Index 
Debates
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Wednesday, 1 February 2012 - Brussels OJ edition
1. Resumption of the session
 2. Approval of the minutes of the previous sitting : see Minutes
 3. Composition of Parliament : see Minutes
 4. Verification of credentials : see Minutes
 5. Corrigendum (Rule 216): see Minutes
 6. Documents received: see Minutes
 7. Oral questions and written declarations (submission): see Minutes
 8. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes
 9. Texts of agreements forwarded by the Council: see Minutes
 10. Action taken on Parliament’s positions and resolutions: see Minutes
 11. Order of business : see Minutes
 12. Conclusions of the informal European Council meeting of 30 January 2012 (debate)
 13. Question Hour with the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
 14. Iran and its nuclear programme (debate)
 15. Situation in Russia (debate)
 16. EU foreign policy towards the BRICS and other emerging powers (debate)
 17. Consistent policy towards regimes against which the EU applies restrictive measures (debate) (short presentation)
 18. European dimension in sport (debate)
 19. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
 20. Agenda of the next sitting : see Minutes
 21. Closure of the sitting


  

IN THE CHAIR: MARTIN SCHULZ
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, 19 January 2012.

 

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

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

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

5. Corrigendum (Rule 216): see Minutes
Video of the speeches

6. Documents received: see Minutes

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

8. Lapsed written declarations: see Minutes

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

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

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

12. Conclusions of the informal European Council meeting of 30 January 2012 (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the conclusions of the informal European Council meeting of 30 January 2012.

 
  
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  Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. Mr President, over the last two years, European leaders have had to take difficult and sometimes painful measures to stabilise the euro area. Although this was necessary – and we are now starting to see that it was worth the effort – we recognise that financial stability is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for economic recovery. We must do more. We must do more in particular on economic growth and employment and that is why we put in place the Europe 2020 strategy, the Euro-Plus Pact and the European semester. Growth and employment were never out of our minds. The March European Council will focus on structural growth and, by the way, the economies in most of our countries were growing positively in 2010 and 2011.

The focus of Monday’s informal European Council was indeed on growth and jobs. The bulk of our discussions were on this, though we approved at the same time the final text of the ESM Treaty and put the final touches to the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

You will have seen from the statement approved by the members of the European Council that we have called this ‘growth-friendly’ fiscal consolidation and ‘job-friendly economic growth’.

What do we mean by this? Slashing deficits, but not by cutting our investments for the future: investments in education, training, research and development, and green infrastructure.

Increasing the competitiveness of our companies, while making it more attractive for them to hire people.

A strategy for growth covers many aspects: the short term and the longer term; economic policy and competitiveness, but also specific employment policies; national competencies and those of the Union.

We focused on three priorities. Firstly, creating jobs, especially for young people. Last week, I received a letter from the European Youth Forum in which they wrote: ‘Young people, in times of crisis and economic austerity, do not need nice words but strong investments’. And indeed, that is why we have agreed to use available European funds to set up apprenticeship schemes and help young business starters. Stimulating employment is mostly a responsibility for the individual countries, but most of the work we can do together, as a Union, and we will do it. Each Member State must have a ‘Job Plan’ as a part of its national reform programme.

Second priority: helping small and medium enterprises to get access to credit, for instance by freeing up available EU funds to support employers and reduce red tape. The recent initiatives of the ECB are also helpful in avoiding a credit crunch and a further deepening of the recession.

Third priority: the single market. We are determined to get more out of it, for instance by finalising the digital market and the energy market. Priority must go to the measures which do most to stimulate growth and jobs. We decided upon a series of deadlines for opening markets.

A return of confidence – and now I am speaking in the short term – in the euro area can restore the confidence of consumers and companies quickly, as was the case in 2009 after the financial crisis. The recent lowering of exchange rates for the euro can boost exports. All this is helpful, as I said, in the short term. The aim is to provide prospects, to offer hope through the decisions of this Council and those of March and June. Results take time but there is no doubt of our resolve and that of the Danish Presidency.

Now over to the treaty, as I know this is of particular interest to you, and it closes a chapter that has been the cause of much debate for almost two years. As I have said many times already in this hemicycle, we have badly missed a governance structure since the launching of the euro. This treaty must be seen as just one element of the reforms to economic governance that we have achieved over the last two years, reforms which involve both responsibility and solidarity, and which include the six-pack, which remains the backbone of our new governance architecture.

This treaty is about more responsibility and better surveillance. Every country that signs it commits itself to bringing a ‘debt brake’ into its legislation, preferably at constitutional level. An automatic correction mechanism will re-enforce compliance.

Enshrining the debt brake in the treaty will enhance its credibility. This is important as a confidence-building measure. It represents a major step forward towards closer and irrevocable fiscal and economic integration and stronger governance in the euro area. It will significantly bolster the outlook for fiscal sustainability and euro-area sovereign debt and therefore enhance economic growth. Placing this commitment to self-control in the treaty shows our long-term and irreversible commitment to avoiding excessive deficits and debt.

The treaty also changes the majority required to initiate the excessive deficit procedure – something that could not be done through the six-pack legislation. This is particularly important for the credibility of that procedure.

This is not a commitment to austerity, but a commitment to financing public expenditure through revenue rather than through debt. There is nothing virtuous about excessive debt – it means that more and more of your public expenditure is spent on servicing your debt instead of public services and public investment. Excessive public debt is a threat to our social model.

Like most members of the European Council, and like Parliament, I would have preferred these issues to be addressed by changing the existing treaties rather than through a separate treaty. As you know, the necessary unanimity for this was not forthcoming. There was no choice but to go down this route. But in so doing, I was personally determined to keep the new provisions as close as possible to the EU Treaties. We were not setting up a separate organisation but the means of reinforcing our Union. I had endeavoured in the same way when setting up the Euro-Plus Pact. I hope that our successors will succeed in integrating this treaty into the EU Treaties.

Let me also emphasise that I was personally committed to keeping the Union together as much as possible, while recognising the specificities of the euro area. All the countries ratifying this treaty will participate in Euro summits when the architecture and fundamental rules of the euro area are at stake or the implementation of the treaty and the competitiveness of the contracting parties. I was happy to see that almost all countries will sign the treaty. It will enter into force as soon as 12 euro countries have ratified it.

We were helped in this by the efforts of Parliament’s three representatives, Elmar Brok, Roberto Gualtieri and Guy Verhofstadt, whom I want to thank for their efforts. Parliament’s insistence, along with others, on coherence with the existing treaties was particularly helpful and contributed to securing a number of key features of the new treaty.

Besides this Fiscal Compact Treaty, we also endorsed the agreement among the 17 on the Treaty for the European Stability Mechanism. It will be signed this week so that it can take effect from July 2012. The early entry into force of this permanent firewall will help prevent contagion in the euro area and further restore confidence. Its operation will also be subject to the scrutiny of your Parliament, as I have indicated already in my letter of 22 March last year to your rapporteurs.

As agreed in December, we will reassess the adequacy of resources under the EFSF and ESM rescue funds at the next European Council meeting – less than four weeks from now.

A final point. Although this was not formally on the agenda, we also briefly touched upon three urgent foreign policy issues, mainly along the lines of the good and strong conclusions adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January. We endorsed the restrictive measures against Iran, including an oil embargo, as decided by the Foreign Ministers last week, and we expressed our outrage at the atrocities and repression committed by the Syrian regime, and urged the members of the UN Security Council to take long overdue steps to bring an end to the repression. These are good examples, after our joint actions in Libya, of a common foreign policy.

This concludes my report. Step by step we are making progress in the construction of an economic and monetary union, slower than hoped and expected, but reaching each time broad agreements among our Member States. This was the case also in the European Council of last Monday: a positive step on the road for more hope.

(Applause)

 
  
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  José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. Mr President, President of the European Council, distinguished Members of the European Parliament, I would like to draw your attention to two main aspects of the informal European Council on Monday afternoon. Firstly, the European Council was a first but a significant step by Heads of State or Government in recognising that it is not enough to focus on financial stability and economic discipline alone.

By bringing to the table concrete proposals to tackle youth unemployment and to finance SMEs, the Commission broadened the perspective towards the issues that are of greatest concern to all our citizens – jobs and growth, sustainable growth. This is an approach that we have often discussed with this Parliament and I know you support the Commission’s outlook, rooted in the Europe 2020 strategy. Together we are moving. More steps are, of course, needed. We will continue in this direction.

The second issue that I wish to highlight is linked to the Commission’s determination to maintain the role of the European Union institutions and of the Community method in the new Treaty. We are now entering into a new phase of economic governance, based on the European semester, where governments recognise that even matters under their national competence, such as employment, should be dealt with at European as well as national level.

Due to the high levels of interdependence between our economies, we can no longer deal with economic and social matters solely at national level. When it comes to issues such as job creation, there is clearly a European dimension. National action, and indeed regional action too, should be supported and complemented by European action.

Europe’s economic problems are obviously not over. It will be a long road to recovery. I stressed the need for us to continue with the comprehensive approach to resolving the crisis that the Commission set out in its road map to stability and growth in October last year.

From this point of view, it was important that the Heads of State or Government agreed with our proposal to ensure that the European Stability Mechanism enters into force in July 2012. As agreed in December, we will reassess in March the adequacy of resources under the EFSF and the ESM.

One main message coming out of our discussion on growth and employment on Monday was the need to do much more to unleash the potential of the single market, Europe’s ‘crown jewel’. The Heads of State or Government agreed with the Commission’s proposal to fast-track the Single Market Act and complete the digital single market by 2015. I trust that we can rely on Parliament to make good progress on this growth package in the coming months, with the help of course of the Danish Presidency, and we all know how determined the Danish Presidency is regarding these objectives.

The Single Market Act can improve the framework for our companies, but there is also more we can do to create the conditions that will help these companies, namely the SMEs, to thrive. SMEs have created 80 % of all new jobs in the European Union in the last five years and are the backbone of Europe’s economy. We need to help them to take up the great opportunities being opened up by our trade agreements with growing economies outside Europe.

Last December, the Commission proposed using Structural Funds as guarantees for SMEs, to give them easier access to finance. We have also put forward a proposal to facilitate access to venture capital, which I would like to ask you to adopt this year.

On Monday I asked the Heads of State or Government to be even more ambitious in cutting red tape for small and micro enterprises. On youth unemployment, I called for an urgent response and made concrete proposals to halt this unacceptable trend. Each Member State will prepare a national jobs plan, centred on a youth guarantee, to ensure that all young people are either in a job, in training or in education within four months of leaving school.

The Commission will set up action teams with the eight countries that are most affected by youth unemployment. I have already written to the prime ministers of these countries proposing a concrete way forward. We will seek to redeploy EUR 22 billion of European Social Fund money to improve job opportunities in Europe. We will seek to maximise the European Union programmes we already have, namely Erasmus for studying, Leonardo for training and EURES for job vacancies. The national job plans will be brought into the European semester exercise so that, by the spring European Council in five weeks from now, we will be able to give concrete guidance to all Member States.

We will also continue the dialogue with the social partners, respecting their role to obtain the best possible solutions and to implement them smoothly. I personally met with the representatives of the social partners at European level and I know how committed they are to fighting the terrible scourge that is youth unemployment.

Another positive step in this informal European Council was the endorsement by the Heads of State or Government of the Treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism. This is a very important part of the global strategy to strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union. We are making progress, probably not as fast as most of us wanted, but we are making progress towards a fiscal union in our European Union.

Twenty-five Member States also reached agreement on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, which is an essential element in our efforts to regain stability and confidence. As you know, this Treaty was not the Commission’s choice, but rather the consequence of the lack of a unanimous agreement to amend the Treaty of Lisbon. But the fact that 25 of our 27 Member States have agreed to sign this Treaty, is a testament to the solidarity and determination within the Union to resolve this crisis together and to avoid a division between euro and non-euro area Member States.

From the outset of the negotiations on this Treaty, the Commission, together with this Parliament, defended a series of principles: namely the primacy of European Union law, the need to keep the proper role of the Union institutions, a spirit of inclusiveness with all Member States, and the need to integrate the agreement into the Treaty of Lisbon within five years.

In the final text, there are no new institutions that could weaken the role of the Commission and of this Parliament. The contracting Member States agreed to respect the Commission’s central role in delivering the Agreement’s objectives in line with the Treaty of Lisbon and the Community method. And they agreed to keep the Treaty open to all and compatible with the Community method, respecting this European Parliament.

In upholding the Community method, the Commission has acted in close cooperation with Parliament and I would like to highlight the important contribution made by Parliament’s representatives to the negotiations. You will recall that we acted in the same spirit of partnership during negotiations on the modification of Article 136 of the Treaty. Today I want to reaffirm, on behalf of the Commission, the content of the letter sent then by Olli Rehn to Elmar Brok and Roberto Gualtieri, ensuring the involvement of this House.

I would like to note that this was the first European Council at which Martin Schulz participated as President of the European Parliament. At the beginning of the Council he made an important political contribution on these points and I am grateful for his clear commitment in upholding the principles dear to both our institutions.

It is relevant that Member States welcomed the legislative proposals made by the Commission on 23 November last year – the so-called two-pack – within the framework of the Treaties, namely under Article 136, and also that they committed themselves to supporting further secondary legislation which the Commission will propose to strengthen further the Stability and Growth Pact, within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon.

This is a clear guarantee that the role of the European Parliament in economic governance will be ensured until this new treaty can be integrated into the European Union Treaties. Indeed, we cannot respond properly to our current challenges without democratic legitimacy. Cooperation between national democracies and European democracy – and European democracy is embodied in this Parliament – gives us the legitimacy we need to take the decisions necessary for the prosperity of the European Union.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Joseph Daul, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on Monday, 25 Member States faced their responsibilities by agreeing to sign the fiscal treaty.

They decided to fight against the poor budget management which has left us without the necessary room for manoeuvre to stimulate growth and employment. They showed their ability to find European solutions to European problems, even though two Member States decided that they would rather go it alone, which they will live to regret.

I have, at this stage, three wishes. The first is that this treaty be ratified as quickly as possible, the second is that it be applied as quickly as possible and the third is that this agreement be fully integrated into EU law, as Parliament has called for.

Ladies and gentlemen, the economic crisis has forced us to rethink our bad habits. It has forced us to respect the rules of balanced budgets, which are obvious, yet so difficult to apply.

We must reduce national deficits, which also often cover up regional and local deficits. However, while the decision on this treaty is the correct decision and a positive one, the decision on growth leaves me rather disappointed. This is because combating deficits and stimulating growth are two sides of the same coin. One without the other will not help Europeans to escape from the difficulties they are facing, particularly the unemployed.

There are two ways of boosting growth: one is artificial and has no future, the other is structural and therefore sustainable. The first is to kick-start the economy through spending. That is what we have been doing for years and look where it has brought us. Never mind the fact that, today, spending is actually limited, as the time has come to repay our debts, and not to borrow.

The second method, the one recommended by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), is to make our economy more competitive. This could already be done, Mr Barroso, by finally completing the internal market. All the laws, all the texts were adopted long ago. The problem, once again, is that they have not been applied. I therefore call on the Commission to let us know as soon as possible which countries are not applying these rules and to fulfil its role as guardian of the Treaties by placing restrictions on those which do not apply them – perhaps even France, my friend, as I make no exceptions. All Europeans should know which States are playing the internal market game, and which States are slowing it down or standing in its way.

Increasing our competitiveness could also be achieved by reducing the charges that weigh heavily on entrepreneurs and by reducing the considerable discrepancies in charges between our countries, which harm competitiveness. This could also be done by getting as good a return as possible from European Funds that have been allocated to the States but have not yet been used. The time has come to make the best use of this – considerable – surplus by investing it in common projects to create growth and employment.

Finally, growth and job creation can be encouraged by turning public funds, which are not bringing in investments, towards research and innovation, or towards training. With a quarter of young people looking for a job, we must offer them the chance to acquire strong skills and to redirect them anywhere in the EU.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it has been made clear today in the media that the unemployment rate in the euro area has reached its highest level for 13 years. What is the Council offering us? A Treaty outside the normal community method with the wrong objective and with no certainty as to whether it will ever come into force. The divisions and the uproar within the European Union are continuing.

This is highlighted by the fact that someone came up with the crazy idea of appointing an EU commissioner or a national commissioner for Greece who would undermine Greek democratic institutions. My group is strongly opposed to the appointment of a commissioner who would weaken democracy and make decisions on behalf of the citizens of Greece. We need to make this clear.

(Applause)

However, the situation is also a consequence of the way in which Ms Merkel has misunderstood the leadership role played by Germany. I am in favour of Germany playing a leading role because it is a large and powerful country both in political and economic terms. However, this should involve bringing the EU together and not introducing further divisions. As the Handelsblatt, which really is not a left-wing newspaper, said: ‘The German way does not currently lead towards Europe, but it should do!’

(Applause)

I would like to give Ms Merkel one piece of advice. She should start looking around for a new partner, because the future President of France is François Hollande. We support the future president and we are particularly in favour of his intention to renegotiate this Treaty. Mr Sarkozy’s election campaign appearances are no longer helping him and are only causing further harm to Ms Merkel. We need a change of direction here.

However, the content is also causing problems. We only need to look at the most recent developments in Portugal. These Council resolutions are not helping to increase stability in the countries which are in difficulty or in the markets. We need to move money from the financial markets into the real economy, primarily by means of a financial transaction tax. We must give the European Investment Bank more opportunities for lending. We must also make more money available to people in the lower income brackets. They need the money and they would also be prepared to spend it. That is the direction we should be moving in.

Mr Van Rompuy, I do not deny that there have also been a few positive developments. You are finally getting to grips with unemployment, in particular among young people. However, can you explain to me why there are binding Treaties and sanctions for the Member States with high budget deficits? When it is a question of youth unemployment, you can only come up with feeble explanations and recommendations. We cannot accept an unbalanced situation of this kind.

(Applause)

Finally, I would like to give my sincere thanks to President Buzek for pushing to ensure that a team from Parliament was involved in the negotiations. I would also like to thank the negotiators. They have been able to prevent a few serious mistakes from being made. Above all, however, I would like to thank President Schulz. You have found the right words and the appropriate tone to ensure that we in the European Union are heard, as Mr Barroso has said. This will allow us to work together to prevent the mistake that has been made with this Treaty from becoming the general rule. If it is ever accepted and comes into force, it must remain an exception. Against this background, Mr Schulz, some people may be regretting who they voted for. Those people who did not vote for Mr Schulz may be regretting that they did not. A strong voice will enable Parliament to be heard more clearly in future.

(Applause)

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

 
  
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  Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE), Blue-card question.(DE) Mr President, Mr Swoboda, I would like to ask you to take note of the fact that the same states which are currently in particular difficulties in the midst of the debt crisis are also the states with the highest youth unemployment levels. Please also take note of the fact that labour market policy is the responsibility of the Member States and that imposing sanctions in areas where companies have to hire people definitely does not make sense but simply aggravates the situation.

Please also take note of the fact that the citizens of France will elect their own president.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda (S&D), Blue-card answer.(DE) Mr President, the answer to one question has already been given. The citizens will elect their president and it is quite clear who they will choose. As Mr Sarkozy is already speaking about what he will do in his private job after the elections, he has obviously realised what the result of the elections will be.

In answer to the other question, I would like to make it quite clear to you that, for me and for my group, youth unemployment is a European issue. We cannot tolerate it. Youth unemployment levels are so high because too much trust has been placed in market forces and no one has thought about the fact that sometimes active measures need to be taken. Look at the countries with low unemployment rates. I invite you to pay a visit to Austria. We have one of the lowest levels of unemployment, because, for us and for my colleagues in the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), unemployment is a disgrace. It is disgraceful that young people are beginning their working life with unemployment and we must not tolerate it.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Guy Verhofstadt, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, the summit on Monday was about jobs and growth, but I must say that, in my opinion – and my assessment is the same as that of my colleague Joseph Daul – it has mainly produced words. Seven pages of words and seven pages of good intentions. I think what we need now in the middle of this crisis is not seven pages of words, but acts – acts of the European Union and acts of the European institutions.

Let me give you just three examples. The first is the European patent. It is a major instrument for growth in Europe, but, for more than a year now, its introduction – which is so needed – has been blocked. Why is it blocked? Because, for the moment, the big countries cannot agree on the seat: that is the reality in Europe for the moment. On the seat! This is completely ridiculous and I should say even tragic, because, in the mean time, our small and medium enterprises are paying eight times more for the protection of their innovations than their American counterparts do. So I ask the President of the Council and the President of the Commission: if Germany, Britain and France really cannot agree, why can the EU leadership not put the seat temporarily in Brussels? Why are they not doing that – as we did, Mr Cohn-Bendit, with the European Food Agency in 2001? I think it is a shame to have a Council summit about growth but not to be capable of definitely launching the European patent in Europe.

Let me give a second example of this, namely the project bonds. How many times have we already discussed the project bonds in this Parliament? We have been discussing them for years. My question is: why do we not start tomorrow with project bonds in the European Union? Why is it necessary to wait for two years of discussion inside the Council and inside other institutions?

Let me give a third example of this, namely the enormous amount of unused money in the structural and other European funds. We could change the regulation immediately. You know what the problem is – if you put in one euro from the structural funds, you also need one euro from the country in question, and these countries, for example Greece and Portugal, cannot do this at the moment. So why is it not possible immediately to change the regulation and immediately to use this unused, unspent money for countries in recession, such as Portugal and Greece? That is what we need today – acts and not words, not the seven pages we have seen up to now.

Finally, I think another problem we have today is the existential problem that we have in this euro crisis. We have now secured a new treaty. We now have fiscal discipline – let us be honest, a six-pack, a two-pack, a new treaty – but how will we now deal with the high interest rates we still have, even after the intervention of the European Central Bank, in countries such as Spain and Italy? Everybody here knows that an interest rate of around 6% is not sustainable for Italy. Whatever decision Mr Monti may take, it is not sustainable and Italy cannot recover with a 6% interest rate.

We have already put more than EUR 1 000 billion into the fight against this crisis – EUR 1 trillion of taxpayers’ money – and the end is not in sight. The reason for this is that we always take half measures. We need a structural solution to this crisis. In my opinion a structural solution means a mutualisation of a part of the debt in a disciplined way.

That is the proposal of the five wise German economists: to create a redemption fund. Let us be clear. My conclusion is a message to the German taxpayers. If the solution we opt for is a redemption fund, it will be the bond holders who receive lower interest rates: they are the solution to the crisis, and not the German taxpayers. So my message today to all of you is: let us take up that proposal of a redemption fund and let us in our legislative work bring it about as fast as possible.

 
  
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  Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, after the Summit I read in the newspapers that some people had described the Summit and the Fiscal Compact Treaty as a masterpiece. However, when I look at what really happened, my evaluation of it is completely different.

What did happen? We have a Treaty which is still being drafted and we will have to wait and see where it ends up. This is a Treaty which aims to ensure that existing European Union Treaties are complied with, but is positioned outside those Treaties. This new Treaty which lies outside the other treaties has succeeded in completely marginalising democracy.

If that is a masterpiece, ladies and gentlemen, I do not know whether I can still take Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Barroso seriously. I believe that you are much wiser in political terms than the speeches that you have given today about this most recent informal summit and its results might indicate. I would like to say to you that I think this whole thing is a political charade. I do not believe that the citizens of Europe will be very happy about this. I believe that the citizens are increasingly realising that the charade which took place during the Summit is intended to deceive them.

What is the biggest problem? In my opinion, the biggest difficulty is the analysis that lies behind the Fiscal Compact Treaty which cites public debt as being the major problem in the crisis. However hard I try to understand this interpretation of the crisis, I cannot come to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, the fact that we are still only arguing about the restructuring of public budgets has been making the crisis worse over a period of years. Therefore, the subject that should really have been debated is the programme to combat recession in the countries which are in crisis. Where is it? You have been talking today once again about jobs and growth, but, as far as I can see, only passing mention was made of this whole subject at the Summit. I am still able to read and do sums. Where is the money to back up the announcements and promises that you have made, which are sheer invention? I do not know where it is.

Ladies and gentlemen, if we take a look at Greece and at Portugal, we must all be aware of the risk of infection. What does Greece need now? An austerity commissioner? Another instrument of torture, thought up by European technocrats who have already put in place a technical government, with a financial expert at its head, and now an austerity commissioner? In my opinion, what the Greeks need is an honest analysis at last and an honest commitment to a better future. A programme to combat recession is urgently required. We know that the programmes in the areas of general infrastructure and energy infrastructure had already been completed and we could have introduced them. There were European companies who would have invested in Greece. We are talking about an austerity commissioner instead of discussing with the Greeks what the Greece of tomorrow will look like and instead of giving the Greeks some encouragement. I thought that it was a particularly low point when Greece was discussed as some sort of side issue. Mr Van Rompuy, this Summit made me feel ashamed.

I would like to make one final point. We need to have a private talk about how the countries which have not yet joined the euro are being treated. How can you justify this? I am definitely not Mr Tusk’s closest friend. His political background is quite different to mine. However, when it is all about Europe and about the big picture and not about the narrow-minded interests of those European countries which are still wealthy, when we need to look at the situation as a whole, I think we should take Mr Tusk as our model. The dispute with him about a seat at the children’s table was a low point of European politics. For me a masterpiece is something quite different.

 
  
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  Martin Callanan, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, there seems to be some agreement in the House today that even if this pact is adopted and ratified – which of course is very far from a forgone conclusion if Mr Swoboda is right about what happens in France and other countries – it will do nothing to solve this current crisis. As a fiscal conservative myself, I should be delighted that we are enshrining fiscal discipline and balanced budgets within national laws and constitutions. However, as a democrat, what greatly concerns me is that an electorate’s ability to vote for a high-spending Keynesian economic policy is effectively being removed from them. We are making socialism illegal. This pact is effectively rendering all elections null and void across much of Europe.

Let me say this. As a free market conservative myself who finds much to admire in the German model of fiscal and monetary discipline, we cannot impose our vision by force of law; we must also use force of argument. We need to show that austerity is not forever, that there is light at the end of a tunnel but, as long as we cut off the possibility of a Member State leaving the euro, then we block that tunnel. We condemn many countries to years of deflation, of poverty and of emigration, with no end in sight. Recovery will not come to many of the countries in southern Europe, in my view, until they are free to reissue their own currencies and to price their way back into the market.

Nor of course can we preach austerity to them unless we practise it ourselves. Imagine how a European summit – with its banquets, its motorcycle outriders, the armies of hangers on – must look to a public sector worker who is facing redundancy because of government cutbacks. Imagine how taxpayers in our home countries feel when every pound or euro saved in domestic spending is swallowed up by higher contributions to the EU budget.

My group makes no apologies for being single-minded about the single market. We will continue to pursue this agenda of creating the single market, of further extending services and reviewing procurement rules to encourage innovation. We will continue to push for better implementation of existing single market rules. And of course opening the single market would be pointless unless we continue to open our markets to the rest of the world; the parts of the world, that is, where there is still growth happening.

But many of these actions are in the medium and the long term. There is one action, however, that we could take right here right now to show businesses our commitment to growth. Surely one of the best ways for the EU to speed up growth is to scrap the Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs in the Commission and repatriate its responsibilities to national governments. Then we could scrap the Working Time Directive, the Agency Workers Directive, the Pregnant Workers Directive and all of the other barriers to actually employing people if we really want to create jobs in Europe. We cannot create those jobs by talking about them; by passing resolutions. In fact, we Eurocrats and MEPs cannot actually create any jobs at all. What we can do is get out of the way and allow entrepreneurs to invent things, to make things and to sell things. That is where employment growth comes from and it is also where social security comes from.

When I was a new MEP we had something called the Lisbon Agenda. It was supposed to make Europe the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. As Sarah Palin might have put it, ‘how is that working out for you?’

 
  
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  Lothar Bisky, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the liberalisation of the financial markets has led to developments on the markets that have not yet been brought under control. Only radical measures to prevent speculation on the markets will be able to put a definitive stop to the crisis.

Instead of this, with the adoption of the Fiscal Compact Treaty we are seeing a further increase in the one-sided focus on austerity policy and the destruction of social cohesion. My group is strongly opposed to this radical approach of debt reduction and cuts in public budgets. It has even been criticised by the International Monetary Fund.

The financial guru George Soros says that this austerity policy has thrown Europe into a deflationary spiral of debt. The debt brake was laid down in the Treaty of Maastricht and its adoption in national law is now intended to force its implementation. If that does not happen, the Member States are to be penalised with the help of the Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union. That is absurd, and it is also undemocratic, as the Member States will lose their most important right: their budgetary sovereignty.

Furthermore, it is totally unacceptable for the aid that is used to show solidarity with Member States which are in difficulty to be made conditional on signing up to the Fiscal Compact Treaty. This sacrifices the most important fundamental principle of the European Union on the altar of the financial markets.

The Left will work to bring about a reversal of this disastrous policy. We need a pact for sustainable growth and employment. We need public programmes for investment in the environment and education and, above all, we need the European Parliament and the citizens to have a say. The Treaty must be approved by referendum or by public consultation.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Nigel Farage, on behalf of the EFD Group. Mr President, first of all I would like to say: congratulations everybody! David Cameron had you worried for a bit, you even thought he was a Eurosceptic, but it is OK. You have had a quiet word with him and the real David Cameron is back. Whatever happened to the veto? No more vetoes any more. Indeed, Mr Cameron is now actively supporting this quite despicable pact, this plan to destroy and humiliate nation states that do not live up to a Germanic view of how economies ought to be run.

I must say I thought the weekend’s proposals from the German finance ministry suggesting that a European Commissioner and his staff occupy a big building in Athens and take over the running of the country – a Gauleiter, some might say – must be joke. Even this EU, I thought, could not possibly sink to those depths – but of course it was just a negotiating position and what we now have for Greece is diplomacy at gunpoint. It is the kind of strategy that Palmerston used against Athens back in the 19th century. Nobody can deny today that Greece is no more than a colony.

And this is all a terrible, huge mistake. Greece is not a failing subsidiary company where head office needs to come in and take control. Greece is a nation with a soul, a nation with pride, with history – goodness me, they invented democracy in the first place. They are suffering. They have youth unemployment of 50% caused, Mr Van Rompuy, because they are in the euro. You are causing the misery in these countries and you blather on about creating jobs and growth. None of this is actually going to happen.

And remember, these people are being driven into humiliation and desperation. Desperate people do desperate things, and I am deeply fearful for what will happen in Greece if we continue with this mad course. And of course, as Mr Barroso knows, it is going to be Portugal next.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Mr President, Mr Cameron said that he will not prevent EU institutions from being used to enforce the intergovernmental agreement on fiscal policy. It would appear that he is promising to refrain from doing something that he cannot completely prevent and in some areas would not need to prevent.

Article 8 of the draft agreement states that it will use Article 273 of the TFEU to enforce the agreement. It is true that Article 273 does say that ‘the Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction in any dispute between Member States which relates to the subject matter of the Treaties if the dispute is submitted to it under a special agreement’. However, whilst it can adjudicate on such agreements, it probably does not have the power to fine Member States for not complying with them. Furthermore, its jurisdiction does not extend to adjudicating on excessive budget deficits.

Article 8 of the draft agreement does say that the Commission can initiate any action, but I am afraid that the draft agreement is not a treaty and so cannot grant that power. Article 273 of the Treaty refers only to disputes between Member States and not to disputes with the Commission. It would appear therefore that the Commission does not have the power to initiate any action. In fact, it would appear that the Commission will have no role in this draft agreement at all. The Court of Justice will be able to say whether or not a country has broken the agreement but it will not be able to compel an erring country to obey.

If euro area countries want an agreement that can be enforced, they will need a new treaty which will have to be agreed unanimously. In my view it would be disastrous for Britain to agree to such a mechanism because it might be used today to enslave euro area countries but one day it will be used to enslave us.

 
  
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  Reinhard Bütikofer (Verts/ALE), Blue-card question to Nigel Farage.(DE) Mr President, I would like to put a question to the preacher of hatred, Mr Farage. He spoke here of Gauleiter. As a German, I object to the democratic country of Germany being equated with National Socialism. I would therefore like an apology from this gentleman. No one in Berlin is employing Gauleiter anywhere in Europe. He is inciting hatred in the European Parliament, hatred between the peoples of Europe. He should take that back, or you should ensure that he does not say anything like that again.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Nigel Farage (EFD), Blue-card answer to Reinhard Bütikofer. Mr President, I did not use the word ‘Gauleiter’, I said ‘as some might say’, and indeed the biggest selling Sunday newspaper in Britain used that word. If you want to talk about hatred, just look at what this European project is doing. We have German newspapers slagging off the Italians for being cowards, slagging off the Greeks for being lazy and useless, and we have Italian and Greek newspapers depicting leading figures in Germany wearing Nazi uniforms. Surely the whole point is that this project that was designed to bring us all together in peace and harmony is actually ripping us apart and bringing back nationalisms. And if there was one country I really had a go at in my speech, it was actually the United Kingdom because I admitted the way we behaved towards Greece in the 19th century was not acceptable.

 
  
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  President. − Nationalism is propagated in this House by those who place their flags on their desks in order to demonstrate their nationalism here. As far as I know, you are also among this group.

 
  
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  Elmar Brok (PPE).(DE) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, President of the Commission, I would like to start by thanking Mr Barroso, Mr Van Rompuy and his staff for having cooperated so successfully with the negotiating team from the European Parliament.

Secondly, I have to say that we did not want this Treaty. We wanted a Community-based Treaty. However, this was not possible on account of the position of the United Kingdom, because it imposed the condition that we must not regulate the financial markets. We want to regulate the financial markets so that this casino does not destroy us, and that is why we had to reject the demands of the United Kingdom.

The language of the past is now coming from certain circles. This European Union has brought peace, freedom and prosperity to the people as never before in the history of this continent, and I will not allow the hatred of Mr Farage and others who have spoken here to destroy that.

(Applause)

This Treaty makes the debt brake, the reverse qualified majority and the Court of Justice of the European Union possible. These are not possible with the current Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. However, we ought to ensure that everything else falls within the framework of Community legislation, and we have managed this with a great deal of support. Community rules should apply and everything should be done within the framework of Community legislation, taking into account the European Parliament’s power of codecision. Mr Barroso, we ask you now to put forward proposals in this regard very quickly, and not just the two-pack, but also in other areas and in relation to the implementation of the growth package, so that we can do something tangible.

Greece and other countries need a light at the end of the tunnel. In reality, citizens need to see that the dredgers are operating and working for the future. We need fiscal discipline. We need structural changes in these countries in order to remove barriers to competition – these are mostly to do with national legislation. However, we also need to utilise the possibilities afforded by European instruments. When I see EUR 16 billion sitting in the account for Greece, but the Greek administration is not able to submit projects for this, then we need to help it. That is what is coming now, Mr Swoboda. We need to help Greece to take control of its administration so that it can generate growth. That is what it is all about. Chancellor Merkel is fighting for discipline, structural changes and growth. These are the three pillars. If we forget discipline we will destroy the future of subsequent generations. That, too, needs to be viewed in this context.

(Applause)

The Community method and the rights of the European Parliament are being maintained here. However, I believe that we need twice as much solidarity as Ms Merkel wants. Everyone is trying to put his house in order, and on this basis we will provide assistance. That is what this strategy is all about. The socialists should now please vote for Mr Sarkozy, as he has now proposed a financial transaction act. We should give this our support. François Mitterrand needed two years to abandon socialism because France was bankrupt. If François Hollande were to be elected – which I hope does not happen – he would have 14 days in which to change his views, from the day of the election to the day he takes office, otherwise France would be ruined.

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

 
  
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  President. − Mr Brok, by way of an exception I have given you more than a minute’s extra speaking time because you were one of the successful negotiators in this House. That was the negotiation prize, so to speak.

 
  
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  Barry Madlener (NI), Blue-card question.(NL) Mr Farage did bring up an important point, of course, because while Mr Brok may well say that Europe is a guarantor of peace, the way things are going, I fear that that will not last much longer. Now, to get to the point, does Mr Brok personally, and on behalf of his group, believe that it is normal for a country to be subjected to wardship without the population of that country being consulted in a referendum?

Furthermore, does he think it normal that Eurobonds may potentially be introduced without allowing your countrymen, the Germans, or the Dutch to vote or to choose whether that is what they want? It is clear that the boundary of what can be done within the limits of democracy has been exceeded.

I would therefore like to ask you, Mr Brok, do you not also think that the Greeks - and the Germans and the Dutch – should be allowed a voice, to establish via a referendum how they see the future of Europe?

 
  
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  Elmar Brok (PPE), Blue-card answer.(DE) Mr President, Mr Madlener, first of all, we need to stick to our guns with regard to the fact that each Member State must comply with the rules, and care must be taken to ensure that this happens. If we accept rules, sign treaties and lay down legislation, we must ensure that these are applied. That is all we are talking about.

Secondly, all the measures that are now being decided on will only be taken as a result of decisions by the national parliaments, the parliaments in Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, but not the United Kingdom, because it is not involved in the solidarity measures for Greece. That needs to be said in this connection – also on account of your concerns about ordinary citizens, Mr Farage.

I believe, for that reason, we could only have such a Commissioner for austerity if there were a common set of rules with a legal basis which applied to all countries that did not comply with the rules. I therefore strongly reject the idea – and that is the position of the German Government – that there can be no special solution for Greece in this regard.

 
  
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  Stephen Hughes (S&D). - Mr President, the statement on growth and jobs agreed on Monday finally calls for ‘smart fiscal consolidation preserving investment in future growth, sound macroeconomic policies and an active employment strategy preserving social cohesion’. That is exactly what my group has been calling for since the start of the crisis.

The problem is that you have already made the choice of a dumb, rather than a smart, approach to fiscal consolidation. That dumb approach is embodied in the so-called six-pack and it is made even worse by this new international treaty. That framework prevents us from ‘preserving investment in future growth’ as the conclusion said.

If you really want to be smart, you can do much more. The Council could join this Parliament in seeking to put in place a real system of Eurobonds that would lower our interest rates on public debt and create room for manoeuvre for new investment. What is more, the Council could agree a more ambitious financial transactions tax, as we proposed, to generate up to EUR 200 billion of annual revenue. That would be smart. All that we can hope is that the inverse relationship between the Council’s use of the language of ‘smartness’ and the state of our economies will lead to a breakthrough soon for a true smart response to the crisis.

Finally, a word on Mr Callanan’s speech: he claims to deplore the fact that this treaty would make socialism illegal, but then he goes on to say that he would scrap all of the fruits of socialism. I would like to thank him for putting so clearly on the record the Conservative position.

 
  
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  Sharon Bowles (ALDE). - Mr President, jobs and growth have made it to the top of the agenda and action needs to follow. The other issue that has made the top of the agenda is the crisis for youth, but it is more than the fact that we just have devastatingly high numbers of young jobless. The ECB liquidity operations may have lifted the mood, but we should not be deceived. Potentially 2 trillion plus being sucked up by the banking system by next June should tell us that some kind of transfer already is going on. The question is: will this generation face up to it or foist it, along with joblessness, on to the younger generation? They face no jobs, no home ownership, and a financial system stuffed with the bonds of this generation’s failure.

And for those who try to lay the blame on the EBA for its bank stress tests, I would like to remind Member States that the deal was a combination of stress tests and firewall, and it is the constant delay in the firewalls that has made matters worse – among, of course, a few other delays.

 
  
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  Derk Jan Eppink (ECR). - Mr President, I would firstly like to welcome the fiscal compact. In fact it comes 10 years too late. A monetary union needs budgetary underpinning, without which it will crumble.

But the long-term objective does not solve short-term problems. Greece will not recover in the euro area, Portugal is a cliff-hanger, and Italy, Spain and France lost their competitiveness years ago, partly because of the euro. Transfers will not cure the loss of competitiveness. Nor will increased taxation, as Mr Sarkozy thinks. Every time he appears on television he proposes a new tax. I wonder why French socialists still need a presidential candidate because Mr Sarkozy is turning socialist by the day.

Now we also have a Brussels-based budget tsar. Mr Rehn is from a country that once lived under tsarist rule. He knows all about it, but in the end Moscow never succeeded in imposing policies on neighbouring states like the one of budget tsar Mr Rehn.

Mr Barroso, this is an important historic lesson to keep in mind – but Mr Barroso has gone.

 
  
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  Søren Bo Søndergaard (GUE/NGL).(DA) Mr President, I would like to start by expressing my admiration for the result of the summit. It was truly unbelievable. If there are countries that have problems with their economy, impose a fine on them and – hey presto – that will solve the problem! Why could we not have thought of this a little sooner? It is so simple and so effective. Why not use this method to solve other problems? For example, a country that has far too high a rate of unemployment could simply receive a fine. Or what about a country that has too many poor people, what should we do about that? Combat poverty with fines! The Heads of State or Government did not want to go that far, however. Millions of people in the EU are poor and out of work. That may be acceptable without imposing fines, but if a country chooses to carry out massive public investment, for example by taking out loans to create green jobs in the solar, wind and wave energy sectors, thereby creating employment, the EU’s hammer falls. I am sorry, but is this not a very blinkered economic policy? I am very well aware that the summit was met with a general strike by Belgian workers. This is something we will see more and more often if this policy continues.

 
  
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  Niki Tzavela (EFD).(EL) Mr President, the recent Council decisions will help to integrate the single market and economic governance. My question to you is this: is what we have witnessed here today a sign that we are indeed moving towards a single Europe. Are we aiming for a United States of Europe along the lines of the US? Have you ever seen an officer from Michigan attack over-indebted California, as various high-profile European citizens are doing? Basically, I believe that we are doing all we can to deconstruct the European construct with criticism, comments, stupid proposals and a lack of discernment which is imposing policies on countries and hence on people, on their citizens. We are witnessing procedures to circumvent democracy and democratic procedures and we are witnessing procedures to circumvent the laws of the International Labour Organisation.

As a Greek, I accept any constructive criticism of what my country has done and is doing. However, I believe that the whole of Europe is hiding behind one small country, Greece, as if Greece alone had all the problems from the crisis, as if we had built the euro on the right basis and as if no one had made any mistakes. As long as we have problems in Greece, we will have problems in Europe. We call on all of you to stop focussing on Greece, because we will do our job and we call on our German colleagues, because a divide is already emerging which has a name and a face: the face of Germany. The media in southern Europe are already calling Germany a ‘teenage hegemonist’. I am concerned and very fearful about what is happening. We all need to join forces if we are to make progress.

 
  
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  Barry Madlener (NI).(NL) Mr President, the first European summit of the new year has once again come to an end. From the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV)’s point of view it was a totally superfluous summit, once more. Once again, nothing was decided. Vague plans were forged to limit youth unemployment in the euro area, while Greece was not even on the agenda.

Mr President, when will Greece leave the single currency? Even a 70% haircut will not bring its sovereign debt below 120% by 2020. You know that, I know that and all independent economists know it too. You are playing poker with taxpayers’ money, liars’ poker.

Then we have budgetary discipline – seemingly the magic word for 2012. Mr President, you also know, however, that a dramatically shrinking economy does not enable any rabbits to be pulled from hats. Mr Barroso, how can you defend tampering with the measly Portuguese pension of EUR 200 a month? It does not even make a difference, given the fact that Portuguese interest rates yesterday rose to a record high.

The markets do not believe in it. It is like asking whether water can burn. There is no chance, Mr President. Currently, 23 million Europeans are unemployed. In southern Europe, we will soon have a situation where more than half of under-25s are jobless. I thought that the EU promised to ensure people’s prosperity. Instead of that, the EU is providing us with a nightmare.

Finally, Mr President, I will turn to that awful European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Treaty. We would have liked to have been able to inspect the approved new text, but apparently it will only be divulged when this Treaty is signed by the European Council. We would like to know where we stand, Mr President, as time is pressing.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Reul, the newly elected chair of the CDU/CSU delegation, now has the floor on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats). Congratulations on your election.

 
  
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  Herbert Reul (PPE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I think the solution we have found is a good one. I could have imagined better, but sometimes in politics there are times and situations when you have to try and achieve the best you can. You have to be satisfied with that and then continue to work, step by step.

Incidentally, what we have now achieved is along the same lines as what we decided six months ago in connection with the six-pack. I really cannot understand all the agitation here. We wanted the Member States to be more careful with their spending. We said ‘take care of your debt’. We said that we need to pay attention to growth. We have now done that – although not in the form or the manner that we wanted, that is true.

Our colleagues were involved in trying to improve on many aspects of the best solution and to bring it into line with Community law, as Mr Brok has just mentioned. Then we see such a display here from the chairs of the large groups, who are playing the worst form of party politics. I have to say that to make such a show here at a time when Europe is experiencing such problems is utterly irresponsible. I am appalled. I am truly appalled at how people are dealing with this issue. Mr President, how could they play such cheap party politics when we have issues like this on the agenda here!

They say that we need to bring Europe together, hurling accusations at others in this regard, and then spread hatred and division here themselves. Thus, if I were to use the sort of language that many fellow Members here have used – and these were the chairs of political groups – then I would have to now sit back with a certain amount of humility and say that this is no way to treat each other and this is not the way to find a solution for Europe as a community. That is not the way to go about it.

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

 
  
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  Rebecca Harms (Verts/ALE), Blue-card question.(DE) Mr President, if I understand this correctly, the six-pack that we adopted with a majority here in this House – not the whole House, but a majority – is European legislation that is already working. When will the fiscal pact produce results, and in which countries will this fiscal pact also create stability? When will this start to happen, Mr Reul?

 
  
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  Herbert Reul (PPE), Blue-card answer.(DE) Mr President, I cannot give you a specific date, but it will happen quickly, as you well know. You also know very well that all of the decisions we take here always require a certain amount of time to be implemented. The same applies in this case, and you criticised the content, not the timeframe. You criticised the substance and the procedure that was adopted here on Monday. I find that hypocritical.

 
  
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  Catherine Trautmann (S&D).(FR) Mr President, I am not going to give in to politicking – I want to assure Mr Reul of that – because I believe that this treaty is setting us up for failure and I deeply regret it.

I regret it because it is inefficient in its response to the market in the face of the crisis as it does not rebuild confidence. We have seen the problems Greece and Portugal have had in the same period. We are seeing two countries, who are the greatest contributors to our budget, France and Germany, whose growth rates have been halved. We understand that it is the wording of this treaty which, normally, should have served to settle things and reassure everyone, including the people. In reality, it is the action of the ECB which has had a positive effect, by making over EUR 500 billion of liquidities available to the banks.

However, in Parliament, we must realise that we have to be consistent. We are elected by our voters; and our voters are the retired people who are in debt, the workers who marched through the streets of Brussels, the unemployed people waiting for work, and the young people who want to have a future. We cannot content ourselves with criticising a treaty which is based solely on fiscal discipline, on penalties, and which, even worse, introduces government by the judiciary to the detriment of the sovereignty of national parliaments. We, the Members of the European Parliament, should rise up against this outcome and put forward proposals.

I, for one, have proposals that I should like to put forward. This is not simply about criticising. I believe, Mr President, that what we can propose today for Europe is a virtuous circle, a European pact of responsibility, governance and growth. This treaty must be renegotiated, on a basis which allows for true coordination of economic policies, including industrial projects to provide work for our factories and our workers, projects in the fields of energy and the environment, the creation of Eurobonds, which have regrettably been forgotten about or crossed off the agenda, and financial regulation. We need justice, we need solidarity. That is what we must defend in Parliament.

 
  
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  Mario Mauro (PPE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank the President of the Parliament for the manner in which on this occasion he defended not only the powers of our Assembly but also the democratic nature of the decision-making process in the European institutions, thus underpinning the outstanding work of Mr Brok, Mr Verhofstadt and Mr Gualtieri.

Commissioner, the European strategy for growth is contained in those references in the Council results, which, as is appropriate, refer to proposals that the European Commission will be making. We wish to support the Commission in its efforts. Please therefore innovate the decision-making process, opening up not only downstream but also upstream of this process to the contribution of parliamentary committees. By doing so, we will make the process not only more transparent but also more efficient.

President of the Council, in the Chamber today you listened to the dull and gloomy echoes of nationalism which forgets that 65 years of peace and development for Europe are the exception, not the rule in our history. Please help us to make sure that this is fully understood by those Heads of State or Government tempted to give greater credence to the consensus of fickle public opinion than to the sense and beauty of the European project.

 
  
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  Roberto Gualtieri (S&D). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, commenting on the rather forgettable conclusions of the summit on 9 December, we said that this Parliament would watch and work to limit the damage of that unfortunate choice.

This has been the case. Parliament’s united commitment in the difficult negotiations that have taken place has definitely helped to prevent even worse developments. There was a real risk that the new treaty would seriously undermine the law and the common European institutions, by establishing standards, mechanisms and procedures external to the Union and in contradiction with its laws.

That is no longer the case. Parliament, the Commission and the President of the European Council have averted this danger. Now the treaty will have to be implemented through EU legislation. The parameters for defining deficit and debt levels have been substantially, although not completely, brought back into the context of the current regulatory framework, and the dreadful possibility of having a new parliamentary institution has been averted.

But even though we have significantly limited the damage, the fiscal compact is not an adequate response to the crisis. There are still unacceptable and unwise aspects, such as the limitations on the presence of Parliament at Euro summits. From a legal perspective, the Court’s power to impose sanctions seems highly dubious. Only if the proposals that Parliament put forward with one voice in its resolution – financial transactions tax, project bonds, stability bonds – are finally adopted, can Europe overcome a crisis that unidirectional fiscal discipline threatens to aggravate.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Gualtieri, you too deserve our thanks for your splendid work in the negotiations. I must apologise to Mr Verhofstadt. I have thanked everyone, Mr Brok and Mr Gualtieri, but I did not thank you. That is because you are a group chair and were there in a dual capacity. I think Parliament’s negotiators did an excellent job. Therefore, I would like once again to thank all of them most sincerely.

 
  
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  Constance Le Grip (PPE).(FR) Mr President, I wanted to bring the support of the French delegation of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) for the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, as well as for the main conclusions reached by the Council. Let us not be mistaken. This treaty represents an important step in favour of greater economic and fiscal integration, and in favour of greater financial stability. Let us say it again. We cannot sustainably stimulate growth and employment without cleaning up our public finances. Of course, growth cannot be decreed; this is not a treaty which can stimulate growth on its own. However, a treaty, that is, a collection of rules and mutual commitments, can bring confidence and greater awareness of responsibilities.

Since the Chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament thought it appropriate to introduce politicking into this Chamber by alluding to the upcoming French presidential campaign and mentioning the socialist candidate to this French presidential election, I wanted to respond. We in the PPE Group consider the declarations made by the French socialist candidate, who stated that he wanted to renegotiate the treaty concluded by 25 Member States, completely irresponsible. Renegotiate what and with whom? Such statements are totally irresponsible. They have little regard for the word of the French State and show no respect for its commitments.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Bullmann, who was today elected chair of the SPD delegation, has the floor. The Germans have election fever. Congratulations, Mr Bullmann.

 
  
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  Udo Bullmann (S&D).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let us take a quick look at the harsh economic reality. On the day of the summit, the markets rated Portuguese debt securities for 10-year bonds at 17% interest and for five-year bonds at 20% interest. So much for the question as to the extent to which the summit has helped to calm the economic situation, or the question of to what degree the new intergovernmental treaty has pacified activity on the market.

If anyone asks himself where the disquiet is coming from, then perhaps the answer is from the economic data and from the feeling that what we have done is not enough. President Schulz, I would like to thank you expressly for the courage and clarity with which you participated in this summit on behalf of this House in order to say that we will indeed defend the Community method and we certainly want consolidation, but we also need to invest so that Europe’s economies can flourish.

I believe that this is a line that this House will be able to agree on, and we will be able to continue to develop a common economic policy.

 
  
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  Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PPE). - Mr President, let me mention one added value which we should exploit while looking at the implementation of the fiscal pact.

Our economic policies are facing credibility tests by financial markets and we have to act in a spirit of unity and solidarity with the Union and avoid unnecessary divisions. Those who are macro-financially healthier should provide credibility to those who are macro-financially weaker.

That leads me to two conclusions. First, we should share credibility via mutualisation of debt – being an added value added – in exchange for executable deficit and debt rigours. Second, given that 12 of the 17 euro area Member States exceed the golden limit of a 60% debt/GDP ratio, while only one of the eight future members of the euro area – non-euro area today – exceeds that limit, one could say that those healthier non-euro area countries provide credibility to the present members of the euro area, and not the other way round. It would be another added value for the euro area, and it would be in its interest, as a rule, to allow those countries to join euro area summits.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira (S&D).(PT) Mr President, I might say that this treaty is useless. Unfortunately, it is above all dangerous. First and foremost, this is because it reinforces a prescription that does not work, with further punishments and stringent rules. The spiral of recession has started. Who could trust a doctor who cannot tell the difference between weight loss and anorexia? A doctor who, however weak the patient becomes, insists on applying a cure, while openly talking about the likelihood of the patient’s death? How many more countries have to go into recession for the Commission and the Council to realise that their diagnosis is wrong and, what is more, dangerous? Here we are representing the European public. There are 23.7 million Europeans unemployed. Almost 6 million young people have no hope of finding a job. Do the Council and the Commission not see that ignoring this fact and failing to give an adequate response reveal an insensitivity that is politically explosive?

Let us be clear. The great recession is not an inevitability, it is an ideological obsession. There is an alternative, but this must take the form of action, rather than words. Where are the project bonds to finance European investment? Where is the tax on speculative financial products, aimed at strengthening the European budget? Where is the barrier that should be protecting countries from the ruinous interest rates imposed on them by the markets, leading to their ruin?

The public demand options – proper options – rather than words.

 
  
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  Marietta Giannakou (PPE).(EL) Mr President, the summit could be seen as a positive summit for development and job creation, but only at the theoretical level. Four years after the start of the crisis, there is still no definite exit strategy for Europe as a whole. The stability pact, as we all know, was not really necessary at the legal level, but was obviously needed as a lesson in discipline and/or as a threat to those who deviate from the rules. We should therefore accept that this is the solution, as all the other potential solutions will be worse for the strong Member States of the Union. The recession alone will not throw up a solution to the problem in any country, especially not mine. Fiscal prudence and the austerity programme are absolutely necessary but, without growth, they are a no-win policy that will have disastrous consequences both on the countries to which they are applied and to Europe as a whole.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Mr President, I am glad that the choice for the central topic of the informal summit fell on economic growth and job creation. However, we cannot evade the fact that the process of harmonising an unsuitably prepared intergovernmental pact with Community law has been underway since December.

Let us be frank: it is no coincidence that several Members believe that this new draft intergovernmental agreement is unnecessary and contains nothing new compared to the six-pack adopted earlier. Although I do not share their opinion, I find it extremely regrettable that this content could not be incorporated already into the six-pack.

At the same time, I would like to stress that any agreement that facilitates common economic governance and urges common European action is an important one; not only on the level of words but also backed by deeds. Still, I am not fully satisfied because common action cannot be realised, as on the one hand, the pact was unfortunately not signed by everyone, and on the other hand, Member States from outside the euro area will not be invited to both events of the summit.

Of course all is well that ends well, and I am happy that the signing will bring the pact to a conclusion, and I hope that the time until the end of March will be sufficient to remedy any shortcomings.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). (RO) Mr President, due to the alarming situation regarding the youth unemployment rate, the inclusion on the Council’s agenda of the debate regarding the stimulation of employment for this category of population was very beneficial. The future belongs to young people and they are the main beneficiaries of everything that is being built today, good or bad. For this reason, it is imperative that we take measures to improve their situation, both at EU and individual Member State level.

I believe that a basic tool to achieve the objectives proposed in this regard is the cohesion policy. The national programming processes of the European funds for the period 2014-2020 have now started. I strongly recommend the Commission and Member States to pay greater attention to youth and include in the structure of their national programmes well-financed axes, specially aimed at youth employment.

 
  
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  Anni Podimata (S&D).(EL) Mr President, President of the European Council, ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you do not endorse some of the extreme and problematic statements made by those permanently on a soap box here in the House on the subject of Greece. I do not think that there is any point either in addressing them or in commenting on what they say. However, I do wish to address the rest of the House and to ask them to take time to consider with us where stereotypes, derisory attitudes and statements about a country and an entire nation being severely tested by the crisis will get us. I wish to point out, even though Mr Brok has left, that I do not doubt the intentions of the overwhelming majority of colleagues here; but I do believe that, if we are honest about wanting to help a country to bring its efforts to a close, then we should not insult it because, as another German, Sigmund Gabriel, said: if you make a nation choose between its dignity as a nation and aid, then you are ignoring basic lessons of history.

 
  
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  Gay Mitchell (PPE). - Mr President, I think to some extent we have been lurching from one regulation to another and while I accept that it would be very difficult, if we did not have the institutions we have, to keep a grasp on the matter, I think it is time to move on. Mr Draghi said two weeks ago in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs that you can have fiscal rectitude without growth but you cannot have growth without fiscal rectitude. I support that. I think that is a fair definition, but please, more emphasis, more leadership, on growth.

As part of this we surely need some new definition of what the market economy is meant to stand for. We are in a situation, it appears to me, where the private sector is regulating the public sector and there is very little accountability. Oligarchs seem to be in charge of certain parts of the markets, so please, let us have more attention to what the markets are doing to the public sector and to us as parliaments and governments, and let us do more to give leadership, to try and bring about growth and jobs.

 
  
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  Zita Gurmai (S&D). - Mr President, like many of us in the House, I am somewhat torn. On the one hand, I can appreciate that the majority of European decision-makers recognise the need for immediate action in order to handle the crisis, which I agree is no longer solely economic.

On the other hand, I am convinced that our point of departure is not the proper one. Of course we cannot do without financial stability and strict rules but, in my opinion, the root of the problem is that there has not been enough attention paid to and emphasis on growth, employment and social inclusion. Understandably, the majority of the conservative leaders were too preoccupied with the austerity measures, which was a big mistake.

In addition, I am not convinced about the way in which the crisis is being handled. We should follow the Community method because we cannot let Europe diverge from what it represents – the foundation of European construction, a way of working together, irrespective of the differences between the Member States.

Apart from this, I underline an important point. The European Parliament is the only directly elected body among the institutions. Our President should fully participate in the Euro summits.

 
  
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  Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, at the last meeting of the Council, President Barroso made a – somewhat didactic, it should be said – PowerPoint presentation and one of the graphs in this presentation showed the results of the survey of European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on the difficulties they face.

It is surprising – I too am surprised – that the cost of workers was only the fifth-most important of the concerns and difficulties raised by SMEs. Their major concern was the lack of customers, which is a feature of the recession, and in second place was the lack of credit; in other words, another dimension, another problem resulting from the crisis. I therefore do not understand; I confess that I am completely unable to understand.

If this is the case, Mr Van Rompuy, why are the governments only concerned with austerity? Why are the governments insisting on reducing wages as a solution? Seriously, what is wrong? Is it the survey? What is wrong? Is it your proposals? Is it both? We are here to solve people’s problems, not to deceive them. This is not a game of deception; it is not about throwing sand in people’s eyes. Please answer this question with more than just words. It is just a question, Mr President …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz, (PPE).(PL) Mr President, this debate today and the opinions quoted from the European press show clearly that not all the expectations which were placed in Monday’s summit have been realised. This is a fact. It was, nonetheless, a summit of sensible and good compromises. As with every compromise, not everyone is happy with it. However, we have been given an instrument thanks to which, by applying greater discipline to public finances, we can revive the economy of the members of the euro area, but also and most importantly we have managed to avoid the appearance of institutions and political decisions which would cause the rise of two unions in Europe.

I would like to thank our negotiators for that second effort in particular, for that initiative in the form of support for the Polish Government’s political and diplomatic offensive. I would like to thank you for this, too, Mr Schulz, and for your clear voice in defence of the cohesion of the European Union, which was also heard during the summit. Thank you.

 
  
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  Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D).(ES) Mr President, it is regrettable that this is not the first time we are hearing expressions of dissatisfaction in Parliament with regard to Council conclusions, but it is even more regrettable that it will certainly not be the last time, because, firstly, it has shown itself to be biased again. For it is biased to focus only on the deficit, and for the only stimulus to be the reallocation of resources which are entirely insufficient when it comes to fulfilling the objectives for stimulating growth and creating employment. However, it is also insufficient to use the term ‘fiscal union’ to talk about something that is only budgetary union, budgetary restraint, which, furthermore, is boosted only by sanctions and by no incentives whatsoever. It is also biased because it is side-stepping Parliament and, through an intergovernmental treaty, trying to avoid making the reform needed to turn the European Central Bank into what the European economy needs. Therefore, it is not going to bring the patient out of this coma; instead, it is going to make the patient’s health deteriorate even further.

 
  
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  President. − Ladies and gentlemen, I must just mention something to you briefly about the catch-the-eye procedure. This procedure was introduced – and I must ask the group chairs once again to consider this – so that we can allow Members to take the floor spontaneously at the end of the debate.

In reality, it seems that the catch-the-eye procedure is being used to try to introduce a second speaker list here in order to put pressure on the President to give certain people the floor. I will not do that. I will focus here on the spontaneity of Members and ask that, in future, at the end of a debate we actually give the floor spontaneously to those who are here and who ask to speak. Otherwise it is unfair.

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, first of all I would like to thank the House for a very lively, interesting debate which raised a lot of new ideas. I think it underlies the clear sentiment that this summit was very important and crucial because, after a certain period of time, the primary focus was on growth. It was very important for us to address the greatest concern of our citizens, which is growth and employment, in this way.

Of course a very important element of the summit was to continue our work on guaranteeing stronger economic and fiscal governance. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Parliament’s negotiators, Mr Verhofstadt, Mr Gualtieri and Mr Brok, for an excellent job and for the good cooperation with the European Commission.

Coming back to the outcome of the summit – and I believe Mr Van Rompuy would testify to this – I think there was a consensual approach to the discussion on growth and to the importance of growth and of streamlining our policy to achieve that goal. I cannot agree with those who believe that we can create new jobs by dismantling the European social model. We had such a situation here in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries; let us not go back, please.

As regards the focus on youth, I think that the measures adopted during the European Council to help our young generation – those 7.5 million young people who are not employed, not in education and not in training – are absolutely crucial. Action on this is immediate: letters have been sent to the eight Member States, the joint action teams will meet in February, funds are mobilised and these new job plans for the young generation should be debated by the European Spring Council. I believe we cannot act any faster; what we need is your support and good cooperation from the Member States.

Turning to the very important issue of economic and fiscal governance, I think it was quite clear from this debate, and I think this is echoed by the European Council, that we cannot have consolidation without growth. Last year we were very much breaking new ground when we were trying to save the euro; trying to save the European monetary union. Now we are moving beyond that. We see a certain stabilisation. We can focus on growth, which will bring hope to many families in the European Union.

There is one thing which it is important to underline. When I was listening to the debate some of the speakers were describing the outcome in much bleaker terms than it really deserved. I think that Parliament and the Commission acting together have been instrumental in upholding the Community method and guaranteeing that the European Parliament would be involved in economic governance, that the European institutions would be central in economic governance, that we will have no new European institutions and that this treaty will be incorporated in European law within five years. I think these are very important positive gains and we should look at them in this positive light.

Some very quick remarks on the specific questions. I absolutely agree with Mr Daul as regards the importance of the Services Directive. The full implementation of this directive would increase trade in commercial services by 45%. It would increase foreign direct investment by 20%. It can bring about an increase of 0.5 to 1.5% in GDP. Where else can we find such an easy potential for growth? It is lamentable that this directive is not yet in operation; we have started infringement procedures against the remaining two Member States which have yet to transpose it correctly.

Mr Verhofstadt mentioned patents. I can assure you that this was highlighted very forcefully by me in the General Affairs Council and also by the President of the Commission in the European Council. It is true that, having the chance to decrease costs by 80%, we should do it as soon as possible. We have been discussing the patent for decades, and I am pleased that we now have a deadline and that we should definitely solve this issue before the June European Council. I would plead with the three countries which cannot agree where the seat will be to find a solution, because our innovation community, our scientists, are really waiting for it.

As regards Mr Swoboda’s comment on the financial transactions tax and Mr Verhofstadt’s comments on the Eurobonds, the financial transaction tax is a very important proposal. I would like to assure you that the Commission is not going to give up. We had one difficult political debate on this issue and it was definitely not conclusive but, if we gave up after each difficult political debate at Council level, there would be no European law. We are going to continue and we will need your support. I believe that in the end, in all Member States, they will realise how useful this measure can be, the kind of fair burden-sharing it could bring from the financial sector, and the kind of healthy regulatory effect it could have on the financial industry. I believe in rational arguments and these arguments are very rational. I believe they will prevail.

As regards Eurobonds and stability bonds, you know that the Commission believes that this is an excellent stabilising and investment tool and a very good instrument. I think this was clearly shown in our options paper and now we see that the discussion is ongoing. It is very difficult, but I believe that these new efforts in fiscal consolidation will actually increase mutual confidence among the Member States in how responsible we are in managing our public finances. I personally believe that we will see the day when we will use the Eurobonds, the stability bonds, as a very important financial and investment tool in the European Union.

Coming to the last piece of information: co-financing. I agree with Mr Verhofstadt that this is a very important tool in helping countries in distress. As you probably know, we have already increased the co-financing rate from 75% to 85% – at first temporarily for Latvia, Greece, Portugal and Romania and we did something similar for Ireland. Now we have increased it even further: 95% in the case of Greece. Moreover we are helping the Greek authorities to better absorb these funds on the ground.

 
  
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  Herman Van Rompuy, European Council.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as I said in my introduction, the growth and employment policy is a policy with various levels. There is the short term, there is the long term, there is the economic aspect, there is the aspect relating purely to employment policy, there is what we can do at Member State level and there is what we can do at EU level.

With regard to the short term, I will be fairly brief; at least, I hope so. Firstly, we cannot forget that we are, of course, experiencing a period of stagnation, of recession, but that we are coming out of two years of positive growth of around 2% in the euro area and even throughout the EU. We tend to forget this and to believe that the period we have just come from was a period of recession. That is not the case, in spite of the consolidation efforts that have been made on average.

Of course, there are countries which are following programmes and those that are under pressure from the markets. However, generally speaking, on average, 2010 and 2011 were profitable years in terms of growth and employment. In a country I know better than others, Belgium, 100 000 jobs were actually created in 2010 and 2011. Over the course of the year of the crisis in 2009, 7 000 jobs were lost. Even this year, in 2012, growth is positive. I know that there are problems in many countries and many regions. What I should like to highlight, however, is that we have also seen positive changes over these last two years.

For short-term growth, the most important thing we can do – everyone agrees on this – is to promote fresh confidence in the euro area. If confidence returns to the euro area, consumers and companies will have greater confidence and this will lead us to greater economic growth. In 2009, once confidence had returned, once confidence in the banks had been restored, we saw renewed economic growth and increased employment. We must therefore work towards this.

The last few months have not been as disastrous as some people are trying to tell us. For example, Germany’s spreads have decreased substantially for Italy and Spain: 1.6 for Spain and Portugal compared to the highest spread level several months ago. I am not saying that we have reached our goals, I am simply saying that a positive turnaround is taking place. I have not even mentioned Ireland where there has been a decrease in relation to the Bund of around 7%. Is this enough? No. Has there been a turning point? Yes. I therefore hope we will continue on this path.

In the short term, spending more and increasing deficits is not a solution. That is not the solution; we have tried it and it has failed. Even outside of the European Union, those who have implemented this fiscal recovery policy are now having to return to a more orthodox policy. Even in the golden rule, if there is any kind of deficit that we can tolerate, it should be a structural deficit. That way, there is room for manoeuvre: it is structural, it is not nominal, nor is it a 0.5% deficit the whole time. There is an evaluation and there is this structure effect which must be taken into account. In the short term, every cloud has a silver lining: the recent depreciation of the euro will help our exports and there are even studies which prove that this can happen very quickly.

For the long term, we have the Europe 2020 strategy. We poke fun at it; we compare it to the Lisbon strategy. I believe that, now, it has been proven that it is no laughing matter and the Europe 2020 strategy has been integrated into the European semester and the six-pack. Parliament has also shown much stronger commitment to work towards it than in the past. There are also much stronger commitments towards employment in the Euro-Plus Pact. Of course, all of this has to be implemented. However, I believe that we have made all the necessary provisions for this long-term strategy to be a success this time.

As for the European patent, I share a certain disappointment with you. However, the way I look at it is that it includes positive elements, in spite of everything, but that is my nature. I started my political career with a prime minister, in the 1970s, who said ‘The European Council has not managed to reach an agreement on the European patent.’ That was in 1978. Here we are now much later and, under the Belgian Presidency, and even with a minister for economic affairs whom some people know better than others, we have managed to reach a breakthrough thanks to enhanced cooperation. Now we must complete the final step; this will take several weeks, but I am sure that the Danish Presidency – with our help – will find a solution to this problem.

With regard to the social aspect, the specific employment policy, we must realise that there are many measures we can take at European level. We can work on the single market. We can mobilise European funds, which is being done anyway: the cofinancing rate has, furthermore, been reduced and the Vice-President of the Commission was right to mention this. We can do all of this, then, and there are the project bonds, but, admittedly, most of the work has to be done at national level.

We can give incentives to national governments and parliaments. We can encourage them. We can ask them to make commitments. We can even sanction them, to some extent. All of this is provided for in the European semester. However, the bulk of the work must be done by the national governments and parliaments, otherwise we cannot explain the difference between Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and some other European regions in terms of unemployment rates. For example, the rate for young people can be quite low, around 8%, while in other cases it is close to 50%. There are huge discrepancies due to the policies implemented in the past.

What we will do now is encourage the national governments and Member States to follow the good example of countries such as Austria, through financial incentives and other means. The Commission’s recommendations will be very important and the conclusions we reached in the European Council are along these lines. I will not play them down as much as some others have done. Therefore there is this economic aspect and this social aspect and of course, as I have just mentioned, there is what can be done at EU level and what can be done at Member State level.

With regard to the treaty, ladies and gentlemen, when I compare all that was said about it before it was concluded with what is being said now, I believe that we have worked well. We have done some good work with the help of many people – including and even especially within this Parliament. We have worked hard to integrate this intergovernmental treaty into the philosophy of the EU Treaties. We must make an effort – this will be a job for our successors; at least, it will be for mine – to integrate this treaty into the Treaty itself as such, in a few years’ time. We have also ensured that there is more consistency within the European Union. At one time, some people had the impression that we were moving towards a two-speed Europe. We have reached an agreement with 25 States. Unfortunately, not 27, but 25: this means that there are eight countries outside the euro area which have shown solidarity with those using the single currency. We have reached an agreement so that those who do not belong to the euro area, but who ratify the treaty, can participate at key moments in the deliberations at euro area summits and of course be involved in all the subjects dealt with in agreements under the treaty.

We have thereby safeguarded the greatest possible consistency for the EU. Once again, when I compare what was said before the negotiations and what I am now hearing about the treaty, we have travelled an important and interesting path, and I am very glad about that.

 
  
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  President. − Two motions for resolutions have been tabled under Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure(1).

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 2 February 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. (LT) The kind of message that we send the half a billion people living in the European Union (EU) is now more important than ever. In the European Parliament resolution on the conclusions of this week’s European Council meeting we must show a united front. I believe that we must speak in favour of smart savings and the effective use of EU funds, but it is very important to emphasise that savings alone will not help to overcome the crisis in the EU. We also need to recognise that major belt-tightening in some Member States in recent years has further increased poverty and social exclusion. In some Member States the response to this has been emigration, particularly among young people. In the European Parliament we have to underline that we can only overcome the crisis by boosting economic growth, increasing employment, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and using other specific measures. Unfortunately, at this week’s European Council meeting the declaration on growth and the creation of new jobs was overshadowed because most attention was focused on institutional matters and disagreements between certain Member States on an international agreement on the Treaty. We must speak out against the division of the EU into euro area and non-euro area Member States because that is how we shatter the Community and people’s confidence in the European Union as a united, responsible and cohesive community.

 
  
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  Nessa Childers (S&D), in writing. Like many of my countrymen, like much of my S&D Group, like many commentators and citizens across the EU, I am wary of the need for this ‘Fiscal Compact’ treaty. That the smaller and indebted states need to show the larger and more stable economies that we are serious about reform is fully accepted in Ireland and elsewhere. Whether or not this should extend to a treaty which simply reiterates much of which was included in the recent six pack, and indeed the Maastricht Treaty many years before that, is more debateable. If this treaty truly helps Europe to get back on its feet, and produces a more fair and balanced union, then I commend its authors on a visionary text. If, however, it fails to achieve these objectives, it will be seen as a folly, and at this juncture it would be generous to suggest that it could equally go either way.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) In this European Union, there is the fateful feeling and the irrationality and confusion that always precede the fall of an empire. It is increasingly clear that the workers and peoples of Europe cannot expect anything to come of these meetings. There is nothing that resembles a real solution to the crisis, which is becoming ever more severe. Not a word came out of this European Council on the intolerable and growing social inequalities, on development asymmetries between countries, on tax havens or on the unregulated and free movement of capital, which enables speculation, usury and the predation of national resources.

What has come out of this meeting is a veritable constitutional coup d’état. They want to impose and universally apply the policies of the IMF and EU programmes, the disastrous results of which are plain to see in Greece, Portugal and Ireland. They want to set these policies in stone; that is how they think, without realising that they are cheating themselves. Well into the 21st century, they want to curb the peoples’ right to decide their own path freely, turning sovereign countries into veritable protectorates. This path only leads to disaster. Social struggle, which is building throughout Europe, is the surest way of avoiding this path, and of paving the way for hope and confidence in a better future.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D), in writing. - (SK) The leaders’ meeting was essentially unnecessary. The Fiscal Compact will certainly not get the EU out of the crisis. It may even fall into recession, due to the cuts. Ultimately, on account of the economic downturn, it will then be even harder to pay back debts, and they will become an increasing burden. Moreover, the probable future president of France has now indicated that he wants to modify the Compact further before ratification.

The need to kick start employment growth, however, is still underestimated. Whereas cost-cutting measures are slowly becoming law, the growth and employment initiative has remained in the form of a general challenge. Sweden has also refrained from signing. From a European perspective, such behaviour is extremely unfortunate. The growth initiative is weak. The Fiscal Compact is being adopted outside the framework of European treaties, and without the UK and the Czech Republic.

The European Parliament’s role in negotiations over these matters is minimised. This should be completely changed. Europe must remain unified and stick to democratic principles and existing legal frameworks. Europe must stop thinking in terms of simplistic formulas such as ‘there are debt problems, so let’s make cuts’. No. We must look for resources that can be sensibly invested in economic recovery - unused resources from EU Structural Funds, the tax on financial transactions, a stronger EIB and European bonds. These are the issues that the summits should be addressing. They will be worthless if this does not happen, and the Union does not have much time left.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz (S&D), in writing.(HU) 23.7 million women and men. This is where the number of unemployed people in Europe stood at the end of 2011. The ink was still wet on the fiscal pact concluded at last week’s summit when the crushing statistics were published: there has never been as high an unemployment rate in the countries of the euro area since the introduction of the common currency as at the end of last year. Youth unemployment is reaching particularly distressing levels in Spain and Greece, where almost half of the people below the age of 25 are unable to find jobs.

I am glad that the Council has finally recognised what Socialist Members in the European Parliaments have been stressing for a long time, namely that this situation is untenable, and that Europe’s increasingly serious problems cannot be resolved solely through budgetary austerity measures. Despite the adoption of legislation after legislation and treaty after treaty on the tightening of fiscal rules, recession seems inevitable. Without economic growth deficit reduction cannot be sustained, new jobs cannot be created, the number of unemployed will not decrease but will in fact rise, and there will be a growing sense of hopelessness, accompanied by the proliferation of radical ideals and views.

The Council took the long-awaited first step when it put the issue of employment and in particular youth employment on its agenda. However, the measures that were decided on are insufficient and lack ambition. Immediate decisions and actions, as well as an increased, targeted use of the EU funds offered is needed to ensure that the young people of today do not feel as if they were ‘Europe’s redundant generation.’

 
  
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  Edit Herczog (S&D), in writing.(HU) I definitely welcome the fact that the representatives of all Member States urge the strengthening of competitiveness, the consolidation of Member State budgets, and proposals for the creation of additional jobs.

There are three areas you intend to treat as a priority: the promotion of youth employment, the completion of the single European market, as well as an increase in the support to and a reduction of the burdens of the SME sector. Although I believe that these three directions are good, I find the measures they involve belated and incomplete. You still reject the possibility of introducing a transaction tax, even though it has become an economic platitude that the EUR 200 billion it would yield could give new impetus to the European entrepreneurial sector, thereby generating internal consumption for the EU.

The support provided by the new gap-closing, educational and grant programmes will undoubtedly aid the millions of unemployed youths, but as long as we do not ‘sanction’ employers, encouraging them to hire new, young workforce, we cannot expect a breakthrough in this field. The statements made at the Council meeting failed to calm the markets: the 17–20% interest rates on Portuguese government bonds, for instance, saw no decrease whatsoever over the past two days.

As a Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament I am of the position that the finalisation of the treaties on economic stability and consolidation does not adequately address the EU’s current economic and social issues, and does not serve the purposes of a united Europe. They say that good things take time. In our case, time is running out…

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE), in writing.(PL) On Monday, after long and difficult negotiations, it was possible to reach agreement over the fiscal compact, which was officially named the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. Although as is often the case in difficult negotiations the agreement is not ideal and does not fully satisfy all the parties, it has however achieved the support of 25 of the European Union’s Member States. This is without doubt an expression of the conviction that Europe does not need disputes, but quite the contrary needs swift and decisive action.

One of the key elements of the negotiations was the question of the participation in Eurosummit meetings by countries which are not part of the euro area. Although the provision which was negotiated introduces certain restrictions in access to these meetings, it was possible, thanks to the enormous determination of the countries from outside the euro area, to defend the institutional system of the EU and not cause a violation of the Community principle. The representatives of the EU institutions – Mr Barroso, Mr Schulz and Mr Van Rompuy – also rose to the task and unanimously defended the unity of the Union.

The reaching of this agreement does not however end discussion on the form of the Union or on the position in the new structure of countries which are not part of the euro area. We now face the very important task of the proper application of the provisions of the compact in practice. Particularly important for us will be how Article 12 of the agreement will be implemented, and, therefore, if the voice of the countries which have signed the compact but which are not part of the euro area will in fact be heard during Eurosummit meetings.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. – More Europe is the answer! Finally the Member States have taken their responsibility by signing the Fiscal Treaty. Strict rules and fiscal discipline and joint efforts as the whole EU are crucial. Signs of protectionism and egoism have no place if the European project wants to succeed. Completion of the single market – loosing barriers to cross-border trade and services, completing the single digital market – is the key for future success. Doing business, using services, getting a job should be equally easy and accessible in the whole EU. The strong language on this must be transmitted to the official Spring Council conclusions! SMEs as drivers and backbone of the European economy suffer the most under unnecessary burdens and rules. Simplified procedures and exemptions are needed to enable the SMEs to pursue and focus on their main business instead of filling in administrative forms. Easy access to financing both from public and private sources will ensure sustainable and competitive SMEs. Youth unemployment has reached more than 30% in eight Member States. We have to enforce measures to enable easy access to labour market and quality jobs, significantly increasing the offer for apprenticeships and internships for young people, working together with the social partners.

 
  
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  Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL), in writing. (FR) The Council has confirmed, without any consultation with the European Parliament or the national parliaments, that a new treaty which puts fiscal austerity at the heart of European economic policy has been put in place. This is a denial of democracy made all the more unacceptable by the fact that the budgetary thresholds which it will impose are completely new and have never previously been mentioned in any of the EU Treaties.

This treaty also interferes with national constitutions to an unprecedented extent, by forcing them to include an instrument to limit public spending. This new treaty also includes the Euro-Plus Pact, which constitutes a dismantling of social rights. We are calling for the European people to be consulted by referendum before any decision is taken.

 
  
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  Marian-Jean Marinescu (PPE), in writing. (RO) Twenty-five Member States have reached an agreement on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, which is an essential element in our efforts to maintain stability and an example of solidarity and determination that the Union is prepared to resolve crises. European leaders have been forced to adopt tough measures to stabilise the euro area.

Financial stability is an important, but not the only element in the effort to ensure economic recovery. We need discipline, structural changes, jobs and sustainable growth. The use of European funds must be optimised. There is a need for practical proposals to tackle the problem of youth unemployment and finance SMEs. We are entering a phase of economic governance based on the European semester, in which national governments recognise that areas of national competence must be approached at European level as well. The European economy must become much more competitive and this becomes possible only through the completion of the internal market. Therefore, the Commission must ensure that all laws regarding the internal market are applied in the Member States and must oversee their implementation. This Treaty is a big step forward towards fiscal and economic integration and towards a better governance of the euro area.

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu (PPE), in writing. (FR) The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union is a much needed step forward. In the current crisis that we are experiencing, fiscal stability is an essential element which we cannot abandon. Clear, precise rules needed to be included in a treaty to guarantee that they would be respected. Of course, it is a shame that the treaty has not received support from all of the Member States. However, we cannot be anything but pleased with the final version which has been adopted. Significant advances have been set out in it, such as formal recognition of the golden rule, reverse qualified majority voting and intervention by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Furthermore, the final text has been made more consistent with European law, and particularly with the six-pack which came into force in December. Finally, we must not forget the difficulty of the European negotiations: managing to reach an agreement on such a text in such a short space of time is a real triumph. The treaty represents, first and foremost, a clear political will: it promotes responsible economic governance.

 
  
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  Sławomir Witold Nitras (PPE), in writing.(PL) From the standpoint of improving economic governance in the EU, a positive view should be taken of the fact that the fiscal compact introduces instruments of a new quality which will contribute to the pursuit of a more responsible fiscal policy in the future. The most important of these are the balanced budget rule, the obligation of the Member States which have signed the compact to implement this principle in their national legal systems and the increased jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The effectiveness of the fiscal compact will, however, be verified only in practice, when its provisions become binding on the Member States. This is because there is a risk that the introduction of statutory automatic correction mechanisms may force the pursuit of excessively pro-cyclical economic policy, which will exacerbate the debt crisis. Another source of doubt continues to be the question as to the frequency with which Member States that are not part of the euro area will participate in Eurosummit meetings. The international agreement states that countries whose currency is the euro will be able to hold meetings only amongst themselves when the subject of discussion is to be responsibilities with regard to the single currency or other issues concerning governance of and convergence in the euro area. In relation to the fact that the range of subject matter for closed meetings of Euro Group members can be interpreted very broadly, it is very important from the point of view of guaranteeing the priority of the Community method that in this case a literal interpretation be applied.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D), in writing. – The fiscal stability pact fails to provide effective measures to tackle a major problem Europeans face as one of many consequences of the economic and social crisis. A main focus must be in the fight against unemployment, especially youth unemployment, which continues to increase. As this forms one of the rights of the EU and is enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, it is both unacceptable and irresponsible that this burning issue is so neglected. The focus in this time of uncertainty should be on solidarity and growth, to protect and support the Europeans most affected by the crisis. In Greece, for example, the ranks of those in poverty swell whilst the supply of social services is slashed – forsaking those in most need of help is not the way to induce recovery and growth. Moreover, it is not fair. We need to focus on the social consequences of the crisis; this involves giving hope and support to especially the younger generations. There are some positive signals, but they are negligible as methods to stimulate growth. Additionally, the pact is to be condemned as it represents an infringement of the Community method.

 
  
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  Kārlis Šadurskis (PPE), in writing. (LV) I welcome the fact that at the informal European Council meeting the leaders of 25 states agreed on the fiscal compact, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. This is a precondition for better national budgetary discipline in the future and for economies to be knitted more closely together within the framework of a stronger system. It is also very significant that the issue concerning the participation of the states outside the euro area in drawing up this agreement has been resolved. States outside the euro area will shortly be able to stipulate which points of the agreement they will abide by even before becoming members of the euro area, thus fostering fiscal and economic integration. This decision by the European Council is a very significant step and a sufficiently flexible mechanism, in view of the introduction of the euro in Latvia, which is due to take place in the near future. The peoples of Europe must work together in a targeted, speedy and effective manner, in order to recover from the crisis in Europe and to ensure that it is not repeated.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE), in writing.(PL) On 30 January, the Heads of State or Government adopted the text of what is known as the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, also called the fiscal compact. Positive amendments to the initial version of the text include the obligation to implement the compact in the treaty structure of the EU within a maximum of five years, the consistent relationship with the law of the Union and the prevention of a severe breach among the Member States. We have to remember that the treaty which has been adopted is just one of several elements of the fight to rebuild confidence. It is still an instrument which serves principally to increase fiscal discipline, whereas there are other causes of the current crisis in the euro area. Structural reforms are needed, which will restore the confidence of financial institutions and improve rating agency ratings. Changes in the European labour market are needed just as urgently as the setting in order of Member States’ finances. The labour market must be made flexible to enable a more effective fight against unemployment, particularly among young people. Work on the system of financial surveillance needs to be completed. The small and medium-sized business sector should receive additional support, because it is in fact this sector which has created 80% of the jobs in Europe in the last five years. Despite the fact that the European Parliament has opposed the international agreement in every form, preferring EU secondary legislation instead, we cannot allow ourselves to voice severe criticism of the fiscal compact. In supporting this document we will give a clear signal to those outside the EU that the Union is determined to eliminate the causes of the current crisis.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), in writing.(RO) At the European Council of 30 January, 25 Member States signed the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The new Treaty makes it compulsory for Member States to have national budgets that are balanced or in surplus, otherwise an automatic mechanism will be triggered to take corrective action. The Treaty will be signed in March and will enter into force after being ratified by at least 12 Member States of the euro area. Within maximum five years after entering into force, the Treaty must be incorporated in EU law.

The Treaty represents the signatory states’ firm commitment to strengthen fiscal discipline. Austerity measures, however, do not guarantee economic growth. Through the deterioration of the quality of life of many European citizens and the increase in the share of population at risk of poverty, austerity measures have created real social crises in some Member States, and have led to the deterioration of the European social model.

We regret that at the European Council of 30 January Member States did not make a similarly firm commitment to stimulate employment, especially among young people, to finalise the single market, increase competitiveness in EU, and stimulate the financing of economy, in particular that of SMEs. These are essential for maintaining the European social model and for implementing the Europe 2020 strategy.

 
  
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  Rafał Trzaskowski (PPE), in writing.(PL) Let us start by saying that from the outset the idea of the fiscal compact itself was liked by very few. We may go further and say that the compact is in fact of no use to the European Union. Apart from the obligation of the Member States to incorporate the deficit thresholds into their constitutions, there is nothing new in the agreement. It is, however, worth pointing out that the negotiations were about something much more important than the budgetary commitments of the Member States – they were about the future of the European Union. During the negotiations we were answering the question about whether the unique Community method would be rescued, and also about whether decisions on EU economic policy were to be made exclusively by way of selfish negotiations between Member States on principles known to us from the congresses of the 19th century. We were also answering the question as to whether new intergovernmental institutions were to be established which would compete directly with the EU institutions. Finally, we were faced by the real possibility that sanction would be given in the Union for a division into the equal and the more equal. For the time being, we have managed to put that grim scenario behind us.

 
  
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  Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D), in writing. (NL) This intergovernmental treaty is not just unnecessary, it is also undesirable. There are actually two key reasons for this.

The first is that it is undemocratic. The European Council is creating a legal tangle because the mutual agreements between the Member States are outside European legislation. In the first instance, the role of the parliaments will be reduced to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In the European legislative procedure, on the other hand, account has to be taken of the European Parliament’s position, as a fully-fledged co-legislator.

Secondly, with this treaty, Europe’s Heads of State or Government are laying down in stone a medicine for the wrong ailment. The fact that Christian democrats and liberals have now been preaching for three years that only blind cuts can get Europe through this crisis is no longer newsworthy. However, the idea that this ideological agenda should now be laid down in constitutional terms is beyond belief.

Quite how far out of touch this is with citizens’ worries only gets more striking if you make a comparison with the growth strategy that the same Heads of State or Government put forward barely a couple of years ago, the Europe 2020 strategy. That strategy remains empty rhetoric for the time being and any form of enforceability of the objective of reducing poverty or getting more people into work is a long way off.

 
  
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  Bernadette Vergnaud (S&D), in writing. (FR) Following the example of all the French socialist Members, I abstained on the vote on the Council agreement on the draft intergovernmental treaty adopted by the Heads of State or Government on 30 January. This agreement is not only legally questionable, as it flouts the role of Parliament, but also harmful, because the budgetary restrictions imposed will not resolve the crisis but, on the contrary, can only aggravate the recession. The renegotiation that we are calling for is a logical consequence of that. We must create growth in order to come out of this crisis: this is an economic necessity, and the dogmatic view imposed by Merkozy is not remotely adapted to this. We must restart a virtuous circle by coordinating our economic policies with major joint industrial projects, particularly in the fields of energy and the environment, and by boosting major infrastructure. This can only be achieved through the creation of Eurobonds, which are completely absent from this text, and true regulation of the financial markets, which we have long been calling for. Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel’s obsession with strict austerity is becoming dangerous for the whole of Europe.

 
  
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  Iuliu Winkler (PPE), in writing.(RO) The political developments recorded at the European Council in December 2011 reasserted the priorities of the EU consolidation process, namely the resumption of sustainable economic growth and job creation. The expression of solidarity is the most important of these priorities. We must continue on the Euro-Plus Pact path and consolidate solidarity between Member States in and outside of the euro area. The process of integration of Member States’ sovereignty must continue in order to ensure solidarity. We, the politicians, the MEPs, must explain to our voters why integrating sovereignty does not mean surrendering it, and must rebuild their trust in the Community’s future. Thus, they will be more confident in developments that will take place in the near future and in our approach to build a new Europe, more united and coordinated under the democratic primacy ensured by the European Parliament, the only European institution whose members are elected directly by citizens. I support the idea that the European Parliament should gain a more important role in decision making, and that the President of the European Parliament should attend all meetings of Member States leaders. I also believe that the incorporation of the new Stability Pact in the Treaty on European Union must remain a major goal.

 
  

(1) See Minutes


13. Question Hour with the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is question hour with the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

This is the first question hour of this kind. Baroness Ashton has agreed to be available for the first time for a question hour like we have with the President of the Commission. I would like to remind you of the rules once again. The question hour is divided into two parts: firstly the group chairs or other Members on their behalf will ask a one minute question that Baroness Ashton will then have one minute to answer. I will then allow the opportunity – if it is so desired – for a supplementary question, which will be limited to 30 seconds, as will the answer.

Questions from the groups

 
  
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  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, on behalf of the PPE Group.(ES) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I would like to bring up the matter of the El Universo newspaper in Ecuador.

The facts are well known. The President of the Republic of Ecuador has brought criminal proceedings against the journalist, the newspaper and its owners because of the opinion that was expressed. The proceedings have led to a three-year sentence, given by two courts, and a fine of USD 40 million, which presents a serious threat to the newspaper’s very survival.

A number of organisations have made reference to this matter, such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and other international media and organisations working in the field of human rights.

My question, Baroness Ashton, is very simple: are you aware of these facts? What is your opinion on the matter?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I would like to thank Mr Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra for giving me notice of this question. I am very grateful to him.

Indeed the EU delegation is following extremely closely. We know that the USD 40 million fine that has been imposed on the newspaper would put it out of business. As you have rightly pointed out, the facts that lie behind this case are of concern to us. Freedom of the press, freedom of the media is something that I know that people in this House feel very strongly about. It is something that is absolutely at the heart of our European values and therefore we are watching closely.

For the moment, as you know, it has gone to the highest court. We are waiting to see what that judicial process will reveal. We have made it clear that we expect the highest judicial standards to be followed and we are now watching to see what the outcome of the court case will be. Then of course we will decide what further action we should take.

 
  
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  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, on behalf of the PPE Group.(ES) Mr President, as you are aware, Baroness Ashton, Ecuador is linked to the EU by a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, which is based on the democratic clause and respect for fundamental rights, one of which is the right to freedom of expression.

As you rightly said, on 10 February the Supreme Court will give its verdict on the appeal for this case; President Correa has said that he would be prepared to withdraw the court action if he is issued an apology.

In addition to the concern you have expressed for freedom of expression in Ecuador, what would you be prepared to do in order to find a balanced, fair solution that respects the principle of freedom of expression?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. First of all, we have to see what the Court is actually going to do. If the Supreme Court overturns what has been done, then the solution has been found through a judicial process. In my view it would be right and proper to watch the Court and see what happens.

If they do not do that, then I think you are completely right. We have obligations in our agreement and we would want to look at what kind of démarches to take and what response we would like to give. I think the Government of Ecuador knows we are watching the situation extremely closely, but for the moment I feel we should let the judicial process take its course and then react afterwards. We should certainly keep in touch on this.

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, on 23 September, the very day when Mahmoud Abbas filed his application to the UN, the Quartet was drafting a press release establishing a road map with an important deadline, 26 January. On 26 January, the two parties had to define their positions on security and borders, which were supposed to form the basis for these negotiations. Everyone welcomed this initiative from the Quartet. However, when 26 January came, nothing happened. One party – the Palestinians – had presented its position but the Israelis had not done so.

Baroness Ashton, the question that I am going to ask you is like the one in Nadine Labaki’s film, ‘Where do we go now?’

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I was with President Abbas on 26 January and before that I was with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I feel very passionately that the work that the King of Jordan has initiated to bring the two chief negotiators together should be supported as long as – and this is your point – there is real progress.

The Quartet statement talked about three months from 26 October but – as I have made clear to both parties and have been very open about – if they wish to carry on talking longer, that is fine. The question is that, within the overall timeframe that was set out, we expect serious resolution to be reached. Currently there is work going on. The Jordanian Foreign Minister is very engaged. I spoke with him yesterday. There is a lot of work going on to try to find ways in which President Abbas can feel comfortable for these conversations to be ongoing, but we watch and wait now in these next few crucial days to see if we can see the progress that you quite rightly point to.

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, time is ticking away, and very soon there will probably be elections in Palestine. At the same time, Hamas is currently turning towards the Middle East, since Khaled Meshaal has also gone to Jordan.

If no advance is made within the framework of the negotiations, it is effectively a gift to Hamas for future elections in Palestine. Therefore, this is a major issue.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. As always you are right. There is a lot at stake. I met with Hanan Ashrawi and also with Prime Minister Fayyad while I was in the region to talk to them. They are both passionate advocates of seeing the elections happen. They believe it is important to be out campaigning and trying to get a strong resolution. But we are, as always in this region with this issue, at a critical moment. I hope the Government of Israel will show and demonstrate its commitment in some way.

Can I just say that it is very nice to see you because I know you have had an accident. It is lovely to have you here.

 
  
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  Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(FR) Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to take you to another continent, namely, sub-Saharan Africa, and I should like to ask you about the most recent developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the presidential elections, the results of which were – and still are – under dispute, took place in an extremely controversial, very troubled atmosphere, and where the results of the legislative elections are only being published in dribs and drabs and are then disputed.

I should like to know what your point of view is and what is the current feeling within the EU institutions on this matter?

Secondly, I should like to point out the particularly worrying events in Senegal, where a highly important candidate was rejected by the High Court and where the outgoing President – to my great regret, because he is a personal friend of mine – will nonetheless participate in the elections for the third time, contrary to the country’s own constitution.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ROBERTA ANGELILLI
Vice-President

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. First of all, in the Democratic Republic of Congo President Kabila has a real responsibility to learn from what has happened in these elections as we move forward to the local elections that are due to take place. You will know that I have put out a statement saying that we needed not just calm, but real reflection on what has happened. I am very worried about the potential for a setback in the DRC. It is extremely worrying.

It is a country for which we have provided a great deal of support – I think it is just over EUR 1 billion over the five-year period – and that is extremely important. We have two missions there which are being reviewed, but I hope reviewed with a purpose, to see what more we can do. It is very worrying to see that.

In terms of what is happening for the Senegalese people, we have been very clear on their rights to be able to demonstrate peacefully, to see that there is no violence of any kind, and that we have everyone adhering to the legal procedures that need to take place. So we will want to follow that electoral process very closely.

As the Honourable Member has such clear contacts, I think this is a good example where the work of parliamentarians is going to be vital. I know that many Members of this House have been engaged with the DRC and with Senegal. We need to keep that up.

 
  
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  Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group. We will certainly do that, Madam High Representative. Let me express my conviction that, even if someone is a great artist or a personal friend of some MEPs, this does not mean they can flout the constitutional roles that are applicable in their country.

 
  
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  Franziska Katharina Brantner, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Baroness Ashton, the US is moving away from Europe. What does this mean for us? Of course we have to look at the future of pooling and sharing within the common security and defence policy. It is advancing very slowly. Maybe my daughter might see some results one day. It is not your fault – it is the Member States.

However, with that as a background, there are three things that have become even more important and they actually come under your responsibility: first, conflict prevention; second, better crisis management; and third, peace building. These come under your responsibility and we need the best of our tools – former Commission and former Council – coordinated and embedded in one structure in order to develop common concepts and approaches, for example in the rule of law, security sector reform and border management.

Developing common approaches is different from managing day-to-day crises. We need to be ready for crises. I thank you for establishing the crisis platform, but where is the appropriate structure you were promising during the negotiations of the External Action Service? Where is it happening? My question is, when will we see that structure and how will it be reflected in the budget for 2013 that the External Action Service is currently drafting?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − I agree with you about the need to move more swiftly on pooling and sharing. I was at the European Defence Agency yesterday, where the theme of what I was saying – which has been widely reported – was the need to see that in this economic climate pooling and sharing becomes even more important.

You are right to refer to what is happening in the United States because the Defense Secretary there, Mr Panetta, has been very clear too. He has high expectations of us. That also means that it needs to be reflected in our structures, and I agree with you. We have just finished what we call the screening exercise to try to pull together exactly how the structure should work. The crisis platform is meant to be the practical manifestation of how everybody works together: testing our systems for the kind of disaster or crisis that we might face – as well as being ready to develop its work – and exporting our ideas on this across the world.

As you know, we have been engaged with the Arab League in supporting the setting-up of a situation room for them. We have just had a team down in Indonesia helping to support their approach to dealing with crisis. We will make sure that we develop this even further. Conflict prevention and crisis management are critical parts of how we move forward.

 
  
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  Franziska Katharina Brantner, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Please would you allow me to have a very precise follow-up question. In the External Action Service we are currently building up the Conflict Prevention and Mediation Unit, which has a great Head. It currently has financing due to a pilot project which was initiated by this House. This runs out at the end of 2012. I do not want to see the work of that Unit coming to an end, so my question is, will you integrate this into the regular budget, starting in 2013? This is now happening in the next two weeks.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I really want it to be integrated into the full budget for two reasons. One is, because of the nature of the way pilot projects run, I cannot use the money in quite the way that we might want to. I want to build up our capacity to deal with these issues and to look at mediation and support in-house as well as externally. I think we really could build on some of the work that we are doing – and I agree with you about the quality of the people we have got – so I am very pleased at the support you offer me on that.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – At a time of austerity in Europe, the ECR is concerned about your demands for a further EUR 25 million to cover an expected overspend in this financial year in the External Action Service. It seems to us to betray a desire to grow the service beyond its existing remit, before the EEAS has been able to fully prove that it brings real added value in terms of the improved efficiencies which were promised at the outset, such as cuts in EU Member State bilateral embassies as a result of the new EU multilateral diplomatic input.

It has also become your baby, Baroness Ashton. I must give you initial credit for the setting-up, at a time of general EU crisis, of this controversial service which understandably you believe deserves more taxpayers’ money. But the ECR has consistently argued for budget neutrality and for rationalisation of the EEAS’s resources.

The EU missions and their relative sizes are often still distributed according to historical legacies and, some cynics might even argue, pleasant postings, with large delegations in some parts – e.g. Fiji – and none at all in other growing regional economic hubs, such as Panama, which do not always reflect the EU’s current geopolitical priorities. So please, how can you justify this structural expenditure rise, on top of the existing EUR 400 million a year for their running costs? Why do we need this extra money, Baroness Ashton?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − Let us begin with the reality of the story, which is that we have been allocated a number of staff and a number of delegations across the world, where most of the staff – I should add, and particularly in Fiji – are actually working on development across the region. There are certain places in the world where we have a hub and they go out from that hub to work in different parts of the region. There are several places that I could point to where that is the case.

The second issue is that, in inheriting the staff which I was given, I also inherited the terms and conditions which are part of the regulations and which require me to do certain things. That requires me to have additional expenditure, and I have been very clear and very open about that. The staff regulations demand that I pay these salaries and that I make these salary increases and I make these increments at these times.

The third issue is that Member States and Members of this House have been very keen to see the European Union active in places where we have not been active before. I will give you the example of Libya, where Members here were very pleased when I opened an office in Benghazi and have now opened a delegation in Tripoli, but to do so requires resources that are not in the budget that I inherited.

Equally, I have to make places secure across the world. In Iraq our European Union delegation is housed with the British, who are leaving Iraq. I have to find a secure home for them in this time of great difficulty.

So everything that I am asking for is in that context, but I would also say that I have done a ten-percent cost efficiency on missions, I have done a five-percent cost efficiency on representation and I continue to look, for exactly the reasons that you point out, to save money and not to have excessive expenditure. But there is a challenge for me with a new service, with the expectations of this House and the Council and the requirements that are legally on me, and I am trying to meet those in the most cost-efficient way I can.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. I would just like to put a supplementary question. Given the fact that your EEAS is so well funded, what measures are you now planning to undertake to unblock the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council on augmenting global sanctions against the Syrian regime’s systematic, brutal attempts to repress – including by shooting innocent children and women – the uprising whose demands are simply more freedom and democracy in that country? The EEAS is very well funded. What are you doing right now in New York to unblock the Russian and Chinese vetoes?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − I wondered if Mr Tannock was suggesting we should be on the Security Council?

(Laughter)

The first thing to say is that we work very closely with our Member States who are on the Security Council. In the discussions I have had with Sergey Lavrov and with the Chinese state councillor, whom I meet with regularly, we always talk about these important issues, of which Syria is number one.

It is absolutely alarming what is going on in Syria and you are absolutely right to point to it, but our delegation in New York – coordinating with all Member States, but working very closely with those Security Council members from the European Union – are pushing every day, every hour with Russia and with China. Last night I spoke with the Russian Ambassador about this very subject – my political director is currently on a plane back from Moscow, where she has spent two days on this – and I spoke with President Medvedev at our summit. It is really important that we try to find something through the Security Council that can really support what Nabil Elaraby and the Arab League have been moving to do. The discussion I had with the GCC was exactly on this so you make an incredibly important point. I accept that.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, we have a problem with credibility when it comes to our attempts to prevent some countries from obtaining enough technology to develop nuclear weapons.

It is the countries with nuclear capability that do not want other countries to obtain the technology. Therefore, Baroness Ashton, I believe the time has come for the EU to promote an international treaty to ban the world’s entire nuclear arsenal and destroy it in a sustainable way.

To my mind, that would be the best and most credible political proposal, at international level, in order to put a complete stop to the hypocrisy of countries with nuclear weapons not wanting other countries to have that same capability. I tell a lie; not all countries, only some, as is the case of the State of Israel, which has never been issued a single sanction, although we all know it has nuclear weapons.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − The first thing to say is that you specifically raised the Middle East and, as you know, we play a very active role in looking for a Middle East that is free of weapons of mass destruction. I think that what the international community is engaged in is trying to find the right way to move states which are thinking about nuclear capacity, nuclear weapons capability, and which could potentially pose great danger, and of course to continue the work that has been going on for some time – and which we saw with President Obama in his dialogue over the last few years – to reduce the arsenals of nuclear weapons and to try and move forward in that direction.

It is very important that we take our responsibilities seriously. That of course will bring me to mention Iran where, as you know, I played the role of chief negotiator, on behalf of the E3+3, and where we are consistently trying to deal with this through dialogue while recognising our obligations to put pressure on and to make sure that Iran understands its obligations.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(ES) Baroness Ashton, the problem is that in the same region another state has not been judged with the same yardstick, namely Israel. It has never been subject to a single embargo, nor has it received a single warning, even though the State of Israel has nuclear weapons. That is why I believe that this is the discourse that needs to be straightened out once again.

My final comment on the matter is that I hope there is no possibility that any road map for embargos or sanctions concerning any state in the region might result in military intervention, and that no such solution is being considered. I sincerely hope that no military intervention is being planned.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I can assure the honourable Member that the Member States of the European Union, in discussing the issues of Iran, were very clear that the twin-track approach that we are describing is the way that we wish to proceed. That approach involves applying pressure, through our economic ability and political ability, to show Iran what it should do, while showing, through our approachability, our desire to hold discussions, dialogue and talks. I think that was very clear.

In terms of the region as a whole, as I have already indicated, we are very engaged in looking to find ways to have a region free of weapons of mass destruction, which of course includes nuclear weapons.

 
  
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  Fiorello Provera , on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, Baroness Ashton, the Arab Spring has led not only to political changes but also to new challenges and threats to stability. One of these is the growing phenomenon of arms smuggling.

Since the fall of Gaddafi in Libya, the Egyptian authorities have been reporting a sharp increase in arms smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula. Surface-to-air missiles, rockets and anti-aircraft guns have been stolen from army barracks abandoned by Libyan forces and now supply a black market for weapons, destined for the Gaza Strip and Hamas in particular. This is a very worrying phenomenon because these arms are capable of shooting down civilian aircraft during take-off and landing and may end up in the hands of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida, for example in the Maghreb.

How, I ask, can we help to mitigate this growing threat and who are our potential allies?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − It is a very important issue and you are absolutely right, Mr Provera, to raise this. It is an issue that we have been discussing with the Egyptians and with Israel, because of the issues of the Sinai desert, and of course with the Libyan authorities which have engaged with us on looking at how we deal with border management and how we might support them in trying to tackle the huge number of weapons that are in Libya and leaving Libya.

We have also, as you know, developed our Sahel strategy. I met with the foreign ministers of the four countries – Niger, Mauritania, Mali and Algeria – to talk about how we could support them as well, as they try and develop their security strategies for the region: firstly, by a combination of collaboration with those governments to try and find ways in which we can offer our expertise, knowledge and support; and secondly, to try and help them deal with their borders, which is a big issue.

Turning to Gaza, I was there last week. We have a constant theme of trying to keep the crossings open and the tunnels closed, so there can be proper trade. I visited places in Israel which have been on the receiving end of the rockets and missiles that have come from Gaza. All of these things are very high on the agenda of the work we are trying to do in supporting this region in transition.

 
  
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  Fiorello Provera , on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Madam President, just a few seconds to ask Baroness Ashton whether the Libyan authorities are actually able to monitor the situation on the ground.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. With help, I think, with help. They need international support to do it. They have got people but they need the help from Europeans, from the Americans and others who have got the expertise in how to actually track where weapons are and to destroy weapon stockpiles when they are found.

 
  
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  Béla Kovács (NI).(HU) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, as a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy I would like to ask you specifically about the energy embargo imposed by the European Union on Iran, which in my opinion was clearly a political decision.

When this decision was made, did you thoroughly consider what serious implications it could have in terms of disturbances in the security of European energy supply? How will we explain to our voters here in Europe why a litre of fuel costs more than EUR 2, and how will we solve the problem of long queues forming at petrol stations?

I am asking this in light of the fact that as far as I know, the State of Iran allowed the investigation committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency to enter its territory, and so far the committee has not found any evidence, that is, there is no evidence that Iran would indeed be conducting research into nuclear energy for purposes of war.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I have to say that this is an interesting interpretation of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report because I would not necessarily – if you will forgive me – agree with you on what they say they have found.

I think you should be reassured that, long before any decisions were taken, there were many discussions, between Member States but also through experts, on looking at the implications, domestically as well as internationally. The purpose of sanctions is to create a strong economic action in order, as I have indicated, to succeed in bringing Iran to the negotiation table.

But, in any sanctions that we introduce, we are very mindful of the domestic impact because the effect is not designed to hurt us. Therefore you will see within the sanctions built-in review periods and periods to check the impact. Just to reassure you further, we also talked with a number of oil-producing countries. I personally did that – I was in the region to do that – as did others, so we could try to guarantee and be certain of that. But all sanctions are kept under review and one of the reasons is to ensure that we understand and we minimise any impact.

 
  
 

‘Catch the eye’ procedure

 
  
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  Philippe Boulland (PPE).(FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and is experiencing a political crisis that can only be solved through the application of the road map leading to the presidential and legislative elections. This country is experiencing negative growth. Normally, our contribution is close to 50% of this country’s budget. The European Union has, rightly, suspended its budgetary support for national indicative programmes (NIP) from the 9th and 10th European Development Funds, but not for the Millennium Development Goals. Meanwhile, the population is suffering and companies set up in Madagascar are sometimes called on to help in spite of themselves.

While we support your position, we should like you to use all of your influence with the Southern African Development Community, so that the legal mess concerning the return of the former president is cleaned up as soon as possible, since this subject is one of the elements that is most sensitive to the application of this road map.

I should like to hear your opinion on the subject and also tell you that the EU-Madagascar Friendship Group, which we have just established in the European Parliament, is ready to work with you and the Commission in the interest of the Madagascan people and to uphold the values of our Union.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. (microphone off at start of speech) ... an offer of help and I would be extremely pleased for us to have the opportunity to talk more about Madagascar. We are very clear that this is a country where Article 96 applies, where you have this unconstitutional change of government. As I understood it from the SADC road map, this was an important African leadership move where, in a sense, we were able to give our conditional backing to the transition process, but I appreciate that this is now a country with immense challenges. Our new ambassador has just arrived and presented credentials and I am hoping that we will get further information on how best we can engage with it, apart from the obvious support that we are offering. It is difficult and we are in touch with SADC to see what more we can do to support them. You are right to point to their road map as being an important element of this, but we should talk further with the group.

 
  
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  Alejo Vidal-Quadras (PPE).(ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, the method being followed by the EU in its relations with the Iranian regime is a combination of diplomacy and sanctions. However, let us make no mistake: we are talking about a brutal, dictatorial, inhumane regime, and we all know that it is impossible to reason with those who are unreasonable. The attack on the British embassy in Tehran is a stark reminder of the Iranian regime’s concept of diplomatic relations.

With that in mind, my specific question is as follows: given that Iran is clearly violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty, would it not be appropriate to set a fixed, non-extendable deadline for it to fulfil its obligations and, if it does not do so within that time period, to impose truly effective additional sanctions?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I think that the approach that we have taken is one I would describe as ratcheting up the sanctions. It is important when we impose them to make sure that they are effective and, as you know, to be careful that we look for ways that they are being evaded by countries.

We began with sanctions from the EU. We have ratcheted these up and continue to look at them. For the timeframe, I think we have to go back to the Security Council. The work that I do in discussion and negotiation with Iran is determined by the Security Council who have given us this task.

The message that I have sent to Iran through every interlocutor that I have met – and I travel a great deal and I talk about Iran a great deal – is to say: you tell me you agree with the way I have tried to carry out these negotiations, but there is a limit to how long that approach will work before the Security Council will want to discuss it again. I mean nothing more than that. I am not hinting at anything. I am not suggesting anything. I merely say that the Security Council will want to reflect on whether Iran has responded to all the sanctions that have been put on it.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D).(PT) [without a microphone] […] that you immediately and publicly condemn the reception given in Tripoli to President Omar al-Bashir, who is subject to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. However, it has been explained to us in Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs that efforts had, in fact, been made in Tripoli to underline the international obligations by which Libya is bound, but that this was not made public because of opposition from several of the Member States.

Could you tell us which Member States are opposed, what reasons they give and why the High Representative has to submit to these reasons? In view of the serious human rights violations that news agencies and non-governmental organisations have been reporting in Libyan prisons, such as torture, disappearances and the murder of prisoners, a statement issued in their name is of little import. Does this mean that we have really learned nothing from the complicit silence in the face of the atrocities committed by Colonel Gaddafi, and that we will continue to keep quiet and make no demands of the current Libyan authorities?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − Indeed, Ms Gomes, there is going to be a démarche by the delegations and the Hungarian Ambassador will probably do it on our behalf in Libya. There was a meeting on Sunday of Heads of Mission in Tripoli. It was decided that there would be a démarche. We have made clear to the Libyan authorities our view of this visit for all the reasons that you know well, and I expect the démarche to happen very soon.

 
  
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  Richard Howitt (S&D). - There has been no shortage of opportunity for Baroness Ashton to speak in this Chamber, but this is the first time we have had question time and I very much welcome it.

So many of the debates that we have had in this past year, one year after the Arab Spring, have been about the humanitarian crisis where repression has continued. Instead can I ask her to comment today about where progress has been made – in a country like Jordan, and she has already referred to the King of Jordan in relation to the Middle East peace process. Are there lessons to be learned about transition without the need for violence? And in a country like Tunisia – where of course we have had what were widely accepted constituent elections and where the Arab Spring began – what lessons are there for the depth of the deep democracy for which she strives? Could she comment on the lessons that she has learned?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − I am delighted that the Prime Minister of Tunisia has chosen, on his first visit outside the country, to come to Brussels and that he will be here tomorrow.

It is not an accident. It is because of the work that we have done, particularly through our delegation, to whom I pay tribute, but also because of the taskforce we set up, which enabled us to bring together economics and politics. With business leaders, the European Investment Bank, the EBRD, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, with Members of this House, with others from different institutions such as the Commission and so on, we were able to pull together a package of support for Tunisia that was about democracy – deep democracy, not elections just once, but continuing – and economic support and growth. I am very pleased that he will be here tomorrow.

In Jordan we are about to do the same. We have a taskforce in February where we will pull this together in order to support the changes. I will be very pleased that representatives of this House will be with me to do that.

 
  
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  Marita Ulvskog (S&D).(SV) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, thank you for coming. Two Swedish journalists have been sitting in prison in Ethiopia for many months. They are accused of having been involved in crimes relating to terrorism. That is what they are charged with, despite the fact that they were only involved in journalistic activities while doing their job.

The African Union recently held a summit in Addis Ababa. I would like to know whether there was any discussion of the situation of these Swedish journalists at this meeting. I would also like to know whether the Commission was represented at the meeting. Most importantly, I would like to know what the EU can do to enable these two journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, to come home. When will they be allowed to come home? The situation is urgent.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − We are watching this case very closely and we are talking with our colleagues in Sweden about it. You know that the legal process is now finished and that the two Swedish gentlemen are now looking to find a way that this can be settled within the framework of Ethiopian law.

You will understand that there is a lot of work going on, but I am not at liberty to elaborate on the talks that are being conducted at the present time. I am sure that we can perhaps talk to you privately a little more about that; this is only for their benefit, not for any other reason.

The African Union summit took place and Mr Piebalgs was due to be there. I know he was ill; I do not know if he made it for part of the summit. For me, our managing director, Mr Westcott, was there to ensure that we were fully represented at the meeting. I do not know whether there were specific talks on this topic. As you know, it was a summit which featured some quite difficult discussions on a number of subjects, but we will certainly find you the answer to that question.

 
  
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  Andrew Duff (ALDE). - Baroness Ashton, with regard to Turkey what are you planning to do if Turkey carries out its threat to boycott the Cypriot Presidency of the Council? Surely this will be destructive of the positive agenda and contribute only to further increasing the instability in the Eastern Mediterranean? Would you not agree that the Cypriot Presidency is in fact a perfect pretext for Turkey to join the European and international mainstream and recognise the Republic of Cyprus?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − A number of remarks have been made, but there is no public position from Turkey. I can reassure the House that my relations with Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, on issues of foreign policy and concern are very strong and will continue throughout the course of this year, and in a sense throughout all the Presidencies in my time in office.

I think what is important is that we continue to support all the efforts that are being made to try to resolve the issue for Cyprus, and that we work closely with our Cypriot colleagues and Members of this House – and in the European Council and Foreign Affairs Council and elsewhere – to try to seek such a solution, of course with the UN in the lead, which is so vital. So we will continue on that course throughout the Presidency.

 
  
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  Nicole Kiil-Nielsen (Verts/ALE).(FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, I should like to talk to you about Kazakhstan. Did you know that the massive oil workers’ strike which began last May in the province of Mangistau has resulted in brutal repression and the arrest of trade unionists and their lawyer? On 16 December, a peaceful protest at Zhanaozen ended in bloodshed. There were many injuries, at least 15 deaths, as well as arrests and incidents of mistreatment, torture and rape.

The legislative elections of 15 January were deemed neither free nor democratic by observers. Finally, human rights defenders and militants from opposition parties recently invited to give their views before the Members of our Parliament were arrested upon their return and are facing long prison sentences.

Faced with this authoritarian and repressive abuse, the European Union’s silence is unacceptable. How do you intend to react, Baroness Ashton, to what I have just told you?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. As indeed you said, the elections on 15 January 2012 – as the OSC said – were not in accordance with the principles of democratic elections and we have commented on that. The ensuing violence that we have seen between striking oil workers and the police is extremely worrying and again we have sought that the Kazakh authorities should investigate and find a solution to this. I am quite worried about the situation.

Tomorrow the Foreign Minister, Minister Kazykhanov, will be here and I will be meeting with him. I will not only express my own concerns; I will of course, on behalf of honourable Members, make our concerns known to him. It is very important that, especially in their current role in the OIC, they really do take these issues seriously and deal with them properly.

 
  
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  Struan Stevenson (ECR). - You will not be surprised that I want to raise the question of Camp Ashraf.

As you know, last December Martin Kobler, the UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) Special Representative in Iraq, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Iraqi Government without first having got the approval of the residents of Camp Ashraf which he had pledged to get in advance. Nor was he acting in accordance with the wishes of the UN Secretary-General, who said that the Ashraf people must approve the MoU. Yesterday he issued a press release saying that Camp Liberty is ready for the displacement of the 3 300 people from Ashraf, when in fact there is no freedom of movement – they will not be allowed to take their personal possessions, they will be surrounded by thousands of military and police.

This is not a refugee camp, this is fundamentally a prison. Please, can you insist that the Iraqi Government uphold its obligations and not allow them to get away with this kind of unorthodox treatment.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − As you know, I have raised these issues with the Iraqis from the beginning. You and I have been in many dialogues about this and rightly so. It is a very worrying situation.

I do know that Martin Kobler has been in touch with the residents of Camp Ashraf throughout this process. There is a lot of information so that it is quite hard to unpick exactly what is happening. There are different kinds of interests at work in this whole process. He will be here tomorrow and I know he is meeting with you. He knows not only how important this is to you, but how important it is to Members of this House. He will also be in Paris to have discussions. The ambition is to now find the solution that will take these people to a better future, enabling them to live the lives that we all want them to lead. I hope that the transition through Camp Liberty is a way of ensuring that they move forward in the future and that their needs are properly addressed. We will be meeting with him tomorrow to make sure that those messages get through.

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE). - Madam High Representative, Belarus remains the only country in Europe which imposes the death penalty and carries out executions.

I would like to draw your attention to the case of two young Belarusians – Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov, aged 25 and 26 – who have both been condemned to death and could be executed at any moment without warning. They were accused of committing terrorist attacks in Vitebsk in 2005, in Minsk in 2008 and in the Minsk metro in April 2011. The guilt of these two young men has not been proven and even relatives of the victims expressed their doubts that Konovalov and Kovalyov are guilty of committing these crimes.

My question to you is: are you aware of this case? What actions have been undertaken by you, or do you foresee undertaking, in order to save the lives of these two young men?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I could not agree with you more: it is terrible that the death penalty should still exist in our neighbourhood. I passionately believe that there should be a universal moratorium on the death penalty – especially in a case like this in Belarus, where the situation is frankly deteriorating and where I am extremely worried about what is happening to ordinary people, to civil society, as that country frankly fails to understand the opportunity of the relationship with the European Union, and fails to live up to its obligations.

I do know about the two young men – I think Mr Konovalov’s mother was here recently. We are watching this very closely. We have made it very clear that we do not believe that the death penalty should be used in any circumstances, but it is especially worrying in the current climate and situation in Belarus.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE). - I would like to return to my colleague Mr Stevenson’s question because I think the UN mediation negotiated by Mr Kobler has not provided sufficient guarantees for the safety and freedom of choice for more than 3 000 people there. This is contrary to the position taken by Parliament several years ago, because the Iraqi authorities have clearly violated the relocation programme, launching missile attacks against the camp. I think the role of your representatives has lately been rather marginalised because they have even been denied a visa for Iraq.

I put it to you that, if you say that the relocation to Camp Liberty is the way for the future, I think it is a very ominous way. I urgently call upon you to use your authority, to speak more vocally and more decisively to solve this humanitarian crisis, which is still pending, because these are people who have consistently advocated a truly democratic, secular and nuclear-free Iran, which is what we need.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − I do not believe that we have been marginalised at all. I think that we have been extraordinarily active in the most appropriate way we possibly can.

This is the country of Iraq. We have to respect that. We have to work with the UN and Martin Kobler, who I feel has been the subject of some terrible things in terms of what has been said to him and who is doing his real best to find a way through this.

It is going to keep these people safe. We have heard lots of different reports about missile attacks over the period. The question for me is how to get them to safety and how to get them to their future. It is clear that they have to move – that seems to be accepted by everybody – and to do so in a way that is as safe as possible. I have made many offers to the UN and to Iraq to be as engaged as we possibly can in that and I will continue to do so. But I really do think we now have to work through what is inevitably a bit of a compromise, frankly, to try to get these people to safety. That is what we will continue to do.

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz, (PPE).(PL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Ms Andrikienė has already spoken about the situation in Belarus. It is indeed deteriorating, not only in relation to death sentences, but also to trials of human rights activists and suspicions over the use of torture against former presidential candidates. I know that you and the ministers for foreign affairs are aware of this, because on 23 January you decided to extend the legal grounds for new sanctions for Belarus. At the same time, however, despite the fact that visa sanctions have been imposed on the Belarusian Minister for Internal Affairs, he was able to travel to France, attend an Interpol conference in Lyons and return safely to Minsk. On the other hand, despite the economic sanctions, the whole of 2011 was a year of growing trade between the European Union’s Member States and Belarus. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of the current sanctions, and do you see the possibility of introducing effective sanctions which will hold the Belarusian regime back from further repression?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − I am very happy to look at where people have been and this is part of trying to review the designations for sanctions, for the reasons you rightly say – to keep the pressure on and to make sure that they are targeted. But one of the big challenges for us is to make sure that ordinary people are not unduly affected, and that means having the discussions which we are now engaged in in Minsk with opposition groups, with civil society, to try and make sure that we are reaching out to ordinary people. Somehow we have to develop this in a way that helps them.

That is why, for me, it is so important that the discussions in the February Foreign Affairs Council reflect what we know and what we learn from our discussions on the ground with civil society, opposition groups, and so on, so that we target it appropriately. I do not want to hurt the relationship between European countries and people in Belarus. I want to find ways we can strengthen this while, at the same time, continuing to ratchet up our sanctions and concern with the government. That is really the challenge we have to face and that means we have to think about the economic issues alongside the political ones.

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE).(EL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, it is about a year since Commissioner Malmström announced to Parliament that negotiations with Turkey had been concluded on the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement for third country nationals who had illegally entered the EU via Turkey. I should clarify at this point that today, as on every other day, as we are talking to you and taking advantage of the opportunity to put questions to you, over 320 third country nationals will enter EU territory from Turkey via the borders of northern Greece, especially in the area of the River Evros. Despite the fact that the agreement was concluded and approved by the Council about a year ago, Turkey has yet to approve it, let alone apply it, because it is asking in return, at least according to statements by Turkish officers that have come to our attention, for the liberalisation of visas for its nationals travelling to Europe. My question to you, Baroness Ashton, is this: do you too intend to take initiatives on this specific subject, in addition to what Commissioner Malmström is doing? Do you intend to take further action?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The first thing to say is that Cecilia Malmström will be following this up herself. She has not raised this directly with me, but now that you have asked me I will make sure that I talk to her about it.

It is a general problem. We have to find ways in which these agreements can be properly implemented. Certainly she is tireless in her work to try to make sure not only that she gets agreements but that they are properly dealt with. So, if I may, I will ask her perhaps to send you a fuller answer from her perspective as the Commissioner responsible.

 
  
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  Piotr Borys (PPE).(PL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, I would like to raise the situation in Kazakhstan. I have had the opportunity, together with Ms Kiil-Nielsen, to hold a hearing with the Kazakh opposition. One of the opposition’s leaders, Vladimir Kozlov, has been arrested. There is no chance of his being given a fair trial, and he does not have a lawyer.

On top of this there is the tragedy of those who have been murdered. I spoke yesterday with the Ambassador of Kazakhstan and the Prosecutor General, and also with witnesses of this tragedy, and I would like to call for three things. Firstly, for support for the possibility of an international inquiry into the tragedy in Zhanaozen in which the people were killed. I know the Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan is also going to ask for this. Secondly, I would like diplomatic action to be taken to provide the opportunity to help the victims’ families. There are many people who are in need of support. Thirdly, I would like diplomatic efforts to be made to ensure that if members of the opposition are arrested they will have the right to have defence lawyers, so that fundamental rights are upheld. Thank you.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − As you know, the Kazakh authorities have said that these arrests are to do with their investigation into events in December but you are quite right, they are extremely worrying. As I have said already, I have the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan coming to Brussels tomorrow. We will have a meeting. At that meeting I have a number of issues to discuss with him, but it will not surprise you that these issues will be top of the agenda.

We need to find out exactly what is happening. If there is a case to answer, we need to see the transparency of that system; we need to see that things are done properly and so on. Until we see that, I agree with you that it continues to be worrying. We shall continue to look at this and see what more we should do.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: GEORGIOS PAPASTAMKOS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Tarja Cronberg (Verts/ALE). - Two years ago, in the context of the NATO strategic concept, there was a lot of discussion about the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from European soil. There were also discussions about removing Russian tactical nuclear weapons on the other side of the border. Are the European Union and your office taking any initiatives or are you involved in any initiatives about the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons either in Europe or in Russia?

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. − We keep ourselves involved with these issues. You are right to raise the importance of the European Union being engaged in what are important matters for the security and safety of our citizens but also, as you rightly point out, the reciprocal work being done with Russia. Within the External Action Service we have the capacity to look at these issues from a disarmament perspective. As you know, I attend meetings at NATO of foreign ministers and defence ministers, and I will be at NATO tomorrow.

So we are engaged in this. Our concern is that the work we do, as I was describing earlier – for example on a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction – is geared to our commitment to try and support all these initiatives that will reduce the numbers.

 
  
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  Sajjad Karim (ECR). - Madam Vice-President/High Representative, may I firstly welcome you back after your successful visit to India. It was very well received and I have no doubt that it will help us enormously in making headway in the negotiations that are due to take place.

Your office has already confirmed to me that we are due to meet in order to discuss some of the human rights issues that I have previously raised, so I shall not touch upon them here today. However, could you please give me some indication of what measures you were able to negotiate or discuss in relation to our motor manufacturers, who really do believe they are going to feel the pinch right across the European Union as and when this agreement is finalised? If you could give some indication of that today I would be obliged.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Thank you for all the support that you have been giving in the work that we are doing in India and in Pakistan. As you know, I will be in Pakistan in a few weeks’ time.

The free trade agreement has a whole range of key sectors within it. I hesitate to speak too much on this because this is Karel De Gucht’s territory and I stray onto it at my peril – quite rightly too. What we try to do is to make sure that in each of the discussions there is a real dialogue with the industries who are going to be directly affected. A free trade agreement in principle is designed to support and enhance the opportunities of all countries and of all sectors of industry, but one has to be very mindful of the implications that there can be for individual sectors.

So, if I may, I will find out more about where those particular discussions might be. For my part, my role was to try to ensure that we were moving forward in the bilateral relationships with India on security issues, on issues of human rights and on economic matters, in order that we have the strongest possible relationship with a country that we will be debating later in the context of what we now call the BRICS.

 
  
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  President. – That concludes Question Time.

 

14. Iran and its nuclear programme (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Iran and its nuclear programme.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, as we already touched upon in Question Hour, the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme is of great concern for all of the European Union and for the international community as a whole.

Colleagues have already mentioned that, at the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January, we discussed the issue in the context of agreeing new sanctions. As I indicate on all occasions, we are committed to maintaining this pressure on the Iranian authorities to comply with their international obligations, and it is a key element of the twin-track approach along with the E3+3 process which, as you are aware, I lead.

We have several UN Security Council resolutions but in spite of them Iran continues to violate its obligations. It does not cooperate fully with the IAEA and it accelerates the expansion of its nuclear programme. In early January it started operations to enrich uranium to a level of near 20% at the underground facility at Qom, a site controlled by the military.

Honourable Members know that for a number of years serious concerns have been expressed concerning the lack of cooperation from Iran in resolving these outstanding issues, including those that point to the military dimension of its nuclear programme.

The IAEA report of November 2011 presented findings on its activities relating to developments of military nuclear technology. On that basis, the Board of Governors adopted by overwhelming majority a resolution that expressed increasing concern on the Iranian nuclear programme. I hope that the work that we do demonstrates our commitment to efforts aimed at achieving a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, the second part of the twin track.

I have written to Dr Jalili, my counterpart, setting out proposals which would allow Iran to gain benefits in the nuclear, political and economic field but, despite reminders, I have so far received no response to proposals to enter into a confidence-building process based on reciprocity and a step-by-step approach. We have always expressed our readiness to address, in the framework of confidence-building, other issues of concern which may be of interest for Iran, for example cooperation in the area of counter-narcotics.

I take every opportunity to reiterate this message to the Iranian side, most recently in my discussions with Foreign Minister Salehi and in parallel by using my contacts with third countries, particularly Turkey, to pass the message to Iran that the door remains open for negotiations through this confidence-building process which could be launched as soon as Iran demonstrates its readiness to do so.

So it is against the background of that approach that the Council adopted further measures. It was an important step. It showed EU unity and EU leadership. These measures are designed to specifically and significantly affect Iran’s financial capacity to pursue that nuclear programme by curtailing its revenue from crude oil exports. The sanctions on oil are of particular significance because of their effect on the revenue of the Iranian Government. Oil exports count for about 80% percent of Iran’s exports and 70% of government revenues. The EU imports amount to 20% of Iran’s oil exports. So by specifically targeting this important source of revenue we are strongly increasing the pressure on the Iranian Government, whilst avoiding as far as we possibly can negative effects on the Iranian population.

We do not stand alone in this. UN sanctions continue to be in force. On 31 December 2011 the United States decided to strengthen further its sanctions against Iran, targeting in particular the Iranian financial system and revenues from different sources including from oil exports. We now need to convince as many like-minded countries as we can, in particular those who import Iranian oil, to take similar steps and consider reducing their import of that oil. This will maximise the effect of the sanctions.

The prohibition is taking place in a phased manner, allowing us to adjust to the new situation, and a review has been built in to take stock of the effect of the measure in the course of the coming months and address any problems that may arise. By doing so we have ensured that the EU and Member States will be able to have the time and means to adjust and ensure the continuity of their energy supplies.

Finally, I just want to mention that we also continue to have grave concerns about the human rights situation in Iran. This relates in particular to ongoing oppression of the political opposition, but also to the increasing use and excessive application of the death penalty. In reaction to the repression and the dramatic increase in executions there has been since April 2011 an EU sanctions regime against Iran addressing the human rights situation. It targets specifically those people complicit in or responsible for these grave human rights violations and, since it was strengthened in October, it now includes 61 people. A prohibition on the supply of equipment that could be used for oppression is also part of our sanctions.

So I believe that our approach is the right one – continuing our pressure on Iran, continuing to push for negotiations – and I look forward very much to hearing from honourable Members on this issue.

 
  
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  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, on behalf of the PPE Group.(ES) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, on 23 January the Council took a difficult but consistent decision, and for that I congratulate Baroness Ashton. This Parliament will support the Council conclusions in the resolution we will vote on tomorrow.

As you have just explained, it was difficult because it required sacrifices by several Member States, and it was consistent because it is in keeping with the positions we have defended so far. Both the President of France and the Prime Ministers of France and the United Kingdom have said that they will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

However, as well as being consistent, these measures need to be effective in order to promote the path of dialogue, bring Iran back to the negotiating table, ensure its full cooperation with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and also, Baroness Ashton, to silence the drums of war that can be heard. Israel has said that all options are being considered, and one Republican candidate in the United States has said that swift action should be taken.

Furthermore, some Iranian ministers have said that these sanctions will be ineffective, because the EU needs Iranian crude oil more that Iran needs the EU’s resources. What is more, the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and the risk of escalating tension in the region could have serious repercussions for oil prices and further complicate the difficult economic situation we are going through.

That is why, Baroness Ashton, I would like to say to you that, beyond the internal dimension and the consistency that were shown in the Council decisions of 23 January, it is also important to take action with our allies at this stage as regards our external scope and influence. You just told us that you visited India; the stance taken by India, Japan and other countries is vital to ensure that the measures adopted can have the effect that many of us are hoping for.

 
  
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  María Muñiz De Urquiza, on behalf of the S&D Group.(ES) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, Iran will continue to be a critical issue in 2012, which has just got underway. It will continue to play its destabilising role both globally and regionally, based on a lack of transparency as regards its nuclear programme and its position as the world’s third largest exporter of crude oil.

However, the fact that it is the world’s third largest oil exporter means that the oil industry, as you said, represents 80% of Iran’s income, and that could make our sanctions more effective.

Baroness Ashton, although Israel and the Republican Party in the United States have reached a level of tension that is unacceptable to us, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament totally and expressly rules out the military option. We support the European twin-track approach that you mentioned, and we support proportionate sanctions aimed at companies, political leaders and economic agents, thereby minimising their impact on the general population. However, Baroness Ashton, the EU should reactivate the second part of that twin track, namely, diplomacy. We should stay focused on the rigorous inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and on Iran’s acceptance of all the safety measures the IAEA imposes in exchange for the production of enriched uranium for civil use, as permitted by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The point is not to limit ourselves – as you did in the letter you addressed to the Iranian negotiator in October – to demanding that Iran relinquish its capacity to enrich uranium as a precondition for dialogue. The IAEA should take every available measure to monitor Iran’s uranium production, and in turn we should create trust-building conditions and measures, with a broader and more ambitious agenda in our relations with Iran.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, Iran replied to the most recent EU sanctions with surprise, a surprise not only mentioned by officials but also reflected in the further decline in the value of the currency, as the EU remained united in its sanctions package of 23 January. The EU is strong when it stands united and leads, as the Vice-President/High Representative has said. Let us see more of it.

However, isolating Iran is not a success or goal as such. The ALDE Group would urge the Vice-President/High Representative to work with Turkey and other partners, to do everything possible, to use all diplomatic means available to encourage Iranian officials to engage in meaningful negotiations over the nuclear issue. This also means looking into different ways in which Iran might be persuaded, and not just at sanctions.

The EU should also look at having a permanent representation in Iran and eventually open an EU representation on the ground, to relay more directly our joint concerns over human rights violations, besides our vital role in the E3+3 negotiations. May I remind some Members on the conservative side of this House especially, that sanctions are an ultimate means and not a goal in and of themselves. I am proud and glad that the EU has always clearly distinguished between seeking to impact individuals with responsibilities for either the nuclear programme or human rights violations, but not the Iranian population. They, after all, feel largely unrepresented by their political, military or religious leaders.

It is therefore even more important that the EU acts independently of the United States, especially in an election year. The US has consistently chosen different sanctions packages to the EU, but the US sanctions also impact EU businesses by imposing not only direct but also indirect sanctions. I believe food and medicine should always be able to reach the Iranian people.

One last point that is of particular importance for the people in Iran, especially the young generation, and that is the role that technologies can play in either enhancing or threatening human rights. I believe the EU should take its responsibility in ensuring, at least, that no repressive technologies are exported to such repressive regimes, and this we can do now without controversy.

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

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR), Blue-card question. Mr President, Ms Schaake made a specific reference to the ‘conservative side of the House’ believing in sanctions for their own sake. First of all could she actually explain whom she means by the conservatives – does she mean my Group, the ECR Group? And whatever makes her think that we would be in favour of sanctions just for their own sake? Sanctions have to be imposed with a political objective in mind. I will speak about that in my speech in a few minutes’ time, but I just wondered whether she could elucidate what she meant by that?

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake (ALDE), Blue-card answer. Mr President, in reply to Mr Tannock, I meant to point out that there are specific Members who are keen on imposing sanctions. The European People’s Party has asked for a split vote in a text that is also before this House tomorrow, a text which seeks to have a consistent EU approach to repressive regimes and in which we clearly state that the EU does not impose sanctions in order to target entire populations, but rather to address individuals. I think the text is appropriate and I regret the fact that there are apparently some people on the conservative side of this House relative to where my group stands, who seek to talk about sanctions as a whole, instead of making that important distinction which I am glad Mr Tannock will make as well.

 
  
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  Tarja Cronberg, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Mr President, the Green Group expresses its great concerns at the tense situation in the Gulf region and supports the new EU sanctions against Iran. Many of us, however, are also very concerned at the possible negative effects on the Iranian population. Parliament’s opinion has always been that there cannot be a military solution to a nuclear conflict with Iran. We should not leave any ambiguity about this question and the Greens have proposed an amendment to this effect.

The EU has a dual-track approach to sanctions and negotiations. Sanctions have been enforced. Now it is time for negotiations. The question is: how can we open up for negotiations? The Iranians have said they are willing, and I think one of the things the EU has to accept is that the Iranians will not suspend all uranium enrichment as a precondition for sanctions. We strongly urge all parties to negotiate seriously and without preconditions.

Iran and the West have taken turns in rejecting each other’s offers for compromise, and several opportunities have been missed because the phases of goodwill between E3+3 and Iran were not synchronised. I hope this will not be the case in the future. We would also like to see Turkey and Brazil involved in the negotiations. They were proposing compromises in this respect and would be good partners to have included. If we manage to continue negotiations, this could then open a new historical window to the nuclear-weapon-free Middle East. The EU should support actively this UN conference and be helpful in setting a road map for this process.

The Greens think that the EU should also set a good example and give up nuclear energy, as Germany has decided. The example of Iran clearly shows there is no way to clearly separate nuclear activities for civilian uses and the use of the same technologies for military aims.

As a goodwill gesture showing the EU’s readiness for dialogue, we should finally open an EU representation in Tehran and Iran should receive security guarantees, as it is very difficult to bring a country to the negotiating table under a permanent threat of war.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, Iran’s nuclear military ambitions and its government’s constant refusal to engage with the IAEA and UN Security Council demands constitute a major threat to global security. They also pose a potential risk to peace in the Middle East, with an existential threat to the State of Israel in particular. They are also likely to lead to a regional arms race, with neighbouring Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia also wishing to acquire such nuclear weapons if Iran is allowed to possess one in breach of its NPT international legal obligations.

We must now all hope that measures agreed by the European Union, even with political support from countries like Greece, Spain and Italy, which are large importers of Iranian oil, will put economic pressure on the regime and make it much harder for the leadership to move money around the world and will force Tehran to come back to the negotiating table. It shows that when there is a clear and urgent need for action the EU does not always dither and dodge the issue. This is Europe speaking as one voice for once on the most serious global threat and I would encourage Iran to start listening.

Traditionally Iran should also showcase the legacy of its glorious Persian culture. Instead it is sadly one of the most brutal, theocratic dictatorships in the world, having suppressed all opposition to the last flawed presidential elections, and a country which carries out shocking public executions of homosexuals, those guilty of so-called sexual misdemeanours, including minors, as well as exporting terrorism via its proxies, such as Hezbollah, to neighbouring countries. It also regularly interferes in neighbouring countries, from Bahrain to militarily propping up the Syrian Ba’athist dictatorship. All the more reason, therefore, why it must never become a nuclear power. Contrary to what some have said, no future or further options to prevent this should be excluded from the negotiations.

 
  
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  Cornelia Ernst, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the most recent sanctions by the EU are not confidence-building measures, but sabre rattling. That is a fact. Attempting to get Iran to compromise by exerting more pressure is politically naive and also irresponsible.

As the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, we do not want any nuclear programmes, that is clear, including in Iran. We strongly condemn the Iranian regime on account of its horrendous human rights violations, oppression of religious minorities and persecution of human rights activists, but stopping Iranian oil as a result of the de facto trade ban with Iran’s Central Bank will ultimately hit ordinary citizens. That is a fact. It will also help the Iranian regime’s election campaign ahead of the elections in March this year and will increase the risk of war throughout the region. That, Baroness Ashton, is the scale of what we are talking about here.

There is as yet no genuine proof that Iran has a current nuclear weapons programme. There are indications up to 2003, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has provided no evidence for the period thereafter in its report. It has assumptions and the claims of the secret services.

Instead of an escalation, we need a human rights dialogue and serious negotiations for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East and peaceful coexistence throughout the region. That is what the EU should be doing instead of making the current situation worse.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (NL) Mr President, the regime in the Islamic Republic is under heavy pressure, both externally and internally. Even the authority of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, is being openly discussed. Right now, the opportunity is presenting itself for the international community to steer Iran away from its misguided nuclear path. It is perhaps the last such opportunity.

High Representative, you are personally aware of how extremely difficult it is to bring about truly serious negotiations with Tehran. I really hope that you will find a united transatlantic – did you hear that, Ms Schaake? I said transatlantic – front behind you in 2012. That transatlantic front does not, at this point in time, suffer from any divisions over the Persian Gulf. Think of the assistance that the United Kingdom and France have given to the US navy, despite all the hawkish rhetoric and provocation on Iran’s part. This transatlantic position also supports the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection regime. That is the current test case for Tehran, as asserted by none other than Ali Larijani, current chair of the Iranian parliament, just yesterday.

Baroness Ashton, the contours of the Islamic schism between Sunnis and Shi’ites are on full display in the Middle East once again. Iran’s nuclear ambitions threaten to bring about a nuclear arms race. Your job, Europe’s job, is to help prevent that disastrous scenario.

 
  
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  Martin Ehrenhauser (NI).(DE) Mr President, the current Iranian regime is unjust, there is no doubt about that as far as I am concerned. As an Austrian, I can also demand a nuclear weapon-free Iran without employing double standards. The fact is, however, that there is currently no evidence for the existence of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. The current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report talks only of a possible military dimension. A current US study also talks of limited opportunities for uranium enrichment for military purposes.

It is also right, in any case, that we should block and prevent a military solution based on false arguments. My question for Baroness Ashton is therefore as follows: what, in fact, is your plan B? In other words, what are you going to do if the sanctions do not work, or if the sanctions do not bring about the desired measures? What do you intend to do then?

Secondly, I have another question regarding Camp Ashraf. As we know, the deadline has been extended. Camp Ashraf is to be moved. It has been proposed that the European Member States grant members or persons from Camp Ashraf asylum, specifically those people who have a European history. Is this proposal still on the table? What is your view of this proposal?

 
  
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  Elmar Brok (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that what we are aiming to do with the draft resolutions and what Baroness Ashton has presented to us here fit relatively well together. I, too, am of the opinion that the sanctions need to be stepped up and that they must be imposed in such a way that they are not counterproductive and they do not result in solidarity between the population and the regime, but rather have the opposite effect.

I believe that we should make it clear that this regime, which is a true dictatorship, is not complying with the conditions of non-proliferation and that, for that reason, measures in accordance with the UN resolutions, in other words like those now being taken by the European Union, have to be implemented.

However, I also believe that the regime should be warned against attempting to take action in the Strait of Hormuz, because that is not in the interests of the regime. After all, with our proposals and with these sanctions, which are also directed at a larger section of the population, particularly that consisting of the undertakings of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, we want to try to make it clear that the European Union is seeking an approach that will not require any military action and that, if these sanctions are not intended to take effect until 1 July, there is also still time to prevent this from happening if the message is properly understood.

Baroness Ashton, I would like to thank you for saying that these messages will be conveyed through our decisions and discussions and through partners like Turkey, but I hope they will also be conveyed to a greater extent by countries like Russia and China, which need to accept their responsibility in this regard so that a clear message is sent out from the international community.

I believe that, on this basis, we should be able not only to stabilise a regime, but also to ensure that the world does not become less safe and that this sort of regime does not become equipped with rockets and nuclear weapons. No one has anything against a peaceful nuclear model, and I believe that, for that reason, this regime should at long last be prepared to cooperate with the international community so that no one has any reason to take military action.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D). - Mr President, the Iranian authorities persist in enriching uranium at a suspicious level which is incompatible with their stated ‘peaceful civilian purposes’. We say that we are strengthening sanctions, but are we sending strong enough warnings to all European agents that sanctions are not to be circumvented this time? This is a very dangerous year, with US elections on the horizon and intense sabre rattling in some quarters in the US, Israel, and even in Europe.

The EU should rule out a military solution which can only spell disaster for the region and beyond, notably Israel. Instead, in our dual-track approach, we should consider exploring a broader settlement by all diplomatic means. We could do this by recognising Iran as a regional power and establishing a diplomatic mission in Tehran and by shifting the non-proliferation focus to an internationally controlled fuel bank which Iran could access. We could create a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East by working for regional security and economic arrangements, which would include Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel, thus guaranteeing inviolability of current borders and economic progress for the region. And we could send clear support and solidarity to the Iranian people, namely those fighting for basic human rights, making clear that sanctions will not target the people and produce counterproductive effects that would only fuel the opportunistic propaganda of the regime.

 
  
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  Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, I was particularly pleased about the Council’s decision to impose sanctions and an oil embargo and to increase the pressure on Iran. I consider this to be the sensible and right thing to do and I am amazed to hear many fellow Members saying that there is no proof of military intent or that it is not possible to distinguish between civil and military use. We only need to look at the facts. Iran has 5 000 kg of uranium that is enriched to 3%. That is what is needed for energy production. However, it already has 75 kg that is enriched to 20%, and the only explanation for that is that it is planning to use it for military purposes. The enrichment needs to be pushed to 90%. That is technically complex, but by no means impossible.

All of the facts, including the most recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), indicate that military use is intended here. In other words, we have a predictable period here in which the whole scenario will enfold, and it is therefore right for the European Parliament to now increase the pressure. The same applies with regard to the delivery systems, commonly known as missiles. The Iranians are obviously working on medium- and long-range missiles. This brings the urgency of the situation even more clearly into focus. It would have been better if the oil embargo had been put into effect immediately – although I fully understand the need of some Member States to find means of diversification. However, that will also give Iran the opportunity to find ways round this.

I am pleased that the joint parliamentary resolution received broad support. I am also pleased about the particularly constructive role of the IAEA, in particular since Yukiya Amano took over the position of Director General. That is extremely helpful, and I am also pleased to see the positive and constructive role that Turkey has been playing recently with regard to this matter.

 
  
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  Struan Stevenson (ECR). - Mr President, the lessons of the Arab Spring hold true for Iran just as much as for any oppressive government anywhere in the world. Khomeini, Ahmadinejad and their fascist colleagues in Tehran are not immune to the winds of change that are sweeping across the Middle East. They see the writing on the wall and that is why they are intensifying their efforts to build a nuclear weapon so that they can reassert their authority in the region and hold the free world to ransom.

We have surely by now recognised the abject failure of our policy of appeasement. Our attempts to appease them has simply provided the regime with time to continue its promotion of terrorism worldwide and its construction of nuclear weapons at home against a background of desperate oppression and human rights abuse. Therefore, I welcome tougher sanctions against this brutal terrorist regime in Iran. It is worthy of note that they are one of the few remaining countries who still support Assad in Syria. There is no place for dialogue with these tyrants. Let us work robustly for regime change.

 
  
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  Sabine Lösing (GUE/NGL).(DE) Mr President, nuclear weapons are among the vilest weapons there are and they should be abolished worldwide. Civil use of nuclear energy is impossible to control. We therefore need to do everything we can to ensure that there is a worldwide move away from nuclear power and towards global nuclear disarmament, and specifically in this case towards a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East – and we must do so in a peaceful way.

Until then, the current treaties will apply. As worthy of criticism as the regime in Iran is, it should be noted that, unlike India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan, Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It therefore exercises the right to the civil use of nuclear energy guaranteed to all states that have signed this Treaty. That is dangerous – just as it is dangerous in other countries. No one thinks – quite rightly – of taking military action against all the states that have nuclear power plants, or penalising them with sanctions. Neither the secret services nor the most recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency provide solid evidence that Iran is building, preparing or planning nuclear weapons.

Yet blatant threats of war have been made against Iran for many years on precisely this pretext. In addition, there is an increasingly aggressive economic war being waged with the intention of destabilising the country. This policy, ladies and gentlemen, is a serious danger to world peace and limits the opportunities for progressive opposition in Iran. As is so often the case, it seems very much as though peace and human rights are to fall victim to the global interests of the United States and the EU.

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

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder (EFD), Blue-card question.(NL) Are you aware that the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly threatened to destroy the Jewish State of Israel in the Middle East? Are you aware of cases where Israel has threatened Iran in the same way? I would appreciate your response.

 
  
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  Sabine Lösing (GUE/NGL), Blue-card answer.(DE) Mr President, of course I am aware of that, but I honestly do not know what this question has to do with this issue right now.

 
  
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  Fiorello Provera (EFD). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Baroness Ashton, it is difficult to be optimistic. If Tehran were to have nuclear weapons, it would seriously destabilise the area between the Mediterranean and the Caucasus and could trigger a nuclear arms race in neighbouring countries that for various reasons are afraid of Tehran, such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

The latest Iranian Shahab-3 missiles can reach EU Member States such as Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria, and would make the Tehran regime’s threat to destroy the State of Israel possible. A nuclear Iran really could block the Strait of Hormuz, making any political or military countermeasures extremely risky. We cannot afford a new North Korea in the Middle East.

The new sanctions imposed by Europe are certainly a positive step, but time is running out to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis and avoid the military option.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, on Friday Tehran will probably adopt an emergency law that will stop oil supplies to the EU with immediate effect. As a result, all Member States who have agreed to a boycott of Iranian oil supplies will immediately have their supply shut off. This will be the case even though the EU has treaties that will remain in force until July.

In the short term, however, the EU embargo will hit the civilian population. In the medium term, China will be the one to benefit as it will cover its energy deficits magnificently with the European quota that will be freed up. This would balance the losses from the EU embargo, so that there would ultimately be no further pressure on Tehran. In other words, the oil boycott would not achieve the desired effect and the EU would be placed at an even greater disadvantage in geostrategic terms.

We ought to pay more heed to competent exiled Iranians who warn that boycott measures will affect the wrong people, because it will lead to solidarity within the country. For this reason, the EU should seek to exert a moderating effect, using all its resources to avoid an escalation.

The aim would, of course, be for there to be absolutely no nuclear weapons in the Middle East. It also goes without saying that the security of Israel must in any case be ensured.

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) welcomes the Council’s decision of 23 January to extend the existing sanctions against Iran. It concerns the toughest sanctions imposed on the Tehran regime so far. After freezing the assets of a long list of companies and individuals in Iran and restricting exports of sensitive products and investments in the field of hydrocarbons in Iran, the next logical step was to sanction oil resources, which have a strategic importance for this country.

The adoption of sanctions is never something that is made lightly. In the case of Iran, these measures are all the more necessary as the risk of nuclear proliferation linked to the Iranian programme causes increasing concern. I believe, therefore, that it is very important that the EU has shown decisiveness, in the absence of a clear answer from Iran to the proposal of resuming the negotiations. Toughening the sanctions and our firm tone are a clear indication for the Iranians that we will not accept the continuation of the nuclear programme.

Finally, for those who argue that sanctions are ineffective or even counterproductive, I would like to point out two aspects that I believe to be important: sanctions so far have actually hindered the Iranian nuclear programme and have prevented Iran from obtaining the nuclear bomb. On the other hand, Iran started to show signs that these measures have an effect on its economy. Sanctions are therefore the key to resolving the nuclear crisis and can bring Iran back to the negotiation table.

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

 
  
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  Ashley Fox (ECR), Blue-card question. Mr President, does Mr Preda agree with me that the gravest threat to peace in the Middle East and the Gulf region is a nuclear-armed Iran, and therefore that maintaining the threat of military action is vital in ensuring it complies with the will of the international community?

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE), Blue-card answer.(RO) I think, if I understood your question correctly, that we share the same point of view.

 
  
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  Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D).(NL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, you can see that there is very broad-based support across all party lines for your position in the European Union. I believe that the intransigence of the Iranian regime – and that is clearly a serious understatement – leaves no other option than the imposition of strong sanctions, although I admit that I do also have some mixed feelings.

I do not know – you are the expert, and we undoubtedly have other experts – whether there are many known examples of cases where sanctions have also effectively led to regime change. It is a tool that always attracts the necessary criticism. That is all well and good, but we need to get behind it.

There have been a couple of important comments in the extensive debate that we have had here. I, along with my whole group, take the view that these sanctions must not represent a stepping stone to military interventions or to an armed conflict in the region and in Iran. I believe that that must be clear and I do not believe that we need the military threat in order to be able to bear our teeth. I believe that a military conflict would be bad for the region, bad for Iran and also for Europe, and that it is therefore not an option.

Secondly, in a broader context – and I am very pleased, Baroness Ashton, that you also made reference to this – I still have a great many concerns about the situation of the Iranian populace and human rights. In this area, too, there are things we can improve in our own back yard. There are still businesses in the European Union whose technology is sold and used to oppress people in Iran, for example via communications technologies, whether communications technologies used to listen in or spy on people or, for example, to deny them free access to the Internet.

Here, too, Baroness Ashton, I think that we need to make sure that we get our own house in order. I hope that you and the Commission will do what is necessary to ensure that that is the case.

 
  
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  Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE). - Mr President, the situation in Iran emphasises more than ever that the Iranian nuclear programme has to be addressed effectively by the international community. And let us also not forget about ongoing issues, such as the permanent violations of human rights in that country.

We should once again call on the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the IAEA on all issues, particularly those raising concerns about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme. This includes access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the Agency.

The European Union has been taking a pragmatic and straightforward approach when it comes to sanctions against Iran. Madam High Representative, should sanctions not deliver on their objectives? Could you elaborate on how you intend to collaborate with Middle East countries, and in particular with Turkey, in advancing towards a workable solution? How feasible is a direct dialogue between the EU and Iran?

 
  
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  Niki Tzavela (EFD).(EL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I beg you to step up diplomatic efforts. I am not certain that Western diplomacy is the right approach to Iran. They are entitled to respect and their history, which goes back 4000 years, needs to be taken into consideration. I should like to make three points. The first has to do with the fine line we need to tread when we impose sanctions, in terms of who is most affected by them, the elite in government or the people. I fear that it is the people who will pay in this case and that the result will be the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. The second has to do with energy sanctions. Energy includes multiannual, 40 to 50-year contracts, large infrastructures and increased prices for consumer goods throughout the entire planet. How is it possible to disregard all this and to set a procedure in motion which may create huge economic problems not only in Europe, but throughout the entire world? Please continue your diplomatic efforts.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). - Mr President, it is quite right that governments across the world are deeply concerned at Iran’s nuclear programme and the threat to global security that is posed. As many colleagues have said, this is a brittle regime not concerned with the human rights of its citizens, and one which has posed a constant threat to the State of Israel and contributes to the tinder box situation in the Middle East.

It is therefore quite right that appropriate sanctions are put in place in order to encourage Iran to enter into negotiations. A further escalation of the nuclear programme, which is undoubtedly about developing nuclear weapons, or attempts at acts such as closing the Strait of Hormuz, would be entirely unacceptable.

I welcome the resolution of the international community in this matter. The decision by the UK, the US and French Governments in sending warships and the aircraft carrier through the waters of the Strait of Hormuz sent the right signal. It is important that we have one voice and the resolve to stand together to protect the safety of our citizens, but these must not only be about dialogue and diplomacy: we need to retain the threat that actually we will take action if this continues.

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE). - Mr President, I think we are now entering a new and extremely difficult phase in our relations with Iran – or rather in our lack of relations with Iran. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that Iran has the knowledge and the desire to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly tried to keep hidden from the IAEA the truth of its actions and to impede the work of the IAEA inspectors – as it is doing now.

Internationally Iran has threatened to take military action against our allies and to block the Strait of Hormuz. Internally we see more and more repression of democratic movements, and that really concerns us. There is no hope that the March elections in the country will bring about any change in those policies.

Therefore the European Union has no choice but to act, and it was right to impose sanctions. The current threats from Iran make it clear that we can no longer support this undemocratic regime by buying their oil. Right now we have to put pressure on Iran to engage fully in negotiations. These negotiations cannot be just a talking shop or a sham to play for more time but must seek to halt and clarify the nuclear programme. Baroness Ashton, you should not accept anything other than straight talk and a real exchange of opinions. We can begin to talk about renewed imports of Iranian resources only when Iran applies the United Nations resolution and the suggestions of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

 
  
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  Maria Eleni Koppa (S&D).(EL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, today’s debate in the European Parliament is extremely important. The imposition of new sanctions against Teheran was absolutely necessary; however, it is equally necessary that we try to exhaust every possibility of bringing Iran back to the negotiating table.

The decision by the European Union to impose sanctions may have been necessary but it will not be easy, because it will increase oil prices and because it will, at the same time, cause problems with the energy reserves of numerous countries.

They will also come at a high economic cost, especially for the countries in the South and especially if the financial crisis is taken into account. On the other hand, we must not forget that Iran is able to channel its oil to other, non-European markets.

However, there is a more important point, because we must ensure that sanctions are properly targeted and that their effect on the Iranian people is kept to a minimum.

I consider, Baroness Ashton, that you should exhaust all means of persuading Iran to cooperate constructively on the nuclear issue, although that should not be the only issue.

The international community and Europe appear to have forgotten the terrible human rights situation in that country.

I think that you should remind Teheran and draw their attention once again to that issue. In any event, armed conflict must be avoided at all costs. Conflict in the already heavily-burdened Arab world is in no one’s interest. I worry that the red line drawn by the United States in connection with attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz is dangerously escalating the situation. Of course Iran must duly persuade the West that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and of its intention to cooperate. We all know that that is not self-evident.

 
  
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  Nick Griffin (NI). - Mr President, on weapons of mass destruction, one should remember how politicians and media liars queued up to demand action against Iraq over WMDs. That propaganda lie justified sanctions and an illegal war. MEPs who voted for sanctions against Iraq over those non-existent WMDs might have meant well, but they helped to murder hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, who died through lack of food and medicine. Now it is nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It is a new target, Iran, but the main victims will be the same – children – because a successful oil and banking embargo would make it impossible for Iran to buy enough food and medicine for its population.

If the EU votes for sanctions it exposes itself as bankrupt – not merely financially, but morally too. If Saudi Wahabis and Zionist neo-Cons want war with Iran, that is their business, but it is not ours, and we should stay out of it.

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

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: LÁSZLÓ SURJÁN
Vice-President

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR), Blue-card question. Mr President, Mr Griffin has a liking for Iran with its existential threats to the state of Israel. The words ‘neo-Cons’ and ‘Zionist’ were a bit of a giveaway, I am afraid. That is where, I am afraid, he and his party come from politically. But I wanted to ask him a more serious question relevant to the debate. If he believes that Iran is pursuing a peaceful option for its nuclear programme, what on earth does it need 20 – or even 50 – percent enriched uranium for?

 
  
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  Nick Griffin (NI), Blue-card answer. Mr President, I am no friend of Iran. I am very critical of Islam and all things Islamic, and the Islamic threat to Europe. But, as regards the Middle East, that is the affair of the countries of the Middle East. It is not for us to interfere. When the Iranians look at what happened to Libya – which did not have effective weapons – you really cannot blame them for wanting to defend themselves, if that is what they are doing.

As for weapons of mass destruction, however, we have heard the lies before and I think we are hearing the lies again.

 
  
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  György Schöpflin (PPE).(HU) Mr President, thank you and let me congratulate you specifically. I will continue in English.

Iran’s nuclear programme is I think without any question a source of potential danger for the wider West Asian region, but we should not allow ourselves to be mesmerised by the nuclear issue because that way we run the risk of missing several other strategic developments. For one, Iran is a major power in conventional military terms; indeed militarily it hardly needs nuclear weapons. Secondly, Iran has the potential to block the Strait of Hormuz. This has already been mentioned. This would affect oil exports from the entire Gulf region – I want to stress that – and it would involve around a fifth of the world’s oil consumption. Then, with Iraq gradually evolving into an Iranian satellite, Tehran’s power has increased markedly. The uprising in Syria, another of Iran’s allies, directly affects Iran’s interest, hence the support extended to the Assad regime.

In all it is not hard to see the ultimate objective of Iran’s strategy: control of the Gulf, the neutralisation of Saudi Arabia and the exclusion of the United States from the region. The nuclear question is only a part of these strategic issues.

 
  
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  Josef Weidenholzer (S&D).(DE) Mr President, the Middle East is a crucial region for Europe and for the world as a whole. Decisions are being made here which will determine whether we have a peaceful future and a great deal is currently at stake. The current regime in Iran is doing everything it can to worsen the situation, including playing its game with nuclear weapons, threatening the existence of Israel and supporting terrorist activities in the region.

The international community and the European Union have repeatedly warned Iran about this. The Iranian Government turned a deaf ear to these warnings and derided everyone who was working towards a diplomatic solution. Therefore, the EU sanctions are a logical next step. They are comprehensible and coherent, but we do need to continue our policy of bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

This could be called a ‘carrot and stick’ policy. Obviously, it is the stick which is currently being used. However, we should be thinking already about making the carrot more visible. Most importantly, this would strengthen the opposition in Iran and put the regime under pressure from within.

Against the background of a coherent, ongoing European policy, it is important for us to do everything we can to prevent the dispute from building up into a military conflict. There are enough historical examples of this happening on this continent. A war would have devastating consequences for the population of Iran, for the region and for Israel in particular. It would set the region back decades.

For this reason, we must do everything possible to ensure that we do not become involved in a military conflict, because war is not the answer.

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE). - Mr President, I welcome the EU decision to place an embargo on Iranian oil imports, ban new contracts and freeze Iranian central bank assets, because the recent EU decision, coupled with existing American measures, will come close to imposing the ‘crippling sanctions’ referred to by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

It is important to note that the EU, as a block, is Iran’s second largest customer, taking about a quarter of Iranian exports. The latest set of EU and US sanctions goes beyond targeting the persons and institutions involved in the nuclear programme. Hopefully those sanctions will achieve their aim, but more important is that the EU Member States are perfectly aware of the possible consequences and that the respective governments are prepared to deal with them.

The European Parliament, in its resolution, makes a strong statement in support of the EU’s dual-track approach for the negotiations with Iran, which offers both rewards and punishments. What is clear is that we are far away from trusting the current Iranian regime and, at the same time, we would wish Iran to become a country like Japan, which has the capability to become a nuclear power quickly if need be, but which has rejected taking the final steps to possessing nuclear weapons.

Finally, in this context, what could give negotiations and diplomacy a chance is the ever-changing situation in Iran and in the region, including the move towards democracy in the Middle East.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D). - (RO) Mr President, Iran is situated in a highly sensitive region. An Iranian nuclear weapon would mean practically an additional threat to peace in this area and a way of exercising control over neighbouring countries. I therefore agree that it is necessary to clarify the intentions of this country. However, we must ask ourselves whether or not a general sanction on Iranian oil will give the expected results.

I believe we cannot punish the whole society for the mistakes made by the ruling class and, therefore, sanctions should be aimed at those who hold the power. I would like to draw your attention, Baroness Ashton, to the need for ongoing assessment of the effects of these new sanctions. At the same time, the European Union must constantly encourage dialogue with the Iranian side and, as you have already mentioned, use the relationship this country has with Turkey. However, dialogue must not be limited to the nuclear problem, but also include the human rights situation, as many of my colleagues have already said.

With regard to this last aspect, the European Union should impose restrictions on EU companies to suspend exports of goods, particularly electronic goods, that are actually used for the oppression of Iranian citizens.

Finally, I would like to point out that the only solution to the tense relations with Iran is a peaceful one. Military intervention would be a major mistake, with disastrous consequences. The European Union, through its High Representative, must declare firmly that it is against military intervention and must express that it is open to dialogue.

 
  
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  Filip Kaczmarek (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I am in no doubt that the European Parliament must speak out on Iran and its nuclear programme. It is not we, but the International Atomic Energy Agency which has serious fears over the possible military aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme, and as the evidence shows, Iran is working on the creation of a nuclear explosion device. We did not force Iran to become a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in relation to which Iran itself has renounced attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and is legally obliged to report all the nuclear activities which it conducts. It is not we, but Iran which still is not meeting its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including the latest of these, resolution 1929, and is not complying with the requirements of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is not we, but the policy of the Iranian Government in some areas which is creating a threat to stability and peace in the region.

In this nuclear atmosphere, I would like you to remember, Baroness Ashton, about other problems related to Iran, which, after all, you have spoken about yourself: respect for human rights, and the situation in Camp Ashraf, which continues to be uncertain and unsafe. Members also asked about this during Question Hour. I should add that we must do everything possible to work together to resolve these problems.

 
  
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  Peter Šťastný (PPE). - Mr President, Iranian refugees from Camp Ashraf will move to a new Camp Liberty, which the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has compared to a prison camp. The green light was issued by the UN mission in Iraq. This approval was granted without the consent of Camp Ashraf residents, despite the promise of the UN Envoy, Ambassador Martin Kobler, that such approval be obtained.

The EU should take a much more active role, with Baroness Ashton’s direct involvement – especially after the refusal of the Iraqi Government to let it play an active part in the negotiations. In addition there are approximately 900 Camp Ashraf residents with links to Europe. Therefore, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our US friends in exerting pressure on Iraq and the UN for a quick and humane resolution. By the way, people like the refugees of Camp Ashraf are our best hope for a democratic and nuclear-free Iran.

 
  
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  Christofer Fjellner (PPE).(SV) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I have to say that I think the sanctions that the EU has imposed on Iran are a sign of our responsibility and moral stature. I think it is important that we are united in supporting these sanctions. That is how we will get others to follow suit, as Australia has done, for example.

I am surprised that the opposition to these sanctions, here in the European Parliament for example, has been so great. I expected unanimous support. Iran’s sabre-rattling is not a sign of failure, but rather it is a sign that the sanctions entail consequences. I do not understand those who are opposed to these sanctions. Who in the Iranian opposition have they actually spoken to? I have met with and spoken to members of the opposition and they welcome the fact that we are getting tough with Iran. No one want to punish the Iranian people, but the actions of the regime have consequences. Unreasonable behaviour that goes against the united view of the international community must have consequences. There is a cost, and there must be a cost, which is what we are demonstrating with our sanctions. This is welcome, therefore.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure.

 
  
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  Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė (PPE) .(LT) Mr President, we often say that the European Union fails to speak with a single voice in foreign policy, so I am really very pleased that the EU Member States experiencing economic difficulties and importing Iranian oil have nevertheless managed to agree and adopt a decision on broader sanctions against Iran. This is the first serious signal to the Iranian Government. The Iranian regime’s oral statements that theirs is a peaceful nuclear programme are unsubstantiated and unconvincing. Meanwhile EU policy continues to be a dual approach, so it is entirely up to the Iranian authorities whether there will be even greater restrictions on the country’s economic development. The goal of sanctions is above all to ensure the removal of a substantial risk to global security and regional stability in the Middle East. It is disappointing that certain countries with global ambitions are unable to eschew narrow national interests and stand on the side of global security – I am talking about Russia and China. I nevertheless believe that we have to set out very clear conditions and criteria for lifting the sanctions announced.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). - (SK) Mr President, Iran is undoubtedly failing to fulfil its international obligations in the area of nuclear activities. If international obligations are to be justified, and if they are to have any meaning, then they should also be both enforceable and enforced. We therefore fully agree with the EU’s approach to Iran in the area of sanctions.

On the other hand, it should be emphasised that these sanctions must target leading figures in the regime, not the people who live in Iran and who already have a relatively hard life. In addition to this, there is also another dimension, in the form of diplomacy and diplomatic negotiations. I firmly believe that if we try to lead these diplomatic negotiations into other areas, and if we can show convincingly that we are interested in a proper partnership even with countries like Iran - not just with the regime, but with the country as such – then we will also succeed in monitoring the nuclear regime in Iran.

 
  
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  Charalampos Angourakis (GUE/NGL) . – (EL) Mr President, the imposition of an embargo on oil exports from Iran and the other sanctions adopted unanimously by the Council are aggressive actions and an escalation in measures against the Iranian people. These measures will send oil prices and the multinationals’ profits through the roof and will exacerbate the capitalist crisis in the European Union. The European Union has again appointed itself as the global guardian, as required by its imperialist values and interests and by competition with other forces in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. The coercion being attempted by the nuclear powers on the pretext of Iran’s nuclear programme is insulting. Those same forces back Israel’s policy of aggression and nuclear weapons, the innumerable nuclear weapons in Europe and the dissemination of nuclear plants in India and Pakistan. I am certain that the workers will condemn this provocative action. Joint exercises between Israel and other countries and the war against the people of Iran need to be stopped. There is an urgent need today to break free of the European Union and to return power to the people, so that the people do not pay for imperialist wars with their blood.

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

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR), Blue-card question. Mr President, I have to say that I am sick and tired of people comparing the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons to what is happening in Israel or Pakistan or even India. Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and neither are the other two countries. Iran is. Iran is in violation of its international obligations. Mr Angourakis talks about being a world policeman. Well, the Security Council is indeed the world policeman and is in charge of global security. So, Mr Angourakis, what is wrong with Iran being forced to adhere to its international obligations?

 
  
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  Charalampos Angourakis (GUE/NGL), Blue-card answer. – (EL) Mr President, Mr Tannock, first may I clarify that what I said does not concern India and Pakistan; it concerns Great Britain, the honourable country which you represent, which is a nuclear power which wants to impose a monopoly on nuclear weapons throughout the world. Secondly, the UN Security Council has not adopted a resolution condemning Iran for its nuclear programme. I said that the European Union is the self-pronounced global guardian, because it considers that only it can act as the guardian of international law and because it considers that it has the right to impose sanctions. That is what I said.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, it will be only too easy for the European Union’s decision to impose sanctions on Iran to turn into an own goal, for example if emerging economies fill the gaps caused by the withdrawal of European exports or if Tehran stops supplies of oil, as it has threatened to do. This will affect Italy, Spain and Greece, which are the countries already hardest hit by the debt crisis. Equally, if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil route, we will have a real oil crisis on our hands.

We know that weapons of mass destruction have already been used as a pretext for preventive military action which had a questionable basis in international law. Even though the threat of military intervention seems to have been averted with the move from a nuclear dispute to an oil dispute, it must be obvious to all of us that a military strike against Iran could have devastating consequences.

However, we must, of course, oppose the secret construction of nuclear weapons in the same way as we oppose preventive military strikes in contravention of international law. All of us, including the countries of Europe, must ask ourselves how we can guarantee security, for example for Israel, under these circumstances.

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE).(DE) Mr President, I believe that this debate is very important to all of us, because Europe has moved away from war and towards peace and negotiation. Therefore, it is essential for us to find partners in Iran who are prepared to enter into discussions. I know that many members of the Iranian Parliament disagree with the country’s current policies.

I think we urgently need to explain that cooperation is always the basis and the starting point of future, peaceful collaboration. Trade is ultimately also the foundation of democracy, because friendships, including those made in sporting and cultural exchanges, naturally allow for differing opinions.

In my opinion, it is important for us to encourage this type of discussion among the Iranian people and to challenge them. We should not be imposing sanctions on Iranian citizens, but on the people who are abusing the law.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure.)

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, this has been an important debate and I have listened with great care to all of the contributions that have been made. I will just try to bring together some of the themes that have been expressed in the House and to take them forward as part of our thinking about how to deal effectively with this extremely important issue of the nuclear aspirations of Iran.

A number of colleagues, beginning with Mr Salafranca in his first contribution, talked about the need to work with others to ensure that we are collaborating with our allies, who of course include those that we call the E3+3 – Russia, China and the United States plus the UK, France and Germany – the six countries which, when we do find ourselves in dialogue with Iran, sit behind me as the E3+3 designated by the Security Council.

Of course, we are not only talking with those countries. I saw Dai Bingguo, the State Councillor of China, when I was in India the week before last. We are constantly talking with Russia – the political director is there currently – as well as with other countries like Japan and Korea, with the ambition of ensuring that the gap created by EU sanctions is not filled in ways that mean that there would not be an effect on the regime.

A number of colleagues have mentioned the role of Turkey. I keep in close contact with Foreign Minister Davutoğlu on this issue. Turkey has provided a conduit of information and dialogue to Iran, being the reinforcer of messages, and also hosted the last round of talks. I pay tribute to the way in which that country has worked with us on this issue.

I will be going to Brazil this weekend for a number of discussions. One of these will be on what we are doing on Iran and why. I take very much the points that have been made about strengthening and broadening the understanding of what the EU is doing, the reasons behind our actions and the need for the international community to stand together to seek a satisfactory resolution.

So in all our discussions across the world we are keeping this on the agenda. We keep making the point that the sanctions are important and that their purpose is to try to persuade Iran to come to negotiations. It is a twin-track approach, specifically designed to that effect.

The second area I wanted to touch on is the effect on the people of Iran. We are very clear that what we are seeking to do is to persuade the regime that it needs to come to the talks. I am very worried about Iran’s economic capacity. It is a country that should have been able to grow economically. I keep watch over what we are doing, to try to ensure that the effects on the people of Iran are minimal but that they also understand what it is that we are doing. As has been said, there are many people in Iran who share the aspiration that we have to see Iran turn away from its current path.

It is also true that we are looking, with the Member States, at the effect on the European Union of all our work on sanctions. It is vital that we ensure that we understand what we are doing and that we look at the effect that it has. National legal systems are responsible for ensuring there is no circumvention, but the EU as a whole is working together in this direction.

Colleagues also mentioned the fact that Camp Ashraf has an Iranian population. I have already mentioned a couple of times, in our Question Hour, the importance that we attach to trying to find a satisfactory solution for the people of Camp Ashraf. My concern is straightforward. It is to try to find a way in which we can keep them completely safe and give them a future. Members of the UN are in discussion with Member States where there are issues of citizenship, and members of the High Commission for Refugees are engaged with this, as is Martin Kobler who, as I have indicated already, will be here tomorrow. We are working closely with the US and with the international community, and we will keep this on the agenda in our discussions with Iraq.

It is important that we move forward and that the people find a future, not that we simply keep them there because we do not have a plan. There does seem to be, if not a perfect plan, then a compromise solution under which, if we do things properly, there is potential for a future for these people that will keep them safe which, as I have said, is our final objective.

My final point concerns something that Mr Tannock said about the glorious Persian culture. Absolutely. We are clear in this House, and right across the European Union, that our quarrel on this issue is not with the people of Iran. We wish them well. We wish to see this glorious Persian history and culture rise and be part of the region and part of the international community, but we have obligations as countries and as the European Union.

Those obligations are that, when people sign up to treaties and say they will not move toward nuclear proliferation, they are taking on obligations that they have to respect, and if they do not respect them then we have to do something about it. It is all done within the Security Council. These issues go back to the Security Council, and it is the Security Council which gives me my mandate and with whom the European Union works. I do hope that we will have the support to make sure that these sanctions are seen as being an important contribution to getting the other track moving and through that medium, as I do in any other, I am asking the Iranians to respond to my letter, to pick up what I left on the table or to come forward with their own ideas and come back to the talks.

 
  
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  President. − Six motions for resolutions(1)1 have been submitted under Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 2 February 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE), in writing. – I strongly support the recent sanctions that the Council has decided to impose on Iran since its non-cooperative attitude generates serious concerns in Europe and worldwide. There are serious doubts about the real objectives of the Iranian nuclear programme, which has now become a global threat. Given the authoritarian character of the Iranian regime, I also believe that the EU should do more in supporting the Iranian opposition in Iraq. After the brutal attacks last year, Iraq has imposed a deadline to close Camp Ashraf. Yesterday the inhabitants were urged by the UN’s envoy Martin Kobler to move to a new location near Baghdad which, according to the Council of Europe statement last week, seems more like a prison, with a very limited living area and a heavy police presence. The HR’s Special Adviser has been refused a visa to enter Iraq to take part in the negotiations. How come this diplomatic insult has been kept quiet by our services while we continue to pay a fortune to help Iraq for development? Should not our HR take a more active role by trying to organise even video-link interviews with the inhabitants in Ashraf to help quickly bring out those with families in Europe?

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. The reports relating to the development of the nuclear programme in Iran have recently become very alarming. The country has disregarded her commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as well as a number of United Nations resolutions. Iran constitutes a serious threat in the region and the implications of such a strained situation will have their reflection at a global level. I endorse all possible sanctions against Iran as well as other diplomatic measures that can be taken in order to make Tehran see that we are serious and that we do not hesitate to ‘put our money where our mouth is’. However, I must caution against reacting to any provocations or engaging in any military action. The region is a barrel of gunpowder and I am deeply concerned that when it goes off we will not be able to keep it under control. Therefore, let us be alert, yet not neurotic. I look forward to the High Representative reaching an agreement with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on a joint resolution on Iran at the UN Security Council.

 
  
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  Pavel Poc (S&D), in writing. - (CS) I expected the extension of economic sanctions against Iran. I was nonetheless hoping that, in this sensitive issue, our esteemed Council would not follow its usual path when measures do not work, which is to apply the same measures but only in greater quantities. The Council hopes that sanctions will bring Iran to the negotiating table, but experience to date shows that these and similar measures have only contributed towards a deepening of mutual distrust and an assertion of the political and economic interests of the various superpowers. After the deterioration in international relations over the recent situation in the Gulf of Hormuz, it can now be expected, moreover, that the negative impacts of sanctions on the Iranian people will strengthen the position of the current regime even more. Unfortunately, I cannot rid myself of the impression that some countries are not out to prevent military intervention or even war in Iran, but, on the contrary, are encouraging it for various reasons. We cannot allow this to happen.

I would venture to say, therefore, that the EU should stop focusing only on the Iranian nuclear programme, and abandon the current path of sanctions and yet more sanctions. On the contrary, dialogue must be held, with a view to future cooperation at several levels, for example regional stability, foreign affairs, human rights and mutual assistance. A positive situation at one of these levels might then help when negotiations are stagnating. Boosting mutual confidence and respect is the only route that does not lead to imminent armed conflict.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Ziobro (EFD), in writing.(PL) This is not the first time we have discussed the Iranian nuclear programme. Its rapid development, and the threats being issued by Iran against the countries of the region and against Israel, are the cause of increasing anxiety. Unfortunately, looking at the EU’s options today and at Iran’s strategic position, it is clear that Iran’s military forces have the capability to paralyse the supply of crude oil through the Strait of Hormuz, and also to destabilise Central Asia and North Africa by conducting asymmetric activity through a network of terrorist groups. Action of this kind would appear to be more dangerous than Tehran’s nuclear programme itself. Therefore, pressure should be maintained for more frequent inspections to be carried out on Iranian nuclear installations. In addition to this, it is also important to support the Iranian opposition. We do not have accurate information, but it seems that Tehran’s activities are a kind of domestic ploy before the forthcoming elections, in which President Ahmadinejad’s position is under serious threat. The threat that the supply of crude oil might be cut off also shows that the European Union must provide more funds for the support of projects intended to diversify fuel supplies.

 
  
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  Inês Zuber (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The European Union’s recent decision to impose more unilateral sanctions on Iran simply confirms the imperialist nature of the EU and its complete subordination to the militarist agenda in the region of the US, which has already moved vast military resources to the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. It is a decision that has contributed dangerously to escalating a conflict that, as is clear, has nothing to do with seeking peaceful solutions and diplomatic negotiations. In the current context, a potential military conflict would not just represent an attack on the Iranian people’s sovereignty and right to live in peace, but would have extremely negative economic consequences for several countries. It is also important not to forget that these unilateral sanctions are being imposed hypocritically by nuclear powers like the US, France and the UK, and that the European Union has continued its close economic and military cooperation with Israel, a country that acts completely outside the most basic principles of international law. We need to genuinely, and without hypocrisy, advocate peace.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.


15. Situation in Russia (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the situation in Russia.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, when societies change, political systems need to change too. More often than not, making these changes is less risky and uncertain than not making them. Honourable Members will recall that we debated Russia in our Strasbourg session on 13 December 2011, and the concerns that were raised in this House about the Duma elections were raised with President Medvedev at our summit that followed shortly afterwards. You will recall that those concerns focused in particular on the exclusion of parties from the elections.

President Medvedev talked to us about those concerns and explained that a necessary political evolution was taking place. He said this was due to improved living standards, a more active civil society, and the development of social media, and he emphasised that the government was drawing lessons. Some limited political reforms have been launched, and yet the protests that began in December, we see, are set to continue. The movement has grown. We can expect a large mobilisation this coming Saturday, 4 February.

The announcement, made in tandem in September, that the President and Prime Minister will swap jobs again made many Russian citizens feel that things were being decided between just two people, over the heads of voters. There is a growing group of people calling for real participation, for more decisive measures to rein in corruption and impunity, and for more breathing space for democratic processes. They are ready to express these opinions peacefully. Nevertheless, they want to see real change; and OSCE observers have raised real issues about registration, about access to electronic media, and about the lack of separation between state and governing party. We are moving forward to engage in dialogue with the protestors and, of course, the opposition.

The next benchmark will be the presidential elections on 4 March 2012. We welcome the fact that an invitation has been extended again to the OSCE and others to observe these elections, but expectations will be higher this time. Regrettably, issues of registration have arisen again, in relation to the presidential elections. I call on the authorities responsible to review, as a matter of urgency, the decision not to register Grigory Yavlinsky. The Russian leadership should now act swiftly on the problems identified by the OSCE, and do its utmost in the short time left to hold free and fair presidential elections next month.

Russia and the EU face challenges also on the international scene. Recently, differences have emerged about how to deal with the growing crisis in Syria. With thousands of people killed and violence escalating across Syria, we strongly urge Russia to join the international consensus and allow the Security Council to act on the basis of the Arab League proposals and the joint draft resolution.

It is true that Russia disagreed with the international community’s approach to Libya and said that the action taken went beyond the mandate given by the Security Council – I have discussed this with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr Lavrov, several times – but it is also clear that we cannot let the Syrian people pay the price for past disagreements. Syria is a specific case and the solution proposed by the Arab League is different from Resolution 1973. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia needs to take its responsibilities for international peace and security seriously. Old alliances may matter, but the fate of the people of Syria matters much more.

Having said that, experience suggests that we manage pretty well to find common ground on international affairs, be it in the Middle East Quartet or indeed in the E3+3 format on Iran. I meet often with Foreign Minister Lavrov and I was in Moscow in November.

Iran is of particular concern this year. As already discussed, the lack of progress in the talks has left us with no choice but to adopt our new round of sanctions, and I have discussed in this House this evening the purpose of those sanctions and how important it is that we work closely with the E3+3 and of course, in that context, with Russia.

Let me mention as well, in the context of our discussions on difficult issues, the important cooperation – however difficult – with Russia over Georgia and Moldova, which are both engaged in efforts to resolve protracted conflicts. As these examples show, we work intensively with Russia on international issues – albeit not without difficulty, but there is often a desire to find common ground and enable the international community to respond. It is our joint task to make sure that it responds on Syria and Iran this year.

Russia is not only a strategic partner: it is also our largest neighbour. We share close historical, cultural, social and economic ties. The EU is Russia’s most important trading partner, and Russia is our third largest trading partner. Our last summit, in December 2011, proved that the EU’s Russia policy has produced good results recently: most importantly, the World Trade Organization accession and agreements on aviation issues, visas and the partnership for modernisation. Russia’s accession to the WTO will bring the last of the major economies under a global rules-based system. The launch of the common steps towards visa-free travel opens the prospect of visas being abolished, and there was consensus at the summit that we should reinvigorate negotiations on a new agreement.

To conclude, the EU approach of constructive yet critical cooperation with Russia is bearing fruit. We will continue our support for modernising both Russia’s economic basis and the foundations for a dynamic society oriented towards the future. We are well prepared to support and encourage a domestic political process in Russia that aims to develop its democratic institutions and the rule of law, as well as a modern economy and a vibrant civil society, whose human rights are respected and whose aspirations for a more open and dynamic society are matched by the reforms undertaken by its government.

Mr President, I hope this will give us a good basis for our debate this evening.

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (NL) Mr President, I was positively surprised by an article written by none other than Prime Minister Putin telling the world via the NRC Handelsblad how he intends to modernise Russia, the state and the economy.

In the article, Mr Putin states that today’s Russia is dominated by the state, that it suffers from serious corruption and that everything needs to change. That is good news for the citizens of Russia, as well as for us. Would it not be great indeed if it were possible to break through a failing culture and turn the country into a true democracy?

Yet, Mr President, what also struck me was that there was no mention in the article of people in Russian society. While there is a recognition that the market needs to be given new freedoms in order to generate new confidence, there is a complete and utter lack of any consideration of freedoms for people. A society where people are subordinated to the market, where people as individuals or collectively are denied fundamental rights and fundamental freedoms, will not function, despite all the fine words.

If Russia wants to be modern and prosperous there needs to be real work done there, twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, in order to properly tackle all the deficiencies in respect of freedom and there needs to be a real effort to get going in respect of working towards a true democracy. Mr President, we have seen – and Baroness Ashton has just said – that in the past the democratic rights of citizens were trampled on. We saw this with the Duma elections. We hope and expect that things will be different in the presidential elections, but the signs are not good.

What applies when it comes to human rights in Russia also applies to Russian influence beyond its borders. If the Russian regime is to be believed, it will refrain from using its veto irresponsibly and it will thus not protect the Syrian regime, nor actively support it with weapons to be used on people who are simply seeking their freedom. Mr President, we can now find out whether these were merely words, or also translated into deeds.

 
  
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  Knut Fleckenstein, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, the presidential elections in Russia on 4 March will show whether the government in Moscow has learnt its lesson. They will make it clear whether the processes have been improved and whether we can hold out hope that there will be positive developments in this area.

However, the many demonstrations that have taken place since the beginning of December make me very hopeful. They are an indication that civil society is gaining strength and, therefore, for me they are also a sign of hope.

At the same time, the large-scale demonstration due to take place on Saturday also highlights the problem faced by the Russian opposition and the protest movement. The so-called systemic opposition parties, which are represented in the Duma, are to a large extent not regarded by the population as being a viable democratic alternative. The inclusion of the nationalists in the protest movement is, thank goodness, giving rise to heated debate. I believe that we need to show solidarity in particular with those who have joined the White Ring protest over recent days and weeks.

These citizens come from a wide range of different areas of society and are taking action to protect their civil rights, without having an ideological axe to grind and, most importantly, without any kind of self-interest. They do not want to form a government. Instead, they want the right to freely elect a government. This makes the movement even more convincing.

What Russia most urgently needs are state institutions and elected officials who have democratic legitimacy and the trust of their voters and who make a clear commitment to serving the interests of the voters and to combating corruption and other abuses of power. Therefore, we must give this movement our support now and make it increasingly clear in our discussions with our Russian partners that we are happy to cooperate with them, but that we also want to see joint progress being made towards more democracy.

Those of us who are members of the EU-Russia delegation will definitely be discussing this when we visit Moscow in eight weeks and it would be good if the Commission could play an active role in supporting the delegation.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, once again we find ourselves debating a Russia which is struggling on its way to build a genuine democracy. Every time the European Parliament discusses the situation in Russia, its counterparts in Moscow express their discontent about foreigners getting involved in their domestic home affairs. Instead of considering our constructive criticism, the Russian authorities point to other issues of a completely different nature.

We all know that the Duma elections were neither free nor fair. The situation with the presidential elections is one of déjà vu. An absence of free media and the behaviour of the central electoral committee is depriving the electorate of the possibility of making a genuine choice. The demonstrations by Russian citizens show that people want free and fair elections. We need to applaud their efforts and the maturity of civil society in Russia.

The attempts of Prime Minister Putin and his court to preserve power will provoke instability that will endanger our partnership for modernisation: investors will not be attracted to corruption and the idea of Russians packing their bags and fleeing the regime does not match our expectations either.

Legitimacy of presidential power is crucial for the development of Russia, including for its status in international affairs. There are big question marks over its place in the G8 and other international fora, especially in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The ALDE Group is glad to have the EEAS, at least, in place, to coordinate our European policies towards Russia. With one voice we can, of course, achieve more.

Europe needs a stable and reliable partner. However, the recent statements by Mr Lavrov on Iran, for example, are not at all encouraging for further cooperation in the security field. We therefore wish you bon courage, Madam Vice-President/High Representative. This Parliament is ready to cooperate with you.

 
  
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  Werner Schulz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, while we are currently experiencing Siberian cold weather, the political situation in Russia has been hotting up since the fraudulent Duma elections of December last year, which were manipulated.

The findings of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the election monitors from the Russian NGO Golos have shown that these elections were not free or fair. Since then Russian civil society, which we believed had sunk into apathy, has begun to take action. A growing protest movement has emerged, which is fuelled by self-respect. It is calling for an honest Russia that will no longer tolerate paternalistic rule. It is also demanding the annulment of the Duma elections, the removal from office of the head of the central electoral commission, new elections under the terms of the new election act promised by Mr Medvedev for 2013 and, most importantly, free, fair and correct presidential elections.

Perhaps what we are seeing in Russia is what we had hoped very much would emerge from the Arab Spring and which is now regarded with scepticism: a genuine democratic new beginning, the birth of a civil society. The poet Dmitrii Bykov described the situation very aptly during the big demonstration on 24 December when he said that life with all its dangers and risks is awaiting a newborn baby, but the baby has now been born and he cannot be pushed back into the womb.

Russia’s controlled democracy is escaping from state control. If, as some people say, it really were a sovereign democracy and not a stage-managed one, no one would need to be afraid of genuine elections, because the elected government would be able to rely on sovereign power.

Ms Oomen-Ruijten has said that Mr Putin wants economic competition, as he recently explained, because he has been forced to acknowledge that, without competition, the rule of law and the fight against corruption, it will not be possible to modernise Russian society and to develop a healthy SME sector. However, this also applies to the regeneration of society, which will not be able to make progress without political competition and debate and this has been gradually blocked since Mr Putin took power.

However, the crippling social contract which is based on the principle of ‘you let us live and we will let you govern’ has now been terminated. Civil society is taking back its political rights. After fighting for the right of freedom of assembly, next Saturday the protest movement will begin its struggle for the right to demonstrate. It will be 22 years since the memorable date of 4 February 1990, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow to call for the removal of the article in the constitution which enshrined the leading role of the communist party.

Today the demonstrations are against the Kremlin’s monopoly of power and in favour of the separation of powers. They are about the choice between Russia as an alternative power on the basis of its raw materials, together with Putin’s ‘power vertical’ involving the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), and a democratic, pluralist, knowledge, information and market society which has an open relationship with the EU. The question is whether given all our efforts to establish a relationship, our willingness to cooperate and our modernisation partnership, we will be able to bring about a real partnership based on values.

 
  
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  Paweł Robert Kowal, on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, we are giving thought, before the elections, to what to talk about in relation to Russia. Vladimir Putin knows that we like the word ‘corruption’, and he also knows that if there is to be a fight against corruption, it will be something new. We are behaving a little like children: we are looking around just trying to find instances of corruption, as if we were not paying attention to what has been going on in Russia recently or to the mistakes which, often in good faith, we ourselves have made. What were the two mistakes which we should remind ourselves of today? The first was the application of double standards. We have been using double standards in the belief that we will somehow calm the situation down. Today, these double standards can apply to energy, for example, because it is being said that Gazprom may be granted a partial exemption from the principles of the third energy package. By the way, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you, Baroness Ashton, if there is a chance that this will happen, and I wonder how you evaluate Gazprom’s proposals? They are very important. We should not, today, be sending a signal that we are willing to use double standards, because then the entire third energy package is pointless.

The second thing is the myth of stabilisation. Today, when there are young Russians on the streets, we know they will not gain power, but we have made a mistake in relation to many countries when we have talked about stabilisation for the sake of peace and quiet. Today we have to address ourselves to these groups, to young people, and therefore the signing of the agreement on local border traffic between the Kaliningrad oblast and Poland was a good move. It was a good move – leading the way to relaxation of the visa regime. Let us move in this direction, Baroness Ashton. Let us not forget these two lessons: let us never again employ double standards or the logic of stabilisation. We must concentrate on development, youth and the future. This will bring results both to Russia and to the Member States of the European Union. This is what I wish you today, Baroness Ashton.

 
  
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  Helmut Scholz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, discussions between the partners about what annoys them and about what changes would increase the common ground between them are an undoubted part of strategic partnerships. More than one area of this kind exists. Therefore, it is increasingly surprising that this House is content simply to give a mutual confirmation of its values.

The results of the poll in Russia yesterday should be making us think much more carefully about the situation. The poll showed that the Russian population wants a modern country with a stable economy which is more than just an exporter of raw materials. However, only 7% of the population believes that the EU is prepared to help with the necessary reconstruction. This figure has not only halved, but is also particularly low in areas which are in close contact with the EU. We should be discussing the related issues here, including democratic values, involvement in society, the prospects of the election and the emergence of a political and civil society in the Russian Federation, particularly against the background of the contradictory experiences of the Russian people during the Yeltsin era.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. - (SK) Mr President, after the December elections to the Russian State Duma, numerous protests were held in Moscow and other large cities in the country, drawing attention to suspicions that the election results were rigged. Representatives of opposition forces in particular have been demanding a recount of votes assigned to individual political parties, as they were convinced that the declared results of the elections do not genuinely reflect the will of the people.

The fact that the state bureaucracy is reviewing the discrepancies reported by the opposition, and that the state is respecting the protests of opposition forces shows that Russia is moving towards a better balance of political forces, and that the opposition today can reach far more people than in the past. Nobody who takes a realistic view of political relations in Russia expects that the stronger voice of the opposition puts at risk the success of Vladimir Putin in the March presidential elections. It is clear from the shift in voter preferences, however, that if Mr Putin wants to be a good president for all Russians, he will have to pay much more attention to the views of his constructive opponents.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, we should not necessarily overestimate the revolutionary mood in Russia. Unlike in the Arab States, the protesters are not students who have brought about a rapid radicalisation of the movements, but the Russian middle class. In addition, the protest movement does not have any well-known political leaders. Last but not least, the opposition is often not aimed directly at Putin, but at corrupt local authorities. If Putin does not make any more big mistakes, he will be re-elected as president, as surely as night follows day.

However, Russia obviously has a great deal of catching up to do when it comes to democracy and human rights. That is not surprising when you think of the major problems which Russia has to overcome as a result of its 70-year communist history. Nevertheless, we are seeing some progress and some compromises, for example in the legislation on political parties and the fight against corruption. The EU itself is not perfect. We also have democratic deficits. Freedom of speech is constantly being put at risk here. Pressure is being exerted on the media in the EU as well. Therefore, Brussels should not always take it upon itself to lecture others about democracy.

 
  
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  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, in giving consideration as to what policy we are actually pursuing towards Russia, I have reached the conclusion that it is a kind of mixture: a little naivety, a little illusion and a little hope. This concerns both the situation inside Russia and what we call democracy, and also Russia in its external relations and foreign policy, because of course Russia does have what are said to be democratic institutions, elections and a parliament, and there are political parties which do appear to compete with each other, but at the same time we must not forget the fact – and it is to be welcomed that we do talk about this fairly often in this Chamber – that Russia is still a country in which journalists disappear, in which unjust sentences are handed down, and in which political opponents are persecuted.

In its foreign policy Russia is also a country which on the one hand supports our actions – the work of NATO, the United States and the European Union in Afghanistan – but on the other hand is supporting Syria and is behaving on this matter in a scandalous manner, and is even working against what is being said by the Arab states. It remains, therefore, to ask where is that hope? There is hope now only in the Russian nation. In Poland, too, we once thought that change would never come, and yet we are today in a completely different place.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Mr President, Russia’s accession to the WTO, at the end of 18 years of negotiations, opens a new perspective on international trade relations. I think we must appreciate the Russian party’s willingness to amend almost 300 laws in order to comply with the international trade rules and to reduce custom duties in many industrial sectors.

The prospect of doubling the European Union-Russia trade in the next 5-10 years is, however, conditioned by the modernisation of the Russian economy and by the full assumption of a real democratic framework. The EU-Russia partnership is conditioned by compliance with democratic values and rules. Therefore, we are concerned with the fairness of presidential elections this year, in particular in the context of the protests that followed the parliamentary elections in December. The screening on Sunday of the opposition leader on the official TV channels, for the first time after so many years of censorship, is an encouraging sign that all candidates will have unrestricted access to mass media. However, this first broadcast also demonstrates the democratic deficit affecting Russian society. That is why the electoral process is not a guarantee for democracy, except to the extent to which the elections will not be flawed, including the electoral campaign stage.

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

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OTHMAR KARAS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE), Blue-card question.(DE) Mr President, I would like to congratulate you on your new role. We are proud of the fact that we once again have a strong president. I would like to ask Mr Cutaş whether he believes that Russia could compensate for the amount of oil which will no longer be available to us from Iran.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D), Blue-card answer. (RO) First of all, I would like to thank Mr Rübig for his question. Surely, the discussion is one that I think is asking for a much more complex answer, but in short, I do not think that my personal answer will compensate for this ... The answer to his question is ‘no’.

 
  
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  Edward McMillan-Scott (ALDE). - Mr President, as the High Representative will know, in English we have the expression ‘the elephant in the room’ to describe something which we know is there but we do not officially recognise. Well, the European Union has a ‘bear on the doorstep’ in the shape of Russia. My first point relates to what we say – I will come on to what we do in a minute.

What we say in our official statements in relation to Russia is very modest. I do not think it really reflects the attitudes of Russians. On my recent visits to Russia I found really very deep discontent with the decline in democracy in that very important country. There is corruption, and there is a clear failure of the democratic process. This so-called ‘managed democracy’ might be acceptable in Egypt, where my friend Ayman Nour has been prevented from standing as a candidate in the presidential elections, but it is wholly ridiculous that Grigory Yavlinsky has been banned from standing as a presidential candidate in Russia.

When it comes to what we do, apart from making clearer statements criticising the failure of democracy in Russia, I would pay tribute to the Commission and the EAS for increasing the budget for the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights by 34% in response to the Arab Spring, and I hope that we can focus quite a lot of that effort on Russia itself.

 
  
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  Marek Henryk Migalski (ECR).(PL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I would like to refer to what was said by Mr McMillan-Scott. Please note that all the political groups in Parliament can see the elephant equally well. Apart, perhaps, from two people, the representative of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left and Mr Mölzer of the non-attached Members, all serious political groups in this Parliament are saying the same thing. Baroness Ashton, the process to which you referred as a developing new social movement should be supported, because that is our duty. The problems of which you also spoke need to be resisted – the problems with registration of particular candidates and with the rights which are being violated. This is because, as the European Union and as Europeans or as citizens of the European Union’s Member States, we do not have the right to decide who Russians vote for, but on the other hand we do have a duty as Europeans to create conditions of party rivalry and political rivalry in Russia which ensure that everyone has an equal chance, and I am going to give you my sincere encouragement to do this.

 
  
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  Vladimír Remek (GUE/NGL). - (CS) Mr President, I cannot help thinking that our constant efforts to adopt more and more resolutions on the situation in Russia ahead of the elections have now become a kind of traditional rhetorical exercise. Nothing more and nothing less. Our relations will surely not be improved by this, but our mutual links will persist, particularly in the finance and energy sectors. Instead of making constant recommendations to Russia, we should think about how rapidly we ourselves manage to resolve the crisis-related, fundamental problems of the Union. We should also reflect on the fact that Russia is gradually changing. I have known it for decades, and not just from visits of a few hours and prepared meetings with selected partners. I know it well from the perspective of the people living in Russia. I have worked there. I know that it is very far from being a paradise on earth. The Russians themselves know this, but Rome was not built in a day.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (EFD). - Mr President, the BBC is currently broadcasting a series entitled ‘Putin, Russia and the West’. In the second programme, Tony Blair’s former aide Jonathan Powell recounts the famous ‘spy rock’ scandal story. The Kremlin had accused MI6 of funding Russian human rights groups and other NGOs and using a fake rock located in a Moscow square filled with electronic equipment to communicate with their secret agents. Mr Powell confirmed this story (whether it is true or not), and the BBC elevated it to the status of a scoop by issuing a press release.

The FSB reacted promptly, publicly accusing two leading NGOs – Memorial and Golos – of being subversive and extremist organisations funded by the West. Both organisations are now under systematic harassment by the authorities. Powell’s claim is either untrue or illegal under the Official Secrets Act. The BBC is guilty of gross journalistic irresponsibility, and this shows once again that Putin’s is a gangster regime.

 
  
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  Francisco José Millán Mon (PPE).(ES) Mr President, Russia is an important neighbour for the EU, for both geographical and historical reasons, and it is also a very significant economic and energy partner. Furthermore, it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Russia is one of the actors needed for efficient global governance capable of dealing with global problems, and we also need increased cooperation from Russia on issues such as the situation in Syria, which is on the brink of civil war, or the nuclear threat from Iran.

I believe, however, that the EU wants a relationship with Russia that goes beyond those global or regional interests. Russia is a European neighbour, and a member of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

I believe that we would like a relationship of real trust and friendship with Russia, based on shared values and principles. That is why we want a new association agreement and why we want for Russia what we also demand of ourselves: a pluralistic democratic regime that respects civil and political freedoms, and a rule of law in which corruption and arbitrariness are the exception.

However, the organisation of the legislative elections in December did nothing to strengthen that trust. The irregularities of the election process are well known, as are the serious accusations made.

I hope that the next presidential elections will not show the same shortcomings, and that Russia can finally start to move towards clear democratic progress and modernity, which is what its European partners wish for.

 
  
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  Boris Zala (S&D). - Mr President, Russia faces its most competitive elections in some time. Even if the winner can easily be predicted, the impact on Russian politics is unpredictable.

For the EU, the immediate challenge is to help ensure a fair and inclusive electoral process and to be prepared for a range of scenarios. But we should not lose sight of the big picture. Regardless of the outcome, Russia will be, politically, a different country from a year ago. Pressures for political and economic reforms will only grow. Russia’s internal evolution will have major implications for our bilateral relations in terms of political dialogue, trade, visa policy, human rights and possibly also the broader security environment in Europe.

There is a strategic opportunity for a new and more effective EU policy towards Russia, but we need to readjust our policy in a flexible and timely manner. I am hopeful that Baroness Ashton and her team, besides preparing for the presidential elections, also have their eye on this bigger picture.

 
  
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  Alf Svensson (PPE).(SV) Mr President, I would like to express my admiration for Baroness Ashton’s patience and her balanced and intelligent response. Earlier this evening we talked about Iran and the nuclear threat posed by this country. It goes without saying that Russia could play a very different role to the one it is currently playing with regard to Iran – right now and in the future.

The same applies with regard to Syria. It is unreasonable for Russia to be allowed to act in an underhand way, as it is doing where Syria is concerned. The Russian foreign minister recently said the following: ‘The Russian policy is not about asking someone to step down. Regime change is not our profession.’ He also said: ‘We said that the decision should be made by the Syrians, by the Syrians themselves.’ He is, of course, very well aware that 5 000 Syrians have been killed and many thousands more have been displaced or treated in an inhumane and abhorrent way.

It goes without saying that we should talk about how corrupt – at least to a certain extent – the Duma elections were. We should have high expectations ahead of the presidential elections, of course, but it is without doubt deplorable that one of the countries of the Security Council should have a right of veto and then be able to behave the way Russia is doing in terms of its foreign policy.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). - (SK) Mr President, most of us perhaps can remember the Cold War and the collapse of the bipolar world. I myself come from a country that was for many long years under the influence of the Soviet Union – the predecessor of the Russian Federation. It would be very wrong to say today that nothing has happened in the Russian Federation in terms of political reforms. The Russian Federation today is different from the country we knew in previous times. It would also be wrong, however, for us to say that the reforms to date are sufficient and that we have no interest in monitoring further developments and the further progress of political reforms in Russia.

We should think very carefully, however, and modify the tone that we adopt in such a discussion. Baroness Ashton mentioned that we had a major debate on the Russian Federation in the European Parliament's part-session in mid-December. Less than two months have passed and we are again discussing the Russian Federation in the European Parliament's plenary. Imagine how often the situation in the EU is debated in the Russian Duma, and how often there is criticism in the Russian Duma of the corruption in EU Member States. We issue calls every other month for the Russian Federation to combat corruption. Where there are proven cases, let them be handled under the applicable regulations and laws which exist in the Russian Federation.

I also feel, however, that if we want to be critics, then our criticism should be objective, and if our criticism is objective, then we should also criticise corruption in our own Member States. If we criticise the fact that in Russia the opposition has no room to move, let us take a look at Romania. Does the opposition in Romania have room to move? This is a Member State of the EU. If we are talking about the dominance of a single large party, let us take a look at Hungary. Hungary is also dominated by a single large party, and we have also criticised here many times what is happening in this Member State of the EU. I would like to ask, ladies and gentlemen, only that our debate remains objective and constructive also in the case of the Russian Federation.

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

 
  
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  Marek Henryk Migalski (ECR), Blue-card question.(PL) Mr President, I have great esteem for my fellow Member. I listened to her in the original language, but I cannot believe – perhaps I did not understand the Slovak – that Ms Flašíková Beňová is really comparing the situation in Russia with that in Hungary. In Russia, people are killed, candidates for presidential elections are not allowed to register, and political parties are not allowed to register. Ms Flašíková Beňová, did you really want to compare the one with the other?

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D), Blue-card answer. – (SK) I very much appreciate the fact that you listened to my speech in Slovak, but perhaps – given the sensitivity of the topic – it would be better next time in Polish. I was talking about the fact that if we criticise the situation in the Russian Federation and if some of our observations are justified, we should also criticise what is happening in Member States of the EU. I was not directly comparing any EU Member State with what is happening in the Russian Federation. I was just calling for a measure of objectivity and comparing criticism of the Russian Federation with what is happening here in the Member States of the EU.

 
  
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  Inese Vaidere (PPE).(LV) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, there is no point in repeating the fact that Russia is an important economic and political player and a significant partner, since this has already been said several times. The human rights situation in Russia is very alarming. The Duma elections were a cynical example of how indifferent Russia’s authorities are to international standards. These standards were infringed more than in the past, but the protests in which tens of thousands of Russians participated did not evoke a response. We must confirm that we can hear the cries of the Russian people just as we heard the ‘Arab Spring’. Words alone will not help Russia to become democratic, if its authorities have no desire at all for this to happen. We must be done with double standards and stop turning a blind eye merely because Russia is a country that is large and rich in raw materials.

Russia’s increased interference in the internal politics of European Union states is alarming, and confirms that imperial ideas still hold sway. In October last year Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated a new strategy to increase its influence in European Union Member States, firstly by attaining official-language status for Russian in the European Union. Back in November, the National Bolsheviks began collecting signatures in Latvia for a referendum on Russian as the country’s second official language, and this year the absurd project began for collecting signatures within the framework of a citizens’ initiative to achieve recognition of Russian as an official language in the European Union. For Latvia, where during the occupation the number of so-called russophones increased from 8% before the occupation to approximately 44% following it, the introduction of a second official language would mean the destruction of the Latvian language and consequently of the Latvian State. Russia’s wish to influence European Union policy is much more profound than we often believe it to be, and for that reason, Baroness Ashton, I call upon you too to turn your attention to it, since its consequences are likely to be extremely significant.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE). - Mr President, Russia is still unfortunately declining to join the UN resolution about Syria and in fact is continuing to deliver arms to the Syrian regime.

As for the elections on 4 March, in the eyes of the governing elite the result has obviously been decided, in so far as Mr Medvedev’s interlude will soon be over. In the view of foreign observers there is no real chance for credible decision-making, because the December elections were assessed as neither fair nor free. The convergence of the state and the governing elite has resulted in massive rigging and manipulations. Sergei Kolesnikov, Putin’s former ally, told us in December that Putin will stop at nothing to retain power.

There remains the question of the behaviour of the Russian voters. Here a real change has been taking place since December: a change of attitudes, mentality and hopes. Anna Politkovskaya’s warning more than six years ago of limitless political apathy among Russian voters has finally been heeded, and the result has been massive interest in monitoring and participation.

The EU now has a unique chance to influence the situation in a positive way, and I think the best way to do this is to follow the suggestions in Sir Graham Watson’s report, to be adopted tomorrow, about consistency towards authoritarian regimes.

 
  
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  Paweł Zalewski (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I wonder what must happen in our relations with Russia for the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – besides such general statements about support for values, democracy and democrats in Russia and saying how important Russia is for the world and the European Union – to present a thorough analysis of our relations and a proposal for a future solution to the many problems. After all, it can be clearly seen that the policy which has been pursued for many years – a policy of engagement of the European Union in relations with Russia, which was to lead to the modernisation and democratisation of Russia – has simply failed. The recent parliamentary elections were falsified, and in the forthcoming presidential elections the same candidate is going to stand for a third time – something which is unthinkable in Europe, although it is in accordance with the Russian Constitution. There is absolutely no cooperation, and, quite the contrary, there is support for regimes such as those in Syria and Belarus, there is corruption, and there is absolutely no competitiveness in the Russian economy, in which large state concerns dominate small and medium-sized enterprises. What more is needed for us to conclude that we need to draw up a new, more realistic policy on Russia?

There is one hope, and it is with this that I should like to close my speech. There is hope to be found in the Russian democrats who have stirred themselves, there is hope in the emerging middle class, there is hope in these people, and we should not be looking to our policy today for some kind of positive solution in Russia. Unfortunately, Baroness Ashton, EU policy towards Russia is bankrupt.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Graham Watson (ALDE). - Mr President, I hope that if the Vice-President/High Representative is extending sanctions against individuals in the Russian regime she will include Mr N.E. Konkin, who is the secretary of the Central Electoral Commission. This is the commission which has rejected the approach by Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko to be a candidate for the presidency. His supporters collected over 2.5 million signatures in 71 regions of the Russian Federation between 24 December and 10 January, the only time really open to them – including getting notaries to check them – and the Electoral Commission has declared 20% of them invalid. The party is now being investigated by the public prosecutor of Moscow who is asking where the server of its website is located.

It seems to me that this is a politically-motivated move and a blatant disregard of democratic principles and international standards which will deny the Russian people the choice of an open, democratic, modern European perspective. I hope, Vice-President/High Representative, that you will be able to intervene to make sure that Mr Yavlinsky is allow to stand in the election on 4 March.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). - Mr President, my affection for Russia – as opposed to its leaders – comes from the many hours I have spent reading some of its and the world’s greatest writers. I think it is for that reason I take a special interest in Russia.

It is only right and proper that we should engage with Russia even if, as Baroness Ashton put it in her most diplomatic language, to do so is not without difficulty. But I think we have a duty to highlight issues such as the lack of fundamental rights, the non-free elections and, of course, corruption. I think we all accept that change will have to come from Russia itself. Perhaps the day of the Russian version of the Arab Spring may be closer than Mr Putin would wish.

Lastly, we should also look at the question of energy supply to Europe. We are far too dependent on Russian energy sources – and that needs to change.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, I would like to thank all honourable Members who have spoken in what again has been a very important debate.

A number of Members talked about a moment of hope for change. We have seen that the Russian leadership, at least in theory, has acknowledged the need for change. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, we know it is the least risky option, if I can put it like that.

There is a lot of work and many reforms ahead. The different concerns that have been expressed in the House are enormously significant. We share that concern and indeed raise it with Russia. We want to work with Russia as partners on many of the issues that have been raised, including, by the way, in the context of our new agreement, which a number of colleagues mentioned.

I want to comment on some of the specific issues that have been raised. I will refer to particular points made by individual Members, but that is not to fail to reflect the broader consensus. Mr Fleckenstein talked about the need to see that voters are given unrestricted choice. That is why registration is such an important issue. As you said in your contribution, Sir Graham, the registration rules are disproportionate. We understand that the President of the Central Election Committee is going to have to explain himself in the Duma, and there are questions there which we need to come back to and which we will continue to raise with Russia. We are following matters and talking with the demonstrators and with the opposition via our delegation. Helga Schmidt, whom I mentioned earlier, was in Moscow until today, and has been meeting with them on my behalf over the last couple of days.

A number of colleagues also raised the issue of the third energy package. Mr Kowal, I would say that it shows how important our market is that Russia spends so much time lobbying on this. It depends greatly on the EU market, and that is extremely important in our relationship with Russia. I agree that opinion is shifting and that the new President will need to think about how he governs differently. That is a significant part of many of the contributions that have been made concerning where Russia is going, the demands that people have for change and, in a sense, the atmosphere. A number of you described your visits to Russia and talks with individuals about how things are beginning to change. The policy that we are trying to develop is a good one, but it requires us to look at Russia from a bilateral set of relationships, as international partners on many things, and at the responsibilities that we have together in the international community.

Russian civil society is very important, but I would say to those who have raised this issue that the relationship between this Parliament and civil society is also extremely valuable. Many times in the course of our deliberations about what has happened in North Africa, in what is now called the Arab Spring or the Arab uprising, I have raised the fact that Members of Parliament are critically important in explaining and discussing with people the value and importance of democracy, what it can bring and how to engage with it. I do hope that will continue. Mr Batten, the important point you make for me is that Golos and Memorial should be allowed to work freely and I agree with you on that.

I agree too on the importance of the bigger picture, and also of the smaller details, and that we need to have the tough discussions with Russia that Mr Svensson talked about. We also know that there is a great deal of interest in the European Union. I accept that maybe the Duma does not discuss us, Ms Flašíková, but we do know that there is a lot of interest in the EU from the Russian people and from Ministers and officials. The Eurasian Union, which is much talked about now and which I discussed with Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov when I was there in November, is in a sense inspired by the way that the European Union works.

Ms Vaidere, I know very well the concerns in Latvia about the language issue and I know that it is very sensitive, but I am quite sure that the Latvian authorities will handle this well.

In conclusion, this has been an important debate as we continue to try to develop the relationship with Russia. On the one hand, we see the advantages now within the World Trade Organization and the capacity we have to develop those trade relationships; we see a more active civil society with which we can engage – we can use the tools that we have to try to engage further; we see the need to continue to press on some of the basic issues that have been quite rightly raised here about the way that the internal situation in Russia is developing. Then there is Russia as an international player with whom we work on issues such as Iran. We are increasingly trying to work with it on Syria and on other areas where working together in the Security Council and the importance of collaboration really come to the fore.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place during the next sitting in Strasbourg in February.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D), in writing.(RO The future relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation depend, more than ever, on the state of Russian democracy. Parliamentary elections in December resulted in unprecedented protests in Moscow and other important cities. We do not know exactly whether any fraud was involved. However, it is clear that Prime Minister Putin’s party was favoured, and the opposition greatly disadvantaged. There was a disproportion of means, of access to media, and of treatment on the part of state institutions. Presidential elections will follow. It is legitimate to make sure, through means that are also recognised by the Russian Federation, that they will be run correctly and all candidates will be treated equally. Guided democracy, which is in force in Russia, is a concept that is incompatible with the European Union’s founding values. I believe that it is in the interest of the Russian Federation to conduct the future elections fairly. This is the best way of increasing mutual trust.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI), in writing. – (DE) Democracy in Russia is undoubtedly still in its infancy and this was made clear once again during the last elections. It also goes without saying that 70 years of Soviet rule have left their mark. Russia is constantly being reprimanded by the EU, without the EU itself setting a good example. The malicious campaign launched by those on the left against the Hungarian Government is just one instance of how ‘seriously’ people in Europe really take democracy and freedom of speech. Patriotic movements which try to go against the Brussels mainstream regularly become victims of hate campaigns in the political arena and the media. We should not therefore be pointing the finger at others. Because of our mutual interests in the field of energy, the EU should ensure that large companies like Gazprom comply with the competition rules on the energy market. On the other hand, we should not be disregarding Moscow’s interests in the post-Soviet market.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D), in writing.(HU) In the past few decades, Russia failed to implement the socio-political and economic reforms essential for modernisation. In respect of economic reform even China managed to overtake Russia, which is reflected in the 10-year difference between the two countries’ joining the WTO.

The Russian leadership must urgently initiate comprehensive economic and political reforms. It must restore the freedom of the political institutional system and the press. In order to stimulate growth it must launch comprehensive economic reforms. It must reinforce the rule of law and curb corruption.

Russia’s example, too, demonstrates how detrimental it can be if a single political force obtains excessive power and a constitutional majority, and eliminates the checks and balances of power. The European Union should step up against such practices both outside and within its borders. The protests that followed the Russian elections and have been ongoing for two months now have revealed the crisis of the Russian political system, which manifests itself on multiple levels.

The political capital of the Putin-Medvedev tandem heading the country has run out and the support of these two politicians has significantly diminished. Their peculiar controlled democracy, which made the operation of parties conditional on support from the executive power in order to ensure political stability, has also come to a dead end. This system aligned the electoral law to the expectations of the persons leading the country, and restricted the freedom of the press, as well as the free exercise of the right of assembly and the right of association. This could also serve as a warning to the authoritarian politics emerging in the EU.

 
  
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  Nuno Teixeira (PPE), in writing. (PT) The Russian presidential elections on 4 March of this year are raising questions among the international community, in particular with regard to whether the elections will be completely free and fair. These concerns are due to the last elections to the Duma, which saw an enormous number of violations of the rule of law and the process of free elections. The demonstrations that have been taking place show that Russian society wants change and reform, and that the deprivation of certain liberties will no longer be accepted as it was in the past. Moreover, there is the fear that this will merely consist of swapping posts and not of true democratic elections, based on a real choice. At the same time, Russia should meet its responsibilities in the international arena, in particular in the UN Security Council, in order to avoid a lack of response from multilateral institutions to situations like the human rights violations in Syria. I await the Russian presidential elections with interest, in the hope that the democratic process will genuinely be consolidated, as this country is a strategic partner and neighbour of the EU.

 

16. EU foreign policy towards the BRICS and other emerging powers (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the report (A7/0010(2012) by Mr Saryusz-Wolski, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the EU foreign policy towards the BRICS and other emerging powers [2011-2111(INI)].

 
  
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  Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, rapporteur. Mr President, I am glad that Lady Ashton decided to participate in this debate. It is an honour for us and especially important because the EEAS has now been in action for a year and the time has come for the first reviews and summaries of the Service’s existence.

The report was adopted in the Committee on Foreign Affairs in December last year by an overwhelming majority. By allocating such an important topic to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the European Parliament wanted to emphasise that in foreign policy terms BRICS is no longer just a catch phrase coined around trade and growth-related indicators, but that these countries have come of age and started a certain form of foreign policy making. The report goes beyond the individual country-by-country approach when thinking about Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and tries to see in what senses their common points of interest have brought them together.

One such common item is the feeling of marginalisation on the global level, especially when it comes to BRICS participation in the key institutions of global economic and financial governance. That is why the BRICS countries have decided to strengthen their cooperation on political and foreign policy issues. It could be called a mutual support network, but one that can be a convenient fall-back option when the situation requires concerted action.

The report indicates several areas, in particular the number of votes held in the UN Security Council, on Libya, on Syria, on the status of the EU in the UN General Assembly and others, like recently in Durban on climate change, which show that when the foreign policy objectives of the BRICS converge they are ready to concert efforts and act jointly. In most cases the BRICS take positions opposed to those of the European Union and they contest our positions and policy.

Are we ready to react and to act? Those countries enjoy – some of them to a special degree, especially democracies like India and Brazil – a privileged relationship with us. At the same time, they will not give the Union the right to speak in the United Nations.

Baroness Ashton, in your report you praise the geographical desk structure of the EEAS as the leading source of advice and briefing on respective countries. The report which I submitted encourages a coordination mechanism within the EEAS which would allow geographical desk officers responsible for particular BRICS countries to exchange and coordinate information and positions in cases where concerted action on our side can be expected. Such cooperation would have added value for you and your officials in devising future strategies. The mechanism I suggest does not require a modification of the current EEAS structure and can be of a purely functional nature. I was told that the first time such coordination took place was in preparation for attending the Foreign Affairs Committee meeting to discuss my report. I am glad to hear that, as it is the best proof that the report has already brought some results. Now, it will be of the utmost importance that this coordination is maintained and developed further and does not become a one-time event in the history of your Service.

The BRICS as a cross-continental foreign policy actor does exist and the ostrich policy of hiding one’s head in the sand, believing that the BRICS will stop existing, will not serve the EU well.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, may I first of all warmly welcome the report and thank Mr Saryusz-Wolski for the work he has done to bring this report to life, as well as all those who have commented on it, amended it or participated in the discussions about it.

It is really important because the growing role of emerging powers – and we focus in this debate on what we call the BRICS countries – is really important. When we consider the relationships that India, Brazil and South Africa have developed in their coordination through the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA) and the relationships between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in what we now call the BRICS, it is important that we think about them in that way.

We know the economic statistics behind the phenomenal rise of the emerging powers, but for me the essence of this is about the politics. What matters is that economic clout is translated into political clout – into self-confidence and ambition for the role that can be played. We know that the five members of the BRICS are, of course, five strategic partners of the European Union, and individually they are – as Mr Saryusz-Wolski has said and the report acknowledges – very different in many ways. Each of them has a strong and deep relationship with the European Union.

It is incredibly important that we invest in our relationship with these countries and be active and creative in our engagement with them. We have a lot in common, and potentially there is a lot we can do together. This is precisely what I have been doing, what colleagues in the Commission and in the Council have been doing, and it is why – as honourable Members will remember – when I took on this role I said that I had three priorities: to get the service running; our neighbourhood, long before the events of the Arab Spring; and, thirdly, our strategic partners.

I would just mention that there are other emerging powers – countries like Mexico; countries with which we work closely, like South Korea; and of course Indonesia and others – but I want to concentrate for the purposes of this debate on the five that we call the BRICS.

With each of them, as I have said, we need to develop a strong relationship. In China I not only met with my interlocutor, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, with whom I had long debates and discussions, but I also met Defence Minister Liang to talk about how we could work together on tackling problems that we face together – on piracy, on counter-terrorism and so on. One of the advantages, if you like, of the many hats I wear in this post is that I can move between the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry in many countries and can express the views of the European Union with both.

We have also been talking, of course, in India in the last two weeks: again, trying to break new ground in developing the strength of our relationship – particularly on some of the security issues that are so important and on joint work to develop the capacity to deliver on the World Food Programme, as well as tackling some of the global issues that we and they face – and recognising the significance of India in the region.

This weekend I travel to Brazil and then on to Mexico, our ambition, here again, being to strengthen the relationship we have and to talk about issues of importance between us. In Brazil I will focus in part on Iran as well as our work with Brazil on development and our work together in the UN Human Rights Council; and in Mexico, where they have played such an important role in recent days, on climate change and on some of the challenges that they face in their part of the region.

I should mention, too, South Africa. I met the South African Foreign Minister in November, again to discuss some of the issues that are extremely important – and South Africa’s work with the EU in Durban on the climate change discussions has been of enormous importance.

We have just discussed our relationship with Russia. It is a very important bilateral relationship; Russia is a significant partner in foreign policy; and of course there is also our concern about the internal situation.

In each of these countries we are trying to invest in developing a strong bilateral relationship. Each of them is different; each has a different history and different relationships, traditionally, not only with the European Union, but also with the EU Member States. I agree that we need a more creative and joined-up approach as we look not only at how to deal with those bilateral relationships, but also at how to work with that group of countries in regional and global forums.

This brings me to a thread running through your report which I think is really important: namely, the extent to which they form a homogenous block or not. I know you have been very clear in the report, Mr Saryusz-Wolski, about not exaggerating what that means. As you stressed, there are major differences economically, politically and socially – and anyone looking at those countries would see how significantly different they are – but whether they manage to coordinate their position depends on where their interests coincide. There are issues on which coordination is relatively straightforward, others where it is more difficult, and many where they would perhaps want to develop that coordination further.

So my proposal is that we need to invest in these countries as strategic partners in a very strong and dynamic bilateral relationship, finding the themes and issues on which we can work closely: economically and politically, bilaterally and internationally. We need to do that because it is in our interest to do it, but I also believe it is in our interest to avoid a mindset of ‘the West versus the rest’ – something I discussed with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton at the summit in the USA in December.

It is important that we recognise the significance of our relationships with each of these countries and find the common ground, where they should be with us and we should be with them, on many of the issues we face. It is important that we deal with them as individual, strong strategic partners, but what Mr Saryusz-Wolski has just said about coordination is completely right. I welcome the fact that the Committee on Foreign Affairs has highlighted coordination within the European External Action Service. May I instantly take up your proposal and say that I will – as a direct result of your report and your comments – make sure that we find ways to implement such coordination in the future.

That brings me to my last remark. Individual countries – yes. Individual relationships – absolutely critical. However, as these countries start to come together, it is really important to consider what it is that brings them together to form a common position, be it because we are in a different place, or because they feel they want to gather together as emerging powers, rather than – from their perspective – powers in a different part of the world. We need to find ways of creating a different dynamic and making common calls with some or all of them when that works.

Mr Saryusz-Wolski, may I again thank you for the report. As I said, you have already achieved at least one thing in creating new coordination within the EEAS.

 
  
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  Birgit Schnieber-Jastram, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Development. – (DE) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, close cooperation between the European Union and the BRICS countries is absolutely essential in the light of the global challenges facing us, such as development policy in Africa. You have just made this very clear, Baroness Ashton. I would like to add that we need to move quickly, because the West will not be able to overcome these challenges on its own.

We must honestly ask ourselves the question of where our focus should lie in future: on spreading European values or on cooperating with China, for example. Because one thing is clear, which is that some of the BRICS countries prefer to take the route of gradual convergence rather than adopting binding, harmonised standards and rules. If we want to extend our cooperation, as a countermove we must take a more cautious approach to the issue of values. If we want to spread our values, then we must expect to encounter problems in our cooperation.

I am firmly convinced that the middle way is the best. Europe should not be preaching or behaving as it if it knows it all. We only need to look back at our history to realise that we have no grounds for doing this. We must be an attractive role model. It is clear that, in the light of the global challenges, we have no choice but to cooperate more closely. To sum up, the rise of the BRICS nations and the change in the world order are a major challenge, but also a major opportunity which we must make the most of. This report is a small step in the right direction and I would like to thank Mr Saryusz-Wolski for his hard work.

 
  
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  Ioannis Kasoulides, on behalf of the PPE Group. Mr President, my congratulations to Mr Saryusz-Wolski. In today’s interdependent world, global problems need global solutions. Global solutions are necessary for international security, political, economic, monetary and ecological stability, as well as for access to raw materials and rare earths.

The financial crisis in Europe had its origins outside the Union, but to put our house in order and avoid negative externalities, the cooperation of the rest of the world is necessary. It is for this reason that coordination between the EU and the United States, and their diplomatic understanding and cooperation with the BRICS, becomes very important.

We need to correct East-West monetary imbalances – the deficit in the West and the surplus and trillions of reserves in the East – by deciding on upper limits of deficit and surplus and by fighting protectionism. The cake is common worldwide. The West is the market of the East, while stability and prosperity in the East are necessary for the security and healthy economy of the West. In this framework, the contribution of the BRICS, and particularly of China, in a specific IMF special-purpose vehicle, would significantly increase IMF firepower and robustness in dealing with the sovereign debt crisis of the EU and tomorrow – who knows – of the United States. In parallel, Beijing’s request for a further upgraded institutional role in the IMF and free market status in the WTO, which will anyhow be attained by 2016, could be accommodated.

 
  
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  Boris Zala, on behalf of the S&D Group. - (SK) Mr President, there has been a very lively debate on the BRICS countries. It shows that this is a challenge for us – not just for Parliament, but also for the European Commission and our foreign service. Our lively debate was firstly on the issue of whether the BRICS is a real economic or political-economic grouping, or just our abbreviation for a collection of countries with very strong and dynamically developing economies. The debate on this was very lively.

I personally believe that the BRICS is not an integrated grouping, and that we should not approach it as a single political unit – even though it is true that the BRICS can produce an ad hoc unified viewpoint, for example in the United Nations. However, we should not overestimate this aspect. We must put far greater emphasis on the creation of bilateral partnerships – strategic partnerships - between the EU and the individual countries which we abbreviate into the BRICS, because these countries really are historically very different from each other. They are totally different countries, not just historically, but also in a practical geopolitical sense, and in their economic development.

Ultimately, however, we reached a compromise in this lively debate, agreeing that we must keep an eye on the BRICS so we do not lose sight of it as a partner, and that the EU must also develop strategic partnerships with large economic and political or geopolitical units such as Brazil, India and China, and so on. In my opinion, we ultimately came to a decent compromise – over the need to develop both instruments. This is proof of the fact that none of us had our heads in the sand in the end, and if we did then we have pulled them all out.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (FI) Mr President, first of all my congratulations go to my colleague, Mr Saryusz-Wolski. He has at least made some progress and got things moving in the European External Action Service, as Baroness Ashton said, and that is a lot.

The BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – do not form a solid bloc on the international stage, but cooperation between them has an effect on international negotiations, agendas and final conclusions, for example at G20 summits. In the United Nations and Security Council, perhaps they have a more specialised role to play.

The BRICS countries are thus able very often to influence the agenda and priorities at negotiations, and this has sometimes weakened the EU’s position and our capacity for driving forward our own objectives. It is therefore vitally important that the EU can now develop strategic partnership programmes, and it is good that Baroness Ashton is visiting Brazil and other countries next week. It is a matter of urgency to develop these relations, and we will be doing absolutely the right thing if we view these countries as distinct, and act in accordance with each one’s history and current situation. They do not form a bloc, although they sometimes act together. The EU should also promptly create partnerships with these countries, and we need to think about priorities very carefully.

 
  
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  Franziska Keller, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Mr President, coming back to development policies, we need to acknowledge that the BRICS countries are also new and increasingly important players in development policy. In fact, we should welcome this. We should try to include them in our international agreements on principles of development – including, for example, aid effectiveness principles – without using their inclusion as an excuse for watering down our own commitments.

We need to foster south-south cooperation because experience from, for example, Brazil on how to fight poverty has been very useful: the poverty reduction programmes that have been implemented in Brazil have been a great success, and now they are being implemented in other countries as well. Such proven best practices will be very important and they represent an important step for developing countries and societies.

Another crucial recommendation in the Committee on Development opinion is to push forward the reform of global financial and economic governance institutions – notably the Bretton Woods institutions – with the aim of ensuring broad representation of all member countries while reflecting changes in their economic weight. Can you tell us, Baroness Ashton, what steps the Commission and the EEAS intend to take in that regard?

We must also not forget that a large proportion of the world’s poorest people still live in the BRICS countries and therefore we cannot treat those countries as high-income countries. The EU-India free trade agreement, for instance, will have massive implications for India’s small farmers, fishermen, fisherwomen and other poor people. It is not right to look only at a country’s overall GDP because that is not a true reflection of the reality. We need to find new ways of dealing with emerging countries. Helping the poorest in these countries will continue to be necessary and important.

The Committee on Development also asked the Commission to define specific areas of cooperation with the BRICS countries in the field of development policy, for instance cooperation in the health sector, including access to basic healthcare services and infrastructure, the fight against AIDS and other matters. Maybe you could also give your view on that, Baroness Ashton, and tell us what steps you will be taking.

I will conclude with a word about our own position. Too often we have heard that what we are doing in developing countries may not be the greatest thing – but if we did not do it, China would come along and do it even worse. So I hope we will never hear that excuse again.

 
  
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  Valdemar Tomaševski, on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Mr President, the growing political and economic relevance of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa means that a coherent and efficient EU policy has to be developed for these countries. This should not be determined by our fears or apprehensions about the emergence of new powers, but should be based on cooperation and the building of mutual trust. Relations with the BRICS should be based on real partnership, but – and this is important – it should also be based on common values. The Union must duly take into account the new weight, in political and economic terms, of the emerging powers, to maintain its own international position. For these reasons, several priorities identified in the Saryusz-Wolski report need to be given emphasis and support.

The concept of bilateral strategic partnerships with each of the countries concerned will strengthen the Union’s position. Support should be given to the renewed partnership with Brazil on the basis of the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement, which will be the most important association agreement ever signed by the EU. Brazil may also serve as an excellent example to us of building self-sufficiency in energy, due to its support for the production of biofuels. We should also highlight the role of the strategic partnership with Russia, which will foster the maintenance of peace and security in Europe.

Finally, I would like to express the hope that the Union will properly appreciate the importance of China as a future major economic power and will become a leader in contacts with China, with the aim of achieving economic recovery in our continent.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos, on behalf of the EFD Group.(EL) Mr President, this evening is an evening of congratulations. My congratulations to you on your election, my congratulations to the rapporteur on his excellent report and my expressions of satisfaction with her position to Baroness Ashton. I am sure that the BRIC countries are a driving force for global economic growth. The European Union must take serious account of the new specific gravity at political and economic level which the BRIC countries are acquiring, by making use of the political authority which they are developing. I also agree with the rapporteur that a differentiated approach is needed to each country. Their economies are structured differently and their experience from the global recession also differs. However, we should not forget that, the recent impressive economic growth recorded by most of these countries notwithstanding, they still have the highest concentration of poverty in the world. In addition, even though they account for 42% of the population of the planet, they only produce 17.4% of global GDP. Comparisons currently come out in favour of the European Union. The question is: what will happen tomorrow?

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz, (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Mr Saryusz-Wolski, I would like to compliment you, Mr Saryusz-Wolski, on the European Parliament report you have drafted on relations between the EU and the BRICS. The report does indeed make a very good job of capturing the essence of the times in which we live. The world around us is changing dynamically, and one of the signs of these changes is the rapid development, and in particular the economic development, of countries which not long ago were only considered to be what we call developing countries. The result of this rapid development is, naturally, a growth in political relevance. Today they are no longer just economic powers, but increasingly important political actors, and, as Mr Saryusz-Wolski has observed in his report, the Union needs to develop a coherent strategy governing our relations with them.

I do agree, however, with those voices which have emphasised the fact that there are differences between these countries. These differences are clearly visible when we look, for example, at the details of their internal politics, and particularly at the way they approach civil liberties and human rights. These are values which for us as Europeans and as European politicians are important – not just economic cooperation, but concern for values which are dear to us and promotion of these values in relations with countries whose importance in the world is growing all the time. I agree with the conclusions and proposals contained in the report which say that we should develop a common strategy to govern relations with the BRICS in cooperation with our partners who share the same system of values, such as the United States.

Finally, I would definitely like to add my voice to the proposals which say that the European Parliament should have greater influence on formulating policy and on shared strategies, and should participate in summits between the European Union and its strategic partners, including those countries which today we call the BRICS.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes (S&D).(PT) Mr President, I would like to congratulate my colleague, Mr Saryusz-Wolski, on his work and on incorporating the suggestions made by me and my group.

The emergence of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) provides new opportunities for the European Union, but also major challenges in achieving its aim of contributing to a global order based on the rule of law, on universal human rights and on sustainable development, in order to achieve peace and security for all.

By investing in connections with the BRICS in the various forums, including the G7, G8 and G20, the European Union may find valuable allies in piecing together the global financial regulation and economic governance that humanity so needs, as the current crisis has shown with its destructive impact across the world.

However, this assumes that the EU is able to develop special partnerships, with different geometry for each of the BRICS, taking into account their history, the characteristics of their civilisations and their alliances, but also their lack of cohesion and clear differences. Sometimes the BRICS may take a foreign policy line that jars with that of the EU, as happened in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last year, in the vote on UNSC Resolution 1973 on Libya; there, however, a Member State also dissented, unfortunately.

In such situations, it is up to the EU to use all its ingenuity and diplomatic tools to make each of the BRICS see that it is also in its interests to contribute towards strengthening a coherent international order which both shows and receives respect. It is clear that, if the EU engages in the reform and enlargement of the UNSC, which it has not yet done, it will be better able to be heard among the BRICS that are candidates for permanent membership, namely Brazil, India and South Africa, without losing anything from Russia and China, which prefer the status quo, although they do not have the courage to admit it. It falls to the EU to be able to show each of the BRICS that the more important they become internationally, the greater the responsibilities required of them in defending universal principles and values, and in a global order that ensures peace and justice for all.

Moreover, it is clear that there is an extraordinary potential in the BRICS whose societies are now genuine democracies and which have deep-rooted connections with European culture – such as Brazil, which shares its history, language, culture and many of the quirks of its people with Portugal, my country – for developing partnerships and cooperation in all areas, from trade to applied scientific development, industry, environmental and climate protection, renewable energy, combating poverty and promoting democracy.

It was no accident that, whilst in Cuba recently, President Rousseff recited the chorus of a Portuguese anti-fascist song: ‘O povo é quem mais ordena’, meaning ‘it is the people who command’.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OLDŘICH VLASÁK
Vice-President

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE). - Mr President, later today we will be discussing the own-initiative report of Sir Graham Watson on consistent policy towards regimes against which the EU applies restrictive measures.

I appreciate the growing economic importance of BRICS countries. However, the EU policy towards them must take into account the principles that have been outlined in Sir Graham’s report. European values must always take precedence over economic interests. The common values referred to in Mr Saryusz-Wolski’s report are still in formation in these countries. The EU and the EEAS should make sure that constructive partnership with BRICS and other emerging powers brings about the spill-over of democracy, human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and gender equality.

The future role of BRICS in the international arena should not be underestimated. If we cannot engage them positively, they might become extremely difficult competitors for the EU in economic terms while disregarding human values.

 
  
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  Paulo Rangel (PPE).(PT) Mr President, I shall begin by congratulating the rapporteur, my colleague Mr Saryusz-Wolski, on drafting this report. I believe that it is an important element of setting out an EU foreign policy strategy, so I hope that the Commission and, in particular, the Vice-President/High Representative will be able incorporate the vision that the rapporteur has presented here into their strategy.

As a Portuguese Member, I particularly welcome the door being opened – although that is as far as it has gone – to the creation of a European Parliament delegation to Brazil, as it is incomprehensible that all of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have their own delegation, except Brazil. This is interesting because it is the only country out of Brazil, Russia, India and China whose national language is a European language, and which has a clearly Western, Atlantic and European culture, giving it a unique affinity to us. It also has a key role as an example for the other BRICS in the area of human rights and, we might say, international action. It is also incomprehensible that Parliament, unlike the Commission and the Council, has not created a delegation for Brazil.

The Commission and the Council have an alliance, a strategic partnership with Brazil, but we in Parliament still do not have a delegation to Brazil – largely because of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament – and cannot monitor Brazilian policies. We can monitor economic affairs in Mercosur, but we cannot monitor the international policy positions of Brazil because we do not have a dedicated delegation to the country. This is a total failure on the part of Parliament, and I hope that it will be rectified following the great vision shown the Saryusz-Wolski report.

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (S&D). - Mr President, the report we are now debating is strategic, comprehensive and sophisticated, addressing Europe’s challenge generated by the changing distribution of power within the international system: a process accelerated by the current world crisis.

Europe, which has created a modern international system, is now facing a double challenge. She has to keep her central place within it while having to fight a nasty internal crisis. In the past century, given Europe’s centrality within the international system, war in Europe has twice become world war. Today, even if war in Europe is unthinkable, our continent could still rock the world boat hard, both financially and economically.

The West – the US and Europe – now has to make room for the newcomers, either in existing bodies such as the UN Security Council or by creating new ones for them such as the G20. BRICS is a nascent grouping which is relatively heterogeneous, while Russia and China are well-established powers. There is a big question mark over the ambitions of Brazil and South Africa, with India apparently preoccupied primarily with China, which embodies this challenge. How can Europe best engage these emerging power centres without destroying the current world international institutional architecture? To engage this power successfully, Europe, which will have first to ensure coherence between the national and EU approaches towards them, will need to strike the right balance between change, namely permitting these emerging power centres to achieve their aims, and continuity, namely safeguarding her interests.

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi (ALDE).(IT) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the most visible aspect of the changes affecting Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS), which is also the most significant one in terms of consequences for the life of our societies, regards the economic and commercial penetration of these emerging powers. These changes may lead to stability and widespread prosperity, but appropriate speed is required, both in terms of responses in the international rules – and we know that unfortunately the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations are at a standstill – and in terms of greater integration of our foreign policy with trade policy, taking into account the fact that our foreign policy in some respects is unfortunately still in its infancy, while trade policy, thanks to the exclusive competences of the Treaty of Lisbon, is fully functional.

I am wondering, for example, what the role of trade attachés in our embassies is. These trade attachés are not part of the European External Action Service, but will play a key role in the BRICS countries, one that is as important, if not more so, as that of our diplomats.

 
  
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  Diogo Feio (PPE).(PT) Mr President, Baroness Ashton, I would like to begin my speech by congratulating our colleague, Mr Saryusz-Wolski, on the excellent report that he has presented to us here. It is clear from the report that the world of today is seeing the rise of new countries to the status of powers, which I believe demands a new approach and position by the EU in order to address this phenomenon.

The so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are countries with very diverse histories, cultures, societies and political systems. There is some geopolitical and historical conflict between them, and it is clear that they take onboard our fundamental values, such as democracy, freedom and respect for human rights, to varying degrees.

Without neglecting the other countries, I believe that we should strengthen our relations with those that not only nominally share those values, but also apply them in a consistent and committed way, such as Brazil. While it is true that the worlds of the Cold War and of the period of US dominance could coexist with an United Nations Security Council stripped of military, demographic and cultural representativeness, I have major doubts as to whether everything can continue as it is.

The idea of a global citizenship cannot cease to be made up of symbols and images from other countries. This is a valuable prerequisite in order for us to maintain the universality of Western values. We should give clear signals that we deserve the trust of our partners; that we do not just share values, but are willing to work together and give them a voice at global level, and to enable the interpretation of those who may be heard clearly.

As such, I would emphasise the historical role of my country, Portugal, in the development of Brazil’s language and its establishment there.

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin (S&D). - Mr President, our report was not only political, it was also an intellectual challenge – an attempt to describe the current situation, to foresee future developments and, on that basis, to outline policy proposals for our relations with the BRICS countries.

It is time for us to wake up. In many cases the EU institutions and the European leaders still live in a world of the past that no longer exists. Our eurocentric views and approaches often lead to failures, or half successes, for us on the global scene. We need to catch up with reality. Baroness Ashton, you should take this report not as a criticism of you, but rather as a call for action.

However, I would like to warn against attempts to simplify the picture and to regard the BRICS countries as a kind of unified political bloc. Indeed, we have no interest in seeing them move closer to one another to create a counterweight to the EU that will not necessarily be based on the principles and values we find important. That is why I would recommend an intensification of bilateral relations without artificially pushing these countries towards greater cohesion.

The European Parliament can play an important role here. Parliamentary cooperation with some of these countries is producing good results. Others seem to be less interested, but that should not discourage us. A good step would be for the European Parliament to be invited to participate in bilateral summits.

As regards Brazil, I am one of those who very much supported the establishment of a bilateral parliamentary cooperation committee and I am sure that this will be a reality as of 2014. By the way, the amendment which mentions this possibility in the report was introduced by the S&D Group, and specifically by Ana Gomes.

 
  
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  President. - I see a blue card here. You have the floor. You. I have seen you, and you will have the floor next. Would you like to respond to the blue card question, Mr Vigenin? Will you take the question? As I said, Mrs Gomes will have floor after her colleague. Are you taking the question? I ask once again. No. I am therefore interrupting the blue card question.

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin (S&D). - Mr President, it was not possible to give the floor to Ana Gomes for a blue-card question, and since no time has suddenly arisen to allow a blue-card question from my colleague from the PPE Group, I will not respond to that question.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Mr President, as a member of the Mercosur delegation, I would like to give you some specific details about the relationship with Brazil, the country with the greatest influence in South America and with the greatest chances of becoming a factor of stability in this region.

As Brazil’s main trading partner, the European Union generates no less than 22.2% of its total trade. I believe that the European Union and Brazil can, and should, cooperate more extensively, including with regard to supplementing the volume of commercial transactions, particularly following the joint action plan for the period up to 2014, and specifically in acquiring a leading role in international forums on topics such as climate change, economic governance and, last but not least, human rights.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I would like to highlight the importance of intensifying the industrial cooperation in the field of space policy between the European Union and BRICS countries.

As a member of the European Parliament delegations for relations with Mercosur and India, I emphasise the importance of the EU-Mercosur association agreement, which will be the most important association agreement ever signed by the European Union and which is aimed at trade worth USD 125 billion annually. I would also like to emphasise Brazil’s role as a main actor in the Mercosur region, and welcome the renewal of the EU-Brazil strategic partnership, the Joint Action Plan 2012-2014. We regret that the EU-Brazil agreement on air transport was not signed at the EU-Brazil summit in October 2011.

As far as the EU-India relations are concerned, special attention should be given to the cooperation in the cyber security field and the protection of personal data. I appreciate the role of the European Investment Bank, who has allocated EUR 1 billion through the renewable energy and energy security facility for energy projects in India.

 
  
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  Inês Zuber (GUE/NGL), in writing.(PT) In the power-rebalancing process underway at global level, the majority of this House now supports closer ties with the so-called ‘BRICS countries’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on an individual basis, as they fear their unity and that it could mean a weakening of the influence and dominance of the capitalist triad – which we consider to be the US, Japan and the EU – in the institutions of international capitalism.

They want to restrain their growth and the diversification of their economic activity, which jeopardise the international distribution of labour and the role these countries were supposed to play; namely, that of producers of products low in value added. Gone are the days when these countries were mainly exporters of raw materials and agricultural products. Today, they are increasingly becoming world powers, rivalling the triad, and some of them are even taking the opposite course to that of the EU in terms of combating hunger and poverty, which will increase for us as a result of the course and the misguided policies of the EU and the Member States. For our part, we advocate the establishment of relations with all countries, refusing to pigeonhole them and safeguarding mutual interests, regardless of differences and of political, economic, social and cultural perceptions.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). - (SK) Mr President, in my opinion, relations between the EU and the BRICS countries should be developed on a much deeper level, and in particular coordinated through agreements, so that cooperation is underpinned from an economic and business perspective, as well as from the perspective of development support and environmental protection. I support those who say that these relationships must be built primarily on the basis of bilateral economic agreements, which should be very clearly prioritised, with regard to the heterogeneity of these countries, their global expansion and their varying products. However, the main emphasis, in my opinion, should be on supporting and constructing economic and social structures in these countries so that they do not circumvent, so to speak, the rights of workers to protection from health problems and injuries at work.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I too would like to congratulate Mr Saryusz-Wolski for drafting this detailed report. Partnership with the BRICS economies provides the EU with a base for sustainable development. I would like to stress both the accelerated demographic growth in these states and their rapid economic growth. I should highlight paragraph S which focuses on the values and principles shared by both groups. Cooperation with the BRICS countries must be encouraged in a manner which is suited to specific national circumstances. At the same time, dialogue forums must include issues such as tackling climate change or access to rare earths. Cooperation between the BRICS countries and the EU in these areas may result in more effective intervention and noticeable results. Joint strategies need to be devised, taking into account existing economic and cultural differences.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, with your indulgence, can I just inform the honourable Members about what has happened in Egypt tonight. There has been an incident at a football stadium in Port Said and approximately 73 people have been killed and hundreds injured. It appears to have come at the end of the match, when fans went onto the pitch. I have already sent condolences directly to the Foreign Minister of Egypt, for which I have had his thanks and acknowledgement, but I am sure the honourable Members would want to be informed and of course would want to join me in expressing our condolences and shock at this terrible incident. Mr President, I just thought it was worth interrupting my own remarks to inform the honourable Members about this terrible tragedy.

In returning to the subject of our debate, I would like to say that this is a big area of priority for our work and to thank again Mr Saryusz-Wolski and all of those who have contributed to the report and to the debate tonight. As I said at the beginning, when I laid out my own priorities for my work, strategic partnerships were critical – not just for the bilateral relationships which so many have spoken about, but also because of their significance as partners as we tackle some of the global challenges. I have already indicated some of the ways in which we work with them individually.

We have strong relationships with all the countries that we call the BRICS. We have delegations, which are very active, and we have a considerable number of meetings – not just myself, and not just in country, or in Brussels, but across the different international meetings that we have. It is not unusual to be meeting with Ministers many times in the course of a year. These are important because they keep us in touch, as well as serving as regular contacts.

My fellow Commissioners also spend a great deal of energy on developing those strong links on some of the issues that honourable Members have raised, whether it is climate change or development, education or other areas of work. Perhaps I should pick up especially on two.

We talk about the strong economic weight, and a number of honourable Members have raised that. I think the work that we do together in developing and enhancing our bilateral trade work is very significant. With some countries, like Brazil, it is all part of a broader strategic approach in Mercosur. With others, such as India, we are in the final stages of trying to close a free trade agreement. With others, such as China, we are developing those links that are so important if we are to tackle some of the issues, for example intellectual property rights and the level playing field of trade and investment that are so critical to European industry and business and our future.

So it is extremely important work, not just with ministries but with Chambers of Commerce and supporting industry. In our delegations, as the honourable Members know, we have officials from the Commission who work on these issues as their priority, and this is how they spend their time while they are in country.

I just want to focus in my final remark on development, because this is a theme that has also been raised. We have enormous engagement with all these countries in two different ways. First of all, honourable Members have pointed to the fact that for some of them there are still real challenges of poverty: India is an obvious example. So, although the engagement may change and may not be in the way that it used to be, it is about engaging with them to provide support, for example with climate change, energy and some of the key areas of work where the Commission has played such a vital role and will continue to do in the future.

But it is also about them as partners in development. Talking with our colleagues in Brazil, we have worked hard to develop how we can work together, for example in delivering our development in Africa. This is an area that I think we need to consider working on further, where we are able to collaborate and use our contributions more effectively by thinking through the strategy of how we work on our development priorities.

So all of these areas are ways in which we can continue to develop our individual bilateral relations. But I accept that when they coordinate, they create in a sense a collaborative approach on certain issues. We certainly need to be able to respond to that approach, while recognising that, primarily, they are distinct and separate countries with different histories and traditions and certainly different relationships with us.

I would just like to thank Mr Saryusz-Wolski again for this work and to commend him for putting forward this important report and to say to honourable Members that we will of course continue actively to pursue our work with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, together and, most importantly, individually.

 
  
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  Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, rapporteur. Mr President, first let me thank Lady Ashton for the openness with which she has received the report, which calls for more action, as somebody has rightly said. I would also like to thank my colleagues, who understood the message and contributed to the richness of this report.

I am happy because what has a name exists. It is named – the phenomenon has been named, so it does exist. So we should treat this report as an early notification – not a warning – about forthcoming challenges.

I did not deny in this report that there are huge differences between them, but I tried to extract the tiny part which is common to them, even if it is only 1% of the picture and even if it is only restricted to issues on which they have similar positions and act as an entity and foreign policy in the making.

You said, Lady Ashton, that we should avoid a ‘West versus the rest’ confrontation. This is also my dream, but the world is not as we would wish. My comment would be ‘yes, but...’. In some cases, we see that democracies there – India and Brazil – were seduced by autocracies regarding their common positions, and regarding human rights and democracy (and I see the convergence with the Watson report), Libya, Syria, the Ivory Coast and Sudan. In some cases they were jointly challenging the current system of international governance.

The question of the EU voice in the UN was an appalling and most regrettable case. Having strategic partners (as we call them with all due respect) means having reliable partners sharing values. Very often they neither share nor practice our values.

In the policy towards the BRICS we should avoid the creation of coalitions of the lowest common denominator on democracy and human rights. Our policy should be inclusive, in order to involve them in the system of governance – but on the basis of universal values. They should be our partners and not our opponents, as has happened in the past. In the EU we should think strategically. In 2050 they will be immensely bigger than we are. Let us be prepared. The EU has to act together under your leadership, Lady Ashton, to avoid Member States’ divergent policies, for example on Libya. Regarding Libya, BRICS were more united than the Union itself. We need strong European foreign policy.

 
  
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  President. - The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on 2 February, 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) As mentioned in this initiative, the forthcoming EU-Mercosur Association Agreement will be the most important association agreement ever signed by the EU, encompassing 750 million people and trade worth USD 125 billion per year. On 8 November 2011, in a discussion with the Commissioner and ministers for agriculture, I had the opportunity to question the Commissioner about the responses that the new agricultural policy would provide, so that producers might successfully address the competition problems that the agreement with Mercosur would mean for them. At that point the Commission suggested that the answer to this problem was the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. However, the answer should have been defending European agriculture in the agreement, and not tabling this inappropriate proposal. I believe that this proposal is far from being the answer that farmers need to their real problems if they are to tackle the potential consequences for them of an agreement that does not protect the interests of European agriculture. This also raises questions as to whether this is not a ready yet clumsy way of legitimising negotiations that do not protect our agriculture.

 
  
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  Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing. (RO) In order for the BRICS countries and other emerging powers to play an increasingly important global role in foreign policy, their economic growth needs to continue and increase. As the current economic crisis shows, there is a strong degree of interdependence between emerged and emerging powers. Indeed, the economic growth and welfare of the former is a definite prerequisite for the consolidation of the latter’s economic growth. In light of this, the EU needs to act as a single, robust political and economic entity in order to continue to promote universal values in the new multi-polar system of global governance. However, a great deal of attention must be focused on the trend towards excessive regulation of the financial market, which will only result in the migration of capital to BRICS countries with fair regulations. This development has a particularly serious impact, starting with the increase in financing costs for European companies and ending with the loss of their competitiveness. Transnational challenges such as climate change, global regulatory issues, access to raw materials and rare elements, terrorism, sustainable development, political stability and global security will require an approach based on common values, consensus, consultation and close cooperation with the new emerging powers.

 
  
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  Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D), in writing. I agree with the statement that there are significant political, economic and social divergences among the BRICS countries. We also have to take into consideration the instrument of strategic partnerships in the EU’s relationships. Furthermore, it is not in the interest of the EU to consider BRICS countries as a bloc. We have to be aware of our place in the world and the importance of our relationship with other actors. The report points out that BRICS have shown regional integration capacity and hence the capacity to engage in multipolar governance systems. There is a potential interest of the BRICS in contributing to global governance. What I want to point out is that opportunities for collaboration can appear in investments, exchange of experience, technology and research partnerships in major projects.

 
  
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  Filip Kaczmarek (PPE), in writing.(PL) Formulating EU policy towards the states referred to by the acronym BRICS is a particularly difficult task. This is because on the one hand they are countries which are enjoying rapid economic development, while on the other hand it should be remembered that over 70% of the world’s poorest people live in middle-income countries. There is no doubt that the BRICS countries differ from the EU’s Member States not just in terms of economic indicators, but also in terms of values which we consider to be universal and inalienable.

The policy of the EU and the Member States towards the BRICS should also have the support of our citizens. To support something, it is first necessary to understand it. I fear many Europeans do not understand why China is the recipient of relatively high levels of official development assistance from Europe. This really is difficult to justify or rationalise.

I am convinced that EU political strategy towards the BRICS should revolve around consistent building of shared standards, which will reduce differences both in the area of competitiveness and in relation to values. We will not achieve this objective by unilaterally raising standards in the EU. I am thinking, for example, of plans to reduce CO2 emissions. Everyone who knows at least a little about the BRICS knows very well that at the moment these countries do not have the least intention of restricting their development. Changing this attitude is a serious challenge for the EU.

 
  
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  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL), in writing. (CS) The largest EU states have long suffered from a belief in their own uniqueness, size, importance and key position in the world. This is also understood by the author of the own initiative report, and virtually the entire report is concerned with the possibility of avoiding, for example, the danger of the BRIC countries becoming a key force in the world, regardless of the interests of key EU states and the US. It is clear from certain passages that, on the one hand, there will be an attempt at various EU levels to unify viewpoints as much as possible, not just in foreign policy but also in other areas, so that the EU can act as a unified and sufficiently large partner. On the other hand, negotiations will be conducted individually with individual BRICS countries in order to eliminate the danger of them taking a unified approach. The Committee on Development has understood that cooperation in the area of the environment, regional cooperation and introduction of systems to reduce social inequality (item 1 of the Opinion of the Committee mentions ‘efficient tax and social protection systems’) means a departure from today’s neoliberal capitalism in favour of something else. Not even the Committee on Development dared call this socialism, but the Committee members apparently understood this. It is, anyway, only dialogue with the strongest and fastest growing countries in the world that will make possible the full involvement of the EU and US in a future new world order. Panic is inappropriate, and we must treat the BRIC countries as fully-fledged partners.

 
  
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  Vladko Todorov Panayotov (ALDE), in writing. Until recent times, Europe’s diplomatic efforts were mainly turned towards the US and other industrialised countries. Nowadays, globalisation and the emergence of the BRICS as major exporters on international markets are the driving forces behind the industrialised countries’ loss of global market shares. This has brought the EU to reconsider its foreign policy towards these countries which have gained colossal power on the international political chessboard. Nevertheless, the approach on how to reshape our foreign policy towards the BRICS is, in my opinion, too often based on the fear of industrial competition, especially in the case of China. As a matter of fact, if all BRICS present common challenging features, such as a prominent land size, a large population, a rapid economic growth, they also provide formidable opportunities for the EU’s market in the fields of exports. That is why our foreign policy should be built on the grounds of these positive prospects as opposed to dreading irreversible rivalry.

 

17. Consistent policy towards regimes against which the EU applies restrictive measures (debate) (short presentation)
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  President. - The next item is the report submitted by Graham Watson on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, with a proposal for a European Parliament recommendation to the Council concerning a consistent policy towards regimes against which the EU applies restrictive measures when their leaders exercise their personal and commercial interests in the EU (2011/2187(INI)) (A7-0007/2012).

 
  
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  Graham Watson, rapporteur. Mr President, I would like to thank my shadow rapporteurs on this recommendation. It may bear my name, but it is the result of collective effort on a cross-party basis.

One of the most important tools we have in our foreign policy toolkit is that of the sanction or restrictive measure, and this report aims to make our current policies on restrictive measures coherent and consistent. It recommends that all external restrictive measures be matched by an equivalent approach towards the activities of authoritarian leaders when they come within the Union’s borders. By allowing them to act with impunity within our borders as we currently do, we undermine our foreign policy, and yet we currently allow them to shield their often dubiously-acquired gains within our banking systems. We offer them the incentive and the capacity to continue with corruption and the exploitation of their people and their resources.

The main focus of this report is to advocate a consistent approach to authoritarian leaders that is in tune with our values and visions. We recommend updating our policies to make them more proportionate, more targeted and more humane, and to use the new tools given us in the Treaty of Lisbon to create a multi-instrument strategy to be coherent and effective. It seeks to prohibit them from holding financial and material assets within our borders, commits us to a more rigorous adherence of travel bans so that they cannot travel within our borders for non-humanitarian purposes, and asks Member States to prosecute those within the EU suspected of assisting them in circumventing sanctions policy.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure.

 
  
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  Tarja Cronberg (Verts/ALE). - Mr President, I consider this report to be extremely timely, particularly given the restrictive measures recently adopted against Iran. The European Parliament should continuously maintain a high-level debate on the very idea of restrictive measures and their effectiveness or ineffectiveness in achieving the EU’s fundamental objectives of international stability, peace and democracy.

Firstly, the report recommends that the Council develop clear criteria for when restrictive measures are to be applied, and objectives for such measures. In the case of the embargo on Iran, this is exactly what we need.

Secondly, the report is very explicit about the prerequisite that sanctions should not harm the population. This also is important in the case of Iran. The last thing we need is for the Iranian people to consider the EU its enemy.

Finally, I would like to point out that a coherent policy within the EU’s borders is a necessity. I have heard today from a lecturer who contacted the Delegation for relations with Iran to say that he has had EUR 900 frozen by the Bank of Austria, while the Maltese Times has got in touch with me to say that Iran has EUR 2 billion invested in Malta which is not going to be frozen.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the imposition of sanctions is a unilateral decision that destroys the space that could and should be used for dialogue, negotiation and diplomatic mediation. It is a decision based on imposing the will of the strongest. As so often happens, strength has triumphed over reason instead of reason triumphing over strength. Combining the imposition of sanctions with direct meddling in the internal affairs of a country by taking part in conflicts and supporting one of the parties in a conflict against others constitutes an unacceptable act of intervention. There are many sad examples of outside intervention by powers, leading to change in the political power of a country so that it is to their liking, by promoting interlocutors willing to accommodate their imperialist ambitions.

Change in the political power of a country should come about as a result of its people exercising their sovereign will, not from external impositions that later demand that these changes meet their interests. What is therefore needed – I am concluding, Mr President – is total compliance with international law, the United Nations Charter and the principles contained therein. Unfortunately, this report does not take that view.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). - Mr President, in order to be successful in using restrictive measures, we need to enhance the consistency, transparency and credibility of their application. Coordinated action in the case of Iran or Syria shows that, if it is to be effective, all Member States should ensure they have the same policies and uniform sanctions towards these regimes. Restrictive measures, if used cautiously, should play an important role. We need to be careful to use the measures in such a way that they do not harm the general population or the development of civil society, which could help in the processes of change.

I think that the assets of representatives of regimes that have been frozen in the EU as a result of the sanctions should be streamed to the development of civil society in those countries. That would certainly be the most helpful thing.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, I would like to join all the Members who have spoken on the issue of a unified approach towards regimes that limit the freedoms of their inhabitants in a restrictive way. It is good for us to have a genuinely consistent, unified approach in our foreign policy to all such regime representatives, so that these people cannot conceal their assets in banks on EU soil, for example, and so that their assets can be frozen in banks in the EU, where circumstances so require. They should also not be allowed to travel in the EU, except for humanitarian reasons, and that would probably be on an exceptional basis.

We must therefore have clear and unified criteria to apply. A typical example might be Iran, where we have already adopted certain precise rules.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, it has been an evening of congratulations for those who are sitting in the presidential chair, so allow me to add mine – to you and also to Sir Graham Watson who has just been elected President of the ELDR Party. Good luck is all I will say to you. I know how you like to take on new positions.

The report is really important and I am grateful to you for the work you have done and also for the contributions that have been made to our thinking on how we deal with what we call restrictive measures guidelines. These are an important foreign policy tool that the European Union uses, and the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January 2012 perhaps demonstrated the importance we attach to them.

The purpose of these measures is to bring about a change of policy or activity in a country, in a government, in entities or indeed in individuals. In that sense they are preventive instruments, which should allow us to respond swiftly to political challenges and development. It is essential that any sanctions taken should minimise the impact on the general population – they need to be targeted – so consistency in their application is important, as you have recommended in your report, Sir Graham, and that is clearly very welcome. They also, as you equally recognise, have to be tailored to the specific objectives of each restrictive measures regime.

The uniform and consistent interpretation and effective implementation of these measures is essential if we are to ensure that they are effective in achieving the desired political objective, and that is directly related, of course, to the adoption of similar measures by third countries.

We want the restrictive measures that we impose to be properly understood. We have to be actively engaged in communication about our sanctions, including with the country that we have targeted and with its population. These steps are never taken lightly and they are taken with a specific objective in mind. I want to be very clear here, using the example of Iran. The purpose of the sanctions on Iran is to persuade them to fulfil the obligations that they signed up to in signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to allow the inspectors to do their work and convince us of Iran’s desire to have only a civil nuclear power programme, if that is what they wish, but certainly not a nuclear weapons programme.

When countries and regimes fail in their objectives in terms of either their commitments internationally or, as we have seen in Syria, their ability to support their people – and when, indeed, they turn to violence against their people, we are obliged to act, both morally and, I believe, internationally because of the positions that we hold. However, the purpose of the sanctions is to achieve that change. That, I think, is really important. It is important that it be understood here, and that it be understood by the country and especially by the people. Whatever we do, we have to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, due process and the right to an effective remedy in full conformity with the jurisprudence of the European Union courts.

I wanted to make those points not only to clarify our policy but also because they reflect the outcome of the RELEX working group that has been updating our best practice on these measures; and the working group’s document was welcomed by the PSC in January. I believe they also echo the recommendations made in the report that you have put forward this evening.

I note, too, the concerns that you mentioned in your introduction, Sir Graham, in relation to individuals and commercial interests, particularly those of some leaders. You will know that during the Arab Spring we froze the assets of senior figures from the former Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian regimes. Even where we have a successful democratic transition, the issue of assets misappropriated by former regimes remains. Those assets that have been frozen cannot simply be released; they have to be rightfully transferred to the new state, and that is very complex. I just wanted to inform honourable Members that we are ready to assist those states concerned. Indeed, the European Union, together with the World Bank, is planning a workshop in Tunisia bringing the relevant experts together to provide help and to support them in getting back the assets that rightly belong to the people of Tunisia.

I recognise the importance of the report in making sure that we are consistent and that we look to the ways in which we direct our sanctions or restrictive measures – ensuring not only that they are effective but also that they do not afford loopholes that may damage their credibility and, equally, being ready to lift them quickly when we are in a position to see that assets are returned to the people. That is an area of work that will be extremely important in the coming weeks and months, and I am very grateful to you for the report.

 
  
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  President. Baroness Ashton, I would like to thank you for your concluding comment and also for your congratulations. I would also like to thank my colleagues. It pleased me very much. I would also like to applaud your stamina and vitality, as you have been fielding questions here since about 17.00, and uninterrupted work of this sort, with a debate to follow, is certainly very demanding.

The item is hereby closed.

The vote will take place on 2 February 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  John Attard-Montalto (S&D), in writing. – There is no doubt that in normal circumstances a consistent policy is admirable. Indeed when restrictive measures are applied against regimes it should be understandable that a consistent policy should be applied to leaders of such regimes in the exercise of commercial and personal interests. On the other hand one must, first of all, discuss whether the restrictive measures against regimes themselves should be consistent. The level and type of restrictive measures against regimes do vary according to particular circumstances. Similarly targeted measures against leaders of such regimes do in fact vary. It is inevitable that a certain amount of flexibility exists given the diverse approaches which the EU adopts vis-à-vis not only regimes but also countries which have not adopted democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The EU is still in transition. From commercial clout we are endeavouring to establish political presence. In times of transition one has to be realistic and allow flexibility.

 
  
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  Olga Sehnalová (S&D), in writing. - (CS) I fully support the practical advantages in the form of collective compensation brought to European consumers who have suffered damages, as against the individual resolution of legal disputes in the EU. In my opinion, Member States should do more to support the mass approach to justice, introduce alternative dispute resolution centres and support instruments implementing their powers. In my opinion, it is also important, given the current growing volume of disputes of a cross-border nature, to create a cross-border mechanism giving consumers the possibility of applying to whichever entity is closest within the territory of the EU. This measure is of fundamental importance, for example, in implementing compensation for air passengers in the event of an airline going bankrupt. Compensation systems that are by nature more effective, less costly and less time-consuming offer a unique chance to consumers who have suffered damages.

 

18. European dimension in sport (debate)
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  President. - The next item is the report submitted by Santiago Fisas Ayxel on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education, on the European dimension in sport (2011/2087(INI)) (A7-0385/2011).

 
  
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  Santiago Fisas Ayxela, rapporteur.(ES) Mr President, first of all I would like to thank Ms Vassiliou, my colleagues from the Committee on Culture and Education and the shadow rapporteurs from the other political groups for the fruitful work we have done together over the past few months.

Today the sports world is mourning those who died at a football match in Egypt. I would like to express my strong condemnation, and to remember the victims and their families.

While drawing up this report I was in constant contact with the sports world, hearing people’s concerns and trying to reflect the issues on which the EU is being asked to express its opinion.

The entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon has caused a revolution in the sports world because, for the first time, it was given its own legal basis, in Article 165. The first response to the Treaty was the Commission communication entitled ‘Developing the European Dimension in Sport’, which follows the guidelines set out in the 2007 White Paper. Parliament responded with an own-initiative report of the same name. The report was approved by the Committee on Culture and Education by 28 votes in favour and 2 votes against.

I would like to highlight two concepts related to sport, of which I was very aware when writing the report. Firstly, the principle of subsidiarity, which recognises the competences of Member States and, secondly, the concept of the specific nature of sport, as mentioned in Article 165. However, this is not a universal principle, but rather one that must be analysed and approved on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the autonomy of governance structures in sport should be respected as a fundamental principle for its organisation.

Allow me to briefly highlight some points made in the report. First of all, volunteering, when thousands of citizens selflessly take part to ensure that countless sporting events can be held. We must give them our unconditional support.

Secondly, doping. Doping substances are a blight on sport and society. We should educate people on prevention, convict traffickers, pursue cheats and harmonise sanctions between sports law and civil law, maintaining the greatest possible respect for sportspeople. The report urges Member States to treat trafficking in illegal substances in the same way as trafficking in illegal drugs and to adopt national legislation to this end.

It is vital to support the practice of sport in schools, and we therefore call for sport to be part of their curriculum.

At some point, sportspeople’s professional careers come to an end, and during their career they need to have access to high-quality academic training in order to later become integrated into the world of work.

Unfortunately, racism, xenophobia and homophobia are present in sport, and it is therefore necessary to implement new measures to eliminate any signs of those threats at sporting events.

I would like to stress the undeniable benefit that sport has on people’s health, leading to a significant reduction in public health spending. I would also highlight the importance of sport as a means of integration for the most vulnerable groups, such as immigrants and socially excluded groups, as well as for those with disabilities.

Betting should be protected from unauthorised activities, and from suspected match fixing, in particular by recognising organisers’ property rights with regard to their competitions. The report also calls on Member States to take legal action against sports fraud.

It is fundamentally important that commercial exploitation of audiovisual rights for sport competitions should be carried out on a centralised, territorial basis with a view to guaranteeing that revenues are distributed fairly between elite and mass-participation sport.

I would like to draw attention to the proposal to establish a European Day of Sports and an Erasmus Sports Programme, and to protect indigenous sports as part of our cultural heritage.

These are just a few of the issues dealt with in the report, and I hope I can count on Parliament’s support.

 
  
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  Androulla Vassiliou, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, first of all let me also express my congratulations on your election.

As the Commissioner responsible for sport I cannot but express my deep regret for what has happened in Egypt today, which shows exactly why we have to work to find a healthy way of conducting sport at all sporting events.

I would like to thank, first of all, the rapporteur Mr Fisas Ayxela and the shadow rapporteurs for all their work in producing this excellent report on the European dimension in sport.

I am glad to note that Parliament endorses the proposals contained in the Commission communication adopted last January. The Commission will carefully consider all the suggestions made in the report.

Two years after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, we are now implementing a coherent set of actions in the field of sport and we are doing this on the basis of the priorities agreed by the Council and Parliament.

Following on from the Commission’s communication on sport and the Council’s work plan, Parliament’s new report completes a solid policy framework which will guide the EU as it develops the European dimension in sport over the coming years.

Let me briefly mention some of the initiatives that the Commission is, or will, be carrying out in line with the suggestions made in Parliament’s report. These cover the following policy priorities: health and participation, anti-doping, statistics, sustainable financing, good governance, education and training. Several of the report’s suggestions will be developed by the expert groups set up by the EU work plan in order to prepare concrete policy deliverables.

In line with Parliament’s report, the Commission has been implementing a number of actions that were set out in our communications. These include recent studies on the funding of grassroots sport and on the contribution of sport to economic growth and employment in the EU, and forthcoming studies on health-enhancing physical activity, on economic and legal aspects of the transfer of players and on a possible sports monitory function in the EU. We have also organised two EU conferences on statistics and sports agents, which were very well received.

Furthermore, thanks to Parliament’s support, a third year of preparatory actions has been launched to address the fight against violence, racism and discrimination in sport and to promote good governance in sports organisations. These initiatives would not be complete if we were not able to secure sustainable multiannual EU funding to support our policy. Parliament is right in requesting that the Commission propose an ambitious budget for sports policy under the future Multiannual Financial Framework.

Thanks to Parliament’s support the Commission has proposed a new programme – Erasmus for All – which includes a substantial chapter on sport. The new programme responds to our Europe 2020 goals and sport, as an economic and social sector in its own right, has an important part to play.

 
  
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  Burkhard Balz, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. – (DE) Mr President, firstly I would like to thank the rapporteur for his excellent report. The most important thing for me in presenting the opinion of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs was to emphasise that sport makes an important contribution to the economy, alongside its well-known health and social benefits.

I am sure that we can generate added value in this area at a European level. However, I believe that the subsidiarity principle should continue to play a central role in sport. Sport must remain close to the people. This works most effectively when it is organised on a national, regional and local level. Over and above the points mentioned, the European Union should restrict itself to establishing a suitable legal framework. This applies, for example, to the public funding of sport, competition rules and also competitions and usage rights. Therefore, I welcome the fact that these considerations have been included in the report and I can give the text my full support.

 
  
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  Toine Manders, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs.(NL) Mr President, maybe I could make full use of the three minutes, then, in order to use the time allotted to my two absent colleagues.

I would like to thank Mr Fisas Ayxela for his report. I do find it particularly sad, however, that an amendment that has been adopted by both the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, namely concerning a dialogue between the Commission and professional sports organisations, was not adopted by the Committee on Culture and Education. That means that we are denying that professional sports need to comply with economic legislation within Europe and that – when it comes to European competitions – there is still inadequate equality.

We see minimum ages for sports contracts, which is not a good thing. We see that there are enormous differences in how professional sports are treated when it comes to taxation. We see a great many cases that contradict one another. It is therefore necessary for the Commission to enter into dialogue with the professional sports organisations in order to ensure that professional sports fall into line so that, in future, we can benefit enormously from these sports and so that our young people learn from them. That is what I am calling for.

In other regards, I endorse the content of Mr Fisas Ayxela’s report, but I believe it is a pity that the opinion of the Committees on Legal Affairs and on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection were not incorporated.

 
  
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  Emine Bozkurt, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.(NL) Mr President, sport is the most important side issue for millions of Europeans. Sport holds a mirror to our society on a daily basis.

It is now up to the EU to launch a sound European sports policy and tackle abuses. Unfortunately it seems from the Commission’s proposals and the conclusions of the Sports Council that good intentions are not going to be followed up with concrete action in order to effectively tackle these abuses.

Thus, in 2010, as many as 1100 young people were transferred in football using an exception. A complete ban is needed in order to protect these young people. An end also needs to be put to dicey practices by dishonest players’ agents by means of a registration system with job specifications, a code of conduct, mechanisms for punishment and a European blacklist.

Recently, Europe has been plagued by racist incidents in sport. The EU needs to show greater leadership and to demonstrate that it takes its own motto – ‘Unity in diversity’ – seriously by putting in place legislation that prohibits discrimination in the workplace. It needs to set up effective campaigns in order to make clear that discrimination is unacceptable. This is enormously important in these days of rampant populism and right-wing extremism.

Criminals on or alongside the sports field work across borders. That means that we need to tackle them at that level. Sporting fraud needs to be incorporated into the criminal law of every Member State. Europe needs to make clear to sporting organisations that cooperation with Europol and Eurojust is absolutely necessary.

To sum up, a European sports policy is desperately needed and can act as an example. As it stands, the initial proposals for a new sports policy have been too non-committal. Fair play and fraternity on the sports field are still the most important goal, but that is only possible with a strong sports policy.

 
  
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  Marco Scurria, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to renew my best wishes and my compliments to the President for his new position.

I wanted to thank our rapporteur, Mr Fisas Ayxela, for doing an excellent job: it is a really comprehensive report which sends out an important signal in the field of sport. The rapporteur has worked well, including with all the shadow rapporteurs, and of course I thank them too for the result. Finally, I also wish to send my greetings to Commissioner Vassiliou.

Moreover, it really is a good sign that we are holding this debate and have completed this report in the year when the Olympics will be taking place, the crowning moment for sport worldwide, a time when sport turns into a vehicle for the global exchange of values and friendship. For this reason, we have stressed that sport is a tool for combating discrimination, bearing in mind how difficult it still is, for example, for women to play sports in some countries, such as Iran, which therefore worries us not only because of its decisions on nuclear power.

Another significant factor is the idea of supporting the designation of a European capital of sport under the leadership of ACES, the European Capitals of Sport Association. As we have learnt from the European Capitals of Culture, the promotion of activities for the young and old is at its height under such initiatives. The report also includes the fight against doping, a focus on gambling and the rediscovery of traditional games.

I think, in short, that we have done a good job in terms of honouring as far as possible the EU’s new competence in sport under the Treaty of Lisbon.

 
  
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  Cătălin Sorin Ivan, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (RO) Mr President, I too wish to thank the rapporteur Santiago Fisas because his starting point from the outset has been the notion of consensus. We have discussed each paragraph separately and sought to ensure that every political group features in this report, and that it is a report which does not contain any differences of opinion but, if anything, includes everyone’s views. This is where credit goes to Santiago Fisas because he managed to get us all to sing from the same hymn sheet. However, given how important sport is in the European Union, hundreds of amendments were tabled. Once again, particular credit is due to the rapporteur in that the report itself provides more than just a detailed analysis of sport in the European Union. This report has not been confined only to depicting the current state of sport in the European Union. On the contrary, it contains innovative sections and ideas, as well as bold ideas which we supported and debated, while some were removed and others remained in the draft. It is of paramount importance that sensitive subjects were dealt with, such as the status of minors involved in sport, betting on sport, and so on.

We are all aware, and we have also seen the opinion from the specialist committees, that sport is much more than a recreational activity. It has extremely important implications for health, education, reducing violence, the economy and so on, as well as for increasing productivity and for every factor signifying a stable, dynamic economy in the future. As a result, I believe that allocating only 1% of the budget to the ‘Erasmus for All’ programme is far too little for sport, given the implications that sport has in the European Union. This is why I say that we need to campaign for more money for sport.

 
  
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  Liam Aylward, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, I too would like to thank the rapporteur for his excellent work and his inclusive approach to this report.

The report has drawn attention from across a wide interest spectrum: from athletes, volunteers, sporting organisations and the media. Sport is intrinsic to the lives of European citizens, it crosses social divides and borders, it unites people and it enriches our lives. A European sports policy is not about harmonisation, it is not about taking the soul of competition out of sport and it should not be narrowed down to a debate on the presence of the EU flag. The compromise text is flexible and it remains up to sporting organisations and Member States to decide.

The excellent recommendations in this report on supporting volunteers, strengthening and improving access to training, education for coaches and athletes, promoting traditional sports, eliminating doping and tackling corruption in sport should not be overshadowed. This is a report that provides us with a strong framework for creating a European sports policy based on social inclusion and enhancing sport in Europe.

As an MEP from a Member State that boasts the world’s largest amateur and volunteer sporting organisation – that is the Gaelic Athletic Association, with one million amateur members – I am pleased that this report has acknowledged the important role which volunteers play. There are 35 million amateurs involved in sporting organisations in Europe. The role of volunteers and amateurs is central to the continued success of sporting organisations in every community, and that is why it is essential that the Commission allocates a budget to sports policy. Sport is a vehicle that delivers on broader EU aims across several policy areas, such as Community development, active ageing and healthy and active living. It has a successful economic dimension and it is a social phenomenon that delivers an invaluable public good.

Finally I would like to highlight the importance of the right of journalists to access and report on sporting events. There is public appetite for sports news and we must be sure to safeguard the right of the public to obtain and receive independent news and information on sporting events.

 
  
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  Tatjana Ždanoka, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, I would also like to congratulate Mr Fisas Ayxela and the authors of the opinions on their excellent work.

Our political group welcomes the EU-level action in the field of sport being mentioned in the Commission’s communication. We also support the proposals included in Parliament’s motion for a resolution. In particular we are fully satisfied that the report voices the concern regarding support for traditional sport and games as an important part of our diverse cultural heritage. Member States should take measures to protect them, since some traditional games and sports are in danger of disappearing.

The main matters of concern are some social aspects of the life of professional sportsmen and women, many of whom face an uncertain future at the end of their sporting careers. This problem was outlined especially by the leaders of the Latvian Trade Union of Sport and Tourism during our discussions on the subject. Europe should promote its social model and improve social standards concerning such a specific category of employees as professional athletes. I hope the appeal to the Member States to consider ways of alleviating the financial burden on the lowest-paid professional sportspersons will be acknowledged. Nevertheless, the implementation of a common European definition of the procedure and determination of terms for professional athletes and coaches retiring is welcomed.

Therefore we support the suggestion in the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs to call on the Commission to initiate a dialogue with all EU professional sports organisations on how to tackle problems arising from differences in the Member States regarding employment contracts.

 
  
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  Emma McClarkin, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, there is no doubt that sport has an important place in Europe. Not only does it generate billions of euros and many thousands of jobs, but it also provides health and joy to millions. I am passionate about sport myself.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament’s new supporting competence in sport should have provided it with the opportunity to explore ways the EU could help grassroots sport through volunteering initiatives and community sports development etc., but sadly this report misses the opportunity. It has turned into a matter of how the EU can take advantage of the popularity of professional sport – what sport can do for the EU instead of what the EU can do for sport.

The report focuses mainly on professional football. It takes little account of minority or grassroots sport – where I believe the focus should have been. The EU can have a role in influencing some aspects of sport – the fight against doping and cross-border gambling etc., but the report goes much too far in calling for the EU itself, rather than individual Member States, to sign up to WADA and to doping conventions.

The report also ignores the limits of EU power by proposing special tax regimes and impinging on the right of Member States to decide on their educational curricula, and touches on social security provisions. All of these are in the realm of the Member State and not of the EU. But most damaging is the attempt to make national sports teams wear the EU flag on their shirts and to fly the EU flag at all sporting events. At first this was compulsory and now it is voluntary, but the proposal to have the EU flag on national teams is still outrageous and unnecessary.

Sport has a very special place in the United Kingdom, and our national sports teams form a key part of our identities and our heritage. The EU is trying to impose an artificial European identity on us by forcing our athletes to wear its emblem. Does this add value to sport? No it does not. It is simply an attempt to add value to the EU itself.

It is for these reasons, amongst others, that I will be unable to vote in favour of this report tomorrow.

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

 
  
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  Godfrey Bloom (EFD), Blue-card question. Mr President, as a supporter and sponsor of Cambridge University’s Ladies’ Rugby Club for, I guess, 15 to 20 years, I wonder whether they should wear the logo on the front of their shirts or on the back?

 
  
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  Emma McClarkin (ECR). - Mr President, I do not wish to reply.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(FR) Mr President, on a European scale, sport, like many other activities, particularly group activities, has long been seen solely in terms of competition and regarded as a simple economic activity.

This report finally recognises that sport, and the wider range of physical and sporting activities, has educational, cultural, health and social – or societal – dimensions. It emphasises the role of volunteers and the importance of studying the feasibility of a suitable legal and tax framework. How could we be anything but glad about that?

It underlines the importance of developing and, therefore, of investing in grassroots sport, as well as the need to redistribute investments between professional sport and grassroots sport.

We should like to highlight the importance of public funding, the only means to truly guarantee equality of access without discrimination, and the need for real partnership with the sports movement. The Member States obviously have a major role to play, including establishing respect for ethics in sports and guaranteeing the health of sportspeople, be they amateurs or professionals.

Nonetheless, I have some regrets as to the inadequacy of the regulatory role of the Member States with regard to the abuse occurring in this sector. One example is that of online games and sports betting. We put forward a proposal reaffirming the need for a monopoly by the Member States in this area, in accordance with the ECJ ruling of 8 September 2009. Unfortunately, it was not accepted.

We would have also liked to see more encouragement for States to guarantee the economic and social rights of sportspeople, particularly in terms of training and the right to retraining.

However, words are not enough. We need action. The prism of the internal market and competition needs to be returned to its rightful place, and physical activity and sport need to be recognised for what they are, that is, an excellent tool for individual and collective freedom.

 
  
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  Paul Nuttall, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, paragraph 100 of this report clearly states that you would like to see the EU flag at major sporting events and on the jerseys of athletes. Are we now going to see the EU flag at the British Olympics, at the Champions League Final or even on the shirt of the England captain? This is nothing more than sheer EU propaganda and vanity. The EU has never been so unpopular, yet here you are, wanting to stamp your flag on sporting stars in the hope that you can force the people to love you. But they will not.

What you propose also seems to break the rules of sporting competitions. For example, under Law 4, Decision 1 of the FIFA laws of the game, it states: ‘The team of a player whose basic compulsory equipment has political slogans or statements will be sanctioned by the competition organiser or FIFA.’ What right do you think the EU has to interfere in sport in such a way to encourage countries to break the rules? It is hypocritical, because the EU is in effect a political organisation. You even say in paragraph 20 of the report that political propaganda should be banned, which is hypocritical. Athletes proudly wear the flag of their own national countries. They should not wear the flag of the European Union.

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

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (EFD), Blue-card question. Mr President, I agree with Mr Nuttall but I do not think he goes far enough. Surely this is a disgrace and surely it raises a quandary for sports fans because, for example, in the World Cup, if the national flag and the EU flag are being displayed, then who are sports fans supporting – their country or the EU? Would Mr Nuttall not agree with me that they cannot support the EU because it is not a country?

 
  
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  Paul Nuttall (EFD), Blue-card answer. Mr President, I would like to agree with my colleague. The EU is not a country; the EU is a false state. What is being created is something very dangerous, because false states like the Soviet Union only ever break up in one of two ways. They break up in peaceful divorce, like Czechoslovakia – which is the way in which I hope this organisation will break up – or in bloody revolution, like Yugoslavia – which I fear very much indeed.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI).(DE) Mr President, the report on the European dimension in sport is of particular importance to society. Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) covers the EU’s new responsibility in the field of sport. The importance of sport for our society in areas such as promoting health, encouraging tolerance, stimulating the economy and tourism and developing organisations is very clear in the area where I come from, the state of Salzburg. Sporting activities are a permanent feature in the lives of almost every family, both in summer and in winter. This report also seems particularly important to me with regard to the significance of sport for older people and with regard to the call for women to be better represented on the decision-making bodies in sport.

Doping and corruption in sport and the constructive proposals to resolve these problems will hopefully only be mentioned on this one occasion. We hope that there will soon be an improvement in this area. I would like to thank the rapporteur for this report.

 
  
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  Barbara Matera (PPE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I have always been convinced that sport plays a vital educational role. By emphasising educational and cultural values, sport is at one and the same time an instrument of integration, exchange of ideas and growth.

The goal must be to provide greater uniformity and at the same time guarantee the availability of sports for all European citizens, without discrimination of any kind. It cannot therefore be confined within a single State, but applies across all Member States of the European Union as a single entity.

The European Union must intervene at a time when sport is undergoing an acute and persistent crisis, especially due to the criminal activities connected with it. The scandals associated with betting agencies or match fixing spring to mind.

In light of these considerations it is necessary and desirable for the European institutions to monitor the world of sports more closely, in order to curb any excesses that may arise. Detailed and enforceable rules would help to improve the standard of sports governance. Therefore, the priority is to intervene to regulate the activities of sports agents and player transfers, as well as to combat fraud and doping, as recommended by the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Nessa Childers (S&D). - Mr President, the debate this evening has pooled many valid and crucial reasons for the Commission to up its game and back sport more effectively in the EU. I come at this debate from a different angle, as a former mental health professional of 25 years. The psychological benefits of regular sport are understated yet unquestionable. Exercise converts adrenaline into energy and is a primary creator of endorphins. Exercise advances self-confidence and can afford someone a new lease of life. The many and varied benefits of sport are, I hope, fully understood by the Commission following today’s debate, and I look forward to progress in this area.

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula (ALDE). - (FI) Mr President, firstly I wish to congratulate you on being elected President. I am pleased that we have a President who is keen on sports in Parliament, even if it is just for a while. I also wish to thank Mr Fisas Ayxela for an excellent report, and, likewise, the Commissioner, who has done an excellent job in the Commission in the area of sport. It is of course true that sport is Europe’s biggest popular movement. It needs to be spoken about, and it is important that we also stake out a clear role for it in the European Union.

Now that a legal basis has been established, it is important that we move towards real solutions. This report provides excellent guidance on what is achieved through sport, because we know its effects on health, and we know its other social effects in terms both of well-being and integrating people society. We also know how sport is important when we are fighting against racism and many other unpleasant phenomena at European level.

It is also important to ensure that there is funding. In this connection, I would like to say that I obviously hope that there will be adequate funds in the budgetary framework for sport, allowing us to reach its grassroots. However, it is also important to protect national monopolies. Veikkaus, the Finnish national lottery and sports betting company, is a good example of how to fund activities at grassroots level. It will need to remain.

Finally, I wish to say something about this issue of the EU flag, which the British Tories have made so much of. Surely it does not bother anyone now if the flag occasionally flies in the European Union. I am sure, besides, that it does not have to be used for team strips. However, perhaps the biggest piece of news for me today was when Mr Nuttall, talking about football, said that countries should support the idea that Great Britain will one day play as its own single team, under the flag of one Great Britain. I have to say that this is an unexpected point of view, and I think that it is a very welcome one.

 
  
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  Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR). - Mr President, may I too congratulate you on your election.

Being British, I understand the important role that sport plays in our lives. What I do not understand is why the EU should be meddling in the business of sport. The EU should focus on growth, jobs and the single market.

This report has been through seven committees and I have shadowed it on behalf of the ECR Group in two of them. I had intended to talk today about the British women who are sporting heroes to millions, such as Rebecca Adlington, Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe. I wanted to talk to you today about how excited my home constituency of London is to welcome the world’s Olympic and Paralympics athletes later this year. But I cannot. Because I have to use this speech to denounce this report’s calls to fly EU flags at major sporting events and for the flag to be displayed on athletes’ clothing. I must also condemn the proposals to waste money on the European capital of sport at this time of austerity. The Brussels bubble needs to remember that we live in hard times.

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

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE), Blue-card question. Mr President, in relation to the speaker’s point about use of the European flag, it is specifically stated that this should be entirely voluntary and up to Member States. I would like to ask the speaker what her understanding is of the term ‘entirely voluntary’.

 
  
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  Marina Yannakoudakis (ECR), Blue-card answer. Mr President, entirely voluntary – it should not even be mentioned at this stage. We are here to support sport. I do not mind supporting sport – we are here to support our national teams. I do not feel it is the right area to address this, and it should not really be in it at all. The report would be stronger without this ‘voluntary or not voluntary’.

 
  
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  Inês Zuber (GUE/NGL), in writing.(PT) We believe that free and universal access to quality participation in sport is key to the social and personal development of individuals, and that it should be guaranteed for everyone, without any kind of discrimination. This right should be guaranteed by the Member States through grants for sports organisations, but also for schools and for popular associations, which have a vital role in this area.

As I agree, in general, that this report is a step in the right direction, since it promotes sports and proposes a dedicated and ambitious budget for sports policy, we nevertheless think that funding for amateur sports should be safeguarded, without making this dependent on income from gambling.

We also have another small problem: we believe that the austerity measures being imposed by overall EU policy, which are rolling back the welfare state and state education, cannot be reconciled with the ideas in this report at all.

 
  
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  Piotr Borys (PPE).(PL) Mr President, I would like to thank Mr Fisas Ayxela very much for this important report, on which he worked for over a year. It is a report which may result in major changes in the new sports policy. It is a report for which millions of people involved in sport and thousands of organisations have been waiting for a long time. I would like to express my thanks for Mr Fisas Ayxela’s prodigious and outstanding piece of work.

The fact is that the shape of sports policy in the coming years is going to depend on us, on Parliament, but also on Ms Vassiliou, and on the extent to which the important proposals included in the report are actually put into practice. I think that keeping the three elements of the social role of sport, the economic dimension and the whole organisation of sport is absolutely right.

I would like to concentrate on several extremely important factors which it will finally be possible to correct or improve by means of European sports policy. There is the question of the regulation of sports agents and the transparency of the system – the whole system – the aim of which is to identify young talent. There is also the question, which you wrote about in the report, Mr Fisas Ayxela, of minimum qualifications for the important and responsible profession of sports agent. There is the whole area of the package for funding fair play in sport, which is extremely important in particular from the point of view of the system for training and identifying young talent. There is the question of the whole problem in sport related to match-fixing, to which we must react at EU level, because this procedure often even has links with organised crime. There is the question of the huge influence of sports tourism.

I would like to say that we still face, in fact, and the Commissioner still faces, the question of making the best use of structural funds, and in particular the European Social Fund, so as to improve the sports base but also to give all sportspeople who end their career the opportunity to become professionals who, thanks to the fund, can pass on their sporting knowledge. Finally, I would like to say that what makes the report is so good is that it has come in an Olympic Games year and the year of the Euro 2012 football championship, so I hope it will be very well received by the Member States.

 
  
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  Monika Smolková (S&D). - (SK) Mr President, I would like to support the motion for a resolution and the opinion of the Committee on the social role of sport. I am in favour of sport being a compulsory subject at all levels of schooling, but I am also in favour of all school sports grounds serving the wider public outside school hours.

Sport has huge potential for improving overall health at any age. Sport can be a means of integrating socially excluded people and eliminating all forms of discrimination. Giving priority to inter-generational sports can take many forms with benefits for public health, and with social, cultural and economic benefits for society. Sport is also a good way for young people to use their free time and to avoid drugs, violence and other negative phenomena.

However, as a woman – and a former active sportswoman – I expect more support for women in sport, the provision of equal access and adoption of measures in the area of equal opportunities.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Mr President, firstly I would like to offer my condolences for tonight’s tragedy in Egypt.

As regards this report, I must say that I am delighted to take part in the debate, particularly since I have been involved with sport my whole life: as a player, as President of the Gaelic Athletic Association and as Executive Chairman of the Irish Institute of Sport. We now have a report that allows us to implement Article 165 of the Treaty of Lisbon. I commend Santiago Fisas Ayxela and everyone else who helped compile this report.

I am very pleased with the report, particularly as some amendments that I tabled have been taken on board, especially in relation to grassroots sport, which gives effect to the written declaration that the Members so kindly passed here last year. Also the possibility of growth in sports tourism, and the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund to be used to develop infrastructure in sport, particularly in indigenous sports, of which the GAA, as my colleague Liam Aylward mentioned, is a shining example in my country.

But as the Commissioner mentioned – and I was pleased to hear her mention it – the MFF and the budget are going to be crucial. One argument we can certainly put forward in this context is that sport implies, directly or indirectly, 15 million people contributing 3.6% of GDP in the European Union. There are many more arguments, but that certainly justifies a good sports budget.

There are other suggestions which I am very pleased about. I see nothing wrong, by the way, with the suggestion about the European flag; after all, where do you expect to fly the European flag – outside the European Union or inside it? That is one argument. Also the European Day of Sport and the European Capitals of Sport, which is a wonderful development (I have seen that in my own country as well recently), and the Erasmus for All programme. There are a lot of good suggestions, and with a good budget we will make a lot of progress.

 
  
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  Ivo Belet (PPE).(NL) Mr President, first of all, my congratulations to Mr Fisas Ayxela for this excellent report and the broad support that he managed to conjure up for it in Parliament.

From the point of view of community, social cohesion and health, sport has such obvious advantages that we cannot stand still any longer. In fact, it cannot be stressed highly enough and I believe that it is important that we should therefore also pave the way for measures that guarantee the integrity of sport to the maximum possible degree and beef up the fight against excesses and illegal practices.

In that regard, Mr President, Commissioner, I have a message for some of our eurosceptic British friends who, in the meantime, seem to have vanished from the Chamber. Look at what has happened in Egypt today, where dozens of fans have died in football violence. Look at what happened in Vienna today, where dozens of fans were arrested and found guilty by the courts as a result of violence in football stadia.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need a European sports policy. I will quote verbatim from Mr Fisas Ayxela’s report, which calls on Member States ‘to refuse access to stadiums to supporters who have displayed violent or discriminatory behaviour’ and ‘to ensure that stadium bans remain in force for international matches’. That is what it says in the report. It is a hot topic at this point in time and that is why we do need this European sports policy and why, Commissioner, you will have our 100% backing.

A database to exchange information about hooligans guilty of violence and racism is something that I think would be much more efficient to organise at European level. As other Members have already said, the same also applies to combating doping, betting fraud and so on.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let us concentrate on that instead of spending the whole evening here spouting hot air about the possibility of displaying a European flag on T-shirts – a proposal that, by the way, Mr Kelly, I am 100% behind because it is indeed on a voluntary basis, with 100% observance of the principle of subsidiarity.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, sport is one of the few activities which blur distinctions between people, as it involves all citizens of the EU regardless of gender, ethnic origin, religion, age, nationality or social status. Regular sport undoubtedly contributes to a healthy lifestyle and boosts the overall health of EU citizens, and we therefore need more promotion of active sport, not only from health workers but also from political representatives.

For people with mental or physical disabilities, sport represents a special kind of activity, as it enables them to create new positive relationships with themselves and with their peers, assisting their integration and inclusion in society. Since sport fulfils both a social and an educational function - developing people’s sense of fair play, teamwork in a multicultural environment and a sense of belonging - we will support this report, as it contains many excellent ideas and initiatives, as well as a budget line for this joint task.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, I should point out that sporting events help develop tourism in Europe. With this in mind, synergies between sport and tourism must be identified, especially through modernising collective infrastructures.

One example of synergy between regional development, sport, transport and tourism is the tourist potential offered by cycling. The EuroVelo project, which already has 14 routes in Europe covering more than 70 000 kilometres, is an example of making a contribution to positive values, promoting social integration, strengthening communities, health promotion and urban development. I should emphasise the importance of the cycle route extending along the whole course of the Danube in supporting the development of tourism in the Danube region. I must also stress the role played by local, regional and national authorities in developing the European dimension of sport, especially through devising urban mobility plans and allocating finances for developing the infrastructures required for sporting activities.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). - (SK) Mr President, I would like to start by applauding the fact that the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives the Commission the possibility of contributing to the development of sport both organisationally and financially. Modern society suffers from a lack of physical activity, which has an unfavourable effect on the health of our citizens, especially in the spread of obesity and associated health complications. We therefore need to see greater support for sport also as support for health, which will surely have positive consequences in terms of lower healthcare costs.

Promotion of a healthy, active way of life for our citizens, with a greater number of sporting activities, should be one of the EU’s main priorities in this area. Another important priority should be support for a European framework of sporting competitions in individual kinds of sport, in order to bring people together on the basis of common interests. I firmly believe that well-organised support for sport from the Commission will also improve the EU’s image in the eyes of our citizens.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). - Mr President, Northern Ireland is passionate about sport. I say this in particular because, in the last 18 months, three proud Ulster men have brought home three world golfing majors to a very small part of the United Kingdom. Somehow or other I do not quite think that the flag of the EU would have warmed the heart or brought a tear to the eye in quite the same way as that Ulster flag did on those very special occasions.

However, I want to turn your attention to recital AH of this report tonight, which states that international competitions continue to constitute a reference model and action should be taken against naturalisations of convenience. In this context, I believe it is right to highlight the continuing problem faced by the Irish Football Association, the governing body of football in Northern Ireland, which in recent years has seen several players declare allegiance to the Republic of Ireland despite being born in the United Kingdom and having represented Northern Ireland throughout junior levels.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, I would like to take this opportunity to mention that Slovakia had a Commissioner in the previous election period whose remit included sport. Throughout the entire period, Commissioner Ján Figeľ assigned a significant role to sport in today’s Europe and was closely involved in keeping sport clean. I would like to quote from one of his speeches: ‘Sport develops the sort of values that European society needs, and it is a very powerful component in the formation of a democratic society. It has numerous positive elements, but there are also many negative aspects. Money is often a more decisive factor in sport than sporting performance. Problems such as violence in sports grounds, racism and drug-taking are cancers that destroy sport. Rules must be established to address these problems’.

I would also like to add that I am the honorary president of a women’s ice-hockey division, and I can confirm that equality of opportunity is still far from being a reality in sport.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE).(RO) … for the excellent, comprehensive report drafted by the rapporteur, which is welcome in light of the debates on the particular role of sport.

Sport, which is one of the most multifaceted activities, has implications for various areas, ranging from health, tourism and the economy to education, social integration and the promotion of peace. I should stress that attention must be paid to both professional and amateur sport. It is well known that investing in sporting activities reduces public expenditure on health significantly. I therefore support not only the elderly but children too getting involved in sport. Providing schools with the equipment they need for PE lessons is vital for encouraging children to fulfil the minimum number of three hours of sport recommended by the European Parliament. These are just some of the arguments in favour of having a budget specifically for sport in the forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework, so that we comply with a provision granted to the EU by the Treaty of Lisbon. Thank you and congratulations, Vice-President, and every success in your new job.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Androulla Vassiliou, Member of the Commission. Mr President, let me once again pay tribute to Mr Fisas Ayxela for the excellent report, which is very much in line with the Commission’s thinking and the challenges facing sport in Europe. I am happy to say that the Commission is already implementing some of the main ideas expressed in the report.

I will not deal with the question of the logos on the flag. As a matter of fact I see that the Members who raised this objection were in a hurry to leave the Chamber, but honestly we have many more important challenges in sport to deal with than this. One that comes to mind is the question of violence because, as a result of violence, we have lost 70 people tonight, with one thousand injured. Violence, match fixing, sports agents and many issues are challenges with which we have to deal very urgently.

As we look to the future, let us take encouragement from the Commission’s proposal for a new programme, which gives us the tools and resources to develop a European dimension in sport. Therefore I look forward to cooperating with all of you who are great believers in sport and working together in order to achieve what we aspire for in sport.

 
  
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  Santiago Fisas Ayxela, rapporteur. – (ES) Mr President, I should like to thank all the Members who have spoken in this sitting. I am not going to waste a second refuting some of the lies that have been told today. Whoever is able to read should simply read the report.

I would, however, like to finish by stressing the importance of sport for a variety of vital social issues such as the integration of the most vulnerable groups, public health, education, employment and the economy.

We should remember that sport in Europe represents, whether directly or indirectly, 15 million jobs – that is, 5.4% of the active population – and an annual added value of EUR 407 billion, which is 3.65% of European GDP. For this reason, because sport is so important, I welcome the Commission’s initiative and support, and I would also venture to ask the Commissioner whether Structural Funds could be applied specifically to sport.

Above all, I would like to thank the main political groups in this House for their support. Thanks to the support shown by those groups, I hope that this report will be adopted in tomorrow’s vote.

 
  
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  President. - Thank you, Mr Fisas Ayxela, I too would like to applaud your report, and I would just like to add from my own experience that when I was a member of the Council of Europe we also tackled the issue of violence in stadiums, which is connected with this, and in my opinion it would be good to get some of the reports that the Council has already adopted on this matter and study them, as this could provide further material.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on 2 February 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Zoltán Bagó (PPE), in writing.(HU) I welcome the report of Mr Fisas Ayxela and would like to thank him for his work. Mr Fisas Ayxela ’s report supports the achievements made by the Commission and the Council in the field of sport. I therefore particularly approve of the fact that the ‘Erasmus for All’ programme, in line with the priorities pronounced by the European Parliament in connection with sport, involve sport as a new area of support.

The actions proposed to support sport under the new programme are in line with the European Union Work Plan for Sport adopted during the Hungarian Presidency. I welcome that the programme treats physical activity for health improvement as an important subject. As regards the need to support mobility in sport, as expressed in the report on the European dimension in sport, a sub-programme targeting the previously unsupported area of sport is introduced as a new element of the ‘Erasmus for All’ programme. With the adoption of the report we can make an especially successful start into the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, as sport has an acknowledged role in health preservation and has special importance in respect of active ageing.

 
  
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  Lívia Járóka (PPE), in writing. The participation of the most disadvantaged communities in sport activities and their access to related facilities is way below the average. Their higher involvement in competitive or mass sport would not only improve their physical and mental health but would also serve as an effective tool for social inclusion and education. Moreover, extending the sport sector could also function as an employment creation factor, particularly in disadvantaged regions. The full access to sport should therefore not only be viewed as a matter of leisure, but as a social service of general social and economic interest. Member States must take appropriate measures to increase the number of socially disadvantaged children in competitive and leisure sport activities and to improve skills and develop a positive attitude to an active life for disadvantaged youth, and the Structural Funds could be mobilised in order to develop sport facilities and opportunities so that disadvantaged children can engage in sport outside school in disadvantaged regions. Special incentives – such as scholarships – might also be developed to help disadvantaged children enter the talent care programmes of all main branch associations.

 
  
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  Ádám Kósa (PPE), in writing.(HU) As shadow rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs I, too, contributed to the report of Mr Fisas Ayxela. I am particularly pleased to see that there is a marked emphasis in the report on sport for people with disabilities, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the EU.

I call on the Commission to do everything possible within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon to develop and support sport for people with disabilities. I would like to take the opportunity to point out that the Deaflympics, the Olympic movement of the deaf, has been suffering from a lack of funding by the EU and its Member States for years; in 2010 Slovakia cancelled the Winter Deaflympics, while Greece withdrew from hosting it in 2013.

Now there are efforts in Hungary to make the organisation of a limited Deaflympics possible. With this neglect we are severely endangering the futures of thousands of professional deaf sportspeople. This is unacceptable and something must be done about it.

 
  
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  Jan Kozłowski (PPE), in writing.(PL) As President of the Polish Rugby Union and as Vice Chair of the European Parliament Rugby Union Intergroup, I would like to refer to the section on the social role of sport. I appreciate the fact that the rapporteur urges the Commission to propose the way in which funding for European Union sports policy could be included in the new Multiannual Financial Framework. Furthermore, I think it would be a good idea to make it possible to use the European Social Fund to pay for the employment of instructors and trainers to run extra sports lessons in schools and facilities for young people.

The social role of sport deserves to be highlighted. Sport is of huge importance for personal development, particularly that of children and young people, and is also an effective tool for social integration. It also plays a significant role in the fight against all forms of discrimination and social exclusion. This is why it is so important, in my opinion, to promote sport and support every kind of sporting initiative.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE), in writing. – (RO) Sport can play a significant role in achieving the objectives set in the European Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy promoting rapid, sustainable and consistent development.

Recent estimates indicate that 15 million people are employed directly or indirectly in the sporting sector in the EU. According to the same estimates, this sector amounts to 3.65% of EU GDP. Major sporting events such as the Olympic Games or the European Football Championships attract millions of spectators and have a considerable impact economically and in terms of jobs. However, the potential offered by sport as an industry has not been fully tapped yet, even though Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union now contains the legal bases for including sport as part of existing European programmes.

I call on the European Commission to include sport as part of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) programmes. This step would significantly improve the conditions for funding sports-related projects.

 
  
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  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D), in writing. – (SK) I would first like to congratulate the rapporteur and the entire Committee for a very productive debate and also for a very comprehensive report on a topic that is being addressed separately for the first time in the European Parliament. I also welcome the fact that the European Commission has made room for sport in the new Erasmus for All programme for education and young people in the new 2014-2020 budget period.

I am pleased that we have been able, along with our colleagues, to influence the future of European sport as a force for social integration and reinforcement of a European identity, and to promote important elements such as mandatory physical education in schools and equal opportunities in sport for women and girls and the physically disabled, ensuring that they have access to appropriate sporting facilities. It is also important to create effective rules, ensuring that young sportsmen and sportswomen study properly at school and have proper professional development alongside their sporting activities. It is important to see sport as an instrument for combating intolerance, racism and violence, and also to increase protection for underage young people in professional sport.

I therefore hope that the Commission will submit an ambitious budget for sports policy, taking account of the public health aspects, and the social, cultural and economic benefits, and that these proposals will be implemented in practice as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Joanna Senyszyn (S&D), in writing.(PL) As rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on women in sport, I consider it particularly important for women to hold management positions, for women to participate in sport and for attention to be paid to the two issues of education and sport. It is imperative to guarantee equal access for women and men to sport – affordable, age-appropriate sport – in particular for girls and women from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. We need to ensure and promote access to disciplines which are adapted to the needs and aspirations of women. It is also important to ensure parity in membership of sporting decision-making bodies and in access to the positions of trainer and administrator in sporting associations. Despite the rise in the participation of women in sport which has taken place in recent years, their participation in decision-making and managerial roles has not increased. As long as there is a lack of women in management and decision-making positions, and by the same token a lack of female role models in sport, the objective of equal opportunities for women and girls will be impossible to achieve. As part of education and sport I propose running awareness campaigns targeted at nurseries and schools, to awaken an interest in sport among children and young people. It is important to increase, diversify and extend the programme of physical education by including lessons on issues related to training for women, such as differences in tempo and expected levels of achievement.

 
  
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  Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE), in writing.(PL) I welcome today’s vote on the report on the European dimension in sport. The fact that with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon sport became a competence of the European Union is a turning point in the development of sport on a European scale. It is unquestionably paramount that the European Commission propose a dedicated budget for the funding of sports policy under the future Multiannual Financial Framework. It is also important to establish a training and qualifications framework for coaches and their education, to encourage women to be more involved in professional sport and to condemn violation of the principle of fair play. Rivalry between professionals is often full of negative emotions which definitely go beyond the bounds of competition. In the context of the whole of society such a situation is not acceptable in view of the power of the behaviour of sportspeople to influence others, particularly young people. It is important to note the urgent need to rebuild the values which we find in the concept of fair play in sport. It is also important to combat doping with the help of preventative campaigns and information campaigns, and to treat trade in these substances in the same way as trafficking in illegal drugs. Coordinated action aimed at achieving a uniform approach to setting and enforcing sanctions against supporters who have displayed violent or discriminatory behaviour will help improve the level of safety at stadiums during sporting events. Finally, I would also like to express my support for the establishment of a non-public European register of sports agents.

 

19. One-minute speeches on matters of political importance
Video of the speeches
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  President. - The next item is the one-minute speeches on important political questions.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, the EU is based on common values, rights and duties, and on respect for these. It was created with this idea in mind, and can continue to function only with this idea. Hungary is from this perspective an important partner for us, often proving its indisputable place in the European family. It is therefore important to have no doubt about this, even today.

We are currently holding talks with Hungary on technical details relating to the independence of the national bank and the judiciary, as well as the attitude to values that are clearly defined in the EU treaties. These include, first and foremost, respect for the principles of democracy, human rights and freedom. No strong popular government can afford to underestimate these values. I firmly believe that it is our common interest to continue having a strong and reliable partner in Hungary, respecting the values that unite us. I believe that Hungary shares a similar interest.

 
  
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  Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D).(RO) Mr President, I wish to highlight that two extremely important treaties are currently being discussed: the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Stability Treaty. Both these treaties have a far-reaching impact on people’s lives. They involve very tough rules and measures which will be taken in the future and will affect European citizens’ private lives, as well as their workplace and standard of living. There are countries in the European Union where these treaties have not been subject to any kind of public debate at all. There are state presidents who have not discussed either treaty even once in their national parliaments. For example, no one in Romania knows what ACTA stands for or what the Stability Treaty means. This is not democracy, and if we want to exit the crisis and have a united, powerful Europe, we must defend democratic values.

 
  
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  Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (ALDE).(ES) Mr President, between the 1960s and 1980s, thousands of babies were stolen in Spain. The motive was financial. Many mothers were given the tragic, false news that the son or daughter they had just given birth to had died. A death certificate was issued and a pretend burial was held, but in fact those babies were kidnapped and sold.

In the Basque Country alone there may be as many as 600 cases, leading to 200 legal investigations. So far three graves have been opened – they were all empty. These crimes could only have been committed by means of an official, organised plot.

Until just a few months ago, there was silence on this issue. All formal complaints were shelved. The group SOS Bebés Robados [‘SOS Stolen Babies’] is raising awareness of this problem. It is made up of victims who are looking for their sons and daughters, and demanding justice and compensation.

Those who are responsible for what took place committed a criminal offence and created thousands of personal tragedies that cannot be undone, because they affect parents, children and adoptive families.

That is why I would ask you to show involvement, support and sensitivity. If the European institutions keep a close watch over this obscure subject, it will help to fully bring the matter to light.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the Eurostat unemployment figures that have just been published are an indictment of the EU and its policies. In Portugal, overall unemployment has already hit 14%. It is 31% among young people, something that has not been seen in 38 years of democracy.

These figures show the tragic consequences of the aggressive programme carried out by the IMF and the EU: more recession, more unemployment, the steep rise in the cost of living, attacks on public services such as healthcare and transport, the takeover of strategic sectors of the country’s economy, more inequality and more poverty.

These figures and facts give the lie to the empty rhetoric of growth and employment that came out of the last meeting of the Council. At the same time, foreign debt, which is used to justify this sordid programme, will grow in 2012, subjecting the country to stock jobbing and the predation of its resources by way of interest on the debt. This path can only lead to disaster. Disaster can be avoided by a change in policy. That is increasingly what they are calling for in Portugal and throughout Europe.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Ziobro (EFD).(PL) Mr President, on 18 November, I tabled a question to the European Commission on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. This is a subject which is extremely important and which has been the cause of a great deal of emotion and controversy in public debate in many of the European Union’s Member States, including in my country of Poland. Amongst other things, I asked if ACTA is consistent with fundamental rights, with the fundamental legal measures and standards of the European Union. On 5 January, I received a reply from the Commissioner, Mr De Gucht, on behalf of the Commission, in which he wrote that yes, ACTA is in line with the relevant European Union legislation, and also that it complies with the general – and I quote – principles of EU law and now also with the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, on 24 November 2011 the Court of Justice of the European Union handed down a judgment which ruled to my surprise that the situation is completely different, and that in fact ACTA does in one respect violate fundamental human rights and the rights guaranteed by the European Union. The matter therefore requires urgent explanation.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE).(PL) Mr President, the year 2012 is exceptionally full of different important events in the European Union. Signing of the budget package which has just been agreed is planned for March. Other anti-crisis measures are also going to be continued. In addition, work on the Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 is entering a crucial phase.

This year, too, we mark the 50th anniversary of the operation of the common agricultural policy. It was one of the first policies to have an exceptionally large share in the Union’s budget, but its purpose, based on the Treaties of Rome, was also exceptionally important: to ensure the supply of a sufficient amount of food at reasonable prices, and also to guarantee reasonable incomes for farmers. During and after the war, Europe was affected by hunger, so the problem of nutrition became an exceptionally important objective of the Union’s work. The 50 years of experience with the common agricultural policy have been exceptionally fruitful. This year they are sure to be the subject of a number of conferences and a major information campaign, and the lessons which have been drawn from those years will help produce a correct prediction of how the common agricultural policy will operate in the years 2014-2020.

 
  
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  Ricardo Cortés Lastra (S&D).(ES) Mr President, the management of the multinational company Teka has announced that it will take action to terminate the employment of 198 workers at its factory in Cajo, Santander (Cantabria), a region that is already greatly affected by the growing unemployment of recent months.

This measure will also affect 400 related jobs with subsidiary companies that are also located in the region.

Teka does not have sufficient economic reasons to have taken this decision. Behind the move is the plain and simple fact that the company is relocating outside the European Union.

I would therefore call on the European Commission to demand that the Government of Cantabria and the Government of Spain make a greater commitment to the workers in our region by seeking an end solution to this social conflict and therefore examining all the options at European level, such as making the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund available to it.

Europe cannot afford any more unemployed workers, and I would particularly like to ask the President of the Government of Cantabria, who, in his election manifesto, promised to take care of the companies that were already established in his Autonomous Community, to do just that and turn his words into actions. The Teka employees are a priority for the industrial fabric of our region.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin (ALDE). - Mr President, in Ireland we are told to keep the rules of the new fiscal treaty, as it will eliminate any risk of future crisis and will help solve the current one. From 2002 to 2008 Ireland did not once break the Stability and Growth Pact – unlike others. So we know from bitter experience that keeping to the rules does not always deliver and certainly will not deal with the current crisis. In 2007 we had a debt-to-GNP ratio of 30%. By 2014 it will have ballooned to 145%. No developed economy can survive those levels of debt.

We have just survived four years of austerity. Our debt levels, directly linked to bailing out banks in Ireland and in Europe, are unsustainable, and yet we are told that more of the same, without any commitment to Eurobonds, to redemption funds or debt restructuring, will solve our problems. It will not and it cannot, and given that our access to the ESM is tied to ratification of the Treaty, this is little short of blackmail. Those are the hardest words I have ever said in this Parliament. I hope I never have to repeat them. Europe can do much better than that for itself and for Ireland.

 
  
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  Miguel Portas (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, now that Berlin has imposed a technocrat as Prime Minster of Greece, do you think that the country also needs a European Minister of Finance on top of that? Does Chancellor Merkel not know that the worst thing you can do to a people is to humiliate them, forcing them to crawl?

Mr President, there was a joke in the Soviet Union in Brezhnev’s time: the train of the revolution had lost its locomotive and the party, instead of fixing it, was asking the passengers to jump off. Of course, the train was just vibrating rather than moving, but the leaders, or rather elders, of that country only knew how to make believe. The same can be said of the current leaders of the EU. Time and again, they persist with the same formula, despite the failure of its results.

One day this will change. One day jobs will matter more than the markets. One day we will stop pretending.

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE).(EL) Mr President, there is no need to remind you how critical the next few days – or even the next few hours – will be in terms of dealing once and for all with the Greek debt crisis. However, I should remind you that, in these difficult times, we must all do whatever we can to address this crisis. That, in my opinion, also applies to the European Central Bank, which should make a move that would reduce Greece’s public debt crisis by EUR 10 billion, by accepting a haircut on the bonds which it holds. I am not asking Mr Draghi to allow the European Central Bank to sustain losses. What I am asking is simply that it should forego a profit because the European Central Bank bought Greek bonds on the secondary market at approximately 75% of their value and is expecting to be paid 100% when they mature. Surely there is no other term for that except making a profit?

 
  
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  Inés Ayala Sender (S&D).(ES) Mr President, Spainair has gone bankrupt over the last few days, leaving 2 000 employees desperate and abandoned from one day to the next while 22 000 passengers have also been affected with no compensation or information, all of them victims of poor, irresponsible management by employers who have grown used to living off public money and not managing it properly. These people are also the victims of conflicts between airline companies and of an aid scheme that is criticised for being inefficient; the European Commission has even been blamed for this.

However, we would point out that, back in 2009, we requested legislative measures from the Commission specifically in order to lessen the impact of airline company bankruptcy and to resolve the total lack of protection for passengers and consumers, as well as the lack of procedures for protecting workers left in this situation.

Commissioner, we need a legislative proposal rather than exclusively voluntary procedures, and we need it immediately so as to be able to protect passengers and workers.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE) . – (RO) Mr President, many Romanians have been out on the streets since 12 January. They are European citizens like we all are, including those of us in this Chamber, and the European Parliament cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to their calls. They are citizens who want to live in a European country where elections are not held concurrently simply for the benefit of the parties in power. They want to live in a European country where the territorial administrative structure is not changed without any referendum or consultation, in a European country where laws are not adopted without any parliamentary debate, in contempt for political pluralism, and in a European country where the health-care system is not changed over night and where more than 1% of GDP is not cut from salaries to increase the expenditure on goods and services by a similar amount. They are European citizens who want to go to the polls as soon as possible to be able to bring about change.

 
  
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  Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL).(ES) Mr President, I wish to draw attention to what is happening on account of the policy to cut public spending in some EU Member States, specifically in my own country, Spain.

In Spain, both the central government and some autonomous communities are making drastic cuts in public spending on health and education, and this is causing an extremely serious deterioration in the public health and education systems, triggering the privatisation of those services. This is unacceptable.

As an example of this, in a small local district – although not that small – called Hospitalet de Llobregat, in Catalonia, attempts are being made to close the primary healthcare centre, which has led the citizens of the town to take action; they have locked themselves inside for the past 97 days in order to prevent the closure of the Bellevitge health centre.

This is a powerful symbol: the people are taking action to defend something that belongs to them – quality public health and education services.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I was deeply shocked when I saw a drawing in the morning press, a racist, xenophobic cartoon actually produced and published by a French politician who is a member of the National Front and a candidate in the parliamentary elections. It insults the Romanian people in an unacceptable and indecent way by using a statement which I find difficult to repeat. This politician says: ‘Watch out for the Father Christmas from Romania who comes into your house by the door and leaves with the TV.’ Mr Poncet is making an unacceptable generalisation, insulting a hard-working, well-educated people who have always been supportive of France and of the values which France represents. The leadership of the French National Front criticised this political message, and I also expect our three colleagues belonging to the National Front to do likewise.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the political situation in Romania is going through a period of crisis where the democratic foundations of the rule of law are under attack. The situation has deteriorated in the last three years to the point where citizens have taken to the streets, as has already been mentioned in this House, in a series of protests which have been unprecedented in the last two decades. The current administration has governed badly, violated civil liberties, caused much social suffering, sidelined fundamental institutions, such as parliament, attempted to abolish political pluralism and invented parliamentary parties to support the government, but which have never received any endorsement at the ballot box. In these circumstances, the opposition has decided today to adopt a more radical form of political action by refusing to participate in parliamentary proceedings, thereby trying to ensure respect for dignity and constitutional rights. We also call for a return to a democratic and civilised form of behaviour, in keeping with European political values.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE). - Mr President, the European Parliament came under cyber attack by Anonymous last week after the EU had signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Japan. Meanwhile I have received a vast number of messages from EU citizens and beyond, who were concerned about their rights.

I find it bizarre that the EU and 22 of its Member States signed ACTA before addressing the concerns of the citizens in an appropriate transparent manner, as democracies should. Therefore, I call on the Commission and the Member States to increase efforts to communicate ACTA to citizens and to seek their consent when it is ratified. The EU and the national governments have to reassure citizens that ACTA will not violate the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE).(HU) Mr President, the new basic law of Hungary has received much criticism both from the press and within the walls of Parliament. Many have voiced serious accusations against the Hungarian Government. I will not go into the details as many have already elaborated on them before me. Those expressing such criticism are often unfamiliar with the conditions, laws and everyday life in Hungary.

As a representative of the Hungarian minority of Romania I have been closely following the internal politics of not only Hungary, but also Romania, Slovakia and even Serbia.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are concerned about human and minority rights, I would like to bring to your attention the state law that is still in force in Slovakia and the fact that people are being stripped of their citizenship even though this is prohibited under the effective Slovak constitution.

I would also like to draw your attention to the Slovak language law, and also to Romania, where the provisions of the education law in force are being grossly disregarded when it comes to the establishment of minority university faculties. When you express your concerns about the application of the rule of law, please do so in a credible manner and avoid even the appearance of your being interested only in the activities of the government of a single country.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I would like to draw your attention to a tragic incident that seems to have gone unnoticed in Brussels, which took place on 1 January in the separatist Transnistria region. A Moldovan citizen, Vadim Pisari, just 18 years of age, was killed at the Vadul lui Vodă checkpoint by a Russian soldier from the peacekeeping troops. This event has stunned the whole community and stirred a feeling of insecurity among them. This tragedy reminds us that there is still an unresolved conflict on the European Union’s doorstep, and failure to resolve it is delaying the Republic of Moldova’s move towards the European Union. The Romanian-speaking population in Transnistria is being subjected to discrimination and having their human rights blatantly violated. The settlement of the Transnistria conflict requires the peacekeeping mission to be turned into a civilian one, with an international mandate. I call on the EU to take a more robust approach to clarifying the situation.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the intergovernmental agreement signed by 25 Member States on 30 January is a commitment to tightening fiscal discipline. We regret the lack of just as strong a commitment to stimulating employment, especially among young people, and to boosting the financing of the economy. Feeling let down by the current government which has caused the number of families at risk of poverty to increase, has the lowest rate of absorption of Structural Funds, and has adopted by assuming responsibility fundamental laws such as the Labour Code, Law on National Education, as well as the Law on Concurrent Elections, which has fortunately been declared unconstitutional, Romanian citizens have decided to express their concern for their future publicly. The popular movements protesting in many Romanian cities over the last three weeks are making one key demand: we want to have confidence in politicians; we want to have confidence in democracy. Just like Romania’s citizens, all European citizens are expecting not only commitments for austerity, but also, in particular, respect for democracy and the chance to contribute to the development of the societies they live in.

 
  
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  László Tőkés (PPE).(HU) Mr President, two years ago, Parliament adopted with an overwhelming majority the resolution on a general ban on the use of cyanide mining technologies. Yet the European Commission, showing complete disregard for the fundamental European rule of representative democracy and referring to the national competences of the Member States, is unable to impose a ban on the use of cyanide in mining, and in Romania the authorisation of the Roșia Montană mining investment is proceeding unhindered despite all protests.

On the anniversary of the Tisza river cyanide disaster of 30 January 2000, as one of the rapporteurs of the resolution I call on President Martin Schulz to intercede on behalf of Parliament with the Commission and Romania to give effect to the resolution we adopted two years ago. If this plan of gigantic proportions were to be realised the Roșia Montană reservoir, which is forty times the size of the Baia Mare slurry reservoir, would represent a virtual ecological atomic bomb.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, at the moment the temperature in Bucharest is close to -20°C. Yet people are continuing to protest in the city centre, just as they have been doing for well over two weeks. The same is also happening in other cities in the country. These people are putting their health at risk because they have had enough of being humiliated and misled by those who govern them. They are all in despair, not only because their right to have a decent life in their country, Romania, is banned, but also because the political authorities are showing them contempt, ignoring and disregarding them. Their despair is only surpassed by the persistence they are showing in continuing their protest. More than 90% of Romanians want the president and the government to go. However, the regime is resorting to extremely antidemocratic actions, such as the attempt to postpone and hold concurrent elections and the amendment to the electoral law, thereby challenging not only the rules of democracy but also the people whose dissatisfaction is growing and who are demanding their country back.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, it is with great sorrow that I must inform the European Parliament of the death several days ago of Baroness de Vos van Steenwijk. Baroness de Vos was Dutch, and for many decades she was the Honorary President of the International Movement ATD Fourth World. She initiated the founding of the Institute for Social Research, which supported the fight against extreme poverty in the emerging European community.

Baroness de Vos went on to forge lasting relationships with the UN. It is thanks to her initiative that we have a special UN rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights. After the first elections to the European Parliament, she encouraged the creation of the ATD Fourth World committee, at a time when intergroups did not yet exist.

I hope that her political views and activities in the ATD Fourth World family will move our consciences, making us aware at all levels of decision-making that extreme poverty is a violation of human rights, both in the EU and across the world. That is a challenge for all of us.

 
  
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  Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the public debate which took place yesterday in the European Parliament about the serious deviations from democracy in Romania under the Băsescu–Boc administration has aroused increased interest among Romanians in the country and from the diaspora, as well as among many foreign citizens and fellow MEPs from different European Union Member States.

Although this event was organised by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) was also present in the hall, being represented by several Romanian MEPs belonging to the party currently in power in Romania. The latter’s only involvement was restricted to their convoluted efforts to hamper the smooth running of proceedings and lower the level of debate, by using tactics that are very familiar to Romanians, in an attempt to distract attention towards trivial matters and topics completely unrelated to the content of the debates.

However, once again, the European Parliament proved to be a forum where such behaviour is not tolerated, with the audience immediately taking action against such troublemakers by openly showing their disapproval.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank fellow foreign MEPs and Romanian MEPs from my country and the diaspora who attended this event yesterday, and I assure them that Romanians will continue to fight in good faith to bring back a Romania governed democratically, fairly and honestly.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). - Mr President, my subject is safety at sea. Unfortunately there are always tragedies associated with the sea. Only two weeks ago in my own constituency a fishing trawler sank just as it was coming into the safety of the harbour. Our sympathies go to the families affected, in particular the Irish and Egyptian families.

Also at that time we had the tragedy with the cruise liner off Italy. It was reported widely in the media that what I might call showboating may have been responsible for this. I want to look at the wider picture. Can we establish whether there are practices like this, which are contrary to safety regulations, being undertaken by cruise ships – and maybe others? Also, what is the optimal size of a cruiser? A few years ago the average was one thousand passengers and now it is five thousand.

 
  
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  Jacek Olgierd Kurski (EFD).(PL) Mr President, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, is entering the final phase of the legislative process in our Parliament. The fight against counterfeit goods would seem to be a good thing. I do not hide the fact that I myself was one of the first victims of Internet piracy, when a film documentary I had made, the Polish documentary entitled Nocna zmiana, was put on the Internet and was illegally copied thousands of times as long ago as the second half of the 1990s.

I am, however, opposed to ACTA, because by its unclear provisions and its unequal treatment of the parties involved it entails a huge risk of giving rise to oppression in the Internet. This is why thousands of Poland’s young people took to the streets in 80 cities in Poland to protest against ACTA. You see, there was an incident in my country in which eight officers of Poland’s special Internal Security Agency entered the home of an Internet user in order to take control of a small website which had been criticising the public authorities. If the Internal Security Agency, which uses its officers to suppress freedom in the Internet, is given something like ACTA, there is no doubt at all that it will make use of these new powers. So it is imperative to defend freedom in the Internet. We should abandon ACTA. Long live the free Internet!

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Mr President, I consider that the concepts ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are concepts that are used and abused, because we infringe them as easily as we praise them. The representatives of the troika in Greece are demanding that measures be taken that will decimate Greek society, before a new loan is contracted for Greece. They are asking, among other things, for 150 000 civil servants to be made redundant and for private-sector wages and pensions to be cut, by abolishing the minimum wage and collective agreements. These demands conflict with the Charter of Human Rights and constitutional treaties protecting the right to work, which is a basic human right. There is a risk that the social fabric will be dissolved and of destabilisation in Greece. As regards the recent stand taken by the Greek Government, may I assure you that not only is it inapplicable; more to the point, it is an insult to the Greeks. The crisis will be over one day and, once it is over, we need to be able to look each other in the eye.

 
  
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  President. - The item is hereby closed.

 

20. Agenda of the next sitting : see Minutes
Video of the speeches

21. Closure of the sitting
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(The sitting closed at 23:25)

 
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