Index 
Verbatim report of proceedings
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Thursday, 10 March 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition
1. Opening of the sitting
 2. Media law in Hungary (motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes
 3. Respect of national wage and retirement-setting mechanisms (debate)
 4. Prevention of natural and man-made disasters (debate)
 5. Volcanic ash crisis (debate)
 6. Statement by the President
 7. Establishing European statutes for mutual societies, associations and foundations (written declaration): see Minutes
 8. Heavy goods vehicle collisions (written declaration)
 9. Voting time
  9.1. Media law in Hungary (B7-0191/2011) (vote)
  9.2. Southern Neighbourhood, and Libya in particular, including humanitarian aspects (B7-0169/2011) (vote)
  9.3. EU approach towards Iran (A7-0037/2011, Bastiaan Belder) (vote)
  9.4. 16th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva, 28 February - 25 March 2011) (B7-0158/2011) (vote)
 10. Explanations of vote
 11. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
 12. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting: see Minutes
 13. Composition of committees: see Minutes
 14. Debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (debate)
  14.1. Pakistan - murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities
  14.2. Belarus, in particular the cases of Ales Michalevic and Natalia Radin
  14.3. Situation and cultural heritage in Kashgar (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China)
 15. Voting time
  15.1. Pakistan - murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities (RC-B7-0166/2011)
  15.2. Belarus, in particular the cases of Ales Michalevic and Natalia Radin
  15.3. Situation and cultural heritage in Kashgar (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China)
 16. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
 17. Council position at first reading: see Minutes
 18. Documents received: see Minutes
 19. Decisions concerning certain documents: see Minutes
 20. Written declarations included in the register (Rule 123): see Minutes
 21. Forwarding of texts adopted during the sitting: see Minutes
 22. Dates of forthcoming sittings: see Minutes
 23. Adjournment of the session
 ANNEX (Written answers)


  

IN THE CHAIR: MIGUEL ANGEL MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ
Vice-President

 
1. Opening of the sitting
Video of the speeches
  

(The sitting was opened at 09:00)

 

2. Media law in Hungary (motions for resolutions tabled): see Minutes

3. Respect of national wage and retirement-setting mechanisms (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The first item is the Commission statement on respect of national wage and retirement-setting mechanisms.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank honourable Members for this opportunity to dispel some widely held misunderstandings regarding the Irish programme.

The S&D Group’s question that gave rise to this statement raises honourable Members’ concern that certain economic policy conditions set out in the Memorandum of Understanding of the Economic Adjustment Programme for Ireland are in legal conflict with Article 153(5) of the Treaty. That paragraph excludes the adoption of provisions in the field of pay under Article 153, that is, in the field of social policy. However, the Economic Adjustment Programme for Ireland is not a social policy programme and is not adopted under Article 153. It is a financial assistance programme set up, together with the Irish Government, to restore domestic and external confidence and remove the harmful feedback loops between the fiscal and financial crisis. Therefore, it is grounded in Article 122(2) of the Treaty, which allows for Union financial assistance if a Member State is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by exceptional occurrences beyond its control.

The role of the MOU is to specify the economic policy conditions that serve as a benchmark for assessing the Irish policy performance during the financial assistance programme. The Member State has full ownership of these economic policy conditions and their implementation. These conditions are commitments of the Member State that are undertaken by the state itself. It is not EU action in the respective fields. Indeed, many of the conditions, such as the minimum wage reduction, were already included in the Irish Government’s national recovery plan that was published on 24 November 2010, before the start of the programme.

The aim of the conditions relating to labour market policy is to create jobs and to avoid long-term unemployment in Ireland amongst the most vulnerable groups. The minimum wage reduction is part of this wider package of measures and needs to be seen together with activation policies and efforts to modernise the benefit system. When evaluating the reduction in one of the highest minimum wages in the European Union – it is, for instance, the second highest in the eurozone – and although there was significant wage adjustment in the economy, with the minimum wage, in common with wages in general in Ireland, falling by 3% in real terms in 2008, followed by a rise of 0.3% in 2009, it should be noted that most of the labour market adjustments took the form of job losses. In fact, the minimum wage cut only restored the status quo prevailing before 1 January 2007, i.e. before the crisis.

The other condition mentioned in the question is an independent review of sectoral collective bargaining. The motivation of the review is to discuss the fairness and efficiency of employment conditions for both employees and employers across sectors. I would like to highlight the fact that Ireland has a long-standing tradition of tripartite consultation on economic and social policy and that the successive pacts between the government and the social partners since the 1980s have been widely recognised as major factors in the success of the Irish economy.

The review is an opportunity for the social partners to voice opinions and shape policy, and its announcement was welcomed as such. I am fully confident that the review will be carried out by the Irish Government in a way that recognises the importance of social dialogue, includes all the social partners, and complies with Community law.

Finally, the conditions in the Memorandum of Understanding with regard to structural reform are not only about the labour market. They also contain important measures to open up product markets such as overly regulated sectors and professions. These reforms could have a major effect on customer prices and productivity, which support the purchasing power of households.

 
  
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  Gay Mitchell, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Mr President, I would also like to thank the Commissioner. Yesterday, a new national government for recovery was voted into power in Ireland. Fine Gael and Labour are part of the PPE and S&D groups respectively in this Parliament. One of the issues high up on the agenda of the new programme for government will be the renegotiation of elements of the EU/IMF programme of support to Ireland.

At present, many Irish people fear that the conditions agreed by the then government in the EU/IMF programme of support are too stringent and place a heavy burden on ordinary citizens who have had to bear the brunt for the mistakes of the banks – both Irish and European – and the government. We should note that the new government has agreed to reverse the reduction in the minimum wage. We know, however, that recovery cannot happen without pain. Ireland went down a similar road in the 1980s. Many of the difficult conditions as laid out by the EU/IMF programme are necessary if we are to restore healthy public finances. We must prune the tree in order to allow growth.

I welcome the Commission’s support for an interest rate reduction as stated by Commissioner Rehn. This should come about as soon as possible and I urge the Commission to really look at this at an early date. The Commissioner emphasised that all measures are weighed up against their effect on growth, competitiveness and the sustainability of public finances in the long run. I accept that; we cannot carry the entire burden we have been asked to carry at once. The Irish people have taken their responsibilities in this matter; in fact, they have taken other people’s responsibilities as well, because we were given no alternative. What they have done is not just for Ireland but also for Europe and the eurozone in particular. We do not need the straw to break the camel’s back. Please give the Irish people the tools; we will do the job ourselves, but please do not expect the Irish people to carry a burden that they are not capable of carrying. So I ask the Commissioner to bear those comments in mind in particular in the days and weeks ahead.

 
  
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  Stephen Hughes, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, this memorandum requires an EUR 1 per hour reduction in the minimum wage in Ireland and a review, as we have heard, of the system of collective pay agreements which protect the low paid.

I do not believe that this interference can be justified. The Treaty requires the Commission to promote social dialogue, not undermine it. Article 152 requires respect for the autonomy of social partners, not this type of interference, and Article 153 expressly excludes EU action in the field of play. The Commission cannot pick and choose the hierarchy of articles in this respect.

The memorandum goes on to insist on cuts in social welfare, the roll-back of key public services, and reductions in public sector employment and public sector pensions. How can those demands be justified in relation to a Treaty that requires the Union to aim to eliminate inequalities, promote a high level of employment, guarantee adequate social protection and fight against social exclusion? The only honest answer to that is that these things cannot be reconciled, and the problem is that these things have now, as a result of the Annual Growth Survey, become the general rule.

The people will reject the idea of a Europe based only on austerity. They will not tolerate the far-reaching implications for social policies with lower wages, lower employment protection, weak social standards, reduced public services and the imposition of higher retirement ages. If we want to continue to swell the ranks of anti-Europeanism, then carry on, Commission. If not, please stop this nonsense now.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the Commissioner is telling us that the Memorandum of Understanding was drawn up under Article 122, part 2. I would like to ask the Commissioner what happens when one article of the Treaty is in direct contradiction with other articles in the Treaty; as Stephen Hughes has asked, how do we decide on the hierarchy? It is in contradiction with Article 153.

It is also in contradiction with Article 9, the social clause, which I have quoted many times in this Chamber when speaking about the Irish austerity package, where it says that in defining and implementing all its policies and activities, the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment and the fight against social exclusion, etc. And what about Article 28 in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, under which workers have the rights to negotiate and conclude collective agreements and, in the cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action? Many Irish workers would see that they are in that position at the moment. How do we deal with the contradiction between the different articles in the Treaty?

Another question for you, Commissioner: are you stating that the Memorandum of Understanding was entirely the responsibility of the Irish Government and that the Commission acquiesced or agreed?

Finally, let us assume here you have the power to do all of this – and you are telling us you have; why then was there no effort to reduce or eliminate bank bonuses? Why was there no effort to ensure that those at the top of the salary scale paid their fair share? Why is it that one euro was deducted from the minimum wage? I agree entirely with what Stephen Hughes has said: this fuels anti-European sentiment. Citizens see what is happening. They see how the Commission is working in this whole process, and what they see is that it is those on the minimum wage, those who are in collective agreements, are being hit with these austerity plans.

Finally my main question, Commissioner, is: who decides? Is it the Court of Justice? Who decides when articles of the Treaty are in conflict or when the Commission acts in such a way as to bring those articles into conflict with one another?

 
  
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  Marije Cornelissen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, I understand the urgency of the Commission in addressing the economic crisis and the high levels of debt which are a threat for the stability of the euro. I understand that conditions are imposed on countries that have to make use of the European Financial Stability Mechanism. However, it seems to me that the Commission is being quite selective in the measures and conditions it deems permitted in this crisis.

On the one hand, nearly any measure seems legal when it comes to fiscal consolidation by cutting expenditure. As soon as Ireland made use of the rescue package, minimum wages and pension levels were the first variables to be adjusted, despite the fact that these matters explicitly are not EU competences. On the other hand, the Commission hides itself behind the lack of EU competence to leave the exceptionally low Irish corporation tax untouched, whereas increasing this could also substantially improve public revenues in Ireland. Cutting expenditure is not, after all, the only way to achieve a balanced budget.

I understand that this crisis requires exceptional measures, but why is the Commission in such a hurry to adjust minimum wages, affecting workers who earn the least, while we have to wait and see about measures that make the banking and financial sector pay? I strongly get the feeling that the Commission is interpreting the EU’s competences in a very one-sided and, dare I say it, right-wing manner. This blunt approach inspires Euro-scepticism. It seems that the EU acts firmly in the field of employment and social policy only in times of crisis, and then does so by imposing cuts in social spending and wages.

The EU can only regain confidence if the Commission shows the same determination in setting proper minimum social standards and social guarantees for the heavy cuts imposed on people. Yes, we do want economic governance, but we want balanced governance with both fiscal sustainability and social guarantees. If not, the vulnerable will pay the price for a mess that they are not responsible for.

 
  
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  Thomas Händel, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the rescue packages were intended to protect EU Member States from insolvency. However, they are overwhelming citizens with brutal austerity programmes and allowing the perpetrators to get off scot-free. On top of that, the Commission is now interfering in national wage policy, too.

Mr Hahn, it is quite absurd and it brings tears to my eyes when I hear formal arguments like yours that this is not at all intended to be a socio-political measure. Such a position is utterly unacceptable. Wage policy is not the business of the EU. This policy on the part of the Commission is at complete odds with the idea of this European Union. The EU was never intended to be about competition in wages and social dumping. This Commission policy talks about the inflexibility of wages, which is to be reduced. It states that wages should reflect market conditions. This is like a blind man describing an elephant. People who write such things have no understanding of collective agreement systems. They interfere in free collective bargaining and reduce the much talked-about autonomy of the social partners and the social dialogue to absurdity.

I would like to make it clear that this Parliament is called on to ensure that the autonomous collective agreement policy is retained, to protect the social dialogue and to prevent the further dismantling of social security. We need measures to prevent a counterproductive austerity policy, not punitive measures.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, this goes beyond Ireland. Only a month ago, I reminded the House that pensions were exclusively the competence of the Member States and here we go again using the same language of coordination and retirement-setting mechanisms. Now pensions are almost always related to earnings, so do we see here an attempt to harmonise wages? I hope not, because the Treaties also say that wages are an exclusive competence of the Member States.

It is all very well to say that ‘equal’ must mean equal pay, but should all workers doing the same job get the same pay across the EU? As an example, think ‘climate’: keeping a house warm near the Arctic Circle needs much more money than in Mediterranean countries. Add in winter clothing, snow clearance and all the rest and it is obvious that to pay all workers the same would leave some with more spare cash than others. Of course wages cannot be equal. The Commission’s intentions in drawing up plans to encourage Member States to introduce an EU minimum wage policy and set retirement mechanisms are going against the Treaties. I am not surprised: this is the EU at work.

A harmonised wage and pensions policy is not just a dream; it is illegal. Leave it, as the Treaties demand, to the competence of elected governments like mine at Westminster and like that in Ireland.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr President, Ireland is a tragic historical lesson for us. At first, this country was always celebrated as the ‘showcase’ country and the model for new members of the Union, although at that time, very wrong policies were permitted and encouraged and these resulted in enormous bubbles in the property sector having to be dealt with, the banking sector being allowed to become a law unto itself and no attention being paid to preventing competitive dumping in the area of taxation.

Commissioner, you have the same nationality as me. We know how many Austrian writers, for example, suddenly discovered that they are Irish, because they had to pay hardly any tax there. What did the supposedly extremely pro-European forces do at that time? Absolutely nothing! They said ‘this country is a wonderful example’.

All of that has now completely collapsed. This bubble has now turned out to be exactly what many people said it was all along. Once again we have a situation where – and I am not alone in thinking this – anti-European sentiment is being fanned by the fact that we are again allowing the wrong policies to be pursued, in this case by imposing this massive package on Ireland. Commissioner, you say that the Member State is committing itself to this. However, we know from our experience of World Bank and International Monetary Fund programmes – and what we are currently seeing in Ireland is not so very different from this – that in the end, these countries have no choice.

If we were to take a step back and say ‘it is a shame that Ireland did not reject the Treaty of Lisbon the second time around’, then we could come to a completely different way of thinking. We would then see that, with this European construct, we are dealing with something that could be likened to a vehicle, the front of which consists of a Porsche while the back consists of a bicycle. These two things do not go together. They need to be much stronger.

If we want to prevent this Europe from breaking apart, we actually need something like a Constitution for Europe. We then need clear benchmarks that actually apply to everyone. We need economic governance. This fragmentary approach – forwards, backwards, sidewards – will not work, and in the end, Commissioner, it is more likely to end in disaster than in what you, I and the vast majority of this House are working for, namely, a peaceful, functional and also united Europe.

 
  
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  Philippe Boulland (PPE). (FR) Mr President, for the record, with the crisis and the bursting of the housing and credit bubbles, the Irish State has had to intervene to support the banks. The Irish public deficit, the accumulated budget balance of central and local administrations and, in particular, social security administrations, was estimated at 32% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010. If the Irish Government, which is finding it difficult to refinance itself on the markets, wishes to access loans from the European Financial Stability Mechanism and the European Financial Stability Fund, it will have to meet requirements for social and fiscal change, even though these areas come under subsidiarity. In our view, there is no contradiction here. As a doctor, I would say that, in the case of fever, there is no point prescribing antipyretics indiscriminately without seeking to treat the cause. As far as the allocation of these funds is concerned, this State should get its finances in order so as to correct its excessive deficit and past mistakes.

This austerity plan should improve GDP by 10% over the next four years. As with an individual, to whom a bank will make a personal loan conditional upon meeting the solvency condition without getting involved in their private lives and management, the European Union can lend to Ireland on the basis of consolidated solvency. Without interfering in their private lives, the bank will encourage an individual to negotiate, for example, an increase in salary, or to borrow elsewhere. Thus, by respecting subsidiarity, the European Union, on the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding drawn up with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), considers that this solvency requires the reduction of the legal minimum wage and an adjustment of pensions, with fiscal measures nonetheless in the mix. It is up to Ireland to choose whether or not to implement these measures. It does not leave the door wide open for the European Union to interfere in areas falling within subsidiarity, making it possible, for example, to impose a European minimum wage, which would be a dangerous thing to do, but rather ensures the protection of the stability of the euro area through a mutual guarantee process. Of course, it is necessary to help Ireland, like other countries in difficulty, which also protects us, but not at any price, especially that of seeing a State unable to pay off its loans, thus weakening its citizens and citizens throughout the European Union.

 
  
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  President. – I should like to mention to all of you that if you make your speeches at a very fast pace, the interpreters have trouble keeping up with you. As I am responsible for matters concerning multilingualism, I would like to point out that the Bureau of the European Parliament is currently studying a new system.

At the moment, the interpreters indicate to the President that they are unable to keep up, but the President then has the difficult task of interrupting you. The system we are now investigating would mean that each of you, in your seat, would have a light to warn you when the interpreters cannot follow the speech, so that the President does not need to interrupt you and you would be informed of it directly instead.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (S&D). – Mr President, the Memorandum of Understanding in relation to labour market issues is very clearly based on a simplistic economic theory that lower wages will ‘clear the market’, in other words, end unemployment. That is total and utter nonsense. It is not supported by practice on the ground. And I would draw the Commission’s attention to the Forfás review of labour cost competitiveness in Ireland, produced late last year, which says that firms generally prefer layoffs to pay cuts because they harm morale less. If you want to look at why we have had more layoffs than wage cuts in Ireland, that is the basis of it.

I would appeal to the Commission to comply with European law and stop interfering in labour market issues in Ireland. As you say, we have a long tradition of social partnership agreements in Ireland. Indeed, they are the basis of the fact that there has been no violence on the streets in Ireland: it is because the social partners and the government have sat down and made arrangements to adjust the labour market and adjust conditions to ensure that we can have some hope of recovery from the current crisis.

That tradition has ensured progress in Ireland, but the programme generally is failing to do what it was intended to do, which was to assist the economy in Ireland to grow. It is not growing. In fact, it is in decline, and that programme has to be generally renegotiated. I would suggest in particular that the issues relating to the labour market have to be removed. As has already been stated, the Irish Government, of which my party is a member, has already declared that it will reverse the minimum wage cut as agreed in that programme.

You may be unhappy with that, but that is going to happen. You can be certain as well that your attempt to interfere with the Registered Employment Agreements Act, which has been in place for more than 50 years, will not be interfered with, as you hope, because the current government is determined that social partnership will play its traditional role in ensuring that we have industrial peace and progress.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the tendency in the EU to increase pressure on the Member States is gathering great pace, under the pretext of the crisis, with a view to devaluing wages and increasing the exploitation of those who work, in order to ensure ever more profits and gains for the economic and financial groups, revealing all the antisocial cruelty of capitalism.

If the irrational criteria of the Stability Pact, with the proposals of so-called economic governance and the so-called competitiveness pact had not been passed, particularly the attempt to prevent wages from rising with inflation and increase the legal age for retirement, we would have even more serious attacks on labour and social rights.

What is already happening in this field in certain countries, such as Portugal, Greece or Ireland, and which is of the utmost seriousness, are salary cuts and pension freezes, even on the lowest pensions and those below the poverty line. In the case of Portugal, a salary cut on the national minimum wage was already planned for the beginning of this year. It was felt that EUR 500 was too much per month, and it was decided to cut this by EUR 15, despite the fact that more than 13% of female Portuguese workers receive only this amount, compared with 6% of male workers. This is a clear example of institutionalised discrimination and the effect of the so-called austerity measures that the Commission, together with the Council and the governments of our countries, is implementing, with the subsequent exacerbation of social inequality, discrimination, the devaluing of work and increased poverty, while the indulgence of financial speculation and tax havens continues. We therefore express our solidarity with the young workers and teachers who are going to protest over the forthcoming weekends, including this Saturday, 12 March, and at the large national demonstration by the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) in Lisbon on 19 March. This will continue the fight against these antisocial policies.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI). – Mr President, in light of what you are telling us, could you please tell us here in this House how attitudes to the European Union have changed in Portugal? Has the percentage of people in favour of membership of the European Union fallen? How has the general feeling towards the EU changed? Portugal shows a great many parallels with Ireland – at first, there was the great euphoria in the 1970s with the prospect of accession, then the corresponding funding. Are you also seeing similar property bubbles in Portugal to those that were recorded in Ireland?

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the issue is interesting in this regard: it is obvious that these EU policies are also sparking a major revolt in Portugal, and next weekend, therefore, young people and teachers will take to the streets to demonstrate against this policy. On 19 March, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers will hold a major demonstration, which is planned to take place in Lisbon, against these antisocial policies. Of course, this is reflected in the behaviour of the Portuguese people because the country has already entered into a recession, and living conditions are worsening for the workers and the people, inequality is being exacerbated, and poverty is also on the increase. The European Union, the Commission and the Council …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Marita Ulvskog (S&D).(SV) Mr President, by setting out requirements for lower wages, the Commission has undermined the negotiating right of the social partners and both directly and indirectly affected wage formation, which is explicitly excluded from the Commission’s sphere of competence. This is nothing less than a frontal assault on the social partners’ influence and is contrary to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes the right to enter into collective agreements.

This is not an isolated incident restricted to Ireland, either, but is being repeated time and time again. By talking about ‘unit labour cost’ instead of wages, the Commission is attempting to circumvent the limits established by the Treaty. The European Commission has quite simply redrawn the map. It has drawn up a new map and a new set of regulations in which the Member States and the social partners now have their tasks taken away from them and, contrary to all regulations, find themselves dictated to. This is what the dispute is about and it has only just begun.

By acting in this way, the EU is moving ever further away from a democratic basis and legitimacy, which, in other contexts, are usually the keywords when we discuss the future of the EU. We hear that there are some troublemakers – including in this Parliament – who are already starting to fish in these troubled waters. This is surely not what it is all about.

 
  
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  Cornelis de Jong (GUE/NGL). (NL) Mr President, very few people in the Netherlands have any idea that we, here in Brussels, are discussing their wages and pensions. We are currently witnessing what is happening in Ireland but, at the same time, I am also hearing all kinds of proposals being put forward to the European Council for the abolition of wage indexation and for the maximisation of wage increases, based on increases in labour productivity, etc.

Unfortunately, we seem to perpetually meet with a deafening silence when it comes to agreements on European standards for the minimum wage, nor have I heard any proposals intended to guarantee that workers can get work which pays or that they can get full-time jobs, instead of piecework or standby contracts. I am concerned about the impact of the current discussions on ordinary people, but I am also concerned about the image of the European Union. It really does look like we only pay attention to the interests of financial institutions, to speculators and to big business. Commissioner, is the Commission going to take steps to change that image and is it going to ensure that it is viewed as an institution which also represents the interests of ordinary people?

 
  
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  Sylvana Rapti (S&D).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, you have given us a prescription that says two things: firstly, that we should abolish collective agreements and, secondly, that we should reduce the minimum wage still further.

This is the prescription which is being given consistently to every patient. One of the patients is Greece. You recently visited Greece, during an event organised by the socialist party. You saw and felt the prevailing situation and my question to you is this: did you feel that the prescription for Greece was working? I was there and I am from the socialist party currently governing the country and doing what it can to get it out of the very difficult situation caused by right-wing governments and it has had to make concessions on the question of collective agreements and I am telling you that we have not yet seen results. You say that you are doing all this for European citizens, for consumers, but, if consumers are paid lower wages, they will have nothing to spend and will not therefore help to boost growth. You know better than I that it is a vicious circle, because you insist on giving us a prescription which does nothing except destroy the workers’ dignity, a prescription which results in a lack of decent and viable jobs. I beg you to include social indicators alongside the economic indicators.

 
  
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  Jutta Steinruck (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I sometimes have the feeling that you should try out all these solutions on the Commission itself so that you could see what impact you are actually having on Europe. Following your speech, I am left with the impression that the Commission really does sit in an ivory tower. The people of Europe – the workers, the low earners and the pensioners – are really picking up the bill, and you are interpreting legislation and competences however you please.

On 19 October last year, I received a response to a question that I had put to the Commission in which it was explicitly confirmed that minimum wages and wages in general are the responsibility of the Member States. The response states this very emphatically. Please read it. It is not acceptable for you to give me that kind of answer when it is a good thing for employers and then simply change direction when you believe something is good for the other side. That will make the people of Europe really very unhappy. My fellow Member has just mentioned this. You are chipping away at codetermination. You are weakening the trade unions. That is not the way out of the crisis and you are fully aware of that. Those who caused the crisis must also be the ones to pay for it.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). (LT) Mr President, faced with the conditions of the economic crisis, countries are having financial difficulties implementing the commitments they have made. There is little doubt that their capacity to overcome the crisis varies and there is a need to find ways of balancing the budget and reducing the budget deficit. However, Commissioner, must we really do this at the expense of those who are worst off? Is it morally right for the European Commission to pressure governments into reducing the minimum wage, pensions or other social benefits? Commissioner, you gave your opinion on the Memorandum of Understanding with Ireland. However, I would like to remind you that you signed a similar memorandum with Latvia, where you pressed the Latvian Government to reduce pensions that were already low. Pensions in Latvia were reduced, but the Latvian Constitutional Court stated that the country’s fundamental law does not allow this and the pensions were reinstated. Thus, when taking such decisions and signing such memoranda, it is necessary to thoroughly assess both the legal and social consequences.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D). (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Hahn, the proposals that are now on the table are like putting a large rucksack on the backs of all those who are already finding things difficult enough and telling them they have to run faster with it on. How is that supposed to happen? The proposals for decentralised wage negotiations are unfair, unimaginative and they are a diversionary tactic, because it is so difficult to tax asset and financial speculation and the Heads of State or Government are not succeeding in getting genuine macro-economic coordination off the ground. In this regard, we in Parliament have already set a very different benchmark this week with our vote on the financial transactions tax.

I would like to remind you all of the principle of the social market economy as laid down in the Treaty of Lisbon. My conception of the social market economy is rather different – it would not include decentralised wage negotiations, quite the opposite, in fact. Decentralised wage negotiation systems are contrary to a wage policy based on solidarity and rather than leading to the gap between rich and poor getting smaller, they will – on the contrary – result in it getting bigger. In other words, we should do the opposite.

I would therefore like to expressly repeat what my colleague, Mrs Steinruck, said – we cannot repeat it often enough: we must take more action to tackle the cause of the crisis; make those who caused the crisis pay to a greater extent; and focus on them for the resolution of these problems, including by means of legislative measures.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, in reference to the alignment of unit costs with labour and levels of productivity, I think that we ought to focus on the framework conditions and less on indicators. It is not obvious that we can achieve this alignment. Productivity depends primarily on factors such as accumulated capital stock, which is very different. The clear disparity can be seen between Romania and Germany. This is due to the difference in quality of economic policies over time. Indeed, such discrepancies cannot be made up overnight. My country has made efforts towards reforming pensions and social assistance. I would therefore like to suggest including some provisions of this kind in the competitiveness pact. I support the need for a correlation between the retirement age and demographic trends. The impact which a coherent, realistic pensions policy has on public finances needs to be taken into consideration.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I understand very well the subsidiarity principle, but I believe that pensions have ceased to be a national concern as they are the subject today of an EU-level debate. We are discussing pension systems which are unsustainable as a consequence of common challenges such as the financial crisis, as well as of an ageing population and declining birth rate. The principle of intergenerational solidarity is at risk of becoming obsolete, with citizens being forced to contribute to private pensions. However, what happens to those who no longer have enough time to contribute to such pensions? European citizens also depend on public pensions. In Romania, the gross national minimum wage is approximately EUR 160. This is why I believe that investing in private pensions or saving is just pure fantasy. I think that the European Commission needs to be more involved by proposing both a minimum EU salary and pension level. A first step towards this could be to carry out a comparative pension system analysis.

 
  
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  Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, we are here to talk about salaries and proposals on the age of retirement. These proposals are downright unfair, to say the very least. They are unfair as they insist upon routes that have already been proven, more than once, to end in failure. What is happening in Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and who knows in how many other countries as the list is endless, is different in each of these countries, but they have certain things in common. One of the things that we have in common is an unprecedented transfer of the value of work to financial capital. We cannot accept this. The other thing that we have in common is that it is the workers, retired people and pensioners who are paying for this crisis, along with a generation of workers in unstable jobs who do not have any guarantees in the society in which they live. I should therefore like to finish by saying, Mr President and Commissioner, that we cannot continue to condemn people to poverty. I sincerely hope …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Liisa Jaakonsaari (S&D). (FI) Mr President, a growing European trend at present is right­wing populism, whose core ingredient is opposition to the EU. Where are these anti­EU feelings coming from? They spring from the fact that a social Europe is becoming overshadowed by a ‘market Europe’. All the Commission’s proposals today attack either the pay or the pension system. The feeling is that pay flexibility might help in some way. It will not: on the contrary, it will result in deflation.

It is very important that all legislation is bound by a permanent social clause, so that the idea of a social Europe will once again come to the fore. It is important to realise that retirement ages will rise if there are improvements in working life, but they cannot be raised through legislation from above.

 
  
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  Alfreds Rubiks (GUE/NGL) . – (LV) Mr President, unfortunately, Ireland is not the only country, and Greece is not the only country either. Latvia was perhaps the first to undergo all this hardship, which was caused by the activities of the banks. The minimum wage has been reduced in Latvia, and it is lower than the subsistence level. Pensions have been reduced, along with the minimum tax-free amount. The people are protesting. Over this period, Latvia has lost one fifth of its population; one fifth has emigrated and is working abroad. The International Monetary Fund, which is supposedly rescuing Latvia, set conditions that are draconian. It permitted money to be used to save the banks, a little money to be left over for the next potential bank rescue, but did not permit ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Frédéric Daerden (S&D). (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I should like to express my support for Mr De Rossa. The recommendations made to Ireland by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unfortunately reflect a tendency prevalent among our policy makers at the highest level, which is to make European workers pay for a crisis that is not of their making.

Another example is the Commission’s annual growth analysis, which recommends raising the legal retirement age by linking it to life expectancy. Parliament recently expressed its disapproval on this subject in its report on the Green Paper on pensions. A further example is the proposed competitiveness pact calling for the abolition of inflation indexation of wages, including in my own country, Belgium.

Faced with this situation, I welcome the involvement of the trade unions, yesterday in Hungary, for example, or in Brussels on 29 September. It is time our Commissioners heeded the message of European workers if they do not wish to widen the gap between themselves and the citizens, who will believe less and less in the European project.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, first of all, I would like to thank everybody for their contributions. I can promise you that we give serious consideration to each of them. Let me first say a few words about the importance and relevance of social dialogue.

We fully recognise the importance of social dialogue and constructive industrial relations. We have continuously engaged with the social partners, both at EU level and in individual countries. For instance, Commissioner Rehn personally met with Ireland’s trade union leaders in early November, as did officials from the Commission, the ECB and the IMF when negotiating the programme in late November. They will continue to engage on the next mission in April and on subsequent occasions. By the way, contrary to some allegations, the Commission did not force Ireland to cut the minimum wage or social expenditure. These measures were already presented by the former Irish Government itself in its national recovery plan, together with other fiscal and structural measures aiming at economic stability, growth and job creation.

The legal basis of the economic policy conditions is Article 3(5) of Council Regulation (EU) No 407/2010 establishing a European financial stabilisation mechanism and Article 2(2) of the Council Implementing Decision 2011/77/EU on granting Union financial assistance to Ireland. Once again, both are grounded in Article 122(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The mere fact that the Memorandum of Understanding’s specific economic policy conditions touch upon various issues that are linked to social policy does not put into question the legal basis of the act. There appears to be no contradiction with Article 152 or Article 153(5). Article 152 is a general provision which does not exclude the possible need for specific measures with social consequences. Moreover, that provision does not create subjective rights for the social partners. Article 153(5) is a limit as regards the content of the measures that can be adopted under Article 153, i.e. social policy. Since the MoU is not adopted on the basis of Article 153, this limit does not apply.

The provisions of Title 10, social policy, cannot be disregarded. They have to be taken into account, but it does not mean that as a consequence of Article 153(5), no measures having an effect on pay can be adopted on the basis of Article 122. The measures adopted on the basis of Article 122 for Ireland do not regulate issues. They provide for conditions linked to the granting of Union assistance. This is explicitly allowed by Article 122(2). Therefore, there is no legal problem as regards the principle of conferral.

More generally, the issue of economic policy conditions is not about EU competences in the field of social policy or wages. The conditions included in the programme cover a wide range of policy areas, and for most of them, the competence lies with the Member State. The economic policy conditions of the programme are Member State commitments agreed with the EU and the IMF on the measures that the Member States will undertake in exchange for EU/IMF financing.

As a final note, the Commission fully acknowledged that any financial assistance programme naturally has social consequences. However, the main goal of the specific economic policy conditions attached to such a programme is to avoid much graver social consequences by setting the country back on the path of sustained growth and job creation.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (S&D). – Mr President, I would have to ask your assistance to identify when a Commissioner stands here in this Parliament and says, on the one hand, that Ireland is not being forced to reduce its minimum wage or to reduce its social protection and then goes on to say that the agreement is a conditionality; that these are conditionalities for receiving aid – is that not a fundamental contradiction and a misleading ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  President. – Excuse me, Mr De Rossa, you know that I have great respect and fondness for you, but we cannot reopen the debate. Your opinion should be respected, as should that of the Commissioner on the matter, and each of us has to deal with any contradictions that may arise.

The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), in writing. (RO) According to Eurostat, in January 2011, the minimum monthly income varied between EUR 123 in Bulgaria, EUR 157 in Romania and EUR 1 758 in Luxembourg. In 20 of the 27 Member States, the minimum income is set by law or by national inter-sector agreement. In 11 Member States, the minimum income is between EUR 100 and 400/month, in 5 Member States, it is between EUR 550 and 950/month, and in 6 Member States, it is more than EUR 1 100/month.

The development and consolidation of the internal market provide businesses with access to Europe’s 500 million plus consumers. However, maintaining the disparity in minimum income levels between Member States is a barrier preventing both European companies from having access to European consumers and the latter from having access to high quality products and services. I regard social dialogue as being particularly important in terms of ensuring social fairness and a decent standard of living for all European citizens.

We call on the Commission and Member States to guarantee equal pay for equal work in the internal labour market, the lifting of barriers preventing the free movement of workers and the examination of the possibility of providing a minimum salary agreed by law or based on collective negotiation, which will guarantee European citizens a decent standard of living.

 

4. Prevention of natural and man-made disasters (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters by João Ferreira, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (O-000044/2011 - B7-0201/2011).

 
  
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  João Ferreira, author.(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, two years has passed since the Commission launched a communication in February 2009 on a Community approach to the prevention of natural and man-made disasters. The importance of this issue was outlined. Since then, various disasters have hit Europe and have had severely negative consequences for the public, the land, the economy and the environment.

In general terms, the Commission’s communication followed a proper approach, albeit an inadequate one, as was considered by Parliament. In addition, the Commission is delaying in implementing the commitments it assumed in this communication.

One example of this is its commitment to draw up a list of preventative measures to be funded by the European Union and implemented by the Member States. Two years later, and where is this list? Is the Commission going to wait for the next multiannual financial framework before presenting it? Another two years from now?

Meanwhile, in September of last year, Parliament adopted a report on this very matter. This report puts forward a set of important recommendations. It is important to say that this report was preceded by a much wider debate, not only here in Parliament, but also with a wide range of national, regional and local entities, operating in different phases of disaster management.

The report also gathered a lot of experience of these catastrophes with the people who were affected by disasters over the last year. Here, I would like to mention a few of the specific points of the report, from the many that it contains. A range of actions were defined as targets for special support to the Member States, with a view to remedying situations of risk in areas such as forest management, the protection and defence of the coastline, restoring and protecting river basins, the protection and remodelling of populated areas which are particularly vulnerable to certain types of catastrophes and the maintenance of farming activities in the areas affected by depopulation and which are at risk of natural disasters.

How has the Commission included, or how is it thinking of including, these areas in the list of measures to be drawn up? The report also proposes the creation of public agricultural insurance in Europe and the institution of a system of minimum compensation to farmers affected by disasters.

I notice that this is very different from the current possibility that the Member States will subsidise insurance internally, with the CAP Health Check. What is proposed is insurance financed by Community funds on an equal footing as regards protection against disasters, for all farmers, whether they are from the Member States most in need, or whether they are from rich countries.

As we know, disasters are deeply unfair, and they almost always have the greatest effect on those who are least able to protect themselves, be they people or countries. If there is one area in which the tangible expression of EU solidarity and the principle of cohesion must be ensured, it is in the protection of the public, the economy and the environment, in the face of disasters.

I would therefore like to ask here what the Commission is going to do to reduce the existing imbalances between the regions and the Member States in this area, in other words, helping to improve prevention in regions and Member States with a greater exposure to risk and lower economic capacity. Another area covered in the report is strengthening early warning systems in the Member States and establishing connections between the various early warning systems. Which steps have already been taken in this area? Which steps will they take next? Finally, it is worth recalling that following on from prevention, and bearing in mind the experience gained during recent disasters, it is becoming imperative to revise the regulations for the Solidarity Fund to allow for a more flexible and timely mobilisation of this instrument.

What has the Commission already done, or what is it going to do, for this review? I recall that a year ago, Madeira was struck by a major disaster which resulted in fatalities and high levels of material damage to strategic infrastructures and basic equipment. It is now one year later, and Madeira has still not received a single cent of aid at all from the EU. What will the Commission do to change this situation, when the regulation of the Solidarity Fund currently says that ‘it should help to quickly restore normal living conditions, and it should act swiftly and efficiently to help, as quickly as possible, in mobilising emergency services’? Where is this speed when, one year later, Madeira has still not received a single cent in aid from the EU?

To conclude, Mr President, once again I urge the Commission to take the broad consensus that this report attracted, when it was voted upon and discussed, as a clear sign that these recommendations, the recommendations contained in this report, are to be put into practice. Many of these recommendations were already contained in previous Parliament resolutions, but unfortunately nothing was done and the Commission bears particular responsibility for this delay.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I wish to thank Parliament for the opportunity to exchange views on disaster prevention, and Mr Ferreira in particular for his continued interest in the subject.

The disasters of last year were a salutary reminder that the EU and its Member States need to step up work on disaster prevention. We need to be ambitious. We all know that investing in disaster prevention pays off. At the same time, ensuring cost-effective and increased investment in disaster prevention is a challenge.

We are now assessing the effectiveness of existing EU financing instruments. We are also developing a catalogue of prevention measures that would be considered by Member States for EU funding.

Our objective is to increase the impact of EU funding and to accelerate the implementation of Regional Fund support. We are also looking at innovative financing instruments, such as insurance pooling to share risks. Effective investments in disaster prevention will help to save lives, limit damages and, ultimately, save money.

Actions are also under way to improve our knowledge of disasters. We have worked with the European Environment Agency on a report assessing the frequency of disasters in Europe and their impact on humans, the economies and ecosystems. We also need clear and transparent assessments of the risks we face.

On 21 December last year, we issued a guidance paper on national risk assessment and mapping to encourage Member States in fostering a comprehensive risk-management culture. Developing fully-fledged risk management policies will require the involvement of all actors. The increased frequency and intensity of disasters in Europe should also provide further incentives for Member States to invest in preparedness and build up their capacity.

Besides the prevention elements, it is equally important that Member States, and Europe as a whole, are able to provide the best possible response. In October last year, we outlined our policy proposal for a European disaster-response capacity. Our objective is to improve the efficiency, the coherence and the visibility of the EU’s response to disasters.

 
  
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  Richard Seeber, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, solidarity is the right word to start with. When disasters happen – be they man-made or natural – we must stand together in Europe. That is central to European integration.

The second keyword that we must mention here is speed. It is important to provide help quickly, because rapid assistance is the most effective form of assistance.

Thirdly, however, I must point out that it is, first and foremost, the Member States that are responsible for protecting the population, where possible, from such disasters. We must examine how we can use European resources and also the funds that are available to us in a more efficient and more effective way. However, I should point out that many Member States call for European resources in order to conceal the fact that they are taking inadequate measures themselves.

What can we do at EU level? We have two major expense items: firstly, the European Regional Development Fund for which Commissioner Hahn is responsible, and secondly, the Agricultural Fund, in which regard we could make better use of the funds that are already available. Prevention is key. That is to say, very many disasters, flooding in particular, could be prevented by means of proper spatial planning. We already have a Floods Directive, in connection with which it was clear that we could actually achieve a great deal with our existing resources if we took the right measures – such as mapping, risk assessment and, as a third measure, the creation of preventative action plans.

I would like the Commission, in addition to the prevention measures that it has drawn up, to look, in particular, at the areas of droughts and water shortages. In these areas, we still lack an instrument like the Floods Directive, and we could do a great deal here.

With regard to the catalogue of prevention measures itself, I have to say that mainstreaming is surely crucial in this regard; in other words, that we try to take these aspects into account in other policy areas. Under the supervision of the Commission, the Member States must also draw up risk maps for all areas.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela, on behalf of the S&D Group.(PT) Mr President, this is a recurring debate in Parliament. Unfortunately, natural or man-made disasters are becoming increasingly frequent and devastating.

Although responsibility for disaster prevention lies primarily with the Member States, the European Union can make an important contribution. There are certain Community instruments to support this disaster prevention activity.

However, it is important that those instruments are evaluated so that we can better identify the gaps. Moreover, the funding mechanisms also need to be improved. It has already been mentioned here, but I should like to reiterate that in the case of Madeira, there has not yet been any promise of aid, and it is clear that the victims of this catastrophe cannot remain waiting forever.

The Commission was also asked several times to draw up Community guidelines for risk mapping. I should also like to highlight the importance of carrying out a complete inventory of the sources of information because it is only possible to proceed in an appropriate way if there is accurate information.

Some of the suggestions and proposals presented in the Ferreira report were contained in my report, which was adopted by Parliament in 2006, and the Commission has not yet given a response to many of these proposals. I should therefore like to ask the Commissioner whether he can report on the work done so far in connection with the creation of the European Drought Observatory, and also about the directive on forest fires.

 
  
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  Catherine Bearder, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, summers are hotter and storms are more severe. Rainfall is more erratic and we have more droughts causing life-threatening fires across our continent. Hardly a country has escaped a natural disaster in the last few years and this is not counting the man-made catastrophes such as Chernobyl and, more recently, the toxic dam in Hungary.

Citizens look to their elected representatives to ensure the planning for their protection is efficient and reliable and in place. We have had many promises and reports from the Commission, yet little concrete action has been forthcoming. We have been promised progress in setting up a network of competent national services in Member States. A map of assets, that is readily available and ready to use when disaster strikes, was promised in 2009. National authorities should now be requested to put core equipment on standby, available for rapid European assistance when needed.

In my own region, we have in Bracknell the world-renowned medium-range weather forecasting centre. Its information assists mariners, aircraft and emergency planners from a range of real-time sources around the world, but we need more than these sorts of facilities. We need to know where the trained emergency service teams are. We need to know where the emergency food supplies, the tents and the blankets are.

We need to know where the facilities are that will save the lives of citizens of our Union when they need them. The Commission must come forward with these plans now. Tomorrow’s disaster may be just around the corner.

 
  
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  Marisa Matias, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) Mr President, I should like to begin by saying that I completely support what my fellow Member has said. The prevention of natural and man-made disasters is of enormous and increasing importance, and the Commission is systematically presenting us with a number of aims for procedure and timing.

However, there is a very complicated problem, which I have already mentioned. The Solidarity Fund is the instrument which normally responds to these situations, but it does so after a very, very long period, from nine months to a year, and this is after a disaster. As has already been mentioned, and I shall continue to repeat this as we shall continue to repeat this for as long as it takes, in the case of Madeira, there was a massive disaster there a year ago, and it has still not received any aid.

I should therefore like to stress this question anew: is it not time for the Commission to review the procedure for its own fund and funding model? How can we maintain a fund to deal with increasingly drastic exceptional situations? We do not know where it will happen, but we know that it will happen, and climate change is there to prove it. Therefore, the exception can never apply to a situation that occurs on a regular basis.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group.(SK) Mr President, there is much room for improvement regarding current mechanisms for preventing natural and man-made disasters.

Whereas in the case of preventive measures taken against natural disasters, we must try especially to improve systems for monitoring natural phenomena – be they changes in the weather or tectonic shifts – and then to improve the mathematical models for evaluating and forecasting changes, their consequences and the related warning mechanisms or subsequent evacuation, in the area of man-made disasters, we can work much more effectively.

As we are aware of the risks of different human activities, especially commercial activities that threaten the environment, we know how to reduce in a preventive manner the risk of a possible disaster arising from the performance of any kind of risk-prone activity through good regulatory measures. A preventative regulatory framework, however, just like systems for supervision, inspection, sanctions and repression, must be comprehensive and must be implemented with complete thoroughness and emphasis.

In the interests of protecting the health and lives of our citizens, we must therefore work systematically to improve these mechanisms for protecting against disasters.

 
  
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  Ville Itälä (PPE). (FI) Mr President, we can endorse what has been said here. Disasters have just continued to increase in number. The EU could really do a lot about this: exchange of information, support and solidarity. Here, of course, one gains added value, which is only to be expected of the Union as far as these issues are concerned.

I myself, however, would like to take advantage of this opportunity and ask the Commissioner a question. Three to four years ago, there was a huge forest fire in Russia, resulting in massive smoke damage in my own country, Finland. Many people actually suffered serious health problems caused by this smoke. At the time, the European Parliament here decided to call on the Commission to negotiate an agreement with Russia on how the EU could come to its assistance in such cases and provide the necessary help, which Russia then needed but which it did not agree to accept. I would like to know if the Commission has made any headway in this matter and implemented measures.

Disasters are not merely confined to the EU: they also occur beyond our borders, and they often have an impact on the EU’s Member States. I would like to know what progress has been made with Russia on this.

 
  
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  Mario Pirillo (S&D). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, over the past 15 years, the number of natural and man-made disasters has increased significantly and we see phenomena that are more severe and more frequent in almost all European Union countries with serious consequences for the economy, infrastructure and ecosystems.

We need an urgent EU approach to develop preventive policies and to identify and adapt the relevant financial instruments. The European Union Solidarity Fund and national funds are no longer able to cope with frequent disasters.

I would ask the Commissioner who is present when will it be possible to provide data and a map of areas at risk, as announced in his communication of 23 February 2009? I regret, finally, that the Soil Directive for the improvement of land management has been blocked for some time in the Council.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, after the ecological disaster in Hungary last October, I drew the European Commission’s attention on more than one occasion to the issue of disaster prevention in the mining industry. In the case of the mining sector, accidents can often have a cross-border impact. This is all the more reason why the European Union has a duty to ensure that every possible measure is taken to reduce the risk of accidents and to improve the speed and efficiency of the response when these accidents, nevertheless, occur.

I received confirmation from the Commission, in response to my questions, that the waste discharged into the environment from the accident in Hungary, including into the Danube, was actually toxic, even though this had initially been denied by the authorities. This is a perfectly clear example of regulations which are not being applied, a situation which must change as quickly as possible.

It is the European Commission’s duty to take urgent action in the wake of the resolution adopted last year by Parliament, calling for a ban on the use of cyanide-based technologies in mining as they pose huge cross-border threats to ecosystems.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the report on the Community approach to the prevention of natural and man-made disasters, approved in September 2010, contains a few important references targeted directly at agriculture. The report makes particular mention of the fact that agricultural production is vulnerable to climate phenomena such as drought, frost, hail, forest fires, floods, landslides and others. The report also contains a number of important suggestions aimed at mitigating the impact of these problems. The author has already mentioned the idea of providing some assurances for agriculture.

I would like to highlight the importance of tackling these challenges effectively, especially in the context of a future common agricultural policy whose aim is for agriculture to play both a role in food production and a major role in environmental protection.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, last October, Hungary received expert assistance and material resources to deal with the damage caused by the red sludge disaster, yet no substantive assistance was provided. It was extremely difficult to explain to people why humanitarian assistance can be provided to citizens of countries outside of the EU, but not to EU Member States. It is obvious that the ‘polluter pays’ principle must be applied in the event of industrial disasters, but in most of these cases, these companies do not have enough money. The Commission promised to make environmental liability insurance mandatory for all companies engaged in hazardous activities. At the same time, I propose that – with adequate regulation – the Solidarity Fund should be opened up to the partial alleviation of industrial catastrophes, I emphasise, partial ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, the concept of disaster prevention, particularly where our Hungarian friends are concerned, clearly deserves a great deal of attention because something went wrong when dealing with the toxic sludge disaster in Hungary last October. In its report, the Commission found there to be clear failings on the part of the local authorities, which failed to classify the hazardous wastewater and made major errors in connection with construction work on the reservoir. The Commission also found that the European Waste Catalogue – the Mining Waste Directives – had not been transposed into Hungarian law. It is therefore important for the individual Member States to incorporate European standards into their legal standards in a binding manner.

In addition to disaster prevention, the proper application of these European standards is also important, as is the exchange of best practice and helping the Member States to help themselves. Particularly during this Year of Volunteering, it is important and right for the Member States to go some way towards modelling themselves on the example of those Member States that have nationwide voluntary fire brigades, rescue services, etc.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE).(RO) Mr President, one of the biggest challenges currently facing the European Union is the increase in the severity and repercussions of natural disasters. The statistics indicate that, in the last 20 years, 953 disasters have occurred in Europe, causing almost 90 000 deaths and economic losses amounting to USD 269 billion.

To be able to counter the effects caused by these phenomena, a risk chart is required, along with a coherent plan for managing environmental factors. The preservation and extension of forested areas, as well as green belts in urban environments, must be a priority for all of us. It is vital for us to give the importance that is due to the activities of informing and educating the general public with the aim of preventing the repercussions of disasters. The International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction is a good example of this. I also think that all the instruments need to be made more effective …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D).(PT) Mr President, the concerns raised here with regard to preventing and responding to disasters is a matter of great sensitivity and of the utmost importance for our people, who cannot and should not be made to wait.

We are talking about very sensitive situations that deal with the safety of people and their property, and that often touch us all because of the loss of lives, the destruction of families, and the devastation of whole livelihoods. However, all our demonstrations matter little when compared with the tragedies, which, through the media, affect us all, and make us aware that we cannot fall behind with the work we should be doing to avoid, minimise or, better assist these situations.

Commissioner, my fellow Members have highlighted this matter very well. This is a case where the EU can better show the public that it is there, to help them prevent disasters and, above all, to offer its support when they most need it and are at their most fragile, if they do occur.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner Hahn, we are very well aware of the factors that have led to an increase in the number of disasters in recent years: we know about climate change, the explosive industrialisation in developing countries and the growing world population, among other things.

However, it is also the case that many disasters are simply caused by man, and in this regard, we have to say that the ‘polluter pays’ principle should be applied. To always immediately call for help from the Union is the wrong way to go. However, European solidarity is indeed called for, of course, where disasters genuinely occur as a result of force majeure, when genuine natural disasters happen. In this regard, there is no doubt that our European solidarity should start with prevention – for example, in connection with protective structures to prevent avalanches, flood defences, mapping and monitoring systems.

In addition, we really should have something like a European ‘disaster service’ that can be deployed if assistance is needed very quickly in order to avoid the severest of consequences.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, there is much talk about buzz words here today, but the key buzz word is the first word up on the board: prevention. As the old adage says, ‘prevention is better than cure’ and certainly we have to try and prevent natural disasters based on recent trends, to get out some kind of a forecast and to put preventive actions in place.

We also need some type of a trans-European insurance mechanism, because otherwise, affected areas will not be able to afford insurance. For instance, in my own area, in the town of Clonmel, insurance has gone up sixfold because of the risk of flooding.

Finally, I want to ask how many countries can actually say that they have complied with the Commission’s recommendations, especially in relation to the Floods Directive? I know it has not been applied properly in my country. Countries have to take responsibility just the same as the Commission. By working together, we can at least alleviate the difficulties.

 
  
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  Georgios Koumoutsakos (PPE).(EL) Mr President, Commissioner, we all draw one certain conclusion from the massive, catastrophic forest fires which, nearly every summer, hit the Member States in southern Europe and of which Greece has terrifying and traumatising experience: the key word in dealing promptly and efficiently with natural and man-made disasters in Europe is ‘solidarity’. Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon has introduced a solidarity clause for the provision of assistance to Member States suffering the consequences of natural disasters.

We need to prepare for the proper and effective application of this clause. Otherwise, it will be as if we are ignoring the 70% of European citizens who stand to benefit from assistance for which the European Union has made provision if their country faces a natural disaster. It is important not to let budgetary pressures affect policy and funding for citizens in relation to disaster prevention.

It is also important …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission.(DE) Mr President, firstly, I would like to thank everyone for their wide-ranging contributions to the debate. Wherever a direct appeal has been made to the competence of my colleague, Mrs Georgieva, we will provide you with written answers, for example, with regard to the status of talks and negotiations with Russia on the question of information and monitoring.

However, I would like to take this opportunity – since the European Solidarity Fund falls within my remit – to tell you that this Fund is an instrument that was created seven or eight years ago and that is not financed from the budget. Whenever a disaster occurs, a very complex procedure has to be followed – firstly, there is an assessment and then there is also the codecision of the European Parliament and the Council – which can result in delays.

In the specific case of Madeira, I can tell you that within the next 14 days, we will get a signature and payment. The delay was also caused by the fact that the Member State was very late in providing a lot of the necessary information. This also needs to be taken into account. At the end of the day, we also need to be able to demonstrate, and it must also be possible to verify, what the funds have actually been used for. Nevertheless, the structure of the Solidarity Fund should also continue to be developed. Discussions to this effect are also ongoing within the Commission.

The issue of drought assessment is – quite frankly – relatively difficult to incorporate. The situation is different with regard to technological disasters, for example. These issues need to be reassessed in the light of the experience we have gained in recent years.

As regards the funds provided in the area of the structural funds for example, a total of EUR 7.5 billion is available Europe-wide in the current financial period for risk prevention and corresponding environmental protection measures. Of this, around 20% has already been allocated to specific projects.

As MEPs for an electoral district or Land, you know as well as I do that administrative problems often arise between regions and Member States because it is not clear who is responsible for what. In practice, that often results in delays in the implementation of projects. Overcoming these problems would be an important achievement, because it is in the interests of the people and the regions for us to actually use the money that has been made available and not to founder on account of administrative or bureaucratic problems or to allow these problems to cause delays.

Finally, I would like to say that we actually intend to put forward a legislative proposal at the end of the year for how we can take a more focused approach with regard to the way we monitor and respond to disasters throughout Europe. I would like to thank you once again for your commitment and persistence on this matter and I would like to ask you also to continue – and I will finish by saying this – to pay such a high level of attention to implementation and to utilising the financial resources that are, in principle, available in the Member States.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ádám Kósa (PPE), in writing. (HU) In its communication of 23 February 2009 entitled ‘A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters’, the Commission, amongst other things, undertook the task of correlating available and existing information sources on preventive measures and catastrophes. I would like to take this opportunity to note that the way the New Zealand Government handled the notification of those who are deaf and hard of hearing during its most recent catastrophe is an inspiring example that must be put into practice. At the end of 2010, the government of New Zealand published several resource materials, as well as a DVD, which prepared the affected players, the authorities and the population using sign language for a potential catastrophe. This practice saved lives as well as property. According to local civil organisations and the World Federation of the Deaf (www.wfdeaf.org), the government of Queensland and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) should be proud – in spite of the tragedies which, regrettably, still occurred – of the success achieved by their excellent preparation and cooperation, and particularly of providing live and immediate communication that reached the deaf. In light of this, I hope that the Commission will review the good practice of this non-EU Member State and popularise and promote its implementation in Member States, as well as within the scope of the application of EU resources.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: LIBOR ROUČEK
Vice-President

 

5. Volcanic ash crisis (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the debate:

- on the oral question to the Commission on the volcanic ash crisis, by Marian-Jean Marinescu and Mathieu Grosch, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (O-0198/2010 - B7-0015/2011);

- on the oral question to the Commission on the volcanic ash crisis, by Saïd El Khadraoui, on behalf of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (O-000052/2011 - B7-0204/2011);

- on the oral question to the Commission on the volcanic ash crisis, by Gesine Meissner, on behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (O-000049/2011 - B7-0202/2011); and

- on the oral question to the Commission on the volcanic ash crisis, by Roberts Zīle, on behalf of the Group of European Conservatives and Reformists (O-000051/2011 - B7-0203/2011).

 
  
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  Marian-Jean Marinescu, author.(RO) Mr President, the volcanic eruption last April resulted in the closure of many sectors of European air space. The crisis that ensued affected more than 10 million travellers and had serious economic repercussions. The resolution of the volcanic ash crisis left a lot to be desired due to the lack of coordination between institutions, the lack of specifications and flexibility, not to mention failure to make optimum use of the technical resources.

I said it then and I continue to maintain that it is of paramount importance for the necessary measures to be taken so that we can ensure that a new volcanic eruption will not have the same consequences. Responsibility for flight safety, which includes avoiding areas contaminated by ash, must lie with the operator and crew. Operators must be supplied with accurate data so that they can implement the best solutions. Pilots are trained to cope with exceptional air conditions and have the experience required to evaluate the risk and make decisions about redirecting the flight.

The following elements are required to make this process operate as efficiently as possible: supervision and forecasting must be improved and more money must be invested in equipment on the ground and in the air. The technical structure must be able to supply accurate data in real time and constant forecasts, which can be provided by current technology. The use of several centres for collecting and supplying this information will improve the risk evaluation and relevant flight scheduling. The role of crisis management institutions must be clarified to ensure that operators receive this information which they need for making decisions.

The regulatory body must be responsible for supervision, while Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres are responsible for notifying air navigation service providers about eruptions and high-risk areas. Service providers must inform air crews about the areas at high risk of ash contamination. The parties involved must be trained in effective crisis management using simulation exercises.

I think that it is an absolute requirement for EASA to draw up the specifications required to clarify responsibilities and control at operational level. Achieving the Single European Sky and implementing SESAR would facilitate enormously the decision-making process and would reduce significantly the impact in the event of a crisis. I believe that these are the key points which need to be resolved so that we can ensure that we are prepared to manage such a situation successfully in the future.

 
  
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  Brian Simpson, author. – Mr President, I welcome the opportunity that this oral question gives us to revisit the problems experienced by travellers and the wider aviation industry during last year’s Icelandic volcano crisis.

What became clear last year was that Member States and the EU as a whole had no plan for such an eventuality, the data used was incomplete, the meteorologists could not or, indeed, would not help, and everybody perfected the art of blaming someone else and adopted a policy of risk aversion rather than one of risk management.

To be frank, Mr President, Member States bottled it last year. But, Mr President, that was then. What about the future? Do we have a comprehensive plan to cover the next volcanic eruption? Should this happen, will Member States coordinate at EU level in future? Crucially, will they involve the aviation industry and, particularly, airlines before they issue their advice? We have to avoid the mistakes made last year which gave us the nonsense of one country closing its airspace whilst a neighbouring country kept theirs open, leading to chaos, confusion and huge economic consequences.

Finally Mr President, the Icelandic volcano highlighted one major thing: it has strengthened the argument for a Single European Sky better than any politician could have done. Our role now is to develop and deliver this as a matter of urgency, even though, as usual, the Member States are back to their old habits of dragging their feet on this much-needed project.

 
  
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  Gesine Meissner, author. (DE) Mr President, we have just spoken about natural disasters in the previous agenda item. In this case, it was a force of nature that brought air traffic to a complete standstill. Eyjafjallajökull – everyone probably knows of this volcano now – erupted last year and brought a large proportion of air traffic to a complete standstill. Incidentally, I just noticed once again during the previous speech that we have an excellent chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, because what he said is very similar to what I wanted to say. I will now try to change my speech somewhat.

It was indeed chaos – Mr Simpson has already said that. As Europeans, with high-tech capabilities and with so much already coordinated, we were, in fact, helpless when it came to dealing with this disaster and finding solutions to it. We realised that there were too few agreements in place. We then set up a task force. The questions that concerned us with regard to this issue were whether the task force actually has any valid results already that could be discussed and has it published any studies? I do not know of any at least. Have all of the international experts on such volcanic eruptions actually been consulted? After all, as we already discussed here in plenary last year, there are other parts of the world where volcanic eruptions are much more frequent than in Europe and they somehow manage to have up-to-date data and to coordinate the whole situation.

There is also something else that causes me concern. On 4 May, it was also mentioned in the Council of transport ministers that we need a linked-up European transport system. That can, of course, help in such cases. How far have we come in terms of being able to respond better in the event of a further volcanic eruption? We cannot predict this, of course. It will just happen.

I have one further question: do we know exactly what technology we would need to be able to deal with this situation better? In Germany, we now have appropriate devices at all weather stations that collect the data and are able to pass on this up-to-date data very quickly to the people responsible at the airlines and also to pilots so that they can decide whether or not it is safe to fly.

One further point which has not been mentioned yet but which I think is important in this context is the following: this ash crisis, and the subsequent problems it posed for the air transport industry, affected 10 million passengers and, of course, also many companies. Some passengers were stranded and were unable to continue their journeys. The question therefore arises as to how things stand with regard to passengers’ rights. We have rights for air passengers, but I have the impression that, in this case, they have not always been fully utilised. Perhaps we should also revise these passenger rights once more.

There are a lot of questions here. Mr Hahn, I do not know whether you will be able to answer them now, as transport is not actually your area. Otherwise, I am sure that the questions I raised in addition to the written question can be answered later. You will notice that this subject is of great concern to us. After all, the air transport industry is very important, and we therefore need a Single European Sky.

 
  
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  Roberts Zīle, author.(LV) Mr President, I should not so much like to repeat what Members have said, but why are we, in fact, asking this question? Nearly a year has gone by since these events, and it is possible that they will simply be forgotten. Nevertheless, we wanted to ensure that this issue was still important to the Commission and we await the Commissioner’s action on these promised issues as a lesson from last year’s volcanic eruption. In effect, it proved that the aviation market is possibly the European Union’s domestic market to an extent unlike no other mode of transport across Europe. That, in turn, means that taking decisions, as well as their preparation, possibly requires a process that differs from that required for other modes of transport. It is a question of the absence of these data and the non-participation of the operators in the decision-making process, as well as of the fact that the decision is taken at Member State level. In principle, of course, this has its basis in law. However, even though I belong to a political group that always supports the principle of subsidiarity, on this occasion, I think that, taking into account the actual situation last year, we ought to consider on the basis of this example whether decisions should not be taken at European level to a greater extent. Passengers are also concerned that different airlines behave differently towards passengers, and to always obtain compensation from these airlines through the courts is not the easiest thing. Clearly, we should not have a situation where different airlines can emerge from this crisis in different ways, with different costs. Finally, the third point I should like to stress is the lesson that can be drawn from this crisis, namely, that in the European Union, various ‘islands’ exist, as it were, that are not connected by different modes of transport to other European Union Member States. This means that when planning the TEN-T map this year and the TEN-T budget for the next financial perspective, as well as the cohesion policy budget, we should allow for investment in other modes of transport, so that we can connect these ‘islands’ to the rest of the European Union. Thank you.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland in April 2010 had an enormous impact which required the EU to act urgently. The Commission therefore proposed immediate actions to coordinate the EU’s position and to strengthen the regulatory framework. This makes Europe a stronger partner at a global level.

The Commission is actively engaged in practical work to refine the existing volcanic ash avoidance methodologies in aviation. For example, the Commission has launched a specific call under the Seventh Framework Programme called ‘Technology support for crisis coordination for the air transport system following major disrupting events’. In parallel, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is preparing rules for air-worthiness requirements and risk assessment for safe flight in airspace with volcanic contaminants.

From an operational perspective, an approach has been developed in close cooperation with the EASA. This approach reflects practices in other parts of the world. The guiding principles are as follows: first, the airline is responsible for the safety of its operations. Before operating in airspace contaminated by volcanic ash, the airline must produce a safety risk assessment and have it accepted by its supervising authority. This process must be repeated when important changes occur.

Second, the airline must show that the information sources it uses in its safety risk assessment are correct. It also has to show its own competence and capability to interpret such data correctly. Before starting operations, the airline must obtain from the manufacturers specific information regarding the susceptibility of the aircraft to the effects of airborne ash and the impact of such ash on its airworthiness. This must be reflected in the safety risk assessment.

In dealing with disruptive events such as this, a key element is collaborative decision making between Member States and industry. To ensure comprehensive and coordinated actions, the Commission, together with Eurocontrol, established a European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell, following the Council of Transport Ministers meeting of 4 May 2010. Since its creation, the cell has met on several occasions to develop its structures and procedures. To test and verify its timely functionality, this cell will be part of a volcano exercise planned for 13 and 14 April 2011 under the auspices of the UN’s aviation body, the ICAO.

The volcanic ash crisis highlighted the crucial importance of the Single European Sky. The Commission has therefore accelerated its implementation via, for example, the adoption of the SES Performance Scheme and the associated EU-wide performance targets, the adoption of implementing rules for network management functions, the designation of the network manager, the adoption of implementing rules and guidance material for the functional airspace blocks, the nomination of the former MEP, Mr Georg Jarzembowski, as the functional airspace blocks coordinator and the expected finalisation by April 2011 of the extension of the EASA’s competence for safety regulation in the field of air traffic management.

Let me therefore conclude by saying that the Commission is continuing to work on these very complex and technical issues. The Commission is working together with EASA, ICAO, Member States and industry to ensure the safety of European airspace.

 
  
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  Mathieu Grosch, on behalf of the PPE Group. (DE) Mr President, Mr Hahn, I naturally consider your response to be the response of the Commission, and I also do not expect you to go into the specific questions put forward by the Committee on Transport and Tourism today.

One thing was clear: more than 100 000 flights were cancelled and 300 airports and more than 10 million passengers were affected. We must learn lessons from such an event. That is also the reason for the question that we are raising today, because there was a very quick call for coordination and this was clearly not forthcoming. It is not possible to improvise coordinated action in the space of 24 hours. These are the questions that we want answers to today, and it is not only Parliament that wants these answers; the citizens of Europe want them, too.

The first thing we want to know is has the information relating to both the effects and the location of such phenomena improved or not?

Secondly, what role will EU bodies play in this regard in future and what powers of decision will they have? Will we continue to have 27 simultaneously existing decisions, or does the Commission already have other proposals, and to what extent will the airlines be involved here? This question has come up very often.

The Crisis Committee is supposed to meet – it does meet and will also carry out tests. It would be extremely important for this Parliament and therefore also for European citizens to be informed of the results of these tests.

When it comes to coordination, it is important for this to be established outside the EU, too. We also need to agree on structures at international level, as the airspace and also certain disasters know no boundaries in this context.

Another important factor as far as we are concerned is the passengers. We talk about 10 million passengers, but these 10 million passengers were not only tourists who had to or were happy to extend their holidays; there were also people who had to get home or had to get somewhere urgently. In this case, we cannot simply refer to passengers’ rights; rather, we are under obligation to work in a coordinated way and to provide alternatives and greater use of other modes of transport. For example, we need a more rapid allocation of rail routes when this is necessary. This is also not possible to improvise in the space of 24 hours. These are questions that we want to raise on behalf of citizens and passengers, too. It is not just a question of explaining their rights.

Last but not least – and you mentioned this – the airspace blocks, or what are referred to as FABs: the proposal is to have seven instead of 27. That could work. However, I would simply venture to predict today that we will not manage to do this by 2012, because the Member States do not want it. In this regard, we must also send a very clear outward signal that a reduction in the number of airspace blocks is absolutely necessary. It can work, too. Mr Hahn, I invite you to come to Maastricht – it is not very far for you to come. There, cooperation between three or four countries in respect of the upper layer of the airspace is already in place. That is where all of the problems that the countries bring up are solved. Go there, suggest it to the Commission, and use it as a model for Europe, for the seven FABs. We will then be able to regulate this within twelve months.

 
  
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  Edit Herczog, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, as I am not a member of the Transport Committee, some Members might wonder why I am so keen to speak on this very issue. But I was, like others, a victim of the ash cloud. I was travelling to Baku and could only get back with great difficulties.

This concerns all European citizens. It was an opportunity for Europe to show its added value – and we failed. I think European citizens understood that the EU was not yet prepared for taking a single action, but we have to make sure that we are ready to take a single action in the next similar case. Therefore, I think that the need for the Single European Sky project is imperative. We all agree on that.

Although I am not a member of the Transport Committee, I would like to mention that not only a Single European Sky is needed, but also a single European infrastructure connected to this. Therefore, here in this plenary session, I would like to draw attention to the need for Galileo and for GMES – as they are potentially a great European infrastructure if we can build them – to deliver on that purpose. This is why we are working to get the budget lines for those issues, but we have to explain better to European citizens why these projects are needed.

This is why I wanted to take the floor to make the point that, alongside European policies, European infrastructure in this field is necessary.

 
  
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  Nathalie Griesbeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, a little less than a year ago, three hundred airports were closed in Europe in 23 out of the 27 countries of the Union. That caused considerable financial losses and, above all, as previous speakers have pointed out, more than 10 million people, not all of whom were on tourist trips, had to postpone their journeys and find other means of transport.

This was a result of the havoc wrought by a wholly natural event, which placed us in an important context in relation to nature, and which caused unprecedented paralysis in the skies above Europe.

It is, of course, difficult to predict a volcanic eruption and, even more so, the formation of a volcanic ash cloud – more difficult, of course, than predicting a snow episode. However, the crisis caused by this cloud highlights all the shortcomings and deficiencies of air traffic management in the Union as well as the weakness and absence of a number of management tools.

On the basis of these three factors, I would like to put forward three proposals for recovery: firstly, regarding imperative comodality; secondly, concerning the need for the Community method to respond to such challenges; thirdly, and naturally at the heart of our concerns, relating to the rights of passengers, which are central to our concerns.

As regards the first element, the crisis has highlighted the fact that it was absolutely crucial to strengthen comodality in European transport, since the cloud highlighted the limits not only of aviation systems at European level but, more especially, of rail travel, since countless travellers were unable to find an alternative. As demonstrated in the studies that have been carried out over the last year, one can image that, with more comodality, the scale of the crisis would not have been so huge and the paralysis would have been somewhat less.

As regards the second element, as in the financial crisis and in the debates we are having on the Community method compared with intergovernmental operations, here, in the area of transport, intergovernmental operations or a fragmented response from 27 Member States are not what will resolve the difficulties we have encountered and which may return, but rather a genuinely Community method. That would require strengthening the competences of Eurocontrol in a Community system and, of course, as has been pointed out, completing the Single European Sky as a matter of urgency.

Thirdly, there are the passengers, who are at the heart and the centre of our concerns ...

(The President interrupted the speaker)

As I said in my introduction, you will have gathered that what I left until last was the crucial issue.

 
  
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  Eva Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, firstly, I would like to thank the Commission – something I do not often do – for very consistently placing the focus on safety, even in the face of protests from some airlines, which tried to make light of the problem because such problems have a financial impact. However, safety must remain the guiding principle for the future, too. A few improvements that we can achieve at European level are necessary, however.

For example, how about improving our common measuring systems? Do we now have strategies in place for how and with what division of labour such pollution incidents can be measured so that we can issue halfway reliable statements more quickly? I know that this is extremely difficult to do, particularly on account of meteorological conditions, but I would like to know whether any progress has been made here with regard to coordination, so that we are at least taking measurements and evaluating them according to the same criteria.

Overall, this crisis caused by the volcanic ash has shown how vulnerable our highly equipped air transport system now is – that is something that is obvious to all of us already at our airports. Under normal operating conditions, two or three delays already have a whole series of consequences, making use of the service under normal operating conditions more and more difficult, let alone if there is the additional problem of external weather events or something like a volcanic ash crisis; the situation then becomes one of utter chaos. We have no error-tolerant system, and in this area, we also need to make improvements, as a system is only as good as its ability to respond in an error-tolerant manner in relevant cases.

It has also become apparent that we are facing a serious shortcoming, namely, the general lack of cooperation between rail, road and air transport. Precisely because we have insufficient cooperation, it was hardly possible to take appropriate compensatory measures on the ground.

With regard to the Single Sky, the necessity of which has become apparent here – as coordinated measures would, in any case, have been better – I would say that, as long as each Member State is convinced that it is the only one that is truly capable of controlling its own airspace efficiently and that all of the others are absolutely incapable of doing so – and I am talking here about our airspace in Central Europe – we will not make any progress in this regard. This egotism damages European cooperation and, ultimately, also the European idea. We need to be clear about that.

 
  
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  Jacqueline Foster, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, it has been said in the debate but I will reiterate that we are all aware of the huge extent of the disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud. As has been mentioned, over 100 000 flights were cancelled, tens of millions of business and holiday passengers were not able to travel as planned, goods and cargo were delayed or not transported at all, businesses were affected and our European carriers and airports suffered catastrophic financial losses. All in all, it cost the European airlines more than EUR 2 billion. Institutions across Europe and in Member States who were responsible for dealing with such issues were absolutely paralysed and, quite frankly, if it had not been so serious, it would have been practically laughable.

In all this chaos, one thing was clear. Air transport is enormously important for the European economy and as individuals, we depend on a thriving and efficient air transport industry where safety for crew and passengers is the first prerogative. As such, I am delighted to support this oral question, not least because during our previous plenary debate on this issue, I called for the European Union to look at international best practice on dealing with volcanic ash and, more particularly, highlighted America, which has always applied a more measured approach in this regard. I certainly welcomed the fact that the Commission, in its assessment of the crisis, accepted that Europe needed to revise procedures through the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

International best practice tells us that responsibility for dealing with potential hazards related to volcanic ash must be transferred to the airline operators as part of their safety management systems. The role of the authorities is to audit the airline safety management system to ensure that it meets the required safety standards. This is the procedure applied by the US and other countries which have managed to deal with volcanic eruptions without major disruptions to air traffic.

Clear and decisive joined-up leadership is essential and we need the European Aviation Safety Agency to ensure that EU Member States adapt their current procedures to guarantee that airline operators will take responsibility and be supported in making such decisions in future.

Lastly, the crisis in April and May last year made it absolutely clear that as a priority, we need to push for the full implementation of the Single European Sky and SESAR. Both European industry and the taxpayer have already invested huge sums of money in these projects and, as European lawmakers, we must continue to push forward well balanced, cost-effective and structural reforms. I welcome the comments by the Commissioner today. Let us hope that we move forward now in a positive way.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas, on behalf on the EFD Group. (LT) Mr President, since we are again discussing today the crisis caused by volcanic ash, it would seem that this topic is still relevant and that questions remain unanswered. We understand that volcanoes do not follow any rules and we cannot exclude unforeseen circumstances. All of this is about the survival of the aviation industry, but aircraft are hampered not just by volcanoes, but also by storms, snow and similar phenomena. Understandably, it is impossible to eliminate, stop or predict everything that may happen in aviation. Clearly, aircraft safety, people’s lives and their mobility must rank among our most important considerations.

I am pleased that a comprehensive programme is being pursued by implementing the Single Sky initiative in order to modernise air traffic management. I agree with my fellow Member who said just now that a common infrastructure also needs to be established. However, while I am on the subject, I would like to say that today, we should consider and discuss the development of alternative transport. We need and must achieve greater progress in this area. This crisis had a particular impact on the European Union’s eastern Member States, which remained separated from part of Western Europe and, unlike the other European Union Member States, did not have sufficient opportunity to choose alternative modes of transport. We now know that we urgently need to establish a alternative secondary mobility system, trans-European networks, rail networks, an alternative to air transport, such as has wisely been done with regard to electricity and telecommunications networks. Therefore, given the financial perspectives, more ambitious goals need to be set when reviewing the trans-European networks. Land transport and, above all, railways should be able to replace air transport more smoothly if the latter is withdrawn. The time has come to consider specific alternatives and to implement these as quickly as possible.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Mr President, like other Members here, I am not a member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism but I come from Northern Ireland, an island on the edge of Europe. You can, therefore, imagine how vitally important good air and sea connections are, not only for our economy, but also for personal travel.

I have been dealing over the last number of months, indeed even this week, with residual cases from individual constituents who have been affected by this particular crisis. At the time of the volcanic ash crisis, the costs were estimated to be in excess of GBP 200 million a day in UK flights alone. Therefore, in order to avoid this, we must have much greater cooperation and much more cognisance of best practice so that we have a plan in place to prevent future disruptions and such a horrendous impact on the economy.

As I have said, I have had a lot of complaints from individual constituents, most of which centred on the airlines, their treatment of these individuals and their failure to recognise their duty of care. I would ask the Commission to look at this as well.

 
  
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  Ville Itälä (PPE). (FI) Mr President, we, of course, know about the sad stories that were heard when the ash cloud formed. Many people were unable to get to the funerals of their relatives, their children’s weddings or similar occasions. They were very personal, regrettable incidents, not to speak of the financial cost incurred through the suffering of 10 million people. As you see, nothing actually worked.

We were unable to reply that the EU had a solution to these situations, and here, the Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism correctly said that this risk could not have been anticipated, it could not have been controlled, and the whole thing was more like complete chaos.

Now, the Commission should give the public the answers it wants as quickly as possible: the answers to whether we have technical solutions or whether the airlines will discover them. If there are any, what might they be? What will the rights of passengers be in the future, if the same situation arises, where people cannot fly or get home? When will there be an effective common European airspace? The answer people want, obviously, is as soon as possible, so that this cannot continue for much longer. What is the alternative plan? What means of transport are to be used? This time, people were at a loss. Others ordered taxis from Spain to Finland, paying thousands of euro in fares. This situation cannot be repeated in the future: there should be a plan in place for how people can be better served as regards these alternative arrangements.

In this connection, I wish to raise another issue mentioned here, and another natural upheaval: snow. Tens of thousands of people in December were stranded at airports in Europe when it snowed. In my own country, Finland, there is continual heavy snow and there are harsh frosts, but things work. We therefore have to get European airports to work properly too. This is not too difficult and we cannot just give up: matters should be dealt with so as to guarantee citizen’s access to justice.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the Icelandic volcano eruption, as well as the huge volumes of snow which fell last year, seriously disrupted European air traffic, with significant economic and social consequences. With the aim of avoiding such situations in the future, I would like to ask the Commission what main new regulations it has in mind for improving the legislative framework for the rights of passengers travelling by air.

In spite of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres in London and Toulouse, which are part of an international network of nine such centres set up by the ICAO, and the specialist London centre producing volcanic ash cloud risk charts, we also need to improve the European infrastructure by introducing a system for measuring the concentration of volcanic ash clouds in real time.

Regulation (EC) No 1070/2009 on improving the performance of the European aviation system requires Member States to take the necessary measures to guarantee implementation of the functional airspace blocks by 4 December 2012.

I wish to ask the Commission whether the implementation of the Single European Sky will comply with the specified timetable. The European Union also needs to provide comodality and a system for booking and issuing tickets for European routes involving several modes of transport. The European Union requires a high-speed railway system which will link all of Europe’s capitals and cities.

 
  
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  Liam Aylward (ALDE). – Mr President, the volcanic ash crisis last year prompted the cancellation of close to 100 000 flights, resulting in absolute chaos for passengers. It is the effect that this crisis had on passengers that I wish to draw the Commission’s attention to today.

Over 10 million people were affected and the cancellations resulted in significant economic costs for thousands of passengers. While airports have signs and leaflets informing travellers of their rights, this is often of little use when faced with cancellations or major travel disruptions such as that caused by the ash cloud. Under EU legislation, passengers have a right to information and assistance from their airline.

However, in reality, the majority of passengers whose travel has been disrupted will spend a lot of time and money chasing down information, seeking alternative tickets or compensation with airlines. This is an issue that the Commission needs be more effective on. The biggest frustration that passengers face in situations like this is trying to get information, trying to get in contact with the airlines. Although they are aware of their rights, this is of little help to them if they are stranded in an airport or on hold to an airline.

While I appreciate that, at the time of the ash crisis, airlines were under unprecedented pressure to deal with thousands of passengers – and I must admit that some did admirably – in general, it is very difficult for people to get information and assistance when it is needed.

The travel chaos as a result of the bad weather in December 2010 further demonstrates this. Passengers require up-to-date information but they need to be able to reach the airlines in order to exercise their rights. Airlines, airport customer services and information need to be more accessible to passengers whose travel has been disrupted. It is not enough to inform European Union citizens of their passenger rights; they must be assisted in exercising them in times of travel chaos.

 
  
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  Michael Cramer (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, this was a natural disaster which had terrible consequences for many people. However, if we compare it with the floods and the simultaneous hurricane in Australia or with the earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand, we all escaped unharmed. Safety had absolute priority, and rightly so. Commissioner Kallas made the right decision in agreement with the EU transport ministers in the Member States.

I cannot understand the criticism directed at the airlines. They clearly suffered a loss – a figure of 2 billion was mentioned. However, it is wrong to lay the responsibility as to whether or not flights go ahead at the feet of the airlines. That decision must be made at a political level. Safety must be given top priority. Imagine if an aeroplane had crashed as a result of the volcanic ash. We would have had a completely different debate, namely, how irresponsible it was to even allow one aeroplane to take off.

We need a plan B, as has quite rightly been said, and the rail system is the alternative. As a result of their exemption from fuel tax, airlines receive EUR 30 billion per year from European taxpayers. This money must be invested in the rail system, at least in parts of it, so that we have an alternative in the event of this sort of disaster.

Safety first – that is what people are calling for, and rightly so. It must also be the case in the future, too.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR).(PL) Mr President, this situation showed that Europe was not, in fact, prepared for this crisis. Despite what we are hearing in this Chamber, the experts say that the reaction on our part was excessive and some flights could certainly have been allowed. However, this nonetheless shows the undoubted scale of the paralysis in which we found ourselves. Of course, the previous speakers who spoke about a certain alternative in the form of developing the rail network are right. That is obvious. In the field of aviation, the answer to this problem is definitely better coordination and strengthening of the role of the European Aviation Safety Agency. In addition, it is good that in November, the European Parliament adopted a suitable regulation on this matter. It was a step in the right direction.

 
  
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  Béla Kovács (NI).(HU) Mr President, the volcanic eruption forces us to rethink transportation priorities. The time has come to begin favouring rail in medium-distance transport up to 1 500 km, for which subsidies, taxes, and other regulatory mechanisms could be used as needed. An important consideration is that significant internal market demand is noticeable in connection with the modernisation of railroad tracks as well as the manufacturing of rolling stock, both of which could create numerous jobs. In view of check-in and airport transfer times, aeroplanes – in comparison with high-speed trains – provide a zero minimal time benefit while causing considerable carbon dioxide and noise pollution. Even though we cannot prevent volcanic eruptions, we can improve the technology used to predict them and how we evaluate the resulting situation. However, a genuine solution can only be provided by transforming transport, energy and industrial policy, because volcanic eruptions cause either no disruption, or only local disruption, to rail transport.

 
  
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  Christine De Veyrac (PPE). (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as many of us have said just now, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano last April was a painful illustration of the fragmentation and ineffectiveness of the European sky. Each of us in this Chamber was directly affected. Five million of our citizens were stranded with no real alternative form of transport available. One year after that exceptional event, new European measures have so far failed to materialise.

Commissioner, you said that a first crisis exercise, linked to volcanic ash, is scheduled for 13 and 14 April under the coordination of Eurocontrol, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), but it is essential that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) exercises real leadership to coordinate safety measures at European level.

It is certain that the information provided by the Visual Approach Charts (VAC) of London and Toulouse must be refined using more modern technologies. As we saw last April, however, the data may be contradictory and may lead each Member State to take decisions concerning the closure of their air space that are motivated less by information than by emotion.

In this context, the role of the EASA is vital in proposing a harmonised interpretation of the data, as well as in ensuring the centralisation and proper dissemination of the information. Beyond the information provided by the VACs, the EASA must put in place a mechanism for collecting the available data in close cooperation with the Member States, the airlines and their pilots.

This centralisation of information and the coordination of all those involved will prevent the chaos and the inconsistencies we witnessed last year. So I expect the Commission, together with the EASA, to be able to submit specific proposals in the very near future, which will be integrated fully in the implementation of the Single European Sky.

 
  
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  James Nicholson (ECR). – Mr President, the volcanic ash cloud crisis caused huge disruption during last April and into May. As Mrs Foster said, many of us realised how dependent we are on modern air travel. Certainly when you come from where I come from, where it is impossible to get to your work unless you use the aeroplane, then that really brings it home to you. Everybody who travelled during that time probably has stories to tell, and some people were very badly affected. In addition, the economic losses airlines and other businesses suffered as a result of grounded flights and stranded passengers were substantial.

People have said that this could happen again. I think this is what we have got to be prepared for, because there did seem to be an awful lot of indecision. Let me be very honest: as someone who flies every week, when I am up there at 39 000 feet, I want, above all, to be safe and secure, so I do not ever argue about security. We have got to make sure that the safety of the passengers is paramount. I think that is the overlying situation that we should support.

 
  
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  Artur Zasada (PPE).(PL) Mr President, I will say it again: 100 000 cancelled flights, 10 million passengers who did not reach their destination, EUR 2 billion of losses to the airlines. I do not recall a similar paralysis of air traffic in Europe ever happening before. The European Commission, under pressure from public opinion and the aviation industry, announced quick and decisive action as early as April last year. Unfortunately, the volcanic ash has settled, and the Commission’s ambitions have fallen with it. To date, a European crisis management plan for similar situations has not been drafted. It has also not been possible as yet to agree on a common position between safety experts, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and market regulators. It is, therefore, necessary to ask the following questions today: what has been done about this over the last year? If a similar volcanic eruption occurred today, would we react differently than a year ago? When will we be presented with specific measures?

We are conducting a sustained dialogue on the Single European Sky, on body and liquid scanners, and on procedures for natural disasters such as a volcanic eruption or a severe attack of winter. Meanwhile, air traffic over Europe continues to increase year-on-year. The time for discussions is ending. The European sky needs immediate and good solutions for the future, and I strongly encourage the Commission to complete this work. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Ismail Ertug (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the volcanic ash of last year showed us in an impressive way where our weaknesses lie. The question therefore arises as to how we should deal with such situations in the future. It is, of course, first and foremost a question of the safety of those people who board an aeroplane. Of course, we must also keep in mind how we intend to deal with the financial losses. My question to the Commission is therefore – Mr Hahn, perhaps you could also pass this on to Mr Kallas – what, in specific terms, are we planning? I would argue that it is particularly important for us to take over the coordination when it comes to test flights and limit values. That is very important in order for us to know which aeroplanes can take off and when.

I have another comment, Commissioner: it is extremely important – and this has already been referred to many times – to establish the Single European Sky. What does the Commission intend to do in terms of exerting pressure on the Member States to actually fulfil their obligation in this regard? After all, they have put their signatures to it.

Another important point, which has already been made several times today, is what happens now with regard to passengers’ rights in air transport. We have Regulation (EC) No 2061 from 2004. What does the Commission intend to do in this regard? We are aware of the problem of the financial losses suffered by the various airlines. I would also like to point out once again that we need alternatives to air transport, and by that I mean the rail system. I am also one of those who believe that we must link the large cities – Europe’s capital cities – together. In this case, too, the answer is that we need more involvement from Europe, not less.

I would be pleased if the Commission would give its attention to these issues.

 
  
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  Carlo Fidanza (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should first like to thank Mr Marinescu for pressing so strongly for this debate.

Almost one year on from the event, we are gathered here to discuss this delicate issue, which caused extensive damage to passengers and businesses involved in both the air sector and, lest we forget, in other industries, too.

I therefore consider it necessary to adopt a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, enhance coordination between the authorities and stakeholders, finally addressing the reform of Eurocontrol, which is not, of course, a body reporting directly to the European institutions, but which was, in any case, crucial in the management and lack of effective management of this crisis.

The inadequacy of purely mathematical models, which led the authorities of individual countries to an almost total shutdown of the airspace even when there was no need, has been demonstrated. In the absence of a model tested in the field and more advanced technologies, an excess of caution led to very heavy damage and inconvenience.

In addition, we must make decisive progress towards achieving the Single European Sky, developing all the functional airspace blocks (FABs) more quickly to reduce fragmentation in the management of airspace and to ensure their more effective management. On the other hand, it is necessary to guarantee the rights of travellers. In this regard, I hope that the Commission can submit its revision of the directive on package travel as soon as possible to clarify the framework of guarantees and liability in extraordinary situations and also any changes to the regulation on passengers’ rights when extraordinary situations are protracted.

It would also be necessary – other fellow Members have said the same – to launch an emergency plan to provide alternative mobility, alternative means of transport if a similar situation should arise again.

 
  
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  Dominique Riquet (PPE). (FR) Mr President, I would like to thank the Members who spoke earlier to highlight all the shortcomings of European air transport integration in connection with the use of air space, ground structures and trade networks. I would also like to emphasise, more specifically, the non airspace-related aspects that the volcano crisis revealed; that is to say; the lack of alternative networks to air transport, in particular, rail networks, as mentioned this morning, and, above all, the lack of integrated information systems to enable passengers to quickly find information relating to available alternative forms of transport.

This accident must prompt us to work towards developing alternative, efficient and competitive modes of transport. In this regard, the review of the first rail package as well as the revival of infrastructure policies through trans-European transport networks should move in this direction.

In addition, I call upon the Commission to give serious consideration to establishing a single information and reservation interface for all interconnected modes of transport.

 
  
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  Bogdan Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Europe was not prepared for such chaos, and the institutions responsible for crisis management were not up to the task. As a result of the air traffic embargo, the airlines lost USD 400 million every day. To lost ticket sales should be added the cost of accommodation, meals and transport for passengers who were stranded at airports.

Seismic and volcanic activity are not a novelty to the world, and other volcanic eruptions are possible in the future. Unfortunately, there is no suitable medicine for such a situation. At such times, the European Union should concentrate on ensuring its citizens alternative means of transport to flying. A good solution, as part of the TEN-T network being set up in the Union, will be the creation of a common network of railway connections and concentrating on improving high-speed rail transport. This would certainly be effective in helping resolve problems of this kind. Thank you.

 
  
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  Karin Kadenbach (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Mr Hahn, I am not a member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism either, but I believe that it is important for all of us to learn lessons from the ash crisis. As has already been said today, ‘safety first’ must, in future, be the guiding concept when it comes to finding a solution. We need to develop the railways and we need to develop a European rail network. However, we also need a form of overall coordination for passenger and freight transport, irrespective of whether it is by air, rail or road, in the event of earthquakes, ash clouds, floods or similar disasters.

National contact points, like those we are now setting up in the health sector for cross-border patient care, would seem an almost obvious solution to this – national contact points to which people of all generations can turn. The fact is that I can also see a certain intergenerational inequality at the moment in air transport. It is almost impossible these days to obtain information without the Internet. We should work together to resolve this issue, too.

 
  
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  Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE). – Mr President, as many colleagues have stated, the volcanic ash crisis caused significant air traffic disruption and economic damage in 2010, damage that is still unquantifiable. Over 10 million passengers were directly affected as 100 000 flights were cancelled across Europe. I come from Ireland, and Irish air passengers faced extreme difficulties due to this ash cloud, as Ireland does not have land crossings to mainland Europe. I had to take sea crossings and trains, taxis and cars to get here to Strasbourg, which took me over 24 hours without sleep. Of course, that is a small price to pay; we have to ensure that safety is paramount.

The situation did, however, highlight the overwhelming need for a common policy. I welcome the recent initiatives by Commissioner Kallas to implement the Single European Sky and to establish functional air space. I also welcome the statement here today by Commission Hahn and I fully support these measures, as volcanic ash clouds recognise no political or geographical boundaries.

 
  
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  Ádám Kósa (PPE).(HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as my fellow Member, Mr Marinescu, has already pointed out, the volcanic ash crisis demonstrated that Europe was neither strategically nor technologically prepared for this situation. I would like to draw the Commission’s attention to the fact that this also had a strong effect on the dissemination of, and access to, information. Due to the communications chaos, the negative effects of the crisis were felt by disadvantaged groups such as families with small children and persons with disabilities, who were unable to react appropriately. I ask the Commission whether, after April 2010, and in a similar crisis situation, every travelling citizen will have access to adequate information in order to appropriately exercise their right to information.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank the honourable Members for their understanding, knowing that I am not familiar with this issue. Members, you are right that my colleague, Vice-President Siim Kallas, is doing an excellent job and you will receive written answers to your specific questions where necessary. Having said that, I would like to thank you for an interesting debate, particularly as, like you, I was personally affected by events in various ways. Therefore, I would like to conclude by stating the following.

Last year’s volcanic ash crisis clearly highlighted the need for us to work together to find solutions to avoid a repeat of the airspace closures we witnessed. That being said – and as was the case in April last year – actions taken in this regard cannot diminish the levels of safety that the aviation industry is renowned for around the world.

Crisis situations are not new to the European Union and the EU response to this crisis was timely and efficient. It showed the importance of centralised European action in a widespread crisis situation. Looking specifically at the Eyjafjallajökull event, the concept, aims and objectives of the Single European Sky initiative have once again been highlighted. As recognised by the Council of Ministers, there is a need to accelerate its implementation to derive all the benefits of its application.

From the Commission perspective, the focus remains on ensuring a harmonised approach and application of agreed measures to future crisis situations. This will be of benefit to all citizens in Europe. It is our intention to revise air passenger rights in 2012. Last but not least, the participation of the industry is essential in order to facilitate a coordinated decision-making process.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D), in writing. – The closure of large sectors of European air space in April and May last year due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland caused severe traffic disruption and economic damage and affected 10 million passengers directly. I believe the primary responsibility for the safety of flights rests with the operators. Therefore, they must be provided with accurate data. Pilots are trained to manage extraordinary flight conditions, the commercial airlines’ safety manuals are reviewed, overseen and confirmed by regulatory authorities, and airlines have the necessary experience of operating over volcanic areas, as is shown by their safety record. The airline operator (the pilot) should therefore be responsible for assessing the risk and ensuring the safety of flights by, for example, choosing routes or deciding if rerouting is necessary, taking into account all the information available (provision of more information and improved technical equipment on board aircraft). I hope the Commission will liaise with the appropriate authorities to ensure that in the future, they are allowed to get on with their job.

 
  
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  Wojciech Michał Olejniczak (S&D), in writing.(PL) A debate was held in the European Parliament today on the volcanic ash crisis. The volcanic eruption in Iceland last year resulted in serious disruptions to air traffic over Europe. It caused major economic losses and directly affected 10 million passengers. It certainly is not in the interest of the Union to resist the forces of nature, but better prediction of the possibility of a similar crisis occurring in the future would definitely allow economic losses to be reduced and would result in greater convenience for the citizens of Europe.

During the debate, there was discussion of matters relating to progress in the implementation of investments in technological equipment and data transfer systems for the provision of real-time weather forecasts. Questions were put to the European Commission concerning transparency of collaborative decision-making processes and better coordination of responses. Consideration was also given to the consequences of an increase in air traffic in the future and what measures should be taken to make the European Aviation Safety Agency responsible for carrying out operational changes.

 
  
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  Nuno Teixeira (PPE), in writing. – (PT) The number of natural disasters has been increasing in both intensity and frequency. The recent case of the volcanic ash cloud recorded in Iceland in April and May of last year seriously affected the whole of European airspace, during which time 75% of the airport network was inactive, and led to considerable economic losses and affected around 10 million passengers.

In order to prevent further disruptions to air traffic, there is an urgent need to think of crisis management measures. This means that there needs to be an investment in technological equipment on land and in the air to provide accurate information in real time. In addition, it is vital to define the role and function of the various institutions in crisis management so that there is concerted coordination, to avoid greater losses to the different players. This event shows that it is crucial to develop the integration of European airspace through the Single European Sky initiative. The continual growth of air traffic, the fragmentation of European airspace and unforeseen events such as the volcanic ash cloud show that the EU should coordinate and harmonise its air procedures so as to bring added value to the European air sector.

 
  
  

(The sitting was suspended at 11:35 and resumed at 12:00)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: JERZY BUZEK
President

 

6. Statement by the President
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  President. – Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, dear guests, tomorrow, on 11 March, we will be marking the European Day for the Victims of Terrorism for the seventh time. The day is dedicated to more than 5 000 victims of terrorism in Europe. Terrorists declare war against civilians. They strike in places where ordinary people should feel safe in their countries. It is shameful, deceitful and cowardly. That is why terrorism can never be justified. We Europeans are strong and united. No terrorist or criminal organisation is able to weaken our faith in the values which underpin our united Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, please rise to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of terrorism.

(The House rose and observed a minute’s silence)

 

7. Establishing European statutes for mutual societies, associations and foundations (written declaration): see Minutes

8. Heavy goods vehicle collisions (written declaration)
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  President. – To begin with, I am going to read you two written declarations. The first has been submitted by Mr Tarabella, Mrs Bastos, Mr Canfin, Mrs Vergiat and Mrs Weber on establishing European statutes for mutual societies, associations and foundations. It has been signed by the majority of Parliament’s component Members. Therefore, in accordance with Rule 123, it will be forwarded to its addressees and published in the Texts Adopted of this sitting, together with the names of the signatories.

The second written declaration has been submitted by Mrs Hall, Mrs Ayala Sender, Mrs Durant, Mr Koch and Mrs Wils on heavy goods vehicle collisions. It has been signed by the majority of Parliament’s component Members. Therefore, in accordance with Rule 123, it will be forwarded to its addressees and published in the Texts Adopted of this sitting, together with the names of the signatories.

 
  
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  Mike Nattrass (NI). – Mr President, in view of what we have just been speaking about, I would like to say that security in this building has been stepped up and I wish to extend our thanks to the men and women who protect us. I would like your reassurance that the investigation into Brussels security breaches, some involving firearms, is being vigorously pursued. These breaches have put our staff, our guests and ourselves at serious risk. May I also have your assurance that senior management will be held accountable where appropriate, and that these soldiers will not be sacrificed in order to protect the generals?

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – I would like to assure you that this matter is being kept under constant review with a view to strengthening the security of our House.

 
  
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  Marc Tarabella (S&D). (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, in connection with the signing of Written Declaration 84/2010, I wish, of course, to thank all my co-signatories: Mrs Bastos of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats); Mr Canfin of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance; Mrs Vergiat of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left; and Mrs Weber of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Together, we were able to collect a majority of signatures.

Thank you to the social economy actors who took action and who made it possible for this Parliament to send a clear signal to the Commission to finally recognise a single European statute for mutuals, associations and foundations.

(Applause)

 

9. Voting time
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  President. – The next item is voting time.

(For the results and other details on the vote: see Minutes)

 

9.1. Media law in Hungary (B7-0191/2011) (vote)
  

- Before the vote:

 
  
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  Joseph Daul, on behalf of the PPE Group. (FR) Mr President, before the planned vote on the resolution on media law in Hungary, I would like to draw the attention of fellow Members to the latest developments in the situation and to put forward a concrete proposal.

Four days ago, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the amendments – all the amendments – requested by the European Commission despite the negative vote, by the way, of Hungarian Socialist and Green Members. Commissioner Kroes was present during the vote and she announced that the amended version of the law was consistent with European law and, in particular, with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Yet the resolution of the left-wing groups, which will be put to the vote at midday, completely ignores these facts. The text is virtually the same as that of three weeks ago and makes no mention of the vote of the Hungarian Parliament. My question is this: is this Parliament living in the real, or an imaginary, world? Is this resolution directed against the Hungarian Government or against the European Commission, which no longer has any problem with the law?

(Applause)

In particular, I would ask the Chair of the Liberal Group: do you, or do you not have confidence in Commissioner Kroes?

The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) thinks that this Parliament would lose its credibility if it adopted texts that do not correspond to reality. Must we become a theatre for settling national political scores?

(Applause)

Given these conditions, the PPE Group withdraws its own resolution and calls on the other groups to do the same. The credibility of Parliament is at stake.

 
  
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  President. – Ladies and gentlemen, the proposal is completely clear. As I understand it, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) has withdrawn its resolution. We have, therefore, only one resolution, which has been submitted by several of the political groups. I would like to ask the representatives of the political groups to comment on this.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Daul talked about reality. Well, it is reality that the Hungarian Government or the Hungarian Parliament has amended the law, and that is a good thing, because I can remember the debate in this Chamber when some people said – including you, Mr Daul – that nothing needed to be amended; everything was fine. Suddenly, it now needs to be amended.

(Applause from the left)

However, it is also reality – and you can read this, too – that both the media freedom representative of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the representative of the Council of Europe say that these amendments are inadequate. That is the reality, Mr Daul. That is the reality.

(Applause from the left)

In our group’s meeting yesterday evening, which I chaired, we discussed the law and the amendments and – like the OSCE and the Council of Europe – we came to the conclusion that these amendments are inadequate. Whatever decision is made today – whether you win, Mr Daul, or whether we win – we will not give up the fight for freedom of the media, Mr Lange. If you do so, that is your business.

(Applause from the left)

Freedom of the media is an inviolable element of democracy. We want democracy and we want freedom of the media. We therefore ask you to vote accordingly today. We know that there are also some Members in your group who agree with us. We must fight for freedom of the media – in Hungary and elsewhere, too.

(Applause from the left)

 
  
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  President. – Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Members, as I understand it, the four political groups are not withdrawing their declaration. We could end the debate here and proceed to the vote, but I understand that the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament also wants to make a statement. Please take the floor.

 
  
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  Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (DE) Mr President, we have been addressed specifically here. Of course, we have confidence in Commissioner Kroes’s work. Her examination of the secondary law was exemplary. We wish the Commissioner examining the primary law had done her work in the same way, as this is where the problem lies.

(Applause from the left)

The reality of the situation includes those things just mentioned by Mr Swoboda, namely that, in the opinion of both the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the amendments are inadequate. Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Public Administration and Justice, Mr Navracsics, has himself admitted that this was not a significant amendment of the media law. I could mention the protection of journalistic sources, which still remains unregulated, or the composition and powers of the media authority. All of these are matters that still need to be discussed.

I would therefore like to state, on behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, that we will not withdraw the motion for a resolution, but rather request that the vote take place.

 
  
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  President. – Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to take a vote on the resolution of the four political groups.

 

9.2. Southern Neighbourhood, and Libya in particular, including humanitarian aspects (B7-0169/2011) (vote)
 

- Before the vote:

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D).(PT) Mr President, there is a new supervening element that is not reflected in the resolution, and I call upon Parliament to join me in expressing our indignation and concern. This concerns what happened to the team of BBC journalists who were illegally detained and tortured, and also subjected to mock executions, and who saw many other Libyans detained in prison in totally inhumane conditions.

This also shows that journalists are not being allowed to carry out their work freely in Libya. This is an important matter, and I call upon Parliament to join us in expressing our indignation and concern, which we must convey to the Council.

 
  
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  President. – Mrs Gomes, do you have a specific amendment in mind? We can only give consideration to a specific amendment, not a general appeal.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D).(PT) Mr President, the information I have is that the Liberal Group should like to propose the oral amendment, which has been agreed, but if this is not the case, I will be more than happy to pass it on.

 
  
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  President. – All right, I understand. It is a general comment. Thank you.

 
  
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  Michał Tomasz Kamiński (ECR).(PL) Mr President, with respect, we heard you say that the resolution has been adopted, but I did not see the result, at least not on my screen or on the one in the seat in front of me. I think we should also be given the results, by which I mean the particular result of this vote.

 
  
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  President. – Here is the result: 316 people voted in favour, 264 voted against and 33 people abstained.

 
  
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  József Szájer (PPE). – Mr President, I would like to remind the House of the double standards which we are applying. In the case of the Hungarian media law, an event which took place on Monday was not reflected in our resolution.

Now we are trying to include something which happened only yesterday. This is a clear double standard which this House is applying, which is deplorable and unacceptable.

 
  
 

- Before the vote on Amendment 11:

 
  
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  Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE). – Mr President, I do this in the name of all the Group leaders and also of most of the coordinators because yesterday, after the debate, there was a general feeling that there is a need to strengthen paragraph 11. The oral amendment I am presenting is the following: ‘Calls on the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to establish relations with the Interim Transitional National Council and to start the process of making them official, so as to encourage transition towards democracy, ensuring the involvement of a wide spectrum of representatives of the Libyan society and empower women and minorities in the transitional process, and to support it in the liberated area so as to relieve the population and to meet its basic humanitarian needs, including medical assistance’.

That is the oral amendment in the name of the seven Group leaders and also of all the coordinators, with whom it has been agreed.

 
  
 

(The oral amendment was accepted)

 

9.3. EU approach towards Iran (A7-0037/2011, Bastiaan Belder) (vote)
 

- Before the vote on paragraph 6:

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, rapporteur. (NL) Mr President, at the initiative of the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, and with the approval and consent of the other groups, I propose that the following oral amendment be inserted after paragraph 6:

‘Strongly condemns the illegal detention of Iranian opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, together with their wives, by Iranian security forces and calls for their immediate and unconditional release; points out that the detention was carried out in violation of Iranian law; condemns the attitude of the Iranian authorities to the opposition exercising its legitimate right to protest and declares its solidarity with the Iranian people in their democratic aspirations; deplores the hypocrisy of the Iranian Government, which used excessive force, intimidation and arbitrary arrests against peaceful demonstrators demonstrating in solidarity with the Egyptian people on 14 February 2011, whilst claiming to support freedom in Egypt’;

 
  
 

(The oral amendment was accepted)

- Before the vote on recital N:

 
  
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  Anna Ibrisagic (PPE).(SV) The oral amendment concerns the deletion of a single word, and that is the word ‘and’. I will read the text in English and then I will explain why:

‘whereas there has been a remarkable deepening of relations between Iran and Turkey;’ the next word ‘and’ is deleted and the recital continues ‘whereas Iran is using its state and non-state allies Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, and also the Muslim Brotherhood, to destabilise the region’.

(SV) We want to delete the word ‘and’ in the middle because we do not want to link relations between Turkey and Iran with Iran’s relations with Hezbollah and Hamas.

 
  
 

(The oral amendment was accepted)

 

9.4. 16th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva, 28 February - 25 March 2011) (B7-0158/2011) (vote)
 

- Before the vote:

 
  
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  Heidi Hautala, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights. – Mr President, I have some very good human rights news. Sakharov Prize candidate, Haitham al-Maleh, an 80-year old Syrian human rights lawyer, was pardoned and released two days ago. This is a wonderful example of how the European Parliament can strengthen human rights.

Now that he is free again, Haitham al-Maleh is full of vigour in his aim to help release the thousands of political prisoners in Syria.

(Loud applause)

 
  
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  President. – Thank you for telling us this news. It is sure to give us a great boost in our work.

- Before the vote on paragraph 8:

 
  
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  Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE). (FR) Mr President, I would simply like to point out that, when you put paragraph 8 of the original text to the vote, the French translation indicated that it was paragraph 19. So there was a misunderstanding over the voting instructions.

 
  
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  President. – We will look into it. Thank you for your comment.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: DIANA WALLIS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Fiona Hall (ALDE). – Madam President, I simply would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to the 400 colleagues from across this House who signed Written Declaration 81; I would also like to say thank you to my staff for all their hard work and to the Written Declaration services for their support, but most of all, I would like to thank the campaigners whose dedication made this possible.

I am proud to be a member of a Parliament where it is possible for ordinary citizens to come and to make their case and where MEPs listen and are persuaded. That is democracy at its best and it shows that the European Parliament is not remote from its people.

 

10. Explanations of vote
Video of the speeches
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  President. – We now come to the explanations of vote.

 
  
  

Oral explanations of vote

 
  
  

Motion for a resolution B7-0191/2011

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). (SK) Madam President, I voted in favour of the resolution jointly submitted by the Group of European Socialists mainly for the reason that little has changed in terms of the importance and topicality of the resolution, even though certain changes have occurred in Hungary between the drafting of the resolution and today’s vote on it.

In the first place, I would like to stress our disappointment over the fact that the Commission decided from the outset to focus on just three areas in relation to the controversial Hungarian media law. We are insistent that, after the Hungarian Government and Parliament had dealt with these three areas in a relatively acceptable way, the Commission should have continued by closely monitoring the compliance of the Hungarian media law with European legislation – specifically, the Charter of Fundamental Rights in particular.

We would also like to call on the Hungarian authorities, in future amendments to the law, to engage to a greater degree with the parties involved, including civil society, because that is the only way a law can be drawn up in a truly democratic country. In this way, the contributions and recommendations will surely be stimulating, whether ours – those of the European Parliament, the Commission, or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe – or those of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula (ALDE). (FI) Madam President, surely all those in this House who endorse the principles of the European Union think that freedom of the media is very important. This freedom, of course, entails responsibility. I nevertheless voted against this proposal.

The information which I have received regarding this matter and which has been gone through here shows that the Commission made requests to Hungary, Hungary responded to them and it amended its media laws accordingly. In my opinion, that ought to have been enough. In this respect, I am of the opinion that this should not be made a political issue in this way, where the left are seemingly against the right, or whatever the situation is: the same standards must apply to everyone in this matter. If the Commission accepted this amendment by Hungary, then I accept it too. It is my view that this is a matter of basic principles and so I am afraid that I voted against this report by my own group, or its idea, because I believe that what Hungary has done is exactly what the Commission asked it to do.

 
  
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  Daniel Hannan (ECR). – Madam President, before pronouncing on media freedom in Hungary, we might care to look at what we do as a Parliament.

We might like to think about the hundreds of thousands of euro in public subsidies that we give to the European Union of Journalists; we might like to think of the tens of thousands of euro that we spend every week flying local reporters, in particular, out to Brussels and Strasbourg in order to show them a good time; and we might like to think of the way in which dozens of accredited correspondents in Brussels are getting second incomes as advisers on media issues or editors or writers on EU-funded free sheets.

If I were a Hungarian, I would have serious questions about not just the media law, but the creeping autocratic tendencies of the government; but I am not a Hungarian, it is not my business.

I am, however, a Member of this House, and I think the way in which we use taxpayers’ money in this nakedly propagandist way is something that ought to offend our basic principles of decency, fairness and democracy. We should cantilever the great tree trunk out of our own eye, before we start worrying about the speck in that of Hungary.

 
  
  

Motion for a resolution RC-B7-0169/2011

 
  
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  Lara Comi (PPE).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I voted in favour of this important resolution. It is essential that the European Union make every effort within its powers to end the emergency, in coordination with the United Nations Security Council, as quickly as possible.

Expressing a clear condemnation, proposing a no-fly zone, establishing an arms embargo and other sanctions, providing humanitarian aid, evacuating European citizens, ensuring assistance to civilian populations affected are, however, all ex post measures that merely seek to stem the disaster.

The European Union, however, must play a stronger political role on the international stage and be able to address major challenges. After facing the emergency, I think we should stop and reflect to see how the EU can work in future to prevent future situations where weak democracies break down and develop into humanitarian disasters.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE). – Madam President, I voted, of course, for this resolution. But I think it is urgent that the European Council, which is meeting tomorrow, acts as soon and as decisively as possible, firstly, to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent its government from continuing to kill its citizens and, secondly, to establish relations with the Interim National Council. We added this call to our resolution.

But, all in all, I think a passage in the resolution needs to be stressed: that the revolutionary changes in North Africa have made it clear that the EU’s positive impact and long-term credibility in that region will depend on its ability to conduct a cohesive common foreign policy that is value-based and will clearly side with the new democratic forces.

 
  
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  Pino Arlacchi (S&D). – Madam President, I voted in favour of the resolution. I would like to stress that the Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean, recently launched by the Commission, is a remarkable first step in the right direction.

The EU was largely absent at the beginning of the North African crisis and the transition to democracy, but now it seems to have started to be more active and more effective in this area.

 
  
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  Mitro Repo (S&D). (FI) Madam President, the Libyan people must have the right before anyone else to decide the future of their own country. As the notions of true democracy and freedom come from the people, they cannot be forced from outside.

Tomorrow’s extraordinary summit of the European Council must reach agreement on the EU’s role in the region. The EU should do all it can to support the wave of democracy in the Arab world. No time should be lost: we need to move from words to deeds. The EU must be consistent in its policy and acknowledge its responsibility in the area now and in the long term. If the attacks on the civilian population continue, and that seems to be the case, the EU must negotiate a UN mandate and action to create a no­fly zone over Libya to avoid a human catastrophe. We also need to retain the option of military intervention in this situation.

 
  
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  Adam Bielan (ECR).(PL) Madam President, we are witnessing the end of one of the last long regimes of post-war history. However, Muammar al-Gaddafi has not been able to bring himself to make an honourable resignation, and in order to maintain his dictatorial rule, has declared war on his own people. By turning his guns on the citizens, he has questioned the foundations on which modern civilisation is based. He has committed a crime against humanity. We face, therefore, the obligation to support the Libyan people in their fight for freedom, democracy and fundamental human rights.

We have to take action in cooperation with the UN to restore stability in Libya and to punish those guilty of crimes, including Colonel Gaddafi. Particularly urgent is the need to ensure humanitarian aid to civilians and to give shelter to Libyan refugees. As long as 25 years ago, President Reagan’s administration tried to bring an end to Gaddafi’s rule. We must, today, take all measures permissible under international law to remove him from office, so I support Parliament’s resolution.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE). (FI) Madam President, I voted in favour of this resolution, although I think it contains certain worrying features. Firstly, I want to say that my group met with representatives of the Libyan opposition forces this week and they said that they did not want any armed intervention by the West. This they made quite clear. I think that the EU should not be a flag waver in this affair, but should act together with the UN and the Arab countries.

Despite that, this resolution talks about humanitarian intervention, which all too often sadly means armed intervention. Parliament is actually adopting a position in favour of intervention, albeit with the use of fine rhetoric.

My other concern is this no­fly zone, which I am afraid will result in the bombing of Libya. I think that this should be a UN­led mission, with the whole Arab world, Africa and the EU acting together.

 
  
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  Daniel Hannan (ECR). – Madam President, those calling for military intervention – and a no-fly zone is, of course, a form of military intervention, requiring as it does a willingness to strike at air facilities on the ground – should remember three points. First, as we have heard, the Libyan opposition does not want foreign intervention. There are posters up all over Benghazi saying so. Second, the Gaddafi regime does want foreign intervention: it would justify the dictator’s argument that he is defending his country against foreign invaders. Third, we cannot afford it. The first ship in the area after the humanitarian crisis began was HMS Cumberland from our own country, which was in the area because she was on her way to be scrapped! And our Navy still has more reach than those of most of the other Member States.

There might have been an argument for some direct strike against the Gaddafi regime in the 1980s when it was plainly engaged in international terrorism. It is striking that those who are now demanding some form of intervention were not in favour of such action when it would have been justifiable under the norms of international law. There is something disgusting about the spectacle of all these European leaders fawning and slobbering over this appalling regime. We have made quite enough problems for ourselves by our interventions to date. I think we have done quite enough.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). (SK) Madam President, I welcome the resolution, and I have therefore supported it. It is not enough, however, to adopt a resolution.

Last week in Egypt, four thousand Muslims attacked a Coptic village not far from Cairo. They burned two churches and prevented fire-fighters from entering the village. The army did not want to interfere at first. When they did finally intervene, Muslim representatives sent them away, saying that everything was in order. The 12 000 Christians living in the village were placed under a curfew.

There was a time when Europe knew who was good, who was bad and why. Thanks to the support of those good people, leaders such as Havel, Walesa and Čarnogurský were prepared for the fall of communism. Today, however, EU politicians are shaking hands with dictators and turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christians. They do not think in terms of good and evil, because pragmatism does not recognise such categories. Until this changes, we may do more harm than good to North Africa.

 
  
  

Report: Bastiaan Belder (A7-0037/2011)

 
  
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  Pino Arlacchi (S&D). – Madam President, I voted in favour of this report because it clearly distinguishes between the two main dossiers on Iran: human rights abuses by the current government and the Iranian nuclear programme.

The report supports the Council’s double-track approach to the nuclear issue: sanctions on the one hand, but an offer of dialogue on the other.

It is indispensable to denounce the extremely serious human rights violations occurring in Iran today. The perpetrators, who belong mainly to state institutions, are acting with impunity.

At the same time, we should avoid irresponsible calls for an international armed intervention against the current tyranny. An armed attack against Iran in the name of human rights would be considered by all Iranians, regardless of their political positions, as an attack against the country and an additional violation of their fundamental rights.

The only winner in such an eventuality would be Mr Ahmadinejad.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE). – Madam President, having voted in favour of this resolution, I think it is now time to apply the same approach to the Tehran regime as we have been applying to Libya and Colonel Gaddafi. In other words, cherishing hopes for confidence-building is not a realistic option any more. We should support more opposition in Iran. I am especially worried about the Ashraf opposition camp, which has been under siege and under pressure since July 2009. The humanitarian situation there is intolerable. Parliament adopted a resolution in April 2009 and a written declaration last November on the subject of that camp, and I would advise Baroness Ashton to take this serious message to the European Council tomorrow.

 
  
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  Adam Bielan (ECR).(PL) Madam President, Iran, under the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a cause of grave anxiety due to the nuclear ambitions of its rulers. The continued refusal to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the related absence of monitoring of the Iranian nuclear programme make it necessary to consider taking emphatic action with respect to Iran.

In view of the fact that it is an authoritarian regime, we have to reckon with the possibility of its posing a threat to other countries, in particular, neighbouring ones. Particular fears are aroused by the anti-Israel rhetoric which the President of Iran has been expressing for quite some time. I consider the position of the Iranian authorities on this matter to be unacceptable and I condemn it categorically. In voting for the resolution, I express my opposition to Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, and also demand the release of political prisoners, a cessation of the persecution of human rights defenders and a commencement of cooperation with international organisations, including UN bodies. I also support the diplomatic efforts of Turkey and Brazil in pursuit of a resolution of the nuclear question.

 
  
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  Daniel Hannan (ECR). – Madam President, the Iranian revolution of 1979 will one day be seen as an epochal event on a par with the French revolution of 1789 or the Russian revolution of 1917. Like them, it immediately spilled out from behind its borders and sought to replicate itself around the world; like them, it disregarded all established norms of international law, of national sovereignty, of territorial jurisdiction.

What was the signature act of the revolution? It was the siege of the US Embassy. Now stop and ponder for a moment how extraordinary that was, given the precedent of relations between countries. Even in the Second World War, when mutually opposed ideologies fought to extirpate each other, diplomats were peaceably evacuated through neutral countries. If the United States were to invade Cuba tomorrow, one assumes that there would be a peaceable exchange of diplomatic personnel. What the Iranians were signalling was that their rules did not match ours; they no longer cared about the idea of state sovereignty and they have carried on as they started, sponsoring their militias from the Silk Road Khanates to the Balkans, even as far afield as Buenos Aires.

We would be in a stronger position to condemn such a regime if we in the European Union gave a little more regard to the principle of national sovereignty and the principle of national self-determination.

 
  
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  Gianni Vattimo (ALDE).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I wished to explain why I abstained from the final vote on the report on Iran because, while I agree with all the criticism against the lack of respect for human rights in Iran, especially with regard to the death penalty, the persecution of sexual minorities, and the lack of respect for freedom of teaching in schools and universities, I am nevertheless convinced that much of the news and information this report refers to comes directly from the US propaganda mill and I cannot trust it

Finally, as a Liberal Democrat, while I am, of course, convinced that Iran has every right to pursue the development of nuclear research for peaceful purposes, neither would I deny its right to have nuclear weapons in a region where the only power that has them and is allowed to have them is a racist, colonialist state like Israel.

 
  
  

Motion for a resolution RC-B7-0158/2011

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula (ALDE). (FI) Madam President, regarding this UN human rights resolution, I wish to say that it is very important that we in the European Union stand up for human rights until the end. Unfortunately, this human rights resolution was not well­balanced. When you read it, and especially point 19, you get the feeling that one state, Israel, is being condemned far too much and that people are trying to lay the blame here on that country.

We are all aware of the situation in the Middle East at present. Countries there are witnessing uprisings, in which thousands of innocent people have lost their lives. In this respect, this should have been a resolution on human rights, not on the Middle East. If the aim had been to find a balance here, instead of attempting to blame Israel in this biased way, mention could perhaps have been made of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been deprived of human rights for 1 720 days as a prisoner of the Palestinian Arabs or Hamas.

When we produce these human rights declarations, we must aim for a balanced, fair approach. That is the only way that they can be taken forward sustainably and which will enable us, furthermore, to retain credibility as guardians of human rights both in Europe and further afield.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Madam President, I was delighted that the motions for a resolution on human rights were adopted, and it was right for the European Union to do so. But I have a short explanation to make.

Madam President, regarding Amendment 2, paragraph 8, my Irish colleagues and I in our group voted in favour because we consider sanitation and, above all, clean water, to be a fundamental human right, and from my own experience of working in Africa on a voluntary basis, I saw the difference access to fresh water makes to the lives of people. So I feel that, by accepting it as a fundamental human right, this may create the urgency to ensure that all citizens of the world have access, above all, to clean fresh water.

(GA) Therefore, I was delighted that it was adopted – that is what I had to say.

 
  
  

Written explanations of vote

 
  
  

Motion for a resolution B7-0191/2011

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) This motion for a resolution has been adopted in view of the worrying state of media law in Hungary, which calls into question the requirement of balanced coverage for all providers of audiovisual media, respect for proportionality and the fundamental rights of expression and information. This means that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Parliament share legitimate concerns about the fact that this legislation contradicts international standards on freedom of expression, the abolition of political and financial independence for public media services, or the scope of regulation. These concerns are even more worrying given the warning issued by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights. Based on these findings, the recommendations of this motion should be adopted, as they concern revising legislation on media based on observations by the Commission, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and should urge the Commission to draw up a draft directive on the freedom and pluralism of the media by the end of the year in order to address the EU’s inadequate legislative framework, and thus avoid similar situations in future.

 
  
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  Zigmantas Balčytis (S&D), in writing. (LT) Media pluralism and freedom is one of the EU’s fundamental principles, guaranteeing the freedom to express opinions and to receive and communicate information without control, interference or pressure from public authorities. International organisations have expressed concern over the Hungarian media law, and having conducted an investigation, the European Commission concluded that it is incompatible with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the acquis communautaire in general. I agree with the proposal made in the resolution that the Hungarian authorities must review the media law further on the basis of the comments made by the European Commission, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, ensuring this law’s conformity with EU law and European values, as well as standards on media freedom, pluralism and independence.

 
  
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  Ivo Belet (PPE), in writing. (NL) The Hungarian Government has done a good job of dealing with all the brouhaha surrounding this controversial law in such a way that it has made it clear that freedom of the press and media pluralism have been and remain fundamental pillars in Hungary. The European Commission has done some fine work here. Moreover, the Commission will, rightly, continue to monitor this issue, not only in Hungary, but in all Member States of the European Union.

The initiative, announced by Commissioner Kroes, to bring together different stakeholders to form a group of experts, who will then be tasked with tackling the media pluralism situation in Europe, is an important step forward. This group will assist the Commission in outlining new steps for the media landscape. We have been tasked with guaranteeing media pluralism and freedom of the press in Europe. I therefore assume that the European Parliament will actively contribute to this.

 
  
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  Jean-Luc Bennahmias (ALDE), in writing. (FR) Democracy is by no means a matter of fact. It evolves, progresses and, unfortunately, also regresses over time. Yet, at this level, the Hungarian measures on the media are a serious step backward. The agreement of all the European progressives made it possible, initially, for the issue to be put at the top of the European political agenda, which is a good thing. It is now a question of being precise and firm on the points that continue to pose a problem. The independence of media governance and freedom of expression are not negotiable.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this motion for a resolution, because the Hungarian media law should be suspended and reviewed on the basis of the comments and proposals from the Commission, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, in order to ensure that it is fully in conformity with EU law and European values and standards on media freedom, pluralism and independent media governance. Furthermore, the European Parliament recalls that the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership, as established in 1993 at the Copenhagen European Council, relating to freedom of the press and freedom of expression should be upheld by all EU Member States and enforced through relevant EU legislation. Thus, the European Parliament calls on the Hungarian authorities to restore the independence of media governance and halt state interference with freedom of expression and balanced coverage. Moreover, I believe that over-regulation of the media is counterproductive, jeopardising effective pluralism in the public sphere. In addition, Parliament calls on the Commission to propose a legislative initiative on media freedom, pluralism and independent governance before the end of the year with a view to defining at least the minimum essential standards and in order to ensure, guarantee and promote an adequate level of media pluralism and independent media governance in the EU Member States.

 
  
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  Jan Březina (PPE), in writing. (CS) Media pluralism and freedom definitely constitute an important pillar of democratic rule of law. The media law in Hungary does deserve criticism, but we have seen that the Hungarian Government was targeted and attacked in a hasty and unfounded manner and this should not have happened, especially at the start of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union. However, I am pleased that the Hungarian Parliament has recently approved amendments to its controversial media law to address points proposed by the European Union, and in doing so, took the wind from the sails of those ideologists inciting tensions. The key requirement that ‘balanced coverage’ would not apply to websites, blogs, debates and foreign newsletters was met. The European Commission should now continually monitor the application of the law. Credit should be given to the constructive dialogue that took place between Hungary and the EU and which resulted in the legislative amendments being approved.

The foreign media and journalists working in Hungary are no longer threatened by large penalties for violating Hungarian media law, but there are ‘other legal consequences’. However, Hungarian media owners are still subject to penalties, including those which have formally transferred their headquarters to other countries in the EU in order to avoid the media law in Hungary. Although we may disagree with this amendment, it is fully within the competency of the Hungarian Parliament and EU representatives should respect it.

 
  
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  Maria Da Graça Carvalho (PPE), in writing. (PT) The freedom of expression of each individual, the free movement of information and the freedom and pluralism of the media are the cornerstones of European integration and its core values. The development and implementation of a regulatory framework for the media should respect the democratic standards for the organisation and governance of communication systems. I call upon the Hungarian authorities to restore independent governance of the media and to put an end to state interference in freedom of expression. Excessive regulation of the media is counterproductive, as it harms real pluralism in the public domain. I call upon the Hungarian authorities to involve all interested parties in reforming media law, including the opposition parties and civil society, so that they can participate in a meaningful way in the reform of this legislation, which regulates such a fundamental aspect for the functioning of a democratic society.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE), in writing. (PT) The freedom and pluralism of the media are fundamental rights which ensure the freedom to express opinions and to receive and communicate information without any kind of interference or pressure from the public authorities. The European Commission, as the guardian of the Treaties, expressed its concern and requested information from Hungary on a possible violation of this right, namely, the fact that Hungarian media law may not comply with the directive on audiovisual media services.

I was pleased to learn that on 7 March, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the amendments that had been agreed between its government and the Commission, although I cannot understand why the socialists and Hungarian green party voted against it. Given the statements by Commissioner Kroes, it seems that there is no longer any doubt that Hungary has followed the Commission’s recommendations, and that the altered version of the law in question respects European legislation.

 
  
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  Marielle De Sarnez (ALDE), in writing. (FR) Freedom of the press can brook no compromise; this is the message that Parliament wished to convey not only to Budapest but also to the European Commission. The European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the Hungarian Government to suspend and to carry out an ‘urgent re-examination’ of the controversial Hungarian media law package, even though it was recently amended under pressure from its European partners. However, there is still concern, especially as regards the Media Council, the body responsible for supervising the media, which is composed entirely of individuals who are aligned with the party of Mr Orban. In reality, this supervisory body is the perfect instrument for censoring the media. For this reason, the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, guarantor of the freedom of expression of citizens in the EU and around the world, has called for an end to state interference, in order to restore independence to the media.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D), in writing. (RO) I voted for this resolution as I think that the European Union must be prompt in preventing and combating any possible attacks against the fundamental values of democracy, with the freedom of expression being one of them. I believe that it is essential for Hungary and other Member States, like Romania, to reconsider their attitude to the press, in line with the democratic principles set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (S&D), in writing. (PT) I voted in favour of the resolution on media law in Hungary, as the freedom of the press is one of the fundamental values of the EU. I believe that the Commission should pursue a detailed examination of whether the Hungarian media law conforms to European legislation, particularly with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE), in writing. (PT) I believe that it does not make any sense for Parliament to deliver an opinion on this issue at a time when all guarantees of freedom of expression have been given, including by the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr Orbán. Moreover, this is a question of principle, so I shall refrain from appraising political, legislative and jurisdictional acts that lie strictly within the competence of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities of a Member State other than my own.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) Freedom of expression and information, including the freedom to express opinions and the freedom to receive and communicate information without interference or pressure, are social values which many have fought for over the years, including in Portugal. The Communists have been, and are now, in the front line of this fight. Unfortunately, there are still reasons to continue with it in various EU countries. The pluralism and freedom of the media continue to provoke concern in various Member States. It is often forgotten that some of the contributing factors for this are the way in which the ownership of media bodies is concentrated in a handful of large business groups, the attack on the rights of media professionals and the existence of increasingly precarious working relationships. Added to this, there is interference by the political powers that still exist in many countries, and which is a cause for concern.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) Freedom of expression and information, with the resulting pluralism of the media, including the freedom to express opinions and to receive and communicate information without any kind of interference or pressure from the public authorities, has been achieved by civilisation.

Unfortunately, however, in various countries in the EU, we often see attacks on these fundamental rights. The pluralism and freedom of the media continue to provoke concern in various Member States, particularly in Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, and others. Even in Portugal, several cases have been reported of attacks on media pluralism, which do nothing to dignify democracy.

However, we disagree that there is a policy of permanent political interference by the EU in the governance of each country, as stated in certain paragraphs. We voted on the resolution on media law in Hungary in view of this, taking its positive and negative aspects into account.

 
  
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  Mathieu Grosch (PPE), in writing. (DE) I am convinced that a very broad majority in the European Parliament will uphold the fundamental rights of the media. These rights are now being called for in a resolution, although the amendments to this law which were adopted this week in the Hungarian Parliament have not been taken into account. I would therefore have liked all resolutions that were drawn up before this vote in Budapest to be withdrawn in order for them first to be updated and only then to be debated and put to the vote. Consequently, the vote in the European Parliament no longer had anything to do with freedom of the press, which should have absolutely priority, but was simply a trial of strength between the groups.

 
  
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  Sylvie Guillaume (S&D), in writing. (FR) I fully endorse the adoption of this resolution from the European left criticising the inadequacy of the amendments made by Hungary to its media law, while the right welcomes them. Though Mrs Kroes also seems satisfied with these changes, the European Parliament considers that the Commission only focused on a few technical aspects to the detriment of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Also, not only is our resolution addressed to Hungary but notes that, unfortunately, freedom and pluralism of the media can be undermined in countries with conservative governments. In this sense, the Members of the European Parliament have demonstrated that they are mindful that fundamental rights and liberties, which are the very principles of the democracies and of the European Union, must be respected.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas (EFD), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this document, because the Hungarian authorities must restore the independence of media governance and halt state interference with freedom of expression and balanced coverage. Over-regulation of the media is counterproductive, jeopardising effective pluralism in the public sphere.

 
  
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  Timothy Kirkhope (ECR), in writing. – The ECR wholeheartedly supports a free and plural media across the European Union and stresses the importance of freedom of information for all European citizens. However, given the constantly changing situation surrounding the Hungarian media law and a lack of opportunity to meet the Commission following the new amendments to this law which were adopted this week, we feel that now is not the appropriate time to have another resolution on the issue. For this reason, the ECR Group has abstained.

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D), in writing. – I voted for this resolution because I believe the Hungarian media law should be suspended as a matter of urgency and reviewed on the basis of the Commission’s, the OSCE’s and the Council of Europe’s comments and proposals, in order to ensure that it is fully in conformity with EU law and European values and standards on media freedom, pluralism and independent media governance.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE), in writing. (RO) I support the amendment of the provisions in the Hungarian press law regarded by the European Commission as less democratic, and I welcome the amendments made to the regulatory act by the government in Budapest. However, I did not vote for the resolution signed by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left because I feel that the measures being proposed are excessive if we consider similar laws in other Member States, but which have not been sanctioned publicly. A free press is irrefutably a measure of the degree of democracy in a society. In the European Union it is well known that freedom of expression is virtually unrestricted. However, we must not confuse this fundamental right with the freedom to utter any information without consequence or responsibility and without having conclusive proof. This is precisely why clear laws are required, which will set the boundaries within which any journalistic activity needs to operate. The Hungarian press law was drafted in this context, in the wake of the European directive in this area. I also believe that we need to discuss the topic of the Hungarian press law on a fully informed basis, given that we can be misled by biased interests and political disputes.

 
  
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  Nuno Melo (PPE), in writing. (PT) This motion for a resolution is inappropriate in both timing and form, as everyone knows that following the initial criticism made about media law in Hungary and the recommendations made by the Commission, the Hungarian Government has revised its position and altered everything about the law that was the target of criticism by the Commission. Therefore, the law voted upon by the Hungarian Parliament on 7 March was a version that complied perfectly with European legislation. That is why I do not understand the Left’s insistence on voting on this motion, so I voted against it.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL), in writing. (ES) I voted in favour of resolution B7-0191/2011 because I believe that the new media law in Hungary does not give sufficient guarantee of freedom of expression and pluralism, and is therefore counterproductive for the establishment of real pluralism in the public sphere.

The Hungarian Government should provide an effective guarantee of freedom and pluralism in the media, and should therefore revoke the law, or modify it substantially, based on the observations and proposals of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the Council of the European Union and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, and by means of an open, transparent debate in which all stakeholders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens can participate.

 
  
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  Louis Michel (ALDE), in writing. (FR) Freedom of expression and, hence, freedom of the press, are some of the most important fundamental rights. We must work tirelessly to preserve them, even when the expression of certain opinions troubles us. This freedom is also our freedom and it is a guarantee of the free exercise of our mandate. Transparency is not possible without a free media. There is a great temptation to seek to control information and journalists, including in our Western democracies. Free and professional information is always preferable to ‘rumour’, which often replaces the press when the latter is muzzled.

Modern means of mass communication play an absolutely critical role in democratic life and are fundamental to providing universal access to knowledge, entertainment and social life. Therefore, what I call the ‘just state’ must assume responsibility for supporting the development of a free media both domestically and internationally, promoting the pluralism of information and the richness of cultural creation, and facilitating access for all to this content.

 
  
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  Alexander Mirsky (S&D), in writing. – It is known that according to commentaries and proposals from the European Commission, the OSCE, and the European Council, the media law in Hungary should be revised as soon as possible in order to ensure its correspondence to EU legislation and European virtues and standards which relate to the freedom of media information, pluralism and the independence of the mass media.

The new law is blamed because it implies that there would be only one person appointed responsible for the management of the national mass media and telecommunications. The new legislation undermines the pluralism and freedom of the mass media and removes its political and financial independence. All causes which lead to such a negative result should be examined.

Possibly the permissiveness of governments ruling some of the EU Member States gave the government of Hungary an illusion that commonly adopted rules can be cynically breached. For instance, the Latvian Government still has not implemented the European Parliament’s resolution of 11 March 2004. And what has happened as a result? Nothing so far. Possibly the Hungarian Government was inspired by Latvian ‘independence’. I voted ‘for’ in the hope that the ice has broken up.

 
  
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  Tiziano Motti (PPE), in writing. (IT) The attacks of the European left on the law on press freedom recently adopted in Hungary should be read within the context of the piece of theatre whereby tools made available by our institutions are often used in an improper and instrumental manner to support international or domestic political and media disinformation campaigns. In this case, such attacks are completely misplaced, because the debate has been opened and also closed: the Hungarian Government has readily accepted the comments made by the European Commission, and Prime Minister Orban said, back at the start of January 2011, that the media law would be amended in accordance with those comments. Attacking the country that chairs the European Union at a time when it should be supported in the performance of its duties has the effect of weakening the Union as a whole and depriving it of its authority. The constant refrain of the lack of press freedom is old news, as are the continuous and anachronistic references to the Italian situation, in which, paradoxically, the major newspapers are controlled by left-leaning media groups and information runs freely, sometimes too freely, on the web.

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE), in writing. (EL) Following the amendments adopted by the Hungarian Parliament last week, the Hungarian law is now completely in line with EU legislation and provisions on fundamental rights, as the European Commission has also agreed. As such, the joint motion for a resolution is now redundant, which is why I voted against it.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE), in writing. (PT) As I had the chance to say when I took part in the debate on the priorities of the Hungarian Presidency, these are aspects of Hungary’s internal affairs which may be regulated, as before, as part of a healthy, normal relationship between the Commission and the Hungarian Government and Parliament. As an advocate of freedom, particularly freedom of expression and of the press, I can only be delighted with the results.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), in writing. – This law has effectively been designed with the intention of restricting media activities in Hungary and limiting critical scrutiny of the government, as part of wider restrictions on pluralism in Hungary. This is in direct conflict with the core principles of the EU, as set out in the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Commission and the Council must continue to push for the complete overhaul or withdrawal of the law on this basis.

Parliament has made it clear that the Commission should not simply roll over and give in to the Hungarian Government on this crucial issue. The Hungarian media law must also be seen as just the latest attempt to limit media freedom in Europe. It highlights the urgent need for the Commission to come forward with robust legislative proposals for upholding this core EU value.

 
  
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  Licia Ronzulli (PPE), in writing. (IT) I voted against this resolution because I believe that the political groups of the left who sit in this Chamber have exploited a national political issue, which in any case has already been resolved, as evidenced by the recent agreement between the Hungarian Government and the European Commission.

I believe that such national issues should not be brought into question in this House as they are the direct responsibility of individual Member States. On the substance of the matter, it is right and proper to protect the freedom and pluralism of information as a core value of all European Union countries, but freedom of the media must not contradict public morals and, above all, must not invade anyone’s privacy.

The news industry should be more aware of the consequences that an unbalanced use of its power and influence can have on the life and liberty of citizens. This is because all too often, personal freedom has been quashed in the name of press freedom.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (S&D), in writing. – I am very pleased that this resolution was passed highlighting the European Parliament’s commitment to freedom of expression and the independence of the media throughout Member States.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI), in writing. (DE) I voted in favour of the joint motion for a resolution. Although Hungary and the European Commission have reached an agreement on the points put forward by the Commission, I support the call made by my fellow Members for a thorough examination of the text of the law. The improvements achieved by the Commission are remarkably selective and the concerns expressed by Parliament and by various international organisations, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe, have been largely disregarded. The concern about the appointment, composition and powers of the media authority, in particular, is perfectly understandable. Freedom of the press is too important a part of our democracy for it to be subjected to legally restrictive interpretations.

 
  
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  Joachim Zeller (PPE), in writing. – (DE) I voted against this resolution tabled by the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The motion’s authors are not as concerned about freedom of the media in Europe as they are of disparaging a civic government that was elected by an overwhelming majority of its country’s people and which has the difficult task of rebuilding a country that suffered badly as a result of mismanagement by the previous socialist government. Even the European Commission was unable to find any serious violations of the freedom of the media in the Hungarian law, which, incidentally, has already been amended. Europe’s left is very quick to see the speck of sawdust in the eye of non-socialist governments, but stupidly pays no attention to the plank in the eyes of socialist governments.

It is difficult to understand the position of the German Liberals, who, with this resolution, are calling for regulation of the media landscape at European level, whereas the German and European media representatives consider this proposal, in particular, to be a restriction of media freedom and an infringement of subsidiarity.

 
  
  

Motion for a resolution RC-B7-0169/2011

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) I am in favour of this motion for a resolution, as I believe that Gaddafi’s regime should be destroyed immediately, given the way that he is repressing the Libyan population in their political protests and as a way of preventing more deaths. I recall that the international community has shown complete unanimity in the UN Security Council on the imposition of sanctions on this regime. I strongly support UN Security Council Resolution 1970/2011 and the measures to be taken by the Security Council, including the embargo, banning equipment that is being used for domestic repression and freezing the funds of people involved in human rights abuses, calling attention to the need to implement the EU-Africa Resolution, which allows the freezing of goods that have been acquired illegally. A gesture like this is needed from the European financial institutions and the Member States as part of the ban on mercenary activity. Swift and effective humanitarian action is needed from the EU and the UN. I should like to finish by saying that the events in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia require a paradigm shift of European foreign policy as regards the southern Mediterranean countries, and I would like to show my solidarity with the Libyans.

 
  
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  Zigmantas Balčytis (S&D), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this resolution. The massive protests in numerous Arab countries have shown that undemocratic and authoritarian regimes cannot guarantee credible stability and that democratic values are central to economic and political partnerships. The EU has a vital interest in a democratic, stable, prosperous and peaceful North Africa, but recent events in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have highlighted the urgent need for a revision of the EU’s external policy towards the Mediterranean region. The EU must revise its democracy and human rights support policy so as to create an implementation mechanism for the human rights clause in all agreements with third countries. I agree that the European Neighbourhood Policy review must prioritise criteria relating to the independence of the judiciary, respect for fundamental freedoms, pluralism, freedom of the press and the fight against corruption.

 
  
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  Dominique Baudis (PPE), in writing. (FR) I voted for this resolution, which is a step in the right direction as regards the reaction of the European Union to the revolution, which is degenerating into civil war, in Libya. Revolutions are a dream that becomes reality, but civil war is a nightmare. With the opponents losing ground under fire from Gaddafi’s troops and mercenaries, and the Colonel sending emissaries to European capitals in an attempt to save his regime, we need to show the Libyan people that we stand by them.

We have heard the appeal that the Interim Transitional National Council made on 5 March. It is our duty to support this alternative and to protect the Libyan people against the forces of the regime. With no direct military presence on Libyan soil, a no-fly zone should be considered. But the decision rests with the UN. However, this option could only be envisaged with the explicit consent of the Arab League. At a political and diplomatic level, we have to ensure that Colonel Gaddafi is isolated and help the Libyan people to finally regain their freedom.

 
  
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  Sergio Berlato (PPE), in writing. (IT) The dramatic developments in Libya and North Africa continue to encroach on the borders of Europe: the humanitarian crisis in Libya, in fact, could turn into a wave of migration unprecedented in history.

According to recent estimates, the political turmoil in North Africa could lead some 300 000 refugees to end up on the southern shores of the Union. I agree with and support, therefore, the appeal launched by six EU Mediterranean Member States for the creation of a Solidarity Fund to help alleviate the effects posed by immigration. I support the creation of a common European asylum system and the fair distribution of costs relating to immigration between Member States. Furthermore, in order to limit mass immigration to Europe, I call for consideration to be given to the sending of humanitarian aid to affected populations, both to support the process of democratisation and economic growth in the region.

I therefore urge the Commission to prepare an emergency plan that also considers how we can deal with even the worst-case scenario in which a massive number of immigrants decide to head north to the shores of Europe. In my view, such an emergency plan must be supported by the principle of solidarity between EU Member States.

 
  
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  Maria Da Graça Carvalho (PPE), in writing. (PT) The recent protests in several Arab countries show that regimes that are non-democratic and authoritarian cannot ensure credible stability, and that democratic values have a key role in economic and political partnerships. I should like to call for close engagement with the work of the task force created to coordinate the EU response to the crisis in Libya and the rest of the Mediterranean region. The Union for the Mediterranean needs to adapt to the new times and circumstances, and to reflect and act upon the recent events, with the aim of submitting proposals on a better way of promoting democracy and human rights in their Member States and in the region, which includes Libya, and on possible reforms to make its own role stronger and more coherent and effective.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (S&D), in writing. (PT) I voted in favour of the resolution on ‘Southern Neighbourhood, and Libya in particular, including humanitarian aspects’, because I believe that Colonel Gaddafi should abandon power immediately so as to allow a peaceful political transition and prevent any more spilling of blood. I vehemently condemn the violations of human rights in Libya and, in particular, the violent repression of pro-democracy demonstrators, journalists and advocates of human rights, and I should like to express my solidarity with the Libyan people.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE), in writing. (PT) On the very day of voting for this resolution, it is still not clear how the revolutions, which have been attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes, which have long remained in power all over the Mediterranean, will develop. In the case of Libya, the news about the successes and failures of the rebels and the forces that are still supporting Gaddafi's dictatorial regime are contradictory, and they appear to be facing a real civil war. Nevertheless, there are many sources denouncing unprecedented brutal violence and repression led by the Libyan regime, and the large number of victims that this has allegedly caused. The United Nations itself has rightly condemned the atrocities that have been committed. Today, it is clear that the rebels do not want to live under regimes that do not respect their rights and which do not ensure a modicum of respect for the rules of democracy and the rule of law. The European Union cannot alienate itself from what is happening. First, it should demand an end to the violence, persevere in its condemnation and sanctions imposed on those responsible, support those who are fighting for our common values and seek to show solidarity, as well as follow more closely and better understand the aspirations, wishes and tendencies of the movements which yearn for change.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) This resolution is worrying and unacceptable. This is particularly true in the context of the most recent events in Libya, which show the urgency of a peaceful and political solution like never before, without external interference. In the face of the dangerous and severe build-up of actions, which, instead of helping to reduce tension, are aimed at preparation for acts of aggression by the US and NATO against Libya, the majority of Parliament is endorsing acts of interference, aggression and occupation in Libya. Any aggression against this country, regardless of pretexts and mandates, would have serious consequences for a people that is already living in a situation of deep tension and insecurity. It would be deeply damaging to all those in Libya who are continuing to fight for their rights, democracy, sovereignty and peace, and would introduce serious elements of instability and conflict into the region. Any military attack on Libya, which would be inseparable from the aims of controlling the Libyans’ natural resources, will be directed not only against the Libyan people, but against all the people in the region who have arisen and are continuing to fight for their social and political rights, for freedom, democracy and the real sovereignty and independence of their countries.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) We should like to express our deep concern about the most recent events in Libya, but we advocate a peaceful and political solution, without external interference. Unfortunately, the resolution by Parliament now advocates military intervention, since you cannot have a no-fly zone without military intervention.

This resolution, therefore, instead of contributing to a peaceful solution, seems to be aimed at preparing for acts of aggression by the USA, NATO and perhaps the EU against Libya. We would thus like to express our firm opposition to any external military intervention in this country.

Any aggression against Libya, regardless of pretexts and mandates, would have serious consequences for a people who are already living in a situation of deep tension and insecurity; it would be deeply damaging to all those in Libya who are continuing to fight for their rights, democracy, sovereignty and peace, and would introduce serious elements of instability and conflict into the region.

Any military attack on Libya by the USA and its allies, which would be inseparable from their aims of controlling the Libyans’ natural resources, would be directed not only against the Libyan people, but against all the people in the region who have arisen and are continuing to fight for their social and political rights, for freedom, democracy and the real sovereignty and independence of their countries. We are supporting these struggles. We therefore voted against this resolution.

 
  
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  Sylvie Guillaume (S&D), in writing. (FR) This resolution, adopted by a large majority and to which I contributed, shows that the European Parliament is not remaining silent on the situation in Libya. Quite the contrary, through its position, it is calling on the European Union, the Member States, and Baroness Ashton to support its proposals. It pledges its support for the Libyan people and advocates, among other things, recognising the Interim Transitional National Council of Libya and supporting the establishment of a no-fly zone in accordance with a United Nations mandate and in coordination with the Arab League and the African Union. It also condemns in the strongest possible terms the human rights violations in Libya by the regime and calls on Colonel Gaddafi to stand down immediately. My only regret is the issue of the refugees and migrants, which, I believe, has not been adequately taken into consideration and presented as a common challenge for these countries and for the European Union.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas (EFD), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this document, because the EU must become involved in and support the Southern Neighbourhood, with specific reference to the development of the rule of law, good governance and the constitutional and electoral prerequisites for stable, pluralistic and peaceful democracy in the region. The Union for the Mediterranean must adapt to the new era and circumstances and reflect and act on recent events, in order to put forward proposals on how best to promote democracy and human rights in its Member States and in the region, including Libya, and on possible reforms, in order to make its own role stronger, more coherent and more effective.

 
  
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  Filip Kaczmarek (PPE), in writing.(PL) I endorsed the resolution on the Southern Neighbourhood, which devotes particular attention to the situation in Libya. In Libya, people who are fighting for their country’s freedom are being killed. We should be helping them. Our resolution does help them, because it unequivocally condemns the dictator and supports those who want to make fundamental changes in Libya.

We do not know when or how the civil war will end. We would like it to end quickly and for it to end in victory for the pro-democracy forces. The European Union should make contact with the Interim Transitional National Council without delay and begin the process for its official recognition. It should also encourage Libyans to make changes and to move towards democracy. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D), in writing. – I welcome the push for democracy in Libya and in neighbouring countries. I call for full respect of human rights in the region. However, I abstained on this resolution because of its call for a no-fly zone. To enforce a no-fly zone, we would have to bomb anti-aircraft missile sites, with a threat to civilian life. We would also allow the regime to claim that the West was attacking Libya, rather than attempting to defend the people of Libya.

 
  
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  Jiří Maštálka (GUE/NGL), in writing. (CS) The negotiations necessitated by the developing situation [in Libya] should be carried out in a sensitive and proper manner. Additional and appropriate measures could then be taken based on a thorough analysis of the situation. These measures could provide the possibility for a direct solution and for support in the social sector and other areas. The aim should be to find a solution which will have a clear, and well-founded long-term vision, which will help preserve the sovereignty of this country, and which will rightly be tolerant of its traditions. The possible establishment of a much-discussed no-fly zone is one of the steps which, as has been said, should be carried out primarily with a view to protecting civilians. In this context, I consider it important that the mandate is clearly accepted by as many countries as possible and, in particular, that it should be in compliance with the mandate of the UN Security Council. When preparing motions for a resolution, the wealth of natural resources in this country should not be the only influencing factor.

 
  
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  Jean-Luc Mélenchon (GUE/NGL), in writing. (FR) I voted for the text and the proposed measures concerning airspace in order to help the people in action against the tyrant who is bombing them. My vote was cast within the following strict framework: all acts of war, such as the creation of a no-fly zone, can only be decided by the UN and the UN alone. This action must be placed under the authority of the military command of the UN and the UN alone. All decisions must be taken in consultation with the organisations of the African Union and the Arab League. I am totally against the US idea of preventive bombing and against NATO intervention. Any other development would necessitate a different text and different provisions.

 
  
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  Nuno Melo (PPE), in writing. (PT) What is happening in Libya is completely unacceptable, and the international community has to take more concrete measures that mean automatic suspensions for all types of attacks on civilians. A civil war in Libya seems worryingly imminent and must be avoided at all costs. The EU has to take a leading role in this process and help to find solutions that avoid exacerbating the conflict that is currently occurring in this country.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL), in writing. (ES) I voted against the European Parliament joint resolution on Libya because it calls for the establishment of a no-fly zone over the country, which is the first step toward military intervention. We cannot in any way endorse the military solution for the Libyan crisis or for any other crisis. We were highly critical of the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and must not make the same mistake now. The examples of those two countries should teach us that violence only begets more violence, which, in the end, has devastating consequences for civilians.

In the case of Libya, I condemn the violence that Gaddafi is using against his people, and I sympathise with the people’s protest movements. However, I believe that the solution in Libya must come from a cessation of violence and through diplomatic channels.

 
  
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  Louis Michel (ALDE), in writing. (FR) The Libyan revolution was launched in the name of freedom, dignity and democracy by young people driven by a sense of statehood. One can only support this wonderful, awe-inspiring aspiration and firmly condemn those who attempt to suppress it by force, without hesitating to kill and wound thousands of civilians.

I very much hope that the UN, in coordination with the Arab League and the African Union, will give a mandate to establish a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect the population against possible attacks. I also hope that the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, will establish relations with the Interim Transitional National Council as soon as possible for it to be recognised as a legitimate interlocutor pending democratic elections.

Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed the spectacular and promising upheaval of the geopolitical framework of this extremely sensitive region. I am convinced that an unprecedented perspective is opening up, which is creating the necessary conditions for the peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We must seize this opportunity to rid the Middle East of a conflict that has already caused too much pain, tragedy, resentment and misunderstanding.

 
  
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  Alexander Mirsky (S&D), in writing. – I am ‘overjoyed’ by the number of loud statements and expressions of condemnation! Where were you before? Was Gaddafi born yesterday? There was no terror in Libya? Today, the cynicism of some EU leaders causes a sensation of disgust! Until recently, all the leaders of the largest EU Member States were cuddling up to the Libyan leader and ingratiating themselves with him. And today they are ready to crucify Gaddafi! It is better not to intrude in the internal affairs of another country, is it not? Let the Libyans solve their problems themselves, otherwise we might see get a full-scale rebellion in Arab countries! I abstained.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. (DE) In the fight to retain power, Gaddafi is using heavier and heavier artillery (such as the bombing of rebels) and is not afraid of a high death toll. These measures have been condemned in the strongest possible terms by the outside world, and the European Parliament is calling for a no-fly zone, in order to stop Gaddafi’s bombers from attacking civilians, recognition of the Interim Transitional National Council and the pro-democracy movement as legitimate representatives of the Libyan people and the breaking off of all relations with Gaddafi. It remains to be seen whether the Heads of State or Government will comply with this call. On account of the possible resettlement and distribution of migrants in Europe, I abstained from the vote.

 
  
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  Claudio Morganti (EFD), in writing. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I voted in favour of this joint resolution concerning the current situation in Libya.

Too many abuses and serious violations have been perpetrated by the Gaddafi regime against the population and I think it is our duty to adopt a common strong European stance. The measures proposed in the resolution adopted are a step in the right direction, starting from the desired closure of airspace over Libya, namely, the creation of a no-fly zone to prevent the regime from attacking the civilian population from the sky.

I feel that it should be an obligation for the international community, and the European Union in the first instance, to establish relations with the Interim Transitional National Council of the insurgents in order to help initiate a process of democratisation in the country. The time has come for Europe to stand firm in asserting its voice to end this dramatic situation, which could also have severe repercussions throughout the EU, beginning with a massive wave of migration to Italy, in particular, and Europe in general.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE), in writing. (PT) The severity of the situation currently being faced by the people of Libya, who are the victims of violent repression by the Gaddafi regime, which has caused countless deaths, injuries and refugees, requires determined and concerted action by the international community, and the EU should assume a leading role and adopt a firm stance in condemning those responsible for the atrocities committed, in the adoption and implementation of sanctions and appropriate measures, and also in supporting the legitimate democratic aspirations of this people.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), in writing. – I see paragraphs 10 and 11 (as amended) as being especially important in this text:

‘10. Stresses that the EU and its Member States must uphold the responsibility to protect, in order to save Libyan civilians from large-scale armed attacks; thus, no option foreseen in the UN Charter is to be ruled out; Calls on the HR/VP and the Member States to stand ready for a decision in the UNSC on further measures, including the possibility of a no-fly zone aimed at preventing the regime from targeting the population; Underlines that any measures enacted by the EU and its Member States should be in compliance with a UN mandate and seek coordination with the Arab League and the African Union, encouraging both organisations to steer international efforts;

11. Calls on the HR/VP to establish relations with the Interim Transitional National Council and to start the process to make them official so as to encourage transition towards democracy, ensuring the involvement of a wide spectrum of representatives of Libyan society and to empower women and minorities in the transitional process, and to support it in the liberated area so as to relieve the population and to meet its basic humanitarian needs, including medical assistance’.

 
  
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  Licia Ronzulli (PPE), in writing. (IT) With this resolution, the European Parliament is calling on EU governments to recognise the Interim Transitional National Council as the official authority of the Libyan opposition.

The resolution approved urges the EU to prepare for the possible establishment of a no-fly zone to prevent Colonel Gaddafi from striking out at the population and to assist the repatriation of those fleeing violence. I also believe it a strategically important option for the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, to establish contact with representatives of the rebel Interim Transitional National Council in order to speed up the process of official recognition of that body. It is time that Colonel Gaddafi gave up power and put an end to the systematic violation of human rights which is operating in his country.

 
  
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  Ernst Strasser (PPE), in writing.(DE) On paragraph 15: with regard to Article 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it remains the case that I – like the Austrian Government – advocate solidarity on a voluntary basis. It should be up to the Member States – according to the capacities of each one – to decide how far this solidarity can extend.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL), in writing. (FR) I voted for the resolution of the European Parliament on Libya, which is a clear message of political support for the Libyan revolution. First and foremost, the European Parliament expressed its solidarity with the Libyan people and condemned the human rights violations and the violent repression being perpetrated by the Gaddafi regime.

The no-fly zone is envisaged in paragraph 10 of the resolution and places it within the framework of the UN to prevent the regime from targeting the civilian population in coordination with the Arab League and the African Union. However, this paragraph may be subject to various interpretations. To some, it is simply about preventing the planes of Muammar al-Gaddafi from firing on the civilian population. This interpretation may give it a preventive role going as far as to prevent said planes from assassinating the Libyan population. To others, it is the first step towards possible military intervention.

I abstained on this ambiguous paragraph.

I therefore welcome the adoption of this resolution although I regret that it does not acknowledge the past errors of the Union in its relations with Libya, including on the subject of immigration.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI), in writing. (DE) I voted in favour of the joint motion for a resolution. As an immediate neighbour and being under an obligation to comply with the principles of international law, which also include the right of peoples to self-determination, it is essential that we provide assistance to the people of North Africa. The method for doing so should, however, be chosen carefully: the request by the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council to refrain from direct military intervention must be respected also so as not to make the humanitarian situation of civilians even worse.

 
  
  

Report: Bastiaan Belder (A7-0037/2011)

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) I am in favour of this report as I believe that the government of Iran should respect the legitimate requests of its people for fundamental freedoms and the improvement of economic and social conditions, along with the desire for cooperation on the part of Iran with the international community. The approach to be adopted by the EU should treat the issue of human rights as a fundamental factor, on the one hand, and, on the other, recognise the stabilising role of Iran in the region on condition that it normalises relations with its neighbours and other international players, gives up its nuclear programme and improves human and democratic conditions. I also agree with the Council’s position of a dual approach to the nuclear question: sanctions on the one hand, but offering dialogue on the other. As a final note, I should say that the EU should not be simplistic by putting the issue to Iran with reference only to its nuclear programme, but should also take account of human rights issues and the stabilising potential of the country in the region.

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli (PPE), in writing. (IT) Mr President, the painful parts of the Iranian issue are the massive violation of human rights, especially the use of the death penalty as a method of punishment.

Whereas, on 12 May 2010, the EU called once again on Iran to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty, in accordance with United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/149 and 63/168, Iran continues to hold the world record for executions of children and women and on the basis of sexual orientation.

The controversial nuclear programme also raises serious concern due to a lack of transparency and non-cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and a failure to comply with obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

A further problem relates to telecommunications and the Internet, which are constantly being interrupted to the detriment of the international obligation to defend freedom of information. I therefore support this report and hope to see an improvement in the situation very shortly.

 
  
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  Zigmantas Balčytis (S&D), in writing. (LT) The Islamic Republic of Iran (hereinafter referred to as Iran) is facing an array of governance challenges, from power struggles between competing factions within the country’s ruling elites to a crippling social and economic malaise, a problematic regional security environment and rising popular discontent at home. The policies pursued by the Iranian regime do not respond to the justifiable demands of Iranian citizens. Popular discontent with the Iranian Government as a result of the grave socio-economic situation, combined with a lack of freedom and of basic respect for human dignity within the country, represent the main challenges to the regime’s survival. Furthermore, there continues to be a high number of human rights violations in the country. According to annual reports on the death penalty in Iran, the number of executions in 2009 was the highest for the past 10 years, making Iran the country with the highest number of executions per capita in the world. I agree with the report’s call for Iran to abolish definitively the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18 and to amend its legislation, which violates the international human rights conventions that Iran has ratified, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and call upon Iran to issue official statistics concerning the application of the death penalty.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (S&D), in writing. (PT) I voted for this report, because I think that Iran should put an end to all forms of discrimination, a situation which particularly affects women. Human rights and fundamental rights continue to be violated with impunity in Iran. The Iranian authorities should put an end to all forms of torture or any other kind of cruel and inhumane treatment once and for all, in law and in practice.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE), in writing. (PT) Iran has a long and rich history, and a special identity that should be taken into account at a time when concerns are growing about the recent political and social developments in that country. Without relinquishing European values and the priority given to democracy and human rights, I believe that channels of dialogue should not be closed with Tehran, and that there should thus be an attempt to motivate the changes that this country so badly needs. I note with concern the recent attacks on members of the opposition and I hope that the Iranian regime understands how counterproductive this attitude is, and how likely it is to isolate them internationally.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) Once again, we should like to state that we do not share but rather condemn a restrictive and basic view of human rights. The EU often acts in a hypocritical way towards them in order to hide very different objectives. If this were not the case, many of the considerations and criticisms made here would extend to other countries in the region, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, and the same criteria would apply to them that are now being applied to Iran.

It is important to note that the existence of peace and security in the region is incompatible with the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel and the policy of aid which is granted to it by the USA and NATO, along with the complicity of the EU. The resolution neglects to mention this.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The violation of human rights is a reprehensible act in Iran or in any other country in the world. In this report, the majority of Parliament resorts to its habitual hypocrisy, using an alleged human rights defence to mask the fact that its aim is to protect the strategic economic interests of the major powers, particularly its oil, rather than the freedom of the Iranian people. Invoking this freedom is a mere pretext. If the objective were effectively respect for human rights and the security of the region, it would be necessary to unmask this situation in other countries in the area such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and to apply the same criteria to those countries.

In addition, the report conceals the threat to peace and security in the region which arises from the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel and the policy of aid granted to it by the USA and NATO.

We are against interference in the domestic matters of any country, whether they are against national sovereignty or against international law. We are therefore against the manipulation or use of certain forces or Iranian opposition parties and against campaigns that seek to preserve the interest of the EU and its allies, rather than the interests of the Iranian people.

 
  
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  Lorenzo Fontana (EFD), in writing. (IT) Mr Belder’s report stresses in a pragmatic manner all the things that the EU should be concerned about with regard to Iran. Uncontrolled nuclear testing, a lack of fundamental freedoms, a climate hostile to foreign investment, government abuses and the divide between leaders and civil society. I think these are sufficient reasons to vote in favour of the EU’s adopting a pragmatic attitude towards a major player in the regional setting of the Middle East and to support Mr Belder’s report.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas (EFD), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this document because democratic change cannot be imposed from outside or even by military means but has to be achieved through a peaceful democratic process. As you know, the proliferation risks in connection with the Iranian nuclear programme remain a source of serious concern to the European Union and to the international community, as expressed very clearly in many United Nations Security Council resolutions. The stabilising influence which Iran could potentially regain would be beneficial to the entire region, provided that it normalises its international relations, in particular, with its neighbours, dispels once and for all the concerns regarding the real aims of its nuclear programme and guarantees respect for human rights and democracy.

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D), in writing. – I voted for this report, which condemns the human rights situation in Iran and calls for measures to be taken to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power. I am concerned that the resolution recognises ‘Iran’s right to enrich uranium’ which is of course correct under the rules of the IAEA, but, given the continuing impasse in the negotiations, is contrary to the UN Security Council resolutions.

 
  
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  Clemente Mastella (PPE), in writing. (IT) President Ahmadinejad’s regime continues to trample on the fundamental rights of the Iranian people with impunity, while the government itself is shaken by a number of uncertainties. On the one hand, the population has hopes of democratic change while, on the other, the Iranian Government and Parliament are disturbed by the presence of factions within the elites competing for power. Undoubtedly, however, democratic change cannot be imposed from the outside, but it should be the result of a democratic and peaceful process, finally conceding to calls for welfare and freedom from recent mass Iranian movements. The nuclear question is also still an issue. From our side, the EU should work for a diplomatic solution, based on an approach that combines pressure with ordinary dialogue. It would be advisable, for example, for the European Council to contribute to the freezing of assets of individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear and weapons programmes. In the future, relations between the EU and Iran should, however, focus on analysing the numerous human rights violations. The Union should, in short, use all means at its disposal to draw up a univocal European Union position and let the Iranians know we are thinking about their future. Their human rights are our rights too.

 
  
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  Nuno Melo (PPE), in writing. (PT) Iran’s past and cultural history have to be considered as we approach its current political and social development. The constant violations of human rights in Iran are a cause for concern, but they cannot prevent a dialogue with it with the aim of putting an end to such incidents; we must be proactive in seeking solutions which will bring them to an end. The recent attacks on members of the opposition are worrying, and it is necessary to make the Iranian regime see that such behaviour only leads to greater international isolation.

 
  
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  Alajos Mészáros (PPE), in writing. (HU) Iran’s government has been facing serious challenges recently, creating growing levels of public discontent. Security forces responded with brute force and summarily arrested peaceful protesters; courts launched show trials en masse against students, scientists, women’s rights activists, lawyers, journalists and members of the clergy. Numerous Iranians were executed for political reasons and untold numbers remain in prison. Iran is one of the three countries worldwide with the highest number of executions. We must do everything in our power to eliminate negative discrimination and social repression in Iran as soon as possible, thus ensuring that the country can take its first steps towards democratic change. However, this cannot be achieved from the outside or even by military means; it must be a peaceful and democratic process, which is why I support this proposal with my vote.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL), in writing. (ES) Despite the fact that this report has been improved slightly after a number of amendments, I voted against it because it advocates a policy of sanctions that, in my opinion, will not improve the situation of the Iranian people; in fact, quite the opposite. In my opinion, the European Parliament report should diffuse the tension rather than increase it, because if diplomatic channels are exhausted, it will aggravate the already complicated situation for the people of Iran. In my opinion, the threats issued to Iran by the international community are not the best way to find a reasonable compromise in the dispute over the nuclear programme. That is why I voted against this report.

 
  
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  Louis Michel (ALDE), in writing. (FR) I supported this resolution because, beyond the nuclear issue, the rapporteur did not shy away from addressing the internal situation of the country, the aspirations of the people for more democracy, and the human rights situation.

We have a duty not to disappoint a young population, a population aspiring to live in a democracy and to respect each other’s ideas. We have to support a people who aim to shape a rule of law in order to offer future generations a destiny founded on tolerance, freedom, justice and prosperity. We have to denounce the rapes, murders, summary executions, arbitrary arrests and harassment as unacceptable.

Any violation of human rights is unacceptable. Yet, since the re-election of President Ahmadinejad in June 2009, we have seen an increase in such violations. Iran has the highest rate of executions per head of population in the world. The country is second to China as regards application of the death penalty by stoning in terms of the number of executions, and first on a per capita basis. It is time that Iran fulfilled its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified of its own free will.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE), in writing. (SK) Iran, as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, has, for a long time, arrogantly ignored its commitments, in particular, by concealing its nuclear operations. If Iran wants to maintain good relations with the EU and other democratic states, it must unequivocally remove all doubts as to the purpose of its nuclear programme.

I also consider the consolidation of relations between Iran and Turkey, which assures the Union that it recognises shared values in an effort to obtain EU membership, while at the same time displaying open sympathy for the Iranian regime, to be a matter of concern for the EU.

I would like to say that Iran holds the world record for the number of juveniles executed, and the number of executions per capita. The show trials of political opponents, and the exceptionally cruel punishment of stoning, which is used legally in Iran today, as well as other forms of cruel and inhumane torture, treatment and punishment, are characteristic of a regime which deserves robust moral condemnation.

Apart from what has already been mentioned, the EU’s priorities must include steadfast insistence on the declaration of a moratorium on executions until the death penalty is abolished, a call for an end to impunity over human rights violations and, of course, no more destabilisation of the region.

 
  
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  Alexander Mirsky (S&D), in writing. – It is hilarious and, at the same time, very sad to talk about respect for rights and freedoms in a country which is ruled by a person who threatens to massacre the United States, Europe and Israel. There is no sense in negotiating with him about human rights and values and freedoms. Such people understand only power. It is necessary to stop being ceremonious and to start transferring from word to deeds. Complete isolation, severe sanctions, and a clear and consecutive position will yield a result. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a danger for global society.

 
  
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  Cristiana Muscardini (PPE), in writing. (IT) The lack of transparency in the Iranian Government and the limited cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency over the nuclear programme are certainly far from reassuring.

The deterioration in the situation of fundamental human rights and its ability to destabilise the region through Hezbollah and Hamas are elements that add to the concerns that Iran is spreading throughout the world. Electoral fraud, violent repression of demonstrations and executions, which amounted to 680 in 2010 (twice as many as in the previous year) and the arrest of opposition leaders leave no doubts over the use of power and violence by the regime. The EU sanctions of 26 July 2010, in line with those of the UN, were proper and necessary. The Union must pay greater attention to Iran’s nuclear policy in order to monitor developments in the field of conflict.

The EU should support international diplomacy for the protection of human rights. The twin-track approach keeps the door open to dialogue, but it takes at least two to have a dialogue, and in the absence of goodwill on the part of Iran, sanctions should be strengthened and more targeted. We cannot accept that executions continue to rise to such an extent and that Iran’s nuclear policy is beyond the control of the international community.

 
  
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  Mariya Nedelcheva (PPE), in writing. (FR) I voted for the report by Mr Belder. We have been asking for a change of regime in Iran for far too long. Human rights are constantly being violated by the brains behind the current regime, whether we are talking about the disgraceful conditions in which the residents of the Ashraf opposition camp are kept, the constant violation of women’s rights, discrimination against homosexuals, the censorship of artists, etc.

At European level, what we can do is apply effective sanctions against the leaders of the regime. However, applying sanctions is not enough. The people in the country who are struggling to defend their human rights must be encouraged. Should the European Union not support all defenders of human rights in Iran? The current push for democracy in North Africa should be extended to Iran.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE), in writing. – (PT) I voted in favour of this report which outlines the severe situation which is being experienced in Iran, denouncing the practices of repression and the systematic violations of human rights perpetrated by the Iranian authorities and highlighting the need to earnestly seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue. In particular, I should like to join in expressing solidarity with the Iranian people, who have been legitimately calling for democratic change in the country following the presidential elections in 2009.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), in writing. – This is the first report on Iran in Parliament since the Gahler Report in 2001. Since all negotiations on agreements between the EU and Iran have been on hold for years, the only way for Parliament to express a more in-depth position on this country is via an own-initiative report, which was initiated through a Green proposal. The EFD was given the task. 4 political groups (Greens, S&D, ALDE and GUE) formulated joint amendments to the draft which were, to a large degree adopted, albeit by a slight majority.

Important issues are: EU contacts with Iran (paragraph 32) where, as regards the background of the controversy over whether the EP’s Iran delegation should be allowed to travel to Iran, the text now calls – contrary to the wishes of the rapporteur – for contacts with a broad range of actors, without making a direct reference to the delegation; sanctions (paragraph 42), where the text calls for targeted sanctions on the main human rights offenders – so far, there are only sanctions on persons linked to the nuclear dossier; and the opening of an EU embassy in Tehran – in parallel with almost all Member States that have a representation in the country.

 
  
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  Licia Ronzulli (PPE), in writing. (IT) I support the text of this report because it highlights the main aspects that make Iran one of the most dangerous countries in the international arena, both in humanitarian and political terms.

The country is now devastated by the arbitrary use of violence by security forces, who responded with a ruthless crackdown on peaceful demonstrations by arresting thousands of demonstrators. This gratuitous use of violence caused a progressive deterioration of the basic human rights of the Iranian people, who are continuously subjected to a punitive system contrary to any convention on the civil and political rights of man.

As if that were not enough, the death penalty by stoning is still in force in this country, with an increasing number of executions, not to mention the fact that we still have no evidence that the nuclear installations in the country are being used for exclusively peaceful purposes.

 
  
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  Oreste Rossi (EFD), in writing. (IT) We are in favour of this report because it deals with the Iranian issue with the necessary toughness and severity, highlighting the contrasts in the country and the unacceptability that this situation should continue. The Iranian regime constantly applies repression against anyone who dares to rebel against absolutism, usually by applying the death penalty.

In fact, it is the country holding the record for the highest number of child and per capita executions in the world. We also note that often, the death penalty is carried out by stoning for crimes as minor as allegations of adultery and apostasy. The report also highlights the repression of Christians and the Baha’i community.

Iran continues to lose international credibility because of its political rhetoric and aggressive support for Islamic fundamentalism. I also want to stress the continuing acts of psychological and physical violence to which the dissident refugees in Camp Ashraf are continually subjected by the Iranian Government.

 
  
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  Peter Skinner (S&D), in writing. – I am pleased that Mr Belder was able to bring this report to the House and successfully push through elements concerning human rights in Iran, in particular, the strong condemnation of the detention of Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, together with their wives.

However, I do not agree that Iran has a ‘right to enrich uranium’, which is allowed under IAEA rules but, given the continuing impasse over negotiations, is contrary to UN Security Council resolutions.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (S&D), in writing. – I supported this report as I strongly believe that the Iranian Government should respond positively to the Iranian people’s demands for basic freedoms and improved social and economic conditions. Through this report, the European Parliament condemns the use of the death penalty as well as numerous other abuses of human rights.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI), in writing. (DE) I voted in favour of the report by Mr Belder on the EU’s approach towards Iran. I share the concerns of the majority of Europeans with regard to Iran’s nuclear programme and the assurances of the Iranian regime that it will only be used for civilian purposes. That notwithstanding, I am of the opinion that, in its cooperation with third countries in the energy sector, the European Union should only make use of sustainable, green and safe energy sources – in keeping with its climate protection targets. I also support the opinion of my fellow Member that the EU should devise a broader strategy towards Iran which goes beyond the nuclear issue and also addresses the human rights situation and other important matters.

 
  
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  Iva Zanicchi (PPE), in writing. (IT) I voted for the report by Mr Belder because, despite the numerous problems related to Iran’s domestic and foreign policy such as, for example, the possible use of nuclear weapons, the lack of transparency in certain government decisions, and, in some cases, the failure to respect fundamental human rights, I believe that a policy based exclusively on sanctions cannot bring great benefits.

I therefore believe it is important for the European Union to preserve and, where possible, maintain forms of dialogue with the government in Tehran.

 
  
  

Motion for a resolution RC-B7-0158/2011

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) I am unconditionally voting for this joint resolution, which highlights the importance of the issues discussed with regard to the rights of people belonging to minorities, and to promoting the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as of the rights of the child, while at the same time combating terrorism. I should like to draw attention to the conclusions, and I agree that the EU must enhance its practice of speaking with a single voice as this would increase its visibility and influence as a global player, and the delegations in Geneva and New York need to increase the coherence, visibility and credibility of EU action in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). I agree with the resolution, which indicates that Member States should encourage the UNHRC to give equal attention to discrimination based on all the principles including gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief. I also agree with the review, which highlights the need for the UNHRC to be more active as a mechanism for early warning and prevention, to uphold special procedures and safeguard the independence of the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to maintain the necessary financing in order to preserve its regional offices.

 
  
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  Zigmantas Balčytis (S&D), in writing. (LT) The European Union and its Member States are committed to guaranteeing respect for human rights in their own policies. It is therefore very important for the EU to be able to assume a strong and influential position in international organisations, in particular, within the United Nations Human Rights Council, ensuring effective and consistent implementation of human rights policy internationally. I agree that the UNHRC’s work and mandate must be reviewed, allowing the Council’s methods of work to be assessed and enhanced, so that it is possible to react to human rights violations as efficiently and systematically as possible. On several occasions, the UNHRC has been unable to address serious human rights situations in an urgent and timely manner because of the absence of adequate instruments. The UNHRC should therefore be better equipped to address both chronic and emergency situations, through the expansion of the human rights toolbox, by using panels not just during but also in-between sessions. In turn, the EU must make the UNHRC a priority and coordinate better among the Member States, which would allow the EU to better use its influence within the wider UN system and would facilitate coordination and decision making in the area of human rights.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this motion for a resolution, because the European Union and its Member States should guarantee respect for human rights in their own policies, and the European Union’s position in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should be stronger and more effective. Priorities for the Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council and the 2011 review are necessary, because only then can we assess how the Human Rights Council has implemented its mandate and determine the methods of work that must be enhanced so that the UNHRC is more efficient and responds to human rights violations promptly. The European Parliament regrets the fact that on several occasions, the UNHRC has been unable to address serious human rights situations in an urgent and timely manner because of the absence of adequate instruments, and actively seeks the creation of dedicated UNHRC mechanisms to respond promptly to the human rights crises in, for example, the Middle East, Iran and Belarus. Furthermore, it is very important for the UNHRC to be better equipped to address both chronic and emergency situations, perhaps through the expansion of the human rights toolbox, by using panels not just during but also in-between sessions. Parliament also calls on EU Member States to actively engage in the 2011 review of the UNHRC to strengthen compliance with its mandate.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (S&D), in writing. (PT) I voted in favour of this resolution as I believe that the agenda of the 16th regular session of the Human Rights Council lays down important issues which are of particular relevance. I wish to highlight the importance of the agenda, which includes reports on the ‘rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities’ and on the ‘promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism’, as well as extensive meetings on the rights of the child.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE), in writing. (PT) The 16th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council will take place during a particularly turbulent historical period, which undermines its very composition, given that some of its members are far from complying with the provisions of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and promoting and protecting human rights, in accordance with its mission. The European Union must actively participate in this session and do all it can to ensure that its universalistic view of human rights based on personal dignity becomes increasingly widespread and effectively implemented in every country in the world. The designation of a European high representative for human rights may contribute to the greater visibility of the Union’s positions and the insistence by the Member States of the Council on the ‘one message, but with many voices’ strategy, and has the potential to raise increasing support for European positions.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The European Parliament has long had a policy of double standards concerning human rights. It is also well known that it has a narrow and self-serving conception of the declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Once again, in this report, the selective way in which various countries are mentioned is clear. Countries with which the EU maintains economic and diplomatic relations, and to which it attributes strategic importance, have been left out because of the strategic interests they serve, despite their serious violations of human rights. Examples of these countries include Israel, Columbia and Morocco, to name but three, on different continents. For our part, we do not have a restrictive view of human rights.

We take the entire content of the declaration seriously, which we feel, most importantly, inspired our political intervention. Finally, we object to the idea of the European Union having a permanent seat on the United Nations General Assembly for the simple reason that it would not make sense in light of the spirit and principles of the organisation, contained in the United Nations Charter. The UN is, and must continue to be, an organisation of independent and sovereign states.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The selectiveness surrounding the countries criticised in this report and the self-serving nature of this debate is clear. The hypocritical use of this report is obvious, as the countries with which the EU has good economic and diplomatic relations and those which are of strategic importance are not criticised, despite their violations of human rights, including, for example, Columbia and Honduras. There is no call for an end to Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara or Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Moreover, we cannot support the idea of the European Union having a permanent seat on the United Nations General Assembly because the UN is an organisation made up of sovereign and independent states and the European Union is not a state according to the UN Charter.

The defence of human rights, including the fact that they are indivisible and cannot be ranked, and that they are a prerequisite for respecting the rights of people and for genuine social justice, peace, freedom and democracy, form the framework of our political action. You can count on us to defend human rights, but do not count on us for exercises in hypocrisy.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas (EFD), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this document, because the United Nations Human Rights Council is a unique platform specialising in universal human rights and a specific forum dealing with human rights within the UN system, and it is also entrusted with the important task and responsibility of strengthening the promotion, protection and respect of human rights around the globe. I would like to underline the importance of the 16th Session of the UNHRC and particularly the UNHRC review process, which provides for a unique opportunity to assess how the Council has implemented its mandate and presents an occasion for the Council to enhance its methods of work in order to respond more efficiently and systematically to human rights violations. I welcome the fact that on the agenda of the 16th regular session are, among others, reports on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, as well as extensive meetings on the rights of the child.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE), in writing. (RO) The 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council offers a unique opportunity to evaluate the way in which the Council has fulfilled its mandate and, at the same time, a chance to improve the Council’s working methods with the aim of ensuring a more effective and systematic response to situations involving the violation of human rights. I think that it is vital to set up, as part of the EU Council, a human rights working group which will include experts in human rights from all 27 EU Member States, based in Brussels.

It would also be extremely useful to appoint a special high-level EU representative for human rights. I hope that the EEAS, in particular, the EU delegations in Geneva and New York, will, in the future, improve the coherence, raise the profile and boost the credibility of the EU’s actions within the UN Human Rights Council by developing the EU’s ability to interact and cooperate at an inter-regional level.

 
  
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  Thomas Mann (PPE), in writing. (DE) I have just voted in favour of the European Parliament resolution on the priorities of the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Our resolution is particularly significant because we have today remembered the suppression of peaceful protests against the violent occupation of Tibet 52 years ago. The Dalai Lama announced his withdrawal from political life yesterday – this represents an historic loss. There are few people who are held in such high esteem by their own people and the world at large and who, at the same time, are so well liked as His Holiness. By withdrawing from political life, the Dalai Lama is in no way relinquishing his responsibility. He has stated that he continues to be committed to his spiritual role in relation to the concerns of the Tibetan people. His Holiness will transfer the political powers laid down in the Tibetan constitution to the freely elected government-in-exile. In this way, he will once again strengthen the democracy of the exiled Tibetan people, who are spread across all of the continents of the world. On 20 March, a new prime minister and a new parliament will be elected. I will witness the elections in Switzerland as an observer. We Europeans must help to further strengthen democracy and human rights for the Tibetan people.

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D), in writing. – I welcome this resolution, which emphasises the interdependence of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and points out that access to water is a human right. I particularly welcome the adoption of Amendment 19 calling for a follow-up to the Goldstone report.

 
  
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  Nuno Melo (PPE), in writing. (PT) In the midst of these difficult times that we are facing, especially in the North African regions, the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council is of paramount importance. The European Union will therefore have to play a truly active role in this session and take every step to ensure its universalistic view of human rights based on respect for human dignity is followed by every country in the world. It is also important for the EU that a European high representative for human rights be appointed in order for its view on defending human rights to be increasingly widespread.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL), in writing. (ES) Unfortunately I could not vote in favour of this European Parliament resolution on the priorities of the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, because it lays down a number of points with which I disagree.

The resolution calls for coordination with the United States in the area of human rights, it welcomes the appointment of Morocco as a co-facilitator in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, and encourages the EU to maintain ‘common positions’ with regard to certain countries. It also insists on the virtues of the EU financial instruments, which are merely an example of the way in which the EU manipulates such an important issue as human rights, by funding those groups that guarantee European interests in third countries.

In my opinion, these are reasons enough to not vote for this resolution, and I therefore abstained.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. (DE) The unrest in Maghreb gives us a very stark reminder that it is not easy to defend human rights and that this often conflicts with economic and/or military interests. Similarly, measures are taken in the name of combating terrorism that are not compatible with human rights. In this regard, the EU also needs to take a look at its own behaviour – for example, in the case of the illegal CIA overflights. Despite these shortcomings, it remains important for the EU in particular to devote itself to the protection of human rights. Protection of the rights of minorities, particularly the improvement of the situation for Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim countries, must be a particular concern of the European Union, with Christians in particular being subjected to severe persecution and being the main victims of religious violence. In view of this, I voted in favour.

 
  
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  Rolandas Paksas (EFD), in writing. (LT) I voted in favour of this resolution because the United Nations Human Rights Council plays a very important role throughout the world in addressing issues relating to human rights. The review process is an excellent opportunity to assess how the Council has implemented its mandate. I agree with the proposal that the EU must speak with one voice in relation to issues being dealt with. Furthermore, the Member States must actively engage in reviewing the Council’s work. I welcome the fact that on the agenda of the 16th regular session are reports on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, on the rights of the child, and on countering terrorism. However, in order to improve human living conditions, issues relating to the right to water and sanitation should be considered at the session. We must guarantee an effective mechanism to implement and protect what is a fundamental human right. Every effort must be made to ensure that commitments in this area are implemented internationally and every person has access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE), in writing. (PT) Respecting, promoting and safeguarding the universality of human rights is part of the EU’s legal, ethical and cultural acquis, and is one of the cornerstones of European unity and integrity. Every effort must therefore be made to increase the visibility and effectiveness of action on the part of the European Union and its Member States, and it is vital to ensure that the European Union is committed to actively participating in this important 16th session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as well as in the UNHRC review process, which will take place in 2011.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), in writing. – A good report where, among other things, Parliament welcomes the fact that the agenda of the 16th regular session includes reports on the ‘Rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities’, and on the ‘Promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism’, as well as extensive meetings on the rights of the child; welcomes also this year’s nominations of Special Rapporteurs on these key topics, and takes note of the reports to be presented by the Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, on freedom of religion or belief, and on the situation of human rights defenders; calls on the EU Member States to contribute actively to these debates.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler (S&D), in writing. – I voted in favour of this resolution as it highlights the important role that the EU plays in working with the Human Rights Council. Given recent events in Libya, it is crucial that we continue to campaign for and seek to defend human rights at an international level.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL), in writing. (FR) I abstained on the final vote on this resolution on both substantive and procedural grounds.

The text of the resolution reinforces the idea of an EU policy of double standards in relation to human rights, especially on the issue of human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. The few amendments tabled on this issue, which I supported, do not hide the fact that the Union refuses to implement the guidelines of the Goldstone report.

The Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left has tabled its own resolution supporting the universality of human rights in all social, economic and cultural fields.

On the other hand, the challenge of this resolution was to vote on the mandate of the European Union delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council for its 16th session, although the session had already begun on 28 February, with Baroness Ashton having made several speeches.

Voting on this resolution when the session of the Human Rights Council has already begun makes little sense; the European Parliament should have explained its upstream position.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI), in writing. (DE) I voted in favour of the resolution on the priorities of the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. I share the opinion that the Human Rights Council could be extremely valuable as a kind of ‘early warning system’ and preventive mechanism, and I expect the External Action Service to involve itself accordingly in this body. With regard to the review of the Human Rights Council, I obviously also support the call for an all-inclusive and, above all, transparent process.

 
  
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  President. – That concludes the explanations of vote.

 

11. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes
  

(The sitting was suspended at 12:55 and resumed at 15:00)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RAINER WIELAND
Vice-President

 

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

13. Composition of committees: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

14. Debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (debate)

14.1. Pakistan - murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Pakistan – murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities(1).

 
  
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  Jean Lambert, author. – Mr President, I think all of us have been very deeply shocked and appalled by the assassination of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, not least because he is someone known to us in this Parliament: he has visited here, he has met many of us; but also because this is another highly symbolic killing, striking at someone who was looking for reconciliation and work across all minorities in Pakistan.

We should also add our condolences not only to his family, but also to all the families of those who have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This week, we have seen two such attacks, which have killed and injured more people than, for example, the London bombings.

The whole population is suffering, and intimidation is undermining democracy in Pakistan. We are seeing a change in the demographics of certain constituencies, for example, Quetta, as intimidation works to force people out.

Our resolution is important in terms of wanting to continue and support the work, in terms of tolerance and mutual understanding. I would like to make the point that we need that in the European Union, too, where certain recent ministerial statements, in my view, have not helped that. So we expect leadership in Pakistan and in the European Union.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, author. – Mr President, despite the request made by the Pakistani Minister for Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, for more protection after numerous threats, an assassin managed to murder him on 2 March. Our sympathies go out not only to his loved ones, but also to all Pakistanis who seek a more tolerant society. This is a real blow to Pakistan as well as to humanity as a whole.

Why did the Pakistani authorities deny the Minister’s request for a bullet-proof official car, as well as his request that he select his own bodyguards that he trusted? By calling for reforms in the inhumane blasphemy laws, he was a human rights defender.

We equally want to pay tribute to the work of Naeem Sabir Jamaldini, the coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who was murdered on 1 March.

We need practical action such as investigations, including within the government. These have to take place in line with international standards because impunity has to end. The European Union should monitor the situation and try to fund civil society through the Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, author.(PL) Mr President, over the last 10 months, the European Parliament has adopted a total of three resolutions on religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

In May 2010, we talked about this subject here in Strasbourg in the company of the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti. Today in Parliament, we are debating the circumstances of his death. The murder of a high-ranking state official, which took place on 2 March, means only one thing: in Pakistan, no one is safe from the radical Islamists. In danger are not only those who criticise the archaic law which prescribes a sentence of death for religious blasphemy, but also those who publicly stand up for the victims of intolerance, such as Mr Bhatti.

After 10 months, it can be seen that current European Union policy towards Pakistan is not bringing the intended effects. Therefore, I support the idea contained in our resolution of holding round-table meetings on the situation of minorities in Pakistan. I think the newly created European External Action Service must react clearly to events in Islamabad before more people become victims and before it is too late.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola, author. (FI) Mr President, Shahbaz Bhatti and all his family are an astonishing example of what brave, principled, loyal people can achieve. He had only held office for six months when the Pakistani Parliament adopted a significant reform that guaranteed a 5% quota to the country’s minorities in public positions. That was just one of the numerous democratic reforms which Bhatti pushed forward and of which the Pakistani Government should be very proud.

Most significant of all is perhaps the ‘Interfaith Harmony Dialogue’, which he began at local level, and which aimed to diffuse tensions and tackle the problems that give rise to terrorism. I saw in the idea the ingredients for the Nobel Peace Prize and I hope that the work to promote human rights and democracy in Pakistan will not cease, even though extremist elements gained a temporary victory when they disposed of the country’s most strategic human rights activist. If dialogue succeeds in a country which is a centre of radical Islam, the positive effects will radiate everywhere in the world.

Only about a month ago, I met Mr Bhatti. We talked about his possible death. He was not naïve. He understood very well what bravery could lead to. I will die before too long, he said, but meanwhile I will try to change unjust legislation as much as I can. I will die, but the law will remain and it will affect the lives of millions.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Peter van Dalen, author. (NL) Mr President, I am afraid the situation in Pakistan is getting worse. Attack after attack seems to be taking place and the government seems to have lost the will to intervene. Last January, Governor Taseer was assassinated, and last week, the only Christian federal minister, Mr Bhatti, was assassinated, too. The European Union and Member States are maintaining contacts with Pakistan in many ways. Cooperation is afoot as regards Afghanistan, many hundreds of millions in aid are pouring into the country for education and reconstruction and efforts are being made to foster interfaith dialogue.

However, the time has come for us to put our foot down. The Pakistani education system must be reformed and the preaching of hatred for Christians to young children must be stopped. The aid for reconstruction after the flooding should be distributed fairly, and that includes to non-Muslims. That is not only in the interests of the West. If the Pakistani Government and the security services do not get the situation under control, the country will sink into the morass of extremism. There is very little time left to reverse that tide.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares, author. (PT) Mr President, there is often only so much we can achieve here in the European Parliament in our resolutions on urgent matters, but, in cases like these, where there are at least two issues concerning freedom of speech and religious freedom in countries like Pakistan, there at least two things we need to achieve to make our voice heard.

First of all, I should like to say to the defenders of tolerance in Pakistan and to the defenders of religious freedom in Pakistan that they are not alone. This is a very modest aim, but I believe that it is a first step towards some dignity and respect in the debate, and this message will reach those in Pakistan supporting religious freedom, so the first thing I should like to do is tell them that they are not alone.

The second thing I should like to do is make it very clear to the Pakistani Government that it cannot stop the extremists in Pakistan from thinking that they speak on behalf of everyone because this is the vicious circle countries often fall into when it comes to blasphemy laws, as is the case now in Pakistan, or as was the case, for example, in Indonesia. We are dealing with a minority of very vocal extremists who speak very loudly and who eventually start to believe that they are speaking on behalf of everyone because they manage to intimidate the rest of society. Consequently, in this case, if governments are not first in line to defend freedom in their own countries and fight against impunity, and if governments do not impose a bastion of dignity, the whole country will run the risk of being plagued by intolerance.

The Pakistani Government must therefore fully investigate Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder and must carry out investigations until conclusions have been reached as it did in the case of the Governor of Punjab. What it certainly cannot do is allow the investigations to be corrupted by the kind of practices the police and the Pakistani secret services have been using in investigations, which have destroyed investigations, including even those relating to the murder of the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. It is therefore vital that the Pakistani Government ensures that the extremists do not take charge of public discourse and, for our part, that we maintain our solidarity with the defenders of tolerance in the country.

 
  
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  Mario Mauro, on behalf of the PPE Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed in the name of so-called blasphemy laws by a group of fundamentalists who, as is happening more and more, used the name of God to promote their own schemes for power.

With this resolution, we want to applaud and thank Shahbaz Bhatti for the example he has set us over the years. I hope so painful a sacrifice serves as a warning to the governments of the European Union and to the High Representative for Foreign Policy so that specific actions can replace the few words that have been spoken with such a lack of force to date.

In fact, in recent months, the European Union, or rather the Council and the Commission, unlike Parliament, have wasted time discussing whether or not they should include the word ‘Christian’ in their weak condemnations, while Christians continue to be brutally slaughtered, often because they approached the West, even though there is nothing western about them. I therefore believe that the Commission and Council would do well to look to Parliament on this occasion.

 
  
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  Catherine Stihler, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, I, too, wanted to pay tribute to the courage and the work of Shahbaz Bhatti. I know many colleagues in this House have met him personally and his determination to work for minority communities in Pakistan, to hold up their rights, is an example to us all. The fact is that he put his life on the line; he knew that the threats were increasing, and his bravery should be recognised. He has lost his life and we in this House have lost a friend.

So what can we do? I think there are a number of important points in this resolution. Paragraph 13 about calling on the competent EU institutions to include the issue of religious tolerance in society is vitally important. I would also call on the Commission, in talks and in trade issues as well, to bring up the issue of human rights too. Paragraph 19 about the institutions and the government of Pakistan is also important, as is the call for recognition of democracy and human rights.

I think that, at the end of the day, we all would like to make sure our condolences are sent and I hope the President of Parliament will send a personal letter to Shahbaz Bhatti’s mother. His funeral was last week and I think that is also important.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the murder of Mr Bhatti is the second murder of a high-profile Pakistani official in two months. The murders of both Mr Bhatti and Governor Salman Taseer must be investigated thoroughly and the perpetrators have to be brought to justice.

Apart from Mr Bhatti’s murder, I would like to take up another burning human rights issue in Pakistan, namely, the situation of the Province of Balochistan. The Baloch minority continues to be persecuted and, according to Amnesty International, at least 90 Baloch activists – teachers, journalists and lawyers – have disappeared or have been murdered. Other people, such as aid workers, teachers, journalists and government officials, have also been subject to persecution and threats.

The European Parliament and the EU need to send a clear message to Pakistan and urge the Pakistani Government to do its best to avoid this kind of situation.

 
  
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  Nicole Kiil-Nielsen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FR) Mr President, these assassinations are, of course, intolerable, but what is more intolerable is the climate of impunity that exists, despite the increase in attacks. Unfortunately, the citizens of Pakistan and the families of the victims cannot expect much from a judicial system that is blighted by corruption, intimidation and poorly-trained investigators and prosecutors. Investigations take years and are based on discriminatory laws. The criminal dimension of the judicial system, in particular, needs to be reformed and gain real credibility both nationally and internationally.

According to a poll carried out in universities by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, young Pakistanis believe that the credibility of the judicial system is more crucial for the survival of the country than military force or the parliamentary system.

The European Union must therefore use all the necessary instruments at its disposal to strengthen judicial cooperation with Pakistan.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, one by one in Pakistan, the voices of reform and progress are being extinguished. Shahbaz Bhatti knew he was in danger, both as a Christian in a country where religious intolerance is rife, and as Minister for Minorities who fearlessly denounced his country’s draconian blasphemy laws. However, he refused to be cowed by the Islamist fanatics who threatened him with death.

Only two months earlier, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, had been assassinated by his own bodyguards, but Bhatti was not even provided with bodyguards and, therefore, presented the easiest of targets to the heavily armed terrorists who cut him down on his way to a cabinet meeting.

Why was Mr Bhatti not shadowed by armed close protection officers? This is one of the many questions we must ask President Zardari. I hope he can answer. I hope the Vice-President/High Representative will press him to set more of an example in opposing the alarming radicalisation of Pakistani society.

Above all, this is a human tragedy. A man of great courage and principle has lost his life and we as democrats honour his name and salute his life’s achievements today in this debate. We send our condolences to his loved ones in their hour of grief.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group.(SK) Mr President, the provisions of Islamic Sharia law literally state that anyone who offends Islam shall be condemned to death.

I do not know what actions may be considered an insult to Islam in the Islamic world, but cases of murdering defenders of human rights and religious freedoms in Pakistan, as well as in other Islamic countries, show us that some Islamic spiritual leaders regard our civilised values, which give people a broad freedom to decide, as a threat to their faith and do not hesitate to declare, in accordance with their law, a fatwa against anyone who openly promotes adherence to human rights and civic freedoms in their territory.

Shahbaz Bhatti, a minister in the Pakistani Government, Salman Taseer, Governor of the Province of Punjab, or Sabir Jamaldini, Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have become for us innocent victims of the fanatical application of Islamic law. The example of these victims is supposed to terrorise not only the Pakistani people from seeking greater freedom, but also the politicians running the country from reforming the political system, so that they will continue to respect a set of rules harking back to medieval times.

However, if we do not want to bring the reformist politicians in Islamic countries into conflict with their religious authorities, we should, in my opinion, strive to find a platform for constructive dialogue with Islamic spiritual leaders regarding the peaceful coexistence of civilisations …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR).(PL) Mr President, we are talking about the murder of a government minister and of a man who avowed his Christian roots and was a Catholic. We are talking about another murder in Pakistan which shows that, in fact, the authorities there are not in control of the situation, and this is a problem. We are not at this point saying that the President or government of Pakistan have shown ill will. Our charge is related to the fact that they are not even able to guarantee the security of people who are part of government structures but who profess a different faith from the rest of the country. This is the tragedy of this country, which, step by step, is becoming increasingly aggressive and full of hatred towards religions other than Islam. This is a real problem. I am certain we should speak out about this.

 
  
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  President. – We now come to the catch-the-eye procedure.

Very many Members have indicated to me – and since some of the group chairs and deputy chairs are here, I will mention this now – that we need a bit more flexibility when it comes to these urgency debates when so many Members are clearly interested in a particular subject. I will now, to some degree, take into account to what extent Members are listed as speakers in later debates.

 
  
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  Michael Gahler (PPE).(DE) Mr President, a week before he was murdered, I spoke with Shahbaz Bhatti in his office in Islamabad and he was aware of the danger he was in. However, he was more concerned about his impression that, particularly in recent months, also in connection with the murder of Salman Taseer, the Punjab Governor, many people have shied away from the challenge of the extremists. Ministers, parliamentarians, journalists, lawyers, even human rights activists, who have always got involved before, no longer have the confidence to stand up against the challenge of these extremists.

I believe we must call on everyone in Pakistan to stand up against this intolerance, otherwise they will be swept aside together or individually. Sherry Rehman, that courageous politician who put forward amendments to the blasphemy law, is in particular danger. I therefore call on the Pakistani Parliament to protect her now by finally making the amendments to the blasphemy law that she proposed. That would clearly signal a united stand against extremism.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the murder of Pakistan’s minorities minister, Mr Bhatti, comes in the midst of the whole controversy about amending the law which stipulated the death penalty for blasphemy in this country, an amendment which he supported. I think that the intolerance on which the laws on punishing blasphemy are based has also led to the appalling murders of leading figures who fought for the freedom of expression and belief in Pakistan. At the same time, the incident involving Mr Bhatti has been condemned by a large section of Pakistan’s political establishment, in the media, and by people from a variety of ethnic origins and religious beliefs, which is a positive sign. It is therefore the duty of this country’s government to prevent a recurrence of violent incidents based on intolerance and to continue its efforts to respect the democratic values enshrined in the Pakistani Constitution, the universal principles of human rights and the freedom of thought.

 
  
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  Constance Le Grip (PPE). (FR) Mr President, I, too, was deeply shaken by the cowardly assassination on 2 March 2011 of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minister for Minorities in the government of Pakistan.

This terrorist assassination follows numerous other assassinations of courageous, tolerant Pakistanis who are passionate about human rights and defenders of the human rights of both men and women.

We once again urge the government of Pakistan to do everything possible to shed light on this cowardly assassination and to ensure that the protection of people threatened by fanatical religious extremists is truly effective. I am naturally thinking, first and foremost, but not only, of Mrs Sherry Rehman.

Once again, I vigorously call on all the competent institutions of the European Union to include in negotiations, with a view to preparing future cooperation agreements, including the cooperation agreement between the Union and Pakistan, a clause ensuring respect for religious freedom and human rights.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE).(PL) Mr President, once again, we are talking about the question of human rights violations in Pakistan, this time because of the recent murder of government minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who opposed the country’s blasphemy legislation and defended the rights of religious minorities. He opposed intolerance and religious discrimination.

The European Parliament resolution on this brutal murder is our expression of opposition to the growing brutal religious extermination in Pakistan, but also unequivocally testifies that we are not leaving religious minorities, whose rights are very commonly violated, to fend for themselves. It is our duty to condemn acts of lawlessness which threaten the freedom and life of other people. Therefore, I would like to emphasise how important it is to support non-governmental organisations which fight for human rights in their efforts for greater democratisation in Pakistan and a cessation of the violence.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, in January, we deplored the murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.

A few weeks later, these acts of violence continued with the assassination on 2 March 2011 of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities in the government of Pakistan.

Vice-President Ashton strongly condemned the murder and expressed deep concern over the climate of intolerance and violence in Pakistan linked to the debate over the controversial blasphemy laws.

Mr Bhatti was the only Christian in the government of Pakistan and a well-known advocate of respect for human rights and religious freedom. He was one of the few voices left who dared to speak out and knew he was under threat after the murder of Salman Taseer. Yet this did not stop him from defending his rights which, after all, are enshrined in the Pakistani constitution.

Vice-President Ashton has called on the government of Pakistan to take its responsibilities and provide adequate protection for those in official functions or in civil society who are threatened.

The EU welcomes Prime Minister Jamali’s declaration that the government will do its utmost to bring the culprits to justice. Our respect goes to Mr Jamali for attending Mr Bhatti’s funeral.

The government must now live up to its commitments and bring to justice the perpetrators and instigators of such crimes. Mr Bhatti and Mr Taseer were outspoken critics of the blasphemy laws and at the forefront of efforts to amend them. However, in the climate prevailing after the Taseer murder, the amendments were withdrawn from parliament.

The blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty, are incompatible with the common values we seek to promote in our relations with Pakistan. They have also led to miscarriages of justice and discrimination against religious minorities.

While we strongly support Pakistan’s democratic government and will do what we can to assist it as it seeks to cope with an unprecedented wave of terrorist acts, its members should stand up for the principles they subscribe to. Freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right; freedom of opinion and expression is intrinsically linked to it.

The Council has just adopted conclusions recalling the commitment of the EU to safeguard these fundamental rights and to step up efforts to promote and protect these rights everywhere and for everyone.

 
  
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  President. – I have received six motions for resolutions(2)tabled in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debates.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE), in writing.(PL) I should like to offer my condolences to the family of the murdered Pakistani Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti. I hope the perpetrators of this crime will quickly be apprehended and duly punished. This brutal incident, the victim of which was a high-ranking state official fighting for equal rights for minorities in Pakistan, is further evidence of how difficult the situation is in that country. Unfortunately, our current policy has not brought the expected results. In view of this, the European Union must take specific steps which will help to increase respect for the letter of the law and democracy in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

In my opinion, a significant intensification of our work, by organising and holding annual EU-Pakistan meetings on the situation of minorities in Pakistan with the involvement of the European Parliament, can bring tangible benefits. In accordance with the text of the resolution we have adopted today, I fully endorse the financial support being given on our part to organisations which defend human rights and which are fighting the blasphemy laws. I hope we will be able to increase the scale of that support. I hope, too, that we will be able, with the help of suitable diplomatic instruments, to persuade the government of Pakistan to respect the provisions enshrined in the democracy and human rights clause of the Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

 
  
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  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE), in writing. – Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, sought to reform the country’s blasphemy laws and he was killed. The Pakistani Taliban reportedly took responsibility for the murder and pronounced the same fate for any further critics of the blasphemy laws. It is time for strong action to protect the reformers and human rights defenders who are risking their lives for freedom. I call upon the Council and the European External Action Service to ensure the protection of the other human rights defenders at risk in Pakistan and the effective and timely investigation of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination. The perpetrators must be brought to justice and the response of the government must be firm in order to have a deterrent effect.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. – To lose one advocate of freedom of religion is a misfortune; to lose two is downright carelessness. When we discussed the murder of Governor Salman Taseer, I warned about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. Less than two months later, another tragedy has come to pass. The Taliban Movement in Punjab has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. His request for the use of a bullet-proof car had been denied by the Pakistani authorities. Such negligence by the authorities makes them an accomplice to the killing. I would like to hope that the European Union will address the murders of those high-ranking officials in Pakistan with the authorities there and call on them to repeal the blasphemy laws that have caused the escalation of religious violence.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE), in writing.(PL) Two months ago in plenary, and it was also during a debate on human rights, we condemned the attack on the Governor of the Province of Punjab, Salman Taseer. The subject of discussion was the same as the one we are talking about today – attempts at reforming the controversial blasphemy legislation. The two tragic events are closely related to each other, because the victims had worked together on behalf of national minorities in Pakistan, including religious minorities, and in defence of those who have fallen victim to the ideology of intolerance spread by the Taliban.

Unfortunately, the Western world can only look on at the advancing radicalisation of attitudes in the country, where not even a decade ago, Benazir Bhutto was introducing democratic reforms. Pakistan is sinking into chaos – the Taliban are terrorising the country and with increasing frequency are carrying out attacks like the one which took place in Punjab on 8 March, for example, in which 25 people were killed.

Reports have now appeared of the next person whom the extremists have sentenced to death – Member of the Pakistani Parliament, former journalist and defender of women’s rights, religious minorities and freedom of speech, Sherry Rehman. It was she who submitted to the Pakistani Parliament a draft of amendments to legislation on punishments for blasphemy. At the next part-session, will we be condemning an attack made on her?

 
  

(1) See Minutes
(2) See Minutes


14.2. Belarus, in particular the cases of Ales Michalevic and Natalia Radin
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Belarus, in particular, the cases of Ales Mikhalevich and Natalia Radina(1).

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda, author. (ES) Mr President, I think it is important to remember that this is not the first time we have talked about Belarus in this Parliament, and from that point of view, this resolution is important insofar as it clearly condemns the arrests and imprisonment of members of the opposition and the violation of fundamental rights to which these people have been subjected.

Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement in countries such as Belarus should be a priority, and it is therefore necessary to call for the immediate and unconditional release of these people, who cannot be called anything other than political prisoners.

Secondly, I think it is also important to condemn – and this is what the resolution does – the use of torture in these countries, as in others, in the strongest, toughest, clearest and firmest way possible, even when this occurs in the European Union, which, unfortunately, is sometimes the case. However, in a country with which our neighbourly relations are continuing to grow, and with which we are strengthening our relationship, the use of torture as a form of treatment in prisons, especially when it is fuelled by political motivation, is something that demands our total rejection and full condemnation

Finally, I would also like to openly condemn the sentence imposed on the young opposition activist simply for having taken part in the demonstrations on 19 September 2010. I think Parliament is right to position itself clearly against these options, and I insist that its voice must be heard.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, author. – Mr President, a large number of opposition figures, including former presidential candidates but also journalists and human rights defenders, were arrested after the events of 19 December 2010 in Minsk and they have been kept in KGB detention centres ever since. There have been reports of torture and of forced confessions at the hands of the KGB. These developments fit into a larger pattern of repression and politically motivated trials against opposition activists, civil society, the media and human rights defenders that continues to this day.

We urgently call upon the Belarusian authorities to allow political opposition, civil society, free expression and media pluralism. The rule of law needs to be adhered to. The credibility of the Belarusian authorities would be won if investigations carried out in line with international standards, with international experts, were to start right away. We should consider restrictive measures, including economic sanctions on Belarusian government-owned companies, but we hope this will not be necessary. We would welcome it if more countries in the international community were to join the call for such actions, because the status quo is unacceptable.

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin, author. – Mr President, Belarus is so often on our agenda and this is because we care, because we want to see a democratic Belarus where human rights are respected. I have the impression, however, that the messages that we send so often to the Belarusian authorities are not heard – neither those from the European Parliament, nor those from the European Council. The decisions of the Council have had no effect so far on the situation in Belarus.

After a year of very modest progress, 19 December 2010 became a turning point for Belarus. Since then, the country has been falling into self-isolation: this can save the regime for some time, but it is at the expense of the future of the Belarusian nation. This has to be understood, and we will not stop reminding Lukashenko and his friends of it. I hope that President Lukashenko will take good note of the events in the southern neighbourhood and understand that the only responsible behaviour is democratisation and the social and economic reforms in the country.

We in the European Parliament will not give up; we call for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained protestors and for the dropping of all politically motivated charges. At the same time, we still believe that Belarus has time to change; we are working together with the other five eastern neighbours to find a solution leading to democratisation and to the creation of a situation in Belarus where free and fair elections can take place at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year.

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz, author. (PL) Mr President, the sincere and moving statement issued by Ales Mikhalevich nearly a fortnight ago, in which he revealed the methods of torture used by the Belarusian KGB against Alexander Lukashenko’s political opponents, caused a shock. It is shocking that in the 21st century, a European country which has begun cooperation with the European Union as part of the Eastern Partnership uses methods characteristic of Naziism and Stalinism.

Our resolution is an expression of our shock and outrage, and of our solidarity with those who are being persecuted. Today, I would like, from here, to send three messages. The first message is to Ales Mikhalevich, but also to Anatoli Labiedzka and Mikhail Statkievich, who are in prison: we admire your courage; we are with you and we will not desert you.

The second message is to Alexander Lukashenko: start showing respect for the international conventions your country has ratified, including the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership, and stop persecuting your citizens.

The third message is for Mrs Ashton: it is time for economic sanctions, because only in this way can we change the way that the opposition is being persecuted in Belarus.

Thank you.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki, author.(PL) Mr President, Belarus is a country which shares a border with the European Union but which seems to be 1 000 light years removed from it. It is as if Belarus were inhabited by people who are guided by different standards. However, this is not the case. There are also Europeans living there – people who want to feel they live in a common Europe. The problem is the president of the country, who makes use of methods known from the Soviet Union of several decades ago – what President Lukashenko offers us is a singular journey into the past. Unlike Mr Vigenin, who spoke a moment ago, I think we should believe in our European voice and that Parliament and the European Union can put pressure on the Belarusian authorities so that they will respect human rights. This is a question not so much of policy but of fundamental morals and ethics. We should say to our Belarusian brothers today that they are not alone.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares, author. (PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, there have always been reports of human rights cases outside the European Union so I shall take the liberty, in this urgent debate, to begin with our vote today on the freedom of the press in Hungary, or rather in the European Union, because respect for fundamental rights in our House and respect for human rights outside the European Union are inextricably linked.

Given that we have managed to discuss the problems we are facing within the European Union in a vote that divided this House and split it in two, and which has given us a lot of work over the past two months, we can now confront President Lukashenko of Belarus with our heads held high. We can tell President Lukashenko that he must stop his repression of demonstrations, his repression of opponents and his repression of the press in his own country, because he himself represents a government that thinks it has a monopoly on the right to decide what is right and what is wrong, what is balanced, what is neutral and what is objective, not only in its own assertions, but also in those of the opposition and those of the foreign press. We even saw President Lukashenko confronting the international media with profound arrogance, following the repression of the demonstrations in December.

This is why I believe we can have hope that the voice of the European Parliament, the voice of the Commission and the voice of the Council will be heard in Belarus, and that we will achieve a moral authority, beyond that which we also need to preserve through our example in this House.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan, on behalf of the PPE Group. (SK) Mr President, during last week’s meeting of the Visegrad Group in Bratislava, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, which is currently chairing the group, sent a clear message to President Lukashenko of Belarus. As long as there is even one political prisoner in the prisons of Belarus, the country can expect to be totally isolated in Europe.

Even today, unfortunately, three months after the presidential elections, the situation in the country is still critical. Democratically-minded people are investigated, arrested, imprisoned and held in inhumane conditions just as we have been discussing today, with no possibility of legal assistance and with no possibility of visits from family members.

It is therefore also important for the EU to adopt a tougher stance towards the last dictator in Europe. It may also be necessary to widen the scope of the economic sanctions we are applying, as all the evidence suggests that words, however tough, will not improve the situation for people in Belarus.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis, on behalf of the S&D Group. (LT) Mr President, this resolution is a clear signal to the Belarusian authorities that the European Union cannot and will not tolerate restrictions on the right to demonstrate, nor will it tolerate political prisoners in the country and, in particular, torture in detention facilities. Brussels is intensifying its assistance to Belarusian civil society, non-governmental organisations, the independent media and students. Furthermore, we need to abolish as a matter of urgency the expensive visas which prevent Belarusian citizens from travelling to the European Union, reduce the fee and negotiate a relaxation of the visa regime. I feel that in this situation, it would still be useful for a European Parliament delegation to travel to Belarus, despite the fact that there are obstacles, and if a whole delegation is unable to travel, then Members of the European Parliament should travel there individually in order to better understand the situation and exert some influence.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, it was in January when we adopted a resolution on Belarus. It is not a good sign at all that we have to express our concerns on the situation there again and again, with no positive reaction from the Belarusian authorities.

Although the European Union has re-established sanctions and taken a hard line on Lukashenko’s regime, fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly and of expression are still violated and trampled upon. Furthermore, the reports on continuous mental and physical torture of political prisoners and attempts at recruiting informants to the KGB give the European Union a clear signal that Lukashenko’s regime did not get our message from the previous time.

Perhaps we ought to speak up and make it even clearer that the situation in Belarus is unacceptable. I would like to ask the Commission to report on further measures that can be taken against Lukashenko’s regime.

I would also like to call on European enterprises and investors to withdraw from Belarus if they have no desire to be handling blood money and directly or indirectly supporting Lukashenko’s criminal regime.

 
  
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  Marek Henryk Migalski, on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Mr President, Mrs Ojuland is right when she says she has the impression we are always talking about the same thing and never seeing the expected results. However, unfortunately, she is mistaken in saying we are unanimous on this. I would like to ask all of us here to speak with one voice, and to speak as strongly as Mr Protasiewicz, who has sent a clear signal to all those fighting for liberty and democracy in Belarus that we are with them, and who has given a clear warning to the regime in Belarus that what they are doing is unacceptable. Well, alongside that voice, which ought to be supported by everyone, there are also other opinions being expressed, and unfortunately by one of the authors of the resolution, that incidents of torture occur in Belarus just as they do in some European countries and in some of the European Union’s Member States. This is unacceptable. Mrs Ojuland is right that we are being listened to, and that it is not only we who are listening to each other, but that there is also someone else who is listening to us. If there are going to be such divergent opinions, then in my opinion, we are going to continue to be ineffective. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Mr President, Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko, has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than 16 years. The country’s media and judiciary are under his sovereign control, and he also has no hesitation in using them to crush the political opposition, as we saw in the recent fraudulent Presidential elections in December. At that time, special troops and the police, of course, violently broke up demonstrations and arrested hundreds of people, including nearly all opposition presidential candidates.

The EU’s demands to release political prisoners and end the violence against citizens have been totally ignored by the Lukashenko administration. It is now imperative that the EU introduces more robust economic sanctions, since Lukashenko has simply exploited the Eastern Partnership programme and all the benefits of neighbourhood policy. We cannot accept such brutal violations of human rights anywhere in the world, but least of all in the backwoods of Europe.

 
  
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  Mitro Repo (S&D). (FI) Mr President, we do not actually have to go beyond Europe’s borders to find countries that violate fundamental rights. In Belarus, you can be indicted and go to prison merely for taking part in a protest, standing in elections, or stating your opinion. Political awareness on the part of the people and civil activism are not a burden for society: they should be something that enriches it.

It is difficult, however, to believe that democracy could be strengthened in Belarus merely through EU coercion. There is also a need for dialogue at grassroots level and participation in civil society. The EU should support democratic development in Belarus and continue to organise cultural and educational projects with it. The European External Action Service should actively monitor developments in Belarus and support the Belarusians so that European values might also be internalised there.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE).(RO) Mr President, two days ago, on 8 March, International Women’s Day, Natalia Radina was unable to enjoy this celebration because she was under house arrest. On the same day, Ales Mikhalevich celebrated his 53rd birthday in prison. The simple reason for this is that he is a free man, a man who dared to enter the presidential contest and, in a dictatorship like Belarus, the penalty for making such gestures of freedom is to have one’s movements restricted and get sent to prison. I would like to highlight two points in our resolution which I regard as extremely important. I feel that we need to support the extension of the restrictive measures imposed by the European Union by producing a list which includes the prosecutors, judges and members of the secret police involved in the recent human rights violations in Belarus. Secondly, I also believe that we must do everything we can to support civil society in this country, which can give us some hope.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I would like to begin my speech with an appeal to the Belarusian authorities to stop the censorship against the democratic forces and independent press. I also propose reopening the OSCE Office in Belarus.

Human rights were dealt a heavy blow at the time of the presidential elections in December 2010. The demonstrations organised by the opposition against election fraud were mercilessly crushed by the security forces. Those arrested include one of the presidential candidates, Ales Mikhalevich. He publicised the torture he was subjected to in prison, a fact, however, which has been denied by the authorities. Journalists close to the opposition were also targeted at the same time. In spite of the ban on making statements, they confirmed Mikhalevich’s assertions in the hope of attracting the EU’s attention to the critical situation in Belarus. The circumstances under which the arrests were made are vague, but the treatment they state they were subjected to amounts to serious human rights violations.

 
  
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  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to express my very sincere thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak, because several days ago, when I spoke to Ales Mikhalevich, whom I have had the opportunity and honour to know and be friends with for over a decade, I promised him I would do everything possible to speak today. Although I know this is not the place to be sending personal messages, I would like to say: ‘Ales, we are with you, as Mr Protasiewicz has said’.

I think that today, it is very important to say to the opposition that we are going to support them – and we should say this not only to the opposition. It is important to say this to those who are involved in carrying out the persecution – the prosecutors who conduct investigations as they are told to do, the judges who hand down unjust sentences, the directors of workplaces who fire people for their political activity, the rectors of universities who expel students for taking part in demonstrations – we should say to all of them: ‘We will remember. We will remember what you do and how you act today, and there will come a time when you will all suffer the punishment you deserve’.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I, too, would like to join those calling on the Council, the Commission and the international community to increase their support for civil society and the democratic opposition in Belarus, in response to the events which have taken place since December 2010.

The arrest and detention of more than 600 civil society activists, journalists, teachers and students, the majority of presidential candidates and leaders of the democratic opposition, along with the disproportionate use of force following the demonstrations organised in protest against Lukashenko’s election, are characteristic features of a dictatorship and show deep contempt for respect for human rights. The case of Ales Mikhalevich, one of President Lukashenko’s opponents, who was tortured during his pre-trial detention, and that of journalist Natalia Radina are significant in a current situation which we are duty-bound to counteract by supporting the efforts of civil society in Belarus, the independent press and the opposition to encourage democracy.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR). – Mr President, the fact that in Belarus, President Lukashenko’s secret police is still called the KGB tells us all that we need to know about his mentality and methods. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he remains the archetypal homo sovieticus, a strong man whose addiction to power is as strong as his instincts for crushing dissent.

Lukashenko used the KGB, or uses the KGB, as a political tool to silence the popular protest, including the cases of Ales Mikhalevich and Natalia Radina, that followed yet another disappointingly rigged presidential election in December last year. More than 700 people were arrested. Stories abound of opposition activists being abducted, detained extrajudicially, and then tortured mentally and psychologically by the KGB.

Belarus matters to us so much because it is a European country and has become a Cuba on our own doorstep. If the EU is to have any moral force in the world with regard to promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law, it must surely start in Europe itself, our own continent. I do not dispute the need to engage with the Lukashenko regime. An empty chair policy would be counter-productive with the EU, but we need to increase support to the opposition in Belarus and tighten EU smart sanctions on Lukashenko and his KGB cronies.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola, author. (FI) Mr President, the events of the past months in Belarus clearly show how civil and political rights continue to be violated systematically by the government. The arrests of the supporters of the opposition in December reflect the way in which an attempt is being made to silence Lukashenko’s opponents using violent means.

The imprisonment of Ales Mikhalevich and six other opposition presidential candidates on the unjustifiable pretext that they had provoked violent demonstrations contravenes political rights. Similarly, the imprisonment of journalist, Natalia Radina, for more than a month makes the likelihood of free expression of opinion in Belarus an even more distant reality.

We need to take seriously the accusations of inhumane treatment and torture in KGB prisons made by Mikhalevich, Radina and others, and these should be investigated by an impartial body. I want to remind Belarus of the international commitments it made by ratifying the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture, and, as a consequence, the responsibility it has towards the international community and, in particular, its own citizens.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, we are concerned about the worsening situation in Belarus, which unfortunately comes as no surprise. The widespread detention and prosecution of civil society activists, including presidential candidates, in the post-election period led us to expect harsh sentences to follow. As of today, we already know of four cases where individuals have been sentenced to several years in prison. We fear that many more such sentences, involving up to 40 people who now stand accused, will follow in months to come. What is more, we have been appalled by reports of the torture and ill-treatment of people detained on political grounds, including ex-presidential candidate Mikhalevich.

All these despicable events may call for an update of our EU response. The situation today is as follows: as you know, the EU reacted to the fraudulent elections of 19 December and to the subsequent repression by putting nearly 160 people on a sanction list. This was a very clear and strong message of condemnation to the authorities. At the same time, the Commission and the European External Action Service have swiftly designed new dedicated assistance tools to provide urgent support to the victims of repression, their families and civil society, up to an amount of EUR 1.7 million. This assistance is being delivered with the initial focus on providing legal assistance and counselling to victims of repression and on support to civil society organisations and civic campaigns.

We are also finalising a re-orientation of our mid-term assistance to Belarus to increase support to civil society. The Commission is quadrupling its aid to Belarusian civil society for the period 2011-2013 to a total of EUR 15.6 million, with particular attention given to strengthening independent media and supporting students, including by maintaining funding for the European Humanities University.

It is now time to reflect on whether an additional response is needed. The High Representative issued an immediate condemnation following the first sentence on 18 February, and she recalled that political motives had no place in a legal process. The EU also strongly condemned the harsh sentences and torture allegations at the OSCE and is discussing the matter at the UN Human Rights Council.

Finally, the European Union will discuss whether the latest events call for a further expansion of our existing sanction list to add new names such as those responsible for issuing the latest sentences and leading the recent crackdown. The EU stands ready to consider further targeted measures in all areas of cooperation as appropriate.

Parliament’s resolution will certainly be a useful and timely contribution to our reflections and discussions. I thank Members for their attention.

 
  
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  President. – I have received six motions for resolutions(2) tabled in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debates.

 
  

(1) See Minutes
(2) See Minutes


14.3. Situation and cultural heritage in Kashgar (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on the situation and cultural heritage in Kashgar (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China)(1).

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam, author. – Mr President, Uyghurs have practically become a minority in their historic homeland. They need international support to preserve their culture and identity. In fact, the fate of the ancient city of Kashgar is in the balance. A modernisation programme has slated up to 85% of the traditional old city of Kashgar for demolition. It is important to prevent the historic fortress being replaced by modern apartment blocks. If the Chinese authorities are serious about convincing us that all will be well, they have to first of all convince the native population of East Turkestan that their cultural heritage really will be respected and that the Uyghur language will be taught in schools on an equal level with the Chinese language.

I call on the Chinese authorities to accept possible contributions by ICOMOS, which has impressive experience in the management of urban historic landscapes, and I ask the Chinese Government to agree to lift Kashgar to UNESCO world heritage status that will include several cultural sites along the ancient Silk Road.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, author. – Mr President, under the banner of reform and development, the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar is being demolished. It is not only a blow to global cultural heritage, but most of all, the city is very important for the Uyghur and the Hui populations, and for China’s cultural diversity as a whole, which is now being destroyed.

China has stepped up efforts to boost relations through cultural diplomacy throughout the world, but no one will be interested in a marketed, homogenised culture of a country which has such cultural diversity.

In the interests of economic opportunity and sustainable relations with the rest of the world, respect for human rights and minorities in the broadest sense is essential. We urge the Chinese Government to assess the possibility of including Kashgar in the joint application with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for the Silk Road UNESCO world heritage designation.

The High Representative should step up the human rights dialogue with China and make it more action-oriented and effective.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, author.(PL) Mr President, today’s debate on the rights of ethnic minorities in China comes a day after the Dalai Lama officially announced that he is resigning from his political role in Tibet. In the coming months, we should watch the development of the political situation there carefully. Today, however, we are talking about another minority group which is suffering discrimination in China – the Muslim Uyghur population. China is justifying its policy towards them by the need to fight terrorism, and for the Chinese authorities, the persecution of the Uyghur people also means the destruction of the Uyghurs’ cultural heritage. Particularly disturbing are the reports of the reconstruction of the city of Kashgar. This will, in practice, mean the destruction of its historical centre, one of the most interesting and best-preserved examples of Muslim architecture in Central Asia, which attracts more than a million tourists every year and would be eligible for inclusion on the UNESCO world heritage list if China applied for this status.

I am confident that the European Union’s diplomatic service will demonstrate its effectiveness in talks with the Chinese authorities, and will remind them of the need to respect the rights of ethnic minorities and protect their cultural heritage. Thank you.

 
  
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  Frieda Brepoels, author. (NL) Mr President, it is clear that Kashgar is the symbol, par excellence, of Uyghur cultural identity in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. On 27 January, I organised a conference in Brussels, where I learned of the impact which the destructive Chinese urbanisation plans are having on the Uyghur population. It is, indeed, the case that, under the guise of public security and modernisation, China wants to leave no more than 15% of the original city intact and, in fact, transform Kashgar into one huge open-air museum. I think it is high time that we responded powerfully to this, before it is too late.

After quashing the demonstrations in Urumqi in July 2009, the Chinese authorities were called upon by this House to make every effort to bring about an open, permanent and respectful dialogue with the Uyghurs and pursue a more integrated and comprehensive economic policy in their area, aimed at encouraging local involvement and, above all, protecting Uyghur cultural identity. Unfortunately, the current Chinese policy in Kashgar is proving to be quite the reverse of what was called for then. Not only the destruction of Kashgar, while denying the local population any say in the matter, but also the Chinese refusal to allow Kashgar to compete for UNESCO world heritage status, is illustrative of the way in which the Chinese Communist Party deals with cultural diversity.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, author. – Mr President, the EU’s motto is ‘Unity in diversity’. Sadly, such a sentiment does not resonate in the People’s Republic of China, whose Communist rulers are obsessed with unity, but not much thought is given to celebrating diversity.

Undoubtedly, the attempt to impose Han Chinese majority culture on tiny minorities in the world’s most populous country is causing much tension and resentment. We already know about the suppression of the ancient Buddhist Tibetan culture over the last 60 years; now we see the same threat looming over the city of Kashgar in the restive province of Xinjiang.

For 2 000 years, Kashgar has been a thriving city on the Silk Road with a rich, unique and flourishing central Asian culture, but now it is facing wholesale demolition and rebuilding. It is hard to escape the idea that this is Beijing’s attempt to break the will of the Uyghur separatists.

I personally have no brief or sympathy for the separatist cause, some of whose supporters, I am afraid, have links to al-Qaeda, but I urge the Chinese Government to think again. The destruction of an ancient city like Kashgar would simply strengthen the resolve of all of those who would wish to foment violence against the state.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares, author. (PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, to tell you the truth, out of the three urgent debates taking place this afternoon, this really is the one in which we feel the most impotent. We have talked about Pakistan and Belarus and we then have reason to believe that the European Union has not only moral authority but also leverage or power over external authorities to try to ensure, at least, that they are on the right track.

In fact, when we talk about China, we know that this leverage is reduced because a lot of what we say in this House contradicts what the European governments in our capitals do: that is to say, what Mr Sarkozy, Mrs Merkel or politicians in my own country, Portugal, do, like Mr Sócrates, who only very recently diverted a demonstration against Chinese authorities so that the Premier, who was visiting Lisbon, did not have to come face to face with those protesting against his regime. In other words, it is Europe itself that is repeatedly participating in this dream world or fantasy world, which the Chinese leaders are creating for themselves, in which there is no opposition and in which one development model suits all, and is the same in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, or in Tibet.

Therefore, it is really difficult for the European Parliament to say what we are going to say today, which is also what is written in our resolution: we are calling for the Beijing authorities to stop committing this demographic genocide against Uyghurs; we are calling for them to preserve the cultural and ethnic diversity of the regions that make up China; and we are calling for them to preserve places of architectural or heritage value. However, the leaders of our own countries are throwing themselves into the arms of the Chinese leaders, pardoning them for everything that they have done in their country, and are giving them free rein in the name of a development model that ultimately we respect only to a very basic degree. It has therefore been demonstrated once again that moral authority begins to take shape at home and that, in any case, when we in the European Union are talking about others, we are, first and foremost, talking about ourselves, and we need to review our attitude towards China.

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, as has already been said, Uyghurs are not a minority but a people with an ancient Silk Road culture who gradually succumbed to Chinese rule, which was initially very relaxed. The Uyghurs are supported, in particular, by the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, and the cultural heritage of Kashgar is supported by the Blue Shield movement, the president of which, Karl von Habsburg, was here in Strasbourg this week to provide us with information.

If we are to support the Uyghurs, let us do so by means of a friendly appeal to the Chinese, because the Uyghurs are threatened with cultural ethnocide. Moreover, China, as the oldest cultural nation in the world, should clearly recognise that one of the characteristics of a cultural people is the protection of, and respect for, other cultures, particularly when it comes to small cultures in a huge empire. The Chinese only have to apply their own constitution, which states in three places that this cultural heritage must be preserved.

I would therefore like to say very clearly that we want some give and take from our Chinese partners on this issue – we want the protection of the cultural heritage of the Uyghurs.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu, on behalf of the S&D Group.(RO) Mr President, it is my personal view that, in this case, we must guard against one-sided judgments. There is a risk of counterproductive bias, both in relation to the situation on the ground and to the partnership between the European Union and China. The bloody violence in recent years in Xinjiang is glaring proof that resorting to force is the least satisfactory option. This is why I believe that it is our duty to encourage interethnic dialogue.

It is my opinion that the European Parliament resolution must not affect the right of the Chinese authorities to defend the integrity of their country and the safety of all their citizens, especially against terrorist threats in a region where al-Qaeda is attempting to establish a presence. We must clearly encourage balanced national development from both an economic and demographic perspective.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, it is well known that Uyghuria is in imminent danger of becoming a second Tibet. The People’s Republic of China has announced a ‘Kashgar Dangerous House Reform’, the purpose of which is to raze 85 per cent of the Old City in Kashgar.

Such philistinism must be stopped and the European Union must insist that the authorities of the People’s Republic of China do not destroy this important cultural site on the ancient Silk Road. The UN Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, as well as the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, must be respected, even by Beijing.

The People’s Republic of China is more and more exercising sinicisation of ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs and the Tibetans. It is a cultural genocide in the 21st century, which we simply cannot accept.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group.(SK) Mr President, Chinese official circles have long found it irksome to have references to other ancient and important cultures and civilisations whose monuments are today located in Chinese territory.

Kashgar is the centre of the Muslim Uyghurs – one of the largest ethnic minorities in China. For millennia, the Chinese tried to subdue the lands of the Uyghurs, and many times they failed in their fight to subdue these lands. Even today, therefore, there is a certain aloofness in the position of the Chinese administration, and an effort to suppress any manifestation of the cultural traditions and identity that are linked to the rich cultural monuments of the Uyghurs and the city of Kashgar.

I am not sure whether the official Chinese bodies are today capable of accepting the philosophy that the current Chinese state is built not only on the traditions and history of the Chinese empire, but also on the traditions and histories of other peoples. The behaviour of the Chinese towards Tibet, and towards the Uyghur monuments in Kashgar, bears witness rather to the fact that today’s China is incapable of appreciating the wealth which other peoples and other cultures have brought to its shared state.

It is therefore right to state from this place that we, in contrast to the Chinese authorities, appreciate and cherish all important cultural monuments located on the territory of the People’s Republic of China, as well as those in Tibet and in Kashgar.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, Kashgar is a city of three and a half million people, a bit smaller than the population of the entire island of Ireland. It is closer to Baghdad than it is to Beijing. It is on the great trading route of the Silk Road and has some of the best preserved Islamic architecture sites, some of which are buried beneath the desert. It also has the largest mosque tomb in China and is a treasure, there is no doubt about that. However, as has been said, it is under a great threat, ostensibly because the Chinese want to redevelop the city because of its susceptibility to earthquakes. That is not acceptable to us, because we feel that a great treasure would be lost.

What can we do about it? Perhaps very little, but at least highlighting it here today is important. We can, as we said, ask that it be included among the Silk Road world heritage sites. Perhaps we could also make people aware of the treasures that are there, so that the people there can preserve them into the future. It would be the world’s loss, but a bigger loss to China.

 
  
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  Mitro Repo (S&D). (FI) Mr President, this resolution actually concerns the preservation of an important cultural heritage and the right of minority peoples to their cultural identity. The ancient city of Kashgar is one of the best preserved Islamic cities in Central Asia. Kashgar’s rich history goes back to China’s Han Dynasty, and the city was an important staging post on the Silk Road. It linked Asia to Europe. The entire Xinjiang Region has enormous cultural significance for the entire world.

China must take action to make Kashgar a UNESCO world heritage site and preserve the area for future generations. The European External Action Service should also ensure that local strategies extend to the right to its cultural identity. The European Union’s delegation to China could also earmark funds to support the traditions of the Kashgar minorities and their cultural identity.

 
  
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  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE). – Mr President, future generations depend on our actions today to protect timeless sites such as Kashgar. Kashgar is a fundamental pillar of the history of Islam in China.

In 2009, the Chinese Government announced an urban reconstruction programme that plans to demolish 85% of the old city of Kashgar and replace it with modern apartments. The demolition should be stopped. Urban planners should identify a development plan that preserves the old city of Kashgar. The whole Silk Road in China should be submitted for protection under UNESCO’s world heritage programme, which China joined in 1985. I call on the Commission and the Council to raise these matters with the Chinese authorities.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, cultural heritage is crucial to preserving identity. This is clear in Europe, in China, and wherever, and the Chinese authorities know this. However, we have seen, for instance, how they have purposefully destroyed this heritage, which means this identity, in several places like Tibet, and now they are doing the same in the Uyghur places like Kashgar.

This is why it is so important that we once again explain our position, and we urge the Chinese Government to stop the cultural destruction threatening Kashgar’s architectural survival immediately and to carry out a comprehensive expert inquiry into culture-sensitive methods of renovation. This is not for nothing: the credibility of a government is also based on how it treats minorities. If China wants to be credible in the international sphere, it is important that minorities, such as the Uyghurs, are treated properly, adequately respectfully and in line with human standards.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner Hahn, culture and identity must clearly be placed centre stage at global level. Just this week, Karl Habsburg explained to us how important it is in the search for identity for this cultural heritage not only to be available to the Uyghurs, but also for it to be a global asset. China should make a concessionary gesture in this regard. For example, we have recently entered into an agreement with the town of Wenzhou enabling direct investments to be made in dollars in future. I see an opportunity here for the focus also to be placed on this region and for people in the different cities and regions of China to have equal rights. International relations can indeed provide a great deal of help here.

 
  
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  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Mr President, there is no respect for the fundamental rights of the ethnic minorities in China, be they Tibetans or Uyghurs. It is typical that the Chinese Communist Party refuses to support the city of Kashgar in its bid to compete for UNESCO world heritage status. In recent years, China has provided support for an international project to add cultural sites on the Silk Road to the world heritage list, but Kashgar itself has not been on that list because it is the home of one of China’s largest minorities, the Uyghurs.

On the contrary, China intends to demolish large areas of the city, claiming that it fears for the safety of the residents, but cultural, civil and human rights organisations regard this plan as a cruel attempt to crush Uyghur culture. The Chinese Communist Party must come to acknowledge the fact that the citizens of China are culturally diverse, and they must also have a right to cultural autonomy.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the old centre of the city of Kashgar is in danger and, along with it, the historic symbol of the Uyghur minority in China. The policy being pursued of so-called urban reconstruction is resulting in the gradual disappearance of this group’s identity, which developed its culture around the fortress situated on the Silk Road. I believe that moving the Uyghur population from their traditional dwellings and demolishing Kashgar are measures which violate minorities’ rights. In addition, the city is regarded as the best preserved example of Islamic architecture in Central Asia. Kashgar’s streets and buildings can be restored to improve the inhabitants’ living conditions. The question is why the authorities are not investing in activities of this kind. I recommend the inclusion of the old centre in the UNESCO world heritage list as part of the Silk Road. I also appeal to the Chinese Government to stop demolishing the city and to look for alternative solutions.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). (FI) Mr President, owing to its remote location, Kashgar, on China’s western border, and the Uyghurs who live there, have succeeded in preserving their ancient traditions for centuries. The city therefore attracts hundreds and thousands of tourists a year. On account of its strategic location, the Chinese administration is now trying to control the region more effectively to guarantee better access to the energy markets in Central Asia.

China does, of course, have the right to develop economically, but the rights of minority groups, fragile as they are, must be protected. It is possible to develop Kashgar in such a way that the way of life of the Uyghurs can continue to be guaranteed. The earthquake safety of buildings and the infrastructure can be improved without putting into effect plans to destroy 85% of the ancient city, with the Uyghurs being forced to move out to new residential areas and seeing their society fragment.

This reckless destruction of the ancient city should therefore be stopped, and the Uyghurs should be consulted on the development of the place where they have traditionally lived. Otherwise, their exotic, fascinating culture is in danger of being completely destroyed.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR).(PL) Mr President, I would like to say it is to be welcomed that the European Parliament is once again talking about the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority which is suffering discrimination in China. I would like to remind everyone that there has already been a European Parliament resolution about this, and that we should also express our views in relation to other religious minorities which are being persecuted in the People’s Republic of China, such as the Christian minority. Catholics are facing very severe discrimination there. The Communist authorities in Beijing have appointed special ecclesiastical structures which are not recognised by the official Catholic Church. I think this very necessary and important discussion can, today, be a voice in defence of all religious minorities in China. I think that voice is greatly needed.

 
  
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  Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, the preservation of cultural heritage is obviously of central importance in ensuring the protection and continuation of a minority’s traditions and way of life. Moreover, the destruction of important cultural property has the potential to deal a serious blow, not only to the heritage and archaeological patrimony of the minority concerned, but to cultural heritage in general. In this light, the European Union is following with concern the redevelopment of the ancient city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. The significance of Kashgar as a centre of culture for the Uyghur minority in China cannot be overstated. Kashgar is conceived as being as important as Jerusalem is to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The Chinese Government’s 2009 White Paper on Xinjiang stated that restoration of Kashgar is necessary to protect the city from earthquakes or fire. This is a laudable aim. Civil society, both in China and internationally, has expressed considerable disquiet about the methods employed. There is serious concern that as much as 85% of the old city may be demolished. Indeed, many notable buildings, including the unique Xanliq madrasah, appear to have been destroyed already. It is also worrying that some 200 000 people may be displaced from their traditional homes and that there appears to have been little or no consultation with the residents affected.

It is feared that the demolition of structures which have formed the basis of Uyghur culture for many hundreds of years may have a grave impact on the preservation of their culture in the years ahead. It is also regrettable that China has chosen not to propose Kashgar as a world heritage site despite its unique status, as this would allow UNESCO to become involved in the process of redevelopment. We understand that UNESCO has, in any event, made representations to the Chinese authorities concerning the impact of the development on Kashgar’s traditional heritage and culture. The European Union fully shares these concerns and will call on the Chinese authorities to work with UNESCO to ensure that any redevelopment of Kashgar meets international best practice in this field.

The European Union will also call on the Chinese authorities to ensure that the inhabitants of Kashgar are fully consulted about the future of the city and that their views are taken into account.

 
  
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  President. – I have received six motions for resolutions(2) tabled in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debates.

 
  

(1) See Minutes
(2) See Minutes


15. Voting time
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  President. – The next item is the vote.

(For the results and other details on the vote: see Minutes)

 

15.1. Pakistan - murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities (RC-B7-0166/2011)

15.2. Belarus, in particular the cases of Ales Michalevic and Natalia Radin

15.3. Situation and cultural heritage in Kashgar (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China)
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  President. – That concludes the vote.

 

16. Corrections to votes and voting intentions: see Minutes

17. Council position at first reading: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

18. Documents received: see Minutes

19. Decisions concerning certain documents: see Minutes

20. Written declarations included in the register (Rule 123): see Minutes

21. Forwarding of texts adopted during the sitting: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

22. Dates of forthcoming sittings: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

23. Adjournment of the session
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  President. – I declare the session of the European Parliament adjourned.

(The sitting was closed at 16:30)

 

ANNEX (Written answers)
QUESTIONS TO THE COUNCIL (The Presidency-in-Office of the Council of the European Union bears sole responsibility for these answers)
Question no 1 by Georgios Papanikolaou (H-000060/11)
 Subject: Proposal from the Presidency for a European Year of the Family
 

The ‘social policy’ section of the Hungarian Presidency’s programme refers to plans by the Presidency to propose a European Year of the Family. The Council has also indicated its intention of focusing on ways of reconciling work and family life.

Which year does the Council intend to propose for this initiative and what policies does it plan to implement in this connection? Does it have reports or other information concerning the impact of the economic crisis on the quality of family life?

Given that this initiative is being prompted by worrying demographic trends in Europe, what measures does the Council intend to take to assist large families? In view of the fact that European Social Fund appropriations are being provided for Member State initiatives generally seeking to promote family-friendly policies, will the Council urge the Commission to propose measures specifically designed to assist large families, defined under Greek law as those with four or more children?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) Honourable Members, I would like to thank you for putting this question, which is of particular interest to the Hungarian Presidency.

As you rightly pointed out, the Hungarian Presidency has put forward a number of activities in the area of family policy under the heading ‘Demographic Change and Family Policy’. These include an initiative on a European Year of Families to take place in 2014, building on the results of the European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010). The Presidency strongly believes that special attention needs to be devoted to families. Improving the social situation of families could have a positive influence on the current demographic tendencies, and will most certainly contribute to strengthening social cohesion.

As far as the impact of the crisis on the social situation of families is concerned, the Presidency has studied with interest the information available on family policies, in particular, through various reports prepared by the Social Protection Committee and the European Commission. In order to deepen knowledge on these issues, the Hungarian Presidency will organise on 28-29 March an experts conference on ‘The Impact of Work and Family Reconciliation on Demographic Dynamics’ and on 1 April, the Presidency will host an informal meeting of ministers responsible for family and demographic affairs. Issues related to families and the Europe 2020 strategy, as well as possibilities for enhancing cooperation in the field of family policies, will be addressed. It is within this framework of actions addressing the demographic challenge that the Hungarian Presidency is preparing the initiative on a ‘European Year of Families 2014’.

Whilst family issues are, first and foremost, an area of Member States’ competence, family policies are firmly embedded in our shared values and traditions, and there is considerable scope for cooperation at EU level. Actions such as those proposed by the Hungarian Presidency can also provide added value to policy options and solutions at national level. The Presidency hopes that its initiative on a ‘European Year of Families 2014’ will secure wide support. Of course, detailed objectives and measures of the European Year of Families will have to be discussed and decided upon at a later stage.

 

Question no 2 by Marian Harkin (H-000062/11)
 Subject: Harmonisation of corporation tax rates
 

Can the Hungarian Presidency give its views on the call from certain countries that corporation tax rates should be harmonised?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) Direct taxation remains primarily within the competence of the Member States. Nonetheless, in a few cases corporate taxation has been subject to EU legislation and coordination where this was necessary for the functioning of the internal market.

Concerning EU legislation, the Council has adopted directives on cross-border income flows (Directive 90/435/EEC(1) concerning parent companies and subsidiaries and Directive 2003/49/EC(2) concerning interest and royalty payments) and on cross-border merging of international groups of companies (Directive 90/434/EEC of 23 July 1990(3) on mergers). It also adopted Directive 77/799/EEC(4) on mutual assistance.

As far as coordination is concerned, since 1998, the Council Code of Conduct Group meets regularly to assess potentially harmful measures in the area of business taxation. As a result, a significant number of harmful tax measures have been identified and rolled back. Lastly, in June 2010, the Council adopted a resolution on coordination of the Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) and thin capitalisation rules within the European Union, which is also aimed at coordinating Member States’ policies in the area of direct taxation.

As regards future work in the area of corporate taxation, the Commission, in its Work Programme for 2011, is planning to submit a proposal on the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, on which the European Parliament will be consulted.

Against this background, any ideas on corporate tax rates are only being floated by a couple of Member States. Pursuant to the Treaty, EU legislation measures in the tax area require a proposal from the Commission and unanimity within the Council, which can adopt directives after consulting the European Parliament.

 
 

(1) OJ L 225 of 20.8.1990
(2) OJ L 157, 26.6.2003, p. 49
(3) OJ L 225, 20.8.1990, p. 1
(4) OJ L 336, 27.12.1977, p. 15

 

Question no 3 by Jim Higgins (H-000064/11)
 Subject: Priorities of the Hungarian Presidency
 

The Hungarian Presidency begins at a time when economic recovery is still uneven and has yet to be consolidated within the Union. In response to the problems in the euro area, the Member States have agreed to modify the Lisbon Treaty in order to make permanent the financial stabilisation mechanism set up to help Greece and Ireland. One of the new Presidency’s objectives is to move forward with these negotiations. Could you please outline what measures you intend to take?

The Hungarian Presidency also intends to take further steps towards coordinating the Member States’ economic policies, including launching the ‘European semester’, a six-month period during which each country’s draft budget will be reviewed by the EU to detect potential imbalances. Could the Council please outline the criteria that will be applied in order to determine any imbalance in a Member State’s budget?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) The European Council of 16-17 December 2010 decided that the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU should be modified in order to recognise the power of the euro area Member States to create a permanent crisis resolution mechanism to safeguard financial stability in the euro area. It further mandated the Finance Ministers of the euro area Member States and the Commission to finalise work on the intergovernmental arrangement setting up the future European Stability Mechanism by March 2011. As this work is intergovernmental, it falls outside the competence of the Hungarian Presidency.

As for the so-called ‘European semester’, this was endorsed by the Council in its conclusions on 7 September 2010, and involves simultaneous monitoring of the Member States’ budgetary policies and structural reforms, in accordance with common rules, during a six-month period every year. The European semester is being implemented for the first time this year.

Member States had already submitted their draft National Reform Programmes in 2010, while the Commission presented to the Council the main conclusions of its first Annual Growth Survey on 13 January 2011(1). This survey outlines priority actions to be taken by Member States and sets out priorities in three main areas, namely, the enhancing of macro-economic stability, structural reforms for boosting employment and growth-enhancing measures under the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy.

On 18 January 2011, the Council held a review of draft National Reform Programmes and had an exchange of views on the Annual Growth Survey submitted by the Commission.

On 15 February, the Council adopted conclusions on macro-economic and fiscal guidance.

In line with the road map set out by the Hungarian Presidency, on 28 February, the Council gave its reaction to the Annual Growth Survey presented by the Commission and is expected to discuss the Joint Employment Report on 7 March, the Research and Development Target on 10-11 March, and climate change on 14 March. On 21 March, the Council will be invited by the Presidency to endorse a Synthesis Report setting out the main messages based on the work carried out in the relevant Council formations, with a view to its transmission to the European Council.

Regarding the Member States’ budgets, the Council agreed, on 15 February, on strict compliance with the Council recommendations in the context of the excessive deficit procedure. Member States facing very large structural budget deficits or very high or rapidly increasing public debt levels should frontload their fiscal consolidation. Furthermore, all Member States should keep the growth of expenditure net of discretionary revenue measures clearly below the medium-term rate of potential GDP growth until they have reached their medium-term budgetary objective. At the same time, they should prioritise sustainable growth-friendly expenditure and promote efficiency of public spending.

 
 

(1) Doc. 18066/10

 

Question no 4 by Bernd Posselt (H-000067/11)
 Subject: Accession negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
 

How does the Council assess the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s prospects of beginning accession negotiations with the EU this year or of being given a date for the opening of negotiations?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) In its conclusions of 14 December 2010, the Council reaffirmed its unequivocal commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, a prospect which had already been reconfirmed at the High Level Meeting on the Western Balkans in Sarajevo on 2 June 2010 and which remains essential for the stability, reconciliation and future of the region. At the same time, the Council reaffirmed the need for fair and rigorous conditionality, in the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Process, and in accordance with the renewed consensus on enlargement approved by the European Council on 14 and 15 December 2006.

The Council recalled that by making solid progress in economic and political reform, and by fulfilling the necessary conditions and requirements, the remaining potential candidates in the Western Balkans should achieve candidate status, according to their own merits, with European Union membership as the ultimate goal. A country’s satisfactory track record in implementing its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreements, including trade-related provisions, is an essential element for the EU to consider any membership application.

The Council welcomed the progress achieved by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in key reform areas such as police reform, albeit at an uneven pace. The country continues to fulfil its commitments under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The Council expects momentum of the reform agenda to be maintained. Further progress still needs to be made on issues such as dialogue among political actors, judiciary and public administration reform, the fight against corruption, freedom of expression and improving the business environment. The implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement remains an essential element of democracy and the rule of law in the country.

The Council broadly shares the Commission's assessment of the country’s sufficient fulfilment of the political criteria and noted that the Commission reiterated its recommendation that accession negotiations should be opened with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Council stated in its conclusions its readiness to return to the matter during the Hungarian Presidency. The Council reiterated that maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, is essential. The Council also welcomed the ongoing high-level dialogue and looked forward to it bringing results shortly(1).

 
 

(1) Conclusions of General Affairs Council, 14 December 2010, p. 18 § 1

 

Question no 5 by Ryszard Czarnecki (H-000069/11)
 Subject: Radical Islamism in Egypt and Tunisia
 

What is the Council intending to do to prevent radical Islamists coming to power in Egypt and Tunisia?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) With respect to developments in Egypt and Tunisia to which the honourable Member of the European Parliament refers in his question, the European Council, the Council (FAC) as well as the Presidents of the European Council, the European Commission and the High Representative, in a joint statement, saluted the peaceful and dignified expression by the Tunisian and Egyptian people of their legitimate, democratic, economic and social aspirations which are in accordance with the values the European Union promotes for itself and throughout the world. It was emphasised that the citizens’ democratic aspirations should be addressed through dialogue and political reform, with full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and through free and fair elections.

The Council is determined to lend its full support to the transition processes towards democratic governance, pluralism, improved opportunities for economic prosperity and social inclusion, and strengthened regional stability.

On 4 February 2011, the European Council stated that it was committed to a new partnership involving more effective support in the future to those countries which are pursuing political and economic reforms. In this context, the European Council invited the High Representative to develop a package of measures aimed at lending European Union support to the transition and transformation processes (strengthening democratic institutions, promoting democratic governance and social justice, and assisting the preparation and conduct of free and fair elections); and to link the European Neighbourhood Policy and Union for the Mediterranean more to these objectives.

 

Question no 6 by Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (H-000074/11)
 Subject: Adequate, sustainable and safe European pension systems
 

On 7 July 2010, the Commission published a Green Paper entitled ‘towards adequate, sustainable and safe European pension systems’. Parliament has also stated its position on this matter.

The Hungarian Presidency’s programme for this half of the year does not mention pensions, even though they currently constitute one of the highest priorities and greatest challenges at both national and EU level. The Hungarian Government has, moreover, taken a new decision whereby the savings component of the second pillar of the pension system is to be transferred to the first pillar. Will Hungary, which now holds the Council Presidency, put forward similar initiatives to the other Member States? Does it believe that such initiatives could ensure that pensions were sustainable?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) In June 2010, the Council adopted conclusions on the interim joint report on pensions prepared by the Economic Policy Committee (EPC) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC). In these conclusions, the Council reaffirmed its commitment to the common objectives of sustainable and adequate pensions and to the three-pronged strategy for meeting the economic and budgetary consequences of ageing. This aims namely at reducing debt at a faster pace, raising employment rates and productivity, and reforming pension, healthcare and long-term care systems.

Following the Commission Green Paper and the finalisation of the EPC-SPC joint report, the Council discussed the issue on 17 November 2010 and underlined the long-term challenge of ageing populations for the sustainability and adequacy of pensions, as aggravated by the current economic situation. The EPSCO Council meeting in December adopted Council conclusions in this context.

Development of the pension systems is a long-term issue. Consequently, this must be constantly kept on the agenda now and in the future as well. That is why the EPSCO Council at its meeting of 7 March discussed the preliminary conclusions of the Green Paper’s consultation on the adequate, sustainable and safe European pension systems The Council held a fruitful exchange of views on the most pressing dilemmas of European pension systems. The main issues were, besides the retirement age, the inter-related problematics of adequacy, sustainability and security, together with the special conditions shaped by the impact of the budgetary constraints. The main conclusion of the debate was that while most Member States deemed necessary the further strengthening of the coordination on EU level in the field of the pension systems, at the same time, they nailed down that pensions and retirements age are matters of exclusive Member States’ competence.

The Council stressed the urgency for further implementation of structural reforms, consistent with the Europe 2020 strategy, in order to support fiscal consolidation, improve growth prospects, strengthen work incentives, ensure flexible labour markets and extend working lives.

In conclusion, while there is a need to consider pension policies in a comprehensive manner using existing EU level policy coordination frameworks, the design of the pension systems as much as the provision of pensions remain in the competence of Member States.

 

Question no 7 by Claude Moraes (H-000078/11)
 Subject: Victims’ rights packages
 

Improving support for victims of crime is an important part of the Stockholm Programme. In particular, the issues surrounding assistance for the victims of cross-border crime in Europe are of real concern to EU citizens. There are few practical procedures in place that offer support or advice to victims and families that have been caught up in the aftermath of crime and serious injury abroad. I am helping a constituent whose son was a victim of a violent attack whilst on holiday in Crete. There is a real need for EU action in this area to fulfil the promise of a citizens’ Europe.

Commissioner Reding has announced a package of measures in relation to the protection of victims of criminal offences. Furthermore, the programme of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council mentions the protection of victims of criminal offences.

Could the Council elaborate on this and provide more information on what measures it intends to take to protect victims of criminal offences?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) The Hungarian Presidency of the Council attaches great importance to the protection of victims of crime, which is also set out in the Stockholm Programme (‘An open and secure Europe serving and protecting citizens’) as a key objective for the Union. Indeed, in this programme, the European Council has stressed the importance of providing special support and legal protection to those who are most vulnerable or who find themselves in particularly exposed situations, such as persons subjected to repeated violence in close relationships, victims of gender based violence, or persons who fall victim to other types of crimes in a Member State of which they are not nationals or residents. The Presidency stresses that an integrated and coordinated approach to victims is needed, in line with the Stockholm Programme and the Council conclusions on a strategy to ensure fulfilment of the rights of persons who fall victims of crime and to improve support for them, adopted in October 2009.

In preparation of such an integrated approach, the Presidency will organise a comprehensive seminar, scheduled for 23-24 March 2011 in Budapest, under the title ‘Protecting victims in the EU: The road ahead’, where a wide range of issues will be discussed concerning the future legislative and non-legislative initiatives in this field.

The Council also awaits the presentation of the Commission’s package of measures on the protection of victims, especially in the context of criminal proceedings, at the Justice Council on 12 April 2011. Once this set of proposals will have been formally tabled, the Council will examine it as a matter of priority, and draw up a comprehensive list of action points which the Member States undertake to act upon in order to fulfil their commitment in the Stockholm Programme to enhance victims’ protection in the EU. This list will be centred around the upcoming Commission proposals, in particular, concerning the revision of Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA of 15 March 2001 on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings, but will also look beyond that. The Presidency plans to include these action points in a Council ‘road map’, to ensure the coherence of future initiatives in this field, both through legislative and non-legislative measures. The Presidency plans to have the road map adopted at the Justice Council on 10 June 2011.

 

Question no 8 by Jörg Leichtfried (H-000083/11)
 Subject: Energy-saving light bulbs
 

Is the Council aware of the study by the German Federal Environment Agency, according to which energy-saving light bulbs pose a risk of causing poisoning, because of the mercury contained in them, if they break in the domestic environment? What conclusions does the Council draw from this study?

Is the Council prepared to reconsider its decision to withdraw conventional light bulbs from the market?

What does the Council think of the idea of suspending the ban on conventional light bulbs, at least for private households?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) The Council is committed to the protection of human health and the environment from releases of mercury and its compounds and is conscious of the concern that the honourable Member raises in his question. At present, the Council examines the review of the Community Strategy Concerning Mercury on the basis of the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 7 December 2010(1).

The review, under Action 8, describes in detail actions and measures addressing the mercury content used in energy efficient light bulbs, which were introduced at EU level following the progressive ban of incandescent bulbs from the EU market by the 2005 Eco-design Directive, as amended in 2009. The review refers also to the Opinion on Mercury in Certain Energy-saving Light Bulbs of the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) which concludes that a human health risk for adults due to breakage of such lamps is unlikely. The Council is, for the moment, not aware of any other study stating the opposite.

However, the Council considers important that Member States and the Commission continue to study and to raise awareness of all stakeholders, including the general public, on the health and environmental impact of mercury, and to disseminate information about the ongoing EU activities in this field.

 
 

(1)COM(2010) 723 final

 

Question no 9 by Liam Aylward (H-000087/11)
 Subject: Supporting SMEs in the euro area
 

The EU Small Business Act states that ‘vibrant SMEs will make Europe more robust to stand against the uncertainty encountered in the globalised world of today’. SMEs are of high importance given that they account for 70% of all employment in the euro area. Can the Council outline what measures are being taken at EU level to support SMEs in the EU? Access to finance is a major stumbling block for SMEs at present. What steps can be taken at EU level to help SMEs remain viable and competitive?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) The Commission’s communication on the Mid-term revision of the Small Business Act of 23 February 2011 contains measures to reduce administrative burden, dismantle barriers to effective cross-border operations within the Single Market, facilitate SME business in the global market, and improve access to finance for SMEs. The Presidency intends to focus on this Communication and submit draft conclusions for adoption to the Council in May 2011 on issues such as:

the application of the ‘only once’ principle, avoiding to ask SMEs the same questions by public authorities several times,

reducing ‘gold plating’ by Member States in line with ‘smart regulation’ principles,

systematically assessing the impact of legislation using an ‘SME test’,

presenting at a defined moment each year a forward planning of business-related legislation,

applying the ‘think small first’ principle also to administrative procedures affecting SMEs.

Existing actions will also be further developed in line with the Europe 2020 strategy, in the following areas:

making smart regulation a reality for European SMEs,

taking a broad-based approach to enhancing market access to SMEs,

helping SMEs to contribute to a resource-efficient economy, and

promoting entrepreneurship, job creation and inclusive growth.

As for access to finance, a number of instruments introduced by Member States for ensuring easier and more equitable access to bank lending already proved to be effective.

At EU level, the financial instruments of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), with a total budget of EUR 1.1 billion for the period 2007-2013, enable financial institutions to provide about EUR 30 billion. In addition, the European Investment Bank (EIB) almost doubled its lending for small businesses in Europe, with a target of EUR 30 billion for the period 2008-2011.

Finally, EU support instruments for RTD and innovation efforts by SMEs (such as the dedicated SME activities within the Seventh Research Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP)) are important and effective in improving their competitiveness, as pointed out by the European Council meeting on 4 February 2011.

 

Question no 10 by Robert Sturdy (H-000089/11)
 Subject: Anti-dumping duties on fibreglass (AD549)
 

The Council is on the point of adopting in COREPER a Commission proposal for anti-dumping tariffs on fibreglass (AD549). Fibreglass is the main component of wind turbines, a flagship for the EU’s fight against climate change and a major component towards its 20-20-20 goals.

Does the Council agree that there has been a lack of joined-up thinking as it promotes and subsidises wind energy in Member States with one hand, only to penalise it financially with the other?

Is the Council content to see that a measure can be adopted in the Working Group with as few as only four votes in favour out of 27? Furthermore, in light of the obvious lack of support and proper information about the effects of the measure, will the Hungarian Presidency, whose country was one of the nine Member States who voted against in the Working Group, recommend that this measure be debated properly in COREPER or be referred back to the committee stage?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) Article 9(4) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1225/2009 of 30 November 2009 on protection against dumped imports from countries not members of the European Community (the Basic Anti-Dumping Regulation) states that a Commission proposal ‘shall be adopted by the Council unless it decides by a simple majority to reject the proposal within a period of one month after its submission by the Commission’. This means that at least fourteen Member States must be opposed if the proposed measures are to be rejected. The result of an informal consultation procedure on the proposal referred to by the honourable Member which ended on 24 February was that the majority of Member States did not reject the proposal. For that reason, the Presidency sees no need for further debate or for the matter to be referred back to the Committee stage. It will therefore recommend that, in order to comply with European Union law, the Council adopt the Commission proposal.

The information submitted by wind turbine or wind turbine blades manufacturers (a downstream user industry) during the investigation has been limited and of only a very general nature. Written submissions indicate that the vast majority of fibreglass products imported from China by this specific user sector fall outside the product scope of this proceeding. Furthermore, the cost and profitability analysis for the direct user industry, as summarised in recitals 119-126 of the proposed regulation, is reassuring, and the impact on further downstream users will be minimal.

The purpose of anti-dumping measures is to re-establish a level playing field on the Union market. Broader topics, such as the fight against climate change, are already covered by specific legislation, which includes public interest considerations. As a general rule, the Union interest analysis in trade defence investigations focuses on the economic impact of measures on the economic operators concerned. The industry within the EU cannot be deprived of its right to seek protection from unfair trade practices. Moreover, taking broader considerations into account would conflict with the precise technical nature of such investigations. Concerns relating to other aspects should be addressed through other appropriate instruments and measures.

 

Question no 11 by Pat the Cope Gallagher (H-000093/11)
 Subject: EU Sports Policy
 

Can the Council outline what initiatives it will undertake in the area of sports policy during 2011? Cooperation on sports issues is an EU competence following the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon and 2011 is dedicated to the European year of the volunteer. Are there specific actions to be undertaken by the EU in relation to sport structures, in particular, those based on voluntary activity during 2011?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) While the Council does not have a role in the implementation or the preparatory actions of the European Year of Voluntary Activities as it is implemented by the Commission and the Member States, the Council on several occasions, notably in its sessions of May(1) and November 2010(2), held an exchange of views on the possible future priority areas in the field of sport.

In the May Council meeting, the ministers in particular emphasised the importance of investing in grassroots sport by focusing on recreational and health enhancing sport. They suggested the following areas for possible EU action:

- Social and educational functions of sport, e.g. social inclusion through sport and health enhancing physical activity, dual careers for athletes;

- Sport structures, in particular, those based on voluntary activity;

- Fairness and openness in sport, including the fight against racism, discrimination and violence;

- Physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, especially the fight against doping and the protection of minors;

- Dialogue and close cooperation with the sports movement.

In November 2010, the Council adopted a resolution establishing a high-level structured dialogue with sport stakeholders(3). Such a dialogue will allow an ongoing exchange of views on priorities, implementation and follow-up to EU cooperation in the field of sport.

At the same meeting, the Council also adopted conclusions on the role of sport as a source of and a driver for active social inclusion(4). The conclusions identify three common priorities for promoting social inclusion through sport: the accessibility of sport activity for all citizens (‘sport for all’ principle), better use of the potential of sport as a contribution to community building, social cohesion and growth, and transnational exchanges of strategies and methodologies.

The Presidency intends to invite the Council to respond to the Commission Communication entitled ‘Developing the European Dimension in Sport’ by adopting a resolution in May 2011. Such a resolution could set out a limited number of priority areas and establish an EU work plan in the field of sport for the next three years. Moreover, the current and next Council Presidencies intend to use the theme of the year as a focus for a number of conferences and events.

 
 

(1) 9456/10
(2) 16500/10
(3) 15214/10
(4) 15213/10

 

Question no 12 by Brian Crowley (H-000095/11)
 Subject: Reducing school drop-out rates
 

Can the Council outline what measures it will take to reduce the numbers of young people leaving school without a basic qualification?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) Under the terms of the Treaty, in particular, Articles 165 and 166 TFEU, education and training constitute an area of national competence in which the European Union has essentially only a supporting role. As a result, the possibilities for adopting measures and actions at EU level are extremely limited.

Nevertheless, in recognition of the fact that Member States face common challenges in this field which call for joint responses, and that all can benefit from the exchange of experience, the Union has progressively intensified European cooperation in education and training over the last decade. This process of enhanced cooperation culminated in May 2009 in the Council's adoption of the ‘ET2020’ strategic framework(1), under which Member States agreed to take steps at national level in order to achieve a number of jointly agreed strategic objectives. To create momentum towards these objectives, the Member States also agreed on a series of reference levels of European average performance (commonly referred to as ‘benchmarks’), one of which relates specifically to the reduction of early school leaving, i.e. that by 2020, the share of early school leavers should be below 10%.

More recently, the importance of tackling this issue has been recognised at the highest level of the Union. In June 2010, the European Heads of State or Government adopted the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Acknowledging the fundamental role which education and training should play in the strategy, they agreed that improving education levels was a priority for the Union and - reflecting the benchmark adopted under the ‘ET2020’ framework - set an EU headline target of reducing the overall share of early school leavers to less than 10% by 2020.

In terms of the specific measures being considered in order to meet this ambitious target (the current EU average is 14.4%), the Council has already begun examining a Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on policies to reduce early school leaving.

This sets out basic guidelines for coherent, comprehensive and evidence-based strategies to be adopted and implemented in the context of Member States’ national reform programmes, and funded through the Lifelong Learning Programme, the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, and the European Social Fund. The proposal will be examined within the Council during March and April, with a view for the Presidency to submit it for adoption by the Council in May.

On a broader level, progress toward the EU headline target of reducing early school leaving to below 10%, along with progress towards all the objectives and targets of the Europe 2020 strategy, will be monitored regularly during the first half of each year in the context of the ‘European semester’.

 
 

(1) See the Council conclusions of 12 May 2009 on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (‘ET2020’) - OJ C 119, 28.5.2009

 

Question no 13 by Zigmantas Balčytis (H-000102/11)
 Subject: Setting up points of single contact in Member States as required by the Services Directive
 

The 2006 Services Directive provides for points of single contact to be set up in the Member States. These points of single contact are one of the key aspects of effectively implementing the directive, and represent a vital source of information for those wishing to provide cross-border services or set up business in another Member State. They are especially useful for small-scale service providers who often cannot afford consultations on another EU Member State’s employment law, tax law, procedures for setting up businesses, and so on.

In some Member States, points of single contact have not been set up or do not work well enough, insofar as they do not provide the comprehensive information that service providers need. Does the Council not think that these delays in setting up points of single contact are preventing service providers from taking up the opportunities provided by the common market and stopping SMEs from providing services in other EU Member States?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) The Points of single contact (PSC) were established in the Services Directive precisely to facilitate the lives of entrepreneurs by providing all the necessary information in a one-stop shop and it is important to make sure that they are in place and work in the best way possible to achieve their objective.

A great deal of work has already been done. PSC are now in place in 22 Member States. The five Member States without an operational PSC are advancing significantly and most are planning to make their PSC available in the course of 2011.

17 PSCs already allow for the online completion of some key procedures. Working in this direction would create a direct link between the ‘think small first’ principle, the Single Market Act and the ‘Digital agenda for Europe’. These three aspects, together with the monitoring of the implementation of the Services Directive have been the subject of constant and regular attention in the Council in the past years.

Overall, the development of the PSCs does not end with the implementation of the Services Directive. More work can be done to improve the existing PSCs to make them more user-friendly and useful for entrepreneurs, both as regards the availability and presentation of information as well as ease of the completion of procedures online within a Member State and particularly across borders.

In this perspective, the Presidency intends to submit Council Conclusions on a better functioning single market for services to the Council of 10 March 2011. In these Conclusions, the Council is expected to emphasise the importance of stepping up efforts for the full implementation of the Services Directive while welcoming the achievements so far, including the results of the mutual evaluation exercise.

 

Question no 14 by Georgios Toussas (H-000104/11)
 Subject: Political opponents and trade unionists arrested and murdered in Colombia
 

The Confederation of Workers of Colombia and the World Federation of Trade Unions have condemned the latest arrests and murders of political opponents and trade unionists by the Colombian authorities and by the regime’s para-governmental groups. On 5 February 2011, Carlos Alberto Ayala, a teacher and member of the Colombian Union of Teachers, was murdered. Twenty-five teachers were murdered in 2010 alone.

Does the Council condemn the murder of trade unionists in Colombia? Will it insist that those responsible are punished?

 
  
 

The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2011 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

(EN) The Council has always expressed in the strongest terms its condemnation and rejection of killings and other human rights violations in Colombia.

In the context of its political dialogue with the Colombian authorities and, in particular, within the framework of its dedicated high-level dialogue on human rights, the EU has consistently urged Bogotá to step up its efforts to protect the most vulnerable population groups, including the leaders and members of trade unions.

It is crucial that the murders of trade unionists, just as all human rights violations committed by different actors in Colombia’s five decade-old internal conflict, are fully investigated, and the perpetrators punished.

The EU has long supported efforts to combat impunity through its cooperation programme, which has the sector of justice/rule of law as one of its focal areas.

The EU welcomes the commitment of the new Colombian Government under President Santos to human rights, and to improved relations with the trade unions in particular, as expressed by the nomination of Angelino Garzón, former leader of Colombia’s largest trade union, as Vice-President.

The Council hopes that the coming years will see a beginning of the healing of the rifts in Colombian society which are at the root of the country’s internal conflict, and the human rights violations that arise from them.

 

QUESTIONS TO THE COMMISSION
Question no 20 by Sarah Ludford (H-000097/11)
 Subject: Tax havens
 

What is the EU policy on tax havens and tax justice?

 
  
 

(EN) The EU has an established policy on promoting good governance in tax matters which is based on three principles: transparency of tax systems, exchange of tax information and fair tax competition. Although so-called ‘tax havens’ are de facto covered, the policy is not targeted at those, but aims at improving good tax governance in general.

The Commission is actively pursuing the implementation of the actions defined in its 2009 and 2010 communications on the ‘Promotion of good governance in tax matters’ and on ‘Tax and development’, which form the basis of its policy in this field. In practice, this means:

in the field of transparency and exchange of information, ensuring that tax administrations have access, can process and effectively exchange between themselves relevant (tax) information on taxpayers;

in the field of harmful tax competition, removing those tax regimes designed to unfairly attract taxpayers from other countries, while maintaining the capacity to use taxation as a fair competition tool in the Single Market.

This strategy has a clear international dimension. The Commission pushes for the inclusion of commitments to good governance in the tax area during the negotiations on EU agreements with third countries. Moreover, it builds on joined efforts undertaken in other international fora such as the G20, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United Nations.

As regards taxation of savings income, and beyond existing agreements with third countries, the Commission is actively promoting its standards – including automatic exchange of information – both in its discussions with European countries that are not members of the EU and with other important financial centres such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao.

The matter of tax justice is not within the Commission's remit. The Commission acknowledges the prime responsibility of countries to improve their revenue systems and policies according to their own economic and political circumstances and choices.

 

Question no 21 by Brian Crowley (H-000100/11)
 Subject: CCCTB
 

Recent research carried out by Ernst & Young on the impact of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) on European business shows that a CCCTB would result in higher compliance costs, higher effective tax rates, uncertainty around tax rates and damage to the European Union as an investment location. Can the Commission make a statement in response to these findings?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is aware of the study referred to by the honourable Member. It is a valuable supplementary analysis brought to the debate. The findings of the study should nonetheless be put in context as it is based on the examination of 5 groups of enterprises.

The Commission is committed to removing obstacles to the completion of the Single Market and the CCCTB is an important tool in helping us towards that objective. It is anticipated that the CCCTB proposal will be considered by the College of Commissioners for adoption later in March 2011. It will be accompanied by a detailed impact assessment together with the publication of several studies on the basis of which the Commission assessed the most beneficial scheme to ensure that CCCTB contributes to a better business environment for growth and jobs in the EU.

 

Question no 23 by Jim Higgins (H-000065/11)
 Subject: Ireland’s financial crisis
 

Is the Commission of the opinion that the EU institutions were somewhat remiss in their oversight of the failings of Irish regulatory authorities?

Can it outline under what circumstances a re-discussion of the Irish bailout would be permitted?

 
 

Question no 24 by Gay Mitchell (H-000082/11)
 Subject: Interest rate on Irish loan from the EU and the IMF
 

The current interest rate of 5.8% per annum on Ireland’s loan from the EU and the IMF means that it will have to pay almost EUR 30 billion in interest over the next seven-and-a-half years. Economic growth will be seriously strained by the size of these repayments. While it is clear that the interest rate has been set on the basis of a formula, which can be changed by an agreement among the Member States and the members of the eurozone, will the Commission comment on the possibility of a lower interest rate?

 
 

Question no 25 by Pat the Cope Gallagher (H-000094/11)
 Subject: Possible changes to the Memorandum of Understanding between Ireland, the EU and the IMF
 

Can the Commission say whether the ongoing talks to establish a permanent European Stability Mechanism due to conclude at the March European Council Summit will have any implications for, or result in changes to, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Irish Government, the EU and the IMF?

 
  
 

(EN) Both the Commission and the Council repeatedly signalled downside fiscal and macro-economic risks related to the property boom in Ireland from as early as 2000, as part of our regular fiscal surveillance procedures and also later in 2007 and 2008 under the Lisbon Strategy. Despite this, the Commission has acknowledged that macro-economic oversight across all Member States in future needs to be broader and its surveillance mandate needs to be expanded to cover also risks building up in the private sector.

On the interest rate, the Commission supports, in principle, a reduction of the interest rate margin on the European portion of the borrowing covered by the EFSM and the EFSF. However, a final decision on this matter would be for the Council and the euro area Member States and would have to be viewed in the context of a comprehensive package that would include progress on economic governance in the euro area, the new European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM) and the adjustment measures by Member States. For Ireland, any reduction in interest costs could not alter the agreed consolidation path which would see Ireland reach a 3% of GDP deficit by 2015.

As to the scope for modifying the EU-IMF financial assistance programme, the main elements or goalposts of the programme should not be renegotiated. The policy path set out in the programme is adequate to achieve its goals. The programme’s quarterly reviews offer an opportunity to evaluate whether changed circumstances warrant changes in specific elements of the programme. But all measures should take account of their effects on growth, competitiveness and the long-run sustainability of public finances. On the issue of wider economic governance, any agreement at European level would not, of its own accord, lead to a change in the agreed policy path with Ireland.

 

Question no 26 by Georgios Papastamkos (H-000066/11)
 Subject: European competitiveness pact
 

The economic crisis and the crisis in the euro area have revealed not only the flawed character of economic policies of euro area Member States, but also the structural deficits of the construction of EMU itself. It is true that the Commission unveiled a series of proposals, after the onset of the crisis, attempting to stabilise and shore up the construction of EMU, especially the incomplete first pillar, i.e. economic union. But it is also true that the balance of the ten-year experience with EMU shows winners and losers in the field of economic competitiveness.

Will the Commission say whether, in the raft of proposals for a more European economic governance, it will include a structured European competitiveness pact?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission has, for a long time, been closely monitoring the developments of competitiveness trends in the euro area. This analysis has served as input to the legislative proposals on economic governance the Commission presented in September 2010, and especially to the new Excessive Imbalances Procedure, which aims to spot harmful competitiveness developments at an early stage and to provide, in an annual cycle, policy recommendations to the Member States concerned.

Also, with regard to the EU as a whole, increasing competitiveness has been a long-standing objective of many EU initiatives, such as the Lisbon Strategy and the recent Europe 2020 strategy. On 12 January 2011, the Commission published its first Annual Growth Survey, which sets out the Commission’s views regarding immediate priorities for economic reform in the EU. It contains horizontal policy guidance for the EU and euro area focused on ten priority policy actions, which can have material impact on competitiveness, growth and macro-financial stability. The priority actions encompass macro-economic pre-requisites for growth, labour market reforms for higher employment and frontloading growth-enhancing structural reforms. The implementation of these policies will be monitored in the context of the EU semester.

 

Question no 28 by Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (H-000101/11)
 Subject: Deviation from budget targets in Greece and privatisations
 

I would like to ask the Commission a question on developments in budget consolidation in Greece, and the role and aim of privatisations. The privatisation programme was initially intended to bring in proceeds of EUR 3 billion in the two years 2011-2012. This figure was subsequently raised to EUR 7 billion. It has now been increased to EUR 15 billion for these two years and to EUR 35 billion for the three years 2013-2015.

Why did the figure for privatisation proceeds need to be revised? Which factor was incorrectly estimated in the beginning? What has not happened as it should have? Has the Greek Government’s budget adjustment programme deviated from its targets? Does the Commission believe it is possible to increase revenue, notably from privatisations, in Greece? In which fields (public services, public property)? And employing which procedures (utilisation, sale)?

 
  
 

(EN) Staff teams from the Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Athens during 27 January to 11 February 2011 for the third review of the government’s economic programme, which is being supported by an EUR 80 billion loan from euro area countries and a EUR 30 billion Stand-By Arrangement with the Fund. The Commission raises the attention of the honourable Member that the winter 2011 update of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), as well as the Commission compliance report, can be found on the Europa website(1):

The overall assessment was that the programme has made further progress toward its objectives. While there have been delays in some areas, the underlying fiscal and broader reforms necessary to deliver the programme’s medium-term objectives are being put in place. In particular:

Greece achieved an impressive fiscal adjustment in 2010. The fiscal deficit for 2010 is estimated at 9½ percent of GDP; this is a fall of 6 points from 2009. However, the deficit was well above the programme target of 8 percent of GDP. Whilst the slippage was, to a large extent, related to the revision of statistics in autumn 2010, budget implementation encountered several problems. The fight against tax evasion has not (yet) yielded the hoped-for gains and there remain important problems in expenditure control.

For 2011, the target is of a fiscal deficit of 7½ percent of GDP, which remains in line with the programme’s target. This means that, in spite of the weaker-than-planned fiscal performance in 2010, the government has committed to catch up in 2011 and keep the fiscal adjustment effort on track, as initially planned. The fiscal targets of the programme have not been revised.

The government is currently preparing its medium-term fiscal strategy, with a view to bring the deficit below 3 percent of GDP in 2014. In the context of this medium-term strategy, the government decided to considerably scale up its initial privatisation and real estate development programme, with a view to improve debt sustainability. The objective is to realise EUR 50 billion in privatisation proceeds from now to 2015. The proceeds from privatisation are to be used to redeem debt and do not substitute fiscal consolidation efforts. This has the potential of cutting the debt ratio by more than twenty points of GDP over the next five years. If successful, this new initiative has the potential of substantially improving the market sentiment vis-à-vis Greece. The Commission and the euro area partners should encourage Greece to show resolve in its privatisation programme.

The details and modalities of the privatisation and real estate development programme shall be designed, decided and announced by the government.

 
 

(1) http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/occasional_paper/2011/pdf/ocp77_en.pdf

 

Question no 29 by Anni Podimata (H-000103/11)
 Subject: Strengthening and extending the responsibilities of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)
 

Strengthening economic governance and establishing a permanent stability mechanism are two fundamental reforms which aim to ensure stability, competitiveness and true convergence in the euro area Member States. However, it must be a priority for the spring European Council to provide a global, substantial answer to the debt crisis.

Does the Commission agree that the EFSF’s field of action, responsibilities and effectively disposable capital need to be increased in order to speed up the recovery from the crisis and prepare the ground for true and immediate economic convergence in the euro area?

More specifically, does it support the institutionalisation of the option of buying bonds on the secondary market and of providing funding for Member States to reimburse their debt?

Does it agree that there is a need to reduce borrowing rates for Greece and Ireland?

Furthermore, in view of the resolution adopted by Parliament on 16 December 2010, what specific measures does it intend to take to respond to the call for an in-depth evaluation of a future system for issuing Eurobonds?

 
  
 

(EN) Awaiting the introduction of the European Stability Mechanism in June 2013, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) has a key role to play in ensuring financial stability in the euro area. In order to be able to appropriately play this role, the Commission very much believes that the EFSF should be strengthened in order to increase its efficiency, credibility and flexibility. In particular, the overall effective lending capacity of the EFSF should be restored to the full EUR 440 billion by increasing the overall level of guarantees.

The Commission supports a flexible and wider set of tools for the EFSF (as well as for the future ESM). The Commission believes that more flexibility in this area should contribute to improve the effectiveness of the mechanism and to provide tailor-made responses to a Member States’s specific situation.

The Commission also supports the efforts aimed at improving EFSF lending conditions.

 

Question no 30 by Georgios Koumoutsakos (H-000105/11)
 Subject: Creation of European bonds (EU project bonds)
 

Over the past year, many efforts have been made to tackle the crisis in the eurozone. The various proposals put forward and discussed include the creation of European bonds. So far, these discussions have not produced any results, even though the proposal has been backed by many Member States, as well as the Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, and the Eurogroup President, Jean-Claude Juncker. Can the Commission answer the following questions:

Is there any formula for defining the shape of European bonds, such as European bonds designed to finance specific development projects and programmes (EU project bonds), which might finally produce an acceptable consensus? If such a formula exists, what might it be?

 
  
 

(EN) Following the President of the Commission’s announcement in the State of Union speech to the Parliament in September 2010, the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have worked intensively to design the eventual scheme for EU project bonds. A stakeholder consultation paper with the proposed design was formally launched at a press conference given by the Member of the Commission for Economic and Monetary Affairs and EIB President Maystadt on 28 February 2011.

The consultation will run until 2 May 2011, with a final conference on 11 April 2011, and its aim is to allow the Commission to eventually establish a proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework in June 2011.

The general idea is to enable project companies to raise financing for infrastructure projects in the capital markets through bond issues, in addition to the traditional methods of obtaining loans.

Suitable projects should be in line with the Europe 2020 objectives, for example, long-term infrastructure projects that are of major public interest and have revenue potential.

Attracting sufficient financing is difficult because of the risks associated with the long-term nature of such projects.

In order to bridge this funding gap, the EU and the EIB would assume part of this risk, so that the private debt financing would become easier, and long-term capital market investors could find it attractive to invest in such long-term bonds. Such long-term investors are, for instance, insurance companies and pension funds.

It should be mentioned that both the EIB and the EU would share the risk related and the remuneration, but would not issue bonds. In other words, this initiative should not be confused with the so called ‘Eurobonds’, which commonly refer to joint debt issuance by Member States.

 

Question no 32 by Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (H-000081/11)
 Subject: EU-Mercosur association agreement
 

In 2010, Mercosur was the world’s fourth biggest economic bloc, with a GDP of USD 1 300 billion and a population of 240 million. Brazil is the bloc’s biggest economy with 79% of its GDP, followed by Argentina (18%), Uruguay (2%) and Paraguay (1%). The EU is Mercosur’s biggest investor and commercial partner, its main investments being in banking, telecommunications, finance and manufacturing. In this connection, the negotiations for an EU-Mercosur association agreement are of major importance and are crucial for the economic development of both partners.

Can the Commission provide information on the state of play of the negotiations, the main difficulties encountered in the negotiating process, and the further stages and calendar that may be expected up to the conclusion of the EU-Mercosur association agreement?

 
 

Question no 33 by Liam Aylward (H-000088/11)
 Subject: EU-Mercosur trade negotiations
 

Given that a meeting between EU and Mercosur countries is scheduled for next March, can the Commission give an account of the outcomes of the last three rounds of meetings?

The Commission has said that this agreement will be comprehensive and ambitious, going beyond World Trade Organisation obligations, and will include sensitive issues as regards specific products and sectors.

Can the Commission provide further information on what it is doing to ensure that the interests of European farmers, including beef and livestock farmers, are being properly taken into account? What will the Commission do to ensure that European farmers are not pushed out of the market because of cheaper imports that are being produced to a lower standard as regards the environment, plant and animal welfare, and health issues?

 
  
 

(EN) The EU is negotiating with Mercosur an association agreement which is composed of three chapters: Political, Economic and Trade. Negotiations were resumed in May last year at the EU-Mercosur summit. Since then, there have been three rounds of negotiations. However, up to now, discussions have focused on rules such as sanitary requirements, technical barriers, trade defence instruments or general rules for services and government procurement. No discussions have taken place on market access yet.

After each round, written reports as well as the updated texts have been sent to the Committee on International Trade (INTA) and the Trade Policy Committee in the Council.

Whereas it is still too early to identify the main difficulties of these negotiations, it is clear that discussions on market access, especially in agriculture, will prove to be challenging.

The Commission can assure the Parliament that it is fully aware of the sensitivities of the European agricultural and food sectors. This is why it always made clear to Mercosur - from the very beginning of the negotiations - that for certain agricultural products, we would not be in position to fully liberalise trade with Mercosur. Beef is one of these products.

It is, however, important to remember that the EU also has offensive interests in agriculture and it should therefore seek the elimination of existing Mercosur import duties on agri-food products as well.

Even if agriculture will be a difficult area of negotiations, the Commission expects the same to be the case for discussions on market access in Mercosur for EU industrial products and for services.

The EU and Mercosur are now, on both sides, preparing internally the market access offers. Once these offers are ready, a decision will be taken on the best timing to proceed to a simultaneous exchange.

Finally, the Commission is fully aware of the concerns raised by the honourable Member, as well as those expressed by the farmers in the EU, regarding the need for compliance of imported products with the same quality standards as goods produced in the EU.

In this context, the Commission wishes to stress that all agricultural products that are placed on the EU market have to comply with the import requirements regarding food safety, animal and plant health, as well as certain animal welfare aspects. These imported products are therefore considered as safe.

The Commission can guarantee that the EU-Mercosur Agreement, like any other bilateral trade agreements, will not lead to a lowering of EU import requirements.

Animal, plant and food safety standards, related to trade with third countries, deserve particular attention and will be addressed in the negotiation. The Commission is committed to negotiate the inclusion of EU standards and to put in place technical collaboration programmes in the future EU Mercosur association agreement.

The dates of the three following rounds of negotiations have already been scheduled for March, May and July 2011, alternately in Brussels and Paraguay. The Commission's objective for the moment remains to conclude the negotiations by the end of 2011.

 

Question no 34 by Robert Sturdy (H-000090/11)
 Subject: IPR for innovation within the EU-India FTA negotiations
 

The EU’s trade policy has an important role to play in attaining the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy, by means, inter alia, of concluding Free Trade Agreements (FTA). As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, India is set to become a key strategic partner of the EU in the coming years. An FTA will further increase investment opportunities for European companies in India, and enhance access to markets both for European and for Indian firms. The benefits of trade are likely to help lift millions of Indians out of poverty.

As India goes further down the road towards becoming a knowledge-based economy and innovation plays a greater role in the Indian economy, investment by innovative European companies will also help to foster innovation. However, innovation relies on a sound intellectual property rights framework. Unless the fruits of innovation can be protected, there is little incentive for innovative companies to invest.

How is the Commission taking into account the importance of intellectual property rights for innovation in the current negotiations for an FTA with India?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission agrees that the EU’s trade policy has a key role to play in achieving the goals of the EU 2020 strategy by stimulating growth and jobs. The negotiation of a free trade agreement with India offers a significant opportunity to deliver on these goals.

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India is of major economic and strategic importance. As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India is an important trade partner for the EU and a growing global economic power. It combines a growing market of more than 1 billion people with a growth rate of between 8 and 10%.

The adequate protection of our Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is an essential element of our external competitiveness strategy.

If the EU wants to remain a competitive economy, it will have to rely on innovation, creativity and brand exclusivity. This is one of the EU’s main comparative advantages on the world market. So the EU needs the tools to ensure that this comparative advantage is adequately protected in our main export markets, including India.

The EU’s objective in the IPR negotiations is to ensure that European innovators are able to operate and to compete in a legally secure and non-discriminatory environment and to guarantee a fair level of protection for innovations, inventions and creations

Moreover, that will enhance access to markets both for European and Indian companies and enable India to increase its own innovative capacity and contribution to the global economy.

An important element to keep in mind in this context is the role that India plays as a key provider of generic medicines to the developing world. The EU will therefore make sure that the IPR provisions in the FTA are balanced and that they would in no way hamper access to affordable medicines in India and in other developing countries. Effective IPR protection and access to medicines can, and should, be mutually supportive.

It is, therefore, in the interest of both the EU and India to secure a sound and balanced IP environment which will foster growth, facilitate business and create jobs in both our economies.

 

Question no 36 by Gilles Pargneaux (H-000072/11)
 Subject: New study on the effects of the artificial sweetener aspartame
 

According to the findings of two groups of European researchers, the consumption of aspartame could lead to an increased risk of premature birth and liver and lung cancer.

Could the Commission say whether the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will give an opinion or release a report on aspartame in the next few weeks? If so, could it not be accompanied by a new comprehensive and updated study on this sweetener, as the last EFSA opinion on it dates from 2002?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission has taken note of the recent studies by T. Halldorsson(1) and M. Soffritti(2) about the potential effects of sweeteners, particularly aspartame, on human health.

Once aware of it, the Commission immediately asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to proceed with the evaluation of these studies without delay.

The Authority published on 28 February 2011 the outcome of this evaluation in a statement(3) which concludes that the information contained in these articles do not give reason to reconsider previous safety assessments of aspartame nor other sweeteners.

The safety of sweeteners - and aspartame in particular - are kept under regular review by EFSA. Since EFSA issued the first opinion on aspartame in 2002, several studies on aspartame published in the literature were evaluated by the Authority, which always re-confirmed the safety of aspartame.

EFSA will continue to monitor the scientific literature in order to identify new scientific evidence for sweeteners that may indicate a possible risk for human health or which may otherwise affect the safety assessment of sweeteners.

Based on these findings, the Commission does not consider it appropriate to request EFSA to carry out a new full re-evaluation of aspartame. In the re-evaluation programme of all currently authorised food additives established by the Commission Regulation (EU) No 257/2010(4), it is foreseen to have all sweeteners re-evaluated by 31 December 2020.

 
 

(1) Intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and risk of preterm delivery: a prospective cohort study in 59334 Danish pregnant women, Am J clin Nutr 2010, 92:626-33, Thorhallur I Halldorsson
(2) Aspartame administered in feed, beginning prenatally through life span, induces cancers of the liver and lung in male Swiss mice, Morando Sofritti, Wiley-Liss, Inc 2010
(3) Statement of EFSA on ‘the scientific evaluation of two studies related to the safety of artificial sweeteners’; EFSA Journal 2011;9(2):2089; http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/ans110228.htm
(4) Commission Regulation (EU) No 257/2010 of 25 March 2010 setting up a programme for the re-evaluation of approved food additives in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 of the Parliament and of the Council on food additives, OJ L 80, 26.3.2010

 

Question no 37 by Justas Vincas Paleckis (H-000073/11)
 Subject: Aid to innovative enterprises in the new Member States
 

One of the ways for the EU to remain competitive is to foster innovation, in other words, create high added value. In the new Member States, quite a few innovative small enterprises are developing products matching those criteria. However, the fact that they do not have a long-standing marketing tradition to draw on is hampering their competitiveness both within and outside the EU.

Will the Commission propose measures or take specific action in support of innovative enterprises seeking to set up or consolidate their operations within and outside the EU? What practical results can be achieved in this area?

 
  
 

(FR) Helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make better use of the opportunities offered by the Single Market is one of the basic principles of the ‘Small Business Act’ for Europe (SBA). This will remain one of the areas of priority action in the revision of the SBA, adopted on 23 February 2011. In addition, the ‘Innovation Union’ is one of the flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy. In its Communication of 6 October 2010(1), the Commission put forward a package of measures designed to ensure better exploitation of innovative ideas on the market, such as the creation of a single innovation market and support for industries with great creative potential.

Moreover, one of the most effective ways of supporting the activity of innovative enterprises is to improve their access to financing. Over the period 2007-2010, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), through its strand on facilitating access to venture capital for enterprises with great innovation potential, resulted in investments in 129 fast growing enterprises with a leverage effect equivalent to seven times the contribution of the EU budget. What is more, thanks to the JEREMIE initiative, the Structural Funds also contribute to the financing of SMEs with innovation potential.

Firstly, through their participation in the Seventh Framework Programme, SMEs themselves are able to create their own network in order to gain easier access to the international market and to cooperate more effectively with other innovative players. Secondly, 20 000 SMEs are able to benefit from direct support amounting to EUR 5 billion.

For the period 2014-2020, the Commission has set itself the objective of putting in place financial instruments to attract a major increase in private finance and close the market gaps in investing in research and innovation. Contributions from the EU budget should create a major leverage effect and expand on the success of FP7 and CIP. The Commission will work with the European Investment Bank Group, national financial intermediaries and private investors in order, first, to invest in knowledge transfer and start-ups, second, to provide venture capital for fast growing firms expanding on EU and global markets and, third, to grant loans for innovative SMEs.

In this context, it should also be recalled that, on 9 February 2011, the Commission published a Green Paper on the Common Strategic Framework: ‘From Challenges to Opportunities: Towards a Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation funding’(2).

Until 20 May 2011, the Commission is inviting stakeholders wishing to present their observations to participate in a public consultation on this issue at: http://ec.europa.eu/research/csfri/index_en.cfm#" .

Other lines of action aim to establish stronger links between innovative enterprises and suitable investors at transnational level and to enable venture capital funds established in any given Member State to operate and invest freely throughout the EU by 2012. Furthermore, in the context of the SME Finance Forum, the Commission will address, among other things, the specific funding problems faced by small innovative companies.

The new Single Market Act also recognises the need to create an environment in which SMEs can flourish. Specific actions to improve SME access to capital markets and to simplify the administrative environment have been proposed.

What is more, the Commission intends to make information and support services better known to SMEs so as to facilitate access to cross-border trade activities. The existing networks and instruments such as Enterprise Europe Network, Solvit, Your Europe Business Portal, and the Small Business Portal will be mobilised for this purpose.

A communication to strengthen support for SMEs on markets outside the EU is planned for the fourth quarter of 2011.

 
 

(1) Doc.COM (2010) 546 final
(2) Doc.COM (2011) 48 final

 

Question no 38 by Nikolaos Chountis (H-000076/11)
 Subject: Commission’s conclusion based on health inspectors’ report concerning the Siemens scandal involving public hospitals
 

In a previous question of 29 July 2010 concerning investigation of the scandal involving contracts concluded between Siemens and a number of public hospitals, I asked the Commission if it intended to seek access to the health inspectors’ report in order to evaluate the findings thereof and whether it intended to inform OLAF. In reply (28 September 2010), the Commission indicated that it intended to ask the Greek authorities to make available the health inspectors’ report on the award of supply contracts to Siemens AG, evaluate the information at its disposal, and take appropriate measures.

Does the Commission consider that the very widespread use of this procurement procedure was justified? Is it investigating allegations of overcharging and opacity regarding the provision of materials and services? What measures has it taken following its evaluation of the above findings?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission would like to inform the honourable Member of the Parliament that it is looking into the matter raised in the question. However, given the complexity of the case, the enquiries are still ongoing. The Commission will inform the honourable Member of the outcome as soon as possible.

 

Question no 39 by Marina Yannakoudakis (H-000077/11)
 Subject: China’s one-child policy
 

The Commission is no doubt aware of China’s controversial one-child policy. A constituent has brought to my attention a disturbing series of events in the southern Chinese city of Puning, in Guangdong province. State family-planning bureau officials were allegedly deployed with orders to seize the relatives (including infants and the elderly) of women who had given birth to more than one child. The seized family members were incarcerated in conditions of inhumane squalor until the targeted women agreed, under severe emotional duress, to attend a medical centre to undergo ‘remedial surgery’ – a euphemism for forced sterilisation. Can the Commission comment on China’s handling of its controversial one-child policy, and does the Commission agree that the Chinese authorities are clearly in defiance of multiple provisions of international humanitarian law?

 
  
 

(EN) The EU has raised the issue of implementation of China’s birth limitation policy and forced sterilisations with the Chinese authorities on several occasions, and most recently, at the EU-China human rights dialogue held in May 2010, China noted that forced sterilisation was not government policy and that any officials who ordered forced sterilisations at local level were immediately subject to disciplinary measures.

The EU is nevertheless concerned by the numerous reports that continue to emerge regarding local officials forcibly sterilising individuals, including the case in Puning city, Guangdong province. Forced sterilisations would, inter alia, constitute a violation of Article 16(1)(e) of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which China is party. The EU does not support the forced birth control policy in China. It intends to raise the issue of forced sterilisations at the next EU-China human rights dialogue.

 

Question no 40 by Ismail Ertug (H-000080/11)
 Subject: Implementation of a river information system
 

The European institutions have repeatedly made a commitment to comprehensive protection of significant European water courses. This has increased public awareness of the fact that every construction project constitutes an irreversible attack on the biodiversity of a river that has been declared part of the UNESCO cultural heritage – a further reason to treat this issue with great political sensitivity.

Against this background, does the Commission intend to submit a financial plan and timetable that guarantees comprehensive management of navigability information and optimises traffic so as not to waste resources and to take account of the ecological and social interests of the affected regions, in good time before the dredgers arrive? Can the Commission explain why the Action Plan stated that Category VI ships should be able to operate throughout the whole length of the Danube, although this contradicts the efforts made, for example, in Vilshofen-Straubing, to find a less damaging type of development?

 
  
 

(EN) As regards the navigability and optimisation of traffic, the Commission supports the development and deployment of River Information Services which provide enhanced information to the skippers and the authorities ashore with respect to navigability of the waterway and traffic management purposes.

The Communication on the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region(1) states the following: ‘Remove existing navigability bottlenecks on the river as to accommodate type VI b vessels all year round by 2015’. Type VI b vessels refers to the international classification of European Inland Waterways by UNECE(2) and means ‘pushed convoys with one push boat and four barges’. This is the prevailing vessel formation on the Danube. For most of the Danube, the river is accommodating to VI b vessels.

The same document states: ‘the Commission strongly believes that setting targets is essential, to focus and prioritise efforts’. These targets are now being further developed with Member States and stakeholders and shall be finalised before the European Council in June 2011. Consequently, the targets which were included in the document play the role of examples. In the specific case of the navigability target the honourable Member refers to, the Commission has already opened extensive discussions with the concerned partner countries in order to provide a more flexible approach, as also requested by the ‘Joint Statement on Guiding Principles for the Development of Inland Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin’, to the specific situations like that in the section of Straubing-Vilshofen.

On the other hand, the measures to remove these bottlenecks have to be assessed in an Environmental Impact Assessment according to the natural characteristics of the stretch, its morphology and hydrology. Solutions for improved navigability will have to be reconciled with other objectives, such as the achievement of good water status, and the reduction of water continuity interruptions for fish migration. This is reflected in the Communication and Action Plan on the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region.

For this specific stretch, Straubing-Vilshofen, a study is currently being carried out, with the support of the Commission, which will form the basis for any further decisions.

 
 

(1) COM(2010)715 final
(2) United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

 

Question no 41 by Olle Schmidt (H-000092/11)
 Subject: Withdrawal of authorisation for this year’s Pride Parade in Budapest
 

Hungary’s police authorities have withdrawn permission for this year’s Pride Parade in Budapest. The organisers of the Parade had requested permission to alter the route, which would have involved marching past Parliament, but permission for this was denied. A few days later, the police withdrew permission for the march altogether.

Will the Commission request an explanation of the reasons for which permission for the Pride Parade in Budapest was withdrawn?

In the light of the EU report which recently stated that both hate crime-related violence and discrimination still occur in the EU, would the Commission indicate what measures it will take to ensure that all Member States respect the rights of LGBTQ persons?

The organisers of the Pride Parade had intended to openly criticise Hungary’s new Media Law. Does this fact affect the Commission’s view of developments in relation to Hungary’s Media Law?

 
  
 

(EN) Freedom of peaceful assembly as provided in Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and in the European Convention on Human Rights is part of the principles upon which the Union is founded. According to Article 51 of the Charter, its provisions are addressed to Member States only when they are implementing Union law.

Issues pertaining to the organisation of public meetings in the Member States and to the safety of the individuals during those events fall under the competence of the Member States. The Commission has no power to intervene in how Member States organise public meetings. In that matter, it is thus for Member States alone to ensure that their obligations regarding fundamental rights – as resulting from international agreements and from their internal legislation – are respected.

The Commission understands that the Metropolitan Court in Budapest overturned on 18 February 2011 the police decision of 11 February, which withdrew the permission to organise the Budapest’s Pride Parade planned for 18 June 2011. The Commission has full confidence in the willingness of the Hungarian authorities and all Member States, as required by their own constitutions and international obligations, to ensure respect for fundamental rights.

The Commission reiterates its commitment to combating homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation to the full extent of the powers conferred on it by the Treaties. As regards the measures taken in this respect, the Commission would refer the honourable Member to its answer to written question P-338/11 by Mr Cashman(1).

The situation concerning the organisation of the Pride Parade does not affect the assessment of the pertinent provisions of the Hungarian Media Law.

 
 

(1) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/QP-WEB

 

Question no 42 by Ivo Belet (H-000096/11)
 Subject: Surrogate motherhood
 

Numerous medical research establishments in the EU assist couples in achieving their dream of having a child with the help of surrogate motherhood. This method of reproduction is authorised or laid down by law in a number of Member States, whilst in other Member States, it is prohibited by law and therefore punishable. This unequal legal treatment within the EU encourages trafficking, including, in particular, to third countries. A coordinated stance within the EU is needed on this sensitive issue.

Could the Commission give an overview of the legal situation with regard to surrogate motherhood in the 27 Member States?

Is the Commission prepared, with due respect for the principle of subsidiarity, to initiate steps to explore how better coordination can be achieved within the EU within a short timeframe?

How does the Commission view the position that surrogate motherhood is only acceptable in cases of medical necessity?

Does the Commission consider that children born by the surrogate motherhood method should have similar legal protection to adopted children?

 
  
 

(EN) The Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union do not give the European Union powers to adopt legislation on harmonisation of national laws on methods of reproduction with the help of surrogate mothers. It is therefore incumbent on individual Member States to regulate this matter in the light of their social and cultural traditions.

As the matter in question is not within the Commission’s remit, the Commission does not gather information on the legal situation with regard to surrogate motherhood in the 27 Member States and is therefore unable to give an overview of the relevant national legal framework.

The Commission has no plans to explore coordination of the issue of surrogate motherhood within the EU.

As the matter is not within the Commission’s remit, it can make no comment on the third and fourth questions asked by the honourable Member.

The Commission would like to inform the honourable Member that, as the European Union is a full member of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the Commission follows developments on surrogate motherhood at international level. The issue was raised in June 2010 during the work of the Special Commission on the practical operation of the Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption, which recommended that the Hague Conference should carry out further studies on the legal issues surrounding surrogate motherhood.

 

Question no 43 by Charalampos Angourakis (H-000099/11)
 Subject: Social welfare in Greece
 

According to the Ministry of Health, Greece’s 97 social welfare facilities are severely deficient, and 3 244 (or 52.12%) of the 6 203 statutory posts are vacant. This year, the amount of public funding allocated to social welfare has dropped by EUR 168 million. The recently adopted legislation on healthcare and social security lays down the fees for housing people with disabilities in social care or assisted living facilities, many of whom are in immediate danger of ending up on the street as a result.

Does the Commission condemn the cuts in spending on health and social welfare in Greece, as well as the privatisations and the state’s lack of involvement in this area?

 
  
 

(EN) The Commission is sensitive to the issues raised by the honourable Member. It recalls that the design of health and social welfare policies, including the budget allocated to them, remains the exclusive responsibility of the Member States. This being so, the Commission recalls that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union provides that ‘a high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities’.

The Commission is aware of the impact of the austerity measures that Greece has to take on its public welfare facilities. For this reason, the Commission strongly encourages Greece to make full use of the Structural Funds to support the development of health and social welfare policies. In Greece, the EU co-finances activities through the operational programmes of the 2007-13 National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) related to the construction of health and welfare infrastructure, the modernisation of the mental health system, the promotion of social inclusion for vulnerable groups, the improvement of the quality of life and the strengthening of social cohesion.

Lastly, in the context of the Open Method of Coordination on Social Protection and Social Inclusion, the Commission has been supporting Member States in their efforts to make progress on the common objectives on health and long-term care.

 
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