Texts adopted
Thursday, 24 November 2016 - StrasbourgFinal edition
The case of Gui Minhai, jailed publisher in China
 Situation of the Guarani-Kaiowá in the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso do Sul
 The case of Ildar Dadin, prisoner of conscience in Russia
 Macro-financial assistance to Jordan ***I
 Activities and supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision ***I
 Situation in Syria
 EU-Turkey relations
 EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women
 Activities of the European Ombudsman in 2015
 Towards a definitive VAT system and fighting VAT fraud
 EU action plan against wildlife trafficking
 New opportunities for small transport businesses
 Situation in Belarus

The case of Gui Minhai, jailed publisher in China
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the case of Gui Minhai, jailed publisher in China (2016/2990(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on the situation in China, in particular those of 4 February 2016 on the case of the missing book publishers in Hong Kong(1), 16 December 2015 on EU-China relations(2) and 13 March 2014 on EU priorities for the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council(3),

–  having regard to the statement of 7 January 2016 by the European External Action Service (EEAS) spokesperson on the disappearance of individuals associated with the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong,

–  having regard to the 18th Annual Report of the European Commission and the European External Action Service on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of April 2016,

–  having regard to the EU-China dialogue on human rights launched in 1995 and to the 34th round held in Beijing on 30 November and 1 December 2015,

–  having regard to the statement made on 16 February 2016 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,

–  having regard to the European Commission and EEAS joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council entitled ‘Elements for a new EU strategy on China’, of 22 June 2016,

–  having regard to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, in particular the articles on personal freedoms and freedom of the press, and to the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance,

–  having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 16 December 1966,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,

–  having regard to the adoption of the new national security law by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress on 1 July 2015, the adoption of the new Foreign NGO Management Law by the National People’s Congress on 28 April 2016 and the adoption of the new law on cybersecurity on 7 November 2016,

–  having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas Gui Minhai, a book publisher and shareholder of the publishing house and of a bookstore selling literary works critical of Beijing, disappeared in Pattaya, Thailand, on 17 October 2015 without trace;

B.  whereas between October and December 2015 four other Hong Kong residents (Lui Bo, Zhang Zhiping, Lam Wing-Kee and Lee Bo) who worked for the same bookstore also disappeared;

C.  whereas Gui Minhai is a Swedish citizen of Chinese origin and therefore an EU citizen;

D.  whereas on 17 January 2016 Gui Minhai appeared in a Chinese TV broadcast and apparently acknowledged that he had voluntarily returned to mainland China in order to be judged for a supposed crime involving a car accident in 2003; whereas there are serious reasons to believe his appearance on TV was staged and that he was given a script to read from;

E.  whereas Gui Minhai has been under arrest for more than a year, incommunicado, and whereas his whereabouts are unknown; whereas Gui Minhai is the only bookseller of the group still in prison;

F.  whereas the Swedish authorities have asked for the Chinese authorities’ full support in protecting the rights of their citizen, as well as those of the other ‘disappeared’ individuals; whereas neither Gui Minhai’s family nor the Swedish Government has been informed of any formal charges against him, or of the formal place of his detention;

G.  whereas Lui Bo and Zhang Zhiping were allowed to return to Hong Kong on 4 March and 8 March 2016 respectively after being detained in mainland China; whereas they asked the police to drop their respective cases and went back to mainland China on the same day they had arrived; whereas Lee Bo returned to Hong Kong on 24 March 2016 and denies having been kidnapped; whereas Lam Wing-Kee returned to Hong Kong on 16 June 2016;

H.  whereas in June 2016, Lam Wing-Kee, one of the publishers, returned to Hong Kong to close the inquiry into his disappearance, but instead of returning to the mainland, he told the media that he had been abducted by Chinese security services, kept isolated and forced to confess to crimes he had not committed in front of TV cameras;

I.  whereas Hong Kong upholds and protects freedom of speech, expression and publication; whereas the publication of any material critical of the Chinese leadership is legal in Hong Kong, although banned in mainland China; whereas the ‘one country, two systems’ principle guarantees Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing with respect to such freedoms as are enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law;

J.  whereas in the 2015 Annual Report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the EEAS and the Commission consider the case of the five book publishers to be the most serious challenge to Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the ‘one country, two systems’ principle since Hong Kong’s return to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997; whereas only legal enforcement agencies in Hong Kong have the legal authority to enforce the law in Hong Kong;

K.  whereas the UN Committee Against Torture has reported its serious concerns over consistent reports from various sources about a continuing practice of illegal detention in unrecognised and unofficial detention places, the so-called ‘black jails’; whereas it has also expressed serious concerns over consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system, which places over-reliance on confessions as the basis for convictions;

L.  whereas China has signed but not yet ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); whereas China has neither signed nor ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances;

M.  whereas the 17th EU-China Summit of 29 June 2015 lifted bilateral relations to a new level, and whereas in its strategic framework on human rights and democracy the EU pledges that it will place human rights at the centre of its relations with all third countries, including its strategic partners; whereas the 18th EU-China Summit of 12-13 July 2016 concluded with a statement saying there would be another round of the human rights dialogue between the EU and China before the end of 2016;

1.  Expresses its grave concern over the lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of Gui Minhai; calls for the immediate publication of detailed information on his whereabouts and calls for his immediate safe release and for him to be given the right to communication;

2.  Notes with concern the allegations that mainland China’s enforcement agencies are operating in Hong Kong; reminds the Chinese authorities that any operation of their law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong would be inconsistent with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle;

3.  Urges the relevant authorities in Thailand, China and Hong Kong to clarify the circumstances of the disappearances in conformity with the rule of law;

4.  Strongly condemns all cases of human rights violations, in particular arbitrary arrests, rendition, forced confessions, secret detention, incommunicado custody and violations of the freedom of publication and expression; recalls that the independence of book editors, journalists and bloggers must be safeguarded; calls for an immediate end to human rights violations and political intimidation;

5.  Condemns restrictions on and the criminalisation of freedom of expression, and deplores the tightening of restrictions on freedom of expression; calls on the Chinese Government to stop suppressing the free flow of information including by restricting the use of the internet;

6.  Expresses its concern about the new law on cybersecurity, adopted on 7 November 2016, which would bolster and institutionalise the practices of cyberspace censorship and monitoring, and about the adopted national security law and the draft law on counter-terrorism; notes the fears of Chinese reformist lawyers and civil rights defenders that these laws will further restrict freedom of expression and that self-censorship will grow;

7.  Calls on China to release or drop all charges against peaceful government critics, anti-corruption activists, lawyers and journalists;

8.  Expresses its concern at the forthcoming entry into force of the new Foreign NGO Management Law on 1 January 2017, given that it would drastically hamper the activities of Chinese civil society and would severely restrict the freedoms of association and expression in the country, including by banning overseas NGOs that are not registered with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and prohibiting provincial public security departments from funding any Chinese individual or organisation, and prohibiting Chinese groups from conducting ‘activities’ on behalf of, or with the authorisation of, non-registered overseas NGOs, including those based in Hong Kong and Macao; calls on the Chinese authorities to provide a safe and fair environment and transparent processes which allow NGOs to operate freely and effectively in China;

9.  Underlines the European Union’s commitment to strengthening democracy, including the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, fundamental freedoms and rights, transparency, and freedom of information and expression in Hong Kong;

10.  Calls for China to ratify the ICCPR and to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances without delay;

11.  Emphasises the European Union’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and fundamental freedoms and rights, in particular transparency and freedom of speech and expression, in all the countries with which it has bilateral relations; believes that a meaningful and open human rights dialogue, based on mutual respect, needs to be established; believes that strong ongoing EU-China relations must provide an effective platform for a mature, meaningful and open human rights dialogue based on mutual respect;

12.  Insists that trade and economic relations are important to boost our respective welfare; recalls that such relations can only evolve in good faith and mutual trust; stresses that respecting human rights and transparency is part of modern trade agreements;

13.  Urges the relevant EU institutions to act swiftly and to place the case of Gui Minhai on the agenda of the next EU-China Dialogue on Human Rights;

14.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Government and Parliament of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chief Executive and the Assembly of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

(1) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0045.
(2) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0458.
(3) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0252.

Situation of the Guarani-Kaiowá in the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso do Sul
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the situation of the Guarani-Kaiowá in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul (2016/2991(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on the need to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples of Brazil, in particular its resolution on the violation of the constitutional rights of the indigenous peoples of Brazil of 15 February 1996(1),

–  having regard to its resolution of 12 October 1995 on the situation of the indigenous peoples of Brazil(2),

–  having regard to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948,

–  having regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals of September 2015,

–  having regard to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UN Global Compact,

–  having regard to the International Labour Organisation Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (Convention 169), as adopted on 27 June 1989, and signed by Brazil,

–  having regard to the declaration by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, of 9 August 2016,

–  having regard to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998, the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR),

–  having regard to the report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, on her mission to Brazil from 7 to 17 March 2016 (A/HRC/33/42/Add.1),

–  having regard to the 2016 report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI),

–  having regard to the statements made by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights during the EU-Brazil Human Rights Dialogue,

–  having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the current Brazilian Constitution of 1988, which was negotiated with indigenous peoples, recognises the rights of such peoples to maintain their cultural traditions and acknowledges their original right to their ancestral territories; whereas it is the duty of the state to regulate and protect this right;

B.  whereas, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, during the past eight years a disturbing absence of progress has been reported in the implementation of the UN recommendations and the resolution of long-standing issues of key concern to indigenous peoples in Brazil, such as the homologation of their territories, as well as a worrying regression in the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights;

C.  whereas over the past 14 years, according to official data from the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (SESAI) and the indigenous health district of Mato Grosso do Sul (DSEI-MS) on the murder of indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, at least 400 indigenous people and 14 indigenous leaders have been murdered, including Simiao Vilharva and Clodiodi de Souza, in their attempts to reclaim their ancestral lands in peaceful protests;

D.  whereas, according to the National Survey of Indigenous People’s Health and Nutrition in Brazil, conducted in 2008-2009, the rate of chronic malnutrition among indigenous children was 26 % compared with an average of 5,9 % among non-indigenous children; whereas, according to recent research carried out by FIAN Brazil and the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), 42 % of people within Guarani and Kaiowá communities suffer from chronic malnutrition;

E.  whereas the inadequate provision of appropriate health care, education and social services and the absence of demarcation of indigenous lands have had an impact on youth suicide and infant mortality; whereas over the past 15 years at least 750 individuals, mostly young people, committed suicide and more than 600 children under the age of 5 died, most of whom from preventable, easily treatable diseases;

F.  whereas 98,33 % of indigenous lands in Brazil are located in the Amazon region, where indigenous populations help to preserve biodiversity in the region and thus play a role in preventing climate change; whereas, according to the study ‘Toward a Global Baseline of Carbon Storage in Collective Lands: An Updated Analysis of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Contributions to Climate Change Mitigation’ by the Rights and Resources Initiative, Woods Hole Research Center and World Resources Institute, published on 1 November 2016, the expansion of indigenous land rights can play an important role in protecting forests, biodiversity and ecosystems;

G.  whereas the Federal Public Ministry and the National Foundation for the Support of Indigenous people (FUNAI) signed in 2007 the Terms of Adjustment of Conduct (TAC) with a view to identifying and demarcating 36 territories of the Guarani-Kaiowá community in Mato Grosso do Sul by 2009;

H.  whereas a number of initiatives for reform, interpretation and application of the Brazilian Federal Constitution are ongoing, and whereas these possible changes could put at risk the indigenous rights recognised by the Constitution;

1.  Acknowledges the long-standing partnership between the EU and Brazil, which is built on mutual trust and respect for democratic principles and values; commends the Brazilian Government for advances in matters such as the constructive role of FUNAI, a series of decisions by the Federal Supreme Court to prevent evictions, several efforts to implement differentiated services in the areas of health and education, the significant achievements in relation to land demarcation in the Amazon region, the organisation of the first National Conference on Indigenous Policy and the establishment of the National Council for Indigenous Policy;

2.  Strongly condemns the violence perpetrated against the indigenous communities of Brazil; deplores the poverty and human rights situation of the Guarani-Kaiowá population in Mato Grosso do Sul;

3.  Calls on the Brazilian authorities to take immediate action to protect indigenous people’s security and to ensure that independent investigations are carried out into the murder and assault of indigenous people in their attempts to defend their human and territorial rights, so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice;

4.  Reminds the Brazilian authorities of their responsibilities in terms of maintaining and applying in full the provisions of the Brazilian Constitution on the protection of individual rights and on the rights of minorities and defenceless ethnic groups with respect to the Guarani-Kaiowá population;

5.  Reminds the Brazilian authorities of their obligation to observe international human rights standards with respect to indigenous peoples, as required in particular by the Brazilian Federal Constitution and Law 6.001/73 on ‘The Indian Statute’;

6.  Acknowledges the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court’s role in continuing to protect the original and constitutional rights of indigenous peoples, and invites the National Council to develop mechanisms and action which better protect the needs of vulnerable populations;

7.  Calls on the Brazilian authorities to implement in full the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples following her mission to Brazil in March 2016;

8.  Calls on the Brazilian authorities to develop a working plan to prioritise completion of the demarcation of all territories claimed by the Guarani-Kaiowá and to create the technical operational conditions for this purpose, given that many killings are due to reprisals in the context of reoccupation of ancestral lands;

9.  Recommends that the Brazilian authorities provide a sufficient budget for FUNAI’s work, and strengthen it with the resources required to provide the core services on which indigenous peoples rely;

10.  Expresses concern about the proposed constitutional amendment 215/2000 (PEC 215), to which Brazilian indigenous peoples are fiercely opposed, given that, if approved, it will threaten indigenous land rights by making it possible for anti-Indian interests related to the agro-business, timber, mining and energy industries to block the new indigenous territories from being recognised; strongly believes that companies should be held accountable for any environmental damage and human rights abuses for which they are responsible, and that the EU and the Member States should uphold this as a core principle by making it a binding provision in all trade policies;

11.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the UN High Commissioner for human rights, the President and the Government of Brazil, the President of the Brazilian National Congress, the Co-Presidents of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

(1) OJ C 65, 4.3.1996, p. 164.
(2) OJ C 287, 30.10.1995, p. 202.

The case of Ildar Dadin, prisoner of conscience in Russia
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the case of Ildar Dadin, prisoner of conscience in Russia (2016/2992(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous reports, recommendations and resolutions on Russia, in particular its recommendation to the Council of 23 October 2012 on establishing common visa restrictions for Russian officials involved in the Sergei Magnitsky case(1); its resolutions of 13 June 2013 on the rule of law in Russia(2) and of 13 March 2014 on Russia: sentencing of demonstrators involved in the Bolotnaya Square events(3); its recommendation to the Council of 2 April 2014 on establishing common visa restrictions for Russian officials involved in the Sergei Magnitsky case(4); and its resolutions of 23 October 2014 on the closing-down of the NGO ‘Memorial’ (winner of the 2009 Sakharov Prize) in Russia(5), of 12 March 2015 on the murder of the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the state of democracy in Russia(6), of 10 June 2015 on the state of EU-Russia relations(7), and of 10 September 2015 on Russia, in particular the cases of Eston Kohver, Oleg Sentsov and Olexander Kolchenko(8),

–  having regard to the results of the EU-Russia Summit of 3 and 4 June 2013 and the human rights consultations of 19 May 2013,

–  having regard to the Russian Constitution, and in particular to its Article 29, which protects freedom of speech, and Article 31, which includes the right to peaceful assembly,

–  having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas in early December 2015 the Russian opposition activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in jail after organising a series of peaceful anti-war protests and assemblies, being the first person in Russia to be convicted under a tough public assembly law adopted in 2014;

B.  whereas Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, in excess of the prosecution’s recommended sentence of two years; whereas the sentence was reduced on appeal to two and a half years;

C.  whereas during his ongoing imprisonment Mr Dadin has reportedly suffered repeated torture, beatings, inhumane treatment and threats of murder at the hands of the Russian authorities, in penal colony number 7 in Karelia;

D.  whereas the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) approved the request of Mr Dadin’s lawyer and obliged the Russian Federation to ensure an effective investigation, move Mr Dadin to a different penitentiary and ensure his communication with his legal representative;

E.  whereas the case of Ildar Dadin is not isolated, and credible human rights reports point to the systematic use of torture, ill-treatment and inhumane treatment in the Russian penal system; whereas those committing and responsible for the torture and abuse of those in prison or in penal and detention facilities often enjoy impunity;

F.  whereas on 3 November 2016 Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, expressed his concern at the allegations of ill-treatment of Mr Dadin to Alexander Konovalov, Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation;

G.  whereas the number of political prisoners in Russia has significantly increased in recent years, now standing, according to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, at 102, among them Alexander Kostenko Fedorovic, Ivan Nepomnyaschih, Dmitry Buchenkov, Vladimir Ionov, Maxim Panfilov and others; whereas in 2015 Russia was found to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights 109 times, in other words more than any other country;

H.  whereas 197 deaths in police custody were recorded in 2015, including 109 from a ‘sudden deterioration in health conditions’ and 62 suicides, suggestive of widespread abuse, torture and mistreatment of detainees in the penitentiary system of the Russian Federation;

I.  whereas on 26 October 2016 a Moscow court imposed a fine of 300 000 roubles on the Yuriy Levada Analytical Centre (Levada Centre), one of the three main organisations studying public opinion in Russia, because it had failed to register as a ‘foreign agent’;

J.  whereas President Putin has recently signed an order under which Russia henceforth refuses to participate in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC); whereas in a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry described the ICC’s work as ‘inefficient and one-sided’ and expressed concern over its investigation of the August 2008 events in South Ossetia; whereas ICC prosecutors have posted a report on the court’s website that finds that ‘the Russian occupation has been accompanied by the harassment and intimidation of the Crimean Tatars’;

K.  whereas in October 2016 the United Nations Human Rights Council decided not to re‑elect Russia as a member, after over 80 human rights and international aid organisations had signed a letter urging UN members to block Russia’s election to that body;

1.  Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Ildar Dadin and all those detained on false or unsubstantiated charges or for using their right of freedom of expression and assembly;

2.  Is profoundly concerned that the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation has been amended by an article that places new restrictions on public gatherings and provides for such gatherings to be considered a criminal act;

3.  Urges the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of the allegations made by Ildar Dadin of torture and ill-treatment, with the participation of independent human rights experts; calls for an independent investigation into the allegations of torture, abuse and degrading and inhumane treatment on the part of state officials in Russian detention facilities, labour camps and prisons;

4.  Calls on the Russian Federation, in this regard, to carry out a thorough review of its penitentiary system with a view to undertaking a deep reform of the system, and to fully implement the standards agreed under the relevant international conventions;

5.  Expresses its solidarity with those arrested in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, including Crimean Tatars, on false and unsubstantiated charges, and calls for their immediate release;

6.  Reminds Russia of the importance of full compliance with its international legal obligations, as a member of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with fundamental human rights and the rule of law as enshrined in various international treaties and agreements that Russia has signed and is party to; underlines that the Russian Federation can be considered a reliable partner in the sphere of international cooperation only if it keeps up its obligations under international law; in this regard, expresses its concern over the presidential decree withdrawing Russia from the Rome Statute of the ICC;

7.  Calls on the Government of Russia to take concrete and immediate steps to comply with all ECHR judgments against Russia; in this regard, regrets the fact that the Russian Federation, in new legislation adopted in December 2015, has empowered its Constitutional Court to overturn ECHR judgments;

8.  Urges the Council to develop a unified policy towards Russia that commits the 28 EU Member States and the EU institutions to a strong common message concerning the role of human rights in the EU-Russia relationship and respect for international law; calls on the VP/HR, together with the EEAS and the Commission, to develop a substantive and concrete strategy supporting Russian civil society and organisations, making use of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights;

9.  Calls on the Council to adopt a series of targeted sanctions to punish those responsible for the mistreatment of Ildar Dadin and other human rights activists;

10.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the EEAS, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the President, Government and Parliament of the Russian Federation.

(1) OJ C 68 E, 7.3.2014, p. 13.
(2) OJ C 65, 19.2.2016, p. 150.
(3) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0253.
(4) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0258.
(5) OJ C 274, 27.7.2016, p. 21.
(6) OJ C 316, 30.8.2016, p. 126.
(7) OJ C 407, 4.11.2016, p. 35.
(8) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0314.

Macro-financial assistance to Jordan ***I
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European Parliament legislative resolution of 24 November 2016 on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council providing further macro-financial assistance to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (COM(2016)0431 – C8-0242/2016 – 2016/0197(COD))

(Ordinary legislative procedure: first reading)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to Parliament and the Council (COM(2016)0431),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 212 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C8-0242/2016),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Joint Declaration of the European Parliament and of the Council adopted together with Decision No 778/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 August 2013 providing further macro-financial assistance to Georgia(1),

–  having regard to the letter from the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the letter from the Committee on Budgets,

–  having regard to the undertaking given by the Council representative by letter of 4 November 2016 to approve Parliament’s position, in accordance with Article 294(4) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Rule 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on International Trade (A8-0296/2016),

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out;

2.  Approves the joint statement by Parliament, the Council and the Commission annexed to this resolution;

3.  Calls on the Commission to refer the matter to Parliament again if it intends to amend its proposal substantially or replace it with another text;

4.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 24 November 2016 with a view to the adoption of Decision (EU) 2016/... of the European Parliament and of the Council providing further macro-financial assistance to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan


(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Decision (EU) 2016/2371.)


Joint Statement by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission

In light of the fiscal challenges and extraordinary circumstances Jordan faces as a result of hosting more than 1,3 million Syrians, the Commission will in 2017, if appropriate, submit a new proposal for extending and increasing MFA to Jordan, upon the successful conclusion of the second MFA and provided that the usual preconditions for this type of assistance, including an updated assessment by the Commission of Jordan's external financing needs, are met. This critical assistance for Jordan would help the country maintain macroeconomic stability while also preserving development gains and continuing with the country’s reform agenda.

(1) OJ L 218, 14.8.2013, p. 15.

Activities and supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision ***I
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European Parliament legislative resolution of 24 November 2016 on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the activities and supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision (recast) (COM(2014)0167 – C7-0112/2014 – 2014/0091(COD))

(Ordinary legislative procedure – recast)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to Parliament and the Council (COM(2014)0167),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Articles 53, 62 and 114(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C7‑0112/2014),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the reasoned opinion submitted, within the framework of Protocol No 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, by the Netherlands House of Representatives, asserting that the draft legislative act does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity,

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 10 July 2014(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 28 November 2001 on a more structured use of the recasting technique for legal acts(2),

–  having regard to the letter of 4 September 2014 from the Committee on Legal Affairs to the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs in accordance with Rule 104(3) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the undertaking given by the Council representative by letter of 30 June 2016 to approve Parliament’s position, in accordance with Article 294(4) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Rules 104 and 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A8-0011/2016),

A.  whereas, according to the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the Commission proposal does not include any substantive amendments other than those identified as such in the proposal and whereas, as regards the codification of the unchanged provisions of the earlier acts together with those amendments, the proposal contains a straightforward codification of the existing texts, without any change in their substance;

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out, taking into account the recommendations of the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission;

2.  Calls on the Commission to refer the matter to Parliament again if it intends to amend its proposal substantially or replace it with another text;

3.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 24 November 2016 with a view to the adoption of Directive (EU) 2016/... of the European Parliament and of the Council on the activities and supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision (IORPs) (recast)


(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Directive (EU) 2016/2341.)

(1) OJ C 451, 16.12.2014, p. 109.
(2) OJ C 77, 28.3.2002, p. 1.

Situation in Syria
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the situation in Syria (2016/2933(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Syria, including that of 6 October 2016(1),

–  having regard to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,

–  having regard to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the additional protocols thereto,

–  having regard to the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Da’esh and the Al-Nusra Front and to those on the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, in particular resolutions 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2199 (2015), 2254 (2015), 2258 (2015) and 2268 (2016),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 17 October 2016 and the European Council conclusions of 18 and 19 February 2016 and of 20 and 21 October 2016,

–  having regard to the statements by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Christos Stylianidis, of 16 September 2016 on Syria, of 20 September 2016 on the air strikes against the UN/Syrian Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy, of 24 September 2016 on the situation in Aleppo, of 2 October 2016 on an emergency humanitarian initiative for Aleppo and of 25 October 2016 on the urgency for humanitarian aid to reach Aleppo,

–  having regard to the reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the UN Human Rights Council, and to the UN Human Rights Council resolutions on the Syrian Arab Republic of 27 September 2016 and 21 October 2016,

–  having regard to the statement by Vice-President/High Representative Federica Mogherini on Russia and the International Criminal Court of 17 November 2016,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) and (4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas six years of conflict, extreme violence and brutality in Syria have led to the deaths of more than 400 000 people, with more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance; whereas 8,7 million people are predicted to be displaced inside Syria in 2016 and 4,8 million people have fled the country;

B.  whereas battles and bombardments continue unabated in Syria and the humanitarian situation has further deteriorated; whereas Aleppo remains the epicentre of the Syrian conflict, but fighting also continues in Hama, Idlib, northwest Syria, the suburbs of Damascus and Deir ez-Zor; whereas more than four million people are living in besieged cities and hard-to-reach areas where essential water and electrical infrastructure has been destroyed; whereas, in spite of the unilateral humanitarian pauses declared by the Assad regime and Russia, a serious shortage of basic food and medical supplies afflicts the population of east Aleppo and of other besieged cities, such as the rebel-held city of Zabadani and the government-controlled villages of Kefraya and Foua in Idlib province; whereas no humanitarian assistance has been able to reach the besieged parts of east Aleppo since July 2016;

C.  whereas a permanent health crisis exists in Aleppo and throughout Syria; whereas according to UNICEF more than two-thirds of Syrians in the region do not have regular access to water and nearly 6 million children are in need of urgent life-saving assistance;

D.  whereas serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by all sides in the conflict, but most seriously by the Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran, including the use of indiscriminate weapons, incendiary, barrel and bunker-busting bombs in civilian areas, and substances listed as chemical weapons under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction; whereas there has been no respect for the principles of precaution and proportionality; whereas civilian areas, schools, hospitals, humanitarian workers and refugee camps have been deliberately targeted; whereas war crimes and crimes against humanity should not go unpunished;

E.  whereas the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and human rights groups have collected evidence that at least 200 000 people have been detained by the Syrian Government in inhuman detention conditions; whereas thousands of Syrians have died in Syrian Government custody in recent years from torture and disease; whereas forced disappearances and horrific prisoner abuse are widespread; whereas the Syrian authorities have attempted to keep information about their detention facilities secret, refusing access to recognised international detention monitors; whereas the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has, since 2011, been allowed to visit only a few prisons;

F.  whereas the world has been repeatedly appalled by the atrocities carried out by Da’esh and other jihadist groups, the use of brutal executions and unspeakable sexual violence, abductions, torture, forced conversions and slavery of women and girls; whereas children have been recruited and used in terrorist attacks; whereas Da’esh still controls large parts of Syria and Iraq; whereas Da’esh commits genocide against religious and ethnic minorities, carries out extreme acts of torture and eradicates cultural heritage; whereas there are serious concerns about the welfare of the population currently under Da’esh control and their possible use as human shields during the liberation campaign;

G.  whereas the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, is a terrorist organisation which rejects a negotiated political transition and inclusive democratic future for Syria;

H.  whereas Syria has signed, but not ratified, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC); whereas the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC; whereas Russia and China block any progress on accountability in Syria by vetoing any Security Council resolution that would give the Court the mandate to investigate the horrific crimes committed during the conflict in Syria; whereas on 16 November 2016 Russia decided to withdraw its signature from the Rome Statute; whereas this lack of accountability breeds further atrocities and compounds the suffering of the victims;

I.  whereas all countries and parties involved in the conflict must be reminded of their commitments in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), in particular the obligation to cease any attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure and the obligation to ensure humanitarian access throughout the country; whereas the European Union must use all its instruments, including the imposition of restrictive measures, to ensure full compliance by all parties with this resolution;

J.  whereas the EU is one of the main contributors of humanitarian aid for people fleeing the historic violence and destruction in Syria; whereas the lack of international unity makes a negotiated settlement of the war in Syria significantly more difficult to achieve;

1.  Voices once again its gravest concern over the continuing fighting, bombardment and worsened humanitarian situation in Syria; strongly condemns all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, the continuation of all sieges in Syria and the lack of humanitarian access to the Syrian people in need; calls on all parties to allow unhindered and continuous humanitarian access and the delivery of emergency goods, in particular to the besieged and hard-to-reach areas; stresses that the deliberate starvation of populations is prohibited by international humanitarian law and urges all parties to allow medical evacuations immediately from east Aleppo and all other besieged areas;

2.  Condemns in the strongest terms the atrocities and widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Assad forces with the support of Russia and Iran, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by non-state, armed terrorist groups, in particular Da’esh, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham/the Al-Nusra Front and other jihadist groups;

3.  Demands an immediate end to bombing and indiscriminate attacks on civilians; underlines the need for all parties to pay maximum attention and to take all appropriate measures to protect civilians, irrespective of their ethnic identity or religious or confessional beliefs; strongly condemns the indiscriminate launching of large numbers of rockets by armed opposition groups on civilian suburbs of western Aleppo; stresses that many civilians, including children, have been reportedly wounded and killed; calls on all parties to the conflict to take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, in compliance with international law, including by ceasing attacks directed against civilian facilities, such as medical centres, schools and water stations, by immediately demilitarising such facilities, by seeking to avoid establishing military positions in densely populated areas and by enabling the evacuation of the wounded and all civilians who wish to leave besieged areas; underlines that the Syrian regime has the primary responsibility for the protection of the Syrian population;

4.  Praises the efforts of humanitarian aid workers in seeking to bring much-needed relief, food, water and medicines to those trapped by the conflict, and urges all sides involved in the conflict to ensure safe, unfettered access for humanitarian agencies to those civilians affected by the war;

5.  Calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to provide full support to the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in order to continue investigating the use and the destruction of chemical weapons by all sides in Syria; strongly insists that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable; supports the extension of the mandate of the OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, with a view to determining responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria;

6.  Expresses concern over the unlawful detention, torture, ill treatment, enforced disappearance and killing of detainees in regime prisons and secret detention centres run by foreign-supported militias; calls on the Syrian authorities managing these detention centres to end all executions and inhumane treatment;

7.  Calls for the immediate release of those detained arbitrarily and for an end to the use of torture and other ill-treatment as well as the practice of enforced disappearances, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2139 of 22 February 2014; calls for immediate and unhindered access for international detention monitors – such as the ICRC – to monitor the situation of all detainees in Syria and to provide information to, and support, the families of the detainees;

8.  Recalls its strong condemnation of the atrocities committed by the Assad regime, Da’esh, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham/Al-Nusra and other terrorist organisations, which can be considered as serious war crimes and crimes against humanity; supports the call of the Quint nations (United States, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom) and the VP/HR on all armed groups fighting in Syria to cease any collaboration with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham; highlights the importance of effectively cutting access to the financing and funding of Da’esh activities, apprehending foreign fighters and stopping the flow of weapons to jihadist groups; calls on the Syrian opposition to distance themselves clearly from such extremist elements and ideology; recalls that efforts should be focused on defeating Da’esh and other UN-designated terrorist groups; calls for action to be taken to prevent material and financial support from reaching individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with UN-designated terrorist groups;

9.  Reiterates its call for consequences and accountability for those guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity; stresses that those committing crimes against religious, ethnic and other groups and minorities should also be brought to justice; remains convinced that there can be neither effective conflict resolution nor sustainable peace in Syria without accountability for the crimes committed; takes the view that the issue of accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity should not be politicised: the obligation to respect international humanitarian law in all circumstances refers to all parties involved in the conflict and whoever commits such crimes must be aware that they will face justice, sooner or later;

10.  Urges the EU and the Member States to ensure that all those responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law face justice through appropriate, impartial international criminal justice mechanisms or national courts and through the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction; reiterates its support for the referral of the case of Syria to the ICC but, in light of the inability of the Security Council to deliberate on this matter, reiterates its call for the EU and its Member States to lead the efforts within the General Assembly of the United Nations and to explore the creation of a Syrian war crimes tribunal pending a referral to the ICC; once the conflict is terminated, and with a view to promoting reconciliation, highlights the importance of Syrian ownership of the process;

11.  Welcomes and underlines the critical importance of the work of local and international civil society organisations in documenting evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations, including the destruction of cultural heritage; calls on the EU and its Member States to provide further and complete assistance to these actors;

12.  Deplores the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw from the ICC, while noting that the Russian Federation has never actually ratified the Rome Statute and that the timing of the decision undermines the country’s credibility and leads to conclusions being drawn about its commitment to international justice;

13.  Welcomes the Council conclusions on Syria of 17 October 2016 and the European Council conclusions on Syria of 20 and 21 October 2016; supports the EU’s call for an end to all military flights over Aleppo city; an immediate cessation of hostilities, to be monitored by a strong and transparent mechanism; sieges to be lifted; and full unhindered sustainable country-wide humanitarian access granted by all parties;

14.  Welcomes the review of the EU’s restrictive measures against Syria and individuals who share responsibility for the repression of the civilian population in the country; stresses that the EU should consider all available options, including a no-fly zone over Aleppo city, to set out consequences for the most heinous human rights violations and abuses by all perpetrators if the atrocities and blunt disrespect of humanitarian law continues;

15.  Demands respect by all for the right of ethnic and religious minorities in Syria, including Christians, to continue to live in their historical and traditional homelands in dignity, equality and safety, and to fully practise their religion and beliefs freely without being subject to any kind of coercion, violence or discrimination; supports interreligious dialogue in order to promote mutual understanding and counter fundamentalism;

16.  Urges all participants in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to resume negotiations in order to facilitate the establishment of a stable truce and to intensify work on a lasting political settlement in Syria; stresses that regional actors, in particular neighbouring countries, bear special responsibility;

17.  Reiterates its call on the VP/HR to renew efforts towards a common EU-Syria strategy; welcomes and fully supports the recent diplomatic initiatives of VP/HR Federica Mogherini, in line with the European Council mandate, aimed at bringing the parties involved in the conflict back to the negotiating table and relaunching the political process in Geneva; notes with interest the regional talks she held with Iran and Saudi Arabia, and considers her activities to be of added value and a useful contribution to the efforts of the United Nations Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura; urges all parties involved in the conflict to resume and intensify political negotiations as soon as possible in anticipation of a new and stable truce to be established, which should include provisions ensuring transitional justice in post-conflict Syria; stresses that these peace talks should lead to a cessation of hostilities and a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition; emphasises the role that the EU can play in post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation;

18.  Reiterates its full support for the EU’s ongoing humanitarian initiative for Aleppo, and urges all parties to facilitate its implementation;

19.  Welcomes the partnership priorities and compacts with Jordan for the period 2016-2018 and with Lebanon for the period 2016-2020; notes that the compacts are the framework through which the mutual commitments made at the London Conference of 4 February 2016 on ‘Supporting Syria and the Region’ are translated into actions; notes the growing financial needs and the persistent funding gap in respect of humanitarian aid provided to countries in Syria’s neighbourhood; calls on the EU Member States to fulfil their pledges and to provide much-needed support to the UN, its specialised agencies and other humanitarian actors in providing humanitarian assistance to the millions of Syrians displaced both internally and in host countries and communities;

20.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the EU Member States, the United Nations, the members of the International Syria Support Group and all the parties involved in the conflict.

(1) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0382.

EU-Turkey relations
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on EU-Turkey relations (2016/2993(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions, in particular those of 27 October 2016 on the situation of journalists in Turkey(1) and of 14 April 2016 on the 2015 report on Turkey(2),

–  having regard to the 2016 annual report on Turkey, published by the Commission on 9 November 2016 (SWD(2016)0366),

–  having regard to the EU Negotiating Framework for Turkey, of 3 October 2005,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 18 July 2016 on Turkey,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 231/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 establishing an Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA II)(3),

–  having regard to the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Turkey is a state party,

–  having regard to the memorandums by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights,

–  having regard to the statement of 26 July 2016 by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights on measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) and (4),

A.  whereas the European Union and the European Parliament have strongly condemned the failed military coup in Turkey and recognised the legitimate responsibility of the Turkish authorities to prosecute those responsible and involved in this attempt;

B.  whereas Turkey is an important partner and is expected as a candidate country to uphold the highest standards of democracy, including respect for human rights, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and the universal right to a fair trial; whereas Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950 and is therefore bound by the ECHR;

C.  whereas the Turkish Government’s repressive measures under the state of emergency are disproportionate and in breach of basic rights and freedoms protected by the Turkish Constitution, of democratic values upon which the European Union is founded and of the ICCPR; whereas since the attempted coup the authorities have arrested 10 members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly belonging to the opposition party HDP and some 150 journalists (the largest number of such arrests worldwide); whereas 2 386 judges and prosecutors and 40 000 other people have been detained, of whom more than 31 000 remain under arrest; whereas 129 000 public employees either remain suspended (66 000) or have been dismissed (63 000), according to the Commission’s Turkey 2016 report, most of whom have had no charges brought against them to date;

D.  whereas President Erdogan and members of the Turkish Government have made repeated statements on the reintroduction of the death penalty; whereas, in its conclusions of 18 July 2016 on Turkey, the Council recalled that the unequivocal rejection of the death penalty is an essential element of the Union acquis;

E.  whereas serious concerns have been raised over the conditions of those detained and arrested following the attempted coup and over the severe restrictions on freedom of expression and on the press and media in Turkey;

F.  whereas paragraph 5 of the Negotiating Framework stipulates that, in the case of a serious and persistent breach in Turkey of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded, the Commission will, on its own initiative or on the request of one third of the Member States, recommend the suspension of negotiations and propose the conditions for eventual resumption;

G.  whereas a temporary halt to negotiations would entail the current talks being frozen, no new chapters being opened and no new initiatives being undertaken in relation to Turkey’s EU Negotiating Framework;

1.  Strongly condemns the disproportionate repressive measures taken in Turkey since the failed military coup attempt in July 2016; remains committed to keeping Turkey anchored to the EU; calls on the Commission and the Member States, however, to initiate a temporary freeze of the ongoing accession negotiations with Turkey;

2.  Commits to reviewing its position when the disproportionate measures under the state of emergency in Turkey are lifted; will base its review on whether the rule of law and human rights are restored throughout the country; considers that an appropriate time to initiate such a review would be when the state of emergency is lifted;

3.  Reiterates that reintroduction of capital punishment by the Turkish Government would have to lead to a formal suspension of the accession process;

4.  Notes that to date Turkey has not fulfilled 7 out of 72 benchmarks of the visa liberalisation roadmap, some of which are of particular importance;

5.  Notes that upgrading the customs union is important for Turkey; stresses that suspending work on upgrading the customs union would have serious economic consequences for the country;

6.  Is gravely concerned by statements disputing the Treaty of Lausanne, which defines the borders of modern Turkey and has contributed to safeguarding peace and stability in the region for almost a century;

7.  Calls on the Commission to reflect on the latest developments in Turkey in the mid-term review report of the IPA scheduled for 2017; asks the Commission to examine the possibility of increasing support to Turkish civil society from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights;

8.  Encourages the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission to offer additional judicial assistance to the Turkish authorities;

9.  Underlines the strategic importance of EU-Turkey relations for both sides; recognises that, while Turkey is an important partner of the EU, the political will to cooperate has to come from both sides of a partnership; believes that Turkey is not demonstrating this political will, as the government’s actions are further diverting Turkey from its European path;

10.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, and the Government and Parliament of Turkey.

(1) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0423.
(2) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0133.
(3) OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 11.

EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (2016/2966(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 2 and Article 3(3), second subparagraph, of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 8, 19, 157 and 216 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Articles 21, 23, 24 and 25 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women on 15 September 1995, and to the subsequent outcome documents adopted at the United Nations Beijing +5 (2000), Beijing +10 (2005), Beijing +15 (2010) and Beijing +20 (2015) special sessions,

–  having regard to the provisions of the UN legal instruments in the sphere of human rights, in particular those concerning women’s rights, such as the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the principle of non-refoulement, and the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities,

–  having regard to Article 11(1)(d) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the UN General Assembly by Resolution 34/180 of 18 December 1979,

–  having regard to its resolution of 9 June 2015 on the EU Strategy for equality between women and men post 2015(1),

–  having regard to its resolution of 26 November 2009 on the elimination of violence against women(2), its resolution of 5 April 2011 on priorities and outline of a new EU policy framework to fight violence against women(3), and its resolution of 6 February 2013 on the 57th session on UN CSW: elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls(4),

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 February 2014 with recommendations to the Commission on combating Violence Against Women(5),

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

–  having regard to the EU guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them,

–  having regard to the European Added Value Assessment(6),

–  having regard to the 2014-2020 Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme,

–  having regard to the Commission staff working document of 3 December 2015 entitled ‘Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019’ (SWD(2015)0278),

–  having regard to the EU Presidency Trio declaration on gender equality of 7 December 2015 by the Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta,

–  having regard to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ report entitled ‘Violence against women: an EU-wide survey’, published in March 2014,

–  having regard to Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime(7),

–  having regard to Directive 2011/99/EU on the European protection order(8) and to Regulation (EU) No 606/2013 on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters(9),

–  having regard to Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims(10) and to Directive 2011/92/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA(11),

–  having regard to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention),

–  having regard to the Commission roadmap on possible EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, published in October 2015,

–  having regard to the Commission proposals for a Council decision on the signing and the conclusion, by the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (COM(2016)0111 and COM(2016)0109),

–  having regard to the questions to the Council and to the Commission on the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (O-000121/2016 – B8‑1805/2016 and O-000122/2016 – B8‑1806/2016),

–  having regard to Rules 128(5) and 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas gender equality is a core value of the EU – as recognised in the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights – which the EU has committed to integrating into all its activities, and whereas gender equality is essential, as a strategic objective, to achieving the overall Europe 2020 objectives of growth, employment and social inclusion;

B.  whereas the right to equal treatment and to non-discrimination is a defining fundamental right which is recognised in the Treaties of the European Union and is deeply rooted in European society, and whereas this right is essential for the further development of society and should apply in legislation, in practice, in case law and in daily life;

C.  whereas in Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, gender-based violence is defined as violence that is directed against a person because of that person’s gender, gender identity or gender expression or that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately; whereas this may result in physical, sexual, emotional or psychological harm, or economic loss, to the victims, while having an impact on their families and relatives, and society as a whole; whereas gender-based violence is an extreme form of discrimination and a violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the victim, which are both the cause and the consequence of gender inequalities; and whereas violence against women and girls includes violence in close relationships, sexual violence (including rape, sexual assault and harassment), trafficking in human beings, slavery, including new forms of abuse against women and girls on the internet, and different forms of harmful practices, such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honour crimes’;

D.  whereas violence against women and gender-based violence are still widespread phenomena within the EU; whereas the 2014 Fundamental Rights Agency survey on violence against women estimates, in line with other existing studies, that one-third of all women in Europe have experienced physical or sexual acts of violence at least once during their adult lives, 20 % of young women (18-29 years of age) have experienced online sexual harassment, one in five women (18 %) have been stalked, one in twenty women have been raped and more than one in ten have suffered sexual violence involving lack of consent or the use of force; whereas this survey explains also that most incidents of violence are not reported to any authorities, which shows that victimisation surveys are essential alongside administrative statistics in order to obtain a full picture of various forms of violence against women; and whereas further measures are needed to encourage women victims of violence to report their experiences and seek assistance, and to ensure that services providers can meet the needs of the victims and inform them about their rights and existing forms of support;

E.  whereas, according to the European Added Value Assessment, the annual cost to the EU of violence against women and gender-based violence was estimated at EUR 228 billion in 2011 (i.e. 1,8 % of EU GDP), of which EUR 45 billion a year was in the form of spending on public and state services and EUR 24 billion in lost economic output;

F.  whereas the Commission stressed in its strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 that violence against women and gender-based violence, which damages women’s health and wellbeing, working lives, financial independence and the economy, is one of the key problems to be addressed in order to achieve genuine gender equality;

G.  whereas violence against women is too often considered as a private issue and too easily tolerated; whereas it is in fact a violation of fundamental rights and a serious crime that must be punished as such; whereas impunity of perpetrators must end in order to break the vicious circle of silence and loneliness for women and girls who are victims of violence;

H.  whereas no single intervention will eliminate violence against women and gender-based violence, but a combination of infrastructural, legal, judicial, enforcement, cultural, educational, social, health, and other service-related actions can significantly raise awareness and reduce violence and its consequences;

I.  whereas, due to factors such as ethnicity, religion or belief, health, civil status, housing, migration status, age, disability, class, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, women may have specific needs and be more vulnerable to multiple discrimination, and this entails that they should be granted special protection;

J.  whereas the adoption of EU guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them, as well as the specific chapter on the protection of women against gender-based violence in the EU Human Rights Strategic Framework and Action Plan, demonstrate the EU’s clear political will to treat the subject of women’s rights as a priority and to take long-term action in that field; whereas coherence between the internal and external dimensions in policies concerning human rights can sometimes expose a gap between rhetoric and behaviour;

K.  whereas citizens and residents in the Union are not equally protected against gender-based violence, due to the absence of a coherent framework and differing policies and legislation across Member States as regards inter alia the definition of offences and the scope of the legislation, and they are therefore less protected against violence;

L.  whereas on 4 March 2016 the Commission proposed the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding instrument on preventing and combating violence against women at international level;

M.  whereas all EU Member States have signed the convention, but only fourteen have ratified it;

N.  whereas the ratification of the Convention will not achieve results unless proper enforcement is ensured and adequate financial and human resources are dedicated to preventing and combating violence against women and gender-based violence and protecting the victims;

O.  whereas the Istanbul Convention follows a holistic approach, addressing the issue of violence against women and girls and gender-based violence from a wide range of perspectives, such as prevention, the fight against discrimination, criminal law measures to combat impunity, victim protection and support, the protection of children, the protection of women asylum seekers and refugees, or better data collection; whereas this approach means the adoption of integrated policies, combining actions in various areas led by multiple stakeholders (judicial, police and social authorities, NGOs, local and regional associations, governments, etc.) at all levels of governance;

P.  whereas the Istanbul Convention is a mixed agreement that allows for EU accession in parallel to the Member States’ accession, as the EU is competent in fields including victims’ rights and protection orders, asylum and migration, as well as in judicial cooperation in criminal matters;

1.  Recalls that the Commission is bound by Article 2 TEU and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to guarantee, promote and take action in favour of gender equality;

2.  Welcomes the Commission’s proposal to sign and conclude the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention but deplores the fact that negotiations in Council are not proceeding at the same speed;

3.  Emphasises that the EU accession will guarantee a coherent European legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women and gender-based violence and to protect the victims of violence; stresses that it will provide greater coherence and efficiency in the EU’s internal and external policies, will ensure better monitoring, interpretation and implementation of EU laws, programmes and funds relevant to the Convention, as well as more adequate and better collection of comparable desegregated data on violence against women and gender-based violence at EU level, and will reinforce the EU’s accountability at international level; further emphasises that the EU accession will apply renewed political pressure on Member States to ratify this instrument;

4.  Calls on the Council and the Commission to speed up negotiations on the signing and conclusion of the Istanbul Convention;

5.  Supports the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on a broad basis and without reservations;

6.  Calls on the Commission and the Council to ensure that Parliament will be fully engaged in the Convention’s monitoring process following the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, as provided for in Article 218 TFEU;

7.  Recalls that the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention does not exonerate Member States from national ratification of the Convention; calls therefore on all Member States which have not yet done so to swiftly ratify the Istanbul Convention;

8.  Calls on the Member States to ensure proper enforcement of the Convention and to allocate adequate financial and human resources to preventing and combatting violence against women and gender-based violence and to the protection of victims;

9.  Considers that EU efforts to eradicate violence against women and girls must be part of a comprehensive plan to combat all forms of gender inequalities; calls for an EU strategy on combatting violence against women and gender-based violence;

10.  Reiterates its call on the Commission made in its resolution of 25 February 2014, which contained recommendations to combat violence against women, to submit a legal act providing a coherent system for collecting statistical data as well as a strengthened approach by Member States to the prevention and suppression of all forms of violence against women and girls and of gender-based violence, and to making low-threshold access to justice possible;

11.  Asks the Council to activate the passerelle clause, by adopting a unanimous decision identifying violence against women and girls (and other forms of gender-based violence) as an area of crime listed in Article 83(1) TFEU;

12.  Recognises the paramount work done by civil society organisations to prevent and combat violence against women and girls and to protect and assist victims of violence;

13.  Calls on the Member States and stakeholders, working with the Commission and women NGOs and civil society organisations, to help disseminate information about the Convention, EU programmes and the funding available under them to combat violence against women and protect victims;

14.  Calls on the Commission and the Council to cooperate with the Parliament to identify progress made on gender equality, and asks the Trio Presidency to make substantial efforts to achieve its commitments in this regard; calls for an EU Summit on gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights to make renewed commitments;

15.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments of the Member States and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

(1) OJ C 407, 4.11.2016, p. 2.
(2) OJ C 285 E, 21.10.2010, p. 53.
(3) OJ C 296 E, 2.10.2012, p. 26.
(4) OJ C 24, 22.1.2016, p. 8.
(5) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0126.
(6) PE 504.467.
(7) OJ L 315, 14.11.2012, p. 57.
(8) OJ L 338, 21.12.2011, p. 2.
(9) OJ L 181, 29.6.2013, p. 4.
(10) OJ L 101, 15.4.2011, p. 1.
(11) OJ L 335, 17.12.2011, p. 1.

Activities of the European Ombudsman in 2015
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 2015 (2016/2150(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the annual report on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 2015,

–  having regard to Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 228 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 43 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities,

–  having regard to Decision 94/262/ECSC, EC, Euratom of the European Parliament of 9 March 1994 on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman’s duties(1),

–  having regard to the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, as adopted by the European Parliament on 6 September 2001(2),

–  having regard to the Framework Agreement on Cooperation concluded between the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman on 15 March 2006, which entered into force on 1 April 2006,

–  having regard to the principles of transparency and integrity in lobbying published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on the European Ombudsman’s activities,

–  having regard to Rule 220(2), second and third sentences, of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Petitions (A8-0331/2016),

A.  whereas the annual report on the European Ombudsman’s activities in 2015 was formally submitted to the President of Parliament on 3 May 2016, and the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, presented the report to the Committee on Petitions in Brussels on 20 June 2016;

B.  whereas Article 15 TFEU states that in order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society, the Union’s institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible;

C.  whereas Article 24 TFEU lays down the principle that every citizen of the Union may apply to the Ombudsman, established in accordance with Article 228 TFEU;

D.  whereas Article 228 TFEU empowers the European Ombudsman to receive complaints concerning instances of maladministration in the activities of the Union institutions, bodies, offices or agencies, with the exception of the Court of Justice of the European Union acting in its judicial role;

E.  whereas Article 258 TFEU lays down the role of the Commission as guardian of the treaties; whereas failing or omitting to exercise that responsibility could be considered as maladministration;

F.  whereas, pursuant to Article 298 TFEU, the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies ‘shall have the support of an open, efficient and independent European administration’, and whereas the same article provides for the adoption, to that end, of specific secondary legislation in the form of regulations applicable to all areas of EU administration;

G.  whereas Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights states that ‘every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the Union’;

H.  whereas Article 43 of the Charter states that ‘any citizen of the Union and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State has the right to refer to the Ombudsman of the Union cases of maladministration in the activities of the Community institutions or bodies, with the exception of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance acting in their judicial role’;

I.  whereas the office of the European Ombudsman, established by the Treaty of Maastricht, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015, having dealt with 48 840 complaints since 2005;

J.  whereas according to the Flash Eurobarometer on EU Citizenship Rights of October 2015, 83 % of European citizens are aware that an EU citizen has the right to make a complaint to the Commission, the European Parliament or the European Ombudsman;

K.  whereas maladministration is defined by the European Ombudsman as poor or failed administration, which occurs if an institution or public body fails to act in accordance with the law or with a rule or principle which is binding upon it, fails to respect the principles of good administration, or violates human rights;

L.  whereas the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour is aimed at preventing maladministration from occurring; whereas the usefulness of this tool is limited given its non-binding nature;

M.  whereas high transparency is crucial to gain legitimacy and trust that decisions are based on the overall public interest;

N.  whereas opacity when it comes to files which entail a big impact on the socio-economic model of the EU, and also often have major implications in the domain of public health and the environment, tends to generate mistrust among citizens and public opinion in general;

O.  whereas whistleblowers play a crucial role in unveiling cases of maladministration and even political corruption in some cases; whereas these cases severely undermine the quality of our democracy; whereas whistleblowers often face severe trouble in the aftermath and are too often exposed to negative personal consequences at many levels, not only professionally but even criminally; whereas in the absence of further safeguards these known past experiences could tend to dissuade individuals from following the ethical path of whistleblowing in the future;

P.  whereas the European Ombudsman’s office achieved a compliance rate of 90 % with its decisions and/or recommendations in 2014, standing at 10 percentage points higher than the 2013 figure;

Q.  whereas, regarding the inquiries initiated by the Ombudsman in 2015, the following key topics may be identified: transparency within the EU institutions, ethical issues, public participation in EU decision-making, EU competition rules and fundamental rights;

R.  whereas the Committee on Petitions constitutes an active member of the European Network of Ombudsmen; whereas in this capacity the Committee received 42 complaints from the European Ombudsman marked for further treatment as petitions;

1.  Approves the annual report for 2015 presented by the European Ombudsman;

2.  Congratulates Emily O’ Reilly for her excellent work and for her untiring efforts to improve the quality of service offered to citizens by the European administrations; acknowledges the importance of transparency as a core element of gaining trust and of good administration, something that is also underlined by the high percentage of complaints concerning transparency (22,4 %), giving this subject matter the highest ranking of all; acknowledges the role of strategic enquiries in ensuring good administration and supports those conducted by the European Ombudsman’s office in this domain so far;

3.  Welcomes the continued efforts of the European Ombudsman to increase transparency in the TTIP negotiations through proposals to the Commission; commends the resulting publication by the Commission of numerous TTIP documents, hence promoting transparency as one of the three pillars of the Commission’s new trade strategy; re-emphasises the need for enhanced transparency in international agreements such as TTIP, CETA and others, as called for by numerous concerned citizens addressing the Committee on Petitions; calls for stronger and wider efforts in this regard, in order to safeguard the trust of European citizens;

4.  Calls on the European Ombudsman to inquire to what extent the establishment of secure reading rooms is in line with the right of access to documents and with the principles of good administration;

5.  Reminds that Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 on public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents builds on the principle of ‘widest possible access’; underlines, therefore, that transparency and full access to documents held by the EU institutions must be the rule in order to ensure that citizens can fully exercise their democratic rights; stresses that, as has already decided by the European Court of Justice, exceptions to that rule have to be properly interpreted, taking into account the overriding public interest in disclosure and in the requirements of democracy, the closer involvement of citizens in the decision-making process, the legitimacy of governance, efficiency and accountability to citizens;

6.  Encourages the Commission and Member States to empower the European Ombudsman with the ability to issue a statement of non-compliance with Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents by the various EU institutions, provided those documents do not fall within the scope of Article 4 and Article 9(1) of the Regulation; supports the notion that the Ombudsman should be empowered to take a decision on the release of the relevant documents, following an investigation into the non-compliance;

7.  Regrets that the revision of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 is stalled; believes that progress should be achieved without further delay, as the Regulation no longer reflects the current legal situation or institutional practices;

8.  Recognises the need for transparency in EU decision-making, and supports the investigation by the European Ombudsmen into informal negotiations between the three main EU institutions (‘trilogues’), and the launching of a public consultation on the matter; supports the publishing of trilogue documents, with due regard to Articles 4 and 9 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001;

9.  Regrets that Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector (EMIS) was only supplied by the Commission with partial documentation, drawn up in such a way that certain information deemed not relevant by the Commission was lacking; calls on the Commission to ensure the highest accuracy in its work and full transparency as regards the documentation provided, in full compliance with the principle of sincere cooperation, so as to guarantee that EMIS can fully and effectively exercise its powers of investigation;

10.  Supports the European Ombudsman’s determination to make the workings of the European Central Bank more transparent and compliant with a high standard of governance, especially as a member of the Troika/Quadriga that supervises fiscal consolidation programmes in EU countries; welcomes the decision of the ECB to publish lists of meetings of its Executive Board members; supports the new guiding principles for speaking engagements and the establishment of a ‘quiet period’ regarding market-sensitive information prior to Governing Council meetings;

11.  Notes the ECB’s status as both a monetary authority and an advisory member of the Troika/Quadriga, and calls on the European Ombudsman to safeguard the interests of good administration of one of Europe’s most important financial authorities;

12.  Calls for greater transparency in Eurogroup meetings, beyond the steps already taken by its President following an intervention by the European Ombudsman;

13.  Approves the Ombudsman’s investigation into the make-up and transparency of the work of the Commission’s expert groups; notes the Commission’s efforts to open up these groups to the public, and stresses that further actions are needed to ensure full transparency; reiterates its call on the Council, including its preparatory bodies, to join the lobby register as soon as possible and to improve the transparency of their work;

14.  Supports the Ombudsman’s efforts to make lobbying more transparent; regrets the Commission’s reluctance to publish detailed information on meetings with tobacco lobbyists; urges the Commission to make its workings fully transparent so that the public acquires more trust in its work;

15.  Calls on the Commission to make all information on lobby influence available free of charge, fully comprehensible for and easily accessible to the public, through a single centralised online database;

16.  Calls on the Commission to submit, within the year 2017, a proposal for a fully mandatory and legally binding lobby register aimed at closing all loopholes and achieving a fully mandatory register of all lobbyists;

17.  Supports efforts to implement guidelines on lobbying transparency which would apply not only to the EU institutions but to national administrations as well;

18.  Points out the concern of citizens in relation to the handling of infringement procedures by the Commission before the ECJ and the lack of transparency within the relevant steps of the process; highlights that the right to good administration, as enshrined in Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, includes the obligation to produce sufficient reasoning in cases where the Commission decides not to launch an infringement procedure before the ECJ; welcomes the strategic enquiry by the European Ombudsman on the systemic issues encountered in EU Pilot;

19.  Welcomes the opening of the Ombudsman’s inquiry (Case OI/5/2016/AB) into the Commission’s handling of infringement complaints under EU Pilot procedures in its role as a guardian of the Treaties; recalls the previous requests made by the Committee on Petitions on ensuring access to EU Pilot and infringement procedure documents, as petitions frequently lead to the initiation of such procedures;

20.  Welcomes the continuation of the European Ombudsman’s investigations into ‘revolving door’ cases in the Commission; acknowledges the fact that as a result of these investigations the Commission has provided greater information as regards the names of the senior officials who have left it to work in the private sector; encourages the more frequent publication of the names and other data of such persons; expresses the hope that other European institutions and agencies will follow suit; welcomes the willingness of the Commission to publish information regarding the post-term-of-office occupations of former Commissioners; expresses great concern at the fact that former Commission President Barroso was appointed as an adviser and non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International; calls on the Ombudsman to initiate a strategic inquiry into the Commission’s handling of Barroso’s revolving door case, including the formulation of recommendations on how to reform the Code of Conduct in line with the principles of good administration and the Treaty requirements found in Article 245 TFEU;

21.  Recalls that conflict of interests has a broader scope than the ‘revolving door’ cases; stresses that effectively tackling all sources of conflict of interest is crucial in order to achieve good administration and ensure the credibility of political and technical decision-making; considers that particular attention needs to be paid at EU level, on the basis of high standards and concrete measures that leave no doubt regarding any conflict of interest, in appointing candidates for positions in the Union’s institutions, agencies and bodies;

22.  Welcomes the fact that in 2015 all EU institutions introduced internal rules for the protection of whistleblowers under Article 22(a) to (c) of the Staff Regulations, thus encouraging whistleblowing of a regulated kind; notes that the protection of whistleblowers against retaliation could be more effective; to this end, urges the adoption of common rules for the encouragement of whistleblowing and the introduction of minimum guarantees and safeguards for whistleblowers;

23.  Calls for a directive on whistleblowing which sets out appropriate channels and procedures for denouncing all forms of wrongdoing, as well as minimum adequate guarantees and legal safeguards for whistleblowers both in the public and in the private sector;

24.  Welcomes the introduction of a complaints mechanism for potential fundamental rights infringements in Frontex, following an ongoing investigation by the Ombudsman into practices employed by Frontex and Member States in joint forced returns of irregular migrants; commends the inclusion of such a mechanism in the new European Border and Coast Guard regulation;

25.  Commends the European Ombudsman for investigating Member States’ compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights when implementing actions financed from EU funds, such as projects that institutionalise people with disabilities rather than integrating them into society; urges the European Ombudsman to continue such investigations, in order to ensure the transparency and added value of projects;

26.  Welcomes the cooperation between the Ombudsman and the European Parliament within the EU Framework for the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with disabilities, in particular in calling for the full implementation of the Convention at EU level and for sufficient resources to be allocated for this; reaffirms its full support for the implementation of the Convention and calls on the Commission and Member states to enact the full implementation of the Convention at EU level;

27.  Supports the Ombudsman’s efforts in dealing with discrimination cases, the rights of minority groups, and the rights of elderly people at the seminar of the European Network of Ombudsmen on ‘Ombudsmen against Discrimination’;

28.  Supports the Ombudsman’s efforts to ensure impartiality in Commission decision-making on competition matters;

29.  Acknowledges that the right of citizens to have a say in EU policymaking is now more important than ever; welcomes the guidelines proposed by the Ombudsman for improving the functioning of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), especially where solid reasoning by the Commission in ECI rejections is concerned; recognises, however, that there are significant deficits which need to be tackled and solved in order to make the ECI more effective; asserts that the greater inclusion of citizens in the determination of EU policies will increase the credibility of the European institutions;

30.  Notes positively the Ombudsman’s continuous dialogue and close relations with a broad range of EU institutions, including the European Parliament, as well as other bodies, with a view to ensuring administrative cooperation and cohesion; also commends the Ombudsman’s efforts to ensure continuous and open communication with the Committee on Petitions;

31.  Acknowledges the need for EU agencies to abide by the same high standards of transparency, accountability, and ethics as all other institutions; notes with appreciation the important work performed by the European Ombudsman in several agencies across the EU; supports the proposal made to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that registrants have to show that they tried their utmost to avoid animal testing and to provide information on how to avoid animal testing;

32.  Supports the Ombudsman’s recommendations to the effect that the European Food Safety Agency should revise its rules and procedures on conflict of interest in order to ensure proper public consultation and participation;

33.  Reminds that the Ombudsman also has the capacity, and therefore the duty, to scrutinise the work of Parliament in pursuit of the goal of ensuring sound administration for EU citizens;

34.  Calls for an effective upgrading of the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour by adopting a binding regulation on the matter during this legislative term;

35.  Calls on the European Ombudsman to add to future annual reports a categorisation of complaints outside the mandate of the Ombudsman’s office, since this would allow Members of the European Parliament an overview of problems affecting EU citizens;

36.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution and the report of the Committee on Petitions to the Council, the Commission, the European Ombudsman, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, and the Member States’ ombudsmen or similar competent bodies.

(1) OJ L 113, 4.5.1994, p. 15.
(2) OJ C 72 E, 21.3.2002, p. 331.

Towards a definitive VAT system and fighting VAT fraud
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on towards a definitive VAT system and fighting VAT fraud (2016/2033(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the action plan on VAT put forward by the Commission on 7 April 2016 (COM(2016)0148),

–   having regard to the European Court of Auditors special report No 24/2015 of 3 March 2016 entitled ‘Tackling intra-Community VAT fraud: More action needed’,

–  having regard to Council Directive 2006/112/EC of 28 November 2006 on the common system of value added tax,

–   having regard to its resolution of 13 October 2011 on the future of VAT(1),

–   having regard to the proposal for a directive on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (COM(2012)0363),

–  having regard to the proposal for a Council Regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (COM(2013)0534),

–  having regard to its resolution of 12 March 2014 on the proposal for a Council regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office(2),

–  having regard to the proposal for a regulation on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) (COM(2013)0535),

–  having regard to its resolution of 29 April 2015 on the proposal for a Council regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office(3),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Budgetary Control and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (A8-0307/2016),

A.  whereas the Single Market, established on 1 January 1993, has abolished border controls for intra-community trade and whereas, under Articles 402-404 of the current VAT Directive, the European Union VAT arrangements in place since 1993 are of a provisional and transitional nature only;

B.  whereas, under Article 113 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Council shall, acting unanimously, adopt directives for the completion of the common VAT system and, in particular, the progressive curtailment or revocation of exemptions thereto;

C.  whereas the Commission is required every four years to submit to the European Parliament and the Council a report on the functioning of the current VAT system and, in particular, the transitional arrangements;

D.  whereas VAT, the proceeds of which yielded almost EUR 1 trillion in 2014, is a major and growing source of revenue in the Member States and contributes to EU own resources, the EU’s total revenue from the VAT own resource standing at EUR 17 667 million and accounting for 12,27 % of the total revenue of the EU in 2014(4);

E.  whereas the current VAT system, in particular as it is applied by large corporations to cross-border transactions, is vulnerable to fraud, tax avoidance strategies, VAT uncollected due to insolvencies, or to miscalculation; whereas the estimated ‘VAT gap’ amounts to around EUR 170 billion annually, and better digital technologies are becoming available to help close this gap;

F.  whereas, according to a Commission study(5), MTIC fraud (Missing Trader Intra-Community fraud, commonly called carousel fraud) alone is responsible for a VAT revenue loss of approximately EUR 45 billion to EUR 53 billion annually;

G.  whereas Member States differ in the effectiveness with which they are able to address VAT fraud and VAT avoidance, since the VAT gap is estimated to vary from less than 5 % to over 40 % depending on the country considered;

H.  whereas, according to Europol estimates, between EUR 40 billion and EUR 60 billion of the annual VAT revenue losses of Member States are caused by organised crime groups, and 2 % of those groups are behind 80 % of MTIC fraud;

I.  whereas the measurement of the revenue losses arising from cross-border VAT fraud is a very challenging task given that only two Member States, the UK and Belgium, collect and disseminate statistics on the issue;

J.  whereas several Member States under the coordination of Eurojust and Europol have recently conducted three successful and consecutive Vertigo Operations which uncovered a carousel fraud scheme totalling EUR 320 million;

K.  whereas the high administrative costs incurred under the present VAT system, especially with regard to cross-border transactions, could be significantly reduced for small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, including by means of simplification measures employing digital reporting tools and common databases;

L.  whereas there is much room for improvement in reducing administrative and tax barriers, which particularly affect cross-border cooperation projects;

M.  whereas VAT is a tax on consumption which is based on a system of fractionated payments allowing for self-policing by persons liable for payment, and whereas it must only be borne by the final consumer so as to ensure neutrality for businesses; whereas it is up to Member States to organise the practical way of charging VAT in order to ensure that it is borne by the final consumer;

N.  whereas 23 years after the introduction of the VAT Directive, the so called ‘standstill derogations’ are outdated, in particular with regard to the modern digital economy;

O.  whereas, over the past two decades, the Commission has initiated over 40 infringement procedures against more than two-thirds of the Member States for breach of the directive;

P.  whereas no majority can be achieved in favour of the country of origin principle regarding a definitive VAT system, since this would require a higher degree of tax-rate harmonisation to prevent massive distortions of competition;

Q.  whereas the fight against tax fraud is one of the main tax-related challenges faced by the Member States;

R.  whereas VAT fraud is an extremely damaging practice that diverts significant amounts of Member States’ budget revenues while hindering their efforts to consolidate their public finances;

S.  whereas cross-border VAT fraud costs our Member States and European taxpayers nearly EUR 50 billion a year;

T.  whereas VAT fraud typologies are multifaceted, evolving and concern many economic sectors, and thus require swift adaptation of relevant legislation in order to move towards a sustainable and simple VAT system enabling the prevention of fraud and the potential loss of tax revenue;

U.  whereas any reverse charge pilot projects must not cause or lead to any delay in putting in place a definitive VAT system as provided for in the Commission’s Action Plan roadmap;

V.  whereas the most popular VAT fraud technique is ‘carousel’ fraud; whereas in this type of fraud, which occurs very frequently in the electronic component, mobile telephony and textile trades, goods are passed around between several companies in different Member States, taking advantage of the fact that there is no tax levied on the intra-EU supply of goods;

W.  whereas enhanced and continuous cooperation efforts between the Member States are urgently needed to set up comprehensive and integrated strategies in the fight against fraud, particularly considering current EU budgetary constraints, and the increase in e-commerce and internet trade that has weakened territorial control over VAT collection;

X.  whereas the protection of the financial interests of the European Union and the Member States is a key element of the Union’s policy agenda to strengthen and increase the confidence of citizens and ensure that their money is used properly;

Y.  whereas VAT fraud results in a loss of income for the Member States, and therefore for the EU, creates a distorted fiscal environment that is particularly damaging to small and medium-sized enterprises, and is used by criminal organisations taking advantage of existing legislative gaps between the Member States and their competent supervisory authorities;

Z.  whereas the European Court of Auditors concluded in its Special Report No 24/2015 that VAT fraud is mostly classed as a criminal practice that needs to be stopped;

AA.  whereas in the ‘Taricco and Others’ case (C-105/14) the European Court of Justice stated that the concept of ‘fraud’ as defined in Article 1 of the Convention on the Protection of the European Communities’ Financial Interests covers revenue derived from VAT;

1.  Welcomes the Commission’s intention to propose a definitive VAT system by 2017 that is simple, fair, robust, efficient and less susceptible to fraud;

2.  Emphasises that a simple system for VAT which demands fewer exemptions is necessary for the proper functioning of the digital single market;

3.  Takes the view that the expert advice on which the Commission’s proposals for the programme of action are based contains a number of valuable recommendations; emphasises that the Commission’s list of proposals aimed at achieving a robust, simple and fraud-proof VAT system is not exhaustive;

4.  Welcomes the recent Commission communication of 7 April 2016 and the projected additional measures designed to prevent fraud and help improve the existing VAT system;

5.  Takes the view that improving the existing system is also important, and calls for fundamental reforms with a view to removing or at least substantially reducing the problems affecting it, and particularly the European problem of VAT collection;

6.  Takes the view that the Commission should examine all possible options equally without prejudging the outcome and should include them in the legislative process;

7.  Notes that concerted efforts between Member States are needed to reach agreement on a definitive VAT system;

8.  Recognises that unanimity will be a necessary precondition for an agreement on a better functioning system for VAT, and therefore calls for a clear vision regarding simplicity and fewer exceptions combined with a pragmatic approach respecting the interests of the rapidly developing digital economy;

9.  Notes that it is essential for the Member States to adopt a coordinated tax policy and to improve the speed and frequency of their exchange information concerning intra-Community trade in order to combat tax evasion and tax avoidance more effectively and finally close the existing ‘VAT gap’;

10.  Encourages the Commission and government agencies to explore and test new technologies, such as distributed ledger technology and real time supervision, as part of a RegTech agenda with a view to significantly reducing the existing and substantial ‘VAT gap’ in the Union;

11.  Stresses that it is the responsibility of the tax authorities in the individual Member States to ensure that VAT is paid in a simple and SME-friendly way, which can be facilitated by increased cooperation between the national authorities;

12.  Takes the view that cooperation and information exchanges between the Member State tax authorities have been inadequate in the past and the activities of Eurofisc have to date failed to achieve any satisfactory results; is of the opinion that the information exchanged through Eurofisc should be better targeted to fraud; looks forward to the upcoming Commission proposal to enhance the functioning of Eurofisc;

13.  Notes that the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES) has proven to be a helpful tool in fighting fraud by enabling tax authorities to reconcile data on traders across countries, but that shortcomings persist in its implementation, in particular as regards the timeliness of the information provided, the swiftness of the replies to queries and the speed of reaction to the errors signalled; recommends therefore that Member States give due consideration to addressing these shortcomings;

14.  Notes that the data provided to Eurofisc by national authorities are not filtered in a way which transfers solely suspect cases, thus hindering the optimal functioning of the group; supports the initiative by several Member States that argue for the setting up of national risk analysis tools which would permit filtering of data without running the risk of eliminating suspicious cases in any Member State and allow Eurofisc to react quickly against cross-border VAT fraud;

15.  Emphasises that it is the responsibility of the tax authorities in the individual Member States to ensure that VAT is paid in a proper and simple way;

16.  Recalls that Member States largely depend on information received from other Member States concerning intra-EU trade in order to be able to collect VAT in their territory; calls on the authorities responsible to automatically exchange VAT and excise information in particular and to use reliable and user-friendly IT means, such as electronic standard forms, to record cross-border deliveries of goods and services to end-users; believes in this regard that the use of VAT Locator Numbers (VLNs), under which customers cannot deduct input tax if the VAT is mentioned on an invoice without a valid VLN, could be a helpful tool;

17.  Believes that the lack of comparable data and of adequate relevant indicators to measure Member States’ performance affects the effectiveness of the EU system in tackling intra-EU VAT fraud, and thus calls on tax authorities to establish, in coordination with the Commission, a common system to estimate the size of intra-EU fraud and then set targets to reduce it, as this would make it possible to evaluate Member States’ performance in tackling this issue;

18.  Calls on Member States to also facilitate the exchange of information with judicial and law enforcement authorities such as Europol and OLAF, as recommended by the Court of Auditors;

19.  Notes that Customs Procedure 42, which provides for VAT exemption on goods imported into one Member State when they will subsequently be shipped to another Member State, has shown to be vulnerable to fraudulent abuse; notes that effective cross checks of the data held by tax authorities with data held by customs authorities are crucial to detect and eliminate this type of fraud; calls therefore on Member States and on the Commission to act in order to facilitate the flow of information between tax and customs authorities regarding imports under Customs Procedure 42, as recommended by the European Court of Auditors;

20.  Supports the aim of the action plan to establish a single European VAT area to buttress a deeper and more equitable single market and in order to help promote tax justice, sustainable consumption, employment, growth, investment and competitiveness, while also limiting the possibility of VAT fraud;

21.  Calls in this regard for services to be incorporated fully into the new system as soon as possible and calls, in particular, for financial services to be subject to VAT;

22.  Shares the Commission’s view that the VAT system decided upon should be based on the principle of taxation in the country which is the final destination of the goods and services, given that the country-of-origin principle could not be implemented;

23.  Is in favour of the country-of-destination principle being applied as a general rule in the case of distance sales to individuals, and of introducing harmonised measures for small businesses;

24.  Calls for technical developments in the digital world to be incorporated into the existing tax models when the VAT system decided upon is introduced, so that the system will be fit for the 21st century;

25.  Notes that the current plethora of VAT rates causes great uncertainty for companies involved in cross-border trading, in particular in the services sector and for SMEs; notes that uncertainty is also caused by the question of who is liable for the collection of VAT, proof of intra-community supply, the risk of being involved in missing trader fraud, cash-flow issues and the different VAT rates for different product categories within the same country; calls therefore on the Commission to study the impact by mid-2017 of missing trader fraud; calls for Member States to agree on increasing convergence in VAT rates;

26.  Calls on the Commission to assess the impact of failing to harmonise tax rates at Union level, particularly on cross-border activities, and to assess the possibilities for removing these obstacles;

27.  Supports the option as proposed by the Commission of a regular review of the list of goods and services eligible for reduced rates to be agreed by the Council; calls for this list to take into account political priorities such as social, gender, health, environmental, nutritional and cultural aspects;

28.  Takes the view that the complete abolition of minimum tax rates as an alternative, as advocated by the Commission, might cause considerable distortions of competition and problems in the single market; takes the view that the need for greater harmonisation, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the single market should be taken into account;

29.  Calls for an examination of whether a single European list of reduced goods and services could be compiled with the aim of finding an alternative to the current system of reduced VAT rates which could significantly improve the efficiency of the VAT system, allowing for a more structured system than is currently the case;

30.  Takes the view that fewer exemptions are important to fight VAT fraud and that the best and most efficient way to tackle fraud is a simple VAT system with as low a rate as possible;

31.  Takes the view that the present complicated system could be considerably simplified if the goods and services eligible for reduced tax rates were reduced and some goods and services eligible for reduced tax rates were determined jointly by Member States at EU level, while allowing Member States to decide on tax rates as long as they are compliant with the minimum tax rates in the VAT Directive and provided that this does not create risks of unfair competition;

32.  Calls for products to be subject to the country-of-destination principle of equal taxation irrespective of what form they take or what platform they are purchased on and whether they are delivered digitally or physically;

33.  Notes that a major problem for SMEs today is that Member States have different interpretations regarding what can be described as a product or as a service; calls therefore on the Commission to be clearer and more distinct in its definitions;

34.  Calls on the Member States to apply VAT equally to private and public companies in areas in which they compete with each other;

35.  Points out that the fractionated payments system for VAT was chosen as the reference for indirect taxation in the OECD’s BEPS project (Action 1) because it ensures that tax collection is effective and, by its very nature, allows for self-policing by operators;

36.  Notes that Articles 199 and 199a of the VAT Directive provide for a temporary and targeted application of the reverse charge mechanism for cross-border transactions and for certain domestic high-risk sectors in Member States;

37.  Calls on Commission to study carefully the consequences of the reverse charge mechanism and to examine whether this procedure will simplify the situation for SMEs and reduce VAT fraud;

38.  Calls on the Commission to evaluate the effects of the reverse charge procedure, and not only for individual sectors which are particularly susceptible to fraud, in terms of benefits, compliance costs, fraud, effectiveness and implementation problems and long-term advantages and disadvantages through pilot projects, as requested by some Member States and explicitly confirmed by the Commission in the meantime, even if this has not been included in its action plan so far; stresses that any such pilot project must not, however, by any means cause or lead to any delay in the design and implementation of the permanent VAT regime as provided for in the Commission’s Action Plan roadmap;

39.  Takes the view that national tax administrations must take greater responsibility for ensuring tax compliance and reducing opportunities for evasion in the general implementation of the country-of-destination principle; agrees with the Commission that there is still ample room to improve the fight against VAT fraud via conventional administrative measures and improving Member States’ staff capacity and skills in tax collection and inspection; highlights the need to strengthen tax inspections and sanctions on the largest fraudsters; calls on the Commission to provide adequate financial and technical support in this regard;

40.  Takes the view that the Commission should closely monitor the performance of national tax authorities and improve coordination between them;

41.  Welcomes the Commission announcement to expand the Mini One-Stop Shop into a fully-fledged one-stop shop; notes the paramount importance of it being user-friendly and equally efficient in all 28 Member States; notes that creating a one-stop-shop would alleviate administrative burdens that prevent companies from operating across borders and reduce costs for SMEs (COM(2016)0148);

42.  Notes that a ‘one-stop shop’ is essential if the country-of-destination principle is to be imposed and made less prone to fraud; calls for improvements to the one-stop shop to be based on the current experience of the Mini One-Stop Shops for digital products; notes that even with the Mini One-Stop Shop, small and micro-businesses can face a significant administrative burden under the new destination principle; welcomes, therefore, the proposal within the Commission’s action plan on VAT to introduce a common EU-wide simplification measure (VAT threshold); calls for a clear definition of which Member State is responsible for tax inspection in the case of cross-border transactions; welcomes the Commission’s intention to abolish the Low Value Consignments Relief as part of its VAT action plan;

43.  Recognising that different VAT regimes across the European Union might also be perceived as a non-tariff barrier in the Single Market, underlines that the VAT Mini One-Stop Shop (VAT MOSS) is a good way of helping to remove this barrier and in particular of supporting SMEs in their cross-border activity; acknowledges that there are still some minor problematic issues with the VAT MOSS; calls on the Commission to further facilitate the payment of VAT obligations by companies across the EU;

44.  Notes the Court of Justice of the European Union ruling in C-97/09 (Ingrid Schmelz v Finanzamt Waldviertel); takes note of the 28 different thresholds for exemption from VAT tax; takes note of the ensuing financial difficulties faced by SMEs and micro-businesses which would be exempted under their national systems; calls on the Commission to conduct further studies on establishing a threshold for the exemption to pay VAT for micro-businesses;

45.  Calls for all proposals to be studied in order to minimise the administrative burden of turnover taxes for MSMEs; encourages the Commission in this regard also to look into international best practices, such as the gold card schemes applicable in Singapore and Australia, recognising that the risk of fraud on the part of some suppliers is very low;

46.  Welcomes the Commission’s announcement that it will submit an SME package for VAT in 2017; recommends, however, that the implementation of the new framework should be gradual as it will trigger additional administrative costs (such as IT infrastructure or VAT processes);

47.  Notes the complex filing system that imposes a high burden on SMEs and thus discourages cross-border trade; calls on the Commission to include in its SME package a proposal for unified VAT filing and harmonised reporting requirements and deadlines;

48.  Underscores the need for a harmonised VAT environment for distance ‘business-to-business’ and ‘business-to-consumer’ sales; notes that the VAT threshold is not implemented with the same success in different Member States due to failures in coordination;

49.  Stresses that a new simplified system for VAT must be designed in such a way that SMEs can easily follow the rules on cross border trade and can find support in each Member State not only on how to adapt to them but also on managing the VAT procedures;

50.  Calls in the short term for a comprehensive and publicly accessible internet portal for companies and end-users to find, clearly and easily, detailed information on the VAT rates applicable to individual products and services in the Member States; stresses that language and design of this portal should be easy to understand and use; reiterates its conviction that helping companies to clearly understand VAT rules applicable in Member States will further strengthen anti-VAT-fraud measures; notes also that certified tax software could help in limiting the risk of specific types of fraud and other irregularities and can provide certainty to honest businesses engaged in domestic and cross-border transactions; calls further on the Commission to provide guidelines to national tax authorities on the classification of transactions with respect to the applied VAT rate in order to reduce compliance costs and legal disputes; calls on Member States to set up public information systems, such as a VAT web portal, to make reliable information available;

51.  Calls on the Commission to set up a list with updated information on VAT rules in every single Member State; underlines, at the same time, that it is the responsibility of the Member States to report their rules and rates to the Commission;

52.  Notes that, for e-commerce sales, the lack of harmonisation in the VAT threshold entails high transaction costs for SMEs operating in e-commerce activities when they accidentally or inadvertently exceed the threshold;

53.  Calls on the Member States to urgently provide the Commission with information regarding their respective VAT rates, special requirements and exemptions; calls on the Commission to collect this information and make it available to companies and consumers;

54.  Takes the view that the VAT reform plans announced by the Commission in the action programme must be subject to comprehensive and qualitatively-sound impact assessments with input from science, EU Member State tax administrations, SMEs and companies in the EU;

55.  Emphasises that tax legislation is an exclusive competence of the Member States; emphasises that according to Article 329(1) TFEU a group of at least nine Member States may engage in enhanced cooperation; calls on the Commission to support proposals for enhanced cooperation which aim to combat fraud and reduce administrative burdens in terms of VAT;

56.  Takes the view that a solution within the OECD framework is preferred to stand-alone measures which need to be harmonised with OECD recommendations and the BEPS action plan;

57.  Welcomes the Commission communication entitled ‘EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020: Accelerating the digital transformation of government’ (COM(2016)0179);

58.  Notes that the new action plan includes further steps forward towards a more efficient and fraud-proof definitive regime that will be friendlier to businesses in the age of the digital economy and e-commerce;

59.  Supports the Commission proposal according to which VAT on cross-border sales (of goods or services) would be collected by the tax authority of the originating country, at the rate applicable in the country of consumption, and transferred to the country where the goods or services are ultimately consumed;

60.  Underlines the importance of presenting a legislative proposal to extend the Single Electronic Mechanism (for the registration and payment of VAT to cross-border businesses) to consumer online sales of physical goods in order to reduce the administrative burden, one of the main barriers that businesses face when operating across borders;

61.  Calls on the Commission to address the administrative burden on businesses arising from the fragmented VAT regime by presenting legislative proposals to extend the current mini One-Stop Shop to include tangible goods sold online, allowing businesses to make single declarations and VAT payments in their own Member States;

62.  Calls on the Member States to simplify their national tax systems, and to make them more consistent and robust, so as to facilitate compliance, prevent, deter and punish tax fraud and evasion, and boost the efficiency of VAT collection;

63.  Is concerned that the goal of simplifying the system of accountability for VAT as an own resource has not been totally achieved; recalls the need for further simplification of the management system related to own resources in order to reduce the possibilities of errors and fraud; regrets that the new action plan does not address the impact on the VAT own resource;

64.  Points out that the Member States’ VAT gaps, and the estimated losses on VAT collection within the Union, amounted to an estimated EUR 170 billion in 2015, and underlines the fact that in 13 of the 26 Member States examined in 2014 the average estimated VAT loss exceeded 15,2 %; calls on the Commission to make full use of its executive powers in order to both control and help the Member States; points out that effective action to reduce the VAT gap requires a concerted and multidisciplinary approach, as this gap is the result not only of fraud but of a combination of factors, including bankruptcy and insolvency, statistical errors, late payment, tax evasion and tax avoidance; reiterates its call on the Commission swiftly to promote legislation on the minimum level of protection for whistle-blowers in the EU in order to better investigate and deter fraud, and to establish financial support for cross-border investigative journalism, which clearly proved its effectiveness in the ‘LuxLeaks’, ‘Dieselgate’ and ‘Panama Papers’ scandals;

65.  Regrets that VAT fraud, and in particular the so-called ‘carousel’ or ‘missing trader’ fraud, distorts competition and deprives national budgets of significant resources, as well as being detrimental to the Union budget; is concerned that the Commission has no reliable data on VAT ‘carousel fraud’; calls, therefore, on the Commission to launch a coordinated effort by the Member States to establish a joint system of collecting statistics on VAT ‘carousel fraud’; points out that such a system could build upon practices already used in some Member States;

66.  Urges the Commission to initiate the establishment of a common system that will allow a more refined estimation of the size of intra-EU VAT fraud by compiling intra-EU VAT fraud statistics, which would enable individual Member States to evaluate their respective performances in this regard on the basis of precise and reliable indicators of the reduction of intra-EU VAT and the increase in fraud detection and correlative tax recovery; takes the view that new auditing approaches, such as the single audit or joint audits, should be extended further to encompass cross-border operations;

67.  Stresses the importance of implementing new strategies, and of making more efficient use of existing EU structures, to combat VAT fraud more vigorously; underlines the fact that greater transparency allowing for proper scrutiny, and the adoption of a more structured and ‘risk-based’ approach, are key to detecting and preventing fraud schemes and corruption;

68.  Regrets that administrative cooperation among Member States in fighting VAT fraud is still not efficient when it comes to coping with intra-EU VAT evasion and fraud mechanisms, or to managing cross-border transactions or trading; stresses the need for a simplified, effective and accessible VAT system that will allow all Member States to reduce their VAT burdens and combat VAT fraud; calls on the Commission, therefore, to carry out more monitoring visits to Member States, selected on a risk basis, when assessing administrative cooperation agreements; asks the Commission, furthermore, to focus, in the context of its evaluation of the administrative arrangements, on removing legal obstacles preventing the exchange of information between administrative, judicial and law enforcement authorities at national and EU level; calls, in addition, on the Commission to recommend that Member States introduce a common risk analysis, including the use of social network analysis, to ensure that the information exchanged through Eurofisc is targeted on fraud; calls on the Member States to lay down effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties, and to improve the system currently used to exchange information;

69.  Stresses the need to reinforce Eurofisc in order to speed up exchanges of information; points out that there are still problems with regard to the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information; considers it necessary to pool the actions, and coordinate the strategies, of the Member States’ tax, judicial and police authorities, and of European bodies – such as Europol, Eurojust and OLAF – dealing with the fight against fraud, organised crime and money laundering; encourages all stakeholders to further consider simple and comprehensible models for real-time information sharing in order to allow for prompt reactions or mitigating measures to combat existing or newly emerging fraud schemes;

70.  Considers it essential for all Member States to participate in Eurofisc in each of its fields of activity, so as to allow effective measures to be taken to combat VAT fraud;

71.  Calls on the Commission to make proposals enabling effective cross-checks of data from customs and tax authorities, and to focus its monitoring of the Member States on measures indicative of improvements to the timeliness of their replies to information requests and of the reliability of the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES);

72.  Asks the Commission to encourage those Member States that have not already done so to implement a two-tier VAT identification number (with a number allocated to traders wishing to take part in intra-Community trade that is different from the domestic VAT identification number) and to conduct the checks laid down in Article 22 of Regulation (EU) No 904/2010, while providing free advice to traders;

73.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that the Member States’ electronic customs clearance systems are capable of, and carry out, automatic checking of VAT identification numbers;

74.  Urges the Commission to propose an amendment to the VAT Directive with a view to achieving further harmonisation of Member States’ VAT reporting requirements for intra-EU supplies of goods and services;

75.  Regrets that the proposal of the Commission with regard to joint and several liability in cases of cross-border trade has not been adopted by the Council; points out that this reduces the deterrence against doing business with fraudulent traders; considers that the implementation of the VAT Directive, as regards the period of submission of recapitulative statements, is not uniform among the Member States, and that this increases the administrative burden on traders operating in more than one Member State; urges the Council, therefore, to approve the Commission’s proposal on joint and several liability;

76.  Encourages the Commission and the Member States to be more active at international level, to strengthen cooperation with non-EU countries and to enforce efficient VAT collection, so as to establish standards and strategies of cooperation based chiefly on the principles of transparency, good governance and exchange of information; encourages the Member States to exchange information received from non-EU countries among themselves in order to facilitate the enforcement of VAT collection, particularly in e-commerce;

77.  Urges the Council to include VAT in the scope of the Directive on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (the ‘PIF Directive’) with a view to finding agreement on the matter as soon as possible;

78.  Calls on the Commission to continue to assess the revenues raised by criminal organisations through VAT fraud, and to present a comprehensive, common, multi-disciplinary strategy to counter criminal organisations’ business models based on VAT fraud, including by means of joint investigation teams where necessary;

79.  Deems it crucial to ensure the establishment of a single, strong and independent European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) that is able to investigate, prosecute and bring to court the perpetrators of criminal offences affecting the Union’s financial interests, including with regard to VAT fraud, as defined in the abovementioned PIF Directive, and believes that any weaker solution would represent a cost to the Union budget; stresses, moreover, the need to ensure that division of competence between the EPPO and Member States’ investigating authorities does not lead to offences with a meaningful impact on the Union budget falling outside the competence of the EPPO;

80.  Calls on all the Member States to publish estimates on losses due to intra-EU VAT fraud, to address weaknesses in Eurofisc, and to better coordinate their policies on reverse charging of VAT relating to goods and services;

81.  Deems it crucial that the Member States use multilateral controls (MLCs) – a coordinated control by two or more Member States of the tax liability of one or more related taxable persons – as a useful tool for combating VAT fraud;

82.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the Member States.

(1) OJ C 94 E, 3.4.2013, p. 5.
(2) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0234.
(3) OJ C 346, 21.9.2016, p. 27.
(4) European Commission, financial report 2014.

EU action plan against wildlife trafficking
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on EU action plan against wildlife trafficking (2016/2076(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking’ (COM(2016)0087),

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 January 2014 on wildlife crime(1),

–  having regard to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), implemented in the EU through Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, and Commission Regulation (EC) No 865/2006 laying down detailed rules concerning the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97,

–  having regard to Council Decision (EU) 2015/451 of 6 March 2015 concerning the accession of the European Union to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)(2),

–  having regard to the 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption,

–  having regard to the 2000 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime,

–  having regard to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention),

–  having regard to the 2016 World Wildlife Crime Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),

–  having regard to UN General Assembly Resolution 69/314 of 30 July 2015 on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife,

–  having regard to UN Environment Assembly Resolution 2/14 on illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products,

–  having regard to the 2015-2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),

–  having regard to the International Consortium on combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), comprising CITES, Interpol, UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation,

–  having regard to the Declaration signed at the 2014 London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade,

–  having regard to the 2016 Buckingham Palace Declaration on the prevention of wildlife trafficking in the transport sector,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market(3), and to the Commission’s 2016 implementation report thereon,

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU)(4),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 605/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 June 2013 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1185/2003 on the removal of fins of sharks on board vessels(5) and Commission Regulation (EC) No 206/2009 of 5 March 2009(6) which allows the import of 20 kg of fish products for personal consumption,

–  having regard to the importance of the European Fisheries Control Agency, established by Council Regulation (EC) No 768/2005, in combating illegal capture and sale of aquatic species,

–  having regard to Directive 2008/99/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on the protection of the environment through criminal law(7),

–  having regard to Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos(8),

–  having regard to Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds(9),

–  having regard to Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora(10),

–  having regard to the study on wildlife crime published by its Policy Department for its Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety in March 2016,

–  having regard to the Natura 2000 network, which involves core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and some rare natural habitat types which are protected in their own right,

–  having regard to the report of the 2014 EU Action to Fight Environmental Crime (EFFACE) research project,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 12 February 2016 on the fight against the financing of terrorism,

–  having regard to the report of the Secretary-General of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice of 4 March 2003 entitled ‘Illicit trafficking in protected species of wild flora and fauna and illicit access to genetic resources’,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 20 June 2016 on the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking,

–  having regard to the 2016 rapid response assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol entitled ‘The Rise of Environmental Crime’,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the opinions of the Committee on Development, the Committee on International Trade, the Committee on Fisheries and the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0303/2016),

A.  whereas wildlife trafficking is an organised international crime which is estimated to be worth approximately EUR 20 billion annually and which has increased worldwide in recent years, becoming one of the biggest and most profitable forms of organised cross-border crime; whereas wildlife trafficking finances and is closely linked with other forms of serious and organised crime;

B.  whereas the loss of global biodiversity is serious, as it corresponds to the sixth wave of mass extinction of species;

C.  whereas global biodiversity and ecosystem services are under threat owing to land-use changes, unsustainable use of natural resources, pollution and climate change; whereas, in particular, many endangered species face greater challenges than before owing to rapid urbanisation, loss of habitat and the illegal wildlife trade;

D.  whereas wildlife trafficking has major negative impacts on biodiversity, existing ecosystems, the natural heritage of the countries of origin, natural resources and the conservation of species;

E.  whereas wildlife trafficking is a serious and growing threat to global security, political stability, economic development, local livelihoods and the rule of law, and therefore requires a strategic, coordinated EU approach involving all the actors concerned;

F.  whereas halting trafficking in endangered species of flora and fauna and products derived from them is essential in order to attain the UN’s sustainable development targets;

G.  whereas CITES is a major international agreement covering 35 000 animal and plant species, which has been in force since 1975 and signed by 183 parties (including all EU Member States and, since July 2015, the EU itself);

H.  whereas trade and development policies should, inter alia, serve as a means to improve respect for human rights, animal welfare and environmental protection;

I.  whereas the EU Trade in Wildlife Information Exchange (EU-TWIX) has been monitoring the illegal wildlife trade by creating a seizures database and channels of communication between officials across European countries since 2005;

J.  whereas lack of awareness and political engagement are major obstacles to combating wildlife trafficking effectively;

K.  whereas the EU Agenda on Security for 2015-2020 identifies wildlife crime as a form of organised crime that must be tackled at EU level by considering further criminal sanctions throughout the EU by means of a review of the existing legislation on environmental crime;

L.  whereas Operation COBRA III, conducted in May 2015, was the biggest ever coordinated international law enforcement operation targeting the illegal trade in endangered species and resulted in 139 arrests and more than 247 seizures, which included elephant ivory, medicinal plants, rhino horns, pangolins, rosewood, tortoises and many other plant and animal specimens;

M.  whereas the demand for illegal wildlife products in destination markets promotes corruption across the wildlife trafficking supply chain;

N.  whereas the EU is a significant destination market and transit route for illegal wildlife trade but also a source of trafficking in certain European endangered species of flora and fauna;

O.  whereas the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice resolution of April 2013, endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council on 25 July 2013, encourages its ‘Member States to make illicit trafficking in protected species of wild fauna and flora involving organised criminal groups a serious crime’, thereby placing it on the same level as human trafficking and drug trafficking;

General remarks

1.  Welcomes the Commission’s Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, which highlights the need for coordinated actions to address the causes of wildlife trafficking, to implement and enforce existing rules effectively, and to strengthen global cooperation between source, transit and destination countries;

2.  Calls on the Commission, the Member States, the European External Action Service and the EU agencies Europol and Eurojust to recognise that wildlife crime is a serious and growing threat and to address it with the greatest political urgency; highlights the need for comprehensive and coordinated approaches across policy areas including trade, development, foreign affairs, transport and tourism, and justice and home affairs;

3.  Stresses that the identification and allocation of appropriate financial and human resources is essential for the implementation of the Action Plan; underlines the need to provide adequate financial resources in the EU budget and the national budgets in order to ensure effective implementation of this plan;

4.  Acknowledges the importance of the Action Plan, but stresses its shortcomings as regards the incorporation of aquatic species;

5.  Insists on the full and timely implementation of all elements of the Action Plan reflecting the urgent need to stop illegal and unsustainable practices and prevent further species decline; calls on the Commission to provide Parliament and the Council with yearly written implementation updates and to set up an ongoing detailed monitoring and evaluation mechanism to measure progress, including the actions taken by Member States;

6.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to better increase the protection of the habitats of target species and stresses that increased protection should be ensured for areas designated as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas and Natura 2000 network sites;

7.  Calls on the Commission to establish a dedicated Wildlife Trafficking Coordinator’s office, mirroring the model used to fight human trafficking, in order to ensure a joined-up effort by different Commission services and the Member States;

8.  Reminds the Commission that many aquatic species are also in danger of being extinct, which will affect the sustainability of many ecosystems;

9.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to further develop scientific studies on technological adaptations of fishing gears in order to avoid bycatch, given the fact that a number of species, including turtles, are threatened by both bycatch and wild animal trafficking;

Preventing wildlife trafficking and addressing its root causes

10.  Calls for a targeted and coordinated series of awareness-raising campaigns by the EU, third countries, stakeholders and civil society with the aim of reducing demand related to the illegal trade in wildlife products through real and lasting individual and collective behavioural change; recognises the role civil society organisations can play in supporting the Action Plan;

11.  Calls on the EU to support initiatives promoting the development of alternative sustainable livelihoods for rural communities close to wildlife, which increase local benefits from conservation measures, minimise human-wildlife conflicts and promote wildlife as a valuable community income; believes that such initiatives, when taken in consultation with the communities concerned, will increase support for conservation and contribute to the recovery, conservation and sustainable management of wildlife populations and their habitats;

12.  Stresses that wildlife protection must be a key element in the EU’s global poverty-reduction strategies and calls for actions that enable local communities to benefit directly from engaging in wildlife protection to be included in the various cooperation agreements negotiated with third countries;

13.  Reminds the Commission that illegal trafficking in aquatic species also affects the economic development of coastal communities and the environmental suitability of our waters;

14.  Calls for the EU, as a matter of urgency, to address corruption and the shortcomings of international governance measures across the wildlife trafficking chain; calls for the EU and its Member States to engage with partner countries through the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and other fora to tackle the problem in source, transit and destination markets; calls on all Member States to fully comply with and effectively implement the provisions of UNCAC; welcomes the international commitment on counter-corruption under Article 10 of UN General Assembly Resolution 69/314 of July 2015;

15.  Recognises the need to provide assistance, guidance and training to authorities in source, transit and destination countries concerning investigation, enforcement and judicial procedures at local, regional and national level; underlines the need to coordinate these efforts in an efficient way among all agencies involved in this work; calls for the EU to support the exchange of best practices and to enable specialised equipment and expertise to be provided where necessary;

16.  Takes note of the Council conclusions on the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking of 20 June 2016, recognising that wildlife crime is a serious and growing threat to biodiversity and the environment but also to global security, the rule of law, human rights and sustainable development; strongly regrets the lack of clear commitments by the Member States; stresses the decisive role of the Member States in the full and coherent implementation of the Action Plan at national level and in delivering the objectives set out therein;

17.  Urges governments of the supply countries to: (i) improve the rule of law and create effective deterrents by strengthening criminal investigation, prosecution and sentencing; (ii) enact stronger laws treating illicit wildlife trafficking as a ‘serious crime’ deserving the same level of attention and gravity as other forms of transnational organised crime; (iii) allocate more resources to combating wildlife crime, particularly to strengthen wildlife law enforcement, trade controls, monitoring, and customs detection and seizure; (iv) commit to a zero-tolerance policy on corruption;

Making implementation and enforcement more effective

18.  Calls on the Member States to put in place wildlife trafficking action plans detailing enforcement policies and penalties, and to publish and exchange the information on seizures and arrests relating to wildlife crimes, in order to ensure consistency and harmonised approaches between Member States; supports the setting up of a mechanism to provide the Commission with regular data and information updates on seizures and arrests in the Member States and promote the sharing of best practice;

19.  Insists on the importance of the full implementation and enforcement of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations;

20.  Proposes that the penalties for wildlife trafficking, especially in areas with vulnerable marine ecosystems or falling within the Natura 2000 network, should be sufficiently severe as to deter potential offenders;

21.  Urges the Member States to ensure that enforcement agencies, prosecution services and national judiciaries have the necessary financial and human resources and appropriate expertise to combat wildlife crime; strongly encourages the Commission and the Member States to increase their efforts to train and raise the awareness of all relevant agencies and institutions;

22.  Welcomes the efforts of the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), the European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE), the EU Forum of Judges for the Environment (EUFJE) and the network of police officers focusing on tackling environmental crime (EnviCrimeNet);

23.  Notes the inclusion of illegal wildlife trade in the EU Agenda for Security 2015-2020, which recognises that the illegal trade in wildlife threatens biodiversity in source regions, sustainable development and regional stability;

24.  Suggests that Member States invest the proceeds from fines imposed for trafficking in the protection and conservation of wild flora and fauna;

25.  Calls for a step change in intelligence-gathering, law-making and law enforcement, and in the fight against corruption, in relation to wildlife trafficking in the Member States and other destination and transit countries; calls, therefore, on the Commission to pay very close attention to these aspects of administrating and monitoring the enforcement of international standards in relation to wildlife trafficking;

26.  Stresses that in order to avoid the ‘migration’ of wildlife criminal networks, the harmonisation of policies and legal frameworks with respect to wildlife crime is particularly important;

27.  Underlines the need for improved inter-agency cooperation and for functioning and timely data sharing between national and EU-level implementation and enforcement agencies; calls for the creation of strategic enforcement networks at both EU and Member State level in order to facilitate and improve such cooperation; calls on all the Member States to establish wildlife crime units to facilitate implementation across the various agencies;

28.  Calls on the Member States to provide Europol with continuous and relevant intelligence and data; urges Europol to consider wildlife crime in the next EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA); calls for the establishment of a specialised Wildlife Crime Unit within Europol, with transnational powers and responsibilities and sufficient financial and human resources, enabling centralised information and analysis and coordinated enforcement strategies and investigations;

29.  Calls on the Commission to promote the EU-TWIX system as a proven and well-functioning tool for Member States to share data and information, and to ensure a long-term financial commitment to it; believes that civil society organisations can play an important role in monitoring enforcement and reporting on wildlife crime; calls for further cooperation from the EU and the Member States to support such efforts by NGOs;

30.  Notes the links between wildlife crime and other forms of organised crime, including money laundering and the financing of militias and terrorist groups, and considers international cooperation for the combating of illicit financial flows to be a priority; calls for the EU and the Member States to use all relevant instruments, including cooperation with the financial sector, and to monitor and carry out research on the effects of emerging financial products and practices that are involved in this activity;

31.  Urges the Member States to fully implement the provisions of Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law and to set appropriate levels of sanctions for wildlife crime offences; is concerned that some Member States have not yet fully implemented the directive and calls on the Commission to assess the implementation in each Member State, especially in terms of penalties, and to provide guidance; calls on the Commission to undertake a review of Directive 2008/99/EC, in particular with regard to its effectiveness in combating wildlife crime, within the time frame set out in the EU Agenda for Security, and to make a proposal to revise it as appropriate; calls on the Commission to take steps towards establishing and implementing common minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions relating to wildlife trafficking, pursuant to Article 83(1) TFEU on particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension;

32.  Considers that the customs dimension of the Action Plan should be further highlighted, with regard to both cooperation with partner countries and better and more effective implementation within the Union; looks forward, therefore, to the Commission’s 2016 review of the implementation and enforcement of the EU’s current legal framework, and asks for this review to include an assessment of customs procedures;

33.  Urges the Member States to effectively implement and comply with the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) as a basis for international action and mutual legal assistance and as a key step towards a common coordinated approach to combating wildlife crime; deeply regrets, in this connection, the fact that eleven Member States have not yet implemented UNTOC; calls on the Member States in question to implement the Convention as soon as possible;

34.  Considers that action against wildlife crime requires consistent, effective and dissuasive criminal penalties; urges the Member States to define wildlife trafficking as a serious crime in accordance with Article 2(b) of UNTOC;

35.  Recognises the need for guidance on prosecution and sentencing for Member State judiciaries and prosecutors and the need for training for customs and enforcement officers at entry points into the EU; considers UNEP’s ‘Global Judges Programme’ and the ‘Green Customs Initiative’ partnership as models to follow;

36.  Calls on the Commission, the relevant EU agencies and the Member States to recognise the scale of online wildlife trafficking and to build capacity within environmental crime and customs units, coordination with cybercrime units, and engagement with civil society organisations, in order to ensure that channels exist to trigger assistance from cross-border units specialised in cybercrime;

37.  Calls on the Member States and the Commission to engage with the operators of social media platforms, search engines and e-commerce platforms on the problem of the illegal internet trade in wildlife; calls on the Commission and the Member States to strengthen control measures and to develop policies to address potential illegal activity on the internet; in this regard, calls on the Commission to develop guidelines on how to address the problem of online wildlife crime at EU level;

38.  Calls on EU and Member State enforcement agencies to identify and monitor the patterns of other forms of serious and organised crime, such as human trafficking, in order to aid prevention activities and the investigation of irregularities in the supply chain when tackling wildlife trafficking, for example suspicious shipments and financial transactions;

39.  Welcomes the fact that the EU participated in COP17 for the first time as a party to CITES and welcomes the fact that the EU and the Member States demonstrate strong dedication and provide substantial financial support for CITES;

40.  Welcomes UNEP’s expert review process, which is seeking to create a universally recognised definition of environmental crime; in this regard, notes that the legal boundaries between different types of environmental crimes are sometimes unclear, which can reduce opportunities for effective prosecution and punishment;

Strengthening the global partnership

41.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to step up dialogue and cooperation with source, transit and destination countries in the wildlife trafficking supply chain and to provide them with technical and economic assistance and diplomatic support; believes that the EU must act at international level to support third countries in combating wildlife trafficking and contribute to the further development of necessary legal frameworks through bilateral and multilateral agreements;

42.  Highlights that widespread corruption, institutional weaknesses, state erosion, mismanagement and weak penalties for wildlife crime are major challenges that need to be addressed if transnational wildlife trafficking is to be combated effectively; urges the EU to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce poaching incentives by improving economic opportunities and promoting good governance and the rule of law;

43.  Calls on the EU institutions, the Member States and all states concerned to investigate more systematically the links between wildlife trafficking and regional conflicts and terrorism;

44.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to establish a trust fund or similar facility under Article 187 of the revised Financial Regulation applicable to the general budget of the Union, with the objective of safeguarding protected areas and combating wildlife trafficking and poaching, as part of the Action Plan against wildlife trafficking;

45.  Calls on the EU to upgrade the financial and technical support, provided through the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and the European Development Fund (EDF), aimed at helping developing countries implement national wildlife regulations in line with CITES recommendations, particularly for those with insufficient resources to enforce legislation and prosecute smugglers;

46.  Calls on the Commission to consider funding under the Partnership Instrument for initiatives aimed at reducing demand for illicit wildlife products in key markets, in line with Priority 1 of the Action Plan; highlights that the involvement of civil society in the monitoring structures under the trade and sustainable development chapters of EU trade agreements can make significant contributions in this regard;

47.  Stresses the importance of addressing, in the context of the EU-China Strategic Partnership, the sensitive issue of the growing demand for wildlife products, such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger bones, which represents a real threat to the conservation of the species concerned and to biodiversity in general;

48.  Calls on the Commission to include mandatory and enforceable sustainable development chapters in all EU trade agreements and negotiations, with specific reference to halting illegal trade in wildlife in all economic sectors, and calls on the Commission to include analyses of these provisions in its implementation reports; urges the Commission to emphasise the implementation of CITES and measures against wildlife crime in the GSP+ trade scheme;

49.  Notes that corruption is one of the main enablers and contributors to the trade in illegal wildlife and wildlife products; welcomes the commitment made in the Commission strategy entitled ‘Trade for All’ to include ambitious anti-corruption provisions to tackle the direct and indirect impact of both corruption and wildlife trafficking in all future trade agreements; requests, therefore, that the Commission pay the utmost attention to the facets of administration and monitoring of the enforcement of international standards in relation to wildlife trafficking;

50.  Calls on the EU to explore, within the scope of the WTO framework, how global trade and environmental regimes can better support each other, especially in the context of ongoing work on strengthening coherence between the WTO and Multilateral Environmental Agreements, as well as in light of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which opens up new avenues for cooperation between customs and wildlife and trade officials, especially in developing countries; considers that further opportunities for cooperation between the WTO and CITES should be explored, in particular in terms of offering technical assistance and capacity-building on trade and environment matters to officials from developing countries;

51.  Underlines the key role of international cooperation by the organisations in the enforcement chain; calls on the EU and the Member States to continue to support the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC); welcomes any strengthening of this support, including through the provision of financial resources and specialist expertise, in order to facilitate capacity-building, promote the exchange of information and intelligence and support enforcement and compliance; calls on the Commission to use ICCWC indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of EU funding to third countries in support of actions against wildlife trafficking and to facilitate a uniform and credible assessment of development funding;

52.  Welcomes international law enforcement operations such as Operation COBRA III, which result in significant seizures of illegal wildlife products and arrests of traffickers and provide increased public visibility of wildlife trafficking as a serious organised crime;

53.  Calls on the Member States to reinforce the CITES budget so that the organisation can expand its monitoring activity and species designation; in this regard, regrets that six Member States still have outstanding payments from the years 1992 to 2015 to be made to CITES;

54.  Welcomes also the fact that the EU Action Plan makes a major contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed by heads of state at a UN summit in September 2015;

EU as a destination market, source and transit point

55.  Notes that CITES, the EU Timber Regulation and the EU IUU regulatory framework are important tools for regulating international wildlife trade; is concerned, however, about the lack of proper implementation and enforcement and calls on Member States to step up their joint and coordinated efforts to ensure effective implementation; is concerned, furthermore, about gaps in the current regulatory framework with regard to species and actors; calls, therefore, for the EU to review the existing legislative framework with a view to supplementing it with a prohibition on the making available and placing on the market, transport, acquisition and possession of wildlife that has been illegally harvested or traded in third countries; considers that such legislation could harmonise the existing EU framework and that the transnational impact of such legislation could play a key role in reducing global wildlife trafficking; in this respect, highlights that such legislation must provide full transparency regarding any trade prohibitions of species based on their illegal status in a third country in order to ensure legal certainty for those involved in legal trade;

56.  Underlines that trophy hunting has contributed to large-scale declines in endangered species listed in CITES Appendices I and II and urges the Commission and the Member States to establish a precautionary approach for the import of hunting trophies from species protected under the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, to support the further strengthening of the EU’s legal provisions governing the import of hunting trophies into EU Member States, and to require permits for the import of trophies of all species listed in Annex B to Regulation (EC) No 338/97;

57.  Welcomes the 2016 Buckingham Palace Declaration, in which signatories from airlines, shipping firms, port operators, customs agencies, intergovernmental organisations and conservation charities commit to raising standards across the transport sector with a focus on information sharing, staff training, technological improvements, and resource sharing across companies and organisations worldwide; calls on all parties to fully implement the commitments of the Declaration; encourages the Member States to promote voluntary commitments similar to the Buckingham Palace Declaration in other areas, in particular the financial and e-commerce sectors;

58.  Calls for the full and immediate ban at European level of trade, export or re-export within the EU and to destinations outside the EU of ivory, including ‘pre-Convention’ ivory, and rhino horns; calls for the establishment of a mechanism to assess the need for similar restrictions for other endangered species;

59.  Notes that the EU regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has made an impact, but insists that implementation should be more robust in order to ensure that no illegal fish enter the European market; suggests that the EU Member States should be more consistent and effective in checks of catch documentation (catch certificates) and consignments (in particular from countries judged as high-risk) in order to ensure that fish have been caught legally;

60.  Highlights the importance of the private sector’s involvement in the fight against wildlife trafficking by means of self-regulation and through corporate social responsibility; considers traceability in the supply chain essential for legal and sustainable trade, whether commercial or non-commercial; highlights the need for cooperation and coordination at international level as well as between the public and private sectors and calls on the EU to strengthen the existing control instruments, including the use of traceability mechanisms; considers that the transport sector should play a pivotal role, for example by implementing an early warning detection system; notes the important role public-private partnerships can play in this regard;

61.  Calls, in addition to border checks required under Regulation (EC) No 338/97, for Member States to introduce in-country compliance monitoring with regular checks on traders and permit holders such as pet shops, breeders, research centres and nurseries, and including monitoring of trades such as fashion, art, medicine and catering, that may use illegal plant and animal parts;

62.  Calls on the Member States to ensure the immediate confiscation of any seized specimens and the care and re-homing of seized or confiscated live specimens at animal rescue centres appropriate to the species; calls on the Commission to provide guidance to ensure that all wildlife rescue centres used by the Member States are of adequate standard; calls, furthermore, on the EU and the Member States to ensure adequate financing of animal rescue centres;

63.  Calls on the Member States to adopt national plans for the handling of live confiscated specimens in line with Annex 3 to CITES Resolution Conference 10.7 (Rev. CoP15); stresses that Member States should report all seized live specimens to EU-TWIX and that annual summary reports should be published, and that Member States should ensure that the training of enforcement officers includes welfare and safety considerations for the handling of live animals; calls on the EU and the Member States to commit adequate financial support to wildlife rescue centres;

64.  Calls on the Member States to consider ‘positive list’ species systems, whereby exotic species are assessed objectively and according to scientific criteria for their safety and suitability for trading and keeping as pets;

o   o

65.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0031.
(2) OJ L 75, 19.3.2015, p. 1.
(3) OJ L 295, 12.11.2010, p. 23.
(4) OJ L 286, 29.10.2008, p. 1.
(5) OJ L 181, 29.6.2013, p. 1.
(6) OJ L 77, 24.3.2009, p. 1.
(7) OJ L 328, 6.12.2008, p. 28.
(8) OJ L 94, 9.4.1999, p. 24.
(9) OJ L 20, 26.1.2010, p. 7.
(10) OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7.

New opportunities for small transport businesses
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on new opportunities for small transport businesses, including collaborative business models (2015/2349(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty on European Union, and in particular Article 5(3) thereof,

–  having regard to Protocol No 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality,

–  having regard to the Commission White Paper entitled ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (COM(2011)0144),

–  having regard to its resolution of 9 September 2015 on ‘The implementation of the 2011 White Paper on Transport: taking stock and the way forward towards sustainable mobility’(1),

–  having regard to Commission Recommendation 2003/361/EC concerning the definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises,

–  having regard to the Annual Report on European SMEs 2014/2015,

–  having regard to the Commission communications entitled ‘“Think Small First” – A “Small Business Act” for Europe’ (COM(2008)0394) and ‘Review of the “Small Business Act” for Europe’ (COM(2011)0078),

–  having regard to the Commission communication ‘A European agenda for the collaborative economy’ (COM(2016)0356),

–  having regard to the Commission communication on ‘A European strategy for low-emission mobility’ (COM(2016)0501),

–  having regard to its resolution of 5 February 2013 on improving access to finance for SMEs(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 19 May 2015 on green growth opportunities for SMEs(3),

–  having regard to Horizon 2020’s SME Instrument and INNOSUP, COSME, Your Europe Business, Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) Pilot and networking opportunities,

–  having regard to the Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) and the ServicesDirective (2006/123/EC),

–  having regard to the Commission communication ‘A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe’ (COM(2015)0192),

–  having regard to the Commission communication ‘Upgrading the Single Market: more opportunities for people and business’ (COM(2015)0550),

–  having regard to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) established by Regulation (EU) No 1316/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013(4),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Transport and Tourism and the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (A8-0304/2016),

A.  whereas small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the main engine of the European economy, representing, on 2014 figures, 99,8 % of all undertakings outside the financial sector and accounting for two out of three of all jobs;

B.  whereas the SMEs that have generated jobs in recent years have mainly come from the tertiary sector;

C.  whereas small transport undertakings play a crucial role in the proper functioning of mobility in Europe, but often encounter difficulties in accessing or maintaining their place within the market, notably due to the presence of monopolies on that market;

D.  whereas small undertakings provide added value particularly in remote and densely-populated areas, thanks to their excellent knowledge of the local market, their proximity to the customer and/or their agility and ability to innovate; whereas, moreover, they are able to provide tailored services and are instruments for combating social exclusion, creating jobs, generating economic activity, improving mobility management and contributing to the development of tourism (where mobility services are directly linked to visitor demand for new products and experiences);

E.  whereas for passengers and goods, both demand for transport services and the conditions applicable to their provision vary considerably, and whereas reducing mobility is not an option;

F.  whereas the organisation of transport in big cities and on the roads leading to them causes congestion and traffic jams, creating a significant burden on the economy; whereas SMEs in the transport sector are an important complement to the public transport network in urban nodes, particularly at times of day when public transport is very infrequent, as well as in peripheral areas without a properly developed suburban transport service;

G.  whereas a recent study by the Commission shows that 17 % of European consumers have used services provided by the sharing economy, and 52 % are aware of the services offered; whereas consumer expectations seek easily accessible and flexible ways to use transport services while prices are maintained in line with the actual costs of provision as well as easy access to reservations and secure payment for services provided;

H.  whereas a collaborative economy in the transport sector can actively promote the development of sustainable forms of mobility; whereas self-regulation is not always the solution and a suitable regulatory framework is necessary;

I.  whereas the imperative of sustainable development and the revolution in the field of information and communication technology have created unprecedented opportunities and challenges for firms of all sizes in terms of responding to the increasing demand for sustainable mobility within the constraints of limited infrastructure;

J.  whereas the exponential growth in the penetration of smart mobile devices as well the comprehensive coverage of high-speed wide-band network have created new digital tools for both transport service providers and customers, reducing transaction costs and also diminishing the significance of the physical location of the service providers, allowing them to be widely connected in order to provide services, not only regionally but also globally, via digital networks and also from remote areas;

K.  whereas technological advances, new business models and digitalisation have transformed the transport sector significantly in recent years, with major impacts on traditional business models as well as on working conditions and employment in the sector; whereas while on the one hand the transport sector has opened up, on the other hand working conditions have in many cases worsened, owing to the economic crisis and, in some cases, to insufficient implementation of existing regulations;

L.  whereas the transport sector comprises not only direct transport service providers, but also SMEs offering services such as maintenance of means of transport, sale of spare parts, training of staff, and rental of vehicles and equipment; whereas there is an enormous potential for job creation linked to these activities, including employment for highly qualified workers; whereas policies for the transport sector should take the interests of the entire value chain into account;

M.  whereas only 1,7 % of enterprises in the EU make full use of advanced digital technologies, while 41 % do not use them at all; whereas the digitalisation of all sectors is crucial if the EU’s competitiveness is to be maintained and improved;

N.  whereas the flexibility and ease of entry inherent in the collaborative economy can provide employment opportunities for groups traditionally excluded from the labour market, in particular women, young people and migrants;

O.  whereas transport services can provide a good way of becoming self-employed and promote a culture of entrepreneurship;

P.  whereas online platforms for transport services can offer the possibility of a swift match between service requests by customers, on the one hand, and labour supply by registered companies or workers, on the other;

Q.  whereas the OECD considers good-quality jobs to be an essential factor in efforts to tackle high levels of inequality and promote social cohesion;

I. Challenges to small transport businesses

1.  Takes the view that transport businesses face considerable challenges in order to respond to the increasing demand for mobility within the constraints of limited infrastructure and increasing environmental requirements; points out that all transport undertakings are under pressure to provide safe, sustainable and highly competitive solutions that are environmentally responsible under COP21, while limiting congestion, but that it is harder and more expensive for small businesses to meet these challenges;

2.  Stresses that changing vehicle emission standards too frequently can prove particularly problematic for smaller transport companies in view of the depreciation periods for fleets of vehicles;

3.  Stresses the complex nature of the transport sector, which is characterised by multi-level (local, national, European and global) governance still largely compartmentalised by mode of transport; notes that this sector is subject to heavy regulation, particularly regarding access to the profession, activities concerned and the development, use and marketing of transport services (exclusive rights, capping of the number of licenses), as well as subsidisation; stresses that safety and security are of paramount importance for the transport sector, but deplores the fact that they are, among other factors, sometimes used as a pretext to erect artificial barriers;

4.  Calls on the Member States to put an end to over-regulation, which is often linked to protectionist and corporatist instincts that give rise to fragmentation, complexity and rigidity within the internal market, thus increasing inequality; believes it is useful for Member States not to approach the legality of online platforms in a plethora of ways, and hence to avert unwarranted restrictive unilateral measures; calls on the Member States to comply with, and fully implement, the Electronic Commerce Directive (Directive 2000/31/EC) and the Services Directive (Directive 2006/123/EC); maintains that the free movement of service providers and freedom of establishment, as provided for in Articles 56 and 49 TFEU respectively, are essential in order to realise the European dimension of services and hence of the internal market;

5.  Stresses that because of the current legal uncertainty as to the definition of ‘service providers’ in the transport sector, it is not possible to establish fair competition, and regrets the difficulties experienced by many small businesses in accessing the domestic and international market and developing or offering new services; stresses the fact that the above hamper the access of SMEs to this sector;

6.  Takes the view that Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council needs to be improved in order to overcome the serious disruption that occurred on national transport markets in several Member States after it was introduced;

7.  Welcomes the new opportunities afforded by small transport businesses and new collaborative business models, while at the same time deploring anti-competitive practices resulting from the uneven application of EU rules across Member States, in particular as regards pay and social security systems, which may lead to serious distortions such as social dumping, as well as security challenges;

8.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to step up law enforcement; considers that any change to the legislation concerning social and working conditions must respect all EU fundamental freedoms, must not restrict fair competition based on objective competitive advantages, and must not create any further administrative burdens or additional costs for small transport businesses;

9.  Notes that small transport businesses need to invest, not only to comply with the law but also to remain competitive (e.g. by focusing on new technologies); deplores the fact that, on the one hand and in contrast to what happens with large companies, these businesses’ access to credit and funding on the money markets remains limited in spite of quantitative easing measures, while, on the other hand, aid from the public purse, particularly at European level, is rarely forthcoming, owing to overly complex and long-winded administrative procedures; stresses the importance of providing knowledge dissemination and assistance for small business applicants within the framework of the European Investment Fund;

10.  Notes that, in a context of growing urbanisation, transport needs to be organised in more increasingly integrated, digitalised and multimodal way, and that urban nodes increasingly have a central role to play in the organisation of sustainable mobility; stresses the growing impact of multimodal travel planning applications and the importance for small businesses of being included on the list of available applications and portfolios of transport services; highlights the fact that universal internet access would encourage transport sharing and improved travel planning;

11.  Notes that in response to economic difficulties and the lack of resources with which to maintain the capillary transport network, numerous branch lines are closing in many regions, especially those most cut-off and most sparsely populated; takes the view that the advent of collaborative business models can in no way justify abandoning public transport services in these regions;

12.  Stresses the importance for urban mobility of rental services for light vehicles, such as bicycles or scooters; notes that a large majority of such operators are SMEs; calls for the potential of these operators to be more frequently taken into account in the process of increasing the level of urban mobility and developing energy-efficient and resource-efficient urban transport;

13.  Calls on the Member States and the Commission to consider the pooling of small transport companies, which would facilitate the development of partnership between such companies and help customers locate the desired small transport company services according to their needs;

14.  Calls on the Commission, when setting guidelines in this area, to take account of the difficulties new collaborative businesses models have in penetrating rural and non-urban environments;

15.  Notes that the development of collaborative business models can optimise vehicle and infrastructure use, thus helping to meet the demand for mobility in a more sustainable fashion; notes that the growing exploitation of user-generated data could eventually result in added value being created in the transport chain; stresses, however, that a concentration of data in the hands of only few intermediation platforms could have an adverse effect both on the fair distribution of income and on balanced participation in infrastructure investment and in other relevant costs, all of which has a direct impact on SMEs;

16.  Welcomes the fact that intermediation platforms have brought into play the idea of challenging each other, the existing operators and the corporatist structures, and of undermining existing monopolies and preventing new ones; underlines that this is encouraging a market that is much more focused on consumer demand and is leading Member States to review the structure of the market; notes, however, that unless there is an appropriate and clear legal framework intermediation platforms, with their ‘winner takes all’ ethos, will create dominant market positions harming the diversity of the economic fabric;

17.  Draws attention to the opportunities and challenges (e.g. small businesses could also emerge in these new fields) arising from the development of connected and self-driving vehicles (cars, ships, drones and platooning); urges the Commission, therefore, to come up with a roadmap on connected and automated vehicles, and to analyse the potential effects that widespread use of this technology could have on the European transport sector, especially on SME;

II. Recommendations: how to transform the challenges into opportunities

18.  Calls for efforts to be pursued with a view to completing the single European transport area; takes the view that any legislation which imposes new requirements on small businesses, particularly tax-related, social and environmental measures, should be proportionate, simple and clear, not hampering their development and reflecting where necessary regional and national characteristics in different Member States; takes the view that such legislation must be accompanied by the necessary (regulatory and/or financial) incentives;

19.  Considers that fostering an integrated and coordinated European mobility system is the best way of properly integrating all companies offering all modes of transport into a common dynamic process in which digitisation and promoting innovation from within the transport sector is most effective method of ensuring that customers have a single coherent system and that professionals are best placed to add value;

20.  Notes that services provided by SMEs in the transport sector are not always sufficiently tailored to the needs of disabled people and the elderly; calls for all tools and programmes aimed at supporting these operators to take into account the need to adapt transport services as far as possible to the needs of people with reduced mobility;

21.  Notes that, in view of the lack of investment in infrastructure, all operators benefiting from the use of that infrastructure should contribute, taking full account of all existing transport taxes, charges and negative environmental and health impacts; stresses the importance in the case of road transport of internalising negative externalities and earmarking revenues for the use of transport infrastructure, including cross-border; recognises, nevertheless, that this might pose specific problems for small businesses, including those in the outermost regions, which must be taken into account as a priority;

22.  Recalls that the EFSI was established in order to contribute to highly innovative market-based projects, and therefore sees it as an essential instrument to help SMEs in the transport sector develop new mobility solutions; calls on the Commission and the Member States to speed up its implementation and to increase assistance to SMEs and start-ups when preparing such projects;

23.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to take appropriate action to combat anti-competitive practices by large integrated groups in order to tackle discrimination and market access restrictions, regardless of size or type of enterprise, especially regarding new business models; urges for dialogue and improved relations, especially in new and potential markets, between carriers and ordering parties, as well as a solution to the problem of bogus self-employed persons;

24.  Calls for SMEs to be included in the plans for European integrated ticketing; notes that the effectiveness of such a system will depend on including as many transport service undertakings and operators as possible; notes that the exchange of information and experience between large operators and SMEs can produce highly beneficial synergies for designing an effective transport network in Europe;

25.  Calls, with a view to greater transparency, for the review and harmonisation of the rules on access to regulated occupations and activities in Europe and of checks on those occupations, so as to enable new operators and services linked to digital platforms and the collaborative economy to develop in a business-friendly environment, including greater transparency with regard to legislative changes, and to coexist with incumbent operators within an environment of healthy competition; notes the positive effects of sharing economy operators in terms of creating new jobs for young people entering the labour market and self-employed workers;

26.  Calls on the Commission to publish, without further delay, a roadmap for freeing up data on public-funded transport and introducing harmonised standards for transport data and programming interfaces, in order to boost data-intensive innovations and the provision of new transport services;

27.  Takes the view, given the development of the collaborative economy, that the solution is neither sector-specific regulation nor regulation aimed solely at platforms, and that in future the mobility system needs to be addressed as a whole; calls for the establishment of a modernised multimodal regulatory framework that fosters innovation and competitiveness as well as the protection of consumers and their data, safeguarding workers’ rights and ensuring a level playing field for different operators; draws attention, with this in mind, to the importance of interoperability in the transport sector, given that it offers small businesses single solutions;

28.  Calls on the Member States to assess the need to bring their national labour law up to date with the digital age, taking into account the features of collaborative economy models and each country’s individual labour laws;

29.  Considers that this objective requires a convergence of models which is based on a clear, consistent and non-overlapping definition of ‘intermediaries’ and ‘service providers’; calls for a distinction to be made between those intermediation platforms which generate no profits for their users and those which connect a service provider (for-profit) and a customer, with or without an employer-employee relationship between service provider and platform; suggests that, in order to facilitate compliance by all parties with their tax and social security obligations, as well as to guarantee that service providers using the platforms are competent and duly qualified (so as to ensure consumer protection), national authorities should be enabled to ask for the information they deem necessary from the intermediation platforms; stresses that already existing feedback and rating systems also help intermediaries to build a relationship of trust with consumers, and that the data generated should be processed in accordance with Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council;

30.  Believes that the high transparency potential of the collaborative economy allows for good traceability of transport service operations, in line with the aim of enforcing existing legislation; calls on the Commission to publish guidelines on how EU law applies to the various types of collaborative business models, in order to fill, where necessary, regulatory gaps in the area of employment and social security in a manner that respects national competences;

31.  Stresses that transport undertakings also include operators not directly providing transport services, such as training providers, vehicle rental companies, workshops and service centres; notes that a large majority of such operators are SMEs; calls for the needs of these operators to be taken into account in the design of legal measures and investment programmes aimed at supporting the development of SMEs;

32.  Encourages the Commission to support SMEs in the transport sector in forming clusters in this field, which can be joined by both consumers and other stakeholders;

33.  Notes that most providers in the collaborative economy come from outside the EU; considers that the EU needs to develop more innovative start-ups in the transport sector, and encourages increased support for such companies, particularly for training young entrepreneurs in this field;

34.  Regrets that the Member States’ response to the development of collaborative business models has so far been very fragmented and in some cases entirely inconsistent with the potential and benefits of the development of this sector, as well as contrary to consumer expectations, and considers that a coordinated overall European-level action, covering issues for a sustainable collaborative business model, is desirable; notes the Commission’s reasonable approach to this ‘new business model’, as set out in its recent communication emphasising the importance of the collaborative economy for future growth (COM(2016)0356);

35.  Notes the huge potential of new technologies for the emergence of new forms of service provision in the goods transport sector; stresses, in particular, the enormous opportunities offered by drones, which are already a highly effective tool for working in difficult conditions; stresses that the EU should support the potential of SMEs involved in the design, production and use of drones;

36.  Believes that collaborative business models constitute a major resource for the sustainable development of connections in outlying, mountainous and rural regions, and also offer indirect benefits for the tourism sector;

37.  Is of the opinion that legislative requirements should be proportionate to the nature of the business and size of the company; however, raises concerns about whether there continue to be grounds for exempting light commercial vehicles (LCVs) from application of a number of European rules, given the increasing use of LCVs in the international transport of goods, and asks the Commission to present a diagnostic report on the consequent economic, environmental and safety impact;

38.  Calls for the establishment of cooperation structures between small transport businesses, scientific research institutes and local and regional authorities, with a view to improving the organisation of sustainable urban and interurban mobility so as to respond effectively to the emergence of new services and products, including those offered by SMEs (e.g. the first and last stages of door-to-door transport service), while better aligning the existing public transport networks to the needs and expectations of passengers; calls for the inclusion of information on mobility services provided by small businesses in travel information and planning services;

39.  Calls for the setting-up of innovation task forces, to give full effect to the ‘shareable cities’ concept and help local, regional and national institutions respond effectively to the emergence of new services and products;

40.  Stresses the importance of focused training (e.g. concerning big data, integrated services, etc.) in order to help transport companies generate added value from the digital sphere; calls, therefore, for the adaptation of the way in which professionals are trained, in line with the skills and qualifications required by new business models, in particular so as to meet shortages of staff, especially of drivers;

41.  Highlights that SMEs in the transport sector often refrain from expansion because of the increased risks that are involved in cross-border business thanks to the divergence between legal systems in different (Member) States; calls on the Commission, in cooperation with national, regional and local authorities in the Member States, to develop cooperation and communication platforms in order to advise and train SMEs with regard to different funding schemes, grants and internationalisation; asks the Commission to further exploit the existing support programmes for SMEs and to give them more visibility among transport sector actors, in the context of synergies between different EU funds;

42.  Encourages local authorities to make an active commitment on the urban transport decarbonisation principles set out in the White Paper on transport, and urges market players to operate within the new competition and activity framework thereby benefiting from the competitive advantages of offering zero-emissions services and the progressive digitisation of their management, operations and marketing structures;

43.  Calls on the Commission, the Member States and local authorities to promote innovations in the sharing economy, which will themselves be facilitated by the emergence of collaborative business models, e.g. car sharing, bicycle sharing, shared cargo transport, shared taxis, car-pooling, and buses on demand, and the interconnection of these modes of transport with public transport;

44.  Calls on the Commission, by means of enhanced cooperation among its DGs, to closely monitor the development of the digital economy and the impact of the ‘Digital Agenda’ legislative initiatives on the transport sector;

45.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States, in cooperation with the social partners, to assess on a regular basis the impact of digitalisation on the number and types of jobs in the transport sector, and to ensure that employment and social policies keep pace with the digitalisation of the transport labour market;

46.  Recommends that collaborative economy businesses, as well as people working in the transport sector, find models for working together in pursuing shared interests, such as in the area of insurance;

47.  Welcomes the flexible working time models negotiated by the social partners in the transport sector that enable workers better to reconcile work and private life; stresses, however, the importance of monitoring compliance with mandatory rules on working hours and of driving and rest times, which should become easier as a result of the digitalisation of the transport sector;

o   o

48.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0310.
(2) OJ C 24, 22.1.2016, p. 2.
(3) OJ C 353, 27.9.2016, p. 27.
(4) OJ L 348, 20.12.2013, p. 129.

Situation in Belarus
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European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2016 on the situation in Belarus (2016/2934(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions and recommendations on Belarus,

–  having regard to the parliamentary elections held on 11 September 2016 and to the presidential elections held on 11 October 2015,

–  having regard to the statement by the Chair of its Delegation for relations with Belarus of 13 September 2016 on the recent parliamentary elections in Belarus,

–  having regard to the statement by the European External Action Service spokesperson of 12 September 2016 on the parliamentary elections in Belarus,

–  having regard to the preliminary statement of the OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of 12 September 2016 on parliamentary elections in Belarus,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions on Belarus, in particular those of 16 February 2016 lifting restrictive measures against 170 individuals and three Belarusian companies,

–  having regard to the OSCE final report of 28 January 2016 on the presidential elections in Belarus of 11 October 2015,

–  having regard to the numerous declarations by the Belarusian authorities that some of the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations following the 2015 presidential elections will be implemented ahead of the 2016 parliamentary elections,

–  having regard to the release of six political prisoners by the Belarusian authorities on 22 August 2015 and to the subsequent statement by Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, on the release of political prisoners in Belarus of 22 August 2015,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) and (4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas, in its final report on the 2015 presidential elections in Belarus, the OSCE/ODIHR, together with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, prepared a set of recommendations to be implemented by Belarus before the 2016 parliamentary elections;

B.  whereas, in order to build better relations with the West, the Belarusian authorities took reluctant steps allowing democratic opposition parties to register more easily than in previous elections, and granting foreign observers greater access to the vote count;

C.  whereas on 6 June 2016 the President of Belarus called elections for the House of Representatives; whereas these elections took place on 11 September 2016; whereas more than 827 international and 32 100 citizen observers were accredited for the elections; whereas, as stated by the OSCE/ODIHR in its conclusions, most citizen observers represented state subsidised public associations which had also engaged in active campaigning for pro-government candidates; whereas an OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission was deployed to observe the elections following an invitation from the Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs;

D.  whereas, according to the assessment by the OSCE/ODIHR, the 2016 parliamentary elections were efficiently organised, but a number of long-standing systemic shortcomings remain, including legal framework restrictions for political rights and fundamental freedoms; whereas counting and tabulation saw a significant number of procedural irregularities and lacked transparency;

E.  whereas, after a long time, a democratic opposition will be represented in the Belarusian parliament; whereas, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, the legal and administrative systems underlying human rights restrictions remain unchanged; whereas two independent members of parliament are expected to act as a real opposition;

F.  whereas since 1994 no free and fair elections have been conducted in Belarus under electoral legislation compliant with OSCE/ODIHR internationally recognised standards;

G.  whereas the EU lifted most of its restrictive measures against Belarusian officials and legal entities in February 2016 as a gesture of good will to encourage Belarus to improve its human rights, democracy and rule of law record; whereas in its conclusions on Belarus of 15 February 2016 the Council stressed the need to enhance EU-Belarus cooperation in a number of economic and trade- and assistance-related fields, which opened the possibility for Belarus to apply for EIB and EBRD financing; whereas a number of efforts to address certain long-standing issues ahead of the 2016 elections were noted, while at the same time many unaddressed issues concerning the legal and procedural electoral framework remain;

H.  whereas Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections (HRD) and Right to Choose-2016 (R2C), the two Belarusian election-monitoring groups, condemned the latest elections for not meeting a number of key international standards and not being a credible reflection of the will of Belarusian citizens;

I.  whereas the Belarusian observer groups collected concrete evidence of massive nationwide efforts to inflate turnout totals during the five-day early vote period (6‑10 September 2016) and on election day (11 September 2016), and whereas the only independent opinion poll institute in Belarus (NISEPI) suspended its activity as a result of pressure from the government, making it very difficult to assess what the real political preferences of Belarusians are;

J.  whereas part of the Belarusian opposition forces presented for the first time on 18 November 2015 a joint cooperation agreement to stand united in the 2016 parliamentary elections;

K.  whereas the first visit of Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Belarus since 2002 took place in Minsk on 18 and 19 June 2015; whereas the European Parliament currently has no official relations with the Belarusian parliament;

L.  whereas Belarus played a constructive role in facilitating agreement on the ceasefire in Ukraine;

M.  whereas Russian aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea have deepened fears in Belarusian society of a destabilisation of the internal situation as a result of a power shift; whereas, however, the Belarusian people have not abandoned their hopes of substantial reforms and a peaceful transformation of their country;

N.  whereas the Belarusian economy has seen more than 20 years of stagnation, with major sectors still remaining under state ownership and under an administrative command and control system; whereas Belarus’s economic dependence on Russia’s economic aid is continuously increasing, and whereas Belarus’s economic performance is among the lowest among the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union – its GDP fell by over USD 30 billion in 2015-2016, for example;

O.  whereas Belarus is the only country in Europe still to carry out capital punishment; whereas on 4 October 2016 the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against Siarhei Vostrykau, which was the fourth confirmation by the Belarusian Supreme Court of a death sentence in 2016;

P.  whereas human rights organisations have drawn attention to new methods of harassment of the opposition; whereas the Belarusian authorities have not abandoned the repressive practices against their political opponents: peaceful protesters are still subjected to administrative liability, other civil and political rights are restricted and the country has new political prisoners; whereas the Belarusian authorities have not taken any measures aimed at systemic and qualitative changes in the field of human rights, especially at legislative level;

Q.  whereas a significant improvement in freedom of speech and freedom of the media, respect for the political rights of ordinary citizens and opposition activists alike and respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights are all prerequisites for better relations between the EU and Belarus; whereas the European Union remains strongly committed to further defending human rights in Belarus, including freedom of speech and of the media;

R.  whereas on 25 October 2016 Belarus adopted its first National Human Rights Action Plan, which was approved by a resolution of the Council of Ministers; whereas according to the Belarusian authorities this plan defines the principal lines of action for implementing the country’s human rights commitments;

S.  whereas one of the objectives of Belarus’s participation in the Eastern Partnership and its parliamentary branch, Euronest, is to intensify cooperation between the country and the EU; whereas the Belarusian parliament has no official status in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly;

T.  whereas Belarus is currently building its first-ever nuclear power plant in Ostrovets, on the EU border; whereas any country that develops nuclear power must strictly adhere to the international nuclear and environmental safety requirements and standards; whereas the Government of Belarus, which bears exclusive responsibility for the safety and security of nuclear facilities on its territory, must fulfil its obligations to its own citizens as well as to the neighbouring countries; whereas the principles of openness and transparency must be the key background against which any nuclear facility is developed, operated and decommissioned;

U.  whereas Belarus is part of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and takes part in the ‘Zapad’ joint military manoeuvres with Russia which cover scenarios involving attacks on its western neighbours that include simulating the use of nuclear weapons against Poland; whereas Belarus is to participate next year in ‘Zapad-2017’ with possible further aggressive scenarios;

1.  Remains deeply concerned by the shortcomings observed by independent international observers during the 2015 presidential and 2016 parliamentary elections; recognises the attempts to make progress, which is still insufficient; notes that in the newly elected parliament there will be one representative of the opposition party and one of the non-governmental sector; considers these, however, to be political appointments, rather than a result of the electoral outcome; notes that consideration of the future legislative proposals submitted by these two parliamentarians will serve as a litmus test of the political intentions of the authorities behind their appointments;

2.  Calls on the Belarusian authorities to resume work without delay on a comprehensive electoral reform as part of the broader democratisation process and in cooperation with international partners; stresses the need to introduce the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations in due time before the municipal elections of March 2018 and for them to be observed by domestic and international observers; emphasises that this is key to achieving the desired progress in EU-Belarus relations;

3.  Reiterates its call on the Belarusian authorities to ensure, in all circumstances, respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Belarus;

4.  Calls on the Belarusian Government to rehabilitate the political prisoners released and to fully restore their civil and political rights;

5.  Expresses its concern that since 2000 no new political party has been registered in Belarus; calls for all restrictions in this regard to be abandoned; stresses that all political parties must be allowed unrestricted political activities, especially in the electoral campaign period;

6.  Expects the authorities to stop the harassment of independent media for political reasons; urges a stop to the practice of administrative prosecution and the arbitrary use of Article 22.9(2) of the Administrative Code against freelance journalists for working with foreign media without accreditation, which restrict the right to freedom of expression and the dissemination of information;

7.  Calls on the Belarusian Government to repeal without delay Article 193/1 of the Criminal Code, which penalises the organisation of and participation in the activities of non-registered public associations and organisations, and to allow the full, free and unhampered legal functioning of public associations and organisations; draws the Commission’s attention in particular to the fact that currently, as a result of the application of Article 193/1 and other restrictive measures, there are over 150 Belarusian NGOs registered in Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere;

8.  Urges the Belarusian authorities to review the policy under which international financial support to the non-governmental sector in Belarus remains subject to a heavy tax burden;

9.  Strongly condemns the Belarusian Government’s policy of using special forces to interfere in the internal affairs of civil society organisations, including those representing national minorities such as the independent NGO ‘Union of Poles in Belarus’;

10.  Urges Belarus, the only country in Europe still applying capital punishment, and which has recently resumed executions, to join a global moratorium on execution of the death penalty as a first step towards its permanent abolition; recalls that the death penalty constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment, has no proven deterrent effect and makes judicial errors irreversible; calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission to strongly prioritise the abovementioned concerns at the ongoing EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue; welcomes, in this context, the adoption by the Council of Ministers of Belarus of the Action Plan for the implementation of the recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council, and expects it to be carried out in full;

11.  Calls on the EU to sustain the momentum for the further normalisation of relations with Belarus; reiterates its view that existing differences can be best addressed through enhanced channels of communication and that further engagement of the EU, and notably the European Parliament, in a dialogue with Belarus and in particular its citizens and civil society, as well as with the parliament and various political parties, can bring tangible results and contribute to the independence, sovereignty and prosperity of the country;

12.  Calls on the EEAS and on the Commission to continue and strengthen support for civil society organisations in Belarus and abroad; stresses, in this context, the need to support all independent sources of information for Belarusian society, including media broadcasting in the Belarusian language, and from abroad;

13.  Notes the launch in January 2014 of the negotiations on visa facilitation aimed at improving people-to-people contacts and encouraging the emergence of civil society; stresses that the Commission and the EEAS should take necessary measures to speed up progress in this regard;

14.  Supports the EU in its policy of ‘critical engagement’ with the Belarusian authorities, and expresses its readiness also to contribute to it via its Delegation for relations with Belarus; calls on the Commission to monitor the legislative initiatives closely and to scrutinise their implementation; recalls that the EU must make sure that its resources are not used to suppress civil society organisations, human rights defenders, freelance journalists and opposition leaders;

15.  Is concerned about the safety problems raised by the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Ostrovets, less than 50 km from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and close to the Polish border; stresses the need for comprehensive international supervision of the implementation of this project to ensure that it complies with international nuclear and environmental safety requirements and standards, including the UN Espoo and Arhus Conventions; calls on the Commission to include the issue of safety and transparency of this nuclear power plant under construction in its dialogue with Belarus and Russia, given that it is financed by Russia and is based on Rosatom technology, and to provide Parliament and the Member States, in particular those neighbouring Belarus, with regular reports; calls on the Council and the Commission to use their levers, including making any EU macro-financial support conditional, in order to ensure that Belarus complies with international safety standards as regards the Ostrovets Nuclear Power Plant, with regard in particular to the conduct of the stress-test exercise as agreed with the Commission on 23 June 2011;

16.  Attaches great importance and looks forward to the accession of Belarus to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, in accordance with the Constituent Act, as soon as the political conditions are fulfilled, as this accession would be the natural extension of the participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership multilateral cooperation framework;

17.  Reiterates its commitment to working for the benefit of the people of Belarus, supporting their pro-democratic aspirations and initiatives and contributing to a stable, democratic and prosperous future for the country;

18.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the European External Action Service, the Council, the Commission, the Member States, the OSCE/ODHIR, the Council of Europe and the Belarusian authorities.

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