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The Week : 27-01-99(b)

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New impetus for a green Europe


New impetus for a green Europe

Wednesday 27 January - Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard and Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler joined forces and told MEPs of a new commitment to environmental farming. EU support for intensive farming is out, said Mrs Bjerregarrd, underlining the recent initiatives taken by the Commission to control the use of nitrates and pesticides as well as monitoring closely such new developments as GMOs and strengthening consumer protection provisions. In fact, she emphasised, the agricultural dimension of the Agenda 2000 programme, on which MEPs will be voting tomorrow, would be based on reducing CAP costs through cutting guaranteed prices for such products as beef and cereals, to be replaced by encouraging farmers to take care of the environment through, for example, aid for reforestation and providing incentives for organic farming. The new approach, she said, would respond to European citizens' concerns about the environment. The message, she added, was clearly to provide support for sustainable development through proper consultation with local and regional authorities and those charged with implementing the policy. A specific timetable for new programmes would be laid down at the Helsinki Summit, she added.

This approach was endorsed by Commissioner Fischler who, in reply to numerous questions from MEPs, also emphasised his support for farming with due consideration for the environment, adding that the proposal to promote organic farming had been tabled and was now subject to discussions on detailed definitions. He also could not accept charges that a reduction in price support would only lead to more intensification. The experience of the 1992 reforms was to the contrary, he added, with expenditure by farmers on fertilisers for example, falling. As to the Commission's attitude towards such practices as BST in milk and the use of hormones or growth promoters in beef, a concern of Veronica Hardstaff (Lincolnshire and Humberside South, PES), Mr Fischler said that the Commission was investigating the question and awaiting the publication of a detailed study.

As to how the new policy would work in practice, Mr Fischler explained that the member states would be responsible for carrying out checks on farms in their respective countries, but the Commission's duty would be to ensure that this work was carried out satisfactorily and that each state respected its responsibility in this area. Reinforcing this point, Mrs Bjerregaard pointed to the nitrates directive as an example of what could be achieved. It took prompting and Commission legal action against 12 member states to enforce compliance, she said, but nevertheless this had been achieved. While some members such as Karl-Heinz Florenz (D, EPP) were sceptical about the Commission's new approach after the last 5 years which had seen "only vague aspirations and little concrete action", Mrs Bjerregaard defended her institution and emphasised once again that the Agenda 2000 programme would contain this commitment to environmental farming.

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Support for British pig farmers


Support for British pig farmers

Wednesday 27 January - Replying to Robert Sturdy (Cambridgeshire, EPP) who expressed the concerns of British pig farmers and other farmers whose costs were increased by following proper animal welfare rules to such an extent that in Sweden the extra amount came to "1 Kroner per kilo", Commissioner Fischler recognised this problem and emphasised his support that such farmers practicing good husbandry should receive extra subsidies. The question of imports would be on the agenda for the next round of international agricultural trade talks, he said. Similarly, defending the Commission's approach to GMOs, he said the idea was to keep developments under review so that legislation could be adjusted to any change in the situation.

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Call for a common EU arms policy


Call for a common EU arms policy
(A4-0482/98 - Titley)

Wednesday 27 January - Gary Titley (Greater Manchester West, PES) welcomed Commission proposals for an EU strategy to restructure the defence sector and develop a common armaments policy using new provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty. He stressed that action was urgently needed to rationalise Europe's ailing defence industry but he lamented the tardiness of action in this field, noting that it took three times as long to create a merger in Europe than it did in the US, comparing Europe's "minuet" to America's "rock and roll". He welcomed the progress that had been made in this area, called for the forging of a European security and defence identity within NATO and expressed support for a European Armaments Agency with coordinated research. "If we don't start rocking", he concluded, and have proper collaboration, "the US will roll all over us".

Hadar Cars (S, ELDR)stressed the importance of coordinating the shrinking defence industry of Europe and wanted the EU to draw from US experience. Johannes Swoboda (A, PES) also wanted the EU to face up to developments in the US and called for a European defence identity that was not reliant on NATO or the US. Eurico de Melo (P, EPP) fully supported Mr Titley's conclusions, although he was moderately pessimistic about the dynamism of the European defence industry which, he believed, tended to be dilatory in its workings. Alexandros Alavanos (GR, EUL/NGL) however considered that it would be a mistake if the EU launched into unbridled competition with the US in the arms industry, while Elisabeth Schroedter (D, Greens) could not accept the report and she stressed the need for peace and disarmament. Nelly Maes (B, ERA) could only accept weapons that were indispensable and wanted fewer jobs to be dependent on the arms industry. Friedheim Frischenschlager (A, ELDR) argued that it was important for Europe to be self sufficient in arms and called for procurement to be coordinated at European level.

Replying for the Commission Martin Bangemann welcomed Mr Titley's report as being in line with the Commission proposals and stressed that there was little dissent within Parliament on the need for a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

MEPs voted by 255 to 52 with 16 abstentions to endorse the resolution's call for a restructuring of the European arms industry sector, with the aim of achieving the introduction of a European arms policy. The resolution stresses the need to rationalise the EU defence sector and give it a strong technological and industrial base so that it can compete with the United States. A number of amendments were passed, including one from the Greens calling for tight controls over the production and export of light weapons and small arms. A further amendment notes that arms exports controls in Central and Eastern European countries should be much stricter.

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A Green army - turning swords into environmental ploughshares


A Green army - turning swords into environmental ploughshares
(A4-0005/99 - Theorin)

Wednesday 27 January - Maj Britt Theorin (S, PES) stressed the importance to foreign policy of environmental issues, and called for the Commission to come forward with a common strategy that would reflect environmental concerns in the EU's foreign policy. She called on member states to define environmental and health objectives as part of their long term defence and security assessments. She noted that environmental factors could often be the source of conflict - for example the need for sources of fresh water, and she pointed to the new phenomenon of environmental refugees. She expressed concern about weapons systems that harmed the environment, and in particular the American project - HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project) - calling for its legal, ethical and ecological implications to be examined by an international independent body before any further research and testing. She called for the armed forces to be employed to repair environmental damage - a coordinated European environmental protection brigade.

Karl-Erik Olsson (S, ELDR) argued that as there were no real threats to Europe at the moment it was necessary to rethink the whole concept of its defence. Gary Titley (Greater Manchester West, PES) considered that there had been significant improvements to Mrs Theorin's original report and he then outlined regions such as the Caspian Sea, the Indian sub-continent and the Jordan river with significant environmental problems. He welcomed the fact that attention was now being paid to these issues. Ursula Stenzel (A, EPP) rejected the call in the report to make the military responsible for dealing with environmental damage as he said that this was not realistic, a theme that was subsequently taken up by Jan Bertens (Nl, ELDR) who argued that there could not be a European Green Brigade as this was a matter for member states.

Tom Spencer (Surrey, EPP) endorsed the conclusions of the report and stressed the importance of the environment in foreign affairs as conflicts could arise over access to water and other resources. He was concerned about the HAARP project, considering it to be potentially calamitous. Mr Spencer was unhappy that no US representative had come to Parliament as there were, he said, many unanswered questions about it.

Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard noted that the Commission had done some research on the link between sustainable security and environmental development, but noted that further study was necessary. She noted that much Lomé assistance had gone to help tackle environmental degradation. The Commission, she reminded the House, did not have access to military resources, but it shared Parliament's concern to ensure that attention was paid to the dangers of environmental degradation.

MEPs voted to adopt this resolution which calls for a common strategy bringing together the CFSP aspects of EU policy with its trade, aid, development and international environmental policies. The vote was 127 in favour with 21 against and 115 abstentions. The resolution notes that the armed forces can make a substantial contribution to the prevention of environmental damage. However the call in the report for the introduction of training for environmental defence troops with a view to establishing a coordinated European environmental protection brigade was rejected. The resolution also expresses concern about the American HAARP project and its possible detrimental effects on the environment, and regrets the repeated refusal of the US administration to send anyone in person to give evidence to Parliament.

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China - political progress is as important as economic development


China - political progress is as important as economic development
(A4-0479/98 - Bernard-Reymond)

Wednesday 27 January - Reporting on Commission proposals for an EU-China partnership, Pierre Bernard-Reymond (F, EPP) stressed the importance of China as an important partner. He welcomed the economic development that had taken place in China, but was concerned at the political problems that remained, notably on human rights. Chinese society was changing, he stressed, and it needed flexibility and democracy. Beijing had to show political courage to move towards democracy in the same way that it had shown economic determination, he concluded.

Esko Seppänen (Fin, EUL/NGL) noted that while Brazil, Russia and much of Asia had undergone economic crises, China enjoyed a high degree of stability. The EU's approach to the country had to be both constructive and critical, he said. Olivier Dupuis (I, ERA) condemned what he saw as the failure of the EU's policy of "constructive dialogue". Democracy, and not the communist system, would allow China to resolve its contradictions, he said. He lamented in particular the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in China.

Gary Titley (Greater Manchester West, PES) favoured the building of a comprehensive dialogue with China and warned that the EU should not simply be lecturing Beijing. China, he said, was in many respects a developing country and should be encouraged to move towards reform. The EU should be prepared to recognise that it had made progress, for example in its handling of Hong Kong .

Georg Jarzembowski (D, EPP) welcomed the report and called for constructive dialogue, while Vassilis Ephremidis (GR, EUL/NGL) on the other hand believed that the EU was trying to impose its own model on China. It wanted, he said, to subjugate China to the multinational companies model. Leonie van Bladel (Nl, UFE) in contrast was another speaker to stress the need for China to observe human rights. John Cushnahan (Munster, EPP) welcomed the report as a "valuable contribution to the ongoing debate" and called for an honest, open and constructive dialogue with China. He believed that the EU could not turn a blind eye to abuses of human rights and should speak out on the issue. To do otherwise, he said, would betray the ideals of the EU's founding fathers. He welcomed the fact that some fears about what would happen to Hong Kong after the handover had not been realised, but he stressed the need for the EU to maintain a watching brief.

Replying to the debate, Sir Leon Brittan welcomed the support of the House for a pluralist approach based on developing the free market with due respect for the rule of law. As to the MEPs who felt the EU was not taking a strong enough position on human rights, he took the view that there was no real alternative to the present approach but this should be interpreted as complacency. In fact, he was not satisfied with the current situation and indeed felt it was worse than one year ago. Neither would the situation in China change by passing 'nasty resolutions'. Future approach towards dialogue would be setting "benchmarks" to judge progress. He targeted political prisoners and the situation in prisons as areas where progress was needed. He was also looking for ratification by China of human rights covenants and improvements for ethnic minorities.

Nevertheless, on balance he felt China by taking action in such areas as negotiation on arms reductions and combatting international crime, did show that it wanted to play a part on the international stage and this approach should be encouraged.

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Competition and regional aid - striking a balance


Competition and regional aid - striking a balance
(A4-0412/98 - Azzolini)

Wednesday 27 January - Opening the debate on Commission proposals to set out guidelines for the applications of competition policy rules to regional aids, Claudio Azzolini (I, EPP) emphasised the need for transparency and argued that state aids were only justified to reinforce economic and social cohesion. He did however take the view that industries such as shipbuilding, iron and steel, textiles and automobiles were in a vulnerable situation and merited special help. His other point was that only five of the fifteen member states paid lip service to EU rules in this area.

Wayne David (South Wales Central, PES) broadly welcomed the report, arguing that there was an obvious need for greater coherence between national and EU regional policies. He did however have reservations about "co-terminosity" which, he felt, could result in uniformity for the sake of uniformity. There was, he argued, a need for flexibility as there were different situations in different parts of the EU. He believed that in order to help areas of deprivation, it was sometimes necessary to help industries in adjacent areas, as people from the deprived regions could be travelling to work in a neighbouring region.

Joe McCartin (Connacht/Ulster, EPP) considered that regions moving out of the Objective One criteria could not be treated as strictly as the Commission was proposing. He pointed to the fact that in Ireland there was a serious burden of past neglect - for example the road system was still not up to standard - and he cautioned against reversing the gains that had derived from use of the Structural Funds. He also argued that some national governments were the authors of their own misfortunes by having "oppressive tax regimes".

Commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies stressed the need for greater coherence between national and regional aid policies, and considered that the regional margin for manoeuvre must be increased. Karel van Miert noted that 51% of the EU population lived in regions that were eligible for Structural Fund support and 46% lived in regions that were eligible for national government support. In view of enlargement he stressed the importance of reducing the number of eligible regions and to focus on areas of most need, although he recognised that this was a delicate operation.

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Energy tax needed, Commissioner tells Parliament


Energy tax needed, Commissioner tells Parliament

Wednesday 27 January - Priority must be given to sustainable development, Commissioner Bjerregaard told Parliament in a statement on the UN conference on climate change held in Buenos Aires last November. In global terms, she said, the conference had been successful in firming up the conclusions of the previous conference in Kyoto. However, the burden must be shared by all continents and benefits would ensue from closer cooperation with the third world. China was prepared to be more involved and Kazakhstan had indicated that it wanted to cooperate. The Americans, clearly, had an important role to play. The conference must lead to changes on the ground. A tax on energy products was universally regarded as necessary. She called on Parliament to give its opinion before the forthcoming European elections. The German presidency had given an impetus here, but it was an open question whether it would be able to muster unanimity in Council. The Kyoto agreement should be ratified as soon as possible. A pan-European strategy was needed. It was to be hoped that the European Summit in June would carry matters forward.

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Food irradiation - Agreement at last


Food irradiation - Agreement at last
Co-decision procedure - third reading after conciliation. Simple majority required for joint text
to be approved.
(A4-0008/99 - Bloch von Blottnitz)

Wednesday 27 January - Undine-Uta Bloch von Blottnitz (D, Greens) welcomed the fact that after ten years a satisfactory solution had finally been reached on the question of food ionisation. The agreement reached in conciliation would enable standard rules to be drawn up on ionised food and thus increase the chances of devising an acceptable system of labelling. The process is designed to extend the shelf life and improve appearance of certain foods, but questions have been raised over safety and at present it is banned in Germany and Sweden but authorised in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The House subsequently approved the agreement with Council negotiated under the conciliation procedure on the long-running dispute over food irradiation.

In initially approving Council's two common positions designed to permit the process for certain foodstuffs in February 1998, MEPs adopted several amendments designed to strengthen provisions relating to conditions governing food irradiation and allaying consumer concerns, the time period for the withdrawal of products not complying with the legislation and implementing procedures or "comitology".

Now agreement has been reached on the outstanding points, irradiation will be permitted in the first place for mixed herbs, spices and seasonings with the final list of foods to be drawn up by a new Commission before 31 December 2000, in consultation with the Scientific Committee on Food and taking into account national considerations.

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Help for ACP banana growers


Help for ACP banana growers
Cooperation procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0012/99 - Liese)

Wednesday 27 January - Following the adoption of EU rules guaranteeing preferential access for ACP banana growers, in line with a WTO ruling on the dispute with the USA and Latin American producers, the Commission proposed a series of special measures to help ACP producers to become more competitive. In essence, this involved a .366.8m programme spread over ten years.

In reaching its common position, Council took on board a number of amendments adopted by Parliament at first reading relating to plans for promotiong diversification and the need to take into account producers in Somalia, despite the political situation in the country. It rejected however other amendments designed to increase the budget and a special deal for "fair trade" producers, ie. those paying fair wages, and taking into account environmental considerations.

Peter Liese (D, EPP) said it was up to the WTO to arbitrate if these measures did not comply with its rules, in which case changes should be made. It was certainly not up to the USA to impose its own rules. The new report reinstated the amendments which had been rejected, in some cases without rhyme or reason, at first reading, such as the proposal to prevent multinationals from receiving aid and reserve it for small producers and an increase in the budget to .500m.

Commissioner Pinheiro said the Commission agreed with Parliament on the idea of funding diversification projects in cases where competitiveness could not be improved. However, he could not agree to an increase in funding or to the proposal to extend the system beyond the ten-year limit. Moreover, any system that was tantamount to direct aid would run counter to the goal of improving the overall performance of this sector. Lastly, he did not believe that the system proposed by the Commission would allow multinationals to grab the lion's share. Speaking personally, Mr Pinheiro said that if the USA was not prepared to accept the WTO's findings one would have to ask what the sense of having a global liberalisation system was.

In approving Council's common position on a proposal to set aside some .366.8m on a 10 year programme to enable ACP banana growers to encourage diversification and improve competitivity, MEPs adopted a number of amendments designed to ensure support for growers respecting minimum social standards and working conditions and "fair trade" producers respecting environmental considerations. One amendment is designed to ensure that multinational companies do not benefit and another amendment seeks to ensure a review on the effectiveness of the programme including the impact on the incomes of banana producers. The proposed amendment to increase funding was rejected.

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Universal service in telecommunications


Universal service in telecommunications
(A4-0386/98 - Read)

Wednesday 27 January - Parliament was in favour of liberalisation of telecommunications, said Mel Read (Nottingham and Leicestershire North West, PES) but a universal service must also be guaranteed and this could not be provided initially by market forces alone. Various shortcomings were still apparent and there was a general tendency to penalise residential users.

Commissioner Bangemann acknowledged that there were problems but believed measures were being taken to improve the situation, in particular via the revised directive on voice telephony.

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New rules for public contracts


New rules for public contracts
(A4-0394/98 - Tappin)

Wednesday 27 January - Consistency between the different directives was essential, said Michael Tappin (Staffordshire West and Congleton, PES). Clear, reliable and effective laws were needed so that they could be properly applied, otherwise there was a risk of more confusion rather than greater clarity. Commissioner Monti said the Commission broadly agreed with Parliament's aims and shared its concerns, in particular about the social and environmental dimension and the need to reconcile the legislation in question with rules on competition.

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Jobs of the future


Jobs of the future
(A4-0475/98 - Mann)

Wednesday 27 January - Rapid economic change in the world meant that major reforms were needed. In future, for example, life-long learning would have to become the norm and new working methods would need to be introduced. There were opportunities to create jobs in areas such as the information society, the new technologies and services but changes would be needed if these opportunities were to be grasped.

Commission Flynn shared this view, saying it was essential for Europe to catch up, especially with the United States. Half a million jobs in the computer industry and the information society could not be filled at present, a figure which was expected to rise in the near future to over a million. This alone demonstrated the need for education reforms.

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MEPs vote to ban battery hens


MEPs vote to ban battery hens
Consultation procedure
(A4-0481/98 - Kindermann)

Wednesday 27 January - The Commission's proposals for battery hens were on the right lines even if they were only minimum standards, said Heinz Kindermann (D, PES), although it was a pity they did not go far enough in respect of other rearing methods. To be realistic, however, implementation of the directive should be delayed by two years. Lastly, to ensure that EU producers were not at a disadvantage vis-à-vis imports from non-EU countries, it was essential that the same veterinary and health rules be applied to non-EU producers. During the debate, several MEPs argued for battery- rearing systems to be abolished outright.

Commissioner Fischler said the Commission broadly agreed with the report and he was therefore able to accept nearly all the amendments adopted by the Agriculture Committee. The same was not true of most of the amendments tabled in plenary, for various reasons: they were incompatible with EU law, lacked a scientific basis, conflicted with WTO rules, were superfluous or made no improvements to the Commission proposal. The amendments seeking to abolish battery-rearing he regarded as premature and in any case they would only delay adoption of the desired improvements.

In approving a Commission animal welfare proposal to improve conditions for battery hens by laying down minimum standards affecting hen houses, MEPs voted through a number of amendments designed to strengthen the proposal, including one seeking to impose a ban on battery farming throughout the EU as from 1 January 2009. At present, some 93% of eggs come from battery hens, although several member states including the UK have announced plans to phase out battery farming. In the meantime, MEPs want to see a minimum of 800cm sq of cage area for each hen with no more than 20 hens per square metre.

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CAP reforms - Votes postponed


CAP reforms - Votes postponed
(A4-0444/98 - Mulder / A4-0480/98 - Graefe zu Baringdorf / A4-0494/98 - Garot /
A4-0446/98 - Goepel / A4-0496/98 - Fantuzzi)

Thursday 28 January - After Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler declined to commit himself on a whole series of amendments to the Commission's proposals for agricultural reforms, MEPs decided to refer the reports back to committee or postpone the final vote. Mr Graefe zu Baringdorf's report on direct aids and Mr Goepel's report on milk products were referred back after the draft resolutions were rejected. The final votes on Mr Garot's report on beef and Mr Fantuzzi's report on cereals were postponed.

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Committee calls for family policy guidelines


Committee calls for family policy guidelines
(A4-0004/99 - Hermange)

Thursday 28 January - Mrs Hermange's resolution, calling for guidelines to include support for a family policy, was approved. There is a call on the member states to develop family policies through financial assistance but at the same time to take account of the diversity of family models.

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Fisheries - support for conservation and tackling the discards problem


Fisheries - support for conservation and tackling the discards problem
(A4-0403/98 - Hardstaff)

Thursday 28 January - MEPs approved Veronica Hardstaff's (Lincolnshire and Humberside South, PES) resolution debated last month and calling on the Commission and the member states to tighten up inspections of fishery vessels with a view to cutting back on the large number of fish discarded, estimated at between 20% and 40% of all catches.

            

 
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