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Tuesday, 7 June 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

EHEC outbreak in the EU Member States (debate)

  Esther de Lange (PPE).(NL) Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for being here, but I would rather he was somewhere else, such as on a plane to Russia, for example, in order to make the case at the highest possible level that the ban that Russia has now introduced should be withdrawn because it is completely over-the-top. I thank the Commissioner for his willingness to communicate with us at this point, but the communication that has taken place thus far, including by the Commission, has been a disgraceful failure. It was days after the outbreak of the crisis when the Commission held a press conference. The genie was already long out of the bottle by that stage, however, and the wildest imaginable stories were already circulating in the media. The Commissioner spoke about a possible source on Dutch cucumbers, even though more than 200 tests had already shown days earlier that that was not the case.

I agree with you that the technical side of the story has worked. Rapid alert, tracking and tracing have all worked. There is also the communications side of the whole issue, though, and that side has been abysmal, first of all in Germany, of course, with so many different institutes, authorities and even a number of ministers all giving out different signals. There was a minister for agriculture who made a senseless comment that people should ‘stop eating uncooked produce altogether’, even though she had no authority for the matter. I assume that you are talking to Germany in this regard, as there needs to be a fundamental investigation into how everything could have been handled so shoddily.

I also hope that you will soon argue the case with the agriculture ministers for an emergency fund, to be paid for from the surplus still available in the agriculture budget. Just as we did with dairy products when a deep crisis broke out in that sector, we need now, too, to call that surplus into use. In my home country alone, this sector is suffering to the tune of EUR 80 million a week even though the source of the outbreak is elsewhere, and the result is that healthy businesses are now on the verge of collapse. That cannot be the European Union’s intention. I take it that you will take this strong signal from Parliament with you to the Agriculture Ministers’ Council.

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