Index 
Debates
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Monday, 19 May 2008 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Statement by the President
 3. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
 4. Composition of Parliament: see Minutes
 5. Composition of political groups: see Minutes
 6. Composition of committees and delegations: see Minutes
 7. Verification of credentials: see Minutes
 8. Documents received: see Minutes
 9. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 10. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 11. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes
 12. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes
 13. Petitions: see Minutes
 14. Action taken on Parliament’s positions and resolutions: see Minutes
 15. Declaration of financial interests: see Minutes
 16. Calendar of part-sessions for 2009: see Minutes
 17. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes
 18. Order of business
 19. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
 20. Protection of the environment through criminal law (debate)
 21. 2009 budget: Parliament's estimates (debate)
 22. Trade in raw materials and commodities (debate)
 23. Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (debate)
 24. Community Tobacco Fund (debate)
 25. The Evaluation of the PEACE Programme (debate)
 26. Outermost regions (debate)
 27. EU consumer policy strategy 2007-2013 (debate)
 28. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 29. Closure of the sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MR PÖTTERING
President

(The sitting was opened at 5.05 p.m.)

 
1. Resumption of the session
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  President. − I declare resumed the session of the European Parliament adjourned on 8 May 2008.

 

2. Statement by the President
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, last week, on Wednesday, 14 May 2008, the terrorist organisation ETA carried out another attack in Spain. An officer of the Guardia Civil, Juan Manuel Piñuel Villalón, was killed by a car bomb in front of the police barracks in Legutiano, in Álava province. The European Parliament strongly condemns this despicable murder as well as the despicable act that resulted in injuries to other officers.

On behalf of the whole European Parliament, I should like to express our deep sorrow and sincere condolences to the family of the victim. I also wish to declare our solidarity with the people of Spain and with their public authorities, their democratic institutions and their security forces.

We will now keep silence in memory of the murdered police officer.

(The House rose for a minute’s silence.)

 

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

4. Composition of Parliament: see Minutes

5. Composition of political groups: see Minutes

6. Composition of committees and delegations: see Minutes

7. Verification of credentials: see Minutes

8. Documents received: see Minutes

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

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

11. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes

12. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes

13. Petitions: see Minutes

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

15. Declaration of financial interests: see Minutes

16. Calendar of part-sessions for 2009: see Minutes

17. Signature of acts adopted under codecision: see Minutes
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, in connection with the coordination of the calendar, a document has been distributed in which an election date is shown in blue for the first weekend in June. You know yourself that all European elections since 1979 have been held on the second or third weekend in June. I would like to ask who decided, and when they decided, to move next year’s European elections forward to these new dates around the first weekend in June.

 
  
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  President. − We shall minute your point of order, Mr Posselt, and we shall provide you with an answer in the appropriate manner.

 

18. Order of business
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  President. − The final version of the draft agenda as drawn up by the Conference of Presidents at its meeting of Thursday, 15 May 2008, pursuant to Rules 130 and 131 of the Rules of Procedure has been distributed.

 
  
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  Hartmut Nassauer (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, once a year – in May, for some inexplicable reason – it is customary for all the committees to meet in Strasbourg. There appears to be no logical justification for this. As a result, we have committees meeting this evening at the same time as subjects within their sphere of responsibility are on the plenary agenda.

This is an untenable situation. The only possible solution, really, is that the committees meet in Strasbourg in future and that we move the plenary sittings to Brussels to resolve the conflict! Seriously, though, committees meetings here in Strasbourg cannot continue to clash with plenary sittings and group meetings to the extent that this has been happening, especially over the last two years and in spite of all the declarations that such clashes were to be avoided. Now we even have a cooling-off period. There is no practical reason whatsoever why committee meetings here in Strasbourg need to clash with plenary activities. I should be grateful if you would do everything in your power to put matters right.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. − Thank you very much, Mr Nassauer. I shall apprise the Conference of Presidents of the situation you have described, and I am confident we shall find a satisfactory solution.

The following amendments to the agenda have been proposed:

Monday:

No amendments.

Tuesday:

The Socialist Group has requested the addition to the agenda for Tuesday of a Commission statement on the situation of the Roma in Italy without motions for resolutions.

 
  
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  Martin Schulz, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to clarify the nature of our motion. We are requesting a statement from the Commission not only on the situation of the Roma in Italy but on their situation there and in Europe in general. At our group meeting today, we discussed the fact that there is a very difficult situation in Italy at the present time. We have no wish to imply, however, that the situation is confined to Italy or that the protection of minorities and the social integration of the Roma are specifically Italian issues. We have merely referred to Italy because that is where the problem is currently surfacing on a huge scale.

We want to know from the Commission what it has done in recent years with the substantial funds we have allocated to it to support local projects effectively with a view to avoiding the sort of scenario that we are now experiencing in Italy.

What we are requesting, then, is a general debate. Its starting point would be the situation in Italy, but please let me stress categorically that I do not want it to focus on Italy alone. We have many other factors to take into consideration, not just the Italian situation. Above all, we want to know from the Commission what it has done in the past and what further action it intends to take in the future. We would therefore be grateful if the Commission could make such a statement on Tuesday.

 
  
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  Monica Frassoni, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Verts/ALE Group supports this proposal and it supports it on two counts, because we feel that it is important to discuss what is happening to the Roma in the European Union as such – being only too well aware of recent events in Italy – and also because we all know that the European Union has the means to intervene, but those means are not well known and tend not to come up for discussion.

From both points of view we are perfectly happy to have this debate, but we fear that it may not be the last, at least as far as Italy is concerned.

 
  
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  Joseph Daul, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (FR) Mr President, the Conference of Presidents did not foresee this but obviously there is room for it on the agenda. We had a debate in September 2007. The problem of the Roma is a very real one, for Europe generally and also for Romania, and it was something we were aware of when we visited Romania. I believe we are scheduled to debate the issue in September. Would it not be preferable – as our group proposes – for the problem in Italy to be discussed initially by the Committee on Civil Liberties, and to hold off on an official debate here in the House until we have prepared for it? That is the position of the PPE-DE Group.

 
  
  

(Parliament adopted the motion.)

Wednesday, Thursday:

No amendments.

(The order of business was thus established.)

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, for the sake of good order, I wish to announce that we intend to move a postponement of the vote on the Grosch report, which deals with rest periods and the question of bus drivers. There is agreement in principle between the employers’ and the employees’ sides, and we want to see this reflected in the Grosch report. I only wish to forewarn the other groups that we shall be asking for this postponement of the vote.

 

19. 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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  Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (PPE-DE) . – (FR) Mr President, an administrator’s post in the European Parliament information office in Luxembourg has been vacant for more than two years. I should like to know the outcome of advertising the post; why was there one candidate whose application file was incomplete; and what was missing from the file? Why have we had no information on this matter? I should also like to know what the administration intends to do about filling this post that has been vacant for so long?

 
  
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  Antonio Masip Hidalgo (PSE). (ES) Mr President, many thanks for your words at the beginning of this plenary to the family of the murdered Guardia Civil officer, the Spanish Armed Forces and, of course, the Spanish people. Thank you, Mr President.

I believe that the only way to defeat ETA and the terrorists is for us to remain united against terrorism.

I think that all European democrats should show their unity and support for the governments of Spain and France in this collective task and we should put to one side the absurd divisions of the recent past. Let us show we are all united against terrorism.

 
  
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  Jelko Kacin (ALDE). – (SL) On 28 April a plane belonging to Macedonian airline MAT, en route to Egypt with 76 passengers on board, was forced to land in Istanbul because the Greek authorities refused to allow it to cross Greek airspace.

In February, the Greek authorities had refused to grant MAT a permit for charter flights to Corfu, citing as grounds the airline’s name, MAT (Macedonian Airlines). The aim of the European Common Aviation Area Agreement signed in June 2006 was to create an expanded common aviation area with neighbouring states, including the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Under the Treaty, the Greek authorities are obliged to grant MAT’s request. The Greek blockade of MAT flights constitutes a breach of the law applicable, of the EU Treaties, and of international law on air traffic. Citing the airline’s name as grounds for this decision is also contrary to common European values.

I should be interested to learn what action the European institutions and the Commission propose to take to put an end to this discriminatory practice, which is contrary to free movement of persons, goods and services, and is directed against states that are applying for European Union membership.

 
  
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  László Tőkés (Verts/ALE). – (HU) Mr President, in the eastern central European region we are also having to deal with Communism’s harmful legacy for the environment. In no way can this be considered a purely domestic issue; it is a common European problem that affects us all. When the regime change came about, our countries, including Romania, were unprepared as regards environmental protection strategies.

I support the report by Mr Hartmut Nassauer of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (PPE-DE Group) on protection of the environment through criminal law, and I want to see those who cause serious environmental harm being held liable for it under criminal law by tightening and ensuring compliance with European Union legislation.

Cyanide technology must be banned in Roşia Montană (Verespatak). The destruction of forests in the Szekler Land and other regions of Romania is also harming the environment. The motorway that is under construction in Transylvania could likewise cause serious environmental damage. Construction work on the Bystroye Canal in Ukraine continues. In Bulgaria a new nuclear power station is being built after this Member State was forced to shut down the Kozloduy plant. We should be paying greater attention to these issues.

 
  
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  Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (GUE/NGL). – (DE) Mr President, in the debate on the Lisbon Treaty in Germany, some left-wing groups are alleging, and invoking the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in support of their allegation, that the Treaty would reintroduce the death penalty, so that – as they claim – people could be executed for the purpose of quelling an uprising. This is essentially an outrageous slur on the EHRC, which represents the inalienable core of the European value system and hence the symbol of a Europe which is committed to peace, freedom and the rule of law.

I am appalled that people are being exposed to this kind of scaremongering about the EHRC, to which the EU is to accede under the terms of the Treaty of Lisbon. I also protest vehemently against the statements made by some adherents of the Left equating the Reform Treaty with Hitler’s Enabling Act of 1933. These are not only utterly absurd; they also amount to a monstrous trivialisation of German fascism. That goes beyond the bounds of decency and morality.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (IND/DEM). – Mr President, Britain is one of seven countries proposing legislation to adopt a Council framework decision for common rules on the enforcement of legal decisions rendered in absentia. It will mean that a British citizen can be tried, convicted and sentenced in a foreign country without their presence in a court of law, and then removed to that country for imprisonment. They will find themselves in a position not of defending themselves in a trial, but of proving themselves innocent after a conviction.

Whilst there is a provision for retrials, not all EU Member States recognise retrials under their legal systems. This will further destroy the principle of habeas corpus and the freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment traditionally enjoyed by British citizens and fundamental to English law and freedoms. Everything that was good about Britain is gradually being destroyed by membership of this malignant organisation known as the European Union.

 
  
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  Slavi Binev (NI). – (BG) Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the actions of Bulgarian authorities over the past several weeks clearly indicate once again that they have no intention nor any will whatsoever to deal with the main problem our country faces: to reform the judicial system and home affairs. Instead of protecting the lives and rights of citizens, the president, the prime minister, the prosecurot’s office, the Ministry of Interior and the Sofia mayor have merged into a symbiotic entity and are using the levers of power solely for political recketeering of those who disagree with them.

What is worse, most of the media in Bulgaria, which ought to be the staunchest safeguards ensuring the irreversibility of the democratic path of development of our country, have entered into a bond, through financial interest, with the criminal element, and with the powers that be, and have become their vehement protectors and accomplices.

Anyone who disagrees with the official line has their voice muffled and is deprived of access to the public stage. Unfortunately, all our efforts to raise these issues and discuss them in Bulgaria have met with vehement resistance by the corrupt authorities, which is why we have been forced to seek the involvement of the European Court of Justice in order to save statehood in our country.

 
  
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  Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, I should like to say something about the very critical and deeply worrying situation in Lebanon.

In Parliament we have been watching the situation and have on many occasions debated the consequences of a prolonged crisis caused by the breakdown in the operation of institutions, the inability to elect a President of the Republic, the economic impasse resulting from occupation of the commercial and administrative centre, and fear of terrorist attacks.

This situation has culminated in all kinds of violence at the hands of Hezbollah because of the government’s decision to ban the former’s uncontrolled telecommunications network from operating.

Mr President, let me remind you that a delicate national consultation is under way in Qatar. We must try however we can to encourage this national dialogue, which needs to be conducted with due regard to the general interests of the citizens of Lebanon and their desire for prosperity, security and national independence. Let us take advantage of all the opportunities offered to us by our Association Agreement with the country.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Mr President, I would invite you to join with me, on behalf of the European Parliament, in sending good wishes for success to all the troops from the European Union Member States serving in Chad. That high-risk EU mission, sanctioned by the United Nations, will have 4 000 Member State troops on the ground, seeking to protect and assist the 430 000 refugees and internally displaced people currently living in 42 camps. It includes many hundreds of Irish troops who are following in the proud tradition of the Irish army’s peacekeeping and humanitarian role.

This mission is an example of what we in Europe can do now, and indeed an indication of what we could do even more effectively and in a more timely fashion as soon as we can implement the humanitarian aid, the Petersberg tasks and the common foreign and defence policy provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.

I would urge you, Mr President, to convey our good wishes to the troops on the ground.

 
  
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  Graham Watson (ALDE). – Mr President, I rise on the situation of the Roma minority and citizens from new Member States in Italy. In recent days there have been police raids on Roma communities in Rome. 118 of those detained have been ordered to be expelled immediately and the new mayor has said that he will expel 20 000 people. There have been arson attacks on Roma camps in the suburbs of Naples, with the mob preventing fire services getting in to extinguish the fires. Hundreds of immigrant families have fled for their lives and there are reports of a number of children missing. My colleague, Viktória Mohácsi, has been in Rome. She has sent worrying reports and I hope she will have an opportunity to respond to the Council’s statement tomorrow.

We know attacks in many of our Member States on immigrant communities are a problem, but the level of violence in Italy is unusual. The OSCE has accused Italy of stigmatising migrants and it seems to me that the nature of the recent election campaign has led to a culture of impunity for those carrying out these attacks. Even Commissioner Frattini, who was the first to lecture the new Member States on the integration of ethnic minorities, is now questioning the Schengen Agreements. This issue is of Europe-wide concern. It goes to the heart of the reasons for founding the European Union and I would urge the Commission and the Council urgently to discuss the matter to see what can be done to help.

 
  
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  Ewa Tomaszewska (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, at the Lima Summit pro-abortion amendments to the resolution on poverty and social exclusion were tabled by a Member of the European Parliament. This is an issue beyond the decision-making powers of the European Union institutions. Such matters are decided by national law.

During the deliberations of the Committee on Social Affairs, Exchange Programmes, the Environment, Education and Culture, in a separate vote for representatives of the parliaments of the two continents, the representatives of the European Parliament rejected the amendment, which meant that the committee did not adopt it. Neither parliament found it worthy of adoption. Between the deliberations of the committee and the plenary proceedings, the voting procedure was changed to a joint vote of representatives of both parliaments. The amendments were then adopted thanks to the votes of the Latin-American parliamentarians. Acceptance of this practice would mean that each of us could introduce into international documents, on behalf of the European Union, provisions that exceed the EU’s mandate and engage its responsibility. I protest against such practices.

 
  
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  Daniel Strož (GUE/NGL). - (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I think that the relevant bodies and institutions of the Community need to deal urgently with a serious phenomenon of the emergence of nationalist paramilitary groups in some Member States, specifically the Czech Republic and Hungary. As you know, so-called National Guards have been formed in these countries and are tolerated by the State authorities. The aim of these extreme right-wing organisations is to support nationalism and racism, and intimidate non-nationals and anyone with left-wing opinions. This was clearly demonstrated in Prague a few days ago. While the Hungarian Guard concentrates mainly on destroying relations between Hungarians and neighbouring nations, the Czech Guard, while also bigoted, is now becoming an instrument for intimidation not just of the left but of all democratic-minded citizens. These organisations, which are incompatible with the idea of a Europe based on friendship between nations, are all the more dangerous as they recruit into their ranks both former and present members of the military forces of these countries. I would like to make you aware of these facts as a matter of urgency.

 
  
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  Thomas Mann (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, the Conference of Presidents recently decided to curb the influence of the Intergroups. Our meetings can henceforth take place in Strasbourg on Thursdays only. On that day, human rights experts, for example, cannot attend Intergroup meetings, because they are on the speakers’ list for debates on matters of urgent importance. Moreover, most Members set off for their constituencies on Thursday afternoons, and many have to travel for several hours before they reach home.

While I fully understand the need to devote sufficient time to legislative work, the Intergroups are indispensable. We have voluntarily joined forces to examine issues that there is not enough time to deal with in committee, such as Tibet, the family and child protection, the Fourth World, the Baltic region or animal welfare. We are visible, we are audible, and we are responsible for many of the initiatives that emanate from the European Parliament. Now these most active of MEPs are being singled out, muzzled, stopped in their tracks and presented with a fait accompli in the form of a decision that they must no longer meet on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Please ensure, Mr President, that this unwise decision is reversed.

 
  
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  President. − I do not wish to comment on the decision, but I have to say that the President of Parliament is not as powerful as you seem to assume. Nevertheless, I shall, of course, look into the matter.

 
  
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  Magda Kósáné Kovács (PSE). – (HU) Thank you, Mr President. In the Vatican last week the Pope welcomed members of the Hungarian Conference of Catholic Bishops. At this audience, the head of the Catholic Church expressed appreciation for the activities of the Hungarian church and criticised the secular state, which he said penalises families; he condemned the law allowing unmarried couples to register as legal partnerships on the grounds that it legalises cohabitation by unmarried couples and gives civic rights to gay partnerships. He asserted that this law not only runs counter to Church doctrines, but also violates the Hungarian Constitution.

In secular Europe the Member States do not intervene in religious matters and the church does not put ideological pressure on the state. The Lisbon Treaty guarantees fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion, and establishes institutional relations between the EU and the churches.

Cooperation can only be based on reciprocity, however, and for this reason we strongly urge the Commission President, Mr Barroso, to act on the basis of the mandate he has been given and initiate a dialogue with the Catholic Church to protect secular Europe and European values. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I would like to continue the topic raised by my colleague, Thomas Mann, about moving intergroup meetings to Thursday afternoons. If the point is to help MEPs to concentrate more on plenaries, I really doubt it. In a way it is our job to be Mädchen für alles, to divide our time between different activities, and such a step also cannot prevent most MEPs leaving Thursday afternoon, because they have to catch their planes to reach their homes, to meet their voters the next day, Friday. And I am afraid that in this way the intergroups will unfortunately be placed between the hammer of plenaries and the anvil of constituencies. I think it would deal a crippling blow to their vibrant activities.

Maybe the best way is to trust intergroups to find the most practical and flexible modus vivendi by themselves, and I am encouraged by your response to Thomas Mann, Mr President.

 
  
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  Catherine Guy-Quint (PSE) . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, it is somewhat worrying that the Commission should have to be reminded of its responsibility for the fair implementation of European policies within each national territory.

The fact is that the French Government has singled out the region of Auvergne and withdrawn responsibility for the management of European Social Fund resources there from Local Employment Plans. The Government’s position is incomprehensible. The bodies concerned have an excellent administrative track record and this partisan decision jeopardises structures that have been working for years to integrate the poorest people in society.

The European Commission needs to remind the French Government of its duties to be consistent and to respect the rules on implementation of European funding. We cannot have agreements with the European Union being applied in a divisive, partisan manner in different parts of the same country.

 
  
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  Toomas Savi (ALDE). – Mr President, the opening of negotiations on a new EU partnership and cooperation agreement with the Russian Federation has experienced certain setbacks, owing to the behaviour of some Member States, that many might perceive as obstructionist. I am glad the EU Council Presidency, the Commission and Lithuania have reached a consensus that enables us to renew the old agreement, which expired last year.

In delaying negotiations with Russia we are sawing off the branch on which we are sitting. There are several topics, from the environment and energy to visa regimes, immigration, cross-border projects and unresolved issues relating to Georgia and Moldova, that require a comprehensive political agreement on common objectives and measures. I trust that the Commission will use its mandate in the negotiations to the best interests of all the Member States.

 
  
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  András Gyürk (PPE-DE). – (HU) Thank you for the opportunity to speak, Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen, the forthcoming Russia-European Union summit in Siberia may open up new opportunities. One potentially important outcome of the meeting will be the bilateral treaty, which could define relations between the two parties in the long term. Energy issues must be given a key place in this agreement, while at the same time keeping sight of the principle of reciprocity.

A major prerequisite for building reciprocity is ratification of the Energy Charter Treaty by Russia. This treaty creates transparent relationships in the energy market, contributes to security of supply, and stimulates investment. All of these are issues of vital importance for Russia too. After all, if capital investment in development is neglected, Russia could find itself suddenly unable to meet its commitments. Ratification of the Energy Charter Treaty by the Kremlin is therefore in both parties’ interests.

The success of the forthcoming summit will depend on whether the Member States are able to step out of the shadow of short-term considerations and speak with one voice in order to protect the common interest. Thank you very much, Mr President.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès (PSE) . – (FR) Mr President, you did indicate earlier that you were not all-powerful: nonetheless, I am sure you are powerful enough to implement decisions by the Conference of Presidents.

On 24 April this year the Conference of Presidents decided, quite rightly, to ask the Quaestors to reconsider their decision of 26 September 2007, allocating facilities on the premises of the European Parliament for the European Business and Parliament Scheme.

During our last part-session we adopted the Stubb/Friedrich report on lobbyists. Quite frankly, for representatives of employers’ organisations to set up shop within a parliamentary institution would seem to me to be a case of combining two things that should be separate and skewing our relations with the social partners – a step entirely alien to our parliamentary tradition in the European Union.

Furthermore, I do not understand why – following that decision by the Conference of Presidents – we have received invitations on your behalf from Mr Vidal-Quadras, Vice-President of Parliament, to a launching ceremony for the European Business and Parliament Scheme on 3 June.

I hope, Mr President, that you will bring your full authority to bear to restore order here and ensure that the decision by the Conference of Presidents is respected.

 
  
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  Filiz Hakaeva Hyusmenova (ALDE). – (BG) Mr. President, colleagues, the next Monitoring Report on Bulgaria is coming up. As a deputy chair of the Regional Development Committee and as a member of the Movement for Rights and Liberties, a party which is part of the ruling majority, I have been following closely the implementation of the Agreement on Bulgaria’s accession to the EU. I am positive that in the past month the government of our country has once again rendered an unbiased analysis of problem areas and has declared its determination to deal with them.

An indicative fact is that in order to improve the absorption of European funds, a new deputy prime minister post was created, to oversee and coordinate operational programmes. This will improve communications with the European Commission and she will monitor the accurate and proper fulfilment of commitments made.

Structural changes are underway to streamline the functioning of administrations within ministries and state agencies. There have been changes of ministers in the government, the legal framework of home affairs and security is being amended, top officials are being replaced. The new Minister of Interior is taking measures to combat corruption and crime.

Bulgaria is proceeding on its way to cohesion with the Member States and I am confident that European institutions will make an objective assessment of our country’s efforts.

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE-DE).(LT) I will take this opportunity to speak about the EU diplomatic mission in Belarus.

Quite recently a European Commission Office was opened in Minsk. A total of 14 Member States have their diplomatic missions in the Belarusian capital. Two more EU countries – the Netherlands and Finland – are covering Belarus from other EU countries. However, as many as 11 Member States are covering Belarus from Moscow. A few examples of these are Austria, Belgium, Greece, Denmark, Spain and also, regretfully, the country currently holding the EU Presidency, Slovenia. In my opinion, the wrong signal is being sent to the people of Belarus, especially when they are struggling to resist the designs of the regime to sacrifice Belarus to Russia. I believe it is time to urge all the Member States to start covering Belarus from their own territory, not from Moscow.

 
  
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  President. − That concludes this item.

 

20. Protection of the environment through criminal law (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0154/2008) by Mr Nassauer, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law (COM(2007)0051 – C6-0063/2007 – 2007/0022(COD)).

 
  
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  Hartmut Nassauer, rapporteur. − (DE) Mr President, the European Union is resorting to the instrument of criminal law. In other words, sentences are to be passed in future in the name of the European Union, and these powers are to be exercised initially in respect of infringements of environmental law. This is a far-reaching and remarkable step, because criminal law is actually outside the sphere of competence of the European Union. Indeed, it is one of the core areas of the Member States’ national sovereignty.

That is precisely why it took two rulings from the European Court of Justice to break the ground for this directive. That is curious in itself, because both the Council and the Commission and Parliament have long been in agreement that penal measures are a valid instrument for the enforcement of environmental law. It took several years, however, to establish where responsibility lay for such measures – with the Member States on the basis of framework decisions or with the Community on the basis of a directive.

The European Court of Justice endorsed the position adopted by the Commission, which is not surprising. Moreover, having now been defused, the conflict is unlikely to resurface, since the new Treaty of Lisbon addresses the problem and comes down more heavily in favour of the Community than the rulings of the ECJ.

This, indeed, is the reason why we concluded a first-reading agreement. We wanted to avoid having to restart the whole procedure from scratch if a solution did not materialise this year. Given a change in the substantive legal basis and in view of the forthcoming European elections, a considerable length of time might no doubt have elapsed before the appropriate legislation could be enacted. This is why we unanimously took the view that we must make every effort to reach a solution at first reading. When I say ‘we’, I mean the Slovenian Presidency – and I very much regret that it is not represented here, especially since I put on a tasteful tie in its honour – the Commission and the shadow rapporteurs, to whom I wish to pay special tribute for their amicable, constructive and informed cooperation. It was a joy to work with them.

The new directive rests on three pillars, which I should like at least to outline briefly. First of all, we have not only defined the criminal acts that would henceforth be punishable but also set out in an annex the specific provisions under which offenders may be charged. That accords with the principle of nulla poena sine lege. It is not just any criminal offence which would be punishable but the infringement of one of the legal provisions precisely defined in the annex. It was important to enshrine this principle in the legislation.

The second point is, to a certain extent, an incorporation of the proportionality principle. The purpose of the directive cannot be to throw the book at everyone who commits even the most trivial environmental transgression but rather to combat significant offences. For this reason, petty offences would not be punishable under the directive.

Thirdly, we also laid down that punishability would presuppose unlawful conduct. We unanimously enshrined these three principles in the draft. We also decidedly improved the definitions. I now keenly await the debate. Let me reiterate my thanks to all the Members of the House who have made this compromise possible.

 
  
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  President. − Thank you, Mr Nassauer. You referred to the particular quality of your tie. I had noticed that too but did not venture to remark on it. Now that you have done so yourself, however, I gladly confirm that it had indeed come to my attention.

 
  
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  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, Mr Nassauer and I may not be wearing entirely identical ties, but he nonetheless has my entire support for the work he has done – and my sincere thanks.

The Commission welcomes the outcome of the negotiations with Parliament and the Council, and the fact that agreement at first reading seems possible. This is yet another success for the three institutions and it demonstrates, Mr President, that the codecision procedure is very effective, even where the issues are complicated and difficult. I must say that Mr Nassauer, as rapporteur for the Committee on Legal Affairs, the draftsman of the Environment Committee’s opinion and the shadow rapporteurs all worked hard and constructively with the Council Presidency and the Commission to achieve this compromise from the informal trialogue, which is before you today.

Mr Nassauer has explained the issues well, so I shall be brief. It is true that efficient environmental protection depends on the effective and complete transposition of Community policy. Criminal law is an indispensable tool in that respect. When it comes to the most serious offences, the only real deterrent is the sharp sanction of criminal penalties, always bearing in mind, as you have pointed out, the need to respect the principle of proportionality.

While the Commission would have wished to approximate the level of penalties, the Court of Justice judgment of October 2007 makes that impossible on the legal basis of the Treaty, and the Court’s ruling must be respected. Even without approximating the level of penalties, however, the directive will contribute significantly to more efficient protection of the environment – not least through its deterrent effect. The Member States will agree on definitions of environmental offences, on the extent of corporate liability for such offences, and on the need to introduce effective, proportionate and deterrent sanctions.

We therefore hope and trust that, given the ground we have already covered, all this can be achieved. The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law was signed here in Strasbourg 10 years ago – and it has not yet come into force! It is thus high time that we created an effective European legal instrument concerning protection of the environment in criminal law. I am counting on Parliament’s support so that we may achieve our goal without delay, and I should like once again to thank the rapporteur.

In conclusion, the Commission is bound to make certain declarations which form part of the compromise agreed with the legislative institutions. I shall now read these declarations, Mr President.

‘Declaration No 1: the European Commission takes note of the following amendment, adopted by the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs. “Where a continuing activity proves after a lapse of time to give rise to environmental damage which may in turn give rise to criminal liability under this Directive, the question whether or not the perpetrator of the damage acted intentionally or negligently should be determined by reference to the time when the perpetrator became aware, or should have been aware, of the facts constituting the offence and not to the time when the perpetrator commenced its activity. It should be borne in mind in this connection that the prior grant of an authorisation, licence or concession should not constitute a defence in such circumstances.” The Commission fully understands the concerns expressed in this amendment. These matters lie within the competence of the Member States and we are confident that the Member States will take these important questions into consideration.’

‘European Commission Declaration No 2: the secondary legislation associated with Annex B of this Directive, concerning health and safety and intended to protect the public and the environment against dangers arising from activities involving ionising radiation, was adopted on the basis of the Euratom Treaty. Member States’ obligations to introduce criminal penalties in application of the Directive therefore extend to unlawful behaviour in breach of the provisions of legislation adopted on the basis of the Euratom Treaty, and they must be determined with reference to that legislation.’

I am sorry that I had to read these two texts out, but I was required to do so. That done, Mr President, I now intend to give my full attention to the debate.

 
  
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  Dan Jørgensen, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. – (DA) Mr President, I would like to start by saying that there is not only reason to praise Mr Nassauer’s tie. There is also reason to say many nice things about his major contribution in connection with finding a compromise in this difficult matter. The decision that we are now taking is an extremely important one. One of the major problems with the EU’s environmental policy is that it is unfortunately not being implemented uniformly in the individual countries, and in particular is not being managed uniformly in the individual countries. This is therefore the problem that we are now seeking to resolve through this major step forward. In the future, we will ensure that the same breach is punished in the same way in all EU Member States, wherever it is committed. I am also very happy to note that we now have some definitions of what such breaches consist of. We now have a clear list, which we stress must not be static, but dynamic, and which shows when the fundamental principles of environmental policy are being breached. In the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, we have been very concerned about ensuring that habitat areas in particular are protected, and we are pleased that this has been included. We would also like to have had more details on how tough the penalties should be. This was unfortunately not possible on the basis of the current treaties, but overall we are very pleased about the result. It is a big step forward for environmental protection.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR DOS SANTOS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (EL) Mr President, last summer Greece suffered one of the worst disasters it has known in recent times. More than 60 people perished, there were many casualties, and thousands of hectares were reduced to ashes. Such was the tragic toll of the fires of the Western Peloponnese, Attica and Evia. Similar disasters have been experienced in previous years by other Mediterranean EU countries such as Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Forest arson endangers human lives and the natural wealth of a region. It is undoubtedly one of the gravest and most heinous criminal acts of our times.

A Commission directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law has been proposed. The directive does not take into account the final outcome of the relevant legislative process, which will owe more to differences in legal technicalities than to substantive issues. However, a move is being made in the right direction; it will provide vital means of protecting the environment more effectively in the years to come.

I should personally like to thank the European Parliament’s rapporteur, Mr Nassauer, for the sensitivity he has shown in a conciliation amendment by adopting a provision billing the act of arson as a criminal offence. I also thank the members of the Spanish delegation of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats who have supported my amendment.

 
  
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  Manuel Medina Ortega, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President. I believe that, in a few years time, this European Parliament part-session will be seen to have established an important precedent in the development of European Union law.

In principle, the European Union has no competence in matters of criminal law, which lies with the Member States. As the rapporteur said, the two Court of Justice rulings have opened the way for a certain level of Community competence in criminal law, albeit limited.

Mr Jørgensen said this is not about harmonisation, but about the approximation of laws, and in this respect I believe that Parliament, through its rapporteur Mr Nassauer, the Council and the Commission, the Slovenian Presidency and Commissioner Barrot have all helped to promote an agreement that is acceptable to all.

As I said, we are talking about harmonisation and not legislative approximation. We are going to harmonise the categories of crimes, which is the principle of criminal law, and as Mr Nassauer said, with legal precision, criminal categories cannot be general or arbitrary in character.

We are respecting the principle of proportionality while eliminating minimum sanctions, and we are establishing the principle that you cannot prosecute conduct if there is no sanction available for such conduct.

I believe that the Commission's Declaration, especially what it said about negligence and the establishment of liability, will help us to continue making progress on this issue. For the moment, we can go no further, and I believe that we will only be able to do so if there are substantive changes to European Union law, with new constitutional rules. However, Parliament, along with the Council and the Commission, is doing everything it can to strengthen the law on the protection of the environment and the corresponding criminal regulations, in accordance with the old Council of Europe Convention, which provided for the establishment of criminal liability for breaches of environmental regulations. Thank you.

 
  
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  Diana Wallis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, as has already been said, we should thank Mr Nassauer for his work on this first-reading agreement; also particular thanks should go to the Commission for helping us get there in the end.

As Mr Medina has just said, it has been and will be a noteworthy first-reading agreement. It is historic in the development of the codecision process and particularly for this House to be involved in setting penalties in relation to criminal law. It really is a noteworthy development. This directive will at last bring legal certainty in an area where in the past we have witnessed a rather undignified ping-pong between the European Court of Justice and the various arms of the European legislature. Now we have some certainty and some clarity.

Above all, it is a big plus for protection of the environment. Over the years, as a member of the Committee on Petitions, I have noted that it is damage to the environment that most frequently brings our citizens to seek our help in implementing what they see should be European law. Now at last we will be able to say that we have – or should have – the effective means to make sure that European environmental law is indeed implemented and enforced as our citizens expect across the European Union.

But not only that – there is another strong message for this Parliament here. One of the things we insisted on in this agreement was the so-called correlation tables. These would enable us to see, in this very complex piece of legislation, exactly where Member States insert European legislation into their national law. This is something that we are serious about as a Parliament and at last we have been heard. I think it goes a long way towards showing our competence and growing effectiveness as a legislature, which augurs well for the coming entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

 
  
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  Monica Frassoni, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my Group does not usually like first-reading agreements, because the quality of the law is often compromised in the rush and pressure to reach agreement. I have to say, Mr Nassauer, that if you had asked me a year ago whether in my opinion we would reach a bipartisan agreement on protection of the environment through criminal law, with Mr Nassauer as rapporteur and at first reading, I would probably not have believed it. Nevertheless it has happened, due to excellent teamwork, made possible through strict observance of the informal dialogue procedures with the Commission and the Council who, whenever possible, have involved the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs, and due also to the valuable work of the Environment Committee. I would therefore like to thank the rapporteur and his colleagues most sincerely because this is an important achievement, as indeed all the other speakers have said.

Mr President, the Court of Justice ruling has clearly prevented us from establishing penalties and this has clipped our wings somewhat but, as a result, I hope that after the vote we, the European Union, will collectively keep this issue in mind. I think we should pay serious attention to this matter when the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified.

Of course, as with everything in life, this directive is not perfect. For example, we are not very happy with the complicated annex which gives a long, albeit exhaustive, list of the directives to which this new law is to apply. We would have preferred simply to have a system proposed by the Commission and approved by the Environment Committee, which made it perfectly clear that a whole series of offences were automatically classed as punishable under criminal law in addition to the directives in question.

Nor are we all that happy with the fact that the transition period is two years. We feel that this could have been improved and, like Mrs Wallis, we are very pleased about the obligation placed on the Member States to provide correlation tables, in other words States must inform us swiftly of how they are applying the laws, which they often fail to do.

However, we fully support the move to ensure that a series of offences can no longer go unpunished. I come from a country, Italy, where there has been a temptation to do this, where it has actually been done, and I am pleased that this directive rejects the possibility and that the destruction of natural sites, vandalism and other similar matters will no longer go unpunished.

 
  
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  Jens Holm, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (SV) There is no doubt that anyone who offends against environmental laws must be punished. The penalties must be severe and have a deterrent effect so that environmental crimes will not be repeated. But should we harmonise the criminal provisions? Should the EU say what the sanctions should be – custodial sentences, fines and other penalties? No, it is up to the Member States to decide on those matters.

The risk in harmonising legislation is always that progressive countries may be forced to lower the standard of their provisions. That is not acceptable. If we hand over the right to decide on these matters to the EU, what is the next step? Of course the EU must act to ensure that the Member States improve their environmental legislation. We can and must disseminate good practice, and we can help and support those Member States which for various reasons are lagging behind. Drawing up tables with concrete indicators by which Member States can be compared is an excellent example. In that way we create a system which has a high degree of legitimacy and is democratically anchored. That is also how we can work best to defend the environment.

 
  
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  Aloyzas Sakalas (PSE). – Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for collaborating so thoughtfully and to say how pleased I am that we managed to find a solution in our discussions which everyone could accept. Having said that, I would like to make three points.

Firstly, I fully support the idea this report has to be adopted before the Lisbon Treaty enters into force. This will mean that all Member States will have to apply criminal sanctions in accordance with the new directive sooner rather than later. The burning of forests in Greece should be very instructive for all of us.

Secondly, I would like to stress the desirability of the new wording for point ‘h’ of Article 3 in relation to any conduct which causes ‘the significant deterioration of a habitat within a protected site’. This represents a considerable improvement over the narrower wording originally proposed by the rapporteur.

Thirdly, our most controversial discussions concerned the annexes. In this connection, I note that the scope of Member States’ competence will not be limited thereby, with regard to Article 176 of the EC Treaty. In addition, a list of relevant Community legislation will provide the necessary legal certainty required in the context of the criminal law. This approach also avoids the need to define certain terms, such as water or waste, in the directive. For this reason, I support the introduction of the two annexes to the directive.

I fully support the document proposed by Mr Nassauer.

 
  
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  Mojca Drčar Murko (ALDE). – (SL) We in the Environment Committee expected the creation of common standards for criminal prosecution in the case of environmental offences to go beyond this compromise and, in addition to Community law, to cover Member State legislation as well. However, it turns out that at the moment the compromise reached is the limit of what is acceptable. Nevertheless, it is a major step forward for environmental protection, since in the case of serious criminal offences against the environment as listed in the Annex, coordinated application of effective, commensurate and deterrent sanctions is provided for.

With regard to the criminal law policy of the individual states, which will develop on this basis, we should like to draw attention to the rules of modern criminal law, under which the level of the threatened penalties is less crucial than the reliability of criminal prosecution. The perpetrators can be certain that they will not find a safe haven anywhere in Europe.

 
  
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  Hiltrud Breyer (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, it is really very heartening that the Commission did not let itself be unnerved by the Member States and has presented a proposal on the criminal liability of environmental offenders, because we cannot go on treating infringements of environmental law as mere peccadilloes. It is also encouraging, on the very day when the UN Biodiversity Conference opened, that the legislative proposal defines nature reserves better and more clearly and helps to spell out what constitutes an offence.

It is, however, regrettable that there are no sanctions and that there is no blanket treatment of offences as criminal acts. That, sadly, creates loopholes, especially with regard to the protection of flora and fauna, where offenders are not sentenced as a matter of course and many are able to escape by pleading ignorance. It would therefore have been logical and beneficial if this directive had covered genetic engineering too. Criminal conduct in environmental matters must be punished, and I hope that this directive will be a milestone and will demonstrate clearly that the environment is an asset which is worth protecting and that we must make every effort to ensure that infringements of environmental law do not go unpunished.

 
  
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  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. − (FR) Mr President, this debate really has highlighted the fact that we are taking an important step into a new phase. Perhaps I should say we will be taking that step if, as we hope, this text – and I would again like to thank Mr Nassauer for his role in preparing it – makes clear, to borrow Ms Frassoni’s words, that ‘offences can no longer go unpunished’. That, I believe, is what matters. It is a genuine step forward. I would add that the Commission was not initially in favour of annexes; however, while the Commission still takes the view that this type of annex is not necessary, its inclusion, in accordance with the wish of most Member States, is acceptable. The annex as it is now tabled is comprehensive and includes all the major pieces of environmental legislation of potential relevance to the offences described in the Directive.

At the same time, of course, we cannot claim to have produced an exhaustive list, and indeed it would have been risky to claim that any such list was exhaustive. On the other hand, it is now my conviction – and I would simply like to share it with the Members of the House, Mr President – that, once the Directive has been adopted, the Member States will have 18 months to transpose its content into their national laws and it goes without saying that the Commission will scrutinise the transposition process in great detail. In the light of the legal framework, it will reassess the need to bring forward proposals for additional legislation.

I am convinced that particularly vigilant screening will be needed to ensure that the transposition properly reflects the spirit which, on the European Parliament’s part, has informed this legislation. I am told that the compromise time limit is 24 months. Yes, that is correct, 24 months is indeed the compromise. I was being rather more ambitious. That said, the Commission can assure you today that it will be keeping an extremely close eye on the transposition of this text, which does indeed signal major progress on environmental protection in Europe.

 
  
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  Hartmut Nassauer, rapporteur. − (DE) Mr President, if I may begin with the last point, namely the transposition period, let me say that this directive sets a precedent. Mr Medina rightly pointed out that all of the environmental legislation in the Community will have to be screened for penal compatibility, as it were, in the light of the new definitions of criminal offences. This will be being done for the first time and is a very extensive undertaking. Accordingly, it makes sense to give the Member States 24 months rather than only 18.

The other thing I wanted to say is addressed to the Commission. This matter may not necessarily lie within your sphere of competence at the present time, Commissioner Barrot, but it will in the future. The Commission now has a new resource; it has a new set of instruments at its disposal which, as I have said, are essentially and fundamentally in the hands of the Member States. I believe that the Commission would be well advised to exercise caution in the use of these instruments. Penal screening of Community law, of course, is not solely applicable to environmental legislation but can, in principle, be applied to all other areas of Community activity. That is why I believe the Commission would be well advised to proceed with caution here, for criminal law is the last resort in the enforcement of legislation and not an instrument for everyday use. The Member States will not exactly be over the moon about all of this. Besides, to put it very delicately, legal scholars have been extremely hesitant to incorporate the judgments of the European Court of Justice into legal doctrine and jurisprudence.

My advice to the Commission is therefore to make cautious use of these instruments, and the directive will be all the more effective when it is subsequently applied in practice.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday, 21 May 2008.

 

21. 2009 budget: Parliament's estimates (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0181/2008) by Mr Lewandowski, on behalf of the Committee on Budgets, on Parliament's estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2009 (2008/2022(BUD)).

 
  
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  Janusz Lewandowski, rapporteur. − (PL) Mr President, in assessing the European Parliament’s estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2009 we have taken account of the special circumstances and challenges facing us in the coming year. All of us here agree on what those challenges are: Parliament needs to be adapted to its increased powers after the expected entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty; elections are in the offing, and the election campaign has to be funded; new rules on MEPs’ remuneration are to be adopted, as well as − let us hope − transparent rules governing the employment and remuneration of parliamentary assistants.

Not every challenge of the year to come has been quantified and taken into account in the expenditure estimates. In cases of uncertainty, the obvious answer is a budget reserve, and this was precisely what we discussed at our meeting with Parliament’s Bureau, referred to in our budgetary jargon as the ‘preconciliation’ meeting. I am pleased to be able to tell you that the atmosphere at the meeting was good and that many of our proposals were accepted. Specifically, the 65 new posts planned were integrated into the estimates, with some of the money placed in reserve. Also, a ‘Lisbon reserve’ was created to take account of the findings of the ad-hoc working group now assessing the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on Parliament’s new needs. The Budget Committee considered the demands of the political groups and recognised the need to strengthen the support staff, but subject to the principles of budget discipline, i.e. reemployment must take precedence over the creation of new posts.

With regard to buildings and buildings policy, we await presentation of a long-term strategy in May, especially as the sums allocated and held in reserve for the time being, together with carry-forwards from the current year, are considerable. We found in the budget an appropriation of EUR 3.4 million for the removal of asbestos from the SDM building in Strasbourg. In view of the rather unfavourable publicity surrounding the conflict with the Strasbourg municipal authorities and the sensitivity of the issue, the matter requires clarification, and there are amendments to that end. They go so far as to demand a reserve to cover the necessary measures. I shall not go here into other issues involving a heavy financial burden, namely computerisation of the Visitors’ Centre and additional services for MEPs. What should be stressed above all is the fact that we are still below the ceiling of 20% of the overall administrative expenditure of the European institutions. This figure of 20% is not an end in itself but a sensible self-imposed limit that increases our credibility when we call for budgetary discipline on the part of other institutions. I hope the expenditure estimates will prove to be close to Parliament’s final budget. I hope that we shall maintain the climate of trust that is to a considerable extent the personal achievement of Secretary-General Rømer. Tomorrow’s vote should go smoothly, as only four amendments have been tabled.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who have helped to make the pilot procedure − which was thought likely to prove troublesome − run smoothly so far. I hope it will continue to do so until the final adoption of Parliament’s budget.

 
  
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  Reimer Böge, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the fact that only four amendments to the Lewandowski report have been tabled is ample evidence of the rapporteur’s outstanding preparatory work and his sterling efforts to arrive at an understanding with the political groups. Perhaps it also demonstrates the purpose of what is known as the pilot process, in which we seek to take a first step this year towards a successful system of cooperation between the Bureau and the Committee on Budgets, based on a division of responsibilities and preceded by very intensive discussions with both the Bureau and the parliamentary administration in order to eliminate the sort of misunderstanding and even incomprehension we have frequently experienced. Apart from anything else, we need to adopt a common approach.

It is also important, particularly at a time when the implementation of the Reform Treaty is under discussion, to re-emphasise that Parliament remains firmly committed to budgetary discipline and that it will not exceed the limit of 20% of heading 5 as long as the present situation continues.

It is likewise important to re-emphasise that it amounts to a virtual cultural revolution, and at least represents a good start, when the Bureau itself decides, as it has now done, to put the appropriations for certain new posts into the budgetary reserve and not simply to rubber-stamp an administrative proposal here and there but to engage in a more detailed substantive discussion of what lies behind the budget. That will also facilitate the work of the Committee on Budgets and make it easier for the Committee and the Bureau to engage with each other.

At first reading we must, of course, discuss in far greater detail the question of reallocating funds for the purpose of strengthening the committees and the political groups so that we can successfully perform the tasks assigned to us by the Reform Treaty.

To put it very plainly, I expect – not least on the basis of plenary decisions and of our preliminary talks with the Bureau – that this week, either today or on Wednesday, the Bureau really will take the essential decisions on the questions of the assistants’ regime, the assistants’ statute and on the other outstanding matters. There have been clear plenary decisions on these matters, and the Bureau need only implement them in order to respond fittingly to the internal and public debate.

 
  
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  Thijs Berman, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (NL) How much longer is at least one in ten of the MEPs’ assistants going to be working here without any social security protection, in a maze of different kinds of contracts that is totally unclear and gives rise to a suspicion of fraud?

Whenever the Socialist Group in the European Parliament attempts to give the Members’ assistants a proper contract, with all the usual social security guarantees, the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats tries to stand in the way of such a statute for assistants. The word 'statute' really is taboo for the PPE-DE. This time the word 'statute' is to be replaced by 'regime'. That is not just a play on words. This Parliament should set an example with working conditions, but it is hopelessly behind what have long been perfectly normal standards. Without a uniform statute, our colleagues will never be given the protection to which they are normally entitled.

This one point, a statute for assistants, is therefore important, and the amendment aimed at scrapping it would be a blot on the otherwise excellent report by Mr Lewandowski. I agree with his comments and those by Mr Böge. The budget is still within the limits, despite the wider responsibilities Parliament is given under the new Treaty. Certainly more clarity is needed, firstly on the allocation of staff and secondly on the removal of asbestos from the European Parliament buildings. Clarity on those points must be an express requirement if the amounts we wish to place in reserve for that purpose are to be released.

 
  
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  Anne E. Jensen, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DA) Mr President, the Parliament’s budget is not adopted until October, but with Mr Lewandowski’s report we are in principle supporting the proposed budget for 2009 adopted by the Bureau in April, and in particular the dialogue on the details of the proposal, which is being carried out as a pilot project this year. I think that the initial experiences show that it is useful to have such a dialogue. It means that the budget will be reviewed in detail by those who are politically responsible, and that the Committee on Budgets is properly involved. This is good. The dialogue has focused very strongly on the staff requirements in connection with Parliament’s new tasks arising from the Treaty of Lisbon, not least the matter of ensuring that needs are met through possible reshuffles before we start talking about increasing the number of staff. We have of course seen large increases in staff numbers with the expansion of the EU, and we must now have a period of consolidation while we review the staff requirements carefully.

We have also agreed to prepare a long-term strategic plan for buildings and their maintenance before the end of this month. Again, it is necessary to consider future policy in this area. The asbestos case shows that details are of interest. We are surprised that funding has been set aside for the removal of asbestos from the SDM building, as when Parliament purchased the building, we were told that there was no asbestos! The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe thus supports the proposal put forward by the Socialist Group in the European Parliament to put the money in reserve.

Last, but not least, I would also like to underline the need for us to adopt a regime for the assistants, as discussed with Parliament’s Secretary-General, Harald Rømer. It must not go wrong this time. We must sort this matter out.

 
  
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  Wiesław Stefan Kuc, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, the motion for a European Parliament resolution on Parliament’s estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2009 tabled by Mr Lewandowski, together with the preliminary draft budget, reconciles the achievement of Parliament’s tasks in that year − the tasks imposed by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament elections, the new Members’ Statute, buildings policy, the improvement of services for MEPs, energy saving, and so on – with further budget savings. What has always been said about the EU budget as a whole – that you cannot do more for less money – has now proved possible. The know-how and enormous experience of Mr Lewandowski and the rest of us, plus excellent cooperation with the Bureau, has worked a miracle. My group will be voting in favour of the motion for a resolution.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Mr President, on 21 April the Bureau adopted preliminary draft estimates totalling over EUR 1.5 billion for the cost of the European Parliament. 2009 will see the impact of the Lisbon Treaty – if indeed it is ratified by all Member States.

We were told that the Lisbon Treaty – in fact, the European Constitution by another name – was just a tidying-up exercise which would simplify the workings of Parliament. But EUR 2 million is being asked for by officials to cover the additional costs that will be created by the Treaty and 65 new jobs will be required in Parliament alone to help political groups understand it. This is all being approved before the Treaty is ratified in Britain and before the people of Ireland have had their say in a referendum.

Of course, Parliament has already decided that it will ignore the decision of the Irish people if they vote ‘no’, and, in order to encourage the Irish to vote ‘yes’, the EU has promised Ireland another EUR 332 million in funding. Let us hope that the Irish do not hold their freedom so cheap. But as that great Englishman, Ken Dodd, once remarked, every cloud has a silver lining, plus VAT.

The report notes that there is an additional need for more money for the Visitors’ Centre. I have always thought that the more visitors that come to Parliament and see the great talking shop and legislative sausage-machine in action, the more they will turn against it.

If every European citizen could see the chaotic and shambolic way in which legislation is voted on in this Parliament, then there would be a party like the UK Independence Party in every EU Member State. That, at least, would be money well spent.

 
  
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  Margaritis Schinas (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, I think we have made a very good start on the parliamentary budget for 2009. It is a realistic and politically astute start because it should not be forgotten that 2009 is an election year.

I believe the plan we are discussing today has three plus points that allow us to talk of a good start.

The first is discipline. Contrary to what we hear from the Eurosceptics, this is the third successive year that the European Parliament has kept below the 20% administrative cost limit. Parliament has disproved extreme European views by functioning in a disciplined, rational manner.

Secondly, human resources reflect for the first time our increased need for co-decision under the new Treaty. We have an organisational structure that is transparent and clear-cut.

The third positive aspect is the buildings policy. I think we should be generous here. When it comes to removing asbestos, we should be aware that we cannot put a cost on safety; price is irrelevant. We must therefore be generous and act wisely. Every one of us here as well as our fellow civil servants must work in an environment where health and safety in the workplace are guaranteed.

Of course, this is only the start; we are not ready yet and first reading will take place in the autumn. I think the excellent cooperation between the Committee on Budgets and the Presidency on these matters should continue. We expect the Presidency to stay in direct contact with us in order to give the forthcoming stages of first and second reading a truly sound basis.

 
  
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  Vladimír Maňka (PSE). – (SK) I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on this excellent report. This budget is specific in the way that it has to take several important new realities into consideration: ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, European Parliament elections, and introduction of the new status for Members of the European Parliament and, I believe, for assistants, too. However, we must also consider and set effective parameters for a property policy, including maintenance and environmental protection costs. In order to make the right decisions we need a long-term strategy in this area, which we will be able to consider as early as next month.

Our main task is to prepare good legislation. The proposed knowledge management system, interpreting and translation services, and the library analytical service will ensure higher quality services and save resources. That is another reason why we should have all the necessary analyses available to us before the first reading of the budget, so that we can prove to our citizens that we are using their money in a responsible way.

 
  
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  Jan Mulder (ALDE). – (NL) Just like many other people, I also think there should be a statute for MEPs’ assistants as soon as possible. It could save us a lot of trouble in the future.

I should like to say something about the buildings. When we bought several buildings in Strasbourg some years ago, whether or not they contained asbestos was very important. An expert inspection was carried out and revealed that there was asbestos in the buildings – that was true of all buildings built at that time – but it was definitely not dangerous. We bought the buildings on that basis. There was never any suggestion that we would have to remove the asbestos as quickly as possible.

I therefore think that the administration is on the wrong track in asking for that now, because if it has to be done, Strasbourg council should pay for it. Whilst there is uncertainty on that point, I do not think we should start removing asbestos from the buildings at Parliament’s expense. We need to clarify the position with Strasbourg city council first, because they must pay for it.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, I wish to make three points.

First, if the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified by all Member States, 2009 will be the first year in which Parliament will operate on the basis of that Treaty. Not only will the European Parliament have greater powers, it will also be obliged to consult the parliaments of the Member States with respect to proposed legislation. That will certainly mean a considerable increase in operating costs, with the employment of more staff, greater expenditure on expert opinions and consultation, etc.

Second, the year 2009 will see new elections to Parliament, and especially the introduction of the new Members’ Statute, which will undoubtedly involve a considerable increase in Parliament’s expenditure.

Third and last, experts estimate that the average annual inflation rate in the EU in 2009 will be around 4%, which will result in an appreciable increase in Parliament’s administrative costs.

I trust all these factors will be taken into account in preparing the final draft of the European Parliament’s budget.

 
  
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  Valdis Dombrovskis (PPE-DE).(LV) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, with regard to the European Parliament’s 2009 budget estimate, first of all I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on the fact that his rigorous approach to budget expenditure has been proved right and the European Parliament’s total level of expenditure next year will not exceed 20% of total EU administrative expenditure. Thus, regardless of the changes to the European Parliament’s work expected in 2009 – pursuant to the Lisbon Treaty, this will include a growing volume of legislative work, a change in the system of remuneration for MEPs, as well as a public information campaign in connection with the European Parliament elections – the total amount of expenditure will remain within the bounds previously set. Within the context of the 2009 budget we should also properly evaluate the return on individual ambitious projects. Firstly, there is talk about the European Parliament’s web TV project. In order to assess the usefulness of this and similar projects, we ought to aggregate data on the popularity of the European Parliament’s web TV and find out how many viewers are in fact attracted through these multi-million investments. In relation to the European Parliament’s communication policy and the expected public information campaign, greater weight should be placed on decentralised communication through Parliament’s information offices in the Member States. Communication with citizens of the various Member States takes place more effectively by this means than when it is centralised. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Brigitte Douay (PSE) . – (FR) Mr President, once again in this budget debate thanks must go to Mr Lewandowski for his very well balanced report. And once again I would remind you what an important year 2009 will be for European democracy: with both a new Parliament and a new Commission taking office, it will be a key year in terms of our institutions’ communication with the public.

However, in order that members of the public should feel interested in, and affected by, European issues and should turn out en masse to vote, communication emanating from the different institutions will have to be consistent and clear. With that in mind and in the interests of greater efficiency, close cooperation among the three main institutions that are engaged in communication – either directly or on a decentralised basis through their representations in the Member States – is of the utmost importance with elections just a year away.

Such is the thinking behind Amendment 2 to Mr Lewandowski’s report, which my group has tabled. Our aim is to be more citizen-friendly and that is a matter of real concern to all of us here in this House.

 
  
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  Ville Itälä (PPE-DE). – (FI) Mr President, I wish to thank the rapporteur, Mr Lewandowski, for doing an excellent job, and I would like to focus attention on a few points.

Firstly, I would like to say something about the regime for assistants. I am in favour of what the rapporteur has proposed. He states here that this is an important issue and it must ultimately be resolved as a result of this report.

Now I want to turn to the issue of the asbestos problem which has been discussed here. Before any financing is granted it needs to be established who is responsible and how much money will actually be needed. There also needs to be a clear plan as to how to proceed. It is quite obvious that we cannot work in a building where, incredibly, we find there is asbestos after we have bought it.

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that there has been talk about an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) for a long time now, although there are no clear plans regarding it. I also hope that the majority in Parliament have clearly decided that the administration should draft a proposal that we invest in more environmentally friendly vehicles for everyday use here in Parliament, but there are no plans yet for this either.

 
  
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  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL). – (FI) Mr President, I approve of Mr Lewandowski’s report in principle, but we are abstaining because Parliament’s budget will not be voted on in its final form until the autumn and Parliament’s first draft budget is unsatisfactory. Our experience shows that by the autumn it will be clearer and so we cannot as yet adopt a position on the final wording, which will not be presented until then.

On a positive note I would like to draw attention to the statement by Secretary General Rømer, who said that travel expenses during the next parliamentary term will be paid entirely on the basis of genuine costs, and that no interim or temporary solutions will apply.

I agree with the criticism made by Mr Mulder regarding the Strasbourg building programme: in our view it will be a swindle if we have to carry out renovations due to asbestos.

 
  
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  Janusz Lewandowski, rapporteur. − (PL) Mr President, in the first place, transparency in the rules governing the remuneration of parliamentary assistants that were are trying to achieve ought not to be an area for haggling and conflict among the political groups: it is the joint responsibility of Parliament as a whole, which will be asking next year for a renewed vote of confidence. Secondly, the climate of trust between us and the Bureau will be all the better, the more frequently and more fully we are informed in advance of undertakings with financial implications. Thirdly, the purpose of our work on the budget is precisely to prepare for the most likely scenario in the coming year. Where there is uncertainty, the answer is a budget reserve, and that applies also to uncertainty with respect to the Lisbon Treaty and its impact.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow, 20 May 2008.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE) , in writing. – (FR) The purpose of the report before us today is for our institution to state its position on the estimated budget for the European Parliament for 2009.

It will be a crucial year: a year in which Parliament will be renewed; a year that will also see significant changes in the statutes for MEPs and their assistants; and, above all, the first year in which the Lisbon Treaty will be in force, giving our institution extra responsibility and the extra work that goes with it.

I wish to support the draft estimates that the Bureau has submitted. Taking account of the increased financial requirements Parliament will face, these draft estimates keep us below the threshold of 20% of expenditure under heading 5. Our administration must pursue its rationalisation drive with a view to further optimising our efficiency, notably through staff redeployment.

I would add that an impact analysis is being carried out of the needs that will be generated when the simplified treaty comes into force, and that adjustment of the estimates will be possible until the first-reading vote on the budget in the autumn.

 

22. Trade in raw materials and commodities (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0134/2008) by Mr Holm, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, on trade in raw materials and commodities (2008/2051(INI)).

 
  
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  Jens Holm, rapporteur. − (SV) Ladies and gentlemen, first a big thank you to all the shadow rapporteurs for their close cooperation.

We have all seen pictures of the scenes precipitated by the recent food shortages. Agricultural prices, not least for foods, have shot up over a very short period. This has come as a mortal blow to many developing countries which are heavily dependent on food imports and were already living on the margins. Let us hope that this report on international trade in raw materials will help to remedy some of these problems. After all we have committed ourselves to eradicating hunger and poverty in signing up to the so-called Millennium Goals. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently warned that the increased food prices were jeopardising the most important objective of the Millennium Goals, namely to halve poverty in the world. So it is high time that urgent measures were taken.

In particular, the recent food crisis has shown that food is not just any raw material. If such an elementary requirement as to ensure that people are fed cannot even be met, the rhetoric on development is not worth much. We should therefore be careful in making food an international trade commodity like any other. The world’s developing countries have even been forced to deregulate their food policy and switch from production for national needs to export production. This is the policy of the IMF, the World Bank, the USA and the EU as well, which have all imposed these demands. By abolishing protective tariffs and subsidies many developing countries have become extremely vulnerable to heavy fluctuations in food and raw material prices. Take Haiti, for example, which was previously self-sufficient in rice. In 1995 the International Monetary Fund forced that country to reduce its rice tariffs. State-subsidised rice from the USA flooded in, and local production collapsed. Today three quarters of all rice consumed in Haiti is imported from the USA.

I hope that this report can give us tools to deal with the problems and challenges posed by the uncertain trade in raw materials. The matters we focus on in the report include support to the developing countries in diversifying their economies, so that they can break free from a situation in which they only export one or two raw materials and move towards more advanced production patterns involving more highly processed products. We also highlight the importance of flexibility in development policy. It must allow scope for these countries to develop possibilities and economic policy instruments, for example, to support the development of their domestic agriculture. We also demand that the European Commission review the finance scheme FLEX, the purpose of which is to stabilise prices of raw materials. We also address the equality dimension in raw materials trade, or rather the lack of one. It is immensely important that we always take account of the gender issue in the negotiation of international trade agreements.

This report also takes account of fair trade. Fair trade can be used as a tool in supporting small-scale producers in developing countries and in stepping up pressure for the raising of social and environmental standards in these countries. We call on all the EU’s institutions to apply the principle of fair trade in their public tenders and purchasing policies.

We also take issue with the growing consumption of animal products, i.e. increasing demand for meat and dairy products, which is in turn boosting demand for grain to feed animals instead of human beings.

A great many other matters are also covered. Finally I have to say that this work has exposed the true face of the EU. While on our side we have sought to address the needs and circumstances of the developing countries, European industry, with help from its representatives in the European Parliament, has endeavoured to switch the focus to the short-term commercial interest of business organisations in having stable access to cheap raw materials.

I urge everyone to approve the amendments tabled by the Left, Socialist and Green Groups. Amendments 20 and 21 are particularly important. In that way we can balance the report so that we get a stronger development dimension.

 
  
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  Janez Potočnik, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I should like to thank Parliament for giving us the opportunity to discuss access to raw materials, which is an issue that is high on the European Union agenda, especially in the light of our competitiveness agenda. Let me first thank the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs for the report, which embraces numerous areas such as climate change, poverty alleviation and development.

Development is indeed a key issue in this context. I will therefore briefly touch on development issues, before addressing our concerns and actions regarding the proliferation of measures restricting access to raw materials.

The fight for poverty alleviation and development, as well as food security, is high on the Commission’s agenda. You are well aware that the European Union is the world’s largest donor of development funding. Also in the specific field of raw materials, the Commission has undertaken several development-oriented programmes: for instance, through FLEX, the Commission supports developing countries’ national budgets, where there has been a drop in export-related fiscal revenue.

The Commission also promotes the transparent management of tax revenues generated by the exploitation of raw materials and natural resources through several initiatives such as EITI, the Kimberley Process and the FLEGT programme. Let me also refer to our Everything But Arms programme, which grants duty-free access to imports of all products from least developed countries (except arms), allowing them to diversify their exports.

Let me now turn to our key concern, which is from the trade perspective. It takes two to trade. We need to import and we need to export. It is therefore critical to ensure that access to raw materials in third countries is free from unjustified distortions such as quotas, export duties and export bans.

Today, unfortunately, this is not the case. On the contrary, third countries’ appetite to impose export restrictions is increasing. Our specific concerns are those imposed by some key emerging economies as part of their aggressive industrial policy objectives. Let me underline that we are not focusing on poorer developing economies but rather on large emerging economies.

Measures imposed by these countries result in distorted competition at global level which damages European industry. Unfortunately, the size of the problem is growing. By now at least 20 countries have put in place measures affecting exports of importance to the European Union. We have counted over 450 restrictions affecting various raw materials. Most, if not all, European industrial sectors are concerned, directly or indirectly.

What can be done? The work carried out so far shows that there is no quick-fix solution even if the elimination of export restrictions is high on our agenda already, be it in bilateral free trade agreements or in the World Trade Organisation, but we will do more.

First, it will be important to develop an overall strategy for access to raw materials. In this respect, the Commission is working on a communication which will include an important trade component. Any such strategy evidently should fully and coherently take up all policy areas, including critical issues such as food security, development and the environment.

All means will have to be used to their maximum. A sustainable and coherent policy on access to raw materials would therefore combine: firstly, negotiations securing international commitments in the WTO and bilateral context; secondly, enforcement of WTO rules and existing agreements; and thirdly soft measures such as dialogue and alliance-building. While none of these elements is new, it is their combination and their coherent use which will determine their strength. This will be discussed at a conference with stakeholders later this year.

Considering the importance of access to raw materials, the Commission welcomes the discussions in Parliament on this issue. The Commission particularly welcomes the amendments to the first draft of the report. The report now highlights more clearly the significance of this issue. It proposes ways to tackle this issue in a constructive manner, such as enforcement of agreements and negotiations with partner countries. We stand ready to fully cooperate with Parliament in designing and implementing our further strategy.

 
  
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  Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I am pleased that you have made yourself available today, Mr Potočnik. Commissioner Mandelson, we note, has once again opted to travel to some important conference in another part of the world instead of discussing key issues for European industry policy with us in Parliament. Imagine my delight, then, at hearing you present the subject far better and with far greater clarity and vision than our Trade Commissioner could ever have done.

I am very pleased with the outcome of our deliberations in committee, for I am afraid that the rapporteur, in his original draft, for all the good points he made about the developing countries, entirely lost sight of the interests of European industry. In the Committee on International Trade we inserted a new first part of the report dealing with the interests of our industry policy. The nature of those interests, indeed, has become crystal-clear. We must focus sharply on securing the supply of raw materials to European industry. As the Commissioner rightly said, we are experiencing major difficulties in this respect.

In the WTO framework we urgently need better rules designed to outlaw, as far as possible, trade-distorting measures such as export duties. We need free access to raw materials in the world market. It is intolerable that countries such as China should misuse raw materials as a political tool.

We must do everything possible, not only in multilateral negotiations but also in our bilateral negotiations, to safeguard genuine open access to markets in raw materials. The fact that the Commission gave way in the talks on Ukraine’s accession to the WTO and accepted a degree of leeway for the imposition of export duties is intolerable and sets a bad example. Our acceptance of dual pricing in connection with Saudi Arabia’s accession to the WTO, an arrangement that has caused severe difficulties for our European petrochemical industry, was also intolerable. Nor am I very hopeful when I see what is happening at the present time with regard to Russia’s accession to the WTO, and I would like the Commission to take great care to ensure that no more trade-distorting measures are introduced.

May I reiterate my sincere thanks to all my fellow committee members for this report. I hope that we do not change it too much in tomorrow’s plenary vote.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS MORGANTINI
Vice-President

 
  
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  Francisco Assis, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) I would like to begin by congratulating the rapporteur. The problems currently arising in access to raw materials are largely a result of a structural change in their respective markets which is related to changes in the international economy.

The raw materials market used to develop in a cyclical manner, going from periods of extreme shortage to periods of scarcity, and sometimes achieving a balance. We now seem to be facing a new situation of structural shortage which is largely the result of a sudden increase in demand triggered by rapid progress in industrialisation and urbanisation in several emerging countries.

It is clear that efforts must be made in the appropriate fora, particularly the World Trade Organisation, to achieve consensus with a view to facilitating access to raw materials. This must not allow us to lose sight of another essential issue, however: we now have a new situation in these markets which arises in both foodstuffs and energy. In the European Union, therefore, we major raw materials importers have to view this issue with special concern. On the one hand we have to consider the impact it may have throughout the world, since it could lead to excessive pressure on raw materials consumption with very negative environmental and economic and social organisation consequences in the developing countries, while on the other we also have to look at our own situation and understand our own difficulties.

This raises two seemingly fundamental questions. One is linked to the need for us to review our own economic development model, because it is incompatible with a situation in which raw materials are over-exploited. The other suggests that we should lay greater stress on applied scientific research to ensure greater innovation, to promote the recycling of raw materials and to find new answers for the new problems this structural shortage is creating for us.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Nature has distributed its riches − the raw materials under the ground, the foodstuffs and trees on the earth’s surface and the fish in the waters − unevenly across the globe. Human needs are the same, but meeting those needs requires solidarity in the exploitation of resources and in their distribution through international trade. The Holm report has much to say on the subject. I wish to stress a few points, following on from Mr Caspary.

First, rational exploitation of limited resources. I repeat: limited resources.

Second, protection of raw materials against confiscation, against the neo-colonial expropriation of poor countries, especially in Africa. We have no transparency regarding the trade in such materials engaged in by China and certain other countries.

Third, the purpose of trade in such raw materials should be the development of poor countries. That is our main aim. The benefits must go to the inhabitants, not just to representatives of the authorities or big international companies.

Fourth, EU raw materials policy must ensure that the Union does not become a hostage, for example, to Russia in the case of gas, and perhaps in future to Brazil in the case of sugar.

Fifth, all partners share absolute responsibility with regard to the exploitation of maritime resources. As we know, several species of fish are threatened with extinction, just like the forests of Asia and Amazonia.

In conclusion, Madam President, the watchword for free and fair trade must be responsibility in the exploitation of limited natural resources, so that future generations can have access to the raw materials necessary for human existence. Similarly, poor countries must be helped to develop the technology required for the production of basic foodstuffs. And in that respect Europe can do a great deal.

 
  
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  Marusya Ivanova Lyubcheva (PSE). – (BG) Madam President, Commissioner, bearing in mind the role played by trade in our globalizing world, we need to support the efforts to promote fair trade, and all initiatives which contribute to sustainable economic development.

Prices of raw materials affect market developments and in a number of cases have an aggravating effect on economic development, particularly in countries where deposits of raw materials are scarce. This affects the overall market situation, and the availability of raw materials.

The expected high oil and electricity prices can and should be dealt with through effective technologies in both extraction and processing of raw materials. This effectiveness and the implementation of innovations, as well as maintaining a strong research sector determine the level of success in improving the market situation and strength, in enhancing diversification and energy security.

In terms of agricultural trade, attention should focus on relaxing the pressure on producers caused by the imbalance between farmgate purchase prices of agricultural produce and their retail price levels. This distorts the market but it also indicates that the market has its social cost.

 
  
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  Glyn Ford (PSE). – Madam President, it is a pleasure to speak on Mr Holm’s report on trade in raw materials and commodities. Last month I had the privilege of attending, on behalf of Parliament, the UNCTAD XII Conference in Accra. From that conference there came a cry for help for the world’s poor.

Escalating food prices are increasingly leading to rioting on the streets, and we need a fresh approach if we are to deal with this situation. The new crisis threatens to kill more in a day than have died from terrorism in the six years since 9/11. Politicians and governments may not yet have noticed, but the world’s poor are seeing their children increasingly go hungry. The impact will be particularly acute in Africa, where commodity prices have more than doubled in the last 12 months and continue to soar owing to speculation, shortages and changing patterns of production. The root causes are growing demand from East Asia and the supply consequences of a failure to invest in agriculture. Climate change, written in the language of floods, droughts and record-breaking temperatures, is only making the situation worse, particularly for the world’s poorest. It is therefore my hope that we adopt this resolution.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE).(EL) Madam President, access to raw materials is of truly vital importance for the European economy and competitiveness. This is especially so because the EU depends to a large extent on imports of raw materials from third countries.

Pulling down the barriers that third countries have placed in the way of EU access to raw materials markets must be a priority. This is true of the current WTO negotiations and in those under way for bilateral free-trade agreements.

Lastly, Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that support mechanisms and a transfer of know-how to the developing countries are necessary in order to enable viable, transparent management of the use of raw materials and natural resources.

 
  
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  Stavros Arnaoutakis (PSE).(EL) Madam President, Commissioner, it goes without saying that the competitiveness of our European businesses depends to a large extent on the supply of raw materials. We therefore need an integrated strategy today to ensure access to world markets. This will help to secure international cooperation, legitimate competition, fair trade and respect for restrictions based on serious development incentives in less-developed countries. It will also help to promote investment in environmentally friendly technology research and development and in recycling.

Our aim must be the sustainable development of the EU, as well as solidarity with the world’s poorest countries.

 
  
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  Brian Crowley (UEN). – Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for the work he has done on this report. There are three key elements that I see.

First of all there is global competition for the raw materials and commodities. We have to realise at European level that we have to be better placed to do bilateral agreements and bilateral deals if we want to succeed in getting access to these commodities.

Obviously the issue of the world trade talks is very important with regard to the long-term developments, but further leverage can be gained through our economic partnerships with the developing world. I would also caution that the giving-up of certain rights under the world trade talks for short-term access to raw materials and commodities could be to the detriment of a lot of our industry in the European Union and in particular to our agriculture.

Finally, as our previous colleague said, fairness is the most important consideration of all. We have to invest now in the developing-world countries to allow them to succeed – not just this year and next year because of the high price of oil and gas, but in 20 years’ time. That should be linked to investment in their countries in education and health care for their people, to stop further problems all along the line.

 
  
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  Janez Potočnik, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, I would like to thank the honourable Members for their interventions. They have been quite clear on the challenges we face. It is also quite clear, on the one hand, that we have to ensure the balanced development of our work, thus focusing especially on the poorer countries and establishing the fairness that Mr Crowley talked about; on the other hand, we also have to secure fair trade rules for access by our industry to raw materials. It is a fact that the European Union is a net importer of raw materials and that it will remain so.

We are now facing stronger competition on our supply markets, as well as rising prices owing to heightened competition from a number of emerging economies. At the same time, those emerging economies are raising barriers to access to their raw materials, thereby distorting competition. Fair access to raw materials under transparent conditions is therefore an essential part of the equation in our global competitiveness strategy.

The Commission’s intention in the years to come is to use all the available instruments to maintain a sustainable supply of raw materials for our industries. In doing so, it will pursue a comprehensive and balanced strategy. As Parliament rightly emphasises, that strategy must take into account not only the interests of our industries and our competitiveness, but also the interests of the poorer countries.

As regards the development angle, we must, and will, make a distinction between, on the one hand, justified measures maintained by poorer developing countries, such as export taxes, which are indispensable for those countries’ budgets and, on the other hand, measures imposed by emerging economies as part of their industrial policy and which distort competition on world markets.

I appreciate Mr Assis’ comment on R&D commitments, which also need to be increased in this connection. I would like to thank Parliament for supporting us on this policy. We will keep you informed on the further implementation of our strategy.

 
  
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  Jens Holm, rapporteur. − (SV) Commissioner Potočnik, we look forward to the communication from the Commission and the conference. It is good that you intend to take up the issues of food security, development and the environment.

Francisco Assis, I entirely agree with you that we need to review our model of economic development.

Zbigniew Zaleski, I agree that trade must not amount to a kind of neocolonial theft of raw materials from developing countries. I therefore call on Zbigniew Zaleski and everyone else to be sure to back Amendments 20 and 21. Please study them carefully.

Look as well at Amendment 26, which deals with biofuels. In that, we call for environmental and social standards to be imposed in respect of biofuels. It is a major problem that more and more grain is used to produce meat, in other words we are feeding grain to animals, but at the same time more and more grain is being used to produce fuel for our cars.

This is a call to the Commission – we want measures to reduce private motoring and meat consumption so that we have more grain to feed people!

In the report we demand urgent measures to deal with climate change. Trade must also bear its responsibility. We must reduce all unnecessary emissions and reduce transport. A considerable amount of trade involves products which could just as easily be produced locally. We need to facilitate trade in ‘green goods’ and smart environmental technology. If we do not do so and trade does not bear its responsibility, we shall soon have no raw materials left to trade with and we shall then have no food left to eat either. It is immensely important that we take our climate responsibility seriously!

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday 20 May 2008.

 

23. Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0145/2008) by Mrs Locatelli, on behalf of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, on the proposal for a Council regulation setting up the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (COM(2007)0571 - C6-0446/2007 - 2007/0211(CNS)).

 
  
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  Janez Potočnik, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, first and foremost, I wish to express my gratitude to Parliament and particularly to the rapporteur, Pia Locatelli, and also to Teresa Riera Madurell, who will be replacing her, for supporting our proposal for setting up the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking.

Let me also thank each of the shadow rapporteurs for their constructive support, as well as the Committee on Budgets for its opinion.

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking will have two founding members: the Industry Grouping and the Community. Private industry has established the Industry Grouping, and its members represent a major share of Europe’s fuel cell and hydrogen companies, such as car manufacturers, energy providers, developers of fuel cells and developers of their applications. All sizes of companies are represented – from micro to multinationals.

The cooperation between the Commission and industry during the preparation of the regulation has clearly shown the strong driving force of the industry concerned. The assurance from the public side to provide stable funding on a long-term basis will provide additional confidence. As a result, we can expect a commitment of considerable additional resources from the private sector.

In addition to the two founding members of the Joint Undertaking, universities, research centres and other research organisations are presently establishing a Research Grouping that is expected to become the third member of the Joint Undertaking. Representation of the Research Grouping on the Joint Undertaking Governing Board was considered necessary owing to the importance of fundamental research to this Joint Technology Initiative (JTI).

In total, it has been estimated that the creation of this JTI will speed up, by up to five years, the delivery of robust hydrogen supply and fuel cell technologies, developed to the point of commercial take-off within the time-frame 2010-2020.

I also want to mention its relevance to our efforts in the area of energy technology acceleration, as this JTI is a very interesting model for some of the industrial initiatives that we have proposed be set up under the Strategic Energy Technology Plan.

The opinion of Parliament includes a number of very pertinent suggestions for amendments. One example is the underlining of the importance of breakthrough research. Fundamental research will be included in the R&D programme, and that will increase the probability of achieving progress and success.

Another example is clarification of the participation of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in the activities of the Joint Undertaking. The JRC has wide competence in several areas that are of importance, and its strong future involvement will strengthen the Joint Undertaking’s research.

Both the Council and the Commission look forward to receiving your input and opinion, as everyone is eager to move ahead and start implementing this important initiative without delay.

 
  
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  President. − Mrs Locatelli should really have spoken now, being the rapporteur, but she had nominated Mrs Madurell as her replacement; however I do not yet see Mrs Madurell and we are very sorry that she is not here.

I will therefore proceed directly to those speaking on behalf of the groups.

 
  
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  Jan Březina, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Madam President, first of all I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mrs Locatelli, for her very thorough and detailed work on this report, which deals with one of the main strategic technologies for our energy future.

I really welcome the initiative of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology Platform, the key player in achieving success. The concept of JTIs was introduced in the Seventh Framework Programme as a new mechanism to implement long-term, public-private partnership in research at European level. Up to now, four JTIs have been set up in the field of innovative medicines, embedded systems and so on. With this proposal, the fifth JTI will be set up in the field of fuel cells and hydrogen.

Faced with challenges such as electricity security, energy dependency and the often discussed mitigation of climate change, the EU needs to boost the development and deployment of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies. Fuel cells and hydrogen technologies have the potential to contribute significantly towards these goals. The non-existence of a joint European strategy has until now disqualified Europe from keeping up with the Asian countries and the United States.

As regards amendments, I support those which have been tabled in order to strengthen the proposal and to provide coherence with the other JTIs. From my own experience and communication with SMEs, I especially support amendments that put more emphasis on the innovative potential of SMEs and the specific barriers that they encounter, for example in reduced access to research infrastructure. They also need to stress the importance of breakthrough-oriented research. As was mentioned in the Implementation Plan, especially in the early stages research should form an important element of the activities of the JTIs.

In my view, this joint initiative of the public and private sector is the right path to take in order to become more competitive with the USA and other countries which have a tradition and development strategy for hydrogen research.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău, on behalf of the PSE group. – (RO) I would also like to congratulate the Rapporteur and emphasize the importance of this document. This initiative is extremely important for the research activity. Unfortunately, often funds are insufficient or sometimes inadequately used. The maximum contribution of the European Community to the administrative expenses of this joint undertaking will be 470 million euros. It is possible to provide new funds after 2013 as well, but only for the projects for which a financing agreement is signed by 31 December 2013.

I would like to emphasize the fact that this joint undertaking is extremely useful because it implements and is part of the Framework Programme for Research especially in the field of energy and transport, including aeronautics. I believe this report is extremely important because it co-ordinately supports the research and technological development activities and this initiative will also support the implementation of research priorities in the field of communications and information technology regarding fuel cells and hydrogen, but it will also encourage and increase public and private investment in fuel cells and hydrogen research in the Member States and associated countries.

 
  
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  Vladko Todorov Panayotov, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (BG) Europe needs to overcome climate change and ensure security of supply of natural resources. With prices of raw materials and finished goods constantly on the rise, this task is proving to be extremely difficult.

There is a solution, and it lies with new technology which will bring a preventive decrease in green house gas emissions on the one hand, and a more efficient use and savings of raw materials, on the other. This is a way for Europe to be the leader in overcoming global warming and retaining its competitiveness on the global market of raw materials. This requires increased investment in research and new technology, taking into account the potential of each and every Member State.

New technology, hydrogen technology and fuel cell development in particular, will play a key role in overcoming the shortage of energy resources, as well as in environmental protection and meeting the targets set in the Kyoto Protocol. We should consider, however, that these technologies demand the use of metals such as platinum, paladium, gold, which are integral in the design of the new devices and equipment. Only if we implement new, highly efficient and environmentally safe methods to extract and recover these metals, we can have the effective and sustainable development of hydrogen technology and fuel cell development.

Putting a joint undertaking in place should integrate the efforts of all countries which have experience in both the direct development of hydrogen technology and fuel cells, and in developing technologies for the sustainable and environmentally-friendly extraction of the necessary raw materials. It is necessary to encourage these developments in new Member States which have extensive experience in those areas, such as Bulgaria, which has research teams that have been working on such projects for many years now, and have achieved considerable success.

 
  
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  Zdzisław Kazimierz Chmielewski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, it is hard to disagree with an attempt to establish suitable rules for a joint undertaking in the field of fuel cells and hydrogen technology. Mrs Locatelli’s interesting report describes this initiative as a promising example of a public-private partnership for the implementation of a joint technological initiative. Yet in the opinion I have before me, the Council confirms the enormous complexity of the technological challenge involved in the practical application of such cells. The experts are facing an immeasurably difficult task in finding avenues for research that would guarantee a successful outcome. Some scientists, for example, predict the emergence of significant limitations to the practical application of fuel cells. If we accept that hydrogen is only an energy carrier, we must remember that its practical application, in fuel cells for example, requires on each occasion the use of other energy sources for its production. If we overcome that difficulty, further difficulties lie in store, if only the need to find suitable technologies for storing and transporting hydrogen.

I draw attention to this issue with a view to further legislative work on the text on which the European Parliament is delivering its opinion. Let me put it bluntly, and not as some marginal comment: my chief expert says this approach will not succeed.

 
  
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  Janez Potočnik, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, I should like to thank the honourable Members for their comments. I would also like to say that in introducing the Joint Technology Initiatives we are truly starting out with a new concept. I sincerely hope that it works, because this new approach should be instrumental in bringing some new realities to Europe.

What we are introducing is actually a move from financing projects to financing programmes, and stronger support in the private-public partnership, and I mean ‘private-public’ partnership, because it is clear that initiatives and strategic research agendas are coming from technology platforms which have formed the basis for these Joint Technology Initiatives. Working together is a must, and what I am seeing in these Joint Technology Initiatives is groupings actually coming together on a European Union scale. Some of the major competitors in Europe are coming together so that, in this pre-competitive phase, they are able to pool their knowledge and strengthen Europe on the global map.

I would also like to say, in this context, that this specific technology initiative is extremely important because it relates to the energy sector, and every day we are reminded of the importance of that sector.

One of the most important objectives of the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) is to accelerate the development and implementation of low-carbon technologies. I know that you are working on your opinion on the SET Plan, and am very much looking forward to hearing your views. As I said earlier, The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen JTI is an interesting model for other areas and will certainly become part of the SET Plan, once it is be approved.

Hopefully we will see the difference this makes in the future. One last thing I would like to mention, as I do not know whether the interpretation was correct, is that the European Commission will contribute up to EUR 470 million for the six years this Joint Technology Initiative is to be implemented and, of course, expects that figure to be doubled by the private sector, which will also contribute to this endeavour.

 
  
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  President. − Mrs Madurell is certainly not here, but I am sure that the rapporteur, Mrs Locatelli, will be in touch because what the Commisioner said is extremely important.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12 noon.

Written statements (Article 142)

 
  
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  Péter Olajos (PPE-DE) , in writing. – (HU) Over the past fifty years the population of the world has doubled, while energy consumption has quadrupled. For this reason, there is no other option but to welcome the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and provide all possible support for its establishment.

I understand Mrs Haug’s concerns about the financing of the Joint Undertaking, but financial issues cannot be allowed stand in the way of this initiative. The key words are innovation and change of lifestyle. This, however, costs money, but on the other hand it will bring returns. In modern economies, innovation accounts for 70-80% of annual GDP growth.

Why should we invest in hydrogen? Because it is an intermediate source of energy. ‘Supplies’ cannot run out; it is the most abundant element in the universe. It can only be considered an alternative to fossil fuels, however, if we can produce it from renewable energy sources at a competitive price, without emitting carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the process.

In Canada and the USA, the importance of hydrogen was recognised as far back as 2002. Over there, several hundreds of thousands of ‘eco-vehicles’ are already on the road, and the number of filling stations with hydrogen pumps is steadily increasing. In the European Union, around eighteen thousand eco-friendly vehicles are in operation, while the number of hydrogen pumps available is not even worth mentioning.

If we are to avoid the ultimate collapse, we cannot hold back support for this technology and fuel; we must take action. I would like to use this opportunity to invite my fellow Members to my Greenovation conference, scheduled to take place in Parliament next week, on the afternoon of 28 May. Following the discussions, participants will have the chance to take a ride in a hydrogen-powered bus or car.

 

24. Community Tobacco Fund (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0164/2008) by Mr Berlato, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003 as regards the transfer of tobacco aid to the Community Tobacco Fund for the years 2008 and 2009 and Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 with regard to financing of the Community Tobacco Fund (COM(2008)0051 - C6-0062/2008 - 2008/0020(CNS)).

 
  
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  Sergio Berlato, rapporteur. − (IT) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the aim of the Commission proposal is basically to continue deducting 5% of the tobacco aid granted for the calendar years 2008 and 2009 and to use those funds to continue financing the Community Tobacco Fund, whose sole purpose is to finance information initiatives for improving European citizens’ awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco consumption.

First of all, I think it would be appropriate to highlight a few objective terms of reference. The transfer of CAP aid to the Fund is a rare and positive example of integration and cooperation between the agriculture and health policies of the European Union. Since the activities of the Fund are important for the citizens of the Union, and will continue to be important in the future, as the Commission has underlined, we consider that its continued financial support is necessary for 2007 and for 2009.

The deduction from coupled aid granted to farmers has always been the sole source of financing of the Community Tobacco Fund. The financial basis of this deduction was substantially reduced with the reform of the tobacco CMO and by the decision of some Member States to opt for complete decoupling, thereby completely depriving the Fund of the income from those deductions. It is necessary, by further extending the period of application of the deduction and by increasing its percentage rate, to make sufficient resources available from the Fund to finance programmes without impacting further on the EU budget, at least until the end of the current forecasts, while at the same time seeking other ways of financing the Fund.

One of the positive aspects of the Fund’s financing mechanism is the provision for at least 25% of the total amount of approved projects to be co-financed by proven operators, thus guaranteeing the availability of increased funding. The Committee on Agriculture has frequently considered these questions and maintains its own line, which is to tighten restrictions on smoking and to improve people’s awareness of its harmful effect on human health.

On the other hand, we are fully aware, as stated in Parliament’s legislative resolution of 10 March 2004, that European raw tobacco production, which is now low and concentrated in a few, specific areas of the Union, accounts for less than 4% of world production and has no impact on local consumption of tobacco products.

Although this topic is not central to today’s debate, it is worth remembering that the European Union is the world’s leading importer of raw tobacco and relies for over 70% of its requirements on third countries – principally Brazil, Malawi, Argentina, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, India and China – to the advantage of tobaccos often produced under less closely regulated conditions than European tobacco. This also results in a trade deficit of over EUR 1.2 billion per annum.

On the other hand, Member States where tobacco aid has been completely decoupled have seen, besides the cancellation of transfers to the Fund, the total abandonment of production, without any sustainable alternative in economic or employment terms. This has had very serious adverse effects on the rural areas concerned as a whole and has not led to any change in the local consumption of finished tobacco products.

As regards the proposal to make a deduction in the aid for the calendar year 2008, and bearing in mind that the tobacco cultivation contracts for the 2008 harvest year were concluded some time ago, the Committee on Agriculture considers that approving that proposal could give rise to a whole series of legal actions or, at any event, to a dispute which would ultimately cause serious harm to farmers alone.

Finally, the Committee on Agriculture considers that, by extending the deduction until the harvest year 2012 and increasing the percentage rate of the deduction for the Fund to 6%, there would be enough money to cover actions under the Community Tobacco Fund until the year 2013, and it calls on the Commission to prepare a multiannual programme which, suitably altered in accordance with the amendments proposed here, could draw on EUR 81 million without impacting further on the Union’s budget.

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, first of all I want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Berlato. I was very encouraged by the enthusiasm with which you made your speech tonight. I also wish to thank the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development for the report on the Community Tobacco Fund.

In 2004 the Council adopted the tobacco reform that constrains partly coupled and partly decoupled payments for the tobacco producers in the period between 2006 and 2009. The reform allows a relatively long transitional period because the partly coupled aid can run until 2009. But we have seen – as you have rightly said – Member States that chose to decouple totally from 2006 when the reform entered into force.

The 2004 reform also included the transfer of a percentage of the tobacco aid for the years 2006 and 2007 from the tobacco producers to the Tobacco Fund. The Commission proposal prolongs the transfer of a percentage from the tobacco aid to the Tobacco Fund until the calendar year 2009.

I very much welcome the support for the transfer of part of the tobacco aid into the Community Tobacco Fund. Your report correctly stresses the major importance for the European public of the measures carried out by this fund, aimed at promoting information initiatives on the damage that tobacco can cause.

However, your request to prolong the transitional period until 2012 poses a huge problem. Such an extension of the transitional partly coupled regime is totally against the philosophy of what the Commission will propose tomorrow in its communication on the ‘health check’, which is moving towards more decoupled payment, to give the farmers the freedom to produce what the market wants.

So far as I have been informed, those Member States that decided from the very beginning to decouple totally the payment to tobacco producers did so because it was more profitable for the farmers to leave the sector – perhaps because of the quality of the tobacco, it was more difficult to get a decent price.

It was also agreed in 2004 that 50% of the Community support to the tobacco sector would go into the rural development measures. This will start in the budget year 2011 and go, as an additional Community support, to tobacco-producing regions. It is important to note that it is earmarked for the tobacco-producing regions. On that basis, a yearly amount of EUR 484 million has already been included in the rural development programmes for the 2007-2013 period for those Member States that are covered by the tobacco reform.

Therefore I am quite sure that it can come as no surprise that I cannot propose a prolongation of the transitional partly coupled regime, because of the agreement supported by all tobacco-producing Member States when this package on Mediterranean products was agreed in 2004. However, I am looking forward to a very animated, interesting discussion tonight.

 
  
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  Wiesław Stefan Kuc, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Budgets. − (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, subsidising tobacco production while at the same time combating the smoking of tobacco products has been a subject of controversy for many years. However, the Community Tobacco Fund, which presently takes up 5% of tobacco aid, serves to finance research on countering the effects of smoking, propaganda campaigns and the training of tobacco producers with a view to conversion to other production.

I am the draftsman of the Budget Committee’s opinion on Mr Berlato’s report. The continued financing of the Community Tobacco Fund for the next two years is most appropriate, but it is questionable that the reasons for its existence will disappear after that period, since we know people smoke and will go on smoking. They will smoke whether we in Europe produce tobacco or not. The problem will not disappear even if we stop subsidising tobacco producers. The fund must therefore continue to exist. The only thing that can be changed is the way it is financed.

 
  
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  Ioannis Gklavakis, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (EL) Madam President, I am glad we have the Commissioner here today, for I believe she is a very fair-minded person. Allow me to explain.

First of all, let me point out to my colleague in the Committee on Budgets that we are against smoking and are in favour of a large-scale anti-smoking campaign. However, if people continue to smoke and there is a corresponding demand for tobacco, we do not need to import it from third countries. Let us produce it in Europe.

I congratulate Mr Berlato on his report and fully endorse it. I request that funding should continue from the Community Tobacco Fund. We farmers have gladly accepted the 1% increase in the rate of deduction that goes into the anti-smoking public information fund, Commissioner, although this is money that is taken away from us. We gladly accept this. We ask of you, however, that the tobacco status quo should obtain until 2013.

Commissioner, you are a very fair-minded person. Why should tobacco growers alone be discriminated against? We therefore request that this should be revoked, and that the status quo should obtain until 2013. Furthermore, as you know, tobacco growers in all countries, especially in my own country, are the poorest of our farmers; they often come from the poorest, most degraded regions, where in many cases nothing else can be grown. If we stop this regime and discontinue the aid, these regions will fall prey to desertification and environmental degradation.

I therefore request that the status quo continue to obtain in line with Mr Berlato’s report, his amendments and my own. Knowing that you are a fair-minded person, Commissioner, I believe we can count on your support for our proposal.

 
  
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  Alejandro Cercas, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Madam President, thank you very much, Commissioner, for your presence here. I was talking to the President of my region who has a high opinion of you, and I reaffirm that here today.

Doesn’t this conflict with the reference to Berlato in the final paragraph?. Or have I missed the point?

I am speaking on my own behalf and on behalf of my Group’s shadow rapporteur, Mrs Rosa Miguélez, in support of Mr Berlato, because his seems to be the most rational position.

Mr Berlato’s report deals exclusively with the Community Tobacco Fund, the Community Fund to combat smoking. He asks for more time and more money for this campaign. Therefore, even Members who are against premiums for tobacco should vote for this report, because it aims to extend the time and scope for the fight against tobacco.

However, the word tobacco arouses such strong feelings among many Members of this Parliament that they become confused. They confuse the Community Tobacco Fund with the community premiums and say we are asking to continue the premiums. This is not true. We are talking about the situation of the Fund until 2013.

They confuse production with consumption. The problem in Europe is not production. Europe produces very little tobacco. Europe’s problem is the consumption of tobacco imported from outside Europe.

They confuse tobacco with smoking. It is like confusing alcohol with alcoholism. The plant, which is an agricultural crop, has many uses, including medicinal, whereas smoking is an illness.

If they want to eradicate consumption, they should target their attacks much more on imports, manufacturing, advertising and the massive tobacco industry as a whole, rather than on the poor workers in my country, who only account for 5% of the tobacco smoked in Europe.

Finally, Commissioner, we are not funding tobacco for the sake of it, we are funding tobacco because it creates a lot of jobs, not only among tobacco producers, but throughout the districts concerned. In fact, many tobacco producers want to stop producing because they will earn more without working. However, the districts in question will go under if they lose these thousands of jobs for women and immigrants, as has happened in other areas of Europe.

They are only asking for time, time to reorganise their farms.

Commissioner, thank you very much for your patience and I hope that you will extend your hand not to Mr Berlato, but to the workers who are looking at this Parliament in the hope it will not display double standards. I hope that nobody here will confuse what they would like to see with the real situation, and I also hope that nobody here will put their own interests above the interests of these humble people.

 
  
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  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, I have the impression that the aim here is, as they say in Westphalia, to throw a sausage after a side of bacon, meaning to throw out a herring to catch a whale. In other words, the Tobacco Fund is being used in an attempt to safeguard the coupling of the tobacco premium until 2013. The Fund, which – as we all know – is also used to finance education on the harmful effects of smoking, was introduced here in Parliament to support the actual tobacco premiums, because there was strong opposition to smoking from a majority of MEPs, and many were asking how we could support tobacco-growing, given the dangers of smoking.

I have always been a supporter of the tobacco premium, because I believe that the two things are unrelated, but then we should not be hypocritical and undertake to do something to combat smoking if we are actually pursuing a different aim, namely the preservation of the premium. The issue at stake here is not the preservation of the premium; it is essentially a matter of the coupled premium, the objective being to prevent decoupling. We always act as if decoupling would deprive tobacco-growers of the premium. We know that this is not true, and indeed we have already discussed the whole issue in connection with cotton. Businesses will continue to receive payments; the only difference is that they will no longer be obliged to grow tobacco, and I believe that makes good sense.

I remember a trip to northern Greece with the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development when we visited the poorest of the poor. We saw the impoverished regions, but they were not poor because of decoupling, which had not been introduced yet, but because the tobacco industry was not paying growers in those regions a fair price for their tobacco and was even taking advantage of the premiums paid at that time to push prices so low that tobacco-growers were left with nothing at all from their premiums. We found that incredible at the time, and we wondered why the growers in that region, who grew spice tobacco, which is used throughout the world as a speciality tobacco in cigarette blends, did not receive sufficient payment to be able to make a living from tobacco cultivation alone, regardless of premiums.

If tobacco is no longer grown in some regions as a result of decoupling or in some countries where complete decoupling of tobacco aid has been effected, this does not mean that there are no alternatives in those regions but that growers cannot cover the cost of growing tobacco. What is therefore needed here is a showdown with the tobacco industry so that they start at long last to pay growers a decent price.

I believe it would be better, Commissioner, to leave education about smoking to others, for we in the European Union have done enough educating, and to channel these funds into rural development and into diversification measures for these poor regions instead. Moreover, these resources should be topped up to create other jobs in these regions besides those in tobacco production.

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Madam President, rarely do decisions debated in this House have such serious consequences for such a large number of people. The issue before us today is the existence or non-existence of tobacco producers in Europe. Tobacco production is the livelihood of around 120 000 farmers and, including seasonal workers, it employs almost 400 000 people in both old and new Member States. The case of Greece has already shown that the so-called reform of the tobacco sector in fact means its liquidation. It is a death sentence for 120 000 farms, mostly small family holdings. I know such tobacco farms in Poland, but we find them here too, on the outskirts of Strasbourg. We are talking about a catastrophe for people who have devoted their lives to the production of tobacco. In the name of what should they be deprived of their livelihood? The liquidation of tobacco production will not stop people smoking. They will smoke cigarettes made from imported tobacco. This reform will help no one and harm many.

I therefore fully support Mr Berlato’s report, which rightly comes to the defence of tobacco producers, and add my voice to those of Mr Glavakis and Mr Cercas.

 
  
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  Diamanto Manolakou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (EL) Madam President, tobacco growers are being cruelly persecuted, as the anti-smoking campaign is tantamount to an anti-tobacco policy. As a result, tobacco grown in the EU is considered unhealthy, while imported tobacco is not. This is inconsistent, unscientific and unfair. The results of this policy are well known: despite the campaigns, smoking is on the increase, whereas production in the EU is in sharp decline. Jobs are being lost, tens of thousands of small and medium-sized tobacco growers are being ruined, yet tobacco imports have risen to more than EUR 1.2 billion a year.

Tobacco growing in Greece has declined by 73%. Ever-increasing numbers of tobacco growers are unemployed. Whole areas are being abandoned because no alternative crops are grown there.

We consider it essential to repeal the regulation transferring 50% of direct aid to the second pillar from 2010. All deductions from subsidies should be abolished immediately to allow tobacco growing to continue, since 70% of demand is met by imports. Subsidies should be linked to production; they should be an integral part of the guaranteed minimum prices corresponding to the production cost of each variety.

As the Berlato report contains positive elements supporting all of this, we, the MEPs of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), will approve it.

 
  
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  Hélène Goudin, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (SV) Madam President, subsidised tobacco growing is a clear example of the double standards which characterise the EU and the European Parliament. The EU has proudly proclaimed that the fight against diseases must be prioritised and spends a few million Swedish kronor on information campaigns every year, while by the back door the EU subsidises unprofitable tobacco growers to the tune of several billion kronor per year.

According to the report, the scheme for a gradual reduction in this support would be extended until 2013. The rapporteur seeks to wash his hands of the negative consequences of tobacco consumption. The simplistic argument is that, since EU tobacco production is so small, only 4%, the effect on final consumption is negligible. What kind of reasoning is that? Is it intended to justify continued subsidies? I think that EU tobacco production is 4% too high. Besides, European tobacco is so bad that only a fraction is sold on the European market. A third is burned. The special interests of the tobacco industry have prevailed for long enough. Our people need us to face up to our political responsibilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, the last puff has a bad taste. It is time to stub out double standards. I therefore urge you to vote against the report tomorrow.

 
  
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  Esther Herranz García (PPE-DE). (ES) Madam President, aid to the tobacco sector will be cut by 50 % in 2010 as a result of the most recent reform. I think this is an unprecedented measure, that puts tobacco producers at a clear disadvantage compared to the rest of the Community’s agricultural producers. No other agricultural sector has suffered such a drastic cut, and this will come on top of the reductions resulting from the changes in direct aid that the Council of Ministers will agree tomorrow.

I do not think it inappropriate to quote some figures about this sector. At least 80% of European tobacco is produced in disadvantaged regions. In Extremadura, in Spain, where most Spanish production is concentrated, the reform affects 20 000 families, with an annual turnover that represents 26% of the total value of the region's agricultural production.

Moreover, tobacco in Spain is concentrated in small units, with a high level of female employment, on the farms and in the industry as a whole. Furthermore, we should not forget that the European Union only produces 5% of the world's tobacco and imports 70% of the tobacco it consumes. The disappearance of Community tobacco production therefore will not in any way ensure a reduction in consumption.

Or “the only solutions presented so far have been to change the crop”?

The CAP’s so-called health check is an ideal moment to reflect about the consequences this decision might have for regions like Extremadura, where a significant social and economic community has developed around this crop and where the only solution presented so far is to change the crop.

In addition, reform of this sector also contradicts the expectations of the Community agricultural sector as a whole, because the Community has guaranteed its stability until the end of the period covered by current financial planning in 2013.

The report adopted by the Committee on Agriculture, which favours an extension of the Community Tobacco Fund, takes into consideration consumers’ interests while at the same time questioning the validity of the decision to cut aid to farmers, because the Fund is itself financed by deductions from direct aid to farmers.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR SIWIEC
Vice-President

 
  
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  Lily Jacobs (PSE). – (NL) Tobacco kills about half a million European citizens a year. Even amongst non-smokers there are 19 000 deaths a year from passive smoking.

How do I know that? That is the message in the television adverts the European Union itself is having shown in all 27 Member States as part of a big anti-smoking campaign. Altogether we have earmarked EUR 18 million for it, but that sum is a drop in the ocean compared with the subsidies the European Union pays tobacco growers every year. This year Brussels is still spending EUR 320 million on them. Three years ago it was still nearly EUR 1 thousand million.

Is it not very strange that we are trying to combat smoking and at the same time are funding tobacco production with European tax revenue? Furthermore, this continued funding goes against the whole idea behind our agricultural policy reforms, which is that we have to abolish production subsidies. Mr President, the proposal by the European Commission to continue support to the Tobacco Fund in 2008 and 2009 has my full support, but the fund cannot be used as an excuse to continue tobacco subsidies in 2013. Although I have enormous respect for my fellow Members’ arguments, I believe in this case that public health must come first.

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli (UEN). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would particularly like to compliment the rapporteur on his excellent work. This report achieves a twofold objective: it reinforces measures to combat smoking by extending the financing of the European Tobacco Fund whilst at the same time bringing the tobacco sector into line with the other CMOs which will naturally terminate with the 2012 financial year.

However, the fight against smoking must not mean the end of tobacco growing in Europe, because Europe is the world’s leading importer of raw tobacco and relies for over 75% of its requirements on third countries, to the benefit of tobaccos often produced without any guaranteed health controls. Any cancellation of the aid would lead merely to the end of production, to increased imports and would have no effect on smoking.

 
  
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  Kartika Tamara Liotard (GUE/NGL). – (NL) It is difficult to say what is more absurd, that the European Union subsidies tobacco growing, or that Europe then uses part of the subsidies for a fund that discourages tobacco smoking. Totally hypocritical measures like that are precisely the reason why the EU has so little credibility with the public. The argument that the EU produces relatively little tobacco is beside the point. There is still one EU-subsidised cigarette in every packet. That cigarette is then in any case of such inferior quality that we do not want to smoke it in Europe and we dump it somewhere else.

The tobacco subsidy must not be continued, as this Parliament wishes. Part of the subsidies must also not be used for anti-smoking campaigns as a fig leaf, as the Commission wishes. I have had enough of these subsidies. They must simply be abolished immediately.

 
  
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  Bogdan Golik (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Berlato’s report deals with a combination of health and agricultural issues. Raising the level of funding from 5% to 6%, together with the proposed extension of the system to the years 2009-2012, considerably increases the resources assigned to the Fund − by as much as EUR 81 million. Many farmers and organisations fully support the proposed regulation. Both Polish and European tobacco producers expect the adoption of the report to result in the extended operation of the Community Tobacco Fund, which is essential for public health, and in maintenance of the tobacco production sector for Europe’s 100 000 tobacco growers.

The proposed regulation makes it possible to maintain, without any additional budget expenditure, a system of subsidies that partly benefits the production of tobacco and thus avoids discrimination against tobacco growers compared with other agricultural sectors.

It is essential, Commissioner, that we resume the very important debate on the future of tobacco production in Europe as from tomorrow, in connection with presentation of the health check.

 
  
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  Andrzej Tomasz Zapałowski (UEN). – (PL) Mr President, today’s debate is one in which the arguments of agricultural producers conflict with those of groups campaigning for the health of European society. But will European society be healthier for smoking tobacco of clearly inferior quality imported from third countries? If we destroy our own production, we shall be importing not 70%, but 100%. We also have to consider whether discrimination against farmers who grow tobacco, rather than helping to develop our rural areas, will not lead, in certain regions of the European Union, to even greater economic collapse and the growth of unemployment. Obviously, we can then pump in financial aid for the unemployed, since we are so rich that we can afford to destroy our own agriculture for the benefit of agriculture in the Far East, which we are obliged to support in order to combat unemployment there.

I fully support Mr Berlato’s report.

 
  
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  Thijs Berman (PSE). – (NL) European farmers who grow tobacco should not receive a single cent from the EU for it. Obviously tobacco subsidies have been a huge source of revenue for farmers for many years, a sort of social security policy that did not deserve the name. However, tax revenue should not, on principle, be spent on unhealthy products. Hence there is only one choice as far as subsidies are concerned: abolish them.

The proposal in the Berlato report is a ridiculous attempt to get tobacco subsidies extended until at least 2012. That should not happen, and there is another reason for this. Developing countries see it as totally unfair that European tobacco should be subsidised. It is unfair competition with poor farmers and it is directly counter to European Union development policy, a classic example of the way in which one policy area can cut into another.

Encourage European farmers to grow crops that now bring in a high price, such as grain, which is badly needed. Show solidarity, though, and let the tobacco subsidies go up in smoke, for the sake of public health and for the sake of cohesion in European policy for the development of the poorest countries in the world. That is solidarity.

 
  
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  Armando Veneto (PPE-DE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, there are certain facts which are undisputed. First, it is certain that complete decoupling lowers production. Second, even if we stop growing tobacco in Europe, it does not mean that the reduction in European tobacco cultivation will reduce the smoking population. Third, we are potentially condemning hundreds and thousands of people to hunger without achieving a concrete result.

I therefore believe that, on the one hand, the aid to tobacco growers should be used to explain the harmful effects of smoking to consumers – and from this point of view the money should obviously come from the aid – and at the same time we should put tobacco growers in a position to slowly quit cultivation, allowing them the necessary time to withdraw from the whole sector. I therefore consider that we should vote in favour of the Berlato report.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Krzysztof Kuźmiuk (UEN). – (PL) I wish to make three points in this discussion. First, the idea of decoupling payments for production is frequently repeated by the European Commission. It is an approach that obviously reduces Europe’s agricultural production. Commissioner Fischer Boel repeated the idea once again today, this time with reference to tobacco production.

Second, we have to remember that tobacco growing, in both old and new Member States, takes place on small family farms in the most poorly developed regions. Liquidation of this production will reduce the possibilities for development in these regions and threaten the existence of small farms.

Third and last, it is true that tobacco growing is controversial, but restricting it in Europe means a growth in tobacco exports from third countries. Mr Berlato has told us that tobacco imports reached EUR 1.2 billion last year.

I hope the European Commission will take these warnings into account in defining its position.

 
  
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  Ioannis Gklavakis (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, I applaud my fellow Members who have shown such sensitivity on the issue of smoking. I believe that all of us without exception are against smoking, but, my friends, let me point out an essential difference: smoking and tobacco growing are entirely separate. Let us provide as much money as we can, speak on this issue as much as possible, and take all the action we can to persuade our fellow Members and fellow citizens not to smoke. Given that people will smoke regardless, I cannot understand why we have to import tobacco rather than grow it here ourselves. Now let me appeal to you as environmentalists. Tobacco is a crop that requires little water, little fertiliser and few pesticides; it is grown in infertile soils by poor farmers. I am sure that the environmentalist in you and also your humanity, even in those of you who speak against smoking and link smoking with tobacco growing, will lead you to change your minds. Associating smoking with tobacco growing is like confusing our famous wine production with alcoholism. Should we stop producing wines because of alcoholism?

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, thank you to all of you that have contributed to this debate and thank you once again for supporting the prolongation of the transfer into the Tobacco Fund.

I am of course aware that discussions on tobacco policies are a very sensitive issue and I can tell you that I experienced that recently during my visit to Greece in April. I must say clearly as well that the prolongation of the tobacco fund is not an invitation to reopen the tobacco reform from 2004, and I think you have to be aware that this reform is a done deal. And I think you have to take into account as well that this reform was supported by all the tobacco-producing Member States. Therefore, it would be a bit difficult to restart the whole discussion again.

I think it is important as well to remember that we are not stopping subsidies to the tobacco producers. We are actually continuing to pay the highest direct payment or the highest subsidies, more than anyone else in the agricultural sector. No other crop is actually receiving that high a direct payment.

So we will stick to the fact that we will decouple in 2009, and from 2011 we will transfer into the rural development policy.

Therefore, instead of wasting or using a lot of time and lots of efforts against what was agreed in the Council in 2004, I think Member States and tobacco producers, the whole tobacco sector, should look into the rural development policy instead and see what the possibilities are, because lots of money will be available for restructuring, for trying a different business in the agricultural sector.

With a bit of imagination – although I know that you cannot produce everything in these areas – I am sure that a solution could be found if there is cooperation between Member States, the tobacco sector and the tobacco producers, to try to find viable solutions for these areas, in the period after 2011 as well.

 
  
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  Sergio Berlato, rapporteur. − (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the Commissioner and all those Members who have spoken. I would point out that, as far as the future of the European tobacco sector is concerned, a formal request was made recently to the Commission, signed by the Ministers of almost all the tobacco-producing Member States, including those countries which have opted for complete decoupling, and the new Member States, for the Commission to put forward a proposal for a regulation extending the current system of support for tobacco production until the year 2013. That matter must be addressed as part of the discussions currently in progress on the CAP ‘health check’.

I will conclude, Mr President, by inviting my fellow Members – who at first glance might appear to be less interested in a measure which only involves a deduction from aid to growers in five old Member States, which have maintained the aid partly coupled – to reflect on the fact that the use of those resources and the Fund’s information initiatives will continue to be aimed at benefiting the health of all citizens of the Union.

I would also like to point out that perhaps there is a fundamental misconception here: this report is not concerned with and takes no decision on prolonging aid payments to tobacco producers; it is merely a question of voting on a report which advocates prolonging the financing of the Community Tobacco Fund. As regards prolonging the aid payments, that is a decision to be taken later, but that is not the subject of this report which, as I said, is about prolonging the financing of the Community Tobacco Fund and not about prolonging aid payments to tobacco producers in the immediate and foreseeable future.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 20 May 2008.

 

25. The Evaluation of the PEACE Programme (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0133/2008) by Bairbre de Brún, on behalf of the Committee on Regional Development, on the evaluation of the PEACE Programme and strategies for the future (2007/2150(INI)).

 
  
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  Bairbre de Brún, Rapporteur. - Mr President, the Peace and Reconciliation Programme helped the national peace and reconciliation process in Ireland to a great extent.

EUR 750 million was allocated from the first programme, PEACE I, between 1995 and 1999 and EUR 994 million from the second programme, PEACE II, between 2000 and 2007. EUR 333 will be allocated from the third programme, PEACE III, from now until 2013.

The money allocated was used to great benefit in giving support to those who wanted to renounce conflict and take part in the reconciliation process. Those sums of money were a good investment, as we can now see, as an enterprise economy emerges in Northern Ireland and the border counties.

The reconciliation and peace-building process is an ongoing one. A power-sharing executive in Belfast now deals with local matters for the local people. An important investment conference took place in Belfast ten days ago where investors enthusiastically studied investment opportunities. These steps highlight a new confidence in our political and economic future. PEACE’s input and the input of International Fund for Ireland, which the European Union contributes the most to, played a large part in inspiring confidence.

As the participants begin the implementation of the third programme, PEACE III,

it is my pleasure to give the Parliament’s opinion of the work and a number of reviews on the role of PEACE in the future. I would like to thank the members of the Regional Development Committee for their support and the shadow rapporteurs for all their input.

Participation, recognising interdependence, the promotion of diversity and the successful elimination of inequality are all important elements in making peace and in rebuilding a society, as well as the protection and the promotion of human rights.

In the PEACE programmes, the people most affected by the conflict were empowered with confidence to actively help with building-peace. The empowerment of local people is central to the PEACE programme and I would like to use this occasion to honour the voluntary organisations, businesses, community groups and local councillors and those working with former prisoners and with victims and survivors for their tremendous commitment to the community and to the reconciliation process.

The cooperation between participants in programmes funded by PEACE should not stop when these programmes come to an end. We ask the government departments to promote this work, which it initiated so effectively, and to ensure that this valuable work continues to be funded. Some way should be found to enable victim support groups and survivors to have access to financial support when funding from PEACE comes to an end.

Of course, something can be given back too and experiences can be shared about the elements of the initiatives funded by PEACE I and the International Fund for Ireland which succeeded. Experiences from these initiatives should be shared with those undertaking peace-building work internationally and those possibilities are being discussed right now.

This Report attempts to present to you the lessons which can be learned and I welcome this debate tonight.

 
  
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  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, honourable Members, Ms de Brún, let me start by thanking you very much for the excellent work on the evaluation of the PEACE programme and also strategies for the future. The Commission shares with you the opinion that the European Union’s interventions in support of the peace process in Northern Ireland have contributed in bringing the two communities closer together and have helped the development of cross-community and cross-border linkages.

The Commission also recognises that peace-building is a long-term and multi-dimensional process and we also recognise that peace-building requires a flexible approach and the willingness to allow for experimentation and the adoption of innovative measures. But perhaps the most important lesson learned from the PEACE programme is the effectiveness of the bottom-up approach. This has enabled people and organisations working on the ground to tackle the problems and issues faced by the communities at local level. It has brought people from both communities together and given them, very importantly, a sense of ownership of, and the responsibility for, the peace process.

Targeting those most affected by the conflict is important, but the projects dealing with young people, our future, have been equally important in changing attitudes and perceptions. Last but not least we have learned that the projects in support of women are essential since the role of women in peace-building and promoting reconciliation is a key factor in bringing stability and durability to the process.

The Commission also considers that the experience of the EU interventions in Northern Ireland and the peace-building initiatives should indeed be recorded with the objective of passing on good practice to other areas of the world, emerging from conflict or facing similar problems of social integration. I know that Northern Ireland is actively working on the establishment of a centre for conflict resolution and they have my support in taking this forward.

Allow me also to mention the successful Northern Ireland workshop during the Open Days in October last year. Indeed, not only was the event fully booked but it generated a network which is currently being set up for sharing experience on peace and reconciliation. It will also be followed up by a workshop during this year’s Open Days, in early October.

I shall stop here. I thank you for your excellent report and shall now listen to Parliament’s debate.

 
  
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  Lambert van Nistelrooij, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (NL) When there are very unusual circumstances in Europe, we have to apply very unusual measures, and in this case a really tailor-made and innovative solution has been found, thanks to resources from the Regional Development Fund.

We have really reached people's hearts with this, we have reached into their homes and we have been able to work in social organisations where trust is so important: people’s trust in their surrounding areas, which, with the great tensions there were in Northern Ireland, was so desperately needed. In that connection, I agree entirely with Commissioner Hübner that this is a good example of a case where instruments like this, resources like this, need to be used, just as in similar situations, such as Cyprus.

Mr Nicholson, the shadow rapporteur for the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, has missed his plane, so I am speaking first. I should like to say that, as coordinator, I fully support the Peace III Programme, especially the role of the people and – as I have already said – the cross-border aspects. The fact that people in the rest of Ireland are affected, as well as the infrastructure, is very important.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler, on behalf of the PSE Group. – Mr President, you cannot put a price on peace, but the series of PEACE programmes in Northern Ireland since 1995 have supported the peace process in Ireland with a goal of reinforcing a peaceful and stable society and promoting reconciliation in the region. I congratulate Bairbre de Brún on this own-initiative report, which describes the positive results and best practice gained from this EU programme. The peace-building aspect of the programme is crucial for the future of Northern Ireland and offers lessons for other EU Member States with a history of conflict.

The PEACE II programme allowed for valuable exchanges of experience between areas – including Albania, Belarus, Moldavia, Serbia, Ukraine and Bosnia. I welcome the current discussion on the possibilities of creating a Europe-wide network of regions and cities that are coming out of conflict, that have experience in coming out of conflict or that are living with conflict and exclusion. Reconciliation is a long-term process and I support the continuation of the PEACE programme. Within the process it is important to involve local communities, and Mrs de Brún’s report highlights the wide range of projects including childcare, after-school projects, enterprise parks and small business enterprise, in both the rural and urban areas. Many of the projects funded under PEACE were set up to serve local requirements. They also attracted a wide range of diverse participants to seek a common aim or benefit and help in developing models for public engagement in policy development. Women’s groups played a very positive role in peace-building. I thank Mrs de Brún and I hope that all will support this constructive report.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, first of all I want to congratulate the rapporteur, Bairbre de Brún, on her excellent report, which highlights the significant contribution of the PEACE programme to fostering peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border counties. It also outlines how lessons learned and best practice achieved should be shared with those who are engaged in other international peace-building work.

I am pleased that the rapporteur accepted my amendment, which states that it is vital that peace-building programmes, in particular those involving community and voluntary groups, continue to be financially supported when the PEACE funds come to an end. Indeed, the report makes it clear that government departments on both sides of the border should ensure mainstream funding continues for this very important work, once EU funding finishes. It is crucial that we do not pull the plug on community and voluntary groups that are engaged in this valuable work. That would break trust with communities and would diminish much of the good work under way. Community and voluntary organisations need to be able to work to a strategic plan and not on a short-term basis where they cannot plan for the future.

In this context, it is also important that those groups are not caught out in the funding gap between PEACE II and PEACE III. I have written to the Commission and received a response on this issue. Before I came down to the Chamber tonight, I once again had a look at the long list of community groups on both sides of the border who have received PEACE funds and who have been actively involved in peace-building, in reconciliation and in regeneration projects. The EU can be assured that PEACE money was well spent and that the added value of volunteer time and volunteer work has made the PEACE programme a model for value for money.

We often speak in this House of bringing Europe closer to the citizens. The PEACE programme was, and is, a tangible mechanism to connect Europe with the citizens. As Commissioner Hübner has said here this evening, it shows the value of the bottom-up approach and also highlights the important role of women in peace-building. This is an example of the EU reaching out to its citizens, acting as a catalyst for change and, in this case, citizens responding fully and wholeheartedly.

 
  
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  Seán Ó Neachtain, on behalf on the UEN Group. - Mr President, I would first like to say that I welcome this report. When Northern Ireland was divided by conflict and strife the leaders and the Institutions of the European Union gave special support and encouragement to the people of the North in helping them on the road to peace. As the rapporteur Bairbre de Brún stated, that support was worth EUR 1.65 billion and there is still another EUR 333 million to come.

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur Bairbre de Brún. It is a strange, however, that amongst the people who received the most advantage and support from the campaign to help give financial support, it is Sinn Féin that is against the Lisbon Treaty and against the European process. The leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, seldom makes any reference to this EUR 1.65 billion. If we listened to them, Ireland would not be in the European Union. We would not be in the system to receive money for the peace process in Europe. And I must say that it is this fact which most disappoints me this afternoon in Parliament.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI). – Mr President, this is a report of verbiage, not substance, just as much of the PEACE funding itself was spent upon froth.

The irony, of course, of an IRA/Sinn Féin MEP being rapporteur on a report on peace will not be lost on thousands of people in Northern Ireland whom her wicked organisation made victims through its pernicious terrorist campaign.

It is no surprise to me that she can produce a report talking about peace without a single blushing reference, without a scintilla of regret as to how we came to need peace: because, make no mistake about it, of her IRA’s decades of terror.

Nor am I surprised that she makes no mention of one of the gross failures of the PEACE programme, namely the inequality in distribution between the two communities in Northern Ireland, with the Protestant Unionist community not getting its fair share of funding. Not something, of course, likely to concern Miss de Brún.

Finally, let me place on record that the relative peace we have today in Northern Ireland is primarily due not to some EU peace programme but to the remarkable tenacity, courage and sacrifice of our marvellous security forces, who faced down the IRA which robbed us of peace for so long.

 
  
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  Ioannis Kasoulides (PPE-DE). – Mr President, the PEACE programme has contributed to the peace process in Northern Ireland not only in terms of financial assistance but also by helping to bring the two communities together. Its approach has been to work with civil society and NGOs to promote active citizenship. It has allowed the individuals involved to seek solutions to their own problems. This is an example of the Commission’s contribution to peace-building and reconciliation, and it should be congratulated on this.

The report refers to sharing the experience gained by PEACE with other regions facing similar problems. As a Member from Cyprus, I think it would be extremely interesting to put this experience into effect in the case of Cyprus. I call on the Government of Cyprus and on the Commission to examine this possibility as a component in the provisions of any political settlement.

 
  
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  Stavros Arnaoutakis (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, the PEACE Programme has shown the contribution it can make towards peaceful coexistence and conciliation between the different communities in Northern Ireland. Given our assured support for the continuation of this programme in Ireland, allow me to underline the following.

The programme is a shining example of the good practice that can and must be applied in other regions of the EU, such as Cyprus. The way in which the PEACE Programme is implemented and especially how it is managed by local partnerships and NGOs; the development of inter-community schemes; easier access to funding for schemes or groups unable be funded from other Community or national sources: all this provides valuable experience. It points to ways and means to be adopted more widely in programmes governed by the Structural Funds. Such an approach works upwards from the grass roots, particularly in programmes focusing on local development, and the fight against poverty and social exclusion.

 
  
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  Jean Marie Beaupuy (ALDE) . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I must begin by highlighting the excellent results that have been achieved through PEACE I and PEACE II, most particularly for the beneficiaries of those programmes in Ireland – in Northern Ireland – to whom both dignity and hope have now been restored. That said, I should like to make two particular points, Commissioner, on which I hope you can obtain genuinely successful outcomes.

Firstly, as Ms de Brún has urged in her report, the British and Irish Governments really need to get behind the decisions taken by Parliament, the Commission and the Council, so that temporary and complementary arrangements can be put in place through their joint efforts.

Secondly, Commissioner, as you are in charge of the task force, you will not be surprised if I urge you to ensure that we take an integrated approach, in the interests of consistency among the various agencies involved, consistency among the different programmes and funds, and consistency between different geographical areas.

Last but not least, I hope that the Irish example will provide a valuable lesson for other countries throughout the world.

 
  
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  Daniel Hannan (NI). – Mr President, why are we passing this resolution? Is it a specific remedy to an identified problem? Or are we rather passing it to make ourselves feel better, to feel that we have done our little bit for the peace process?

I ask that question with some regret. I am as big a supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland as any Member of this Chamber and, indeed, possibly rather more than some. Being on one side Ulster Catholic, on the other, Scots Presbyterian, I have always felt that I have something of a personal stake in power sharing.

But the peace process is not guaranteed by external subventions. On the contrary, there is a danger that this flow of money turns what was an enterprising and thrifty part of the world in to a subsidy junkie, dependent on handouts from elsewhere.

Ask yourselves – I put this quite seriously – when you sign those cheques for those hundreds of millions of euros, whether you actually think you are buying stability and peace in that part of the world, or whether you are not just allowing yourselves to feel slightly better for a few minutes.

The idea that political violence is caused by deprivation is simply not borne out in reality. It is one of the many ideas that derive from Karl Marx and, like a lot of his ideas, it sounds plausible on the page, but it turns out not to be true in reality.

The most subsidised territory in the world, more than anywhere in Africa per capita, is Palestine, which is also one of the most violent.

The truth is that, if we want to support the peace process in Northern Ireland, we have to create a genuine democracy there, where there is a genuine opposition and the ability to change your government. If you do that, we will not need the money.

 
  
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  Colm Burke (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I welcome this report from Bairbre de Brún, and I would like to congratulate all the people who made a contribution to the report, in particular the shadow rapporteur, Jim Nicholson, Marian Harkin and all the people involved.

The Peace III Programme is up and running, with EUR 333 million going into an area, helping the whole infrastructure and Community development in Northern Ireland and in the border counties. I think the three PEACE programmes have made a huge contribution in bringing about peace in this area. I would like to congratulate all the people involved in getting it together, but also all of the political parties in Northern Ireland and the community groups who have worked together to make sure that the peace programme continues to work.

I also welcome the task force that has been set up in Northern Ireland, but I think that a task force is also needed in the six border counties in the Republic to deal with infrastructure development in that area. It is unfortunate that the Irish Government has not done likewise in relation to those six counties. It is something that should be looked at because those counties also suffered over a period of 30 to 35 years. We need that kind of initiative in those six county areas. I would welcome the Irish Government putting that in place.

Again, thank you to all those involved.

 
  
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  Rolf Berend (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, surely there is scarcely anyone here in Parliament who harbours any real doubts about the success of the PEACE programme in terms of both its tangible contribution to economic and social cohesion and its contribution to enhanced local involvement through active citizenship and the participation of civil society in peace-building.

The report, drafted on the initiative of the Committee on Regional Development, rightly emphasises the valuable experience that has been amassed through this unique and highly innovative structural programme as well as highlighting the things that could be done better in future, the challenges that remain to be met and the conclusions that can be drawn.

As someone who is closely involved with the regional policy of the EU, I am keenly aware of the need to develop cross-border activities and strongly support cooperation between local chambers of commerce, public institutions and voluntary organisations on both sides of national borders. I need hardly tell you that my group and I unreservedly endorse this report.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin (ALDE). – Mr President, since nobody else is asking for the floor, I would just like to make a comment. I suppose I am not really surprised, but perhaps a little disappointed, to hear the comments by Mr Jim Allister here tonight. We are discussing the PEACE programme and not the conflict. Like all conflicts, this conflict’s roots go deep and it did not start in recent times, and like all conflicts it is much more complicated than indicated by Mr Allister. But regardless of those who question the efficacy of the PEACE programme and indicate their disapproval of EU funding, there is no doubt that the PEACE funds acted as a catalyst and, as I said earlier, through voluntary effort and voluntary time achieved value for money. Perhaps the best thing to say is that there is an end to the conflict and that the PEACE funding played a role in helping to achieve this very positive outcome.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI). – Mr President, it is all very easy and very well for Miss Harkin to come to this House and to talk in the way she has talked.

How many constituents has she buried, murdered by terrorists? How many people have died in her constituency because the organisation that Miss de Brún represents decided they would die in pursuit of a political campaign?

The IRA murdered 2 000 of my constituents, so no one will lecture me in this House about the deep-seated feelings that I have, and no one will contradict me with justification for pointing out that the people that put so many of my constituents in their graves are the IRA, which Miss de Brún represents in this House.

To now see them in the government of my country is stomach-churning, and to find that they are there because they murdered and as a buy-off so that they will not murder again makes it even worse.

 
  
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  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I would like to say that this debate has clearly confirmed the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland and that important lessons have been learned during this process. The Commission will continue its contribution to consolidating the reconciliation process and will also facilitate the sharing of the lessons learned from the experience of peace-building with all other areas facing similar problems. In these efforts, the support of the European Parliament will certainly matter very much.

I would like to make two further comments:

To Jean Marie Beaupuy, the task force for Northern Ireland has been established to enhance and facilitate the participation of the people of Northern Ireland in all European Union policies and also to better coordinate and to build more coherence between different processes contributing to the consolidation of the peace and reconciliation process.

The second comment is that in these efforts the Commission would also like to help people in Northern Ireland to reduce the existing dependency on the public sector, on state aid and on the reliance of support coming in the form of grants. The conference which was mentioned by Bairbre de Brún was also exactly aiming at contributing to this process of bringing more private investment – a more vibrant private sector – to life in this part of the island. Once again, thank you very much for all your comments.

 
  
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  Bairbre de Brún , Rapporteur. -Mr President, I would like to thank those who spoke in the debate tonight. I listened carefully to them and to the points they raised. I am disappointed, however, by what Mr Allister had to say and I cannot agree with his allegations. I would like to praise the work the European Parliament and the Commission have done over the years in terms of the PEACE programme.

I would like especially to thank Commissioner Hübner for the personal commitment she has shown from her first day in that post and for her regular visits to Northern Ireland. Commissioner Hübner and the previous Commissioners have been true friends to the peace process in Ireland and it is reassuring to see the continuing role the Commission will have through the task force that was set up by President Barroso.

PEACE enabled a border community divided from the time of the partition to come together as a community. It brought young nationalists and unionists together to learn about each other’s cultures. We especially acknowledge the important role women have in building peace and the important and valuable cross-community and cross-border work that has been done.

My Report highlights the fact that it is the most marginalised people in society who benefited most from PEACE, which is just as it should be. Nevertheless, if there are groups which have not already used this opportunity to make an application under PEACE I and PEACE II they should be encouraged to participate. The next step is to ensure that the good work that PEACE has done doesn’t stop and that future generations benefit from the valuable work that started with the PEACE programmes and from the wonderful support the European institutions have provided.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 20 May 2008.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Ramona Nicole Mănescu (ALDE ), in writing. – (RO) The PEACE Programme represents not only a means of maintaining peace, but also an instrument favouring economic development and territorial cohesion. Its implementation by the regional governments and non-governmental organizations leads to the involvement of a wide range of communities, local organizations and marginalized groups in the process of governance and development. Moreover, financing regional projects through PEACE contributes to facilitating dialogue, reconciliation and agreements whose objective is to satisfy common interest and, consequently, avoid any type of conflict.

Northern Ireland is an example of good practice for all the other Member States that have experienced conflicts or are dealing with problems threatening their peace.

This is why I support the creation of a network of European regions and cities with a potential conflict risk and I believe that the promotion of local partnerships, best practice sharing and efficient cooperation between the regions and the intermediary Financing Bodies are essential factors for determining local communities to cooperate and work for maintaining peace.

I also plead for implementing programmes similar to PEACE in Southeast Europe as well, especially in the Balkans, mainly since the events in recent years have been an alarm signal.

 

26. Outermost regions (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0158/2008) by Margie Sudre, on behalf of the Committee on Regional Development, on the strategy for the outermost regions: achievements and future prospects (2008/2010(INI)).

 
  
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  Margie Sudre, rapporteur. − (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Commission’s assessment of the stronger partnership for the outermost regions is one-sided to say the least, and it fails to convey all the difficulties experienced on the ground. Nonetheless, reducing their accessibility deficit, making them more competitive and achieving regional integration remain appropriate goals that reflect the priorities of these regions.

The familiar image of the Azores, the Canary Islands, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Madeira, Martinique and Reunion as regions subsidised by Community or national funds, without consideration for the positive impact of such funding, is insufficiently offset by the genuine added value they contribute to the Union in environmental, cultural and geostrategic terms.

The Structural Funds are still contributing to the development of the outermost regions. I hope, however, that the Commission is steadily tailoring its current and future policies more closely to the realities of those regions in order to address the permanent constraints they face. An over-systematic methodology for quantifying additional costs would be disproportionate and would not take account of the individual characteristics of each of the ORs. The ever-increasing importance attributed to the assessment of Community policies must not result in the creation of superfluous statistical tools.

I regret the initial lack of interest – even if it was only initial – shown by DG Trade when negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). I must urge the Commission, when it comes to reaching final agreements with the ACP countries, to continue seeking compromises that respect the interests of the ORs concerned and I must urge it too, in the interests of the wider neighbourhood, to give genuine substance to the Wider Neighbourhood Action Plan.

With regard to transport, my report expresses concern about the inclusion of civil aviation in the European CO2 Emission Trading Scheme system. It is important not to jeopardise the efforts made to overcome the ORs’ accessibility deficit.

Community actions must be a catalyst for a spirit of enterprise to develop centres of excellence, driven by sectors – such as waste management, renewable energies, energy self-sufficiency and biodiversity – that fully exploit the advantages and know-how of the ORs.

I welcome public consultation on the future of the EU’s strategy for the ORs, but I believe that although the themes selected – climate change, demographic change and migration management, agriculture and maritime policy – certainly cannot be ignored, they do not cover all the major concerns of our regions. I regret, for example, that the scope of Article 299(2) of the EC Treaty, which is the cornerstone of the Union's policy for assisting the ORs, has not been included on the agenda so as to give the debates the legal, institutional and political substance they merit.

The importance of public services for economic, social and territorial cohesion in the outermost regions, the question of state aid, the maintenance of differentiated tax regimes, the persistence of unemployment and inequalities, ways of overcoming the narrowness of local markets, integration into the European research environment, effective participation by the ORs in European policies to promote innovation and overcome the digital divide, and funding arrangements for cooperation projects with neighbouring countries are all, in my view, subjects that need to be addressed now.

In conclusion I would re-emphasise the aims of my report, namely to ensure the conditions for the economic development of the ORs and thus guarantee genuine prosperity for their populations, to strengthen their competitiveness and to convince these remote regions that the future of Europe also includes them.

Thank you in advance for your support in tomorrow’s vote.

 
  
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  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, let me first of all say that we appreciate this report very much. This is a very professional report and I would like to thank Margie Sudre not only for the report but also for her presence and strong involvement in the Conference of Outermost Regions that we held last week in Brussels.

I would like also to extend my gratitude to the Regional Development Committee and also the Fisheries Committee, particularly its draftsman, Mr Guerreiro, for the contribution to the reflection on the future strategy for the outermost regions, and also to Mr Fernandes, Mr Marques and Mr Casaca. I would like to extend my gratitude for the contribution to the public consultation that we launched last September. This phase of consultation has just ended with the conference last week.

What came out from this conference very strongly is the challenge of double integration of the outermost regions, and also the idea of the outermost regions as test beds with pilot projects, especially in areas like renewable energy. It was also very clear in the conference that outermost regions have a wealth of unique opportunities and that they represent a living force as well as a strength for the Union as a whole.

On the report itself, let me stress that I fully share the importance Parliament attaches to the need to preserve a strategy specifically adapted to the characteristics and the assets of the outermost regions, and we are ready, in the Commission, to widen the scope of the strategy to new challenges. Clearly those identified by the Commission – climate change, demographic change and migration management, agriculture and the maritime policy – are not exclusive and we are open to other ideas.

I can also agree with Mme Sudre when she calls for an improvement in the coordination between the Regional Fund and the European Development Fund. I also believe it important to further integrate the outermost regions into the European Research Area as well as promoting cooperation with neighbouring regions. In this regard, I believe that the reformed cohesion policy has clearly helped to strengthen the position of the outermost regions under the cooperation objective.

The ‘outermost region dimension’, if I may call it so, has been safeguarded and intensified following the reform of many Community policies: not only the cohesion policy, but also agricultural and rural development, regional state aid frameworks, the European POSEI programmes or the EU maritime policy.

I strongly believe that these policy developments correspond well to the needs of the outermost regions. With the September 2007 communication, we underlined the need to exploit all of the opportunities offered by the reforms of European policies during the period 2007-2013, and from my different and numerous visits to the outermost regions I can see that many initiatives have been taken in that direction, although I believe that these initiatives should be further strengthened and developed.

Concerning the way in which the Commission conducted the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations as well as the Emission Trading Scheme discussions, allow me to say that the outermost regions have been an integral part of the discussions from the very start and the Commission has systematically informed and also involved the representatives of the outermost regions in the discussions.

Having said this, let me also assure you that the Commission will continue to take account of the specific interests of the outermost regions in current, but also in future, negotiations of this nature.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Fisheries. − (PT) The opinion of the Committee on Fisheries, the only parliamentary committee to decide to draft an opinion, includes a whole series of proposals to benefit the outermost regions’ interests. These include: considering the area corresponding to their exclusive economic zones as an exclusive access zone; ensuring Community support for the renewal and modernisation of fishing fleets; creating a Community programme to support small-scale inshore fishing; providing Community support for scientific fisheries research and the protection and recovery of fish stocks; introducing socio-economic measures to compensate fishermen for the impact of measures to conserve fishery resources, and reinforcing and continuing Community support such as POSEI - Fisheries.

Because we believe that these important Fisheries Committee proposals must be reflected in the resolution to be approved tomorrow in the plenary, we are re-tabling a set of eight amendments for which we seek your support.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR BIELAN
Vice-President

 
  
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  Oldřich Vlasák, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (CS) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the specific situation of the outermost regions most certainly deserves special attention by the European Union. There is no doubt that the European strategy for the outermost regions has had some positive effects to date. The reality is, however, that some structural problems remain, and these will require our attention in the future. We have to bear in mind that not all the problems of the outermost regions can be solved, some of them being sui generis problems, stemming from the fact that with the exception of French Guyana we are dealing mostly with remote territories composed of islands and we cannot change their specific geographic and structural characteristics.

I would like to add a note of caution at this point against excessive centrally directed social engineering. In relation to the issues we have been discussing concerning the outermost regions, it is even more imperative to consider implementing the principle of subsidiarity. There is no doubt that the outermost regions require different conditions when it comes to the rules on public aid and the internal market. This should also be taken into consideration in European legislation, which must help to preserve the specific characteristics of these regions and mitigate the limiting factors. It is debatable, though, how effective the complicated European financial programmes can be in this instance. In my opinion, national and regional aid properly applied in relation to local conditions is a much more effective form of aid to the outermost regions. I believe that the European structural policy should instead be based on the principle that financial aid should be targeted primarily at the poorest regions, where it is needed the most, irrespective of whether it is an island, a mountain or a scarcely populated area.

 
  
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  Emanuel Jardim Fernandes, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PT) Mr President, I would like to begin by congratulating the Commissioner and the Commission on this initiative, which surely offers a new opportunity in response to the problems of the outermost regions and their people.

The opening of public consultation has fostered greater participation. I believe a great deal has been contributed already, including the meeting the Commissioner referred to, which was very productive. I would like to focus on the draft opinion, however, which is a balanced opinion that has allowed a consensus to be achieved. It is an opinion that shows some complementarity with the perspectives highlighted by the Commission when it refers to climate change, etc.

I would like to refer first to the question of the Lisbon Strategy, which I believe is fundamental for providing a response to the outermost regions’ problems in this new phase, to the need to adapt all policies and programmes to this situation, and also to the question of guaranteed funding.

I would also like to say in conclusion that although the Committee on Fisheries’ opinion certainly focuses on the essential aspects, there are some details that could be highlighted. The difficulty was to bring together a whole sector when the goal is a strategy for the outermost regions that encompasses all possible areas of development.

 
  
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  Jean Marie Beaupuy, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, at a time when our planet has become a little village – so easy is it to move from one side of the world to the other – we need to grasp what an opportunity these outermost regions represent for the European Union. As our rapporteur, Mrs Sudre, points out in various paragraphs of her report we possess tremendous assets in our outermost regions: in agriculture, fisheries, research, technology and tourism. With a total of 25 million km2 we have the largest sea area in the world. As the report says, therefore, we need to build on these assets so that our outermost regions can play a successful role in our shared future.

My second point concerns the particular situation of urban areas – I speak here as Chair of the Urban Intergroup and I see a number of my fellow members of the Intergroup here this evening – because it is in urban areas that the problem of unemployment is concentrated, unemployment at three times the mainland European level. Migration is also focused on urban areas and it is there, too, that population changes have the greatest impact.

Commissioner, what you have here is an exceptional opportunity to impose an integrated approach, embracing not only the various European funds but also different policies and different government, regional and local projects. If that integrated approach is not developed, we shall not be able to be effective in the outermost regions or to make best use of the assets they possess.

I thank you in advance, Commissioner, for using our European rules to ensure that the integrated approach will contribute to the success of all the measures that we put in place.

 
  
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  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, on behalf of the UEN Group I would like to thank Mrs Sudre for taking up this subject. European solidarity requires us to take account of the special situation of the outermost regions. It is our duty, indeed our moral obligation, to concern ourselves with the economic and social cohesion of these regions. The territorial cohesion referred to in the Treaty of Lisbon − though not intended in a literal, geographical sense − must also have a dimension that includes the Union’s most distant regions.

What should be stressed is the need for closer partnership − meaning better access, greater competitiveness and the improvement of regional integration. We must not forget that the targets of all these actions are the inhabitants of the overseas territories, for whom the important issues are sea and air transport, unemployment, tourism, fishing, a proper level of education and health care, and general broadband access to the internet. Nor should we forget that these regions are unfortunately prone to natural disasters. The outermost regions have their advantages, but they also have problems. Mrs Sudre’s report brings them a lot closer to us.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (PT) We consider the report to be positive, though it includes some points that we disagree with.

We support the adoption of proposals that we presented in the Regional Development Committee in favour of the outermost regions, an example of which is the argument that the specific characteristics of the outermost regions call for a strategy based on policies and measures that are not dependent on transitional criteria or circumstantial wealth trends, are adapted to the different needs of each of those regions and help to offer solutions to the permanent constraints which they face.

It stresses the importance of public services for economic, social and territorial cohesion in the outermost regions in such areas as air and sea transport, postal services, energy and communications, not forgetting broadband Internet access or the urgent adoption of measures aimed at combating endemic unemployment, poverty and unequal income distribution in these regions, which have some of the worst rates in the European Union.

We consider that some aspects could and should be clarified and reinforced, however. Community support measures for the outermost regions, for example, must be permanent and must be adequately funded, given that the constraints which they face are also permanent. In addition, to ensure that measures in favour of these regions and the clarification of their status are more coherent and effective, not only must their specific outermost nature be taken into account across the board in the various Community policies, but also an adequately funded Community programme providing support to these regions must be set up and must encompass all existing measures.

Hence our proposed amendments.

 
  
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  Rolf Berend (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, this good own-initiative report produced by Mrs Sudre pursues two basic aims, namely to evaluate the conclusions and recommendations contained in the communication from the Commission and to provide a basis – and I believe it provides an excellent basis – for discussion of the prospects for our outermost regions. Even if the rapporteur takes the view that the Commission’s review paints an excessively rosy picture, or at least a partial picture, we should nevertheless be proud that European aid has allowed such advances to be made in our outermost regions.

On the one hand, that does not in any way imply a reduction of assistance to these regions, the provision of which is, of course, a legal obligation under the EC Treaty. On the other hand, we know that nurturing the particular assets of the outermost regions is the only suitable way to ensure that these regions generate their own sustainable development.

As the rapporteur rightly summed it up, this is not only a matter of preserving, safeguarding and protecting but rather of attracting, generating appeal and continuing to cooperate closely. The report rightly urges, for example, that the discussion on the future of the support strategy for the outermost regions should not only focus on challenges such as climate change, demographic change, migration management, agriculture and maritime policy but should also take account of the need to adopt positions in respect of other Community policies. The new generation of European programmes must also mark the start of a necessary process of diversifying the economies of the outermost regions and must not be confined to merely maintaining the present state of development, which has largely been achieved with the aid of the EU.

In the light of these considerations we should give the report our unqualified support.

 
  
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  Iratxe García Pérez (PSE). (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I reiterate the thanks to Mrs Sudre for her work on this report and for achieving a majority consensus in the Committee on Regional Development on the policy for the outermost regions.

The policy must have three fundamental facets: it must increase accessibility, improve competitiveness and strength regional integration.

The contribution of the Structural Funds to the development of these regions has been important and will continue to be very important in the future for maintaining the level of cohesion achieved and for reducing disparities further. It is therefore necessary for the Commission to show greater flexibility. It should facilitate the use of ERDF Funding for the outermost regions by ensuring that its scope is sufficiently wide for the Fund to be fully used.

Another fundamental challenge is improving accessibility and, for that reason, it is important that the outermost regions receive differential treatment with regard to transport.

The fourth Cohesion Fund report faces up to the new challenges and we certainly hope that the Commission takes into account that these challenges are also important in the outermost regions.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, an important issue that has not received sufficient attention from the Commission is support for those island regions in the EU that are not among those referred to in the Treaty but still have much in common with them.

Island Member States within the Union must be treated on equal terms with outermost regions. This is necessary according to the principle of equal treatment, because island Member States and island regions of Member States to some degree face the same severe territorial and geographical disadvantages as outermost regions. Small island Member States and island regions of Member States must therefore receive the same treatment as outermost regions; they must be subject to the same preferential strategy as those regions. For example, they must receive a separate state aid package so that they form a bridge in the EU with regions such as the Eastern Mediterranean.

 
  
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  Emmanouil Angelakas (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, although Mrs Sudre’s report may seem irrelevant to many European countries, since very few of them have outermost regions as remote as, for example, the Azores, Madeira etc., her approach has nevertheless caught my interest. I found that the report could inspire a similar policy for countries with island regions, especially archipelagos and also mountainous areas, like my country, Greece. The geocultural nature of these regions is a unique resource as well as a disadvantage.

I therefore congratulate Mrs Sudre on her work, as she has given me the impetus to table some proposals myself regarding these regions. I propose, then, that measures should be taken to make use of the geocultural characteristics of islands and mountainous regions. There must be a development strategy to maintain and strengthen the principle of territorial cohesion. A system of statistical indicators should be developed to allow better evaluation of the differences between island and mainland territory. There should also be greater flexibility in the application of European and national aid policies for productive activities on the islands. The following issues should be addressed: equal access to the internal market and the establishment of a practical aid scheme for the islands; the impact of climate change on the islands, especially the aggravation of existing problems such as drought; easier transport connections between island and mountainous regions and the mainland. Lastly, special priority should be given to securing the energy needs of the islands by developing and implementing power generation projects based on new technologies and renewable energy sources. Broadband connections should be set up, and the viability of island and mountain tourism should be reinforced.

For all these reasons, I once again congratulate Mrs Sudre. I express my wholehearted support for the report in the belief that at some point the Commission will prepare a similar report on the regions I have mentioned.

 
  
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  Manuel Medina Ortega (PSE). (ES) Mr President, some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon do not seem to take into account that the reality is different in the outermost regions. It is not that they are poor regions. We are talking about small insular and very isolated territories located thousands of kilometres away from the territory of the European Union, populated by a total of four a half million people.

The European Union could abandon these territories to their fate, condemn their people to poverty and force them to emigrate to European Union countries, which would mean accepting another 4.5 million immigrants.

Fortunately, the European Commission understands the situation of these territories and created a special regime a long time ago. The Commission is now consulting us. Mrs Sudre has prepared a valuable report in response to this consultation, in which she emphasises the importance, for example, of maintaining the ORs Unit and makes very specific proposals to maintain public services, promote innovation and overcome the digital divide. I believe that Parliament should approve Mrs Sudre’s report for the reasons she has put forward.

 
  
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  Catherine Neris (PSE) . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the report on which the House will vote tomorrow rightly reminds us that the specificities of the outermost regions are also among their strengths. Alongside the handicaps that hold them back, they also have undeniable advantages and we urgently need to build on those advantages so that the ORs can develop in a real and sustainable way in the future. Bringing fresh impetus to our islands also implies growth: it implies putting high-quality agricultural production – which contributes to diversity of agricultural output at EU level – on a sustainable footing. It implies promoting the rapid development of a very real tourist attraction based on the wealth of our various landscapes and our cultural heritage. It also implies taking advantage of the geographical position of the ORs, particularly in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, encouraging closer cooperation with neighbouring third countries and developing our islands – precisely because they are islands – as centres of excellence for scientific research, notably in maritime studies, climatology and environmental studies.

The only way of achieving these aims, however, is within the specific regulatory framework of the current Article 299(2) of the Treaty, and the spirit of that article must inform the detailed application of European public policy, particularly in the energy and transport sectors but also in relation to international trade policies, where it is vital that the interests of the ORs are taken into account in the negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreements. The outermost regions are genuinely and unfailingly proactive, but the corollary of that is a need to be treated fairly – which implies differentiation.

Let us not doubt that the Commission will take all this into account in preparing its approach.

 
  
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  Lambert van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). – (NL) The outermost regions are in a special position. Many of them are remote small islands, and I think Mrs Sudre has found a good balance by identifying their specific character and tailoring the instruments to them well.

As a Dutch MEP, I should like to report on developments in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We have three of the small islands, Sawa, St Maarten and Bonaire, that are going to change over to the other status and so will also become outermost regions. However, I do not think that will happen so quickly that the inhabitants will be able to vote on it before the 2009 elections. Under the new Lisbon Treaty, we can accept them more quickly. We do not need to amend the Treaty to do so. Perhaps Mrs Hübner can say whether the Commission is completely ready for these three islands with a total population of 19 000 to be accepted by us as a whole.

 
  
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  Sérgio Marques (PPE-DE). – (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, besides congratulating our colleague Mrs Sudre on her excellent report, I would like to make three points on the European Union’s future strategy for the outermost regions.

The first point is to congratulate the European Commission for fostering participation in the debate on the record of European policy for the ORs and the future strategy to be applied. I also applaud the on-line public consultation and last week’s major conference promoted by the European Commission on this issue.

The second point is to say that a European strategy for the ORs is as necessary in the future as it has been to date. There is a risk of believing that the economic and social development achieved in the meantime by the ORs makes European action less necessary. We must always be aware, however, that the very specific situation of the outermost regions is permanent and will continue to require a differentiated European response which is appropriate to that very specific situation.

The third and final point is to say how important it is for everything to be done to implement the Lisbon Strategy in the ORs too, its application in such regions being more problematic because of their very specific characteristics.

I would therefore recommend to Mrs Hübner that a study promoted by the European Commission be carried out with a view to identifying the difficulties the outermost regions face in implementing the Lisbon Strategy and specific ways of overcoming them.

 
  
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  Madeleine Jouye de Grandmaison (GUE/NGL) . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to commend the quality of Mrs Sudre’s report.

We cannot fail to acknowledge, 10 years after the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, that EU policy under Article 299(2) has led to real progress. Today, however, it is time to move into a new phase based on a switch of approach in relations between the EU and the outermost regions. This will require the EU to take greater account of the advantages that the ORs possess, along the lines envisaged at last week’s seminar. In my opinion, as well as making up lost ground, the new strategy should focus on development – on forms of development clearly determined by the concept of realising our potential. This applies equally in relation to scientific research, marine resources, biodiversity, European social policy, climate change and the unrivalled contribution that the ORs make in terms of cultural diversity. I have tabled a number of amendments accordingly and I hope they will achieve their aim.

Giving substance to the new approach means giving the ORs the means to become genuine partners for Europe and that is where we need a fresh perspective: to envisage a two-way partnership from which everyone will benefit.

 
  
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  Danuta Hübner, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, very briefly in reply to what Mr van Nistelrooij asked, yes, we have been working with the Dutch Government for the last year-and-a-half on this. Fortunately the changes which were permitted by the Treaty have been introduced, so we hope that one day we will have the three new territories.

With regard to the comments made, let me first of all say that, in line with the request formulated by the European Council in December, the Commission will be producing a communication this autumn that will take the outermost region strategy forward with, I hope, decisiveness and pragmatism. That is our approach to address both new challenges, but first of all to facilitate grasping all the opportunities.

Mme Sudre, I see your report as helping to build a bridge between the present and future strategies for the outermost regions and that is a very important role of this report. I also very much believe that the right way forward is indeed first of all to build on the assets of the outermost regions, That was stressed by several Members.

Let me also mention in this context our future Green Paper on territorial cohesion, which will be an essential feature of the French presidency. The outermost regions have a strong role to play in this process of preparing the territorial dimension of the cohesion policy because the outermost regions truly personify our efforts to bridge the territorial divides inside Europe. That is why I would welcome their strong involvement in the public consultation related to the Green Paper on territorial cohesion.

On the last issue, let me simply reassure you that the Commission will continue to promote a coordinated and integrated approach and will seek to achieve synergies between different Community policies affecting the outermost regions.

 
  
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  Margie Sudre, rapporteur. − (FR) Mr President, obviously I want to thank all the speakers who have contributed to the debate, and I would also like to reiterate my thanks to the Commission for its initiative last week on future strategy for the ORs.

I should like to reply to some of the points raised by my fellow Members, and I am grateful to them for their warm reception of this report. In answer to Mr Guerreiro, the support that he wants to see for renewal and research in relation to fisheries and the increase in aid is all already covered by the European Fisheries Fund. It already forms part of the policies to which the EU, and specifically the Commission and the Fisheries Committee, are committed, whereas this report is concerned with regional development policy. That is why, while taking account of the tremendous importance of fisheries for our development, my report does not give it the extensive space that Mr Guerreiro would have wished. Let me remind him that what we are talking about here is regional development.

Mr Medina Ortega has already replied to our Greek colleagues who called for the same policy to be applied to all islands, and has explained the difference that is created by distances of many thousands of kilometres from the continent of Europe. However much progress we achieve, we will still be thousands of kilometres away. And however well I understand the problems experienced by all island dwellers, we clearly cannot apply the same derogations and the same rules to islands that are only a few hours away by boat or a few minutes by plane. This is certainly not a matter of failing to consider the situation of islands but – let me repeat – there is a huge difference between your islands, with their proximity to the continent, and ours that are so very distant.

Mr Guerreiro, you spoke a second time to urge that our approach should not be based on transient criteria. Obviously there is nothing transient about our situation: that is quite permanent, but we are not asking for a permanent guarantee of aid at the same level in perpetuity, because our hope is to catch up with the average in the rest of the Community.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 20 May 2008.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Toomas Savi (ALDE) , in writing. This report gives a good overview of the problems that the Azores, the Canary Islands, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy are facing as geographically distant regions of the European Union, but it also points out the disparities in the treatment of different overseas territories of the Member States.

There are still several regions under the sovereignty of Member States that do not share the same status as the outermost regions. For example the citizens of the British Virgin Islands or Greenland are citizens of the European Union, but European Parliamentary elections are not held in those regions, while the citizens of Aruba are citizens of the European Union who happen to be entitled to vote in the European Parliamentary elections. But even more confusing is the fact that none of the aforementioned territories is actually a part of the European Union.

It is my firm belief that the European Union’s relationship with the Member States’ overseas territories and citizens of all those territories should become uniform, bearing in mind the equal treatment of the citizens of the European Union.

 

27. EU consumer policy strategy 2007-2013 (debate)
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  President. − The next item is the report (A6-0155/2008) by Lasse Lehtinen, on behalf of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, on the EU Consumer Policy strategy 2007-2013 (2007/2189(INI)).

 
  
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  Lasse Lehtinen, rapporteur. − (FI) Mr President, the report before us has undergone a thorough reading in committee, for which I thank my colleagues and above all the shadow rapporteurs from the other political groups. In a spirit of consensus we have noted the Commission’s laudable efforts to highlight consumer issues in all areas of policy.

This continent will not be able to compete in global markets unless it can compete in its own internal market. The 27 national mini-markets must be combined to constitute the largest retail market in the world.

A viable internal market requires action to boost consumer confidence. Strong and independent consumer organisations have an important role in this.

Among the options for increasing confidence there is one which has stood out more than others in our discussions and which also caused the only disagreements worth mentioning. It is about the possibility of consumers having the tools to pursue compensation if something goes wrong. The view is expressed in this report that it is indispensable for consumers to have a cross-border collective redress system in cases where there is a dispute.

Commissioner Kuneva has already promised to start considering what sort of system of collective redress might work in Europe. At least there seems to be broad consensus among us in Europe on what sort of system it should not be. It should not have any fundamental similarity with the American collective redress system, which mainly benefits lawyers, not consumers. In Europe we have to aim for a system where claims for compensation are directly linked to actual damage caused. This way, how justice is dispensed would not so much focus on the penalty but on obtaining justice for the consumer. Collective redress systems would therefore not give consumers new rights, but would ensure that their present rights can be exploited to the full.

The conservatives as a group have been unwilling to take forward the idea of collective redress. The reason suggested is that the Commission has already promised to start drafting proposals on it. Parliament, however, is the political decision-maker elected by the people of Europe, and we must make its majority will evident. We have both the authorisation and an obligation to think about new and detailed solutions to issues the public see as problematic and propose them to the Commission.

I have proposed that the Commission looks into whether it would be useful to establish a post of Consumer Ombudsman reporting to the Commission, who would specifically deal with cross-border cases. This high official could act as a gatekeeper, a sort of selective authority, as is the case in national contexts when means of legal redress are being implemented. Hopefully, the report and the compromises contained in it will receive the widest possible support.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I would like to thank Parliament for supporting the objectives and actions of our Consumer Policy Strategy for the years 2007-2013 and of course for the great support and work of the rapporteur.

I welcome the view of Parliament on the necessity to transform the 27 national mini-markets into a pan-European retail market – the largest in the world. To achieve this, we need to increase the confidence of consumers to shop across borders. We often say that trust is the currency of the modern economy. I believe that, through our endeavours and substantial efforts, helped by the set of our strategy, we could, step by step, achieve this goal.

In this context, I also very much appreciate the support given to the proposed framework directive on consumer contractual rights, which is the tool for achieving the goal. I am particularly pleased with the agreement of Parliament on the need for targeted full harmonisation where bottlenecks to the functioning of the internal market are identified.

On the Consumer Markets Scoreboard, I am grateful for the welcome given by the European Parliament to this initiative and look forward to your full support later this year. The Scoreboard is central to the aim of the strategy of better understanding how the internal market is working for our consumers – to measure the outcome of the internal market for consumers. When the Scoreboard is fully developed, we will really be able to deliver better regulation and evidence-based policy-making. Equally important, we will demonstrate to our citizens that we understand and can respond to their day-to-day concerns.

You raised the question of redress. I would like to thank you for your support for the Consumer Policy Strategy’s focus on redress and enforcement. Redress, together with enforcement, is a key part of this Strategy. Like you, I strongly believe that, in order to make the internal market work, European consumers must be confident that they can enforce their rights and obtain redress across the whole European Union. I also believe that a complementarity of means of redress – judicial and non-judicial, both individual and collective – would allow the most efficient and appropriate treatment of consumer disputes. This would benefit both consumers and reputable businesses alike. Personally, I think that collective redress – both judicial and non-judicial – could be an effective means for strengthening the redress framework that we have already set up for European consumers. We have done this through the encouragement of ADR – alternative dispute resolution – mechanisms, the establishment of a European cross-border small claims procedure and the newly adopted Directive on Mediation.

Of course any future action in this area will need to be assessed carefully. As you know, I have launched two studies aimed at further exploring the issue of collective redress. The first one will examine the effectiveness and efficiency of existing collective redress mechanisms; it will assess whether consumers suffer a detriment in those Member States where collective redress is not available and examine the existence of negative effects for the single market.

The second study will provide information on the problems faced by consumers in obtaining redress for mass claims and will analyse the economic consequences of such problems for consumers, competitors and the relevant market.

I plan to use the results of these studies and the information collected from stakeholders and Member States for preparing a communication to be adopted by the Commission by the end of 2008. The aim of this communication will be to consult publicly and widely on the options available in the field of consumer collective redress.

At the same time, I am evaluating how the Directive on Injunctions was implemented by the Member States and the impact that it has had on the enforcement of consumer rights in the EU. My conclusions will be set out in a report that should also be adopted by the Commission at the end of this year.

Again, thank you to Parliament for sharing the vision of the new, market-based consumer policy – one where informed and empowered consumers confidently look for, and benefit from, the best offers in terms of price and quality in the largest retail market in the world.

 
  
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  Piia-Noora Kauppi, Draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. − Mr President, I would like to welcome the Commission communication, as well as the report of Mr Lehtinen as both are overall very balanced pieces of work.

Moreover, they rightly bring out an important notion that must be addressed at EU level – consumer policy is and must be part of the internal market.

This leads me to what the Committee on Economic Affairs has rightly brought into the report: completing the internal market is in itself great consumer policy. EU-wide competition brings prices down and increases quality and consumer choice. The EU-wide access to consumers to these choices must be asserted.

In an internal market, consumers are drivers of the market economy and can, through their choices, protect their own interests. Therefore, the consistent implementation of existing directives regarding the internal market is of paramount importance.

The Committee on Economic Affairs’ opinion correctly highlights two areas that are of particular importance in this respect. First, financial services: a real internal market in banking, loans, insurance etc. is needed to empower European consumers. This is especially pressing as democratic developments are making best possible investment services increasingly relevant to all. Big hurdles remain to be overcome here.

Second, e-commerce. This is linked to functioning financial markets and conditioned by the development of payment systems, but it is also important to practically all aspects of the internal market as the internet offers a real European marketplace. So we must make sure that European e-commerce really functions and consumers have right choices there.

 
  
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  Diana Wallis, Draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs. − Mr President, in the Committee on Legal Affairs we agree with you, Commissioner: let us get rid of these 27 mini-markets; but, in order to do that, you need a much more common legal framework. I think our starting point that would help us get there is if we saw all elements of the Commission who are involved with the internal market working also coherently together. The one issue that has long interested us, and we felt that perhaps there was not sufficient mention of, was the contract law project and the common frame of reference.

We do not want to feel that this is being forgotten and everybody is moving on to the next thing which we support you in, in terms of collective redress, but let us also devote our efforts still towards the common frame of reference. We would like to have seen more emphasis on ADR forms of redress, particularly in the on-line world which is something we, as a committee, have long supported. With collective redress, yes, we are happy that you look at it and we go forward in that area, but please do not let us end up where we have with contract law, bedevilled with questions over legal base and other issues.

 
  
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  Anna Hedh, draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. − (SV) Mr President, let me say a big thank you to the Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, and rapporteur Lasse Lehtinen.

I welcome the strategy and am very glad that consumers are being treated as an important group to look after. We know that we shall never get a flourishing internal market unless we have satisfied and secure consumers. But I share the rapporteur’s view that the strategy calls for continuous follow-up if it is really to develop to the consumers’ advantage.

As rapporteur for the strategy in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, however, I am disappointed that the main reporting committee did not take account of more than one of our 13 amendments. They contain many important and worthwhile proposals. We wanted to see a clearer gender perspective. Consumer policy is definitely not gender-neutral. Gender should be taken into account just as children, the elderly and the disabled are taken into account. I hope that this can be taken up again in the next review.

 
  
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  Colm Burke, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, my thanks to Mr Lehtinen and to the shadow rapporteurs for the good cooperation over the last few months. This report introduces some very positive elements in the area of consumer policy moving forward. Consumers can only exercise their rights if they are aware of those rights, and empowerment of consumers in the EU is a central element of this report, and this will be achieved through education and awareness campaigns. Special focus will be given to equip consumers with the skills and tools needed to increase their confidence in the digital environment.

The report commends the Commission’s efforts to strengthen cooperation in the area of product safety and at international level, in particular with Chinese and US authorities. Continued dialogue and information-sharing on product safety is in the interest of all parties and is central to building consumer confidence.

In relation to consumer redress, together with my PPE-DE colleagues I strongly support easy and effective access to redress for all consumers in the EU. We know that non-judicial forms of redress are the preferred solution of most consumers as they serve consumers’ interests most rapidly at the lowest possible cost.

As I have stated since the outset of discussions, I do not support calls for legislative action to introduce an ill-thought-out system of collective redress in the EU. The Commission is currently preparing various studies on existing systems of consumer redress in the Member States and rather than pre-empt the results of the Commission studies I, together with my PPE-DE colleagues, call for a strong role for Parliament and the Member States in assessing the results of the studies before deciding upon further action. It is not in consumers’ interests to hastily introduce a system of collective redress which would be both costly and ineffective. In all other respects I support the report.

 
  
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  Evelyne Gebhardt, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, may I express my thanks to Mr Lehtinen for the really good draft report he has given us, which provides us with a very sound basis for our discussions.

I should like to highlight three very important points from this report. The first is the need to ensure that a leading role is played by instruments which we already possess in the European Union for the promotion of safety and prevention. This is why it is very important that the RAPEX system should be further improved so that it can serve the interests of consumers even more effectively.

The second very important point is that Solvit, which is such a key instrument, should be nurtured and improved. There is still a very considerable information gap among consumers, too many of whom have never heard of Solvit and do not know that it could resolve a good few problems for them. That is also very important.

I am also very gratified that the European Commission is to examine the EE symbol again. Many people believe that the EE symbol is a safety mark, but unfortunately it is not. We should ensure, together with you and Commissioner Verheugen, that the rules governing this symbol are formulated so as to enable us to assure the public in future that they can rely on the safety of products bearing the EE mark. That is a very important aim.

The last and most important point, however, in the view of my group is the system of collective redress that we in the Socialist Group are advocating. The entire statute book serves no purpose if consumers cannot assert their enshrined rights, be it because there is a cross-border dimension which makes the law very difficult to enforce or because there are many small claims for minor losses, although these can certainly suck people dry over time. It is absolutely essential that we not only encourage the European Commission to examine and develop such a system but actually urge it to do so and to present us with an appropriate piece of draft legislation as soon as possible so that we can really give consumers due security and protection.

I very much regret that the PPE-DE Group has not seen fit to advocate this system with the vigour and commitment that are needed to give consumers and the public at large real confidence in the European Union and the internal market, for such confidence comes from knowing that they are properly protected when they go shopping in Europe.

 
  
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  Alexander Lambsdorff, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, may I begin by congratulating Lasse Lehtinen on this good and balanced draft report. We are in agreement on very many points. One reason for this has been the very good preliminary work of the Commission in this case. There are few contentious points.

Consumer strategy will be one of the main topics of discussion during the next stage in the development of the internal market. At the heart of the three main challenges facing the European Union, namely growth, employment and the recognition and satisfaction of people's needs, are 490 million consumers. The internal market has the potential to become the world's largest retail market. This is why the ALDE Group supports the Commission's targeted efforts to create one large retail market out of 27 mini-markets.

We also welcome the way in which the draft reinforces the horizontal element of consumer policy as well as its proposal for the appointment of what it calls consumer-liaison officers. In this context I should make special mention of the proposed strengthening of the European Consumer Centres and the particular attention given to the needs of children and elderly people.

May I also say something on the subject of collective redress, with which we have a problem. We have had little information and much dogma. I believe it would be premature, Meglena, to say that you will have the solid backing of Parliament on this matter. We have just heard from the PPE-DE Group that it will not back you. I believe the PPE-DE is failing to recognise the real problems. There is a scatter-gun type of damage that affects many consumers in more than one country. It is legitimate for the Commission to give some thought to this whole matter and examine it in a study. On the other hand we have PSE dogma, which craves this instrument at all costs as a political tool, regardless of the real problems – and the real problems are manifold.

There is, for example, the problem of the legal basis. Where in the Treaty does it say that we here in the Commission and Parliament are entitled to interfere with the Member States' codes of civil and criminal procedure? What did Diana Wallis just tell us on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs? The problem of contract law is still unresolved. The question of opting in or opting out, the role of the Ombudsman – there are many problems to resolve. It is simply not enough to say we do not want the US system. The Americans also had the best of intentions when they first created their system. It goes without saying that they did not intentionally create a bad system at the outset.

For these reasons we should maintain an agnostic, critical position. We should wait for the study, take its findings seriously and then engage in an informed, non-dogmatic and responsible discussion, as befits this Parliament.

 
  
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  Leopold Józef Rutowicz, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, Mr Lehtinen’s report deals with the major issues of pro-quality strategy for the coming years. That strategy is important for the citizens of the Union, and I want to stress some of the problems involved. In the creation of national and EU law there should be greater input from consumer organisations, which are encountering difficulties in pursuing their activities and obtaining funding in certain countries. The Union should provide more substantive and financial assistance to those organisations. The collective redress systems applicable in certain countries should be used against dishonest market players, and a collective redress system should be introduced at European level.

European consumer centres in the individual countries, as well as consumer organisations and consumer rights spokesmen, should step up information and education activities aimed at special protection for the most vulnerable consumers. Protection can be made more effective through the involvement of the Solvit and RAPEX consumer centres. We support this report.

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (SV) Thank you, Mr President. Support for consumers’ rights is often weak and so needs to be strengthened. I therefore thank the rapporteur and members of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, who have succeeded in strengthening support for those consumer groups which most need protection: children and the elderly.

Strong consumer support calls for active consumer organisations. Individuals are not strong when they stand alone. It is through these organisations that consumers gain strength and acquire more knowledge and information. These organisations therefore need reliable and secure financing. But the insecurity which currently prevails in purchases across national borders needs to be resolved by creating the possibility for group actions to be brought against firms which break the law. The greatest problem for consumers today is that it is difficult to get a dispute between different countries heard because there are no instances to resolve such cross-border disputes. The EU must first develop instances to resolve disputes, not create more EU legislation. I think the proposal to appoint an EU consumer ombudsman is highly dubious. Why introduce more services to be financed at EU level, thereby risking a cut in appropriations for consumers organisations? Consumers will not gain anything from that.

In conclusion, I regret that the amendments from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – as usual, I have to say – were voted down in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. They were worthy of a better fate.

 
  
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  Hanne Dahl, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (DA) Mr President, it is a pleasure to take the floor for the first time and within an area of responsibility in which I look forward to working. It is of course positive that through this report the European Parliament is taking the initiative to secure the rights of consumers. However, I fear that, bit by bit, this legislation will simply amount to patching things up. There will be patches that cover up the fact that the EU is organised in such a way that consideration for the free mobility of goods, capital and services will always take precedence over consideration for consumers and other ‘soft’ areas. I believe that today’s debate reflects this.

I would like to give two very specific examples of ways in which we must secure the rights of consumers. It is vital that we secure the consumer’s right to complain in their own country and in their own language, and it is vital that food products and other goods that could constitute a health risk can be subject to checks in the event of import into the individual countries. The individual countries should be allowed to carry out checks and demand a higher standard than that laid down in EU regulations, out of consideration for the environment and the health of consumers. The EU’s consumer health strategy must be based on the principle of caution instead of an ideological school of thought that merely serves to allow all goods to move completely freely across borders. This can be done by securing the right to complain and contact legal bodies locally, as well as by allowing the import of goods to be stopped if there are health-related reasons for doing so.

 
  
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  Sergej Kozlík (NI). – (SK) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the report rightly assesses the positive effect of the euro in terms of reducing the cost of financial operations. Consumers have found it easier to compare prices in cross-border contracts and have also welcomed the increased retail potential in the internal market. I agree that the new Member States should be encouraged to continue their reforms and that they should be able to adopt the euro as soon as they fulfil the Maastricht criteria, in order to take full advantage of a common currency in the internal market.

The European Parliament will soon have an opportunity to test this proposal in practice when it debates the enlargement of the euro zone to include the Slovak Republic. Slovakia has, with considerable effort and well ahead of target, fulfilled the Maastricht convergence criteria. I reject the attitude of some colleagues who are now hammering us with a vague and fuzzy counter-argument about the permanent sustainability of these criteria. That could go on indefinitely.

 
  
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  Charlotte Cederschiöld (PPE-DE). – Mr President, in the internal market consumers and providers, as well as goods and services, should be able to move freely.

Consumers must not be less protected in other Member States than at home if we want to ensure and enhance cross-border activities. Therefore, I welcome the horizontal approach in the consumer policy and the better protection it will lead to.

It means empowered consumers and strong consumer protection as well as a business-friendly internal market legislation. However, we are concerned about the hasty approach concerning collective redress.

It is too early for Parliament to take a position. We need thorough studies of the existing systems in the Member States and an assessment of the need of a European collective redress system. We do not have enough knowledge at this stage of the consequences in terms of risk abuse, higher costs for consumers and businesses and more regulation.

I do not believe that anyone supports the introduction of a European system in the EU knowing all the drawbacks and disproportionate consequences it would bring. For now, we encourage other means of redress which are more rapid and at lower costs and leave the regulation to the Member States to be decided nationally. Existing instruments and non-legislative tools can be used at EU level.

We call on the Commission to carry out the study and present its results to Parliament and the Member States. Why go further than what is needed in order to achieve the objectives of the Treaty? Why take away the possibility of choice for Member States keeping different dispute-solving mechanisms? There are many questions to be answered.

There is no clear indication so far that an EU-collective redress system brings added value to the internal market and its consumers and businesses. The EU should not legislate without strong reasons.

 
  
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  Bernadette Vergnaud (PSE) . – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin by congratulating Lasse Lehtinen on the excellent work he has done and on his capacity for listening. His report sets out to improve a Commission strategy that is already based on the principles of protecting and empowering consumers.

I support the horizontal approach advocated by the rapporteur as a means of reconciling the protection of consumers – and especially the most vulnerable consumers – with an efficient internal market. Likewise, it is essential that consumer organisations should be given a greater role in preparing legislative proposals.

In relation to product safety, the Commission not only needs to pursue its market surveillance efforts; it also needs to act quickly to establish principles for a CE marking system that will offer a genuine guarantee of quality, traceability and safety.

Lastly, it is essential to improve access to redress by proposing a European system of collective redress that will allow consumers to exercise their rights in full where there is proven harm, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of the US system. Voting in favour of these things can only strengthen public confidence in a European market model that is both open and protective.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Commission's consumer strategy encompasses various thematic areas, in which we very largely support its position. We support you too, Mrs Kuneva, in your personal commitment to the completion of the single market and your particular focus on consumers and their role in the internal market.

There are various areas of common ground. Reference has already been made to the aim of strengthening the European Consumer Centres and the Solvit system. That aim enjoys cross-party support. We also acknowledge the need for a horizontal approach to consumer policy but regret the weak emphasis on the law of contract. We must take care that contract law does not cause our proposals to fray at the edges so that we end up with patchwork legislation. This evening's vote in committee showed that consumers trust the law if they are fairly sure that they know it. If time limits vary from one jurisdiction to another, consumer confidence will wane quite considerably. We therefore need the common reference framework, because we need uniform standards in order to build consumer confidence.

The same applies to collective redress. We have heard that various groups have adopted diverse positions. The position of the PPE-DE Group is quite clear: we concur with the analysis that there are certain weak points where consumer interests are less well protected, especially with regard to cross-border transactions. We look in vain, however, for an analysis of the reasons why these weak points exist, and no one in the chamber this evening has offered any explanation. We have been promised studies. We shall read them very carefully, page by page. If these studies only analyse the legal position, however, and not the differences between the Member States in terms of the enforcement of their own laws, these studies will bring us no further forward at the end of the day.

May I therefore say to you, Mrs Kuneva, that we are wide open to real progress and take a very constructive attitude to the enforcement of existing rights but that these consumer rights cannot be more effectively enforced unless they ultimately work properly in practice. In Germany we have the Capital Investors' Test Cases Act, under which numerous shareholders have brought a group action against Deutsche Telekom; it has become evident in the course of these proceedings that the theory and practice of collective redress are often poles apart.

 
  
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  Gabriela Creţu (PSE). – (RO) It is obvious that consumers who are well-informed about their rights can reach a high level of satisfaction and defend their interests. Nevertheless, besides knowledge, citizens also need an instrument available in order to request compensations when their rights are infringed. For this reason, we believe that group actions are necessary and welcome in a form efficient for the consumer and balanced for the market. Continuing and strengthening the process of the internal market supervision is just as necessary.

We believe the existent opinion barometer is very useful and will support its financing in the budget for 2009 as well, yet requesting more emphasis on recording and comparing the priced of goods and services traded in the 27 Member States. Last but not least, we should not forget that the consumers’ rights should also function in the field of services, including the financial services and the services in the digital environment, where the degree of risk is much higher and it is much more difficult to prove the infringement of rights.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I want to thank Lasse Lehtinen for a very comprehensive report, which contains an enormous amount of extremely significant ideas. As the Commissioner said earlier, to enable consumers to become better informed and more confident and to exercise that critical choice, we want innovative and safe products and services. All of those things will come from support for consumers and enhancing their rights.

I say this to Lasse particularly because I am disappointed that he has allowed all this good work to be overshadowed by one single issue. The problem with this issue about collective redress is that our colleagues in the Socialist Group seem to have already jumped to a conclusion that they want some new European legislation. I was delighted to hear you confirm, Commissioner, that you have two studies – not just one – looking at this issue in depth. We on this side of the House want to await the report before we jump to conclusions, but it appears that our colleagues on the Socialist side think that this is already a great thing and that, because we do not support it, we are some anti-consumer. You only have to read some of the press releases – the colourful releases, the red-coloured releases – that have come out on that side of the House. I just want to reject emphatically the fact that this side of the House is against consumer rights because we are not committing an advance to a proposal for which we do not even have the information. I say this to all our colleagues here: wrapping yourself in red tape and potentially adding great cost to consumers is not pro-consumer. Let us wait and see the conclusions.

I say to Alexander Lambsdorff that he has allowed himself to be hijacked by this, but all he has to do tomorrow for us to unanimously support Lasse Lehtinen’s report, is to vote for our Amendments 5 and 6, which keep the door firmly open. We will wait for Mrs Kuneva’s report and we will look at it and study it with an open mind, but, in the mean time, we will continue to be the great champions for consumers in the internal markets, for their effective rights that will be delivered by the existing legislation we have at the moment.

 
  
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  Joel Hasse Ferreira (PSE). – (PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Lehtinen report quite rightly considers that the needs of consumer protection can be satisfied by legislation only if it is better and simpler, and that a more coherent legal framework for consumer rights is needed.

I therefore call upon the Commission and the Member States to provide adequate funding for strong and independent consumer organisations. Such funding is absolutely essential for progress to be made in constructing a true internal market for consumers.

Collective redress, meanwhile, deserves the closest attention and my support, given the positive experience recorded in various Member States.

I would also like to say, as Mr Lehtinen stresses, that a strong consumer protection system will also benefit competitive producers and sellers, creating incentives for businesses to produce and sell more durable goods, resulting in more sustainable growth.

The report goes further than this, however, and I applaud Mr Lehtinen when he states that consumer protection should be an integral part of the planning and design of products and services.

Finally, I would like to say that I share his conclusion that effective and improved consumer protection is necessary in order to achieve a better functioning internal market. I would like to thank him and say that I believe we now have the best conditions for a good strategic understanding with Mrs Kuneva in this area.

 
  
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  Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, there is no need to stress the importance of customer satisfaction for businesses. Each of us as a consumer knows that dishonest business practices − deliberately misleading information or unsatisfactory after-sales service − effectively makes us disinclined to purchase any more goods or services from the company concerned. It is important, however, that consumers should always have the possibility of real choice, of changing the service provider or seller. Without a doubt, such choice creates a competitive market in which it does not pay market players to discourage consumers. In a competitive market the entrepreneur knows that he risks losing his market position, and with it his profits and prospects of further development. I believe the European Union internal market has such potential. I am pleased that the possibility of creating the internal market exists, that it exists thanks to consumers, and that that fact has been noticed. Obviously, I am not saying we are already operating in such a market. Consumers still lack the knowledge needed in order to seek out the most advantageous offers, and some entrepreneurs withhold that information from them. Moreover, service providers themselves often take insufficient account of consumers’ interests.

It is therefore important to ensure that consumers’ rights are respected, that they have the right to full, intelligible, simple and easily comparable information, and that that right is respected by companies and law-makers. It is no less important that consumers should be informed about their rights and made aware of the tools that exist to help them in taking decisions in a free market. In this respect, consumer organisations have a large part to play. Nor should we forget that the defence of consumers’ rights, and the possibility of effectively enforcing them, are immensely important for the proper functioning of the market. As the rapporteur points out, however, defence of the consumer must not serve as an excuse for market protectionism. Our task is to strike the right balance in consumer protection so as not to create a barrier to business development.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) I welcome the Commission’s report on the EU consumer policy strategy and I also appreciate your efforts, Commissioner Kuneva, to promote a consumer culture based on consumer awareness and better access to information.

I believe that strong and independent consumer organisations are the backbone of an effective consumer policy and I am happy that Mr Lehtinen’s report included the changes I proposed in article 7, where Parliament calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide sufficient finance for consumer organisations. This concerns primarily financial support for intensive training programs aimed at those working in consumer organisations. Consumer organisations are best informed about consumers’ needs and should therefore be consulted on all areas of consumer policy that will affect consumers.

I fully support the two amendments proposed by my political group, the PPE-DE, to Article 40 of the report dealing with collective redress. Only if such a need is identified by the impact study should the Commission propose a European framework, which would give all consumers in all the Member States easy access to various redress mechanisms in cross-border complaints.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) In the context of the European Union consumer protection strategy, I would like to mention the importance of quality of services and products. If consumers are already used to resorting to consumer protection offices in relation to products, this does not happen when it comes to services. Many times, consumers sign contracts for the supply of services without reading the contractual provisions carefully and if they do read them carefully they believe they cannot propose any amendments thereof. In fact, they do not have the same power of negotiation the suppliers of services have, although some observations from consumers could improve the content of contracts and increase their confidence.

I would like to draw attention to the need to protect tourists and passengers as regards compliance with their rights which, unfortunately, many of them do not know and claim. Special attention should be given to electronic services as well. The consumers’ confidence in digital services is essential for the European Union’s competitiveness and, especially, for the development of economy based on knowledge.

In conclusion, I would like to mention the fact that we also have to speak about the quality of public services and, in this context, about consumer protection.

 
  
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  Magor Imre Csibi (ALDE). – (RO) First of all, I would like to congratulate Mr. Lehtinen for the consistent report. Nevertheless, I would like to make an observation regarding Paragraph 35 of the report. This paragraph refers to the creation of a European Consumer Ombudsman in the European Ombudsman’s office. This proposal seems to be a very complicated and not very efficient procedure to me.

First of all, the creation of such a position requires financial resources. We would have a redistribution of funds between the European consumer protection centres and the potential new Ombudsman. Secondly, bureaucracy would increase at the level of the European Union. Last but not least, we would have an overlapping of the newly-created Ombudsman’s tasks and the European consumer protection centres. I don’t believe that a new instrument would bring more efficiency in solving the complaints filed by European consumers. But I do think that an efficient and thorough implementation of the legislation would reduce the dissatisfaction related to the internal market operation.

In conclusion, I request the European Commission representatives to take into consideration Paragraph 7, by which we request the allocation of adequate funds to the consumer organizations across the European Union.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, globalisation of our market requires strong, clear and easily enforceable consumer rights and I am happy to see the Commission making very successful efforts in this area. In my report last year I pointed out that consumer confidence in e-commerce would be enhanced by sample consumer contracts and by better mechanisms for dealing with complaints, as well as by the European trustmark and the consumer charter. However, I do not think that a European Consumer Ombudsman will help us a great deal. We need instead to increase financial support for the existing consumer organisations and supervisory bodies in the Member States, because they are the bodies that are increasingly identifying the unsafe products from Asia, namely toys, children’s shoes and sports equipment. The citizens expect us to come up with a more successful means of dealing with cross-border complaints, as has already been said here many times. That is further justification for harmonising the rules in the Member States. However, collective redress is problematic; it may be good for the lawyers, but it is often very costly for consumers or providers. I therefore welcome the Commission’s intention to assess the results of the German or British model first and only then to consider the possible way forward, not being pushed into a blind alley by the Socialists. I would like to express my appreciation of the work done by our rapporteur and that of the Commission on the reform of the consumer policy.

 
  
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  Evelyne Gebhardt (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, I intend to make my fellow Member Malcolm Harbour happy tomorrow by wearing my red suit to show him that the red corner really does know what it wants. That, in fact, is the difference between what we on the Left are seeking and what those on the Right are up to, namely creating a big blue smokescreen to hide the fact that they do not actually want consumer protection at all but are committed first and foremost to the defence of industrial interests. It is only right that this should be made clear for once.

 
  
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  Meglena Kuneva, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, I understood I have only two minutes, but I wish this talk could be much longer. I very much hope that I will continue with all of you, whenever you have time and interest, to discuss together consumer issues. I would be more than delighted, because I receive a lot of incentives – even in this late session.

I would like to make my political commitment, that I will continue to tackle the issues with sustainable development, working on CEE and GPSD (the General Product Safety Directive) and they how could they be complementary to each other. Of course I will continue with the digital guide, which was one of the very first talks which I had with Ms Roithová. I am, of course, working together with my fellow commissioners; this portfolio is becoming more and more wide-ranging and evolving other portfolios, but I believe that this is part of the beauty of this portfolio.

So, there are many things. Let me agree with all of you in saying that if we would like to have a complete internal market, we need to stress the rights of consumers. This is really the only way to fulfil and to square the second phase of the internal market. I believe that if we are making good progress with our scoreboard, this scoreboard will be part of the internal market’s bigger picture, and then we will have already quite a full understanding of how the European internal market is going on.

I was specially touched by Mrs Dahl – I am sorry that she is no longer in the plenary – who said that this was the first time that she had taken the floor. But, referring to the so-called race to the bottom, if we have common rules everywhere in the European Union and not just protecting, in the best way, the national consumer, I think that we should not pick the winners, except one: if the winner is the consumer.

We started, years ago, making a good environment for business, and this was the right thing. But if you want to develop European business, business needs consumers, and we cannot deny that consumers need the same tackling of bottlenecks, so that they can feel comfortable everywhere, as a Swede living in Brussels, for example – we need to have the same rights, we need to have the same rights when we are shopping and enjoying e-commerce and other distance selling.

Let me focus for a while on collective redress. I carefully listened to all of you. Let me mention that, in our 10 benchmarks, which we distributed, discussed and received more than 300 opinions about, half of these collective redress benchmarks were related not to having punitive damages compensated and not to being an expensive procedure. So at least five of these benchmarks are related and address the issue of not having additional costs.

I believe that the best thing is to open our minds and not to make dogma, and this is my plea for support in this aspect. So I would also like to tell you that what we are preparing is communication: this is why we do not have a study on economic, social and environmental impact, as is done for all our legislative proposals. But we are doing something much more in preparation, and this is to have two really very thorough studies, comparative studies.

Let me invite you: before the end of the month we will have three big stakeholders’ conferences: with businesses, with consumers and with academics, and our services will provide four places in the workshops for European Parliament representatives. All the outcomes of these three events will be absolutely public, put on our websites and communicated in the best manner, and of course I am around and always open to continue to discuss your hopes and your fears.

I would like to end by thanking you and saying that maybe for the first time, almost nobody mentioned that Europe is going to do a class action. I believe that this is a positive sign.

 
  
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  Lasse Lehtinen, rapporteur. − Mr President, I would like to thank all my colleagues who spoke here tonight and, of course, Commissioner Kuneva for her constructive attitude that we have become familiar with since she came into office.

I have a couple of remarks. Mrs Kauppi mentioned financial services. The growing area of cross-border banking, insurance sales and wealth management which has some very sophisticated instruments is a growing problem. The rules still confuse consumers even at a national level. So I think that in this area we need a cross-border collective redress system as well, because it will make financial institutions more responsible and careful when they explain the rights and risks to the customer.

We all know the sad figures that tell us how citizens in Member States are afraid of buying goods and services across borders, which is completely due to a lack of confidence. But I trust that, when we proceed in the good mood in which we have discussed this report among ourselves and with the Commission, we can only succeed in building more confidence among European consumers.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 20 May 2008.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Gábor Harangozó (PSE) , in writing. – We welcome the ongoing efforts to further incorporate the level of consumers' awareness as the necessary basis for the effective implementation of the existing consumer protection legal framework, especially with regard to the most vulnerable groups of the population.

Not only is there a need for a more comprehensive legal framework for consumers' rights, but also we ought genuinely to take into consideration consumers’ interests when completing the internal market standardisation. It is obvious that a stronger, unique consumer protection system effective all over the Union is in the interest of all citizens. The completion of the internal market is an opportunity to implement harmonisation measures so as to target the problems faced by consumers in their everyday life. Specific attention should therefore be given to sectors related to the new digital environment.

A good consumer is a consumer aware of his or her rights and how rightfully to enforce them. We ought to develop in the Community a genuine consumer culture as part of our education system and to systematically involve consumer organizations in the consultations and the dialogue with industry. We welcome therefore the call to establish a special European Consumer Ombudsman in the European Ombudsman’s office on a country-by-country basis.

 
  
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  Roselyne Lefrançois (PSE), in writing. – (FR) I warmly welcome Mr Lehtinen’s report, which puts consumer protection at the heart of efforts to complete the internal market.

The report points out that a high level of protection for all consumers in the European Union can be achieved only through a horizontal approach – in other words with the help of sector-based directives aimed at harmonising national laws – and it also underscores the need to strengthen confidence among those same consumers. That depends particularly on ensuring the safety of all products in circulation and the security of all transactions both in the realm of cross-border trade in services and in electronic commerce.

I am also pleased that the report proposes research into the implementation at European level of rapid and effective means of redress for consumers. The establishment of non-judicial systems of dispute resolution would be one means of meeting expectations in this regard, as would the adaptation of certain forms of redress such as collective action – which already exist in certain Member States – to the Community legal context.

At the same time, I believe it would be useful to explore in greater depth, and in the light of different national experiences, the advantages and the limitations of such arrangements.

 
  
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  Vincent Peillon (PSE) , in writing. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to see that the European Commission has made the protection of Europe’s consumers one of its priorities with its proposed EU Consumer Policy strategy for 2007-2013.

I should also like to thank my Finnish Socialist colleague Lasse Lehtinen for his excellent work and the significant contributions he makes in his report.

I welcome his vision of a horizontal approach at European level, for it is essential that the interests of consumers should be taken into account in all the Union’s policies. At the same time I support his wish to give consumer associations a greater role in drafting European rules, and his proposal to improve protection for the most vulnerable consumers, particularly young and elderly people, through more information campaigns aimed specifically at them.

I also strongly support the introduction of a European system of collective redress that would enable consumers in different Member States to take their complaints jointly to the courts and seek redress, while avoiding the pitfalls of the US model. So I hope that, despite opposition on the conservative side, this House will vote in favour of a European ‘class action’ system.

 
  
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  Katrin Saks (PSE) , in writing. – (FI) I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Lehtinen, for the work he has done in compiling this report.

One of the most important objectives of the consumer policy strategy proposed by the Commission is to make consumer protection the focus of the EU internal market.

I would like to stress that this is the very means by which we will be able to establish the best possible conditions for our consumers, and take an important step closer to attaining the objectives of the European Union.

How can we achieve this? Consumers must have access to accurate information on which to base their decisions. An informed consumer is also a more active consumer! An internal market which is working well must provide the EU’s citizens with good options as well as reasonable prices and the opportunity to purchase high-quality goods and services.

Another important issue is class actions, which cannot be brought in Estonia, unlike some of the countries which are our neighbours. I do not believe, however, that this has been to the benefit of our consumers. Quite the reverse.

It is important to learn from the experiences of others: claims for damages must be related to the actual harm suffered. Similarly it is important for consumers to be able to rely on their rights; they should not have to waive them because they do not have the resources to take the providers of goods or services in other countries to court.

Our clear wording protects the consumers’ interests in that regard and I believe that the need for class actions has become a key cross-border issue.

 

28. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes

29. Closure of the sitting
  

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

 
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