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News report : 04-11-97

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Soft drugs should be legalised. Hard drugs shld be available on prescription

Brussels, 4 November 1997

Soft drugs should be legalised.
Hard drugs should be available on prescription.

The Committee on Civil Liberties adopted the report of its chairwoman, Hedy d'ANCONA (PES, NL), on harmonisation of the Member States' drug laws, by 17 votes to 11, with 4 abstentions, the votes on many of the amendments being extremely close. The report, drawn up at Parliament's initiative, contains a recommendation to the Council.

As Mrs d'ANCONA emphasised, the aim is not to harmonise the fine detail of the Member States' regulations on drugs but to grant national, regional and local authorities the freedom to carry out their own policies. She said that legislation must be take account of the realities, as indicated in an amendment tabled by Sir Jack STEWART-CLARK which was accepted by the committee. In practice, it was impossible to imprison every drug addict and in any case prison did not solve the problem of drug addiction.

The committee's recommendation calls for the right to receive appropriate medical treatment to apply to drug addicts. It says that Article 129 of the EC Treaty (as amended at Amsterdam), which is the legal basis for EU public health policy, should be taken to mean that support may be given to treatment programmes under which hard drugs are supplied on medical prescription and subject to the necessary checks. The EU institutions will have greater freedom of manoeuvre after the new treaty has entered into force. The recommendation also argues that repression should concentrate on illegal drug trafficking, while penalties for those who are simply users of illegal drugs should be abolished.

The committee believes that the UN drug conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988 have led to policies in the Member States which need to be looked at carefully. It urges the Council to call, at the UN General Assembly on Drugs to be held next June, for these conventions to be reviewed, the consumption of illegal drugs decriminalised, the trade in cannabis and its derivatives regulated and methadone and heroin allowed under medical prescription.

In addition, the recommendation urges the Council to make more funds available to help reduce demand for drugs and also fund information and education measures, a harm-reduction policy and improvements to health and care facilities for drug addicts.

The committee calls on Member States to cooperate to a greater degree over drug-related matters at national, regional and local levels and for the powers of local and regional authorities to be extended in accordance with the Community action programme on the prevention of drug dependence (1996-2000). Lastly, it stresses the importance of pilot projects in urban areas aimed at reducing demand and preventing crime, as well as the value of involving local communities in developing countries.

Further information: Etienne BASSOT - tel. 284 47 41

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Food law and food policy hearing: US will not dictate to eu


Is the message that Commissioner Franz FISCHLER launched during the "farm to table" session held on November 4th, 1997 and chaired by Mr Juan Luis COLINO SALAMANCA (EPS, E).

Mr FISCHLER was referring to the Community's appeal against the WTO Panel ruling on the use of hormones in livestock production which was being heard in Geneva the same day. "The outcome of this dispute will have far-reaching implications for the rights of governments to determine the degree to which their citizens are protected form hazards in food", he said and added that the EU had played an active role in drawing up the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) which is at the core of the dispute. "Indeed, it explicitly states that GATT Members are not obliged to change their level of protection. Nevertheless, the Panel has ignored this basic principle of the SPS Agreement and is trying to impose its own opinion on the EU". The WTO Panel even added to its opinion a statement to the effect that in countries where the use of hormone growth promoters is permitted, meat which has been produced without, may be so labelled.

"If this is a proposal to the Community to adopt such a system, I reject it", declared Mr FISCHLER.

For further information : Maria-Grazia CAVENAGHI (284.22.39

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Combating organised crime more effectively


On 4 November the Committee on Civil Liberties and Public Affairs (chairwoman: Hedy d'ANCONA, PES, NL) adopted by a large majority the two reports by Leoluca ORLANDO (Greens, I) endorsing the two draft Joint Actions proposed by the Council. The aim of the Actions is to make the fight against organised crime more effective. Parliament is being consulted in accordance with Article K.6 of the EU Treaty (consultation procedure, third pillar).

The first Joint Action seeks to make it a criminal offence to participate in a criminal organization in the Member States of the EU, while the second seeks to establish a mechanism for evaluating the application and implementation at national level of international undertakings in the fight against organized crime.

The proposals for the two measures are the fruit of the work carried out by the High Level Group appointed by the European Council in Dublin in December 1996, which drew up an action plan to combat organized crime, containing 15 policy guidelines and 30 specific recommendations. The Luxembourg Presidency has already worked on this document.

As regards the proposal to make it a criminal offence to participate in a criminal organization, the committee wishes to extend the list of crimes and offences liable to legal action under criminal law to include money-laundering and other types of financial crime. The initial recommendation mentioned terrorism, drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings. The Council drew up a list of the methods which help facilitate or conceal such crimes. MEPs would like to add the use of stratagems such as enlisting the support or protection of persons associated with important institutions to conceal or facilitate the offence. On this last point, the committee feels, it would be best to define more precisely what constitutes a criminally liable action.

The committee also proposes that it should be possible to make natural persons in every Member State criminally liable, so that they have to take the consequences/accept the sanctions for the behaviour of persons for whom they are responsible. Lastly, it proposes that the EU Court of Justice be made competent to rule, by way of advance determination, on the validity and interpretation of the Joint Action.

As regards the second Joint Action, on a mechanism for evaluating the application and implementation at national level of international undertakings in the fight against organized crime, the committee believes that the Council's view of the matter, based on an intergovernmental approach, should gradually give way to a Community-based approach, with the aim of the bringing the third pillar within the Community ambit. It therefore advocates strengthening the role of the Commission in the whole evaluation procedure.

In addition, to ensure maximum transparency, Parliament should be kept regularly informed, on a six-monthly basis, of the proceedings and recommendations of the Multidisciplinary Working Party on Organized Crime (MDW) and those of the Council.

Further information: Georgios GHIATIS - tel. 284 22 16

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Commissioner Flynn calls for general mobilisation against unemployment


Commissioner Padraig FLYNN came to the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Monday to discuss the latest developments in the preparation for the Employment Summit which will be held in Luxembourg on 21-22 November. The Commissioner thanked the European Parliament for endorsing the employment guidelines set by the Commission (see van Velzen report, approved by the Parliament on 21 October). Representatives of ECOFIN and Ministers of Social Affairs will now meet on 6 and 8 November to discuss the conclusions of these guidelines.

According to Commissioner Flynn, the Employment Summit must come forward with a concrete action plan. "We want the Member States to set clear targets and define how they are going to achieve an employment rate of 65 percent and 12 million new jobs within the next five years." The Commissioner stressed that these figures should be understood as reference points to national measures. It is up to the Member States to decide how these goals should be reached.

The Commission guidelines comprise of four main lines of action, which are related to the long- term and young unemployed, (background note dated 16 October). All the other guidelines are recommendations which can be included in national plans if necessary.

According to Commissioner Flynn, a general mobilisation is necessary to solve the current unemployment problem. Social partners should be actively involved in designing supportive measures in order to produce new work opportunities.

After the Employment Summit, the Commission will put forward an action plan for employment in 1998. Member States will have to adopt these measures accordingly.

Further information: Eero YRJÖ-KOSKINEN - tel: 284 4896

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Labour minister explains why he considers employment in spain is success


The Spanish Minister of Labour, Mr Javier ARENAS BOCANEGRA, appeared on Monday at a meeting of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in order to present his views on the Spanish employment programme. The reform of the Spanish labour market, which started earlier this year, aims at increased labour market flexibility by providing training and temporary work opportunities to the young and long-term unemployed.

The Minister believed that the best way to maintain a decent level of social security is by producing new jobs. Economic growth, job creation and social protection are all interconnected. In order to achieve stable employment, the Spanish government has presented new types of work contracts, which are made on a temporary basis, whereby social costs have been cut by 40 percent. Another advantage is that such contracts can be terminated at short notice, for instance in case of reduced competitivity.

According to the Spanish Labour Minister, the national Parliament, the main opposition group (the Socialists) and both sides of industry have been very responsive to the reform. During the past six months, some 260,000 temporary contracts have been signed. For the first time in over a decade, the Spanish unemployment rate has dropped below 20 percent.

The current achievements would not have been possible, however, without sustained economic growth and a low level of inflation. Changes in the labour market are complementary to macroeconomic development, the Minister stressed. Economic convergence and employment are two sides of the same coin.

Turning to demographic changes in Spain, Mr Arenas believed that it would be difficult to maintain the current level of social security, because people live longer but retire at an earlier age (average retirement at age 62). As a result, the Spanish government has suggested that those who can, should continue to work beyond the age of 65 in order to reduce the pressure related to the payment of pensions.

Further information: Eero YRJÖ-KOSKINEN - tel: 284 4896

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Schengen president-in-office sees freedom of movement as main priority


On 3 November, Mr Karl SCHLÖGEL, Austrian Interior Minister and President-in-Office of the Schengen Executive Committee, addressed the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs (chairwoman: Hedy d'ANCONA, PES, NL) on the Austrian Presidency's six-month work programme.

He told the committee that Austria's chief aim was to ensure that genuine freedom of movement for EU citizens was established. Every effort would be made to implement the Schengen agreements in full in all the new member countries (Italy, Greece and Austria), which were currently in a transition phase. Full membership for Italy (which had signed the agreements in 1990) had been held up for a long time because of problems due to its coastline and its inadequate legislation on the protection of privacy. Italy had finally joined the Schengen area on 26 October and would completely abolish personal identity checks on 3 March 1998. Austria (which had signed up in 1995) and Greece (1992) would become full members as of 1 December 1997. The minister reminded his audience that Schengen depended on mutual trust among its members.

The incorporation of the Schengen rules into the EU system following the Amsterdam Treaty represented significant progress, according to Mr SCHLÖGEL. However, Several MEPs voiced misgivings at the shortcomings of the system as far as democratic and legal scrutiny were concerned.

Mr SCHLÖGEL also pointed out that, under Article 8a of the EEC Treaty, EU citizens enjoyed the right to move and reside freely within the European Union.

Further information:    Georgios GHIATIS - tel. 284 22 16
            Etienne BASSOT - tel. 284 47 41

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Committee urges eu coordination for economic, fiscal and social policy


The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, chaired by Mr Stephen HUGHES (EPS, UK), adopted on Tuesday a draft report on the employment situation in Europe in 1997. The report will be discussed at the next plenary meeting in Strasbourg on 18 November.

Commenting on the annual report produced by the Commission, the rapporteur, Mr Jorge Salvador HERNANDEZ MOLLAR (EPP, E) expressed his concern at the slow rate of net job- creation in Europe. According to the Commission, some 600,000 new jobs were created in the Member States in 1996. Obviously, this improvement is only a drop in the ocean compared to the 25-30 million people who are either unemployed, inactive or looking for work. As a result, social exclusion has further increased.

In its report, the Committee calls on the Commission, the Social Affairs Council and the Member States to focus on the rebalancing and coordination of tax policy and social security arrangements, so that they would encourage rather than hamper job creation, and stimulate investment in innovative SMEs (especially in the industrial, craft and trade sectors).

The Committee draws attention to the preventative nature of investment in human resources, which helps to update workers' professional skills and contributes to the competitiveness of firms. There is a need for an active education, training and retraining policy, which - in addition to the basic acquisition of skills - would provide the means for lifelong vocational training and retraining for the unemployed.

The Committee also stresses the need to adopt measures, which would prevent the existence of tax havens and distortions of competition arising from discriminatory fiscal measures in some regions and Member States.

The Committee reiterates the importance of comparable socio-economic indicators, which make it possible to monitor quantitative and qualitative trends on the labour market and Member State policies. Without such indicators, it is difficult to reflect the net job-creation rate, average working hours, and the percentage of funding disbursed from GNP on welfare protection and active labour market measures in the various Member States.

Finally, the Committee suggests that a system of reference criteria should be established, which would make it possible to penalize Member States that fail to improve their employment figures in a satisfactory way. This could be done by cutting the financial support that they receive from the European Union.

Further information: Eero YRJÖ-KOSKINEN - tel: 284 4896

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30 October - The 2nd EP-Azerbaijan Interparliamentary Meeting was held today in Brussels, chaired by Mr Alexandros ALAVANOS (GUE-NGL, EL) chaired by the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr Murtuz ALESKEROV.

Subjects discussed included the internal political, economic and environmental situation in Azerbaijan as well as its relations with its neighbours.

The general framework for the relations between the EU and Azerbaijan is provided by the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement signed in April 1996 and ratified by the EP in Marcy 1997. The Interim Agreement covering trade and economic issues has been recently signed and is yet to be submitted to the assent procedure in the EP. The PCA will enter into force as soon as it will have been ratified by all national parliaments of the member states.

Further information: Pekka HAKALA - Tel. 46273

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