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The Week : 11-01-99(s)

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Commission faces censure


Commission faces censure
(B4-1165/98, B4-0012/99, B4-0011/99, B4-0002/99, B4-0013/99, B4-0014/99, B4-0016/99,
B4-0015)

Monday 11 January - In tabling her motion of censure on the Commission, Pauline Green (London North, PES) declared that the decision to refuse discharge of the 1996 budget was a clear declaration that the Commission was financially incompetent. Those who voted to refuse discharge should take the only possible institutional step in their power and vote to sack the Commission. Mrs Green stated that she had tabled the censure motion so that those who felt the Commission to be culpable over the 1996 budget should face up to their responsibility and the logical consequences of their vote. She argued that the coming three months were critical for the EU and that the Commission needed to enjoy a partnership of trust and confidence with Parliament and Council. Therefore she believed the crisis could not extend any further.

Mrs Green noted that the great majority of her group had voted in favour of a budget discharge as it believed the Commission had made significant progress in responding to Parliament's concerns. While recognising that a number of MEPs had voted against discharge for sincere reasons, she considered that there were others "whose motives were more about the smell of election in their nostrils or a particular domestic agenda to which they were playing". She pointed out that the Commission had no ability to ask Parliament for a vote of confidence and that this was a major weakness in the constitutional arrangements. Her first demand therefore was that the Treaty and/or Rules of Procedure should be changed to put in place such a procedure.

Mrs Green recognised that there were serious problems at the heart of the current crisis and an ambience of "secrecy, patronage, nepotism, and obstructionism" appeared to surround the Commission and its officials. This had to be dealt with, she said. She believed that the Commission, which was presently the accumulation of fifteen different national administrative cultures, needed to develop a European administrative culture, with common rules of engagement. She pledged her Group's support to tackling corruption, but could not accept that Parliament should act on media speculation before proper investigations were carried out. Her Group's second demand was therefore for a set of transparent rules governing relations between Commissioners, their Cabinets and their directorate-generals, to be drawn up before the end of March 1999.

In view of the fact that Parliament did not have the right to "cherry-pick" amongst the College of Commissioners, her Group would not support resolutions seeking to apportion blame for all the ills of the Commission on the heads of selected individuals, against whom no case had been proven.

Mrs Green stressed that her Group supported the concept of whistle-blowing, but believed the rights of both the whistle-blower and those against whom the accusations were being made should be protected until there was a proper investigation of the matter. In the case of Paul van Buitenen, she believed that those responsibilities had been breached. Although she had no doubts about his motives, she believed he had been used by some politicians and by some in the media. Mrs Green argued that if the Commission had possessed procedures to deal with abuses properly then the Van Buitenen allegations would not have been necessary. Her Group's third call therefore was for an independent review to assess and make recommendations on the detection and follow-up of abuses before the end of this year. The fourth demand by the end of the current week was that a timetable for negotiations between Parliament and Commission should be drawn up to structure the final shape of the Commission management system of the future.

In conclusion, Mrs Green stressed that the refusal to grant discharge had become a major issue of confidence in the Commission and she believed that it was simply unacceptable for Parliament to say that it did not trust the Commission with the spending of public money and then not be prepared to do anything further about it. "This debate, and in particular the Commission's response," she concluded, "is our opportunity to make our judgement".

Introducing the second motion of censure for the House this evening Hervé Fabre-Aubrespy (F, I- EN) stressed that he was tabling a real motion of censure which had cross-party support and the signatures of MEPs from all member states except Luxembourg. He noted that the Court of Auditors had denounced many scandals in areas that were the Commission's responsibility and that the Commission had not fulfilled many of the obligations imposed on it by the Treaty. Therefore there needed to be a clear political link between the refusal to grant discharge and voting for a censure motion. Parliament's credibility was at stake, he concluded, and he called on it to vote to censure the Commission.

Wilfried Martens (B, EPP) also noted that this debate marked a serious crisis in relationships between Parliament and Commission and that the issue had become highly politicised. He stressed that he maintained his confidence in President Santer's ability to carry out reforms, but he believed that the motion of censure under debate was being used to protect certain Commissioners. He considered that it would be disastrous for the Commission if the majority of Parliament voted against it through the censure motion. Mr Martens pointed to many political achievements of the Commission, but stressed that it was faced by a heritage of bad management. He wanted to see proper codes of conduct, transparent recruitment of senior management, clear rules of budget management, and more clarity on the procedure for the employment of outside staff. He believed that there needed to be zero tolerance of fraud and that there should be a debate on an independent fraud unit - OLAF. The Commission he concluded, had to be tough, as the time for a "softly, softly" approach had gone.

Pat Cox (Munster, ELDR) noted that this was a painful debate about public accountability against the backdrop of the need for the EU to achieve its agenda of moving towards EMU and preparing for enlargement. Parliament and Commission were allies in the task of achieving this agenda. However Parliament also needed to ensure the accountability of the Commission, and twice in the last twelve months the Commission had failed to get the 1996 budget accepted. The debate, he stressed, had crossed the line from the politics of accounting to the politics of accountability. He believed that the "nuclear option" of dismissing the Commission was so drastic that there was a need for great caution. Nevertheless, he argued, the buck had to stop somewhere, and everyone being responsible under a system of collective responsibility meant that, in fact, nobody was responsible. Although calling on individual Commissioners to take responsibility and consider their positions was not a legal step, Mr Cox believed that it was an appropriate political step. Commissioners, he argued, could not simply rely on the "legal shield of collegiality". Parliament, he concluded, must move from simply uttering aspirations to demanding reform, with Commissioners taking individual responsibility.

Jean-Claude Pasty (F, UFE) argued that the Commission had been "putting its head in the sand" and had been hiding behind a screen of confidentiality. It should have been transparent at the start and individual Commissioners should consider resigning. There was a need for a searching inquiry in the way the Commission operated,he said, in order to create an atmosphere of confidence. At present, the Commission had to be judged on its deeds as well as its words and it could not at present, receive a blank cheque of confidence such as was being proposed by some members of the Socialist Group.

Joaquim Miranda (P, EUL/NGL) believed that Parliament could not neglect the logical follow-up in its decision to refuse discharge last month and the Commission's credibility was under question. There was a need to react to the Commission's statement before the discharge vote. He too wanted the Commission to deal with the serious issue of fraud and to face up to its collective responsibilities. Magda Aelvoet (B, Greens) questioned whether a weakened Commission could help the EU and argued that it had penalised Paul van Buitenen whose only crime had been to approach Parliament. The Commission, she said, had a heavy responsibility to bear and she would be supporting the motion of censure. Catherine Lalumière (F, ERA) wanted President Santer to give proper guarantees of action, as she believed that the credibility of the EU was paramount and was now being besmirched.

Eric Pinel (F, Ind) accused Mrs Green of wanting to protect the Commission. It should resign en masse, he said. It had concealed irregularities and there were no real extenuating circumstances. The official suspended was being made a scapegoat. The National Front would vote in favour of censuring a Commission which believed that it was above the law.

Mr Santer said that last December the House debated in detail the discharge for the 1996 budget. Today they were debating the question of confidence between the two institutions which had come under pressure lately. He was ready to bear his share of the responsibility for this. The time was manifestly right for clarification. He had the deepest respect for the European Parliament's institutional role. He was convinced that members of the House would judge the Commission on its activities as a whole. He would endeavour to show that the House would be right to express its confidence.

Mr Santer then listed a series of recent achievements and asked Parliament, bearing in mind the confirmation speech he had made in the House in January 1995, whether he had kept his word. These successes included the launch of the euro, the single market, giving a top priority to employment, the Amsterdam Treaty, enlargement and Agenda 2000.

His January 1995 speech had referred in particular to the special effort needed in respect of internal management and the need to prioritise the fight against fraud. The events surrounding the discharge show that he had been right to attach so much importance to this matter, which had been neglected in the past. They also showed that the reforms made to date were far from adequate and much remained to be done. The Commission had embarked on ambitious modernisation programmes with the clear objective of restoring sound management, improving effectiveness and supervision, decentralising the work of departments and making staff accountable. "We have undertaken more by way of reform in the last four years than in the forty years that went before," he said. They had acted against irregularities and stepped up the fight against fraud. In 1994, UCLAF had a staff of 50. Today the figure was 140. In 1994 UCLAF had handled 220 investigations. Today the figure was 950. The Commission was not out to hide anything. Anyone found guilty of fraud must be punished.

The criticism the House had levelled at the Commission in the discharge debate would prompt the Commission to take a critical look at the way it operated and how it managed its affairs. It was for the Commission to put its own house in order but as the political control body, Parliament had a legitimate interest in the matter. He suggested they get together in the coming months to discuss the issues in detail. He then outlined the following eight point programme:

1.    He intended to present the future President-designate with a complete reasoned proposal on the structure of portfolios and the organisation of departments.

2.    In future, the Commission intended to pose systematically the question of staff resources. Management difficulties were partly due to the fact that the Commission had all too often taken on tasks without having sufficient human resources.

3.    He intended to put in place overall arrangements to govern the work of the members of the Commission, their offices and the departments. These arrangements would be made up of 3 codes of conduct, the preparation of which was well under way. They would be the foundation of a real European administrative culture.

4.    As regards staff management reform which was currently underway, by the end of January 1999 he intended to propose a timetable for modernising the administration.

5.    As regards appointments, in the case of A1 and A2 posts, he had always tried to ensure that priority was given to internal promotions and intended to draft a clear set of rules for appointments for outside. A probationary period would be introduced for management posts.

6.    As regards budget management, in addition to the SEM 2000 reforms, he mentioned three other initiatives: an official proposal for a revision of the Financial Regulation would be presented in the first half of 1999; there would be early introduction of clear rules on the introduction of outside staff; and a general guide on technical assistance offices would be presented in the spring. As regards the Leonardo office, the question of whether the Commission should continue working with it after its contract expired at the end of the year, would depend on whether it made radical improvements in its management.

7.    As regards fraud, he agreed with Parliament that the policy in this area must be one of zero tolerance. He invited discussion with the Parliament on his proposal to set up an indepdent inter- institutional office. Agreement should be reached as quickly as possible. As regards the Commission official, Mr Van Buitenen, who had been recently suspended, he said that disciplinary proceedings had not been commenced because he had reported a case of fraud. The point was rather that the official had made confidential documents public on his own initiative, contrary to staff regulations and the general administrative rules.

8.    As regards the information which Parliament received from the Commission, he repeated his offer to draw up an inter-institutional agreement on practical arrangements on keeping Parliament informed.

As regards Parliament's wish to be involved in the follow-up to Commission reforms, he agreed that this was a fair demand. He would therefore come himself to Parliament's Conference of Presidents to give regular progress reports on the programme. Secondly, a committee of independent experts would be set up to consider the whole issue of management, scrutiny and the evaluation of community expenditure.

Willi Görlach (D, PES) said that those investigations which had taken place, had occurred because of pressure from the European Parliament and public opinion. The Commission should agree to bear responsibility for what had gone wrong. It should not imply that it would ignore Parliament unless there was a vote with a two-thirds majority against it. Diemut Theato (D, EPP) thanked Mr Santer for the sound words he had finally found but said that Parliament had waited too long. Many would find it difficult to give the Commission the trust it asked for. Nonetheless, a vote of no confidence was not the right approach. The Budgetary Control Committee had deferred the discharge. It had allowed time for the Commission to come forward with a clear statement regarding outstanding matters.

Pat Cox (Munster, ELDR) said his group would study the detail of what Mr Santer had proposed. What he had said about corruption had fallen short of a tour de force. He was staggered at the absence of a single word of Mr Santer on ECHO. Why did they have to wait for a crisis before they got action? He wondered why Mr Santer could be so bland on the question of Leonardo.

Jean-Antoine Giansily (F, UFE) said his group would examine Mr Santer's statement carefully. However, the motion of censure was premature and out of proportion until all light had been thrown on the matter. They would prefer the Budgetary Control Committee to continue its work with the Commission. On the other hand, they were expecting exceptional measures and they did not get them.

Joaquim Miranda (P, EUL/NGL) noted that the eight areas of activity mentioned by Mr Santer involved measures that were very skimpy. The Commission should reply to the specific problems raised.

Wilfried Martens (B, EPP) said that the EPP group would consider the far-reaching proposals and commitments made by Mr Santer and would define their position. However, he wondered whether other members of the Commission were ready to accept their share of the responsibility?

Commissioner Edith Cresson noted that she had recently appeared before the Budgetary Control Committee regarding the Joint Research Centre and that a reply to Mrs Theato was being sent out. She believed that the Leonardo programme had been a great success and a good example of cooperation between Council and Commission. This had been recognised by the Council which had given it more funds. She would be coming before the Social Affairs Committee to speak on the allegations by Mr van Buitenen. In conclusion she was prepared to appear before any committee to allow a detailed discussion to take place on any allegations of fraud or corruption.

Commissioner Marin accepted that he might have made many mistakes but said that he had never covered up fraud. He argued that he had taken the necessary actions to combat fraud. He also noted that the lack of Commission staff had meant that many programmes had been implemented by external experts - some of whom were not completely honest.

Replying to questions raised in the debate, and in particular why the Commission was only reacting now to tackling the problem of fraud and financial mismanagement, President Santer emphasised that the modernisation process and the SEM 2000 programme had in fact been set in place in 1995. In addition, he emphasised that out of the 950 cases at present being investigated by UCLAF, only 27 concerned the Commission, the rest relating to cases in the member states. In fact, he continued, it was thanks to UCLAF that problems relating to the ECHO aid programme had been revealed. As far as fraud in this area was concerned, he underlined that the amount at stake was in the region of .400 to 600 thousand out of a total of . 500m budget per annum. And he wanted to emphasise that no slurs should be cast on the voluntary agencies who worked closely with the Commission in administering EU aid programmes. The Commission's problems, had, he said, been exacerbated after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism, and the resultant high profile PHARE programme constituting a sharp increase in aid to Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the civil war in Yugoslavia had resulted in a large number of refugees who looked to the EU for assistance. He did, however, emphasise his determination to eliminate financial irregularities and he thought this could be best done by working closely with member states, Council and Parliament. As a sign of the Commission's intention to increase cooperation with Parliament, he told MEPs that the first report updating Parliament on inquiries into irregularities had been presented on the 20th of November and while acknowledging this did not contain names, he said, this was for confidentiality reasons. Cases of presumed fraud could only be referred to respective authorities when sufficient documentation had been assembled, he added.

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Germany takes over - political integration a priority


Germany takes over - political integration a priority

Tuesday 12 January - In outlining the priorities of the German Presidency, Foreign Affairs Minister Joschka Fischer underlined Germany's commitment to closer European integration, in particular on the political front. He saw the creation of a single currency as a political decision, the significance of which would only be seen at a later date. This pooling of sovereignty was, he emphasised, clearly a political act. At the same time, there was a need to develop the EU's political and democratic structures if tension was not to be avoided in the future. He recognised that the launch of the single currency was not only a great opportunity but also "just as great a risk for the EU, depending on the member states' attitude to the process of further political communitarisation." He warned that the introduction of the euro would contain inherent risks if it was not accompanied by further moves to complete integration, including enlargement.

While recognising the challenges of reaching agreement on the Agenda 2000 programme, he did confirm that it was the intention of the Germany Presidency to complete negotiations by 24/25 March and that his approach would be based on taking account of all interests so that, there should be "no winners and no losers". This would mean that as far as regional aid was concerned, this should be concentrated on the poorest areas, with procedures simplified and emphasis placed on programmes to create jobs with due respect for the environment. He also emphasised his commitment to CAP reforms and a reduction in spending with a view to making Europe's products more competitive, and with an agricultural policy taking account of environmental considerations. He acknowledged however, the need to take into account farmers' interests. Employment was another area considered a priority and here he emphasised the aim to create a European Employment Pact at the forthcoming Cologne European Council, where the EU's role should be to focus on reducing both long-term and youth unemployment as well as creating equal opportunities for women.

Enlargement was another priority and here he emphasised that prosperity and stability for the whole of Europe could only be guaranteed with the accession of countries from Eastern and Central Europe. Any delay, he warned, would only threaten European unity and he emphasised that "the fast lane must stay open". He did however affirm that it was too early to fix a clear date for the accession of individual countries but this might be possible following a successful negotiation of the Agenda 2000 programme. To applause from the House, he emphasied Germany's commitment to enlargement and that there was no alternative.

On foreign policy, he looked forward to the Amsterdam Treaty coming on stream on 1 June with an enhanced role for the EU, particularly through the employment of a "High Representative". Here the choice of the person appointed was vital because only a man or a woman with political clout would be able to bring about progress. The first challenge was to adopt a common stance towards Russia with a view to contributing towards stability in the region.

Neither did Mr Fischer neglect the question of institutional reform which, he said, was vital for enlargement to succeed. In the long-term, the aim of the German government was to support limiting unanimity in EU decision-making to fundamental constitutional issues such as treaty changes. He also underlined his support for greater democracy in the EU by strengthening the powers of the European Parliament through extending co-decision to all legislative areas where Council adopts laws using majority voting. An increased role for Parliament could also be envisaged in the election of the Commission. For these measures to come about, there would however have to be another Inter-Governmental Conference. In this context, he felt there was a need once again to look at the idea of a European constitution to spell out clearly the roles of different institutions and the relationships between the centre, the member states and the regions. His other idea was to promote the development of a European Charter of Basic Rights with a view to bringing the EU closer to the citizen and confirming citizens' rights. At the same time, he put on record his aim to strengthen the EU's human rights profile. Defence and security were essential components of the common foreign policy and here while he confirmed Germany's commitment to NATO, he did emphasise the need for the EU to develop its own military capacity so that it could take action in areas where the United States did not wish to be involved. Asylum policy was another area of importance to Germany as well as combatting organised crime. On these points, he looked forward to progress on "burden- sharing" and dealing with the refugee problem and a strengthened role for Europol.

As far as international and economic relations were concerned, while Mr Fischer emphasised that the EU's economic development over the past quarter of a century had strengthened the integration process, and in fact meant there could be no more wars between EU member states, he emphasised the need for the EU to act strongly on the world stage, as in the age of globalisation, no member state even one with a strong economy such as Germany would be able to act alone. The aim should be to contribute towards stability at a world level. At the same time he emphasised his support for closer harmonisation of tax policies.

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Endorsement from the Commission


Endorsement from the Commission

It was then the turn of Commission President Jacques Santer to endorse the priorities of the Germany Presidency and in particular the need to integrate Schengen arrangements for free movement into the EU Treaty, strengthen defence policy and reach agreement on the Agenda 2000 programme. The Commission had made its proposals and would contribute as much as possible to assist with the negotiations, he said. He also recognised the need to tackle agricultural surpluses and bring CAP management into line with market needs. Any failure on these fronts, he warned, could hamper the enlargement process. The German priority for dealing with immigration and organised crime was also endorsed, as was a new approach to tackling unemployment. He also emphasised the Commission's support for greater coordination of taxation across the EU, while as far as international relations were concerned, he did not want relations with countries such as the United States to be threatened by issues such as the dispute over bananas.

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The debate


The debate

Opening the debate in the absence of Willi Görlach (D, PES), Manuel Medina Ortega (E, PES) emphasised the support on the part of the European Socialists for the action programme of the German Presidency. He drew attention to the modest level of the EU budget at just 1% of GDP which, he said, contributed considerably to creating an area of peace and stability on the Continent and it was important for member states to realise that for this small price all countries benefitted considerably from the whole of EU membership.

Budgetary contributions and Germany's attitude towards financial reform was also high on the mind of Hans-Gert Poettering (D, EPP) speaking for the EPP group. While he welcomed the commitment from the German Foreign Minister to reaching a balanced agreement on the Agenda 2000 financial reform package, he contrasted this with the emphasis placed in the German media on the need to reduce Germany's contributions. On this point, he emphasised the considerable trade advantages in the form of a DM 81bn surplus with the rest of the EU enjoyed by the Federal Republic in 1997 and urged that this be taken account of when budgetary issues were discussed. As far as unemployment was concerned, he warned against raising false hopes in trying to enable the EU to replace actions of national governments. The EU should not be a scapegoat for any failure here, he said.

Friedheim Frischenschlager (A, ELDR) too took up the theme of Germany's contributions to the budget, emphasising that belonging to the EU was more important as a whole than any individual state's national contributions. He offered a way out of the dilemma by urging the Presidency to reach agreement on reforms first of all and then look at the cost with a view to sharing the burden fairly at the end. Gerard Collins (Munster, UFE) too was anxious to see a balanced and even-handed approach to financial reforms, Agenda 2000 and in particular the CAP. Any "re-nationalisation" of the CAP could only fragment the policy and put too much of a burden on national governments. It was vital to ensure solidarity and support for farmers faced by the BSE crisis and the collapse of the Russian market for beef. His other point was to support the continuation of cohesion funding for the four states concerned, while on Ireland's situation, he commented that while considerable economic progress had been made, there was still a need for further investment in transport and the environment to bring the country up to EU standards.

Replying to the debate Mr Fischer underlined Germany's continued commitment to a strong European policy and emphasised that this had not been changed as a result of a change of government. Germany, he added, would remain a net contributor to the EU budget and it was in Germany's interest to push for a stronger European Union and closer European integration. It was in this context that the budgetary issue should be considered, yet, at the same time, he warned, there had to be a balanced approach and the question of the British rebate brought under consideration so that net contributors such as the Netherlands and Germany could agree to an amicable settlement. At the same time, he warned of the urgent need to reform EU institutions especially, in the light of the development of the euro. Failure to do this, he said, would result in legitimising the existing situation and in particular a democratic deficit which could not be sustained in the long term and would threaten the EU's stability. Furthermore, emphasising the importance of reaching agreement on Agenda 2000 reforms on 26 and 27 March, he said that failure here would have an adverse effect on the international markets and once again undermine the EU's credibility. Turning to the question of CAP reform, he emphasises that the proposals under consideration, namely an element of cofinancing involving contributions from the member states, should not be considered as "re- nationalisation". Policy decisions especially regarding the markets would continue to be taken in Brussels, the national contribution relating to the question of direct income support for farmers. His other concern was with the forthcoming WTO negotiations, where once again the question of farm subsidies would be of vital importance and he added, putting issues such as hormones in meat and bananas in the shade. Agreement here was vital.

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Situation in Kosovo


Situation in Kosovo

On behalf of the Council Mr Fischer also expressed his concerns about recent developments in Kosovo and the increase in military tension. He stressed that Germany wanted a solution to the problem and supported the current monitoring of the situation through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He reminded MEPs that NATO's objective had been to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and that this had been achieved - however great political problems remained. The majority of the population of Kosovo wanted total independence whereas the West wanted some form of regional autonomy. He called for a stabilisation strategy based on the implementation of the Holbrooke agreement with Kosovo having a legitimate civil authority and a regional parliament. Violence, he said, would not solve the province's problems which the West was trying to tackle through the Contact Group. In conclusion he declared that Kosovo's problems were also the EU's problems, and that it would be doing everything possible to make progress but, he warned, the task would not be easy.

Klaus Hänsch (D, PES) followed this by stating that Parliament was on Council's side in tackling this problem. Hadar Cars (S, ELDR) cautioned that there was a "bitter winter" in Kosovo and that the population was suffering because of ten years of Serbian repression of the Albanian 90% of the Kosovo population. He stressed the need to secure a cease-fire agreement as quickly as possible. Doris Pack (D, EPP) argued that it had been clear since last October that President Milosevic could not accept a political solution. She considered that the observer mission was a "joke" and wanted it to be withdrawn. She considered that the force in Macedonia was simply there to protect the observer mission and not the local population. A different line was taken by Johannes Swoboda (A, PES) who argued that the OSCE should be strengthened and not withdrawn. He believed that a peaceful solution to the conflict had to be sought, however long it took.

Replying to the debate, Mr Fischer expressed concern about the escalation of events in Kosovo which he compared to pre first world war conflicts where a violation of human rights and a failure to settle disputes, could escalate, resulting in destruction of property, lack of respect for decent values, refugees, and eventually full-scale war. And he continued, the EU is not yet in a strong enough position on the foreign policy front to resolve such problems, while at the same time he underlined the need for as much emphasis as possible to be placed on conflict prevention with a view to preventing such crisis escalating. He could not however go along with Mrs Pack's criticisms of the observers' mission.

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Openness in the EU


Openness in the EU
(A4-0476/98 - Lööw)

Tuesday 12 January - In presenting her report Maj-Lis Lööw (S, PES) welcomed the Amsterdam Treaty provisions that guarantee a public right of access to EU documents and state that EU decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizen. She wanted a new code of public access to apply to EU documents that should apply to all EU institutions and bodies and that restrictions on access should be as limited as possible. She went on to call for greater access to Council and Commission meetings, fuller use of the Internet, and more open administrative cultures. In these ways, she argued, the EU would be brought closer to its citizens.

Thre was broad support for Mrs Lööw from other speakers in the debate, a number of whom referred to the problems of fraud and cover up that had been caused by what they saw as a lack of openess in the Commission's approach to administration. Criticism of Council's lack of transparency were also voiced by such speakers as Nikitas Kaklamanis (Gr, UFE) who noted that its level of secrecy could be compared to the Chinese Communist Party.

Commissioner Oreja welcomed the report and promised to pay great attention to it. He agreed that secrecy did not help to create a healthy atmosphere between the institutions. He argued that access to documents should allow better transparency in the Commission's procedures. He also noted that many Commission documents were available on the Internet

MEPs' support for the call for openness was subsequently made apparent in the vote on Mrs Lööw's report in which 488 voted in favour with 2 against and 4 abstentions. The amendments were all defeated.

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Common standards for speedometers



Common standards for speedometers
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0491/98 - Barton)

Tuesday 12 January - The Commission's proposal to harmonise technical standards for speedometers for motorbikes and three-wheelers was approved unamended without debate.

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Linking the euro to the African franc


Linking the euro to the African franc
(A4-0484/98 - Herman)

Tuesday 12 January - Mr Herman's report approving proposals to peg the value of the West African CFA Franc to the euro via the French franc was approved.

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The new Commission - MEPs want President appointed after elections


The new Commission - MEPs want President appointed after elections
(A4-0488/98 - Brok)

Tuesday 12 January - Elmar Brok (D, EPP) called for each European political movements during the forthcoming election campaign to propose the candidate whom they would like to see appointed as Commission President. He also argued that member state governments should take account of these preferences and the election results when they came to nominate candidates for the Presidency. He also argued that a number of members of the Commission should be chosen from among sitting MEPs, and that the procedures for Parliament to approve Commissioners should be reformed.

Richard Corbett (Merseyside West, PES) welcomed the report as an important step forward in the democratisation of the EU. He argued that Commissioners were not civil servants but were directly responsible for their actions and should be democratically accountable. He put forward the proposal that, instead of Parliament electing the Commission President on the proposal of member state governments, it should simply elect the President itself with the political parties coming forward with candidates for the post. At present, he reminded MEPs, voters in national elections elected a government, whereas in the European elections they were only voting for a non-executive Parliament. Despite this, Mr Corbett accepted that there were disadvantages with such a proposal, as the majority in Parliament that had voted in the Commission President, might then subsequently feel bound to support their successful candidate, in the same way that members of majority parties in national parliaments felt bound to support the majority party executive.

Commissioner Marcelino Oreja reminded the House that the Maastricht Treaty had given legal force to the relationship of trust and confidence that needed to exist between Parliament and Commission, and had helped to improve the legitimacy of the Commission. He broadly welcomed the proposal from Mr Brok that political groups should propose the Commission President.

In endorsing Elmar Brok's (D, EPP) resolution setting out a number of ways to increase Parliament's influence over the appointment of new European Commissioners, MEPs adopted an amendment which seeks to ensure that the European Council appoints the new President after the European elections to be held on 10-13 June. Among the ideas put forward for consideration is the notion that pan-European political parties would put foward candidates for the Presidency of the Commission as a means of increasing the profile of European elections. The resolution also supports the idea that some Commissioners should be appointed from sitting MEPs and supports the idea that Parliament should organise hearings with individual Commissioners, similar to what happened in 1995.

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Culture capitals - No to Council's common position


Culture capitals - No to Council's common position
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0509/98 - Monfils)

Tuesday 12 January - Philippe Monfils (B, ELDR) called on the House to reject Council's common position on the means of appointing the European capitals of culture after 2005. He argued that the proposals would mean that the choice was not based on any assessment of the cultural quality of the candidates, but simply on what member states wanted in their political turn. This, he said, was a "grotesque" approach. There would be no real opportunity for new member states to designate a city, and Parliament would not have a proper role in the procedure. Council's proposal, he declared, could not be justified, and he believed that the matter should go to conciliation. Mr Monfils stressed that a decision to reject the common position would not affect the cities that had already been chosen for the 2001 to 2005 period. In addition he wanted .2m to go to each of the cities designated from 2001 to 2004.

There was broad support from subsequent speakers for Mr Monfils's position. Philippe De Coene (B, PES) condemned the "ludicrous situation" that was being proposed, whereby cities would be appointed on the basis of "Buggins's turn" with no guarantees of quality and with other countries having more appropriate candidates as cities of culture. Peter Pex (Nl, EPP) also agreed with the proposal to reject the common position, while also agreeing with the proposed cities for the 2001- 2005 cities. He believed that there should be a doubling of the budget as this was the logical consequence of having two cities in each year.

Commissioner Marcelino Oreja had much sympathy for the views expressed in the debate and believed that the co-decision process should operate in this area. He believed that the rotating system had got rid of the jury of leading independent figures in the process. He considered that Council and Parliament needed to adopt a constructive dialogue to guarantee the future of the European city of culture and to reach a formula that would take the sting out of the current position.

MEPs voted for "a declaration of intent" to reject the common position relating to the European Capital of Culture. They could not go along with a procedure chosen by Council for selecting European cultural capitals on a rota system for each member state over the 2005-2019 period. The vote did not affect existing choices up to 2004.

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Enlargement and competition policy


Enlargement and competition policy
Consultation procedure
(A4-0437/98 - Elchlepp / A4-0443/98 - Seppänen / A4-0472/98 - Van Dam / A4-0419/98 - Schwaiger)

Tuesday 12 January - Opening the debate on the first of a series of proposals relating to the application of competition policy to candidate member states, ie. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and in the case of Romania, a free trade agreement, Dietrich Elchlepp (D, PES) praised the efforts made in recent years by Lithuania to adapt national rules to EU demands. It was however important for the EU not to insist on too rigorous an application of rules relating to competition policy and state aids at this point in time, in view of the fundamental changes that needed to take place. Furthermore, Lithuania was not in the first wave of applicant states but in view of the great strides being made, Mr Elchlepp urged the German Presidency to look at Lithuania's application as closely as possible with a view to speeding up the negotiating process.

As far as Latvia was concerned, Esko Seppänen (Fin, EUL/NGL) emphasised that national competition law had now been developed to more or less conform with EU demands and felt that there was no justification as to why Latvia's application should be considered after that of Estonia. There was however still a need to deal with the question of subsidies related to exports, and one problem not only applicable to Latvia was that to be competitive, the country, like other applicant states, needed to pay extremely low wage rates which would be considered "social dumping" if the country was now a member. In addition, if EU rules on allowing free movement came into force quickly then there was a danger that these applicant states would lose high quality staff.

Reporting on the application of Estonia, which is in the first wave and is in the process of establishing a free trade area with the EU, Rijk van Dam (Nl, I-EN) too warned about the need to avoid social dumping. He also emphasised efforts being made to take account of the needs of the Russian minority in the country.

On Romania, Konrad Schwaiger (D, EPP) pointed out that the country is now benefitting from aid under the Phare programme and in particular assistance with training in the workings of competition policy rules. There was still a need to open up the economy and speed up privatisation, but at the same time it was important to take account of Romania's strategic position, particularly with regard to transport links which would enable oil to flow to the EU from the Caspian Sea. Its mineral wealth was another important factor. Robert Evans (London North West, PES) too praised progress in Romania since the fall of the Ceaucescu regime, although he recognised that there was still some way to go especially with regards to reforming the police and developing a political consciousness. At heart, the country remained European by culture, language and literature.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Van Miert underlined the point that the aim of the various agreements was to ensure a fair application of the internal market in the countries concerned. This did not mean adopting chapter and verse of EU competition rules, but rather ensuring that national policies were broadly in line with a European approach, and indeed he pointed out that countries such as the Netherlands and the UK were still actively looking at ways of integrating national competition rules with EU practice. There was however a need to curb state aids and major industries, such as steel, faced restructuring, a process which would take time and money. On balance therefore, he could go along with Parliament's approach that satisfactory progress was being made but that it would take some years before the countries concerned were brought up to scratch. In particular, he was looking for more transparency.

The proposed agreements covering competition policy and trade with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Romania were approved.

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Yes to Framework Agreement with South Korea


Yes to Framework Agreement with South Korea
Consultation procedure
(A4-0445/98 - Porto)

Tuesday 12 January - Manuel Porto (P, EPP), in recommending that MEPs approve the Framework Agreement for Trade and Cooperation between the EU and South Korea, outlined the recent achievements of the Seoul government, including reforms on market access, good governance, fair competition and human and labour rights. He did however recognise that there were still causes of friction between the two parties, such as intellectual property and the shipbuilding industry. He welcomed the fact that a human rights clause ensured that the Korean internal situation could be closely monitored.

Bernie Malone (Dublin, PES) in welcoming Mr Porto's report noted that South Korea had not complied with the OECD's labour laws and that there were also human rights problems. She had pursued these issues and did feel that these problems were being tackled, but wanted the Commission to take these points forward. Alex Smith (South of Scotland, PES) also raised the issue of labour and human rights and called for vigilance and an effective monitoring system which would draw on reports from such bodies as Amnesty International.

Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan commended the agreement to the House, arguing that it was vital for the EU to strengthen ties with emerging countries and that South Korea was a key partner. The proposed agreement, he said, addressed both economic issues and human rights, while setting up the necessary institutional machinery. He believed that the agreement provided a proper framework for relations with South Korea and that Seoul needed the EU's encouragement in bringing in political developments. On labour rights he promised that the EU would be examining all the material that was available, but considered that a number of positive steps had already been taken, including a tripartite dialogue and an agreement to ensure rights for teachers. He argued that the South Korean President Kim was deeply committed to economic reform and support for human rights in the face of some internal opposition. Sir Leon considered that there was a strong case for going ahead with the proposed shipbuilding agreement with the Korean government without ensuring the support of Washington, as the USA enjoyed only a small part of the market in this area.

The trade agreement was approved.

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Fair trade and labour standards


Fair trade and labour standards
(A4-0423/98 - Sainjon)

Tuesday 12 January - Reporting on the trading system and internationally recognised labour standards, André Sainjon (F, ERA) called on member states to take the lead in promoting international labour standards as an integral aspect of world trade. Efforts should be concentrated on securing support for the respect of conventions such as those restricting the use of forced and child labour and guaranteeing the right to join trade unions. His draft resolution specifically called on the UK and Austria to ratify the conventions outlawing child labour. "In the UK", he claimed, "two million children work and half a million of them are under fifteen years old". Mr Sainjon's general conclusion: children should play and not work and the EU had a moral duty to make this come true.

Commissioner Manuel Marin welcomed the report and shared Mr Sainjon's concerns. He added that changing the situation in third countries was not always easy. Recent negotiations with Pakistan on the issue had proved to be very tough. Many countries were reluctant to consider trade and social affairs on the same level. They felt the EU was "interfering their internal affairs". Nevertheless, the outlook was optimistic.

Mr Sainjon's resolution calling on member states to promote international labour standards was approved with a number of amendments so that the paragraph relating to the UK now "recognises the fact that the United Kingdom has now accepted the Social Charter including recommendations for the protection of young people at work".

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Consumer rights and digital data


Consumer rights and digital data
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0507/98 - Ullmann)

Tuesday 12 January - Wolfgang Ullmann (D, Greens) reported on the Commission proposals to create a common legal framework for electronic authentication services and the use of electronic signatures within the EU. The key concept of legal recognition of electronic signatures is a prime importance. Commissioner Martin Bangemann informed the House that Council was, at present, far from unanimous. Nevertheless he hoped that a common position could be reached at the next Telecom Council.

MEPs approved the Commission proposal to provide legal guarantees for digital arrangements in agreeing contracts, known as "electronic signatures" with a number of technical amendments designed to strengthen the text.

Combatting air pollution

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Combatting air pollution


Cooperation procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0483/98 - Pollack)

Tuesday 12 January - Anita Pollack (London South West, PES) welcomed the Council's common position on a Directive establishing limit values for four air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in all towns with over 100.000 inhabitants. She had, however, tabled 11 amendments which were designed to improve the flow of information to the public or to reinstate some of the original specifications which had been weakend by Council. Towns which exceeded the limits when the Directive came into force - later in 1999 - would have to draw up an action plan to come within the limits by the year 2005. Information on air pollution would have to be published daily and alerts issued if levels of air pollution reached a dangerous level. Mrs Pollack stressed that air pollution kills. This directive would ensure that towns and cities in Europe will take measures to improve the health and quality of live of all their citizens.

MEPs approved Council's common position together with a number of amendments. The amendments relate to the wording of the text, the provision of information to the public and the "alert threshold" at which warnings should be issued.

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Trans-European Network - private investment sought


Trans-European Network - private investment sought
(A4-0372/98 - Danesin)

Tuesday 12 January - Reporting on public-private partnerships in trans-European networks, Joaquin Sisó Cruellas (E, EPP), replacing Alessandro Danesin (I, EPP) pointed out unless private investment was made available the EU will fail to make significant progress in the realisation of these networks. The level of EU funding falls short of requirements. Private public partnerships (PPPs) should be used as a key instrument, but their success required a clear and suitable division of project risks between the two sectors. Mr Sisó Cruellas called on the member states to devote at least 1,5% of their budget resources to the TENs. Commissioner Neil Kinnock said that the Commission had already proposed to increase the budget for transport TENs to 5 BECU for 2000-2006. The Commission had already presented a general Communication on Public Procurement, which would be followed before Easter by another dealing with the application of procurement legislation to concessions.

Mr Danesin's resolution supporting the involvement of the private sector in the TENs programmes with high priority given to environmental protection was approved.

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Charging for use of ports


Charging for use of ports
(A4-0375/98 - Jarzembowski)

Tuesday 12 January - Georg Jarzembowski (D, EPP) welcomed the Commission's Green Paper on sea ports and infrastructure. He called for a detailed study on the structure and management of larger ports in order to achieve a uniform way of charging for port and maritime infrastructure. The EU should gradually develop and implement an effective sea port policy. Commissioner Neil Kinnock emphasized that the Commission did not intend to harmonize port tariffs. He disagreed with Mr Jarzembowski that there was no need to consider EU legislation on the matter of port services. The increasing number of complaints the Commission had received from port users - especially about the provision of technical-nautical services - demonstrated that there was a real problem that needed an effective response. He assured the House that any proposal for legislation would address only general, broad criteria for access to the market and training requirements. It would of course respect important safety considerations and local circumstances.

Mr Jarzembowski's resolution was subsequently approved.

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Satellite navigation systems


Satellite navigation systems
(A4-0413/98 - Langenhagen)

Tuesday 12 January - Brigitte Langenhagen (D, EPP) reported on the Commission's communication on a European strategy for global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). She welcomed the fact that member states were called on to agree by early 1999 on such a strategy. Member states should convene a European Space Council at Head of State or Government level to make clear decisions on the strategic, technical and budgetary guidelines. The Commission should take all necessary measures to promote international cooperation. Commissioner Neil Kinnock said that the Union's approach to the development of the GNSS was vitally important. Europe could decide to have no system at all. That might be the cheapest option, but only to the short-sighted. Such passivity would be immensely costly in the long-term and could leave the EU dependent on a system over which it had no control or even influence. Public money would be necessary if we were to go ahead with the system. The current Agenda 2000 discussion of the TENs Financial Regulation would therefore be crucial in determining the extent to which the public sector contribution to GNSS could come from the Community budget.

Mrs Langenhagen's resolution welcoming the Commission's action plan to adopt a satellite navigation system which would bring about particular benefits for the transport, agriculture and oil and gas exploration sectors was approved.

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Agenda 2000 - financing of the CAP


Agenda 2000 - financing of the CAP
Consultation procedure
(A4-0444/98 - Mulder, A4-0494/98 - Garot, A4-0446/98 - Goepel, A4-0496/98 - Fantuzzi,
A4-0480/98 - Graefe zu Baringdorf)

Wednesday 13 January - Opening the debate on Commission proposals to reform the CAP in the light of Agenda 2000, Jan Mulder (Nl, ELDR) had a generally positive view of Commission proposals to bring in new regulations on the financing of the CAP. These proposals would integrate new policy areas into the Guarantee section of the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF). It is also proposed to consolidate different rules and procedures for financing and controlling the CAP. Mr Mulder considered that the EAGGF providing guaranteed prices, should remain as a fundamental part of agricultural policy, and he supported proposals to include rural development measures, veterinary measures and information measures within the Guarantee section of the CAP. However he could not accept the inclusion of measures in the fisheries sector under the Guarantee section. Mr Mulder also stressed that there should be proper monitoring of funds and wanted the Commission to provide a three monthly report on their use. On co-financing proposals, he was "cautiously" in favour, providing that there was a level playing field for producers and no renationalisation of the CAP, but he noted that the Agriculture Committee was split evenly on the issue.

Georges Garot (F, PES) was unable to accept proposals to reform the beef and veal sector which would lower the intervention price up to 2002 and then replace it with a basic price. This, he said was "applying the rules of the market place in their most extreme form" and he considered that the Commission was placing too much hope in exports to the world market. He - in contrast - considered that the world market was unstable and pointed to the recent crises in Russia and Asia. There were also a number of competitors such as Argentina, and he wanted more reliance to be placed on the European market. Mr Garot also called for a lower reduction in the price of beef and veal (15% instead of 30%). He also proposed a series of measures that would maintain beef production in Europe at a high level, whilst taking into account consumer demands for quality and safeguarding the environment.

Lutz Goepel (D, EPP), reporting on proposals to reform the milk market, was concerned that they could lead to permanent drop in farmers' incomes and he therefore called for more flexibility on price and guarantees that farmers' incomes would not permanently drop. He was also unhappy about proposals for the reform of the price compensation payments for dairy farmers, as he believed they might provide inadequate payments to farmers and were too complicated. Mr Goepel also wanted the Commission to pay attention to the post-2006 situation so that farmers might have some certainty in making their long term plans.

Giulio Fantuzzi (I, PES) recommended that MEPs accept the Commission's proposed rationalisation of the cereals market, while proposing a series of amendments that would keep the intervention price at its current level of .119.19 per tonne instead of the Commission's figure of .95.35, and he wanted the current system of monthly increments to be maintained. On the issue of Commission proposals to reform the arable sector, Mr Fantuzzi noted that there had been disagreement in the Agriculture Committee and the draft resolution being tabled recommended rejecting the Commission proposals. He stressed the urgent need to bring in fundamental reforms by 2006 and warned that the EU could not turn in on itself. The Commission's proposals in this area, he said, were already "timid" and he argued that "automatic solidarity for the CAP was unacceptable".

Friederich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baeringdorf (D, Greens) also noted that there had been substantial disagreement in the Agricultural Committee on the issue of direct support schemes for farmers. The proposals involve reducing aid on the basis of a degressive sliding scale which takes into account the numbers employed and also environmental requirements. Mr Graefe zu Baeringdorf personally had hoped to place a ceiling on direct payments and make payment of subsidies dependent on compliance, however he was overruled by the committee.

Speaking for first time for the Council, President-in-Office Karl-Heinz Funke recognised that there was still a great variety of opinion on central issues, but noted that there was general agreement on the essential nature of Agenda 2000. He would be conducting negotiations on the basis of the Commission's proposals in order to safeguard the interests of European agriculture and promote sustainable development in rural areas. He stressed the importance of high standards of environmental and consumer protection and safeguarding these standards in international trade agreements. He wanted direct payments to be linked to ecological objectives, as well as support for animal welfare. He outlined a series of proposals to safeguard food quality, including the prohibition of antibiotic growth promoters, promoting organic farming, and including livestock products in regulations on organic farming. He also outlined a series of measures to promote animal welfare, including ensuring the humane treatment of battery hens and more precise requirements for animal transport ships. Council would also be pushing to tighten up legislation on animal diseases, he said.

On the fisheries sector Mr Funke pointed to the need to adopt the proposal on structural policy by June 1999 with the target being a sustainable and well-balanced management of fish stocks. Here too he stressed the environmental aspects and the need to conserve fish stocks, with a possibility of introducing a temporary ban on fishing grounds to protect juvenile stocks

Speaking for the Commission Franz Fischler stressed that reform of the CAP was inevitable and that there were dangers of further surpluses. European agriculture, he said, must be fit for the challenges of the next century. According to independent experts, he said, the transition from price support would eventually bring about substantial savings in the agricultural budget and a reduction in consumer prices. He broadly welcomed Mr Mulder's report, although he had doubts about the proposal to put unused funds in a special reserve for next year as this was contrary to the budgetary rules of annual expenditure. On Mr Garot's call for a less severe reduction in the beef prices, Mr Fischler maintained that a 30% reduction was essential.

Mr Fischler maintained the overall aim in the Commission's proposals was to introduce an element of subsidiarity or flexibility to be based on different national conditions but he acknowledged that this approach was meeting some resistance both in the European Parliament and from other sources. He could not however, accept any amendments which interfered with the Commission's balanced approach.

As far as the dairy sector was concerned, he noted that any proposal to increase quotas would only add another extra financial burden to the CAP, as he put it, every one percentage increase would result in the cost of an extra .1bn. He did acknowledge, however, that there would have to be some increase in the context of further market reforms. He also emphasised that any cut in EU institutional fixed prices would not be passed on to the consumer, so he could not agree to changes here. The Commission's approach, he said, was based on balancing and simplifying existing regulations. He did not want to take on board any amendments not specifically related to the issues under discussion.

As to cereals, where the Agricultural Committee is recommending the continuation of the current intervention price, in opposition to the Commission's proposal for a drastic reduction, Mr Fischler said that any reduction in price, of less than 20% would have no impact whatsoever on the market and would only lead to further EU subsidies for exports. That was why he could not go along with the Committee's proposal. As far as set aside was concerned he advocated a flexible approach according to the market situation. It was however necessary to bear in mind the need to conform to WTO rules. In conclusion, the Commissioner reminded MEPs that more than half the farmers in the EU were over the age of 55 and that policy changes had to take this factor in account when planning for the future. The Commission was however committed to rural development.

Speaking on behalf of the Party of European Socialists, Klaus Rehder (D, PES) emphasised the social dimensions of farming and the need to take account of this in European policy. Nevertheless, it had to be borne in mind that there was much hostility to the cost of the CAP amongst the public at large and he could not accept that the CAP swallowed up more than one third of the EU budget with 80% of this going to the richest 20% of the farming community. This, he said, was a scandal that needed to be tackled and he singled out "rural millionaires" or owners of large holdings who were able to clean-up from the money available. The challenge was to create new jobs in the rural economy and enable small farms to survive.

For the European People's Party Alan Gillis (Leinster, EPP) reminded MEPs that many farmers were still suffering from the BSE crisis with the result that pig and poultry consumption of 23m tonnes per annum was three times higher than that for beef. And he emphasised that this was not because of price. Furthermore, the collapse of the Russian market put increased pressures on the beef markets, as other third countries aware of surpluses, put pressure on prices. In addition, there was increasing pressure on Europe's farmers from the US and the WTO. He could not go along with the Commission's proposals to reform the beef sector and urged the retention of existing subsidies and intervention to stabilise the market. His other point was that while prices to farmers were dropping to rock bottom, this was not reflected in the supermarkets, and he called for a Commission study into just who was profiting from this.

For the Liberals, Jan Mulder (Nl, ELDR) endorsed the Group's support of the Commission's co- financing proposals and supporting the idea of a fair deal across the board with no discrimination in favour of particular products.

Salvador Jové Peres (E, EUL/NGL) was rather anxious to emphasise the need for a fully-fledged rural development programme and here he felt the Commission's proposals did not go far enough, while for the Greens, Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf (D, Greens) saw the Commission's approach as a step in the right direction. Farmers intending to compete on the world market should concentrate on quality and should not be given subsidies for exports, he said.

For the ERA Group, Christine Barthet-Mayer (F, ERA) noted that farm incomes were down for the second year running and that there was a need for a complete overhaul for the CAP to enable it to survive over the next ten years. She acknowledged however, there were differing national approaches and that it was proving difficult to agree on co-financing. She supported selective aid to
areas in need, such as hill farming, with a view to encouraging high quality production.

Jim Nicholson (Northern Ireland, I-EN) emphasised the need to strike a balance between the needs of the farmer and the consumer, although it was important to realise that farming was facing a difficult time at present. The beef sector had been particularly badly hit and he could not go along with the system of national aids which he felt would produce discrimination and mean that farmers would be treated differently across the EU. And, he continued, there was a clear need to revise the system for milk quotas as under present regulations it was possible to make more money from leasing quotas rather than actually using the quota or milking cows. His other recommendation was to ban imports of poor quality farm products to ensure there would be no discrimination against EU farmers.

Liam Hyland (Leinster, UFE) was worried about, what he felt, was the threat to the family farm or a hidden agenda which was aimed at wiping this basic structure out in the Europe of the new millenium.

Ian Hudghton (North East Scotland, ERA) stressed that Agenda 2000 represented a major challenge as it was necessary to provide a proper support system for the food producing industry while also achieving good value for consumers. His constituency, he said, was often known as the "larder of Scotland" with high quality food production. Scottish agriculture was worth £2bn and a tenth of Scottish jobs were directly or indirectly dependent on it.

David Thomas (Suffolk and Norfolk South West, PES) regretted the fact that Parliament had not reached a clear opinion on the need to reform the CAP and that MEPs appeared to be looking at the issue from the viewpoint of their own national interests and that they were not taking the global view. He stressed that there was a need to reduce support prices, and argued that there was a need to accept the basic thrust of the Commission proposals - however the ultimate effect remains to be seen.

Replying to the debate, Agriculture Commissioner Fischler underlined the need for a clear model to apply to new arrangements, without introducing extra compensatory payments. While he took on board the need to make a provision for funds designed to take into account environmental factors, he emphasised that this should be in the context of an overall rural development policy, where co- financing with the member states would be necessary to carry out changes.

The vote will take place in the Brussels mini-session on 28 January.

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Fisheries conservation


Fisheries conservation
(COM(98)0570 - C4-0624/98)

Wednesday 13 January - MEPs approved a technical proposal relating to a 1998 regulation concerning fisheries conservation.

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Aid for olive oil production


Aid for Olive oil production
(COM(98)0631 - C4-0681/98)

Wednesday 13 January - MEPs approved a .36m programme to monitor aid for the olive oil sector.

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Monitoring the CAP through aerial surveillance


Monitoring the CAP through aerial surveillance
(COM(98)0601 - C4-0708/98)

Wednesday 13 January - MEPs approved a .12.5m programme to introduce aerial surveillance through remote sensing for the purpose of monitoring crops and producing agricultural statistics.

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Promoting organic production


Promoting organic production
(B4-0719-0720/98 - Barthet-Mayer)

Wednesday 13 January - Christine Barthet-Mayer (F, ERA) asked the Commission what approach it would adopt, should Council persist with its idea of including in its proposal for amendment of the regulation on organic farming a number of derogations which, she said, could completely alter the objectives and principles of the Commission proposal and the spirit of Parliament's proposals on this subject.

Replying for Council, Karl-Heinz Funke stressed that it was not clear what the final text of the proposal would be. However Council considered that there was a need for rigorous and clear delineation between conventional and organic methods of farming. This needed to be balanced and flexible. He stressed that those wanting to convert to organic methods should be afforded the opportunity to do so.

For the Commission Franz Fischler noted that there were still a number of unresolved problems within Council over the Commission proposal, particularly the fact that some of the elements of the proposal could not easily be implemented in all parts of the EU, and there had been much discussion on transitional derogations. He argued that harmonisation could only take place on a step by step basis with respect for regional and national traditions. He pointed to the example of smallholdings in villages in which animals were tethered. This was a traditional method of securing animals, he said, but there were questions over whether this allowed sufficient room for them to roam.

Many speakers in the debate gave their support for organic farming. Veronica Hardstaff (Lincolnshire and Humberside South, PES) noted that only 1% of UK farm produce was organic, but that the demand for it had increased and supermarkets could not keep pace. Consumers who were paying more for organic products needed to know that they were getting the genuine article.

Parliament adopted a resolution which calls on Council and the Commission to support organic farming through, for example, introducing a logo for organic products. There is also a call for measures to promote organic farming.

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More clarity on rules for state aid


More clarity on rules for state aid
Consultation procedure
(A4-0418/98 - Areitio Toledo)

Wednesday 13 January - Javier Areitio Toledo (E, EPP) welcomed a Commission proposal seeking to clarify and codify current procedures in the field of state aid. He tabled a series of amendments that sought to widen the concept of "existing aid" as certain forms of aid granted some time ago might still have a detrimental impact on the single market. Other amendments sought to ensure that Parliament and member states were informed when one member state granted new aid. This would allow them to react to any aid that they considered to be illegal. Mr Areitio Toledo also called for the roles of member states and the Commission to be clarified.

Commissioner Karel Van Miert admitted that state aid in the various member states still caused serious problems, but that the EU was moving in the right direction. State aid which had proved to be illegal, was not always easy to pay back. In Germany, for example, such events could lead to court procedures, which took years and years. He announced that in future the Commission would no longer accept the so-called corporation tax in Ireland, which caused distortion of competition. Finally, he expressed his concern that the Commission services dealing with state aid were seriously understaffed.

MEPs approved the proposal with a number of amendments. The amendments are designed to improve transparency by ensuring that any new forms of aid authorised are given publicity, and they also aim to improve procedures enabling member states to recover aid granted unlawfully.

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VAT deductions


VAT deductions
Consultation procedure
(A4-0490/98 - Garosci)

Wednesday 13 January - Riccardo Garosci (I, EPP) supported two Commission proposals to the right to deduct VAT. The first proposal aimed at repealing the current system under which traders have to go through an exceedingly complex and costly procedure to ask for a refund from the tax authorities in the member state in which the VAT was paid. This would be replaced with a simpler system under which companies could use their regular VAT return to deduct VAT paid incurred in another member state. The second proposal would set up a system for debt compensation/refunds between member states. Mr Garosci tabled amendments covering the limits for deducting VAT on food, drink and hotel accommodation.

Commissioner Mario Monti said that improving the EU VAT system was a priority for the Commission. The two proposals were a good step in that direction. He could accept none of the 12 amendments but announced that the Commission would come forward with proposals with a view to amend the 6th VAT Directive by February 1999.

MEPs approved the proposals with a number of amendments, including that relating to hotel and accommodation expenses.

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Support for an "Internet Charter"


Support for an "Internet Charter"
(A4-0366/98 - Malerba)

Wednesday 13 January - Franco Malerba (I, EPP) expressed strong support for the Commission's proposals to strenghten international coordination in order to meet the challenges of globalisation and the Information Society. He welcomed the idea of establishing an "Internet Charter", a legally non-binding document setting out internationally agreed objectives and principles in areas such as taxation, liability, jurisdiction and data-protection. In drawing up the Charter, he stressed the need for close cooperation with other countries, notably the USA.

Commissioner Martin Bangemann was pleased that EP and Commission took the same view. The proposals were only one part of the information society. He disagreed with the EP's Committee on Culture, which had expressed its concern that the "smaller" languages and the SMEs would be threatened by present development. The contrary would be the case: the Internet was an enormous challenge for smaller languages to introduce themselves.

Mr Malerba's resolution emphasising Parliament's support for an "Internet Charter" to regulate the use of the Internet based on confirming freedom of use, albeit in respect for competition law and the "public interest", was approved.

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Spotlight on advertising



Spotlight on advertising
(A4-0503/98 - Larive)

Wednesday 13 January - Jessica Larive (Nl, ELDR) welcomed Commission proposals in areas of commercial communications such as advertising and sales promotion. At present, such activities were subject to a plethora of different national rules which could impede the proper functioning of the single market. She stressed that cross-border commercial communications needed to be based on the principle of mutual recognition and that any restrictions must be proportionate and non- discriminatory. Mrs Larive was, however, concerned about the implementation of Article 169 of the Treaty regarding infringements. Commissioner Mario Monti accepted all Mrs Larive's suggestions, including those on Article 169.

Mrs Larive's resolution was approved.

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The future of postal services - support for universal service


The future of postal services - support for universal service
(B4-0025/99, B4-0032/99, B4-0035/99, B4-0038/99, B4-0039/99, B4-0040/99, B4-0042/99)

Wednesday 13 January - Answering oral questions posed by several MEPs on the future of the postal services in the EU, Commissioner Martin Bangemann informed the House that the Commission was still preparing its position. It was too early to give an opinion, but he added that liberalisation had worked out well in member states like the Netherlands and Sweden. He also agreed that universal services should be guaranteed. The Commissioner warned that technological developments would have serious consequences for the postal services in the EU, liberalised or not. Parliament should not close its eyes for these developments.

Brian Simpson (Cheshire East, PES) was one of a number of MEPs who expressed their concern on the present situation. The Commission was called on to ensure that evaluations on the liberalisation of postal services must not be based only on the Commission's feasibility studies, but must include consultation with the universal service providers in the member states.

With a 1997 directive governing liberalisation of the postal services still to be implemented in a number of member states, MEPs adopted a resolution expressing Parliament's support for the provision of a universal service. MEPs want the evaluation of the impact of liberalisation to be based on wide consultation, not just Commission feasibility studies, and to take account of the long term economic effects.

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Independent committee to tackle fraud


Independent committee to tackle fraud

Thursday 14 January - MEPs voted 319 to 157 with 54 abstentions in favour of a resolution tabled by the PES, GUE/NGL and ERA groups which calls for the setting up of an independent enquiry committee of outside experts to investigate fraud in the European Commission. This committee should report by no later than 15 March 1999.

A separate motion tabled by the EPP, Greens, and Liberal groups, criticising the Commission for financial mis-management, failed to secure the sufficient number of votes and the censure motion tabled by Mr Hervé Fabre-Aubrespy (F, I-EN) secured the support of 232 MEPs with 293 voting against and 27 abstaining.

After the vote on the resolution, Commission President Jacques Santer promised to assist the independent Enquiry Committee in every way possible, including opening up individual files of every case of alleged fraud. Parliament, he said, had sent a clear message to the Commission and fulfilled its role in monitoring the EU financial expenditure. He acknowledged the need for the Commission to change its working methods and procedures for dealing with fraud.

The resolution adopted calls on the Commission to allow full access to alleged cases of fraud and expects the Commission to react swiftly to any findings. All press allegations should be investigated and there is a call for the Commission to submit to Parliament a set of detailed proposals together with a precise timetable regarding the establishment of a new independent anti-fraud agency. In addition, MEPs want the "Declaration of Interests" of all European Commissioners to be published and updated annually and codes of conduct governing relationships between Commissioners and their staff forwarded to Parliament. The staff regulations should also be reformed to enable disciplinary action where cases of fraud are discovered to be taken swiftly.

After the vote on the resolution, PES group leader, Pauline Green (London North, PES) said this had reaffirmed Parliament's authority as it had resulted in "the most extensive reforms ever of the internal workings of the Commission". This, she said, had been brought about as a result of the threat of censure and the motion tabled by the PES group. The Commission President had shown his responsibility in undertaking to abide by Parliament's wishes, and this being the case she withdrew the censure motion tabled by the PES group.

Wilfried Martens (B, EPP) the EPP group leader too expressed his satisfaction at the outcome of the vote and the subsequent commitments of the European Commission to tackle fraud. Liberal group leader Pat Cox (Munster, ELDR) on the other hand, underlined his group's support for censure as he felt that the Commission was "politically dead in the water". It had used the "shield of collegiality" to rebuff attempts to single out individual Commissioners to blame. Jean-Claude Pasty (F, UFE) said the French members of the UFE group supported censure, although the Irish and Portuguese members did not want to go that far. This did not mean that they were in favour of granting the Commission a blank cheque. While EUL/NGL group leader Alonso Puerta (E, EUL/NGL) felt democracy was the winner in this situation, some members of his group were in favour of the censure vote. As indeed were Green members, said Magda Aelvoet (B, Greens), who felt the outcome had been to hand over Parliament's responsibilities to a committee of wise men. Catherine Lalumière (F, ERA) did think a good resolution had been adopted and that the censure vote was too excessive. Whereas Jens-Peter Bonde (DK, I-EN) was another speaker to favour censure, not because he wanted to pass judgement on the guilt or otherwise of Commissioners, but because the Commission had not lived up to its responsibilities, especially by suspending the staff member who had informed Parliament of certain irregularities rather than dealing with the people responsible.

British members voting for the censure motion were from the Liberals James Moorhouse (London South and Surrey East), Robin Teverson (Cornwall and West Plymouth) and Graham Watson (Somerset and North Devon), then Jim Nicholson (Northern Ireland, I-EN), Hugh Kerr (Essex West and Hertfordshire East, Greens) and Conservatives, Bryan Cassidy (Dorset and East Devon, EPP)
Giles Chichester (Devon and East Plymouth, EPP), John Corrie (Worcestershire and South Warwickshire, EPP), James Elles (Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire East, EPP), Caroline Jackson Wiltshire North and Bath, EPP), Edward McMillan-Scott (North Yorkshire, EPP), Roy Perry (Wight and Hampshire South, EPP), James Provan (South Downs West, EPP), John Stevens (Thames Valley, EPP), Sir Jack Stewart-Clark (Sussex East and Kent South, EPP), Robert Sturdy (Cambridgeshire, EPP).

Three British Socialists, Alexander Falconer (Mid Scotland and Fife), Alf Lomas (London North East), and Alex Smith (South of Scotland), also voted in favour of censure, along with numerous German PES members.

Liberal group leader Pat Cox voted in favour of censure along with two other Irish members Nuala Ahern (Leinster, Greens), Patricia McKenna (Dublin, Greens).

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Free movement and Schengen


Free movement and Schengen
(B4-0716/98 / B4-0717/98 - Nassauer / A4-0006/99 - Van Lancker)

Thursday 14 January - Hartmut Nassauer (D, EPP) opened the debate on cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs by stating that he would welcome a written report from Council on progress in this area, as he felt that this would improve the debate. He stressed the importance of Parliament receiving information about all Council meetings, including informal ones. He noted that the Maastricht Treaty had been badly worded, as it was unclear whether Parliament should be consulted or simply receive reports on actions being taken. He hoped that the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty would improve matters. Parliament, he stressed, should not simply receive information from the press. With the "communitarisation" of important areas of justice and home affairs, he emphasised the importance of consulting Parliament.

Anne Van Lancker (B, PES) noted that Parliament had mixed feelings about Schengen. It was glad that some member states had gone a long way to implement it, but regretted that it remained, as yet, outside the EU's legal structure. Currently there was some confusion. In the incorporation of the Schengen acquis into the Treaty, she stressed the importance of involving Parliament. Among other issues she called for harmonisation of visa legislation and wanted the assessment of applicant countries to include an evaluation of how their justice systems worked. In particular Mrs Van Lancker was unhappy that France still retained its border inspections.

Otto Schily, the German Interior Minister, speaking for the Council thought that the idea of a written report of activities in this area was a good one and he would try to take it up. He stressed the importance of reacting effectively to external events and the need for rules of uniform application when it came to asylum policies. Mr Schily then went on to outline progress in such areas as the Eurodac Convention and the development of Europol. On the latter point he stressed that much progress had been made with the adoption of a large number of regulations. He also outlined the strategy for combatting drugs, including regional initiatives in Latin America. He said that cooperation under Schengen had proved its worth, and that the acquis would be incorporated into the EU framework. He stressed the need for all member states to live up to their obligations under Schengen and promised that the German Presidency would give new impetus to work in this area.

The second Council speaker, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, the German Justice Minister, also stressed the importance of good relations between Parliament and Council over the questions in the legal and judicial field and the need to create a European legal area, where, she said, there had been substantial progress, particularly in the enforcement of legal rulings. She did note the lack of progress in achieving agreement over legal aid as there were different systems and expectations. Other important areas included proposals for common rules on bribery in the private sector and a high level working group on organised crime. She noted that further guidelines for justice would be developed at the extraordinary summit being held later in the year under the Finnish Presidency at Tampere. The European elections, she concluded, would be an opportunity to show the people of Europe the progress that was being made in this area.

Commissioner Gradin echoed many of these themes, in applauding the sixth year of cooperation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. She stressed the importance of maintaining the impetus set by the Amsterdam Treaty and of clarifying the relationship between the First and Third pillars. She stressed that cooperation in justice and home affairs would be improved by the Amsterdam Treaty.

Parliament adopted a recommendation to Council emphasising the considerable importance it attaches to integrating the Schengen arrangements on free movement into the EU framework. There is a call on the UK and Ireland to become involved in the Schengen process and the resolution also points out that Belgium and Netherlands intend to introduce internal border checks during the European football championships in the year 2000. MEPs consider that any restrictions on free movement should only be applied to football fans who pose a risk to public safety on the basis of previous convictions.

Parliament also adopted a resolution which takes the view that progress designed to lead to "the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice" covering such issues as asylum and immigration has so far been unsatisfactory. Mention is made of delays in ratifying numerous conventions in such areas as extradition and customs cooperation.

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Iraq - MEPs call for firm action


Iraq - MEPs call for firm action

Thursday 14 January - In adopting this resolution MEPs condemned the non-compliance by Saddam Hussein with UN Security resolutions that sought to establish a cease-fire in Iraq. They supported the continuance of the non-fly zones in Northern and Southern Iraq, and wanted the UN Security Council to take effective measures to ensure that Iraq could not keep or acquire weapons of mass destruction. The resolution also calls for the continuation of UN inspections (UNSCOM) and for the definition of a clear EU position with regard to the crises. It urges support for the democratic opposition in Iraq, and welcomes the agreement reached between the Kurdish parties. Finally there is a call for increased humanitarian assistance to the civilian population of Iraq.

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Concern over Angola


Concern over Angola

Thursday 14 January - The House voted to deplore the recent resumption of fighting in central Angola between government and UNITA forces and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. The resolution puts the main responsibility for the outbreak of fighting onto UNITA, and calls on it to comply with the Lusaka protocol that seeks to bring about a peaceful resolution of the situation.

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Human rights: East Timor and Indonesia


Human rights

East Timor and Indonesia

Thursday 14 January - In the wake of continuing human rights abuses and crackdown by Indonesian security forces resulting in reported deaths of 16 people in Jakarta and continuing tension in East Timor, Parliament adopted a resolution which holds the present Indonesian government responsible for the climate of uncertainty. There is a call for the immediate release of all political prisoners including those who have been held for over 30 years in East Timor. In addition there is a call for an independent investigation into the disappearances of political activists and the Indonesian government is urged to withdraw its forces from East Timor. MEPs want to see a UN-brokered settlement to the ongoing problem.

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Morocco and the Western Sahara


Morocco and the Western Sahara

Thursday 14 January - Following the announcement of a forthcoming referendum to settle the dispute over the Western Sahara, with the commitment of all interested parties to the process, Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the government of Morocco and the Polisario Front to cooperate with a view to holding a free and fair referendum on the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara. There is a call for the Commission and Council to support the process and on the Commission to step up humanitarian aid for the Sahari people. MEPs also want to send a delegation to observe the referendum.

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Guatemala - call for crackdown on trafficking of children


Guatemala - call for crackdown on trafficking of children

Thursday 14 January - Following reports that over 2,000 adoptions took place in Guatemala in 1997 at an average cost of $15-20,000 and reports that illegal adoption is commonplace in the country, Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the Guatemalan government and the EU member states to take action to tackle the problem and prosecute those involved in illegal trafficking. There is a call for pressure to persuade the Guatemalan government to ratify the Hague Convention on inter- country adoption with a view to strengthening legal provisions to prevent the trade. In addition MEPs want EU financial assistance sent to Guatemala with a view to ensuring that any adoptions are above board. There is a specific call to investigate the case of British-born Bruce Harris who has been facing harassment following his outspoken criticism of the adoption process in Guatemala.

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Concern over murders in Colombia


Concern over murders in Colombia

Thursday 14 January - Following reports that over a hundred people have been killed by para- military groups in Colombia over the last few days, Parliament adopted a resolution calling for proper respect for human rights in the country and for the release of political prisoners. The Colombian authorities and President Pastrana were praised for their determination in attempting to crack down on the situation and there is a call for further action against para-military groups in the country.

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Sierra Leone - too condemned


Sierra Leone - condemned

Thursday 14 January - Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the recent attempts by rebels to seize power in Sierra Leone. There is a call on the government and the rebels to agree on a permanent cease-fire and for the opening of negotiations with a view to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between both sides. Recent clashes have resulted in numerous deaths and some 60,000 people facing hardship through food and water shortages and a lack of electricity. The government of the country is requested to respect human rights obligations and there is a call for increased humanitarian aid to be sent to those suffering.

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Philippines - promoting the push for peace


Philippines - promoting the push for peace

Thursday 14 January - In this resolution the House is urging the government of the Philippines and the opposition National Democratic Front (NDFP) to take forward their peace negotiations that have taken place within the framework of the Joint Declaration of July 1997 that was signed in The Hague. The resolution offers support for all the bilateral agreements that have been reached and calls on Commission and Council to support the parties in carrying out their peace negotiations.

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Concern over Rank Xerox relocation to Ireland


Concern over Rank Xerox relocation to Ireland

Thursday 14 January - In this resolution MEPs called on the Commission to end the situation by which - it claims - the EU and member states indirectly subsidise relocation within the EU. The resolution is in response to an announcement by the Xerox Corporation that it will be relocating its economic activity and jobs from the Netherlands and its facility in Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean in England to Dundalk in the Irish Republic. The resolution calls on the Commission to report to Parliament on whether the conditions offered to Xerox by the Irish authorities are in accordance with EU laws and regulations and whether Xerox has fulfilled all requirements for worker information and consultation under EU law. The resolution does however note that the creation of jobs in the Dundalk region is vital for the peace process in the border area.

In introducing the resolution, Glyn Ford (Greater Manchester East, PES) noted that 250 jobs in Holland and over 500 jobs in the Forest of Dean would be transferred to Ireland. He stressed that the resolution was not an attack on Ireland, nor on the peace process, and he welcomed in principle the initiative to create jobs in the Dundalk region. However, he was unhappy with the failure of the Xerox Corporation to adequately consult with the workforce, particularly in Mitcheldean, and with local government in both locations. "The period of genuine consultation", he said, "was so short that the process was little short of a farce". Mr Ford was also concerned about the possible use of European aid to shuffle jobs around the EU. The "shiny new jobs", he said, "turned out to be a mirage". This process was devastating families and communities in the Forest of Dean which was an area with high unemployment, he said, and he could not accept that it was an appropriate use of EU funds.

In the debate however, James Fitzsimons (Leinster, UFE) claimed that the relocation of Xerox was proof of the success of the Irish government in securing inward investment from abroad. Ireland, he said, had a talented and well educated workforce. The decision, he also said, favoured the Irish peace process.

Mary Banotti (Dublin, EPP) argued that Xerox had been attracted by the decision of the Irish government to target education and develop an educated workforce. She understood the anguish of the English workforce in not being properly consulted, but did welcome the employment prospects being provided for the Dundalk population.

For the Commission Mr Marin recognised that there was a difficult balance to strike and that there were arguments on both sides. There were no EU subsidies from the regional fund for the plant, he noted. The Commission, he said, was examining the issue, but he stressed that the importance of EU aid should not be exaggerated. He went on to outline a series of measures that were being taken by the Commission to ensure that there was a level playing field within the Single Market.

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Support for EU-wide standards for European companies in developing countri


Support for EU-wide standards for European companies in developing countries
(A4-0508/98 - Howitt)

Friday 15 January - MEPs voted by 170 votes to 17 with 7 abstentions to adopt a resolution by Richard Howitt (Essex South, PES) which calls for EU wide standards for European enterprises operating in developing countries. It would cover such areas as minimum standards for human rights, treatment of minorities and proper working conditions. A series of amendments were adopted, including a call on Council to develop a joint position on voluntary codes of conduct, on the lines of the code of conduct for arms exporters, taking due account of the fact that "self-policing" is not always the answer. A further amendment calls on the Commission and member states to take coordinated action to promote the establishment of a truly independent and impartial monitoring mechanism which is internationally accepted.

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Developing countries - bid to strengthen human rights


Developing countries - bid to strengthen human rights
(A4-0411/98 - Fernández Martín)

Friday 15 January - Reporting for the Development Committee, José Javier Pomés Ruiz (E, EPP) replacing Fernando Fernández Martín (E, EPP) endorsed a Commission move designed to strengthen provisions relating to human rights and democracy in the new Lome Convention presently being negotiated between the EU and some 71 ACP developing countries. Although the existing convention does contain provisions for the suspension of aid for sanctions in the event of widespread abuse of human rights, Mr Ruiz emphasised the need to improve Parliament's role and in particular the role of the ACP Joint Assembly in the process through dialogue and impressing upon developing countries the importance MEPs attached to obtaining civilised standards for government. He particularly underlined the need to protect minors and young people and to improve democratic structures in the countries concerned.

His approach was broadly supported by other speakers in the debate, with Johanna Maij-Weggen (Nl, EPP) emphasising the importance of using existing mechanisms for dialogue between the countries concerned and maintaining close contact through delegations on the ground. Luciano Vecchi (I, PES) pointed out the need to strictly enforce rules relating public tenders in the fight against corruption while John Corrie (Worcestershire and South Warwickshire, EPP) warned that unfortunately too many applicant states were now engaged in the process of altering their constitutions, not necessarily for the better. As he put it, some leaders who had come to power through the democratic process were now reluctant to relinquish control. This should not be tolerated. John Cushnahan (Munster, EPP) too welcomed the approach based on strengthening political dialogue. Replying for the Commission, Mr Oreja expressed his thanks for the support of MEPs. He wanted the Commission to use opportunities for dialogue to continue to explain to ACP states the importance attached to democracy and to governments by the EU and its member states. The resolution, which also includes a paragraph expressing Parliament's support for the ACP states themselves to be involved in detailed discussions on how to implement the human rights and democracy clause, was adopted. The resolution also includes another paragraph which expresses support for all ACP states to set up an independent national audit office able to effectively monitor and check on EU funds to promote development.

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Support for export of renewable energies


Support for export of renewable energies
(A4-0477/98 - Elchlepp)

Friday 15 January - Dietrich Elchlepp (D,PES) stressed the importance of supporting renewable energies in his call for the export of renewable energy technology and services. He pointed to the obstacles that needed to be overcome, particularly for SMEs, and he wanted to see a "European Export Council for Renewable Energies", noting that the US and Japan already had similar Councils.

There was broad support from subsequent speakers for Mr Elchlepp's report. Riitta Myller (Fin, PES) stressed the importance of creating markets for renewable energies, particularly in candidate countries where much production was environmentally harmful - particularly with dangerous nuclear plants. She also stressed the need to reduce dependency on energy imports. Konrad Schwaiger (D, EPP) thought that renewable energies could help third countries which have to meet the Kyoto standards. In addition it provided a great opportunity for EU exporters. Mirja Ryynänen (Fin, ELDR) also welcomed the report and stressed the need for resources to be made available for renewable energies. She pointed in particular to the opportunities offered by biomass which, she said, could become one of the most important energy sources in her own country, Finland.

Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler (D, Greens) also gave his support to the report and welcomed the fact that the EU appeared for the first time to be addressing the issue of renewabale energies. Otto von Habsburg (D, EPP) was another speaker who pointed to the potential of renewable energies in candidate countries. The resolution was subsequently adopted without amendment.

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Impact of financial crisis on European industry - oral questions



Impact of financial crisis on European industry - oral questions

Friday 15 January - In adopting this resolution MEPs urged the Commission to monitor closely and to investigate the economic and social impact that the fiercer competition generated by the international financial crisis will have on the various sectors of European industry and on the EU economy as a whole - especially in terms of output and employment and to report to Parliament on this matter. They were also concerned at the imposition of provisional antidumping tariffs on steel imports.

In the debate Ian Hudghton (North East Scotland, ERA) argued that the EU should learn from its recent mistakes. He pointed out the similarities between the build-up to the Asian and the Brazilian crises, with massive lending powers being given on the basis of over-optimistic projections of growth and industrialisation. He noted that Scotland was still suffering from the effects of the Asian crisis and that the Brazilian crisis could also have repercussions.

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Common fisheries policy


Common fisheries policy
(A4-0462/98 - Novo)

Friday 15 January - Honorio Novo (P, EUL/NGL) gave a broad welcome to Commission proposals to improve the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). He stressed that the main responsibility for control lay with member states and he was concerned that some were supplying inadequate data to the EU - or indeed were failing to supply data at all. He was also unhappy that vessels in the Mediterranean were exempt from the obligation to keep logs and declarations of catches. He called finally for the use of the most up to date methods for monitoring compliance with CFP requirements and a system of standard penalties for breaches of the CFP.

Welcoming the report Hugh McMahon (Strathclyde West, PES) reminded the House that nothing brought the EU into greater disrepute than allegations of bribery and cheating, and he noted that fishing was an area where much of this went on. This meant that there was a need for common rules and common responsibilities, backed up by adequate resources. He noted that Portugal had an excellent system of satellite surveillance which had been very successful. He also pointed to the British government's designated port scheme which is aimed at the landing of illegal fish.

John Cushnahan (Munster, EPP) also welcomed the report and its call for improved methods of monitoring and stronger penalties. He supported the call of Mr Novo for compensatory training and reconversion measures for those fishermen who might suffer from the proposals. He also stressed the importance of member states allowing access for EU inspectors to their waters. Referring to Ireland, he noted that its navy had the responsibility of policing some 20% of EU coastal waters and called for it to be given more EU resources for this European task.

Ian Hudghton (North East Scotland, ERA) also considered the action plan to be a positive move, as he suspected that current enforcement of the CFP was ineffective. He called for proper financing for control systems across the member states. "It is little wonder, " he said, "that Scottish fishermen get annoyed when they are prevented from accessing support available to fishermen of other member states". He called for the greater involvement of the fishing industry in the entire control process from start to finish. Finally he noted that the UK's designated port scheme may have been well- intentioned, but had not been helpful to those ports which had not been designated but did have fish processing activity.

In the subsequent resolution MEPs welcomed the Commission's action plan.

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Tackling over-fishing


Tackling over-fishing
(A4-0403/98 - Hardstaff)

Friday 15 January - Veronica Hardstaff (Lincolnshire and Humberside South, PES) in an own initiative report covered the problem of discarding of over-quota and non-quota fish. It was estimated, she said, that between 20% and 40% of all catches were discarded. She recognised the benefits of technical measures and careful monitoring of fish-spawning grounds, before going on to call for a pilot project and research into whether the Norwegian system of banning all discards could assist in preserving stocks of one or more particularly at-risk species. Such a scheme would involve some flexibility to enable up to 10% of over-quota good quality fish to be sold on the market and taken off the following year's quota. Targeted species of fish should only be landed at designated ports with proper inspection. Mrs Hardstaff stressed that there was no simple solution to the problem of discards, and she stressed the involvement of fishermen in tackling the problem. Finally she argued that if overall fishing effort were to be reduced, fewer days would have to be spent at sea and fewer people would catch fish. She stressed that the EU needed to provide funding for areas dependent on fishing to help them develop alternative employment opportunities.

John Cushnahan (Munster, EPP) broadly supported Mrs Hardstaff's proposal, which was, he said, the first initiative on discard tabled by the EU. However he noted that the report focussed all its attention on juvenile catches; discards, he said, had wider consequences. He stressed that the member states bore primary reposnsibility for resolving the discards problem. His group, he said, did not particularly share the "limited approach" followed by Mrs Hardstaff, but was generally ready to offer its support.

The vote on the draft resolution will take place in the January session in Brussels.

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Questions to the Commission: Support for school milk programme


QUESTION TIME
Questions to the Commission

Support for school milk programme

Tuesday 12 Janury - Agricultural Commissioner Fischler told Brian Crowley (Munster, UFE) that the aim of the EU's school milk programme involving subsidies for consumption was to encourage more children to drink milk with a view to improving health. There were, he added, no plans to change existing rules, although it could be affected by CAP reforms with discussions over financing. He did feel however that the programme could be improved by a reduction in red tape and looked to the dairy industry itself to play a positive role in this and also promote milk consumption.

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Euro sport


Euro sport

Tuesday 12 January - In informing Joan Vallvé (E, ELDR) that there was no reason why a special separate Catalan football team, or indeed any other sports team, could be set up similar to Scottish and Welsh teams in the UK, Mr Oreja underlined the EU's commitment to sport and pointed out that recent discussions had been held with a view to stamping out drug taking and enhancing the social aspect of sport through a positive EU approach.

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Competition for Euronews?


Competition for Euronews?

Tuesday 12 January - Explaining the position with regard to the EU's subsidy of the television satellite channel Euronews, Mr Oreja said it was primarily a private channel where ITN was the major shareholder. It was transmitted in five different European languages and the Commission's agreement with the channel was based on cooperation, with an agreement on co-productions, although the channel was in essence independent. There was however close monitoring and Mr Oreja expressed his satisfaction with programmes transmitted as he felt the station managed to transcend national preoccupations. Robert Evans (London North West, PES) on the other hand, pointed out that access to the channel had now been withdrawn by one cable company in the UK, and Mr Oreja declined to comment on whether or not tenders had been put out with a view to enabling other satellite channels to compete to provide a service.

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Badly behaved aeroplane passengers - no smoking leads to more drinking


Badly behaved aeroplane passengers - no smoking leads to more drinking

Tuesday 12 January - In response to a question from Robert Evans (London North West, PES) on the possibility of introducing tougher restrictions on the availability of alcohol and controlling the behaviour of passengers on aeroplanes, Commissioner Neil Kinnock condemned such behaviour. The issue was a priority within the aviation authorities, he said, as it might affect flight security, and attention was currently being given to toughening up existing legislation. After thís process of examination, attention would be paid to how current legislation might be strengthened. Mr Evans was heartened by the action being taken, but was concerned that cabin crews were encouraged by their employers to sell alcohol to their passengers. The abolition of duty free, he felt, might also exacerbate the problem. Comissioner Kinnock noted that there was some suggestion that the restrictions on smoking on airlines had increased the appetite for drink. In a further question Anne McIntosh (Essex North and Suffolk South, EPP) wondered whether member states might liaise to prevent drunken passengers from travelling. Mr Kinnock argued that there was a need for a complete analysis of the situation. He noted that the "commander" had the choice to decide on the seriousness of the situation, and then have the power to arrest and detain a passenger if necessary.

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Questions to the Council: The budget and the British rebate


QUESTION TIME
Questions to the Council

The budget and the British rebate

Wednesday 13 January - Replying to Alexandros Alavanos (GR, EUL/NGL) who was concerned about reforms of EU finances and also what he took to be the "unacceptable situation" of the annual British rebate of some .1.3bn, Council President-in-Office Günter Verheugen did not want to comment in any detail other than to say that the Vienna Summit had agreed that everything was up for consideration in the context of reforms of EU finances.

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Enlargement and institutional implications


Enlargement and institutional implications

Wednesday 13 January - Replying to Eva Kjer Hansen (Dk, ELDR), Mr Verheugen said that while the Amsterdam Treaty could come into force on 1 May this year, if it was ratified by 1 March, he did not think this would affect considerations relating to the number of Commissioners or number of MEPs in relation to enlargement, bearing in mind the fact that as Michael Elliott (London West, PES) pointed out, countries such as Poland could be ready for accession by the year 2003.

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Poultry imports and health standards


Poultry imports and health standards

Wednesday 13 January - Replying to Anne McIntosh (UK, EPP), who complained that, as a result of EU legislation, factories in the UK were being burdened with extra costs in the region of £40-£50 regarding the inspection of poultry and that this constituted unfair practice. Mr Verheugen agreed that this was not the intention of EU legislation and that the Commission should come forward with a proposal to take into account similar obligations being imposed for imports from third countries.

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Democracy and human rights


Democracy and human rights

Wednesday 13 January - Replying to David Martin (Lothians, PES), Mr Verheugen asserted that the question of human rights abuses in Burma were still a high priority for Council and indeed an unsuccessful attempt had been made to arrange a visit for the Troika on behalf of Council to the country. He confirmed that the issue would still be high on Council's agenda and discussed at a later date.

 
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