peneda (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first I should like to congratulate the Commission on the work it has carried out with the social partners for the revision of the European Works Council Directive. I think, however, that the gulf between European rhetoric and the practical realities of peoples’ daily lives has been instrumental in undermining trust between management and workers.

It has become crucial to boost the level of trust between the two sides of industry in order to increase competitiveness and solidarity in the European Union. The levels of trust will increase as social dialogue is stepped up and the more social dialogue is stepped up, the more transparency there will be in decisions made over adjustment or restructuring processes.

By improving information flows between employers and workers we shall be contributing towards a better understanding of the impact of international phenomena as well as helping both sides to agree to seek solutions for restructuring processes. That is why we need to review and modernise the legal mechanisms relating to worker consultation and participation in order to obtain a legal framework which promotes the articulation of social dialogue.

I therefore call upon the European Trade Union Confederation to reconsider their position and sit down at the negotiating table in order to examine this draft directive, along with employers’ representatives. If that turns out not to be possible, I shall be sorry, but I must say also that the Commission must assume its responsibilities and it would be a good thing if the process of revision of this directive were completed during the term of office of this Parliament and this Commission.

 
  
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  Harald Ettl (PSE).(DE) Mr President, when the Commission tells Europe’s social partners that they should ‘try again’ to get along with each other, it reveals a certain ignorance with regard to the political reality. The industry is not willing to participate and the Commission cannot think why the social partners’ mechanism functions so poorly.

In a rapidly changing industrial landscape, in which swift adaptation is required, decision-making bases that depend on reaching unanimity, as is the case for BUSINESSEUROPE, are impractical. After all, the ITUC votes by qualified majority, which makes flexibility and change possible. It was because of this decision-making mechanism of the social partners that, in 1994, politicians like Helmut Kohl and the European Parliament negotiated and pushed through the European Works Council Directive, but even then, provision was made for revision and further adaptation five years down the track. Now it is 2008, and the Commission again wants to initiate a negotiation procedure that will inevitably last beyond this legislative term, even though industry is not willing, or is unable, to negotiate owing to its internal decision-making mechanism.

To recap, for your information, this is the same situation as in 1994. Do we want to improve an instrument as vital as the European works council, as Mr Barroso has explained here in plenary, or do we just want to pretend that we wanted a revision anyway and that in the end it failed because of the circumstances, as has so often been the case with other social issues?

If the latter, then we are not bringing enough energy to the matter to achieve a better solution and the result of all our efforts on social and employee-related issues during this legislative term will look even worse. This must not be!

 
  
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  Alejandro Cercas (PSE).(ES) Mr President, thank you, Commissioner. If I have understood you correctly – and I hope that I have understood you correctly and have not confused my wishes with reality – I think that you want to fight this battle, that you are not going to give up your capacity for initiative, that you are going to try to ensure that, before this Parliament finishes its work and this Commission finishes its work, we will finally have a recast Works Council Directive, after an eight-year wait. It is clear that in its day the Directive was very positive, but it has now been largely overtaken by events.

If that proves to be the case, Commissioner, then you have our full support, my full support, as I think that you have the right and the duty to maintain this Commission initiative when one of the parties does not want this Directive to be revised, despite the fact that it is obvious that it needs to be done. It is necessary because the general interest is at stake. Europe's workers are very angry, and with reason.

Commissioner: this morning I received a delegation of workers from a factory in Valladolid – Smurfit Kappa –, which is to be closed next month; they found out in the newspapers and do not know why it is being closed on them, because it is a profitable business. They do not even know who their bosses are, because the business is part of a conglomerate of companies and nobody knows any longer who shareholders are.

Commissioner, the workers are asking for security and Europe must give it to them; it must give them clarity, it must give them the right to be informed and consulted. There cannot be restructuring without social dialogue. Social dialogue is definitely important, and the difficulties definitely need to be overcome.

I know that it is not easy for you. It will not be easy in the College of Commissioners or in the Council. However, Commissioner, if you go along this path you will have our full support; sometimes not all battles are won, but all the important ones need to be fought, and this one needs to be fought.

 
  
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  Karin Jöns (PSE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, it seems that, once again, the Commission is merely paying lip service to the idea of a social Europe. You are responsible for the fact that we still do not have a proposal to reform the works councils, because it is the Commission, and nobody else, that is disregarding the ETUC’s statement that it does not want to enter into negotiations with BUSINESSEUROPE unless they are genuine. You are establishing completely new rules of play, as Article 138 of the Treaty does not provide for a third phase in the consultation process. There has never been such a phase. The Commission’s tactics are obvious – it is stalling for time.

Is the Commission really siding with the employers again? Basically, nobody wants substantial reform of the works councils, certainly not before the next European elections. May I remind you that Jacques Delors already presented us with a proposal, just two weeks after the employers had refused to negotiate. You could have done the same. The end of June is far too late, not to mention the fact that a ‘balanced proposal’ means something else.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, I want to thank Mr Špidla for his declaration and the fact that he intends to reform the European Works Council Directive. But we need deadlines and we need action urgently if we are going to be successful in reassuring the people of Europe, the working people of Europe, that Europe is more than a single market.

I have to say that it lacks logic on the part of those in the EPP who blame the ETUC for walking away from negotiations. The ETUC, the trade unions and workers are the ones who would benefit from a serious revision of the European Works Council Directive. It is a lot of nonsense. If they believed there was the possibility of achieving progress in negotiations, they would be in there negotiating. But they are not prepared to go through a charade of nine months’ negotiations only for the employers then to walk away.

So I think it is absolutely essential that the Commission bring forward a proposal here without delay.

 
  
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  Pier Antonio Panzeri (PSE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I think that even you understand, Commissioner, that there is an objective contradiction between saying that the revision of the directive is one of the Commission’s priorities, and then failing to go down this path: you need more courage and determination, without being influenced by negotiations that do not deliver results, due not to the ETUC, but people who, pretending to want to talk, are only doing it to waste time!

There are two reasons why you should take more responsibility: the first is method. We cannot stop here and the Commission must defend its decision-making powers. The second is political: you know that current legislation prevents CA from being effective. A revision of the directive is necessary not only to respond to the initial objectives, but to ensure that we are better equipped to take on today’s challenges.

For this reason I urge you, Commissioner, to send out a clear signal and show that you have the courage to decide!

 
  
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  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, the European Works Council Directive originates from 1994. Since that time new challenges have appeared in a globalised economy, and new Member States have entered the EU, including mine, Poland. This is why this Directive urgently needs amending. A change is also imposed by the Treaty of Lisbon, which rates social dialogue very highly. This Directive must be amended because this is also demanded by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which clearly states in Article 27: ‘Workers or their representatives must (...) be guaranteed information and consultation (...).’

The new directive should therefore improve existing mechanisms and introduce essential new ones – mechanisms that will make it easier to defuse the stresses linked to organisational changes, such as the splitting or merging of businesses, group redundancies, and above all the delocalisation of businesses and establishments within the EU.

I am sure that earlier information on such unpopular measures will enable labour market stresses to be defused and will unify the European union movement.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, these processes of restructuring, mergers and partial or total relocations by multinationals are happening in various EU countries, including my country, Portugal, with no respect for workers’ rights and with absolutely no talks with the unions – as has already been mentioned many times – and even without any direct information.

Revision of this directive is long overdue and is essential for improving the protection of workers’ rights. The revision needs to incorporate not merely guarantees in respect of information, but also guarantees concerning the participation of workers, workers’ representatives and the unions throughout the process as well as guarantees ensuring that workers also have the right to demonstrate and oppose where appropriate, including the right to veto restructurings or relocations that do not respect workers’ rights, regional rights and countries’ rights. This should have been done long ago and therefore, Commissioner, the challenge is not to delay it any longer.

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla , Member of the Commission. − (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, regrettably there is not sufficient time for me to respond in detail. I will, however, touch upon some of the most important issues. The first issue is the position of the social partners. I firmly believe that the social partners are in the best possible position to partake directly in such a change. On the other hand, the Commission has its own enshrined right of initiative, and naturally the proposal for a directive was not submitted lightly; rather, it was based on an evaluation of the current situation and the experience to date. The Commission will therefore not be held back by the conduct of the social partners. In spite of this, I am of the opinion that it is, and was, appropriate to call on the social partners to participate one last time.

It was mentioned during the debate that the proposal seemingly reprimands some of the social partners. I would like to say that we live under the rule of law and as such anyone who asserts their rights cannot be punished for doing so. This means that if one social partner avails of its right to refrain from negotiating, this should not affect the progress of those negotiations. I should point out that in the past it was the employers who interrupted negotiations and did not negotiate. From this point of view, the social partners have their rights and can assert those rights, and obviously this has implications which must be taken into consideration. It is necessary to take the consequences into account but no value judgment can be attributed in this regard for the purposes of the negotiations on this text.

The Commission’s objective is to improve the Works Council Directive and to do so within this parliamentary term, and all the deadlines naturally depend on this. Our objective is to make the Directive more effective. Despite the criticism of the term ‘balance’, it is my belief that a balanced approach is a fundamental condition for such a complex text.

I have observed the enthusiasm of all the political groups here in Parliament, thereby highlighting, even in this limited format, the complexity of the Directive and its ramifications. I therefore look forward to further collaboration with Parliament, the European Council and the social partners on the preparations aimed at improving this Directive.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Mary Lou McDonald (GUE/NGL), in writing. – In revising the European Works Council Directive, the Commission needs to fully address the protection of workers’ rights.

Employees should have full access to information on restructuring processes and the opportunity to intervene decisively throughout such a process. Too often the workforce learns about restructuring plans involving significant cuts in jobs or deteriorating pay and conditions after the decisions have been taken. Workers deserve the right to be involved at all stages in restructuring processes and have the opportunity to influence them in a way which protects jobs and employment conditions.

 
  
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  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE), in writing. – (PT) The debate on the European Works Council has brought to the negotiating table various proposals which take the best line: strengthening the idea of participation, cooperation and partnership between the various parties involved. However, there is also a constant insistence in this debate on an uneconomic vision that, with generous intent, often results in a set of proposals which do not promote economic success or safeguard jobs. That is the case with measures that attempt to save jobs even when the undertakings or the industrial sector in question are not viable. No one would think, of course, of banning the use of digital cameras or of placing a social surcharge on the price of those cameras. Nevertheless the widespread use of digital cameras has been the direct cause of thousands of job losses in the industry producing films for ‘old-fashioned’ cameras.

Broad worker participation must be based on a concept of employability, the protection of the individual and overcoming economic crises, not on a vision in which economic reality is a mere detail. Technological developments and the opening of the market must be seen as an opportunity and business dialogue should be directed towards that end.

 

15. Human Rights in the World 2007 and the EU's policy on the matter - EU Election Observation Missions (debate)
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR SIWIEC
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. – The next item is the joint debate on the following reports:

- the Annual Report (A6-0153/2008) by Mr Cappato, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on Human Rights in the World 2007 and the European Union’s policy on the matter (2007/2274(INI));

- (A6-0138/2008) by Mr Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra and Mrs De Keyser, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on EU election observation missions: objectives, practices and future challenges (2007/2217(INI)).

 
  
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  Marco Cappato, rapporteur. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, policies to promote human rights first of all require effective international policy-making powers, which the EU has. Unfortunately, all too often, as with the report that we unanimously approved in committee, European policy is in fact the policy of the Member States. It is difficult to have a European policy on human rights when Member States impose their national interests to this degree.

However, when it comes to political will, and at times this is conquered thanks to the European Parliament, which has no international policy-making powers, we are able to make significant progress. Take the death penalty: three resolutions of this Parliament eventually secured an important European position for the moratorium on executions voted for at the United Nations in New York in December. Look at how Parliament proposed a European policy on Tibet with a resolution that we ratified at the last sitting.

Human rights instruments also exist, but all too often the European Union does not recognise their legality. We have human rights clauses in all of our cooperation agreements, and yet we do not have effective monitoring and temporary suspension mechanisms, because those clauses would really allow us to ensure respect for democracy in third countries.

Very often we, as Europe, have been critical of the USA in recent years because promoting democracy through military means has proved ineffective. That is true! However, we also need to find alternative instruments. We cannot simply say that weapons do not work, because otherwise we would be giving in to the temptation of pacifism and neutrality. Let us just say that that route carries the risk of being objectively useful for dictators.

Therefore, the weapon we have identified and which is explicitly mentioned in this report – I am genuinely sorry that there is actually a Socialist Group amendment seeking to delete this part – is the weapon of non-violence: Ghandian non-violence, to be precise, as a political instrument rather than a folkloric reference; non-violence founded on knowledge, founded on rights – creating rights, ensuring the survival of rights, protecting the right to life.

We see non-violence as a technology, and so we propose that 2010 should be designated ‘European Year of Non-Violence’, that the European Union should have an active policy with the Commission and the Council of promoting instruments of non-violence, helping dissidents, helping democratic opposition. This is crucial if we are to go beyond simply formally defending human rights documents and texts, and if we are to bring human rights to life in the context of dictatorships and ‘non-democracies’.

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, rapporteur. − (FR) Mr President, fifteen years after the first election observation mission to Russia, and eight years after the first communication by the Commission on this subject, what assessment can we make of election observations? Well, firstly a positive one. The aim of this report, which was written jointly and in complete harmony with Mr Salafranca, was to highlight the successes achieved: the growing professionalism of the election observation missions, the creation of a body of experienced observers within the EU – successes that have meant that the budget of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights is now close to 25% – and above all, the fortunate combination of two missions, each led by MEPs: that of the EU, which is more technical and long term, and that of Parliament, which is shorter and more political.

We need to keep forging ahead, however. The main recommendations of this report are, in the first place, to open up the missions to ACP, EUROLAT and EMPA members, but very cautiously. Care must be taken not to destroy professionalism and to maintain a European stamp on the missions. Secondly, to keep the budget allocation at around 25% for the European Instrument for Human Rights and Democracy, draw up an annual report evaluating the year’s missions – that is extremely important indeed –, look into the security of computerised elections – a new challenge for election observers – and above all, work much more on follow-up. It is in the follow-up that the difficulty lies, and it is hard for elections to be the genuine lever for democracy that they should be. The report describes a number of avenues for follow-up, but I will only mention political follow-up here, and here I am talking mainly to the Council. It is unacceptable that, when representatives or presidents get themselves elected on a fraudulent basis, European Union policies towards them go on as if nothing had happened. Business as usual. It is also unthinkable – and disastrous – that when representatives are elected on a democratic basis, they do not have the right to the respect and legitimacy that their election confers. We have had unfortunate examples in the past that have led to tragic situations. I do not want to make this a textbook case. This report is consensus-based and not polemical, and Europe has in this an excellent instrument. It should not deny itself that.

 
  
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  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, rapporteur. − (ES) Mr President, the history of election observation missions is a success story, and I think that in this case the EU’s external policy, which has been criticised so many times, should be duly recognised, because it increases the visibility of the European Union, increases the prestige of the European institutions and strengthens the external image of the European Union.

I think that it is right to recognise that under the mandate of Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union is a world leader in election observation thanks to its methodology and to the credibility of the work that it is doing.

As Mrs De Keyser said, this report was adopted by 60 votes to 0 in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and it clearly demonstrates excellent cooperation.

I think that we need to start from the positives that experience has given us, but we should not rest on our laurels, though they might be deserved, because there is still a great deal to be done.

I therefore think that it is important to highlight the recommendations and suggestions in the final reports presented by election observation missions, not forgetting that they are recommendations and suggestions and that sovereign States can choose whether or not to implement them, but I think that it is important for them to be included in programmes and in political dialogues with our partners.

Another fundamental aspect is the independence of the missions, and the prestige that these missions have due to their objectivity, impartiality and independence.

This independence, however, needs to translate into the missions being able to coordinate a single position with the Member States and with the Commission, so that the European Union speaks with a single voice and there is no fragmentation, as Mrs De Keyser said when she pointed out that there have been some problems with the Council of Ministers.

The European Union and the European Union missions need to work with other missions and also with local organisations.

Finally, Mr President, I think that it is of the utmost importance that the Commission, which has been working very well on this aspect, should have a sufficient margin of flexibility and should not be limited by a budgetary straitjacket that prevents it from carrying out this excellent mission.

In summary, Mr President, I would like to express my support and satisfaction with what has been done and also my support for the future.

 
  
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  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office of the Council. (SL) Please permit me one procedural remark before starting my introductory remarks. Today it was said at the start of the sitting that one of the items on the agenda had been deferred because the Council was unable to attend. In view of the late hour at which we started debating this item, there are clearly grounds for moving it to another day, particularly as the agenda for today's session is so full. The Presidency intended to be present for all the scheduled items and will also be present for the entire item, on which such a late start is being made, especially as we wish to illustrate the importance that the Council and the Presidency attach to this subject. My opening remarks will also be a little longer than the envisaged five minutes. I ask for your understanding and will try and shorten my closing statement at the end of the debate.

Honourable Members, I would like to welcome the report drawn up by Mr Cappato, namely the European Union annual report on human rights in the world. I would like to stress that we regard the role of the Parliament in promoting respect for human rights internationally as fundamental and your critical view as an important contribution to the European Union's endeavours in this vital field. The Council will study this report in detail. However, today I would like to respond to certain key elements of your report, Mr Cappato.

First of all, there is no doubt that your report deals with most of the basic challenges facing the European Union as far as human rights are concerned. Above all, we are pleased that the activities of the European Parliament have also been included in the report on human rights. The chapter of the report on this subject acknowledges the significant role of this esteemed assembly in promoting respect for human rights. In future too the Council will endeavour to ensure close cooperation with Parliament, in particular with the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Sub-committee on Human Rights. We believe that the annual reports will continue to reflect the efforts of the European Parliament in this regard.

As regards the call, contained in the report, to enhance cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Union, I must say that we agree that there is a great deal of scope in this area and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Council of Europe and the European Union is of course important. The European Union respects the Council of Europe's efforts to promote and protect human rights. The European Union also remains a staunch advocate of the United Nations system of human rights protection. We actively support independence for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and are endeavouring to ensure that the Human Rights Council becomes an effective body for dealing with serious violations of human rights the world over.

The recent seventh session of the Human Rights Council, which was held in Geneva, was a success for the European Union. Our two main initiatives – renewal of the mandates of the special rapporteurs on human rights in Burma/Myanmar and North Korea – were accepted. All the initiatives of the individual European Union Member States were also accepted. We also made efforts to ensure that the mandate of the independent expert for the Democratic Republic of Congo was renewed, but unfortunately were unsuccessful. Among the positive outcomes of this session, mention should be made of the renewal of the mandates for the defenders of human rights and women’s right to be free from violence.

In April a new mechanism, the universal periodic review, was launched within the framework of the Human Rights Council. The European Union regards it as a key mechanism for protecting and promoting human rights. It is still rather too early to make a proper assessment of the operation of this new mechanism, but initial impressions indicate that the Member States are taking it seriously and acting responsibly. Certain attempts by some members of the Human Rights Council to dilute this mechanism are, however, a cause for concern.

In addition to the intensive work in the United Nations, in recent years attention has been directed at integrating human rights into other areas of foreign policy. I would like to reaffirm that this is high on the Slovenian Presidency's list of priorities. The Presidency also supports all the efforts made by Mr Solana's Personal Representative for Human Rights, Riina Kionka, in this regard.

At this juncture I would like to touch on the part of the report which calls for the human rights guidelines to be updated. During our Presidency, three of the five thematic guidelines will be updated. Last week the General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted the updated Guidelines on Torture. Next month we also expect to conclude an update of the Guidelines on the Death Penalty, which coincides with the tenth anniversary of the guidelines. The Presidency is also concluding an update of the Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict. In this respect, it should be noted that this month the General Affairs and External Relations Council is also expected to approve a two-year review of implementation of the Checklist for the Integration of the Protection of Children affected by Armed Conflict into European Security and Defence Policy.

As regards the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, your report asks the Member States to consider the possibility of issuing visas for such groups. Within the European Council Working Group on Human Rights (COHOM), the Presidency organised discussions in April with a view to exchanging information on visa issuing practices. It appears that the discussion prompted a number of Member States, together with the competent consular departments, to study the possibility of assisting human rights defenders by issuing them with short-term visas. At the same time, the Member States supported the inclusion of a reference to this matter in the new Common Code on Visas. The crucial aspect with regard to guidelines is, of course, their implementation in practice, that is to say monitoring human rights situations and responding to violations by making demarches and statements and including the issue in dialogue.

Respect for human rights across the world is indeed one of the major objectives of the European common foreign and security policy. Through instruments such as joint measures and strategies, demarches and crisis management operations, the EU has sought to strengthen the democratic process and improve the human rights situation in many countries. In this respect, dialogue on human rights is of particular importance. The EU is conducting talks with Iran, Uzbekistan, the Russian Federation, the African Union and China.

Under cooperation agreements, which contain provisions on human rights, such dialogue is also being conducted with other third countries. In that regard, I should mention that the next opportunity for discussion on the situation in China will be as early as next week, on 15 May, when the next round of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue will take place in Ljubljana. I should also mention recent consultations with the Russian Federation, which were held in April.

Honourable Members, I would also like to touch on cooperation between the individual institutions of the European Union on the protection and promotion of human rights. In the next few days the Council is expected to draft a reply to the letter from the President of the European Parliament, Mr Pöttering, regarding interinstitutional cooperation on human rights dialogue. I can assure you that there is great political will to strengthen these relations, at least on the part of the Presidency.

In conclusion, I welcome the report by Mrs De Keyser and Mr Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra on election observation missions. Election observation missions are a very important element of European Union policy for fostering democracy. They contribute to enhancing democratic dialogue and the democratic election process and help build democratic institutions. This year elections have been, and will be, held in many countries. The Council has been monitoring them closely and will continue to do so.

As part of our efforts to strengthen links between the European Parliament and the Council as regards election observation missions, we have already carried out an exchange of views with MEPs who have led observation missions. Their reports make a significant contribution to shaping policy in this area and I believe that today's debate will also be useful in this regard.

 
  
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  President. − I would like to point something out to the Minister, who has expressed amazement that the debates have been delayed. This is what happens when speakers take up a greater amount of time than was anticipated. As we agreed earlier, the Minister was to speak for 5 minutes. He spoke for 10 minutes, so we have a further delay of 5 minutes. This is how it happens, with half a minute here and 5 minutes there, and these delays do add up, so let us feel jointly responsible for keeping to schedule.

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, it is of course a great pleasure that I can again participate today in the joint discussion in plenary about two key reports in the field of human rights and democracy: the Cappato report on the EU annual report on human rights and the Salafranca/De Keyser report on election observation missions (EOMs). I would like to congratulate the three rapporteurs on their excellent work.

I also welcome the fact that the two reports on human rights and on election observation are discussed jointly because I think this is a living proof of our shared conviction that human rights and democracy go hand in hand and should not be considered separate. Human rights are the foundation of democracy, and democracy is indispensable to protect and promote human rights.

Let me address the two issues on our agenda today one after the other. Obviously I am only giving a general overview here but I am ready, of course, to go into more detail afterwards in the debate.

Election observation is a success story of European Union foreign policy and thank you, Mrs De Keyser, for what you have said. As a result, I think, of consistent, rigorous methodology and independent, impartial long-term observation, the EU ranks among the most credible international observer organisations. This was confirmed in recent EU observation missions to delicate election processes such as, for instance, Kenya (that was Mr Lambsdorff), Pakistan (Mr Gahler) and Nepal (Mr Mulder). Upcoming missions include Cambodia and Rwanda, both recovering from a very painful past. As in 2007, these missions will be financed in full respect of the agreed budgetary framework.

The well-established cooperation between the EU EOMs and the European Parliament combines technical expertise with political sensitivity and ensures that the EU speaks with one voice. I would therefore again like to congratulate all chief observers so far for their outstanding work. In fact, the professionalism of the European Union EOMs has been a top priority for me since the beginning of my term of office, during which there have been chief observers in some 36 countries.

I agree that EU election observation cannot be a stand-alone policy but must be part of a broader human-rights and democracy-support strategy. There is a need for enhancing political and technical follow-up to EU EOMs. We all have to play a role and the Commission will use the forthcoming review of the country strategy papers to devise more coherent policy approaches at country level, as suggested in the report, to ensure that our actions in the fields of protection and promotion of human rights, democracy promotion, electoral support and development assistance aiming at improving democratic governance and the rule of law are mutually reinforcing.

There is certainly room for further improvement of the policy. I will continue to do so in close dialogue with Parliament. In this context I propose to hold a second joint seminar on election observation in the autumn, building on our successful meeting last year which pointed to the essential issue of follow-up as well as of sustaining the quality of the observation work. In these areas we have already taken important steps: EU EOMs are now systematically thought into the electoral cycle and there is an increasing awareness for integrating recommendations of EU EOMs into dialogue with partner countries. The two entirely reviewed methodological guidelines which have just been released, as well as the continuous support to training programmes for observers, will help us to sustain the thorough high-quality work by the chief observers and their teams on the ground. The second seminar could focus on enhanced visibility for EU EOMs and the political dimension of the election support.

We can, of course, discuss possible further opening of our missions, as mentioned by Mrs De Keyser. So far we already include observers for instance from Switzerland, Canada and Norway.

I will try to be short on the second part because our Council President has already said a lot. This year is an important year for human rights as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 15th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights.

I think what we should say is that the past year has been characterised by the pivotal changes seen within the UN human rights systems with the finalisation of the institutional design of the Human Rights Council. Now the first round of Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs) has come to a close and the second round started on 5 May. With both some EU Member States and third countries under scrutiny, I think it will be very useful to analyse in a detailed manner whether this key innovation will contribute positively to enhancing the Human Rights Council’s effectiveness. The relevant EU Council group (COHOM) – this is in Geneva – has started to improve coordination in view of a more coherent EU position in the Human Rights Council and will discuss in detail conclusions to be drawn from the first two rounds.

I am not going to go into all the details now. I think the rest will come up in the debate, and I will then be ready to answer all the questions.

 
  
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  Thijs Berman, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Development. − (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, Burma in the wake of the disaster: paddy fields strewn with corpses, homeless survivors, relief organisations unable to enter the country. Burma’s gas exports earn the country EUR 3 billion each year, yet the regime is now spending just EUR 5 million on emergency aid. This is a shocking pittance given that the junta knew about the cyclone but failed to warn the population.

Burma is an enormous challenge for EU human rights policy. Tougher sanctions are the only solution. Strengthen visa restrictions, catch those businesses that support the regime, close the EU to all the regime’s banking transactions.

The Council should have taken these steps last week. It did not do so. Commercial considerations took precedence. This kind of critical analysis is totally absent from the EU’s Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2007. New sanctions against Burma will have to wait, however. First the EU must rouse ASEAN countries to provide assistance. The Member States themselves must also stand by. The Security Council must send Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Burma. Burma’s borders must be opened.

 
  
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  Giusto Catania, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Union is often concerned about human rights violations outside our territory and fails to realise that our policies contribute to the systematic violation of rights outside the EU.

This is why we believe that the mandate of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency should also cover countries which have concluded stabilisation or association agreements, or even to countries which have concluded readmission agreements with the EU. We believe that this is important for migrants and for asylum-seekers, who are often expelled from our countries and sent to places where individual freedoms and fundamental rights are not guaranteed.

We should also mention the country which currently holds the EU Presidency, Slovenia, where citizens without records and therefore without citizenship are sent to countries such as Kosovo or Serbia, with no guarantees for their safety.

We are also concerned because in the fight against terrorism, international cooperation has reduced the level of protection of fundamental freedoms. It is for this reason that the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on this report demands that all measures provided by Parliament be implemented, particularly with regard to CIA flights and the illegal detention of suspected terrorists.

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (LT) I would like to begin by thanking my fellow Members whose joint efforts have facilitated the preparation of the Annual Report on Human Rights in the World 2007 and the EU policy. Many thanks Mr Cappato. Our cooperation has been productive and pleasant.

Our resolution highlights human rights as the main priority and value. My political family, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, has always considered human rights to be an issue of the utmost importance. At the top of our agenda are the abolition of the death penalty, the unacceptability of torture, the rights of women and children and the fight against discrimination. The EPP-ED Group has always given a great deal of attention to human rights in such countries as China, Russia and Iran, and not without reason, as the human rights situation in these countries gives cause for great concern.

It is widely known that the EU has developed and implemented many measures relating to the protection of human rights and the spread of democracy. These include political dialogue, démarches and financial instruments – European instruments for protecting democracy and human rights, the framework, the work of multinational forums.

Therefore, one of the aims of our resolution is to assess the efficiency of EU policy and the measures currently being implemented along with their results and to suggest ways of improving these measures while making them more consistent and ensuring that they are transparent and visible. It is important to point out the fact that relations between the EU and the UN institutions in the sphere of the protection of human rights have yielded brilliant results; therefore, future efforts in this sphere are essential.

Frankly speaking, because of our different beliefs, experience and culture in the European Parliament we tend to differ in our assessment of certain issues and problems, such as sexual and reproductive health. In dealing with such controversial issues the most accurate standard is that of human rights, particularly the rights of children and women. Therefore, paedophilia (attempts have been made to disguise this under the term ‘sexual health’) should not be tolerated, whatever we call it.

I have to mention the importance of the role of civil society, as without civil society, without the active participation of NGOs, politicians’ efforts would often fail to yield results. Defenders of human rights, regardless of the country they are from – Oswaldo Payá and the Ladies in White from Cuba, Yuri Bandazhevsky from Belarus, Salih Mahmoud Osman from Sudan and hundreds of others – deserve our respect and increased support.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi, on behalf of the PSE Group. (HU) Mr President, on behalf of the Party of European Socialists, I would like to thank the rapporteur Mr Marco Cappato for his balanced and thorough report, and for his great openness and willingness to cooperate. It is particularly important that, on the recommendation of the Socialists, economic and social rights have been given greater emphasis in the report. If, regardless of our party politics as members of the European People’s Party, Liberals, Greens, or Socialists, we are proud of a Social Europe, then it is very important that we should require others – quite rightly – to respect social rights. In the case of China and Russia, for example, many hundreds of millions of village dwellers have no social insurance, no access to basic medical and health care, and no pension. These things, I believe, are a fundamental human right and much more attention should be given to this issue in future.

We are very proud that your report calls for enhanced cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe in the field of minority rights. On the basis of the Copenhagen criteria, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages are, after all, key documents for both the European Union and the European Council. At the same time, however, we consider it a major problem that there is no separate report, or even a separate paragraph, on national minorities, since we – and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner over there – will be overseeing Kosovo, and we will be determining what happens as regards minority rights. In our report, meanwhile, there is no mention of anything other than China and Russia. In future it would therefore be good if the human rights report were to contain a separate section on ethnic minorities, on the Roma and on migrants, in other words on the new minorities. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Janusz Onyszkiewicz, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (PL) I would like to concentrate for a moment on the link between human rights and democracy. It is generally felt that these rights can be fully observed only in a democracy. Democracy is in turn identified with majority governments that come into being through an election mechanism. This was Greek democracy, where the majority decided on everything. Through this system of majority voting, though, Socrates was condemned to death.

Therefore, the will of the majority cannot always serve as a guarantee of citizens’ rights. This is why in the 19th century a fear arose in political thought – one that is poorly understood today – a fear of extending voting rights to broader social groups, which is linked to the assumption that only an enlightened minority is in a position to respect human rights and freedoms.

Today we often run up against situations in which quite respectable elections lead to dictatorial governments, or support such governments. Just think of countries like Belarus, or the Hamas governments in the Gaza Strip. It is also worth recalling the famous response by President Mubarak of Egypt, who, when called upon to hold fair elections, said that they would result in governments in Egypt being taken over by radical fundamentalist Islamic groups.

Clearly elections are something of untold value, and that is why they also need monitoring. Who knows, however, whether a rule-of-law government and a genuinely independent judiciary might not be more important than elections in many countries these days. Otherwise we could have a democracy that is no more than a dictatorship propped up by an election mandate – a dictatorship in which there are no independent institutions to create a complex system of balances and securities to protect citizens from arbitrary action by the authorities. Democracy must be liberal democracy, not dictatorship by the majority. We should therefore maintain the practice of observing elections, but we must not limit ourselves to such actions in the fight to establish an authentic liberal democracy. This means that more attention needs to be devoted to establishing a democratic culture and the institutions of a civil society.

Such actions cannot count on support from autocratic authorities. Better assistance mechanisms therefore need to be developed, mechanisms that are even more flexible than those we already have, and the scope of our support must be broadened by providing assistance to those courageous individuals who are subjected to various repressions on account of their activities.

 
  
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  Konrad Szymański (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I believe that the only explanation for the lack of adequate words on the subject of religious freedom in the world in the report on human rights can be the prejudices of the left, and also, perhaps, of the rapporteur.

Freedom to profess and practise a religion is one of the most important elements of human rights. It has been confirmed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 16 of the OSCE Final Document and Article 9 of the European Convention. This is a freedom that has been violated on a large scale. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and may not practice their faith freely in China, Saudi Arabia or Iran. In Iraq, Assyrian Christians, who have inhabited that land for centuries, have had to flee from their homes. In Russia the work of religious communities that do not belong to the Russian Orthodox Church is becoming increasingly difficult.

We shall not, unfortunately, learn about this from Mr Cappato’s report. Such censorship is a direct route towards the loss of what constitutes the only force in the system of protection of human rights: the route to a loss of credibility.

 
  
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  Hélène Flautre, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Mr President, the reports put forward are very precise and well documented. They give a convincing indication, I believe, of Parliament’s current ability to evaluate EU policy on human rights and democracy. Guidelines, dialogues and consultations, action plans, the human rights clause, election observation missions: these instruments are evaluated thoroughly and the progress that still needs to be made is also clearly identified, whether it is by devising human rights strategies for each country or precise indicators to evaluate situations, or asking Parliament to initiate appropriate measures for the implementation of the human rights clause. These objectives are, I believe, well known both to the Commission and to the Council, and will remain on the agenda for our discussions.

Specific demands are also addressed to the Member States. In particular, we deplore the fact that a large number of international conventions and additional protocols have still not been ratified by many of them: the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; and other instruments, such as ILO Convention 169. Ratifying them would honour the Member States and the EU as a whole.

There are also some even more difficult, and recurrent, issues that the international situation unfailingly places at the forefront of our concerns: issues concerning a comprehensive, integrated approach to human rights in all EU policies. Yes, the asylum and immigration policy being pursued by the EU and the Member States leads to massive human rights violations, particularly at our external borders. Yes, large European companies turn a blind eye to direct attacks on employment law or the right to a healthy environment, or are even the cause of them. The EU should be moving towards a legislative framework that fosters compatibility in its activities and respect for human rights. Yes, the food crisis calls our agricultural and energy policies into question. Yes, once again, the impact of climate change on human rights is obvious. The rights to life, health, housing and food are at the top of the list of violations.

Our ambition is a comprehensive, integrated policy. Work on implementing the Treaty of Lisbon has begun. It will mark an additional step in our commitment to human rights. This commitment needs to be guaranteed by more substantial and coherent organisation and resources when it comes to human rights. The European External Action Service should, for example, include a centre focusing on the cross-cutting nature of human rights. The European Parliament itself should take the plunge. A fully functional parliamentary body is highly desirable for this purpose.

 
  
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  Vittorio Agnoletto, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, advocating and defending human rights today risk becoming hollow gestures, especially if statements of principle do not follow specific events. For some time the European Union has pretended to be helpless against regimes that violate human rights, interested only in the advancement of trade and economic relations.

The Commission is increasingly undermined by the Council and the Member States in its strategies for promoting human rights throughout the world. For some time we have been witness to a conscious renationalisation of competences as regards the promotion of fundamental rights. Never before has the Commission been so weak in terms of proposals on human rights and democracy throughout the world, as demonstrated, for example, by the refusal to deploy the democracy clause that Parliament voted on two years ago.

Human rights are once again at the mercy of economic or military control, as evidenced by the ‘war on terror’ of the Bush administration. For this reason, it is important that the European Parliament continues to play a galvanising role in this area, for example with reports like the one by Mr Cappato. Of course, this report focuses exclusively on one aspect of human rights, an aspect that I would call ‘individualistic’.

Mr Cappato himself voted against our amendments, which sought to demonstrate how the promotion of human development and social, economic and cultural rights, as defined by the UN, are a prerequisite for the enjoyment of individual rights. It is these very concepts of interdependence and indivisibility of rights that define this idea.

Yet again, the rapporteur has resorted to drawing up a blacklist of countries in which the usual suspects are attacked and the most powerful evade criticism. With these amendments, we tried for example to throw a spotlight on the fact that Turkey is guilty of a policy of wiping out the cultural, political and social identity of the Kurds. This repression affects millions of people, but nothing has been done. In my opinion, the Kurdish question is the key to the future of a democratic Europe, all this together with general and generic formulations about human rights, which smack of double standards. This is why our group decided to abstain in the final vote.

 
  
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  President. − If anyone was waiting for the speech by Mr Georgiou of the Independence and Democracy Group, they are in for a disappointment, as he is not in the Chamber.

 
  
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  Frank Vanhecke (NI). (NL) Thank you, Mr President. I think that, whilst a number of aspects of the voluminous Cappato report are open to criticism, the report, to its credit, places discrimination against minority religions in a number of third countries expressly on the agenda – something that was much needed.

We should simply have the courage to state a few things more clearly and, without beating about the bush, to denounce first and foremost the fanatical totalitarianism of Islamic states. The fact is that, whereas in Europe Islam is recognised and treated as a religion of equal standing and Muslims are of course recognised and treated as equal citizens, and in my country Islam is recognised and subsidised by the government, in the Islamic world, Christians and non-believers are openly regarded as second-class citizens and discriminated against as a result.

To give just one example, in supposedly ‘modern’ Algeria, a five-year prison sentence and sky-high fines are envisaged for anyone attempting to convert a Muslim. In other Islamic countries, too, discrimination and oppression of non-Islamic minorities is simply official policy. Consequently, it is time for firm European action.

I note that, whereas the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is constantly talking about the discrimination against Muslims that is supposedly taking place here and there, the European Union is utterly silent about the most unreasonable, systematic, officially organised persecution of adherents of other faiths in Muslim countries. This tends to give the impression that the official human rights dialogues and clauses have become just a kind of moral wrapping paper. Mind you, how credible can the European Union be if it itself opens the door wide to a country such as Turkey, where it is a known fact that torture is carried out on a massive scale by police?

What lessons can the European Union give about freedom of expression and freedom of the press when it itself has for years been secretly and openly conducting accession negotiations with a country such as Turkey, described by Reporters Without Borders as one of the worst violators of freedom of expression? Also, what lessons can the Union give about freedom of religion when it embraces a country such as Turkey, which has massacred or driven out all its former minority religions and openly discriminates against the few that remain?

If, however, we look past the official rhetoric and the official declarations and clauses, we often see a European human rights policy of double standards, and an enormous gulf between word and deed.

Incidentally, a perfect symbol of this equivocal European policy is the present European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel. When he was still Belgian Foreign Minister, he appeared as a kind of global conscience with his European cordon sanitaire against Austria, whilst soft-soaping the villainous dictator Fidel Castro. A few months ago this European Commissioner once more advocated a massive improvement in relations with Cuba, even though all human rights organisations affirm that the Cuban state apparatus is lastingly geared towards curtailing the rights and freedoms of Cubans.

Such people, such European Commissioners, are ill-suited to carry out human rights policy. A further consideration is that one thing totally absent from this report is an urgently needed plea for the restoration of the right to freedom of expression in a number of our own European countries, including Belgium. In Belgium, the opposition party is conspicuously besieged with submissions and proceedings, and numerous acts have been tightened up in order to render freedom of expression on the immigration problem impossible. It is time we had the courage to see the plank in our own eye.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, the fact that elections are observed by recognised institutions improves the election atmosphere and sometimes even helps to crystallise significant changes, as happened, for example, during the Orange Revolution in Kiev. Observation is obviously a costly undertaking, but one that is justified, since on the one hand it teaches democracy, and on the other hand it helps us to appreciate the political awareness and soul of a given nation.

I have a few suggestions on how missions can be made effective without undue cost. Firstly, we should send people who know the local language. If this is not feasible, the group of observers could be put together in such a way that a single language (French or English) is used, into which translations are made, and which in turn means taking along interpreters to translate into that particular language.

As far as possible, it would be worth recruiting volunteers from other countries, such as students or members of non-governmental and student organisations. Why? The more observers there are, the better things will go. Even though we sometimes hear ironic comments, in Africa for example, that they do not need any more colonists, it turns out that contact and interaction with electors leads to their recognition of the mission and, at the same time, of that form of democratic support.

Where human rights are concerned, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats are for our part taking steps to ensure that people living in particularly vulnerable areas of the globe are aware of their rights and are able to fight for them. Constant education is needed for this. There is no other way out. I shall finish by saying that without fundamental human values and rights, democracy may be a defective solution, if not a caricature of how to govern.

 
  
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  Józef Pinior (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, the debate that is taking place today concerns one of the most important matters that the European Union, and certainly the European Parliament, is engaged in: observance of human rights in the world, and monitoring the current state of global democracy. The two reports seem to me to represent a very significant achievement by the European Parliament. I would like to record my congratulations to Mr Cappato and to Mrs De Keyser and Mr Salafranca on drawing up these reports.

In such situations we are always faced with the following dilemma: how can we defend human rights, speak about the principles of law that we wish to demonstrate in other regions of the world, and at the same time conduct an effective EU policy? This is the basis of the art of EU policy today: balancing these two principles, demonstrating the vista of human rights and, at the same time, the effectiveness of our policy. This is the stark issue facing us today in Burma, in China, in the Caucasus, and in very many regions of the world. It seems to me that the two reports make a very good attempt to balance these two challenges facing the European Union.

One more matter: I would like to use this debate to thank Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner for her answer in the matter of observing human rights in Mongolia. My information turned out to be correct. Mongolia may be an example of a country in which we really are dealing with a positive trend in the field of human rights. Mongolia may be an example of how the situation may change for the better in this respect. It is a very important Asian country, which the European Union may in future point to as an example for other Central Asian countries.

 
  
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  Fiona Hall (ALDE). – Mr President, election observation missions are a central and vital element of EU support for human rights, democratisation and good governance. I would like to speak with particular reference to observation missions in Africa because there is a special partnership between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Often the observation mission takes place within a framework of development support under the Cotonou Agreement. For the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006, for instance, there was substantial technical support for the election registration process, and election observation missions should also come in a framework of support after the election, as Mrs De Keyser’s report emphasises. There is a huge need for practical, technical help after elections – for example, for training of civil servants and for peer-to-peer exchanges with other parliamentarians. Newly elected parliaments need support so that they can strengthen their own capacity to hold their executives to account. There also needs to be a political follow-up to the elections, most obviously on the recommendations of the observation mission, which should be followed up before the next round of elections.

I have a few other points. Yes, the election observation mission has a very special place in that it is independent and ring-fenced from the rest of the process. It is not the Commission; it is different from external relations; and, while it is true that the observation mission should talk to the local Commission delegation, to the ambassadors of the Member States and also to other observation missions, it is not answerable to any of them and its independence is its strength. While I agree with liaison and coordination, I do not think we should have joint missions with other bodies because that is liable to compromise the very important independence of the EU observation mission.

I notice the wish to expand observation missions and make them more active in the southern Mediterranean. I can understand that, but it should not be at the expense of missions in emerging democracies in Asia, Latin America and especially Africa. As various people have said, missions do not come cheap, so, if we are going to have extra missions, we are going to need extra budget.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE).(ES) Mr President, I would first of all like to congratulate Mr Cappato, both on the work done and on the result.

In fact, I would like to extend these congratulations to the whole of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, because I think that this report shows that for some time now the Subcommittee has come of age, with everything that that implies.

With regard to the report, there are, however, some aspects that we would like to take up again, and we would ask that we all make a final effort for them to be acknowledged.

Firstly, it should be recognised and recalled once again that human rights are universal and indivisible, which is not explicitly stated in the text and we would like it to be, therefore we have tabled an amendment in this regard.

Secondly, it would also be good for us to agree that, in future, every EU special envoy should have a clear mandate in relation to human rights and, in particular, in relation to ensuring that the human rights guidelines are respected.

Thirdly, in relation to these guidelines, I think that is it important to remember something else: although women’s rights are, by definition, human rights, we understand that the specific elements that often accompany certain violations of those rights, from a gender perspective, mean that it is highly recommendable for some new guidelines to be adopted as soon as possible relating specifically to women’s rights.

Finally, although it is true that there are many specific cases that we should mention here, which we cannot do due to lack of space and time, I do at least want to take advantage of this debate to once again put on the table the violation of human rights that is taking place in the Western Sahara at the hands of the Moroccan authorities, as it is a clear case of incomplete or badly completed decolonisation.

Therefore, Spain, and, by extension, the European Union, has an obligation not to hold back on this issue, especially as the UN Human Rights Council has once again called for the conflict to be resolved through a fair and lasting solution that is in accordance with international law, and we all know that, above all, this means that the right to self-determination should be applied.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ
Vice-President

 
  
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  Luisa Morgantini (GUE/NGL).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank Mr Cappato and the Subcommittee on Human Rights. However, I am not going to talk about this report. I hope that the Subcommittee on Human Rights becomes a full committee, rather than a subcommittee. I would also like to thank Mrs De Keyser and Mr Salafranca for their detailed and stimulating report. However, I regret that the report was not drafted jointly by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Development, in view of the fact that the chairmen of these two committees jointly chair the European Parliament’s election observation group.

I would like to thank the Commission, and particularly Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, for the commitment and determination shown in developing the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights to help promote human rights through election observation, in the knowledge that democracy and human rights need not only free and fair elections, but development and a strategy for combating poverty.

I only have a minute, so I would like to underline the need for greater coherence for the post-election period. For example, take the case of Palestine. I believe that this coherence, as well as continuity in following up reports and policies supporting national parliaments, are vital if the EIDHR is to be credible. Mrs Ferrero-Waldner’s proposal for a second joint seminar on election observation is also important, particularly if we succeed in involving civil society and local election observers, who would be a vital channel of communication for us.

 
  
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  Hélène Goudin (IND/DEM). – (SV) Mr President, the EU is a union of values which has its basis in a common agreement to respect human rights. When these are not respected within the Union or in the area close to the EU, the EU should act. However, it is unfortunate that this Parliament is attempting to use human rights to advance its own position within the field of foreign policy at the expense of the Member States’ competence. We must not forget the fact that several of our own Member States do not always respect human rights, for example in the case of GLBT rights, when in our zeal we self-righteously beat our chests and criticise the policies of third countries.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI). – Mr President, I must ask, is this debate just an annual ritual to preen our human rights conscience, or are we serious in the EU about forcing real change by countries who are serial abusers?

Yes, the EU protests, but is our action measured in inverse proportion to the trading importance of those we target? Take India and China. Both countries we are wooing for trade. Just how serious are we in pushing the human rights agenda with them? Why do our trade agreements not have real human rights teeth? Is the truth that trade matters more to the EU than repression?

I look at India, with its caste-based discrimination, its appalling record on bonded labour and sex trafficking, and widespread religious freedom abuses. And then I discover that all we have is an ad hoc dialogue with India and the absence of meaningful engagement on human rights issues. Little wonder things are not improving.

I must also say that sometimes our focus is skewed. When it comes to development aid, the EU presses hard on a rights agenda, including promotion of abortion, even where it offends the local culture – as in Kenya, where EU-funded NGOs use the money for funding abortions in breach of local custom and law.

Should our focus not be on fundamental rights and our development money better used to help in food and water provision, rather than in peddling our own agenda, even under the guise of a health policy?

 
  
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  Ari Vatanen (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I think this is the right day to reflect on the importance of elections and observation missions. This very morning we have heard another set of results from the USA. There I think the election has been going on for ages, and we still do not know who the Democratic candidate for the Presidential elections is. I think it will be Obama, but they will not ask me.

While this thing has been going on for months in the USA, there were elections in Russia, and today Mr Putin, I should say, handed over the Presidency to Mr Medvedev. I should say that Mr Medvedev was inaugurated, but that would not really be the right description, because when Mr Medvedev was campaigning, he took one single day for his campaign – that is what the Kremlin press communiqué said. It even specified that this day was unpaid. How can you run an election campaign if you do it in one day? You can do it when you know that you are going to get 17 times more TV coverage than all the other three candidates put together. So that is the sad score in Russia. The Russian people deserve more. This is not Kremlin-bashing. We have to speak out for the Russian people and for those people in any other country where people do not yet have a democracy in the way we understand it.

Are these observation missions important? Yes, they are very important, because they are all about democracy building, which is our foremost mission in this House. Mr Salafranca and Mrs De Keyser have produced a very good report, but we simply have to pursue this issue. The EU still has to be much stronger. We cannot be silent, because we owe it to the people who do not yet have a democracy.

 
  
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  Richard Howitt (PSE). – Mr President, congratulations to an excellent rapporteur, Marco Cappato, on the annual human rights report.

To explain two of our Socialist amendments: firstly, I do respect his and your position about Gandhi and non-violence and I think it is a very important tradition that you draw our attention to in Parliament. But we seek to delete that paragraph simply because it cannot be the only guiding principle of Europe’s CFSP. Peace-making and peace-keeping sometimes involve military means and are still an honourable and noble part of what we can and must do as Europe to create a more peaceful and successful world.

Secondly, with regard to our amendment about the UN Human Rights Council, as someone who with subcommittee colleagues regularly goes to Geneva, I share your concerns. It has been disappointing to see the polarisation that still exists about the occupied Palestinian territories, the bloc mentality, particularly in the African group, though we have to beware of that ourselves in Europe, too. Nevertheless, I think it is very important this year that we continue to support the spirit of UN reform, that we recognise the positive role played by EU Member States in the Human Rights Council and recognise too that the process of peer review is only just beginning and that to do it openly, comprehensively and effectively is the best way we can support that institution.

Finally, in recital P and paragraph 4 we ask the Commission, together with the Council, to endorse the proposal of a consensus on democracy promotion in the neighbourhood policy, in the Copenhagen Criteria, in our regional strategies in the world. We talk about democracy promotion but there is no single European definition of it. The idea, in the same way as we had a consensus on development, that we get the Commission, the Member States and Parliament to jointly define and commit ourselves to democracy promotion in the world is a powerful one. Mr Solana has supported it and I hope both Council and particularly the Commission go on record as supporting the idea this evening.

 
  
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  Ona Juknevičienė (ALDE). – (LT) Last year’s EU report consisted of 104 pages, 4 of which were dedicated to the subject of human rights. This year the figures are 216 and 10 accordingly. Facts stated in last year’s report, such as the development of the Fundamental Rights Agency and Parliament’s work in this sphere, were repeated again. Nevertheless, the report gives a detailed account of how we Europeans are defending the rights of people worldwide.

However, not a single word has been said either in the report or in the resolution about the protection of human rights or any cases of breaches within the Union. Are there no cases at all in which human rights have been breached in the EU, or if, perhaps, they do occur, do we in fact resolve them fairly and without delay? In my opinion, neither happens to be the case. It looks as if it is easier to speak about the sins of others than to admit to our own.

Are we not aware of the fact that illegal recruitment agencies in London are making slaves of immigrants from Lithuania and Poland? Do we not know that in Paris mass arrests of ‘illegal’ persons are taking place by order of President Sarkozy? What about the unlawful actions against Romanians in Rome? Of course, the aggrieved can appeal to the court in Strasbourg. In several years’ time, when cases in that court amount to thousands, justice might be restored. However, every day and every hour is of great importance to the people concerned.

We have been elected to work for our people, represent them and protect their rights. Let us turn to face them. In Europe every person should be safe. Then we would be stronger and in a better position to help others.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Mrs Juknevičienė. This is a case of ‘looking at the speck in someone else’s eye and failing to see the plank in our own eye’.

 
  
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  Margrete Auken (Verts/ALE). – (DA) Mr President, thank you for a superb report on human rights. It has one very serious fault, however. The world’s biggest human rights problem – the discrimination against 260 million casteless Dalits – is mentioned only briefly, and even then only in connection with a list of things that could give rise to discrimination. In February last year, we approved a far-reaching decision in this matter, and it is therefore alarming that the amendment proposed by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance was rejected by the Committee on Foreign Affairs. We proposed that, together with the UN, the EU should prepare guidelines to combat caste discrimination and raise the problem at summit meetings with the countries concerned. Have India and the British Government been at it again, as they were against the decision last year, and have they succeeded this time?

The problem exists in many South Asian countries, but I mention India because it is democratic, a fact that was underlined as the most important factor in connection with human rights. It is democratic and it even has good laws against caste discrimination. However, these laws are continually being violated. India’s democracy deserves these laws to be respected, and India should become a model for others. It is, however, also embarrassing that the EU is turning its face away from the suffering of the Dalits – and so is Parliament! We could say these things last year. What has happened, that we cannot say them today? Are things improving for the Dalits? Is the discrimination in the process of disappearing? No, everyone here knows that this is not the case. Why, then, should the desperate situation of these people not receive the active attention of the EU?

 
  
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  Willy Meyer Pleite (GUE/NGL). (ES) Mr President, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, on 13 April Ennaama Asfari, a human rights defender in the Western Sahara, was arrested in Marrakech. Yet another arrest in Morocco.

I am telling you this, ladies and gentlemen, in order to say that we should not forget that the European Union is responsible for the decolonisation process backed by the United Nations. We are responsible, and therefore any human rights report must say that the European Union should be exacting and vigilant and must comply with UN Security Council resolutions.

Secondly, ladies and gentlemen, we are in a civilisation, in the 21st century, in which the population is getting poorer and hungrier, and there is more disease and more inequality. In the last ten years, according to the United Nations, Africa has become poorer. I would therefore like to demand, suggest, and ask that it be recognised that human rights means all rights: economic, social, cultural and political rights. If we had a scale, we would be very surprised to see the ranking of countries that do not respect human rights. I therefore think that we should have much greater awareness and raise all issues of compliance with human rights.

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM). – Mr President, it is important when we discuss elections and observation missions that we look at ourselves under the Lisbon Treaty. How many of Europe’s half a billion people outside the inner political circle of the Council will elect the President of Europe? None. How many of the general public will elect Europe’s prime minister, the President of the Commission? Again, none.

Maybe we will make more progress promoting democracy around the world when the EU itself embraces democracy. As Mr Bonde has pointed out this evening, when the President of China asked the future president of Europe when they are speaking about democracy how many votes he was elected by, it will be a very embarrassing moment.

 
  
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  Urszula Gacek (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I welcome the excellent report on the European Parliament’s role in election observations. Election observations in new and developing democracies are rightly seen as a priority of the EU and a demonstration of its commitment to these nations.

However, I see a further role for our Member States, for our so-called ‘mature democracies’, and this is leading by example.

I recall a heated debate in Poland prior to the general election of October 2007. The OSCE wanted to deploy a small team of observers. This request was initially met with a negative reaction by many politicians who saw this as an affront and insult. Not so. Observation missions have been deployed to many old European democracies. The French presidential election is just one example. Ultimately, observers were made welcome in Poland.

When convincing reluctant emerging or new democracies to allow international observers in, we must show that we ourselves allow others to scrutinise us. Our electoral processes are not without problems. The British have documented cases of electoral fraud in postal voting and we all face new challenges such as internet voting in future.

So let us be open to scrutiny, for such openness can only increase our own credibility.

 
  
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  Libor Rouček (PSE). – (CS) Today we are debating two closely connected reports: the annual report on the human rights situation in the world and the report on EU election observation missions. Free elections and the right to democracy are fundamental human rights enshrined, inter alia, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also by the UN Millennium Declaration. For these reasons the promotion of democracy is one of the main objectives of EU foreign policy. For that support to be effective, we need to strengthen our common foreign and security policy and make the EU election observation missions more efficient.

I therefore support the recommendations of our rapporteurs. I also believe, for example, that the election process, including the pre-election and post-election phases, should be included in the political dialogue with the third countries concerned. One objective of an election process, not just the voting but also the pre-election and post-election phases in particular, should also be the consolidation of democratic institutions such as the rule of law, independence of the media and courts, civil society, etc. I am also convinced, based on personal experience of the observation missions, that the European Parliament should and can play a much more effective and significant role in this process.

To conclude, as a representative of the Czech Republic I would like to say a few words regarding the ratification of the Rome Statute. As I did last year, I would like to call on the Members of Parliament and Senators of the Czech Republic to ratify the Rome Statute as soon as possible. The fact that the Czech Republic, which will hold the EU presidency in the first half of next year, is the only EU Member State that has not yet ratified it is, in my opinion, an embarrassment to what, unfortunately in this case, is my native country.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, I say firstly – and directly to the Commission and the Council – that the EU needs to give serious support to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to implement the indictment of two individuals who have allegedly perpetrated human rights abuses in Darfur, one of them a serving minister in the Sudanese Government. The EU response has so far been weak, which, considering that we claim the credit – or much of the credit – for creating the ICC, is pretty shameful.

We even risk being outflanked by the United States. In an interesting speech a fortnight ago, John Bellinger, the chief lawyer in the State Department, said that the US was willing, without changing its ideological position towards the ICC, to give practical support to its work, and he specifically mentioned Darfur. So I think we should get our skates on in terms of supporting the ICC over Darfur.

Talking of the United States, we have a prospect, whoever wins the presidential election, of an end to the abuses – or at least the worst abuses – of the war on terror. All the candidates are committed to closing Guantánamo, but the EU has to help by following through on its call for closure and leading an international initiative to resettle detainees who are not going to get a fair trial. But along with that – and I agree with those who say that, to be credible in the world, the EU must respect human rights internally – we must have the accountability that still has not been delivered for collusion by European governments with extraordinary rendition – which, translated, means kidnap and torture.

 
  
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  Maria da Assunção Esteves (PPE-DE).(PT) That is how things are. The death penalty, torture and hunger are barbaric phenomena that persist in this world that we in part govern. However, things will only continue in that way if we want them to. The Europe of Enlightenment, of values, of dignity, lacks policy coherence. The European Parliament and the Council do not always take exactly the same positions in this area, but there is only one way and that is for the European institutions to act coherently in all their internal and external policies. We have hopes for the effectiveness of the new External Action Service in the Treaty of Lisbon in the field of human rights.

However, looking at the world and the examples which give rise to our concern: the United States has the death penalty as does Africa; China not only has Tibet, but also slave labour, torture and summary execution. Such examples should lead us to tackle our lack of coherence. Europe needs a proactive human rights policy. It is important to mobilise civil society, but we must not forget that the fight for rights falls in the first place to the States and their diplomacy. The French President was right to say he would not attend the Olympic Games in Beijing. Neither should the other EU Heads of State attend. The Union is a unity based on values. It is not enough for Europe to make statements and resolutions. The European Union cannot sell its soul.

 
  
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  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE). – (PL) Commissioner, in congratulating the three rapporteurs, I would like to place particular emphasis on absolute and unquestioned consideration for the rights of women in all spheres of public life, in social relations and in purely human private relations – not just in theory, but in practice.

This requires above all the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. That, however, is not enough. Let us look at Europe. The European Union is preparing a number of resolutions that will call on Member States to give equal treatment to women and men and will then check whether and how these principles are being put into effect. I am, however, very curious, Commissioner, about whether the principle of gender mainstreaming will come into play in the European Union’s internal structures. When new EU institutions are being established, for example, and the four highest posts are being filled – the President of the Union, the Presidents of the Commission and Parliament and the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy – will there be a provision that reflects this principle?

Ladies and gentlemen, that will be a moment of truth, illustrating whether our true approach to women’s rights is actually what we say it is.

 
  
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  Maria-Eleni Koppa (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, the report we are examining today is the European Parliament’s most important expression of policy on human rights throughout the world. The challenges are great; the European Parliament can and must act as the guarantor of democracy and human dignity.

It is important that the EU should present a firm and united position on these issues. This is the only way it can help to strengthen and improve the effectiveness of common action.

We should not have double standards depending on the interests at stake. We must include among the principal aims of our policy the abolition of the death penalty and torture, and the protection of children caught up in armed conflicts. Protection of human rights must permeate all relations and agreements with third countries. No deviation from this or expediency should be tolerated.

Human rights must be our guiding light in every policy choice we make.

Let me end by thanking the rapporteur for his excellent and detailed report.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis (ALDE). – Mr President, when the EU talks about human rights violations in third countries, in order to be adequately convincing it must itself have a shining record of respect of such rights by all the EU Member States.

As other speakers said, this is unfortunately not so. I will use only one example, which concerns Britain. The UK maintains, in violation of international conventions, two colonies in another Member State – Cyprus. These two colonies, namely Akrotiri and Dhekelia are inhabited by approximately 10 000 Cypriot civilians who are EU citizens although their homes are on land which Britain, for obvious reasons, has excluded from the EU. These people do not have the basic human right of electing their executive authority. They are governed by a governor who is a British Army general appointed by the Queen of England, and they do not possess the right of having an elected parliament. The laws applicable to these colonies are at the full jurisdiction of the governor. In effect, these EU civilians live under a British military dictatorship.

It is truly shameful that the EP, the Commission and the Council always turn a blind eye to this situation.

Maybe other Member States have their own dirty linen that they do not want exposed or maybe these institutions do not really believe in the principles of democracy and justice they claim they stand for, or maybe the EU cares for human rights only when it does not concern its own members.

Maybe whatever. One thing is for sure: the continuation of British colonisation in Cyprus brings disrepute and loss of credibility to any EU report on human rights in the world.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (PSE). – (RO) Mr. President, Madame Commissioner, dear colleagues, I would like to congratulate Mrs. De Kayser and to join those who have spoken here about the connection between human rights, elections and democracy. I come from a country, Romania, which has experienced years of totalitarianism and maybe we, those who still remember those times, should emphasize more the importance of organizing democratic, free and correct elections.

A famous American professor, Larry Diamond, has recently called attention to a worrying phenomenon he calls “democratic recession”. As the recent Freedom House reports also show, the year 2007 was the worst year for world freedom, since the end of the cold war.

Under these circumstances, I agree that before, during and after the elections, the most important task of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Union’s Member States is to draft a joint and global strategy for promoting democracy. I support the idea of helping newly-elected parliaments to strengthen and carry out legislative activity as close as possible to the established democratic standards.

Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize that not every organizational shortcoming is a fraud attempt, but it is essential to establish to what extent the legal framework provides equity and transparency of the electoral process.

 
  
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  President. − We are now starting the time for speakers to take the floor by ‘catching the eye’ of the President. I would like to say that in today’s meeting of the High-Level Group on Gender Equality and Diversity, a Vice-President was highly criticised because it is said that only male MEPs ‘catch his eye’, and that female MEPs do not ‘catch his eye’. I would like to say that in this case it is going to be very easy for me because everyone who has asked to ‘catch my eye’ is female. We are not therefore going to be subject to the criticism directed at us barely an hour ago.

 
  
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  Marianne Mikko (PSE). – (ET) Ladies and gentlemen, Marco Cappato’s report on human rights deserves the highest praise. I agree that the European Union must make a big effort to pursue a genuinely consistent, robust policy to promote human rights in the world. It is true that the monitoring for human rights protection needs to be more effective.

I support the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. Speaking with a single voice enables us to react to any kind of human rights violation in the world effectively. This may mean thousands of human lives being saved. I support the proposal to convene a European Conference on Non-Violence in 2009.

The involvement of MEPs in election observation is extremely important. However, MEPs must behave impartially, as stressed by the rapporteurs Mrs De Keyser and Mr Salafranca. How can the participation of the European Parliament’s groups in the observation of elections and the work of European observation delegations be made more effective without prejudicing either one? We must find the solution together.

The European Union is dealing with human rights more and more. And the world can see that solidarity and protection of fundamental rights is one of our basic principles, without which no country can achieve prosperity.

 
  
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  Marie Anne Isler Béguin (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Mr President, thank you for upholding gender equality. Personally, I would also like to congratulate the rapporteurs for the three reports, but I would also just like to highlight the importance of the observation missions we conduct throughout the world. I believe this should be restated: these are particularly positive actions which should really be promoted among our fellow citizens, particularly perhaps in the run-up to elections.

Can I also just pay tribute to all the observers, because at the end of the day, although as chief observers we are present on the ground, although we also go on observation missions, we do have hundreds of experts – young and not-so-young – throughout the world, who generously go and support democracy in other countries. I do not think that we mention this often enough. Without this network of observers, we would not have these excellent observation missions. I would also like to mention the enthusiasm with which populations welcome these observers, particularly the long-term observers who remain in the country for some time.

However, I am disappointed that my fellow Members did not support my amendment aimed at increasing the budget, because I think that the more expertise we have in electoral missions, the more the European Union will be in demand. It would be a real shame if a lack of resources prevented us from responding to these requests from countries.

 
  
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  Katrin Saks (PSE). – (ET) I asked to take the floor to call for a greater focus on human rights in Afghanistan, a country in which the Member States and the European Union as a whole have made a substantial contribution.

I visited Afghanistan last week as part of the European Parliament delegation and would like to introduce you to two names.

Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist who was sentenced to death because he downloaded materials from the Internet on the position of women in Islam. His fate is now in the hands of President Karzai.

The second is that of Malalai Joya, a young, female parliamentarian who, after criticising the power of the warlords in government and parliament, was simply ejected from Parliament. She was unlawfully stripped of her rights. There is no provision in law to that end.

Today we are not dealing solely with the fact that she was unable to assert her rights or her mandate in court but also that her life is in danger. We met her and she genuinely needs us to help and intervene urgently.

The European Union as a whole should give further consideration to the kind of Afghanistan we are building, particularly in view of the Paris International Conference where increased assistance to Afghanistan will be debated.

 
  
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  Janez Lenarčič, President-in-Office of the Council. (SL) Unfortunately, the time allocated to the Council representative in this debate has already expired and therefore I will be disciplined and extremely brief. Allow me just to congratulate all the rapporteurs for their extremely high-quality and useful reports. I would like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate for their views. On behalf of the Presidency, I can assure you that we will seek to take them into account as much as possible in carrying out the Council’s activities in future.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Minister. In reality, in this debate neither the Council nor the Commission have a fixed time, however strange that may seem. You have therefore surpassed yourself in your consideration of the time that you had. Thank you very much, in any case, for having used it so moderately in this second intervention. Now our dear Commissioner, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, has the floor.

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, because I did not speak on human rights issues earlier, I will now try to come up with a few ideas. I would like to add something on human rights.

Human rights dialogues have become an increasingly important component of the EU’s activities to promote human rights worldwide. In line with the December 2001 Guidelines on Human Rights Dialogues, the European Union has established some 30 dialogues, and others – like, for instance, with Central Asia, Southern Caucasus, South Africa and possibly also some important Latin American partners – are also under consideration. Civil society, and notably Human Rights NGOs from the country concerned, are usually involved in the preparation of the meetings. We have also had very good, constructive results from some of our neighbourhood partners, and, we have to say, some more mixed results, like the recent dialogue with Russia. By the way, Russia was the first country where the Commission and the Council Secretariat had a briefing meeting with a restricted number of MEPs as a follow-up to the Valenciano Report, in order to meet your concerns regarding better coordination and information. I hope all parties involved find this beneficial.

The new European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights is now also being implemented at full speed, with two calls for proposals for Objective 1 – the difficult countries – and one for human rights defenders under our evaluation by the Commission services. Most of the Country-Based Support Schemes (CBSS) have been published and are now under evaluation by our delegations at country level, so I hope that by the summer most of the projects will start on the ground.

We are also actively integrating human rights and human security into all the relevant issues and policies. In the future, the new European security strategy will of course be there and I hope that we can establish a strong, human-centred approach to security, because human security aims exactly at encompassing human rights, security and development concerns. Both are there – freedom from fear and freedom from want.

I would like to specifically draw your attention to a few things. Human rights within the European Union have been mentioned by several speakers. There has not been a report by the European Parliament since 2004 on this subject. Yes, of course it is important to address problems, and we have two key instruments for doing so. One is the Council of Europe and, secondly, we now have a human rights agency, which has just been established in Vienna, to monitor the situation in the Member States and which will prepare yearly reports.

I also wanted to speak about something which has also mentioned – by a colleague who unfortunately has left – the protection of Christians in third countries. The European Union is strongly against discrimination affecting any religious group and our dialogue with third countries takes this up whenever appropriate and we do indeed try to clearly mention it.

I should also like to say a few words about the election observation missions. Many have taken the floor who have already been excellent chief observers. I can only re-emphasise the independence of EOMs, the coherence in their policies and among actors and particularly their professionalism. This will be the direction in which we would like to continue in the future.

Concerning women’s issues – of course, I am a woman so therefore you can imagine that I always take gender issues very seriously. I organised a women’s conference – very recently on 6 March – to which we will of course want to have a follow-up. There is mainstreaming and gender assessment in all actions. In the electoral observation guidelines there is a specific section on women. There is an important Security Council resolution, 1325, of the UN on women in conflict which is pushing for monitoring. We will soon also publish projects related to women’s development. I would just like to say that, in the Barroso Commission, in which I myself serve, a third are women. I think that it not always quota, but also quality, that should also be important. In this context, I would just like to say that in general the Commission promotes a healthy and reproductive life. This is important for women’s and children’s lives. This is one of the projects mentioned in Kenya but also of course covers the whole world and I think it is important to mention.

Another very specific point is the ICC – the International Criminal Court – for which there is strong support from the European Commission. We give EUR 4 million in the EIDHR 2008 Framework. The ICC clause is in our agreements. We have made démarches to have the ICC accepted with partners and there are international courts – if you think about Cambodia and many others – so we are really working very carefully there.

Let me close by answering Mr Howitt’s appeal to subscribe here to democracy promotion, as others also have been doing. This is, of course, our bread and butter. The Commission is recognised as the key institution in democracy promotion through our EOMs and other election support measures and through substantial support for democracy efforts of third countries and for international organisations like the UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe. Please rest assured that we take democracy promotion as seriously as anyone else in the European Union.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, I just wanted to ask the Commissioner before she finishes: she mentioned the International Criminal Court and the support the Commission gives, but could she specifically answer my question and tell me what, in detail, the EU is going to do, and in her case the Commission, to enforce the indictments against the people in Sudan?

She did not answer that question and I would be grateful...

(The President cut off the speaker.)

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, as I said, we in general, of course, support the International Criminal Court but it is then up to the Criminal Court also to see whom it protects, to what it is going.

This is, of course, on the agenda of the Criminal Court. It is not our agenda.

 
  
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  Marco Cappato, rapporteur. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am answering some Members who are not present, but I would like to clarify something: the report mentions minority rights and religious freedom. It does not mention respect for human rights in the EU simply because that does not come the remit of this report.

However, I believe that we have actually covered this in some ways, because we have not simply listed our criticisms of everyone, we have talked about us, about how we use – for better or for worse – the instruments available, and respect for EU law. When we say that human rights clauses are not applied properly, we are talking about ourselves! Therefore, I do not think that the report can be criticised in this way.

I think Mr Lenarčič spoke at length about the instruments that should be used. The advice I would like to give, which is contained in the report, is to talk more about assessing results than about the individual instruments obtained.

Mr Agnoletto criticised us for not saying enough about the collective dimension of human rights. In actual fact, I believe that fundamental human rights are based first and foremost on individual rights. Today, even with genocide, the most collective and terrible of crimes, individuals can refer cases to the International Criminal Court and thus protect their individual rights. The right to democracy is now a fundamental human right, and this is an important instrument to be used.

Mainstreaming should, I believe, focus more on respect for human rights in terms of immigration and drug prevention policies. I would like to finish by answering Mr Howitt. The report does not claim that non-violence is the only means of promoting human rights, but that it is the most appropriate means. It argues for non-violence not only as the absence of violence, as pacifism, but as an active campaign of disobedience and sabotage of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. In this sense, we propose that the EU should promote the technologies and techniques of non-violence in human rights and democracy promotion. I hope that this paragraph will be saved in tomorrow’s vote.

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, I would like to thank all my fellow Members who have spoken, and say how much the warm words spoken, by Mrs Isler Béguin for example, reflect the enthusiasm of those who have taken part in electoral missions. Even though this report may appear to be very much based on consensus, and as has been said in some reports I have read, is of little media interest, involved little internal conflict, little external conflict, and little of anything, it certainly represents a great deal for countries that have young democracies and must hold elections.

I would like to respond to two of my fellow Members in particular. First I would like to give an answer to Mr Onyszkiewicz, who raised a very serious issue: that of the minority. I would like to say to him that despite my understanding – and I understand very well that election observation is not yet democracy – I cannot follow him on the path of this philosophy that is really enlightened despotism or revolutionary avant-gardism, where even Condorcet talks about minorities. We cannot follow him along that path. Obviously democracy is not perfect. It would be fantastic if it was. It is democracy that allowed Mr Vanhecke to make a vile, islamophobic and racist speech today. Mr Vanhecke represents 30% of voters in my country, in the Flanders part. Sadly we cannot erase Mr Vanhecke’s party and 30% of Flanders. Mr Onyszkiewicz – perhaps he is not here any more – we cannot erase the 50% of Palestinians who voted for Hamas. Democracy raises questions, and it is these questions that we need to answer. When we talk about political follow-up, about the questions that the election observations raise and about the challenges, it is these things we need to tackle.

 
  
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  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, rapporteur. − (ES) Mr President, I would also like to thank my fellow Members for their warm words regarding the report that I drew up with Mrs De Keyser on election observation missions, which do not only refer to the election day but also the electoral system, the legal framework, equal opportunities and equal access to the media, to the funding of political parties, the system for resolving disputes, etc., etc.

However, I think that what is most important, Mr President, is to point out that this report on election observation, like the report that Mr Cappato has drawn up on human rights in the world, do not fulfil an abstract purpose, but rather they have a cause, and that cause is the commitment that we have in the European Union, and in Parliament in particular, to a whole set of values: democracy, freedom, the rule of law and, above all, respect for human rights.

Mr President, this House is the democratic heartbeat of the European Union, and therefore we always need to express ourselves very clearly and very strongly, sending a clear and very defined message of this total and permanent commitment that we have to the cause of human rights which, as we have heard in this House this evening, do not refer to nor are preached by one region or one continent, but are of a universal, worldwide nature, and we need to start setting an example of this in our own house.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Slavi Binev (NI), in writing. – (BG) Mr. Chairman, Dear colleagues, Mr. Cappato,

Talking about an annual report on human rights in the world, let us pay attention also to the following fact: at the end of April, the authorities in Skopje decided to arrest the journalist Victor Kanzurov in the middle of the night and without any charges against him. The only sin of Kanzurov is that over the years he has been fighting with perfectly legitimate means for his own right and the right of a huge number of his compatriots to call themselves Bulgarians.

Having been arrested for 24 hours, Kanzurov was allowed to return home but his passport was seized. Thus, for all practical purposes, he is still under home arrest without any official charges pressed against him.

I am convinced that the actions of the authorities in Macedonia are absolutely unacceptable and they violate a fundamental human right, i.e. the freedom of expression, especially against the backdrop of the modern dynamic development of our common European home. I am also certain that we shall not stand indifferent to such high-handedness which drags us decades back to the times of a dark totalitarian society that should have been bygone forever.

Thank you.

 
  
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  Titus Corlăţean (PSE), in writing. – (RO) In 2009, legislative elections will take place in the Republic of Moldova, during which the Parliament will elect the State President. The Republic of Moldova is located at the European Union’s eastern border and it is necessary for the democratic reforms to get this country closer to the democratic values specific to the EU Member States. This should be achieved including through the framework defined by the EU Neighbourhood Policy.

The mission of observing the elections in the Republic of Moldova is necessary and opportune, but the monitoring should start focusing on the period prior to the future elections, taking into consideration the need to correct the serious infringements of freedom of the press by the Chisinau communist regime, the repeated breaches of judicial independence and the recent amendments to the electoral law by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, dominated by the Communist Party.

On 10 April 2008, a series of amendments were brought to the electoral law, which seriously infringe the European democratic rules and practice. These amendments include: prohibition of electoral blocs, increase of electoral threshold from 4% to 6%, unrealistic and undemocratic electoral threshold in relation to the real political situation in the Republic of Moldova, prohibition for people with dual citizenship to hold public positions, including to become Members of the Parliament etc.

 
  
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  Hanna Foltyn-Kubicka (UEN), in writing. – (PL) In the recently signed Treaty of Lisbon, the EU Member States took on a duty to strengthen human rights and freedoms and democratic order in the world. This is without doubt the main aim of the EU’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the behaviour of President Barroso and other commissioners during their recent visit to the People’s Republic of China and their statement that the Tibet issue is an internal matter for China runs starkly counter to the idea that is not only laid down in the Lisbon Treaty, but that we are also trying to put into practice from one day to the next, especially here in the European Parliament – the idea of putting human rights first.

In the light of this it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that Europe is treating Russia as a democratic partner, forgetting that this is a country whose authorities not only countenance numerous violations of our principal ideas, but also openly mock them. Why are we closing our eyes to the unceasing extermination of Chechens and the gagging of the press in that country?

Perhaps it is because the EU itself is not without its oversights as far as observing human rights is concerned. I regret that the right of parents and children to speak to each other in their chosen language is not respected by the Federal Republic of Germany, as arises from the current practice of courts and youth affairs offices.

We have to find an answer to the question of what our aim is. Are our resolutions and endless debates really supposed to put the world to rights, or are they just a way of masking hypocrisy, so that European politicians can feel good about themselves?

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE), in writing. (FI) Human rights are an important component in the Union’s common foreign and security policy. Human rights questions are also security policy questions. When we endorse human rights we are endorsing security. When we endorse human rights around the world, we are also endorsing security in Europe.

New challenges, such as climate change, desertification and the food shortages that it causes, are threats to human security and human rights. Human rights are not just about political rights, but also the right to clean food and water, which is a priority in the everyday lives of people. When people’s basic circumstances are acceptable it is then that they are also most likely to vote for moderate political leaders and insist on political rights. A lasting basis for human rights is made up of the ideals of democracy and freedom, as well as social and economic justice.

The human rights report mentions Gandhi and the policy of non-violent resistance he represented. Human rights and freedom cannot be promoted through war and violence. The way forward needs to be in harmony with the values that human rights represent.

If we promote human rights we promote security. Human rights are not merely a tool to achieve other political goals. They are a value in themselves. Human rights are universal values. For that reason, the EU needs to strengthen its human rights policy. Human rights are not an island cut off from other areas of policy, as the human rights report, to its credit, demonstrates.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE-DE), in writing. (FI) I wish to thank Mr Cappato for his extensive and comprehensive report, one which rightfully demands from the EU a more consistent policy on human rights and more effective means to monitor its impact. The Union still has a long way to go in developing a clear, coherent and more widely influential policy in this area.

We should not merely support but absolutely insist on respect for human rights both within the EU and in its external relations. As Mr Cappato’s report emphasises, the rights of women, for example, should be integral to all the EU’s human rights dialogues.

The report deals very satisfactorily with Parliament’s crucial role in the EU’s human rights policy, for example in the regularly held emergency debates. The urgency resolutions that result from these have highlighted serious flaws in policy on individual and wider crises which is a gross violation of human dignity. To standardise the debates and improve monitoring, the parliamentary delegations should nevertheless in future incorporate follow-up talks on human rights more systematically in the agenda for visits to those countries.

Finally, properly targeted financing is fundamentally important if the EU’s human rights policy is to work properly and produce results. The strength of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) as a financial instrument is that it can be used to target resources directly and speedily at critical situations in difficult circumstances. It is important that these funds are also made directly available for the work of local human rights organisations as efficiently as possible. New ways of exploiting the financial instrument should be mapped out for countries where the work of NGOs is illegal.

 
  
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  Katalin Lévai (PSE), in writing. (HU) It is shocking that in developing countries, 82% of people living with a disability still live below the poverty threshold and continue to be subjected to the worst possible human rights abuses, including denial of the right to life, ill-treatment and humiliation. The situation of children living with a disability is particularly alarming in this regard.

The European Union is still a long way off pursuing a uniform and effective policy to protect and promote human rights around the world. In order to make it more effective, we need to make significant progress towards ensuring rigorous compliance with existing EU provisions on human rights. Owing to current deficiencies in this regard, a great many women may still be subject to negative discrimination in the workplace even today. The situation for Romany women is even more difficult, and they suffer discrimination on two counts. In this context a European Union Roma Strategy and a coordinating role for the Commission would represent a major step forward.

I regret that the report does not make reference to European-level reform of the right to freedom of assembly, and I therefore propose this. Precise provisions are needed to avoid legal loopholes that can be exploited by the increasingly widespread extremist political groups, while allowing minorities to exercise their rights without interference, in a manner that does not disrupt the peace of the silent majority. Precise wording will help to ensure that both those assembling and the forces of law and order will know exactly what activities conflict with the law. I believe that regulating among other things spontaneous but peaceful demonstrations about which the authorities have not been given prior notification is both highly timely and necessary.

 
  
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  Athanasios Pafilis (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (EL) The report cynically sets out the EU’s imperialist policy. It hails the EU as ‘defender’ of human rights and ‘ambassador’ of democracy to the world. The EU’s ‘respect’ for human rights and democracy has had tragic consequences for the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, which were turned into bloodbaths by the imperialist EU, United States and NATO in the name of human rights.

The EU uses human rights selectively as a pretext for pressurising and blackmailing countries that, for various reasons, resist its imperialist aspirations, such as Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Belarus and Iran. The EU, while presenting itself as a global arbiter of human rights, says not a word about Israel’s crime of genocide against the Palestinian people or about the massacre of Iraqis by the occupying forces of the imperialist United States and its EU Member State allies. The references in the report to poverty, the environment, workers’ rights, health and the like are an insult to the peoples who are suffering under imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) is voting against the report. It denounces the provocative hypocrisy on the part of the EU as well as its selective use of human rights as a pretext to apply imperialist pressure and even to wage war against peoples.

 
  
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  Toomas Savi (ALDE), in writing. – I congratulate my colleague Marco Cappato on a comprehensive report, pointing out the most burning issues in the field of human rights last year. I agree with him fully on the need for a radical intensification of the EU-China human rights dialogue especially in the light of the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.

It is regrettable that China has not significantly enhanced the situation of human rights in the country after Beijing was granted in 2001 the right to organise the Olympics. But this should definitely not be a reason to give up on China. As the report states, the Olympics ‘constitute an important historic opportunity for the improvement of human rights in China’ and therefore we should tirelessly remind the Chinese authorities of the promises they have made.

But we should avoid making threats that might lead to some greater isolation and restiveness in China, as has happened recently, causing several anti-Western demonstrations in the country. We must be careful not to create an opposition to democratic reforms among the Chinese people. Instead we should concentrate on creating a dialogue that would give us a chance to present our position while not treating the other party with disdain.

 

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

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, there is, as you know, a debate going on in Ireland on the Treaty of Lisbon as we have the privilege of voting as an electorate on this Treaty. But there is also – and today it intensified – a war of words raging between the agri-business sector and our Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson, and it is with some regret that today that war of words has deepened and it is almost becoming intractable to separating concerns about the world trade talks from the vote on the Treaty of Lisbon.

I personally believe that we can pull back from this situation, but only if people are given the facts. What I really want to stress here this evening – and it is mentioned that this House is the heartbeat of democracy and the heartbeat of the European Union – is that we, as elected representatives, must be given the facts by the Commission. I have written to the Commissioner. I have now waited six weeks for a response. I rest my case. But the Treaty of Lisbon is important and it is a shame that these two issues have been linked together.

 
  
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  Marianne Mikko (PSE). – (ET) Ladies and gentlemen, freedom of speech is the most important feature of democracy. It cannot be the subject of any compromise.

On 2 May, just one day before World Press Freedom Day, the bank account of the Moldovan newspaper ‘Jurnal de Chisnau’ was frozen by court order. This was done on the ground that the journal reported accusations of rape against the State Public Prosecutor. I repeat: it reported or gave an overview, it did what the media are supposed to do.

As a journalist of twenty years’ standing and the current Chairwoman of the Moldova delegation I unreservedly condemn this action. Several international journalists’ organisations have also expressed their concern. The court order is nothing more than a new means of violating freedom of speech in Moldova.

The European Union must continue to provide comprehensive support to Moldova. 21st century Europe is a Europe of freedom of speech. Anything else would mean democracy was in peril. We should not sit and wait as things get really bad. On the contrary, in the name of democracy we should subject anyone who tramples our most precious values under foot to a verbal onslaught. Democracy and freedom of speech are irreplaceable.

 
  
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  Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) From reading the guide to the European Union I still remember it stating that the Member States’ solidarity is one of Europe’s most significant values, with small countries, i.e. the Benelux countries, being the real driving force behind the EU internal market. The interests of each country were considered to be equally important.

However, today the biggest countries’ energy interests have dwarfed all EU values to such an extent that there is a danger that they will remain energy islands forever. If Russia cuts off the oil supply to Lithuania, the major Member States together with Russia will put the blame on Lithuania for having made Europe the hostage of the post-Soviet countries’ energy interests. In other words, the post-Soviet countries are imposing an agenda that is unrepresentative of Russian-EU relations, which is in turn hindering strategic cooperation.

The EU seems not to have noticed that Gazprom’s oil pipeline network has already covered practically the whole of the EU and very soon we will find out who is the master of energy supplies in Europe.

I would urge the European Commission and the Member States not to start negotiations with Russia until consensus has been reached with all the Member States, both large and small. The EU’s double standards are a long-standing disgrace.

 
  
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  Mikel Irujo Amezaga (Verts/ALE). (ES) Mr President, yesterday the European Commission published a note in which it says that the special tax called ‘special tax on retail sales of certain fuels’ does not comply with Community legislation.

Among other grounds, the Commission considers that the main objective of the tax is to strengthen the autonomy of the regions, giving them the means to generate tax revenue.

Tomorrow, 8 May, the Advocate General in Luxembourg will give his opinion on the case, which will settle whether the Basque provincial councils or territories have the capacity to legislate.

As the Commission considers any distortion in tax rates to be State aid, it could be said that the Commission is against any entity other than the State having the capacity to set its own taxation rates.

I therefore call on Parliament to consider this matter and ask the Commission to change its political line, as it could end up limiting the autonomy that is granted to many territories that are not States.

 
  
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  Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański (UEN). – Mr President, I am pleased to note the review of the common agricultural policy and the first anti-crisis actions being taken in the food economy sphere.

The conclusions put forward and the decisions taken are, sadly, woolly and inadequate. It needs to be stated quite clearly that, in its present form, the common agricultural policy is leading to a loss of biological security in the European Union and a deepening of the global food crisis. Restrictions on agricultural production, orders, prohibitions, quotas and contingents are leading to a further diminution in food reserves, especially in the newly acceded countries. Before the start of the process of EU integration, for example, Poland used to produce twice as much food as it does now. It would produce a lot more now if it were allowed to.

The conclusion is very simple: if there is a shortage of food, let us allow those who have the potential to produce it to go ahead and produce, and that means the new Member States.

 
  
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  Diamanto Manolakou (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, more than 30 thousand police with special military units, water cannons and tear gas have set about beating and butchering workers in the streets around Taksim Square in Istanbul and the headquarters of the workers’ confederation DISK. As a result, there were more than 500 arrests and casualties among the demonstrators.

We express our solidarity with the working class and all of Turkey’s workers in general. We demand an end to persecution for political and trade-union activity. The working class has the inalienable right to strike and demonstrate on 1 May. On this day we remember the workers who fell in the class struggle, defending and building on their achievements, and eliminating all human exploitation.

We wish to condemn the unacceptable prohibition and brutal suppression at the hands of the Turkish Government. At the same time, we support the right of the trade unions and political parties to organise their May Day gathering in Istanbul’s historic Taksim Square where, on 1 May 1977, 34 workers were murdered.

 
  
  

PRESIDENT: MR VIDAL-QUADRAS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (PSE). – (HU) Mr President, it is with sincere warmth and the highest regard that I congratulate Chancellor Angela Merkel on being awarded this year’s Charlemagne Prize. She has made an outstanding contribution to promoting the Lisbon Treaty and facilitating the integration of the new Member States. I also welcome the fact that Charlemagne Youth Prizes were awarded this year for the first time. I am especially delighted and proud that this first-ever Charlemagne Youth Prize went to Hungary, to a fantastic team of young Hungarians, the Ferenc Rákóczi II Foundation, for their ‘Students without Boundaries’ project. I warmly congratulate the Hungarian team, as well as silver medallists Great Britain and bronze medallists Greece. The Hungarian ‘Students without Boundaries’ project is unique in that it provides an opportunity for young people from Hungarian ethnic minority communities in the participating countries, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia, to exchange ideas on education and cultural issues in Europe. It is a milestone for such a distinguished European prize to be awarded in recognition of fostering links between segments of an ethnic group living in their home country and those abroad.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you very much, Mr Tabajdi. You will surely be pleased to know that I had the honour of being part of the jury that awarded the Charlemagne Youth Prize. I am telling you this so that you will know that we made the right decision.

 
  
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  Marco Pannella (ALDE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, believers should know this better than I do, non-believer as I am, but it seems that from 13 to 17 May, Vietnam celebrates an important festival in the Buddhist calendar: Wesak, or the birth of Buddha. It seems, certainly as far as we are concerned, that today in Vietnam, the Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich Huyen Quang, who for 26 years has been under house arrest in his monastery, and Thich Quang Do, his deputy, the candidate nominated by many of us, will not even be able to celebrate the rites freely. Mr President, over the past 26 years we, like Parliament, have asked for their release 15 times. I realise that the time is up, but Europe’s time for shame is not up, it has come back, so beware, ladies and gentlemen.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) The genuine crisis situation affecting vast areas of northern Portugal as the result either of the closure of many small and medium-sized enterprises or the relocation of multinationals or even also because of the very low wages offered, has in recent years forced more than 100 000 workers to move to Spain and other EU countries, in most cases in order to work in construction. Frequently, however, those workers ended up in precarious situations, in many cases their jobs came to an end, others found their contracts were not fulfilled and promises made were not honoured, wages were below the legal minimum or working hours were unreasonably long; in short, the companies contracting them generally failed to fulfil their obligations. We therefore stress that effective monitoring is urgently required in countries where such situations prevail and that measures need to be taken against such illegal practices as a matter of urgency. For example, trade unions have suggested that construction companies that fail to respect workers’ rights or fail to meet the requirement to provide monthly information with a full list of workers on their payroll, including those who have relocated, or that fail to fulfil their obligations, should have their licence revoked.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) Mr. President, on 9 May 2008, we will celebrate fifty one years since the creation of the European Union. For all its citizens, this is a good opportunity to look with confidence and commitment toward the future.

Today, at a European level, we are discussing the agricultural policy reform, the future common energy policy, the expansion of the Trans-European Network in the sectors of transport infrastructures, telecommunications and energy, climate change and the budgetary reform of the Union.

The Lisbon Treaty has already been ratified by the parliaments of 11 Member States, such as Romania. The new Treaty emphasizes the importance of the social market economy, with a high degree of competitiveness for the sustainable development of Europe. The functioning of the single market also favours the harmonization of the social systems existent in the Member States. The Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, which has legal power, confirms the fundamental rights. Starting from common values – social justice, equality and prosperity for everybody – the European socialists aim at building social democracy, a society that excludes nobody and where all citizens have equal chances. The essence of the social-democrat approach is the construction of a social Europe.

 
  
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  Marco Cappato, (ALDE) . – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, like my colleague Mr Pannella, I would also like to draw the attention of Members to what is happening in Vietnam, and not just to the matter of the leader of the Unified Buddhist Church, who is over 80 and who has been under house arrest for more than 20 years, but also to the persecution of the Montagnards living in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

We receive news from Kok Ksor and the Montagnard Foundation, for example on 28 April when Y-Tao Eban was killed by Vietnamese police and security forces, and on 15 April when two Montaguard Degar children were killed by four Vietnamese police officers. This is to ask for support for the letters circulated to all Members addressed to the Vietnamese regime and inviting the international community and European institutions to respond to the situation in Vietnam.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL).(PT) In view of Morocco’s deplorable and constant attempts to block and create an impasse in the negotiations for the realisation of the inalienable right of the Sarawi people to self-determination, currently being held under the auspices of the UN, I should like to take this opportunity to stress the need for full respect of the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination, which is the only realistic, fair and lasting solution for the conflict, that is, for an end to the shameful colonisation. Furthermore, we must insist that international law and UN resolutions are respected, denounce and condemn Morocco’s brutal repression in the occupied territories against Sahrawi patriots who are resisting colonisation and fighting for their people’s legitimate right to self-determination, denounce the real humanitarian drama being imposed on the Sahrawi people who are obliged to live outside their country in refugee camps and we must call for urgent and appropriate international humanitarian aid.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis (ALDE). – Mr President, the cyclone that hit Burma on Saturday brought devastation and suffering to the people of that country.

Up-to-date reports speak of 22 000 dead, 40 000 missing, hundreds of thousands injured and one million homeless. Yet, illogical and cruel as it might seem, international efforts of help have been hampered by the military dictatorship regime of Burma.

One example is the fact that, four days after the catastrophe struck, visas for foreign aid workers are still not issued in time, with the generals in Burma presenting ridiculously naive excuses which no intelligent person takes seriously.

Could the President of this House, in addition to his message of sympathy read out earlier on today, send a very stern warning to the junta of Burma and indirectly to their guardians in Beijing telling them to stop frustrating international assistance efforts and start at least trying to behave, if not democratically, at least humanely towards their own people?

 
  
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  Genowefa Grabowska (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, people in the European Union are getting older. Demographic forecasts paint an alarming picture of a fall in the working population by as many as 20 million by 2030.

It is not good for us to be in such a situation and we must therefore support an increase, including a natural increase. We have problems with infertility and we have problems with sterility. The World Health Organisation has recognised infertility as a disease, with the in vitro method being one of the ways of treating it. The number of couples for whom fertilisation by this method is their only chance of having offspring is growing year on year. This method is expensive, though, and not all countries refund the cost. For many couples these costs constitute a barrier that makes it impossible for them to undergo such treatment. It is a paradox that alcoholism, lung cancer and AIDS are treated in Europe, yet infertility is not treated in all countries.

This is why I am drawing attention to this fact, and I would like all EU citizens to have equal chances and a guaranteed opportunity to receive in vitro treatment on a level playing field and on the principle of equality of access to medical services.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen, this week in the European Parliament we are discussing matters relating to sport, among other things. Topical as it is, this issue has taken on a particular complexion in Romania. With the final of this year’s football championships approaching, there has been enormous pressure over the past few weeks on teams and players who might be able to influence the final outcome of the championship. There have been televised disputes, intrigue, brawls, suspended matches, and all because some people have found it inconceivable that a team other than the one from the capital could be the winner. In the deciding match, the team from Cluj-Napoca held on to its lead. Let us hope that the main problem was not the fact that there are only a few ethnic Romanian players in the Cluj-Napoca team, or that it is owned by a Hungarian. The clash between police and fans happened in the same town where Hungarians have been beaten up with almost predictable regularity over the past two months for using their mother tongue. All this ties in with the anti-minority sentiments constantly being fomented by extremist politicians. In sports and politics alike, we have to get used to the fact that one or two influential or central politicians may try to sway decisions and results, but actual outcomes are determined by concerted teamwork, dedication and fair play. Thank you.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, during the last plenary session in Parliament we discussed the problem of rising food prices. That coincided with a serious discussion concerning a review of the common agricultural policy.

Today, when we have to face the problem of a food crisis on a world scale, we must ask ourselves where the causes of this state of affairs lie, and where we made mistakes.

For more than 30 years the EU’s food market was reasonably stable, and that led to a certain dulling of our vigilance. During this period there was no proper monitoring of the processes that were occurring, and no analysis was made of the link between a rise in food production and overall economic development, between the rising affluence of some societies and increasing demand. Rapid economic development such as has taken place in China and in India has in effect led to a rise in consumption, with a consequent significant increase in the food requirement, bearing in mind the number of people. Recent times have also seen a rise in production costs, especially fuel and energy prices.

 
  
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  President. − That concludes this item.

 

17. Trade and Economic Relations with the countries of South East Asia (ASEAN) (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0151/2008) by Glyn Ford, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, on trade and economic relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) (2007/2265(INI)).

 
  
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  Glyn Ford, rapporteur. − Mr President, firstly can I thank the Commissioner and his staff, the committee staff, my group staff and my own staff for the work that has gone into this report. I would also like to thank the shadow rapporteurs on behalf of the major political groups who, in a spirit of cooperation, have made this report what it is today. I take full responsibility for the report, but all of the above have their political footprints trodden across its pages.

In some sense we wish that this negotiation between the EU and ASEAN was unnecessary. My own committee’s priority is very clear: we want a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round, which unfortunately looks at the moment as if it is being sucked into the black hole of the US presidential selection and election.

It may hopefully emerge relatively unscathed in six or twelve months’ time after the inauguration of President Clinton, McCain or Obama when the US finally has a new trade spokesperson in place to continue the dialogue. But in the interim it looks like we will have negotiations with Korea, where my colleague David Martin was Parliament’s rapporteur, with ASEAN and with India for bilateral or EU free-trade agreements.

The Council’s mandate to open talks with ASEAN, the EU’s fifth-largest trading partner, covered only seven out of the ten members of ASEAN, since ASEAN is an extremely diverse region ranging from economies whose GDPs are equal to those of some nation states of the European Union to three less developed countries, two of whom benefit from the ‘anything but arms’ provisions and one of whom is the pariah state of Burma, of which we have heard so much talk today.

It is clear that a free-trade agreement will potentially benefit both sides, increasing the flow of goods and services, and enhance innovation and boost economic growth.

We welcome the signing of the ASEAN Charter on 20 November last year at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore and look forward to its swift ratification. This should help to strengthen economic integration within the ASEAN countries and in my report we call on the Commission to provide technical and other assistance to facilitate the process.

The negotiations need transparency on public procurement, competition and investment, intellectual property rights and state aids. We need to talk about the removal of non-tariff as well as tariff barriers, particularly with respect to banking, insurance and legal services.

On our side, simplification of the rules of origin is important. Harmonisation of standards including product safety, child protection and animal welfare is something else we should be seeking.

We need to protect against counterfeit pharmaceuticals, but at the same time the committee is concerned that we do not compromise the flexibility of the TRIPS arrangement.

The Trade Committee believes that an essential part of any agreement must be a sustainable development chapter, including a sustainability impact assessment. Plus we need a parallel political cooperation agreement with binding social and environmental clauses committing both sides to the ratification of core ILO conventions, as well as the normal PCA clauses on human rights and democracy.

Trade and sustainable development fora should be established including employers, employees and civic societies that can actually have an input not only into the negotiations but, more importantly, afterwards on how the agreement is carried out.

The report suggests that we should consider environmentally friendly and fair trade goods having preferential access to the EU, that the tariff barriers should be taken down more quickly. But of course, were that to be implemented, we would require the Commission to modify its customs nomenclature to enable this to happen.

There are some country-specific issues. On Singapore we have concerns about banking secrecy that were made clear when the committee visited and spoke to members of parliament in that country. We welcome the restoration of democracy in Thailand. And of course we have agreed that Burma should participate in, or at least sit in on, negotiations, though it is absolutely clear from our point of view that until the current regime has gone, there can be no prospect of signing any agreement with Burma.

Our idea is to have a framework agreement for all that allows individual countries within ASEAN to act on the basis of their own current situation and to open up particular sectors at an appropriate speed for them. So eventually – and I emphasise eventually – we will have a common and full agreement with all.

So while one can only welcome Vietnam’s leadership of the process, the institutional architecture, compounded by a lack of drive and will on the part of some ASEAN nations, has made progress slower than anticipated or wanted.

Let me be clear, the European Union should not allow foot-dragging by individual member states of ASEAN to veto progress. If there is no alternative, Council, Commission and Parliament might in the last resort look at the possibility of bilateral rather than multilateral arrangements. I hope that government and civil society in ASEAN see Parliament’s position here today as an encouragement to move forward, and move forward quickly.

 
  
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  Peter Mandelson, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I am very grateful to Glyn Ford for his report and for the general support it expresses for the Commission’s line in its free-trade agreement negotiations with ASEAN countries.

South-East Asia deserves our full attention. Understandably, our focus in Asia is drawn again and again to China, but our partnership with ASEAN should be no less engaged, whether we are dealing with questions of sustainable development, of society or trade. That is why ASEAN was selected as a partner for one of our new-generation FTAs in Global Europe.

The dynamism of the ASEAN economies is certainly an opportunity for Europe. However, a lot of that opportunity is still potential rather than real. EU businesses trying to trade or invest in South-East Asia still face tariff and non-tariff barriers and markets tilted against foreign service providers, especially in public procurement markets. The same is true for foreign direct investment in general. They also find that their intellectual property rights are still too poorly protected, and the general transparency of some markets is fairly low.

This is the strongest possible argument for a free-trade agreement that is deep rather than quick and light. I do not believe in FTAs as quick, political fixes. The Global Europe trade strategy is about new trading opportunities, new exports and new jobs. This negotiation was launched on the basis of evidence that we could achieve those things if we were willing to be ambitious.

We are right to reject the idea of an FTA covering certain tariffs only. I could not agree more with this report’s call for ambition, therefore, in this negotiation. We have deliberately chosen to base an approach on region-to-region negotiations. I think that was the right choice. I believe that bilateral agreements can act as building blocks for the multilateral system, where they encourage regional integration and the growth of regional markets. I think that we can see this negotiation as a contribution to the ASEAN blueprint for an economic community.

However, as this report rightly points out, negotiating such an ambitious agenda on a region-to-region basis is not the easiest, nor the fastest, route. Every time an ASEAN member country cannot deliver on a specific issue, we are faced with the lowest common denominator outcome. That is not fair for the others. We are also faced with problems of resources, because the capabilities of the ASEAN states are stretched by the wide number of FTAs they are currently negotiating. As a result, it is hard to see the timeframe for a full region-to-region agreement as less than three to four years, and it is difficult to see us achieving a consistent high level of ambition.

At the same time, of course, our major competitors are cementing their links with individual countries in the region, one after another. Japan, Australia and the USA are all active. I note the paragraph in the report referring to the option of going bilateral, should the regional approach prove difficult. I do not want to give up the regional approach at this stage, but we are in the process of introducing some flexibility in this regional framework – a dose of variable geometry that takes into account the different levels of development within ASEAN and that could allow us to go faster with individual ASEAN countries. This would be economically sound and can pave the way for others to join later.

In fact, our negotiating guidelines provide for a conclusion with fewer than 10 members as the LDCs within ASEAN – Laos, Cambodia and Burma/Myanmar – are not required to take on commitments in the FTA but will be following the negotiating process. Laos and Cambodia are currently working on WTO accession questions and, in any event, they benefit already from wide-ranging preferential access to the EU market via the everything-but-arms scheme. But they have a logical place, in my view, in the long-term agreement. On Burma, the report reflects the position of the EU that, although part of ASEAN, we are not negotiating FTA commitments as such with Burma.

A final point on sustainable development. We hope to include environmental and social aspects in our negotiations with ASEAN, and we will do that in a cooperative spirit. In addition we have contracted an external consultant to conduct a sustainable impact assessment to analyse the likely impact of the envisaged agreement on various issues, including environmental and social concerns. This study should accompany the negotiating process during the next 18 months. Last week we also invited civil society to contribute to our reflections regarding our three ASEAN FTA negotiations. We have not noted any real disagreements that they might have with us. By building these concerns into the agreements from the start, we can ensure that problems are addressed early, if not before they arise.

I look forward to working with Parliament as we go forward in these negotiations. It goes without saying that I will keep the INTA Committee updated on progress. I am very grateful for this report. It is of the standard I have come to expect from the INTA Committee and to depend on in its understanding and judgements of complex trade policy issues.

 
  
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  Francisco José Millán Mon, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. − (ES) Mr President, thanks to the Nuremberg action plan and the first EU-ASEAN Summit held last year, relations were re-launched.

For example, albeit slowly, as we have been told, a free trade agreement and bilateral association and cooperation agreements are being negotiated.

In the Committee on Foreign Affairs we supported this stepping up of relations, also at the trade and economic level.

ASEAN is a process of regional integration that we applaud and it is becoming increasingly relevant. It brings together more than 500 million inhabitants of ten countries, which are very diverse – as Mr Ford has said – and in general have great potential for growth.

The European Union is ASEAN’s second largest trading partner. We should increase our sales and also the investments made by our businesses, and an ideal instrument is the Free Trade Agreement. Other countries within and outside the continent want something similar, as the Commissioner said.

The agreement should be very broad and not be limited to purely trade questions. It should also be accompanied by bilateral association and cooperation agreements that include the question of respect for human rights.

These bilateral agreements can logically only be signed with the ASEAN countries that fulfil the necessary political and economic conditions, and of course not all the countries fulfil them, especially Burma/Myanmar, whose government is subject to restrictive measures adopted by the Council and supported by Parliament.

Unless the political circumstances there change, it is clear that there cannot be a bilateral agreement with Burma, nor can Burma be part of the Free Trade Agreement. In April Parliament reiterated its rejection of the political situation and demanded the release of political prisoners.

With regard to Burma, I must take this opportunity to express my condolences for the many victims of the cyclone. I echo the remarks of the President of Parliament at the beginning of the afternoon.

To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, the European Union must continue to make progress in its relations with ASEAN. We are offering a stronger political association, close economic relations in our mutual interest and cooperation in many spheres. Of course we support the step taken in 2007 in the integration process, the ‘ASEAN Charter’. We want the commitments in this Charter on human rights and democracy to become a reality, especially in Burma and also in other countries in the region. On this basis, our relations will be strengthened. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  John Purvis, Draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. − Mr President, Mr Ford’s report as a whole is what my committee would have wanted to see. We are particularly pleased that all our main points have been incorporated. We emphasise that future industrial growth in the European Union is dependent on our openness to foreign trade and investment governed by fair rules, but that our competitiveness with the ASEAN countries is up to us, by improving our own levels of education, training, research, enterprise and innovation.

We see scientific and technical cooperation and the protection of intellectual property rights as essential elements of a successful relationship. We expect, in particular, cooperation in combating counterfeiting. We look for improvement in rules of origin; in the harmonisation of standards, of product safety, child protection and animal welfare; in their bureaucratic procedures; in transparency of state aids and non-tariff barriers, and the elimination of discriminatory taxes.

We expect to see covered the avoidance of environmental damage from deforestation and palm oil extraction and, while recognising the need to keep anti-dumping mechanisms at our disposal, we would much prefer avoiding the need for them by pre-emptive intervention and negotiation.

We look for concerted actions with ASEAN on the energy front and for the Commission to promote joint research projects with establishments in that region.

In this spirit, we look forward to a mutually beneficial and successful trade and economic relationship with the ASEAN countries.

 
  
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  Peter Šťastný, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, let me begin by congratulating my colleague, Mr Ford, rapporteur of this report. The proposed trade agreement with ASEAN forms part of a wider strategy of bilateral and interregional negotiations with EU trading partners.

If considered as a single entity, ASEAN would be the EU’s fifth-largest trading partner, ahead of Japan. ASEAN is an extremely diverse region with three of its members being LDCs, while others have a higher income per head than many EU Member States. I and my colleagues in INTA strongly support the Commission’s first option: to negotiate with the region as a whole, to strengthen regional economic integration between the ASEAN countries.

The report stresses the importance of interregional trade agreements, which can usually supplement the multicultural system – provided they are wide-ranging and ambitious, going well beyond tariff reductions – and implement social and environmental standards. The report urges the parties to progressively reduce or dismantle all barriers to trade in goods and services, while fully respecting the differing economic positions within the ASEAN region. It also urges the Commission to ensure transparency and effective rules for public procurement – IPRs, state aid and other subsidies.

In conclusion, let me also thank the rapporteur for his positive collaboration, reflected in some compromise amendments which put the report’s main emphasis on trade and trade related issues, alongside topics of human rights and sustainable development. Adoption of these and other amendments made the report more balanced.

 
  
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  David Martin, on behalf of the PSE Group. – Mr President, firstly, let me add my congratulations to my friend and colleague, Glyn Ford, on what I think is an excellent report. I would also like to say to the Commission that I think the Commissioner was absolutely right a few years ago to launch studies into the prospect of a free-trade agreement with ASEAN and to act on those studies. Whilst, as others have said, ASEAN is already an important region for us economically, it is one of the regions where there is the greatest potential for growth if we really can achieve our free-trade objectives. Like Mr Šťastný, I agree that it was absolutely the right strategy to do this on a regional basis, despite all the complications that come with trying to do it this way.

Mr Ford’s report sends a clear and consistent message to the Commission: that Parliament wants to see a strong sustainable development chapter in all the new generation of free-trade agreements.

The report has many references to non-trade clauses which I am pleased to say are consistent with the line that I took in my own report on Korea, and in particular I am pleased that the report emphasises strong social and environmental clauses.

In my opinion it is important not only that the ASEAN members ratify the eight core ILO conventions, which only Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines have so far done, but also that we ensure that we put mechanisms in place to make sure they are properly enforced.

The role of trade unions and workers’ organisations should be more formalised, and I am pleased that the rapporteur has suggested the creation of a trade and sustainable development forum which can monitor standards and report on any violations.

In terms of environmental standards, the Trade Committee has highlighted in many of its recent reports – for example the Lipietz report on climate change or my own report on Korea – that international trade should facilitate the diffusion of environmentally-friendly technologies, and I again acknowledge the fact that Commissioner Mandelson has on many occasions shown his commitment to reducing tariffs on environmentally-friendly technologies, and I hope the Commissioner can therefore take on board the rapporteur’s suggestion to agree to this being part of the ASEAN negotiations.

Any violations of social and environmental standards must be subject to the standard dispute mechanism. Given that the US is committed to this approach for all their FTAs, Europe must achieve similarly strict enforcement measures.

Finally, let me just conclude by saying that, while I know we will not sign an FTA with Burma, I hope that Burma will not indirectly benefit from this agreement, because any expanded trade with the other ASEAN countries leads to the potential that Burma could expand its trade within the group and indirectly benefit from an EU free-trade agreement. So I hope we will look at ways of ensuring that trade sanctions against the current Burmese regime are enforced rigorously.

 
  
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  Nathalie Griesbeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, at a time when we are talking a lot about Asia because of China and the problems we are aware of there, as well as the deadly disaster in Burma, on another level, the report we are discussing this evening essentially constitutes the response of EU citizens represented by Parliament to the Commission communication on the new strategy for the EU’s bilateral and interregional trade negotiations. It is stating the obvious to say that the Association of South East Asian Nations is a collection of ten countries with particularly diverse levels of development, both politically and economically, as our rapporteur has just said. The trade agreement currently under discussion is looking at a market worth EUR 57 billion with 4.9% annual growth, which represents a very important potential for development. Although the EU’s trade policy, consisting of a trade agreement between our two regions, seems straightforward, together we need to stimulate growth and job creation, and remain realistic about the difficulties.

However, although the globalisation of the economy should be seized as an opportunity, our fellow citizens are often very concerned about the economy of our continent, as others are about theirs. The negative, marginal effects of globalisation, – too numerous for those who actually have to live with them – often obscure the benefits that should ensue from intelligently negotiated trade agreements.

This report therefore aims to send strong signals to the European Commission to take the concerns of citizens properly into account, when in negotiations with ASEAN. We therefore need to achieve a balance – one that allows our partners to achieve a satisfactory level of economic, social and political development without encouraging distortions of competition and dumping.

I would just like to highlight three points here that I feel are priorities. Firstly, from a strictly commercial point of view, it should be pointed out that any trade agreement has to be reached within the framework of mutual respect for the rules of international trade, which means respect for the rules of competition law and respect for copyright law. One example among many is that our negotiations must, in particular, find solutions in the fight against counterfeit pharmaceuticals, for example, while guaranteeing access to healthcare for all citizens in strict compliance with the spirit and procedures of the Doha agreement.

Secondly, from the point of view of employment rights, the agreements clearly cannot overlook differences in levels of employment rights. Our partners must agree to meet the ILO minimum standards, in particular combating child labour and improving working conditions and pay.

Thirdly and finally, of course it is also very important to point out, as has been done this evening in the various speeches, that any trade agreement must include the necessary requirements as regards the economy and sustainable development. Southeast Asia is one of the jewels of our planet, and together we need to protect its flora and fauna. The Commission has a duty to secure guarantees regarding illegal forestry operations and the management of fishing quotas, as the Commissioner pointed out just a minute ago.

 
  
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  Leopold Józef Rutowicz, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, Mr Ford’s report stresses the importance of cooperation between the European Union and the South East Asian Nations as regards trade and economic relations.

In terms of their area and population numbers, these states are similar to the European Union. These countries are a significant sales market for the European Union and they export a range of important products to our market. These countries have a variety of political structures and economic potential, as witnessed by GDP figures per head, which in Burma are USD 211, and in Singapore USD 31 400.

This presents certain problems for ASEAN-EU cooperation, as the rapporteur emphasises. Developing trade with states from this area requires harmonisation of standards, especially in the field of safety and public health protection. Economic and intellectual relations with ASEAN countries may give rise to an increase in prosperity and peace in the region.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (NL) The report by Mr Ford illustrates the ponderousness of negotiations between the EU and ASEAN – which is not surprising given the particularly heterogeneous nature of the region. The interest of European industry – with regard to market access, for example – is great and calls for a faster timetable.

The question is, therefore, whether the EU should continue with these multilateral negotiations or would be better switching to bilateral negotiations. This suggestion is already implied to some degree in Amendment 5 by Mr Ford and Mrs Mann. I would invite the Commission, therefore, to give the greatest possible commitment at multilateral level to the successful conclusion of the Doha Round. Negotiations can then proceed at bilateral level with the individual ASEAN countries if it turns out that multilateral negotiations are going to take too long.

Of course, this does not mean that I am declaring my opposition to further regional integration in South East Asia. This integration is a matter of great importance. I am thinking here of the important role that ASEAN and ASEAN+3 can play in further integrating Myanmar into the region. The country, which was hit so hard by Cyclone Nargis last weekend, urgently needs assistance from the region. Particularly ASEAN+3, which also includes neighbouring China, must actively work to induce the junta to open the country’s doors to the outside world, to better protect human rights and to give the opposition more room for manoeuvre. Thank you.

 
  
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  Daniel Varela Suanzes-Carpegna (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Ford, on his good work and on the final result of his report, which with the contributions of the Committee on International Trade and the other committees has turned out to be a very balanced report.

I would firstly like to say that the report highlights the major opportunity to deepen our trade and economic relations in this area of potential economic development and population growth, and I would also like to say that it takes into account the enormous disparities between the Member States of the ASEAN block.

I would like to stress the importance of opening up the services sector, for both parties: it is crucial for the Union but also for ASEAN, which both need to demand more efficient services of higher quality for better prices, thus taking advantage of the EU’s competitive advantages and experience.

With regard to industry, we pointed out in our amendments, which have been incorporated into the report, the dual need to comply with minimum quality and hygiene and health requirements. These are demanded of our European industry and they should also be required of the other side in order to curb unfair competition.

In addition, compliance with international agreements on social, employment and environmental matters; and especially, we would like to stress, the fight against child labour.

We have drawn attention to the sensitive fish processing industry, because both problems exist there. We therefore genuinely fail to understand socialist Amendments 11 and 12, which dilute and reduce what was already adopted in committee, removing from current paragraphs 16 and 17 the specific mention of the tuna sector, which is really affected, of the resulting unfair competition and of the report by the European Parliament itself on this industry, that was and is supported by the European Commission.

Therefore, for the sake of the consensus that has existed around this whole report, we ask the rapporteur and the Socialist Group in the European Parliament to consider this and think about withdrawing Amendments 11 and 12, which our group will not support. In short, I think that, if this is done, what we will achieve is keeping the current ones, which are more complete and better than the ones they are seeking to introduce.

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (PSE).(ES) Mr President, firstly, in response to the tragedy that Burma is experiencing due to the cyclone, I would like to express my sorrow for the victims and call for its authorities to allow the entry of international aid and start a credible process of democratisation that will put an end to the isolation of the country and open up new prospects for its population.

ASEAN is a region with great economic potential and a similar number of inhabitants to the European Union. It includes 10 very different countries, but this diversity, despite making the negotiations for a free trade agreement more complicated, should not prevent us from achieving instruments that will provide mutual benefits and complement the WTO multilateral system, including from the point of view of a satisfactory conclusion to the Doha Development Agenda, that both parties consider to be a priority.

The less developed countries in the region should be able to preserve their preferences and even have the opportunity to be included in the agreement in the future.

Trade and economic relations are part of a broader strategy of consolidating overall relations between the two regions.

We need to encourage further progress in political and security cooperation. In particular, an emphasis has been placed on counter-terrorism and crisis/disaster management. We also need to promote collaboration in the energy sector, R&D, the environment, climate change and sustainable development, as well as in the socio-cultural field and development cooperation. Cooperation in the field of public health is particularly important, because it should contribute to guaranteeing food hygiene and health conditions, that are essential for consumption and for developing trade. In this whole process, the involvement and support of civil society are essential.

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Ford, on a report which states that human rights and democracy are core EU values and demands that they form part of the negotiations and be included in the partnership and cooperation agreements that should go hand in hand with trade agreements. Given that they are going to represent a major step forward for EU-ASEAN relations, we hope that the negotiations will be successful.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, in rising to speak in this debate, I wish to draw attention to the following questions. Firstly, ASEAN, which brings together 10 countries that differ very widely in their level of development – from rich Singapore to very poor Burma, Cambodia and Laos – and that are home to almost 500 million people, is the EU’s fifth largest trading partner and offers prospects of further development in economic and trade relations with the European Union.

Secondly, a free-trade agreement with ASEAN countries will certainly bring these countries greater benefits than it brings the EU. It is therefore essential to conclude arrangements with these countries over and above the trade agreement, in which these countries agree to observe social and environmental as well as consumer protection standards.

Thirdly, and finally, this is the only approach that will give us the opportunity to arrive at honest competition between companies originating from ASEAN countries and European countries. Only then will these companies begin to include in their manufacturing costs the overall costs of labour, environmental protection and consumer protection, and this will ensure that their product prices reflect the full costs of manufacture.

 
  
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  Jerzy Buzek (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, I congratulate the Commissioner on holding the negotiations, and Mr Ford, the rapporteur, on his report. We are pondering how to surmount the hurdles and negotiate a good free-trade agreement with the ASEAN countries. We are emphasising the differences between these countries.

I would like to draw attention to just one aspect of these negotiations, one that we were unaware of four years ago. Combating global warming has become an EU priority, and the EU itself has become a world leader in this area. We must place much more emphasis on this aspect in our negotiations. There will be differences here, too: we cannot ask anything of the poorest countries, but with economies in wealthy countries developing rapidly we must arrive at a community of interests where combating climate change is concerned.

Two EU countries, Poland and Denmark, are responsible for negotiating a post-Kyoto agreement. This will happen this year in Poznań and next year in Copenhagen. This is also becoming an EU responsibility. If we are unable to negotiate a joint agreement by the end of 2009, we shall be, as it were, forced to change our ambitious policy on combating climate change. We do not want to do that, because we clearly cannot tackle these changes and the global threat all on our own. This is why it is important for us to make use of all EU negotiations with third countries in order to stress this aspect – a joint agreement on combating climate change on a global scale.

 
  
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  Pierre Pribetich (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, I want to congratulate the rapporteur Mr Ford, firstly for his … (text inaudible) on two aspects that I think should be emphasised. The first is counterfeiting, particularly the counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals, which is a real danger, a real danger primarily for the progress and peaceful climate of economic and trade relations with the countries of Southeast Asia, but also especially for consumers, whether in terms simply of safety or in terms of product quality. It is therefore necessary to underline, to highlight, the need to prevent all forms of counterfeiting, using the restrictive tools contained in the agreements. I would just like to emphasise again how necessary it is to fight the counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals for these two reasons: to protect the safety of consumers and safeguard the pharmaceutical sector from any unfair competition that does not respect the environment or health and safety rules. Only effective cooperation among all those concerned will guarantee the protection of consumers world-wide, and specifically those in Europe.

The second aspect concerns the development of legislation encouraging a reduction in CO2 emissions by companies, particularly mutual agreements on emissions trading. We need to bear in mind that the European Union needs to avoid penalising companies by imposing on them the proper and logical provisions of new environmental standards as part of the climate plan, without demanding the adoption of similar rules by other countries in return.

Making these two points an integral part of our relations – in form and in spirit – would mean we could maintain the competitiveness of European companies while protecting consumers, and not forgetting climate protection of course. In short, it is undoubtedly a matter of finding a perfect balance in our relations.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate, although it is not my pet subject.

However, I was rushed from the office when I heard comments made about standards, and I think paragraph 10 is particularly important in this resolution and should be read and perhaps added to. Perhaps we should add food safety and traceability standards.

I endorse the comments made on counterfeit medicines, which is a serious concern.

I have just returned from Brazil, and in a meat factory I searched everywhere for a warning sign about anything. There were none: in other words, there was no acknowledgement of the issues around safety in the workplace. In the bioethanol plants we visited, I was slightly nervous because, again, there was no emphasis on the safety of the workers.

It is not to denigrate other countries. It is to recognise that we as Europeans have high standards, and we need to try and insist that we lift everyone, in other words, to our standard.

Could I just say that I know Commissioner Mandelson has heard of me before, and he is in the newspapers in Ireland today? If he wishes to make a comment in relation to those reports, I should be interested to listen.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, both the European Union and ASEAN possess considerable potential that will enable action to be taken to oppose such global challenges as climate change, energy security, the fight against terrorism and the battle against poverty and malnutrition for millions of residents of Asia.

Representatives of the two organisations should therefore step up their dialogue and search together for solutions to these difficult matters. They should also create new forms of economic cooperation and take steps to increase mutual and beneficial trade. The European Union should share its experience and achievements in connection with the process of regional integration. Let us not forget, though, that the EU should go beyond economic matters and should continue to demand observance of human rights and democracy.

 
  
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  Stavros Arnaoutakis (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, trade agreements can help to stabilise relations between both sides. At the same time, however, certain essential requirements and values in the negotiations for a free trade agreement must be taken into account.

Allow me to suggest the following: respect for human rights, the economic capabilities of each country, the protection of intellectual property rights and of geographical definition; the harmonisation of product safety standards; and cooperation in the fight against diseases and epidemics, and in environmental matters.

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE-DE). – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, the first thing I would like to say is that I would like to add my voice to the compliments for my excellent fellow Member, Mr Ford, and I will make the most of this speaking time to welcome Mr Hartmut Nassauer, who is the chairman of our delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia.

I remember, ladies and gentlemen, being in the Republic of the Philippines. It occurs to me as a result of this that perhaps we are neglecting development in these dossiers. I remember that trip to Kidapawan in Cotabato Province on the island of Mindanao, where we saw nearly 500 farmers with approximately 1.5 hectares of land who, thanks to European Union intervention, could survive on what they produced under subsistence farming conditions. We saw enthusiasm and gratefulness and I believe, Commissioner, that development must be taken into account in all European Union policies.

 
  
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  Glyn Ford, rapporteur. − Mr President, can I thank all the Members who participated in this evening’s debate. I am aware of the need, as Mr Audy has just pointed out, that we should make sure that development issues are not neglected with respect to a number of the countries, not just the Philippines. As someone who is much better acquainted with Indonesia than with the Philippines, I am aware there that there are many parts of Indonesia where it is not Jakarta, it is a developing country and we need to be paying attention there.

I thank Mr Mandelson for his comments and I would make the point that in a spirit of cooperation and consensus I have just had a conversation with Mr Varela Suanzes-Carpegna and I have agreed to withdraw Amendment 11 we will deal with this tomorrow in exchange for him supporting, as an addition, the new parts of my Amendment 12. So we have even more consensus now than we had at the beginning of this debate.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Bogusław Rogalski (UEN), in writing. – (PL) Bearing in mind that the European Community, in its negotiations with the Association of South East Asian Nations with a view to concluding a second-generation free-trade agreement, should give priority to the multilateral trade system established by the World Trade Organisation, it is a matter of importance that ASEAN covers a widely varying area: one of the countries is among the least-developed nations, whereas others are highly developed. This is the main reason why these inequalities are playing an important role in finalising a free-trade agreement.

During the process of concluding free-trade agreements, one priority matter is the signing of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement containing enforceable human rights clauses, as human rights and democracy are fundamental EU values. Attention must be paid to the consequences of the agreement for the small-scale farmers of the region and to monitoring and ensuring that family and sustainable agriculture are reinforced.

Local authorities should also be sensitised to the fight against climate change by combating deforestation and by enhancing tropical forests. Trade in biofuels should therefore be restricted solely to those biofuels that do not disturb the equilibrium of the environment. The importance of ongoing cooperation on counter-terrorism and crisis/disaster management should also be stressed.

An EU-ASEAN framework agreement could help to encourage future industrial growth in the EU, but should be based on the principle of transparency and on rules for competition and investment, intellectual property rights and state aid.

 
  
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  Andrzej Tomasz Zapałowski (UEN), in writing. – (PL) Mr President, many economists are pointing out that the South Asian region has the potential to become a world economic centre in the future. This is a dangerous trend, especially for Europe, which could lose a significant proportion of world trade. In Europe, meanwhile, we keep on tightening up conditions for companies and agriculture and trading with countries that do not even respect copyright law. In the light of this, can we talk of free and fair competition?

Of course, we must strive to support respect for human rights in Asiatic countries, but we must not do this while handing over European markets to goods that are manufactured under conditions that do not meet European competition standards.

At the moment we are concentrating strongly on economic competition within the EU. Here we are making a mistake as well as acting foolishly. Meanwhile, Asia is subduing us economically, just as Europe subdued Asia militarily and politically in the past.

 

18. Support schemes for farmers (support for cotton) (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0166/2008) by Ioannis Gklavakis, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003 establishing common rules for direct support schemes under the common agricultural policy and establishing certain support schemes for farmers, as regards the support scheme for cotton (COM(2007)0701 – C6-0447/2007 – 2007/0242(CNS)).

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, before going into the content of the report, I want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Gklavakis, and the Agriculture Committee members for the very good job they have done on this extremely sensitive issue of cotton reform.

In 2006, as you know, the Court of Justice annulled the cotton reform that we agreed in 2004, ruling that it was in breach of the proportionality principle. The Court also ruled that a new regime should be adopted within a reasonable time. The Commission therefore immediately responded to the ruling by commissioning several studies, launching a comprehensive consultation process and carrying out the impact assessments.

On this basis, the Commission proposes to continue coupling 35% of the aid, which allows for maintaining cotton production and respecting the Accession Treaties of Greece, Portugal and Spain. At the same time, decoupling of 65% is in line with the CAP reform process and the commitments of the European Union to its international partners, specifically in the developing countries.

Against this background, I very much welcome the support in the report for the 35% coupled rate as a balanced way forward. Your report correctly draws attention to the process of restructuring which the cotton sector within the European Union is undergoing. I understand the needs of the sector and therefore I am positive about amendments proposing to support this process, for example through lowering the national base area and thereby increasing the coupled aid per hectare. On this point, I find your suggestions very reasonable.

However, you also call for increased aid per hectare where the cotton area falls below the defined area at national level, and this poses a problem. I have to say that this is actually a countercyclical system that would make the aid within the European cotton sector more trade-distorting and would be in clear contradiction of our multilateral trade negotiation mandate within the DOHA Development Round.

I can support the amendments regarding a national envelope. I specially welcome the measure aimed at restructuring of the ginning sector and improving the quality of production. However, all restructuring measures should be compatible with the WTO Green Box and not overlap with measures that we already have in place within rural development policy.

Finally, it may not come as a surprise that I oppose a transfer of aid for cotton regions from the second pillar to the first pillar. I think it is obvious – and I have had the chance to express this opinion on several occasions here in Parliament – that we need to strengthen our rural development policy. I would like to underline that in cotton regions in Spain and Greece rural development programmes are actually efficiently used, for example the different agri-environmental schemes.

I am looking forward to a fruitful discussion on this very important issue.

 
  
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  Ioannis Gklavakis, rapporteur. − (EL) Mr President, I have listened carefully to the Commissioner.

There are four cotton-growing countries in the EU: Greece, Spain, Bulgaria and, on a very small scale, Portugal. When I embarked on this report, I worked closely with a great number of people, received recommendations and took part in discussions, so I can say that it is the product of long, extensive cooperation.

I worked with members of my committee, whom I thank, with Spanish representatives of the manufacturing and cotton-ginning sectors, and, of course, with my compatriots from Greece.

I should like to point out that the report was approved by the Committee on Agriculture by 28 votes to 6. This shows a high level of acceptance.

Allow me to mention briefly the 2004 proposal to support cotton. It was annulled by the European Court of Justice. It called for a 35% coupled payment and a 65% decoupled one. Then in subsequent years cotton-growing went into decline, and there was eventually a 50% decrease in Spain and one of about 20% in Greece.

Cotton farms in Spain shrunk by 25% and in Greece by 11%.

The aim of this report is that cotton should continue to be grown in Europe: the EU as a whole accounts for only 2% of world production. We have therefore agreed that the funding earmarked for the cotton-growing Member States will be maintained in full.

Of course, to avoid the risk of cotton-growing going into decline or becoming uneconomical, we have requested a small increase in the funding per hectare and I am delighted to hear that you accept. It necessarily follows that as the overall sum remains the same, the cultivated area will be reduced. There is, of course, absolutely no implication that problems will arise if a Member State wishes to increase the cultivated area as it pleases without any defined upper ceiling.

The ratio between coupled and decoupled aid remains at 35-65%. However, we have requested that Member States should, if they wish, be allowed to change their proportion of coupled aid, without going below the lower limit of 35%.

Let me say here that one thing should be made clear. The new area of land will not represent a defined ceiling, with penalties imposed for exceeding it as before. On the contrary, it is a way of safeguarding the current overall aid to the sector. Indeed, we believe the proposed increase in aid will be a strong incentive to retain the crop.

We also propose the creation of a national envelope of 1% funded by a deduction from the coupled aid, by unabsorbed appropriations, and from the EUR 22 million transferred to the 2nd pillar.

What will the national envelope achieve? Firstly, its aims are ambitious: for instance, aid will be provided for research into new varieties requiring less water and lower pesticide use, thus greatly benefiting the environment. Secondly, the quality of cotton produced will be improved, and the ginning industry will be modernised.

The draft report meets the needs of cotton growers in the Member States while complying with the goals of the EU. It deals with actual funding and at the same time introduces environmental measures, which are vital in the EU.

Allow me in conclusion to mention the excellent cooperation and support I enjoyed from all my fellow Members in drafting the report, which enabled us to introduce new ideas and recommendations.

I am confident that the implementation of the new scheme will help preserve a flourishing cotton-producing sector in the EU and a viable ginning industry.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Commission once again for the constructive way in which it has responded to the needs of the cotton-producing countries. We have finally achieved a result and will be able to point the Council in the right direction.

 
  
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  Carmen Fraga Estévez, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (ES) Mr President, it is surprising that the response from the European Commission to the judgment of the Court of Justice was a new proposal amending the support scheme for cotton, which is practically identical to the previous one, except in relation to linking the support to the cotton harvested.

Due to all this, we warmly welcome the excellent report drawn up by Mr Gklavakis, which has put the finger on the main problems affecting the production and processing sector.

Firstly, the Commission’s proposal to maintain the 35% of coupled aid is, as has been demonstrated in recent years by the reduction in production in a country such as Spain, entirely inadequate; therefore, we think that the solution provided by the report to leave the maximum limit to subsidiarity is the most appropriate.

Mr Gklavakis has given some figures, and I can tell you, Commissioner, that Andalusia, which is the main producing region in my country, has lost 65% of its production in the last three years.

Also, contrary to what you said, Commissioner, and I am sorry to contradict you, I think that Amendment 17, which I tabled myself and which has been included in the report, is very positive, as it rightly states that aid to producers can be increased when the cultivated area is less than the size of the base area for production, which I do think will benefit the sector, maintaining financial neutrality, as well as resulting in full use of resources, and obviously giving great flexibility to the sector.

Finally, Commissioner, I would like to point out, in relation to the ginning industry, that I believe was the great oversight in the 2004 reform and whose restructuring is an indisputable fact, that it is essential that a restructuring fund be created, which is mentioned in Mr Gklavakis’s report.

In addition, I do think that Amendment 39, which we tabled on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, would help, through Article 69, to provide greater funding for this processing industry.

Finally, Mr President, I would like to express my rejection of the agreement reached this week by the Special Committee on Agriculture, because I think that it still does not provide an adequate response to the problems in the sector, and, above all, to the problems in the ginning industry; I must tell you that today I received a note from the Spanish ginning industry stating that if the Council does not amend this proposal, it will cause the 27 ginning factories to cease activity.

I hope that the Council will change all these things and I thank the Commissioner for being here.

 
  
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  María Isabel Salinas García, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I would also like to join in what I think are deserved congratulations for the rapporteur and thank him for his availability and cooperation at all times, especially in terms of meeting with all the producers in my region, Andalusia, as he did.

I would like to say that we are dealing with a new reform of the cotton sector, because my country, Spain, and especially my region, Andalusia, appealed against the previous reform at the Court of Justice, and I would like to point out that this is the first time that a Commission reform has been thrown out.

What is surprising, as has already been said, is that in response to this situation, the Commission has inexplicably presented a proposal similar to the previous one when, of course, what has not changed is the position of Spain. The Spanish cotton growers want – we want – to continue growing cotton. There has already been mention of the serious damage that has been caused to my region.

In order to do this we need a reform that is different from the previous one and will enable us to keep growing. I therefore think that the report by Mr Gklavakis is appropriate and is a solution that should be taken into account.

The report proposes ranges for the level of coupling of the more extensive aid and greater subsidiarity for the Member States. I think that the rapporteur has understood the different situation of the sector in Greece and Spain. I therefore think that the solution given in the Gklavakis report could enable cotton-growing to continue in the two main producing countries.

It is also clear that we need an industry-restructuring plan. Last time the Commission did not take this into account, as Parliament asked.

The industry is thinking about compensation for the damage caused, which is quantifiable and it would be good to take this into account.

Finally, it is important to support the amendment from the Socialist Group in the European Parliament asking for a transitional period in order to adapt to the new situation. It is not about maintaining the current situation, which is unsustainable. I would like to remind you that this is not a CMO. We need to reach an agreement that will enable us to continue producing cotton in the European Union.

Although unfortunately we still do not have codecision, I hope that on this occasion the work done and the opinion of Parliament will be taken into account. Otherwise, and following the reports that are coming from the Council, Spain is not ruling out asking for a revision of the judgment if Parliament’s opinion is not taken into account.

 
  
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  Diamanto Manolakou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (EL) Mr President, the EU has a 70% deficit in cotton. The sector should therefore receive more aid. This would also help to develop the whole industry, from growing cotton to manufacturing fabric and clothing. Instead of this, what with quotas and co-responsibility levies, production, agricultural income and jobs are in decline.

Since the last CAP reform, the consequences of this decline have been felt more acutely, owing to the introduction of partial decoupling from the volume of production at 65%. In Greece, a year after implementation of the new Common Market Organisation (CMO) in cotton, production is down by 20%, and in Spain by more than 50%.

In Greece 11% of small- and medium-sized agricultural holdings have disappeared; the figure is 25% in Spain. A fair number of ginning plants are unviable and about to close down, and many jobs have been lost. The increase in production costs should have been matched by an increase in aid, which instead has been reduced.

Despite the positive proposals it contains, Mr Gklavakis’s recommendation does not solve the problem; it accepts the Commission’s proposal. We disagree with reducing the quota in Greece in order to increase the coupled aid per hectare. This will cause yet more small and medium cotton-growers to disappear. Nobody else can count on finding a definite solution to their problems.

 
  
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  Nils Lundgren, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (SV) Mr President, whenever we discuss the EU’s agricultural policy in this Chamber, rational citizens are reminded how unreasonable it still is, in spite of certain improvements in recent years. We face continuous demands from interest groups for continued protection against foreign competition. The regime has been in force for so long that it has even distorted the way we think and talk about these issues. That is why the rapporteur is able to say the following with a straight face: ‘It is vital for Community cotton production to remain prosperous, ensuring satisfactory production levels that allow for the continued viability of the ginning industry, which accounts for 3 200 jobs in Greece and 920 in Spain.’

If we applied the same reasoning to other areas, Europe would be on the road to ruin. The truth is that Spain is a highly successful industrial country with a labour force of around 20 million people. Such a country can have no problem guiding 920 people from cotton ginning to other more productive activities. The rapporteur also has no hesitation in using phrases like ‘safeguarding a prosperous sector of Community agriculture such as cotton production is crucial.’ This is an extreme example of contradictio in adjecto. Common sense tells us that if cotton production is prosperous it does not require any support. The cold truth is that cotton production in the EU is unprofitable and should therefore be closed down. Such adaptation may be difficult and require State aid, but the support should be used for change, not to protect production which is clearly better carried out in other countries outside of the EU.

 
  
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  Katerina Batzeli (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, let me first congratulate the rapporteur on his work, and the shadow rapporteurs, who have cooperated with the rapporteur in compiling this report.

Unfortunately, the report we are discussing today has come about due to pressure from the European Court of Justice’s ruling rather than to a political wish to ensure a long-term and stable scheme in the cotton sector until 2013 or to bring about a reform respecting the terms and rules of the WTO and CAP.

It is difficult to accept that eligible land in Greece will be reduced to 270 000 hectares from last year’s 340 000 hectares under cultivation. The reduced area of land will result in a further curtailment of aid. It is also difficult to accept that ginning plants will receive aid under the 1st pillar. We might support an improvement in quality, but not for measures included in the 2nd pillar.

We should naturally prefer stability, so that both decoupled and coupled aid as well as rural development come under the 1st pillar, and would be within the scope of the national envelope as covered by Annex VIII to Council Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003, according to which Member States would be allowed flexibility in the enforcement of this Regulation.

Lastly, I should especially like to congratulate the Spanish Government for taking the cotton issue to the European Court of Justice, as the Greek Government should have done in the case of tobacco.

 
  
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  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, in the reply you are about to give, would you please clarify that, when 65 and 35 are mentioned, the 65% is not deleted but that businesses receive this money? If, according to this distribution of 35%, no more cotton will be grown, then it becomes more worthwhile to take just the 65% and grow something else, or even to grow nothing at all, because the 35% is not sufficient to cover production costs in such a way that the cotton will be accepted at the prices that the industry pays.

If it is now a matter of jobs in the processing area, there is no denying that it would be necessary to discuss with the industry again whether it is in a position to pay growers an appropriate price for this cotton so that growing cotton is worthwhile.

Of course, it is important that the 65% that is de-coupled continues to be paid to producers, whether they are growing or not. That is the de-coupling system. It seems to me that this has been somewhat confused in the previous speeches.

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I have listened carefully to the different concerns, the different ideas raised by the honourable Members. I think that we are not that far apart, and I am sure that, at the end of the day, it will be possible to find an acceptable compromise.

I think that we have to keep in mind that, when the Court of Justice annulled the cotton reform, they did not put into question the coupled/decoupled part, the 35/65: not at all. The reason for the position of the Court of Justice was the fact that they concluded that we needed to make a more in-depth impact assessment. That is actually what we have been doing now. But that does not mean that we have seen any reason to change the coupled/decoupled part, and if farmers should stop producing, they will, of course, not use the decoupled part. They can continue with their money, although they are not producing cotton in the future.

I think that we might end up in a situation, because I think some of the difficulties the sector has been facing are actually rooted before the cotton reform was made in 2004. But I hope that the result of this reform will be that we will have a cotton sector. It will be probably with the development that we have seen – it will be smaller, but I hope that it will be more competitive as well.

I think that quite a lot can be done – this was mentioned by Mrs Batzeli – to improve the quality of the production. Here we are contributing to adding value to the product with a label of origin. Here I think the cotton-producing Member States should take advantage of this possibility to get a better price for their products so that we can maintain a prosperous, competitive cotton sector within the European Union.

 
  
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  Ioannis Gklavakis, rapporteur. − (EL) Mr President, as I understand it, we all agree that cotton growing must continue in the EU. How could we not? The EU has a 70% deficit in cotton. If cotton production continues to decline at all levels, the EU is going to be deficient in everything.

In the EU, we grow only 2% of the world’s production, which we must protect at all costs. Let us not forget that cotton represents only 0.15% of the EU’s agricultural production. Furthermore, this report makes a special effort; significantly, in the cotton-growing countries I have visited, the producers themselves have assured me that they are keen to produce quality cotton.

All the proposals put forward should make for considerable achievements. However, I need to point out again something that I realise has not been understood. The area of land has been reduced in order to increase subsidies, and the overall amount of funding per country has been retained. There is no prohibition on increasing the cultivated area, although this would, of course, be at the cost of reducing the funding per hectare.

Thus in the case of Greece we have moved from 370 000 hectares at a subsidy of EUR 594 per hectare, to 270 000 hectares at EUR 750; but if we cultivate more than 270 000 hectares, opting for 370 000 hectares, which we are perfectly entitled to do, no one will come and tell us, as they used to, that there is an upper ceiling or a penalty. This means that there is essentially no prohibition.

(Interjection from the floor)

Please address the House and explain. Be so good as to read the report, and you will see that it is absolutely correct, for if we exceed 270 000 hectares, we will receive a smaller amount instead of EUR 750. Please see this for yourself in the report.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR ONESTA
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11 a.m.

 

19. Management of deep-sea fish stocks (debate)
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  President. – The next item is the report by Rosa Migueléz Ramos, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries, on the management of deep-sea fish stocks (2007/2110(INI)) (A6-0103/2008).

 
  
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  Struan Stevenson (PPE-DE). – Mr President, on a point of order, before we start, could I just say a quick word about the lateness of the debates on agriculture and fisheries. This consistently is the case. We are always brought to the Chamber to have the last debates in the evening, both here in Brussels and in Strasbourg.

I think it is deeply unfair. When the Lisbon Treaty is introduced we will have codecision powers in both the Committee on Agriculture and in the Committee on Fisheries. That means we will have equal status with all the other committees in this Parliament, and yet it is the Foreign Affairs Committee that always gets the afternoon sessions, and we are always made to speak late in the evening while our Foreign Affairs colleagues can go for an early dinner and an early bed.

I do not see that that is appropriate, and I appeal to you, Mr President, to take to the Conference of Presidents – to the presidency of this Parliament – our complaint on behalf of all the Fisheries and Agriculture Committee members that we object to this and we wish fair play in the future. Sometimes we are prepared to speak late in debates, but sometimes we wish to be given preference and to speak early in the afternoon. I hope you will take that on board.

 
  
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  President. – Ladies and gentlemen, I will obviously pass on your comment to the President of Parliament, but I also invite you to pass it on to the chairmen and women of your respective groups, because it will not have escaped your notice that it is the Conference of Presidents that decides the agenda and the order in which the reports will go through. I will therefore report back on my side; please pass on the information on yours.

 
  
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  Rosa Miguélez Ramos, rapporteur. − (ES) The truth is that what Mr Stevenson has just said is a general feeling that we all share, because we have all been finding that we are speaking at these late hours for many years now.

I think that even the Commissioners should start protesting. I urge Mr Borg and Mrs Fischer Boel to protest too so that these debates are scheduled for a more reasonable hour, not only for our convenience, but also because it is much easier for the public and the sectors concerned to find out about them.

However, this evening we are talking about deep-sea species, and at this point I would like to remind you that European fleets began fishing these stocks in the 1990s when demersal species were in decline, and when cod in particular were disappearing, and that the Commission communication to which my report refers aims to assess the effectiveness of the regulations from two points of view: adequacy and implementation.

The truth is, as I say in my report, that the initial allocation of quotas to the Member States was made and even extended before we had sufficient biological information, which resulted in successive distributions based on data that was not entirely reliable; therefore some Member States did not use up the quotas assigned to them, whilst others found their quotas were running out in the first few months of the year.

The truth is also that the lack of knowledge of the geographical structure of these species and the lack of reliable scientific data meant that TACs and quotas were set for extremely broad management areas and that they were also too restrictive, even going beyond the conditions imposed for species subject to recovery plans.

The truth is also, as we need to acknowledge, that the classification leaves a lot to be desired, because deep water species are considered to be all those living at a depth greater than 400 metres, this merging together a wide range of species that do not have any biological, zonal or morphological characteristics in common.

I would say to the Commission that of course it seems necessary to differentiate more clearly between species requiring protection – and there are many of them – and other species that provide an alternative to demersal species and for which long-term fleet objectives should be set.

The truth is that the Commission has already been obliged to withdraw species from the list and to recognise that they are merely taken as by-catches in shallow-water fisheries, and, for example, on a proposal of the United Kingdom, tusk was taken off the list of deep-water species and the alfonsinos quota is not counted when it is fished with pelagic trawls.

In my view, the Commission should eliminate any differences in treatment for the various species that are not fully justified as a matter of urgency, and I would also like to point out that progress has been made in these fisheries and that the Community fleet is already implementing many measures that are not, however, implemented by other non-European fleets fishing in the same areas.

Our fleet has restricted its fishing effort, through both cuts in TACs and capacity limitation and the creation of protected areas.

There are other issues in relation to these species, such as the suitability of the TAC and quota system for managing these stocks, which is extremely difficult to do because these are mixed fisheries.

Another issue appears to be, and is, the need to tackle the problem of discards, improving management in this area. Another problem that needs to be corrected is the management of fishing effort, because the Commission made the mistake of including all vessels holding deep-sea licences in the definition of vessels requiring special permits, which has led to much confusion.

Finally, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I think that I am going to listen to all of you and also to the Commission, and I will conclude.

 
  
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  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, first of all, in reply to what Mr Stevenson and what Mrs Miguélez Ramos said regarding the timing, I need to stress that the Commission – respectfully, resignedly – accepts the times for debates set by Parliament.

Allow me to thank the rapporteur, Mrs Miguélez Ramos, and all the members of the Committee on Fisheries for a very thorough report.

As you know, the EU is an important stakeholder in deep-sea fisheries. The key EU Member States participating in these fisheries are Estonia, France, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Spain. Their landings represent the largest amount of global reported catches.

Overall, the economic and social importance of the Community high-sea bottom-gear fleets is relatively minor compared to the EU fisheries sector as a whole. Nevertheless, in certain countries and regions – notably Spain and Portugal – it contributes significantly to catches, employment and value added at a local level.

Deep-sea fisheries started in the late 1970s, developing rapidly from the 1990s onwards as a result of three factors. First, significant reductions of fishing opportunities in shallower waters due to depletion of stocks and the extension of the national jurisdictions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the 1970s. Second, the high value of some deep-sea species, and third, the advances in fishing technology that allow fishing at greater depths.

Our regulation on deep-sea fishing tries to establish specific access requirements and associated conditions for fishing of deep-sea stocks. In fact, some progress has been made with respect to the previous development stage of the fishery, where there were no rules.

Our latest proposals for the setting of TACs and effort limitations have increasingly been based on scientific information as this becomes more and more available. What we can be sure of is the fact that the state of these stocks has worsened in recent years. Scientific advice calls for additional data both in terms of quantity and quality. Our new proposal for data collection, currently being discussed within Council, also takes into consideration these issues. Furthermore, new surveys to cover deep-sea fishing grounds will be included as part of the Member States’ obligations, and additional biological sampling will be requested in our implementation proposal for data collection.

However, it is clear that the rules contained in our Deep-Sea Fishing Regulation need to be reviewed. Our communication analyses its drawbacks and points to the problems that need to be addressed.

We hope to start a review exercise of this Regulation, establishing specific access requirements and associated conditions applicable to fishing for deep-sea stocks with your valuable help. A thorough consultation involving all stakeholders should take place in 2009, with a view to considering stricter rules to be applied to this fishery.

From your report it is clear that we share the same concerns and objectives, and we hope that we can work closely together to take urgent action to protect the stock.

 
  
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  Marios Matsakis, Draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. – Mr President, many congratulations to the rapporteur for her excellent work. The proper management of deep-sea fish stocks is essential in order to promote the sustainability of the use of the seas and safeguard the conservation of marine ecosystems.

With these principles in mind, an opinion was prepared and strongly endorsed by the ENVI Committee. This opinion consisted of a small number of suggestions aiming to complement Mrs Ramos’s report and enhance its effectiveness and applicability. It highlighted, amongst other things, the need to reduce total allowance catches, in conformity with the relevant scientific advice, and to adhere more strongly to the recommendations of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Furthermore, concern was expressed over the inefficiency and poor implementation of the current regulations, especially with regard to the issue of monitoring and control procedures in Member States. In addition, it emphasised the advantages of setting up a network of marine protected areas within the Natura 2000 system.

Also included in this opinion is reference to the need to develop common guidelines, exchange best practices, improve the use of available technology and involve think tanks and NGOs in order to better implement measures to reduce illegal fishing and the sale of illegal catches in European markets. The necessity of promoting more environmentally friendly catching methods, which do not harm the environment and ecological biodiversity, was also mentioned. The report, supplemented by the accepted opinion recommendations, is fully supported by my group. However, we are unable to support the three amendments submitted, as we feel that these run counter to the need to properly and effectively protect our sea ecosystems.

 
  
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  Struan Stevenson, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, can I firstly congratulate Mrs Miguélez Ramos on the excellent work that she has done in compiling this report.

The science in relation to deep-sea stocks is not yet fully developed. However, we do know that these species live at great depths – we have heard from 400 metres to over 2 000 metres and even deeper. We know that they are slow maturing, not reaching breeding age sometimes until they are at least 25 years old, and they have a very low reproductive capacity. We know that there are millions of different species living at these great depths, of which only very few are edible. As a result, we know that fishermen in the deep-water fishery regularly discard around 55% of all the fish they catch. We know that the kind of fishing commonly carried out over sensitive deep-water ecosystems can be horrifically destructive – cold-water coral, sea-mounts and hydrothermal vents can be destroyed. Bottom-trawlers are operating in a way that would require a major environmental impact assessment in any other industry operating in deep-sea areas.

So we need to apply strict controls to the type of gear being used in these deep-water fisheries. We need to avoid destructive gear. We need to ensure that such fishing activity is only permitted in areas where we can be certain there will be no damage. We need to avoid situations where nets can break loose and continue ghost fishing for decades. Having said this, I recognise the nature of the artisanal fishery off the coast of Portugal and around the Azores, where the fishing is carried out in a sustainable way. I accept that we should not target such fisheries for excessive controls.

So we are dealing with this against a background of poor existing legislation, poor monitoring, poor science, poor feedback from Member States and a lack of overall credible information. I can only hope that this report paves the way for major improvements.

 
  
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  Paulo Casaca, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) I too should like to congratulate the rapporteur and all those who, like Mr Stevenson, helped to improve this report. I should like, above all, to make a general appeal for us to avoid a repetition on the sea bed of the dramatic situations we have seen over recent decades with regard to the fishing of cod and other pelagic species. It is essential to observe the precautionary principle and the principle of ecosystem management. It is essential to maintain sustainable fisheries.

This report contains a proposal in paragraph 8 that seems to me to be well-intentioned overall, but it includes a suggestion to ban fishing activity over seamounts, which would be impracticable in the Azores, since almost all deep-sea fishing is over seamounts. We are therefore unable to support that paragraph as it stands and we shall, naturally, be voting for the Socialist Party’s proposal to amend that paragraph. Fundamentally, however, I think we must all bear in mind that when it comes to the sea bed – environments that are much more fragile than on the surface – we cannot repeat the mistakes made in the past.

As already mentioned, species on the sea bed mature much much more slowly, damage is much more complicated to repair and, therefore, we cannot do the same as being done further up. I therefore urge the European Commission to give this its maximum attention.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (PT) We congratulate the rapporteur on her work and in general support the contents of the report apart from a few points. Since the objective is to ensure sustainable exploitation of resources, we welcome the inclusion in the report of the need to invest in scientific fisheries research, devoting more human and financial resources to that research, the need to adopt appropriate socio-economic measures to compensate fishermen for the costs of reductions in activity connected with stock recovery plans and the need to involve fishermen in the definition of measures for the protection of the marine environment and the management of resources. Finally, as pointed out, we stress the need to find different and appropriate solutions for different species, taking account of the selective fishing gears used in each region.

 
  
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  Carmen Fraga Estévez (PPE-DE). (ES) Mr President, I also think that there are ample reasons to support the amendments tabled for this report, and that the report is very valuable.

With regard to the ban being discussed here on fishing at a depth of more than 1 000 metres, the Committee on Fisheries already made it very clear in another report that was much more directly connected with vulnerable marine ecosystems than this one is, in which linking depth to sensitive ecosystems was rejected by a large majority.

Vulnerable habitats will have to be protected where they are found, irrespective of whether they are at a 1 000, 600 or 200 metres, and not based on whether they fall on one side or the other of an artificial line drawn in an office in Brussels.

This is also the doctrine of the FAO, which in its preparatory work on the guidelines for the protection of vulnerable ecosystems ruled out using depth as a criterion, precisely because it considered it to be arbitrary, lacking in scientific basis and more fanciful than anything, because, as I have said, since it does not protect coral or seamounts that are at a lesser depth, it would immediately wipe off the map fisheries that have been operating for some time without any problems, such as, for example cutlassfish fisheries in the Azores or black halibut in the area regulated by the NAFO. These are just two examples.

However, by supporting the amendments we would introduce greater consistency to legislative processes, as we are now in the process of preparing the future legislation on discards to be applied to all Community fleets.

I therefore do not think that this is the time to jeopardise certain fleets with regulations on discards which could ultimately result in inconsistencies with the general rules, which goes against the practice of better regulation to the benefit of the public.

 
  
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  Zdzisław Kazimierz Chmielewski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, in view of the particular nature of stocks and the marine ecosystem, deep-sea fishing constitutes a unique micro-climate, a micro-world that most starkly reveals both the familiar assets of fisheries policy and its permanently apparent shortcomings.

The interesting report by Mrs Miguélez Ramos and the discussion it has initiated amount to a characteristic object lesson, a further justification for maintaining humility in the face of the mysteries of the deep – humility, may I add, that requires the necessary compensation at least in the form of research into the deepest European basins, the scope of which is regularly enlarged. Whilst listening to the dynamic parliamentary debates it is hard to resist forming the impression that many research centres are continuing to make use of schematic, hackneyed methodological principles. Three depth zones appear to be recognised here: up to 400 metres, 400 to 1 000 metres and deeper than 1 000 metres. Advocates of the introduction of formal, rigid fishing criteria have even appeared. For example, some kind of mythical significance is being attributed to depths exceeding 1 000 metres without any fully convincing reasons being put forward for this.

I am in favour of searching further for more efficient methods of measuring the state of stocks, adapted to the ecosystem of a given basin. The results of such comprehensive research – and not just estimated data – should form the basis of fishing limits for deep-sea fishing; and not just for this type of fishing. It is precisely improved methods of research that can create guarantees for a system that is more precise than those used hitherto for exchanging information and controlling this important and delicate segment of fisheries.

 
  
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  Avril Doyle (PPE-DE). – Mr President, thank you and congratulations to Mrs Miguélez Ramos for a very good report.

It is worth recalling that 70% of the world’s surface is covered by oceans. More than 97% of our planet’s water is contained in the oceans. The oceans provide 99% of the earth’s living space and fish supply the highest percentage of the world’s protein consumed by humans; 3.5 billion people depend on them for their primary source of food. It does no harm to remind ourselves how important these fisheries debates are.

Sustainable management of our global fish stocks therefore needs to be a priority and we must constantly review how we do that management. I agree with the Commission that there needs to be an ecosystem-based approach to the management of deep-sea fish stocks. This in my view should facilitate the use of various approaches and tools, eliminating destructive fishing practices and the need to establish marine protected areas consistent with international law.

Management of the deep sea must also be based on the very best peer-reviewed science, which will include effective by-catch and data-collection programmes. Furthermore, effective research relating to the mapping of the seabed and the natural resources of the oceans, especially in the light of climate change impacts, must be a priority.

I am very concerned at the current lack of sufficient data to carry out a scientific assessment of the state of our deep-sea fish stocks. It is imperative that we introduce a ban on discards in deep-water fisheries as this would enable scientists to study with more precision the complex diversity of species being landed.

It is not sufficient simply to reduce discards, as bottom-trawling in deep water has a relatively high impact on by-catch and discard species. I really do think that the debate around the definition of what is ‘deep’ is futile and I agree fully with the FAO dismissing it as a crude measure and a crude criterion which is very arbitrary in terms of the sustainability of the species and fish stocks.

 
  
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  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, first of all I would like to thank all the honourable Members for their comments and suggestions, which we will certainly take into account as we undertake the review of our legislation next year.

May I now turn to some specific comments. First of all, it is extremely difficult to make and provide a definition of deep-sea fish. I have, however, taken note of the remarks made in this regard. We need to learn also by experience and by using the data on these deep sea species, which we have only relatively recently begun to collect. In the mean time, we need to adopt a precautionary approach, given the poor quality of information on these species. The Data Collection Regulation will certainly help to correct this situation.

I agree that these species are much more vulnerable, and so we need to be extremely careful and cautious in the management of this fishery.

On discards: as I have had occasion to say in this House before, this is an issue that we take seriously, and progressively we aim to cover all fisheries for the required reduction on discards.

On the two amendments, the Commission intends to agree with Amendment 2, which aims at reducing the level of discards rather than introducing a complete ban across the board from the very outset.

On the first amendment, the Commission is of the view that the original text is more protective of the fishing activities and sensitive habitats which, in particular, foresees that no fishing can take place in areas beyond the 1 000-metre depth.

However, this limit will be reviewed and, if appropriate, revised in two years’ time.

 
  
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  Rosa Miguélez Ramos, rapporteur. − (ES) Mr President, I would like to stress the urgent need for more and better information on these species, especially in relation to those listed in Annex II, and for more human and financial resources for research. I would like to remind you that we held a hearing in the Committee on Fisheries on this issue and that the experts stressed the need for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to identify for each species the stocks which can be exploited sustainably, and they also asked for greater scientific rigour as regards sampling schemes, and more concise data.

With regard to closed areas, for which no reliable data are actually available, the experts advised that these areas should be redefined and made smaller, since closing zones whose exploitation is feasible would lead in practice to more illegal fishing with greater impunity, given the lack of fishing interest among the parties, which would also exacerbate the scarcity of data with which to assess stocks.

I would like to remind Mr Stevenson that the text of the Amendments 2 and 3 corresponds exactly to what our committee adopted based on Mr Schlyter’s report on a policy to reduce unwanted by-catches and eliminate discards in European fisheries, without a single word or comma added.

The word ‘ban’ frightens me. ‘Ban’ can confuse, and may also demotivate; and, of course, it could do a great deal of damage to our fishermen, who are currently doing their job as best they can. The best thing to do is to eliminate and then gradually introduce the ban, as the Commission proposed; if I am not mistaken, I think that those were the exact words. I would therefore ask you to please support the amendments in the vote tomorrow. Thank you.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Written declarations (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Marianne Mikko (PSE), in writing. (ET) The 20th century brought breakthroughs in scientific and technological progress, extending man’s knowledge of nature to a previously unachievable level. In 1969 the American Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon; the Voyager missions, launched in 1977, have left the solar system, meaning that astronomers will be able to discuss not only the outer reaches of our galaxy but the outskirts of the whole of the visible universe.

Compared to conquering the cosmos, scant attention has been paid to the ocean depths which measure only a few kilometres.

The legislation regulating the trade in deep-sea fish stocks needs to be thoroughly reviewed. I agree with the rapporteur on the urgent need to devote more resources, both human and financial, to scientific investigation.

It is vital to define what constitutes a deep sea fishery. Currently there is talk of depths and fishing gear. The Member States of the European Union must, however, jointly agree on the substance of the definitions and the importance of agreements.

I would like to draw attention to point 8 of the report, which bans bottom-trawling at depths below 1 000m. Why do we have to provide for a specific depth restriction? The commercialisation of stocks and maintenance of the biological balance should be based on regional features and international agreements. If a fishing ban at a given depth is justifiable in a given area, then the restriction should apply to all fishing gear which comes into contact with the sea bottom, not only bottom-trawls.

We need a flexible system to manage fish stocks and the opportunity to react quickly. I would like to thank the rapporteur, who has drawn attention to the ineffectiveness of the legislation in force.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (PSE), in writing. – (RO) The continuous and rapid exhausting of deep-sea fish stocks and the insufficient measures of protection of deep-sea biodiversity require urgent actions in order to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish species. Although the 2002 and 2004 recommendations of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) called attention to the fact that most species are below the biosafety levels, the European Union has not reduced its fishing efforts enough to ensure sustainable fishing.

The Commission Communication regarding the review of deep-sea fish stocks confirms that the current levels of deep-sea stocks exploration must be reduced and that the measures in force have been implemented insufficiently in order to be efficient. For this reason, before adopting new management actions, we should establish the reasons why the existent actions are not implemented and the reasons behind the Member States’ failure to meet their commitments or their late fulfilment.

Moreover, the EU should make significant efforts for the complete and efficient implementation of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 61/105 on deep-sea fishing areas in free sea and protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

 

20. Declaration of financial interests: see Minutes

21. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes

22. Closure of the sitting
  

(The sitting was closed at 11.05 p.m.)

 
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