Index 
Debates
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Monday, 7 March 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
 3. Restoration of reciprocity in the visa regime – solidarity with the unequal status of Czech citizens following the unilateral introduction of visas by Canada (written declaration): see Minutes
 4. Statements by the President
 5. Parliament's calendar of part-sessions – 2012: see Minutes
 6. Parliament's calendar of part-sessions – 2013: see Minutes
 7. Composition of Parliament: see Minutes
 8. Signature of acts adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure: see Minutes
 9. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 10. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes
 11. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 12. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes
 13. Petitions: see Minutes
 14. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes
 15. Documents received: see Minutes
 16. Order of business: see Minutes
 17. Innovative financing at a global and European level (debate)
 18. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean Agreement Area (debate)
 19. EU-Mauritania Fisheries Partnership Agreement (debate)
 20. EU strategy for the Atlantic region (debate)
 21. One-minute speeches (Rule 150)
 22. General product safety and market surveillance (short presentation)
 23. Management of H1N1 influenza (short presentation)
 24. Reducing health inequalities (short presentation)
 25. Cooperating with developing countries on promoting good governance in tax matters (short presentation)
 26. Agriculture and international trade (short presentation)
 27. EU protein deficit (short presentation)
 28. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
 29. Closure of the sitting
 30. Closing of the session


IN THE CHAIR: JERZY BUZEK
President

1. Resumption of the session
Video of the speeches
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  President. – I declare resumed the session of the European Parliament adjourned on Thursday, 17 February 2011.

 

2. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

3. Restoration of reciprocity in the visa regime – solidarity with the unequal status of Czech citizens following the unilateral introduction of visas by Canada (written declaration): see Minutes
Video of the speeches

4. Statements by the President
Video of the speeches
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  President. – To begin, I would like to give you three items of information.

I would like to inform you that the written statement 89/2010 has achieved the required number of signatures. As a result, I would like to announce that it has now been accepted by the European Parliament. The statement concerns the unilateral reintroduction of visas for Czech citizens by Canada. The European Parliament expects the Commission and Council to take immediate measures with respect to Canada’s decision to withdraw visas for citizens of the Czech Republic. We also expect greater resolve from the Council and the Commission in their actions. We feel complete solidarity with the citizens of the Czech Republic who, as members of the European Union, should be able to travel to Canada without visas.

Item number 2: For the seventh time, on 11 March, which is in four days’ time on Friday, we will be celebrating the European Day for Victims of Terrorism. On this day in 2004, bomb attacks in Madrid killed nearly 200 people. 16 months later, 52 people were killed during attacks in London. Terrorism is an attack against the very foundations of democracy. There is no excuse for terrorism, and no attack or terrorist will ever be able to weaken the spirit of European solidarity or the spirit of European democracy.

Item number 3: We were very concerned to receive information regarding the execution in Taiwan on Friday of five people. The reinstatement of the death penalty in 2010 was a de facto reversal of the moratorium in force since 2006. The European Union and the European Parliament in particular have long condemned the enforcement of the death penalty all over the world. I call on the Taiwanese authorities to impose a moratorium on carrying out this inhumane punishment and, in the future, to remove it from its criminal code.

 

5. Parliament's calendar of part-sessions – 2012: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

6. Parliament's calendar of part-sessions – 2013: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

7. Composition of Parliament: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

8. Signature of acts adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

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

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

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

12. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes

13. Petitions: see Minutes

14. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes

15. Documents received: see Minutes

16. Order of business: see Minutes
Video of the speeches
 

***

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE).(FR) Mr President, I would like to take the floor on the basis of Article 16 of the Treaty on European Union. This week, at the initiative of the French Head of State, Nicolas Sarkozy, who showed his great sense of community, a proposal was made for an extraordinary European Council meeting to be held this Friday.

Usually, under the Treaties, it is the General Affairs Council that prepares European Council meetings. However, on this week’s agenda, I have not seen any General Affairs Council meeting to prepare this extraordinary European Council meeting. At a time when major democratic changes are taking place, I believe that European citizens should be involved alongside their Heads of States in the decisions Europe takes in relation to these major issues.

 
  
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  President. – Thank you for your remark. I will send you a written answer.

 

17. Innovative financing at a global and European level (debate)
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  President. – The next item on the agenda is the report by Mrs Podimata, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the report on innovative financing at global and European level (2010/2105(INI)) (A7-0036/2011).

 
  
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  Anni Podimata, rapporteur. (EL) Mr President, allow me, first of all, to thank the shadow rapporteurs, the secretariat of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the chairs of the political groups for their constructive contribution to the debates and the efforts made to reach agreement on this very important report.

The European Parliament own-initiative report on innovative financing could not have come at a better time, because the crisis which, as we all know, is putting everyone to the test, especially the euro area at the moment, has resulted in a severe reduction in public sector resources, extensive austerity programmes and budgetary consolidation in the majority of Member States. At the same time, it has put massive pressure on the EU budget, as we saw very recently in the debate on the new financial framework.

As described, this situation has given rise to a basic and commonly accepted conclusion. It is the citizens of Europe who are shouldering most of the weight of the crisis, with pay cuts, with unemployment, with the insecurity surrounding their jobs and with cutbacks in their social rights.

The second basic and commonly accepted conclusion to come out of this situation is that Europe and the Member States urgently need new resources which will help to bring about the speedy recovery of and growth in the European economy, this time in a balanced manner that limits inequalities and divergences. This is the only way to create the preconditions to the successful implementation of the EU 2020 strategy and the only way that allows us to discuss a real, proper and strong internal market that will benefit its citizens.

We therefore need new resources and we agree, as expressly stated in the report and I quote, that: ‘an increase in the rates and scope of existing taxation tools and further cuts in public expenditure can be neither a sufficient nor a sustainable solution to address the main challenges ahead at European and global level’.

Innovative financing can play a key role in meeting these challenges because it can help enormously in generating resources for national budgets and for the EU budget. However, that is not the only benefit of innovative financing: innovative financing does not simply mean finding new resources; it is equally important for us to pave the way for gradual changes to the current tax model, under which the main burden of taxation and of funding the economy in general has traditionally been borne by labour, business and productive investments.

The considerable added value of innovative financing, the double dividend as it were, is that, as well as generating revenue, it can also assume an important regulatory role: it can discourage harmful practices and conduct both in the financial sector and in the environmental and conservation sector.

The report comprises four basic chapters: taxation of the financial sector, Eurobonds and European project bonds, carbon tax and financing for development.

As far as taxation of the financial sector is concerned, we have again started from a basic and commonly accepted premise: that, even though it was basically responsible for the crisis, even though it generated and, despite the crisis, continues to generate excessive profits, the financial sector is under-taxed, because it is exempt from value added tax almost across the board.

Another commonly accepted premise, based simply on the figures, on the data, on how the volume of financial transactions has soared over the last decade, is the huge and constantly increasing diversion from its basic role, which is to finance the real economy.

These two assumptions are broadly accepted by Parliament and by the European Commission in its recent communication on taxation of the financial sector.

So what we face here is a blatant injustice which needs to be remedied by sending a strong message to the citizens of Europe, a message that we have indeed learned from the crisis, that we are seeking a fairer distribution of burdens, and that we are determined to take any action needed at global and European level to bring the financial sector back to its basic role, which is to finance the real economy.

There is broad assent that the most suitable tax mechanism for achieving these objectives is a tax on financial transactions. A tax such as this would be predicated on quantity, frequency and, ultimately, quality, by which we mean the added value of the transaction itself, because, as we all agreed in paragraph 13, ‘the introduction of an FTT could help to tackle highly damaging trading patterns in financial markets, such as some short-term and automated HFT transactions, and curb speculation’.

Obviously, we all want, as our first choice, for this tax to be adopted at global level. However, it is equally obvious that, the initial ambitious statements notwithstanding, instead of the probability of global agreement increasing, it is constantly shrinking.

The question, therefore, that arises here is, what are we in Europe going to do? Are we going to hide behind the lack of global agreement? Is that enough and, more importantly, will it convince the citizens who are shouldering the burden of the crisis? Even if it will not be easy to go right ahead and adopt a financial transaction tax at European level, because it will be hard to obtain a unanimous decision by the Council, as the only European institution elected directly by European citizens, the European Parliament has a duty to send out a clear political message along these lines. It is our duty, not the European Commission’s duty, to send out a strong political message.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Algirdas Šemeta, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on Development and, in particular, Anni Podimata, for her report on innovative financing at global and European levels.

I have already had the opportunity to debate with you several times on how to make the banks pay for the costs of the crisis. As you know, the Commission is preparing an in-depth impact assessment on instruments for the taxation of the financial sector, to be delivered by summer 2011.

This will enable the Commission to make appropriate proposals on policy actions. In addition, we are also scrutinising the cumulative impact on financial institutions of new regulation, bank levies and taxes, and will present the results later this year. I would encourage you to wait for the results of the impact assessment before taking any firm position on the introduction of a financial transaction tax at EU level.

As regards carbon taxation, I agree that the current taxation model does not fully embrace the polluter-pays principle. I welcome the EP´s support for strengthening the Emissions Trading System, as well as for a comprehensive revision of the Energy Taxation Directive (ETD) to make CO2 emission and energy content the basic criteria for the taxation of energy products. A proposal for revision of the ETD is planned for spring 2011.

I hear also your concerns as regards the potential risk of carbon leakage. The Commission favours transitional free allocation of allowances and access to international credits for companies under the Emissions Trading System. We are nevertheless continuing to monitor the current and future risk of carbon leakage. And I am convinced that a solution similar to free allocation under the Emissions Trading System can be included in the ETD revision.

Finally, on Eurobonds, the Commission recognises that, depending on its precise modalities, joint issuance of Eurobonds could benefit bond market efficiency and integration and support for the euro as an international currency. However, this instrument merits further analysis and discussion at technical and political level; moral hazard implications for Member States need to be further examined, in particular.

 
  
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  Marian-Jean Marinescu, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. (RO) Mr President, achieving European objectives for sustainable development, security of energy supply and climate change requires a substantial financial commitment, particularly in terms of innovation and research, as well as new ways to supplement existing funding. The Commission must consider in this regard the feasibility of introducing a carbon tax, similar to VAT, to be applied to any product on the internal market. It is very important, however, to eliminate the possibility of charging these costs to consumers and to analyse risks to the competitiveness of Europe’s industries on the single market.

The efficiency of the utilisation of structural funds and European Investment Bank funds must be improved, and so must the coordination of EU funds, national funds and other forms of support that can act as a leverage to stimulate investment in energy efficiency. Adequate investments in energy supply and energy efficiency reduce dependence on market volatility and positively impact on the EU economy.

The Commission should carry out, as soon as possible, an impact study on the taxation of financial transactions at EU and global level in order to examine the effect and economic benefits they produce by reducing the volume of speculative financial transactions that are currently causing serious market disturbances. The study should analyse whether taxation of the financial sector in the EU can, indeed, be a source of the Union’s own resources and contain specific proposals on the procedure for introducing the tax.

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would firstly like to make two comments in relation to form: the rapporteur has just acknowledged all those who contributed to this report. This work was indeed a real team effort, in which our group member, Mrs Hübner, was particularly involved as shadow rapporteur. However, I have learned that the socialist group has submitted an alternative resolution, which means that a document on which there has been no consultation shall be put to the vote first.

My second political comment – I do not usually make such comments – is that we are creating an artificial opposition here, especially with regard to the tax on financial transactions. The position of our group is clear: we are in favour of such a tax at global level; we are in agreement with it being trialled in Europe if it cannot be trialled globally. We simply feel that we cannot rush into this kind of decision without carrying out a thorough impact assessment in order to verify that the competitiveness of Europe’s financial centres will not be affected. In this regard, Commissioner, I would like to state clearly that the position of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) is not to play for time, or to put matters on standby. We urgently and strongly request that the impact assessment which we have repeatedly discussed in this Parliament be duly and promptly carried out to allow us to make an informed decision on the matter.

I think that, on the one hand, there is the hype which the opinion columns in some European newspapers serve to create, and, on the other, there is the real situation, where we have to manage this issue seriously by having a thorough knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages and making a political decision as quickly as possible.

 
  
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  Udo Bullmann, on behalf of the S&D Group. (DE) Mr President, I am sorry, Mr Šemeta, but what you are presenting is not enough. It is months since Parliament gave you the job of investigating what action we can take, including in respect of a financial transaction tax; we gave you the job here in this House. You have not done this. What we know of your position – which has been presented in writing by the Commission on more than one occasion – is something different. You want us to tax the small financial service providers: those that still maintain branches, that care about their customers, that care about medium-sized businesses, that ensure business credit is still available. The parties you do not want to tax are the speculators: those who shift millions and billions around the globe with their high frequency trading, thereby ensuring that our economy is unpredictable – unpredictable even to good entrepreneurs and good investors who want to create decent jobs for the future. Your position is therefore unsatisfactory and consequently, this House must find its own voice.

I am sorry to say that Mr Gauzès – whom I otherwise hold in very high esteem – is wrong on this occasion. He is wrong because he is watering down the position adopted by this House previously in the Berès report. Anyone who votes in favour of Mr Gauzès’s proposal will be ensuring that the Commission does what it wants to do anyway – namely, proposes no financial transaction tax. That will be the result of agreeing with Mr Gauzès. That is why it would be wrong to agree with him in this instance.

Anyone who wants to give this House a voice, who wants to win back trust, who wants to ensure that the citizens of Europe can once again look to our institutions with hope and a belief that we are doing something to deal with the crises must, in this instance, vote in favour of the alternative motion tabled by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and must vote in favour of Amendment 2, which has been endorsed by more than 120 Members of this House from all the major groups. Thank you for your support.

 
  
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  Olle Schmidt, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(SV) Mr President, I wish to thank Mrs Podimata for her constructive cooperation. We have managed to reach a compromise despite major differences of opinion. Now is the time that it is important for us to stand by the compromises that we adopted in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. I would like to address my comments to Mr Bullmann, in particular.

The fact that the report emphasises the importance of creating a real internal market without barriers is a good thing. This, of course, provides the basis for Europe’s growth. It is important to discuss the possibility of financing infrastructure projects with the help of European project bonds, for example, as well as a possible solution for European carbon taxation so that we can switch to sustainable production in Europe.

It is also important to point out that the Member States – those States in which you live, ladies and gentlemen – must meet the aid targets in order to be able to finance essential projects. Unfortunately, only Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden are currently meeting these targets.

I also believe that the financial sector should be involved and should pay the costs incurred by States and taxpayers in rescuing banks in crisis. However, I do not believe that the introduction of a financial transaction tax is the solution.

My country introduced a kind of financial transaction tax on a unilateral basis during the 1980s and this merely resulted in important parts of the financial sector relocating to London. I am aware that we should be cautious about making comparisons between Sweden and Europe, but the financial market is readily mobile and it is therefore important to learn lessons from Sweden’s example. There is therefore a big risk that the stabilisation of the financial market that we hope will be brought about by a financial transaction tax will not be realised if the EU introduces such a tax independently.

In the opinion of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a financial transaction tax must be global in nature in order for it to be able to have a positive effect. The ALDE Group rejects Amendments 1 and 2, but is favour of Mr Gauzès’s Amendment 3.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Mr President, why are we discussing innovative financing? Have we gone tax mad all of a sudden? Of course not!

As you know, we must rebuild public finances on sustainable foundations. This, of course, means responsible spending, but it also means generating revenue in a fair, efficient and sustainable way and, as you know, the tax systems which are currently in place in Europe do not meet these criteria. These systems do not guarantee the resources that governments require in order to fulfil their public service duties – teaching, research and social cohesion are areas which come to mind. They have failed to stem the increasing inequalities across Europe and they continue to encourage activities which are harmful to both the environment and social cohesion.

Whether it be a question of taxing the financial industry, obtaining a fair contribution from large companies, implementing a climate-energy tax or tackling tax evasion and avoidance effectively, only a Europe-wide approach, as you know, will enable us to implement effective solutions. Individual efforts by Member States are no longer effective. We are tired of hearing that all of this is impossible and that we need unanimity. What do you expect? It is too complex.

Without taking common action, no European Union Member State will be in a position to restore sustainable public finances 10 years from now. When it comes to economic governance – because that is what this is also about – the current proposal is to say to Member States: ‘Cut off your expenditure arm while tying your revenue arm behind your back’. That is what is being referred to as a competitiveness pact. I would very much like to see how you fight with one arm cut off and the other tied up.

I think that Mrs Podimata’s report opens up avenues which will indeed help to provide answers to the tax issue, and I therefore hope that it will be adopted by this House.

 
  
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  Ivo Strejček, on behalf of the ECR Group.(CS) Mr President, the board in this meeting room shows that today’s topic is called innovative financing. I think that it is right and proper to say here that we are actually talking about the introduction of new European taxes, and we already know in advance who will have to pay them. It is banks and financial institutions which will pay these new European taxes. I think that it is wrong to blame the banks for triggering the financial crisis or to say that the economic crisis is their fault. After all, we have known for a long time that the main cause of the crisis was a worldwide economic imbalance, long-term low interest rates, excessive regulation of the financial sector and unfortunately, political interference in areas in which politicians have no business to be making demands.

The amount given in the documentation that the European Union or European institutions will gain, for example, from the introduction of a financial transaction tax, is very contentious. This is because it is highly likely that the financial sector will improve its yield in reaction to each tax and the introduction of any new taxes, or, to the detriment of the European economy, eventually move their tax residence to outside of the European Union. However, if the banks and financial institutions do stay here and continue to offer financial services, then they will, of course, evidently pass these costs on to their customers and consumers.

It is good to see that there is some very complex financial consolidation going on in the Member States and I think that the European institutions should also get involved. Unfortunately, there has not been any mention of the European institutions making any cuts in their expenditure; instead, there has only been talk of introducing new taxes. If the European institutions closed down some of their European agencies, which are often unnecessary, excessive and expensive, then there would surely be some funds left over to support several European projects.

I would like to add something on Eurobonds. If Eurobonds are adopted, then it follows that there is no need to economise, no need to put money aside for the future, and no need to carry out reforms, because someone will always pay them off. There is an increased moral risk here. The European Conservatives will vote against this proposal, because we are against the introduction of new taxes and the raising of taxes.

 
  
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  Jürgen Klute, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the call for a financial transaction tax is nothing new; opponents of globalisation have been calling for such a tax for some years. Just five years ago, however, hardly anyone would have thought that it might be possible to implement it in the foreseeable future. Yet this week, it is on the agenda of the European Parliament alongside a CO2 tax and Eurobonds, and rightly so in my opinion.

I can only welcome and support the financial instruments proposed by Mrs Podimata in her report, and I believe they will be voted through. These instruments are urgently needed. So far, the consolidation of national budgets has concentrated solely on cuts in expenditure. However, cuts in public spending primarily impact workers, pensioners and the poor; in other words, those reliant on the welfare state.

The income side of public financing has been completely disregarded to date. It is the second lever that we can use to consolidate national budgets. In particular, addressing the income side would result in the main perpetrators of the public debt crisis shouldering an appropriate part of the public debt.

If we are to consolidate national budgets, then it is quite simply imperative that we increase tax revenues. In fact, the high level of public debt is mainly a result of the nationalisation of private debt; in other words, of governments taking on the debts of private banks and financing the consequences of the financial crisis. The states are thus in no way solely responsible for the debt crisis. Asking the financial sector to dip into its own pockets is therefore not simply obvious; it is our political duty. A financial transaction tax would at last mean this sector shouldering part of this debt as one of the main perpetrators of the public debt crisis. This report would send out an important political signal were it to be adopted as presented.

Similarly, we consider Eurobonds to be a sensible and, thus, also a necessary instrument. They will do more to reduce debt than all the sanctions and advice put together, however well meant. The complaints by some countries in surplus that Eurobonds would increase their interest burden are unacceptable since, at the same time, these countries in surplus are earning more from their exports to deficit countries. Some might criticise this as a transfer union. However, anyone who wants a social Europe – who wants the EU to continue to hold together in the future – must accept the idea of a transfer union at least in principle.

Finally, I would like to say to the Commission that I hope that it will now finally present proposals for a financial transaction tax; we have been calling for this for over a year now.

 
  
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  Nigel Farage, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, the theory of a Tobin tax has been around for years – the idea of a global tax on foreign exchange – but, of course, it has never seen the light of day. What is being proposed here – and, of course, it is because the European Union is so desperate for money and is in so much trouble that it needs its own resources – is to use an opportunity to bash the financial sector because they are very unpopular at the moment and to introduce a financial transaction tax just in the European Union, as if somehow that will gain us great revenue.

I am sorry, but we are living in a global economy. If we become uncompetitive through tax or regulation, people simply move – and they can do so in the space of 24 hours. To do this would be to pursue kamikaze economics. The biggest foreign exchange market in the world – the biggest financial sector in the world – is in London. If I did not know better, I would think perhaps there was a plot afoot here to stop the Anglo-Saxons going on doing all of their business.

In 2010, as a result of the AIFM Directive, one in four hedge funds left the City of London. If we continue down this route, Britain will have lost its biggest single industry. I think the time has come when the City of London and Britain’s financial markets are going to rise up against membership of this European Union. Maybe, if we vote for this tomorrow, it will be so bad that it will be really rather a good thing for UKIP and our view that we should not be part of this massive socialist experiment.

 
  
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  Martin Ehrenhauser (NI). (DE) Mr President, you are wrong, Mr Farage. From me, it is a clear ‘Yes’ to a financial transaction tax. In my opinion, this is an area in which the European Union can prove itself. Yes – we need the European Union precisely for such matters. The European Parliament can prove itself here, too. If we all vote in favour tomorrow, then this could represent a decisive new step towards a financial transaction tax. Politics could then provide the right answer that would once and for all free us from the chains of servitude to the financial sector.

However, the financial transaction tax should not only provide incentives for the financial sector to make long-term investments here that provide added value for the real economy; no, it should also have a social component, and it should also result in the tax burden being clearly shifted away from workers. To do this will take courage, even in this House, particularly when it comes to laying down the tax rate. A tax rate of 0.03% or 0.05% is not sufficient. We should set ourselves a target of at least or up to 0.5%. So yes – let us make a clear commitment to a Europe-wide financial transaction tax. I will certainly be voting in favour of Amendment 2 tomorrow.

 
  
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  Markus Ferber (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, this debate is actually about innovative financing, but we have already heard something about that. Innovation does not simply mean inventing new taxes or re-labelling what has always been there, such as national debt.

I would like to concentrate very briefly on what this debate is really about. It is not about the introduction of Eurobonds – and the CDU/CSU parties will certainly speak out against that – but rather it is about learning the lessons of the crisis in the financial markets, and that means quite simply that speculation must be taxed too. It also means – and I will state this quite clearly – that if this cannot be done worldwide at the G20, then we must do it at European Union level.

There is no alternative; that is why I am not simply looking for applause now, Mr Bullmann, but for a clear, strong vote by the European Parliament tomorrow. In this, Commissioner, the Commission must act as our ally against the Member States – particularly against the Member State that we have just heard speaking so loudly about what the City of London thinks. I will simply say to you, Mr Farage: look at the unemployment figures and look at the economic decline of your country, which has concentrated on financial market products. If you still built cars – as we do in Bavaria and in Germany – then you would be doing somewhat better now. That is why the financial transaction tax must be called for and introduced now as a matter of urgency. It is our duty as Europeans.

 
  
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  Leonardo Domenici (S&D).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Mrs Podimata’s report contains many important aspects that are not limited to the issue of the financial transaction tax. The report is packed with analysis and suggestions and I hope it is widely supported by this House.

It could be the basis for the genuine new European tax policy that we need. On the subject of tax harmonisation, this report also contains proposals that move towards a tax harmonisation that gives new strength and subjectivity to Europe, although it is clear that at the moment, the debate focuses mainly on the financial transaction tax, to be applied as a first step across Europe. I think this is the time for courageous decisions, which should be applied in a balanced way, but still indicate the direction forward. I believe that Europe has a responsibility to show the world the way ahead; I believe that this House has a responsibility to send out a signal and a political message.

Let me say one thing to Mr Schmidt, whose intelligence and lucidity I really respect: be careful with the arguments we use, because if we say today that we cannot levy a financial transaction tax because there are tax havens, we will make European citizens feel helpless at a time when many of these financial institutions are starting to go back into the black.

Not only the Socialists are saying this. In my country, Italy, this proposal is also supported by many autonomous and independent groups; it is also supported by the Catholic, democratic movement for the promotion of development and balanced growth.

 
  
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  Sylvie Goulard (ALDE).(FR) Mr President, I would like to acknowledge the work of our fellow Member, Mrs Podimata, which actually tackles several highly sensitive topics. I will not discuss Eurobonds, which I am dealing with myself in my report on economic governance. I would like to raise three issues regarding the tax on financial transactions.

Firstly, do we need new sources of revenue and do we have the right, in this Parliament, to discuss the revenue side from time to time? My answer to this is ‘yes’. There are some taboos in Europe; however, it is my belief that we will be unable to have a comprehensive discussion on how to end the crisis if we cannot tackle this topic without taboos, and so I welcome the work carried out by Commissioner Šemeta on alternative taxation.

Secondly, do we need a tax on financial transactions? In my opinion, it is an extremely interesting avenue to explore. I would refer, for example, to the work recently carried out by the European Central Bank in the consultation organised by the Commission on the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), and, in particular, to the section on high-frequency trading, that is to say, extremely rapid transactions performed by computers. It is clear that there have been some recent and dangerous developments, and here I share Mr Ferber’s view that we must make a distinction between market activities which allow liquidity to be raised and those of a more speculative and probably harmful nature.

My third and final question is: do we need global or European rules? I would like to know what is meant by ‘global’. Are we going to wait until the world’s last remaining dictatorship has given its go-ahead before we make a decision on something in the European Union? Are we hiding behind globalisation in order to avoid facing up to our responsibilities? I think that that would be completely unreasonable. Clearly, we must consider the risk of relocation – we are not irresponsible – but, on the other hand, this Parliament should not make its decisions under threat.

 
  
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  Sven Giegold (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I, too, would like to express my thanks to Mrs Podimata. She has not had an easy job in recent weeks. I am sure you will have noticed from the e-mails that we have received and from the heated debate that has taken place – even within some of the groups – that this is an issue that is being watched very closely by many of our citizens, who want to see exactly what position politicians in this Parliament will take on this matter.

The financial transaction tax is the result of a citizens’ initiative that is driving this proposal, which is essentially based on the Tobin tax, and Parliament’s position on the matter will therefore be decisive. Firstly, there is a key question: does it have to be a global tax? At a global level, there is scarcely anyone who opposes this tax. The next question is: should we also introduce it at a European level? To be frank, I regret to say that many of its opponents are hiding behind the argument concerning Europe. We should categorically reject such hidden tactics here and now, because we have successful transaction taxes even at a national level and these transaction taxes work in sub-markets.

In other words, even if Mr Šemeta is currently working on the impact assessment, there is no point in investigating whether or not a transaction tax can work; we should investigate only in which sub-markets it can be introduced nationally, in which sub-markets it can be introduced across Europe and those sub-markets where it can only be introduced globally. It also means that as the amendment is worded, anyone who claims to want transactions to be taxed has no reason to vote tomorrow against the wording proposed jointly by 120 Members.

I call on you, Mr Šemeta, to make your impact assessment fair and to take into consideration how undertaxed the financial sector is. Ladies and gentlemen, let us send out a clear signal tomorrow in favour of a European financial transaction tax. There is no technical reason not to do so.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, there has long been a need to create a financial transaction tax (FTT) at global level and, therefore, also at European Union level, just as there has been a need to put an end to tax havens and speculative financial products. There has long been a need to control and effectively regulate the capital market, preventing speculation on a very wide range of products, including commodities, property transactions, pensions, and insurance, as well as a whole panoply of derivatives, including those based on sovereign debt itself.

Unfortunately, the European Commission has made no progress with these proposals, but it is well known that tax evasion and tax fraud are estimated to cost some EUR 250 billion per year in Europe, which would be enough to cut the public deficits without the need to raise taxes. According to current projections, even at a low rate, an FTT would generate almost EUR 200 billion per year at European Union level and USD 650 billion at global level.

It is in this context that we ask how can it be accepted that a clear position regarding the creation of an FTT at European Union level should be postponed under the pretext of another study, of new studies, of further evaluation? It is time to take clear decisions on the inspection and taxation of capital. It is time for us to stop making, above all, the workers, microenterprises and small businesses pay for the economic and social crisis.

 
  
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  Marta Andreasen (EFD). – Mr President, the European Union has wanted to fund itself with a European tax for some time now. It seems its preference would be for a financial transaction tax. It is estimated that this would generate EUR 200 billion per annum.

I strongly oppose a new tax levied by the European Union, fundamentally because this would allow the European Commission to decide on the size and composition of the EU budget without any say on the part of the Member States and their citizens. Worse, it would deprive the Member States of the possibility of calling the EU bureaucracy to account.

If it is introduced at national level to control risk in the financial services industry, the costs will inevitably be passed on to the tax payer. While there is a feeling that the financial services and banking sector should meet the bill for the crisis, we should not cheat our citizens by imposing on them an additional fiscal burden.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, taxing speculation – which, in many cases, brings no benefit for the real economy – by means of a financial transaction tax is undoubtedly the right approach. However, such a tax should not be used as an opportunity to bring in something akin to an EU tax by the back door and to justify fiscal sovereignty for the EU. Unfortunately, however, this report takes us in precisely that direction. In my opinion, the EU is not a state – and it should not become one either. Fiscal sovereignty must remain the responsibility of the Member States.

If Brussels cannot manage its budget, then cuts will have to be made. There are enough powers already that would be better regulated at a national level instead of at EU level. Moreover, the jungle of subsidies and EU agencies offers plenty of potential for savings. The introduction of Eurobonds that is also recommended in the report is, in my opinion, to be decisively rejected. It goes against all economic sense and is nothing more than a further measure to make the EU into a transfer union. That is something that I reject.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE).(PT) Mr President, the issue of innovative financing at global and European level is not only important but also extremely current. I find it regrettable that it has been reduced to the existence or non-existence of a new financial transaction tax, but even so, I will not duck the debate.

There are a series of questions that I would ask here. First of all, does this House know of any crisis that has been resolved through the existence of a new tax? Do you know of any studies on the cost of administering this new tax? Do you know of any studies determining the effects that this new tax will have on the economy? To be completely honest, I do not know of any. Moreover, do you know of any form of regulation that is carried out by establishing new taxes, or is regulation carried out through supervision and control of the market? It seems clear to me that that is the case.

I will finish by calling for this debate and discussion to be undertaken with the proper level of calm, and not on the basis of the ideologies of those little concerned with the growth of the economy and of businesses, and with public wellbeing.

 
  
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  Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D). (ES) Mr President, in a few months, it will be four years since we felt the first symptoms, the first effects of this devastating economic crisis, the worst the world has seen in the last three quarters of a century.

It began as a great international upheaval in the financial world; then it became an economic crisis and expanded into the real economy, affecting growth and jobs, and causing severe social impact; and we should not forget that, for hundreds of millions of people around the world, it is a humanitarian crisis.

Since then, we have seen numerous international meetings, most notably of the G20, with a strong presence of European Union Member States. Many firm statements and formal undertakings have been made at these gatherings to reform the international financial institutions, to reform tax systems, to introduce levies on international financial transactions. However, they have all been little more than formal statements.

In fact, all the actual work needed to fight tax havens and reform the financial institutions is yet to be done.

I would like to establish a link between this report and the needs of development policies. Developing countries suffer the effects of the crisis to a greater extent than others: they have less growth, fewer jobs, greater difficulty in obtaining external funding, larger debts and less official development aid. The financial transaction tax would provide a potent new source of development funding.

I therefore believe that these aspects of the Podimata report deserve our support, and I would at this point like to call on Parliament to be true to itself, reminding the House that introduction of the levy was approved by this Chamber in March 2010 in a report on the impact of the crisis on developing countries.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: STAVROS LAMBRINIDIS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Carl Haglund (ALDE).(SV) Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, who has succeeded in producing a report that is also stimulating debate. I think it is important to remind ourselves of the fact that the European Commission has actually promised to put forward a number of ambitious proposals by the summer regarding what we usually term ‘own resources’. These particular taxes that we have just debated are certain to be included in this.

That is perhaps also why I think that own-initiative reports, where we take the initiative ourselves with regard to a particular matter, can be slightly troublesome, because we tend first to request important preparatory work involving studies of the impact that various taxes and other things might have, only then, here in this Chamber, to pre-empt this important preparatory work by saying what we want regardless of what information the Commission prepares.

I think Mr Feio was on the right lines in this regard, because it is often the case that we approach these taxes from an ideological perspective. For example, we are currently talking about imposing a tax on the financial sector. The whole situation is very complex. We rarely hear arguments relating to the technical details of what this will entail. It is instead a question of a principle: we want to have such a tax.

In this context, we can also discuss how innovative we are being. For ideological reasons, we wanted these taxes 30 years or more ago, so it is nothing particularly innovative to call for them. Nevertheless, I can understand that some people may think they are necessary. I personally think it is important for us to introduce a financial sector tax and for us to do so at a global level. Someone here asked what that would mean. It would not mean that we have to wait for the last dictator sitting in some corner of our planet. It is rather a question of whether we could achieve something at G20 level. This, of course, is also what France, which is chairing the G20 this year, is aiming for.

Yet at this point, we do not have the patience to recall that we will be getting serious proposals from the Commission by the summer. I therefore believe that we will make progress without making this issue an ideological one, because it is also a pragmatic one. We must also remember that these taxes actually have to work in practice.

 
  
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  Keith Taylor (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, I rise to speak in favour of the financial transaction tax (FTT). The FTT provides an opportunity to redress the balance and the damage caused by the austerity measures, the deficit and the measures adopted to repay it.

It is important, though, to introduce taxation which is relevant to the current circumstances since, in the UK for example, Barclays Bank only paid GBP 113 million in corporation tax in 2009, at well below the UK rate of 28%, while the Royal Bank of Scotland allocated EUR 25 billion to tax avoidance schemes that year and cost the British and US exchequer EUR 500 million in lost revenue.

In the UK, a group has been formed to support the FTT. It is called the Robin Hood Tax group, after the legendary figure who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

I support its campaign, and I urge Parliament to do likewise.

 
  
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  Niki Tzavela (EFD). – Mr President, the report of Mrs Podimata is very well balanced and very well explained, and we should all welcome the four financial means introduced by the report tomorrow. The four measures are all innovative and I should say that we should not confine the debate only to the financial transaction tax. We should be careful in choosing which ones will be implemented; we should exclude tax on sectors such as the energy sector which have a multiplying effect on living costs. Thus, for the final phase of the issue, the Commission should conduct an evaluation through an impact assessment of the efficiency and potential results of the use of these instruments.

 
  
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  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE). – Mr President, first of all, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur for highlighting some interesting political differences in this report.

Let me also clarify one thing after having listened to this debate, which is that a financial transaction tax will not be paid by anyone other than the customers. It is the same as for electricity, cars or any other goods or services. With the taxes on those, the price is increased for the customer. No banks will pay for this. Banks will, in any case, need to be increasing their capital during the coming decade.

So, the tax will be directed at customers. That might be good because, of course, we need taxes. But is it a good tax? As my colleague, Mr Schmidt, mentioned earlier, we tried it in Sweden, where it was called the ‘puppy’ tax. It was more or less the same tax we are discussing now and it was a success – for the City of London! This was because the trade in shares moved to London and the trade in bonds more or less died.

That is why I am a little surprised at what has been said in the debate. The difference is between those who want to know what the consequences would be and those who do not want to know the consequences – those who want an impact assessment and those who do not want one. Let us think about whether we are not at this point making the Mayor of Shanghai a very happy person. I believe we should follow the EPP line on this issue.

 
  
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  Arlene McCarthy (S&D). – Mr President, I want to thank our rapporteur for this report and to focus my comments on responding to the public’s call for fair taxation on the financial services sector.

We should remind ourselves that citizens have already provided a massive taxpayer bail-out of EUR 4.5 trillion of State aid to the banking sector – EUR 9 500 per man, woman and child in the EU – and, of course, the public are continuing to pay with the loss of their jobs during this extreme financial crisis. Now that this sector has returned to profit and is paying out large bonuses (in fact, that is how, Mr Hökmark, they can recapitalise – they do not need to worry about taxes; it is the bonuses they should get rid of), it is only fair that this sector, like any other, makes a fair contribution.

The question is: why should the EU own-resources, including the VAT element, be borne by householders and taxpayers, while the financial services industry is largely exempt from VAT? While Ireland borrows EUR 85 billion to solve its economic crisis, its total support to banks is estimated at EUR 725 billion. Our citizens rightly believe it is time for the financial services sector to pay a fair contribution. Even Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, this weekend said that if we do not have a fundamental reform of the financial services sector, we are heading for another banking crisis.

This report does not say how we should introduce an FTT or how much it should be. It is now clear that we are at the beginning of examining evidence in this area, and one study shows that even a minuscule tax just on foreign exchange trade could raise USD 26 billion worldwide.

We support further studies. Of course, we also support you, Mr Šemeta, in making sure that we do not have the failed Swedish model, which is not a good example of an FTT. But, Commissioner, can I say to you that, before seeing results of studies, I am a bit disappointed that your consultation paper already excluded an EU FTT. You are right, Commissioner: let us see the evidence before we reject it. I am disappointed that you have already taken that decision.

Tomorrow’s vote, therefore – and I will finish on this – is in favour of this report and the principle that the financial services should now pay its way. It is a vote that backs our citizens and the view that they should not be left paying continually for the mistakes of the financial services and the banking sector.

 
  
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  Satu Hassi (Verts/ALE). (FI) Mr President, I thank the rapporteur for her excellent work. I would have liked to see greater weight placed in this report on the matter of the financing of international climate actions, although I also strongly support the financial transaction tax. As for the financing of climate activities, last year, the work group set up by the UN Secretary­General proposed a carbon tax as one option for emissions from international shipping. This should be taken seriously in the EU.

At the time of the 2008 Climate Package, we decided that, unless the International Maritime Organisation had established a global scheme for controlling emissions from shipping by the end of this year, the EU would take action itself, in the same way it did with air traffic. A carbon tax for shipping arriving in, and departing from, the EU would be a globally significant measure, as this would affect a third of all international shipping and would provide developing countries with a stable source of cash for their climate actions.

 
  
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  Antonio Cancian (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I think today’s topic is a fundamental issue because it concerns not only financial taxation, but also an important market topic. Through Eurobonds – we must distinguish between Eurobonds and project bonds – the time has come to develop and drive our economy through the fund known as the project bond, in particular, trans-European infrastructures in the transport, energy and telecommunications sectors, backed by research and innovation.

We must lead the way in these areas: this is the underlying theme of today and hence, the change of pace. When we speak of the Union method, which is on all our lips, this is an opportunity to give it some substance. Unemployment is today’s real social problem; this is our task today.

When we charge taxes, whether throughout the world, or only in Europe, I believe we make our companies less competitive. When we decide to make the increase, as well as being difficult to apply – because we want to hit only those who are speculating, but we shall not succeed – we shall not succeed because it is difficult to apply and we must do it at the G20 level. Finally, as regards carbon taxes, I believe that the taxes should not be increased but regularised.

 
  
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  Liem Hoang Ngoc (S&D).(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the report we are debating today offers genuine advances. I am thinking, in particular, of Eurobonds, which the Union will need in order to finance the Europe 2020 strategy.

Unfortunately, the right rejected in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs the principle of a tax on financial transactions at European level, despite having voted in favour of it in June. Its arguments for rejecting a European tax on financial transactions as a prelude to a global tax are the same as those put forward by the supporters of tax havens. It tells us that implementing a tax at European level alone would be disastrous for our financial sector. It also says that there would be a flight of capital from Europe.

My answer to that is: so what if there is? The current volume of financial transactions is excessive compared to the needs of the real economy. Implementing this tax solely in Europe would help deflate the bubble.

Furthermore, if the volume of speculative capital transactions, such as the credit derivatives at the origin of the crisis, were somewhat reduced, it would really help to consolidate the balance sheets of our banks. They would have a much greater incentive to finance the real economy.

I would point out to those who are using the absence of an impact assessment for cover that no impact assessment was performed before the green light was given for a proliferation of derivatives.

It is time, ladies and gentlemen, for all MEPs to face up to their responsibilities. The European Union must not continue to tag along behind a G20 dominated by the United States and China. It must lead the way in reforming our financial system.

That is why I cannot support a text which chooses to overlook a tax on financial transactions.

 
  
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  Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (PPE).(EL) Mr President, Mrs Podimata’s report contains interesting ideas – both ancient and modern – which are especially topical at this moment in time, given the challenges we face in the euro area, and in the European Union as a whole, in terms of stability and growth. One particularly positive idea is that of Eurobonds.

I wanted to comment, in particular, on the question of a financial transaction tax which, as stated in the amendment which I endorsed, I view as a positive step, even at – albeit – European level, despite its difficulty and complexity, as highlighted in all the relevant studies, in terms of collecting it and how effective it will be if it is only applied at European and not at international level.

However, apart from these technical specifics, we are particularly concerned about its possible impact on the competitiveness of the European economy: a prerequisite to our growth which would also appear to be obvious from the attempt to apply the competitiveness pact within the framework of economic governance on harsh and binding terms. We are therefore worried about the impact which such a tax may have in terms of passing on fast-moving financial services, in terms of the lack of liquidity that our market so sorely needs at present, and in terms of passing on the cost to investors and taxpayers.

It is for these reasons, therefore, that we consider the study promised by the European Commission to be a very basic prerequisite. However, there is something else that concerns us: the fact that nowhere is it stipulated where these resources will go. We are not in favour of taxes for taxes’ sake; we have no doctrine on taxes. What we need to know is what the outcome will be. I would be very receptive and my proposal to negotiate would still apply to a tax which goes to the EU budget or to the support mechanism.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira (S&D).(PT) Mr President, there is no point in repeating that the current situation is the most serious test of the survival of the euro and, therefore, of Europe. The Podimata report opens the way for constructive solutions, so I would congratulate our fellow Member on the ideas she puts forward.

The seriousness of the situation does not result from the euro area as a whole having an excessive deficit or external debt, but rather from the persistent and serious divergence of its component economies under the impact of common policy. We lack instruments that would enable convergence between these economies, which would enable Europe to regain its balance, which would enable Europe to grow.

Let us be clear: at the current level of integration, and considering the diversity of their component economies, the euro area and the European Union will not survive with a budget of 1% of their collective wealth. In practice, following the crisis, the only solution that we were able to construct was to prescribe austerity, and it is working people and companies that are now paying for the deficits created by the speculative crisis of the financial sector, to the salvation of which the European Union has committed 26% of its wealth.

It is true that the financial transaction tax (FTT), levied at a very low rate, for example 0.05%, on extremely speculative transactions involving high risk products, will have to be paid for by consumers of such products. However, why should they not pay, if the ordinary people pay value added tax on bread, milk and other staples? The tax burden has to be redistributed so as to harm fewer working people and companies, and shared more equally with the financial and, in particular, the speculative sectors.

Commissioner, I do not think that the Commission should currently be rejecting or avoiding the clear political message that Parliament is giving it. The public consultation cannot exclude analysis of the FTT: on the contrary, its analysis must be given the highest priority.

 
  
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  Theodor Dumitru Stolojan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, at nearly 10 percentage points, the European Union already has a higher tax burden than the United States, Japan and other global economic powers, and that means that European companies are at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis US companies and other companies acting globally. Surely, there is great enthusiasm to introduce a new tax on financial transactions. However, as we all know, the financial sector has an incredible ability to pass any costs on to citizens and companies. I therefore think that we can only talk about a tax on financial transactions in the European Union if we have a global agreement in this matter.

Secondly, I wish to express my full support for the introduction of Eurobonds to finance European infrastructure projects as a means to attract resources and also attract private sector resources to fund these projects.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mrs Podimata.

The economic and financial crisis has revealed a number of disproportionate incentives existing in the financial sector, as well as deficiencies in the regulatory and supervisory framework of the financial system. The financial system should contribute to bearing the costs of this crisis in a more equitable and sustainable way. However, we should make sure that, ultimately, tax on financial transactions, introduced by virtue of an impact study, will not be transferred to the consumers, that is, to the citizens. We therefore consider it necessary to establish clear rules to prevent this situation.

Public procurement accounts for 17% of the EU’s GDP and represents an important market, especially in areas such as health, transport and energy. Implementation of electronic public procurement systems in the Member States has led to increased transparency and significant savings to national budgets. I call upon the Commission and the Member States to execute at least 50% of public procurement by electronic public procurement systems by 2015, thus respecting the commitments made by the Member States in Manchester in 2005. I also ask the Commission to implement the e-Invoice initiative – electronic invoicing, which is an important tool for reducing tax evasion.

Member States should substantially improve the existing structural funds for research and innovation, transport and energy efficiency projects, helping citizens acquire the necessary skills, improving performance of the national systems, and implementing smart specialisation strategies and transnational projects. In this context, we support the common Eurobond issuance to finance infrastructure projects.

I would also like to draw attention to the unexploited potential of innovative revolving financial instruments aimed at increasing energy efficiency in buildings. In addition, Member States should initiate the preparation of post-2013 structural funds, with particular emphasis on innovation, transport, energy efficiency and smart specialisation.

 
  
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  Astrid Lulling (PPE).(FR) Mr President, at a time when we are only just beginning to digest the effects of the financial crisis, it is certainly not forbidden to consider fundamental issues such as innovative tax mechanisms and to propose new avenues such as Eurobonds. If this is to be a truly valid exercise, however, realism should never give way to idealism. Eurobonds could be an instrument of the future if the European Union were to make a genuine qualitative leap in economic governance terms. This is a prerequisite. Let us not underestimate the problems here.

If we listen to Mrs Podimata, things are actually quite simple. We take the money where we find it, and that is that. Today, banks are easy scapegoats. They have sinned and they must pay. That is what the French said to the Germans after the Treaty of Versailles in the 1920s. One particularly well-informed observer, Mr Trichet, the President of the ECB, warned us very clearly of the risks involved in unilaterally implementing a tax on financial transactions in Europe. I have even heard talk of it being introduced solely in the euro area. We are on a slippery slope here; our fellow Member Mr Farage would be delighted! We must therefore be extremely cautious. This is why I am in full agreement with the amendment tabled by my group. It does not close any doors but requests a thorough analysis of the consequences of the choices we may make. Choosing to be ideological at this point in time would be a serious mistake.

For my part, I will not support a measure of which the only consequence would be to penalise the European financial sector over our competitors.

 
  
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  David Casa (PPE).(MT) Mr President, I wish to thank the rapporteur for reminding us that the internal market needs to be more efficient and effective if it is to improve. If we take the tax issue in light of all this, and consider that we have only just begun to emerge from the crisis, then I believe that the sudden introduction of taxes is not the right way forward. I say this because I believe that the market has enough burdens as it is – such as the new capital requirements, and the new deposit guarantee schemes – and we have not yet even begun to feel their effect. Therefore, given that we all agree that adopting a global tax will be next to impossible since it is not feasible for Europe to be the sole player in all of this, then I believe we should consider the consequences that this European tax will bring with it. We need to reflect on how the labour market will be affected, on how we are going to create more jobs, on how competitive we can remain as a European market competing with international ones. My party, which I represent here, is not closing the door on this issue, even though we do not agree that the way out of this crisis is by means of introducing a tax. What we are saying is, let us evaluate the impact, let us look at the studies that have been carried out, let us contemplate on how this will affect the European economic sector, and if, in the light of all this, it emerges that this tax will be of benefit after all, then yes, we will go along with its introduction. However, at this point in time, we stand by our belief that new taxes are unacceptable.

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE).(FR) Mr President, my first words will be to commend the work of our rapporteur, Mrs Podimata, as well as the tremendous amount of work carried out by Mrs Hübner on behalf of our political group.

We are all familiar with the data relating to the tax on financial transactions. The first item of data is that transactions and speculation add up to between 80 and 100 times the value of the real economy. The second is that we have Millennium Development Goals – poverty, water, forests, infrastructure, education and health – which have yet to be financed and which require USD 300 billion by 2015.

We are therefore in favour of this tax, but when it is put to the vote tomorrow, an overwhelming vote is needed. Prevaricating would be the most dangerous thing that Parliament could do. An overwhelming vote is needed, and the tax must be a Community one and not an intergovernmental one.

With regard to Eurobonds, there are three categories. The first category is liable to be used to finance sovereign debt, which is a mistake since we will never obtain a political majority to finance the sovereign debt of Member States throughout the European Union. The second category could finance the crisis management mechanism, which has become permanent. We do indeed require Eurobonds for that. Here, I would raise the issue of the political, and therefore parliamentary, control of these Eurobonds. Thirdly and finally, yes, we need these Eurobonds for investment. A continent which does not invest is a continent which will decline. Across the globe, continents are investing. Therefore, we need these Eurobonds, these project bonds.

 
  
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  Sławomir Witold Nitras (PPE). (PL) Mr President, I would not like to repeat the arguments of my predecessors, my colleagues from my political group. I would merely like to add one comment.

It is true that the tax on financial transactions would be a tax that would be imposed on the citizen. It is true that the introduction of this tax without any feasibility studies being carried out (and we do not have any available), and only at a European and not at a global level, would be highly irresponsible.

I would like to add another comment. I forgot to thank Mrs Podimata as well as Mrs Hübner, without whose work the report from the Commission would have been considerably worse. The report has, in fact, turned out rather well. It is sober and balanced, with certain themes for consideration, but without ideological excursions and ideas which have no connection with the real world.

I would, however, like to add one more comment regarding the transaction tax. Not only globally but also in Europe, there are countries, including my own, whose banking system has proved its worth during the financial crisis. In Poland, we did not supplement the financial system. Our financial system was already being monitored by our financial supervising authority, and regulations were in place which are only now being introduced at European level. It seems that this system did not generate debt. The idea of introducing a tax on financial transactions will also burden healthy systems which do not share the blame. In my capacity as a European citizen who is aware of systems which did not generate costs, I cannot agree to this.

Just one more comment on Eurobonds. This is a good idea. We do have to fund investments, but even now as we embark on this path, there is a question which I want to put to the European Commission in particular, which is this: How do we ensure that this instrument will include all those who, in the course of time, will want to be part of the euro area, and not just its current members?

 
  
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  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Mr President, the financial crisis has meant that we have to consider fair sources of income to achieve growth and prosperity. This report contains both helpful and also problematic initiatives. What is problematic in the report is the proposal for EU project bonds, or Eurobonds, which I absolutely oppose. Eurobonds would blur the responsibility that Member States have for their own economies and saddle the Member States that have successfully attended to their own affairs with these increased interest payments. They would entail a ‘moral hazard’, as they say.

Nevertheless, I support this ‘stock exchange tax’, the financial transaction tax, regarding which we should get an impact assessment from the Commission as soon as possible. I might even ask the Commissioner here present: when could we have this impact assessment?

It is also good that this report has paid a good deal of attention to the financing of development cooperation, because the harshest consequences of the financial crisis in human terms threaten to affect those who are assuredly the least to blame of all for this situation, which is to say, the people in the developing countries. The world’s poorest of the poor have to suffer because several countries in an economic recession are cutting their development aid, and even their humanitarian emergency aid.

The report also quite rightly reminds us of the importance, not just of development cooperation, but also measures put in place by the developing countries themselves. These countries need to step up their own efforts in the area of taxation, specifically tax collection and the fight against tax evasion. The EU, meanwhile, should improve the coordination of the currently fragmented system of development aid and step up the fight against tax havens.

 
  
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  Damien Abad (PPE).(FR) Mr President, we may have just come out of the worst financial crisis the world has known since 1929, but that does not mean that Europe can sit back and relax.

What I have to say is that regulating the international financial system and the idea of a financial transaction tax are not left-wing subjects. This is not purely a socialist issue. It is a subject that concerns the whole of Parliament. In this respect, I have to say it is a shame that the socialist group is tabling an alternative resolution at a time when all our political groups are capable of coming together and agreeing on two proposals. The first proposal is to support the principle of a global financial transaction tax, in line with the G20’s proposals and in accordance with its current road map. The second is to look at the possibility of introducing the financial transaction tax internally within the EU, after carrying out an impact assessment. The impact assessment is not designed to hold things up or to give us more time: it is simply there to ensure that this tax is introduced under the right conditions.

I think it is a shame that party political and individual interests are preventing us from creating a strong movement within the European Parliament. I think the subject of regulating the international financial system is too serious to turn it into a party political matter and I think the right and centre parties could say their own piece on the subject just as easily as the left: they could influence the debates, they could be bold and show a sense of responsibility by proposing the introduction of this tax from a pragmatic standpoint, not an ideological one.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, I should like to thank the rapporteur for this report.

The two major problems facing the European Union are high unemployment and severe debt burdens. Yesterday, in Dublin, agreement was reached on the formation of a new government – a government which is committed to bringing Ireland out of one of the darkest hours in our history. Ireland faces an unprecedented national economic emergency, a fact of which colleagues in this House are all too well aware. Indeed, we need the understanding and support of our colleagues in order to recover from the difficulties.

The incoming government has many challenges to face, including awaiting the results of the second banking stress test due at the end of the month so that we will finally know the extent of the problem. These stress tests will be a damning indictment of the ineffective regulation of Europe’s banking sector – and Ireland’s also – but I say Europe, and I underline that point. There are lessons to be learned. On the employment front, our focus will be to get people back to work.

So, on the issues in this report, three taxation measures are proposed. The financial transaction tax has potential, but we do need – and I welcome the Commissioner’s comments about this – an impact assessment before we make a final judgment. Can I say that taxation should not be about punishment; it is about the building of resources in a fair and equitable manner.

Regarding Eurobonds, again, there are possibilities here for major infrastructure projects. Those concerned about moral hazard should say that if we had good economic governance, that fear should abate. Lastly, the carbon tax: I have some concerns about this, but at least we are debating these very important issues in this House and tomorrow we will take a vote on them.

 
  
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  Jan Kozłowski (PPE). (PL) Mr President, the ambitious strategic targets which the European Union has set itself demand considerable input of investment and resources. On the other hand, the economic crisis has caused many Member States to find ways of economising. It is difficult to reconcile both of these trends, so I consider the search for innovative financing to be important and worth pursuing.

However, I would like to draw attention to two particularly important matters. Firstly, innovative financing must be seen as supplementary to the budget of the European Union. It should be treated as support for the ambitious targets of the European Union, but not as a temptation to reduce contributions from the Member States. Secondly, the influence of the proposed funding methods on European competitiveness and on unemployment levels should be carefully analysed.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Mr President, to achieve the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, massive investments are needed at European level in research, education and infrastructure. However, in the context of the austerity policies followed by European governments and growing deficits, these objectives can only be achieved through alternative financing methods. I refer both to joint bond issuance to enable Member States to cover some of their deficits, turning a portion of their debt into European debt and facilitating the obtaining of loans with low interest rates, and the tax on financial transactions.

The latter would impose a minimum charge on the financial sector, whose activities represent approximately 73% of global GDP, and will be used to discourage financial speculation, and to ensure market regulation and investment in European projects. It is necessary for the Union to send out a strong signal in finding a solution to the financial crisis, primarily by implementing these taxes.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, a tax on financial transactions would affect competitiveness, but a tax applied globally in the right way could represent a method for collecting additional funds for global policies. In order to have a coherent position, the EU should make an assessment of the impact of introducing such a tax. The study should cover the possible risk of relocating foreign investments in less transparent areas. The extent to which the options considered can be used as innovative financial mechanisms must be observed. Such a tax should not have a negative impact on the banking system. Avoiding possible effects on SMEs and individual investments are, however, two very important aspects.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that only a tax on financial activities would be feasible at European level. In this way, we would only tax the corporations, and not every participant in a financial transaction.

 
  
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  Sylvana Rapti (S&D).(EL) Mr President, I will not say thank you or express my gratitude to Anni Podimata. What I will say is: very well done because, at a time when the euro is very sick, she has borne the burden of giving the European Parliament an own-initiative report which suggests a cure. The cure it suggests includes a financial transaction tax.

I have heard a lot of people say ‘no’: some have said so politely, others have said so directly. However, I have not heard any alternative proposals and I think that we all want to defend the European Union and the euro. I have also heard talk of a study: however, when I hear proposals for a study, I know in advance that the answer is ‘no’ and that we are just buying time. Do not buy time, Commissioner. Do something straight away. To close the catch-the-eye procedure, I say to you: catch the tax.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). (ES) Mr President, my group and I firmly support the introduction of a tax on financial transactions for two reasons.

Firstly, because it is necessary and useful. A levy rate of 0.05% would provide revenues in excess of EUR 200 billion. At a time when supposedly magical cost-cutting policies paradoxically require more income, I think it is more than necessary to institute the tax. It is essential.

Secondly, because it would enable us to tackle and restrain speculative activity, which constitutes the great challenge currently facing world – and European – politics.

There is one further reason why I support this tax: because thousands and thousands of citizens, represented by a great many organisations, demand it. As political representatives, it is our duty not just to listen but to respond responsibly and consistently, and I believe this Chamber needs to be clear and convincing on this matter tomorrow.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, politicians are supposed to rule the world, and if they do not, the void is filled by others. That is, in part, what happened with the economic crisis, not least in my own country. Thankfully, we are now recovering lost ground and efforts have been made in Parliament to try and rein in the financial speculators – those economic parasites who have wreaked havoc on the markets and on people’s lives. The financial transaction tax is a good idea as a basis, but I believe that going ahead with it without global application would, in the words of Nigel Farage, be kamikaze economics.

I was pleased to co-sign Amendment 3, calling for a feasibility study. It is right and prudent that we should wait for that feasibility study to see if it is economically sensible for us to go ahead unilaterally, without the rest of the world. Once that feasibility study is available, we can then make a decision.

 
  
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  Wojciech Michał Olejniczak (S&D). (PL) Mr President, the tax on financial transactions is extremely important for the future of the European Union. This tax will contribute to improved control of the financial sector. In the past, a lack of essential controls led to a crisis, to considerable damage caused as a result of speculation on the part of, for example, the banks. Today, the costs of the crisis have been transferred to the citizens of the European Union. In Poland, for example, there has been an increase in VAT which means that the cost of family maintenance has gone up.

The introduction of the tax on financial transactions will mean that action will be taken to limit the activity of so-called tax havens. In addition to its function of disciplining the financial sector, the monies which the European Union will be able to allocate for development from its own resources will be significant. More money in the European Union budget will mean more possibilities, more funding for science, education, investment in new technology, cohesion policy and the common agricultural policy.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Mr President, I agree with the rapporteur that the turbulence in the financial sector has resulted in serious problems not only for our citizens, but also for most of our businesses. It is therefore quite legitimate to debate an update to the regulations on handling the savings of European citizens in banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions.

However, one important conclusion of the debate should be to support the responsible and safe administration of the savings of our citizens, and to eliminate all speculative and risky transactions in which the savings or future pensions of small savers disappear into the pockets of speculators.

This should involve, first of all, better and more comprehensive regulations, which are accepted globally, and which would exclude speculation and gambling from the financial sector, without unnecessary damage to savers or clients. We should not talk about sanctions or special taxes until we have completed the thorough reform of our financial sector, which, unfortunately, commands little trust today.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, after the structural crisis – and I do not imagine that we have dealt with that yet by any means – it is essential that we secure a safe financial platform in order to limit speculation or, better still, to ban it entirely. Innovative financing instruments supplement the policy of cuts that is currently necessary and should be introduced worldwide as a matter of urgency. If we therefore vote in favour of a financial transaction tax at a rate of 0.05%, then we could have at our disposal potential revenue of nearly EUR 200 billion across the EU or even EUR 650 billion worldwide. At least equally positive is the potential it provides to regulate the financial markets and increase transparency. In other words, it is a step in the right direction.

 
  
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  Thomas Mann (PPE).(DE) Mr President, if we want to stabilise the financial markets, then a financial transaction tax is unavoidable. We need it so that we can put a stop once and for all to highly speculative excesses. The instability of the financial markets is due to short-term investment strategies and gambling on rates using a high proportion of debt capital. We need to make this kind of speculation unattractive and bring long-term investment strategies to the fore once and for all.

The tax will result in important revenues that we cannot do without in view of the costly EU safety nets. However, the tax rates also need to be set intelligently. The tax rate on lower risk securities must be lower than that on higher risk securities. The financial and banking systems may be organised differently around the world, but we need this financial transaction tax to gain global acceptance. It will make a substantial contribution to reducing the turbulence on the financial markets and will finally place financial transactions on a firmer footing.

 
  
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  Algirdas Šemeta, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like, first of all, to thank you for this very interesting debate. Opinions are divided on the question as to whether the EU should envisage introducing a financial transaction tax at EU level as a first step.

The figures that are circulating might appear attractive. However, I am convinced that we should first evaluate the risk of relocation and the consequences of such a tax for European competitiveness. As you know, financial transactions are easily relocated outside the EU. Previous examples such as in Sweden have shown that the introduction of FTT at local level could harm legitimate businesses and erode the tax base to a large extent. This was very clearly illustrated by Mr Schmidt and Mr Hökmark.

As I said in my introductory speech, I would encourage you to wait for the results of the impact assessment in order to define a well-founded position in this area. I can assure you that this impact assessment will be conducted very thoroughly. You know that in February, we launched a public consultation on this subject. At the end of March, we will have the Brussels Tax Forum, which will be completely dedicated to the issue of financial sector taxation. We are working in close cooperation with academia and the IMF on this subject, which I would like to see analysed very seriously in order to make decisions based on solid foundations.

The issues at stake are very important, and many of them were raised during this discussion, such as the impact on high-frequency trading. We also have to analyse tax incidence. Some of you raised the question of who will pay the tax. There is no obvious answer here. We also have to analyse the cost of administration; we have to analyse tax bases and many other issues which have to be taken into account in order to make a final decision.

So I would like to ask you to wait until the Commission has finalised this impact assessment. We have committed ourselves to doing this by the summer break.

Otherwise, I welcome the report which globally supports the actions of the Commission in innovative financing, in particular, in the area of carbon tax, euro project bonds and development financing. Once again, I would like to thank Mrs Podimata for her excellent report, and I wish you good voting tomorrow.

 
  
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  Anni Podimata, rapporteur.(EL) Mr President, just a couple of words to summarise today’s very interesting debate, for which I thank all the speakers.

First issue: a global or a European tax? I think that this is the wrong question or rather, I fear that this is the question being asked by those who do not want the tax at either European or global level, because we all know that it is impossible to reach global agreement unless someone takes the first step. In order therefore, to be credible and effective in this effort towards global agreement, the Union, which has the biggest financial market in the world, needs to take the first step.

Second issue: impact study. All of you who have read the report on innovative financing know that the impact study relates to a great many points in the report and we certainly need an impact study; no one disputes that. However, Commissioner, I cannot agree with you when you have asked us, you have begged us even now in your introductory statement, not to do anything, not to take a position before the European Commission’s impact study has been published. I also worry that, with the stand you took a short while ago, it is as if you have already decided on your position, despite the fact that there is no impact study, despite the fact that we should not introduce a financial transaction tax at European level. Of course we need an impact study and we all know that this is the usual step before starting a legislative procedure. However, let us not hide behind impact studies and let us not betray our role and our remit, especially not at a time when we are fighting to defend the Community method, by which I mean the European Parliament’s role in decision making. The political decision as to whether or not we want a European tax lies with us and the Council, as German chancellor Angela Merkel reminded us last week. We must make sure that we do not get overtaken by events.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March 2011.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ivo Belet (PPE), in writing. (NL) Today, the European Parliament is sending out a strong signal to the G20 but, in particular, to the European Heads of State or Government. We have always been, and remain, in favour of the introduction of a financial transaction tax at a global level, but if that cannot be achieved in the short term, then the EU should act independently to take its share of the responsibility. We are assuming that the Commission will shortly produce a study and, subsequent to that, a specific legislative proposal.

A financial transaction tax is the best tool for protecting against speculation in the markets and for financing global public goods. However, at the same time, it could also be an effective tool for supporting proactive economic recovery in Europe. At this juncture, I would also like to point out that those who always claim that the European integration project is an anti-social project could perhaps tone it down a little from today onwards. Because – in the words of Oxfam – ‘The European Parliament is today setting a world standard by pressing for a European Robin Hood tax’.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (S&D), in writing. – I support this report, which calls for the EU to promote the introduction of a financial transaction tax (FTT) at global level, and failing that, as a first step, the EU should implement an FTT at European level. The spectacular rise in the volume of financial transactions in the global economy within the last decade, which, in 2007, reached a level 73.5 times higher than nominal world GDP, illustrates the growing disconnection between financial transactions and the needs of the real economy. The financial sector is under-taxed. Remarkably, no VAT is levied on most financial services. Measures must be implemented to raise more from this sector and contribute to shifting the burden of taxation away from working people. The main costs of the crisis have so far been borne by taxpayers. Financial institutions and stakeholders, which have enjoyed years of excessive returns on equities and excessive annual bonus payouts, must contribute their fair share to meeting the costs. It is estimated that a low rate FTT could yield nearly EUR 200 billion per year at EU level and USD 650 billion at global level, constituting a substantial contribution by the financial sector to the cost of the crisis and to public finance sustainability.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz (S&D), in writing. (HU) In times of tight financial circumstances, we would be hard pressed to find any more obvious resources to fulfil joint European objectives than taxes imposed on financial transactions on an international or European level, the Eurobond, the EU project bond, and other innovative financial instruments. If we are serious about our resolutions and the objectives established in the EU 2020 strategy, then we must support the new financing instruments that allow us to achieve them. Fresh resources are necessary to develop energy and transportation networks, to fight climate change, and to finance steps aimed at achieving social inclusion. These resources should not put additional burdens on taxpayers who are already suffering the consequences of austerity measures. According to the opinion of financial experts, a financial transaction tax that reduces the level of financial speculation and excessive risk taking on the part of financial institutions – long advocated by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament – can be introduced on a European level without driving out the financial sector from Europe. On an annual level, the 0.05% transaction tax would contribute EUR 200 billion to the budget. Additionally, other innovative financing measures, such as the issuing of Eurobonds, could also contribute to increasing budget revenues.

 
  
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  Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D), in writing.(RO) After having experienced the financial crisis, which demonstrated the volatility of the financial institutions’ stocks, we considered it necessary to introduce a tax on financial transactions at European level, an issue which was also discussed extensively by the European Council.

The S&D Group, to which the designated rapporteur belongs, deserves most of the praise. We managed to send out a strong signal, especially by adopting the most problematic amendment, which aims to introduce the tax at European level, rather than globally. In this way, we show our good intentions and our firm belief that the measures can have a higher efficacy in the EU, with quantifiable and immediate benefits. In this regard, I must repeat that the austerity policy, promoted heavily by conservative governments, is deeply inequitable and even demagogic, especially since the economic crisis was not caused by ordinary people, but by the financial and banking institutions, which had an excessively liberal concept of the financial system. Resurgence should be considered in terms of equity and therefore, this tax is the best measure we have at hand.

 
  
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  Alfredo Pallone (PPE), in writing. (IT) This discussion is fascinating on an ethical, political and even technical level. The problem is that it cannot be played out on a fragmented field: the solution must be shared and agreed at G20 level, because if it is not implemented by everyone, it will become a boomerang, which would force financial transactions to relocate. We are not here to defend speculators or those who played the financial markets as though they were at a casino, but, on the other hand, we cannot take face-saving measures partly influenced by demagoguery, which then, in practice, go on to do more harm than we are setting out to prevent. Let us not, therefore, reason on purely ideological grounds and instead look at the facts. We all agree on the need to halt financial speculation for its own sake and to establish the principle that the polluter pays, but to do this, it is necessary to adopt an approach based on sound data, numbers and statistical analysis. We need to find a solution that takes into account the need to stop a certain type of speculation, and prevent the EU from back-pedalling on the global market, which would create more problems at a time when we need to invest and try to overcome the crisis.

 

18. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean Agreement Area (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mr Crescenzio Rivellini, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain provisions for fishing in the GFCM (General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean) Agreement Area (COM(2009)0477 - C7-0204/2009 - 2009/0129(COD)) (Α7-0023/2011).

 
  
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  Crescenzio Rivellini, rapporteur. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the aim of this proposal for a regulation is to incorporate some of the recommendations adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) to help improve legal certainty while taking an important step towards simplification.

So far, the recommendations adopted by the GFCM have been transposed into EU legislation on a provisional basis, by means of annual regulations on fishing possibilities. The permanent nature of this recommendation, however, requires a more stable legal instrument for their transposition into Community law. It is therefore opportune to transpose the recommendations in question through a single piece of legislation to which future recommendations can be added by amendment.

As regards the substance of the recommendations adopted by the GFCM, Title II of the proposal for a regulation (‘Technical measures’) imposes various restrictions on fishing in the Gulf of Lions relating to the nets that may be used (Article 5), the issue of special fishing permits and the protection of natural habitats.

Moreover, vessels authorised to participate in the common dolphinfish fishery are to be granted a special fishing permit and included in a list to be provided to the Commission by the Member State concerned (Article 13). With regard to fishing gear, the proposal for a regulation specifies in detail the minimum mesh size to be used in the Mediterranean Sea (Article 15) and the Black Sea (Article 16) and prohibits the use of towed dredgers and trawl nets at depths below 1 000 metres (Article 17).

Title III is dedicated to control measures. These include a requirement for every Member State to send the Commission, through the accustomed data-processing support, an updated list of the vessels of more than 15 metres overall length flying its flag and registered in its territory that it authorises to fish in the GFCM area (Article 18).

Chapter 2 covers port state measures. These apply to third-country fishing vessels, which may be subject to inspections of their landings and trans-shipment operations (Article 21). Furthermore, Member States may not allow a third-country vessel to use their ports if the vessel is not flying the flag of a GFCM contracting party, if it has been engaged in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, or if it does not have a valid authorisation to engage in fishing (Article 23).

Title IV of the proposal for a regulation (Cooperation, information and reporting) requires the Commission and the Member States to cooperate and exchange information with the Executive Secretary of the GFCM (Article 24), and requires Member States to submit statistical matrices (including vessel registration numbers, capacity, gross tonnage, horsepower, etc.) to the Executive Secretary of the GFCM by the specified deadlines.

In Title V (Final provisions), Article 28 allows the Commission, through a concession by the European Parliament and Council, to amend, by means of delegated acts, provisions that concern non-essential elements of the legislative act, in accordance with Article 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Moreover, we note that the parties to the GFCM are required to ensure full implementation of agreed measures from the date set by the GFCM. Timely transposition is therefore necessary to make such international measures directly applicable to natural or legal persons at Union level and to ensure legal certainty in this regard.

Due to the long period involved, the ordinary legislative procedure, however, seems to be on too large a scale in this specific instance for the issues involved in transposing amendments to the provisions of Article 28, which I do not believe to be essential and which had already been discussed and agreed with the Member States, in the working group, in the Council, and during the session itself, before being proposed or adopted at the annual session of the GFCM.

The fact that the European Union is unable to ensure this transposition of European law within the prescribed period may be considered a breach of its international commitments. This, in turn, could undermine the credibility of the European Union in the context of the GFCM and other international fisheries management organisations

This does a disservice to the European Union and certainly would provide additional fuel to the detractors of the Union, who may suspect that the European Union wastes time on trifles instead of focusing on more substantive issues.

Finally, it is essential to note that important safeguards are built into the system of delegated acts, such as the possibility of objection by the two colegislators, Parliament and Council, with respect to specific acts adopted by the Commission under its delegated powers and the possibility of completely withdrawing the delegation if they are not satisfied with the way in which these powers are used by the Commission.

For this reason, I believe that Article 28 on delegated acts is a good compromise that will, in any case, be debated again with the Council at second reading, in order to find a final agreement. This approach is in line with the de Brún report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 998/2003 on the animal health requirements applicable to the non-commercial movement of pet animals and the Romeva report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a catch documentation programme for bluefin tuna.

 
  
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  President. (referring to the fact that Mr Rivellini had been allowed to speak for longer than his allocated speaking time) Mr Rivellini, I fully expect that you will put up a big picture of me in your office. I can send you one – and I can sign it too – in thanks for what happened today.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would not put up a picture of you, so I will have to be brief.

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Rivellini for his work on this report. I am very pleased to see the very strong support of the Fisheries Committee and the support of Parliament on the substance of this important proposal. I can easily agree with Mr Rivellini’s comprehensive presentation and also with the fact that the implementation of the various measures adopted by the GFCM is key to ensuring the sustainable management of fishery resources in the Mediterranean.

We have to do this because the Mediterranean really needs it. We have to do it if we want to ensure biodiversity in the Mediterranean and make sure that it does not turn into a dead sea. Let me refer to just one institutional issue, to which Mr Rivellini also referred.

As you know, the recommendations of the GFCM become binding on the European Union and, in accordance with the Treaty, on the Member States from the date determined by the GFCM. Timely transposition is therefore necessary in order to make these international measures directly applicable to natural or legal persons at EU level and to ensure legal certainty to that effect. We need to avoid the transposition of the GFCM measures becoming a modern version of the myth of Sisyphus. Transpositions of measures adopted by the GFCM in recent years are already awaiting the adoption of this regulation. But very soon, the GFCM will most probably adopt new amendments requiring effective transposition to EU law within a fixed deadline. So we will go through this exercise again and again.

This is why I believe that the Commission should have delegated powers for transposing all future amendments into EU law. I am very concerned that the limitation of delegated powers to the Commission will be followed by a higher risk of having no timely transposition. This is something we have to avoid. It is not a way of avoiding the competence of the European Parliament on these issues, but we need timely transposition. I am afraid that this will not be possible through this procedure.

I therefore regret that the institutions cannot agree on this important question. I would like to underline that such delays would compromise the EU’s ability to comply with its international obligations and would also undermine the EU’s credibility in our international fisheries organisations.

However, I believe that we need to proceed towards adoption of this regulation quickly, and I therefore welcome the position taken by the European Parliament as a step in the right direction. I hope that further, similar steps will allow us to unblock negotiations on the proposal and proceed with its adoption. At the same time, it is necessary to continue to reflect on the most effective ways to transpose measures introduced by regional fisheries management organisations into EU law.

From our side, we will continue to look for better solutions, and I invite you to join our efforts. I would once again like to thank Mr Rivellini for the report and the committee for its efforts regarding this important issue.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: EDWARD McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
  
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  Alain Cadec, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, first of all, I would like to say that we are just fine here in Strasbourg. Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to begin by thanking Mr Rivellini for his report and for his negotiations with the Council and Commission since 2009.

Having been put on hold while the Treaty of Lisbon and the new regulation on implementing measures came into force, this report now transposes the recommendations which the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) adopted at first reading.

The recommendations adopted by the GFCM consist of imposing certain restrictions on fishing in the Gulf of Lions, concerning the nets which may be used, the issuing of authorisation to engage in fishing and the protection of natural habitats in particular. This report is crucial as it lays down restricted fishing areas for the Mediterranean.

With regard to fishing gear, the text specifies the minimum mesh size to be used in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea and prohibits the use of towed dredgers and trawl nets at depths below 1 000 metres. Needless to say, I am delighted by this measure.

For certain towed gear, the minimum mesh size will be set as: either a square-meshed net with a 40 mm mesh at the cod end or, at the duly justified request of the ship owner, a 50 mm diamond mesh net with acknowledged size selectivity equivalent to or higher than that of the 40 mm square-meshed nets.

The rapporteur has also requested a much needed review of the current regulation on implementing acts and firm clarification of Parliament’s position on this subject. This is what you just spoke about, Commissioner.

The Commission must present a report to Parliament and the Council by 30 June 2012 on the implementation of this provision, to which it must propose adaptations.

I hope that this report will be available before the second reading of this text.

 
  
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  Kriton Arsenis, on behalf of the S&D Group.(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Mediterranean represents a very small part of our planet, just around 1% of its seas, but it is very rich: it has 8% to 9% of marine biodiversity. Half of all European fishing vessels are in the Mediterranean, 60% of work and employment in fisheries are in the Mediterranean and, unfortunately, 54% of fish are overfished and 32% to 36% of fish are over their biological limits. What is to blame? Obviously, the failure of the common fisheries policy to date, the failure, on numerous occasions, to apply our joint decisions and, above all, the decisions taken with no regard for scientific data, the decisions which we take subjectively based on poorly thought-out national interests.

In 2006, the Commission tried to rectify the problem of the Mediterranean. We had the regulation on fishing in the Mediterranean, but the problems do not stop with what we Member States of the European Union do. Fishing in the Mediterranean and the future of stocks depends on what all the Mediterranean countries, both inside and outside the European Union, do for this common resource and, if we do not act in common, this resource will be at immediate risk.

We proceeded with the first reading of this report and I am sorry to say that the Council, which is absent from the House today, was strangely insistent on the question of promoting the implementing measures. The Council needs to understand that the Treaty of Lisbon has to be applied and it should accept Parliament’s right to participate in these decisions and accept delegated acts.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, the last two decades of implementation of the CFP have shown that dealing with Mediterranean fisheries separately through mesh-specific regulations only perpetuates the double standard in fisheries management in Europe: Atlantic versus Mediterranean.

This has resulted in a chronic status quo of mismanagement, lack of enforcement and overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea. Only by making Mediterranean stakeholders – from fishermen to governments – accountable alongside their Atlantic counterparts, all subject to common standards and formal processes, can there be a decisive break from the past. Neither Mediterranean marine ecosystems and fish stocks, nor fishermen and society at large, can afford a new failure by the CFP to fully address Mediterranean fisheries this time.

European fisheries in the Mediterranean must cease to be considered as an outlier and must be fully and firmly covered by all aspects of the new CFP. This means that the conservation policy has to be provided with a new and fully fledged operational scheme for fishing effort management of Mediterranean fisheries. This should deliver into the same conservation standards as the long-established operational scheme applied to Atlantic fisheries.

 
  
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  Ashley Fox, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, I would like to start by thanking Commissioner Damanaki for her recent proposal to end the appalling practice of discarding. At a time when fish stocks are in decline and when some people on this planet do not have enough to eat, it is shameful that we catch good fish, kill it and then throw it back into the sea to feed the gulls and the crabs. I hope this legislation will be implemented without delay so that this disgraceful practice can be stopped as soon as possible.

In addition to the Commissioner’s recent announcement, I welcome the recommendations made by the GFCM. I particularly welcome the recommendations regarding fishing gear, especially the introduction of minimum mesh sizes to be used in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and the prohibition of towed dredges and trawl nets below the thousand-metre mark. This will help make our fishing more sustainable.

The ECR fully supports this report and I again thank Commissioner Damanaki for committing herself to abolishing discards.

 
  
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  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE). (PL) Mr President, in today’s debate, we should stress that the Mediterranean Sea, uniquely in the world, is surrounded by land belonging to three continents. This is a meeting point for many cultures, including Member States and various other countries. This creates a situation where the most important issue in the management of fishery resources for the European Union is the regulation of provisions relating to catches, the issuing of licences and the development of control methods for ships using this area. Fishing and navigation have been flourishing here for over one thousand years, benefiting from the rich marine fauna of the Mediterranean Sea.

To maintain a balance and ensure that these goods are distributed fairly for exploitation, initiatives such as those discussed in this report should be supported. I would like to thank Mr Rivellini for his report which has defined the principles of managing the Mediterranean Sea’s resources in a real and precise way and which will contribute to the protection of this sensitive ecosystem.

 
  
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  Guido Milana (S&D). (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I think that this measure will mean that issues related to the Mediterranean are about to embark on an even more binding phase than has been achieved through the acts implemented to date. I believe that the act we are focusing on today is much more important than the effects of the 2006 EU regulation.

I think it also offers a response to some limitations of that regulation which, because it is unilateral, has left large sections of the fishing industry with the idea that Europe is doing its bit but the other Mediterranean countries are not. I think it is strategic for us to address the issue from this aspect and with these characteristics. I believe that the work done by Mr Rivellini, which has been broadly welcomed, deserves formal thanks in this session.

However, I have the distinct feeling that the fact that we cannot resolve this issue on first reading and will move to a second reading, particularly over the interpretation of Article 28 of this regulation, raises one question: Parliament is siding with the Commission this time. Parliament is saying in essence that it is a good thing for these delegated acts to be the responsibility of the Commission and there is some resistance by the Council and, by the way, its absence today is significant.

This act means that Parliament is now convinced that the operation of maintaining biodiversity, maintaining the abundance of fish in this important sea, will help secure the future of the fishers. That said, I think the next stage in the process must place the focus back on the idea of codecision. These delegated acts are delegated for a reason, and thus, today, they are the responsibility of the Commission, but the international agreements, when they come, have to be firmly the responsibility of Parliament.

 
  
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  Jim Higgins (PPE).(GA) Mr President, I am happy to accept this report and will definitely vote in favour of it when it comes before Parliament.

The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean was established in 1949 and covers the Black Sea as well.

Mr President, I would like, firstly, to totally agree with the comments of one of the previous speakers, Mr Fox, in commending the Commissioner for doing away with and banning, once and for all, the scandalous practice of discards. Well done, Commissioner. It was a very sensible measure and we are extremely grateful to you.

Secondly, in relation to the issue of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, both are literally aquaculture and environmental paradises. What you have done here – or rather, what we have done – is to bring together all the important elements. For example: conservation, management, exploitation, monitoring, marketing and enforcement measures, because enforcement is important from the point of view of aquaculture and aquacultural products.

What this does, in fact, is pull together all the various strands. Up till now, what we have had are various resolutions and various rules and regulations, but what this has done is bring them together in one very sensible, comprehensive package.

The hallmarks of the package are two things: clarity and simplification, so that everybody understands exactly what is involved. Hopefully, what we are doing here, by way of adopting this report and putting it in place, is providing a simplified, workable, effective framework for the Mediterranean and for the Black Sea.

 
  
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  Barbara Matera (PPE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I agree with the rapporteur over the need to simplify fishing rules with a regulation that can implement the recommendations adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.

I agree with the objectives and principles applied in the common fisheries policy, but I believe all coastal Member States must guarantee the right balance between socio-economic value and protection of ecosystems. I believe we must therefore also call for protection of the specific interests of local communities.

This regulation meticulously determines the gear authorised for fishing in the waters of the GFCM area, especially in the Mediterranean. I note that the objective of safeguarding our natural habitats has serious implications for some fishing communities. Italy is waiting for the Commission to grant a derogation from the ban on fishing two particular species that are the main product of an extensive fishing industry.

In conclusion, I should like to call on all representatives of the 27 Member States and the Commission to consider making these instruments more flexible to give the local fishing industry what it needs to survive.

 
  
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  Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (PPE).(PT) Mr President, this proposal for a regulation aims to transpose into a single document the recommendations adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), which seek to promote the proper management of the Mediterranean basin by making all those with influence over it participate and take responsibility. I would congratulate the rapporteur on his work.

The sound ecological state of this important maritime basin is the GFCM’s main objective, and promoting the basin’s sustainable development presupposes a panoply of measures for conserving and managing marine biological resources, which the GFCM is geared toward and which should govern fishing practices in this region.

Combating illegal fishing is one of the greatest challenges currently facing this strategy of preservation. The majority of this proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council is positive. It is also important to supervise the application of all control, cooperation, information and reporting measures, not only as regards ships flying the EU flag, but also all those that, because they are flying the flag of a Member State of a contracting party of this GFCM, should be taking care to apply sound fishing practices.

The proper application of the recommendations that will be in force if this proposal for a regulation is adopted will enable the aforementioned objectives to be achieved, while ensuring equal treatment for all the fleets involved in these fisheries.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, we would like to draw attention here to an aspect of this proposal for a regulation which we consider of the greatest importance and which, unfortunately, we cannot accept.

We are not questioning the importance of multilateral cooperation on properly preserving living aquatic resources; quite the contrary. However, this proposal aims to confer on the Commission the power to adopt legislative acts in areas that, in the case of the Republic of Cyprus, clash with the sovereignty of a Member State and its exclusive economic zone.

This fact is all the more serious because, as we know, the sovereignty of this area is currently illegally threatened by a third country that is a candidate for accession which, moreover, makes the subject very politically sensitive. As it stands, this proposal interferes with the legitimate right of a Member State to make use of the natural resources present in the seabed of its exclusive economic zone and subsoil thereof, which is recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

We therefore call on you to support the proposal we are making to restrict the scope of delegated acts by voting against the paragraph on which we requested a separate roll call vote.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank everybody for their interventions and to make two brief remarks.

I agree with the honourable Members who have underlined that what we really need now is good implementation of the regulation on the Mediterranean. That regulation has only been in place for a very short time and we should give it a margin to succeed. I cannot see how it is possible to amend it now or to ask for more derogations. The regulation is very flexible. The Member States have to follow the rules if they want to have derogations to this regulation.

Secondly, what we really need – and I agree with the Members who mentioned this – is to have a situation in the Mediterranean similar to the situation in other sea basins. It is quite clear that the Mediterranean needs regulation. In the framework of CFP reform, we have to try to proceed, using the step-by-step approach, to having the same status for the Mediterranean as we do for the other sea basins throughout Europe.

Finally, the Commission’s idea of having delegated acts for the implementation of the decisions of the international bodies in which the EU participates in no way affects the sovereignty of the Member States. On the contrary, what we want is just the possibility to facilitate the transposition of those decisions into European law.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, 8 March 2011).

 

19. EU-Mauritania Fisheries Partnership Agreement (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission on negotiations regarding the renewal of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Mauritania by Carmen Fraga Estévez, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries (O-000038/2011 – B7-0018/2011).

 
  
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  Carmen Fraga Estévez, author. (ES) Mr President, the Protocol of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement with Mauritania is due to expire on 31 July 2012. In view of the importance of this Protocol, the Commission has already asked the Council for a mandate for its renegotiation. We have been informed that the Council is currently studying a mandate proposal and will decide shortly.

On the strength of Article 218 of the Treaty, which grants Parliament special powers in the final approval of fisheries agreements, we have already voiced our intent to make full use of the possibilities granted to us by the Treaty and the interinstitutional framework agreement to participate in shaping fisheries agreements, with the right to full information on an equal footing with the Council.

We believe we should be involved in the process from the moment when the negotiating mandate is approved. The Fisheries Commission has thus decided to introduce a new procedure starting with the Mauritania Protocol, whereby we will submit an oral question and receive information on the future negotiations from the onset of the process. The procedure will also allow us to produce a draft resolution setting out our concerns on the agreement in issue – in this case, Mauritania – with the request that they be taken on board by the negotiators and ultimately become part of the final Protocol.

The agreement with Mauritania is crucial both for the country itself and for the European Union. For Mauritania, it represents 29% of the national budget; for the European Union, it is one of the three mixed agreements still in force, allowing the presence of several different modes of fishing in the country’s waters, all of them vital for EU fish supplies.

The significance of this agreement and the experience we have built up have prompted us to put forward a number of suggestions that will be reflected in the common resolution set to be negotiated by the political groups in the coming days, and also to voice a number of concerns on the way in which the current Protocol works. These concerns include the following:

Firstly, Parliament must understand the importance of securing the industry’s support for the financial contributions and their correct use, bearing in mind the needs of both the industry and the Mauritanian fishing authorities in making headway towards an advanced, sustainable fisheries policy.

Secondly, the joint scientific committee has a key role to play and care must be taken that it fulfils this role properly, as it is the body responsible for assessing resources and issuing recommendations on the biological status of populations, and therefore on the fishing opportunities available to the different fleets operating in Mauritanian waters.

Thirdly, more information is needed on the catches of other non-EU countries operating in the area, so that we can accurately establish the real fisheries surplus that Mauritania can offer the EU, while also ensuring that the fishing opportunities negotiated are in line with the actual needs of the fleets. This will avoid any temptations to pay for ‘paper fish’.

Fourthly, it is important, as far as the fishing fleet is concerned, to ensure that the technical measures for the different fisheries are negotiated at the same time as the fishing opportunities, thus putting an end to the absurdity of paying for resources that are technically impossible to catch.

Lastly, urgent clarification is needed of Mauritania’s use of the Protocol’s monitoring provisions as regards its preference for methods other than the vessel monitoring system (VMS), and also its varying standards on ship arrests. It is important that both parties respect the agreed terms for the resolution of disputes in connection with such arrests, which must be preserved in the new Protocol.

Commissioner, for all these reasons, we will be asking that the Commission, as the negotiator, takes into consideration these and other concerns, which will form part of the common resolution set to be approved at the next plenary session, and which our institution will follow very closely.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank Mrs Fraga Estévez, the Chair of the Committee on Fisheries, for this oral question and to say that I very much welcome the involvement of Parliament in these procedures. I also share her concerns in general. We will do our best in order to achieve the best results.

Let me tell you a little about the current fisheries agreement with Mauritania. This agreement aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries stocks. We also want to prevent and combat illegal fishing and promote the development of port infrastructures and the protection of the marine environment.

Through this agreement, fishing opportunities have been reduced, and the fees to be paid by ship owners for licences and per tonne caught have been considerably increased. Difficulties remain, and we are looking into how to address them in the best possible way. I agree with Mrs Fraga on this matter.

The agreement with Mauritania has become the most important in financial terms – it is the most important of our agreements. Given this development, the Commission is considering the introduction of a strong element of conditionality related to the sectoral support in the new protocol. This will happen through, inter alia, the decoupling of the access rights payments and the payments for sectoral support. We are going to decouple this. This will enable us to react more effectively to problems in the implementation of sectoral support and, at the same time, to secure the access payment and thus, the fishing activities of EU vessels, because we would not like to disrupt the fishing activities of EU vessels.

Regarding sectoral support, the execution rate was very high in 2008 and 2009. 2010, on the other hand, marked a very low level of implementation of the sectoral policy funds by Mauritania – only 52%. This was mainly due to the high retention rate of relevant funds for the Mauritanian Ministry of Finance. Last year, in agreement with the Mauritania side, the Commission took the decision to split the payment of the sectoral support into two tranches. The Commission also retained EUR 9 million out of a total of EUR 18 million – half of the total – until a higher absorption was reached.

Moreover, with the aim of addressing all these deficiencies, a new mechanism, a trust account – the CAS – was introduced as a temporary measure. The CAS will become operational during the first semester of 2011. The establishment of this new special account will contribute towards guaranteeing that the funds allocated go directly to the sectoral support. This is what we want.

The new protocol after 1 August 2012 will take into account the forthcoming CAS reform. In this connection, the negotiating mandate includes a ‘human rights and democratic principles’ clause for the first time. We hope that the Council will adopt this new mandate next week. As for the fight against IUU fishing, since the entry into force of our new regulation, the Commission has cooperated closely with the Mauritanian control authorities. We are trying to ensure appropriate information of the conservation and management measures pursuant to that regulation.

Lastly, investments by the EU fishing sector are made in line with the Mauritania action plan. This plan aims at facilitating the establishment of European private enterprises and joint enterprises between Mauritanian and European operators and identifying the most appropriate forms of private-public partnership.

 
  
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  Alain Cadec, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, under Article 218(10) of the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament must now give its consent to international agreements negotiated by the European Commission. To this effect, I would like to draw attention to the fact that Parliament must be kept informed at all stages of the negotiations on the agreement.

The Protocol to the EU-Mauritania Fisheries Partnership Agreement is due to be renewed on 31 December 2012. The European Union’s financial contribution under this Fisheries Partnership Agreement is its highest contribution. With 900 000 tonnes’ worth of catches, this agreement also represents the greatest fishing potential. Apart from the Guinea-Bissau agreement, it is the only one that allows potential for cephalopod and crustacean fishing.

However, there are still several problems relating to this agreement. A recent visit to Mauritania with the Committee on Fisheries – which you also mentioned, Commissioner – confirmed my view on this matter. Firstly, there is the lack of infrastructure, in particular, the lack of a port in Nouakchott, which affects the development of local fisheries and, more broadly speaking, affects the European Union’s investments. Secondly, some European vessels have been stopped and inspected without good reason by the Mauritanian authorities. Added to this, the Mauritanian authorities are using alternative methods to the satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) stipulated in the agreement, which makes the vessel owners’ work more difficult. The owners also consider that the private duties are too high in relation to the actual catch potential available to them. The technical measures that apply to European vessel owners also need to be clarified as they are discriminated against in comparison with other fleets that fish in Mauritanian waters.

Lastly, we should not underestimate the Chinese influence in the Mauritanian fishing industry, which is exercised through joint ventures under the cover of the Mauritanian flag and which, needless to say, affects these fisheries, as they are not subject to any health, economic or social controls, not to mention the fact that these fisheries deplete the fishing resources available in Mauritanian waters. We need to be able to quantify these fishing activities and ensure they are controlled, in order to contribute to the development of local fisheries and to make European vessel owners’ work easier. I think this is essential. I would remind you that the members of the Committee on Fisheries wish to receive the full version of the ex-post evaluation of the agreement as quickly as possible and to be present at the joint committee meetings so that they can observe the implementation of the agreement.

I repeat, Mr President, we are just fine here in Strasbourg, where this House belongs.

 
  
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  Kriton Arsenis, on behalf of the S&D Group.(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the socialists’ initiative on the motion for a resolution on Mauritania plugs a gap. Following the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament has a clear-cut role, a role of codecision on European issues; Parliament has to ratify agreements and international fisheries agreements. However, this role vested in Parliament cannot be implemented unless we have prompt and full information, unless we have prompt and full participation in negotiations, and unless these agreements are forwarded to Parliament before their period of application commences.

Unfortunately, and notwithstanding the Commissioner’s efforts, which we acknowledge, there is a huge problem. Parliament is being called on to ratify agreements which were put into application a year ago, it has no official information about progress in negotiations, and it has recently faced difficulties accessing impact assessment, progress and implementation reports on previous agreements.

We need to change a great deal in our fisheries agreements. We need to fish where there is surplus stock, we need to apply the principle of precaution, we need to take practical measures to deal with illegal and unregulated fishing and agreements basically need to foster growth in the countries which enter into them. In Mauritania in particular, there is a huge problem due to illegal fishing and due to the abusive use of gear. In fact, the role and intervention of Parliament will be to foster better agreements in general which, as in the case of Mauritania, need to be applied correctly.

 
  
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  Carl Haglund, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(SV) Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for her introduction.

I am one of those who had the privilege of visiting Mauritania at the end of last year to assess how the current agreement had been working. In all honesty, I have to say that the agreement and its implementation leave rather a lot to be desired.

In particular, our insight into where taxpayers’ money is going is anything but good. We must remember that we put around EUR 75 million into this agreement every year, which means that a quarter of Mauritania’s state budget is financed by our Community fisheries funding. In this respect, this is quite an important agreement, both for us and also for the country in question.

We must also remember that, as recently as 2007, the European Commission itself proposed that this agreement should be discontinued because it did not provide the desired added value for Europe that an agreement ought to provide. Evidently, the winds have changed and it may be that there is a demand for an agreement of this kind. However, if this is the case, we should start to consider how this money is used and what added value we obtain.

We must remember that one part of this agreement also stipulates that the money is to be used to promote local fisheries. We have to say that our experience during our visit indicates that the local fishermen have not seen much of the approximately EUR 18 million that ought to be pumped into the local fisheries annually from the money we use down there. In that respect, too, renewal of the agreement requires very careful evaluation and the agreement also needs to be redrafted.

Finally, as has already been mentioned here, we in the European Parliament have a responsibility for these issues, as we have to give our consent to all these agreements. This places us under an obligation, also as a decision maker, to familiarise ourselves with these issues. Based on the information that we have available right now, it seems to be rather difficult to take a positive view of the renewal of such an agreement. We therefore have a great deal to do in this regard in cooperation with the Commission with an eye to the future.

 
  
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  Isabella Lövin, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, first of all, I want to say I very much welcome the intentions as spelled out by the Commission in the draft negotiation guidelines.

A clause about consequences in cases of violation of human rights and democratic principles: that is excellent.

Strengthening dialogue on sector policy to encourage implementation of responsible fisheries: that is also very much needed. Unfortunately, we have seen in the existing agreement that this is almost never the case.

Then we have the points about ensuring EU boats only have access to the surplus of fish not used by local fishermen. On this point, knowing that cephalopods are being seriously overexploited and that EU trawlers compete heavily with local trawlers, I expect that these fisheries will be reduced in the forthcoming agreement.

And on the point of taking into account the best available scientific advice on fish stocks, well, the 2010 FAO Northwest Africa Small Pelagic Fish Working Group concluded that horse mackerel, chub mackerel, sardinellas, sardines, anchovy and bonga were either fully or overexploited. As for demersal fish, the biomass has been reduced by 75% on the Mauritanian continental shelf since 2007.

In short, what surplus of fish does the Commission expect to find in Mauritania?

Lastly, I expect that the EU will still offer sectoral support and partnership to Mauritania, even if fishing possibilities are reduced in the name of poly-coherence on development. We cannot overfish these waters, just pay, sweep up the last fish and then go.

 
  
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  João Ferreira, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) Mr President, the European Union has had fishing agreements with Mauritania for over two decades. For 15 years, these agreements have included specific objectives on cooperation regarding the sustainable development of the fisheries sector in Mauritania.

The question that must be asked today is what are the practical results of these agreements? The fishing sector in Mauritania remains at a very incipient level of development. The modernisation and development of small-scale traditional coastal fishing and fishery-related industries; the development of port infrastructure and better conditions for unloading catches; the development of aquaculture projects; and improved monitoring and surveillance at sea: all of these were objectives that have moved forward little in the last two decades.

Everything, or almost everything, can be summarised as transferring sums of money in exchange for the right to exploit the resources of the country, which is thus deprived of the added value that it would obtain if it were to exploit these resources itself, processing and selling the fish from the outset. In this way, Mauritania loses out: it loses out in terms of wealth creation, of job creation, of its development, of its autonomy, of its sovereignty, and of its independence.

The inexistence of adequate facilities for unloading catches along the more than 600 km of coastline of the country’s central and southern regions is especially incomprehensible: it means that a substantial proportion of the fish caught in Mauritania’s coastal waters is unloaded in the ports of other countries. The failure of the European Union’s cooperation policy in this area must be acknowledged. If what we want is genuine and beneficial development cooperation, we must move toward making profound changes and involve the Mauritanian authorities in the discussion.

 
  
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  Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (PPE).(PT) Mr President, fisheries agreements with third countries should ensure a fair balance between economic interests and promoting sustainable fishing. In order to achieve this, it is necessary for the European Union to implement the sound fishing practices that it has been applying in its waters outside its borders too, thereby contributing to the balance of marine ecosystems at global level.

In this context, the fisheries agreement with Mauritania takes on particular importance. Creating jobs, reducing poverty levels and developing structures to support the sector are important objectives to be safeguarded. However, most important of all is to promote sustainable fishing by combating illegal, undeclared and unregulated fishing, so guaranteeing the EU market’s supply of high quality fish.

It is not enough for EU fishing ships to adopt environmentally friendly practices and the codes of conduct set out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: it is crucial that the same position be adopted by all those cooperating in the area covered by the agreement. As such, Mauritania urgently needs to demand that third countries with which it also establishes partnership agreements respect these same rules that are observed by ships flying the EU flag. If not, our ship owners will be put at an unfair competitive disadvantage, and the objectives of preservation and sustainable management of fisheries resources will be seriously compromised.

 
  
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  Guido Milana (S&D). (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I think we have two problems, one relating to the method and the other to the merits of this matter.

The problem with the method is that we are making use of an artifice, for which we thank Mrs Fraga, which is that of the oral question, to talk about something that should really, after the Treaty of Lisbon, be a Parliamentary right. I think this practice should end; we cannot resort to a strategy to see through an ordinary legislative procedure. Codecision occurs when this process is cultivated as the process develops. Today, we are having this debate, it will end, the agreement will go ahead and we will say yes or no at the end. This method should be changed.

On the merits, however, because I agree with many things other Members have said, I simply wanted to stress the importance of measuring the effects of fisheries agreements to ensure these are not just mere trade agreements enabling us to buy cephalopods for EUR 1 per kilo in Mauritania.

They must be able to measure sustainability but, above all, the impact on the economy of that country, to appreciate the quantitative change in employment figures, to appreciate the rate of innovation of small-scale fishing and to appreciate the use of these resources. It is not purely and simply about commercial trade, but a fisheries agreement, with all its implications.

 
  
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  Josefa Andrés Barea (S&D). (ES) Mr President, the term of the agreement with Mauritania will expire in one year’s time and we are already making preparations for a new agreement. I believe the agreement with Mauritania is a good instrument. It is an instrument of development for the country itself and for its policies on the fisheries industry. Let us not forget that fishing represents 29% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and its only means of development.

The agreement reinforces bilateral cooperation between the European Union and Mauritania, and must guarantee sustainable fishing. The issue of illegal fishing has been raised, and the role of the scientific committee will definitely have to be strengthened so that it can provide further ways of determining the fishing stocks available. Still, fishing must be sustainable. Another aspect that needs to be guaranteed is the security of the vessels.

Commissioner Damanaki has also made reference to the incapacity of the Mauritanian Government, which will need to develop its administrative structure so that it can assimilate the funds provided by the EU; this will also be a contribution.

Obviously, these agreements must be used to leverage the Mauritanian Government into including the human rights clauses and helping to democratise the country. International fisheries agreements are also an instrument; they are a means for bringing democracy and development to the countries concerned.

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (S&D). (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, it is very good news that the Commission has requested a mandate to commence negotiations for the renewal of the Protocol to the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Mauritania, which will replace the current protocol as from 31 July 2012.

The negotiations must be undertaken in a true spirit of cooperation between the institutions, given the European Parliament’s new powers under the Treaty of Lisbon.

The new protocol, based on the situation of the resources, must provide long-term sustainability to the EU fleet operating in Mauritanian waters. It must ensure that the EU makes a fair contribution to a lasting development of the Mauritanian fishing industry – which means going beyond the purely financial sphere – and it must also serve to effectively assert international law and respect for human rights.

Currently, EU contributions account for a third of Mauritania’s national budget. Hence, it is extremely important that the agreement is applied properly, that it encourages responsible fishing for the benefit of the populations that depend on fishing, and that it helps to combat illegal fishing by continuing the use of the control and surveillance systems currently in place.

 
  
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  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Commissioner, the EU fleet has maintained an historic presence in the waters of Mauritania, as result of which a long-term economic relationship has already been established between the European Union and West Africa. Among other things, this relationship results in the maintenance of permanent jobs in Europe and in the region. The building of such relationships brings the West African region substantially closer to EU standards, also with respect to the management of marine resources.

Fisheries agreements with third countries, particularly in the pelagic segment of the EU fleet, are of strategic importance, and not only for the maintenance of the fleet itself. They represent a source of raw materials for the food processing industry, as well as food for developing countries, particularly those in West Africa. These agreements will undoubtedly bring benefits to both parties and maintaining them should lie in the interest of the European Union. Their continuation, albeit with respect for and observance of the technical provisions of the protocols and the transparency of procedures, is essential for the European Union, Mauritania, and the entire region.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, one of the reasons why the renewal of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement with Mauritania is particularly important is that this agreement will be effective in a particularly sensitive area – North Africa – which is currently once again in the spotlight of world politics. We know that fisheries agreements are not only intended to provide economic benefits for those involved, but must also be based on ecological principles. When fisheries represent a third of the budget, as in the case of Mauritania, then their economic significance to the country is only too clear. On the other hand, however, the EU fleet is also a significant element of the European economy.

Ecological principles are one side of the coin, but the other is that such agreements should naturally also be used to strengthen democratisation and human rights in a country that could, in certain circumstances, find itself facing similar problems to those of other North African countries. We therefore need to pay particular attention to this.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank everybody for their interventions. I would like to repeat very clearly that I very much welcome the involvement of Parliament in the negotiations for this agreement and the other agreements.

I would also like to remind you that we have a new framework agreement between the Commission and the Parliament on the details of this involvement. We have to respect this agreement. In the margins of this framework agreement, I am here to facilitate your involvement and your information in any way I can. If we can do things better, I am here to cooperate. As you have already mentioned, this is about the procedure and the method.

Regarding the substance, we need to approach this issue in a very careful and balanced way because of the great importance of this country and because of the developments we are now watching in this area. We need a balance between respect for the surpluses and the resources there, and also between this and the interests of our vessels. We would like to make it possible for the EU vessels to go there, and to secure a level playing field for them because we are not the only vessels in these waters. Many other countries are interfering in the region and we have to take care that we secure a level playing field for EU vessels.

We also have to keep another balance; we have to be very cautious about the spending of our taxpayers’ money. I recognise that we have to do more in order to ensure that the money we give goes into the hands of the real beneficiaries. They also have a great influence. They deserve all the procedures and all the improvements this country needs.

So this is how we are approaching this very sensitive issue. I also agree that we need more scientific – and more concrete – advice and we need more concrete data in order to assess our position there. We are going to go to the Council next week and try to have a first mandate about this negotiation. Afterwards, we will inform – on a concrete and permanent basis – the Fisheries Committee in Parliament about the negotiations.

Finally, I would like to say to you that, if you bear in mind that this new protocol will include a humanitarian clause and a human rights clause, it will be a win-win situation for us and for Mauritania to have this agreement.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the next part-session.

 

20. EU strategy for the Atlantic region (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission on EU strategy for the Atlantic region by Alain Cadec, Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos, Seán Kelly, Eider Gardiazábal Rubial, Nuno Teixeira, Salvador Garriga Polledo, Ricardo Cortés Lastra, José Manuel Fernandes, Chris Davies, Jim Higgins, Marian Harkin, Ashley Fox, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves, Bairbre de Brún, Pat the Cope Gallagher, Robert Rochefort, José Bové, Jean-Pierre Audy, Mario Mauro, Andrey Kovatchev, Werner Langen, Markus Ferber, Milan Zver, Damien Abad, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, Peter Jahr, Ivo Belet, Reimer Böge, Jan Březina, Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa, Dominique Riquet, Cristian Dan Preda, Tokia Saïfi, Daniel Caspary, Peter Šťastný, Catherine Soullie, Bogusław Sonik, Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, Dominique Baudis, Michèle Striffler, Lambert van Nistelrooij, Andreas Schwab, Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, Maria Da Graça Carvalho, Michel Dantin, Michael Gahler, Bernadette Vergnaud, Nessa Childers, Antolín Sánchez Presedo, Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid, Christine De Veyrac, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Estelle Grelier, Isabella Lövin, Struan Stevenson, Christophe Béchu, Josefa Andrés Barea, Marian-Jean Marinescu (O-000002/2011 – B7-0016/2011).

 
  
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  Alain Cadec, author.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to thank Mrs Damanaki for being here this evening to reply to this oral question on the EU strategy for the Atlantic region.

In June 2010, the Council asked the Commission to develop a European strategy for the Atlantic region by June 2011. I took the initiative, together with a number of fellow Members, to put an oral question to the Commission about this strategy. This oral question was initially signed by over 50 MEPs from all the groups, and I would like to thank them for their support.

A motion for a resolution will also be tabled on behalf of the Committee on Regional Development. I would like to thank the coordinators of the various political groups for their cooperation, which has allowed us to obtain a broad-based consensus. I would also like to thank those Members who have enhanced this text by contributing amendments.

The Atlantic region has its own specific characteristics. In the first instance, it is, of course, a dynamic maritime area, in view of the maritime transport, fisheries and marine energy it is home to. It is also an area with a fragile environment that must be preserved – take the green algae problem for instance – and one that is affected by the consequences of climate change. In addition, it is an outlying area of the European Union that is characterised by access and connectivity problems and by a low number of major city centres.

These particular characteristics give rise to problems that go beyond national borders and for which political solutions must be sought at European level.

The European Parliament resolution therefore asks the Commission to propose that the strategy for the Atlantic region should take the form of an integrated strategy dealing with both maritime and land-based issues. The maritime aspect is vital, as the Atlantic regions share the common feature of being close to the sea. Links with the integrated maritime policy should therefore be encouraged.

The land-based aspect of these strategies is just as important. This concerns issues such as improving access and communications, developing urban and rural areas and strengthening land-sea links. This strategy for the Atlantic region could be incorporated into the ‘territorial cooperation’ cohesion policy objective and could be based on an integrated, cross-domain and territorial approach.

The aim should be to coordinate policy more effectively between the different governance levels, with particular focus on the most relevant issues. The strategy should encompass all the EU regions with an Atlantic coastline, including the adjacent sub-basins and the outermost regions in Macaronesia.

It will also be important to take the strategy’s external dimension into consideration, especially in the areas of maritime safety and surveillance and international trade relations. The strategy for the Atlantic region must facilitate stronger coordination of goals and resources by linking in with the EU 2020 strategy and with EU policy for 2014 and beyond.

It is not a case of spending more, but of spending more wisely, by fostering the Atlantic dimension of our existing policies. To do this, the strategy must tie in with regional policy and with the integrated maritime policy. It must also attempt to develop links with other policies such as trans-European transport networks, the common fisheries policy, tourism, environmental protection, energy policy and the research and development framework programme.

The strategy should be introduced in 2014 and coordinated with the next multiannual financial framework. The land-based aspect of the strategy will contribute towards the EU’s territorial cohesion objective, primarily through actions to promote better access and communications. These aspects will naturally need to be tied in with maritime policy in order to develop land-sea links in these regions. It is essential that we strengthen North-South connections along our Atlantic seaboard, in particular, by creating motorways of the sea running from Andalusia to Scotland. At the same time, West-East transport infrastructure will need to be developed, along the lines of the high-speed train line model.

I call upon the Commission to propose an action plan setting out its priorities through concrete actions as quickly as possible, with a view to implementing these actions in coordination with EU policies for 2013 and beyond. It will also be essential to get the many partners concerned on board, especially local and regional public bodies and civil society organisations.

Cooperation within the framework of the strategy for the Atlantic region must be based, first and foremost, on the needs of the stakeholders concerned. A consensus must therefore be reached on the political priorities that are established within this framework. In this respect, the European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation could be a useful instrument for fostering cooperation between stakeholders in the Atlantic region.

This summarises the outcome of Parliament’s discussions on this strategy. We will be paying close attention to the Commission’s forthcoming proposals and will certainly make a clear, concrete contribution to them.

Commissioner, please could you tell us, if you are in a position to do so of course, what the Commission’s priorities are, how you envisage that this strategy will be introduced, and to what extent you will take Parliament’s proposals into consideration? Mr President, it is definitely better to repeat oneself than to contradict oneself, so I repeat: we are just fine here in Strasbourg.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank Mr Cadec for his initiative. I very much welcome his ideas. I would like also to thank the Members of the European Parliament who have subscribed to this oral question. We are now working on the preparation of a maritime strategy for the Atlantic. I would like to inform the House that I am determined to propose a well-targeted strategy in order to put maritime affairs at the top of the agenda in this area.

I also recognise that this area brings a solid heritage of significant environmental importance and has many committed stakeholders. I have encouraged all those stakeholders, including the Atlantic, coastal and maritime regions and economic sectors, to give strong support to the strategy. They have already shown good support during its preparation phase. I will continue to encourage them to fully engage in its adoption procedure. This will be vital for the strategy’s success.

The public consultation has shown us that an Atlantic identity does exist. It has also shown that stakeholders welcome an approach that takes into account their geographical, demographic and economic specificities. They also support measures that bring coastal states together on matters such as marine knowledge, maritime surveillance, special planning and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The feedback we have received during the consultation will also allow us to identify priorities for EU actions in the field of regional development and research during the coming months. The Atlantic strategy will establish concrete policy objectives by providing for cross-fertilisation between all the maritime sectors.

A key priority will be to create jobs on the ground. This will require full commitment and active participation by Member States, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, Atlantic regions and the maritime industries. The assistance on these matters of members of the European Parliament, in their constituencies, is therefore of the utmost importance and value.

Ladies and gentlemen, to ensure maximum visibility, I am proposing that we plan for adoption after the discussion on the reform of the common fisheries policy. In this way, we will be sure that the initiative gets the appropriate exposure, and we can also include the regional dimension of the new, reformed, common fisheries policy. Parliament’s position also has to be taken fully into account.

I therefore believe that the Atlantic strategy will help, firstly, to promote sustainable growth and jobs in the region through EU research programmes and regional development programmes, secondly, to achieve the objectives of the reformed common fisheries policy and, thirdly, to achieve progress in protecting the environment and, at the same time, to develop the maritime economy in a sustainable manner in this vital region.

 
  
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  Lambert van Nistelrooij, on behalf of the PPE Group. (NL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Mr Cadec on his initiative, because it has come at a good time. Commissioner, thank you for your initiatives on developing a maritime strategy.

On close examination of this paper, it seems to me that our role is, above all, to address the things that we could together be doing better. I totally understand the point that we are not seeking to build new structures. In fact, coastal regions, and anyone who is involved with this issue in the individual Member States or is working on this issue with other Member States, should take up that policy and ensure that we do not end up with a new administrative level, somewhere between the European Commission, the European Union and Member States. It is important to make that preliminary remark.

However, let us look at the disparate things that maritime policy encompasses – here, I am thinking of transport, and of all the new methods that are relevant in that respect, the environment, the economy and, indeed, you have talked about sustainable development, the EU 2020 strategy, the energy challenge and, of course, the revision of our positions on fisheries. All those things together underline the necessity of supporting the opportunities and potential of the Atlantic coast. May I add another point to this? In this House, I help represent the Netherlands, one of our Member States. We have now addressed the Baltic, the Atlantic Arc, the Danube and the Mediterranean, and what remains to be covered? A coastline strip of Norway, the Netherlands, a chunk of Germany, Denmark, in short, the North Sea. Now, my question to the Commissioner is: if you want to work with macro-regions geographically, should the next step not be accepting and addressing this? One more sentence to conclude, please. At the end of this week, the CPMR [Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions] Committee on the North Sea will be meeting. It will be putting forward that proposal in Middelburg. Could you just comment on that?

 
  
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  Ricardo Cortés Lastra, on behalf of the S&D Group. (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, the European Union’s Baltic Sea strategy has already inspired other regions, such as the regions adjoining the River Danube. Likewise, all the regions included in the Atlantic Arc –and I would like to highlight the particularly active role being played by my home region, Cantabria, in Spain – have been working to promote cooperation in areas of common interest within the framework of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions since 1989.

Commissioner, we believe the time has come to formulate an Atlantic strategy as soon as possible. This should be defined as part of the Europe 2020 strategy to protect the environment and biodiversity, fight climate change, promote sustainable urban and rural development, stimulate the responsible growth of the knowledge economy, tourism, marine research and innovation, renewable energies, sea transport and training, to improve access to our territories by developing new sea routes, improve infrastructure networks and develop information and communication technologies, and to encourage online working.

As the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPRM) has rightly said – and I should like to thank this institution for all its good work – the current economic crisis, coupled with the need to take action against the challenge of climate change, opens the way to a new, genuinely sustainable development model in the European Union. This strategy is important for the regions included in the Atlantic Arc, but not just for them: it is important for the EU as a whole.

 
  
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  Michael Theurer, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Baltic Sea strategy set the ball rolling, the Danube strategy that we have debated this year in Parliament was the second step and now it is the turn of the Atlantic region. The Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in Parliament supports this macro-regional approach and was actively involved in this resolution.

What we are concerned with here are improvements to the protection of the seas and the environment, and naturally also maritime affairs and fisheries – but it goes beyond this into lots of other areas, and three pillars in particular. The first of these is cooperation between Member States, so that synergies can be better exploited. Secondly, the Atlantic links the EU Member States and regions bordering the Atlantic with transatlantic partners such as Canada and the US and with other neighbouring countries such as Norway and Iceland. Thirdly, it is also concerned with bringing about closer links between stakeholders in the regions.

We should emphasise the aspect of bringing together and networking towns and communities, regions, Member States and, above all, citizens, civil society and businesses, so that these actors can bring this framework – that is, the macro-regional strategy – to life. After all, the intention is not to create new institutions or new bodies; the idea is to have an effect using existing funding. The resources that exist are bound to contain unexploited synergies and opportunities that can be used as a basis for our activities.

It is precisely because of this that the ALDE Group considers this strategy to be urgently needed, because it affects international trade. Goods from all over the world come across the Atlantic into the European Union. Naturally, this trade must take place in an ecologically sustainable way. Moreover, there are likely to be large reserves of raw materials in the Atlantic that we may be able to utilise, provided there is sustainable protection for the environment. We call on the Commission to draw up and submit a strategy for this area as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Isabella Lövin, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, for all too long, our seas have not been truly managed but torn between conflicting economic interests. Sometimes it is fisheries, sometimes farming, sometimes maritime transport, energy or tourism that sets the agenda. Regional sea strategies such as the Atlantic or Baltic strategies should be a tool to coordinate and to help identify priority objectives.

We must remember that some policies such as fisheries and agriculture are mostly decided at EU level, but with environmental policies, it is Member States that are mostly responsible. I therefore believe that the EU integrated maritime policy has an important role to play. An efficient system of so-called marine spatial planning will be key to prioritising objectives and will guide managers, policy makers and stakeholders.

Cooperation with other States in the Atlantic region is also absolutely essential; in order, for instance, to decrease the amount of microscopic plastic debris, to fight illegal fishing or to ensure that fisheries and environmental regulations are effectively controlled and enforced.

We all depend on healthy seas and good environmental status. That will benefit all sectoral interests, not least fisheries and tourism. Therefore, environmental objectives are not only about the environment, but also about a prosperous Atlantic region.

 
  
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  Oldřich Vlasák, on behalf of the ECR Group.(CS) Mr President, we can see that the macro-strategy for the Baltic Sea region is a source of inspiration for other regions. Following on from the Danube region macro-strategy, we now have the strategy for the Atlantic Ocean on the table. However, in this instance, the situation is rather specific. The European Union has directed its attention towards the Atlantic Ocean for some time now, and this has been within the framework of developing cross-border and transnational cooperation. The Atlantic Ocean region was a supported territory under the INTERREG III B programme; it is also an integral part of the current territorial cooperation programme (Objective 3). Under these supportive programmes, the priority has been to expand regional development strategies at a transnational level, and then to provide support for transport systems and improved access to information society, environmental protection and natural resources, and economic integration, especially of peripheral regions.

It would be highly desirable to first evaluate the existing programmes and their benefits, and then to create a new strategy for this region taking these findings into account. Moreover, we should not forget to include trans-Atlantic relations in this strategy. Whether we like it or not, we are part of a Euro-Atlantic civilisation and we all share the same values. Just as they are doing on the other side of the ocean, here we are striving for a territory without barriers and with free movement of goods, people and services. Yet, despite the fact that the goals of the United States of America and the European Union are, in many ways, complementary, there is often minimal coordination. Therefore, it is desirable to provide requirements for trans-Atlantic cooperation in European programmes and policies. More ambitious cooperation and better coordination within the European strategy for the Atlantic region could, in this respect, try to cover a more ambitious agenda, since voluntary, practical cooperation on common issues could significantly help in strengthening trans-Atlantic relations.

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(SV) Mr President, with regard to the Atlantic region, there are two important issues that I would like to emphasise in particular. Firstly, there is the importance of ecologically sustainable fishing and, secondly, there is the question of how important it is for the EU not to extend the fisheries agreement with Morocco, which is illegal under international law.

As regards fishing, we currently have a situation where more than 70% of the marine fishing areas in the world are overfished. This is also the case in the EU. However, since the EU represents the rich part of the world, we import 60% of all the fish that is consumed in the Union. This means that people in poorer countries do not have access to the protein- and nutrient-rich food that fish represents.

The second issue that I would like to highlight is, once again, how important it is for the EU not to renew the fisheries agreement with Morocco, which provides the EU with fish from the Atlantic off the coast of Western Sahara. Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1975 and 160 000 people currently live in refugee camps there. According to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara lacks legal basis and therefore, Morocco has no right to the natural resources of Western Sahara.

Thus, the question of ecologically sustainable fishing must be given high priority in the Commission’s strategy for the Atlantic region. Furthermore, the strategy must involve the EU, once and for all, showing respect for international law and not extending the fisheries agreement with Morocco.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, this question mentions a territorial dimension with reference to other policies, including the CFP, which is a complete EU disaster. Fish stocks in the North Sea, part of the Atlantic, have been ruined by discards, which must be abolished. They should never have been contemplated in the first place.

UK fishermen have carefully looked after fish stocks in their own territorial waters while others have ruined theirs by overfishing. No wonder the CFP was welcomed by other Member States, whose fishermen could not wait to get into the North Sea. One needs more territorial exclusion, not less. In my own region – the East Midlands – the fishermen of Boston have fished the Wash for generations, looking after the fish stocks and making sure that their trawl nets do not disturb the sea bed, for they know that this is where the immature shellfish develop and that this is where the creatures form the bottom of the food chain.

This is their livelihood. Now they are forbidden to fish, on the pretext that their trawls damage the sea bottom. Meanwhile, a Dutch vessel is licensed to hoover up a million tonnes of gravel from the same sea bed, while E.ON is to dig a trench right through to the open sea to lay the line for a useless offshore wind farm. How much damage will all that do to the sea bed? How much longer will these fishermen be forced to stand by and watch their fishing grounds reduced to nothing while they are reduced to being benefit claimants?

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI). (DE) Mr President, the Atlantic region is of huge importance to Europe in both economic and ecological terms. Where ecology is concerned, we know that the Gulf Stream has a substantial impact on the climate in Europe. As we know, experts are divided over how much the Gulf Stream system has changed in recent decades and what this means for the future.

Where the economy is concerned, it remains to be seen whether China and Colombia actually implement their plans to establish a rail link between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Latin America. If around 20% of all Chinese goods come by sea via the Panama Canal, this project will undoubtedly also have an effect on the Union’s strategy for Latin America.

We must not overlook the fact that the Atlantic also plays a major role when it comes to flows of refugees. Since the Spanish border fence was erected in 2005, for example, people smuggling networks from Africa have evaded it by transiting through the Canary Islands in the Atlantic. In this respect, the unrest in the Arab world will also have effects. In the coming months, the tens of thousands of refugees that have so far landed on the coasts of Europe could be just a drop in the ocean compared to what we face in the future.

To this end, it would be sensible for the European Union to become active on the Mediterranean coast of Africa, but also on the Atlantic coast. The principle of accommodating refugees as close as possible to their home country should apply.

 
  
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  Francisco José Millán Mon (PPE). (ES) Mr President, I am very pleased that the Commission is preparing a communication on the European strategy for the Atlantic region. This is a region that has two major, related characteristics: its oceanic-maritime nature and its peripheral character.

I will make four points. Firstly, I would stress the importance of its maritime aspect, because of which, the strategy must attach importance to the preservation of the marine environment, fishing, the environment, energies related to this marine environment, and tourism.

Secondly, given the peripheral nature of the region, transport – so-called ‘connectivity’ – is very important, both between the areas that make up the Atlantic region and, above all, with the rest of the European Union. The trans-European transport networks, the highways of the sea and energy connections must be given priority. With regard to Galicia, my constituency, I also have in mind the high-speed connection with the north of Portugal and the Transcantábrico train.

Thirdly, Commissioner, I believe that the strategy must not focus solely on maritime issues. It must, as Mr Cadec has said, have a significant land-based dimension which includes the objectives of social, economic and territorial cohesion. As the resolution on which we will vote tomorrow indicates, the strategy for the Atlantic region must be closely connected with the Europe 2020 strategy, and with regional development policy and future economic prospects.

Finally, the various administrations and organisations that exist in the Atlantic region must be taken closely into account, including the regional government of Galicia and the Euroregion created with the neighbouring community of North Portugal, which were amongst the first in the European Union to create a European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation.

All of this means that there is a need for the Commission to maintain a permanent dialogue with these regions and entities, during both the development of the strategy and its subsequent implementation.

 
  
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  Estelle Grelier (S&D).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted with these plans for an integrated strategy for the Atlantic region. We need a common approach to the uses of our maritime spaces that takes the specific features of each basin into consideration and finds joint solutions to the problems that exist.

In particular, as an elected representative of Normandy, I would like to draw your attention to the specific situation of the Channel, which must also be incorporated into the plans for an integrated strategy for the Atlantic region. The Channel is one of the European Union’s strategic maritime gateways and is an essential link between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. It contains 20% of the world’s fleet and more than 500 ships over 300 tonnes sail through it every day.

On top of this transport activity, there are also fisheries, leisure activities, aggregate extraction and soon – much to my satisfaction – energy production from offshore wind farms.

This concentration of activities calls for serious thought to be given to the issue of managing maritime safety at European level, which I feel must be discussed as part of the Atlantic strategy also. As you know, the bilateral bases on which funding for safety is based are currently under threat. I have already alerted you to this point Commissioner and I will be paying close attention to the proposals you will be making in June.

 
  
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  Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE).(GA) Mr President, I strongly support what is being done at EU level to establish a cohesive strategy for the Atlantic region. The following five EU Member States border the Atlantic: Britain, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal.

On top of that, economically and environmentally, it is vital that the coastal regions of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are included in any strategy.

The Atlantic strategy must focus on encouraging the economic development of the Atlantic islands and coastal regions.

The Atlantic region is one of the world’s richest and most underdeveloped areas in terms of wind and wave energy. It is estimated that by 2050, up to 50% of Europe’s electricity supply could be provided by renewable energy generated off the Atlantic coast.

Tourism and leisure facilities are also a major economic asset for the regions along the Atlantic Arc. There remains enormous potential for growth in this area, including the development of strategically located marinas along the coast in each country. The maritime transport and port sector and the seafood sector, including aquaculture, would also benefit from deeper cooperation between the Member States along the Atlantic. Of course, an Atlantic strategy must also be consistent with the common fisheries policy, and the European Atlantic Area contains the most productive and prolific fishing grounds in EU waters. It also contains the major spawning grounds for mackerel, blue whiting, horse mackerel and hake. Member States’ cooperation in terms of marine safety, security and surveillance has improved in recent years. Given the broad expanse of the Arc, an integrated strategy will ensure better and more effective operations organised between Member States.

Finally, this will result in better emergency-at-sea responses, including search and rescue, that know no geographical or political boundaries, and in improved surveillance at sea to combat organised crime and drug trafficking.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR). (PL) Mr President, the resolution of the European Parliament, which speaks of a strategy for the Atlantic region, is yet another step showing that Europe should breathe with different lungs. We have talked here already about the strategy for the Baltic Sea, and about the Danube strategy, which is, by the way, currently being continued and developed by the Hungarian Presidency. Now the time has come for a strategy for the Atlantic region. This is a particularistic strategy, which concerns only five Member States of the European Union. Nevertheless, it is certainly an important one. However, one has to strongly emphasise that it must not become a pretext and an instrument to increase EU funding for these countries, but only to improve the use of such funding in the context of the development of the Atlantic region.

 
  
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  Anna Rosbach (EFD).(DA) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to ask the Commission whether protection of the marine environment will be made a cornerstone of this strategy. In addition, will the Commission focus on the prevention and combating of the problem of plastic waste in the oceans? The Commission held a workshop on this subject last year, but will the matter also be included in the strategy? Does the Commission intend to tackle illegal fishing and the deliberate discharge of oil via this strategy?

I would also like to know what role – if any – marine tourism, in other words, cruise ships, will play in the strategy. I am thinking of the disturbance to the fauna and pollution of the most northerly part of the Atlantic.

Finally, I would like to ask whether the Commission intends to include the waterways that directly or indirectly discharge into the Atlantic region in the strategy. In my opinion, we need to include Europe’s major rivers and lakes if we want to limit the amount of waste in the sea.

 
  
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  Nuno Teixeira (PPE).(PT) Mr President, the Treaty of Lisbon enshrines the objective of the European Union’s territorial cohesion. Like the economic and social dimension of regional policy, the effectiveness of this dimension is dependent on the drawing up of renewed strategies for the European regions. For it to be successful, the reality of the regions, their specific characteristics and their particular problems need to be taken into account.

The Atlantic region is one that presents a number of key characteristics which mean it requires an ambitious strategy to be prepared. To begin with, it is a remote area that includes regions with worrying problems of accessibility and connectivity. It has a fragile environment which is increasingly weakened by climate change. Its shipping activity is dynamic, as a result of the importance of maritime transport, but also as a result of activities relating to fishing and energy.

I would remind you that it is thanks to the Atlantic region, and specifically the outermost regions located there, that the European Union has the largest exclusive economic zone in the world. The creation of an integrated strategy for the Atlantic region should be supported, provided that it takes into account not just the important maritime dimension, but also the land-based dimension. Synergies must be created and fostered between the various sectoral policies, so seeking to achieve benefits for the region

The strategy must, obviously, cover all the regions of the Atlantic coast, including the outermost regions of Macaronesia: that is, Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands. It is necessary to improve the connectivity of these regions, whose specific geographic and structural characteristics require the optimisation of accessibility and mobility. This would not only contribute to making these regions more dynamic and to their growth, but also to the better achievement of internal market objectives.

I should also like to stress quickly the need for multi-level governance within this strategy, in which it is desirable to call on the regional and local authorities to be involved, from the stage of analysing the regional situation to that of implementing specific measures.

 
  
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  Riikka Manner (ALDE). (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, firstly, I wish to thank Mr Cadec for this excellent initiative regarding an Atlantic strategy. Clearly, we will also need this Atlantic strategy in the future. As we have heard in previous speeches, it will establish a very important demarcated area for the European Union, one that will involve issues relating to fishing, transport and energy. I believe that macro­regions and macro-regional strategies will also allow us in the Union to fight for these issues and work together.

Since the 1990s, the European Union has supported this territorial cooperation both among the Member States and with third countries bordering on the Union, mainly as part of the Union’s cohesion and foreign policies. Of course, these macro-regional strategies began during the Swedish Presidency, and I hope that they will also bring added value in the future in the areas of international and interregional cooperation.

As has been said, these macro-regional strategies have much to offer, especially in the transport, business and energy sectors. As mentioned in this motion for a resolution, it is important that things go on as they did before with regard to this Atlantic strategy, which is to say that we make use of existing structures and financing. It is simply not necessary to start creating more structures with this macro-regional strategy either.

In this preparatory work, we will need to take account of all regions and actors for us to be able to create genuine synergy for this area of the Atlantic.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Mr President, I wish to say a few words on this subject which is of great interest to me, especially since I come from an oceanic country – Ireland.

We have seen the Danube, the Baltic and the Mediterranean strategies. In those terms, the Atlantic strategy is in its infancy, but has vast potential, as speakers have pointed out, not just in its maritime aspects, but also in its territorial aspects, as my colleague, Mr Millán Mon, mentioned.

There are two points which I would like to concentrate on: one is tourism potential and the other is energy. 7% of Irish tourism is maritime-based. We should set a target of doubling that right along the Atlantic coast, in the five countries of the Atlantic Arc, by 2020.

Particularly amongst young people, there has been a growth in activities based on-shore and off-shore, such as walking, diving, fishing, whale-watching and surfing. These can all be developed through a unified approach with all the areas cooperating, particularly in marketing, and also in licensing, etc., thereby reducing red tape.

Where energy is concerned, by 2050, we will need far more renewable energy than we have now. We have seen the volatility of the price of oil in recent weeks. That is not going to change. The Atlantic Ocean has wonderful potential for wind, wave and tidal power. That may be cost-prohibitive at the moment, but in due course, with developing technologies, that will change.

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D).(PT) Mr President, as a global player, it is essential that the European Union has an Atlantic strategy which enables it to develop the full potential of this privileged frontier of ours linking us to such important areas of the world as North America, South America and the whole of west Africa.

It is within this strategic framework that the creation of a strategy for the Atlantic region can fully realise its full potential for benefiting not just this region but the entire European Union. Only as part of a strategic orientation that puts the region at its centre can our approach to the Atlantic be less one toward a peripheral region and more one that affirms its geo-centrality in the world. A strategy for the Atlantic region in which the Member States and their regions participate should also prioritise new areas of innovation in the economy and science, in particular, new products and services linked to the environment, to renewable and marine energy, to food-related marine biotechnology, to health and smart technology-intensive products and services.

 
  
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  María Irigoyen Pérez (S&D). (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, this is a key moment in the construction of future cohesion policy which, after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, is based not only on social and economic aspects, but also on territorial factors. Territorial cohesion seeks harmonious development between territories, so that their citizens can benefit fully from their singularities.

However, to achieve this objective, it is also necessary to make progress in the field of cooperation between regions of the European Union that are facing the same challenges and the same problems. This is the objective of the European strategy for the Atlantic region: a common perspective for tackling the common challenges faced by the Member States of the region, including marine research, maritime monitoring and environmental and economic challenges. To achieve our objectives, it is necessary to adopt a focused and integrated strategy which is in line with the Europe 2020 strategy and with the policies of the European Union for the post-2013 period, in particular, with regional and maritime policy.

However, ladies and gentlemen, this strategy must be founded, above all, on reformed, multi-level governance based on closer participation by the public authorities, both regional and local, the Member States, the European Union, private sector stakeholders and civil society organisations, including inter-regional networks and organisations.

 
  
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  Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (PPE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, the European’s Union’s Atlantic strategy realises a fundamental objective: an integrated and joined-up approach to Europe’s oceans and seas that is adapted to their specific characteristics. The Atlantic’s distinctive characteristics are the intercontinental dimension, the diversity of its oceanic basins and the fact that it is an ultra-deep ocean. These, along with the historic ties between the countries and regions divided by the Atlantic, are arguments justifying a different approach to it. Its geostrategic position on the border between Europe, Africa and the Americas creates challenges and opportunities for maritime activity on a number of levels, such as the protection and safeguarding of ecosystems, maritime security, the study of climate change, the security and supply of food and energy, etc.

However, it is at the level of the deep ocean that the Atlantic’s great wealth in natural, genetic and mineral resources will be located. In this context, I believe that technological research, development and innovation activity should be implemented that will ensure the exploitation and sustainable management of these resources, under the umbrella of the European Union Atlantic strategy. We need to create a European deep ocean observatory in an area suited to that purpose, such as the Azores.

 
  
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  Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, I think there is a great deal of agreement, Commissioner, between this House and your office as you develop the strategy. I think there is a wide agreement that we can achieve more together by creating a forum for encouraging cooperation amongst the regions and states and nations of the Atlantic Arc, but I would counsel gently against ‘priorityitis’, which is a disease that afflicts us in this Chamber particularly badly. If you try to achieve 300 million objectives, we might end up doing nothing very well, so I would pick out two particular priorities where I think the EU could add real, genuine, EU added value.

In paragraph 8, there is a focus on interconnectors for marine energy. We have a massive renewable energy potential in the Atlantic region. Coming from Scotland, we have a vast contribution to make towards our climate change and our regional development objectives. We could play a great role in that. In paragraphs 9 to 11, the importance of marine transport could also have hugely important economic, as well as environmental, output.

There is much in this to admire, but I would hope that the Commission will have a greater degree of focus than the many, all very worthy, objectives we have seen from this House this evening.

 
  
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  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE). (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to express my strong support for any action in favour of the expansionary policy of marine areas management, including the demands we are discussing, which are set out in the resolution that has been tabled.

The Atlantic Ocean, as a field for the dynamic development of maritime transport, fisheries, sources of ecological energy and scientific research, provides us with great opportunities for efficient management. One should use these wisely, keeping in mind the important role of the Union as a guardian of the natural environment, which undoubtedly includes the oceanic ecosystem. The channelling of the EU’s strength towards the Atlantic Ocean is a natural direction of economic expansion for us. The development of the maritime transport sector virtually forces us to work on an optimal strategy for the development of the Atlantic region, including its port facilities. Let us remember that they represent the maritime gateway to a united Europe.

 
  
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  Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid (PPE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, since 2005, when the matter of the Baltic Sea was discussed, macro-regional strategies have met with particular interest in the European Parliament.

I am delighted that today, thanks to my colleague, Alain Cadec, we are able to provide the impetus for an ambitious regional strategy for the Atlantic Arc. In addition to the many areas requiring coordination and joint work and the importance of an integrated approach that will allow us to address the region’s problems at the macro-regional level, I would like to emphasise two points in particular.

The territorial cooperation objective, Objective 3 of the cohesion policy, and, in particular, its transnational aspects, should be brought in to support these strategies by coordinating discussions and project development and coordination.

Member States and regions should be encouraged to take part in jointly devised actions through their operational programmes. Unfortunately, without strong political will, these strategies will simply meet a dead end. Whilst Europe does not want to cover itself with macro-regions, it needs to take on board the territorial constraints that have not disappeared simply because our borders have been removed.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, this has been a very interesting discussion and it has proved that the initiative of having this oral question was really a success.

I have three points. The first concerns our maritime strategy. In maritime strategy, we can include many sectors, many actions and many perspectives. What will our focus be? Our focus will be on trying to create linkages between the different sectors. Let me explain myself.

We have a space, we have a sea space – Atlantic sea space. There we can have fisheries; we need environmental protection; we can have tourism; we can have transport; we can have aquaculture; we can have energy; and we can have research. So we need a way to create linkages between all these sectors and to overcome the possibility of there being conflicts of interest there. So, maritime special planning will be a very important instrument for us, and maritime surveillance and maritime knowledge will also be very important instruments.

This is our ambition. It is not about creating new structures – I can agree with that; we do not really need new structures. What we need are linkages between the different structures we already have. That is what this is all about – creating linkages between the existing structures in order to have better results. So this is my first point.

The second point concerns your comments about having a territorial cohesion policy. I would like to remind you that to have this macro-region policy, we need to have a proposal. A proposal must be made by the Council to the Commission. What we have for the time being is a proposal about a maritime strategy. There was a decision last June about this and we have already been authorised to come forward with a maritime strategy. We are working on this and we hope that in this way, we are helping to put on the table the prospect of a macro-region approach.

My third point is the need for an international approach. Yes, I agree with all of you who said that we need good coordination with our neighbours on both sides of the Atlantic too. We have to be cautious. We need to have good discussions and to try to fix a level playing field for everybody, because this is the only way to be successful.

So I would like to thank Mr Cadec once again for his initiative and I would like to reassure you that all your suggestions will be taken on board.

 
  
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  President. – I have received one motion for resolution(1) tabled in accordance with Rule 115(5) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday, 9 March 2011.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Jim Higgins (PPE), in writing. – I very much welcome this initiative. We need to ensure that we have a clearly defined strategy so as to enable this region to prosper. Problems facing the region and areas we need to address include environmental threats (water pollution, floods, climate change), untapped shipping potential and lack of road and rail transport connections, insufficient energy connections, uneven socio-economic development, uncoordinated education, research and innovation systems, shortcomings in safety and security.

 
  

(1) See Minutes


21. One-minute speeches (Rule 150)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the one-minute speeches on matters of political importance.

 
  
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  Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (PPE).(PT) Mr President, on 17 February, in the region of Póvoa do Varzim, a tornado hit the greenhouses of 50 farmers who estimate the damages they suffered at EUR 1.5 million. In a few seconds, the tornado destroyed months of work and years of investment. The farmers will have to plant new crops and it will take months for their produce to reach the market. These farmers had already, on 27 February 2010, been devastated by another storm. At the time, the cost of the damages was set at in excess of EUR 4 million and the authorities have not responded to it in any way to date.

The figures reveal the importance of vegetable production to the local economy, with 2 000 families, a total of approximately 5 000 people and 10 000 jobs, directly and indirectly linked, at risk in the region. These extreme weather phenomena are increasingly frequent and put the pursuit of such activity at risk. If it is not subsidised, the insurance is so costly that taking it out makes this activity unviable.

In this context, I believe it is important that the European Union give consideration to establishing a common minimum level of insurance for all farmers and to the eligibility thresholds for the Solidarity Fund. It is vital to take the regional dimension into account: if not, regions confronted with serious disasters could be excluded because the threshold set for the Member State as a whole has not been reached.

 
  
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  President. – Mrs Patrão Neves, can I just say that when you take the floor, you seem to speak for longer than your time and you speak very fast, which has been slightly difficult for the interpreters. Perhaps you could condense your remarks?

 
  
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  Monika Smolková (S&D). (SK) Mr President, last week, the Slovak Deputy Prime Minister and former European Commissioner, Ján Figeľ, negotiated in Brussels for financial resources amounting to EUR 350 million from the operational programmes ‘Information Society, Science and Research’ and ‘Education and Inclusion’, to be transferred to the operational programme ‘Transport’.

The construction of motorways is indeed necessary. However, in the same way that we adopted the EU 2020 strategy, and especially in a time of crisis, we have to realise that eliminating barriers to the growth of employment, addressing new social risks and putting an emphasis on education, science and research are the first preconditions for economic growth.

A transfer of funding requires the consent of all the Commissioners. I would like to express the conviction, along with Slovak teachers, scientists and other Slovak citizens who do not approve of this transfer of funding, that the individual European Commissioners will defend employment, education, science and research, which will benefit enormously from the EUR 350 million, while in transport, it would represent only 11 kilometres of motorway, however necessary that may be.

 
  
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  Ramon Tremosa i Balcells (ALDE). – Mr President, last month, the Catalan Public Television channel (TV3) was shut down in Valencia by the regional Valencian government. Not only does this measure contravene the European directives regarding linguistic diversity, the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Spanish Constitution, but the shut-down of Catalan television is also a direct attack on the cultural brotherhood that unites Catalans and Valencians through a common language.

The regional Valencian government is now imposing prohibitive sanctions on the private Acció Cultural del País Valencià association which installed, 20 years ago, the TV repeaters, forcing them to close them down.

I should also like to announce that a popular legislative initiative in favour of Catalan television reception has been taken to the Spanish Parliament with the support of 615 000 citizens. The socialist Spanish Government should take it into account, but up to now, nothing has been done.

 
  
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  Michail Tremopoulos (Verts/ALE).(EL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Commission and the rest of the support mechanism in Greece recently announced a government commitment to raising EUR 50 billion by 2015 by selling off public property.

Commission representative Mr Deruz made a statement in which he said that the real gamble for the Greek economy was across-the-board privatisation of public property. However, public property in Greece is not all the same: commercial property, such as buildings which do not serve any public function, is one thing, and a radical change in the use of land at the expense of the environment is quite another, as it puts at risk free spaces, such as the old Athens airport, which are intended to compensate for the lack of green spaces in cities which have less than 3 square metres of green space per inhabitant, at a time when the European average is 10 square metres of green space per inhabitant.

Areas of vital environmental importance, such as the delta of the River Nestos, where tourist facilities covering thousands of acres have already been announced, are also at risk. Such changes of use, which sacrifice vital environmental functions, are the opposite of any definition of sustainable development. Crisis and debt do not cancel out the right of future generations to a vital natural environment and opportunities for sustainable cities.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MIGUEL ANGEL MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ
Vice-President

 
  
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  Marek Henryk Migalski (ECR).(PL) Mr President, I truly regret that Mr McMillan-Scott is no longer in charge of proceedings, since I have a request for him, which is related to the human rights in which he is so interested. As you all know, the 19 December elections in Belarus were followed by a wave of arrests. The fact that all the presidential candidates who ran against Mr Lukashenko were arrested only adds to the bizarreness of the situation. On 19 February, Ales Mikhalevich was released from prison; he was one of the competing candidates. He confirmed that he had been tortured. I will spare you the description of this torture. Suffice it to say that it was very serious. Accordingly, since we will be adopting a resolution on this very matter this week, I hereby address the entire Chamber, particularly Mr McMillan-Scott, who holds human rights so close to his heart, to speak up on this matter in a most unequivocal and emphatic way and to demand that a stop be put to these shameful practices. Thank you.

 
  
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  President. – Thank you, Mr Migalski. Mr McMillan-Scott has listened to you from the rostrum, but we are all very interested in human rights.

You talk of torture and I can assure you that the person in the chair at the moment, who has had his finger nails pulled out, is also very interested in human rights issues, because we have had the opportunity to experience situations like those which you have described and, therefore, allow me to say that we are extremely interested.

 
  
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  Miguel Portas (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, first came a song, at the start of this year. This song denounced a ridiculous world in which it is necessary to study in order to become a slave: our world. Within hours, this song became an anthem in my country. Then came four young people. They used Facebook to set up a protest that aims to bring together, and I quote, the unemployed, […] those who are slaves under another name, subcontractees and those on short-term contracts, those in irregular work, interns, and those doing work experience: in other words, the generations that, in my country, are indebting themselves in order to study, that almost pay to work, and that get by on EUR 500 per month.

There are already more than 40 000 people signed up on the Internet for this demonstration and it is taking place this Saturday. It would be good if this Europe – this top-down Europe – listened to those who are renouncing fear and silence, and are tired of insecurity; of the insecurity that we have imposed on them. As the song says, they are ‘the ‘I cannot take it anymore’ generation’, and they are totally in the right.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Mr President, I shall speak on the subject of Libya. The uprising in this country, following on from Tunisia and Egypt, has been bloodier and has taken a tragic turn. At first glance, the grassroots reaction against the regime appears to be spontaneous and ideologically unaligned. It is directed against a regime which is manifestly unable to resolve chronic problems in terms of growth and fundamental social justice. Europe has massive interests in the area. Dozens of European companies – British, Italian, French and large Greek companies – are working in Libya, which is the third largest oil producer in Africa. The instability is frightening the markets and oil prices have already shot through the roof.

I think that, under the present circumstances, Europe needs to pay particular attention, firstly, to the increase in the influx of refugees, from both Libya and North Africa as a whole and, secondly, to the consequences of a reversal in all the European budgets and a turn for the worse in the economic crisis.

In addition, the causes need to be evaluated and we need to take action on what is happening in Europe; in particular, we need to give young people work and prospects, because young people in countries in the Islamic world had no hope and that is why they did what they did, and we shall see what happens here.

 
  
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  Corneliu Vadim Tudor (NI).(RO) Mr President, in the past few days, Romania’s governing party took an aberrant decision: they voted on euthanasia, namely, on the killing of stray dogs. I call upon the European People’s Party, which is based on Christian Democratic doctrine: please urge your fellow colleagues of the Democratic Liberal Party in Romania not to stain their hands with the blood of innocents. Jesus Christ loved animals: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ said the Saviour. I also appeal to other fellow Members: almost all of you have at least one dog at home, which you love as an angel.

Romania is unfortunately returning to the darkness of the Middle Ages, to barbarity. Today, Băsescu’s regime is euthanising dogs and tomorrow it will euthanise people. Killing dogs is also a lucrative business for the mafia. Help prevent Romania from being transformed into Idi Amin’s Uganda. Whatever reasons would be invoked, some solutions are available that are peaceful and civilised, and throughout history, crime has never solved anything.

 
  
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  Eleni Theocharous (PPE).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, all our attention has been taken up recently with the popular uprisings in North Africa. However, we should not overlook the uprising by the Turkish Cypriots in occupied Cyprus. It is a very important uprising and, as for those who are making out that we cannot hear the voice of the Turkish Cypriots, now they really will hear their voice.

The Turkish Cypriots are protesting against the economic adversity imposed on them by the Turkish occupation, against the presence of colonisers who alter the demographic of the population, and are causing them to disappear, and against the onslaught of Islam, with hundreds of mosques being built and religious teachers being sent by Erdoğan to occupied Cyprus, and they are fighting for survival under the flag of the Republic of Cyprus.

The Turkish Cypriots said ‘no’ to the Annan plan; it was not the Turkish Cypriots who voted ‘yes’ to the Annan plan which partitioned Cyprus once and for all. That is why I think that we should open up our ears and listen to the protests of our compatriots, the Turkish Cypriots.

 
  
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  Mario Pirillo (S&D). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the situation in which bluefin tuna fishing finds itself in the Mediterranean continues to cause incalculable economic damage to fishing communities. The Italian Government adhered to the decisions of the ICCAT and reduced fishing quotas for bluefin tuna for commercial fishing vessels only, with a de facto increase in the quantities intended for recreational fishing, an absurd measure that penalises only fishers, who are already facing a very difficult time.

In this sense, I remind you of the negative effects on the industry of failing to take the decision to grant a derogation for whitebait fishing. I hope that one outcome of the forthcoming meeting to be attended by Commissioner Damanaki, who is here today, will be that fishing for whitebait can resume in 2011, at least in certain districts, such as Schiavonea and Corigliano Calabro in Calabria, with a possibility of a review for 2012.

 
  
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  Sonia Alfano (ALDE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that events in the Middle East have made it clear to the European institutions that they cannot continue to ignore the violation of fundamental rights and of national constitutions. Please forgive me but I must again report a shameful action by the ruling majority in Italy, which would like to save Mr Berlusconi from the trials that have just begun over serious crimes such as extortion and exploitation of child prostitution.

The Italian majority, in fact, called on the Constitutional Court to decide which court should try Mr Berlusconi. Certainly, the Constitutional Court will throw out the request of a judge on a personal basis, but we must not continue to ignore Mr Berlusconi’s umpteenth attack on Italian democracy and the independence of the Italian judiciary.

Many colleagues have already signed a petition to send out a strong signal that will reach the Italian people from their own MEPs. It is a curious coincidence, Mr President, that while Mr Berlusconi has been attacking the judiciary for years, the Minister for Justice, Mr Alfano, has ingenuously come to Strasbourg to describe the plan for making justice efficient and cannot find a single moment to meet the European Parliament. Perhaps he is afraid to face uncomfortable questions from the representatives of the people concerning the Italian justice system and the way people are trying to destroy its independence?

 
  
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  Oldřich Vlasák (ECR). (CS) Mr President, here on the floor of the European Parliament, I would like to draw your attention to judgment C-236/09 of the European Court of Justice of last week. In accordance with this judgment, from 21 December of next year, it will no longer be possible to distinguish between buyers of insurance on the basis of gender. In this case, the European Union directive, and its interpretation respectively, has clearly gone too far; it is contrary to the laws of nature, and it will have a significant negative impact on the insurance industry. It is just as illogical as if we were to stop insurance companies taking into account whether a house is situated on top of a hill or on a flood plain or how many accidents a motor vehicle driver has had when calculating insurance premiums for non-life insurance policies. After all, it is not only demographers who are aware of the fact that in developed societies, the mortality of the male population is higher than that of the female population practically across the all age ranges and, in the majority of cases, significantly so. Also, women usually live 10% longer. In the Czech Republic, men have a life expectancy of 73 years, and women of 80. To deny this truth, and to use a directive from Brussels to impose an obligation upon insurance companies whereby they cannot differentiate between men and women, goes against actuarial theory and, moreover, it discriminates against certain groups of insurance buyers. The result is that women will have to pay higher premiums and men will receive lower pensions.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the social consequences of applying so-called ‘austerity’ measures are getting worse every day. The financial sector and big business continue to accumulate colossal profits, and the unsustainable extortion of national resources by means of interest paid on the sovereign debt of countries like Portugal continues. In this context, there is a question that must be asked: how long will the rulers of this European Union continue to tighten the noose? They are now proposing the so-called ‘Competitiveness Pact’: more attacks on wages and social rights, an increased retirement age, and increasingly insecure jobs. Moreover, they want to impose all this through economic governance, against the will of the peoples.

However, the workers’ struggle that is continuing and intensifying across Europe demonstrates that this backtracking of civilisation is not inevitable, and that another way is possible and necessary. Once again, we wish to congratulate them from here on their courage and determination. The innumerable acts of struggle, strikes, protests and demonstrations are causes for hope and faith in a better future, in particular, the demonstration by the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) on 19 March.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI). – Mr President, the living conditions for the Cypriots in the northern part of Cyprus, the part occupied by the army of Turkey, a candidate country, are unbearable. We face, for example, ongoing violations of human rights. Turkey is transferring population to this part of Cyprus and is therefore responsible for a severe demographic change. The Turkish Cypriots are already a minority in their homeland and a lot of original villages’ names have been changed.

Two rallies have taken place in recent weeks. In reaction to the rally in January, the Turkish Cypriots were humiliated verbally by Turkey, and Turkey replaced its ambassador in the northern part of Cyprus in order to install a governor. I therefore ask you, Mr President, to take the appropriate steps before part of a European territory is lost to Turkey, and to make sure that Mr Elcil, Secretary-General of KTOS, is safe in his homeland.

 
  
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  Georgios Koumoutsakos (PPE).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, a few hours ago, Moody’s credit rating agency downgraded the Greek economy yet again. I belong to the opposition party in Greece and I have to say that we are highly critical of the government’s economic policy. However, this decision by Moody’s is absolutely unjustified. It comes just one day before the auction of six-monthly treasury bills, which is crucial to Greece, and a few days before the crucial meetings of the European Council on 11 and 25 March, at which serious decisions will be taken.

It is not only Greece which is suffering from these arbitrary ratings by credit rating agencies. These credit rating agencies need to be regulated. While I have the floor, I should like to say a couple of words about the March Councils: the month of March is crucial to the euro area and to the European Union as a whole. A failure will cause the Union a serious problem. The markets will make mincemeat out of failure and we need to forestall it; there is no time to delay.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, acting on a notification from the NGO Coalition for Structural Funds, I would like to draw the attention of the European institutions responsible to the extremely poor management of structural funds in Romania, especially in the Sectoral Operational Programme for Human Resources. The Romanian Government and the prime minister personally are committed to improving the conditions for the absorption of these funds. Unfortunately, the results are almost nil. The Romanian Management Authority for Structural Funds not only does not assist the beneficiaries of these funds, but also creates difficulties in accessing them.

The irregularities are endless: from unfair changes in grant agreements to undue delays in payments and the allocation of non-transparent funds, based on political affiliation. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the European Commission to urgently intervene and control the activity of the agencies in charge of managing EU funds in Romania. Only an external intervention can stop the abuses being committed continuously, at all levels, by representatives of those currently in power, which are constantly reported by those who should benefit from these funds and by NGOs.

 
  
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  Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE). – Mr President, the International Fund for Ireland has played a major role in peace and reconciliation in my country.

Since it was established in 1986, the Fund has provided more than EUR 838 million to a wide range of projects both in Northern Ireland and in the border counties. It continues to support projects in the economically disadvantaged regions. Last week, it allocated EUR 9.8 million to support educational and community initiatives in Northern Ireland in the counties of Donegal, Monaghan and Sligo.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment as to the future. The US House of Representatives recently included the Fund in part of an overall reduction to the US overseas budget. I would expect that our incoming Prime Minister, our Taoiseach, will raise the issue when he is in Washington to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

(GA) It has been said by the European Union, as by the governments of Ireland and Britain, that they are in favour of extending the programme of the Fund. And although the support that the United States provides to the Fund is vital, there is no reason for the European Union and the governments of Ireland and Britain not to continue providing financial resources to the Fund on a limited and targeted basis.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR).(PL) Mr President, last Sunday, local elections were held in Lithuania. The formation representing the Polish national minority achieved a major success, despite the fact that Poles in Lithuania have been subject to regular discrimination for years. Unfortunately, the land taken away by the authorities of the Soviet Union 50 years ago has not been returned to them. The opportunities for national education that are available to Poles who live there have been limited to a large extent. Their names are forcefully distorted; they are not allowed to write them down in accordance with the Polish spelling. Moreover – contrary to European standards and the regulations of the Council of Europe – they are not allowed to put up signs with town and street names in Polish. I appeal to the European Parliament to deal with the issue of Poles in Lithuania, because this is obvious discrimination against my fellow countrymen living there, which, and I emphasise this, runs contrary to European standards.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL). (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I wish to urgently express my group’s opposition to the decision that the Council has adopted to extend the current EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement for a further year, as proposed by the Commission.

We oppose the decision because the waters of the non-autonomous territory of Western Sahara are still included in this agreement. As we all know, this territory is one of the few African territories still awaiting decolonisation and this decolonisation is supported by the United Nations. They are not Moroccan waters. They do not belong to Morocco and the European Union therefore should not include Western Saharan waters in the agreement.

The judgments of international courts state as much and, above all, international law states that the waters do not belong to Morocco. The legal services of this very House have indicated their reservations, because the benefits of the previous fishing agreement did not go to the Sahrawi people. Therefore, from the legal standpoint, we are clearly against this decision.

I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that we must be very careful, taking note of the experience of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and that the European Union should be much more rigorous when demanding compliance with international law.

 
  
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  Nuno Teixeira (PPE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, the European Parliament will soon be called on to reach a decision on the revision of the Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI), which was created to respond to the remoteness and insularity of the European Union’s outermost regions. This reform is a result, not just of the need to adapt it to the new legal reality of the Treaty of Lisbon, but also, and especially, to make the application of its rules more flexible.

The Treaty of Lisbon acknowledges the outermost regions’ disadvantages and constraints, and that is exactly why we must now adapt and update the current system, taking into account the challenges faced by the outermost regions, in terms of both its dimension and its content. In the case of Madeira, I am talking specifically about the need to remove barriers to the exporting and shipping of processed products, which are severely restricting the development and growth of the agro-industrial sector. Banana cultivation, in particular, is under threat from the gradual opening up of markets to third countries, but so are wine and milk production. Territorial cohesion aims for the harmonious development of the European Union’s regions; the revision of the POSEI should also contribute to this.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (EFD). – Mr President, I want to tell you all about the latest development concerning the European Arrest Warrant.

Many people have been extradited where there is no real evidence against them. Indeed, the courts are powerless to consider any evidence and cannot prevent unjust extradition. Now there is a new refinement. My constituent, Dr Miguel-Ángel Meizoso, faces extradition to Spain, not for a crime he is accused of committing, but rather to face investigation for a crime that he, allegedly, might decide to commit in the future. Dr Meizoso, who has lived in London for 20 years, now stands to have his life torn apart on the whim of an investigative magistrate investigating a crime that has not happened. If anyone doubts this, I will gladly supply them with a briefing on the case.

When is this Parliament going to face up to, and debate, the injustices being done in the name of the European Arrest Warrant?

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). (SK) Mr President, the EU must adopt a basic position towards Belarus as soon as possible. We cannot communicate with a regime where there are political prisoners and where there is no freedom of expression for civil society, or a free media.

The situation after the election has shown that Lukashenko’s power is not unlimited. The EU should take advantage of that and help the country to shake off this authoritarian regime. A specific feature here is also the responsibility of the post-communist countries, based on their experience of regimes similar to the one in Belarus.

Our position must therefore be principled and founded on values. The EU must also take steps to isolate the people responsible for falsifying votes, to put a stop to contacts with highly-placed functionaries of the regime, and to freeze their assets.

On the other hand, there is a need to expand the circle of friends who prefer the values and principles that are common in the EU. We must offer an alternative to the current development as quickly as possible, based on the fact that a country with an authoritarian regime has no future in Europe.

 
  
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  Constance Le Grip (PPE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to devote my one minute to the convergence and competitiveness pact. As we approach the euro area summit meeting in a few days’ time on 11 March, I feel it is important to stress that the idea of a convergence and competitiveness pact in itself is a good idea and highly desirable.

Let us get this straight. It is clear – at least to me it is – that the competitiveness pact in the version that is currently being discussed, negotiated and considered is not, and will not be, just another document or simply a litany of good intentions that will never be put into action. It is a solemn statement that we are going to take the economic aspects of our monetary union further.

It will represent a leap forward towards greater convergence between the euro area economies and towards a greater degree of political coordination, especially in areas of national competence when these are an essential factor in increasing our competitiveness. Indeed, the intensity of the global economic battle means it is absolutely vital that we increase the competitiveness of our region of the world. This will involve stepping up the battle against public debt, stabilising our currency and aligning our economic, social and taxation systems more closely.

The intergovernmental method has been much maligned recently and contrasted with the Community method. I find these debates somewhat sterile and pointless, and they are certainly detached from our fellow citizens’ concerns. Like President Van Rompuy, I believe we either have a European approach or no approach at all.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE).(PL) Mr President, I think that this is a unique coincidence, because I am going to speak about the very same topic. The aims of the ‘competitiveness pact’ are intended to bring together the euro area economies by means of far-reaching structural reforms, and its main objective is to increase the competitiveness of the euro area and to strengthen international confidence in the euro area. Although the pact does include a number of useful goals, referring, among other things, to the fight against deficits or the reforms of pension systems, we must be aware of the risks it carries. Firstly, the way of announcing the initiative itself, carried out without consultations with the governments of the remaining countries, sets a dangerous precedent; in fact, it perpetuates the stereotype of the quiet Franco-German tandem, which decides on the key issues of the EU without asking its partners for their opinions. Secondly, the project has been received in many countries as yet another attempt to create a two-speed Europe, whose nucleus is formed by the economically most competitive states. Admittedly, the initiators of the pact did invite states from outside the euro area to participate; however, there is no doubt that this is a purely tactical move. Considering the rise in protectionist sentiments in many countries of the euro area, one may presume that the imposition of the pact’s stringent requirements will result in the euro area becoming a threat to, or restriction of, the common EU market. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  President. – That concludes this item.

 

22. General product safety and market surveillance (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mrs Schaldemose, on behalf of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, on the revision of the General Product Safety Directive and market surveillance (2010/2085(INI)) (A7-0033/2011).

 
  
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  Christel Schaldemose, rapporteur. (DA) Mr President, good evening to all of my fellow Members who are still here in the Chamber. I will say a few words about the report that we drew up in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. We chose to call this a report on the revision of the General Product Safety Directive and market surveillance.

The reason why we drew up this own-initiative report is that the Commission is intending to start work on a revision of the General Product Safety Directive, which thus provided a good opportunity for us in the Internal Market Committee to present our recommendations for what this revision should contain. We chose to divide our report into two parts. We present some recommendations for what should be done with regard to market surveillance in general, but, of course, we also provide some very specific recommendations for what a revision of the General Product Safety Directive should contain.

First of all, it is worth mentioning that, when we adopted the General Product Safety Directive a few years ago, it represented a milestone for product safety in the EU. The directive is still sound, but there is a need for improvements. The problems we have today actually relate to the fact that our market surveillance is not effective enough to ensure that the products on the internal market are sufficiently safe. In the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, we therefore recommend that a special effort be made to strengthen market surveillance in the EU. It is the case that, in a time of crisis, there is, unfortunately, a risk that the Member States will allocate fewer rather than more resources to ensuring that market surveillance is carried out. This is highly problematic, and not only for consumers; it is actually just as important for the enterprises that comply with our internal market rules.

In connection with my work on this report, I have spoken to a large number of enterprises on the internal market, many of which said that they have never known there to be any controls, market checks or market surveillance in respect of the products that they are involved with on the internal market. This is obviously problematic because for enterprises, it means – if we have proper market checks – that we can also be certain that there is a reasonable level of competition – in other words, that those who cheat will actually be caught and those who make decent and safe products are able to place them on the internal market. Market surveillance is therefore crucial – not only for the enterprises, but also for consumers, of course. The specific proposals we have for the revision of the General Product Safety Directive are, naturally enough, largely oriented towards consumers.

We think it is extremely important to achieve greater traceability in connection with the products that are on the internal market. The traceability of products is vital if we are to be able to withdraw products more quickly. We also believe that there is a general need for the Member States to act more swiftly when we discover dangerous or problematic products on the internal market. Furthermore, we believe that there is a need, in particular, to look at products coming from third countries, in other words, countries outside the EU. There is an increasing number of products coming onto the internal market. We need to ensure that they actually comply with our internal market rules.

In order to be able to ensure, in future, that we produce more targeted legislation, we also propose in the report that the mandatory production of accident statistics be introduced at EU level so that we can find out in a more targeted way where there is a need for legislation based on what kind of accidents occur with products on the internal market. This will enable us to draw up more precise and more targeted legislation in the areas where there is actually a need for it, so as to ensure that products are safe without inconveniencing those enterprises that produce perfectly sound products.

We also believe that we need to take a look at those products that are sold online. We can see that there are problems in this area. In any case, many people complain that products sold online do not comply with the same safety regulations as those bought on the ordinary market. Of course, we also believe that there is a general need for us to have a good dialogue with the customs authorities with a view, among other things, to ensuring that there are better and safer products on the internal market.

Finally, I would just like to say that I had, of course, also hoped that we might have been able to take a closer look at how we could protect our children on the internal market. However, this did not receive support in the Internal Market Committee. This means that we do not intend to draw up any separate child protection measures; we simply intend to increase our product safety in general.

I would like to finish by saying to the Commission that we most definitely believe that there is a need for a revision of the General Product Safety Directive. We believe that there is a need to strengthen market surveillance. We believe that there is a need for coherent market surveillance on the internal market so that requirements are not split between different pieces of legislation. We believe that there is a need for a single coherent umbrella to ensure that more market surveillance is carried out. It is quite simply a question of citizens being able to have confidence in the products that are on the internal market, and enterprises must have a fair and level playing field in terms of competition on the internal market. I would like to finish with those words and to call on the Commission to begin work on the revision of the General Product Safety Directive very soon. I would also call on the Member States to allocate sufficient resources to ensuring that proper market surveillance is carried out.

 
  
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  Lara Comi (PPE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my compliments to Mrs Schaldemose for the constructive and fruitful cooperation we have had.

The aspect that I should like to emphasise here is the one that I introduced in the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and that Mrs Schaldemose (whom I thank once again) supported and returned to in her report: in other words, my call to the Commission to evaluate the use of new technologies and materials, such as the use of microchips or radio frequencies to enable better identification of the product, thereby complying with consumer safety in a cost-effective manner.

This would provide complete traceability, since the consumer would be enabled to find out about all aspects of the product, in other words, the various stages of production, material sources and the identity of those responsible. It would also eliminate the problem of finding a criterion for allocation of origin and saying where a product is made. In fact, for precisely this reason, we have seen that defining a product as ‘made in France’ deceives the consumer when only the final processing stage took place in that country.

I therefore call strongly on the Commissioner to proceed with this request by the European Parliament, which certainly speaks on behalf of citizens and consumers in Europe.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I, too, congratulate our fellow Member on the report. I want to thank her for accepting our amendments made in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. I want to mention the importance of European standards which simplify the purchasing process, whether carried out in the traditional manner or electronically, and which guarantee respect for product safety regulations.

We called on the Commission and all the stakeholders to ensure the financial sustainability of the European standardisation system, including through public-private partnerships and multiannual financial planning, which is essential for ensuring this system’s effectiveness and efficiency. We also emphasised the need for stability, simplification of European standards and a reduction in the timeframes for developing standards. We called on national standardisation bodies to simplify standards by reducing the number of references to other standards and by providing user-friendly guidelines.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, it is of the utmost importance to pay greater attention to products’ safety standards, from the perspective not only of defending production, but also of defending consumers. Simplifying standards and reducing the time needed to produce them cannot be allowed to endanger the full guarantee that our consumers need. Moreover, when we are looking at these aspects of safety standards, we must not forget the products that we import: it is also very important to defend the ‘made in’ mark. We therefore hope that the Commission will take into account these aspects of this report, as well as the contributions made by the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, which the rapporteur has accepted, and that we will finally be able to make a little progress with defending the safety of products, producers and consumers.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, the report talks of great progress, but it is a cause for concern that despite the General Product Safety Directive, despite the Toy Safety Directive, and despite RAPEX, around 60% of the products reported come from China and the majority of dangerous products thus come from a market that cannot be controlled by the EU. I hope that the new RAPEX system will help remedy this. The EU must take a strong position in order to protect consumers and their health.

It is particularly shocking that around a quarter of the dangerous products are products aimed at children: dolls, water pistols, children’s cutlery, child seats – according to RAPEX in the past week. The EU reacts too slowly in such cases. Only now has the use of Bisphenol in the production of baby bottles been banned, yet its harmful effect has been known for the past year. I mentioned this in a question to the Commission. Moreover, the Toy Safety Directive still does not ban carcinogenic products. Finally, the recall of hazardous products must take place more quickly and more efficiently and there must be clear improvements in traceability back through the production chain.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE).(CS) Mr President, for a long time here in Parliament, we have been looking for more effective ways to prevent the ever increasing amount of dangerous products entering the market. I agree with the author of the report that the legislation needs to be revised and that this should lead to better linking of all measures, including the improved coordination of criminal prosecution at a Member State level. I also support the proposed obligation to carry out a risk analysis and report its findings before a new product is released. In light of the fact that the majority of dangerous products come from third countries, I think that it is vital that this obligation be included in international trade agreements even before it is imposed on European manufacturers. I also support the other proposals and appreciate the high quality of Mrs Schaldemose’s report.

 
  
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  Åsa Westlund (S&D).(SV) Mr President, I would like to thank Mrs Schaldemose for an excellent report. I would like to further emphasise the fact that more resources are needed, as well as more random product safety checks. As consumers, we are always reading in newspapers and other forms of media that consumer organisations have carried out tests and have always found products that do not satisfy requirements. This undermines consumers’ confidence and can sometimes put lives at risk, particularly when it comes to children, who are extremely reliant on the products sold in shops being safe to use.

What is perhaps most important in my opinion is the lack of chemical safety. Many products today contain chemicals that are already prohibited within the EU. This is something that, as an individual consumer, is extremely difficult to see from the product. In this regard, the Member States need to make vigorous efforts and cooperate more to remove these products from the market and prevent players from placing products on the market when these contain hazardous chemicals.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, there was a very interesting discussion on this matter at the level of the Member States, almost all of whose representatives were – I should point out – women.

On behalf of the Commission, allow me to congratulate Parliament on its resolution on the revision of the General Product Safety Directive and market surveillance. The Commission welcomes that resolution and very much appreciates the high quality of its content.

The conclusions of the resolution closely reflect the Commission’s intentions on how to revise general product safety rules in the EU. We need a clear and effective market surveillance framework. I agree with everyone on that. We need a framework that ensures a working internal market in safe goods. The Commission has already undertaken extensive consultations with a full range of stakeholders to determine how best to achieve that objective.

To find a coherent solution across different product sectors, Vice-President Tajani and Commissioner Dalli have agreed to work together towards the consolidation of EU rules on market surveillance. The Commission is determined to make sure that both consumers and businesses benefit from the EU internal market in safe goods. Therefore, we will clarify and update existing EU product safety rules to improve the health and safety protection of consumers.

We have to be mindful of our funding possibilities and margins and we also have to respect the competences of Member States, but the rules should be able to effectively identify and then adequately respond to the emergence of new risks – and I agree that there are new risks in global supply chains. I also agree with Parliament that special attention needs to be awarded to children’s products.

At the same time, the revision should provide a more level playing field for EU economic operators and reduce unnecessary administrative costs. In particular, consistency between the general product safety rules laid down in the General Product Safety Directive and the rules contained in the 2008 ‘goods package’ should now be within our grasp. Clearer product safety obligations of economic operators will therefore be established. The current mechanisms for Member State market surveillance cooperation and coordination will also be improved.

Finally, the functioning of the rapid alert system for non-food products – RAPEX – should be enhanced. That system is very important and is already used in our cooperation with China and other countries, but we really need to enhance it in order to face all the challenges mentioned here.

Vice-President Tajani and Commissioner Dalli intend to present jointly a proposal for a single and coherent EU framework for market surveillance. I wish to thank Parliament again for this very good resolution.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE), in writing. (HU) Cooperation between authorities responsible for enforcing consumer protection and product safety regulations is of key importance for the functioning of the internal market. Market supervision and the RAPEX rapid alert system must be developed further, and Hungary’s professionals must pay particular attention to withdrawing dangerous products from circulation. I believe that a stronger consumer dimension is required to reduce the fragmentation of the internal market, in order to improve the functioning of the retail markets, and for consumers to be able to make better decisions. All these could play a key role in guaranteeing the most fundamental European values, such as integrity, openness, solidarity, and transparency. I believe that an ever stronger degree of cooperation between Member States is also of vital importance to the operation of the effective market supervision system and, as such, for the purpose of coherence, it is imperative to create a uniform interpretation and presence amongst market supervision authorities. Authorities must consider it their primary objective to cooperate at a high-level, not only with national partner authorities, but also with other Member States. For instance, in terms of this objective, several cooperation agreements were recently concluded or renewed in my country as well. These agreements placed an increased emphasis on the issue of cooperation in market supervision areas. In summary, we must show our citizens – not only in our words but also in our actions – the value added by Europe, and that in the era of globalisation, the European Union is more important than ever.

 

23. Management of H1N1 influenza (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mrs Rivasi, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on evaluation of the management of H1N1 influenza in the EU in 2009-2010 (2010/2153(INI)) (A7-0035/2011).

 
  
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  Michèle Rivasi, rapporteur.(FR) Mr President, we all remember that H1N1 influenza was big news in 2009. The first cases were reported almost two years ago – on 25 March 2009 – and the WHO declared a phase 6 alert level on 11 June 2009.

This maximum alert level issued by the WHO triggered a series of measures in Europe, including the activation of immunisation campaigns in several Member States which not only were very costly but were also overestimated in relation to the known severity of the virus, which, as the WHO stated at that time in May 2009, was moderate.

As regards severity, up to the end of April 2010, this flu had caused around 2 900 deaths in Europe, in other words, a much lower mortality rate than that related to seasonal flu, which causes an estimated 40 000 - 220 000 deaths per year depending on the year.

Meanwhile, the estimated costs were close to EUR 1.3 billion in the United Kingdom and over EUR 700 million in France according to the latest Court of Auditors report.

The evaluation of the management of H1N1 influenza shows that there was a disproportionate response in the European Union and the Member States. I and my colleagues, whom I would like to thank for their amendments, have therefore tried to produce a constructive report which aims to restore the confidence of European citizens in their health institutions.

The report is structured around three major themes: cooperation, transparency and independence.

In terms of cooperation, we are keen to stress the need for coherence, effectiveness, autonomy and flexibility. Future flu prevention plans, for example, must be revised in such a way as to guarantee greater coherence and effectiveness and must be made self-contained and flexible enough that they can be adapted in real time according to the latest available data. This kind of flexibility would have saved our public purses a good deal of unnecessary expense. At the same time, it is important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the key players responsible for managing health risks. The definition of a pandemic itself must be revised so that it includes the concept of severity and does not just take account of geographical spread. Indeed, the WHO has informed us that it has this in hand. Group purchasing of vaccines is a possibility, provided that the manufacturers remain liable for the quality, safety and efficacy of their products. Under no circumstances must governments be made liable for side effects of vaccines that are supposed to be safe.

As regards independence, the fast-track authorisation procedure has highlighted the problem of the lack of available scientific data. Research into vaccines and antiviral treatments must be conducted with complete independence from the pharmaceutical companies.

In terms of transparency, total transparency is needed concerning the evaluation of drugs used for health emergencies, with full access to the clinical trials available. All declarations of interest on the part of the experts responsible for the evaluations must be made public. I have one regret: I would have preferred them to be checked by the agencies who recruit these experts, but this amendment was not adopted.

Finally, I would like to highlight the cases of narcolepsy that have been reported in children in Finland and Sweden following vaccination with GSK’s H1N1 influenza vaccine. These cases need our attention.

In the first instance, they clearly demonstrate that there are still grey areas, both in relation to the actual toxicity of the vaccines and adjuvants and in relation to possible risks as yet unknown to the manufacturers themselves. Finland has suspended the use of this vaccine until more information is available. This is not the position of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has decided instead to wait until more information is available before issuing any opinion on restricting the use of this vaccine. I would like to see the Commission adopt the same position as Finland. It is time that the precautionary principle benefited patients for once instead of always benefiting the companies.

 
  
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  Anne Delvaux (PPE).(FR) Mr President, are we prepared for coping with a pandemic in Europe? The answer is ‘yes, but’. During the H1N1 flu episode in 2009-2010, we saw each Member State act alone, with very little cohesion or even solidarity.

As shadow rapporteur on this dossier, I think it was necessary to make these observations but, above all, to go further, to be constructive and to take practical steps on behalf of our citizens, who, it has to be said, and I think this is one of the most harmful consequences, have no doubt lost a certain degree of trust in public health messages.

Mrs Rivasi’s report, which we will vote on tomorrow, takes these fundamental priorities into consideration. They include systematically strengthening cooperation between Member States, more effective coordination with European health institutions, clarifying the roles of the European risk management structures and evaluating the immunisation and communication strategies implemented in the Member States.

It is a good report therefore, and I congratulate the rapporteur. However, we must, of course, ensure that it does not fall on deaf ears. This is the responsibility of our Member States, which have most of the jurisdiction in this area, and they therefore have a serious responsibility towards our fellow citizens.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D). (HU) Mr President, during the 2009 influenza pandemic, EU Member States were the most prepared. At the same time, I completely agree with the speaker before me: there was a complete lack of coordination amongst Member States. This may have provoked the internal affairs crisis in my country, even though the former socialist government in power at that time took successful steps to tackle the epidemic. There is, however, no left-wing or right-wing H1N1 virus; it must be fought with a joint effort. I fully agree with the report where it states that Member States must coordinate the acquisition of vaccines, exchange information and create better transparency. We must exchange information not only on the geographical extent of the epidemic, but also on its severity and mortality. If we succeed in doing so, in the future, we can take considerable steps in this area to ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR). – Mr President, over a year ago, a group of MEPs, the rapporteur and myself got together in Brussels for an informal meeting with a common aim – to do something about H1N1.

As the meetings continued, I found that our objectives were the same, but that we had a different approach. The own-initiative report was an opportunity for Parliament to take positive action in preparation for an epidemic. I fear it has been an opportunity lost.

There are many points in this report that are of questionable value. It proposes a role for the ECDC which is not feasible, and it could lead to a false sense of security. What was needed was a ‘lessons learned’ approach and a basis to build on that. What we got was partly a name and shame report, which I fear will alienate many of the stakeholders. What we got was a report that was more political than practical.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, among the lessons to be taken from the problems with managing H1N1 influenza is that we must acknowledge the need on the part of countries for public health systems, along with expansion services in the field of public health, that are able to intervene in a wide range of areas. Examples of these areas include the evaluation of information on recommended medication in the case of a health emergency, especially in pandemic situations, and the preparation and evaluation of scientific studies – independent of the pharmaceutical industry – of recommended target groups on the effectiveness, safety, and risk-benefit relationship of vaccines and antiviral medications. It is also important to reinforce the capacity for managing and anticipating risks, and the capacity for research and development into these areas, as well as into preventative public health measures. Finally, it is also important to improve cooperation between the various national services, and between such services and relevant institutions and organisations, at international and regional level.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Mr President, in April 2009, the first case of swine influenza in humans was reported in Mexico. Two months later, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an influenza pandemic.

The catastrophic scenario presented by health authorities, including the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), led to a situation where countries began to vie with one another to get the most vaccines possible as quickly as possible, in order to protect their citizens.

In accordance with WHO and ECDC recommendations, Slovakia also purchased more than 1 million vaccines, which were delivered at the start of 2010. However, when the chief medical officer of the Slovak Republic called on the public to get vaccinated, it became a joke and no one believed him. They did not believe him, nor did they believe our renowned health organisation, the ECDC. By that time, everyone knew that the H1N1 virus did not represent such a risk as it seemed to at first. However, the WHO and the ECDC have maintained a stubborn silence.

No reassessment of the situation, no additional recommendations, simply nothing …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). (SK) Mr President, I would like to thank Mrs Rivasi for an exhaustive report. She has uncovered the weak points of healthcare systems, not only at the European level, but also at the global level.

The report also provides a long list of measures that must be adopted in order to avoid repeating the situation in 2009-2010. It is a scandal what happened with the declaration of the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

The EU Member States, including Slovakia, wasted hundreds of millions of euro to prove that they were protecting their citizens from a non-existent threat. It would be interesting to find out who benefited from this, not to mention who will take responsibility for the ensuing situation.

All that was missing for me in the report was a proposal on how to introduce personal responsibility into the healthcare system. After all, buck-passing may not be fatal, but it does spread even more rapidly than influenza.

 
  
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  Åsa Westlund (S&D).(SV) Mr President, I think we would all agree that having different recommendations in different Member States was very confusing. For example, in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, we had a visit from the Swedish minister – who was President-in-Office of the European Council at the time – to deal with this issue the same day that we had the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control there, and these two people said completely different things. One of them recommended that children be vaccinated and the other said that it would be dangerous for children to be vaccinated.

It was extremely confusing and very contradictory for parents who were seeking reliable information. However, there were also very major differences in how the issue was handled from a practical point of view in the Member States. In my country, there was a high demand for vaccines, which resulted in extremely chaotic scenes outside health centres. Health centres that were open lacked the vaccine and health centres that were closed had huge stocks of vaccine. We need to look more closely at the implementation itself.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). (CS) Mr President, today, in hindsight, we can see that the expenditure of thousands of billions of euro on the battle against the H1N1 virus was excessive given the actual severity of the influenza outbreak. As a doctor, I think it is particularly telling that in Poland, where the government did not bow to pressure to carry out a nationwide vaccination programme, the mortality rate was no higher than in countries with high vaccination coverage. I thank Mrs Rivasi for this useful report and I would hope that Member States and all international organisations have learned from it; in particular, that drugs should be purchased jointly. More importantly, I hope they improve the evaluation methods of epidemiological statistics and that they restore the people’s faith in recommendations made to citizens in the European Union.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (S&D).(PT) Mr President, doubts about the H1N1 influenza vaccine have already been mentioned here. It is natural that the public should ask questions and be a little suspicious since, in 2009, there was a publicity campaign in all the Member States, large-scale investment was made in vaccines, and the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic, and then the situation seems suddenly to have changed completely. In other words, in 2010, there was practically no talk of H1N1 influenza. It is therefore natural that people should ask questions about whether we were being alarmist then or are not taking it seriously enough now. The question is …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Karin Kadenbach (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, we can consider ourselves fortunate today that the epidemic did not take the course we had feared, which was that it would cause many deaths. Every single death is tragic enough.

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the debate. This debate has reflected the situation in the EU very clearly: national experiences have varied greatly. We have different health systems. The structure and provision of healthcare is a national matter, but in the case of an epidemic or a pandemic, we need to work together at European level. We have seen that we still have a lot of lessons to learn and a lot of catching up to do in many areas here.

As has already been mentioned today more than once, we need, in any event, to regain the confidence of the population. The handling of the H1N1 situation has shown that there are shortcomings here. We need better coordination in future.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mrs Rivasi, for this report, which really makes a valuable contribution to our efforts to learn from the 2009 pandemic. I agree with you that we have to learn from this pandemic and also that we need to critically review our response. To ensure the protection of European citizens against such health threats, we need to improve our preparedness and planning to manage similar cross-border threats to health.

The EU already had in place independent capacity and expertise on pandemic influenza. In the field of research alone, the European Commission has funded over 50 projects on influenza since 2000, an investment of EUR 150 million. Our agencies, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency, provided scientific advice during the pandemic to support the Union and its Member States.

In addition, Commission services actively supported the Member States in managing the threat through the EU Health Security Committee. However, I have to admit that, along with Parliament’s report, various evaluations of our response have identified a series of shortfalls and challenges which need to be addressed.

These include the procurement of pandemic vaccines, the need to better coordinate vaccination strategies, the need for greater flexibility in our preparedness plans and the need for better communication with the public. The Commission, with the support of the scientific agencies and with the Member States, because this is a shared competence with the Member States, is committed to moving forward on these issues.

These challenges will be addressed by us under two initiatives. First, the Commission will present a health security initiative before the end of this year reinforcing our coordination capacities, and second, the Commission will also initiate a joint procurement mechanism for pandemic vaccines and antivirals for those Member States who wish to join. This would strengthen solidarity within the EU by guaranteeing a minimum level of equitable access to vaccines. This would also reinforce our purchasing power to obtain better contractual terms.

The Commission welcomes the support expressed by the rapporteur for such initiatives. The Commission also plans to fund additional research addressing behaviour aspects and communication strategies, notably, to improve vaccine update.

Finally, concerning the transparency and independence issues raised, we consider these to be very important and I really think we have to do something here. The Commission and the relevant agencies will work together to improve our procedures on declarations of interests and potential conflicts of interest.

We believe we need to continue to pull together towards our common aim of ensuring that we are better prepared to protect our citizens against future health threats.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  János Áder (PPE), in writing. (HU) The most important lesson of the well-known H1N1 scandal is that people’s faith has been shaken. The World Health Organisation cried wolf and, with its hysteria-fuelling forecasts, forced Member States to take steps that were disproportionate to the known and experienced severity of the H1N1 epidemic. In the end, considerably fewer people got sick and died from the H1N1 strain of flu worldwide than from ordinary seasonal flu, while individual countries spent unbelievable sums of public money to acquire vaccines that were up to two to three times more expensive than the average vaccine. Poland’s case deserves mention here: the government did not vaccinate the population against H1N1, yet the mortality rate was not higher than in countries whose population was vaccinated. This happened in a context where the vaccine manufacturer, despite its hefty profits, had the audacity to refuse to take responsibility for the vaccine’s side effects. It is an utterly disgraceful act to prey on people’s fears and their sense of responsibility towards their families and loved ones, solely on the basis of abject greed for profits. The fact that, with its unfounded warnings of a pandemic, the WHO even assisted in this entire matter requires that the EU take the most resolute action. Lessons must be learned, and the EU must be given a higher degree of independence when evaluating cases that raise the possibility of an epidemic similar to H1N1. After all, the wolf may actually appear one day.

 
  
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  Sergio Berlato (PPE), in writing. (IT) Member States and the European institutions have implemented a series of costly measures that were, in many cases, out of all proportion to the true severity of H1N1 influenza. In Europe, according to estimates by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, H1N1 influenza caused about 2 900 deaths in 2009. These figures are significantly lower than official estimates of deaths caused by seasonal flu alone and stand as testimony to the moderate severity of this influenza virus.

I therefore urge that the greatest attention should be paid to this issue so that the World Health Organisation (WHO) can conduct a review to issue a new definition of the criteria used for issuing a global pandemic alert, which takes into account not only the geographical spread of the disease, but also of its virulence. In addition, an analysis of the H1N1 crisis management by the EU clearly reveals to me an emerging need for strengthening cooperation among health authorities of Member States and the European institutions.

Finally, since I believe that to ensure the success or failure of a trial, it is essential to conduct studies on vaccines and antiviral drugs that are independent of pharmaceutical companies, I fully agree with the rapporteur’s request to make public the names of all the experts who are consulted by the European public health authorities.

 
  
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  Jolanta Emilia Hibner (PPE), in writing. (PL) When it comes to the assessment of epidemiological risks, one should use the knowledge of independent experts who are not affiliated with pharmaceutical companies. The independence of the European Union in assessing the severity of AH1N1 influenza and the resulting risk is crucial. We must not rely solely on studies of experts funded by pharmaceutical companies.

Another puzzling aspect is the fast-track procedure used to introduce vaccines against H1N1, which had not been sufficiently tested and examined, to the market. In 2009, the pharmaceutical companies assessed the risk associated with the virus as very high, while it turned out to be less dangerous than ordinary flu. Back in May 2009, the WHO reported that the virus was not that dangerous. However, due to conflicting information, many countries gave in to the pressure and bought millions of expensive vaccines, which have not been used, and have by now become unusable. There is a need for a greater transparency of EU institutions in the field of disease management and a review of existing procedures. Greater and closer cooperation between countries is also essential to strengthen our negotiating position with regard to vaccine purchases.

I would like to mention that my home country, Poland, has set an example from the very beginning of how not to succumb to panic and how to demand a guarantee of the vaccines’ safety.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE), in writing. (PL) The work on the report on the A/H1N1 virus pandemic in 2009–2010 lasted nearly one year. The discussion initiated in the European Parliament ended with an own-initiative report by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on swine flu, which contained points emphasising the ethical and procedural irregularities which occurred while fighting the disease.

We were concerned about the ways the pharmaceutical companies publicised the issue of swine flu, presenting the virus as very dangerous and virulent. The virus proved to be much less dangerous than ordinary flu. The number of deaths stood at 2 900, while the estimated number of cases attributable to seasonal influenza amounts to 40 000 per year.

The report on the evaluation of the management of H1N1 influenza in the European Union calls for the independence of the EU when it comes to developing its own assessment of the seriousness of threats and the risks arising from them, rather than relying on the research of experts funded by pharmaceutical companies. At the same time, the suspect fast-track procedure used to introduce vaccines against H1N1 to the market, without sufficient tests and examinations, also raises criticism.

I would like to emphasise the need for increased transparency concerning the activities of EU institutions in the field of disease management, a review of existing procedures and their amendment towards greater flexibility, and the avoidance of conflicts of interest among evaluators and decision makers. I consider the call for the cooperation of countries to strengthen their negotiating position when buying drugs a priority. However, I would like to maintain the voluntary principle when it comes to the purchase of vaccines.

 
  
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  Artur Zasada (PPE), in writing.(PL) I congratulate Mrs Rivasi on the well-prepared report. I agree that a system should be developed to allow for accurately determining the magnitude of the risk and the strength of the virus in order to avoid future expenditure which would be disproportionate to the threat. I am very pleased that the Polish Government has not succumbed to panic on this issue, or rather, to the effective lobbying of the pharmaceutical companies.

I consider it particularly important for experts and researchers who provide opinions on the need to purchase drugs or vaccines to be completely independent of pharmaceutical companies. I support the rapporteur’s proposal for specialists working in the pharmaceutical industry to only be consulted and to be excluded from the decision-making process. I must note with regret that tens of millions of doses of vaccines have still not been used in some Member States to this very day. This resulted in huge financial losses, while the lost funds could have been successfully used in a more thoughtful and effective way in protecting the health of Europe’s citizens.

 

24. Reducing health inequalities (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mrs Estrela, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on reducing health inequalities in the EU (2010/2089(INI)) (A7-0032/2011).

 
  
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  Edite Estrela, rapporteur.(PT) Mr President, I should like to begin by thanking the shadow rapporteurs for their cooperation and the work that we did together, as well as thanking the rapporteurs for the opinions of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, and of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. All the contributions were very useful.

Health inequalities vary from country to country and from region to region. They are linked to economic and social conditions and can be exacerbated because of gender or culture. In other words, health inequalities are not just related to access to healthcare, but also to factors as different as living conditions, housing, education, profession, income and lifestyle. Although there has been some progress, major inequalities within the 27 Member States still persist. For example, according to Eurostat, life expectancy at birth for men varied by 14.2 years between EU Member States in 2007, while among women it was 8.3 years. Health and life expectancy are still linked to social conditions and poverty, and when poverty is combined with other forms of vulnerability, such as childhood or old age, disability or minority background, the risks of health inequalities increase further.

Health inequalities can start during childhood, continue until old age and be passed from generation to generation, hence, the importance of this matter and the urgent need to find a solution. The current situation of global crisis tends to make the situation worse. As is obvious, the crisis is having a severe impact on the health sector in a number of Member States, in terms of both supply and demand. On the supply side, the crisis may lead to a reduction in the level of funding for public health, at the same time as it may lead to increased demand for health services.

The crisis has revealed that the earnings of some have no limits and that this lack of fairness has contributed to increasing the gap between the rich minority and the poor majority. The crisis can therefore also be an opportunity to combat inequalities through bold measures promoting equality. If we do not learn the lesson and if we limit ourselves to changing a few things so that everything stays the same, we will be increasing inequality. As we have been seeing, unequal societies are unstable societies.

Several Member States have included measures to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on the healthcare sector within their recovery packages by investing in health infrastructure, optimising funding to the healthcare sector, and restructuring and reorganising the healthcare system. It is essential that reducing inequalities be considered a priority at all levels of political action. I therefore welcome the Commission’s proposals.

However, I should like to draw attention to some of my report’s proposals, specifically those aiming to step up the attention given to the needs of people in situations of poverty, disadvantaged migrant groups, including irregular migrants and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, older people and poor children. I advocate measures to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on the health sector by investing in infrastructure. I consider it essential to guarantee children and pregnant women good health conditions. I also think it is desirable for the Cohesion Fund and Structural Funds to support projects related to factors that contribute to the existence of health inequalities. In other words: we have to build a better, fairer future for later generations.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). (CS) Mr President, in recent years, we have been actively involved in supporting innovative medicine. Therefore, I welcome this report, which focuses on vulnerable groups and their access to treatment and preventative care; I consider this to be vitally important. Of course, many points in the report infringe the principle of subsidiarity of Member States. I strongly reject the wording of point 25, for example, as abortion should not be used as a method of birth control. Points 26, 29 and 53 are also contentious. I also want to point out that differences in the average life expectancy in the 27 Member States are only partly caused by differing standards of healthcare and access to it. There are also differences in people’s overall standard of living or lifestyle and the level of development of the country they live in, and this has a greater impact in this respect. These differences should be rectified with the help of development programmes financed by the EU.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the current economic and financial crisis has hit healthcare services hard, with many Member States cutting the budgets allocated to public health. Some have even decided to close hospitals in smaller towns or to carry out a small number of surgical operations. In particular, patients living in rural areas or isolated locations are forced to travel tens of kilometres to receive specialist healthcare services. Therefore, there are health inequalities not only between Member States, but also between regions in these states.

Reducing the budgets for national healthcare programmes jeopardises access to the newest and most effective treatments. In addition, reducing subsidies for some treatments means that patients are unable to continue with the treatment, entailing a much heavier price and consequences for their health. Inequalities in the European healthcare system also cause medical staff to emigrate to other Member States to practise their profession. This is why the Commission …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the current situation, with austerity policies that are, above all, anti-social policies, and cuts in public healthcare investment in particular, is clearly increasing problems in the area of health when, in the name of reducing the budgetary deficit, the cost of accessing public health services is increasing, the cost of medicines is increasing, even for chronic diseases, and support for the transportation of patients in areas where there is no public transport to treatment and consultations is being removed through the reduction of subsidies. Inequalities in health are increasing and this is happening in some countries of the European Union, specifically in my country, Portugal. The people who are worse off are finding it increasingly difficult to access healthcare, which is why, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, words are not enough: what we need …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Mr President, healthcare should be the primary concern of every Member State, but, of course, this Chamber purports to make laws for the whole of the European Union. But it does not seem to be able to lead by example.

Some of you may – and many of you will not – have seen the London Sunday Times yesterday, which talked about MEPs’ health benefits. My colleague, Mrs Figueiredo, has just talked about budget cuts and how they have caused further inequalities in healthcare. Yet the European Union – and MEPs – gave themselves a 36% increase in healthcare last year, paying for things such as anti-ageing treatments, thermal spas, etc. But in this week when we are talking about women’s inequality, one statistic stands out. In the UK, for example, IVF treatment can be given only once to women – one cycle – but women MEPs and their relatives can have five cycles. Come on, if you are going to have equality …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). (SK) Mr President, all individuals are unique, with their own abilities, priorities and ways of living. From this natural inequality is born the motivation to do better – a motivation which is the driving force of the economy.

The attempt to eliminate inequality in the area of healthcare, however, has more to do with humanity than the economy. This is because people are equal in sickness and suffering. We should not make business out of suffering.

That is why doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, and not, for example, entrepreneurs. The idea of levelling out inequalities in the area of health is based on the value of human life. However, an absolute right to abortion, which the submitted report also defends, undermines this value.

The mandatory funding of abortions from the public purse deprives healthcare of its moral imperative and debases it to the level of a luxury that cannot be withheld.

 
  
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  Mario Pirillo (S&D). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, even today in the European Union, health inequalities still persist over access to services, treatment and social factors, and this necessitates an integrated response.

The reasons for these differences are, in many cases, avoidable and unjust, because they are due to discriminatory factors such as the reduced economic capacity of individuals. I believe that reducing health inequalities should become a fundamental priority for Europe, with an approach based on ‘health in all policies’, enhancing the quality of care for all.

In the coming months, the European Parliament will discuss the revision of the directive on recognition of professional qualifications. It is an appropriate opportunity to achieve an improved mechanism capable of dealing effectively with emergencies without any discrimination.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, there are a number of aspects here.

One I would like to home in on is that the best way to eliminate inequalities in health is actually to make people more healthy. I am pleased that, prior to Christmas, a number of colleagues and myself were successful in steering through Parliament a written declaration aimed at making 100 million people in the European Union more active by 2020, through sport, etc. I look forward to the European Commission’s proposals on that.

Secondly, I am pleased to say that a new government has been formed in my country – an EPP government with Socialists – with one of its primary aims being universal health insurance. The idea is that money should follow the patient, and that the patient should have access to healthcare, regardless of status or wealth or anything else, based on need. I believe that this will be very successful. It is based on the Dutch model and we are very pleased with it.

 
  
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  Karin Kadenbach (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, the topic today is ‘Reducing health inequalities’. It is a highly ambitious task. In the current situation, I tend to fear that at European level, we are contributing in every area to increasing these differences, these inequalities, yet further in the coming years and decades. It is not just about actual regression in healthcare provision; it is also about declining social standards, reduced access to education and making education more difficult. After all, we know that where we find a lower level of education and greater social difficulties, there is greater poverty. We also know that poverty makes people sick.

I call on the Commission to make it clear – even when it is necessary to consolidate the European budget and the national budgets – that our failure to invest in health, in social services and in education today will cost us in the future in terms of the health system.

 
  
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  Elena Oana Antonescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, health inequalities pose a challenge to the European Union’s commitment to solidarity, social and economic cohesion, human rights and equal opportunities. This is why the health factor must feature in all EU policies. Member States must be encouraged to include health as a principle in every policy and in devising new action plans in any area, so as to help reduce the inequalities and create a high level of health protection.

I support the need to produce a set of specific indicators which will monitor health inequalities, as well as comparable indicators which could enable national authorities to assess the progress made in this area, with a view to improving healthcare systems. As yet another aspect of the efforts to resolve the problem of health inequalities, consideration must also be given to creating a strategic labour planning mechanism to ensure that we can recruit and retain healthcare professionals.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the World Health Organisation estimates that smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and poor diet will cause 70% of all illnesses and premature deaths by 2020. The fact that there is a systematic correlation between state of health and social class shows that these differences arise from the inadequate conditions for accessing basic social services. This indicates that health inequalities are not the result of an individual choice but are avoidable and unfair.

For the first time in the 2007-2013 budgetary planning, health was proposed as one of the first 10 Structural Fund priorities. However, the European Commission must include in the procedures for monitoring the Europe 2020 strategy differentiated comparative indicators, based on socio-economic status, and take into account age-based discrimination.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, the Commission is grateful to Parliament for its support for our action to bridge health inequalities and for its recommendations on this important issue. I would like also to thank, in particular, the rapporteur, Ms Estrela, for her commitment to this cause.

Disparities in health between countries, between regions, between rich and poor, between different ethnic minorities, affect each and every EU Member State and, in many places, they are getting wider. I would like to be sincere on this issue. We are now beginning to see the full effects of the economic crisis on people’s health and on the health services. We are now beginning to see the effects of unemployment and of deficits, so there is a risk that such inequalities will grow worse. Reducing health inequalities is important both for our citizens’ wellbeing and for Europe’s economic recovery. It is a major challenge which, as Parliament’s report points out, requires action across policy areas and levels of government.

Your report gives important pointers for the future. You underline the need to improve access to promotion, preventive care and effective healthcare services. You further emphasise the need to pay particular attention to vulnerable groups and to use new technologies, such as telemedicine, in a way that reduces disparities in healthcare. The Commission fully shares your concern.

You also highlight gender inequality as an important element contributing to social health inequalities. I personally agree fully with you on this.

The Commission is vigorously taking forward its programme of action to help reduce health inequalities, as set out in the Communication on solidarity in health, by working across policies and in partnership with Member States and stakeholders.

To make such partnerships operational, Member States are now beginning a joint action on health inequalities, funded through the EU health programme. This action includes work on health inequality impact assessment, regional and scientific networks and stakeholder initiatives.

Action across policies starts with our work on public health, for example, on tobacco control and nutrition and through action on active and healthy ageing. But our strategy also includes commitments in areas such as employment and social policy, agriculture, research and regional policy.

Clearly, more action is needed. Equally clearly, this will not happen overnight. It will take years to fully succeed, but together we can – and indeed we must – make a lasting and tangible difference so that all Europeans have a chance of living in good health.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (PPE), in writing. (PL) Common objectives relating to the reduction of inequalities in health status and access to healthcare are among the priorities of the EU. We know that there are visible differences in health between countries and between people with different levels of education or income or different professions. The inequalities also relate to gender and, characteristically, appear early in life and often continue throughout the following years and even generations.

I would like to point out that the report by Mrs Estrela deals with many aspects of health issues. However, it is worth noting that currently, there is also a problem related to the migration of medical staff, which leads to inequalities in access to their services. We therefore need a common, comprehensive European strategy, which would draw attention to resource management, the registration of professionals, education and training, and which, in turn, should contribute to increasing quality and safety, not only in national but also in cross-border healthcare.

In addition, I always emphasise that we should talk more about prevention, and invest in it above all else. It is necessary to develop diagnostics, promote healthy lifestyles, exchange information effectively and invest in modern technologies, since it is better to prevent in advance.

 
  
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  Tiziano Motti (PPE), in writing. (IT) Health inequalities within the European Union are a matter of fact and must be overcome. Differences also exist within each Member State between the elderly, immigrants, the unemployed and the poor. They must all be guaranteed the right to health and the necessary care. Citizens should be guaranteed access to all the necessary information about health, including by means of new information and communications technologies, and the repayment of expenses incurred: economic hardship cannot, and must not, result in a limit to the possibilities of care. In this specific area, the simplistic approach to the issue of abortion, seen as a contraceptive or treatment measure, but always necessary, is a matter of concern. A woman who finds it necessary to terminate a pregnancy is often alone and lacking adequate resources, afraid of facing a choice that brings her face to face with one of the primary themes of her existence. For this reason, rather than relegating abortion to the role of a guaranteed contraceptive measure, I would prefer adequate facilities to be made available to ensure all women a welcome, support and specific social and welfare policies that help them to overcome, wherever possible, the causes that lead them to choose an abortion.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (S&D), in writing. (RO) There are major differences between healthcare systems both inside and between Member States. I want to stress that during an economic crisis, no government should have the right to make drastic cuts to the budget allocated to healthcare. I would like to draw your attention to the situation of the healthcare system in Romania. Thanks to the budget cuts made by the current government, a significant number of Romanian specialist doctors are emigrating, chronic patients no longer have access to healthcare services and reimbursed medication, and the equipment in hospitals is obsolete. Furthermore, the right-wing government is proposing the merger of hospitals, even though some wards do not have sufficient beds for all the patients and always need to be supplemented. This is why I want to appeal to the European Commission to make greater efforts to align healthcare service standards and to exert pressure on Member States to allocate appropriate budgets to guarantee citizens accessible, high quality healthcare services.

 
  
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  Bernadette Vergnaud (S&D), in writing. (FR) Having been rapporteur for the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament on the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, I am delighted with the text that the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has adopted, which contains many of the proposals we and other associated committees made.

In this respect, I think Edite Estrela’s report is excellent, as it places the emphasis on some of the crucial aspects of our European social and healthcare model: equality of access to high quality healthcare for everyone in Europe, better management of reproductive health, monitoring of the efficacy and quality of drugs through independent pharmacovigilance systems and, above all, the necessity of high levels of public funding for healthcare during this period of economic crisis.

Health is not a general good like other goods, and our welfare systems have the duty to ensure that the most disadvantaged have access to healthcare. I am naturally astounded therefore at the votes to remove some of the abovementioned points requested by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group. This step smacks of reactionary neoliberalism, and I hope that the final vote will preserve the spirit of this report and be a credit to this Parliament.

 

25. Cooperating with developing countries on promoting good governance in tax matters (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mrs Joly, on behalf of the Committee on Development, on Tax and development – Cooperating with developing countries on promoting good governance in tax matters (2010/2101(INI)) (A7-0027/2011).

 
  
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  Eva Joly, rapporteur.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it is with some satisfaction that I present this report on tax and development to you tonight.

It represents an important stage in a battle that began a long time ago, which I am now pursuing in the European Parliament. I would like to thank my colleagues in the Committee on Development, with whom the work has been extremely productive. I hope that it will find confirmation during tomorrow’s votes.

Developing countries have been very badly hit by the financial and economic crisis and the rising prices of agricultural materials and now need substantial new sources of funding more than ever. Amid this context of global crisis, tax revenue, which is the oldest source of development funding, is a major issue and a genuine challenge.

Effective taxation systems not only provide funding for vital public services. By promoting the transparent, responsible use of government revenue, they are also one of the foundations of a responsible democracy. Contributing towards raising equitable, progressive and transparent taxes should in no way lead to removing or reducing official development assistance (ODA). It should not provide a further excuse for Member States that are increasingly inclined to reduce their share of GDP which is devoted to ODA.

Whilst ODA may be imperfect and have much room for improvement, it is no less vital for countries that have been severely affected by both economic and climate-related crises. It is not a question of replacing aid, therefore, but of redirecting it towards developing effective taxation systems, to which the multinationals must contribute on the basis of their actual profits. In this way, poor countries will be able to take ownership of their development once again, reduce poverty and compensate for the loss of customs revenue caused by the liberalisation of the markets, so that in the long term, they will be able to manage without foreign aid.

However, the countries of the South are not only victims of their own ineffective taxation systems. They are also victims of the tax dumping imposed by the Bretton Woods bodies, of the cost of illicit capital flight, and of tax havens. Every year, they sustain colossal losses of tax revenue estimated at over ten times the amount of aid they receive from rich countries.

This report emphasises this fact. As for the OECD guidelines, far from being adequate, they actually pose a threat. By allowing non-cooperative jurisdictions to be taken off the grey lists simply by signing cooperation agreements without imposing any automatic exchange of information, they are creating the illusion that tax havens are legitimate and conferring credibility on a system that is harmful to public finances in North and South alike.

Putting an end to tax havens is a vital step towards these countries’ development, and the European Union must make it an absolute priority. The EU must shoulder its responsibilities as the United States has done and produce clear, binding legislation coupled with genuine sanction mechanisms in order to put an end to tax havens, which are like weapons of mass destruction for the development of poor countries. The EU must prevent profit and transfer price manipulation by companies, especially European companies, which both benefit from and abuse detrimental taxation systems. It must impose the introduction of a transparent, binding international mechanism that will place a duty on all multinational companies, especially those in the extractive industries, to automatically declare the profits they make and the taxes they pay in each of the countries in which they operate.

This is a vital first step towards stopping those who are getting rich on the back of the Southern countries’ misery. It is also a vital step towards restoring the European Union’s credibility.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, against the background of the current economic crisis, promoting good governance on tax matters is a necessity at both EU level and outside it. I should point out that every state is responsible for deciding its own fiscal policy. In this context, the practice of putting up obstacles must be avoided and cooperation between countries encouraged.

Combating tax havens is a key priority. They help detract from the quality of the political system in developing countries. They also encourage economic crime, making it more profitable. This in turn helps increase the inequitable distribution of tax revenues. Another measure involves increasing the exchange of information between all Member States. At the same time, there needs to be a greater level of participation from developing countries in the relevant international forums.

 
  
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  Franziska Keller (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, tax and taxing is an extremely important topic when we talk about development policies. It is a crucial topic for policy coherence for development because, without a proper tax system, without proper policies on tax havens, we will never be coherent in our development policies and, at the moment, we are not. Therefore, I very much welcome this report and I hope that tomorrow, you, the Members of this House, will not water it down.

We need to complement the Commission communication, which has serious shortcomings, for example, by not addressing problems within the OECD and by not addressing the impact of tax competition on tax revenues. If we want to comply with the Lisbon Treaty, if we want our development policies to be coherent, we need to take action now and I ask you to support this report in full.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, while cooperation in the field of tax is important and necessary, we should not ignore the fact that tax policy is a crucial instrument of economic and social policy, on whose definition obvious political criteria and evaluations have an impact. Therefore, it does not fall to the European Union to export so-called ‘good governance in tax matters’, as the rapporteur quite rightly mentions. Developing countries’ sovereignty, choices and options must be entirely respected, whilst paying attention to their specific situation and conditions.

I have two observations about two hot topics. Firstly, the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements, which we have been imposing on developing countries despite their resistance, and which severely constrain these countries’ tax systems, along with causing other severe damage. Secondly, tax havens, which continue to exist and lead to losses of revenue equivalent to USD 800 billion every year according to the report. These two examples are paradigms of the inconsistency of the European Union’s policies regarding its stated development cooperation objectives.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, on behalf of the Commission, I would like to thank the European Parliament, and especially the Committee on Development, for this report.

I am pleased to see that Mrs Eva Joly’s report highlights, and gives added strength to, the message of the Commission’s communication on tax and development. It also sets very ambitious targets and provides powerful guidance for the European Union to strengthen revenue mobilisation in developing countries. Domestic resource mobilisation is central for sustainable growth, poverty reduction, good governance and the provision of public goods needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We need to improve synergies between tax and development policies and assist developing countries in building better tax systems and administrations.

We face a serious problem. I was personally impressed by your figures stating that the amount of illicit outflows is about ten times the amount of aid money going into developing countries. This is really striking.

So we must work simultaneously at two complementary levels. First, we need to support effective domestic tax systems and, secondly, we need to work towards a transparent, cooperative and fair international tax environment to help developing countries fight against tax evasion and harmful tax competition.

Your report calls on the Commission firstly to take better account of the impact of trade liberalisation and, secondly, not to be limited to the OECD principles in the fight against tax evasion and harmful tax competition. I would like to refer to these challenges.

Concerning the first matter, I can assure you that we are fully committed to supporting successful fiscal transition through increased support for capacity building, demand-driven regional and international capacity development initiatives, and better donor coordination at EU and international levels.

Concerning the second matter, the Commission considers tax evasion and harmful tax competition as major obstacles to domestic resource mobilisation. Therefore, we are helping developing countries to develop capacities to address these challenges and also promoting better international cooperation in tax matters.

A lot of work has already been undertaken since the adoption of our Communication. Concrete action has been made possible by the Parliament’s financial support. Your 2010 allocation of EUR 708 000 has allowed us to fund a series of important activities in order to promote tax governance. These activities include technical seminars of the African Tax Administration Forum, support to the extractive industries, transparency initiatives and the financing of a side event at the United Nations on domestic resource mobilisation. We will also provide technical assistance to implement tax information exchange agreements.

Moreover, the Commission is preparing a Communication to assess the feasibility of introducing a country-by-country reporting requirement into EU legislation. We had a public consultation, which ended last January, and now we will continue with an impact assessment on this important issue. This could help developing countries to combat tax evasion more effectively.

I sincerely want to thank Parliament for your support and your commitment on these issues. I am convinced that much progress can be made to strengthen tax governance and I am glad to see that these topics have also been included in the agendas of the G20 and the G8.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March.

 

26. Agriculture and international trade (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mr Papastamkos, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on EU agriculture and international trade (2010/2110(INI)) (A7-0030/2011).

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos, rapporteur.(EL) Mr President, at a time when the Union is considering the future of the CAP, safeguarding coherence between agricultural policy and external trade policy has become even more important. The European agricultural sector wants to contribute more and more to the production of public goods through strict safety and quality, environmental protection and animal welfare standards. It is therefore only logical that imported agricultural products should provide the same guarantees. In the course of negotiations at the WTO, the EU has, for a long time, been – and to a certain extent still is – on the defensive as regards agriculture. However, observations need to be made in relation to certain misconceptions, which fail to take into account how radically the CAP has been revised. The EU has already drastically reduced its trade-distorting aid, unlike key trading partners. It has also unilaterally made a substantial reduction in export refunds, whereas some competing trading partners are continuing to make considerable use of other forms of export incentives. The EU is the largest importer of agricultural goods from developing countries in the world. The EU has already made an extremely generous offer on agriculture, but this has not, to date, been reciprocated by an equal level of ambition from other developed and advanced developing countries. At the same time, the Commission is conducting bilateral and inter-regional negotiations with numerous trading partners. The impact on European agriculture of all the individual concessions, alongside outstanding agricultural negotiations, is giving us particular cause for concern. Within this framework, Commissioner, we call on the Commission to defend the multifunctional role of EU agriculture and the European agri-food model, which is a strategic component of Europe’s economy. We note that concessions at the expense of agriculture must not, under any circumstances, be the monnaie d’échange for improved market access for industrial goods and services. In any event, we emphasise the need for an impact assessment before negotiations commence and offers are exchanged.

We also call on the Commission to promote the EU’s offensive agricultural interests and the competitive advantage of the EU’s high quality agri-food products and, more importantly, to secure enhanced protection for geographical indications by our partners, both within the framework of bilateral trade agreements and within the framework of the ACTA and the WTO.

To conclude, agriculture is not simply an economic activity. It supplies public goods of major importance to society as a whole, the supply of which cannot be secured via the markets. Consequently, the principal challenge consists of effectively accommodating trade and non-trade concerns. As such, the economic geography of the CAP is such that there is an urgent need for coherence between the EU’s agricultural policy and external trade policy, between internal aspects of the common agricultural policy and external aspects or, to put it another way, between what we call in foro interno and in foro externo, by which I mean between the EU’s presence in global trade in its two expressions, the bilateral and the multilateral.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, can I say that it is rather appropriate that as we debate this very important report, and I thank the rapporteur for it, 30 Irish farmers are staging a sit-in protest in the offices of the European Commission in Dublin and they intend to stay overnight.

This is a really serious matter. This report reflects the frustration of members of the Committee on Agriculture, and our farmers and consumers, about the incoherence between Europe’s agriculture and food policy and trade policy. That is why the words in this report are strong. Some people find them too strong, but I think they reflect that sense of frustration.

And, from an Irish beef farming perspective, you will decimate our livestock sector, a low income sector. You will destroy our environment.

Also, may I add a few words about climate change consistency. The carbon footprint of Brazilian beef is four times that of Irish beef, so please read this report. I call urgently for it to be supported.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Mario Pirillo (S&D). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is essential for Europe to ensure a fair balance between the need to support a vital sector, in other words, the agriculture of Member States, and the need to strengthen Europe’s international trade policy.

A business strategy highly focused on pursuing the dynamics of global markets would end up sacrificing the ability of the European agricultural sector to compete. This not only damages the sector economy, with serious implications for employment, but also undermines any possibility of developing our rural areas. It is necessary to defend the quality of agricultural production and impose the maintenance of equal quality standards in terms of food security, human and animal health, and welfare and social rights when drawing up trade agreements with third countries.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the report under discussion cites many examples of the disastrous consequences for the agricultural sector of the liberalisation of world trade. It makes it clear that agriculture has been used as a bargaining chip for other interests in negotiations conducted in the World Trade Organisation, not least, the interests of the European Union’s large industrial and services groups. However, the rapporteur fails to draw the lessons that he should regarding the necessary consequences: amongst other things, that the guiding principle of international trade should be one of complementarity rather than one of competition between producer countries and producers, and that planned agriculture oriented toward the food sovereignty and security of each country is needed. Agriculture and planning should counteract the dangerous anarchy of production for a liberalised market. This was what was needed, not worthy and inconsequential declarations, and it was this that the rapporteur was unable or unwilling to give …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Mr President, like many colleagues here – and I thank the rapporteur for his report – I want to focus on the Mercosur trade talks, because for us in Northern Ireland, they have the potential to destroy, and particularly the livestock industry.

On Friday, I met representatives of the agri-food processing industry in Northern Ireland. Agri-food in Northern Ireland represents 16% of GDP; it represents tens of thousands of jobs; it has been recession-proof, it has grown even in the most difficult economic circumstances, and for the future, it can be the cornerstone of a dynamic economy and an expansion of the private sector. It is this that the liberalisation of trade, and particularly the Mercosur talks, puts in jeopardy, and with it, the tens of thousands of jobs and the livelihood of many of my constituents.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, like my Irish colleagues, I am very concerned that the agricultural sector is being sacrificed on the high altar of big industry. This has to stop.

Certainly, the proposals regarding Mercosur are not acceptable. They have been done far too quickly, without proper consultation with Parliament, and they could decimate the agricultural industry. One can talk about compensation, but there is no way of compensating a society for the loss of its members, and particularly its agricultural industry, because this affects everybody in that society, particularly in rural communities.

We are very concerned about this. The aspect of standards and production abroad vis-à-vis Europe has to be taken into account, but at the end of the day, the European Union’s main duty is to protect its own, which is to say, the agricultural sector here in Europe.

 
  
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  Marc Tarabella (S&D).(FR) Mr President, first of all, I would like to congratulate Mr Papastamkos on the quality of his report, in which he draws attention to the fundamental criteria that EU negotiators must work to and emphasises the fact that more room should be given to non-commercial aspects in negotiations.

Similarly, we can no longer allow our farmers, who, as we have just heard, are bound by very strict environmental and health regulations, especially in the areas of production hygiene, sustainable production and animal welfare, to be sacrificed on the altar of international trade as victims of unfair rivalry and distortion of competition when faced with third countries, which are penetrating the European market with products that do not always meet the EU’s internal production standards.

I also call on the Commission and Parliament to exercise extreme vigilance, especially concerning the agreements with Mercosur, which clearly jeopardise European livestock farming, but also all farming and all EU production of public goods, as the rapporteur mentioned, for which, of course, the market provides no recompense.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE). (PL) Mr President, competitive trade on a global scale brings benefits to all who take part, but to varying extents. The agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable, as the costs of production are exceptionally varied depending on the place of manufacture, and particularly as a result of abiding by quality and manufacturing standards.

In the European Union, we have set the bar very high in this regard, which makes our products less competitive. This is our conscious choice in order to protect our consumers. As a result, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we want to set up identical requirements for goods imported to our market from other countries. Until now, the European Union has made too many concessions, especially in the agricultural goods market, at the cost of our farmers, but this should not …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D). (HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we feel a certain level of frustration, because not only is the European Union the world’s largest food importer, it is also its largest food exporter, meaning that we are also a major beneficiary of this liberalised international trade, this global competition. I fully agree with my fellow Members: the European Commission made a mistake when drawing up the mandate. Even the President of the Commission admitted this to me when he said that, during WTO negotiations, he did not demand the same environmental, phytosanitary and animal health and welfare criteria from our trade partners, meaning that the mandate was drawn up poorly. If we make a mistake, however, we must undo it. The mandate must be changed and we must demand the same from our partners in the future.

 
  
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  Åsa Westlund (S&D).(SV) Mr President, international trade plays a very important role in respect of developments throughout the world and has a very large impact on our agriculture, too. Perhaps one of the most important things ahead of us is what will happen in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. One of the most important contributions that the EU can make in this regard is to open up its markets for oil, for example, in order to really help the people in these countries to see a future for themselves in their own countries. Those people who worry about streams of migrants coming into the EU should also ensure that the EU’s trade policy in respect of these countries is adapted so that people can actually see a future in these countries and do not need to emigrate.

I must also add that, coming from a country that has much higher animal welfare regulations than the EU, it feels rather tragicomic to hear people talking about high European animal welfare standards. From my country’s perspective, the EU has very low animal welfare standards, particularly when it comes to poultry and pigs, and there is a great deal still to be done in this area.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, the Commission welcomes this report and thanks the rapporteur, Mr Papastamkos, and the members of both committees – the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee on International Trade – for their efforts in addressing a complex topic in a comprehensive fashion. A number of recommendations in this report echo the political vision and priorities pursued by the Commission, as extensively outlined in a number of communications.

I have to admit that trade liberalisation raises significant challenges for EU agriculture and for the European Commission, too. However, as Parliament has also recognised, there are a number of negotiations on international trade that present opportunities for our agriculture. We also need to look at the wider benefits, for the European economy as a whole, that are potentially deliverable by the opening up of trade.

Overall, it is important to maintain a coherent message. We need this message at the range of ongoing talks to which we are committed, whether on Doha, with a number of ASEAN and African partners, or with the Mercosur countries.

It would therefore be wrong to simply portray increased trade openness as a mere lose-lose scenario for EU agriculture. As we have significant offensive interests in agriculture, trade agreements provide new opportunities stemming from our partners’ concessions. This is backed by hard facts. Preliminary figures for 2010 show the EU to be a net exporter of agri-food products, with over EUR 90 billion worth of agri-food exports and a trade surplus of more than EUR 6 billion. That trend can be explained by the strategic focusing of the EU agri-food sector on the delivery of high quality – as has been mentioned – and high value products, for which world demand is evidently growing.

Thanks to its unique and diverse know-how, the EU agri-food sector has a strong card to play on the global marketplace. I agree that we have to invest in that card. In that context, consistent market orientation of the reforms of the CAP over the last two decades has helped enhance the competitiveness of the agriculture sector by encouraging farmers to adapt to market solutions. At the same time, however, the diversity of agriculture in the EU’s 27 Member States should be fully appreciated. If the EU is to secure the long-term future of its agricultural areas in a territorially and environmentally balanced fashion, we have to respect that.

We have to understand also that particularly sensitive sectors cannot be expected to sustain an excessive level of additional imports that would put further pressure on average domestic prices and production. The very challenge, when negotiating multilateral or bilateral trade agreements that impact on EU agriculture, is therefore to strike the right balance between our offensive and our defensive interests in agriculture, as well as between agriculture and other areas of our trade negotiations.

The Commission is very conscious of this and will continue to pursue that goal in close cooperation with Parliament. Therefore, I would like Parliament to help us in getting the balance right and in sending the right signal to the rest of the world.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Liam Aylward (ALDE), in writing. (GA) More than 30 farmers are protesting, in the form of a ‘sit-in’, in the European Commission office in Dublin, to demonstrate their belief that the interests of the EU agricultural sector are being sacrificed for the sake of trade. It must be ensured that farmers are not wronged for the sake of trade or used as a bargaining tool in trade negotiations.

To that end, I welcome this forceful and timely report, and the criticism it contains of the surrender by the Commission on agricultural matters in order to gain better access to new markets. It is essential for the competitiveness and sustainability of the EU’s agricultural sector to find new markets for the EU’s high quality goods. However, these arrangements must be to the benefit of the EU agricultural sector, and not to its detriment, as could occur with the Mercosur trade agreement.

Irish agricultural products are of high quality and are consequently very popular, but Irish farmers will not be able to continue as they are if cheaper products of lower quality are permitted to be sold in the EU.

 
  
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  Spyros Danellis (S&D), in writing. (EL) Today, we face yet another attempt to violate the proportionate (risk assessment-based) and scientifically substantiated approach to the sensitive and major public health issue of the regulation of tobacco products. The Brazilian Government is pushing through legislation making provision for a total ban on the manufacture and sale of cigarettes containing different ingredients, known as blended cigarettes. This legislation is being pushed through without providing any evidence of the fact that these cigarettes are more attractive to young people than Virginia-type cigarettes. This sort of move would damage manufacturers and exporters of oriental and Burley strains of tobacco manufactured in the EU, at the same time wiping out the competition for Virginia-type cigarettes and tobacco, of which Brazil is the most important manufacturer and exporter in the world. The European Commission is therefore called upon to raise this issue, as regards Brazils’ intentions, at the next meeting of the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade on 24-25 March 2011.

 
  
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  Alajos Mészáros (PPE), in writing.(HU) Regarding the agriculture of the EU and international trade: because agriculture is not simply an economic activity, and agricultural and food policy must pursue fundamental objectives such as food safety and food provision, the most important challenge is the efficient coordination of commercial and non-commercial considerations. The EU is the largest importer of agricultural goods produced in developing countries, and imports more than the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined. Providing increased market access to these countries could have a detrimental effect, not only on European agricultural producers, but also on developing countries that are the most in need. This is exactly why the EU must apply a more balanced approach amongst various sectors during its trade negotiations, and promote both its defensive as well as offensive agricultural interests. The agricultural sector of the European Union plays a vital role in the Europe 2020 strategy in terms of various social and economic challenges. The EU’s trade policy plays an important and decisive role in allowing agriculture to continue providing a positive contribution to the accomplishment of objectives. I agree that trade policy must not obstruct the dynamics of the EU’s agricultural sector; on the contrary, trade policy and agricultural policy must mutually support one another.

 

27. EU protein deficit (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mr Häusling, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the EU protein deficit: what solution for a long-standing problem? (2009/2236(INI)) (A7-0026/2011).

 
  
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  Martin Häusling, rapporteur.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to start by expressing my deep gratitude to the shadow rapporteurs for their kind cooperation on this report. It has become a very ambitious report. I would like to touch on a few of the important points, but I will not shrink from mentioning the controversial aspects either.

We have a huge protein deficit in the European Union. Eighty percent of our protein crop requirement is imported, and I regret to say that this tendency is increasing. That means that we are using around 20 million hectares of arable land in other countries or, to put it another way, outsourcing 10% of our arable land to other countries for the cultivation of protein crops. One reason for this is the Blair House Agreement that was concluded in the early 1990s, which had a huge adverse effect on the competitiveness of European protein crops. That is the reason why our market has been flooded with cheap soya. There has been a 30% decline in protein crop cultivation in the European Union in the case of leguminous plants, and now only 3% of European arable land is used for growing protein crops. In Germany, the figure is just 1%.

Production in Europe has reached a critical point that puts research and development of European protein crops at risk. Political measures are required to promote a return to the growing of protein crops in Europe; otherwise, we will fall below a threshold that endangers the very survival of protein crop cultivation in Europe. In so doing, we would also lose the positive effects of protein crops, particularly the sensible organisation of crop rotation in agriculture.

European protein crop cultivation has huge potential. One point we have stated is that fair competition must be restored; in other words, the Blair House Agreement must be brought into question and ultimately abolished.

However, we feel that the most important thing is for the growing of protein crops to be given an important central role in future in the reform of the common agricultural policy, because it offers many advantages for a reformed agricultural policy. It is important for protecting our waters and our climate, and it is important for biodiversity. I would like to mention just one example. Growing leguminous plants is very important for binding CO2. It can minimise imports or the use of mineral nitrogen. We would therefore like to see the growing of leguminous plants being made a permanent component of future crop rotation in the common agricultural policy and being rooted in the first pillar.

We also feel it is important to reduce our dependence on imports and thus, ultimately to ensure that Europe can produce meat without imports. Europe has moved into second place worldwide where imports are concerned. China is in first place and now imports more protein than the European Union. We therefore have a competitor in this area.

Having stated this as a central objective, however, we need to be aware that certain matters included in the vote in the report are questionable; namely, the creation of import concessions for soya by questioning the zero tolerance policy. That has no place in this report, and it is even counterproductive to include it in this report. We are trying to encourage the growing of European protein crops, not to facilitate imports. This must be made clear to everyone.

If we are serious about this report, then we must agree accordingly to remove these points from the report; otherwise – and I openly admit this – I will have a problem with my name being associated with this report.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, I would just like to say to our rapporteur that this is a job very well done and a must-read report, because it emphasises our reliance on an imported product for our protein needs. I think your emphasis on the situation in which we find ourselves in relation to China is really important, because we do need to look at this from a food security perspective.

There are two particular issues that I want to draw attention to. I understand your sensitivities regarding the GMO point in this report but, in terms of the here and now, this issue of the adventitious presence of non-approved GMO is of concern to livestock farmers in the European Union. We do need to find a technical solution and I believe we are moving towards that with recent developments.

I think paragraph 12, about processed animal proteins, is also very important as long as we apply the rules in relation to it. But this is one of the problems we have in the European Union, where we banned certain animal proteins from the chain, for very good reasons relating to human and animal health, and therefore we do have a shortage.

I welcome this report and I believe that it highlights one of the key problems for Europe in supplying its animal feed needs for the livestock sector.

 
  
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  Marc Tarabella (S&D).(FR) Mr President, first of all, I would also like to thank and commend Martin Häusling for his important report, even though I am disappointed with the final version. However, this was not down to him. That was why, like him, I abstained in the final vote in committee.

Firstly, I am sorry that the content of the report has been distorted by the inclusion of the zero tolerance issue. The call to relax the rules on imports of unauthorised GMOs does not solve the problem of the EU’s protein deficit and therefore should not have been introduced at this point.

Secondly, it is absolutely vital that we halt the considerable decline of protein crop production in the EU and that we reduce our already alarming dependency on imported plant proteins. I also want to challenge the Blair House agreements, the market-oriented objectives of which have contributed to extreme price volatility. Furthermore, these agreements completely contradict the Kyoto Protocol and its objectives on global warming.

Lastly, in future, we need to incorporate protein crops into the crop rotation cycle as part of our prudent and responsible soil use management.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the deficit of vegetable proteins from protein crops in Europe is another example of the inequalities created by the agricultural and trade policies in force. This dependence has direct consequences in terms of the security and quality of Europeans’ food supply, and has been causing a worrying increase in the vulnerability of livestock producers to volatility in the price of feed. We need to adopt a series of measures that incentivise the production of protein crops, in particular, committing to local production with short supply chains, so as to overcome the current deficit and gradually scale back imports.

These measures could include specific support for, inter alia, crop rotation systems, agricultural extension services, and research and development. However, this problem cannot be a pretext for creating other, larger ones. It therefore does not justify any softening of the application of the precautionary principle or of zero tolerance of the presence of genetically modified organisations, nor …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Mr President, I want to thank the rapporteur for the report.

Rising feed prices and import bans put in place by other countries have highlighted just how exposed the EU is in relation to animal feed supplies. Protein supply is most important for the livestock sector and its profitability. Farmers in this sector in my constituency are in very grave difficulties at present, particularly in the pig sector.

Despite the reservations of the rapporteur, can I also say that I believe that Europe must move to a solution in relation to zero tolerance. I was speaking just last week to people in my constituency at home who are actually importers of feed. They were saying that the recent moves are merely political nods, which do not and will not provide a long-term solution, and we really do need to move to a solution in relation to zero tolerance.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Michel Dantin (PPE).(FR) Mr President, as shadow rapporteur for my group, I, too, would like to thank the rapporteur for the conditions in which we were able to work with him on this matter.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe this is a truly strategic matter at the moment. We have already heard about China. I should like to quote a figure: in 2010, the Chinese bought 49% of the soymeal placed on the market. The forecast for 2011 is that the same customers will buy 57% of the total quantities placed on the market.

Hence, it really is a matter of European independence that we are looking at in the medium term. Imagine for a moment that some very intensive farming regions found themselves without imported soya for a week: what would happen? We urgently need to redevelop these crops in our region.

My country introduced a policy in the context of Article 68 back in 2010. This policy demonstrated that production could be adapted to policies.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Mr Häusling, the representative of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, and the person who formulated the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and thank him for his outstanding cooperation. The report aptly demonstrates that the future of European livestock farming is threatened by the current protein shortage, with no real opportunity for a breakthrough; neither our climate conditions, nor the subsidy system of the common agricultural policy, provides an incentive for growing leguminous crops. I would like to draw Commissioner Damanaki’s attention to one very important aspect: The European Commission must immediately lift the ban on feeding animal proteins to non-ruminants, poultry and pigs. There is not a single indication for this ban to prevail for non-ruminant ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE). (PL) The European Union’s ill-advised agricultural policy has led to a situation where the production of plants high in protein is no longer economically viable for European farmers. The protein shortage has shown that the policy of the European Union on opening our markets to agricultural imports should be reconsidered. Today on European markets we have, for example, soya which is almost entirely imported from Argentina, Brazil, the USA or Asian markets. Soya is genetically modified, so its production is relatively cheap. A separate issue is the question of allowing genetically-modified agricultural production in the European market. We are certainly being inconsistent in this regard. On the one hand, we are conducting a debate on allowing or banning GMO products in the European Union and, at the same time, we are avoiding the fact that genetically-modified soya for feed production is being imported from other countries, and that, eventually, we consume it indirectly.

 
  
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  Åsa Westlund (S&D).(SV) Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for a very well-written report – much better written than a lot of what we vote on in this Chamber. I also agree that the text concerning GMOs and zero tolerance in this report is very unfortunate. It runs completely counter to the report as a whole, but is, of course, also very unfortunate in itself.

I would also like to emphasise the positive effects on the climate that growing more protein crops in the EU would entail. There are grounds for doing this. However, there is also a very major issue that is not resolved anywhere in this report, namely, the fact that we are eating more and more meat. The more money we have, the more meat we eat, the greater the impact on the climate and the more protein crops are needed. What are we doing about this major issue, which is the crux of this whole debate? That is a question for the future, both for us and for the European Commission.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Mr President, firstly, may I congratulate the rapporteur Mr Häusling for bringing this important matter before us. Actually, this is something of a scandal, because it is not right that the amount of protein in the European Union should be decreasing.

For me, it was a huge shock to realise that we are actually dependent for our protein on importing 80% of our consumption. How can this happen in a European Union so conducive to the production of agricultural goods, both crops and also cattle and other livestock? The rapporteur says two very important things – one is crop rotation. That is easier said than done, and certainly the market must be there to encourage farmers to change their practices. Secondly, I would say also that this issue should be included as a target in the CAP reform, which is coming up shortly, so that we do have self-sufficiency in protein production.

 
  
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  Maria Damanaki, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, a reliable and sustainable protein supply is really essential for the EU livestock sector. So I would like to thank rapporteur Häusling and the members of the Committee on Agriculture for putting this important theme back on the agenda.

Your report is a welcome contribution to the discussion on the reform of the common agricultural policy towards 2020. As you know, the Commission intends to table legal proposals in the autumn.

I should like to underline that domestic production of protein has increased with a rise in by-products from biofuel production. Production of rapeseed meal and ethanol co-products has risen sharply. They now represent 22% of the EU’s consumption of protein-rich feed ingredients compared to 12% five years ago.

Support for farmers using crop rotation systems which include pulses is one of the main ideas in your report. As you know, crop rotation is one of the elements under consideration for greening direct payments.

So I welcome your support for enhancing the environmental sustainability of arable farming. I see further opportunities for exploring synergies with, for example, integrated pest management. However, any greening of direct payments should not put in jeopardy the decoupling of direct support from the requirement to produce a specific crop.

This idea is central to the market orientation that has been achieved by the past reforms. Let me stress that several Member States currently use the possibility to couple part of the direct aid to environment objectives to support protein crops.

Let me also underline that a significant increase in pulses and soya beans in the EU would probably imply a reduction in the production of cereals, as availability of land in Europe is limited.

Finally, I would like to mention two other areas where EU policy can make a contribution: research and rural development policy. Both can play their part in getting the most out of our various sources of protein. For example, they can help through useful training in the best use of protein crops and in optimal feeding practices. They can also help through the development of new plant varieties.

In conclusion, the Commission welcomes your ideas in view of the preparation of the reformed proposals. However, let us be clear. Crop rotation or incentives through research and rural development policy can help. Of course they can help. But the EU will remain dependent on imported protein.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at midday on Tuesday, 8 March.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Jarosław Kalinowski (PPE), in writing.(PL) The policy on cultivation of high-protein plants and the production of feed in the EU requires verification. Currently, arrangements made for trade policy regarding the import of feed from the USA are also unsatisfactory. Territorial and climatic conditions allow the production of high-protein plants in the European Union to change its structure, and this would even be advisable with regard to biodiversity and to counteract climate change. Feed imported from other countries is not subject to such stringent controls as European feed, so we cannot be 100% certain of its quality. We do not know for certain where the raw materials which it contains originate. This is why we should take immediate measures to change the situation, or our assurances regarding healthy and safe European food of the highest quality will sound hollow.

Another solution to the protein shortage issue in the EU would be the relaxation of regulations banning the feeding of animals with meat and bone meal. In the case of poultry and pigs, there has been no evidence of the danger of any disease spreading as a result of this type of feed. The ability to use this meal in animal husbandry will reduce costs, which is extremely significant in view of the drop in profitability of meat production. This would also allow imports of high-protein feed from America to be reduced.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Köstinger (PPE), in writing. (DE) The EU is not in a position to produce the feeds it requires itself and is making itself dependent on third countries. Only 30% of the protein-rich crops required for animal feeds are produced in the EU. The effects of this dependence are becoming clear to our farmers, firstly, in enormous price volatility, and secondly, in the lack of traceability among imported products. I welcome the call for a return to increased promotion of the cultivation of protein crops in EU agriculture. Europe must embark on a consistent, independent path when it comes to the provision of animal feeds. However, I would like to see greater honesty and objectivity on the entire subject of feeds; we need new scientific assessments as regards genetically modified organisms and the ban on the use of animal protein. Agriculture must not fall victim to populism, because it carries out the great work and bears the great responsibility of providing the EU with food. We must create better framework conditions for farmers. Better traceability requires an improved labelling system. It is clear to me that each Member State must decide for itself whether it wishes to grow genetically modified crops; Austrian farmers do not want genetically modified crops in their fields. In the long term, we can only limit our dependence if agricultural policy focuses more on regional business cycles with sustainable production, short transport paths and a high proportion of self-marketing.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE), in writing. – (RO) The report highlights the EU’s strong dependency on protein imports from third countries, as well as the need to adopt measures which will ensure a higher level of autonomy in this area. Easing the process for authorising the cultivation of genetically modified soya on the territory of European states would present a solution to this problem, together with an important source of income for European agriculture, which has been hit hard by the financial crisis. In the context of the new legislative framework proposed by the European Commission on the right of Member States to ban the cultivation of GMOs on their own territory, by applying the subsidiarity principle, European states could decide on an individual basis whether they want to grow this product or not.

 
  
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  Pavel Poc (S&D), in writing. (CS) Any kind of food dependency puts the EU in a very vulnerable position. In the case of protein crop production, there are, at the same time, a number of economic, environmental and agricultural benefits. Consuming less meat and increasing the share of vegetable proteins in our diet has a positive effect both on the environment and human health. The excessive import of protein crops and their derivatives is destabilising European agriculture, impacting small and medium-sized agricultural producers in particular, and is also contributing to price volatility. The low volume of domestic production of protein crops limits research activities, seed supply and knowledge of sustainable technologies, particularly with regard to the use of legumes in crop rotation and adequate use of grassland areas. It is necessary to adopt several key measures. The Commission should prepare a report on the possibilities for increasing domestic protein crop production, support research into protein crops and their upgrading and cultivation in the EU, and protein crops should be promoted as a quality feed source in the context of rural development. It is necessary to establish a monitoring mechanism on the origin of imported protein crops that focuses on the sustainability of applied farming practices in the country of origin. The Commission is also called upon to bring forward incentive-based measures to promote the cultivation of fallow land, which could contribute significantly to reducing the protein deficit in the EU. In the context of climate change, soil fertility, water protection and biodiversity, protein crop production in the European Union should be increased and receive targeted support.

 

28. Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes
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29. Closure of the sitting
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  President. – I would like to say that as tomorrow is International Women’s Day, throughout the day, only women will be in the chair. Therefore, tomorrow will, without a doubt, be a very pleasant day as they usually do it far better than us.

 

30. Closing of the session
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  President. – I declare the 2010-2011 session of the European Parliament adjourned.

(The sitting was closed at 23:30)

 
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