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Debates
Thursday, 8 July 2010 - StrasbourgOJ edition
 ANNEX (Written answers)
QUESTIONS TO THE COUNCIL (The Presidency-in-Office of the Council of the European Union bears sole responsibility for these answers)

QUESTIONS TO THE COUNCIL (The Presidency-in-Office of the Council of the European Union bears sole responsibility for these answers)
Question no 1 by Mairead McGuinness(H-0303/10)
 Subject: Food supply chain
 

Can the Council outline what plans it has, if any, to address transparency in the food supply chain, in particular the role and power of the major supermarket chains in the EU?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council is fully aware of the need to find satisfactory and effective solutions to the issue of improving the functioning of the food chain, with one such solution being measures to increase transparency in the system.

The volatility of prices observed in the food supply chain has been at the top of the EU institutions’ political agenda for some years now. The Council is closely monitoring the consequences of the imbalance that exists within the food chain, where a small number of distributors have become the sole partners of millions of farmers.

During its meetings of 18 January and 29 March the Council gave its verdict on the need to ensure that a sustainable, balanced relationship is established between farmers and large distributors. The Council already felt that transparency throughout the food chain was regarded as a key factor in encouraging competition and combating price volatility.

As far as specific measures are concerned, in the Presidency’s conclusions of 29 March 2010 on the Commission communication ‘A better functioning food supply chain in Europe’, the Presidency invited the Commission to propose measures suitable for increasing transparency in the food chain. The measures included, in particular, increased monitoring of pricing, through an analysis of costs, mechanisms and added value, in accordance with competition law and trade secret protection. The Presidency emphasised the importance of making best use of the statistical data already available rather than imposing new and costly information communication obligations, so as to avoid unwarranted administrative costs.

These proposals for specific measures, if presented by the Commission, will be examined by the Council at the appropriate time.

 

Question no 2 by Bernd Posselt(H-0307/10)
 Subject: Situation in Chechnya
 

What is the Council’s assessment of the human rights and political situation in Chechnya? Does it see any opportunities for an internationally assisted peace and democratisation process in the region?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council shares the honourable Member’s concerns about the political and human rights situation in the North Caucasus region, and in Chechnya in particular, and it continues to monitor the situation closely. As part of their political and human rights dialogue, the most recent example of which was the EU-Russia Summit held on 31 May and 1 June in Rostov-on-Don, the EU and Russia regularly address the issue of the importance of contributing to a de-escalation of conflict in the region, promoting socioeconomic development, combating impunity and respecting human rights, which includes the protection of journalists and human rights activists.

Several EU aid projects in Russia are focused on the socioeconomic recovery of the entire North Caucasus region, the promotion of human rights and the development of civil society. To date Russia has not requested any international aid for a specific peace and democratisation process in Chechnya, as the honourable Member suggests.

 

Question no 3 by Marian Harkin(H-0310/10)
 Subject: Belgian presidency priorities
 

What is the Belgian Presidency's position with regard to the Mercosur negotiations, given that nine Member States have already voiced their concerns with regard to the relaunching of those negotiations?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) As the honourable Member will be aware, negotiations between the European Union and Mercosur have remained deadlocked for more than six years. However, informal contacts at a technical level were resumed in 2009. In the light of the results of this informal dialogue, in particular the last two meetings, which took place on 18-19 March 2010 in Buenos Aires and on 26-27 April 2010 in Brussels, on 4 May the Commission decided to reopen negotiations with Mercosur. At the sixth EU-Latin America Summit, held in Madrid, the Heads of State or Government of the European Union and of Latin America recalled the importance of the negotiations that had just been relaunched.

The Belgian Presidency has outlined its main priorities in this area in the 18-month programme of the Council for the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies. In accordance with this programme, ‘Strong emphasis will be placed on the conclusion and signature of the Association Agreements with the Central American countries and the signature of the Multilateral Agreement with the Andean Community countries, as well as on the resumption and advancement of negotiations for the Association Agreement with Mercosur.’(1) The Belgian Presidency is fully aware of the concerns expressed with regard to the Commission’s decision to reopen the negotiations. As you mention in your question, during the May meeting of the Agriculture Council, nine Member States submitted a joint document, which received the support of several other Member States during the meeting and in which they express their concerns about an EU-Mercosur agreement for European agriculture. We are also fully aware of the opinions expressed within the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development during its meeting on 1 June.

At the same time I would point out that, in the case of the Mercosur negotiations, the Commission is bound by the negotiating mandate that was approved in 1999. As President Barroso declared on 4 May, the decision to reopen negotiations comes with a number of conditions attached, especially in the areas of sustainable development, intellectual property and geographical indications. Specific measures will also be introduced in the event of a negative impact on certain sectors, in particular the agricultural sector.

Indeed, as we know, Commissioner Cioloş admitted that these were delicate negotiations for the EU agricultural sector.

We have taken due note of the commitment made by the Commission to respect the mandate laid down in 1999 and to remain attentive to any negative impact that the agreement may have, particularly as regards the most vulnerable products.

As regards the overall advantages of any free trade agreement with Mercosur, the EU obviously would not conclude an agreement that went against its general economic interest or which jeopardised the progress of the Doha Development Round negotiations at the WTO.

As with other trade negotiations, the Council will closely monitor the development of these negotiations, on the basis of the Commission’s reports, and will ensure that the conditions laid down in its negotiating directives are met. To be a success, the EU-Mercosur negotiations must aim to address all aspects, in particular the key areas, which are: industrial goods, services and agriculture, as well as the protection of intellectual property rights, including geographical indications and public contracts.

 
 

(1)Doc. 16771/09 POLGEN 219.

 

Question no 4 by Georgios Papanikolaou(H-0312/10)
 Subject: Facilitating access to the financial market for young entrepreneurs
 

The European Union has taken a number of initiatives to encourage young people to set up businesses, such as the Erasmus programme for young entrepreneurs. However, the economic crisis affecting many Member States has created fresh challenges, such as the need for financial encouragement and support for young people wishing to set up their own business.

Is the Presidency prepared to take initiatives to promote cooperation and coordination among the Member States in order to facilitate access to the financial system for young entrepreneurs throughout the European Union?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council has received neither a proposal nor a recommendation from the Commission suggesting that young people should be granted preferential access to finance in order to set up businesses.

Nevertheless, pursuant to Decision No 1639/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 2006 establishing a Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007-2013), several mechanisms have been adopted at EU level to facilitate the award of appropriations to existing SMEs for initiatives to increase their competitiveness and potential for growth.

Mention should be made, firstly, of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme, which is part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007-2013). Its approach consists in supporting the most innovative companies (‘gazelles’) which demonstrate excellence and are most likely to succeed and achieve rapid growth.

The ‘Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs’ programme and other similar initiatives are perfectly pitched in the sense that they give young people the prior skills and experience they need to be ready to set up their own business and thus have more chance of success.

Moreover, the European Progress Microfinance Facility provides microcredit to small enterprises, as well as to people who have lost their jobs and want to set up their own business. With an initial budget of EUR 100 million, this facility should harness EUR 500 million in the form of loans, in cooperation with international financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank.

 

Question no 5 by Vilija Blinkevičiūtė(H-0315/10)
 Subject: Need for a framework for EU legislation on disabled people and anti-discrimination
 

Certain EU Member States have yet to give their agreement to the proposal for a Council directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (COM(2008)0426) (the anti-discrimination directive). The European Parliament adopted a report on the anti-discrimination directive as long ago as April of last year, but the directive cannot enter into force until all 27 Member States have adopted it unanimously. Discrimination is a complex matter and needs to be considered at different levels. That being the case, national governments should respect, safeguard and implement the human right to non-discrimination.

Given that there are already over 65 million disabled people in Europe, does the Council not consider it necessary to speed up the adoption of this directive in all Member States in order to ensure that disabled people live as full citizens? What is the Council’s opinion on the adoption of a dedicated legal act on disabled people, because, even if their rights will be protected under the EU’s anti-discrimination directive, there is still a need for a specific framework for EU legislation on disabled people’s rights?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council is aware of the fundamental importance of the issues raised by the honourable Member. It has already adopted a directive prohibiting discrimination on various grounds, including disability, in the field of employment and labour.

Furthermore, on 26 November 2009 the Council adopted its decision concerning the conclusion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some Member States have still to ratify the Convention. The new strategy for persons with disabilities being drawn up by the Commission will therefore play a crucial role in the implementation of the Convention.

In the resolution adopted on 7 June 2010, the Council and its Member States invite the Member States and the Commission, within the scope of their respective powers, ‘to promote the ratification and application of the UN Convention, continue the efforts to approve a Code of conduct, and adapt EU and national legislation, where necessary, to the provisions of the Convention’.

I would also inform you that the Council bodies are still examining the Commission proposal for an anti-discrimination directive, which the honourable Member mentions in her question. As the honourable Member points out, the directive cannot enter into force until it is unanimously adopted within the Council. The Council is therefore unable to anticipate the outcome or the duration of the negotiations.

Lastly, as regards, in particular, the idea of a dedicated legal act to safeguard disabled people’s rights, it is important to point out that the Council can only act as legislator on the basis of a Commission proposal. For the moment, the Commission has not presented a proposal on this matter.

 

Question no 6 by Jim Higgins(H-0319/10)
 Subject: The euro currency
 

Fears of debt contagion in the euro zone are widespread as the euro currency continues to devalue. The lack of action from the ECB has only fuelled fears that the Greek debt will destabilise the banking sector. Will the Council outline what steps will be taken at European level to increase confidence in our currency?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) Pursuant to Article 127 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, monetary policy shall be the responsibility of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), composed of the European Central Bank and the national central banks. The primary objective of the ESCB shall be to maintain price stability and protect the value of the euro.

The Council is aware of the concerns linked to the financial stability of the euro area and continues to closely monitor Member States’ budgetary policies under the excessive deficit procedure, in order to guarantee the viability of their public finances. Short- and medium-term budgetary consolidation must be achieved by means of strategies promoting growth and focused on expenditure restraint and must be accompanied by the implementation of long-term policies designed to eliminate any obstacles to growth.

In an effort to maintain financial stability in the euro area, several instruments have been introduced in recent months to help Member States in the euro area that are encountering difficulties. These include the stability support instrument for Greece, the European Stabilisation Mechanism and the European Financial Stability Facility.

While the stability support instrument for Greece and the European Financial Stability Facility are both temporary mechanisms for dealing with the current situation, it is envisaged that the economic policies of the euro area and of the EU as a whole will be further harmonised. To this end, the working group set up by the March European Council is currently developing the measures necessary to achieve the objective of an improved crisis resolution framework and enhanced budgetary discipline and will present a final report in October.

In this connection, the working group has already decided to strengthen the Stability and Growth Pact by improving upstream budgetary surveillance focused on prevention, on a more effective range of sanctions for non-compliance with the Pact, and by strengthening monitoring of the level and ratio of public debt. There is also agreement on the need for increased monitoring of macroeconomic imbalances.

The group plans to carry out a more detailed analysis of these aspects by October so as to develop some specific measures. The group also plans to discuss the scope for establishing a permanent crisis management mechanism and for strengthening governance.

The June European Council welcomed the progress report on economic governance drafted by the Chair of the working group and agreed on an initial set of guidelines: to strengthen the preventive and corrective aspects of the Stability and Growth Pact, if necessary by combining the stabilisation process with the medium-term objective of sanctions. It invited the working group and the Commission to refine and apply these guidelines without delay.

 

Question no 7 by Seán Kelly(H-0321/10)
 Subject: Patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare proposal
 

Can the Council update Parliament on any progress in the ongoing negotiations in the Council in relation to the proposal on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council has obviously taken due note of the adoption by your Parliament of the resolution of 24 April 2009, in which you support the prior authorisation system as a planning and management tool, provided that this system is transparent, predictable, non-discriminatory and that patients receive clear information in its regard. As regards the state of discussions within the Council on the proposal concerning the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare, a political agreement was adopted by a qualified majority during the Council meeting of 8 June 2010.

This agreement contains some new elements concerning, in particular, the dual legal basis of the proposal for a directive (Articles 114 and 168 – TFEU), the scope of the directive and the exceptions made with regard to its application, quality and safety provisions, the calculation of real costs, the terms of the prior authorisation system, reimbursement of the costs of treatment provided by non-contractual healthcare providers, cover for the healthcare costs of pensioners living abroad, and cooperation between Member States in the field, for example, of electronic healthcare.

The text of the political agreement is now subject to a linguistic legal review process, to enable the Council to develop its first-reading position and explanatory statement. Formal submission to the European Parliament will follow in September 2010, and negotiations in view of an agreement at second reading will take place under the Belgian Presidency.

 

Question no 8 by Jürgen Klute(H-0323/10)
 Subject: Scandal involving Colombia’s DAS intelligence service
 

The international press has reported widely on ‘Operation Europe’, revealing that the ‘European judicial system’, ‘the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee’, ‘the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ and European governments were the targets of a campaign of ‘smearing’, ‘neutralisation’ and ‘judicial warfare’ carried out by the DAS, an intelligence service under the direct authority of the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. This information corroborates other revelations that there have been many unlawful acts perpetrated against European organisations and citizens, not only on Colombian soil but on European territory itself: the taking of photographs, surveillance, infiltration of civil society events, etc. Smear campaigns conducted against European NGOs and individuals because of their work defending human rights in Colombia have been coordinated and supported by the DAS.

What has the Council's response been to 'Operation Europe' carried out on European soil?

Can the Council state which European intelligence services cooperated with the DAS in conducting such an operation in Europe?

Does the Council still consider that the Colombian Government is a suitable partner for a free trade agreement?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council takes the allegations referred to in the honourable Member’s question very seriously and is monitoring this matter closely and with the full attention it deserves, in particular on the basis of the information transmitted by the EU delegation and the Member States’ embassies present on the ground. The Council welcomes the Colombian Government’s most recent decisions on the matter, in particular as regards the new mandate given to the DAS, its new structure and the organisational changes within that body. The Council has also been informed that legal proceedings have been launched against several former DAS officials.

The EU makes a point of regularly voicing its concerns on all issues relating to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of its biannual human rights dialogue with the Colombian authorities.

The Council is also closely monitoring information on the DAS’s alleged ‘Operation Europe’, to which the honourable Member refers. However, the Council has not adopted a formal position on this matter for the moment. With regard to the issue raised by the honourable Member concerning the alleged involvement of Member States’ intelligence services, the Council has no knowledge of such allegations. It should be noted that this issue does not come under the jurisdiction of the Council. The Council is therefore unable to give its verdict on these issues, which are the sole responsibility of the Member States.

Lastly, with regard to the honourable Member’s final question, I would point out that the Council will be asked to give its opinion, when the time comes, on the draft agreement negotiated by the Commission, upon receipt of the corresponding proposal for a decision on the conclusion. The Council will, of course, consider all the relevant factors in this context in order to reach a decision on this draft agreement.

The Council notes, in this connection, that Parliament will also be required to adopt a position on this matter, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty.

 

Question no 9 by Gay Mitchell(H-0328/10)
 Subject: European oil spill
 

The United States has recently endured one of the worst environmental disasters in its history through the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Given the inevitably international nature of any such spill off the European coast, what is the Council doing to ensure that Member States are taking every precaution to avoid a similar disaster and that Member States are capable of a swift, coordinated and effective response should such a situation occur?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) While the Member States are in the first place responsible for their prevention policy, the Council believes it could be desirable, in a spirit of solidarity, to implement a complementary EU action in support of those undertaken at national, regional and local levels to prevent disasters. In the conclusions on a Community framework for disaster prevention in the EU which it adopted in November 2009(1), the Council called on the Commission to take an initial set of measures, in cooperation with the Member States, to reinforce prevention policy. In the framework of these measures, it is proposed, notably: by the end of 2010, to draw up Community guidelines on risk evaluation and risk mapping; by the end of 2012, to establish an overall cross-sectoral picture of the main risks, of natural or human origin, which the Union is likely to have to face in the future; and to lay down guidelines for the minimum norms specific to each eventuality in the context of disaster protection, especially for types of risk which are common to several Member States or to regions of more than one Member State.

In the case of an oil spill affecting the EU's coasts, the Union has at its disposal a number of mechanisms which can help ensure a swift, coordinated and effective response to an accident.

One of the responsibilities of the European Agency for Maritime Safety (EAMS) is, thus, to provide additional resources in support of the response mechanisms available to the Member States in case of pollution, should the latter so request. The EAMS, which can draw on the services of a reserve fleet of vessels for the recovery of oil products under contract in the entire EU, is able to complement the Member States' resources in fighting marine pollution.

In addition, under the EU's civil protection mechanism, which covers accidental marine pollution, the Commission is able to aid Member States through its Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) in cases of major emergency arising inside or outside the Union. This mechanism was activated on the request of the US authorities following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, at its meeting of 31 May 2010 the Commission informed the Council that its services had embarked on an examination of the EU legislation in force on the matter, with a view to ensuring that it can minimise the risks of occurrence of a disaster similar to that in the Gulf of Mexico.

 
 

(1)Doc. 15394/09.

 

Question no 10 by Liam Aylward(H-0333/10)
 Subject: Supporting the tourism industry
 

Tourism is an essential component of the European economy, accounting for over 5% of EU GDP and providing employment to around 5.2% of Europe’s work-force. Given the current economic climate, it is essential that this sector should be supported and promoted.

The Lisbon Treaty specifically refers to tourism and sets as an objective the promotion of the EU as one of the foremost tourist destinations in the world. In the light of this, it confers specific competence in this area on the Union and provides for decisions to be taken on a qualified-majority basis. In accordance with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, ‘the Union shall complement the action of the Member States in the tourism sector, in particular by promoting the competitiveness of Union undertakings in that sector’ (Title XXII Tourism, Article 195).

What has been done to date to support the tourism industry in the EU, to develop it and to promote its competitiveness? What is being done at European level to support this sector during the economic crisis?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) Any EU tourism policy should be complementary to policies carried out in Member States, since the latter are primarily responsible for conducting tourism policy.

The scope for action to support the EU tourism sector, and to further its development and competitiveness, has been limited until now because the Union had no formal powers in the field of tourism prior to the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Nevertheless, in 2006 and 2007 the Commission adopted two communications,(1) the main aim of which was to improve the competitiveness of the European tourism industry and create more and better jobs through the sustainable growth of tourism in Europe and globally.

With regard to the measures taken at EU level to support the tourism sector in spite of the economic crisis, mention may be made of the preparatory action on social tourism, launched under the name of CALYPSO in 2009, with a budget of EUR 1 million for 2009 and a minimum three-year life span.

The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) has been set up at European level in order to boost the tourism sector and strengthen links with industry, relevant organisations, public authorities, destinations and the world of academia.

I would also inform you that an informal meeting of tourism ministers was held on 15 April 2010, with said ministers adopting the ‘Madrid Declaration’ entitled ‘Towards a socially responsible tourism model’. The ministers stressed their interest in developing a consolidated tourism policy at EU level, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, and their support for the promotion of responsible and ethical tourism, with due regard for social, environmental, cultural and economic sustainability. They also proposed the use of new instruments and an approach focused more on knowledge and innovation in tourism, in particular through the use of new technologies, networking and exchange of best practice.

 
 

(1)COM(2006) 134 final of 17.03.2006
COM(2007) 691 final of 23.10.2007

 

Question no 11 by Pat the Cope Gallagher(H-0337/10)
 Subject: United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun
 

What specific measures will the Council undertake over the next six months to ensure that a comprehensive agreement is reached at the forthcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council is due to start work on the European Union’s position ahead of the conference in Cancún, which will be preceded by two preparatory meetings: in Bonn in August 2010 and in China in October 2010.

At its meeting of 25-26 March 2010, the European Council concluded that a comprehensive international legal agreement remains the only effective means of achieving the objective of keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels and that fresh impetus must now be given to the international negotiating process. With this aim in mind, it considered it worthwhile to adopt a step-by-step approach based on the final Copenhagen document. Firstly, the forthcoming meetings, to be held in Bonn, should outline a road map aimed at moving the negotiations forward. Secondly, the Conference of the Parties, to be held in Cancún, should at least result in some concrete decisions, so that the final Copenhagen document can be integrated into the negotiating process conducted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the remaining problems in relation to, for example, adaptation, forests and technologies, as well as monitoring, reporting and verification, can be addressed. The EU is prepared to make its contribution to this process: the EU and its Member States will honour the commitment they made to provide EUR 2.4 billion per year during the period 2010-2012.

As regards, more specifically, the UNFCCC process, the European Council remains fully committed to it and has asked for it to be usefully supplemented and supported by discussions in other forums, on specific issues. To ensure that this happens, the EU will step up its efforts to raise awareness with regard to third countries. The Presidency and the Commission will actively consult other partners and will report back to the Council. In this connection, the Presidency can say with certainty that climate change will continue to be one of the key issues addressed during the European Union’s meetings with its principal partners over the next few months.

 

Question no 12 by Brian Crowley(H-0339/10)
 Subject: The creation of an EU-wide patent
 

The creation of an EU-wide patent is a major goal of the EU 2020 strategy. Does the Belgian Presidency intend to prioritise work on this important dossier over the next six months?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Council is aware of the fact that improving the patent system in Europe is a prerequisite for stimulating growth through innovation and for helping European businesses, particularly SMEs, to cope with the economic crisis and international competition. Such an improved patent system is perceived as a key element of the internal market and should be based on two pillars – the creation of a European Union patent (hereinafter referred to as the ‘EU patent’) and the implementation of a consolidated and specialised integrated jurisdiction for patent dispute settlement – in order to strengthen patent enforcement and increase legal certainty.

Unfortunately, 10 years after the Commission proposal, we have still not succeeded in creating the legal framework necessary for achieving this objective.

I must say, however, that we are not far away now. Last December, we were able to agree on the text of the regulation creating the EU patent and on a number of conclusions concerning other related issues.

In fact, as you know, this regulation is only one of the elements needed to create the EU patent. The rules governing the languages of this document will still have to be laid down by the Council, pursuant to Article 118(2) of the TFEU, if an EU patent is to be created. On 1 July 2010 the Commission submitted a proposal on the use of languages. The Belgian Presidency will strive to make progress in the discussions. Moreover, other aspects still need to be addressed, such as the appropriate level of annual taxes for EU patents, and a suitable scale for the apportionment of part of the taxes to national patent offices, without forgetting the creation of a European patent court or the possible amendments to be made to the European Patent Convention.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon the European Parliament is given the role of colegislator, which we welcome. Moreover, on this subject, we have taken due note of your resolution of 5 May confirming your 2002 opinion as your position at first reading.

The Belgian Presidency intends to step up the efforts within the Council to establish a legal framework suitable for the creation of the EU patent. This objective is one of the priorities of the Belgian Presidency in respect of the internal market.

 

Question no 13 by Ryszard Czarnecki(H-0341/10)
 Subject: Cooperation between the Member State holding the Presidency of the Council and the President of the European Council
 

What are the Council's views on the first six months of cooperation, following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, between the Member State holding the Presidency of the Council (currently Spain) and the President of the European Council? It is common knowledge that that period has been marked by conflicts of competence in cases where the Treaty provisions were less than clear. What lessons have been learned for the upcoming Belgian Presidency?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) The Treaty clearly defines the roles of the European Council and of the Council.

Therefore, under Article 15(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.

Article 16(1) of the Treaty on European Union defines the role of the Council of the European Union in the following terms: ‘The Council shall, jointly with the European Parliament, exercise legislative and budgetary functions. It shall carry out policy-making and coordinating functions as laid down in the Treaties.’

Moreover, Article 16(6) of the Treaty on European Union states that, ‘The General Affairs Council shall ensure consistency in the work of the different Council configurations. It shall prepare and ensure the follow-up to meetings of the European Council, in liaison with the President of the European Council and the Commission.’

These new provisions were implemented for the first time under the Spanish Presidency. From the very start of that Presidency, the President of the European Council and the Council Presidency cooperated very closely to ensure consistency in the work of the European Council and of the Council.

Thus, on 8 January the President of the European Council met the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Zapatero, in Madrid, to lay the foundations for their work together, and they continued to meet on a very regular basis. The President of the European Council also met the President of the General Affairs Council at least once a month, and the Presidents of other Council configurations as the need arose. This meant that the European Council and the Council were able to coordinate, and cooperate in, their work.

The creation of the new Europe 2020 strategy is also a good illustration of this excellent cooperation between the two institutions, since the Council Presidency has always ensured that the different formations of the Council implement the guidelines set by the European Council in February and March.

Moreover, the June 2010 European Council was able to finalise the new strategy thanks to the important work carried out under the Spanish Presidency in support of the different formations of the Council, in particular the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council and the Education, Youth and Culture Council.

The practical mechanisms put in place under the Spanish Presidency to optimise this cooperation will obviously be maintained and developed under the Belgian Presidency.

 

Question no 14 by Richard Howitt(H-0346/10)
 Subject: Additional EU sanctions against Iran
 

Now that the UN Security Council has agreed on a new sanctions regime for Iran, what discussions has the Council had on plans for the imposition of additional sanctions against Iran by EU Member States?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(FR) At its meeting of 17 June the European Council underlined its deepening concern about Iran’s nuclear programme. It welcomed the adoption by the UN Security Council (UNSC) of Resolution 1929 introducing new restrictive measures against Iran.

Acknowledging the current situation, the European Council declared that the introduction of new restrictive measures had become inevitable. The European Council, recalling its declaration of 11 December 2009 and in the light of the work undertaken by the Foreign Affairs Council thereafter, invited the Foreign Affairs Council to adopt at its next session, on 26 July, measures implementing those contained in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929. It also invited the Council to adopt accompanying measures, with a view to supporting the resolution of all outstanding concerns regarding Iran’s development of sensitive technologies in support of its nuclear and missile programmes, through negotiation. These should focus on the following areas:

the trade sector, especially dual use goods and further restrictions on trade insurance; the financial sector, including freeze of additional Iranian banks and restrictions on banking and insurance;

the Iranian transport sector, in particular the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) and its subsidiaries and air cargo;

key sectors of the gas and oil industry with prohibition of new investment, technical assistance and transfers of technologies, equipment and services related to these sectors, in particular related to refining, liquefaction and LNG technology;

and new visa bans and asset freezes especially on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The European Union is committed to working for a diplomatic solution of the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. It calls on Iran to demonstrate willingness to build the confidence of the international community and to respond to the invitation for resumption of negotiations. It reaffirms the validity of the June 2008 proposals made to Iran.

What is needed is a serious negotiation about Iran’s nuclear programme and other issues of mutual concern. The European Council underlined that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is ready to resume talks in this regard.

QUESTIONS TO THE COMMISSION

 

Question no 24 by Sarah Ludford(H-0336/10)
 Subject: EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement
 

The Council recently unblocked the ratification process for the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement. This process had stalled in part because of Serbia's failure to deliver fugitive suspected war criminals to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Serbia's eventual integration into the EU is an essential goal. However, given that indictees Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic are still at large, what means will the Commission now use to ensure not only Serbia's continued full cooperation with the ICTY, but also the arrest of the remaining indicted war criminals?

 
  
 

(EN) The decision to start the ratification process of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia was a very positive development. A full SAA in place means that Serbia will continue to approximate to all EU policies through a legally binding agreement. The Commission hopes now for a quick and smooth ratification process.

Concerning cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), this condition will remain throughout Serbia's EU integration path. Full cooperation with the ICTY is an essential element of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the EU can suspend the Agreement any time if Serbia does not fulfil the essential elements.

Mr Brammertz has personally debriefed the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 14 June 2010. Further efforts are needed on the operational side and the Commission expects the Serbian authorities to take fully into account Mr Brammertz's recommendations in order to reach further positive results.

The Commission will continue to closely follow Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY and to urge the Serbian authorities to do their utmost until the two remaining ICTY fugitives – namely Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic – are caught and transferred to The Hague.

Finally, the Commission will particularly continue to address those issues in the framework of its structural dialogue with the Serbian authorities as well as in its annual report to be released in November 2010.

 

Question no 38 by Charalampos Angourakis(H-0314/10)
 Subject: Removal of cabotage restrictions for cruise ships
 

In Greece there have recently been major protests by seafarers against the PASOK government's plans to lift cabotage restrictions for cruise ships flying the flags of non-EU countries. According to figures from the European Cruise Council for 2008, there are more than 50 000 seafarers working in the cruise sector in Europe. Claims that 'healthy competition' will benefit tourism are refuted by data showing that most cruise ships fly flags of convenience and are registered in EU Member States and third countries, with appalling conditions for seafarers. 83% of this fleet belongs to five shipping monopolies.

Does the Commission believe that lifting cabotage restrictions for cruise ships will benefit monopoly business groups in the sector which make huge profits by exploiting seafarers? Is the mass persecution of Greek seafarers working on cruise ships to be further intensified?

 
  
 

(EN) As previously mentioned by the Commission in its reply to the oral question H-0227/10, EU law requires Member States to open cabotage, including cruises, to EU flagged ships, but not also to non-EU flagged ships. Member States are free to do so, nonetheless. The Commission does not intend to interfere with the decision of Greece to open cabotage cruises to third-country flagged ships, neither to speculate on the economic benefits of such a choice.

The EU social rules applicable to ships from other Member States are the same as the ones which are applied onboard Greek flagged ships. Such rules ensure an appropriate set of minimum requirements that prevent working conditions from being "appalling", as stated by the Honourable Member.

Furthermore, the Commission would like to underline that Directive 1999/63/EC(1), implementing the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the social partners, applies to seafarers on board every sea-going ship, whether publicly or privately owned, which is registered in the territory of any Member State and is ordinarily engaged in commercial maritime operations. It lays down minimum requirements concerning the working conditions of seafarers, notably maximum weekly working time, minimal age to work at night or on board a ship, annual paid leave…In addition, Directive 1999/95/EC(2) provides the verification and enforcement of compliance by ships calling at ports of Member States with Directive 1999/63/EC in order to improve maritime safety, working conditions and the health and safety of seafarers on board ships. It applies therefore to every ship calling at ports of a Member State, irrespective of the place of registration.

The same mechanism is envisaged to enforce Directive 2009/13/EC(3) and to ensure the application of the maritime labour standards it establishes on board EU ships and non EU ships calling at EU ports when the Maritime Labour Convention is in force.

 
 

(1)Council Directive 1999/63/EC of 21 June 1999 concerning the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the European Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) and the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST), OJ L 167, 2.7.1999
(2) Directive 1999/95/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 1999 concerning the enforcement of provisions in respect of seafarers' hours of work on board ships calling at Community ports, OJ L 14, 20.1.2000
(3) Council Directive 2009/13/EC of 16 February 2009 implementing the Agreement concluded by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) on the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and amending Directive 1999/63/EC, OJ L 124,20.5.2009

 

Question no 39 by Vilija Blinkevičiūtė(H-0316/10)
 Subject: Microfinance supply
 

A decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the supply of microfinance under the Progress programme was adopted in March of this year. The Commission had promised that this decision would come into force as early as the summer and that national credit providers, once they had received funds under the European Investment Fund (EIF), would be able to start providing credit from the start of next year. The Commission and the EIF have been in negotiations for some time on the specific conditions governing the transfer of funds (Article 5(2) of the decision), but it is not yet known when these negotiations will be completed, even though the Commission had promised to inform the Council of the progress of the negotiations. Can the Commission indicate how long the negotiations with the EIF will take and when they are scheduled to be completed?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is pleased to inform the Honourable Member that the resources of the European Progress Microfinance Facility (EPMF) will be committed under two windows:

Guarantees on micro credit loans (up to EUR 25.000) granted to final beneficiaries;

Loans and equity to financial intermediaries in order to expand their possibilities to provide micro credit to final beneficiaries.

The negotiation with the European Investment Fund (EIF) on the implementation of the guarantees window of the EPMF has been finalised. Following the signing of a framework agreement, the EIF will launch a call for expression of interest to intermediaries in the first weeks of July. The call will be open to financial intermediaries from all Member States and published on the EIF website (http://www.eif.org" ). It will result in making loans available which will be guaranteed by the EU resources. EUR 25 million of the Union's contribution to EPMF will be dedicated to this guarantees window.

The negotiation for the second window is being held at this moment. This requires the creation of a special investment vehicle jointly between the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EIF and the Commission. This second window of EPMF is planned to be launched by the end of 2010. The remainder of the Union's contribution (EUR 75 million) will be invested in this special vehicle to be established this autumn. It is expected that the European Investment Bank will add to the Union's contribution up to EUR 100 million.

Further information on the EPMF is available at: http://www.ec.europa.eu/epmf"

.

 

Question no 40 by Salvatore Iacolino(H-0317/10)
 Subject: Financial support for migration policies in the Euro-Mediterranean area
 

The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has been given fresh momentum following the establishment of a secretariat which will provide operational support for the completion of major regional strategic projects. Moreover, the Commission and the European Investment Bank will apparently provide adequate financial coverage over the next few years for the energy and water sectors, infrastructure, transport and business development. Conversely, it would appear that as far as EU migration policies are concerned, the UfM, amongst others, has not been very efficient.

Can the Commission clarify what measures have been taken to improve cooperation with third countries in the management of migration flows?

Furthermore, since the 2014-2020 financial perspective is shortly to be drawn up, what does the Commission intend to do to ensure that sufficient financial resources are used to support fair migration policies in the Euro-Mediterranean area?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is engaged in pursuing the ambitious objectives set by the Stockholm programme. The latter, in the field of migration, foresees the launching and implementation of several new initiatives both in the field of legal migration as well as in fighting irregular immigration and strengthening external borders. The recent Commission proposal(1) on strengthening the capacities of Frontex and soon to be adopted proposals on seasonal workers and inter-corporate transferees inscribe within these goals.

In relation to third countries, the Stockholm programme advocates for further development of cooperation with origin and transit countries of migration, in line with the Global approach to migration. Within this context, the Commission considers of key importance the management of migration flows in the Mediterranean region and, has placed on this topic a priority attention.

The efforts of the Commission have been translated in increased dialogue and cooperation, both of bilateral and regional nature, with the countries of North and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the migratory flows directed towards the Mediterranean originate from. Furthermore, the Commission has financed projects aimed at promoting a better management of migration, including projects aimed at combating irregular migration, at facilitating the use of legal channels for migration, the links between migration and development, at promoting migrants' rights, and at supporting the respect of refugees' rights.

The EU initiatives supported by the Commission in the non-EU Mediterranean countries in the field of migration have been financed both through the EU financial instrument designed to serve the cooperation with specific region (the MEDA programme until 2006 and the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument since 2007), as well as through the EU financial instrument designed to serve the EU cooperation with third countries in the area of migration (the Aeneas Programme until 2006, now the Thematic Programme).

Without prejudging the outcome of the discussions on the future financial framework 2014-20, The Commission considers that it will be of crucial importance for the EU to dispose of adequate financial means to address, in an integrated and balanced way, the challenges faced in the field of migration and to enable robust cooperation with all its partners, in particular in the Mediterranean.

 
 

(1)COM(2010) 61 final

 

Question no 42 by Seán Kelly(H-0322/10)
 Subject: Tourism and international trade
 

Tourism is the third largest economic sector in the EU in terms of turnover and employment, contributing 5% to the GDP of the EU, with almost 2 million businesses, mostly SMEs, employing 9.7 million people in the EU.

Bearing that in mind, has the Commission formulated any strategies to promote EU tourism on global markets, with specific reference to the BRIC group of countries, whose rising wealth and standard of living should provide significant and growing potential for trade for the EU tourism sector?

 
  
 

(FR) The European Union remains the world’s No 1 tourist destination, with 370 million international tourist arrivals, or 40% of arrivals around the world(1), 7.6 million of them from the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), a significant increase over the 4.2 million in 2004. China is a particularly good example since, the economic crisis notwithstanding, the number of Chinese tourists travelling abroad rose by 5.2% to 42.2 million in 2009, compared with 7 million in 2001. An even greater increase was recorded in their spending, which rose by 16% to around USD 42 billion between 2008 and 2009, for example.

According to estimates by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), international tourist arrivals in Europe should increase significantly in the coming years. However, the European tourism industry is facing increasing international competition, with emerging or developing countries, despite their potential as sources of tourism for Europe, attracting increasing numbers of tourists.

Faced with this competition, Europe must offer sustainable and high-quality tourism, and develop a joint strategy to consolidate the image and profile of Europe as a collection of tourist destinations among third countries, especially the BRIC countries, given their great potential as sources for tourism. To do so, Europe will have to harness the competitiveness and sustainability of European tourism(2). Moreover, it will also be vital to strengthen cooperation with those countries whose population can provide an important source of visitors to European destinations as their standard of living increases.

Given the intensity of international competition, but also the potential of a number of third countries as sources for tourism in Europe, it is essential to carry out actions aimed at stimulating tourist demand for Europe.

In an effort to achieve this objective, the new communication ‘Europe, the world’s No 1 tourist destination – a new political framework for tourism in Europe’, adopted on 30 June, outlines a strategy for consolidating the image and profile of Europe as a collection of sustainable and high-quality tourist destinations(3):

- create a true ‘Europe brand’ in cooperation with the Member States to complement promotional efforts at national and regional level and enable European destinations to distinguish themselves from other international destinations

- promote the ‘visiteurope.com’ website in order to increase the attractiveness of Europe as a collection of sustainable and high-quality tourist destinations, particularly among emerging countries

- encourage joint promotional actions at major international events or large-scale tourism fairs and exhibitions

- strengthen European Union participation in international bodies, particularly within the context of the World Tourism Organisation, the OECD, T20 and Euro-Med

- promote the image and profile of Europe as a collection of sustainable and high-quality tourist destinations in world markets, particularly in the BRIC countries (but also the United States and Japan), through joint initiatives with the Member States and European industry.

 
 

(1)WTO World Tourism Barometer, volume 8, January 2010 – data for 2008
(2)Study on the Competitiveness of the EU tourism industry, September 2009 (cf. http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/newsroom/cf/document.cfm?action=display&doc_id=5257&userservice_id=1&request.id=0).
(3)the other priority actions being: to stimulate competitiveness in the European tourism sector; to promote the development of sustainable, responsible and high-quality tourism; and to maximise the potential of EU financial policies and instruments for developing tourism

 

Question no 43 by Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg(H-0324/10)
 Subject: Actions in the area of culture under the Europe 2020 strategy
 

In the Europe 2020 strategy, the Commission has proposed firm targets for fighting unemployment, funding research and combating climate change, but it has neglected the role played by culture in improving Europe's wider well-being. According to the Commission's July 2009 report, the EU's cultural sector generated EUR 654 billion in revenue in 2003, equivalent to 2.6% of EU GDP. The museums of Paris generate between EUR 1.84 billion and EUR 2.64 billion each year for the economy and provide roughly 43 000 jobs. Culture's influence on economic development is today beyond dispute. It creates jobs and helps regions to attract tourists.

How does the Commission intend to draw on cultural potential and the creative industries under the Europe 2020 strategy? Why did the draft strategy not include any specific priorities in the area of culture? Is support for digitisation the Commission's only initiative in this area? Why did it ignore priority issues such as protecting the EU heritage in its communication?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission shares the Honourable Member's view that culture and its surrounding industries are important drivers for the European economy, in particular for achieving the Europe 2020 strategy's main objectives. If they are not explicitly mentioned in the Commission's document, it is because Europe 2020 is not sector-specific. Culture as well as the cultural and creative industries have however a clear role to play in at least four of the flagship initiatives of Europe 2020: "Innovation Union", "A Digital Agenda, "An industrial policy for the globalisation era" and "An agenda for new skills and jobs".

The public consultation on the Green paper on "Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries", adopted on 27 April 2010, will help the Commission to ensure a supportive environment for these industries and encourage their contribution to the above mentioned initiatives. The Commission will use the inputs received to draw operational conclusions, to be implemented either using existing EU tools or as part of the next financial perspectives. The goal is to have the EU programmes and policies impacting on cultural and creative industries – but also the cultural sector as a whole – fit for purpose.

Against this background, the Commission will be launching different initiatives, already in 2010 and 2011, in support of creative industries. The MEDIA programme will establish a guarantee fund for audiovisual production and introduce support for digitalisation of cinema. The European Creative Industries Alliance (ECIA) will, in the context of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, aim at mobilising more and better innovation support for the further development of the creative industries, through mutual learning and pilot actions.

The Commission fully agrees that European cultural heritage has an important role to play not only in the cultural and social fields, but also as an essential resource for economic and territorial development. The Commission actively promotes this as part of the European Agenda for Culture, through the EU Culture Programme 2007-2013 and other EU funding programmes, in particular the structural funds of the Cohesion Policy. What is more, new instruments are emerging. The Commission recently adopted a proposal for the creation by the European Union of a European Heritage Label. This proposal was one of the very first to be adopted by the new Commission just after it took office and aims to highlight sites that celebrate and symbolize European integration, ideals and history. The Commission strongly believes that the Label has the potential to become a highly visible and valuable initiative for the European Union.

 

Question no 44 by Bendt Bendtsen(H-0332/10)
 Subject: Requirement for sows to be untethered from 2013
 

Council Directive 2001/88/EC(1) of 23 October 2001 (codified in Council Directive 2008/120/EC(2)) lays down that all sows are to be untethered from 2013. By then the Member States will have had 12 years to adjust.

That being so, will the Commission concede that any divergence from or revision of the above-mentioned provisions at this point would be competition-distorting and unfair to countries which have carried out extensive reforms in line with these provisions?

Will the Commission supply and/or compile data showing what proportion of untethered sows are present in each of the Member States, and what the trend has been since the provisions were adopted?

Are there transitional provisions for countries which only became involved in EU cooperation after the above provisions were adopted?

What will the Commission do to ensure that these provisions are complied with? What sanctions are available to it?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission agrees with the Honourable Member that postponing the deadline of 1 January 2013 laid down in Council Directive 2008/120/EC(3) for the grouping of sows and gilts would put producers who have invested to meet this deadline at a competitive disadvantage.

The Commission does not possess available data on the proportion of sows and gilts that are currently group housed in the EU. Reports from the Commission's inspection service of the Health and Consumers Directorate General, DG SANCO, (FVO – Food and Veterinary Office, located in Grange – Ireland), show that some Member States are better prepared to meet the deadline of 1 January 2013 than others.

All new Member States were aware of the deadline of 1 January 2013. Moreover, EU funding programmes provided possibilities for candidate countries to upgrade these establishments accordingly.

Member States are primarily responsible for implementing Directive 2008/120/EC. The Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, must ensure that Member States apply EU legislation. To this effect, the FVO regularly carries out on-the-spot audits in Member States. During these audits, pig farms are inspected and the system of controls put in place by Member States to ensure the application of EU law is assessed.

If evidence is sufficient to show that administrative practice in a Member State generally and consistently fails to comply with the provisions of the Directive, the Commission may consider initiating infringement proceedings against that Member State pursuant to Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

 
 

(1) OJ L 316, 1.12.2001, p. 1
(2) OJ L 47, 18.2.2009, p.5.
(3)OJ L 47, 18.2.2009, p. 5.

 

Question no 45 by Ivo Belet(H-0335/10)
 Subject: Tax on international air fares
 

Germany has now followed the example set by France, Britain and Ireland in deciding to impose a tax on international air fares. It will be differentiated on the basis of various criteria such as the amount of the fare, noise and fuel consumption.

Such taxes mean that there is no longer a level playing field for the various European airports. Will the Commission take action to coordinate such taxes at European level?

Will the Commission review the VAT regime for aviation, as these taxes partially compensate for the fact that no VAT is levied on international air fares?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission adopts a rigorous approach to ensuring that taxes on aviation levied in the Member States do not constitute barriers to the efficiency of the internal market for aviation services.

For this reason, the Commission has examined various taxes introduced in recent years by Member States to ensure that these do not hinder the internal market by placing disproportionate burdens on the operation of cross-border air services compared to services operated within a Member State.

However, airports, and the services operated from them, operate within a policy environment which is governed partly by European and partly by national or regional regulations. Moreover the existence of differing taxation regimes in place in the Member States for air fare and rates does not in itself constitute a barrier to fair competition among airports.

Concerning the taxation of air fares/rates, account should be taken as well of Article 1(3) of Directive 2008/118/EC concerning the general arrangements of excise duty and repealing Directive 92/12/EEC(1) providing that Member States may apply indirect taxes on services (such as air fares/rates) provided that they cannot be characterised as turnover taxes and do not give right to formalities connected with the crossing with frontiers.

The Commission would also refer to its staff working paper of 1 September 2005(2) which contains an analysis of how a solidarity contribution on airline tickets might be used by EU Member States as a source of development aid in order to help achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This document has been discussed the ECOFIN Council which however did not pursue this possibility.

The Commission intends to address the shortcomings in the current VAT system in order to, inter alia, create a more effective single market, prevent and combat fraud, reinforce VAT collection and help businesses become more competitive. To that end, the Commission intends to table a Green Paper towards the end of this year. This would probably be followed by a high level meeting with Member States. Views will also be sought as well from the public, businesses and VAT experts via a public consultation and conference. The result will be a Communication in 2011 setting out new VAT priorities.

 
 

(1)OJ L9, 14.1.2009, p. 12.
(2)SEC(2005) 1067

 

Question no 46 by Kathleen Van Brempt(H-0343/10)
 Subject: Activities of the Colombian intelligence service and free trade agreement with Colombia
 

The Colombian and international press recently revealed the existence of the Colombian intelligence service's 'Operación EUROPA'. The purpose of this operation was to discredit and neutralise the influence of 'the European legal order, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights', as well as various authorities, various NGOs and European citizens.

Was the Commission aware that official bodies in the Republic of Colombia were actively seeking to undermine and discredit European institutions? What impact will these revelations have on the conclusion of a free trade agreement between the EU and Colombia?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is aware of these allegations, and takes them very seriously. It has therefore raised this subject repeatedly in its dialogue with the Colombian government, inter alia during the visit of DAS (Administrative Department of Security) Director Felipe Muñoz to the Commission in March, but also through contacts between our Delegation with the DAS and other government departments.

It is the Commission's understanding that the investigations of these cases – and relevant files on illegal surveillance activities – have been handed over to the Prosecutor General’s office (Fiscalía) for criminal investigation. This is ongoing, and has already led to the arrest and/or dismissal of numerous DAS officials, and to the filing of criminal or disciplinary charges against some of them.

The Commission also understands that a series of internal reforms have been launched to prevent a repetition of the scandal, which include the liquidation of the DAS, the creation of a new agency, which is to be submitted to parliamentary supervision, and the thorough cleansing of the DAS archives. At the express request of the Colombian government, this process is being accompanied by the Bogotá office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is the Commission’s view, partially gained from past experience, that the Colombian government is ready to help clarify the facts of these events, and is open to exchanges on steps that can be taken to address them. The Commission also takes note that the Ambassador of Colombia, at a joint meeting of the EP Delegation for relations with the countries of the Andean Community and the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights on 27 April 2010, has indicated that the Colombian government would be ready to send DAS Director Muñoz to Brussels for more in-depth exchanges with the European Parliament.

 

Question no 47 by Georgios Toussas(H-0345/10)
 Subject: Exploitation of crew members by shipping monopolies
 

The exploitation of crew members by shipping monopolies is becoming increasingly widespread, examples being the British flagged vessels 'ROPAX 1' and 'ROPAX 2' owned by the 'V-SHIPS'/'Adriatic Lines spa' shipping company which has its registered office in Italy and operates the regular ferry route from Corinth in Greece to Ravenna in Italy. The crew members number 33 and 29 respectively (despite the fact that the statutory complement is at least 48). All crew members are of Romanian nationality, are uninsured, are being paid rock-bottom wages and are suffering intimidation by the shipowners and by sweatshop agencies, thereby further reducing them to servitude in violation of International Convention 180 regarding seafarers' hours of work, thereby endangering the safety of human life at sea. The shipowners are not only infringing the inadequate existing legislation but are also taking legal action against the justified claims of the crew members.

What view does the Commission take of the exploitation of crew members by the shipowners in question? Is the company receiving Community funding for the above ferry services and for the vessels 'ROPAX 1' and 'ROPAX 2'? Does the Commission condemn the action being taken by the company against the crew members?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is not aware of the specific situation described by the Honourable Member.

The Commission stresses that Directive 1999/63/EC(1) sets clear minimum standards concerning working and rest time on board every seagoing ship registered in the territory of any Member State and ordinarily engaged in commercial maritime operations. All the Member States have transposed that Directive into their legal order. Under Article 3 of the Directive, Member States are "required to take any necessary measure to enable them at any time to be in a position to guarantee the results imposed by this Directive". Directive 1999/63/EC enacts at EU level the same standards as those contained in the International Labour Organisation's (ILO's) Convention 180. The Commission recalls that, under EU law, Member States are responsible for ensuring that the national legislation implementing EU Directives is applied correctly and effectively.

According to article 153 TFEU, the EU has no competence in the area of pay. However, EU law provisions on free movement of workers, which prohibits discrimination based on nationality, are applicable.

Should the situation described by the Honourable Member be confirmed, the Commission would invite the parties concerned to seek redress, including by using, if necessary, the national extrajudicial or judicial procedures.

As regards funding, there is no support to this company from the funds managed directly by the Commission services.

 
 

(1)Council Directive 1999/63/EC of 21 June 1999 concerning the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the European Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) and the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST) - Annex: European Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers  OJ L 167, 2.7.1999

 

Question no 48 by Konrad Szymański(H-0349/10)
 Subject: Partnership for Modernisation and Eastern Partnership
 

The European Union is proposing a 'Partnership for Modernisation' with Russia, while at the same time seeking to strengthen the Eastern Partnership.

How will the goals of the 'Partnership for Modernisation' enhance the coherence of EU policy in the region covered by the Eastern Partnership?

What plans are there under the 'Partnership for Modernisation' to ensure that the conditionality principle applies to the development of economic relations and progress in the area of human rights compliance, especially as regards freedom of expression and freedom of the press?

Will the European Union observe the principle of proportionality as regards the abolition of visas for citizens of the Russian Federation and the countries of the Eastern Partnership?

 
  
 

(EN) The Eastern Partnership aims to promote political association and economic integration between the six countries of the Eastern neighbourhood and the EU. Like the Partnership for Modernisation with Russia, in essence the Eastern Partnership seeks to underpin comprehensive domestic reform efforts. As such both initiatives are mutually coherent and supportive.

To be successful, any reform and modernisation efforts must be based on the rule of law, democratic values and respect for citizens’ rights, and must actively involve civil society. This is why the effective functioning of the judiciary, strengthening the fight against corruption and enhancing dialogue with civil society are priority areas of the EU – Russia Partnership for Modernisation.

As regards the issue of visa liberalisation, this is a long-term goal for the EU, with regard to both Russia and the countries of the Eastern Partnership. While regional coherence is indeed an important element of our visa policy, the realisation of the visa liberalisation goal depends above all on conditions for well-managed and secure mobility being put in place with each individual country.

As regards the way forward, recently we agreed with Ukraine to move to a fully operational stage in the Visa Dialogue and to work towards the development of an Action Plan which will set out all technical conditions to be met by Ukraine before the possible establishment of a visa-free travel regime. With regard to Russia, we seek to move forward step-by-step, on the basis of a results-oriented approach. Gradual steps supporting mobility of citizens and visa liberalization as a long term goal are also taken with respect to other Eastern Partnership countries.

 

Question no 49 by Saïd El Khadraoui(H-0350/10)
 Subject: iPhone applications for online route planner for Belgian rail company NMBS/SNCB
 

Various reports have appeared in the Belgian press concerning a member of the public who has developed a mobile online route planner for those travelling by train. He offered this application free of charge on the web site www.irail.be/a>. NMBS/SNCB has itself recently developed a similar application and argues that its intellectual property rights, such as copyright and database rights, are being violated.

Taking as its starting point the goal of a sustainable, integrated European transport network, does the Commission support the idea that all possible information should be freely available to passengers, even if this does not involve official communication channels? Does the Commission take the view that such applications should precisely be encouraged in order to achieve an integrated information and ticketing system for all modes of transport?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is not aware of the precise facts of the case that is mentioned in the question. While it is true that certain databases, on account of the investment incurred in obtaining the information contained therein, deserve copyright protection, protection is usually denied if the data is not obtained from a variety of independent sources. One of the crucial questions is therefore, whether the railway operator publishes his own data or data collected from a variety of other sources (cf. British Horseracing Board v William Hill, 9 November 2004, case C-302/02).

As regards the question on freely available passengers information, Article 10 and Annex II of Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations contain provisions regarding booking mechanisms for trans-European rail travel aiming at an improvement of the coordination and standardisation between train operators' booking systems in different Member States. Railway undertakings and ticket vendors will be required to make use of a Computerised Information and Reservation System for Rail Transport (CIRSRT) as required by Article 10 of the Regulation.

Achieving an integrated information and ticketing system for all transport modes would be an important step forward in building a single European transport area and offering citizens and business clients efficient, sustainable and reliable transport services. In its Action Plan on Urban Mobility(1) the Commission has put the ultimate aim of providing users with a single public transport travel portal at EU level on the internet, with a particular focus on the main nodes in the TEN-T network. Accordingly, the Commission is very actively supporting research, development and deployment of integrated travel information and ticketing systems.

There is a number of promising R&D projects in this area (e.g. iTravel, WISETRIP, LINK) and it is a particular priority in the ITS Action Plan and proposed ITS Directive. Under the ITS Action Plan one particular focus is on the easy access and exchange of traffic and travel data with the aim to provide door-to-door services to travellers. The proceedings of a dedicated workshop from 21 June 2010 will be published on the EUROPA website soon (cf. Transport/Intelligent Transport Systems/Road/ITS Action Plan). Once the ITS Directive (COD/2008/0263) is adopted the Commission will elaborate binding specifications for multi-modal travel information.

The Commission also intends to adopt in 2011 a specific common standard for rail (known as "Telematic Applications for Passengers – Technical Specifications for Interoperability") including connections with other modes of transport(2) which is a first step toward this goal. Allowing mobile transport applications developed in accordance with this standard will be beneficial for citizens' mobility. Making real-time and accurate data available is a key issue in this process. The Commission will reflect on ways to pursue this objective.

 
 

(1) COM (2009) 490
(2) See also written question E-5674/09 by Mr Simpson
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