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News report : 24-06-97

Brussels, 24 June 1997


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Hong Kong: EP should not attend provisio nal legislative council ceremony


This is the Committee on Foreign Affairs' recommendation and its chairman Tom SPENCER (EPP, UK) will be writing to the President of Parliament to this effect. The ceremonies to mark the return of Hong Kong to China will be in three parts: the UK ceremony on 30 June at 11 p.m., the installation of the Provisional Legislative Council at 1.30 a.m. and the Chinese ceremony on 1 July at 10 a.m.

In adopting the report by Edward McMillan-Scott (EPP, UK), on 12 June, Parliament has condemned the Chinese Government's decision to dissolve Hong Kong's elected Legislative Council and repudiates the legitimacy of the Provisional Legislative Council. Consequently the Foreign Affairs Committee believes that Parliament's representatives should not take part in this ceremony although it should take part in the two others as a matter of course.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has responded firmly to declarations by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress that the McMillan-Scott report is very negative about China. The report is balanced and sets out detailed proposals for relations between China and the EU (antipoverty measures, the welfare of children, environmental and agricultural reform, business and cultural links). It states that relations between the EU and China should be based on cooperation and not confrontation. Parliament also stresses the importance of China playing its full political and economic role in the world.

The resolution also states the European Parliament's concern about the human rights situation in China. Parliament is ready to discuss the human rights situation in China and the EU with its Chinese counterpart.

Further information: Jacques NANCY - Tel. 284 24 85

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A peacekeeping force in Congo Brazzaville


At the meeting of the Bureau of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly (Co-Presidents: Lord PLUMB (EPP, UK) and Andebrhan WELTEGIORGIS (Eritrea), the Ambassador of Congo-Brazzaville appealed to the European Union to continue the talks already begun with the two protagonists and to make every effort to bring the parties closer together and get the cease-fire respected. He asked for substantial aid to alleviate suffering and to support the organization and rapid deployment of an international peacekeeping force. The general view was that this was the only way of ensuring public security and that the forthcoming presidential elections would follow a normal course, under international supervision.

Further information: M.C. de Saint-Araille - Tel.: 284.38.13

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More openness in the BSE scientific steering committee


Members of the BSE follow-up committee called for an open and pluralist Scientific Steering Committee in their exchange of views in Brussels with its chairman, Fritz H. KEMPER, Professor of Toxicology at the University of Münster (Germany).

The chairman of the BSE committee, Dagmar ROTH-BEHRENDT (PES, D), suggested that more open procedures might be assisted by MEPs attending meetings of the Scientific Steering Committee. Mr KEMPER agreed, in principle, that neutral observers could attend meetings, but it would be necessary for participants to have the knowledge required to be able to take part. He feared that information would be transmitted too rapidly to the public, and this would hinder future work.

The question of minority opinions was raised by José HAPPART (PES, B) and Evelyne GEBHARDT (PES, D). Mr KEMPER thought they should be included in a sort of scientific summary but was not in favour of the publication of voting lists by name as there was the risk of outside pressure, which would inhibit debate.

He expressed doubts about the recruitment of members of the Scientific Steering Committee by invitations to tender. There was no guarantee that all scientists who could contribute expertise read the Official Journal. He felt some concern on this point.

Further information: Etienne BASSOT - tel. 284 47 41

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European Union-Australia: Human rights at issue


Despite all its efforts, the Commission is far from having convinced the Committee on Foreign Affairs (chairman Tom SPENCER - EPP, UK) that the EU-Australia draft joint declaration does not constitute an unfortunate precedent for human rights clauses in agreements with third countries.

A framework cooperation agreement with Australia would have included a human rights clause, as is the case for other types of agreement. Australia has rejected this as unacceptable. Parliament has repeatedly urged the Commission to push for the inclusion of such a clause. What is now proposed is a simple Joint Declaration laying down general guidelines for relations between the two parties. The Commission representative explained that these include undertakings to respect human rights and that the Declaration was largely a political gesture.

MEPs expressed concern about such an approach. They fear it will constitute a precedent that Mexico and other countries with which agreements are in preparation might try invoke. Mr SPENCER commented that the "political gesture" was the Australians raising two fingers to the EU. Why was the clause rejected when it was proclaimed that human rights were respected? This only gave rise to doubts.

There were also doubts about the way in which Parliament would be consulted. Members thought this should be under the assent procedure. The Commission representative carefully avoided answering on the grounds that the Council was responsible for the legal basis !!! Watch this space!

Further information: Jacques NANCY - Tel. 284 24 85

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Tobacco: production cuts mean increased profits for multinationals says committe


The Commission was strongly criticized by the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (chairman: Juan COLINO SALAMANCA - PES, E) when it adopted the report by Miguel ROSADO FERNANDES (UFE, E) on the reform of the common organization of the market in raw tobacco. The rapporteur thought the Commission was trying to reduce or even eradicate this European crop using health as a pretext.

Some 30% of the world's tobacco is grown in Europe. The Commission's approach would lead to the big multinationals importing more tobacco into Europe without any financial or social compensation for the agriculture sector, the committee believes. As the European production quota had not been reached, the committee thought that producers should not be forced to give up tobacco growing. Hence the hostility to the Commission's plan to buy up individual quotas from producers who want to leave tobacco farming rather than giving producers' organizations the opportunity to buy with a view to redistributing them to other farmers. The report also opposed the reduction of premiums. Such a reduction would lead to the abandonment of a large number of farms, which play a role in environmental protection and the fight against desertification. The effect would be aggravated in areas where there is no possibility of conversion, especially in the South where unemployment is extremely high.

The tobacco industry employs 284 000 people. The Commission's approach will have enormous social, financial and political costs, which can only be met by Structural Fund aid.

The Commission bases its changes on the argument that European tobacco is of 'poor quality' although it knows that the definition of quality is left to the big multinationals and that in many cases the price of this tobacco has quintupled as a result of the effect of supply and demand in a free market. Consequently the committee is calling for the creation of an independent body on which the producers would be represented which would be responsible for quality criteria and arbitration of disputes.

The committee is proposing that the 30% reduction in the budget for the sector should be achieved over five years with each country deciding on how this should be done. Furthermore, '2% of aid should be held back for the promotion of research into raw tobacco with the aim of countering its harmful effects' and 'incentives and financial assistance should be provided for research and experiments with a view to obtaining tobacco varieties which are low in nicotine and tar'.

Further information: Maria-Grazia CAVENAGHI - Tel. 284 22 39

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Commission appeal on bananas


The note listing the points on which the Commission has appealed was registered on 11 June and the three members of the Appellate Body (United States, New Zealand and Egypt) were appointed on 16 June, as reported by a Commission representative to the Committee on Development and Cooperation (chairman: Michel ROCARD - PES, F). The Commission will present its memorandum on 23 June. The complainants (Latin America and the United States) will have 48 hours to present a memorandum on the points not raised by the Commission. They and the parties concerned (ACP) must reply to the Commission's memorandum before 7 July. There will be a hearing in Geneva on 21 and 22 July. The WTO panel will have 60 to 90 days to examine the situation (to mid-August/mid-September) and report. The Dispute Settlement Body will have 30 days to examine the report, which should be adopted in October.

Further information: M.C. de Saint-Araille - Tel. 284 38 13


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Banging the drum for music


Although, as opera singer Montserrat CABALLÉ, present in Brussels for a special hearing on music said, music has no frontiers, musicians and their works encounter a good many barriers. These problems were described by the participants in the public hearing on the European Union's role in encouraging music in Europe, organized by the Committee on Culture (chairman Peter PEX - EPP, NL). They also hoped that the European Union would devise a music policy along the lines of policy for other sectors, such as the audio-visual industry.

Representatives of the recording industry said that European music played a dynamic role on the world market and, unlike other cultural sectors, out-performed the United States industry. This success story had to be consolidated by the removal of legal and tax barriers. Piracy was on the increase because of new technology and had to be combatted. This was essential to protect investment and to ensure continued financial support for artistic creation. They also stressed the need for tax harmonization in the music sector, in line with other cultural products. A reduction in VAT would be compensated by increased sales and would be appreciated.

These concerns were shared by the musicians but they also stressed problems more specific to them such as the need for a European legal framework to protect copyright. New rights also had to be recognized following technological developments. Several proposals were put forward: the holding of a Euroconcert every year and a European music channel that would offer a wide range of programmes covering the different aspects of music in Europe. Some participants supported quotas for European works. This idea did not receive unanimous support, however, as unlike the audiovisual industry, which is dominated by the Americans, European music is not on the defensive.

Musical education was also discussed. Everyone agreed with Nana MOUSKOURI (EPP, Gr) on the need for music, along with other arts, to be introduced in schools from the earliest years. This type of education was as important as mathematics or writing. It was pointed out that there were numerous job opportunities in the music industry apart from a career as a performer.

The arts could not be used as an instrument for integration; if they were, the risk was that the opposite effect would be achieved.

Further information: Patrick BARAGIOLA - Tel. 284 32 51; Nicolas FAYE

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ACP-EU joint assembly in Togo in October


The Bureau of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly, which consists of representatives of 70 ACP countries and 70 MEPs (Co-Presidents Lord PLUMB (EPP, UK) and Andebrhan WELTEGIORGIS (Eritrea) replacing Sir John KAPUTIN (Papua-New Guinea), has decided that the 25th session of the Assembly will be held from 27 to 30 October in Lomé in Togo. The meeting should have been held last March but was postponed to give Togo time to consolidate its moves towards democracy. A Joint Assembly delegation visited Togo from 23 to 27 May to study the democratic and human rights situation. It noted that, although the human rights situation was not perfect, improvements had been made in recent years and democratization was under way. Everyone who was asked was in favour of the 1992 constitution. The Commission put cooperation between the European Union and Togo on hold in 1992, although the European Union continued to provide aid for certain basic projects where there was no government involvement. The resumption of European cooperation was to a very large extent due to the satisfactory preparations for the next presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held in 1998. The European Union should play a full part in the electoral process by providing technical and financial assistance. The Commission representative said that Development Commissioner, Mr Joao PINHEIRO, had decided to step up cooperation and the suspended programmes would gradually be started up again.

Further information: M.C. de Saint-Araille Tel: 284 38 13

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EP and Central American Parliament sign cooperation agreement


A declaration on cooperation has been signed during the President of the Central American Parliament's official visit to Brussels, in the presence of Parliament's President, José María GIL- ROBLES, the President of the Central American Parliament, Ernesto LIMA MENA, and the chairman of the Parliament's Delegation for relations with the countries of Central America and Mexico, José Ignacio SALAFRANCA.

The declaration is intended to strengthen the Central American Parliament's role in the Central American integration process by closer interinstitutional cooperation, passing on the European Parliament's experience of integration, regular joint meetings between the Central American Parliament and the European Parliament, and information and advice in areas relating to regional integration.

Further information: Alberto RODAS - Tel. 284 35 14

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Enlargement - democracy concerns over Slovakia but...


At the opening of the 4th EU-Slovak Republic Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting in Bratislava on 16 June 1997, the Chairman of the European Parliament delegation, Mr Herbert BÖSCH (PES, Austria) made it clear that unless a clear signal was received from Slovakia showing that it accepted the EU's concerns with regard to the development of parliamentary democracy, it would be impossible for the European Parliament to recommend that Slovakia be invited to take part in accession negotiations next year. The meeting was addressed by the President of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, Mr Ivan GASPAROVIC, and by the new Foreign Minister, Mrs Zdenka KRAMPLOVA The delegation was also received by the Head of State, Mr KOVACS.

The recommendations of the committee, which were adopted unanimously, suggest that the Slovak parliamentarians accepted the EP's concerns. In this text it is stated that by the end of November 1997 substantial steps should have been made with regard to the adoption of a law on the use of minority languages, parliamentary control of the secret service and the role of the opposition in the committees of the National Council.

The committee also recognised that Slovakia was achieving positive economic results, which would qualify the country for participation in the enlargement process.

It was agreed that the next meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee would take place at the end of November, so that a check could be made on the implementation of the commitments made by the Slovak parliamentarians.

At its plenary session in Brussels at the beginning of December the European Parliament is due to vote on the whole question of which countries should be invited to take part in accession negotiations.

Further information: Geoff HARRIS - Tel. 284 36 08

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Support for Czech accession negotiations


At the conclusion of the 5th EU-Czech Republic Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting which took place in Prague from the 18-20 June 1997, the committee unanimously recommended that the Czech Republic be invited to take part in accession negotiations at the beginning of 1998. It also underlined the fact that the Czech Republic had achieved irreversible changes and that parliamentary democracy was firmly established.

The meeting was somewhat overshadowed by a dispute between the EU and the Czech Republic concerning a surcharge on imports recently introduced by the Czech authorities, which the EU considers to be a violation of the Europe Agreement. The committee regretted that these measures have been taken by the Czech authorities without prior consultation.

Further information: Geoff HARRIS - Tel. 284 36 08

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