Index 
Debates
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Wednesday, 30 November 2011 - Brussels OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting : see Minutes
 3. Welcome
 4. Statements by the President
 5. Verification of credentials : see Minutes
 6. Composition of Parliament : see Minutes
 7. Signature of acts adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure: see Minutes
 8. Documents received: see Minutes
 9. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 10. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes
 11. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes
 12. Order of business
 13. Request for defence of the parliamentary immunity of Mr Viktor Uspaskich (debate)
 14. Preparations for the European Council meeting (8-9 December 2011) (debate)
 15. Accession Treaty : Treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Croatia - Application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union (debate)
 16. European semester for economic policy coordination (debate)
 17. Financing instrument for development cooperation - banana accompanying measures - Financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide - Financing instrument for development cooperation - Establishment of a financing instrument for cooperation with industrialised countries (debate)
 18. Single market forum (debate)
 19. One-minute speeches (Rule 150)
 20. Agenda of the next sitting : see Minutes
 21. Closure of the sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: JERZY BUZEK
President

(The sitting opened at 15.00)

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

 

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

3. Welcome
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  President. – I would like to make several statements at the beginning of our part-session. We have as guests in the European Parliament today a group of human rights activists from Yemen. With us in the official gallery are Amal Basha, Ezzadine El Asbahi and Tawako Karman. Ms Karman is a journalist and politician, is Chair of the organisation Women Journalists Without Chains and is coordinator of the Yemeni Youth Revolution movement.

(Applause)

She is one of three women who are soon to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for their struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.

 

4. Statements by the President
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  President. – Last week, I made an official visit to Turkey. I met the President, gave an address in Parliament and held consultations with representatives of civil society. I also had an audience with Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, during which we discussed the situation of Christians in Turkey. The main objective of the visit was to revive accession negotiations by encouraging the Turkish side to reach an effective solution above all to the Cyprus question before 1 July 2012, when Cyprus takes over the Council Presidency. I spoke, too, of the need to carry out reforms related to freedom of speech and the rights of women and minorities. I was also given assurances of a readiness to begin work on a new constitution.

Finally, some news from Egypt. As you know, on Monday the first elections were held since President Mubarak was removed from power. The people of Egypt want and are entitled to participate in the political life of their country. The authorities, political parties and civil society must work together to ensure that the results of these elections reflect the will of the Egyptian people.

Last Friday, parliamentary elections were also held in Morocco. The new Parliament – as we know – will acquire new rights after the constitutional reforms, and with these rights it will assume greater responsibility. The European Parliament is ready to enter into closer cooperation with the Moroccan Parliament. Naturally, this also applies to the Egyptian Parliament.

We regret, however, that EU electoral observers were not invited either to Egypt or to Morocco. This is the democratic norm, and we had expected that the representatives of both these countries would conform to this standard. I need not add, because we all know this, that there are still quite a few trouble spots in North Africa and the Middle East. We are watching these regions carefully, and we sympathise with the expectations and aspirations of the societies in our southern neighbourhood.

 

5. Verification of credentials : see Minutes
Video of the speeches

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

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

8. Documents received: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

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

10. Action taken on Parliament’s resolutions: see Minutes
Video of the speeches

11. Transfers of appropriations: see Minutes

12. Order of business
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  President. – Ladies and gentlemen, the final draft agenda as drawn up pursuant to Rule 137 of the Rules of Procedure by the Conference of Presidents has been distributed. We have consulted the political groups, and in accordance with these consultations and with the full support of all the political groups I would like to give you details of the final changes and the draft agenda:

Wednesday 30 November/Brussels part-session:

The two reports by Mr Rapkay on the request for defence of the parliamentary immunity of Mr Uspaskich will be the subject of a joint debate as the first item on the agenda following establishment of the order of business, and so almost immediately.

Thursday 1 December/Brussels part-session:

The oral question on the EU global response to HIV/AIDS will be replaced by a Commission statement on the subject.

The report by Mr Rapkay on the request for defence of the parliamentary immunity of Mr de Magistris will be introduced at voting time.

Voting time will be extended to 14.00. This is a very important point: voting time will be extended to 14.00.

These changes have been agreed by all the political groups.

(The order of business was thus established)

 
  
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  Peter van Dalen (ECR). - (NL) Mr President, thank you for allowing me to respond briefly to the items you mentioned. You have just mentioned Egypt. I attended the elections in Cairo myself, together with representatives from the Carter Institute who monitored the elections. I personally witnessed a number of irregularities. I will write a letter about that, for your attention, in which I will report on the irregularities, so that these concerns can either be addressed by the appropriate committee or passed on, by you, to the Egyptian authorities. I will fill you in on that in writing, though.

 
  
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  President. Thank you very much for that information. We will be glad to make use of the kind of observation you have made.

 
  
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  Joseph Daul (PPE).(FR) Mr President, am I right in thinking that tomorrow’s vote will only take place at 14.00?

 
  
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  President. – No, no, no. It can continue until 14.00. It is starting earlier, but it can carry on for longer, because this also includes all the explanations of vote, and so it is not just the voting procedure itself, but all the explanations, which usually last about an hour. So I would like to make this clear: everyone will be able to give their explanations of vote if they give notice of their intention to do so.

 
  
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  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, like Mr Daul, I did not understand properly either: all this is to be debated tomorrow during the vote on the request for defence of the immunity of Mr de Magistris, who, I might add, is no longer a Member of this House. In other words, if I am right, we shall be debating the immunity of a non-MEP during tomorrow’s vote. I just wanted to get that straight.

 
  
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  President. – Mr Silvestris, this is in accordance with the applicable rules. We have to hold a discussion, because this is what we have to do if we want to act in accordance with the Rules of Procedure.

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE). (DE) Mr President, one of the most important votes of this parliamentary term will take place tomorrow, namely the legally valid and binding vote on the accession of Croatia, for which we require a qualified majority. I would ask you to ensure that this vote is scheduled for a time – as close to the start of voting time as possible – that will enable this House to achieve a qualified majority. I will be there in any case, because this is one of the most important votes of this parliamentary term.

 
  
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, our voting time is at 12.00 as usual and it will probably be one of the first votes. Today, we have the discussion on the future membership of Croatia. Thank you for this remark: in the voting we should prepare for a qualified majority vote – if we agree, of course.

 
  
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  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, clearly, what we are going to do tomorrow complies with the Rules of Procedure. There is just one thing that deeply concerns me, and that is why I am taking the liberty of addressing you now, to have your full understanding: since the debate that will be held during tomorrow’s vote on the request for defence of the immunity of Mr de Magistris could require many of us to take the floor, I would not like the fact that it is being held during the vote to be a reason for cutting it short.

Please ensure that there is sufficient time for the catch-the-eye procedure, because many of us – myself included – might wish to take the floor; the debate could be too short if it is closed during the vote. Therefore, in accordance with Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, Mr President, please ensure that there is sufficient time for the catch-the-eye procedure on this debate, because many of us might think it useful or necessary to take the floor.

 
  
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  President. – I would like to assure you that this matter will be settled in the right way and there need be no fears that not all the conditions stipulated in the Rules of Procedure will be met. Please do not worry about that.

 
  
 

(The sitting was suspended at 15.15 and resumed at 15.55)

 

13. Request for defence of the parliamentary immunity of Mr Viktor Uspaskich (debate)
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  President. − Good afternoon once again, ladies and gentlemen. We are back in the Chamber; it was only an exercise. It is very good that we can meet once again.

– The first item is the joint debate on the two reports (A7-0411/2011 and A7-0413/2011) by Bernhard Rapkay on the request for the defence of the immunity of Mr Uspaskich.

I would like to point out that during this debate no questions will be taken under the ‘catch-the-eye’ procedure. This has been agreed by the chairs of the political groups.

 
  
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  Bernhard Rapkay, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I would just like to say one thing regarding the debate previously mentioned on the immunity of Mr de Magistris, as I am also rapporteur in that case. I would like to point out that no debate on this has been included in the agenda, only a vote. I would also like to point that there are proceedings being brought against Mr de Magistris on a total of five accounts. This is only about one of these that is relatively uncontroversial. As regards the other accounts, we will first hear what Mr de Magistris has to say.

 
  
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  President. – Mr Rapkay, yes, you are right, and I ought to give a calm explanation of this. None of the political groups has requested that a debate be held on the parliamentary immunity of Mr de Magistris. Therefore the matter is being put to the vote directly, as you have said. In the case of Mr Uspaskich, which we are talking about now, the debate is being held at the request of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The debate is being held because the ALDE Group has asked for it. In the case of Mr de Magistris no such request has been made. Therefore in accordance with what I have said, it is being voted on directly.

 
  
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  Bernhard Rapkay, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I just wanted to clarify that, because some Members asked about it earlier.

With regard to the defence of the parliamentary immunity of Viktor Uspaskich I have to say that this is not in fact what it is about. Mr Uspaskich does not have parliamentary immunity. Parliament waived Mr Uspaskich’s parliamentary immunity on 7 September 2010 – in other words, more than a year ago – and that situation has not changed. On the contrary, Mr Uspaskich has asked for his immunity to be reinstated on the basis of new information that he claims to have.

What is the issue here? Mr Uspaskich is accused by the Lithuanian law enforcement authorities of having contravened party law and tax law in Lithuania during the period from 2004 to 2006 when he was chair of his party. He was not a Member of this House between 2004 and 2006. He was, however, a member of the Seimas (the Lithuanian Parliament). In 2008, the Seimas waived his immunity. He was then elected to the European Parliament in 2009, where he obviously received immunity once again. Then we had to deal with the matter. He was heard in Parliament twice. I want to make this point, because he always claims that he had no opportunity to present his case. He had two hearings in committee.

I do not know whether Mr Uspaskich is guilty or whether he is innocent. He always maintains that he is innocent. I do not know. However, it is not my job, nor is it your job, to decide. It is the job of the judicial authorities in the Member State of Lithuania to decide. We simply have to determine whether two particular aspects to this case are such that his immunity, which he naturally has as a Member of the European Parliament, should be retained and that he should be subject to a different procedure to that of any normal citizen of his country. We have come to the conclusion that this is not the case.

One aspect relates to the question of whether, through such proceedings, he is prevented from expressing his free political opinion as an MEP – but contravention of tax legislation actually has nothing to do with freedom of expression. The second aspect relates to the fact that, as a result of these proceedings, he is persecuted to a certain extent in his political activities. That is something that gives cause for consideration. However, after careful deliberation – following two hearings and after questioning the Lithuanian authorities once again – we reached the conclusion that this was not the case either. Thus, there was nothing else that we could do except waive his immunity.

Mr Uspaskich then went to the Court of Justice of the European Union – as he is entitled to do – to the General Court, and brought an action for the annulment of our decision and for the suspension of the decision until the hearing for the main case. Of course, the Court of Justice of the European Union accepted this, but it rejected the application for a temporary order. Mr Uspaskich then declared that he had new information. Apparently, in WikiLeaks facts were published that confirm his position, and he is therefore asking for the case to be considered once again. He also said that he would withdraw his application to the court. I advised him most strongly against doing that. This is the only route that will enable him to obtain his right in court. I strongly advised him not to do it, but he nevertheless withdrew his appeal to the court.

We then discussed the new facts in another hearing and came to the conclusion that these new facts may perhaps be relevant to the proceedings themselves in Lithuania, but not to the decision concerning the waiving of his immunity. We discussed the matter in detail, debating it for and against in several sittings, and we came to the firm conclusion that there is no other option: as we are not deciding on guilt or innocence here, but only on whether he has privileged access, we have to conclude that neither the first point, regarding ‘the free expression of his political opinion’, nor the second point, namely ‘political persecution’ are relevant here.

There therefore remains nothing else for us to do but to maintain his immunity waiver. We are not making a decision to withdraw his immunity because it has already been withdrawn. Thus, in the report we conclude that his immunity should remain withdrawn.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka, on behalf of the PPE Group.(PL) Mr President, I have had the pleasure of being a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs for over seven years. In that time we have examined dozens of cases relating to the possible waiver or defence of a fellow Member’s parliamentary immunity, and I would like to say very clearly to all fellow Members once again – because Mr Rapkay has spoken about this, and I want to clarify this further – the European Parliament is conspicuous among the parliaments of Europe in that it has extremely precisely defined procedures for dealing with the question of parliamentary immunity. It is stated clearly that parliamentary immunity can be defended only when the offence for which the person is to appear before a judicial authority in his country is related to the exercise of the mandate of a Member of the European Parliament.

While I still have complete sympathy for Mr Uspaskich and for his work, and also for what he has done in the European Parliament, I want to say clearly that after the long debate which we have had in the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) we have come to the conviction that our sympathies are one thing and the letter of the law are another. We must therefore continue to maintain the position which we have held unchanged for many years, which is that if the offence is not in the least degree related to exercising the mandate of a Member of the European Parliament there is not the slightest possibility for the European Parliament to defend a Member’s immunity.

Mr Rapkay has outlined the whole story which has grown up around this matter, and I just want to remind everyone once again that the European Parliament waived Mr Uspaskich’s immunity over a year ago. All we can do today is say whether that decision was justified or not. The PPE Group thinks that this decision of Parliament should not be changed.

 
  
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  Graham Watson, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, Viktor Uspaskich is a rare phenomenon in Lithuania. He is a Russian speaker who is successful in business and in politics. Other political parties, who are threatened by his success, have started a case against him, which to me looks like persecution. They are using the state to turn a civil offence about his party’s accounts into a criminal prosecution.

When our Committee on Legal Affairs looked first at his immunity, the case seemed clear and the House voted to lift it. However, since Viktor’s appeal, new evidence has come to light; not just the WikiLeaks cables that Mr Rapkay mentioned, which show former Prime Minister Brazauskas admitting that high-powered people falsely accuse our colleagues, but also now the memoirs of President Adamkus, confirming what many claimed all along, that five years ago the security services pressed the President to pervert the course of justice against our colleague.

That is why this time in committee five Members voted to support Mr Uspaskich’s appeal and only nine voted to reject. I contend that Viktor Uspaskich is the target of a politically motivated campaign to force him and his party out of frontline politics and I call on colleagues to vote today to restore his immunity.

 
  
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  Valdemar Tomaševski, on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on the one hand this matter is, of course, fairly complicated, but, on the other, it is clear. I personally am convinced that Mr Uspaskich has become the victim of political score-settling and that this affair is a way of getting rid of him as a politician and a party leader. The rapporteur quotes and accepts at face value the opinion of the current governing majority in Lithuania, but, Mr Rapkay, that same political group undertook these efforts in order to eliminate Mr Uspaskich from politics. There is therefore a strictly political agenda at work here. The very fact that three of the political groups represented at the committee meeting were of one opinion while three were of another testifies to the complicated nature of the situation.

The opinion of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) is being influenced by the Lithuanian delegation headed by Landsbergis, who is involved in this affair so there can be very little objectivity here. However, there can be no room for Bolshevism in the European Parliament; we are dealing here with evident cases of violation of the law and attempts to get rid of a politician. Our political group, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, will vote to uphold the immunity of Mr Uspaskich.

 
  
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  Bernhard Rapkay, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, I am, of course, also speaking as rapporteur, because I have been involved with this matter for a long time. I have not done this for the pleasure of it, nor was I particularly keen on doing it. However, what we have just heard is not proof that the majority in committee were wrong the first time and again the second time. Nothing – absolutely nothing – has been put forward that indicates that.

I am not making a judgment with regard to the role that Mr Uspaskich plays in politics in Lithuania. That is not my job. It is not your job, either. This issue here is: is he getting a fair trial or not? You will have to prove to me that he is not getting a fair trial. This proof has not been provided.

Mr Tomaševski, please refrain from making comments about Bolshevists and similar things. That has more of an effect of disqualifying you rather than helping to establish the truth. Just to make it clear once again: the issue here is not for us to say whether he is guilty or not guilty. It is a matter of whether his right to free expression is being restricted or whether he is being politically persecuted. We came to the conclusion that neither of these are the case. That is the reason for our decision in committee and why this report states what it does. I can only recommend that plenary also votes in favour of our report as a whole.

 
  
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  President. – The joint debate is closed. The vote will take place tomorrow at 12.00.

 

14. Preparations for the European Council meeting (8-9 December 2011) (debate)
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  President. – The next item, something which is very important for us all, is the preparations for the European Council meeting to be held on 8-9 December 2011.

We all know how important this item is in our debates. It is very important to discuss all the points of view in this case.

 
  
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  Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Mr President, honourable Members, it is clear that this European Council meeting is exceptionally important. On behalf of the Polish Presidency, I would like to say, first of all, that at this meeting of the European Council very responsible and important decisions need to be made – decisions which will determine the shape of the European Union in the next few years. This European Council and its decisions can shape the European Union to a large degree. It is not just another meeting of leaders who will decide the direction of the Council’s work, but it is a point at which we have to decide whether we can demonstrate single-minded determination and use every available instrument to defend the European project and its greatest achievement – or one of its greatest achievements – the euro.

So, having agreed these matters with the President of the European Council, I would like in more detail, but in a few words, to introduce the main topics which will be discussed at this Council.

If you look at the agenda of the European Council, you will, of course, see that the European Council will review the overall economic situation and will revert to the question of promoting growth in Europe. Furthermore, Heads of State and Government will track progress on the implementation at national level of the commitments under the Euro Plus Pact, with particular attention to jobs and tax issues.

I also want to remind you that the President of the European Council will inform Heads of State and Government of the reflections on the strengthening of economic convergence within the euro area, on improving fiscal discipline and on deepening economic union, including exploring the possibility of limited Treaty change. As you know, the Presidency will also contribute with ideas on strengthening the unity and convergence of the European Union and we will do this in the light of the forthcoming General Affairs Council on Monday.

On energy, the European Council will track progress on the implementation of guidelines set in February 2011, in particular as regards energy efficiency, the internal energy market, energy infrastructure development and external energy policy. It will also assess the initial findings of the nuclear stress tests.

There are, in addition, a number of other items to be addressed by the European Council. The European Council will take the required decisions on the possible next steps for accession countries. It may well also have to come back to the issue of Schengen accession by Romania and Bulgaria. Finally, it may also need to address the situation in Iran. I should also mention that the European Council is expected to take note of the Presidency report on the multiannual financial framework. Now, if I may, I shall say a few more words on economic policy and on enlargement.

On the European economy, it is clear that the economy has taken a turn for the worse. Deteriorating confidence and intensified financial turmoil are affecting investment, exports and consumption. It is important that the Union’s new economic governance be fully implemented with a view to building confidence in the strength of the European economy. The Presidency fully agrees with the Commission’s assessment in its recent Annual Growth Survey that now the stress must be on implementation. We have taken on many commitments. In some areas progress has been good, but in others it has been more measured or – basically, in less diplomatic terms – it has been quite weak.


Structural reforms and differentiated fiscal consolidation efforts must continue to lay the ground for a return to sustainable growth and thus help to improve confidence in the short term. Measures are also required in order to help restore normal lending to the economy while preventing excessive risk-taking. The priority must be to boost jobs and growth; this is why the European Council is expected to support the principle of a fast-track programme of measures, as set out by the Commission. This would mean the Council and the European Parliament working together to ensure the rapid adoption of a number of key legislative proposals, something which I know is also dear to you, Mr President.

The Annual Growth Survey launches the next European semester, which will be the first to be implemented as part of the recently strengthened economic governance, including the new procedure for monitoring and correcting macroeconomic imbalances. This is really crucial. We strongly believe that those new mechanisms can make a real difference. The spring European Council will review progress and adopt the required guidance.

Regarding the Euro Plus Pact and its objectives, the Heads of State and Government taking part in the Pact will review progress made in implementing the commitments at national levels; they are expected to focus on employment. Let me just mention, to close this part on economic policy, three principles that the Presidency would like to see guide this European Council. Firstly, more unity within the twenty-seven. Secondly, more Europe, so enhanced coordination and strengthened economic governance. And thirdly, strengthened institutions, so that whatever we do, we do it within the institutional framework of the European Union and we ensure that there is a proper legitimacy for the measures which we adopt if we decide to go forward with the Treaty revision. There should be an appropriate enhancement of the role of the European Commission, but also there should be a place for the democratically elected institution of the European Union, obviously the European Parliament.

My final remark is about enlargement. I would like to inform the House that we expect Prime Minister Kosor to take part in the European Council as observer after the signature of the Treaty of Accession of Croatia. As you know, enlargement has been a priority for the Polish Presidency, to show that despite the difficult times, the European Union is still open and we are still very serious about our open-door policy. We look forward to Croatia becoming the 28th member of the European Union on 1 July 2013.

On Monday, the General Affairs Council will discuss the situation of the other candidate and accession countries. This will not be an easy discussion. The Presidency has worked very intensively to prepare a set of conclusions for the GAC, which once agreed should be endorsed by the European Council.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I have been invited to discuss the preparations for next week’s European Council with you on behalf of President Barroso. The European Council will, of course, take place in an extremely challenging economic and political environment. Its focus will inevitably be on the economic situation and on the measures we have proposed to restore confidence in the euro area and the European economy.

It is clear that our room for manoeuvre is now much more constrained than two years ago. To respond to the current situation, the Commission has utilised the current Treaty’s scope to the maximum and proposed forceful measures to complete the Economic and Monetary Union. Economic governance is being strengthened and mechanisms to address the financial crisis have been already been put in place.

Last Wednesday the Commission adopted the Growth and Governance Package, which consists of three parts. The Annual Growth Survey spells out our view of the policy priorities in the coming 12 months to restore macrofinancial stability and boost sustainable growth. Two proposals for new regulations will further reinforce economic and budgetary surveillance in the euro area. The feasibility study on stability bonds examines the potential benefits for financial stability of jointly issued bonds and the preconditions for their possible introduction.

The Annual Growth Survey launches the next European semester of economic governance by setting out the Commission’s views on the challenges and priorities for next year. This survey is being published at a time when the EU is going through the most challenging times of its history. It sets the following priorities for 2012.

First, to continue with fiscal consolidation, which has to be differentiated across countries, as we agreed in October. We also have to pay more attention to the impact of consolidation on growth. In this respect, it is essential to analyse carefully which expenditure we can reduce and how we can raise revenue in the Member States.

Second, that normal lending to the economy has to be restored. It is necessary to strengthen the banking sector via appropriate regulation and recapitalisation and set up credible financial backstops for banks and sovereigns in order to break the negative feedback loop between the two sectors.

Third, structural policies are key to reviving growth at the current juncture, when macroeconomic policies are heavily constrained. This means that structural reforms have to be stepped up, especially in services, network industries, the public sector and the digital economy.

Fourth, unemployment and other social consequences of the crisis have to be tackled. Reforms are necessary to make labour markets more flexible and conducive to job creation.

The final priority of the survey is to modernise public administration at all levels in the Member States and in the Union.

You may say that some of these priorities are not new. This is correct and it is deliberate. We have already made so many commitments that now we have to really focus on their implementation and concrete results.

The discussions of the Annual Growth Survey will culminate in the March European Council, after which the national programmes are prepared in the light of the guidance from the Heads of State and Government. In parallel, you in the European Parliament should also debate the Annual Growth Survey and make your views known before the work on Member States’ programmes starts. To my mind, that is a very important opportunity for the European Parliament to influence policy-making in the Member States in this regard.

To conclude on the Annual Growth Survey, I want to underline the following once more. Without swift and determined implementation these priorities will do none of us any good, nor help achieve sustainable and inclusive growth. I have full confidence that in the European Parliament you will help accelerate the adoption of what is currently on your desks in the codecision procedure.

As part of the package we also proposed two regulations based on Article 136 for the euro area Member States. These present a major step forward in euro area fiscal and economic integration. They build on the ‘six pack’; they complete the European semester with rules for the second part of the year and establish a link between intergovernmental financial assistance and Treaty-based surveillance.

The first regulation proposes the introduction of binding rules for balanced budgets into national legislation, preferably at constitutional level. It also requires independent forecasts to be used as the basis of budgetary plans and draft budgets. But, most importantly, it proposes tight monitoring of national budgets, which you have been calling for. We propose a harmonised budgetary timeline with draft budget laws to be submitted to the Commission by 15 October every year.

The Commission will then assess these draft national budgets against the Country Specific Recommendations and against possible EDP recommendations. Should the draft clearly not be in line with the recommendations, the Commission can ask for a new draft. The Commission is ready to present its opinion in the national parliament of the country concerned if requested.

When a Member State is in the Excessive Deficit Procedure, the Commission can issue recommendations for additional measures. The second regulation specifies the modalities for enhanced monitoring of euro area Member States – those Member States who are receiving financial assistance or are suffering from risks to their financial stability and to that of the euro area as a whole. It allows enhanced surveillance of a country that is considered to be at risk with regard to financial stability, even without a programme.

Finally, it proposes that the Commission will have the right to propose to the Council to recommend a Member State to seek financial assistance if the Member State concerned is posing a risk to financial stability, especially that of the euro area or Europe as a whole. This should be done on the basis of the Commission’s analysis in liaison with the European Central Bank. This proposal stems from recent experience, as we have seen that this has posed a genuine problem to the financial stability of the euro area.

The fragmented European sovereign bond market is currently under great stress. Investors require substantial risk premiums on the sovereign bonds of some euro area Member States. This situation has revived interest in jointly issued euro area bonds to create a large and liquid bond market in Europe.

As part of the deal on the ‘six pack’ between the European Parliament and the Council, the Commission presented a Green Paper on stability bonds last week. Its key findings are, firstly, that jointly issued stability bonds would be likely to produce substantial benefits in terms of reducing and stabilising borrowing costs for Member States by providing better shock resilience for the financial sector and improving market efficiency over time. Secondly, however, as common bonds would reduce the market discipline of individual Member States, their introduction would only be meaningful on the condition that euro area economic governance were to be substantially further strengthened.

The ‘six pack’ constitutes the foundations for reinforced economic governance and last week’s proposals represent a further step in the direction of stronger economic governance. But we would have to go far beyond these reforms to facilitate a safe introduction of stability bonds, which would most probably require amendment to the Treaty.

Before concluding, let me say a few words on Treaty change. Let us be clear: a Treaty change cannot offer an immediate contribution to the solution to the current crisis. But it is true that, by working to embed stricter discipline and stronger governance into the euro area in particular, we may help to prevent a future crisis by creating a real stability union.

The President of the European Council was asked, with the Presidents of the Commission and the Euro Group, to identify possible steps on further reinforcing economic convergence within the euro area, including exploring the possibility of limited Treaty changes. These deliberations are ongoing and an interim report will be presented to the European Council.

The Commission’s view is that any Treaty change should be based on the principle of one Union, based on the current institutional framework, which is clearly exemplified by the Community method. European integration can only be achieved by a single legal framework of one Union. That is the best way to build a real stability union, in fact a true economic union.

Equally importantly, only the Community method can guarantee consistency between European economic monetary policy and all other EU policies as well as the completion of the Single Market. That is the guarantee of the fair and just treatment of the Member States and EU citizens. I trust both the European Parliament and EU Member States will stick to this and be ready to justify the benefits of the Community method vigorously in future negotiations too.

Furthermore, in the event of any of revision of the Treaties, balance has to be maintained. We all know that there will be diverging views – some will want to put more weight on stability, while others might wish to place more emphasis on stimulating growth. Some will call for more solidarity and others will want more discipline. It will be essential and extremely important to incorporate all these elements in future work so that the end result will be a balanced set of rules ensuring both stability and solidarity, which are at the heart of the European social model.

I can second what the Minister said as regards energy policy, that this is a key element on the agenda. Likewise the European Council will take important decisions concerning the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Let me express the Commission’s view on this. It is very clear: we expect that the Council will take the decision to lift internal border controls with Romania and Bulgaria without any further delay. We fully support the efforts made by the Presidency for a compromise solution. Splitting into two phases the decision on lifting internal border controls is feasible and politically sound. The second stage – the decision on the lifting of internal border controls at land borders – can then be taken without undue delay.

Finally, a word on enlargement and the Accession Treaty of Croatia, which is very close to my heart and to which Commissioner Stefan Füle will return after this debate. Real progress has been made during the last year with all countries – progress in which the cooperation with the European Parliament plays a significant role. The Commission has already given its favourable opinion on Croatia’s accession and we hope that the vote tomorrow will pave the way for the Council’s decision and the signature of the Treaty on 9 December. But I will leave the details to my colleague and will just say that this is a historic turning point for Croatia and a very important benchmark for accession by the rest of the Western Balkans to the European Union.

Let me conclude. In terms of the European economy and economic policy, we have indeed arrived at the point in time where serious choices and commitments have to be made. The economic and monetary union will either have to be completed through much deeper integration or we will have to accept a gradual disintegration of over half a century of European integration. This is a choice that needs to be consciously taken by the governments of the euro area Member States and by all European citizens and their representatives in the national Parliaments and here in the European Parliament. Our choice is clear. It is a choice for an ever closer union for the sake of sustainable growth and job creation in Europe and thus for the sake of legitimacy and, not least, for the sake of the future of European unification. This is what is at stake. I trust you will also make the choice for European unification and for these objectives, because that is what our citizens expect.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, Mr Dowgielewicz, Mr Rehn, ladies and gentlemen, I am addressing you on behalf of the Chair of my parliamentary group, Joseph Daul, who has asked me to stand in for him during this debate.

I should like to start my speech by saying how pleased I am that, following the green light given by the European Parliament, the European Council is now preparing to sign the Accession Treaty with Croatia.

I congratulate the Prime Minister of Croatia on the political determination she has shown in bringing her people to this historic point, and I am sure that her political resolve will have a positive influence on her European peers.

As regards the situation in the European Union, we can say that the lights have changed from amber to red. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts a recession in Europe in 2012. There are fewer and fewer buyers of sovereign funds. Rising unemployment rates are causing despair among Europeans, especially young people.

Confronted with these challenges, the European Union must at the same time take action and decide on its governance. There has been much talk recently of reforming the Treaties, but as far as I am aware the crisis is not to do with the Treaties; it is a debt crisis.

Consequently, we in the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) believe that the priority is to take action on national deficits in order to balance the budgets once and for all, and not to settle for a 3% deficit. The priority is to create growth opportunities once again by making the internal market a reality. The priority is to put our faith in the European Central Bank so that it behaves in a way that benefits our countries, by allying itself with the International Monetary Fund. The priority is to ensure that Eurobonds see the light of day, provided that the national budget effort is not only maintained but also increased. The priority is to listen to Radek Sikorski, who is urging us to take action and to deliver on the commitments we have made.

The second pillar of EU action must be governance of the euro area. This has been sorely lacking ever since the euro was launched, which explains the markets’ distrust. The development of such governance is therefore the sine qua non of any crisis resolution plan.

By governance, we mean a reduction in budget deficits, fiscal convergence and, if possible, social convergence. This governance must be European. What I mean is that governance between two or three countries, or even among the group of AAA countries – which is becoming ever smaller, incidentally – will not suffice. No, this governance must apply to all the countries in the euro area, in the Euro Area Plus.

It must be based on the Community method, which means at least two things. Firstly, that it must be the subject of an agreement, not just in the Council, but between the Council and two other EU institutions: the European Parliament and the European Commission. Secondly, that the only institution that can legitimately assess whether or not the new rules have been applied and, if necessary, refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union, is the European Commission.

Last but not least, this governance must be democratic. What does this mean? Quite simply, it means that this House and the national parliaments, elected by direct universal suffrage, must be fully involved in the negotiations on the arrangements for European governance and in the decision-making process that will follow. Such participation by elected representatives in the decision-making process is the essence of our system of the rule of law; it is what our parliamentary democracies are founded on.

Mr President, I shall conclude. While we are debating institutional reforms, the water continues to rise: to chin level for some, to knee level for others, but the flood is now affecting the entire euro area and is in danger of spreading to other parts of the world. As the German Finance Minister said, we need to act fast. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to act fast.

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

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, Mr Rangel, I will speak in Portuguese. You spoke in French. I do not know if that means you are worried that people here will find out about the serious problem currently being experienced in Portugal, with the veritable pact of aggression against our country. Portugal is also your country and you are driving it, not just towards a social disaster, but also towards an economic disaster: a recession has been announced for next year – already announced, as you said, by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – which could exceed 3%. I would therefore ask you, do you not think it is time to change policy?

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE).(PT) Mr President, Ms Figueiredo, I will answer you in Portuguese, but I have no problem with using any of the European languages, because they exist to be used and I am one of those who argues that all Europeans should speak more than one language – more than two; three if possible – so that everyone can respect and understand the situations of others. There is often a lack of comprehension because not everyone makes the effort to understand other cultures, but, since I have this universalist perspective, I will also tell you something: do not come here to play Portuguese politics because that does not wash with me.

The answer was given by the Portuguese people at the ballot box in June, when more than 80% of votes went to countries that had negotiated with the troika, which now holds more than 90% of seats; more than 90% of members of the Portuguese Parliament voted for the restrictive budget just adopted.

 
  
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  Martin Schulz, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we are debating the preparations for next week’s European Council. We are doing so following the historic leap forward made by the European Council of 26 October, which in turn followed a historic breakthrough in the summer. What actually remains of the historic breakthrough of 26 October, Mr President and Mr Rehn? The long-term solution, the turning point we were hoping for, has not materialised. I believe that we can now see that.

The predicted leveraging of the EFSF by four to five times has – on this scale at least – proved impossible to put into practice. It is being widely realised – I think more so here in Parliament than in the Council and the Commission – that it is not a solution to now talk about a lengthy revision of the Treaty, because this will not solve the current problems. We have been looking for security and confidence – in fact we do that every day. What do we find? Uncertainty! Every day we find a bit more uncertainty.

The current debate is characterised by a perception problem in the capital cities of the European Union. This perception problem in our capitals in connection with this peculiar tendency to want to go it alone, which excludes the European institutions, can be summarised in one sentence: our neighbours’ debts are no concern of ours! That is a serious mistake, however. Our neighbours’ debts concern us all; they burden all of us together.

That is why, instead of talking about the stability union, a growth union, the debt union, we perhaps need to come to the conclusion that we do indeed need the stability union, but we need to realise that without a growth union there will be no stability union in Europe. These are two sides of the same coin.

(Applause)

Our neighbours’ debts concern us because, in a monetary union in which we all stand together, they represent our shared fate. We can talk at length about who caused the debt. In the current situation, however, it is more important for us to discuss how to get rid of it. How can we limit the debt in order to regain the confidence of investors in the euro area and in our currency? I therefore believe that we will only regain this confidence once we achieve joint debt management.

Surprisingly, the Council of Economic Experts of the government of the Federal Republic of Germany made a proposal yesterday for joint debt management, in the same way as in other cases during similar monetary crises: pooling the debt and defining the timeframe within which we will reduce the debt in order then to concentrate on how we achieve what Europe urgently needs more than anything else – growth. We need growth that creates jobs and growth that creates fiscal capacity in the Member States allowing them to obtain their own income once again.

What we need for the next few days, weeks and months is to take bold steps without a revision of the Treaties, because, let us be honest, what would be the result of a revision of the Treaties? We can revise the Treaties, there would be nothing wrong with that, it would all be well and good. However, the argument that a revision of the Treaties will win back the confidence of the markets in the euro means that we would need two years to win back this confidence, because that is how long it would take for the Treaty revision to be complete, with a convention, an intergovernmental conference and a ratification procedure, including referendums in 27 Member States. However, we do not have that much time.

What we need to do now is to answer the following questions: do we want Eurobonds – yes or no? Do we want to support the Commission with regard to Eurobonds? We certainly do, but does the Council too? What is the role of the European Central Bank? Is it a ‘lender of last resort’ or not? It is interesting to hear the German Chancellor say that it is not. It is not a ‘lender of last resort’. She is, of course, acting completely independently, however. That is a direct quote from Ms Merkel. We all know that, with the complete independence with which the European Central Bank acts, it buys government bonds every day. It is already acting as a lender of last resort.

Answering the question of whether we should actually classify it in that way, or of whether we should really bring the debt into a system of management and reduce it, or of whether we are actually in a position to finance the investments we need by means of bonds in order for the triple A rated states to keep their rating and for those that do not have this rating to achieve it, that must be the goal of the euro area and not a debate about an artificial Treaty reform, which will not ultimately bring about confidence in the euro.

(Applause)

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

 
  
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  Barry Madlener (NI). - (NL) Mr President, I have talked to a lot of people in Germany who voted for Mr Schulz and, obviously, they absolutely do not want to foot the bill for any of Greece’s, Spain’s or Italy’s debts. Therefore, Mr Schulz, are you not totally betraying your voters when you argue here that German voters, your voters, ought to foot the bill for the Greek debt, given that it is the Greek taxpayers who are the actual owners of the Greek debt?

 
  
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  Martin Schulz (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Mr Madlener, even though I do not have much hope that you will understand what I am now saying, it is not the case that I want the Germans to pay the debts of other countries. On the contrary, I want the Germans to make a contribution to ensuring that the other countries can pay their debts themselves. I have just attempted to give a thorough explanation of this, but I will be happy to go into more detail in a private conversation with you.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Guy Verhofstadt, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, I think that the end game is coming closer. According to the specialised press – I am quoting the Financial Times of today – international companies have started preparations for the break-up of the euro zone. That is the reality today. Italy yesterday managed to raise EUR 8 billion on the markets at an interest rate of 7.56% and the yield for three-year bonds was even higher, nearly 8%. And it is not only a question of Italy or a question of Spain or a question of Greece or a question of Ireland, for a few days now it has also been a question of Germany, which is not capable of raising the necessary money in its own auction that it launched a few days ago.

So I think that we are fast approaching the breaking point of the euro. Let us be blunt about this, it is not because of Greece and it is not because of Italy. It is because of the incapacity of the two main players today in European politics, the incapacity of Merkel and Sarkozy to deal with this crisis. That is the euro crisis of today; their incapacity to find a solution.

(Applause and heckling)

I think there are a few Germans here, the supporters of Mrs Merkel. Well, today Merkel and Sarkozy are not the solution; I think they are the obstacle to the solution of the crisis. Let us be clear. Merkel is excluding Eurobonds, is resisting a bigger role for the European Central Bank; she is even against the idea of her own wise economists. In other words she is denying greater solidarity. That is the German position.

Sarkozy, for his part, is opposing a real fiscal union. In other words, yes, he is in favour of a fiscal union but in reality he still wants a political reading of the sanctions mechanism, and he is even opposed to the fact that the Court of Justice of the European Union should have the right to intervene in the budget. So in fact the French position of today is still defending the old ‘Deauville deal’, as if Parliament had not changed the Deauville deal and the ‘six pack’, and has voted another ‘six pack’ a few months ago as if there were no euro crisis.

So let me say it very openly. It is true that Germany and France have, in the past, made agreements which have been beneficial and important for the Union; today, however, they form an obstacle to the survival of the Union. Today all who do not want to give up the Union and the euro have, in my opinion, to stand up and to say no to this; we have had enough of their half measures, their bad compromises and their deals that only calm the markets for 24 hours, which is the only thing they are capable of doing for the moment.

The time is right today to say yes to an economic union, to a political union, yes to a Eurobond market and yes to the proposal of the five wise Germans. It is time to say yes again to the euro.

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

 
  
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  Derk Jan Eppink (ECR). - Mr President, I listened to Mr Verhofstadt who again supported the idea of Eurobonds. I would just like to know whether this idea and his speech are supported by the members of the German Liberals, of whom I see no representatives here, and whether he also has the support of the Dutch Liberals of the VVD. I would like to know whether he speaks on behalf of his own group or whether Mr Verhofstadt speaks on behalf of himself.

 
  
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  Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE). - Mr President, I think that Mr Eppink is not following politics very well here in this Parliament. I can understand that maybe, but the FDP has backed the idea of the ‘five wise men’, the German economists, for the creation of a European collective redemption fund. Mr Lambsdorff has published an article in Die Welt – Mr Eppink has not read it – saying that this collective redemption fund is the solution.

What I do not understand is that Germany can accept it here in this plenary session of the European Parliament but the problem is not here; the problem is in Berlin, where for the moment the German Government, and mainly Mrs Merkel, does not want to follow the advice of her own advisers, her own counsellors, who are saying that the only way to tackle the problem is to create this collective redemption fund, where you put together the debt above 60% of those countries which are not using the rescue fund, and combine that with very bold debt reduction schemes for all the countries.

This is on paper. It is in the press. What are you waiting for? I think what some people are waiting for is the end of the euro and only then...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Jan Zahradil, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, this item on the agenda is called ‘Preparations for the European Council meeting’, but sometimes I do not know to which European Council we are referring. At the moment, I have the feeling that we have at least two councils: one council is the formal one which is represented by 27 Member States and takes place occasionally according to an agreed schedule. The other one has only two members who are Mr Sarkozy and Mrs Merkel, and it seems to be in session permanently. This is the one which really decides.

That, by the way, is a good example and good evidence that when hard times arrive the whole so-called Community method turns into a big illusion and it is the powerful ones who decide. Please do not get me wrong, this is not sarcasm. I have a certain understanding for Mrs Merkel because – there are many quotations in many languages and I will use the English one – ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’. And Germany pays. Mr Schulz is right, Germany pays. But it also wants some pay-back. That pay-back is the ultimate control over fiscal policy of all the eurozone members. If all of you in the eurozone want to keep the same currency you must be prepared for that; you must be prepared to give up your fiscal sovereignty.

Perhaps you can even save some public money by dissolving your national finance ministries, because you will not need them anymore. Your national budgets will be drawn up somewhere else. Anyway, this is your responsibility in the eurozone. I can only wish you good luck.

However, I cannot agree with one thing. I cannot agree with this fiscal protectorate being spread over all 27 Member States, as Mr Schäuble proposed only very recently. That is something which is unacceptable because one thing is clear from now on: today, there are two European Unions within one. We definitely have a two-tier Europe: we have the eurozone and the non-eurozone.

This is not disintegration. That does not mean an end to the European Union. This is just a reality that should be not only admitted but should be also reflected in our actions. Therefore both parts of the European Union must remain equal. Eurozone members should not be superior to non-eurozone members and the eurozone cannot just automatically drag the others with them.

Any further arrangement must recognise this reality. It does not matter whether this is a Treaty change or some other ways and means, such as an enhanced stability pact. If the eurozone states want to move forward in one direction, they must allow the others to move in their own direction as well. This is no longer a one-way street. This is reality. No longer do we go at the same speed and in the same direction. To use this crisis only as a platform in order to pursue further the project of political union and to further centralise power is short-sighted. It is wrong and in the end it will tear the EU apart.

It is also wrong to accuse others of wanting to destroy the euro. No one wants to destroy the euro here, definitely not my group, because our countries are very much dependent on the stability of the eurozone. We are not opposing the very existence of the euro; what we are opposing are wrong measures which will not save the euro. The EU must either be flexible or multispeed, whatever you wish to call it, or unfortunately very soon there will be no EU – with or without the euro.

 
  
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  Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Verhofstadt, you have once again made some very pointed criticisms of Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy. However, we also have to deal with Mr Van Rompuy, who is closer to you in political terms than either of them. I would like to hear some clear words being spoken, particularly among the Belgians.

(Heckling from Mr Verhofstadt: ‘He is a Member of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats).’)

Yes, I know, but to me you nevertheless seem to be very close. I would like us to persevere consistently with the subjects that we are debating here today. It has rightly been pointed out that the German Free Democratic Party (FDP) is in government. Also, in the Commission, as we have often remarked here, there are many liberal Commissioners whose influence always seems to me to be lacking.

We agree on our assessment of the most recent summit and we have already made that clear after the night of crisis. Unfortunately, the events were exactly as described in the European Parliament. The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which is being used as a lever, is a complete failure. It does not work at all. I am expressing my feelings more forcefully here than Mr Schulz. The recapitalisation of the banks, which is so urgently needed, has proved to be as ineffective as all the strict banking regulations which we have been carrying before us for the last year like the vessel containing the consecrated host. The debate on Greek debt reduction is stagnating. A bitter dispute is going on in Greece, but no one is talking about it. In contrast to the period when the crisis summit was held, we now have so-called technical governments in Italy and Greece, but for different reasons. Everyone has praised the fact that Mr Monti, for example, has taken over the government in Italy. What is happening now? As a result of following the rules laid down by Brussels, Mr Monti has the same problems as Mr Papandreou had before him. The country is in the same disastrous interest spiral, because the situation cannot be improved simply by putting in place austerity measures. We have been aware of this for a long time.

What is to be done? I would like to repeat the answer to this question from the perspective of my group. In the short term, the European Central Bank (ECB) must play a different role and the Heads of State or Government must commit to this. Poland has rightly called for this to happen, but it must not always be the only Member State which is doing so. I would like to thank Mr Rostowski once again for intervening. What he said was exactly right.

We need to get ready to issue Eurobonds and we are already too late. We should be starting with the ECB, but nevertheless we need to prepare for the Eurobonds. Also, we must ensure that people do not go on spreading the lie which is rife in Germany that Eurobonds mean that we in Germany will, for example, be taking over responsibility for the risks of the deficit countries and that the people in these countries will go on living the life of Riley. The Eurobonds are, of course, accompanied by a policy of solidity and solidarity. That is part of the idea behind them. Anyone who disputes that is simply running roughshod over the future of the European Union.

The points quoted by Mr Verhofstadt are really alarming. The real economy and large companies are already preparing scenarios for the end of the common currency. The same article today in the Financial Times says: ‘Traders prepare for the end game’. I am not sure whether Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy are reading different newspapers or different analyses from the ones that I am reading. However, when I heard the fire alarm ringing here in Parliament today, I thought that it was an amplified version of the alarm signals which we should be sending out to the capitals of the Member States. It would at least be worth a try, because so far all the arguments have failed.

I would like to say a final word about Treaty change. I know that this is all about acute crisis management. I hope that I have made that clear. However, when you realise that democracy cannot function under the terms of the Treaty and has fallen by the wayside, although it is still possible to say that Treaty changes take too long in an acute crisis, if a change is really needed, then it would be wrong to postpone it. I do not believe that the enemies of European integration, in other words, those who are opposed to democracy and the right-wing nationalists, would have a stronger position if we were to discuss Treaty change and a reorganisation of sovereignty now. They are not the problem. I believe that we are not doing ourselves any favours in our debates with those on the right if we delay the democratic new beginnings and the implementation of sound democratic regulations. We have debated this at length this morning in the Conference of Presidents. However, if something takes a long time, it makes no sense to put it off even longer just in order to discuss it.

 
  
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  Lothar Bisky, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, the crisis merry-go-round is turning faster and faster and more and more euro countries are being pulled aboard. Even the countries with the best triple A ratings, such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, are feeling the adverse effects caused by the financial markets, which are playing cat and mouse with the euro countries. All the measures that we have adopted so far to regulate them have had hardly any effect. We can therefore legitimately ask whether it is time to change the rules of the game. However, the decision on this needs to be made by the EU institutions and not by means of intergovernmental agreements, such as those envisaged by Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy.

The vicious circle of downgrades to countries’ ratings and rising interest rates has to be stopped. Therefore, we are making a decisive call for the evaluation of sovereign states by private rating agencies to be qualified and for the creation of an independent European agency. In addition, the European Central Bank must be allowed to buy bonds without restrictions. Ms Merkel seems to be ready to exchange her resistance to this for closer supervision of the budgets of individual countries and automatic sanctions. However, this involves allowing intervention in the sovereignty rights of individual states, in this case budgetary rights, which means that the inherent rights of national parliaments will be disregarded.

In future, the Commission aims to be able to force countries to make social security cuts, lengthen working hours and increase the retirement age. I can only warn against implementing this policy. The results in Germany show that it puts a very one-sided burden on the majority of the population. Consequently, the social divide will become even wider. The low-wage sector now covers 20% of all working people. More and more people are finding themselves living in poverty in their old age. By contrast, a few rich people are becoming even wealthier. As a result of this policy, social equality is no longer functioning and society is threatened with collapse. I am opposed to a future of this kind for the European Union.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ROBERTA ANGELILLI
Vice-President

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. (NL) Madam President, the euro area is under pressure. Let us clearly acknowledge that. Drastic intervention by the European Central Bank and the introduction of Eurobonds can only temporarily relieve the pressure on the financial system.

Europe should use the time bought with this stopgap measure to address the underlying problems. Firstly, there must be an orderly reduction in the unsustainably high debt levels of governments, the private sector, and, in particular, banks. Secondly, the financial system must be cushioned from the destabilising effects of large differences in economic competitiveness between Member States.

The question that now arises ever more urgently is: can the measures that have already been agreed or those that are being discussed in preparation for the European Council of 8 and 9 December adequately address these issues? Will more stringent fiscal discipline and help from the International Monetary Fund be sufficient? I certainly hope so, when it comes to financial stability in the short term, but I have serious concerns about the longer term.

The question is whether it is possible to avoid taking steps towards a euro area governed by more stringent conditions: conditions with which I fear a number of Member States would currently fail to comply. Working on the necessary solutions will take time. Perhaps, we might jointly have to undertake a temporary, but thorough, reorganisation of the euro area, in order to ensure greater stability in the financial system and economy in the medium term. That will create good prospects for all the countries of the euro area and for the European Union.

 
  
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  Barry Madlener (NI). - (NL) Madam President, the European Central Bank has now really set the money presses into motion and, in so doing, it has breached the rules of its own treaty. This House always claims to set great store by the implementation of treaties. I would, therefore, like to ask Mr Rehn what he thinks about the ECB’s buying activities. Would you not agree that the ECB should immediately stop buying up Italian government bonds? If the ECB continues with this disastrous policy, I ask Mr Rehn to do everything in his power to stop it – including even possibly taking legal action.

In addition, the enlargement of the Union to include Croatia is, of course, absurd at the current time. The European Union is bankrupt. The European Union is struggling to combat massive corruption, and Croatia’s current score on the Transparency International Index is 4.1. Enlarging the Union to include such a corrupt country is obviously absurd at the present time.

Finally, Mr Verhofstadt, you should learn to keep your big mouth shut. You do not remotely speak on behalf of Dutch VVD liberals, and your own party, the Open VLD, has betrayed Flanders by making it possible for this terrible socialist government led by Mr Di Rupo to get into power. I would, therefore, request that Mr Verhofstadt keeps his big mouth shut for a while.

 
  
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  Mario Mauro (PPE).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, never before has the image of a European Commission and a European integration process caught in the middle of a raging river been so apt in my view. If the Commission does not have the courage to press ahead with convincing proposals nor the resignation to turn back the clock and hence to make national policy choices and adopt a nationalist approach, it will inevitably be caught in the current, dragged under and swept away.

In this respect, however, the signals coming from our institutions are unclear. Of course, we realise that the Commission is engaged in a reform process, but it is equally true that a few weeks ago Commissioner Barnier’s proposals were scaled right down by the College of Commissioners, and we would like the opportunity to discuss in Parliament which Commissioner objected to the proposals, for example, on rating agencies, or rather on the creation of a European rating agency, and why.

Why am I asking this? Because, right now, the real debate concerns not only economic and financial measures, but also the nature of our democracy, and if we lack the strength to explain to our fellow European citizens what we are debating and who is on which side and with whom, then we will be swept away by another, far worse current, that of increasingly widespread indifference towards politics, of increasingly widespread scepticism that will distance itself from the European project as a whole.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira (S&D).(PT) Madam President, we have gone far enough down this path. When the diagnosis is wrong, the medicine has no effect. In the case of the euro area, successive types of medicine have been leading it to the brink of death.

Successive miraculous solutions that have been suggested have been equally discredited by the markets. The European Financial Stability Facility, the successive constraints to strengthen the Stability and Growth Fund, the troika’s measures in countries covered by bailout programmes, and the blind discipline without growth have created a wave of recession between economies that are totally interlinked, which have, therefore, contaminated each other with bankruptcies and unemployment. One by one, governments are falling into the clutches of the markets – in other words, the credit rating agencies – and solvent countries are becoming insolvent.

Treaty change now is yet another step along this disastrous path, but it is worse than that: we risk destroying the remnants of national sovereignty, by putting countries into the hands of the Court of Justice of the European Union. There is no need for Treaty change. What we need, in this emergency in which we find ourselves, is to make two decisions. Firstly, we need to set out a genuine agenda for sustained growth and cohesion. Where is the Europe 2020 strategy? Where is the budget for relaunch? Where are the projects and project bonds for Europe’s key investments? Secondly, we need to protect sovereign debt. Naturally, there is a need for Eurobonds, but in this emergency in which we find ourselves, there is an urgent need for the European Central Bank to, directly or indirectly, defend sovereign debt from speculators. This should not be done shamefacedly, but with a definitive, decisive position, as is incumbent on any central bank defending its currency and the economy that supports it.

What is needed, to this end, is not Treaty change: what is needed is political will and belief in Europe. Let us change the Treaty when we have learned all the lessons from the present crisis: there is no shortage of lessons to be learned, but this is surely not the time.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts (Verts/ALE).(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, I shall address you first of all. I believe that our fellow citizens are very aware of the fact that we are living in difficult times and that significant efforts are needed.

Three conditions must be met if our fellow citizens are to agree to these efforts. Firstly, these efforts must be fair. Yet experience shows that there is a very long way to go before the criterion of social justice is met in the adjustment plans and the structural reform plans that your Commission and your Directorate-General are imposing on Member States that are today following a programme.

Secondly, the required efforts must be credible enough to be seen as offering a solution. Here too, there is a long way to go. Two years have passed since the start of the sovereign debt crisis, and it does not feel as though we are overcoming it.

Thirdly, the efforts required must be done so in accordance with a democratically legitimate approach. I wish to say something to you regarding the two proposals that you made last Wednesday. I am genuinely concerned about your intention to give the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission, the power to oversee Member States’ budgets, the power to intervene directly in Member States’ affairs, with no regard whatsoever for what the United States calls checks and balances, in other words the democratic legitimacy of the solutions proposed. As a democrat, I have no problem in recognising that I may be in the minority, ideologically speaking. However, I do have a problem when an ideology is imposed without any democratic oversight whatsoever.

If the measures that you are recommending are adopted by this House today, I shall accept them. However, when they are decided behind closed doors by a Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs that operates without any supervision, that is something that no one in Europe can accept.

 
  
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  Mario Borghezio (EFD).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, a few hours ago President Van Rompuy declared that the Member States need to renounce their sovereignty in order to find a solution to rescue the economic and financial situation in the euro area and in Europe.

This could prove a huge sacrifice for those who, every day, or at least during celebrations, such as the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, flock together and pride themselves on symbols of national unity and flags. It may be less of a sacrifice for us representatives of Padania, but I ask President Van Rompuy and the other exponents of the European elite: what will we get in return for renouncing our national sovereignty? A bluff, because where are we going to get, for example, the EUR 400-600 billion in aid that Italy is being promised, at least according to the rumours that are circulating? Certainly not from the International Monetary Fund.

As regards intervention by the European Central Bank, there is the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of the Treaties, and so we ask ourselves: are these requests genuine, or are they a bluff? Are we taking things seriously? What are we talking about?

I believe that Italy’s present situation, with its three-year government bonds standing at 8%, does not offer much in the way of hope, at least not in the short and medium terms. This is extremely worrying! I should also like to learn more about the Plan B that various States are rumoured to be preparing – it is even being said that Germany is preparing to mark euros with an indelible inscription that is supposed to guarantee the German character of those euros. We should like to learn more from Mr Monti’s mysterious advisors.

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

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I have now listened to three speakers complaining about the surrender of sovereign rights. Therefore, I would like to ask my fellow Member whether he is aware that this has long since turned into bogus sovereignty which only exists on paper and that Europe can only act jointly as a sovereign power with regard to the USA, China and other large powers. We must exercise our sovereign rights jointly. Is that not what he means?

 
  
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  Mario Borghezio (EFD).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I would say to Mr Posselt that sovereignty represents the cultural and hence political identity of the Member States. It is inalienable from the point of view of, say, belonging, and the Union that our free countries have built through European integration must never overlook, overshadow or abolish the principle of national sovereignty, which must remain in force unless we accept – which we shall never do – a certain principle: that of the construction of a superstate that destroys the identity and hence also the rights and freedoms of the individual States and the individual regions.

 
  
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  Constance Le Grip (PPE).(FR) Madam President, firstly I should like to pay tribute to the Polish Presidency for its dynamism and determination.

Next week, in the Council, our Heads of State or Government are going to have to take decisions that will be crucial to the future of the euro area, to the future of the Union. They are also going to have to give serious thought to boosting growth.

That being said, it is clear today that financial stability has become the top priority and that the pressure on euro area countries that is coming not only from outside, but also from within, the euro area is destroying our credibility and undermining confidence. If we are to have any hope of restoring confidence, we need to restore financial stability and stop the terrible increase in national deficits and sovereign debt.

Financial stability has therefore clearly become the top priority and an urgent requirement for us all. Moreover, our democracies have all invested in very courageous programmes to consolidate their public finances and reduce their debt, and financial stability is also the prerequisite for any return to growth. However, when we say financial stability and budgetary restraint – because the two go together, of course – we should also include in that solidarity. I feel it is important to ensure this interplay between financial stability, budgetary restraint and solidarity.

One final word on democracy. We must be careful not to disempower our democratic institutions. Rather than contemplating the use of a judicial mechanism to, say, punish countries for any budgetary excesses, let us think about supervisory and penalty mechanisms that democratic institutions can use.

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

 
  
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  Barry Madlener (NI). - (NL) Madam President, I would like to ask Ms Le Grip whether her fellow party member, Minister Alain Juppé, has gone mad, or whether his statement truly represents his party’s position. He said today that violent armed conflicts would break out across Europe if we no longer had the euro. Do you share that view, Ms Le Grip, or has Mr Juppé just gone slightly bonkers?

 
  
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  Constance Le Grip (PPE).(FR) To be perfectly honest, I am not the French Foreign Affairs Minister’s spokesperson and, even though I belong to the same political party as him, I am not always in a position to relay the statements he makes. Once again, to be perfectly honest, I am not aware of any recent statements that Alain Juppé has made to that effect.

Quite simply, I believe that France’s current position is to affirm, to constantly reaffirm, that the euro is truly the heart of our European project, that safeguarding the euro means safeguarding this common project and safeguarding the European Union, and that, as part of this effort to safeguard the euro, we clearly have to think of the future, of protecting the younger generations and of maintaining peace on our continent.

 
  
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  Roberto Gualtieri (S&D).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the situation is coming to a head, and it is time to act with the speed and effectiveness that has so far been lacking.

Relying on the miraculous effect of a Treaty reform announcement would be pointless and counterproductive. Embarking on the risky road towards an intergovernmental treaty would have a quite devastating effect on the markets. Reforming the Treaties takes too long; an intergovernmental agreement will not result in any kind of fiscal union. The truth is that the problem facing the EU today is a political problem, not an institutional one.

It is possible, under the current Treaty, to strengthen economic convergence, enhance fiscal discipline, maintain stability in the euro area and boost growth. The two new proposals for regulations tabled by the Commission demonstrate this, and with that legal basis, Article 136, it is possible to go even further, including with regard to the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The flexibility clause would make it possible to increase the powers of the euro area, and Article 122(2) is an appropriate basis for that extraordinary Eurobond-based debt redemption fund proposed by the German Council of Economic Experts.

In short, one has the feeling that Treaty reform is being sought so as to avoid codecision, so as to have less rather than more Europe. Hence there are no excuses: immediate action must be taken and the foundations laid for the full creation, with the citizens’ consent, of a fiscal union based on stability, growth, solidarity and democracy, one that ultimately serves as the basis for that reform of the Treaties, which is too important a goal to be compromised by a clumsy, ill-timed reform that would be legally unnecessary, economically insignificant and politically harmful today.

 
  
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  Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PPE). - Madam President, at this critical juncture, with the European Union in crisis, let me say the following.

First, the problem we are facing is excessive debt and the macroeconomic imbalance of some eurozone Member States and some candidates. It is not a problem of the euro as a currency. It is problem of excessive indebtedness and the problem of healthy and unhealthy countries. It is therefore a horizontal problem of the whole Union and not of a euro club. Therefore the answer should be given at EU level, not at a subgroup level. Attempts to organise or institutionalise a small Union within the big Union are detrimental to European unity and destructive for overall EU architecture, as well as for growth.

After the great success of reuniting our continent, we risk dividing, unravelling, undoing reunification and risk starting ‘détricotage’ as the French say, negative spillback, encouraging divergence rather than convergence. Candidates, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, are worried about being excluded and relegated to second-class membership and bound to enter the core Union for the second time. A large or small Treaty change should be done by all 27 countries – or at least 23: eurozone members and candidates willing and committed. Instruments like Eurobonds and the ECB’s new role should eventually be open to all of them.

In conclusion, we should save the euro in the whole boat of the European Union, not only the first-class compartments of the European vessel. Cutting the vessel into pieces is not a solution: all of it will sink. We need more Community Europe and not to go back to two Europes.

 
  
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  Anni Podimata (S&D).(EL) Madam President, Mr Vice-President of the European Commission, you said in your introductory speech that we have very constrained room for manoeuvre, meaning that time is of the essence. You are absolutely right but, as time clearly is of the essence, why do we not say, directly and openly, that it would be a mistake to start debating changes to the Treaties at this point in time? It would be a mistake, not only because institutional changes cannot and must not be made under conditions of pressure and crisis, given the risk of giving birth to a monster, but also because they will inevitably prolong the uncertainty and reinforce intra-European differences and, hence, the misgivings of the markets.

We need stability and fiscal discipline, but we also need growth and social justice; we need fair cost-sharing. We need a combination of solidarity and responsibility, not only between the Member States, but within the Member States. In other words, Commissioner, we need a new package that includes stricter fiscal discipline. We have the rules; we adopted the six-pack and the Commission presented its new proposals last week.

We therefore need stricter fiscal rules, Eurobonds and a financial transaction tax, in a single package, in order to safeguard these principles.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Madam President, first of all please allow me to describe the future and define what I wish to say on the basis of the general economic situation, which determines my scope.

I am very pleased that the Council has finally defined the priorities in connection with which fast steps must be taken. However, this is where we stopped. Somehow these fast steps were not taken. Much greater attention should be paid to aspects that encourage the growth of European policies. We need to do this in order to be able to maximise the EU’s contribution to its economic development.

In this situation there is no doubt that Member States’ budgetary consolidation is of outstanding importance, as is the reduction of debt. If we fail to do this the problems of the European Union will be re-created again and again, giving further cause for concern.

At the meetings of the European Council, you outline large-scale ideas and long-term plans in every case. Unfortunately in the short term these initiatives have no calming effect on the markets at all. In fact, they achieve the opposite effect. As a result of the negative feedback and incorrect statements it is becoming increasingly more expensive to finance the Member States.

As I see it, much more determined action is required in the interest of realising the concrete objectives. In the interest of this it is of vital importance to harmonise the measures taken by the Member States and your plans. However, this requires credibility and determination. Determination and action. Commissioner, I have looked for this determination. I have looked for it very much in your speech.

 
  
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  Marietta Giannakou (PPE).(EL) Madam President, all of us frequently talk about the crisis as if it were an external problem that has nothing to do with how we were living before it or as if it has nothing to do with a number of mistakes that were made. However, that is not the truth of the matter. We have reached the point of discussing changes to the Treaties without having exhausted the possibilities in terms of Treaty of Lisbon case-law and, at the same time, we are calling for changes to be made to the Treaties on a limited number of issues, even though we know that they cannot be made, because that would mean setting up a European Convention and issues cannot be limited in a political body. No one can do that.

We therefore need to clarify our position. We need to clarify precisely what we want, because changing the Treaties is a question of procedure. It is not a question of reality or essence. We need to clarify what each of us wants. In other words, we need to clarify if we want a more advanced, more political Europe with standard economic rules, with fiscal discipline, with a single modus operandi – in other words real economic and monetary union – or if we want something else. All the members of the European Union have a say on this issue, not just the members of the euro area.

Without doubt, the December Council will be crucial. I think that we also need to exercise a little self-criticism. The delays that have occurred have given the markets the opportunity to take control. Therefore, we are at risk of a sort of indirect abolition of democracy. It is therefore vital for the European leaders to all pull together and determine their stance on this.

 
  
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  Theodor Dumitru Stolojan (PPE) . – (RO) Madam President, we are obviously waiting impatiently for the new measures which the European Council is going to adopt, about which there is a huge amount of discussion. I totally concur with what Commissioner Rehn said, which was that the credibility of the European Union and all its actors also depends enormously on how we implement the decisions which have been made. On this score, unfortunately, things are not going too well. Let me give you the example of the European Financial Stability Facility. The decision was made in October to increase this facility’s commitments, but it is not happening. For the moment, we do not have very good news either about the progress of the negotiations between the private creditors and the Greek Government, with the private creditors committed to reducing public debt by 50%.

This means that the decisions which we have made need to be implemented with the utmost rigour because the credibility of the European Union and that of the euro depend on this as well. I would obviously be pleased if I could receive some communication from the European Commission by the end of this year about how these decisions are being implemented.

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE).(PL) Madam President, I would like to speak on behalf of my voters, of all of our voters and of the many millions of Europeans who for at least two years have been feeling lost and alarmed at the signals coming from successive meetings in Brussels. They are for the most part citizens who believe in the European project and who wish it every success. It is our duty today to present them with a credible way to escape from the current crisis situation. What is needed is the truth. We need to tell them the truth, and we need to be in contact with the citizens and civil society. This is why after the Treaty of Lisbon we gave ourselves such instruments as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the President of the European Council, so that the voice of the European Union would be heard, and so that there would be people with whom the idea of a united Europe could be identified.

Therefore I appeal here to the President of the European Council Mr Van Rompuy to use this opportunity to make an official address, an official statement of policy, to the citizens of Europe, broadcast by all the television stations of the Member States at the same time. Let us move to the next level of communication. The citizens need an exchange of opinions, and they expect an unequivocal opinion to come from Brussels. I would like to ask Mr Dowgielewicz, who is representing the Polish Presidency, to convey this request to Mr Van Rompuy.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE).(PL) Madam President, it is high time we stopped entertaining illusions that the problems of the euro area concern only those countries which have been pursuing an extravagant or irresponsible macrofinancial policy. Recent events – problems with selling German debt securities, the pillar of the European economy – provoke the question as to where this will all end. Recent events have confirmed that no country in Europe is safe in the face of the unprecedented panic in the financial markets. It is high time that radical and rapid action be taken, and we should call on the European Council to do this.

We hear the Council is to consider proposals to revise the Treaties. So I have a question about how these revisions are to be ratified. They cannot, after all, be carried out using a simplified revision procedure because of the strong interference in the sovereignty of the Member States. We must remember that any kind of change requires in some countries that a referendum be held. How does the Council intend to convince the people of Ireland that the proposed changes are in their interests and not in those of international banks? There can be no doubt that the time has come for radical decisions and original ideas to ensure financial stability. Nothing can be rejected or precluded in advance. Every measure should be put in place which can help give greater internal strength to the whole of a Europe of 27 countries.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE).(PL) ... and the financial institutions are losing patience. So far, important decisions have constantly been promised, but when made they have turned out to be limited, fragmentary and overdue. This kind of response does not lend credibility to further decisions which are made or announced. The eyes of many of us have been turned on France and Germany. Their leaders have met very often, but these meetings have not produced concrete proposals. We understand their situation, which is caused by the fact that elections are soon to be held in these countries. In this case, the President of the European Council Mr Van Rompuy should begin to play a more prominent role and come up with specific proposals. From his statements it can be seen that he has good ideas concerning the Union’s future economic governance.

Economic coordination should begin by initiating a system for monitoring national budgets at EU level. The evaluation of national budgets and comments made on them would be useful to all Member States, including those just mentioned. Monitoring a Member State’s budget does not amount to an attack on national sovereignty. Sovereignty is compromised by living on credit and staying in debt.

 
  
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  Georgios Koumoutsakos (PPE).(EL) Madam President, Commissioner, two years ago, the breakup of the euro area and the end of the euro were simply unthinkable. Then the unthinkable became a nightmare and now we are on the brink of the nightmare becoming dreadful reality. There is no time to spare. There is drastically little time left, due to the inability of our leaders to adopt integrated decisions promptly. We are behaving like marathon runners in a sprint and our backs are against the wall.

A review of the Treaties is not the right response given the urgency of the matter, is not the right response in these critical times. The right response in these critical times is to adopt instant-return measures, from which we should not exclude a more active and dynamic role on the part of the European Central Bank. I am aware of the problems, I am aware of the counter-arguments, but I believe that, with strong political will and the right degree of flexibility, we will have in our hands the best possible weapon for dealing with the crisis right now.

 
  
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  Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D). (ES) Madam President, once again the European Council meets in a critical situation, even more so than the preceding one, which was already bad enough. We have made mistakes in our diagnosis, our strategy and our proposed solutions, not for lack of good judgment in these debates, but of the resolve to act accordingly.

The Commission drags its feet when it comes to implementing the initiatives of a directorate formed by two governments that not only ignore the rest of the Member States, but do not even listen to the Commission and the European Parliament.

What we need is not a reform of the Treaties to impose even more severe punishments on countries that are already suffering, thereby causing them even more distress. On the contrary, what we need is to correct the congenital defects which the euro, our common currency, was born with. That requires authorising the European Central Bank to act as lender of last resort, to intervene in the markets and indeed to authorise the issue of bonds.

We must not add to the errors we have already committed with a misapprehension – that of confusing the problems we have to tackle with their mere symptoms.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D).(PT) Madam President, the fire has now started to reach Germany’s house; the fire that Chancellor Merkel lit with her disastrous declarations, and which she has been having to hide, without, however, stopping Europe from being buried ever deeper in its inability to tackle market speculation. Germany is pushing us into running blindly ahead, and it is idiocy. It is political idiocy that will not ease the markets’ lack of confidence or prevent the destruction of the euro.

The Commission’s duty, Commissioner, is not to go backwards; it is to stop this criminal insanity. What we need at this critical point is for the European Council to learn from firemen and announce that the European Central Bank is going to operate as a central bank; that it will, therefore, be a lender of last resort for our Member States; that we will mutualise the debt; that we will attempt to harmonise taxes and declare a financial transaction tax, so as to stem the flow of resources towards tax havens and invest in European policies that give concrete expression to the words ‘solidarity’ and ‘convergence’, in order to save the euro.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D). - Madam President, in these times of crisis, in the face of urgent market-led pressures, the agenda set by the leaders of Europe seems to keep ignoring the root causes of the threat to the survival of our common currency.

The major trigger was cataclysmic financial market failure in 2008, subsequently fuelled by deepening asymmetries between the centre of Europe and its periphery. State-led intervention to rescue the banking system then precipitated a sovereign debt crisis made unsustainable by the current architecture of the euro. The reason why I often choose to reiterate this exercise of hindsight is the fact that it seems to be forgotten when our European leaders meet to resume their exercise in crisis management. Instead the focus has been on dealing with sovereign debt as if it were the cause of our predicament rather than a dangerous symptom of a serious malady. The systemic nature of external trade disparities and current account imbalances when Member States are bound by the same currency while at different stages of economic development has not proved self-correcting and it is in fact self-aggravating.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Madam President, summit after summit, we continue to see the crisis worsening. Better decisions and measures that could increase confidence in the euro and the European economy are always promised, as Commissioner Rehn has just mentioned. In real life, however, what we have is the exacerbation of inequality, unemployment and poverty; it is a path towards economic recession and social disaster. Meanwhile, the attacks on the sovereignty of countries with weaker economies, on the most basic principles of democracy, and on social and labour rights are intensifying. That is why there is increasing frustration with the policies of the European Union and social struggles are intensifying in various Member States.

The intention behind the measures they are proposing – specifically, Treaty change – is to speed up the concentration and centralisation of economic and political power, so transforming the outlying countries into mere protectorates, subject to relationships of veritable colonialism. This is an unacceptable path that can only lead to the implosion of the euro area and of the European Union itself.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI).(DE) Madam President, our citizens are calling for effective action. Again and again, the public sees politicians being forced to take frantic measures and being pushed around by the rating agencies and the financial markets. The citizens of Europe are asking themselves where genuine government can still be found. As long as we go on conceding or even handing over power to the financial markets, political action will come bottom of the list.

At this Council Summit we want to see concrete measures being taken on behalf of our citizens. They are the ones who are unemployed. We must invest in sustainable projects to strengthen the labour market by providing a supply of well-trained workers.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Madam President, there is no doubt that, other things being equal, the European Council would indeed like to maximise economic growth throughout the Union, but decision-taking involves not just what we would like, but the priority we give to each desired end.

I am afraid the European Council has greater priorities: to preserve the eurozone and fiscal and political union as ends in themselves, as well as to save the euro. The whole current debate about bailouts for Greece and other countries is as though the purpose were a charitable one. It is not. It is not about providing help for the Greek economy, but about sacrificing the Greek economy for the integrity and prestige of the eurozone.

If Greece and other ailing countries were allowed to withdraw from the zone and revert to their own currencies, the value of those currencies would fall, reducing the price of their exports – visible and invisible – such as tourism, and bring about an export-led boom. Whilst their debt burdens would increase, there will be default anyway, inside or outside of the zone.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. Madam President, we are indeed entering a critical period of ten days to complete a comprehensive and effective response to the crisis by the European Union. European citizens are calling for decisive action from leaders in order to protect sustainable growth and employment and in order to counter the contagion that is currently going on in the financial markets, which is threatening our jobs and growth.

This means that countries under market pressure need to continue to put their fiscal house in order and reform their economies to generate growth and jobs. This work is going on, not only in the ‘programme countries’, but more recently, for instance in Belgium and Italy with new governments, new budgets and/or other new perspectives.

In parallel we must reinforce our economic governance and strengthen massively our financial firewalls to counter the speculation in the markets. To be credible and effective these efforts must be based on the Community method. That is the Commission’s position on how to tackle the crisis.

We need to work on all relevant fronts. Yes, the decisions of the eurozone summit of October need to be fully implemented. That is a necessary, even if not sufficient, condition of overcoming the crisis.

As to the Treaty-change debate, let us be clear on that. A Treaty change cannot offer an immediate contribution to the solution of the current crisis. But it is true that reinforcing fiscal discipline and economic surveillance, in the euro area in particular, may help to prevent any future fiscal crisis. Thus it matters to the confidence in the construct of the euro, which has been questioned in recent weeks.

In the meantime, the Commission has taken the initiative and we have proposed new legislation that will strengthen economic governance significantly. We have done that within the scope of the current Treaty.

The two regulations which I introduced today, based on Article 136, will ensure closer monitoring of fiscal and economic policies. They add another building block onto the economic and fiscal union and especially onto tighter fiscal surveillance based on the ‘six-pack’ legislation which you have recently approved. I sensed yesterday in the Euro Group and today in the Ecofin meeting of Finance Ministers that there is strong support for these proposals – and even going beyond these proposals – among the Ministers. I trust that is also the case here in the European Parliament.

Concerning our financial firewalls, the Euro Group yesterday took important decisions on the leveraging of the EFSF and thus reinforcing the financial firewalls. These have already been welcomed by several market participants, including the Institute of International Finance. In the very short term – or rather immediate term – this work must continue and we must consider further means to reinforce this leveraging effect, for instance through increasing resources available from the IMF for the European Union. In the longer – or rather already medium term – the Green Paper on stability bonds lays out credible options which to a different extent, depending on the option considered, could bring us closer to a fiscal union, could protect us better against speculative attacks, and would also reassure markets to have confidence in the credibility of the euro.

Let me underline again – as I said in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs a few days ago and I have said several times before other compositions of Parliament – the necessary condition for considering any serious move towards Eurobonds or stability bonds is a further and very substantial reinforcement of economic governance to ensure fiscal discipline and economic stability, in fact to build a real fiscal union or an ever-closer economic union.

The European Council will at this critical juncture need to take bold and determined action to reverse the current negative dynamics in the financial markets. It calls for immediate decisions both to ensure fiscal consolidation and growth-boosting reforms in the Member States. It calls for further reinforcement of our financial firewalls and for a road map on how to further reinforce economic governance and in parallel to put in place new stability instruments and thus to create a true economic union. Our citizens expect us to do whatever is needed in order to protect jobs and growth and we can best do it by deeper economic integration in Europe.

 
  
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  Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. Madam President, Vice-President of the Commission, honourable Members, I want to start where Commissioner Rehn ended. I think we will best use the 10 days left before the European Council to prepare it in such a way that we can find the right responses and that it will be a set of decisions that will bring confidence and will allow us to set the course for long-term solutions for the eurozone.

Now I also want to reiterate what Commissioner Rehn stressed: that we believe very strongly that solutions must be found in full unity in the circle of twenty-seven; they must be found in a very ambitious way, with open minds and, when I say this, I also think that the European Council will have to balance a number of positions and interests to deliver a solution – a package deal – which will mean that delegations will also have to shift.

A number of Members of Parliament have today referred to their national discussions on the Eurobonds, on various consolidating measures, on the role of the Commission in the surveillance of national budgets. I think we all have to realise that the stakes are so high that everybody will have to show flexibility and I think this is very much the appeal that the Commission, the President of the European Council and the Presidency share and try to promote.

I also want to say that in fact I find in this debate today a very large degree of consensus on what needs to be done. I think this is exactly what unites us: the determination to provide more solid economic governance, to provide more stability and at the same time to provide more solidarity. I think that this is the message that we all share: solidity, solidarity, stability, three ‘S’s.

My last word is on the MFF because I did not mention the MFF in my introductory remarks. As you know, the Presidency has started those difficult negotiations; I would just like to inform the House that we have advanced them and we have prepared the Presidency report, which will be presented and discussed at the General Affairs Council but also presented to the European Council for information.

We do not believe this is the moment for the European Council to discuss the MFF; nevertheless the Presidency is finishing a certain very important stage of those negotiations and, as we pass the baton to the Danish Presidency, wishing them much good luck with this file, I hope that we will also be able to set out some guidelines concerning the timetable of the work on the MFF for next year. I think that the objective, shared also with Parliament, should be to agree on the MFF by the end of 2012.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing.(PT) The crisis in the euro area, including its expression in terms of sovereign debt, has some causes that are structural and others relating to this specific situation. The first group of causes relate to the expression that the unequal development of the capitalism characteristic of the EU is taking on: asymmetrical interdependence, which relegates the outlying countries and weaker economies to a subordinate and unfavourable position in the process of international division of labour. In this process, the links between the countries’ systems of production are broken, leading to increased external dependence, to the various deficits and to external debt. The second group relate to the conditions created by financial speculators: as other speculative bubbles have either dried up or burst, these have focused on sovereign debt. Free movement of capital, tax havens, derivatives and related speculative practices, lack of taxation of financial transactions, and the role given to the credit rating agencies; all of this creates a framework that makes it possible to speculate on sovereign debt.

Summit after summit, debate after debate, these causes remain untouched. That is the fundamental issue that has been ducked in this debate, both by the Commission and by the majority in this House; worse still, what they are doing is taking steps to entrench some of these causes.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D), in writing. – (SK) The December meeting of the Council will be a turning point. There is no parallel to the current situation in post-war European history, and it is now a question of the survival and preservation of the European project. The main item will be how to halt the eurozone crisis. I was interested, however, by one phrase in the meeting agenda referring to a discussion on the ‘economic convergence of the eurozone’ at the meeting. I would very much like to know what sort of convergence the EU leaders wish to discuss. A convergence which does not exist? A convergence rendered impossible by way the eurozone is set up? The way the eurozone was modelled from the beginning has contributed to the fact that we are now talking about structural imbalances in Europe. It is simply a logical consequence of the eurozone set-up that we now have countries with a surplus, such as Germany, and countries with a deficit, such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Therefore, not only does eurozone convergence not exist, but, on the contrary, the eurozone contributes to the worsening of internal imbalances. If the leaders really want to talk about 'strengthening convergence', they cannot avoid the fundamental question of what to do about the eurozone. The meeting agenda also includes the item ‘deepening economic union’. If the Council is going to insist that budgetary discipline is the priority, and if the leaders do not realise that some form of transfer union is inevitable, then the meeting will get nowhere. It has to be understood that the time has come for fundamental decisions to be taken. If we hesitate, we may never get a chance like this again.

 
  
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  András Gyürk (PPE), in writing. – (HU) The Council meeting of 8-9 December will be dominated by the search for a solution to the euro crisis. However, besides short and medium-term crisis management, I find it important that sufficient attention be devoted to the Europe 2020 strategy and to the EU energy policy as well, as a possible gas crisis would just pile up the negative effects of the financial crisis even further. I am very pleased that in spite of the financial difficulties, investments are made as part of the continued efforts aimed at creating the EU energy market. An excellent example of this is that on the eve of the Energy Council meeting of last week the countries of the Eastern European region signed the declaration of intent on the creation of the North-South Energy Corridor. The fundamental objective of the Member States participating in the collaboration is to reduce the import dependence of the region by making north-south energy transportation possible. They wish to achieve this through the appropriate linking of the gas, oil and electric energy networks. The urgency of the signatory countries is understandable, as the citizens of the region still recollect clearly the winter of 2009, when Russia shut off the gas taps precisely at the coldest time of the year. However, narrow cross-sections do not only represent a significant problem during a gas crisis, but during our everyday lives, too. The infrastructure between the Central Eastern energy markets is inadequate, which is why energy flow is frequently not free of obstruction. In my opinion this collaboration is an excellent example of the need for coordination at regional and EU level, even at the time of an economic crisis. This also highlights that we have no time to waste if by 2014 we want to create a unified energy market that really does work.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE), in writing. (FI) Ordinary people are losing their faith in the ability of EU leaders to solve the economic crisis. The unemployment rate in the eurozone has risen to an all-time record. According to Eurostat, which is responsible for statistical data on the EU, unemployment was 10.3% in October. It is feared that it will increase even further in the near future. The worsening situation is cause for grave concern.

Once again, the EU is preparing for a ‘decisive’ summit meeting. Over this past year, there has already been an untold number of meetings considered ‘decisive’ from the perspective of the economic crisis. It is important to try to save the euro and the EU, but this cannot be allowed to happen at the expense of everything else.

Our society today is rapidly becoming less equal, with people dividing more and more into winners and losers. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. One wonders where that famous social Europe is exactly; or, rather, where it has actually gone. The time has come for EU leaders to roll up their sleeves. We need to start working together properly for a socially fairer Europe.

 
  
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  Marian-Jean Marinescu (PPE), in writing.(RO) The discussion on extending the Schengen area to Romania and Bulgaria is also an item on the agenda of the forthcoming European Council meeting. Both states have implemented the provisions of the Schengen acquis in full, thereby meeting all the criteria required for entry into the European area of free movement. Their accession must take place as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Netherlands is the only country with an opposing stance, without any justification based on European legislation. I think that this situation must be clarified as part of the forthcoming European Council meeting. The Council must assess this situation in light of the EU legislation and Treaties and make a decision which it will issue to Europe’s ministers of justice and internal affairs. The JHA Council, which is going to meet in December, must do what is required so that both States are granted what they deserve, having fulfilled all the requirements.

 
  
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  Alfredo Pallone (PPE), in writing.(IT) Solidarity among the EU Member States must be accompanied by a sense of responsibility and compliance with the rules, which the States cannot and must not infringe. However, solidarity cannot and must not be one-sided: being part of a Union with shared ideals and values means committing oneself to growth and development and supporting each other even in times of trouble. I ask myself and I ask you, therefore, how fiscal and budgetary discipline, how oversight by the institutions, can be correlated with growth and development. In this context, we can and must introduce the system of Eurobonds. The European economy cannot be kick-started without the strength of the euro being used at the same time. Eurobonds act as a link between budgetary rigour and continent-wide development; they are the ultimate objective of that interdependence that today characterises European coexistence, strict fiscal discipline notwithstanding. We have a European Union with uncertain operational capacity and a huge democratic deficit rather than the strength of a structure in which the States’ responsibilities, as those of a federal entity, are clearly identified. A shift from the European Union to the United States of Europe is required.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), in writing. – (RO) The European Council meeting on 9 December 2011 will debate as a priority the EU’s economic situation, the debt crisis in Member States and the increase in convergence within the euro area, as well as issues related to completing the internal market and implementing the Digital Agenda. However, Europe’s leaders ought to adopt urgent measures promoting economic growth and job creation. In this context, the measures relating to increasing energy efficiency, completing the internal energy market and developing the energy infrastructure are becoming of paramount importance to energy security and to stabilising the EU’s balance of trade. The European Council should examine the results of the resistance tests which nuclear power plants in various Member States underwent, and adopt decisions aimed at increasing the safety of Europe’s nuclear reactors. Furthermore, the development of the transport and information and communications technology infrastructures is vital to completing the internal market and to the EU’s economic and social development. All these measures which are aimed at economic growth and job creation should be correlated and supported via the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework. I welcome the inclusion on the agenda of December’s European Council meeting of an item concerning the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area, as well as the signature of Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty.

 

15. Accession Treaty : Treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Croatia - Application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the joint debate on:

– the recommendation (A7-0390/2011) by Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the draft Decision of the Council of the European Union on the admission of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union [14409/2011 – 2011/0805(NLE)], and

– the report (A7-0389/2011) by Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union [2011/2191(INI)].

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, rapporteur. (DE) Madam President, Mr Dowgielewicz, Mr Füle, I would like to welcome the group of guests from Croatia which is headed by the speaker of the Croatian Parliament Mr Bebić, several Members of the Croatian Parliament and also the chief negotiator and Croatian ambassador to the EU.

I must admit, ladies and gentlemen, that it makes me feel very happy and quite emotional to submit my last report on Croatia to Parliament today and to ask you to give your agreement to Croatia’s accession to the EU. It has been a long and sometimes very difficult process. During the accession negotiations I dealt with three prime ministers, Ivica Račan, Ivo Sanader and Jadranka Kosor, and, of course, with many other politicians, including Vesna Pusić, Zoran Milanović and Milorad Pupovac. All of these politicians have shown a great deal of maturity across party boundaries and have committed to taking a joint approach to European questions. This sets a good example, in particular for the other countries in the region. I would like to thank the highly committed shadow rapporteurs. We have worked together extremely well. Of course, I would also like to thank the Commission and, in particular, Mr Füle. As far as it is possible, I would also like to give my sincere thanks to the Council.

Only by putting in place a consistent policy on the European side have we succeeded in ensuring, together with the responsible politicians in Croatia, that Croatia has made the necessary reforms and, above all, has begun working together with the International Criminal Court in The Hague and has since increased its cooperation. This is not about revenge or about European sensitivities. It is about the fact that only by coming to terms with one’s own history is it possible to reappraise the mistakes made in the past. I have never seen this as a criticism of Croatia’s right to defend itself. It is only a criticism of the fact that some of these situations may have been exploited in order to commit war crimes. That is the decisive issue and not the question of Croatia in and of itself.

However, a great deal has also been done in the fight against corruption. For me, the fact that a former prime minister is standing trial is not evidence of how widespread corruption is. Instead, it is evidence that Croatia is coming to grips with and overcoming the problem of corruption.

Of course, the judicial system has also been reformed and significant progress has been made. In addition, there will be a monitoring mechanism in place, which is important from my perspective, because the Commission will ensure that the reforms are continued before the actual accession takes place.

The efforts made to integrate the returning Serbian refugees were also important and Croatia has achieved a great deal in this area. I would particularly like to thank the two presidents, Ivo Josipović and Boris Tadić, for having the courage to take joint action, in particular with regard to their visit to Vukovar. I travelled to Vukovar a few weeks after the dreadful destruction and I have seen what human aggression can do when it is incited by unscrupulous politicians. However, on my most recent visit I also found that there are many people living in Vukovar who are looking to the future. I went to a school attended by both Croatian and Serbian children and discovered that they were prepared to talk about the future. There I had one of the best discussions about Europe that I have ever had. The people in Vukovar know what Europe is all about, which many of us have forgotten. Europe is about overcoming hate and conflict.

There in Vukovar I looked across the Danube, a river that should increasingly be bringing people together rather than dividing them. The citizens of Croatia understand this too.

Against this background, I would like to say that I am convinced that for precisely these reasons Croatia will do everything it can to give the other countries in the region the opportunity to join the European Union. Neighbourhood policy is an important area. I would like to mention once again that I am very grateful for the fact that Croatia and Slovenia – and I would like to mention the Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor in this respect – have succeeded in bringing an end to their long dispute and have initiated a process which will put a stop to the border conflict and the border disagreements.

For me, the accession of Croatia is an important step towards European integration. I hope that the Council will be brave enough to make a move with regard to Serbia and Montenegro in the near future which will demonstrate that the integration process will continue even after Croatia’s accession. I know that many people in Europe today think that enlargement lies at the heart of our problems and is also the cause of them. However, it is not the constitutions of the new countries that have failed. Furthermore, the economic problems were not brought about by the new countries but by the old ones.

For this reason, I hope that tomorrow there will be a broad majority in favour of the accession of Croatia and that this will generate hope and confidence. During a phase of pessimism, which we have just been discussing, and even sometimes of defeatism, it is important to show that we believe in Europe. We believe in Europe together with Croatia and we will work with Croatia to develop and defend this new Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RODI KRATSA-TSAGAROPOULOU
Vice-President

 
  
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  Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. − Madam President, Commissioner, honourable Members, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate; it is one of the final stages of a process which will lead in a few days’ time to the signature of the Croatian Accession Treaty which will turn that country into the 28th member of the European Union. This is a very positive development. I think we can all congratulate Croatia on achieving a successful outcome to the lengthy process of negotiating accession.

I want to use this occasion to reiterate a firm belief that enlargement policy is one of the biggest successes of the European Union. European integration has as one of its primary objectives the strengthening of peace, stability and reconciliation. Enlargement is one of the main instruments for reaching these objectives. At a time when the Union is facing very significant challenges, which we just discussed a few minutes ago, the accession of Croatia reminds us of the reasons why Europeans have chosen to cooperate in the unique framework that is the European Union. It reminds us of the extraordinary success of European integration as witnessed by the aspirations of others to become part of that success, and this Parliament has been unfailing in its support for Croatia throughout the negotiating process. I want to thank you for that support.

I want to underline today that one of the cornerstones of the renewed consensus on enlargement is the ‘own merits’ principle: candidates progress according to their own efforts in meeting the strict conditionality laid down by the EU. This conditionality is essential for ensuring that they are ready for membership. Membership of the EU of course brings significant benefits but it also brings with it obligations. These obligations themselves serve to ensure that all citizens are able to take full advantage of membership and this has a direct bearing on the credibility of the whole enlargement policy. It is something which I cannot underline enough.

There is also another important aspect of credibility in the process. If the candidate fulfils the criteria set for membership, the EU also delivers on its promises. Provided that you give your consent to the accession of Croatia, the Accession Treaty can be signed next Friday here in Brussels. Since the ceremony will take place in the morning, the Croatian Prime Minister, Ms Kosor, will be able to be able to participate as an observer at the European Council later the same day. Let us hope she will witness a very optimistic and united European Council.

I want also to mention and underline that the work on Croatia’s accession is not yet over. As stated by the European Council in June, Croatia will need to continue its reform efforts with the same vigour so as to be able to assume fully the obligations of membership from the date of accession. Further sustainable results and improved track records are expected. Close monitoring of progress in all areas before accession will continue, particularly in relation to judiciary and fundamental rights issues (Chapter 23) and to the area of justice, freedom and security (Chapter 24).

The Council has therefore been considering the Commission’s progress report on Croatia and the ongoing monitoring for all the negotiating chapters. Let me assure you that the Council, closely assisted by the Commission, will continue to follow and assess developments and will keep this Parliament fully informed. Of course, let us not forget that the future accession of Croatia is significant for the whole region. It is a very positive sign and it should be read as such a positive sign to foster stability, peace, prosperity and reconciliation based on good neighbourly relations.

This fact, this event – the signature of the Treaty – should also be a very strong encouragement to the other countries in the region to follow the same values, to follow reconciliation with neighbours and to show full determination on the road to fulfilling the accession criteria. We hope this event on 9 December will give a new momentum to the European perspective of the Western Balkans as a whole, provided that all countries concerned persevere on the path of reform.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Madam President, today is a decisive moment. You are called to give your consent to Croatia becoming the 28th Member State of the European Union. I am pleased that many Croatian colleagues who have worked with us for months and years are with us to share this important day.

The Commission has already given its favourable opinion, on 12 October. I hope that your vote tomorrow on the recommendation and resolution prepared by Mr Swoboda will be positive. This will allow the Council to take its decision on the admission of Croatia so that the Accession Treaty can be signed on 9 December.

Your vote is a vote for Croatia, a vote for the region, and a vote for the European Union. First of all, it is a vote for Croatia – a Croatia that is very different to the country that applied for accession to the European Union nearly a decade ago, a Croatia where the transformative power of the enlargement process can be clearly seen in many regards. The economy is ready to form a part of the internal market and has coped with the financial crisis, although in today’s challenging times Croatia should not neglect further economic reform.

Most importantly, democratic principles and fundamental rights are respected and the rule of law has been strengthened through a number of reforms. This is the result of the hard work Croatia has done across the board.

Following the renewed consensus on enlargement, Croatia is the first candidate country to have completed accession negotiations in line with an adapted negotiating methodology, which involved a systematic use of benchmarks. Croatia has been able to demonstrate that it met the strict conditions and will therefore be ready to become a Member State on 1 July 2013.

A specific focus has been placed on judiciary reform and the fight against corruption. This helped and guided Croatia during the negotiation process. It has also led to substantial results on the ground: for example, the way the Croatian prosecution and judicial authorities are addressing corruption cases.

This is not the end of the story. Croatia now has to demonstrate that it will live up to the commitments taken in the context of the negotiations. Preparations will continue until accession. Completing these preparations will be a key priority for the government which will be formed after the elections in December.

I can assure you that the Commission will continue monitoring and reporting on Croatia’s respect of the commitments taken, thoroughly and objectively, all the way to accession. We will continue to assist Croatia in this final phase of preparation. The Commission will also continue keeping the European Parliament fully informed and I am at your disposal to discuss our findings with you.

This is also a vote for the region. Croatia’s progress has shown the way to others. It has shown that the benefits of European integration are within their grasp. Enlargement offers huge political, social and economic benefits. Enlargement has served as an anchor of stability and regional cooperation. Enlargement is a driver of democracy and the rule of law. Economically, enlargement has led to increased living standards in the new Member States.

The enlargement process is not just about aligning legislation with the acquis communautaire. Above all it is about changing society, about accepting the values on which our Union is based. These values are closely linked to the areas of ‘Judiciary and fundamental rights’ and ‘Justice, Freedom and Security’. We have therefore developed a new approach and in future negotiations we suggest tackling these issues first and closing them last.

We must not forget that this vote is also a vote for the European Union. Enlargement is in our strategic interest, for our security and our prosperity. The adoption of our values by the Western Balkans ensures stability and irreversible political reform. Integration into the internal market benefits our exporters and investors. Adoption of the acquis enables us to better meet our strategic policy objectives in fields such as energy, transport, the environment and other strategic interests. A credible enlargement policy is our most effective tool to support this process of reform and transformation. That the accession of Croatia is now a reality proves the credibility of this policy.

I would like to conclude by thanking you for your cooperation and support because, without it, I doubt that we would be able to make history here today.

 
  
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  Göran Färm, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Budgets.(SV) Madam President, Croatia’s membership is a historic event, which I hope will continue with the rest of the Western Balkans.

The Committee on Budgets has carried out an assessment of the economic aspects of Croatia’s membership. It will result in a certain increase in the EU budget. It means that Croatia will have to further increase its capacity to deal with EU assistance in a responsible and effective manner, particularly at local and regional level for small businesses and others. This is not just about the central state. We are convinced that it can develop this capacity in the same way as it has made progress in the fight against corruption.

We are also convinced that increasing EU aid to Croatia is not actually a cost, but an investment in human and democratic development, a better environment and better economic growth that will benefit the whole of Europe.

Therefore, we say, on a very broad political front, welcome Croatia!

 
  
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  Rafał Trzaskowski, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Madam President, it is a happy thing that in these difficult times we can continue with enlargement which, contrary to certain fears, has always gone hand in hand with deepening, being a catalyst for indispensable change and bringing potential for growth.

I would like to share with you one institutional point from my opinion. I would like to point out that the procedures for the adoption of, on the one hand, the Accession Treaty with the Republic of Croatia and, on the other hand, the protocols requested by Ireland and Czech Republic, have different Treaty bases – Articles 49 and 48 respectively – and therefore they could not be legally incorporated into a single act.

Two procedures may coincide in time, reflecting the spirit of the political agreement incorporated into the Council’s conclusions of June and October 2009. However, any linkage between the two processes may not in any way unduly delay the date of accession, so that we send a positive signal to the Union, which is now in dire straits. To our Croatian friends on their last journeys on the road to the European Union, I would like to say ‘Sretan put!’ [Have a good journey!].

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Madam President, this House has been supporting Croatia for more than 30 years. As a young assistant of Otto von Habsburg at the start of the 1980s, I was involved in bringing the first Croatian exiles here under the leadership of Ms Dončević and in enabling the first civil rights campaigners led by Vladimir Šeks to come to Strasbourg and to talk to us about the desire of the Croatian people for freedom and about the human rights situation there.

We played a part in the process of introducing democracy during the first free elections in 1990. For a year, we did everything we could to draw the attention of the states to the fact that it was necessary to negotiate with Belgrade about the peaceful transformation of Yugoslavia into a loose confederation, which Croatia was prepared to do. This failed as a result of resistance from the militaristic communists and as a result of the lack of involvement of many countries in the Western world. It was right that the European Parliament finally asserted itself in early 1992 and that the European Union recognised the independence of Croatia.

Since then, Croatia has been moving towards joining the European Union by introducing reforms and taking part in negotiations. It is a Central European country which is extremely well prepared. In fact, it is one of the best prepared candidate countries that we have ever had. I would very much like to thank Mr Swoboda for enabling us, along with all the other rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs over the years, to ensure that it was this House which was responsible for removing many of the unfair obstacles placed in Croatia’s path.

This country has been constantly blocked in a way which was completely inacceptable and which sometimes involved artificial measures. The natural accession process is difficult enough, because we have tried imposing stricter criteria on Croatia than any other candidate country has ever had to meet. Croatia has overcome these obstacles in style. Therefore, I am already looking forward to the day when observers from Croatia will help us here in the European Parliament to give the European Union a new impetus. I am looking forward to hearing Croatian spoken in this House. Živjeli Hrvatska!

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin, on behalf of the S&D Group.(BG) Madam President, Commissioner, I am sure that today’s sitting would have been much more celebratory if the debate prior to this had not focused on the European Union’s economic, financial and monetary problems. I even think that if Croatia’s citizens had heard some of the statements made prior to this by my colleagues, they would have thought twice about whether to join the European Union. At the same time, Croatia’s accession to the European Union is a great success both for the country and the European Union.

I think that Croatia is joining at a very important time for us, which will perhaps make us rethink that the situation in the European Union is still not as tragic and tough as some are trying to depict it, and that our Union does have a future and continues to be attractive.

I would like to mention at this point a statement made by an official representative of another candidate country, who said: ‘You are constantly saying what a hard time you are having, but you do not know what it is like to be outside the European Union and to have to face this tough crisis.’

I believe that the European Parliament will vote by a huge majority in favour of the decision supporting Croatia’s accession to the European Union, just as the Committee on Foreign Affairs has already done. I think that, from now on, Croatia’s task must be to work with the Member States, as we hope that the timetable for ratifying the agreement will be adhered to and Croatia will be able to join according to plan.

We are pleased that Mr Swoboda, a representative of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, successfully completed his job and helped Croatia in a highly proficient manner to reach this point. I wish to highlight one point from his speech: civic participation. This aspect is of paramount importance, and we hope that there will be a high public turnout for the referendum, by which I mean the referendum in Croatia, and that it will be sufficiently positive.

Finally, if possible, I would like to say one thing in reply to Mr Posselt. Croatia did actually have to go through tougher requirements, but this allows it to join the European Union without any monitoring mechanisms, which Bulgaria and Romania still continue to be afflicted by. I wish Croatia every success.

 
  
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  Ivo Vajgl, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (SL) Madam President, Commissioner, our distinguished Croatian guests in the gallery, we are honoured to have you with us today, on a day that is important to you and important to us.

Croatia has had to wait a long time for this momentous occasion. While more momentous occasions are to come over the next few weeks, I believe Croatia has truly had to pay a higher price for membership than many other countries that have joined the European Union over the last 10 years.

This arose from, amongst other things, a misguided view in Europe. That is, the view that Croatia was one of the perpetrators of the Balkan Wars, but not their biggest victim.

In any case, today we can see that the European idea, the European future of Croatia has contributed to a greater cohesion of Croatian policy and among the Croatian people – this is an important achievement. A particularly important achievement for a country so historically diverse. Today everyone in Croatia looks forward to the achievement of a common goal.

There is more work to be done. The Commissioner spoke very articulately about this and I fully agree with him.

There are a considerable number of areas in which Croatia must still improve its performance over the coming years – in fields such as media freedom, protection of human rights, minorities and others – but we also have these problems, they are not specific to Croatia.

Finally let me say welcome to Croatia and let us look forward to the accession of a new, 28th member of the European Union.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, I had the pleasure of spending my summer holidays in Croatia and seeing first hand the level of prosperity and social progress in that beautiful country. As it has negotiated all EU chapters for accession, my group, the ECR, will indeed give its assent tomorrow to Croatia becoming the 28th Member of the European Union.

Croatia has led its Balkan neighbours in the reform process in the post-Yugoslavian space, for example even imprisoning a former Prime Minister for corruption, thus demonstrating a firm commitment to the Copenhagen criteria. However, there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly in the area of fighting organised crime and the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Croatia must also ensure it cooperates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and protect relevant witnesses so it can put behind it the dark side of its recent history in conflict.

As a small but prosperous Mediterranean country, Croatia’s accession will pose few problems, particularly if temporary derogations are in place with regard to mass labour migration across the European Union, which would of course put pressure on already stretched public resources, particularly in my country. Indeed so far, current visa liberalisation measures for Croats travelling within the Schengen Area has not resulted in large numbers seeking to abuse this concession, and sadly Balkan criminals will move freely around Europe whatever measures are in place.

Croatia will now be the second former Yugoslav country to join the community after Slovenia and I express my hope that its former Yugoslav neighbours of Montenegro –on which I am the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur and with whom Croatia seeks to resolve a small boundary dispute – and Macedonia, will similarly soon open negotiations.

Though the timing for EU membership for all other Western Balkan countries beyond Croatia is far from clear, this prospect remains the essential glue which drives their reforms and anchors them all in peace and democracy. Once Croatia becomes an EU Member State – once a referendum is passed and all the Member State parliaments ratify it – it in turn must support its former regional foes in their accession to the European Union, in particular Serbia.

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

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I am pleased by Mr Tannock’s contribution, but I just wanted to ask, because he mentioned a former prime minister, whether he is aware that Croatia would not have made so much progress without this prime minister and whether he is also of the opinion that this man deserves a fair trial, without special treatment and without unfair treatment either, simply a fair trial, with no advance political judgments.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR). - Madam President, in my country for matters sub judice it is customary for politicians not to comment, but of course I believe in a fair trial for everybody. I would also recognise that Dr Sanader played a major part as Prime Minister in actually paving the way for eventual Croatian accession to the EU. He is an extremely able politician but, if he is guilty of the charges of corruption and embezzling public funds, he must pay the criminal price and go to jail. That is very clear to everybody. But that is up to the courts to decide, not this Parliament.

 
  
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  Ulrike Lunacek, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Madam President, Mr Füle, these are good times for Croatia and for Europe. At the moment, we in Europe are not experiencing many good times, so we should at least take this opportunity to celebrate the events tomorrow and the signing of the Accession Treaty by Croatia next week. I would like to congratulate the Croatian Government and all the people of Croatia on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance for everything that they have achieved in recent years.

With the vote tomorrow in the European Parliament and the signing of the Accession Treaty next week, a process which has taken almost 10 years will reach a temporary climax. However, this will not be the end of the process. It will be necessary to implement further reforms with undiminished enthusiasm. Combating corruption, judicial reform, the prosecution of war criminals by the Croatian justice system and the protection of minorities must remain high on the reform agenda.

This is why the unspeakable amendment tabled by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) for tomorrow’s vote is a move in completely the wrong direction. The Members of the PPE Group want to remove from the resolution the condemnation of the violence against gay and lesbian participants in the pride march in Split this year. We hope that a majority of this House will show its solidarity and will give courage to all of those who are fighting against prejudice, homophobia and dangerous nationalism.

We in the European Parliament, in collaboration with the Commission, will ensure over the next few years that the Commission clearly identifies the problems and that civil society in Croatia is included in the reform and monitoring process in the years to come. The next Croatian Government will have to take responsibility for this, because it will only be able to convince the people of Croatia that reform is possible if there is a transparent process in place. The process in Croatia will provide an impetus for the entire region and, therefore, I wish all the West Balkan countries every success in their move towards the European Union. Welcome Croatia, hvala lijepa!

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

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I have only one question for Ms Lunacek and that is: has she read the text? The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) obviously condemns this violence. This relates to paragraph 14. We are only opposed to the fact that paragraph 15 accuses the government or the authorities of failure, because this amounts to electioneering. That is what I wanted to explain. Of course we condemn violence.

 
  
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  Ulrike Lunacek (Verts/ALE).(DE) Madam President, Mr Posselt, I have indeed read it and, of course, this is not about supporting the election campaign in one form or another. However, in our opinion it definitely was a failure on the part of the authorities, which were unable to give the people in Split proper protection. This is why we are upholding our criticism and hoping that you will perhaps withdraw the amendment.

 
  
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  Takis Hadjigeorgiou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Madam President, we in the Confederal Group of the United European Left - Nordic Green Left welcome the accession of Croatia to the European Union. Of course, it is joining at a time when faith in the European Union is at an all-time low. Let us hope that this accession will, insofar as it is able, restore the faith that, together, we can do better. I am not optimistic and, what is more, I hope that the accession of Croatia will not coincide with the demise of the euro and decades of dreams.

The 2011 progress report states that accession prospects have given Croatia the incentive to make positive changes and that, as a result, it has made considerable progress in various sectors. We too wish to welcome the progress made on the return of refugees, gender equality, combating discrimination and bridging differences with neighbouring countries.

However, apart from that, we must also pay heed to the most important socio-economic problems besetting the people of Croatia, such as poverty, long-term unemployment and the lack of respect for labour rights. Unfortunately, the proposals to promote a competitive, liberal economy will exacerbate the already difficult socio-economic circumstances of the people.

We must therefore support the promotion of real social development, through the modernisation of the social protection system, with people-friendly measures to combat economic problems and unemployment and improve access to services, especially health, housing and education.

 
  
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  Nigel Farage, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Madam President, I recently visited Croatia; I wanted to find out whether a proper national debate was going on, whether there was a fair campaign. What did I find? Well I found that the EU is doing everything it can to bribe the political class in Croatia. Doing it quite well too. Already the EU has given EUR 320 million to Croatia in what is called pre-accession aid; the EU has just spent a million euros on a blatant propaganda advertising campaign telling Croatia that the EU is their only hope.

Cleverly, you have even given jobs to Croatians – highly paid jobs to Croatians in the European Parliament and in the European Commission – just to show them how well off they – the ruling class – will be if they join. And you have got EU flags flying on official buildings all over the country, to give the impression that it is a done deal. You have some willing helpers because the old Communists are still there in Croatia. They still hold all the positions of power and they will all become personally enormously wealthy if Croatia joins the European Union.

There is an even more sinister side to this because there is not a free press in Croatia. There is no national debate going on at all. Indeed a prize has been offered – HRK 10 000 – if anybody can find an article in any Croatian newspaper suggesting that joining is not the right thing to do.

The whole campaign is bent, corrupt and distorted. We have seen this before from the European Union, but I think it is happening on a scale in Croatia that is worse than I have seen before. This country has for nearly a thousand years sought independence and for 20 years they have had independence. They got out of the failed political experiment that was Yugoslavia. If they vote to join the European Union, they are voting to rejoin a new Yugoslavia, a failing political experiment that will implode. I hope there is, in the last month or two, a debate in Croatia. Sadly, I doubt it.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Madam President, it is 20 years since Croatia declared its independence, following a 95% backing in a referendum, and it fought to defend that independence, its territory and its people. Many died and were seriously wounded in defence of those interests.

It is tragic that Croatia is now about to sign away that independence to the European Union. To ensure its entry, Croatia had to pass quantities of legislation enforcing social liberalism, hand its generals over to the International Criminal Court, as though they were sacrifices to a jealous god, and sign up to economic liberalism that will prevent its government from defending the jobs of its people.

That the Treaty will be signed before the people have spoken in the referendum shows a contempt for democracy, a contempt for the Croatian people and especially a contempt for those who died in Croatia’s war of independence. The Government of Croatia is not content to have used – or rather misused – public funds to pay for propaganda dressed up as information to skew the result of the referendum. It is treating the referendum result as though it were a mere formality. But of course, if there should be a ‘no’ vote, there can always be another referendum, and another, and another, until they get the right answer. That is the European Union way.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Mr Swoboda, ladies and gentlemen, the decision-making process for the accession of Croatia, together with the vote tomorrow, shows that these are good times and not just for Croatia. They are very good times for the European Union which is a project that will integrate the continent, overcome the violent division of Europe, introduce peace, freedom and responsibility for one another instead of conflict and respond to the crises that we are experiencing and the challenges that are facing us.

The enlargement process is not complete and the process of deepening relationships must be speeded up. We need to establish an economic and social union and we must do the job properly. In Croatia and in the European Union we must not rest on our laurels. We must continue along the road to reform. Both Croatia and the European Union have potential for improvement with regard to combating corruption, respecting fundamental rights and implementing the necessary reforms.

It is no coincidence that we – Mr Swoboda, Ms Lunacek, Mr Posselt and I – have been following Croatia’s progress for years and that Austria was one of the first countries to recognise Croatia’s independence. There are many economic, employment-related, cultural and historic connections between us. Therefore, we are pleased that the process of the last few years can be successfully completed and that a new chapter will be started.

We hope that everyone will vote in favour tomorrow, that we will warmly welcome Croatia to the European Union and that we will give each other a new impetus to meet the challenges faced by the European Union together. This also sends out a positive signal to the other West Balkan countries.

 
  
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  Tanja Fajon (S&D). - (SL) Madam President, our support for Croatia tomorrow will send an important message that enlargement continues despite difficult times. I hope this year will see European governments send more positive messages to the countries of the Western Balkans.

My sincere congratulations to Croatia on a truly great success, important for all countries in the region.

I am also optimistic that Croatia will serve as a good model for others, especially in resolving existing bilateral disputes and particularly in building mutual trust.

I agree that the arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia has been a great success.

Membership has benefits for both the Union and Croatia, which has carried out tough reforms, particularly in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

This mixture of marathon and sprint cannot end here. Of this everyone must be aware, including politicians not only in Croatia but also in the region, whose reckless statements so often upset the delicate balance achieved.

People must be aware that it is these politicians who will decide whether they want a future in the European Union.

In Slovenia, we successfully passed the test of a referendum. I believe Croatia will also pass this test successfully, since a European future is an investment in progress, reform and stability in our region.

I look forward to meeting our Croatian colleagues very soon in this parliamentary forum.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Madam President, Mr Swoboda, who has a reputation for seriousness, has prepared a comprehensive and serious report. However, I must emphasise that Croatia has made considerable efforts to address the huge problems facing it. It has responded successfully and I trust that reform efforts will continue with the same momentum, especially in the justice and fundamental rights sectors, in improving how corruption cases are handled, in transparency in public procurement and in party funding.

It has made huge progress in comparison with other candidate countries in the area; I refer in particular to FYROM, which is lagging behind and which, leaving the question of the name aside, is not ready to continue the process. This being so, I trust that, in any event, the accession of Croatia, will breathe new life into the European prospects of the Western Balkans and, on that note, I welcome Croatia into the European Union.

 
  
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  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE). - Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, welcome Croatia and congratulate the European Union.

Tomorrow when we have the opportunity to vote for the accession of Croatia to the European Union, it will be an expression and a manifestation of ideas and of the strength of European cooperation. I regret that Mr Farage is not here any more, because he has a problem with Croatian membership. This membership is a message that European cooperation in the European Union has values which are more attractive than his policies. It underlines that we in a time of crisis are able to proceed with one of the miraculous efforts of the European Union – the enlargement which we have seen is building a stable democracy and open societies. With Croatia we will be able to take another step; making Europe better.

Croatia has become a better society and, through membership of the European Union, Croatian citizens will have the same opportunities as all other citizens of the European Union. It will make Europe better, but it will create better opportunities for all of us: Croatians, Swedes, Austrians and all others, who are taking part in this fantastic project. So tomorrow we will be manifesting the strength of the European Union in a time of economic crisis. I think that also underlines that there is room for optimism and there is also room for the message to other countries of the Western Balkans: when you reform, when you transform, when you develop, then we can all share peace, democracy and open societies.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz (S&D).(HU) Madam President, it is a real pleasure for me to vote yes to Croatia’s membership application as the representative of a neighbouring country, Hungary. I congratulate Croatia for getting to this point. There is very serious work behind it. Croatia is also a good example for the other countries of the region that are heading towards the European Union. The message it sends is that if they meet the conditions, the EU will be open for them and the European Union will keep its word.

During the Hungarian Presidency we were successful in closing the negotiations with Croatia. The reason I mention this is that Hungary has always been unanimously committed to helping Croatia and the Croatian accession process. However, there are further tasks that I would like to mention here, to be performed until and after full membership is achieved. I say this as the representative of a country that only recently acceded to the European Union and knows about these difficulties from experience.

In this region maintaining good neighbourly relations and holding back nationalist impulses demand continuous effort. Not long after a war and in the middle of an economic crisis, European values, their wide-ranging social support and approval can only be achieved and maintained if the government and the politicians represent them in a unified way and provide credible information to the public about the rights and obligations involved in EU membership. Therefore, in the hope of continued good cooperation I welcome the Croatians and Croatian accession.

 
  
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  Alojz Peterle (PPE). - (SL) Madam President, my sincere congratulations to the Republic of Croatia on the successful conclusion of negotiations and the signing of the Accession Treaty in the near future.

Croatia is proof that it is possible with hard work to benefit from the European objective of strengthening the still unfinished process of unifying Europe.

Croatia will be the second country to have emerged from the region of the former Yugoslavia and joined the European Union.

I hope Croatia’s success will stimulate progress in the accession processes of the other countries in south- eastern Europe endorsed for European membership in Thessaloniki.

This process should be continued, regardless of the current crisis, for the good of peace, development and cooperation in the region, in the interests of the whole of Europe.

 
  
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  Daniel Caspary (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I believe it is very important that Croatia – and here I strongly agree with the opinions of all the previous speakers – is definitely one of the countries which has been best prepared for accession to the European Union. Many improvements have been introduced, in particular in recent months, and I am very grateful specifically to the Commission and to our partners in Croatia for the significant efforts that they have made.

However, what concerns me is that we have clear rules in the European Union concerning the conditions that a country has to fulfil. I regret that once again we are accepting a country which has not completely met all the requirements. Therefore, I would like to make it quite clear, because I do not want to put Croatia at a disadvantage compared with the other countries, that Croatia has made more progress than most countries at the time of accession. Nevertheless, for all future accessions I would like to see rightful equality and not unfair equality.

Many of the problems which we have in Europe today are caused by the fact that we have put in place effective rules which are not followed nearly often enough. I would be very grateful if we could genuinely take this into consideration for future accessions.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). - (CS) Madam President, I am frankly delighted at the successful conclusion of the negotiations on Croatia’s accession. Croatia’s reforming changes are an example to other countries in the region. Croatia’s accession to the EU will also guarantee the stability of the Western Balkans, which was plagued by armed conflict until recently. I am doubly pleased on account of the excellent relations that exist with Czech citizens, and the historically deep-rooted bilateral links between the two nations. I am all the more concerned that the Czech Republic may complicate ratification of Croatia’s Accession Treaty. Due to the stubbornness of our President and the social democratic party, there is a risk that Croatia will become a hostage in the dispute over the toothless Klaus protocol to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, despite the fact that this protocol does not create any opt-out from the Charter for the Czech Republic, so that neither the social certainty of Czech citizens nor the Beneš decrees will be affected by this protocol. I would like to assure you that Czech citizens very much want Croatia to achieve membership as soon as possible. This will also be a sign of the attractiveness and viability of the EU.

 
  
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  Jelko Kacin (ALDE). - (SL) Madam President, Croatia’s success marks yet another significant defeat for Eurosceptics and so I congratulate Croatia, the negotiating teams on both sides, Croatia’s parliament and people, the Commission, particularly the Commissioner and his team, and the Polish Presidency.

We should all be proud of this significant achievement and the European Union’s success. I would like to thank Johannes Swoboda for his many years of constructive work.

On 9 December, we must pass the baton of enlargement from Croatia to Montenegro and set a date for accession negotiations. Croatia deserves a neighbour with whom to negotiate. It also deserves the naming of a new candidate, as does the whole of the Western Balkans. We support and endorse Serbia and Montenegro because it will be good for the region.

Therefore I call upon the European Commission and Council, particularly the Polish Presidency, to consolidate our efforts over the next few days and seal the success of Croatia with success for Serbia and Montenegro.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, we welcome Croatia’s accession to the European Union. I think that Croatia’s accession will make a significant contribution to implementing the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region. Croatia, along with Bavaria, is responsible for implementing Priority Axis 6 on conserving biodiversity, and it is responsible along with Baden-Württemberg for coordinating Priority 8 – business competitiveness. As a Member State, Croatia also needs to help develop the trans-European transport network because Croatia plays an absolutely crucial role in extending the trans-European transport infrastructure with the transport infrastructure in the Balkans region.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Madam President, after a lot of bureaucratic obstacles, the accession negotiations with Croatia have now – thank goodness – been brought to a positive conclusion. That is very much to be welcomed. In the meantime, as we know, Croatia has achieved a great deal – I am thinking in particular of the judicial reform in the country.

However, Croatia is also obliged to carry on and consider other matters, for example the phasing out of nuclear power and the decommissioning of the Krško power plant that is run with Croatian involvement. It will also be important for it to fulfil its obligations in relation to combating corruption and border management in respect of the route across the Balkans. Competition is another issue that remains to be dealt with, of course.

The Commission has really demanded a great deal from Croatia, much more than from the other candidate countries, whereas Turkey is still being treated with magnanimity, generosity and forbearance – despite its poor progress reports – and billions of euros in pre-accession assistance are continuing to flow down the Bosphorus. That also needs to be mentioned in this context.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). – (SK) Madam President, tomorrow’s vote on Croatia’s accession to the EU will mark an important milestone, and I believe it will strengthen the EU and demonstrate the credibility of the EU’s expansion policy and commitments towards the Balkans. The accession process has made a significant contribution to Croatia’s transformation into a democratic country based on European values. I firmly believe that Croatia’s accession to the EU will contribute to stability, security and freedom in the region. Croatia should continue to play the role of a strong supporter and representative of European values. At this moment, however, it is important to think of other countries as well, and of our joint efforts to bring them into the Union. The success of Croatia has allowed us to acquire new experience which, I hope, we will be able to make good use of in the EU’s future expansion process. I warmly welcome Croatia as the 28th member of the EU.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE).(HU) Madam President, aAt present the European Union is going through what is probably the most difficult period in its history, when the willingness to cooperate and solidarity are, in many cases, replaced by mistrust and introversion. I welcome the fact that the Commission and the Member States have remained committed to Croatia’s accession even in these difficult times. Without the integration of the West Balkan states the united Europe cannot be complete. At the same time, the accession of these states also means that dealing with the problems of ethnic minority communities at the European level will become unavoidable. We have to confront this issue. West Balkan integration can only be successful if we do not sweep the question of minorities under the carpet. I am convinced that even after accession Croatia will not make the mistake of following in the steps of those Member States that have ignored the promises they had made before accession about the protection of ethnic minorities.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I would like to thank honourable Members very much for this debate – a debate which was overall very positive and inspiring. I am encouraged by the broad support you have given to the accession of Croatia. I hope this will be translated into a decisive vote tomorrow.

I also heard your encouragement to Croatia to continue its preparation for membership. The findings of our autumn monitoring show that Croatia has maintained the momentum in its preparation for membership and has achieved a very high level of preparation to assume the responsibilities of membership upon accession. Completing these preparations should be a key priority for the government that will be formed after the upcoming elections.

I am making that remark to stress the point that there will be no exceptions for Croatia from meeting the obligations we have negotiated with Croatia, and that these obligations will be met by the time that it accedes to the European Union. Let me also confirm that the ratification of the Accession Treaty will indeed be a stand-alone Act based on Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union.

From the Commission’s side, I reiterate my firm commitment to continue our close cooperation and I will make sure that you are adequately informed about the progress achieved by Croatia in the months to come, up to accession.

The enlargement policy is the response to the legitimate aspiration of the people of Europe to join the endeavour of a unified Europe. Let us work together so that the lesson of Croatia – that hard work pays off – remains the hallmark of a credible enlargement policy.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: LÁSZLÓ TŐKÉS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, I also want to greet the Croatian delegations. I see the chief negotiator there, so I want to congratulate him very warmly, and also personally, for all the efforts and very hard work over the years to bring Croatia to the doorstep of the European Union. Maybe, I could jokingly say that when Croatia enters you will get even more used to Slavic names like Dowgielewicz – so that will certainly be very welcome.

I want to focus now on something else in my final remarks. I remember very well when this Parliament voted in Strasbourg on the accession of ten Member States in the spring of 2003, and I remember very well the debates that existed before the accession referenda in those countries, notably my own country Poland. I remember the sea of eurosceptic nonsense that was flowing everywhere about losing national identity; the economic Babel that was going to come with accession; the end of agriculture; the end of values; the end of Christianity – all that nonsense.

Look at Poland now, look at other countries like the Czech Republic or the Baltic states, and look how much we prosper in the European Union. Look at how big a success enlargement has been, and especially the last round that I am referring to. I very much hope that the Croatian debate ahead of the referendum will be a debate based on the facts, and that there will be a campaign, discussions and debate based on real issues. I very much hope that we will not see a repetition of the same discussions that lead nowhere and are just based on myths that are very far from reality.

So I hope for a very positive vote tomorrow. I also want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Swoboda, for all the efforts and commitment he has put into this report and also the work with Croatia over the years. I very much hope that in these difficult times we will all be able to communicate this optimism, dynamism and positive message that flow from the fact of Croatia’s accession.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 1 December 2011.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. (LT) Twenty years since its declaration of independence and eight years since its application for accession to the European Union, Croatia has successfully completed an historic stage in the process of EU integration. Croatia’s membership will strengthen the EU, enrich European culture and heritage and contribute towards maintaining the credibility of the enlargement process, and will also be a good example of how it is possible to achieve all objectives previously set by conscientiously meeting all obligations. Following a negotiation process that has lasted almost six years and preparations that have lasted several years and which have changed the country’s political, economic and cultural environment, Croatia will join the cradle of European states. Although Croatia has already made significant progress, the European Parliament calls on the Croatian authorities to continue to strengthen the fight against corruption, and to promote a culture of political accountability in the public sector and the judiciary in line with EU best practices, because this is a precondition for establishing and strengthening the rule of law. Furthermore, we should increase efforts to investigate war crimes and implement a new strategy for combating impunity, which is essential for guaranteeing justice and achieving long-term regional reconciliation. The European Parliament welcomes the fact that in July 2011 the Croatian Government adopted a declaration on promoting European values in South-East Europe and calls on Croatia to continue to promote EU enlargement and European values in this region in order to guarantee peace, well-being, freedom, the rule of law, democracy and a social market economy.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE), in writing.(RO) I welcome Hannes Swoboda’s report which has also been received very enthusiastically by my colleagues in the European Parliament. After six years of negotiations, eight years of applying to become a Member State and 20 years on from independence, the accession negotiations with Croatia were concluded in June this year. Respect for human rights and the fight against corruption were the main topics of negotiation during the last year. Indeed, the increased pace of the reforms in these areas was evident even in the middle of 2009. Croatia is ready to join. However, it must address prevalent challenges, such as those posed by the legal system, as well as step up its efforts to indict war criminals, continue the economic structural reforms, encourage fiscal consolidation with a view to boosting competitiveness, and stimulate employment by revitalising the labour market. The Members of the European Parliament and I have clearly indicated that we would like Croatia to be inside the European Union, and Croatians too will have the opportunity to express their support for the European Union through a referendum. We hope that we will welcome Croatian observers in the European Parliament as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE), in writing. – (HU) Croatia has multiplied its efforts in the past months. This hard work and commitment can serve as an example for countries preparing for EU membership. However, with the deepening of the crisis it is unfortunate that a number of countries are showing reluctance about enlargement, as they are of the opinion that this would also multiply the economic problems. I do not agree with those who believe that there is a need for a period of consolidation after accession, because Croatia has proven that it is worthy of EU membership. This is a common objective in the region, both politically and economically speaking. I am certain that Croatia’s accession will give new impetus to the entire enlargement process as well, ensuring a European perspective for the Western Balkans. It is well known that the possibility of EU membership also exerts a powerful effect on the introduction of democratic reforms in Balkan states. It should be emphasised that the negotiations also promote control of the conflicts of this fluctuating region, and will exert a positive effect in the future as well. The Balkan states must keep this image of the future in mind, and they must continue with the reforms. Citizens should not forget that the reforms do not serve Brussels, they serve the citizens. However, we too must be clear about our commitments and promises. The last phase of Croatia’s accession negotiations proved how effectively EU institutions are able to cooperate. I believe that other countries may also draw new energy for the tasks before them from Croatia’s results.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D), in writing. Twenty years after the declaration of its independence, and about eight years after submitting its application for EU membership, Croatia has reached an historic accomplishment and is expected to become the EU’s 28th member in July 2013. Croatia’s anticipated accession will result in the creation of a stronger and better unified European community. It will also provide inspiration to other candidate countries which have started the accession process, for the accession of Croatia clearly illustrates the credibility of the EU’s enlargement policy. For Croatia years of negotiations and preparations to meet the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership have resulted in political, economic and social reforms that positively transformed the country’s landscape. Yet, while acknowledging Croatia is ready to enter the EU, we must also recognise Croatia’s need to tackle remaining challenges. Membership of the EU comes with many privileges and opportunities for prosperity, stability and raising living standards. My country, Poland, is a vivid example that illustrates these benefits. But, being an EU member also comes with certain obligations, which Croatia will best comply to if continuing to reform its juridical system, fight corruption, improve minorities’ rights and cooperate with the ICTY. I remain hopeful that by July 2013 Croatia will have achieved all that.

 
  
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  Jiří Havel (S&D), in writing. (CS) The forthcoming accession of Croatia to the EU is good news for Croatia, the Western Balkans and the EU. It also shows that the idea of ‘enlargement fatigue’ has no real basis in the Member States or the EU institutions. However, the possibility of the idea continuing to exist cannot be excluded, particularly if the predictions of a pause until 2020 in the expansion into the Balkans now actually come true. That would be asking for a problem, of course - and a big one too. The Western Balkans are highly vulnerable to the economic and financial crisis. The EU‘s credibility is on the wane here. The independence of Kosovo has unsettled the regional states, even though it was thanks to the EU that it was recognised. We should therefore accelerate the expansion process. Waiting until 2020 could be fatal. We should start with the fact that, on 9 December this year, the European Council made Serbia a candidate country, with a deadline for starting accession talks. I expect that Croatia will give other states in the region as much help as possible to join the EU as quickly as possible. I am thinking particularly of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I also expect that no Croatian premier will send public or private greetings to people tried for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

 
  
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  Lívia Járóka (PPE), in writing. – I would like to welcome the steps that Croatia has taken in publicly standing up for the rights of minorities and reaffirming their place in society as well as the specific policy measures that the government has taken in improving the quality of and access to early childhood education with special regard to the Roma minority. I would also like to welcome the implementation of the anti-discrimination law, although – as it is the case in almost all Member States – more awareness must be raised of the legal possibilities granted by the law and its scope. Despite some advances in certain other policy areas, such as the improvement of infrastructure of Roma settlements, verified also by the 2010 Progress Report of Croatia, these are only the first steps towards the socio-economic (re)integration of Roma communities that the European Framework for National Roma Inclusion Strategies aims for. I very much hope that Croatia, as the 28th Member State of the EU – along with other enlargement countries – will elaborate its own long-term strategy for Roma inclusion, including the necessary cross-sector, complex and territorially targeted development and inclusion programmes called for by the Framework Strategy.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE), in writing.(PL) After many years of arduous negotiations, Croatia stands at the threshold of the European Union. We should appreciate the historic significance of this fact, because Croatia is the first country which was an active participant in the Balkans conflict to join our community. Only in this context can it be seen what a long and difficult road Croatia has travelled. So I would like here to extend warm thanks to all those who have contributed to this success, including most of all the Croatians themselves. However, there is one fact to which I would like to draw attention. There is a high probability that in the context of the current crisis many Member States will introduce transition periods in relation to the free movement of workers from Croatia. Such steps must be based on reliable and credible information, and not just on completely undocumented suppositions. The example of some Member States shows very clearly that overlong delays in opening the labour market to workers from new Member States does in fact have an adverse effect on the economy of the Member State which imposes such restrictions. Some countries of the Fifteen were afraid of a mass influx of cheap labour from Poland, for example, but now the economies of those countries are not even able to attract the people they do need. Let us remember that the source of growth is work, and that during a crisis effective management of human capital is particularly important. So I hope that the Member States will not create unnecessary barriers which restrict the liberty of Croatian citizens to take up work in the European Union.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. The broad-based support in the European Parliament to complete Croatia’s accession process should be seen as a symbolic hopeful message, not only for Croatia but also for the rest of the Balkan countries and – not the least – for the EU as a whole. While facing a long-term financial and trust crisis, continuing the enlargement process will help the EU to become less self-centred and to restore confidence in the basic goals and ideals of the European community. I am very glad that we can officially welcome our Croatian friends into this House very soon. This is an occasion to further understanding about the importance of Croatia’s accession for further EU enlargement, especially in the Balkan region. I am truly alarmed about the prolonged political impasse which has blocked the start of accession negotiations with Macedonia, despite the Commission’s repeated favourable opinion. It is an unprecedented situation. With every candidate country the EU has solved the problems within the framework of the enlargement process, not outside of it. We cannot afford to leave a promising candidate country hanging in uncertainty. I call on our Greek colleagues to show solidarity and allow the negotiations to start.

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE), in writing. Today, we are giving a positive sign not only to Croatia, but also to Europe. Croatia’s accession is most welcomed in this time of crisis. It is a sign that the Union is still an important place in the world. Its membership is still something that all Europeans who want to live in free and democratic societies strive for. Croatia has done more to ensure it meets the criteria of membership than any in the past. The negotiation process was longer and more in-depth. It has already applied most EU directives and regulations and is ready to be full member of all the European institutions. It has also worked to address the problems left from the wars of the last century and to finalise reconciliation with its neighbours. Before Poland and Hungary’s membership, many of the same questions and doubts were raised and yet today these countries are some of the most proud and pro-European of all nations. Poland is better off today because of its membership in the Union, so will Croatia be. I look forward to welcoming Croatia into our Union. This is just one more step towards a Europe where solidarity and peace are guaranteed.

 
  
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  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE), in writing. The report ‘Application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union’ welcomes the conclusion of the accession negotiations with Croatia. However, crucial challenges remain to be properly addressed in order to ensure the sustainability of the reforms introduced by the Croatian authorities during the accession process in the fields of the judiciary, anti-corruption and confiscation of illegally or unjustified gained assets. Croatia must pursue the full implementation of the reforms adopted. Moreover, the country still needs to establish a convincing track record of recruiting and appointing judges and state prosecutors based on transparent, objective and merit-based criteria. A track record of convictions in high-level political corruption and fraud cases is also needed. Finally, transparency and integrity in public administration need to be further strengthened as well as depolitisation and professionalism in the police. Adopting and implementing the crime of illicit enrichment is also needed in Croatia. These issues must remain top priorities on the political agenda of Croatia under the supervision of the Commission.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE), in writing. – In light of several factors that will be explained below, I am in favour of Croatia’s accession to the European Union. Considering Croatia’s eight-year path since first submitting its application for accession, the Commission’s monitoring of its progress in meeting the requirements and its subsequent approval, it is fitting that Croatia will be prepared to assume accession in 2013. In spite of its accomplishments, the Croatian Government still has some challenges ahead. It is crucial that reforms are embraced in order to meet the Copenhagen criteria, in addition to better integrating itself in the framework of democratic values upheld by the European Union. The challenges include, but are not limited to the judicial and economic realms, especially with regard to the implementation of anti-corruption measures, the prosecution of war criminals and its ability to absorb EU funds. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile mentioning that Croatia has a higher GDP than seven existing EU Member States. From an economic standpoint, Croatia’s plans for accession are welcomed.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. – (DE) I am extremely pleased that, after years of negotiations, Croatia can now sign the EU Accession Treaty. This process has, as we know, been fraught with obstacles, for example in the case of Ante Gotovina or the maritime border dispute with Slovenia. For the EU, but also for Croatia itself, it will be important not to sit back satisfied with having achieved the intermediate goal of EU accession, but to implement the necessary reforms as quickly as possible and to push forward with the fight against corruption. Furthermore, Zagreb is obliged to push on with the move away from nuclear power without delay and to work towards the decommissioning of the Krško power plant that is run with Croatian involvement. However, the Croatian negotiations in particular have once again made it abundantly clear that Brussels applies double standards. From Christian, central European Croatia almost the impossible is demanded, whereas Islamic, Anatolian Turkey can always count on our forbearance. The fact that, in Turkey, the reforms largely exist on paper only and ethnic and religious minorities such as Kurds and Christians have to suffer constant discrimination, does not seem to bother anyone in Brussels. A greater degree of honesty needs to be brought into the negotiations with Turkey and the way prepared for a privileged partnership.

 
  
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  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D), in writing.(SK) I warmly welcome the forthcoming signing of the Accession Treaty with Croatia and I trust that it will be ratified without hindrance by the Member States and that Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union. As an MEP from the Slovak Republic, I would like to say that Croatia is a country that is very close to us. Apart from the cultural and linguistic affinity, it is also one of the favourite travel destinations for Slovaks. Croatia has undergone major changes and tough reforms in recent years, but at the same time, I would like to call on the country not to halt the reforms at the end of accession talks and the start of the ratification process, particularly in the area of justice, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and integration of refugees. I am keeping my fingers crossed for Croatia and looking forward to it shortly becoming a member of our club.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. I would like to take this chance to express my sincere content that Croatia has come so close to becoming a full member of the European Union. Breaking apart from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and declaring its independence in 1991 was a courageously bold move. Unfortunately, the long-expected freedom did not come without major sacrifices – the Croatians had to fight for it, in the most brutal sense of the word. The war of independence left its scars on the country, but it remained free. In the past 20 years, Croatia has become a member of the Council of Europe and also of the NATO. I believe that the accession to the EU will mark the successful completion of the implementation of democracy and other core European values. In February 2003, when Croatia submitted its formal application to become a member of the EU, there were many who doubted whether it would be possible in the next ten years. Fortunately, they were wrong and I truly believe that the vast majority of Europeans will open-heartedly welcome Croatia to join the Union on 1 July 2013.

 
  
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  Pavel Poc (S&D), in writing. – (CS) I welcome the recommendation of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which proposes that the European Parliament agree to Croatia’s accession to the EU, and to the Council decision approving the application for accession. If the European Parliament approves the recommendation, the Accession Treaty will be signed on 9 December this year at the European Council meeting, and we will welcome Croatia as the 28th member of the EU on 1 July 2013. I trust that the EU Member States, in this turbulent period, will complete the ratification process on time. The accession of Croatia to the EU is a very positive signal in a time of mounting anti-European tendencies. It is also a signal for all of us that cooperation to the benefit of our citizens is possible, and that life goes on regardless of the extortion or intimidation practised by all of those anonymous groupings who so dislike a unified Europe and the EU. I see the signing of the Accession Treaty as evidence of the credibility and high-quality work of the European expansion policy. In view of the traditionally good relations between the Czech Republic and Croatia, I am particularly pleased that accession has taken place at a time when the area of expansion and the neighbourhood policy is under a Commissioner from the Czech Republic, Štefan Fülle, whom I warmly congratulate on this.

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE), in writing.(RO) The adoption of the Swoboda report marks an historic moment for the European Parliament as it paves the way for the actual accession of Croatia, which will soon become the European Union’s 28th Member State. Given Croatia’s imminent accession and the fact that we would all like it to be a success, we must insist on the need for this country to continue with implementing the reforms, in keeping with the European Commission’s recommendations.

I would like to return to some points that I feel are vital, which provided the substance of some amendments that I tabled and that were adopted in the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Croatia has made significant progress on judicial reform. However it must address the remaining challenges in this area, especially with the aim of making the administration of justice more effective and of implementing the provisions on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Croatia’s determination to tackle corruption is to be commended. However, we must also encourage the authorities to continue their efforts to improve the rate for solving cases involving organised crime and corruption. Finally, Croatia can play an important role in promoting European values (peace, freedom, rule of law and democracy) in the region. This is why I welcome the declaration made by the Croatian Government to this effect in July 2011.

 
  
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  Franck Proust (PPE), in writing.(FR) Like the vast majority of my fellow Members, I am a committed European, a pro-European as we often say. That is why I will endorse Croatia’s accession to the European Union, which is set to take place in early 2013. We are on course to welcome other neighbouring countries, such as Iceland, in the near future. However, we must ensure that our quest to enlarge the EU does not turn into an all-or-nothing strategy. We must deepen European integration. We must create even more ‘de facto solidarity’, to use the expression of one of the founding fathers. A weak Europe will be nothing more than an association of States linked by a common market. That is not my idea of Europe. The crisis is showing us the direction we must continue to go in, particularly with regard to economic and budgetary governance. Let us use this time to think about the solutions we want to implement in order to save Europe.

 
  
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  György Schöpflin (PPE), in writing. – (HU) The European Parliament giving its approval for the Accession Treaty is a success for Croatia. The Hungarian Presidency made serious efforts for the successful conclusion of the accession negotiations with Croatia, and it is especially important for Hungary that with this vote Croatia has reached the home straight of a long accession process. The European Parliament decision also proves that the enlargement process has not come to an end, the promise the EU made in Thessaloniki in 2003 to South East Europe continues to exist, and all this conveys a positive message to the other states in the region. Moreover, from 1 July 2013 we may see the pre-1918 situation again, with both Croatian and Hungarian Members being able to sit in the same Parliament.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D), in writing. – (HU) Twenty years after independence Croatia has arrived at a historic milestone and will accede to the European Union next year as the 28th Member State. Croatia went through fundamental social and economic changes during the accession negotiations. It made its public administration and justice systems more effective and improved the fight against corruption. It made its economy more competitive and put the Croatia-Slovenia border dispute onto the path to a settlement. However, there are still some problems that remain unresolved. Relations between the Croatian Government and MOL Hungarian Oil and Gas Company (MOL) are exceedingly tense. In the spirit of nationalist economic policy the rightwing Croatian Government is preventing the independent operation of MOL’s Croatian subsidiaries, preventing MOL from exercising its ownership rights, and it is holding a witch-hunt against Zsolt Hernádi, the company’s CEO. We hope that in the case of election victory the new leftwing government will cease this nationalist economic policy. Until the satisfactory resolution of MOL’s situation in Croatia, it is worth the Hungarian Government treating the ratification of Croatia’s Accession Treaty with reservations.

 
  
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  Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR), in writing.(PL) Eight years after applying for membership of the European Union and twenty years after declaring independence, Croatia has crossed the European Rubicon. After years of difficult experiences, this beautiful country stands before a historical moment – integration with the EU and a return to the European family. The accession negotiations have closed and Croatia’s achievements in this respect are worthy of note.

Croatia brings to European culture the heritage of the Balkan Slavs. The country is a good example of how obligations which are accepted and scrupulously fulfilled can lead to the achievement of important European objectives. After many years of negotiations and preparations Croatia has altered its socio-political, cultural and economic landscape. It has introduced a series of reforms to bring the country up to European standards.

To be welcomed in particular is the fact that support and effective assistance are being given to help the return of refugees and persons displaced during the Balkan wars. The pursuit of an open policy towards Serbian returnees can be given as an example of how stereotypes and prejudices are being overcome.

I hope Croatia will continue to strive to improve its good relations with neighbouring countries and will be an important and active leader in regional cooperation at political and economic level. Today many new opportunities offered by membership are opening up to Croatia. I will be delighted to welcome my Croatian brothers to an enlarged Union on 1 July 2013.

 
  
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  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE), in writing.(PL) At a time of global economic crisis, it is important to maintain the stability of the European Union. For this reason, I would like all the more to express my sincere pleasure at the fact that another country is soon to join the Union. Croatia, a country which is attractive to tourists but which is also important economically, particularly in view of its well-developed manufacturing industry, will be an important partner for the EU’s Member States. In addition, Croatia has been a member of NATO since 2009. Croatia’s accession will seal joint efforts to build peace, both in military and economic terms, and will allow maximum synergy to be created. Despite the adverse economic situation, the European Union is not shutting itself off from new potential partners, and this shows the Union’s real strength – strongly rooted ideas of permanent growth and EU enlargement. The decisions made on monitoring Croatia until her accession are justified, but should fulfil a standard monitoring and advisory role. They should not foster political strife. Therefore the proposals to treat the interim reports as progress assessments, with the possibility of making political and not substantive comments, are in my opinion unnecessary and even disadvantageous for both sides.

 
  
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  Iuliu Winkler (PPE), in writing.(RO) During this period when the European Union has been going through numerous upheavals caused by economic problems, I think that the news concerning the conclusion of the negotiation process and the prospect of Croatia’s accession to the EU in July 2013 provide a sense of satisfaction, not only for the Croatian people, involved in this lengthy process launched in 2004, but also for the European Parliament, the unwavering champion of Croatia’s accession. I hope that the Accession Treaty will be adopted by a hefty majority tomorrow in the European Parliament as the accession of this state should help build a stronger and more prosperous European Union and maintain the credibility of the accession process.

Croatia’s entry into the EU will have European and regional implications and will give a positive impetus to the European integration process. At the same time, Croatia’s accession proves the EU’s commitment to the Western Balkans. This commitment will be demonstrated according to the political will and reform efforts of the candidate countries in the region. Today, with the moment when my country, Romania, joined the EU still fresh in the memory, I feel that it is important to remind our Croatian friends from this Chamber of the European Parliament that this moment is only the start of the difficult process of European integration. I can confirm that you can count on our solidarity.

 

16. European semester for economic policy coordination (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the report by Mrs Pervenche Berès, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the European semester for economic policy coordination (2011/2071(INI)).

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, in tackling this report, Parliament is tackling the issue of democratic legitimacy in the context of economic policy.

At a time when everyone is wondering about how economic policy will be handled and about the fate that the forthcoming Council meeting has in store for that policy for the member countries of the euro area, it is important for the European Parliament to express its opinion in order to establish what the democratic legitimacy of the debate on an economic policy coordinated at EU level might consist of.

The European Commission has put forward the idea of a European semester in order to give direction to this debate before it takes place in the national parliaments. We believe that, as part of this European semester, we, the European Parliament, must be able to have our say with regard to the Annual Growth Survey that the European Commission is tabling as a key document for this debate.

We believe that this document should be an economic policy-making document, which is why we are proposing that, in future, the Commission describe this document as what it is: not an annual growth survey, but an economic policy-making document aimed at sustainable growth. Because, otherwise, it is clear that economic policy coordination at Heads of State or Government level will go in an altogether different direction, that of a Euro Plus Pact, for example, or of who knows what other procedure they might invent in the future.

No, we need a document from the Commission that gives direction to this debate, that incorporates the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and, of course, those of the Stability and Growth Pact. To ensure this, we also call for the European Parliament to be able to intervene straight away with quasi-codecision powers before the Spring European Council, and for the President of this institution, when he represents us at that Council, to be able to defend changes to this strategy, to this economic policy stance, on the basis of the mandate we shall give him. We also call for these powers to be recognised explicitly ascodecision powers in the future.

Throughout this process, we believe that our cooperation with the national parliaments really must help to create this democratic legitimacy. This means that in February, before the Spring European Council, we must organise this meeting with the national parliaments in order to discuss what this economic policy stance will consist of. We must do so on the basis of what has already taken place and what is set to take place within this Parliament not only on the initiative of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, but also in cooperation with other committees, such as the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. Then, once the European Council is over, we must organise a further debate, perhaps on a smaller scale, when the national parliaments themselves will have to ratify their national reform programmes.

Lastly, we believe that this Parliament will clearly have to adapt to this new situation if it wants to be involved in this debate to establish the democratic legitimacy of the entire process. To ensure this, we know that we will have to adapt our ways of working, our practices to what is currently being implemented by both the Council and the Commission, and we state in this report that we are ready to do so.

Lastly, with regard to the still uncertain prospect of a possible Treaty reform, we would make the following strong point: under the Treaty of Lisbon, this Parliament has rights that make it a key player in any Treaty reform process. We have already been consulted once on the reform of the Treaty when the European Stability Mechanism was implemented, and at that time we authorised this reform without an agreement. Given the issues that could potentially be discussed, we confirm today that we shall not allow such a reform to take place without an agreement.

Discussions will have to be held with Parliament on both the time frame and the content of such a reform. It cannot simply be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, so that economic policy is turned into a form of competition policy. We want this mandate to be a mandate for laying the foundations of EU economic policy, a solidarity and growth policy that is based on democratic legitimacy.

As for the issue of how to achieve this, we also call for this Parliament to be involved, alongside the national parliaments, by means of an agreement. Democratic legitimacy is what gives the European Union added value.

 
  
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  Jacek Dominik, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Mr President, honourable Members, I have already had occasion, several months ago, to present an initial analysis of the progress of the first European semester, but in fact at the moment we still do not know the results or how effective this process has been. We will receive the final assessment, as far as the current regime fulfils the hopes placed in it, only at the moment when the national parliaments finally adopt their draft budgets for next year, because the whole idea of the European semester is based on getting national decision-making bodies more involved in the process of implementing priorities related to the growth and development of the European Union. This is why the whole system – initiated by the European Commission in the Annual Growth Survey, which indicates priorities that then translate into particular recommendations to Member States – will be effective only if that information and those priorities are correctly communicated to the national parliaments and if the national parliaments take all these aspects into account in the course of adopting their national budgets.

We have a certain amount of experience after almost a year of the operation of this process. At today’s Ecofin Council, the next Annual Growth Survey was presented, and here we already have the first lesson which we have learned together with the Commission. The first lesson is that up till now the process of discussion and decision-making which is being designed has had too short a time frame. Hence, in contradistinction to the first Annual Growth Survey, this draft Annual Growth Survey was presented over a month in advance in comparison to the previous one, which gives the Council, other institutions and the Member States more time to analyse and prepare their national responses, so to speak, to the challenges highlighted by the European Commission. In fact the time constraints were one of the first elements which became evident as this process was put into effect.

Today’s Ecofin Council also included the presentation by Mr Rehn of two further draft regulations that will improve the system which is currently being operated. They increase the oversight, of the European Commission principally, over the procedure – I would not want to call it a budgetary procedure – over the measures used to communicate EU priorities and directions of development to the national parliaments. These two regulations are currently restricted just to the euro area, as this is the group of Member States which have the greatest responsibility at the moment in these matters, and with them lies the greatest challenge to improve the economic situation in the European Union and the situation of its public finances.

Apart from this, and this is very interesting – and I think it is a very good initiative on the part of the European Commission – both regulations contain clear instructions concerning inclusion of the European Parliament in the process of discussing these priorities and the means of their implementation by the Member States. In the current system there is no clear statement as to how this discussion should proceed. In both draft regulations it is clearly stated that the appropriate European Parliament committees can invite representatives of the Member States and the European Commission for discussion, while in the forum of the European Parliament it will be possible to discuss both the recommendations for particular Member States and the method in which these Member States are to implement them.

To recapitulate: at the moment we are discussing something which is being done for only the first time. In many instances, the remarks made by Ms Berès are very well founded and justified. We are all learning this process and we are evaluating its effectiveness on the basis of results which we are receiving in fact daily; every day new information becomes available about how particular Member States are interpreting the procedure and how particular Member States are implementing the European semester. We are also seeing the results of the first discussion at EU level. Lessons are being learned very quickly, and an attempt to improve and strengthen the process is in progress.

At today’s Ecofin Council, the Presidency undertook responsibility to pass further initiatives of the European Commission to the appropriate working groups as soon as possible, so that the process of implementation and improvement of the European semester will go forward as smoothly and as quickly as possible, in order to achieve the intended effect and improve the effectiveness and transparency of the system. Thank you very much for your attention.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I am glad to address this House today on the report by Mrs Berès and to say that the Commission welcomes the report on the European semester for economic policy coordination.

I especially welcome the fact that, on a number of issues that are central to the effective and efficient delivery of the public good of economic surveillance, Parliament and the Commission share a common point of view. One example is the clear and shared recognition that a purely intergovernmental system of policy coordination would be inadequate to fulfil what is required of multilateral surveillance under the Treaty. We need the Community method for this purpose.

The report also shows, to my mind, that we have a strong common understanding of the challenges that we are facing during this crisis and the direction that our response should take. It has to combine stability, growth and solidarity.

The most telling example of this is the spirit of cooperation with which Parliament has taken its responsibility regarding economic governance in the legislative process that led to the adoption of the six-pack legislation. The agreement between our institutions on the fundamental issues of economic policy coordination is all the more important at the present time as we face very substantial challenges for economic and financial policymaking.

Therefore I hope that we can repeat the success of the six-pack with regard to the new legislative proposals for further strengthening economic governance which the Commission put forward last Wednesday. The package of documents presented on that day reflects our commitment to closer convergence, stronger discipline and firm solidarity.

On several occasions I have already stated that democratic accountability on European decision-making has to be increased – as Mrs Berès rightly underlined – especially if a greater degree of fiscal discipline and economic surveillance is to be conducted by the European Union in relation to the Member States. This is indeed extremely important and I believe that in Parliament and the Commission we see eye to eye on this critical matter.

This is also the reason why I was – and remain – so supportive of the new Economic Dialogue. I look forward to our Economic Dialogue on the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey for 2012. This Dialogue will be an excellent opportunity for Parliament to express its views on the priorities for the economic agenda on growth, stability and governance.

Now, I recognise that not everything said in the report is necessarily flattering of how the first European semester in 2011 was conducted. I do, however, hope that you recognise that the Annual Growth Survey for 2012 also reflects efforts on the part of the Commission to take into account comments made in this House.

Let me conclude by saying that the introduction of the European semester in itself has been a major step forward and the 2011 experience has clearly shown improvements compared to economic surveillance done before. The six-pack will go much further and it is actually already having a practical impact because several Member States are realising that they face the prospect of moving to the next step of the Excessive Deficit Procedure, and also the possibility of financial sanctions, unless they take action in order to ensure that they meet the economic and fiscal targets of next year.

I am certain that the next European semester in the first half of 2012 will be even better, that we will already have learned more lessons based on our experience this year, and that we will further improve our capacity for policy making in a systematic manner.

 
  
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  László Surján, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Budgets. (HU) Mr President, Minister, Commissioner, I have the honour to inform you that the Committee on Budgets supported and welcomed this report. The fact that almost two-thirds of the opinion we had written was incorporated into the final version makes it all the easier for me to say this. For this, and also for her work, we owe our thanks to the rapporteur.

I fully agree with the Commission’s opinion that this process has the character of a dialogue. It is not about Brussels exercising some form of hard control or supremacy. That is why the involvement of the national parliaments is very important, which is, of course, impossible without proper involvement of the European Parliament. Still, the true responsibility for the budget in Member States lies with the national parliaments, so without them it would be very hard to make any progress.

 
  
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  Olle Ludvigsson, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.(SV) Mr President, the main message of this report is a very important one. Parliament’s influence on the economic semester must be increased. The procedure this year has revealed a huge need for improved transparency and a better democratic basis. With increased parliamentary scrutiny and more active involvement by Parliament, the procedure would immediately gain greater democratic legitimacy.

What I would like to highlight in particular is the employment aspect. A better functioning labour market is the key to success in both the short-term management of the crisis and the more long-term economic work. Unfortunately, unemployment and job creation were given far too little attention in the semester that was concluded in the summer. This has to change in future.

Firstly, the social partners must be given a more active role in drawing up analyses and recommendations. The social partners clearly have the greatest expertise for assessing what will work and what will not. Their right to act entirely independently in wage formation goes without saying.

Secondly, an active labour market policy must be made a more important component of economic policy. A greater focus on job matching, vocational training and further training would be very beneficial in view of the current unemployment figures.

Thirdly, the strategic choices must be made clearer, as knowledge is the absolutely key competitive factor for European companies. Without the strong development of knowledge within Europe, the jobs will move elsewhere. Europe must compete on the basis of knowledge, not on the basis of low wages and poor conditions.

I would like to thank Ms Berès for her excellent work on this sterling report, and I will finish by saying thank you for the floor.

 
  
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  Bernadette Vergnaud, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by congratulating Pervenche Berès on this outstanding report; it is the culmination of several months of work involving nine parliamentary committees.

Thus, in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, Catherine Stihler’s opinion emphasised the central role of the single market – the economic pillar of the EU – at the heart of governance focused on the aim of sustainable, inclusive and social growth, in line with the Europe 2020 strategy and in the interests of all our fellow citizens.

If we are to take up this challenge, however, we must ensure that the European semester is not just an intergovernmental control system that imposes the diktat of certain Council Members on the national parliaments. Parliamentary consent to the public budget is one of the foundations of democracy. Hence it is imperative that the Annual Growth Surveys be adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure, with the European Parliament and the national parliaments cooperating closely with each other. This is a democratic requirement, and we must stand our ground.

 
  
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  Michael Theurer, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Rehn, ladies and gentlemen, in the discussion regarding the economic and financial crisis, which has led to the introduction of the European semester, the focus for the public is on the question of monetary policy and the sovereign debt crisis.

For the Committee on Regional Development, however, it is important for more light to be shed on the question of the real economy. We want to eliminate the causes of the differences in competitiveness that result in some countries lagging behind. That is the central focus of European policy, and it must remain so in future, too. It is disgraceful that some countries do not utilise the Structural Funds. We need to investigate the causes here, as Parliament also determined in connection with my report on the absorption rate. It is not just a question of cofinancing; it is also a question of decentralising the responsibility for decision-making and of increasing administrative capacity. In this regard, the Committee on Regional Development is grateful to the rapporteur for including our proposals, because we now need to tackle the root of the problem and eliminate the causes of the imbalances.

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

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr President, Mr Theurer quite rightly mentioned the problem of competitiveness. However, in his speech he concentrated only on the possibilities relating to the Structural and Cohesion Funds. I would like to ask him whether the cause of the problems in relation to competitiveness does not lie much deeper than that, namely in the specific production capacity of Member States and regions. What, in his view, could be done if direct interference in the rights of Member States is not possible?

 
  
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  Michael Theurer (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, the differences in competitiveness are undoubtedly also due to the different responses of Member States to global economic changes. It would be carrying things too far to investigate this, as even the opinions of the experts differ.

The fact is that, even within Member States, individual regions are developing differently. Therefore, the Committee on Regional Development believes that current cohesion and regional policy offers a good approach for providing assistance to regions, cities and communities and the companies established there to enable them to adapt better. However, on investigating the actual effects it emerges that some Member States – such as Estonia or even Poland, which are achieving very good results – deal with the Structural Funds better than others, which find it difficult to absorb the funds – for example regions like Calabria and Sicily, as well as Greece and Romania.

In the committee’s view, what is now needed is for us to tackle these problems specifically in order to utilise the Structural Funds better and to deal with the causes of the problem.

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to express a few views on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education with regard to the European semester for economic policy coordination. I believe and hope that all of us in this House and in the European Parliament share the same view that, when we consider the future foundations of the European Union, they will rely very much on education. In other words, the level of education of the population will depend on what sort of teaching standards we have. If we look at the area covered by the European Union today, it is unfortunately clear that there are differences in the standards of education and teaching at present. We need to try to encourage Member States, through an open system of coordination, to act to raise standards of education in Europe in every respect.

It is also very important to ensure, now while we are going through an economic recession on a scale such as this, that, in economic policy, we actually channel money into education, basic research, product development and innovations, because this is also the key to achieving new growth. It is with respect to the notion of growth in particular that we need to achieve sustainable growth and sustainable competitiveness, and I believe that that will depend very much on education.

I would have liked the Commission, in this its Annual Growth Survey, to have included this issue of education in its 10 priority area programme. I know that it is a part of the EU 2020 project, and so it is very important to ensure that education is also very much a part of future European joint programmes.

 
  
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  Rafał Trzaskowski, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Mr President, I would like to make a few institutional points.

Firstly, I would like to stress that the formalisation of the European semester should in no way jeopardise the prerogatives of the European Parliament as provided for in the Treaties.

Secondly, institutions should cooperate in order to enhance the Semester’s legitimacy and to clear the remaining legal ambiguities which otherwise may lead to institutional conflicts in the coming years.

Thirdly, the European semester and the economic dialogue should be regarded as elements of the EU institutional framework and, most importantly, should promote the Community method involving the Union institutions at all stages of the decision-making process. The Commission here should play an independent and even stronger role in the process.

Finally, the decision to actually have the economic semester with 27 Member States – all of them – seeks to achieve one of the most important goals now facing us, which is to avoid fragmentation. That is why I am very happy that the idea of creating a subcommittee in this Parliament in which only members of the euro zone would be present was finally dropped.

 
  
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  Marije Cornelissen, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. (NL) Mr President, the EU 2020 objectives and the European semester should, in theory, help us make a tremendous step forward. Member States have committed themselves to specific goals: employment participation rates of 75% for both men and women, helping 20 million people out of poverty, tackling climate change, investment in innovation and, in addition, they will continue to allow the Commission to inspect their measures for the fulfilment of these objectives. So far, totally great.

However, in practice, this is not working, or is not working well enough. The Member States’ ambitions for jointly achieving the 2020 targets are far too low. Some reform programmes are really of ridiculously poor quality and social objectives are being systematically forgotten. Cuts seem like a great idea, even if that means that another 20 million people fall into poverty. The comments made by the Commission have been incoherent, to put it mildly.

Why is this not working at present? Actually, there is one simple answer: a complete lack of public interest in the European semester. At EU level, the European Parliament has too little say and, at national level, parliaments, social partners and NGOs have not been brought on board. No one knows anything about it, no one gets to have a say in it and, so, no one really cares. No minister is ever called to account by the public or the press if his work falls seriously below par. The chances of a government being punished at the next elections for failing to meet the objective of the European semester are nil.

If we are united in wanting this project to succeed, then we have to ensure public support. National parliaments, social partners and NGOs that will hold their governments to their own promises. A European Parliament that is allowed to participate fully. In her excellent report, Ms Berès mentions many specific measures to ensure this. We will very much vote in favour of the report, and we look forward to implementing it as quickly as possible.

In the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs we have already started implementing it, and I have the honour of being rapporteur for a European Parliament report on priorities for the coming year. I would invite the Commission and the Council to pay full attention to this, in the light of this report.

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I believe that this work that has just been done deserves to be highlighted and also deserves to be recognised for what it is.

The work that has been done is an example of excellent cooperation with the rapporteur, Ms Berès, and I believe that tomorrow’s vote will show that it expresses the will of the vast majority of this House.

Why is this the case? Because at stake here is the democratic scrutiny of procedures aimed at improving economic integration and cooperation among States. Clearly, Parliament is not asking to be an executive, nor is it asking to take the place of the national parliaments. However, everyone has a part to play at his or her respective level.

The merit of this own-initiative report, which is perhaps a little longer than normal, is that it proposes practical solutions for this association, by adopting two points of view. Firstly, the point of view of the current Treaty, of the current rules. The rapporteur makes proposals on how to increase Parliament’s involvement so as to ensure democratic scrutiny.

However, the report also reflects on the possibility of amending the Treaties and, at that point, indicates the improvements or the changes that should be made to guarantee this effective democratic scrutiny, which guarantees the legitimacy of the measures taken and negotiated at European and individual Member State levels.

I should like to return to two specific points that were raised a moment ago, starting with the subcommittee on the euro. We have abandoned it so as not to create a divide among MEPs, but this report rightly points out that, when the time comes, Parliament will have to adapt to the structure adopted by the Member States within the Council or within the euro area.

There is also the quasi-legislative, or quasi-codecision, issue. We must be practical and implement, on the basis of the Annual Growth Survey, a mechanism that allows Parliament to give its opinion, vote on amendments and, as the rapporteur was saying earlier, ensure that our President has a proper democratic mandate.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PT) Mr President, unlike the United States, the euro area does not have external debt problems, but it does have two fundamental problems: insufficient growth and increasing internal imbalances, as the Commission itself identified on completion of its analysis of the euro’s first 10 years in operation.

Without political decisions reversing these imbalances and this lack of growth, they will grow unchecked: for example, without the euro, Germany’s trade surpluses could be reduced by revaluing the deutschemark; with the euro they remain. However, there is a price to pay. The deficits of many of the weaker economies, which would gain from a devaluation, also remain. The presence of this imbalance means that capital flows out of weaker economies, which indebt themselves at prohibitive rates of interest, whilst the stronger ones are offered capital almost for free. This unstoppable circle is very different from the description that we have heard until now of saints, on the one hand, and sinners, on the other.

The sole remedy of austerity only amplifies the recession and these problems. The Annual Growth Strategy that could, at the moment, be integrated with the European semester could be very useful for solving these problems, but in order to do so it will need to be shared with this House, under the codecision procedure, and adopted by the national parliaments. The European semester should incorporate the results of the analysis of macroeconomic imbalances and all other strategic documents: the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Employment Strategy and the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines. That is what the Bères report guarantees. Perhaps with this framework – I am finishing now – the recommendations of the Stability and Growth Pact will gain greater technical quality and effectiveness.

 
  
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  Carl Haglund, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SV) Mr President, this is a difficult week – one in which the European economy and the monetary union are on the line. At the same time, it is important for us to look forwards and also take note of the fact that a large number of measures have already been taken to prevent future crises. The European semester is therefore an incredibly important tool.

It is already clear now that the legislative package that we succeeded in agreeing on in September will have an extremely important effect in the future. My group and I are also pleased that our excellent Commissioner will actually utilise the tools that the Commission has at its disposal to deal with the economic concerns that we have right now. This is necessary in order to prevent future crises and also to create confidence in the measures that we are taking at European level.

In the debates that are conducted in the European Parliament, it is evident that we have a tendency to get bogged down in institutional debates. Certain Members earlier discussed the idea that the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs should have a subcommittee for those countries that belong to the euro area. I am personally not convinced that this would be necessary, and most members of my group are of the same opinion. I think it is unnecessary to expend a great deal of energy on this right now when we should instead be putting our energy into solving the crisis itself.

There are also those who have called for Parliament to have a greater role in the Annual Growth Survey. I do not believe that, in the current situation, it is worth devoting our energy to discussing the codecision procedure, because that is not the problem right now. The economic problems are to be found somewhere else entirely.

I am very pleased that we have the European semester – it will play an important role in the future.

 
  
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  Vicky Ford, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, last week Germany could not sell one third of its bond issue, yesterday the Italian Government paid nearly 8% interest and today two million people are striking in Britain even though the UK public pension black hole is the biggest in Europe. Right now this Parliament and every parliament should be looking at how to help growth, remove red tape and get businesses moving, but instead we have been in back rooms arguing about just when an economic dialogue would fit into Parliament’s timetable and who should be on the guest list.

Of course countries should consider how their economic policies affect others, but MEPs are now asking for a new treaty to give the European Parliament a vote on economic guidelines. This will not decrease the resentment of many of our citizens when they see decisions being taken in faraway places, and it will not help our businesses to grow. Members, we really must stop fiddling whilst Rome cannot borrow!

 
  
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  Nikolaos Chountis, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Mr President, I am of the opinion that there is possibly no sense in our debating this report, because we have been and are being overtaken by events. The European semester, within the framework of fiscal prudence and austerity, correlates fully with the plans of Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy to create a fiscal union of the willing; it is a basic idea for a stricter stability pact.

On the pretext of regaining the trust of the markets, they are sacrificing rights and circumventing social rights and these policies are incompatible with democracy. They are bypassing the Treaties, they are bypassing national parliaments, they are bypassing the European Parliament and, any minute now Mr Rehn, they will bypass you.

Budgets will be planned and prepared in Berlin provided, of course, that they are in keeping with Ms Merkel’s plans. We are being pushed, at great speed, into a two- and/or three-speed Europe, into a Europe of the strong and the weak, into a Europe of the capable and incapable, into a Europe of the reliable and unreliable, who will be at the mercy of speculators and the markets.

At present, the European states are terrified, European societies are being trampled underfoot, European citizens are uniting in the fear of rapid change and the European Union, unfortunately, is becoming more reactionary and more anti-democratic and is moving away from the ideal of creating an area of solidarity and social justice.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas, on behalf on the EFD Group. (LT) Mr President, lessons from the past that have been properly learnt may become a solid bridge to a more successful future. Have our Union’s Member States learnt them? The European Union institutions and European Community Members evaluating the crisis situation should reassess the situation today. Firstly, we should modernise public administration and make it more efficient. Secondly, we need to strengthen financial governance, because the directives adopted are not always effective enough measures to meet the challenges. Today, one of the main issues for the European Union’s workers should be the scale of unemployment in the Union’s Member States. We must discuss emergency measures and programmes which would make it possible to reduce the unemployment rate by at least a third in the shortest time possible. I do not admire decisions which propose assistance for the banks but not assistance for people. We can only save if we can earn. I therefore call on the Commission to provide for and present specific plans which would allow progress to be made in the areas of job creation, innovation, education, energy and social inclusion, and which, most importantly, would ensure growth.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr President, with the European semester we are attempting to perform an unbelievable balancing act that not even the most talented acrobat could maintain for long. You simply cannot say, on the one hand, ‘everyone must exercise discipline’ but then not have the instruments in place that are needed to bring about this discipline.

With regard to Germany, which is clearly causing the whole of Europe to suffer at the moment, I would like to repeat Heiner Flassbeck’s very good analysis of the situation: the success of the Social Democrats with regard to the Europe 2020 agenda, which resulted in there no longer being any increase in wages in real terms in Germany, was precisely what made the German economy even stronger than it was before in relation to the surrounding economies. In terms of the global economy, that had practically no effect, as the only country that has been able to genuinely increase its market share in the last 10 years is China. If the Germans had not succeeded in putting themselves in this position, we would now have a very different problem in Europe in that we would all have been dragged down. Of course, I could now say that I would like the German people to earn more and no longer to be so productive in terms of work units like the other countries. Is that the solution, however? The answer is ‘no’. We are in fact facing an acute problem. Right now I have confidence that the Heads of State or Government will be able to quickly put in place the finance policy measures that we need.

However, the European semester can only be one step along the way to getting to where we need to be, towards the genuine interweaving of our common interests. Then there will have to be no more no-go areas when it comes to tax policy. Then we will be able to talk about employment policy, but only within the framework of a genuinely new treaty drawn up by a convention. In the short term, the European semester will bring us little more than confusion among the citizens, because they will not understand the connections. Nevertheless, it is at least a forum for discussion.

 
  
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  Danuta Maria Hübner (PPE). - Mr President, I have two questions to the European Commission. For me the European semester is not only about discipline and coordination but I think it is a major, serious instrument that we have at our disposal to push for structural reforms. My question to the Commission is whether it is planning to prepare a kind of comparative track record on structural reforms which would allow us to see how individual Member States advance on structural reforms?

The second question is related to what was mentioned already in this House, which is that the recent recommendations on the 2011 Semester were toned down by the Council in some cases. My question is: in the Commission’s view, has this affected the implementation of the structural reforms?

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (S&D). (ES) Mr President, Mr Rehn, ladies and gentlemen, the European Union has so far failed to treat the economic policy of its Member States as a matter of common interest. Its economic pillar has not lived up to its function or to the challenges it has been faced with. The failure to fulfil the commitments of the Stability and Growth Pact and the objectives of the Lisbon agenda exposed, even before the crisis, the shortcomings of the mechanisms for fiscal supervision and economic coordination. The imbalances that lie at the root of today’s crisis provide evidence once again that economic problems require political solutions.

The European semester came into being as a result of a series of proposals put forward by the Commission and the task force on economic governance, which was created under the Spanish Presidency. It is a step towards stronger economic and budgetary coordination within the European Union. The market and national initiatives alone are unable to tackle the systemic risks and relaunch the European economy along a sustainable path. Nor will a bureaucratic or a purely intergovernmental approach serve to fill the shortfall in Europe’s economic governance.

If we are to advance towards political union, we need to bolster democratic legitimacy. The European semester cannot be implemented disregarding the European public or indeed the principles of democracy. I therefore support the Berès report, which defends the role of the European Parliament, the national parliaments and inter-parliamentary dialogue in developing it responsibly and effectively.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: GILES CHICHESTER
Vice-President

 
  
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  Bruno Gollnisch (NI).(FR) Mr President, no matter what most of the speakers from the majority say about it, the European semester is a highly undemocratic exercise. Ms Berès’s report can only pretend to improve it.

I say this because, when the broad lines of national reform programmes, in other words the broad lines of the political action taken by national governments, and their expression in budgetary terms, are dictated each year in Brussels, the role of parliaments in drafting their budgets becomes virtually non-existent.

When, moreover, penalty procedures are automatically applied for failure to comply with the quantified objectives of the Stability and Growth Pact or with the recommendations made to each Member State, that is no longer coordination, ladies and gentlemen, it is subordination, subordination in the sense of one’s being forced to adopt full-blown competition policies, global free trade policies, and social budget and wage restraint policies that leave no room for a European economic recovery. The peoples are today being governed – in Greece, Italy and elsewhere – by technicians, by the senior executives of Goldman Sachs Bank, and this exercise that you are proposing to us is in reality highly undemocratic.

 
  
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  Roberto Gualtieri (S&D).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, this excellent report can make a very important contribution to the debate under way on economic governance and on the possible reform of the Treaties, because it highlights very successfully the extremely close and obvious connection between the effectiveness of economic governance and the degree of its democratic legitimacy, thereby also emphasising, I wish to say, the absurdity of the idea of a limited Treaty reform.

Because, although the objectives that such a limited reform seemingly sets could easily be achieved, as we have already argued, not with a reform but by applying the Treaty, if instead we turn the guidelines and recommendations made on the basis of Articles 121(2) and 148(4) into decisions with legal standing, we are stepping beyond the confines of a limited reform and moving towards a full-blown federal-style fiscal union that cannot be created without full democratic legitimacy and hence without a full codecision role for the European Parliament.

In short, this reform, if limited, is useless; if it grants new and unconditional powers in relation to economic policy then it certainly cannot be limited. Therefore, a completely different approach must be adopted; Parliament must be involved straight away in defining the guidelines and recommendations, as the report proposes. This is a prerequisite for subsequently making those guidelines binding in nature. Adopting a completely different approach, following the Community method and striving for greater democratic legitimacy: that is the line that the Berès report convincingly proposes to us.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Mr President, the test of whether any idea is a good one is its being put into practice, because as we know, in theory anything is possible. I should like to think that after the initial difficulties and the trial year the European semester can be launched in practice as well. It would be quite unfortunate if this system were to function merely as a monitoring scheme which, despite working within a well-established framework in theory, can neither be complied with nor be implemented. The ability of the system to be complied with must be guaranteed by the Commission.

If the report is passed tomorrow, we will essentially make a promising fresh start into a new, hopeful period. I would like to draw the Commission’s attention to the importance of a more coordinated and more accurate control of national reform programmes, strict analysis of annual growth surveys, and the preparation, as soon as possible, of analyses summarising good practices and the experience gained over the first year.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, Commissioner Rehn, the European semester is a necessary but not sufficient means of EU economic policy. Eurobonds should be introduced as soon as possible in order to resolve the crisis of the eurozone. It is regrettable that with the preparation of the Green Paper the European Commission can procrastinate for months or even years. The drift of Europe must be stopped. Europe does not have time to debate on green papers. A matter of similar importance is the introduction of the financial transaction tax, which the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament proposed already in September 2008. It would be welcome if the Heads of State or Government did not procrastinate over this. We must halt Europe’s drift with combined efforts.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE).(PL) Mr President, the European semester is intended to help verify the application of budgetary discipline by Member States and enable monitoring of proper delivery of the Europe 2020 programme. After a year of its operation it is difficult to say unequivocally if the European semester is going to help achieve the objectives which have been set. From the very outset a standard format was not created for European semesters, which has meant that documents sent by Member States are very different from each other and difficult to understand. In relation to this, the question arises as to the plausibility of the assessment carried out, since the information supplied from each source differs so much. We are beginning to see a repeat of the situation we faced with the Lisbon Strategy.

A year on it can be seen that some Member States are not respecting the need to incorporate the principles of the new strategy, which may mean the objectives it has identified will not be achieved. It seems essential therefore to introduce mechanisms to force individual governments to provide an exact road map and a timetable, because we cannot allow the Union to waste the next decade. Whether we want it or not, the world is pressing on regardless, not looking back at the internal problems of the countries of Europe. If we do not achieve the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, we will be the losers in the global competition not only against the United States, but also against China, Brazil and India. It should be said clearly that by pretending to take action we are doing most harm to ourselves.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, instead of using the European semester to pass more competences to Brussels and thus push further ahead with the centralisation of the European Union, it is, in my view, more important to prevent the debt from occurring in the first place. In view of the morass that is the debt crisis we find ourselves in, it is important, above all, for us now, at all costs, to avert the real threat of the countries in the euro area that are still economically successful being dragged into the abyss as well.

The introduction of common bonds for the euro countries with a triple A rating – what are being referred to as elite bonds – only makes sense if the European Union does not degenerate into a debt union or transfer union. That would probably make the division of the euro area essential. The introduction of elite bonds would perhaps result in a situation that the euro visionaries cannot oppose. Elite bonds could therefore pave the way for a core European hard currency zone, a core European hard currency union, which would, in my view, make perfect sense.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Parliament is staying on the ball with this report. With the implementation of the six-pack, we have taken a major step forward and codified the European semester. Nevertheless, the European semester remains an interim solution, an emergency solution, because, when the euro was introduced, we failed to create the necessary economic and social union and political union. We need to set up a convention quickly to prepare the economic and social union, because we have not only failed to comply with the Stability and Growth Pact, we have also undermined it. The European semester is an emergency solution because the Commission lacks many of political instruments necessary to enable it to be an effective agency for economic governance. Let us ensure that infringements of the Stability and Growth Pact and the European goals can be brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Let us also ensure that the ‘debt brakes’ in the Member States can be accompanied by the veto right of an independent sovereign debt committee.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. (FI) Mr President, honourable Members, first of all I want to thank everyone for a constructive, pertinent discussion, prompted by the excellent report by Ms Berès. To finish this debate, I would like to make three comments.

Firstly, the European Commission is always ready to listen to the European Parliament, and especially when Parliament makes its voice heard in good time. I hope, with regard to the Annual Growth Survey for 2012, that the European Parliament will find a natural way to engage in debate and present its views in good time to influence the decisions, not only of the Commission, but of the Member States also. This is very important for democratic legitimacy, which the rapporteur, Ms Berès, and several others have quite reasonably and rightly pointed out this evening.

By way of example, I listened to Mr Takkula emphasising the importance of education. We cannot consider all policy areas every year, but education is indeed so important, both for competitiveness and productivity, and, ultimately, for people’s employability, that we really need to attach special importance to it, and it is good, too, to consider it in the context of this Annual Growth Survey. Education is obviously of decisive importance, not just for economic growth and employment, but also, more generally, for human development needs. In that sense, it is a very fundamental value for European society.

My second comment is addressed to Ms Hübner, who referred to the relative dearth of any comparative national monitoring system. In fact, if you read this Growth Survey for 2012 carefully, it has a section that compares Member States and one that also deals with the issue at Union level, where there is close examination of what measures have been recommended for the Member States and, furthermore, what measures all Member States should adopt to implement joint European decisions, with regard, for example, to the Services Directive or, just as importantly, to energy and trade policy. I therefore agree with you: this is also partially included here, and we will give greater weight to this dimension in future reports.

My third and final comment is this: some Members have suggested that this European semester would be a pointless, bureaucratic tool, and that we should just focus on putting out the fire and overcoming the current crisis. Of course, I agree that we really must do all we can to beat the crisis, in order to salvage the economy and employment, but, at the same time, I disagree that this European semester would be pointless in this sense – quite the contrary.

It is very important to see this European semester as an instrument to create what is needed for long-term economic growth and also, in the short-term, greater economic stability. The recommendations made this year in connection with the European semester, for example, have had an impact on the actions taken in the Member States, and, in that sense, they have already proved their worth.

To conclude, I wish to say that it is obvious that Europe’s economic growth will not get under way through over-centralisation, but by strengthening entrepreneurship, by encouraging people to develop their skills and potential for innovation, and, in general, by releasing people’s creative powers, to foster entrepreneurship and expertise and, ultimately to promote productive work. This is the precise purpose of the European semester, which is to say that it is a means for us to use both fiscal and structural policy to do what it takes to promote entrepreneurship, expertise, innovation and productive work in general, all of which will help provide a firmer basis for economic growth and employment in Europe. Consequently, therefore, this European semester is very directly linked to enhancing economic growth and, as a result, employment in Europe, and it is that which is most crucial for our citizens in the end.

 
  
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  Jacek Dominik, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Mr President, I have listened to this debate with very great interest. It seems to me that such debates are necessary, not least to increase understanding of the whole process and of the European semester.

I mean, what is it for? The European semester is not an instrument intended to provide a stopgap solution to the problems of the present crisis. It is an instrument conceived as an element of long-term economic cooperation in the European Union, based on strengthening the way EU priorities are ordered and action is coordinated by all Member States, and on strengthening the communication of these priorities, defined at EU level, to national parliaments, which means to the institutions which ultimately make most of the decisions that influence the actual implementation of EU priorities. It seems to me that we have to remember this.

In my opinion, the whole process at the moment is indeed based on EU institutions. Opinions have been voiced here in the Chamber that there are fears we are moving away from the Community method, that elements are beginning to be introduced which are not provided for by the Treaty, that we are starting to see the dictate of particular Member States. However, please note that the whole process is based from the beginning on drafts prepared by the European Commission, on discussion which takes place in the Council and at the level of the European Council, and on documents which are adopted by EU institutions. So in my opinion the Community method is preserved, and most important of all in the whole process – many Member States have also drawn attention to this – this means the final decision is being left to sovereign national parliaments. We must remember this and uphold this. Taking this sovereignty away from national parliaments in the area of budgetary decisions is something which is not accepted by practically any Member State. This option does not exist.

In discussing the European semester and its assessment after the first year of its operation as well as further changes to its operation which are being put in place, we should concentrate on how to increase and strengthen that communication with the parliaments of Europe. How can we involve the national parliaments to a greater degree in the discussion of priorities which are helping to improve the effectiveness of the entire European Union? However, this all depends on greater effectiveness in the performance of individual Member States. We already know from experience that it is not possible to build increased competitiveness for the European Union based on only some of the Member States. We all have to be going in the same direction.

We need to find a suitable tempo for particular Member States. Not all of them are able to bear the same burden at the same time. However, what the European Commission is doing in preparing the Annual Growth Survey every year is in fact a means of showing the direction in which the Union should be developing in the near future. Later this translates into particular recommendations for Member States and checks if these recommendations find a degree of reflection in national reform programmes and later in national budgets. This is exactly the element which until now has been missing – signals were being sent from Brussels and the European institutions to the capitals and in fact that was the end of the matter. We did not have an element of reciprocity while still in the process of deciding about how the recommendations are to be implemented. So being able to do this gives huge added value to the whole process, and this is something on which we should concentrate.

I can see very many interesting thoughts in the Berès report about this very subject of how the European Parliament and other EU institutions could be involved in the process of bringing national parliaments in on the whole decision-making process and showing them that they too bear direct responsibility for delivering EU priorities which serve our common good: increasing and stabilising economic growth in the Member States and improving competitiveness throughout the European Union.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, I should first like to respond to Ms Ford, who has abandoned us.

It is surprising to see an MEP from the United Kingdom express concern about the fact that a parliament is worried about democratic legitimacy. That does not match the impression I have of democracy as seen from the United Kingdom. I also wish to say to her that we are so insistent that the European Parliament should have the power of codecision when defining its economic policy guidelines precisely because we believe that, budgetary consolidation aside, this is one of the ways of ensuring that our concerns with regard to growth and with regard to funding for innovation, research and investment needs in industry are taken into account.

President-in-Office of the Council, I should like to thank you for your insistence on the Community method, and to say to you that, while the Member States are, of course, sovereign powers, it is important that we also learn the lessons of this crisis.

One of the lessons of this crisis is that ex-ante coordination of Member States’ economic policies has not worked well enough. To ensure that it does work well, and on an acceptable, democratic basis, in accordance with what the European institution stands for, I invite you, and your successors, on behalf of the Danish Presidency, to take full account of the observations that this Parliament will make on the 2012 Annual Growth Survey.

Commissioner, you said that you did not want this exercise to be described as technocratic. It is up to us alone to make it a political economic-policy making exercise. I believe that this report contributes to this aim and I hope, Commissioner, that you will support us in improving the procedure and in ensuring that the Council genuinely takes account of the observations that this European Parliament will make. We shall come to the February part-session with observations on the content so that, together, we are more effective.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at 12.00 tomorrow.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) We are living through a difficult period of European history. More than ever, we need responsible analysis of the Union’s responses to this crisis, because the truth is that we are today witnessing increased inequality, macroeconomic and financial imbalances, and increasingly clear divergences in competitiveness. As such, the upcoming European Council must understand the importance of increasing economic coordination, with a view to stability, growth and jobs, and to enabling more robust action by the European Central Bank. We are aware of the monetary concerns that the Union has today and of the need to protect the euro, but we cannot stop at that: we need to have an economic policy for the European Union. To begin with, we need to inject liquidity into the economy because companies are worried about finance; that is crucial if we are to halt the recession and return to growth and employment. There is also a need for the European Parliament to play a central role in terms of codecision, so that a vision of the Union based on solidarity is better able to thrive, and so that the democratic legitimacy of the decisions being taken in the present situation – in many cases by a duumvirate – increases.

 
  
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  Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing.(RO) The economic crisis has highlighted to us that we need better instruments to correct the macroeconomic imbalances. The European semesteremester for economic governance is intended to evaluate national economic and fiscal policies at EU level before they are adopted. This would provide a structural framework for coordinating Member States’ budgetary and economic policies, in keeping with the Stability and Growth Pact and the EU 2020 strategy. The economic crisis has increased the macroeconomic imbalances and disparities in competitiveness since the introduction of the euro. This has made it necessary for the European Union to tackle these problems using a symmetrical approach which would address excessive deficits as well as excessive surpluses.

The enhanced economic governance framework should be based on various inter-linked policies aimed at economic growth and creating sustainable jobs, which need to be coherent with each other, and in particular on an EU strategy for economic growth and jobs. The experience acquired in these last years has highlighted the need for improved economic governance in the European Union, which should be built on stronger national ownership of commonly agreed rules and policies and on a more robust framework for monitoring national economic policies at EU level.

 
  
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  Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing. – (CS) The report examines, among other things, the issue of budgetary discipline, not only in the euro area but also in all EU Member States. As one aspect of the introduction of the common economic and budgetary policy of the eurozone countries, the report states that experience to date – with the budget problems of one state overflowing into other states and thus influencing all members of the eurozone - shows a clear need for greater coordination and cooperation in the area of economic and budgetary policies. I personally consider it right to call on Member States to involve national and regional parliaments, social partners and civil society in the drafting of national reform programmes and development and cohesion programmes, and to consult with them regularly over these. It is clear that, if the integrated surveillance of economic policies is to be successful, it should not be limited just to the evaluation of the budgetary and structural policies of EU Member States, but must also be in accordance with measures and objectives at EU level, and also with the level and nature of EU financial resources. In this regard, the EU policies and measures in the EU 2020 strategy are therefore fundamental, particularly in relation to cohesion, research and innovation policies.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D), in writing.(RO) A great deal has been said in European and national contexts about the economic and financial crisis and its impact, about the sovereign debt and public deficit crisis, and about job losses and the precariousness of existing jobs. However, too little action has been taken. Decisions have been made involving half measures, while the euro area Member States in difficulty have been at the receiving end of accusing looks, being held responsible for the domino effect on the EU’s general economic situation. However, we must acknowledge that the crisis which we are facing, the most serious in the last 70 years, was brought about by certain shortcomings in the Economic and Monetary Union and by structural problems experienced by the states in the euro area, especially with regard to the disparities in competitiveness between them, as was rightly mentioned recently by Jacques Delors. This is why Member States should regard economic and fiscal policies as an issue of common interest and aim to consolidate macroeconomic coordination within the European semester. To enable the European project to advance the ideals of democracy, peace and economic prosperity further, it must be credible and supported by pillars comprising really effective economic stabilisation policies.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (S&D), in writing. I support this report which calls for increased parliamentary scrutiny in eurozone governance. The European Parliament must play a key role in the new governance of the eurozone. The tightening of economic policy coordination and surveillance at European level must be based on the firm principles of democratic legitimacy and solidarity. The strengthening of the Commission’s authority in controlling the coordination and surveillance of national budgets must be accompanied by a simultaneous strengthening of democratic control through the European Parliament. Currently the Commission produces the ‘Annual Growth Survey’ which is the document used as the basis for the European semester process. This process should be further legitimised by making it subject to the codecision procedure with the European Parliament before the spring summit. This change would mean the European Parliament has real power to amend and negotiate with the Council the content of the document on which the European semester is based. We should also reinforce the cooperation between the European Parliament and national parliaments with interparliamentary fora to coordinate policies on the European semester, including meetings of the broad European political groups before and after the annual spring Economic Council.

 
  
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  Edit Herzog (S&D), in writing.(HU) We must urgently find a way to ensure that the management of problems is not limited to austerity measures which, even if only temporarily, hinder growth and increase unemployment if applied on their own. Adjustment programmes should also contain measures that create jobs and trigger structurally uniform growth. This is the only way that we can give an outlook and faith to all those who have to bear the largest share of the burdens of adjustment. In this regard, the legislative package is unfortunately lacking any concrete aspects. There is no doubt that our most urgent tasks now concern the euro area. However, there is also plenty of work to be done in the ten countries that are not (yet) members of the euro area. It is therefore also important for euro area leaders who are now tightening their cooperation to not forget about the difficulties of these ten Member States, and to pay sufficient attention to, and make sufficient efforts for, the strengthening of the whole of the EU. This is not simply a matter of goodwill and noble gestures, but also a well-perceived need, as one-third of the half billion EU citizens live outside the euro area, and they represent crucial buyers and suppliers for euro area businesses and markets.

 
  
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  Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL), in writing.(FR) The introduction of the Semester at the start of last year marked the first stage in a general belt-tightening exercise. The European semester set a dangerous precedent by forcing the Member States to communicate their draft budgets to the European institutions before their national parliaments had even been consulted. Once imposed, this policy was soon followed by even more drastic measures, with a little more parliamentary sovereignty being handed over to the European supervisory bodies each time. The Stability and Growth Pact is based on this framework, as are the Commission’s new proposals to place struggling States under supervision. Ms Berès’s report itself expresses concern over the democratic legitimacy of this process. My group, for its part, is unable to accept these austerity measures imposed on the European people, and accordingly calls for a proper debate to be opened on a new European project that is no longer tied to the financial markets and that has social, human and environmental progress, as well as job security, as its main aims.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE), in writing.(RO) The economic and financial crisis has increased the inequalities and macroeconomic imbalances. The first European semester which ended recently has highlighted the need for the European Union to tackle these problems using a symmetrical approach, also based on greater legitimacy and inter-linked policies at EU level, with the aim of achieving the objectives set in the Europe 2020 strategy. Regional policy will continue to play a particularly important role in the development of national programmes as part of the European semester, while also providing a key instrument for achieving the objectives set in the medium and long term. A strong, well-financed cohesion policy can prevent possible economic and financial crises in Europe in the future and can provide particular protection to less well developed regions. It is also of paramount importance to involve local and regional partners in achieving the European Union’s objectives, bearing in mind the characteristics and different levels of development of Europe’s 271 regions. This action will lead to a greater feeling of responsibility for the strategy’s objectives at all levels and will ensure greater awareness on the ground of the objectives and results.

 
  
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  Sławomir Witold Nitras (PPE), in writing.(PL) The ongoing debt crisis has demonstrated that the current European system of economic governance is not effective in averting crises or preventing them from spreading. The European semester is a cycle of mutual assessments of the EU Member States’ budgetary plans, which enables surveillance of economic policy in the EU in order to prevent the occurrence of significant fiscal and structural problems. The first European semester was inaugurated on 1 January 2011 and, as experience has shown, the procedure needs to be improved.

In most cases the Commission’s recommendations for the Member States were reduced in scope by the Council, and this may frustrate effective economic coordination in the future. It also proves that in this area the Community method is more effective than an intergovernmental approach. Therefore, when drafting further legislation in the future, we should endeavour to increase the role of the European Parliament at the expense of the Council, since such a solution will ensure that the scope of the final recommendations is independent of national political interests. The position of Parliament can be strengthened by institutionalising economic dialogue, for example, and in particular by setting up a special parliamentary committee on the European semester. As part of the committee’s work, MEPs could, for example, ask the Council to justify changes made to the Commission’s recommendations, and could request finance ministers from Members States which have not implemented the recommendations to attend the committee’s meetings. The clear inclusion of Parliament will increase the democratic legitimacy of the procedure as a whole and will also support the integrity of the European legal system and the transparency of the institutional structure.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI), in writing. – (DE) Instead of finally giving a chance to weaker national economies outside the euro area, Brussels is now placing its hopes in a planned economy. Economic and social policy, in other words the key competences of a sovereign state, are now subject to the centralist monitoring of the Commission and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin). National reform programmes have to be presented in Brussels so that ‘anomalies can be identified at an early stage.’ The recommendations of the Council and the Commission are then to be implemented in the second semester. This system will never work. This is not just my opinion – a study by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament comes to the same conclusion: it estimates the efficiency of the recommendations in the last European semester to be non-existent. Why is that? Growth cannot be forced through a centralised planned economy. We need to remedy the mistakes made when the euro area was established and form a hard currency zone. This must be made up of sovereign states with sovereign economic policies.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD), in writing.(EL) My congratulations to the rapporteur on the comprehensive and balanced report which she has presented to us. The right balance between financial returns, figures and a social dimension is needed and the rapporteur rightly emphasised that. The measures being taken within the framework of national reform plans, economic governance and the European semester should not exacerbate the social crisis in certain countries with more vulnerable economies, thus making life even more difficult. I agree with the rapporteur that the single market must be at the heart of European economic governance and I consider it vital that the Member States increase support for SMEs, which are the backbone of the single market economy. Education is an important sector for the development of a viable economy and must be strengthened, so that it can act as a force for growth, rather than being the object of spending cuts that may come at a high price by marginalising the younger generations from the point of view of employment.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI), in writing. – (DE) When it comes to a common currency and the subsequent closely interconnected economies, the Member States simply have a responsibility to ‘lay their cards on the table’. The significantly more stringent coordination of budgets does not in any way violate the principle of subsidiarity. The submission of national reform programmes should, on grounds of transparency, go without saying for elected representatives and, in view of the fact that governments clearly expect to bail out their European partners, the electorates of the credit-providing states also have a right to this transparency. Many good strategies were committed to paper a long time ago. We now need to actually comply with these strategies at last, the Maastricht criteria being one example that could be mentioned.

 

17. Financing instrument for development cooperation - banana accompanying measures - Financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide - Financing instrument for development cooperation - Establishment of a financing instrument for cooperation with industrialised countries (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the joint debate on

– the report by Charles Goerens, on behalf of the European Parliament delegation to the Conciliation Committee, on the joint text approved by the Conciliation Committee for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1905/2006 establishing a financing instrument for development cooperation (00059/2011 – C7-0379/2011 – 2010/0059(COD)) (A7-0403/2001),

– the report by Helmut Scholz, on behalf of the European Parliament delegation to the Conciliation Committee, on the joint text approved by the Conciliation Committee for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1934/2006 establishing a financing instrument for cooperation with industrialised and other high-income countries and territories (00056/2011 – C7-0376/2011 – 2009/0059(COD)) (A7-0401/2011),

– the report by Kinga Gál and Barbara Lochbihler, on behalf of the European Parliament delegation to the Conciliation Committee, on the joint text approved by the Conciliation Committee for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1889/2006 on establishing a financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide (00058/2011 – C7-0378/2011 – 2009/0060B(COD)) (A7-0404/2011), and

– the report by Gay Mitchell, on behalf of the European Parliament delegation to the Conciliation Committee, on the joint text approved by the Conciliation Committee for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1905/2006 establishing a financing instrument for development cooperation (00057/2011 – C7-0377/2011 – 2009/0060A(COD)) (A7-0402/2011).

 
  
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  Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Chair of the Delegation to the Conciliation Committee. (ES) Mr President, after lengthy, laborious negotiations, on 25 October the European Parliament Delegation to the Conciliation Committee approved, by a large majority, the agreement reached with the Council. First of all, I would like to extend my thanks to all the members of Parliament’s Delegation, particularly those who formed part of the negotiating team, to the Council for its openness, and to the Commission for its relentless support.

As Chair of the Delegation to the Conciliation Committee, I have to say that the overall result is satisfactory to Parliament. We were faced with an interesting challenge both politically and intellectually, namely to adapt the current financing instruments to the circumstances of the new Treaty. This has been achieved, Mr President, by making the key elements of those instruments – priorities, objectives, expected results and general resource allocation – subject to codecision, thus placing Parliament and the Council on an equal footing.

Another significant achievement I should like to highlight is that, thanks to our discussions in the conciliation process, the Commission has made its declaration on the use of delegated acts in future financing instruments explicitly much more forceful.

A further point I would like to emphasise is the Council’s political declaration on the use of delegated acts in future external financing instruments, which it has agreed to deal with appropriately. This was a red line for the Council, as it was initially reluctant to issue this declaration but was finally persuaded to do so by the force of our arguments.

Regarding the instruments themselves, I will point out the following: in the case of the instrument for industrialised countries, we have succeeded in including an annex specifying funding thresholds by priority and geographical area, and in the case of the instrument for banana-exporting countries, we have laid down in very precise terms the criteria for funding allocation and the approach to be taken, ruling out any arbitrariness and any possibility of action by the Commission that escapes the control of Parliament. I must admit, Mr President, that there was one particular point in this instrument on which Parliament’s position failed to prevail. However, Mr President, conciliation means conciliating positions, not winning outright. Therefore, just as we imposed our red lines, the Council was also entitled to draw some of its own.

I would like to add, Mr President, that if Parliament failed to adopt the instrument for banana-exporting countries tomorrow it would have serious consequences. The programmes would be cancelled because, contrary to what some colleagues have stated in this House – in good faith, I presume – there is no money elsewhere in the budget that can be used to fund those programmes. Such a decision on our part would therefore cause serious damage to vulnerable communities in those countries, and the political consequences would likewise be highly detrimental, to say nothing of the agreements we have recently reached in the World Trade Organisation in connection with bananas, which would also be severely undermined.

Mr President, the Council has already approved this agreement. Tomorrow we are expected to honour our gentleman’s pact with the Council by ratifying the agreement. Hence, Mr President, as Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the Conciliation Committee, my recommendation to the House is to support this conciliation agreement tomorrow.

 
  
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  Charles Goerens, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, the regulation on the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) has two sections: a development cooperation section and an institutional section relating to the European Parliament’s power of codecision. The first section does not present any issues. Rather, it is on the institutional aspects that our ideas differ.

How can we make the BAM Regulation compatible with the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, and particularly with Article 290? Let it be clear that, under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament now has the same power as the Council to approve the strategic priorities set in connection with the programming of European funds, including those allocated to development cooperation.

In accordance with the mandate set by Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, and on the basis of the decisions taken by both the Committee on Development and Parliament’s delegation to the Conciliation Committee, I, as rapporteur, adhered to the following two red lines throughout the eight trialogues held with the Council and the Commission.

Firstly, there was no question of relinquishing the equal treatment of Parliament and the Council when financial programming priorities are set. Secondly, and in the same spirit, there was no question of relinquishing the European Parliament’s right of democratic oversight in connection with this instrument and thereby setting an undesirable precedent for the future.

Following eight trialogues, and faced with the inflexibility of the Council, which is not even present here today, two different responses emerged. The majority of the delegation voted in favour of the draft compromise as presented to you. A strong minority, however, failed to endorse the compromise negotiated as part of the conciliation procedure. As rapporteur and as a democrat who respects the principle of the majority, it is my duty to communicate the outcome of our deliberations to you, which is what I have done.

My personal interpretation of parliamentary ethics is such that I could not allow that fact to go unmentioned. Those same ethics permit me, however, to tell you that, personally, I find the outcome extremely unsatisfactory. Why? I find it unsatisfactory because, should the compromise be adopted by Parliament, it could set an undesirable precedent. Indeed, for the BAM project, the European Parliament has only been granted the right to receive information on the strategic choices that the Commission will make in relation to the allocation of the EUR 190 million worth of resources. The European Parliament is given information, and the Council, alone, decides on a Commission proposal.

This is not a step forward; it is two steps back: the first, in relation to the Treaty of Lisbon, and the second, in relation to the situation prior to 1 December 2009, the date of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Indeed, up until 2009, the European Parliament was able to argue its case before the Commission when there was a negative procedure. Such procedures had suspensive effect. Today, they have no such thing. The Council has succeeded in depriving the European Parliament, despite its role as colegislator, of its right of democratic scrutiny by only accepting a solution whereby the Council alone may take strategic decisions within the scope of the Banana Accompanying Measures.

The Council has succeeded in making the implementation of the BAM programme part of a process dictated by Article 291, which relates to implementing measures and nothing else. We are taking two steps backwards here. To tell the truth, we are regressing. That is why I will be unable to vote in favour of this report. That being said, I admit that this is an extremely difficult decision for me, but it is one that I am prepared to take, because I do not want to be involved in setting an undesirable precedent for the forthcoming negotiations on the European Parliament’s powers with regard to the financing of external policy instruments.

 
  
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  Helmut Scholz, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, when I took over this dossier, I quite honestly did not expect to be negotiating it intensively for more than two years. In my view, that is certainly difficult to explain to the general public, both to citizens within the EU and also to people in our partner countries.

It is worth noting that, with regard to the negotiations on the actual content and the tasks of the instrument, it was possible to reach an agreement in a few months. What caused the negotiations to drag on so long was the interpretation of the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of the delegated acts and the refusal of some large Member States to actually allow Parliament greater powers of scrutiny.

The Council and the European Parliament agreed at an early stage to thoroughly revise the financing instrument for cooperation with industrialised countries. We planned to release up to EUR 348 million for cooperation in the fields of science, academic exchanges – including the Erasmus Mundus programme – culture, environmental protection and renewable energy sources and the stimulation of bilateral trade relations. Particular consideration was to be given here to small and medium-sized enterprises. That remains the case, but the delay has meant that it will only be possible for a considerably smaller amount to be invested by the end of the current financial framework. That is particularly regrettable because, with the new ICI+, projects in developing countries can also be financed, and this involves projects that do not fall within the general definition of development assistance measures, for example sending European students to universities in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

In the amended regulation we have made clear reference to the opportunities and challenges arising from the expansion of its geographical scope. It is clearly stated for whom and for what purpose the additional funds are to be used according to the intentions of the legislators. In the developing countries listed in Annex II, at least 5% of the funds are to be spent in the area of public diplomacy. In specific terms, that means the promotion of dialogue with civil society with regard to the character and fundamental values of the European Union, namely democracy, respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms.

At least 20% of the funds are to be invested in the promotion of direct relations between the citizens of the European Union and the partner countries. In addition to an emphasis on academic exchange and the mobility of students, this also involves the interlinking of economic, social and cultural players. At least 50% of the funds are to be spent on the interlinking of economic activities, with the focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. The funds are to go mainly to partner countries which comply with the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation and which are involved in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is a new element. With regard to cooperation in the energy sector, the Commission is in any case required to concentrate in particular on cooperation in the area of renewable energy.

For the purpose of the minutes and for the information of the Commission and the supervisory authorities: this instrument is expressly not to be used to provide hidden subsidies for the operation of a European telephone company in Colombia or any other country in Latin America. I consider it extremely important and necessary to ensure that when granting financial assistance no concessions are made as regards the basic principles of the European Union. When promoting projects in developing countries attention needs to be paid in future to policy coherence, and particularly to harmonisation with measures to combat the food crisis.

We in Parliament will continually monitor this. For this purpose, we have enshrined in this instrument a special reporting obligation on the part of the Commission – this is a success too. We want to check whether the multiannual strategic planning by the European External Action Service and the Commission for implementing our regulation is in line with the spirit of the legislators. In the past the Commission has unfortunately often taken the attitude that you can write anything you like on paper. We therefore wanted to enshrine the delegated acts in this instrument and to demand our role and duty as legislators with a right of veto. Therefore, in the interests of those who benefit from the support programme, we did not in the end insist on the relevant wording, but with this instrument as with all the others – and on this point I agree with the other rapporteurs – we will also fight for this democratic right in future too.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál, rapporteur. (HU) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I can only repeat what my fellow Member who spoke before me just said. We were all surprised by the resistance triggered by these negotiations. Parliament’s rightful demand concerning the exercise of the right of democratic control will lead to an extended series of negotiations. I do not think any of the rapporteurs thought that this issue would be protracted so much.

Nevertheless, I am glad that we have come today to this closing debate. As co-rapporteur for the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, I can only stress that the instrument would serve human rights and the protection of democracy worldwide. The instrument could be used to support the fight for children’s rights, the fight against torture and cruel and inhumane treatment, but also the specific protection of advocates of human rights. The beneficiaries of the instrument are civil organisations working towards these goals in third countries. Indeed, it was the events of the Arab Spring that have shown the importance of Parliament having an overview of strategic matters, and how much significance there is to the way such instruments are used.

We did come to an agreement at first reading on the contents of the report, and there was no question to any of us that we would do everything in our power to facilitate the operation of civil organisations.

At the two subsequent readings the coin flipped to the opposite side and we came to the inter-institutional debate. I view this four-pack as the veterinary’s horse of Hungarian proverb, which shows every ailment imaginable. It was the first symbolic sign of whether the interinstitutional system could accept that the role of the European Parliament has indeed increased, and has become different after 1 December 2009. I am glad that we could come to this agreement between the institutions, and for this I would like to thank my fellow Member Mr Vidal Quadras and my other colleagues with whom we went through the struggles of these months.

We feel that it has been a long road, and we all know that at the heart of every compromise is the fact that the parties involved give up their original ideas to some degree. Still, I feel that this has been a significant step forward and that in the future the Council and Parliament will be able to decide jointly in matters concerning the strategic planning of the financial instrument. It is important to have this promise in the negotiations on the framework strategies. I am convinced that this agreement will strengthen the future negotiating position of Parliament. This is also ensured by the joint resolution. This is particularly important and relevant if we wish to talk to third countries in the world about democracy and human rights.

Our responsibility to strengthen the interinstitutional agreement at tomorrow’s vote is not only about inter-institutional trust. We, Members of the European Parliament, must also act responsibly vis-à-vis third countries. We must not appear to them as unserious. This is why I, too, ask you to vote in favour of this package containing the four financial instruments tomorrow.

 
  
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  Barbara Lochbihler, rapporteur. − Mr President, as co-rapporteur of this instrument, I would also like to start by saying something first on the content. The changes brought to the current instrument now entail the possibility of exceptionally covering costs related to taxes paid by NGOs when implementing programmes and projects. This is necessary to increase the flexibility of the instrument and because an increasing number of governments are no longer exempting civil society organisations from paying taxes – sometimes to increase the pressure on them and limit their freedom of manoeuvre.

In the field of human rights and democracy work, I have to say this is a worrying but very real trend we are observing, so it was very good that we could reach this change. I am confident that the conciliation has also produced positive outcomes for the future instrument for democracy and human rights promotion, which will run from 2014–2020 and on which we shall shortly be receiving a proposal by the Commission.

Indeed, as a result of our negotiations, the Commission states in its Communication on the EU budget for 2020 that ‘the future legal basis for the different instruments will propose the extensive use of delegated acts to allow for more flexibility in the management of the policies during the financial period, while respecting the prerogatives of the two branches of the legislature’. A joint European Parliament and Council declaration was also agreed on the use of delegated acts in the area of external relations for the future financial instruments, which strengthens the negotiating position of Parliament for the future instrument for democracy and human rights.

The agreement we have reached with the Council will allow us to decide together on the important strategic aspects of the instruments: objectives, priorities, indicative financial allocations and expected results. This means Parliament will have a greater say on how much money goes to one or other human rights and democracy objectives in the next instruments. For example, Parliament used to complain in the past that not enough funding went to democracy activities, including support for parliaments. Now we will be able to negotiate with the Council hopefully by means of delegated acts in the future instrument to have maximum flexibility to modify such priorities.

Delegated acts would allow us to have a say not only at the birth of the instrument when drafting the regulation, as we do now, but also on the multiannual strategy papers and thus at regular intervals during the life of the instrument.

Finally, we did not achieve everything we wanted during this round of negotiations, but it has made us determined to achieve it in the next round which will start in January.

 
  
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  Gay Mitchell, rapporteur. − Mr President, the conciliation process has yielded some gains on some issues of concern for Parliament. There had previously been numerous questions concerning the extent of powers given to the Commission in implementing the programmes of the EU’s external financing instruments. I am happy to see that we have a situation where the European Parliament and the Council decide together on important strategic decisions. This is positive.

I am fully aware that the negotiations have been extremely difficult and complex, in particular since the Council has not been active and made not a single counter-proposal in the discussions. Parliament was therefore forced to move and make concessions in the interests of beneficiary countries. Many of my fellow Members in the Development Committee, including the rapporteur, Mr Goerens himself, feel that the final result on the DCI/BAM regulation is not acceptable, neither in political nor in legal terms. I will return to that point in a moment.

I would stress that the EPP Development Committee Members attach the highest importance to Section 2 of the draft legislative resolution of the DCI/BAM regulation and, in particular, to its last sentence which ‘underlines that this result does not set a precedent for future negotiations on the post-2013 external financing instruments’. I sincerely hope that Parliament demands respect for this condition in all future negotiations. If this clause is not respected, Parliament will be renouncing scrutiny powers over important multi-billion geographical and thematic strategies.

The fundamental issue is that democratic decision-making and control and respect for the Lisbon Treaty are the two most important principles in this regard, which is why I must strongly support the concerns expressed by Mr Goerens. I have to say – and I say this in your presence, Mr Vice-President – that it is time for the President of this Parliament to call for an independent review of the role that the Commission is supposed to play as honest broker in the conciliation process. It should not align itself with either institution and should ensure that the principles set out in the Treaties, as approved by the people of Europe, are upheld – as is its sworn duty. I have to say that I have some doubts that this is the case.

We can say that we have made progress in relation to financing of the development programmes. Thirty-six million children per day used to die. Thankfully, that is down now to less than 21 million. Much progress has been made, but by 2050 the population of the world will have increased by more than two billion people, 90% of whom will be born into what is now the developing world. We need to address this issue for altruistic reasons and for selfish reasons. If not, we will leave our children and our grandchildren a dreadful inheritance.

We need to educate public opinion in Europe, starting with our fellow European parliamentarians and national parliamentarians, about the importance of pursuing this issue. We need efficiency and coherent policy in relation to aid, but above all I would say that this efficiency, this effectiveness, this coherence, will only happen if there is transparency and accountability. This is not a residents’ association. This is the Parliament of Europe. We have not been shown the full respect we are entitled to by the Commission in this regard, and it is not the first time.

It took me two and a half years to negotiate the DCI because of the same approach and attitude by the Commission. If the Commission of its own volition does not return to the spirit and the principles of the Treaties, then the President of Parliament must call it to account and ensure that it does. It is our duty to defend this institution against intrusion from whatever source.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, the debate today on the financing instruments for external actions comes at the end of a long and difficult process. It concerns a package of important legislative amendments.

The Commission made its first proposals in April 2009. These included proposals to add developing countries under the Industrialised Countries Instrument – creating ‘ICI Plus’. This will enable us to conduct cooperation activities with them which did not necessarily qualify as Official Development Assistance.

The Commission also made proposals for measures to accompany the deal in the Geneva WTO trade talks. These measures concern banana-producing countries – hence the Banana Accompanying Measures or ‘BAM’.

Tomorrow, after two years of negotiation, Parliament will vote on the package of amendments to the Development Cooperation Instrument, to the human rights instrument, and the ICI Plus. The Council has already approved the compromise agreed in conciliation.

The negotiations addressed complex issues concerning the EU’s functioning after the Lisbon Treaty. Despite differences of opinion between Parliament and the Council, the Commission considers that the institutions have achieved a balanced compromise. The Commission – and in particular my colleagues Cathy Ashton and Andris Piebalgs – would like to acknowledge the efforts of both sides in reaching this result.

Thanks are due also to Vice-President Vidal Quadras and the members of his team, as well as to the successive Council Presidencies, culminating in the agreement under the Polish Presidency.

Failure of this package is not an option. If we did not have this compromise, it would be a severe blow to the European Union’s reputation as a credible trade negotiator and as a trusted development partner. We would also be unable to pursue cooperation in some key areas with our strategic partners.

Therefore, the Commission welcomes the agreement covering the short period left between now and 2013. This compromise allows the Commission to immediately start implementing the budget for the ICI Plus initiatives and the Banana Accompanying Measures.

For this reason, the Commission is grateful for amending budget 6/2011, agreed on 18-19 November between Parliament and the Council. The additional EUR 13.4 million for the Banana Accompanying Measures means we can start implementation as soon as possible. The actions to be funded will improve the projection of the European Union’s interests at international level and comply with the development commitments made in Geneva to finally end the long-standing banana dispute in the WTO.

The compromise text addresses Parliament’s request for more clarity on the financial allocations in broad terms. At the same time, the proposal respects the Council position that the legislation should not include specific financial allocations for individual countries and regions.

Turning specifically to the Banana Accompanying Measures: the compromise text includes additional information on the three criteria to be followed by the Commission in determining the financial allocations per country. It also includes an indication of how the criteria will be applied. It also adds an explicit reference to the Commission’s intention to come forward with a formal implementing Commission decision on the indicative country allocations. This will give Parliament and the Council the opportunity to express their views on the financial allocations.

The accompanying measures promised in the framework of the banana trade agreements are important for the ACP countries. The tariff cuts have already started kicking in, and the ACP countries have requested this additional support. Last but not least, I would like to the remind the House that the funds we promised to the ACP countries’ banana producers in Geneva must be additional and cannot be taken out of the European Development Fund. Moreover, as we are also at the end of the 10th European Development Fund Financial Protocol, there is no margin of manoeuvre left within this instrument.

A few words about ICI Plus: under ICI Plus, minimum percentage floors for the three priority areas (public diplomacy, economic partnership and people-to-people links) and a maximum percentage ceiling for administrative costs have been included in the text. The four percentages add up to less than 100%, leaving sufficient margin to decide on final allocations during programming. This gives the necessary flexibility to take account of developments and needs on the ground. At the same time, it provides for involvement of the co-legislators in overall priorities for ICI Plus.

Mr President, to conclude, the Commission therefore looks forward to the final approval of the package by Parliament.

 
  
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  Maurice Ponga, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, tomorrow, we will give our verdict for the third time on the new development cooperation instrument (DCI) providing for Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) banana-producing countries following the reduction in tariff preferences.

This aid programme has a budget of EUR 190 million and is intended to support 10 ACP countries until 2013. It is crucially important for our African and Caribbean partners, since the banana sector is of considerable economic and social importance in these countries. I bitterly regret the fact that not all of Parliament’s demands concerning the use of delegated acts have been accepted for this instrument.

We have nevertheless managed to make progress. Indeed, the text outlines clear objectives and specific criteria for the allocation of resources to the Commission. The Commission has also made a statement specifying how these criteria will be applied. Moreover, we have a statement from the Council regarding the next Multiannual Financial Framework, specifying that the latter will take due account of delegated acts in external aid instruments post-2013. Finally, Parliament states in its resolution – and this is a crucial point in my view – that the outcome of this conciliation does not set any kind of precedent.

I have just come back from Togo, where the 22nd session of the ACP-European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly was being held, and I believe I can say that our ACP partners are counting on us, given the urgency of the situation. The funds ought to have been released two years ago. We must be aware of the terrible consequences for our ACP partners should the DCI/BAM Regulation be rejected. The situation of some farmers is catastrophic. We cannot wait any longer and must act accordingly. I am therefore counting on you to endorse this text.

 
  
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  Richard Howitt, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, can I begin by saying that although we are dealing with the legality of the regulations, we must not forget that we are debating the 10% of the European budget which the EU commits to its relations with the rest of the world and to the European Initiative on Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), in which I have a direct interest. This is the money which we give to the victimised, the oppressed and the threatened of the world, very often against the wishes of the governments of their own countries who are the perpetrators of human rights abuse.

Commissioner, on the legalities I add two things: First I fully support my colleagues Mrs Gál and Mrs Lochbihler in saying that the hard fought interinstitutional agreement will win codecision for this Parliament on strategic decisions post-2014, including on the financial allocation of different priority areas with minimum percentages. This must be honoured.

Secondly, both before and after 2014, we have developed an informal but important strategic dialogue between Parliament and Commission on the projects supported by the EIDHR. For the people concerned, if their projects become publicly known it could lead to their lives being at risk. We found a way to balance confidence and scrutiny and I hope the Commissioner tonight will express his confidence that this arrangement will continue.

 
  
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  Catherine Grèze, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, delegated acts are not very sexy – if I can use that word – but they are crucial.

I should like to begin by paying tribute to the work done by Mr Goerens to defend the rights that were granted to this House, to this democratic institution, under the Treaty of Lisbon.

The Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance is, of course, in favour of granting support measures in the banana sector even though it should be said in passing that, without fair measures at the WTO, compensation will in no way solve the problems of small producers having to compete with Latin America on the globalised market.

On the other hand, our group is fiercely opposed to the idea of our renouncing the rights granted by the Treaty of Lisbon. Parliament has a right of scrutiny over the 190 million that is going to be granted, and under no circumstances can it give the Commission or the Member States a blank cheque.

I call on you, ladies and gentlemen, to reject the compromise on the DCI/BAM financing instrument, which ultimately boils down to us MEPs undermining our own power.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (ES) Mr President, one must recognise Mr Vidal-Quadras’s efforts to find his way through the complex labyrinth of the European Union’s political architecture – which really is labyrinthine – in an attempt to ensure that this House is not excluded from codecision in such highly significant matters as these instruments.

I wish to say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that my parliamentary group is very critical of two of these instruments: the instrument for stability and the instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide.

We believe democracy and human rights to be universal. One human right cannot be given priority over another and the recent experiences of our relations with the Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi regimes or present-day Saudi Arabia or Morocco prove that we have a track record of giving certain human rights priority over others.

Clearly, this instrument is ideologically biased and, furthermore, it justifies foreign interference. We therefore disagree with it and believe we should rather be putting up an uncompromising defence of human rights.

 
  
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  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Mr Füle, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say a few words in reference to the legal act on the financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide, an instrument which gives global support to democracy, the protection of human rights, political pluralism and democratic participation and representation, and which really does enable intervention in situations which are sometimes very difficult. We are living in the 21st century, but are constantly the witnesses of torture, executions, discrimination, persecution, the abuse of children and many other ills. Naturally, we will not put the world to rights with the help of this instrument, but it definitely can foster the development of civil society and democracy, the formation of independent media and the growth of free speech. Our work is, therefore, extremely important.

In talking about the outcome of the conciliation procedure, a line could be quoted from the well-known film Nobody’s Perfect, but in my opinion what we have to do today is to accept this compromise so that we can at some point return to the matter of strengthening the position of Parliament in the oversight of this instrument.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RAINER WIELAND
Vice-President

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D). - Mr President, I am happy to acknowledge that, with respect to the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, we already have a procedure developed between us and the Commission that does allow for scrutiny. We need to develop procedures that are flexible and publicised, specifically by the EU delegations who should work more on the ground with human rights defenders, civil society organisations, the media and so on.

This Parliament needs to be kept abreast of the implementation of projects while ensuring protection for the persons and organisations that are supposed to be assisted by this instrument. We need as well to explore more effective ways to help media escape and counter censorship, particularly internet censorship.

Let me now turn to the negotiating procedures regarding the delegated acts, and in particular in terms of the DCI instrument. I join colleagues who deplore the blackmail tactics used by the Council and the Commission to try to make this Parliament relinquish the powers that were conferred on it by Article 290 of the Lisbon Treaty. These are powers that this Parliament cannot abandon; it is an absolute must to exercise democratic control of an instrument – the DCI – with tremendous potential for development and empowerment of people worldwide.

We do not accept those tactics, particularly the threat of defaulting on the commitments made under the Banana Accompanying Measures. This will not work; Parliament will not relinquish such powers.

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE). - Mr President, I very much regret that Parliament was unable to fully defend its position during the negotiations with the Council and the Commission. I support the position that, in the future, Parliament should have a greater say on how funding under this instrument is used. It should be the elected representatives and not the working groups in the Commission who should decide on these important matters.

In spite of this fact, I will vote in favour of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights because I believe this programme is too important to delay any further. We must continue to work towards greater democracy in Belarus, Iran and the Ukraine.

We now need to enlarge our actions in this domain. In addition to the European instrument for democracy we should now move towards the creation of a European endowment for democracy. The original idea of the European instrument for democracy was for an endowment and now is the time to fulfil this idea. In combining both instruments, I believe the role of the European Union in promoting democracy in the world will definitely be strengthened.

 
  
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  Patrice Tirolien (S&D) . – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, our coordinator Thijs Berman could not be with us in the end this evening for personal reasons. However, I know that he shares my views on this issue fully.

The conciliation on this legislative package was tedious and time-consuming and, while the outcome on the human rights instrument and the enlarged Industrialised Countries Instrument (ICI Plus) is satisfactory, we still have a very long way to go with regard to the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM). The compromise reached on this text thus brushes aside the mandate that was given to our negotiating team, which was to place Parliament on an equal footing with the Council in all of the programming decisions relating to the choice of strategic priorities and financial allocations. I say this because it is indeed Parliament’s powers and the spirit of the Treaty of Lisbon itself that are we are talking about here.

The choice of programming priorities is a highly political decision, in which our Parliament must have its say. By categorically refusing to grant Parliament any such power of oversight and by employing shameful blackmailing tactics, the Council has, once again, made a reprehensible ideological withdrawal. Member States must, however, understand that the European Union’s external actions are now a responsibility that is shared between our institutions.

That is why Parliament must retain its authority and reject the proposal on the BAM. This is the only means we have of showing the Council and the Commission that Parliament wishes to see greater transparency in Community decisions. If we lose this battle, it could lead to an absurd situation in which we would have to wait for a new Treaty in order to obtain, at long last, the powers that are in fact already conferred on us by the Treaty of Lisbon.

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz, (PPE).(PL) Mr President, in my capacity as Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Belarus, I know how important it is that the European Commission and the Union in general possess an instrument for the financial support of non-governmental organisations working for democracy and human rights in conditions dictated by authoritarian regimes. As an example, I would like to highlight the sad story of Ales Bialatski, who has just been sentenced in Belarus to four and a half years’ hard labour because he was receiving foreign aid. This shows too that these instruments should be as flexible as possible, to make it easier for these people to use the funds we allocate to their support and also to protect them from repression.

I am pleased that the negotiations which have been undertaken have led to adoption of the current legislation. I am pleased that in comparison to earlier measures it is somewhat more flexible, but am hoping that future measures will enable still more effective support to be given to organisations working for democracy and human rights in countries such as Belarus.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD).(SK) Madam President, since April 2009, when the Commission adopted the draft regulation amending Council Regulation No 1934 establishing a financing instrument for cooperation with industrialised and other high-income countries, the position of the European Parliament and the Council has diverged on many points. It was therefore necessary at the beginning of this year to proceed to an arbitration procedure, so that the differing views of these institutions on the Regulation can be harmonised, allowing a new regulation to be brought into effect. During the eight trialogues from March to the end of October, progress was made over the different positions of Parliament and the Council such that we can now talk about agreement that important strategic decisions will be adopted within the framework of the codecision process, and that Parliament’s position will be strengthened through the use of delegated acts. In this way, certain preconditions have been created for the successful continuation of this legislative process.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I welcome the debate on this report, in light of the shift in the global economic balance. This is why cooperation must be encouraged with developing countries which exert a major commercial influence at the moment. I should highlight the relevance of paragraph 5 of the report. At present, the European Union’s trade relations must be diversified geographically. The EU’s partnerships need to take into account the current challenges. For instance, making financial aid conditional upon fulfilling environmental requirements.

I should point out that the developing countries with economic potential display shortcomings in this area. Their contribution to the implementation of treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol is vital. In addition, these states must ensure compliance with the legislation drafted by the International Labour Organisation. Rapid economic development can lead to abuses and violations of fundamental rights.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE).(PL) Mr President, financing instruments are a means to achieve stated objectives. In the case of foreign policy or external actions, and this includes development policy, particular precision is required in choosing the instruments to be applied. How should priorities be established? How much should be spent on education? How much should be spent on financial and material aid? What place should be given to developing enterprise or to humanitarian aid, to developing democracy or, finally, to assisting the development of non-governmental organisations? The European Parliament is an institution elected by society, so it has a particular right to make decisions about the allocation of funds for building and developing freedom, democracy and human rights, building civil society and meeting the needs of society and particular groups in society.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, this debate has been interesting and has paved the way for a better understanding and, I hope, also more cooperative interaction in the future.

In this regard, I have heard the concerns of Parliament. I am confident that they will be met in the next Multiannual Financial Framework when the Commission presents its proposals for the new instruments in the coming weeks. I agree with many of you who said that even now we need protection to be provided to those defending human rights. The Commission agrees that it is a problem when regimes use tax laws to further oppress human rights NGOs. The changes agreed allow us to accept taxes as eligible costs so that the attention of the authorities is not drawn to NGOs or to Commission funding.

Honourable Members, I would like to remind you that the Commission is sensitive to the European Parliament’s requests and has already made the formal commitment to fully comply with the new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. In its Communication ‘A Budget for Europe 2020’, the Commission made that commitment to the extensive use of delegated acts. Ms Lochbihler has referred to that part of the text, so I will not quote it again.

Let me just restate that the compromise before you represents today a fair balance between Parliament and the Council. Each side can see things it likes, and things which it does not like. However, I would insist on having a more forward-looking vision going beyond the limited field of interinstitutional relations.

As I stated in the debate, failure of this package is not an option. There is no Plan B. If Parliament does not adopt this legislation tomorrow, the Commission will have no basis to implement the budget for ICI Plus and the Banana Accompanying Measures. For the ICI Plus, we will be unable to promote our interests and value abroad. For the Banana Accompanying Measures, the Commission wants to state clearly that funds are not available from any other source, such as the European Development Fund.

If it fails to adopt the Banana Accompanying Measures, the European Union will be seen as an unreliable trade partner and, what is even more dramatic, unreliable for our poorest ACP partners. This is not what our citizens are expecting from the European Union.

Nevertheless, I would like to stress the fact that this compromise is a good result for the European Union as a single player in its external dimension, both for the European Union’s cooperation with its strategic partners and for its cooperation with the ACP banana-producing countries.

 
  
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  Charles Goerens, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, I just heard Commissioner Füle refer to, and I quote, ‘good cooperative action, here, in this sitting’. While we are very willing to cooperate with those who are present, it is difficult to do so with those who are absent: there is no one on the other side. I have not heard a single argument this evening or in the course of the eight trialogues that we had with the Council.

If the Council had been present this evening, we could have discussed the areas on which we differ; we could also have talked about what unites us. I have often had the opportunity to do this in the European Parliament’s Committee on Development. We could, for example, have discussed a common vision for development cooperation to be established by the European Union, the Commission and Member States as a whole – indeed, the Treaty of Lisbon requires this of us. This vision should be reflected in a sharing of responsibilities – and I stress the word responsibilities.

What, though, is the situation today? Member States spend approximately 80% of their development cooperation budget as they see fit. It is right, in this respect, that Member States have the final word with regard to their national budgets. Parliament has nothing to say in the matter.

In addition, Member States entrust a significant sum to the Commission, which implements these resources under the mandate entrusted to it by Member States: this is the European Development Fund (EDF). Until we have authority regarding the allocation of the EDF’s budget, the European Parliament will remain on the sidelines. For the European Parliament has no say in this matter either; it has no say in how almost 90% of the EDF’s budget is spent.

Parliament may apply Article 290, which puts it on an equal footing with the Council, for a very small proportion of the funds entrusted to the Commission. Here too, the Council wants to keep us on the sidelines, which is unacceptable. Is the aim for the European Parliament to play a role in the creation of a proper development cooperation policy, too? Yes or no? I continue to believe that the Council has not understood the message.

Once again, the Council is insisting that Parliament stay on the sidelines, and that was in fact, as you will recall, the mandate that the Council set for the Hungarian Presidency. On the one hand, there is a call for political coordination, and, on the other hand, we are being denied the means to command respect for ourselves. We are not even granted the means to ensure that a tiny bit of respect is shown to us in our dealings with our institutional partners.

The European Parliament, for its part, has not remained silent. When it was a question of integrating development activities into the External Action Service, we supported the Commission, through thick and thin. I take all of you sitting over there as my witnesses and challenge you to dispute what I have just said. We have spared no effort in enabling you to exist alongside the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

I believe, Mr President, that the efforts made by Parliament, and particularly by the Committee on Development, deserved to receive stronger support from the institutions, and especially from the Council.

 
  
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  Helmut Scholz, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I can only agree with Mr Goerens’s criticism of the Council, as I too would have very much liked to have seen the Council here today. Nevertheless, after all the fine words about compromise and also the areas of disagreement listed at the end of the debate, I would like to take the opportunity to point out once again that the Commission should now submit a completely revised strategy paper for the ICI+.

It would be unacceptable for us as legislators to give the instrument a completely new direction and then for the Commission to simply continue with the old strategy paper, which was drawn up even before the legislative amendment and therefore had the old ‘Global Europe’ communication as its reference document. Instead, the legislators have given the regulation a completely new tenor, namely that of a partnership approach and mutual benefit. The legislators are placing the regulation in the context of other key policy goals of the European Union, in particular coherence with development policy, the enforcement of international labour law standards and the combating of climate change. However, the strategy paper continues to ignore this intention, maintaining that the goal of the multiannual plan is to promote European business and profit interests. According to the text, the instrument is intended to resolve the problems which EU companies have in penetrating certain markets. As legislators, that was not what we aimed to achieve with this instrument and the corresponding money from taxpayers. The ICI+ is intended to be a modern cooperation programme, not a weapon of conquest.

Commissioner, in my view you still have an obligation to implement the will of the legislators in future, too. We do not want to write planning and strategy papers ourselves. We have repeatedly made that clear. That is something that the Commission should continue to do. However, we will utilise our right of veto if the requirements that we have written down have been ignored. Therefore, the proposals for the new generation of financing instruments must employ the principle of the delegated acts wisely.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál, rapporteur. (HU) Mr President, I would like to thank the Members for everything that has been mentioned during this debate and also for the problems that have been pointed out here. I would like to stress that I can fully understand those fellow Members who are concerned about a negative precedent being set here. Our common intention here is for the EU to have effective, functional and coherent financial instruments, and this is especially true in respect of human rights and democratisation.

In order for European citizens to truly believe that these millions of euros serve a good cause there is a need for a strategy that they can develop jointly with Parliament. It is therefore a most natural demand on our part for multiannual frameworks or strategies to not be allowed to be adopted without our consent and codecision. This is why the resistance shown by the Commission and the Council is so incomprehensible and bitter to everyone.

As I said, I understand the reservations of the rapporteurs; however, we must realise that we have reached the point of compromise, and we essentially see this as a significant step forward as regards the financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights. However, we expect this agreement, this resolution, to also be adhered to in the course of the establishment of the next strategy and framework. I would also like to stress the matter of our double or multiple responsibility and our credibility, which are increasingly binding for all of us in this debate which has been going on for two years now.

 
  
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  Barbara Lochbihler, rapporteur. Mr President, let me come back to the instrument for democracy and human rights.

The contributions in this debate have also shown that this instrument is one in which Parliament has always had great faith and for which it has had a keen passion. But we also see, for example in the ongoing discussion on the European Endowment for Democracy, that we clearly need to render this instrument more flexible, and readier to support urgent cases like human rights defenders, civil society under threat, unregistered actors and social movements, and so on.

Let me also repeat that the principle of greater involvement of the European Parliament in the establishment, running and control of the human rights and democracy instrument has been accepted on all sides, from the EU institutions to Member States to civil society. Therefore, I would like to invite and to call on colleagues to get ready for the upcoming struggle. Last time we had to fight for the very existence of the instrument. Now we will have to work to support its improvement.

 
  
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  Gay Mitchell, rapporteur. − Mr President, first of all may I also thank our colleague Mr Vidal-Quadras for his efforts in the conciliation process though there are concerns which remain. I realise that he did his very best to bring this agreement to the most successful conclusion he could in all of the circumstances.

But I do want to say this: with the advent of the Lisbon Treaty, on which my country had not one but two referenda, we were told that there would be clear codecision powers between Parliament and Council in a variety of areas, one of which is in the development cooperation area, and I do not accept in this instance that this has been the case.

Anywhere where Council is involved, Parliament should be involved in relation to the legislative process. At no stage do I want to see Parliament involved in micro-management: we have neither the skills nor the time nor the interest in doing that, but in the legislative process – post-Lisbon in particular – it is our responsibility, it is our duty and it is our Treaty-based power to do so.

I believe that handsome is as handsome does – to use the phrase that I was taught as a young boy – that is, there is no point in telling us we are going to do this and that and then do something else. We know you by what you do. I say this to the Commission: what you have been doing in relation to the respect for the mutual legislative powers of Parliament and Council leaves a lot to be desired. It is really sowing a lot of sourness, and there will be a time when you will come back to Parliament and Parliament may not be as accommodating as you may wish if you do not treat Parliament with the basic respect that it is due.

Can I say in relation to the particular instrument for which I have responsibility, the Financial Instrument for Development and Cooperation, that it is clear that if we could get cohesion working properly a lot of lives could be saved – I think the Commission’s own figure is 6 billion per year, perhaps the Commissioner might indicate this.

 
  
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  Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Chair of the Delegation to the Conciliation Committee. (ES) Mr President, if I may briefly vent my own feelings at this point in the debate, as Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the Conciliation Committee, I feel like a student who has handed in an essay with outstanding content, vocabulary, spelling and syntax, but is given a fail because there is a small blot of ink on the last line. This is a very regrettable situation, Mr President.

I should like to thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind words and, since we have been talking about precedents, is it or is it not a wonderful precedent that all the essential elements of these instruments should be subject to codecision in this transitional agreement? Is it or is it not an excellent sign for the future that the Council should offer us a political declaration in this transitional agreement, agreeing to deal appropriately with the use of delegated acts in future financing instruments?

I therefore believe that, where strategic issues are concerned, this agreement represents a valuable step forward. No doubt, when the Commission enters negotiations with the individual banana-exporting countries to decide how the money allocated under Parliament’s control and subject to its criteria and priorities is to be spent in each country, the Member States will have a say at that stage according to the previous procedure. However, demanding the total exclusion of the Member States from this specific final stage seems to me to be pushing one’s luck.

In view of this, bearing in mind that progress has been made and that the political and social consequences of failure would be seriously detrimental, I once again request the House …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  President. – The joint debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 1 December at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D), in writing.(RO) I welcome the agreement reached following the conciliation procedure between Parliament and the Council concerning the Regulation on establishing a financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide. The amendments agreed provide greater flexibility in using the European funds earmarked for promoting human rights worldwide, based on the fact that, in special cases, they define as eligible the costs relating to the taxes and charges paid by the beneficiaries of these funds. This flexibility will be able to help make these funds more effective and unblock the funding for programmes and projects in third countries. However, it is important that this eligibility is granted on a case-by-case basis and not automatically, so as to eliminate any abuses. It is just as important that the review of this regulation also helps make the European Union more consistent in terms of the instruments used for financing its external policies, bearing in mind that the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights was, in addition to the Development Cooperation Instrument, the only one which did not offer any kind of exemption from the principle of ineligibility of costs relating to taxes and charges.

 

18. Single market forum (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the statement by the Commission on the Single Market Forum.

 
  
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  John Dalli, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the economic and financial crisis that we are facing can sometimes cause us to forget about its human impact. It is therefore right for us to take a couple of steps back to consider the ultimate objective of all our reforms: the social and economic wellbeing of our fellow citizens.

We must accept this responsibility for our fellow citizens, who are also consumers, workers, taxpayers and savers; for our companies, whether they be small, medium-sized or large; and finally, for our countries and their regional and local authorities.

All these players are the first to feel the specific consequences of the current shocks, which are compounding existing problems with the single market. We must show them that the single market can give rise to concrete benefits. That is why we organised the Single Market Forum (SIMFO) in Krakow in early October, in partnership with you at the Parliament and the Polish Presidency. The Forum was attended by over 1 000 people during the discussions and almost 10 000 at the Single Market Fair held at the same time. At this point I would like to thank Róza Thun, Louis Grech, Malcolm Harbour and Silvu Buşoi, whose participation in the commitment of Parliament made SIMFO such a success.

The Forum made it possible to bring together all players in the single market. It was a great success, from which we can draw two conclusions. It has enabled us to back up our political discussions with concrete examples, which are also calls to take action to improve the lot of the people of Europe during this period of crisis and allow us to see our choices in relation to their real needs. It has enabled us to directly communicate the reforms that we are undertaking. We must constantly strive to disseminate information about our initiatives, from the time when they are discussed to their implementation.

The comments that were collected reflected the results of the survey concerning the 20 main concerns of European citizens in their day-to-day lives. The study has reaffirmed the need for citizens and companies to be better informed, and for the rules of the internal market to be applied more effectively with regard to health, social security, the recognition of professional qualifications, online purchasing, public procurement and the protection of intellectual property between countries, in particular.

We have now noted the Krakow Declaration drafted by the participants in the Forum, and we undertake to do what it has called for by taking the measures determined in connection with the Single Market Act.

We can identify three main courses of action:

Firstly, make the single market a safer place on a daily basis for the citizens of Europe. We want citizens to have confidence in the single market and to know their rights when making a purchase in another country or on the internet, or moving within the EU for personal or professional reasons.

We therefore intend to simplify mutual qualification recognition procedures in order to encourage mobility on the part of our fellow citizens in the internal market and ensure that their aims are not stymied by administrative barriers; we will propose reinforcing legislation concerning the posting of workers and clarifying the balance that must be struck between economic freedoms and fundamental rights; and we intend to enable consumers to make greater use of the single market.

Yesterday the Commission approved a package of measures aimed at ensuring that European consumers who buy goods and services (online or offline, in their country or in another Member State) have access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to solve their disputes with traders, without necessarily having to go to court. Moreover, with regard to e-commerce, we need to de-mystify this new form of consumption and make it safer, also for our companies, because it is still under-used to a very significant extent.

Secondly, make the economy of the internal market more dynamic by ensuring full implementation of the Services Directive and improving the distribution channels for goods in Europe; and by addressing businesspeople directly and improving the conditions in which they must operate in order to increase their competitiveness in a more competitive market and reduce their administrative burden.

There are a number of specific measures intended to achieve this: the creation of a single patent, which is a major milestone in supporting creativity and innovation in Europe, and other measures to increase the observance of intellectual property rights; an action plan for SMEs, to increase their access to funding in the form of venture capital, on the stock market and through bank loans; simplification of accounting rules; and simplification of the rules for public procurement.

Thirdly, support and facilitate public action. We are going to review the directives on public procurement in order to make the lives of public and private operators easier and increase the integration of social and environmental issues and issues relating to project innovation. We are also going to fill the legal void currently surrounding the procurement of services in Europe in order to improve the relationship between contracting authorities and private contractors, both when a contract is put out for tender and throughout its implementation.

Finally, we aim to renew our relationships with third parties and to introduce greater reciprocity into public procurement in particular.

We have placed all these measures within the framework of the Single Market Act and we must ensure their implementation. 2012 will be a crucial year for the delivery of these reforms. It will be a milestone in our project to relaunch the single market on the 20th anniversary of its creation. To turn this celebration into an exciting event, we intend to work with all the players on the single market to organise a Single Market Week focusing on new growth, along the lines set out in the Krakow Declaration. During this week, local events will be organised in each Member State and a big event will be held in Brussels.

I am counting on your participation to enable us to make the 20th anniversary of the single market a success for everyone.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as Commissioner Dalli has already mentioned, we had more than 1 000 participants at the Single Market Forum in Kraków on 3 and 4 October. We had the opportunity to spend two whole days in a small town or medium-sized city outside of Brussels discussing a whole spectrum of topical issues relating to the single market and consumers. That has certainly been beneficial for the content of forthcoming legislative proposals.

It has shown that, in this Parliament, we are in agreement across the groups on a large number of issues, that we want to strengthen consumer rights in the area of alternative dispute resolution, that we need the unconditional strengthening of electronic commerce in the European Union in order to promote cross-border trade, and that we also want simplification in the area of public procurement. That has united us across all the groups. To a significant extent, it has shown that what Professor Monti stated in his paper for the President of the Commission – that the single market not only needs economic governance, but also single market governance, that is to say uniform regulations for all Member States and for single market participants alike – is fully supported in this House. I would therefore like to focus in particular on the conclusions of the Single Market Forum in Kraków.

The Polish Secretary of State expressly mentioned the fact that the Member States were prepared to accept more regulations if they would benefit the single market. On behalf of my group, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), I would like to repeat once again that, when it comes to drawing up the Single Market Act, we believe it is particularly important for the Commission to look closely at whether it would be able to put as many of the proposals together in the form of one regulation.

The second aspect relates to the infringement proceedings, which need to be dealt with more quickly. The Commission is heading in the right direction in this regard, however.

Lastly, of course, we absolutely must promote a reduction in red tape for small and medium-sized enterprises.

 
  
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  Evelyne Gebhardt, on behalf of the S&D Group.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, the forum in Kraków really was a great success. This needs to be repeated, because good initiatives really ought to be continued. In this connection, I would like once again to thank Mr Grech, who as we know had the original idea that we should present the 20 most important concerns of citizens at such a forum. That was the key element of what we did, namely to place the concerns of citizens at the forefront so that they can see that the single market is not something abstract, but something that will actually provide them with added value.

It concerned such diverse issues as the recognition of professional qualifications, the opportunity for young people to open a bank account in another Member State – which is sometimes very difficult – legal certainty in connection with online shopping, the Posting of Workers Directive, which urgently needs to be updated and amended, the strengthening of small and medium-sized enterprises and so on. Many subjects were discussed and the relevant problems highlighted.

Commissioner, in future we need to put greater emphasis on the solutions on offer. In this regard, we await everything that you as the Commission have promised for next year, and Parliament and my group, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, will monitor what you present to us with a very critical, but positive eye.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, as we have pointed out on several occasions, the relaunch of the Single Market is not only the remit of the European institutions. The solutions have to emerge from a broader dialogue with all relevant stakeholders: consumers, enterprises, national authorities, social partners, judges and so on.

This was the aim of the Single Market Forum in Krakow and it was a success. As a member of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, I must say that participation in the Forum was a very valuable experience. The participants engaged in a very constructive dialogue, which gave us a useful insight into what they consider to be the priorities for the future development of the single market.

There is one thing that came out of the Forum which I consider to be extremely important. The majority of citizens, and sometimes even some of us, consider the single market legislation to be very technical. Sometimes, this is very true, but I was very happy to see that the Forum attracted citizens who came to tell their own stories in relation to the single market. This clearly shows that the single market is firstly about citizens, about normal people who unfortunately experience difficulties in enjoying their rights.

I would like to thank the Polish Presidency for their full commitment to the single market and for taking the Krakow Declaration to the Competitiveness Council. Now, if this Forum is to make any difference, we – and here I mean the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament – need to prove that we take into account the priorities outlined in the Krakow Declaration and that we have the political will to come up with efficient solutions and also to implement them. We have to understand that legislation cannot be efficient without correct and timely implementation at the national level.

I strongly believe that the Single Market Forum is an excellent initiative that ought to be continued in future, and that this is the way forward in order to progressively eliminate the remaining barriers and to bring our citizens closer to the single market. This is why I firmly support the idea of setting up a Single Market Forum online, which could be a permanent platform for dialogue with all stakeholders. I also believe that next year we should mark the 20th anniversary of the single market by organising decentralised events in all Member States, as was already proposed.

Last but not least, I would like to thank all those who worked hard for the organisation of the Single Market Forum. I want to congratulate the Commission, especially Commissioner Dalli and Commissioner Barnier, Parliament and the Polish Presidency and all the citizens, enterprises, NGOs and other stakeholders who contributed to the success of this first Single Market Forum.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, as Chairman of the Committee I want first of all to particularly thank both Commissioner Dalli who participated energetically in the Forum and made the closing speech, and also Commissioner Barnier who I know tonight is in Malta in his campaign to get round every single Member State and discuss the single market. I am sure that Louis Grech is with him as well.

The lessons which are clearly apparent from the success of the Single Market Forum – and I think that everyone believes it was a great success – are the fact that completing the single market is fundamentally an exercise in partnership and teamwork. It is not something which can be delivered by technical regulation from Brussels, as Cristian Buşoi said. It is not something that can be delivered by one Commissioner on his own. Neither is it something which can be delivered by Member States working on their own, because the lessons about making the single market work are that Member States have to work much more closely together and to exchange information to look after consumers better; to have the sort of dispute resolution system on line that you, Commissioner, have just proposed.

That became clearly apparent from the way in which we worked together to promote this Forum. It is a shame that the Presidency is not here, because the Polish Presidency played an absolutely crucial role in this. They put it at the top of their priorities and it is good, as a number of colleagues have said, that they reported back to the Summit about it. Indeed, the completion of the Single Market Act was the top item at the Growth Summit on 23 October. I think that the energy behind that and behind the Single Market Forum contributed to this.

My concluding point is this. The biggest single issue that remained for me in participating in all the discussions with people who are energetic and enthusiastic about the Single Market, is how little we are communicating the benefits, and particularly the opportunities, throughout the European Union, so thank you Commissioner, for your great work on the internet that is enabling my committee to get our information across to citizens about the Single Market.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Mr President, the format for the integration of the single market will be crucial to the future of Europe. Europe needs to have an efficient single market, to adapt economic needs to the social needs of the market and to strengthen solidarity, to make it possible to implement individual and collective achievements and to contribute to sustainable growth. However, the Single Market Act does not appear, in our opinion, to respond to citizens’ present needs.

We want society to acquire its full and integrated right to put the general interest above the interests of the markets. We want to establish the social acquis whereby protection for citizens and the preservation of jobs and working conditions take precedence over the rules of competition. We need to prevent the further deterioration of social Europe.

Our alternative proposal is simple, easy and clearly formulated: social needs should come before profit. We want the whole of mankind to share in this alternative economic, social, political and cultural solution.

 
  
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  Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein (PPE).(PL) Mr President, I would like to thank Mr Dalli for the kind words he addressed to those who were involved in that extremely important event. I would say it was the kind of event which inspires all those – I am thinking of the Single Market Forum in Krakow – who are working hard for barriers in the single market to be removed effectively, to continue the process of making the European Union more friendly to the citizens. The citizens, by which I mean consumers and business people taken together, because this group is a pool of talent for the European Union.

I would also like through you to thank Mr Barnier, who worked with us in organising the Forum, and I would also like to thank Ms Daly, Director of Directorate B of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Internal Market and Services, and the wonderful team of people about whom we have said too little but who in fact took upon themselves a huge part of the responsibility and the work.

It was a good experience. I agree with most or almost all of what has been said by those who have already spoken in this debate, and I agree, too, with the idea that we need to continue engaging in dialogue with society. The Krakow Declaration was an example of the kind of results which can be achieved. We should continue to achieve such results.

I would just like to ask you, Mr Dalli, about the source of the decision that the next Forum is to be held in Brussels. We have not discussed this yet. My understanding is that we make such decisions together: Parliament and the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. We also have some other very good suggestions, and we would like to ask you to discuss them with us. My last sentence, Mr President. Twenty years have passed ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  António Fernando Correia De Campos (S&D).(PT) Mr President, the first single market forum – an idea resulting from the Grech report – took place in Krakow. It was rich in content, and the debate held by the Polish Presidency with European, national, regional and local authorities, and with civil society, was fruitful. We have a roadmap, set out in the Commission communication of 12 April, with the 12 levers. It needs to be passed into law, along with the strategy for the other 38 priorities identified in the Single Market Act.

Markets need confidence in order to exist. However, the confidence of the public and of consumers cannot be taken for granted: it needs to be stimulated and fed. The single market is not just an operation of buying and selling: it involves horizontal policies like health care, social and consumer protection, the right to work, the environment, and sustainable development.

The single market forum should, therefore, become a flagship event of the European Union, being held every year, with a diverse and increasingly participative audience.

 
  
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  Edvard Kožušník (ECR). - (CS) Mr President, in my opinion, the single market is the only tool that can support growth and employment in Europe. The single market has its own story, of course - and has had for more than 20 years - and the Single Market Forum, which took place in Warsaw, also has its own story. It began as an idea of Louis Grech, but I personally encountered it in a debate attended by Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein and Mario Monti. At this point, I think we should thank not only the Commission, but also all of the colleagues on our Committee, as I believe this has been a very successful forum. Its success was confirmed by the fact that Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein yesterday won an award as the best MEP in relation to the Committee on the Internal Market. I would hereby like to congratulate her on behalf of my other colleagues.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the single market has a crucial role to play in Europe’s recovery from economic stagnation during the current crisis. At the same time, effective monitoring when it comes to implementing the single market regulations is a prerequisite for its success. Member States must step up their efforts to transpose EU regulations. According to the latest Internal Market Scoreboard, my country features among the 10 states which have improved their results in terms of implementing European legislation. Romania is placed fourth in this area, with an average delay of 2.8 months in transposing legislation after the deadline expires.

It is important that the EU encourages cooperation between European, national, regional and local officials in order to make the implementation of European regulations more efficient.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the consolidation of the single market requires worker mobility and recognition of professional qualifications, and the development of e-commerce and of a European network of points of single contact. With the aim of recognising professional qualifications, I support the forum’s proposal for having a European professional card, which would facilitate transnational mobility for workers within the European Union and would simplify the procedures for recognising professional qualifications. Social partners, especially the trade unions, play an important role in protecting posted workers and in respecting their rights.

With regard to the development of e-commerce, the confidence of both consumers and businesses, especially SMEs, needs to be strengthened in the use of electronic media. As for the development of the digital single market, we await with interest the proposals from the Commission on the reciprocal recognition of electronic signatures and electronic identity. We also feel it is necessary to update European personal data protection legislation.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Mr President, Commissioner, forums play a key part in information exchange and cooperation, whereas the single market plays a key part in the achievement of growth and employment objectives. The European Parliament had a crucial role in the adoption of the Directive and the drafting of the package of measures, and also in ensuring that we can reach an agreement by the end of next year. However, it is important to ensure that the short term effects of this agreement can also be felt.

The economic benefit is considerable, and we cannot surrender it. However, this requires that the Member States fully implement all elements of the Directive, from Points of Single Contact to information provision. Meanwhile we must not forget about SMEs either. I am convinced that so far SMEs have not been winners of the internal market. We must therefore make efforts to reduce burdens resulting from regulation. The Commission did in fact make a commitment to prepare an impact study. We are looking forward to this study.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE).(PL) Mr President, one of the challenges for Europe at a time of financial and economic crisis is to support the single market, which is the basis for success in a united Europe. It should be remembered that in April this year the Commission presented a package of proposals intended to improve the single market, the Single Market Act drafted by the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, Mr Barnier. The act comprises a series of schemes, whose adoption by the end of 2012 is intended to improve the function of the single market, delivering benefits for businesses, employees and consumers. Almost 20 years have passed since the introduction of the internal market based on the four freedoms – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. However, the potential for growth still has not been fully achieved. There is therefore no doubt that these measures are essential for full use to be made of the single market, which is the main strength of the European economy.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Mr President, I would like to start by congratulating Ms von Thun und Hohenstein most sincerely on the first Single Market Forum. This must become a permanent institution and be made into a European Union tradition, the driving force of the single market.

The single market is not yet complete. The four freedoms have not yet been implemented. The single market represents the growth and employment potential of the European Union. We need only to implement what we have committed ourselves to implement – we do not need to create any new regulations; we simply need to remove barriers. Therefore, I would also say that we need to do everything we can to make sure that the Member States fully implement all of the legislation that we adopt. They are lagging behind. The Single Market Forum must be an annual mirror for revealing failings and for setting priorities and objectives.

 
  
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  John Dalli, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, the discussions that have just been completed are very important in the realisation of our commitment to relaunching the single market and responding proactively to the crisis we are now facing.

The solution of the crisis depends on an effective single market which, in turn, depends on innovative business and empowered consumers. As I said in my introductory comments, we are emphasising the social aspect of the single market because we cannot divorce the consumer from the worker, as participants in the single market. I think the objective of what we are doing here is the advancement of the citizens of Europe. The advancement is not achieved through a record of statistics but in a real, actual quality of life that we can deliver.

Your determination will provide solid political support for the results of the single market. I completely agree with Mr Harbour when he says that this is a collaborative effort. We have to move together. Member States, Parliament, Commission, consumers, businesses; everybody has to move together to make this single market a reality.

I can vouch that in the Commission we are 15 Commissioners who have committed to delivering the global act encompassing several policy areas. We expect the same commitment from the European Parliament with a fast track for the SME agenda.

It will encourage us to continue to organise future events along the lines and in the spirit of the Forum. The Forum that took place in Krakow is not the first and last forum that will be organised. We believe that its success indicates to us the importance of developing this activity on a permanent basis to try to deliver it in a series of similar events. At this stage we cannot determine the exact frequency at which it will happen and, in answer to Ms Thun und Hohenstein, we have not yet determined the location of the next forum or activity that will take place. There were some discussions but no decisions have been taken and everything is still being discussed.

As we have said, as this is a collective effort there should also be collective dialogue in elaborating the details. I believe that we must continue to build on what we have achieved so far. These are all steps in the right direction in order to achieve what we have set out to do – a very active single market.

 
  
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  Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein (PPE).(PL) Mr President, in the meantime the Commissioner has in fact answered the question which I wanted to finish because my last speech was a little too long, but I would like to say something about the venue to which he has just referred. I concur with what the Commissioner said about a great many events being held in Brussels. One of the strengths of the recent Forum was the fact that it took place away from Brussels. The consultations which were held afforded a real opportunity to meet normal citizens of the European Union, and this was good both for the officials who met people with whom they do not have everyday contact and for the 10 000 citizens who visited the information tent – citizens who benefit from the single market. So let us avoid holding such meetings in Brussels.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  President. − To wind up the debate, a motion for a resolution(1) has been tabled by five groups under Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 1 December at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Louis Grech (S&D), in writing. – The euro and the single market are the tangible raisons d’être for the EU. The problems and fragmentation besetting the euro and the single market ultimately mean less Europe, and less of the benefits that Europe offers citizens. It is past time that the Member States decide whether they want to proceed with the integration necessary to create jobs and growth within a social, competitive market economy. European integration is not irreversible. We must act immediately to build a holistic, long-term solution to the clear shortcomings of the euro and the single market. The Single Market Forum, held this November, represented a valuable step towards building the necessary consensus on the direction of the single market. Citizens, consumer organisations and SMEs made quite clear that there are substantial gaps between what they expect from the market and what they experience in practice. At the Forum, I called on the Commission to shift from phase one (identifying sources of frustration) to phase two (implementing the necessary solutions to the market’s gaps). Now we must also examine the possibility of holding annual forums in each Member State, whereby the experiences of citizens can feed into a single biannual European Single Market Forum.

 
  
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  Olga Sehnalová (S&D), in writing. - (CS) The Single Market Forum, which was held in the Polish town of Kraków this year, was a landmark event. It allowed a truly comprehensive debate on the single market to take place for the first time. I am pleased that, in addition to the usual participants of such meetings, the Forum also saw participation of the wider public, and that European citizens had a unique opportunity to talk about their expectations and current obstacles to the functioning of the single market. I hope that the Forum will be the first in a long series of meetings on similar topics, and that others will follow in future years. With regard to the evolution of the single market, I consider the intensification of the debate with the wider public to be of key importance. I therefore welcome the fact that the resolution adopted includes a call to the Commission and the Member States to involve the public more in the evolution of the single market. The appeal for accessible public consultations in all official languages of the EU - and for them to be more intelligible - is without doubt appropriate. The statistics clearly show that their potential is under-exploited. Perhaps this call will finally be heard by the Commission, and taken into account. We must enable the public to take a more active role at European level. This can only help the successful functioning of the single market, which is something we all want to see.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.


19. One-minute speeches (Rule 150)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the one-minute speeches in accordance with Rule 150 of the Rules of Procedure.

 
  
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  László Tőkés (PPE).(HU) Mr President, 91 years ago Transylvania and other territories of Hungary were disannexed from the country in complete disregard for the Wilsonian principle of self-determination and without the opinion of the Hungarian population concerned having been asked. After so many years it is not my intention to reopen old historic territorial disputes, but I would nevertheless like to raise my voice in defence of Hungarians living outside the borders of the country.

It is intolerable and untenable that Olivér Boldogi, and presumably several others among his countrymen, will be stripped of their citizenship and expelled from their homeland, the historical region of Upper Hungary in Slovakia, because they openly profess their Hungarian identities.

It is also intolerable and untenable that in the Romanian region of Transylvania, in our own homeland, we Hungarians are no longer even allowed to form a Hungarian faculty at our former Hungarian university in Târgu Mureș. If our territories have been stripped from us, at least minority rights and our national autonomy should be granted us in these areas, as stated even by the Declaration of Alba Iulia. Far be it from us to dispute Romania’s claim to Transylvania on its very national holiday; in fact, we wish it a happy celebration …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Monika Smolková (S&D).(SK) Mr President, people in Slovakia are disgusted and more than anything worried about the failure of bodies that are supposed to watch over their security. Military intelligence under the control of an incompetent, inexperienced minister – now ex-minister – was listening in not only on journalists but also on people at the Ministry of Defence, and there is a strong suspicion that they were also monitoring the Prime Minister herself. This major scandal has not gone unnoticed by representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has concerns over media freedom. I also believe that the relevant Commission will want to see the results of the investigation into this illegal eavesdropping, and will adopt measures so that people do not have to fear that their health, privacy or employment activities may form the subject of monitoring and eavesdropping in any democratic state.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE) . – (RO) Mr President, I have been wanting for a long time to take this opportunity to raise for discussion relations between the European Union and Turkey, especially in light of the fact that the debate on the country report is going to take place. I think that Turkey has made remarkable progress recently, and I urge the Turkish authorities to continue on the path towards European integration and continue with the efforts that they are making and, even though many improvements need to be made, I hope that the country report will have an upbeat tone.

However, there are some obstacles which the European Union is putting in the way of relations with Turkey, especially with regard to the freedom to provide services. Imposing visas on Turkish service providers clearly poses a problem and may even be an obstacle if the visa is not granted. Some Member States are also imposing transport quotas on Turkish lorries, which is a definite obstacle preventing the free movement of goods and, therefore, a breach of the Ankara Agreement. At a time when we are demanding considerable efforts from Turkey, I believe that the European Union should also reciprocate by adopting consistent measures which do not go against the spirit of the agreement and customs union.

 
  
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  Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, I think the time has come to take stock of these policies, of the austerity-related political crises that have been affecting so many countries, and of the so-called ‘structural reforms’. In this context, I do not think we can fail to see how they have been leading to so much social upheaval. They have been leading to social upheaval, not just in the countries in the greatest difficulties; not just in the countries of the South; not just in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain: also, rather, in other areas of Europe.

Just in the last week, we in Portugal have had the largest general strike ever, in both the public and the private sectors; a strike in which people took to the streets. However, if we look at what has happened today in the United Kingdom, we will see that we have witnessed the largest strike ever, especially if we take into account that people also took to the streets like they did in Portugal. We are expecting a large demonstration in Brussels, next Friday. What this proves, Mr President, and what the strikes and demonstrations on the street prove, is that the causes and problems that we have been facing are shared, so the reaction is also shared.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD).(SK) Mr President, my country’s leaders have gone mad. Under a decision of Ms Radičová’s government, top medical specialists, surgeons, paediatricians, gynaecologists and anaesthetists are ordered to perform forced labour.

This is comparable to the era of Hitler or Stalin. The intellectual elite of the Slovak health care system have been herded to work under the threat of imprisonment, in order to toil night and day in difficult, critical conditions, contrary to employment law, with no right to rest, and under the arbitrary local supervision of their employer. In this perverse way, a clutch of immoral political adventurers is venting its anger at doctors who have stood up for their patients and prevented a corrupt bureaucracy from destroying the last state hospitals. We must not, ladies and gentlemen, permit the abuse of state power which the Slovak Government has ordered against its own doctors. Tomorrow they may do the same to teachers, and then to all of us. That will no longer be democracy, but dictatorship.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I am raising again the subject concerning the mobility of Romanian and Bulgarian workers as we have organised a debate today on this topic, in the presence of the Romanian labour minister. I also condemn the decision made by the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to extend these restrictions.

Obtaining a work permit is, in very many cases, a real mission impossible due to the excessively demanding conditions imposed for obtaining it, which are almost impossible to fulfil. They are off-putting for employers who even reject applications from Romanian and Bulgarian workers. This is de facto discrimination among European citizens based on nationality, thereby violating the Treaty. While Israel and Iceland are lifting the restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians, EU countries are extending them. It makes me wonder where European unity is heading, especially during these next 10 crucial days for the euro area.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, the prohibition of ex post facto effect has been a fundamental principle in Europe ever since Roman law. Over the past one and a half years the Hungarian government has violated this principle on several occasions. Last year, it retroactively modified citizens’ retirement savings contracts. Last week, it abolished early retirement with retroactive effect, which had an impact on more than 300 000 people, including miners, soldiers and law enforcement officers.

Now it is once again about to enact a law with retroactive effect, this time on the transitional provisions of the Constitution that was adopted last year under criticism from the European Parliament. In doing so it now intends to hold the Hungarian Socialist Party responsible for the crimes of the past regime retroactively. In 2009, the European Parliament pronounced that no parliament was allowed to make laws about the past. This incident must not be tolerated by either the European Parliament or the European Commission, or Commissioner for Fundamental Rights Viviane Reding. The European Union must take action.

 
  
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  Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE).(GA) Mr President, I would like to express my thanks to you for giving me the opportunity to speak about this important issue – the euro.

There is a great onus on the leaders of Europe to act decisively so as to prevent the collapse of the euro. The consequence of the breakup of the euro for ordinary citizens, for cross-border trade, for commerce, is too horrendous to contemplate. Many hardworking citizens throughout Europe and in my own country are fearful and concerned for their savings built over many years.

The global financial and banking system is built on trust. This involves the trust and the confidence of the markets, and more importantly of the ordinary people. EU leaders must restore and rebuild that trust by acting in a resolute fashion to ensure an immediate firewall that will protect the euro. The crisis is bigger than any country – or indeed the Union – as was highlighted by today’s coordinated and welcome move by the US Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of Japan and other central banks. Of course I welcome the decision taken yesterday by euro zone Finance Ministers to approve a payment of EUR 2.5 [billion] to Ireland…

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL). (ES) Mr President, in the last general election held in Morocco, 77% of the population abstained according to official reports. Some analysts are talking about an even greater abstention rate.

I believe the European Union must take note of the fervent desire for democracy and for a genuine constituent process in Morocco.

I hope these figures will prompt some reflection in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy, in view of the more than questionable results. The streets of Morocco have been flooded with sympathisers of the ‘20 February Movement’ protesting against the regime’s manipulation, which has been carried out by the entire apparatus of the regime.

I believe the European Union must change its course so that it is not seen as a collaborator, as it was with the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. I therefore call for greater attention from the European Commission and a change in its policy regarding Morocco.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I would like to take the floor to welcome the resolution adopted at the 30th session of the Baltic Assembly which recently took place in Estonia. I would like to point out that, from a parliamentary perspective, Romania fully concurs with this resolution, and I firmly believe that all the states in Eastern Europe will follow suit.

The states in Eastern Europe will still have the lowest level of direct payments in the European Union within the future common agricultural policy. The request from the Baltic States, which the Romanian MEPs fully endorse, is for the EU to set up a direct payments scheme in agriculture, which would provide really fair and equitable competitive conditions for all farmers in the European Union. The rules on the distribution of direct payments must avoid significant disparities between the highest level and lowest level of direct payments in the EU. In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, an early adjustment is also needed for 2014 and 2015, when the payments have still not reached 100%.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D). - Mr President, last Friday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and this week in Ireland Women’s Aid is running its 16 Days Campaign which aims to raise awareness of the reality of domestic violence and to push for a positive change to increase women’s safety. Every day in Europe women are raped, beaten and trapped in their homes by their boyfriends, husbands and partners, with a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime.

One in five women in Ireland will experience violence in their lives, but it is not just women who suffer as a result of this. It has a massive impact on children as well, with last year more than 1 600 incidents of child abuse being disclosed by callers to the national domestic violence helpline in Ireland.

I fear the situation will get worse as the recession bites and greatly reduces the options for women experiencing violence. With the closure of refuges and support services, women will have nowhere to go.

I am heartened to see the Commission is working with Parliament and the Council to combat gender-based violence and support vulnerable groups, but we must not let austerity undermine essential frontline services at home.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, following the general strike of 24 November, in Portugal this morning, thousands of people, brought together by the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) and other unions and social organisations, gathered in the square in front of the Portuguese Parliament building in Lisbon with good reason to protest: the 2012 state budget, which was being debated inside, and which was going to be adopted by the majority, formed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Democratic and Social Centre – People’s Party (CDS-PP), with the promised abstention of the Socialist Party (PS). They were protesting against the assault on workers’ rights and pay, specifically by means of attacking pay for Christmas and other public holidays, and of increasing the working week by two and a half hours; against the closure of health care services; against increasing charges for service users; and in favour, as always, of defending public services.

The determination to continue fighting these policies was affirmed, and Portugal’s break with the path of chaos was advocated, along with the promotion of development and social justice, whilst guaranteeing national sovereignty.

The next big event will be the week of protests that the CGTP has called for from 12-17 December.

 
  
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  Agustín Díaz de Mera García Consuegra (PPE). (ES) Mr President, our energy dependence is a well-known fact. We import 60% of our gas and 83% of our oil. As for coal, our dependence amounts to 41%.

Coal is the Union’s principal electricity-producing fuel, on a par with nuclear energy and gas. If we limit our mining capacity, we will simply have to import it from countries that do not have our social or environmental standards.

In its energy strategy for 2050, the Commission should review the current framework of aid provision to coal mining. There is scope for improvement of the new legislation as regards the time limit for mine closure or the requirement to return the aid received in order to continue in operation.

Our energy dependency is one more of our external weaknesses and, in the current crisis, we will pay the price for it sooner rather than later.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, Romania is a national, sovereign and independent, united and indivisible state. I am proud to be Romanian and I want to send my best wishes to Romania and the Romanians to mark Romania’s National Day.

The conference on the review of the TEN-T network has been taking place in Antwerp yesterday and today. The Commission recently adopted the regulation on defining the core network and extended network for trans-European transport and the Connecting Europe Facility. Given the discrepancy in transport infrastructure development, I advocate that new Member States should have as many metropolitan areas, industrial centres and ports in the TEN-T core network as possible. For example, the Galaţi-Brăila-Măcin conurbation should become a main node in the core network. This conurbation, forming an industrial cluster, has access to three ports, two of which are maritime Danube ports, and provides the link, along the Danube, with the sea port of Constanţa and the Black Sea. We must therefore set up a multimodal terminal here. As this conurbation is situated at the border with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, this will enable the trans-European transport system to be integrated with that in the countries neighbouring the EU.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy (GUE/NGL). - Mr President, David Cameron described today’s massive public sector strike as a damp squib. Is it any wonder that this Prime Minister of a cabinet of millionaires that rules for the millionaires seeks to undermine this massive display of strength by working people – two million people on strike across Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England – and a movement that demonstrates the power to defeat the government’s austerity policies?

I visited picket lines across Belfast today and attended the mass rally of 10 000 people. The message from the strikers was very, very clear. Enough is enough. They will not pay more and work longer for reduced pensions. They will not accept further attacks on wages, further attacks on conditions and the further cutbacks in our public services that are driven by the government and the Assembly.

The outstanding socialist, James Connolly, proclaimed ‘The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us arise’. Today, the working class has begun to stand up and the potential power is very clear. This has to be the start of building a movement that can win. That means naming a date for further public sector strike action and striving to spread action to the private sector.

 
  
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  Alajos Mészáros (PPE).(HU) Mr President, when ten new Member States joined the European Union in 2004 they did so in the hopes that a free Europe without borders and functioning on the basis of uniform principles will one day be created. It is contrary to these expectations, and also unacceptable, to withdraw the citizenship of citizens of an EU Member State for the sole reason of them also taking on the citizenship of another Member State of the Community, as we can now see in Slovakia.

Today the EU is united in several respects. It applies its own provisions. And yet it allows this matter of dual citizenship to undermine its unity and prestige. If a Member State offers the possibility for citizens to take up its citizenship regardless of their place of residence this possibility must be allowed to be exercised. EU Member States should not apply revocation of citizenship against each other. We expect our institutions to take action in order to ensure that citizens cannot be put at a disadvantage on the basis of multiple citizenship within the EU.

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D).(PT) Mr President, the European Union crisis is contaminating all the Member States, reaching unbelievable proportions. We have witnessed chaos on the financial markets and the increasing inability to secure the finance essential to the activity of our small and medium-sized enterprises, even those that are healthy, leading them to desperation, bankruptcy and unemployment. It is a spiral that is feeding the recession and is destroying the economy and society.

Nobody is denying the serious need for budgetary discipline, for profound restructuring and for more economic governance, but these are necessary conditions that are already insufficient, in the short term, for reversing the deterioration under way in the Union. Moreover, while it is true that there is a need for policies to stimulate jobs and growth, without which we will never manage to control sovereign debt, the central issue now is to ensure finance for our companies and our economies, without which the Union will run off the rails.

Therefore, more than ever, more than Treaty change, we need a robust and steady intervention from the European Central Bank.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer (PPE).(HU) Mr President, as we all know the issue of citizenship falls within Member State competence based on the principle of subsidiarity. However, the law passed by the Slovakian Parliament in response to the amendment of the Hungarian citizenship act results in a restriction of fundamental liberties, and has therefore become a European issue at this point. Slovakian citizens who have their citizenship and subsequently their personal ID cards and driving licenses withdrawn after receiving a letter from the Slovakian Ministry of the Interior, and are then forced to apply for a residence permit in their own homeland and in their own homes, do not only suffer humiliation but also a disproportionate restriction by the government of their freedom of entrepreneurship and movement. One rightfully asks the question in how far such absurd measures are compatible with the idea of creating an area of freedom, security and justice.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the Romanian Government wants to use the new health law to privatise hospitals and the entire health-care system. These are measures which will virtually mean a death sentence for millions of Romanians. The role of the public health-care system is to save lives, not generate profit.

In Romania 46% of the population live in rural areas, while only 9% of doctors work in the country. Roughly 97% of these are GPs. The rural population does not have access to specialist medical services, and a huge number of hospitals have been closed down in the last year. Turning hospitals into commercial companies is tantamount to banning a huge number of people from having access to medical care. The majority of Romania’s population are still on low incomes. Hospital privatisation would mean that more than 15 million Romanians would not seek treatment for want of money.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, we recently initiated an information campaign about the absorption of EU funds for Romania’s local and regional public authorities, as well as for the business sector. A great many people seem to be aware of this development opportunity based on non-refundable funds, but most of them do not know what the next steps are. Unfortunately, there are often no sources of cofinancing available either. Therefore, at the moment, the resources allocated by the European Union could be more useful.

However, the most brutally honest and most often encountered reason for the current limited rate of absorption is to do with red tape, from European Commission level right down to the level of the eligible final beneficiary. This is why I call on the European Commission, together with the European Parliament, to draft simpler and easier rules for all eligible beneficiaries, in order to facilitate development using non-refundable funds.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál (PPE).(HU) Mr President, I would like to call the attention of Parliament and the Commission to a shocking phenomenon, which has already been explained here by some of my fellow Members. It is the absurdity of the situation which makes us think that it deserves the attention of both the Commission and Parliament.

Olivér Boldogi, a Slovakian citizen of Hungarian descent, has recently had his Slovakian citizenship withdrawn solely because he took on that of another EU Member State, namely Hungary. Slovakia’s message with this is that if an EU citizen takes on the citizenship of another EU Member State, he or she becomes worthless and dispensable. The question is whether the withdrawal of citizenship can be used as a sanction against a citizen who has been habitually residing in the country, in his homeland, since birth, and is paying his taxes there. We cannot say that this person has severed his ties to the state. This method of deprivation of rights goes against both Community trust and the Slovakian Constitution, according to which nobody may be involuntarily deprived of their Slovakian citizenship. This grave action can be considered part of the regular acts of intimidation the entire Hungarian minority community has to endure. The message is that Hungarians …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Mr President, with my speech I intend to call attention to the detrimental activities of credit rating agencies and the irresponsible statements made by some Commissioners. Credit rating agencies form their opinions, that is, apply downgrades, on the basis of short-term interests and according to market moods, without any scientific methodology. Credit rating agencies evaluate aspects of moods based on market interests and prospects, meaning that they are not reliable as regards the responses of the business environment, and can at the same time cause billions worth of damage. The question is why a European credit agency has not been created yet.

We are engaged in an extraordinary fight for the protection and in the interest of the euro. This is why I do not exactly understand whose interests some Commissioners, or even the Vice-President, bear in mind when in their irresponsible statements they highlight individual countries and put their economic policies in a reproachful, negative context.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE).(HU) Mr President, when the Slovakian Government adopted a provision stating that Slovakian citizens who take on the citizenship of another Member State lose their Slovakian citizenship, we called attention to the contradictory nature of this law. Now I would like to highlight a concrete incident.

Olivér Boldogi, born as a Slovakian citizen, but of Hungarian descent, has been deprived of his Slovakian citizenship against his will after having taken on the citizenship of the neighbouring Hungary. The Slovakian state is trying to intimidate its own citizens so as to prevent them from allying themselves with the nation to which they are bound by language and culture. In this Europe of nations national borders rarely correspond to state borders. We must do everything in our power to prevent this from causing tensions between countries. We must seek mutually satisfactory solutions that are based on the needs of the citizens. Slovakia is currently following a different path.

 
  
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  President. − That concludes this item.

 

20. Agenda of the next sitting : see Minutes
Video of the speeches

21. Closure of the sitting
Video of the speeches
  

(The sitting closed at 22.45)

 
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