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Procedure : 2012/2046(INI)
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Tuesday, 11 September 2012 - Strasbourg
Women's working conditions in the service sector

European Parliament resolution of 11 September 2012 on women's working conditions in the service sector (2012/2046(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Articles 2 and 3(3), second subparagraph, of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and to Articles 8, 153(1), indent (i), and 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 18 April 2012 entitled ‘Towards a job-rich recovery’ (COM(2012)0173) and the accompanying document on exploiting the employment potential of the personal and household services (SWD(2012)0095),

–  having regard to the Commission proposal of 6 October 2011 for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a European Union Programme for Social Change and Innovation (COM(2011)0609),

–  having regard to the European Pact for Gender Equality (2011-2020), adopted by the European Council in March 2011(1),

–   having regard to the Commission's 2011 Report on the Progress on Equality between Women and Men in 2010 (SEC(2011)0193),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 21 September 2010 entitled ‘Strategy for equality between women and men – 2010-2015’ (COM(2010)0491),

–  having regard to the proposal for a Council decision on ‘guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States – Part II of the Europe 2020 Integrated Guidelines’ (COM(2010)0193),

–  having regard to the Council Conclusions of 8 June 2009 on Flexicurity in times of crisis,

–  having regard to Directive 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market(2),

–  having regard to Directive 2006/54/EC of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast)(3),

–  having regard to Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services(4),

–  having regard to the 2008 report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions entitled ‘Working in Europe: Gender differences’,

–  having regard to the 2007 report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions entitled ‘Working conditions in the European Union: The gender perspective’,

–  having regard to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 18 December 1979,

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 March 2012 on ‘equality between women and men in the European Union – 2011’(5),

–  having regard to its resolution of 8 March 2011 on the face of female poverty in the European Union(6),

–  having regard to its resolution of 19 October 2010 on precarious women workers(7),

–  having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality and the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (A7-0246/2012),

A.  whereas many countries have undergone a tertiarisation of their economy, meaning that the service sector now accounts for the majority of jobs and is the largest contributor to GDP in the countries concerned, representing more than 70 % of economic activity in the European Union and a similar and growing percentage of total employment, and whereas in the EU in 2010 employment in the service sector accounted, on average, for almost 70 % of total employment, while employment in industry accounted for 25,4 % and employment in agriculture for 5,2 %;

B.  whereas currently nine out of ten jobs are created in the service sector and studies indicate that further enhancement of the single market for services could help to unlock considerable potential for employment – jobs which the EU urgently needs in this time of crisis;

C.  whereas the employment rate for women is 62,1 %, compared with 75,1 % for men, which means that the Europe 2020 strategy's primary goal of attaining 75 % employment by 2020 can be achieved only if more women have access to the labour market;

D.  whereas most of the female workforce is employed in the service sector, and whereas in the EU in 2010 this proportion averaged 83,1 %, compared with 58,1 % of the male workforce;

E.  whereas women tend to be disproportionately represented in the flexible and part-time employment market because of gender stereotypes in our society which depict women's primary responsibility as being the family carer, and whereas they are therefore deemed to be more suited than men to working on a temporary, casual or part-time basis or to working from home; whereas flexible working time arrangements, including teleworking and part-time or home-office work, are still largely considered as a ‘female’ way of organising working time;

F.  whereas the service sector offers many opportunities for flexible employment contracts – flexitime, part-time and short-term contracts – which can help both male and female caregivers, where they have the ability to choose, to combine work and caregiving; whereas women are more likely to turn to flexible or part-time employment in order to reconcile professional and family obligations, even where there is a pay difference in terms of hourly rate between part-time and full-time workers; and whereas women have more career breaks and amass fewer working hours than men, which can affect their career development and prospects for social promotion, and thus also results in a less remunerative career;

G.  whereas precarious work is a persistent feature of the European Union's labour market, and whereas women are more affected by such precarity, are discriminated against in terms of pay and are more involved in part-time work, and are therefore paid less than men, enjoy less social protection, are more restricted in terms of career progression and have less chance of economic independence, which encourages them to return to the private sphere, with a subsequent setback in the sharing of responsibilities; whereas women represent a great proportion of workers in undeclared employment, who are engaged mainly in domestic and care work;

H.  whereas, at all levels of training, a higher percentage of men have jobs than women, even though the latter may be as or better qualified than men, but whereas their skills are often less well-regarded and their career advances slower;

I.  whereas women make up around 60 % of university graduates, yet their representation in senior official and decision-making positions in the service sector is disproportionately low;

J.  whereas women are over-represented in the lowest-ranked jobs and positions in the service sector in terms of qualifications, pay, remuneration and prestige and women therefore face greater job insecurity and are paid less than men;

K.  whereas women's contribution to the labour force is usually underestimated by employers, since they are more likely to interrupt their careers in order to bear and raise children;

L.  whereas better opportunities for women in professional life have to be seen as an asset and an investment for society as a whole, especially in the context of the current demographic changes and challenges in Europe;

M.  whereas women face greater difficulties in balancing work and family life, as the responsibilities associated with family life are not always equally shared and care of dependent family members falls mainly to women, and whereas creating a balance between work and family life will thus help to unlock substantial employment potential for women and facilitate better matching of women to available jobs in the service sector and all other occupational sectors, thereby boosting economic growth, employment and innovation; whereas, in this connection, government policies that provide care services for children and dependants are an important factor in the ability of women and men to manage the different demands arising from workplace and caregiving activities;

N.  whereas traditional gender roles and stereotypes continue to have a strong influence on the division of roles between women and men at home, in the workplace and in society at large, and tend to perpetuate the status quo of inherited obstacles to achieving gender equality and to limit women's range of employment choices and personal development in the service sector, impeding them from realising their full potential as individuals and economic actors;

O.  whereas domestic, marital, economic and sexual violence against women is an infringement of human rights that affects all social, cultural and economic strata;

P.  whereas women's economic independence is a condition sine qua non for them to take charge of their personal and professional trajectories and to be given real choice;

Q.  whereas there are continuing inequalities between men and women in access to and use of new technologies and the internet, which often lead to a skills gap and even to ‘digital illiteracy’, a phenomenon widely known as the ‘gender digital divide’;

R.  whereas the difference in pay between men and women for the same work or work of equal value is at one of the highest levels in the service sector;

1.  Stresses that there is a strong horizontal segregation or gender-specific division of labour in the service sector: almost half the women in employment are concentrated in 10 of the 130 occupations listed in the International Standard Classification of Occupations drawn up by the International Labour Organisation (ILO): shop salespersons and sales demonstrators, domestic and related helpers, cleaners and launderers, personal care and related workers, office clerks, administration associate professionals, housekeeping and restaurant services workers, secretaries and keyboard operators, general managers, finance and sales associate professionals and nursing and midwifery associate professionals;

2.  Invites the Commission to fight this gender divide by means of campaigns promoting the aforementioned occupations;

3.  Underlines the importance of reducing occupational segregation in order to bridge the gender wage gap, which is often worse for women employed in female-dominated jobs than for women holding the same qualifications but employed in other sectors;

4.  Points out that there is also a concentration of women working in the public sector, where 25 % of the active female population can be found, compared with only 17 % of the active male population; highlights the fact that in this sector women are more vulnerable to loss of employment on account of budget cuts; points out that, in order to achieve the target of 75 % employment for women and men, set out in Europe 2020 (the EU's growth strategy), efforts are needed to get more women working in both the public and private sectors; notes that in a large number of Member States there are considerably more female doctors than male doctors;

5.  Calls upon Member States to ensure that the public sector, which is characterised by transparent and clear recruitment criteria and terms of promotion, displays an exemplary attitude regarding equal access to employment in the public service and especially to management positions; stresses the need to introduce transparent rules for the selection and recruitment of employees in the private sector;

6.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to take concrete measures towards a further deepening of the market for services in order to develop its significant jobs potential;

7.  Stresses the importance of combating stereotypes and gender-based discrimination by adopting active policies that can reduce the real disadvantages affecting women in the service sector, where there is an assumption that there are male and female jobs, and that the latter are associated with the work women do at home and are considered as an extension of these (clothing and textiles, teaching, nursing, cleaning, etc.); calls for educational and professional counselling to play a greater role at school, for equality between men and women to be promoted among young people and for the fight against stereotypes to steer young women towards qualifications and professions in which they are under-represented; notes that the proportion of men entering the teaching profession is considerably smaller than that of women and stresses the need for more males in the profession;

8.  Points out that, among women employed in the service sector, there are more who find employment in the social, care and telecommunications sectors, which tend to require lower qualifications, enjoy little social prestige and correspond to women's traditional roles in society, while men dominate the most prestigious and lucrative sectors: finance and banking;

9.  Points out that care policies and services for older people, dependants and children, including maternity, paternity and parental leave provisions, are absolutely fundamental elements to achieving gender equality; notes, therefore, that women and men should have the choice to engage in paid work and to have children and a family, without being deprived of their freedom to make full use of their right to employment and equal opportunities;

10.  Draws attention to the fact that part-time employment (19,2 % of total employment in the EU in 2010) is still a predominantly female domain; notes that in the EU in 2010 31,9 % of the female workforce was in part-time employment, compared with just 8,7 % of the male population, meaning that 78 % of part-time work is carried out by women; points out that in the EU as a whole 19 % of women and 7 % of men work ‘short’ part-time hours (fewer than 20 hours a week) and only 3 % of men aged between 35 and 49 are on ‘short’ part-time hours, compared with 18 % of women in the same age group; notes also that part-time jobs are found mostly in specific sectors, with more than 38 % of part-time workers, including those on both ‘short’ and ‘substantial’ hours (i.e. between 20 and 34 hours a week), being employed in education, health and social services, other services or retail and wholesale;

11.  Draws attention to the increasing prevalence of flexible working hours: weekend work, irregular and unpredictable working hours and the extension of the working day, and to the fact that, given that the demand for flexibility is greatest amongst part-time workers, who are mostly women, this means that more women than men have their working hours changed from week to week, making it even harder for women to strike a balance between work and family life, especially single mothers and those caring for dependent family members; stresses that work contracts should be stable and working hours scheduled, but that working hours may be negotiated upon the employee's request in order better to reconcile professional, family and private life; emphasises that flexible working hours should be the worker's decision, and should not be imposed or enforced by the employer; rejects situations of flexibility and contractual uncertainty that do not allow for family formation and stability;

12.  Recalls that flexible working arrangements are specific to many jobs in this sector; emphasises that, on the one hand, increased flexibility in working arrangements – provided that it is voluntary and geared to the real needs of workers, and that workers have control over it and clarity as to their working hours and part-time arrangements – increases women's opportunities to participate actively in the service sector and supports the reconciliation of work, family and private life, but that, on the other hand, flexibility can have a negative impact on women's wages and pensions and negative consequences for women in employment, such as a lack of formal contracts, social security and employment security; notes that it can also result in employers failing to ensure adequate occupational health and safety conditions;

13.  Stresses the importance of ‘home-working’, which is becoming increasingly fashionable; points out that more than 90 % of companies in Germany and Sweden are dividing their working week in new ways, judging staff on annual rather than weekly hours and allowing husbands and wives to share jobs;

14.  Highlights the importance of ensuring decent working conditions coupled with rights relating to, inter alia, pay, health and safety standards, accessibility, career prospects, further training, sustainable social security and lifelong learning;

15.  Notes that in the EU in 2010 the proportion of the female workforce on a fixed-term contract was 14,5 %, which was slightly higher than the proportion for men, at 13 %;

16.  Recalls, once more, that women earn on average 16,4 % less than men in the European Union; states that women do not receive the same salary in cases where they hold the same jobs as men or jobs of equal value; notes that in other cases they do not hold the same jobs, owing to the continuing vertical and horizontal occupational segregation and the higher incidence of part-time jobs; calls, therefore, on the Member States, employers and trade union movements to draft and implement serviceable, specific job evaluation tools to help determine work of equal value in order to ensure equal pay for women and men, and encourages companies to undertake annual equal pay audits and publish the data for maximum transparency and to narrow the gender pay gap; points out that the gender pay gap often leads to a retirement pension gap, which may result in women finding themselves below the poverty line;

17.  Stresses, therefore, the importance of enforcing the principle of equal pay for women and men in the same workplace, as enshrined in Article 157 of the Treaty of Lisbon; recalls its resolution of 24 May 2012 on equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value(8), and reiterates its request therein for a review of Directive 2006/54/EC by 15 February 2013 at the latest;

18.  Notes with concern that the vast majority of low salaries, and almost all very low salaries, are for part-time work and that about 80 % of the working poor are women; points out that there is a need for concrete measures to combat precarious employment in the service sector, which particularly affects women, and therefore calls on the Commission and the Member States to develop strategies in order to combat precarious employment;

19.  Claims that a fairly widespread yet discriminatory practice is to assign different occupational categories to men and women for the same work or work of equal value: in the case of cleaning services, for example, men are appointed as maintenance technicians whereas women are appointed as cleaning auxiliaries, a situation which is used as a means to justify lower pay for women's work;

20.  Notes that a rise in women's level of education is seldom matched by a move up the hierarchy at work or an improvement in their conditions of employment, so much so that over-qualification could be said to exist in the female population;

21.  Notes that, in relation to the growing trend towards employing women part-time and employers' preference to invest in employees on permanent employment contracts, women clearly have limited access to a wide range of training and retraining courses, which decreases their opportunities for professional development;

22.  Stresses the need for all workers in the service sector, with attention paid to those belonging to the most vulnerable groups, to have access to permanent upskilling programmes and lifelong learning, in order to improve their future labour market opportunities and reduce the mismatch between skills and constantly evolving work duties;

23.  Notes women's low level of participation in vocational training in the service sector in the context of lifelong learning, and calls on the Member States to take action on the matter;

24.  Stresses the need for upskilling in the case of older workers and parents returning to the labour market after time spent caring for children or dependent relatives;

25.  Points out that in 2010 only one in seven members of the boards of major European companies were women (13,7 %) and only 3,4 % of the boards of the biggest companies were chaired by a woman;

26.  Stresses the importance of working to get more women into the research sector and emphasises that women can play a decisive role in the development of new and innovative systems and new products and services in the service sector, in particular because, although women are responsible for 80 % of the world's purchasing decisions, most products are designed by men, including 90 % of technical products; believes that greater participation by women in innovation processes would open up new markets and increase competitiveness; believes also that innovative services are essential for meeting the challenges of the future, in particular the rising demand for welfare services from an ageing population, and can create better opportunities for people to live and work in cities, towns and rural areas throughout the Union through the provision of good communications and commercial services;

27.  Emphasises that, as many women continue to choose training in the service sector and are thus building up their commercial experience and knowledge of the trade, there is ample scope and great potential for female entrepreneurship; believes that, in order for efforts to increase entrepreneurship and enterprise among women to be effective, equivalent conditions to those in the service sector are needed for the production sector; welcomes, in this connection, the proposal to extend microfinance as a specific axis of the Programme for Social Change and Innovation, and highlights the importance of microfinance as an instrument to support female entrepreneurs and persons who are in a vulnerable labour-market position in the service sector, welcomes the Commission communication entitled ‘Social Business Initiative’ (COM(2011)0682), because women in particular are taking up work in the social business sector;

28.  Notes that, in the service sector, women in managerial positions tend to work mainly in sectors such as retail distribution and hotels, although they are making headway in less traditional sectors such as insurance and banking, and that in most cases women are managers of small companies or companies without any employees; notes also that in large organisations women usually reach senior management positions only in less important areas of the company, such as human resources and administrative roles; encourages companies to make regular training available to juniors and to implement effective maternity, paternity and parental support schemes;

29.  Calls for an end to the glass ceiling in the public service that prevents women from attaining positions of high responsibility; notes that the public sector must play an exemplary role in this field;

30.  Emphasises that women account for a greater proportion than men of the informal economy in the service sector, partly because there is greater deregulation in the sectors in which women traditionally work, for example domestic service or care work; notes, on the other hand, that the informal economy has grown as a result of the crisis, although it is very difficult to determine its particular contours in the absence of reliable data on incidence and impact;

31.  Welcomes the Annual Growth Survey working document entitled ‘On exploiting the employment potential of the personal and household services’ and calls on the Member States, the social partners and other stakeholders actively to accept the Commission's invitation to conduct a discussion on this issue;

32.  Calls on the Member States to develop policies aimed at turning precarious workers in the informal economy into regular workers, for instance by introducing tax benefits and service vouchers; calls for the development of a programme aimed at educating workers in the service sector about their rights and promoting the organisation of such workers; calls for initiatives targeting employers and the wider public in order to raise awareness of the negative effects and impact of precarious irregular work, including on occupational safety and health;

33.  Calls on the Commission to order an independent study on the effects of liberalising the domestic care sector on the position and conditions of workers;

34.  Is concerned about the situation of female immigrant and undeclared workers in the service sector, in particular those employed in private households, as the vast majority work without a contract in precarious employment and domestic service with poor working conditions, substantially lower wages than declared workers and no social rights of any kind; stresses, therefore, the need for appropriate policies to ensure that migrant workers are entitled to basic human rights, including the right to health care, fair labour conditions, education and training, moral and physical integrity and equality before the law; calls on the Member States to review national policies and practices in order to place a greater focus on recruitment practices, access to information and human rights protection and to encourage such workers to report abusive working conditions without the risk of any impact on their residence status;

35.  Encourages the Member States to ratify without delay ILO Convention No 189 on domestic workers, which was adopted by the tripartite organisation in 2011 with the aim of ensuring decent working conditions for domestic workers and the same basic labour rights as those available to other workers and supporting the development of a formal domestic and care services sector;

36.  Calls on the Member States to consider introducing a special regime for the personal and household service sector in order to regularise the widespread phenomenon of undeclared work − which particularly affects women − and thereby ensure decent working conditions; calls on the Member States to report on their efforts to combat undeclared work in their national reform programmes submitted under the Europe 2020 strategy;

37.  Calls on the Member States to adopt policies on integrating vulnerable workers into the labour market, with particular reference to low-skilled, unemployed, young and older workers, people with disabilities, those with mental disabilities and minority groups such as migrant workers and Roma, through targeted and tailored occupational guidance, training and apprenticeship programmes;

38.  Notes that the economic crisis and so-called austerity measures have led to a reduction in gender equality measures and are an additional obstacle to the application of the principle of gender equality, particularly with regard to job losses, access to new jobs and increased insecurity for women, which, together with the fact that male employment rates tend to recover more quickly than female employment rates, are having a negative impact on women's employment in the service sector and on their careers and pensions; calls on the Commission to collect data on the impact of austerity measures on women in the labour market, with particular emphasis on the service sector; emphasises the need for greater recognition of the interdependence between social and economic issues, as increased attention to social issues is a prerequisite for effectively addressing gender-based inequalities;

39.  Points out that the Fifth European Working Conditions Survey, published in April 2012, found that 18 % of workers reported a poor work-life balance; stresses the need for strengthened policies to reconcile work and family life and calls, in particular, for an increase in free and quality social public services and facilities in order to provide childcare services and care for other dependants which are compatible with the reconciliation of professional, family and private life, in both rural and urban areas; stresses that the provision of care facilities will also help to reduce poverty among women by making it possible for them to work;

40.  Stresses that the active participation and involvement of men in reconciliation measures, such as part-time work, is crucial for achieving work-life balance, since both women and men could benefit from family-friendly employment policies and from equal sharing of unpaid work and household responsibilities; calls on the Commission and the Member States to take decisive policy action to fight gender stereotypes and encourage men to share equally in caring and domestic responsibilities, in particular through incentives for men to take parental and paternity leave, which will strengthen their rights as parents, ensure a greater degree of equality between women and men and more appropriate sharing of family and housekeeping responsibilities, and enhance women's opportunities to participate fully in the labour market; suggests that the Member States should correctly apply Council Directive 2010/18/EU(9) on parental leave, through both legislative and educational measures relating to gender equality;

41.  Calls on the Commission and the Council to adopt an action plan for achieving the Barcelona targets for childcare provision and to establish a timeline for progressively increasing the target levels;

42.  Points out the limited opportunities women have to adapt to the requirements of labour markets in a modern, highly globalised world, in which a worker's key attribute is mobility and the ability to move to take up a position outside his or her place of residence, which in the case of women, who are more involved in caring for children and looking after the home, is often impossible, preventing them from taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the labour market;

43.  Urges the Council to break the deadlock with regard to the adoption of the amendment to the pregnant workers directive accepting the flexibility proposed by Parliament so that Europe can make progress in protecting the rights and improving the working conditions of pregnant workers and those who have recently given birth; underlines, in this connection, the importance of effectively protecting motherhood and fatherhood by combating i) dismissal from employment during or after pregnancy, ii) salary cuts during maternity leave, and iii) downgrading of job status or remuneration upon return to work; emphasises the need to ensure that non-typical employees of companies, such as locums, freelance workers and other temporary employees, can assert rights to an extent that reflects the individual employee's work contribution in the period prior to pregnancy and birth, and which ensures the greatest possible equality of treatment in relation to permanent colleagues in the sector in question;

44.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States, with due respect for the principle of subsidiarity and in consultation with the social partners, to develop strategies for setting minimum standards in the service sector, including regular contracts and collective bargaining, and to try to tackle the negative consequences of horizontal and vertical segregation;

45.  Stresses the need to combat all forms of violence against women in the service sector, including economic violence, psychological and sexual workplace harassment, sexual abuse and human trafficking;

46.  Stresses the need for the Commission and the Member States to ensure that women's working conditions (the strenuousness and risks of the work carried out as well as the working environment) in the service sector comply with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, adopted in June 1998, and with the ILO's specific fundamental conventions;

47.  Calls on the Member States to take measures to combat the misuse of personal care services, such as massage and saunas, to mask services of a sexual nature where the latter are provided under duress and controlled by human trafficking networks;

48.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to guarantee the protection of social and employment rights for the large number of mobile workers in the service sector, and to combat all forms of exploitation and the risk of social exclusion while ensuring that information on workers' rights is easily accessible; stresses that mobility should be voluntary;

49.  Notes the need to promote initial and ongoing training options for women which are targeted and in line with the objective of developing the scientific and technical competencies required to find work and pursue a career;

50.  Notes that, although there are increasing numbers of women using computers and surfing the internet in an elementary way, the digital divide in terms of skills remains very wide, restricting women's access to and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), thus hampering their ability to seek and find skilled work and, consequently, intensifying inequalities within households, communities, labour markets and the wider economy; calls, therefore, for efforts to promote women's access to the use of new technologies by giving them priority access to free training courses; invites the Member States and the regions to set up free computer training courses through projects financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), providing women with the chance to acquire new technical skills in the fields of technology and computer science and leading to greater opportunities for female employment in the service sector; calls on governments to implement policies (such as promotion campaigns and specific scholarships) aimed at increasing the level of enrolment of female students in information and communications technology courses;

51.  Calls for a strong social dialogue and the involvement of employers' and workers' representatives in setting EU priorities for the service sector with regard to the protection of social and employment rights, unemployment benefits and representative rights;

52.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, and to the governments of the Member States.

(1) Annex to Council Conclusions of 7 March 2011.
(2) OJ L 376, 27.12.2006, p. 36.
(3) OJ L 204, 26.7.2006, p. 23.
(4) OJ L 373, 21.12.2004, p. 37.
(5) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2012)0069.
(6) OJ C 199 E, 7.7.2012, p. 77.
(7) OJ C 70 E, 8.3.2012, p. 1.
(8) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2012)0225.
(9) OJ L 68, 18.3.2010, p. 13.

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