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The Week : 08-03-99(s)

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International Women's Day - President's Statement


International Women's Day - President's Statement

Monday 8 March - On the occasion of International Women's Day, President José Maria Gil Robles made a statement on the equal rights of women and thanked the Committee on Women's Rights for its activities in that area. He stressed the importance of fighting for women's rights and stressed the key role of Parliament in doing this.

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Violence against women


Violence against women - call for action
(B4-0233/99)

Monday 8 March - Opening the debate on International Women's Day Commissioner Anita Gradin stressed firstly the importance of promoting women's equal opportunities. They made up more than half of the population in every country, she said, but this was not reflected in the make-up of decision making bodies. She spoke of the women who were forced into prostitution and who were suffering from violence. This, she said, had been recognised as a substantial problem and since the 1993 World Conference in Vienna on Human Rights women's rights had finally been accepted as human rights. She was glad that violence against women had been made a criminal act and that rape within the marriage was also now a crime.

Mrs Gradin went on to stress the essential role played by women's organisations in the fight against violence - this was the basis for the DAPHNE initiative which would also be open to NGOs from countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Noting the demand by Parliament to make 1999 a year against violence against women, Mrs Gradin noted that a number of actions were being organised, including a Ministerial Conference on the subject in Cologne at the end of this month.

Turning to the DAPHNE programme for 2000 to 2004 on measures aimed at preventing violence against women, children and young persons Mrs Gradin noted that the Commission had decided to change the legal base of the proposal from Article 235 to Article 129 of the EC Treaty as she believed that this would facilitate the adoption of the programme. Recognising that this put the issue under the heading of "health", she noted that health had been defined as "a state of complete social and physical well being". She therefore believed it to be a suitable legal way of pushing forward with the programme. When adopted she considered that the programme would provide a new impetus in the fight against violence.

Heidi Hautala (Fin, Greens) in her oral question was concerned that the shift in the legal base for the programme might mean that there was a risk that violence against women would be reduced to a health problem. She was not convinced that this change in the legal base would guarantee a good programme. She concluded by urging that the DAPHNE programme be swiftly initiated and adopted. There was broad support from other speakers for the programme.

Brian Crowley (Munster, UFE) wanted Parliament to send out a clear message that it would tackle the problem of violence on women.

Susan Waddington (Leicester, PES) appealed for a Europe-wide campaign to tackle the problem. She was, she said, determined to raise awareness and that was what was being done in the UK by British Labour members through consultation with organisations involved on the ground. It was important to realise that as many as one in four women were victims of violence, she added. Mary Banotti (Dublin, EPP) too underlined the importance of the problem, which she was pleased to say was now being taken seriously. Unfortunately, it had taken the Dutroux murders to result in a specific campaign to deal with the question of protecting children. It was important, she added, to ensure that voluntary organisations, so often the most actively involved in these social issues, were adequately funded.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Gradin explained that the programme had been slow to get off the ground owing to disagreements over the legal base.

The House voted to call on the Commission and Member States to work towards converting the 1995 Beijing Declaration on violence against women into a Convention which would be binding on all parties. The resolution also urges member states to take all necessary steps to fight exploitation of and violence against women, young children and adolescents. It goes on to stress the importance of the DAPHNE programme in combating violence and looks forward to it beginning at the start of 2000.

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Women's health and call for abortion to be legalised


Women's health and call for abortion to be legalised
(A4-0029/99 - Hautala)

Monday 8 March - Heidi Hautala (Fin, Greens) raised the issue of women's health in response to a Commission report which had produced lots of detailed comparative information but had drawn few conclusions. Her reaction was that there was a need to redress the balance and focus on health prevention and dealing with problems that particularly affected women such as anorexia and other eating disorders. It was also important, she added, to take measures to help older women who were often affected disproportionately by illnesses. Other speakers such as Encarnación Redondo Jiménez (E, EPP) focussed on the need to mount anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Gradin said the Commission's aim had been to draw together information illustrating recent trends in women's health and indeed concentrate on life expectancy and mortality rates. This would enable suitable projects to counter health problems to be supported. It was, she felt, important to concentrate on cancer research and preventive measures. She then drew attention to progress made at an EU level through, for example, the introduction of legislation designed to protect pregnant workers and the parental leave directive. She did however, point out that not all member states were respecting the legislation and that action had been taken to deal with this.

Mrs Hautala's resolution, calling for more attention to focus on women's health problems and measures to be taken in particular to deal with the problem of violence against women, was approved. The resolution also calls on the member states to legalise abortion on the principle that it is the woman herself who takes the final decision. Parliament also approved an amendment calling on the Commission to revise the directive on cosmetics to provide for the inclusion of the description of perfume contents with a view to preventing an increase in perfume allergy.

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Promoting equal opportunities and mainstreaming


Promoting equal opportunities and mainstreaming
(A4-0072/99 - Eriksson)

Monday 8 March - Marianne Eriksson (S, EUL/NGL) expressed disappointment at efforts made so far at an EU level to promote "mainstreaming" or incorporating equal opportunities into all EU policies. Despite the Commission's claims to the contrary, she too took the view that not enough progress had been made and, she added, this was not a measure that would increase burdens on the budget. Her other point was that generally women were paid less than men and that much needed to be done to redress this balance. Liam Hyland (Leinster, UFE) focussed on the position of women in rural society and the lack of employment opportunities. This, he said, had resulted in an unsatisfactory situation with rural depopulation as women migrated to the cities in search of work. This also had a serious social and economic destabilising affect on the regions concerned and needed to be addressed by providing sustainable employment and jobs that were attractive to the women concerned. His other concern was the position of women in agriculture, whose status was far too often neglected, he felt.

Patricia McKenna (Dublin, Greens) lamented the under-representation of women in senior positions in EU institutions, noting for example that Ireland had yet to appoint a female Commissioner. She believed that there would only be true equality when there were as many incompetent women as men in key positions. At present, she said, women had to be much better than men to get to these positions.

Mrs Eriksson's resolution approving measures to promote equal opportunities in all EU policies, with a view to ensuring that more women take up decision-making positions was approved.

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Positive discrimination - new proposal promised


Positive discrimination - new proposal promised
(A4-0038/99 -Lulling)

Monday 8 March - Astrid Lulling (L, EPP) called for the Commission to withdraw its proposal to amend its 1976 legislation on equal opportunities with a view to ensuring that - all things being equal - preference be given to promoting a woman. The Commission had proposed to do this in the light of the Kalanke Case in which EU equality legislation was deemed to have been breached, when Mr Kalanke was successful in his case at the European Court of Justice after a female colleague had been promoted in preference to him although she was no more qualified than he was. Mrs Lulling argued that the Amsterdam Treaty contained a specific reference to equal opportunities as an EU task, thereby permitting member states to take positive measures to help either sex if it was represented. She did not consider that there was any need for additional legislation. She wanted the Commission to bring forward a new proposal on the basis of the Amsterdam Treaty.

Christine Oddy (Coventry and North Warwickshire, PES) for the Legal Affairs Committee agreed that the Commission should withdraw its proposal. She also welcomed the fact that the Amsterdam Treaty would strengthen equal opportunities for women. Other speakers also followed this line.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Gradin said the Commission now fully accepted the position of the Women's Committee, in asking for the proposal to be withdrawn, and this in fact would be done. Looking forward to the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty and the new legal provisions on equality issues, she said the Commission was actively looking at the question of introducing new legislation and a decision would be taken in the light of legal advice.

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Voting rights for Gibraltar citizens


Voting rights for Gibraltar citizens

Monday 8 March - Mary Banotti (Dublin, EPP) raised the question of citizens of Gibraltar and whether they should be allowed to vote in the forthcoming EU elections. She noted the recent instance of Denise Matthews who had won her case against the UK government in the European Court of Human Rights claiming that she had been denied her voting rights.

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Pharmaceuticals and rare diseases


Pharmaceuticals and rare diseases
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0078/99 - Cabrol)

Tuesday 9 March - Reporting for the Environment Committee, Christian Cabrol (F, UFE) supported a Commission proposal to provide incentives for research and the marketing of new drugs designed to combat rare diseases which affect only a small number of people, and as yet cannot be treated satisfactorily. It was important for the EU to provide support in this area, he said, adding that the Committee was putting forward a number of amendments taking up specific points. His concern was to see support specifically going towards dealing with tropical diseases and other illnesses which have a serious debilitating effect. Otherwise, he supported the Commission's intention to help pharmaceutical companies with registration fees and also the idea of providing tax incentives. Renate Heinisch (D, EPP) too, supported the proposal. She was particularly anxious to ensure that EU research funds helped in this regard, while for the PES, Elena Marinucci (I) pointed out that the EU was now coming into line with a similar approach adopted in the USA. It was only right, she said, for the EU to be supportive, by accepting its responsibility to help a small number of human beings affected by such illnesses. She emphasised that the intention was not for EU funding to replace the private sector, but rather to provide incentives and support, concentrating on the scientific and humanitarian aspects, rather than the commercial side. For the EPP, José Valverde López (E) too supported the proposal, adding that he was tabling a number of amendments, one of which was designed to ensure that the London-based European Medicines Agency would be fully involved in the process. Marie-Paule Kestelijn-Sierens (B, ELDR) pointed out that the costs for developing new drugs to treat these diseases, were just as high as those with more widespread potential and that it was vital to help industry in this area. Other speakers in the debate also supported the proposal with Clive Needle (Norfolk, PES) emphasising that it could be seen as a new innovation in promoting a partnership between the public and the private sector. He supported the clause which would ensure that unreasonable "profits" would be avoided, although he recognised that it was difficult to see how these could come about.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Bangemann explained that the proposal was needed to develop the research in this area, as a purely market place approach was not sufficient, especially as research was expensive. He did point out that EU funding had been going towards projects in this area, for some time. The intention was to continue with this. While he could accept many of the amendments tabled, he could not agree to those designed to impose an additional economic criteria, or a special fund, and amendments aimed at encouraging research in the third world. He did not feel that that this was necessary and would have a positive effect. The proposal was approved with amendments from the Environment Committee.

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Reports without debate


Reports without debate

Tuesday 9 March - The following reports were approved.

Statistical information relating to audiovisual and related sectors
Consultation procedure
(A4-0081/99 - Wolf)

Agriculture in Arctic regions
(A4-0073/99 - Anttila)

Combatting unemployment - promoting Venture Capital for SMEs
(A4-0090/99 - Katiforis)

RTD in development policy
(A4-0089/99 - Weber)

Tackling money laundering
(A4-0093/99 - Newman)

Pan-European conference on transport
(A4-0057/99 - Lüttge)

Youth policy
(A4-0100/99 - Guinebertiere)

Situation and role of artists
(A4-0103/99 - Vaz da Silva)

ACP-EU Joint Assembly
(A4-0065/99 - Corrie)

No to removing Rosado Fernandes's immunity
(A4-0076/99 - Wibe)

Tuesday 9 March - Parliament voted not to waive Mr Rosado Fernandes's immunity.

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MEPs condemn US actions in banana dispute


MEPs condemn US actions in banana dispute

Tuesday 9 March - Commissioner Leon Brittan came before the House to update MEPs on latest developments in the banana trade dispute with the USA. In summary he condemned the unilateral sanctions on trade totalling $500m that the US had imposed on the EU. Washington had imposed these sanctions arguing that the EU had failed to comply with a WTO ruling that its banana import policies contravened WTO rules by favouring Caribbean growers at the expense of Latin American producers. This action had been taken in advance of a ruling by the WTO on the issue. Despite this unilateral action of the US, Sir Leon stated, the EU would not follow a similar approach. The dispute could not be allowed to fester, he concluded, but the WTO could not stand by while WTO rules were flouted.

There was broad support from speakers for Sir Leon's line and condemnation of the US action. Erika Mann (D, EPP) warned that WTO procedures were being endangered and she appealed to Parliament's partners in Congress to work together with MEPs through the Transatlantic Partnership to tackle the problem. Peter Kittelmann (D, EPP) wanted the EU to pursue unofficial paths to seek to resolve the problem. James Moorhouse (London South and Surrey East, ELDR) warned that the trade dispute threatened the wider relationship between the EU and the US, and indeed the whole future of the WTO as a body. He regretted that the EU's leaders had failed to "grasp the nettle" at an earlier stage. Honório Novo (P, EUL/NGL) wanted the EU to stick to the rules and not react to the "imperialist" approach of the US. Leonie van Bladel (Nl, UFE) warned that bananas were a symbol of an escalating trade dispute with the US. Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler (D, Greens) warned that the EU could not treat the US gently as it would undermine the credibility of the WTO.

Winnie Ewing (Highlands and Islands of Scotland, ERA) was one of a number of speakers to point out that the US banana companies donated funds to both main political parties in the US. She referred specifically to the problems caused by US sanctions in her own constituency, specifically mills producing cashmeres and she noted that £1m of orders had already been lost. Her line was followed by James Elles (Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire East, EPP) who spoke of an "astonishing dispute" with three US companies controlling over 80% of the world banana trade. Chiquita the US banana company did not depend on the loss of a little slice of the EU market, he said, whereas Caribbean producers did. Alex Smith (South of Scotland, PES) also spoke of the problems of the Scottish cashmere industry and he noted that a boycott of Chiquita products in Scotland had been very successful. Glenys Kinnock (South Wales East, PES) also stressed that the EU should not give in to US blackmail.

In reply Sir Leon thanked MEPs for their support and said that he shared their indignation. He reiterated that action would be taken against the US in accordance with WTO rules. The legal as well as the political process needed to be followed, he stressed. He warned however that it was impossible for the US to take this action without it having an impact on its relations with the EU. He concluded by arguing that policy of the EU was based on mutual respect and equality and he wanted wiser counsels to prevail.

The House subsequently voted for a resolution which condemns the US decision to place duties of 100% on a significant number of EU exports which it is estimated will cost .450 m. It goes on to express the view that this unilateral measure is a breach of the rules of the WTO and urges Commission and Council to take appropriate counter measures within the legal framework of the WTO.

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Future financing - Call for end to the British rebate


Future financing - Call for end to the British rebate
(A4-0105/99 Haug)

Tuesday 9 March - In presenting the views of the Budgets Committee for a reform of the financing arrangements of the EU, Jutta Haug (D, PES) explained that after detailed discussions, the committee had come down in favour of a number of compromises, one of which supports the notion of "co-financing" of the CAP and the other expresses support for gradual termination of the British rebate and other refunds to member states after the budget has been reformed so that the agricultural proportion is significantly reduced. The relevant paragraph in the draft resolution specifies that "a reduction in individual member states' shares of the financing of such aspects as the structural policy, pre-accession measures and internal policies is inconsistent with the system and cannot be justified in any way." The committee supports the phasing out of the rebate before accession of the first new member states. Mrs Haug emphasised that the idea of co-financing should not be interpreted as "renationalisation" of the CAP and that trends in EU spending should complement national budgets. She did explain the problem facing the Budgets Committee in reconciling present imbalances on the contribution side, which has produced increased contributions when compared to the relevant wealth from some of the poorer member EU states and the need to try to put together a genuine EU financial resource. But the committee, she said, was not able to come up with an EU tax that would prove appropriate and take into account the need to fund specific European policies and at the same time seen to be fair. Instead, there was recognition that revenue would still have to come from a number of sources and that the present system should be simplified, transparent and subject to democratic control. She trusted that the House would be able to agree a position to take to Council for further negotiations.

Jean-Louis Bourlanges (F, EPP) representing the views of the Institutional Committee however, contested the interpretations of the Budgets Committee and pointed out that it failed to resolve the question as to whether financing of the EU budget should be based on national contributions or seen as a direct EU resource. He also took the view that there were problems with the notion of "co- financing", since the idea of whether this would be optional or compulsory on the part of the member states had not been clarified. In other words, there was a risk that it would undermine the unity of the CAP.

Jaime Valdivielso de Cué (E, EPP) took up the question of contributions related to the wealth of individual member states and said there was a need to clarify the situation. Terry Wynn (Merseyside East and Wigan, PES) on the other hand, felt that the Budgets Committee had come close to putting together a compromise acceptable to delegations for most member states, although he did say he could not go along with the proposal regarding the phasing out of the British rebate. At the same time, he assumed that MEPs from smaller countries such as Greece would not be happy with proposals for co-financing. He also explained that financing of the EU budget had grown very much in an ad-hoc way without any strategic planning, with the irony that traditional own resources such as import duties were now not only providing a smaller amount of the total of the EU budget but also very much subject to fraud. Furthermore, the formula used to calculate the GNP and VAT contributions were now so complex that it was practically impossible to explain. What was needed therefore, was a much simpler system that ordinary people could understand. For the Budgetary Control Committee, Otto Bardong (D, EPP) on the other hand, took the view that as long as revenue was composed of contributions from the member states, there would always be complaints as to who paid what and over fairness. He therefore took the view that there was a need for a specific EU tax, especially as there was the problem of the "black" economy as far as missing VAT revenue was concerned.

Laurens Brinkhorst (Nl, ELDR) was another speaker who did not like the concept of a "juste retour", opposed the British and any other rebates and supported co-financing which he felt was perfectly proper and feasible. He added that he felt it was illogical if the UK, because of its arrangements over the rebate, was let off from paying a fair contribution towards the cost of enlargement. Jean-Antoine Giansily (F, UFE) on the other hand, saw the proposals from the Budgets Committee as an attack on the CAP which, he said, had remained constant over the years and should not be considered as an excessive amount, especially as financing for other policies had increased. He saw co-financing as another form of "renationalisation" of the CAP and felt the EU had an obligation to support poorer countries such as Greece and Portugal through the budget. Joaquim Miranda (P, EUL/NGL) however, recognised the need for an overhaul of the present arrangements, with a view to promoting transparency. It was particularly important to take measures to combat unemployment. He did not take the view that joint financing amounted to renationalisation but an extra resource. Edith Müller (D, Greens) on the other hand, was looking for more democratic controls over a budget that should be overhauled to enable enlargement to be paid for in an equitable way while Gianfranco Dell'Alba (I, ERA) took issue with the Budgets Committee for coming forward at this stage with the proposal for co-financing at a time when the idea had been rejected by the German Presidency in its latest plans.

In approving Jutta Haug's resolution on the future financing of the EU budget by 276 to 154 with 47 abstentions, MEPs called for the gradual phasing out of the British rebate, worth some .3.2bn in 1998. MEPs want the present arrangements to come to an end by the time enlargement takes place. The House did however reject a call for the CAP to be based on co-financing from national budgets.

Parliament's resolution points out that the rebate which applies to the UK was introduced when agriculture accounted for over 70% of the budget. It is now less than 50% and MEPs take the view that the rebate is no longer justified, especially with the costs of enlargement to be paid for. The resolution "emphasises that a reduction in individual member states' share of the financing of such aspects as the structural policy, pre-accession measures and internal policies, is inconsistent with the system and cannot be justified in any way." The resolution goes on to call on the Commission "with a view to fair sharing of the burden of financing the budget among the member states to submit a proposal for a progressive reduction of the correction mechanism and to ensure that the present arrangements have been phased out by the time the first new members accede."

The resolution also recognises that there is no easy solution to the question of financing EU policies and in particular that of reconciling "traditional own resources" - or money that belongs to the Community - with national contributions, the ways in which the budget is financed at present. In the long-term, the resolution supports the idea of the budget being based on new forms of revenue, that does not lead to any overall increase in the total tax burden, but gives the EU "a clear responsibility for the relevant fiscal legislation, including appropriate power to raise and spend revenue." For the present, and with enlargement to pay for, Parliament recognises that the present system is far from satisfactory, and indeed that one source of revenue, ie. customs duties, is prone to fraud. Parliament favours a system based on a percentage of VAT and a contribution based on GNP or the wealth of the individual countries and which can be shown to be transparent and calculated in a clear and understandable way together with new forms of revenue. Parliament is looking to the Commission to come up with such a system thus eliminating the present unfairness in the way the budget is calculated.

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Green light to culture capital compromise


Green light to culture capital compromise
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0106/99 - Monfils)

Tuesday 9 March - Philippe Monfils (B, ELDR) last night recommended the House to approve a system for choosing the European Capitals of Culture from 2005 to 2019 which would give Parliament a say in the annual selection procedure.

Under a deal struck with the Council in formal and informal discussions held after Parliament voted in January to declare its intention of rejecting the Council's common position on the Capitals of Culture because it left MEPs with no say in the matter, Mr Monfils was now tabling a series of amendments to the common position.

Commenting that the positions of Parliament and the Council had been very far apart at the outset, Mr Monfils told the House that the outcome of the unusual procedure of informal negotiations was "an honourable one" and that the House had a choice between taking the deal on offer or "continuing with a dialogue of the deaf in which there can be no winners".

He said that although Parliament had accepted the Council's rota laying down the order in which the 15 member states would put forward candidate cities from 2005 to 2019, his amendments ensured that more than one city from a member state would be able to bid for the event each year. They also reinforced the cultural aspect of the bids as well as ensuring that the system could be altered, for example to take account of new member states.

While the Council was not conceding Parliament the full powers of codecision it had demanded, MEPs would be able to give their opinion on the candidate city or cities. Moreover, the independent selection panel, which the Council had wanted to replace with a weaker guidance panel, had been reinstated and would report each year on the bids. The Council's final decision would be based on the panel's report, Parliament's opinion, a recommendation by the Commission, and, possibly, a recommendation by the member state concerned. This outcome had been achieved largely, said Mr Monfils, as a result of the German Presidency's readiness to compromise. He urged the Commission to be vigilant in ensuring that the cultural value of the capitals' programmes was maintained.

MEPs were united in their support for Mr Monfils' report. For the EPP, Helena Vaz da Silva from Portugal said the European Capitals of Culture Event, which was an EU success story and its "visiting card", would now be placed on a firm, Community footing from 2005 and would help to open up Europe's cultural heritage to the public. This was the result of a miracle which had been wrought by the negotiating skills of Mr Monfils and involved no loss of face for either Parliament or the Council. "They have scored a famous success and this is an excellent example of political and interinstitutional cooperation", she said.

Peter Sichrovsky (A, Ind) highlighted the role of the European Capitals of Culture as "cultural ambassadors" in a united Europe, a point which was echoed by Monica Baldi (I, EPP) who underlined the role played by cities in the "poles of cultural diversity" in the different parts of Europe.

Commissioner Marcelino Oreja voiced his relief that an agreement had been reached. Failure would have been very damaging, he said, as it would have meant "the loss of one of the most symbolic events in the European calendar". The cumbersome intergovernmental procedure for selecting the capitals of culture had to be replaced but the common position issued by the Council in 1998 had been unsatisfactory as it had substantially altered the Commission's proposal of the previous year and sidelined Parliament. Now, however, "mini-conciliation" had produced an agreement and the Commission was in favour of all the eight amendments tabled to the common position.

MEPs subsequently voted to endorse the compromise reached with Council over proposed arrangements to be adopted in selecting European cultural capitals over the 2005 to 2019 period, following achievement of a compromise between Council and Parliament which is embodied in the amendments that were adopted. The principle of rotation by country was accepted and several towns from the same country will be able to present their candidature on the basis of a programme of cultural events. Finally a selection panel of independent experts will draw up a report, Parliament will deliver its opinion and the Commission will make a recommendation with Council making a final decision.

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Liberalising rail transport


Liberalising rail transport
Cooperation procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0058/99 - Sarlis / A4-0059/99 - Swoboda)

Tuesday 9 March - In this debate on two reports concerning the staged liberalisation of the railways in the member states, many members expressed their deep concern about the future of this crucial transport sector. It was generally felt that there was an increasing mismatch between the organisation of rail transport services and the rapidly changing patterns of demand. There was consequently an urgent need for revitalisation of the railways in the Community with a view to increasing rail's share of the freight and passenger transport market. Most speakers in the debate were in favour of extending free-market rules within the framework of staged privatisation to the sector. The international freight market should come first, to be followed later by those of domestic freight transport and international passenger travel.

Reporting on the Commission's proposal to amend Directive 91/440 on the development of the Community's railways, Pavlos Sarlis (Gr, EPP) called on the Commission to submit proposals in order to give railway undertakings the right of free access to railway infrastructure and to facilitate the simultaneous elaboration and implementation of accompanying measures. Parliament had tabled a key amendment granting Community railway undertakings access to and transit rights through the railway infrastructure of all member states for the transport of goods. This right had so far been granted only to so-called international groupings of railway undertakings. Also proposed was a new provision under which member states will be obliged to complete the legal separation between railway undertakings and management of railway infrastructure within two years of the date of entry into force of the directive.

Hannes Swoboda (A, PES) reported on the Commission's proposals to amend Directive 95/18 on the licensing of railway undertakings and Directive 95/19 on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the charging of infrastructure fees. The main purpose of Directive 95/18 is to extend the licensing principles laid down by the original directive to all railway undertakings that may operate in this market. Directive 95/19 only entered into force on 28 June 1997 and a number of member states have not yet incorporated it into national legislation. Now, the Commission proposes to define the framework for the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and for charging for the use of railway infrastructure.

Mr Swoboda agreed with the Commission that a radical reform of railways was needed, especially to counter the downward trend in rail and particularly rail freight services in Europe. The consumer and the railway undertakings needed a European, transparent and non-discriminatory set of principles for infrastructure managers and regulatory authorities. But Mr Swoboda could not accept the excessive amount of detail in the new Directive 95/19. Amendments were tabled to cut this back. There was a call for more room for national authorities to manoeuvre and greater flexibility while maintaining Community principles. He deplored the fact that the railway undertakings and the railway unions in the Community were against the liberalisation proposals, although he shared the unions' social concerns. Europeanising the Community's railways was the next step and new monopolies should be avoided.

Reporting for the Committee on Economic Affairs, Sören Wibe (S, PES) also was against the excessive detail in Directive 95/19. Speaking for his group, Niels Sindal (Dk, PES) said that it was time to stop national monopolies. Concerns about the future of railways were justified he said but it was up to the railways to come forward with new initiatives. Georg Jarzembowski (D, EPP) supported both reports, but emphasized that the separation between infrastructure and management was already a fact in some member states. Florus Wijsenbeek (Nl, ELDR) expressed the opinion that this separation should take place in one year and not in two, after all, the railway undertakings had had eight years to prepare. Liam Hyland (Leinster, UFE) expected the new rules to be in favour of developments in Irish suburban transport systems.

Gisèle Moreau (F, EUL/NGL) expressed her total disagreement with the two reports. She added that French public opinion was also against privatisation and demanded the reports be referred back to the Committee on Transport and Tourism. Joost Lagendijk (Nl, Greens) was in favour of the proposals, but warned against a "wild-west" privatisation. Manuel Escola Hernando (E, ERA) shared the view that public services should not be endangered. Rijk Van Dam (Nl, I-EDN) said that is was time for a new broom in dusty railway offices, but added that member states should be in control of separating their infrastructure and management. Brian Simpson (Cheshire East, PES) compared the railways to a patient, that was seriously ill and badly needed new medicines. Railways could not go on pretending that the 19th century had never ended, nevertheless he shared the union's concerns and said that social protection measures should be endorsed.

Anne McIntosh (Essex North and Suffolk South, EPP) suggested that the Commission had taken over British ideas on liberalisation and therefore welcomed the proposals. André Sainjon (F, ERA) said that in his opinion liberalisation would not solve the problems. More competition would mean more problems and less services. Agnes Schierhuber (A, EPP) accepted the idea of a liberalisation in stages. Finally, Per Stenmarck (S, EPP) said that the two reports were crucial steps to stop a further decline of European railways.

Commissioner Neil Kinnock said that the debate on the future of the railways was essential to the changes which must be pursued if rail transport was to fulfill its true potential in modern Europe. Nevertheless, he could not accept some of the major amendments in the Sarlis report for they would, in practice, increase the difficulty of getting wider agreement on this package.

Moving to Mr Swoboda's report on the proposal to amend Directive 95/18 on the licensing of railway undertakings, amendment 1 was acceptable, but amendment 2 had to be rejected. Concerning Directive 95/19, Commissioner Kinnock shared the view that Community legislation should not be over-prescriptive, but added that it was important to establish precise procedural rules to ensure that these processes, which went to the heart of being able to offer railway services, were co-ordinated and fair to all undertakings.

MEPs subsequently approved a number of proposals aimed at opening up Europe's railways to competition with a number of amendments, including one designed to allow any EU-based company the right to access to the rail networks of the member states for the purpose of transporting freight. Commissioner Kinnock had not been able however to go along with this particular amendment, arguing that the issue was still under discussion in Council and that a new approach would not be helpful.

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Ferries and passenger safety


Ferries and passenger safety
Cooperation procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0061/99 - Watts)

Tuesday 9 March - Reporting on his recommendation for second reading under the cooperation procedure, on Council's common position on a system of mandatory surveys for the safe operation of regular ro-ro ferries and high speed passenger craft services, Mark Watts (Kent West, PES) vehemently criticised safety procedures on EU ferries, which were "scandalous" after what had happened on the Herald of Free Enterprise, the Scandinavian Star and the Estonia. He had retabled amendments from first reading demanding that all vessels concerned be fitted with a voyage data recorder (VDR) within five years without derogations being granted and insisted that information on safety matters should not be kept confidential. Exposure of ferry undertakings which did not respect safety rules, was essential. The ferry survey database proposed in this Directive was designed primarily to assist member states and the Commission to monitor and enforce implementation of the Directive by providing detailed information on the application of the survey regime.

Commissioner Neil Kinnock rejected the idea that existing ferries and high speed craft should be equipped with VDRs that comply fully with all the technical specifications that are applicable for new ships. In many cases that would entail extensive re-cabling between the VDR and the equipment from which it has to retrieve the information. The costs would greatly exceed the purchase cost of the VDR. Ferry companies, which had already voluntarily installed VDRs on board their vessels, should not be penalised.

But the Commissioner announced that a database called EQUASIS had been developed by the Commission which recorded the quality performance of shipping in the context of the Quality Shipping Campaign. The aim was to improve transparency of information concerning shipping in general. This database would be widely accessible to the shipping community and the general public and would provide the most appropriate means of disseminating all relevant information on the safety performance of ferries. The Commission would give full attention to the need to feed as much information as possible from its confidential ferry survey database into EQUASIS. Finally, Mr Watts' amendment on inspections for life saving appliances and equipment could be accepted.

Parliament approved the common position designed to improve ferry safety in the light of recent disasters by obliging boats to be subject to strict inspection together with a number of amendments, one of which is designed to give ferry owners just a five year period to comply with the requirement for data recording equipment to be installed, rather than the wider exemption rules agreed by Council. Other amendments concern the provision of information on ferries and inspection procedures for lifeboats and other equipment.

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Berlin Summit - no resolution


Berlin Summit - no resolution
(B4-0228-0232/99 / B4-0243/99 / B4-0247/99)

Wednesday 10 March - Opening the debate for the Council, President-in-Office Günter Verheugen recognised that some central questions remained to be resolved on Agenda 2000 and that the total package would only be finally agreed at the Berlin summit. However, he said, substantial progress had been made. This progress covered such areas as agreement on the use of constant prices in 1999 when drawing up the financial perspectives, and the agreement to reduce the number of Community initiatives under the Structural Funds to three. As to own resources he stated that final agreement would depend on a well balanced financial framework.

Mr Verheugen noted that the German Presidency's compromise proposals had been criticised at the last meeting of foreign ministers on 26 February. This criticism had come both from those who wanted to spend more and from those wanting to spend less. This indicated, he thought, that the Presidency might be on the right tracks. It was clear, he said, that the imperative was to stabilise the budget for all areas and that agricultural reform must be brought into line with these objectives.

On structural policy he recognised the current controversy over the approach and that matters would not be sorted out until final agreement was reached. He did note however that a "safety" net could be included in the overall package. In conclusion President Verheugen stressed that the General Affairs Council on 22 March would take the final steps for the summit and that the role of Parliament in the whole process was very important.

It was then the turn of President Santer to underline the need for the EU to adhere to the timetable that had been set. This would confirm the leap forward that had been made with the euro; it would be vital to prepare new structural programmes; and to send a clear message to candidate countries. Compromises must be made, he said, and budgetary discipline was essential and the necessary funding must be provided to finance projects in the fields of agriculture, social cohesion and enlargement. The process was not simply a bookkeeping exercise and he stressed the need to have ambitions for Europe. The Commission would not however pass over the question of means and resources to achieve the task that were set for it and a compromise must be found in Berlin.

Mr Santer recognised that negotiations had been very difficult over the CAP and rural development and that there was a need for stability of spending.. The Commission would, he said, look at all the options except "diluted and distorted reform". On economic and social cohesion he stressed that promoting solidarity was one of the pillars of the EU and that the Commission did not wish to see previous achievements being undermined. Adequate transitional arrangements had to be made, he stressed, as it could not be right for over half the EU population to be dependent on structural funds aid. On financial matters he reminded the House that the Commission had produced a report on own resources in October 1998 setting out possible options. This was a highly political issue, he said, and he did not want everything to hinge on an ambiguous idea of net balances and staggered solutions could not be excluded.

For the Socialist Group Manuel Medina Ortega (E) stressed the need for adequate financing of EU policies and did not want to dismantle what had already been achieved. He noted that Parliament had set a number of priorities such as promoting employment and cohesion. There could not be a "two speed Community", he stressed. The environment was also vital, he said, as economic development needed to be sustained and sustainable. He was concerned to ensure that the timetable being set should be met, as the whole world was awaiting the outcome. Elmar Brok (D) for the EPP hoped that the German Presidency was on the right track, but warned that they had not made things easy for themselves. The agreement must be valid and make sense. Laurens Brinkhorst (Nl, ELDR) said that the EU was approaching the hour of truth and that Agenda 2000 should still be the basis of the approach. Money for enlargement must be set aside.

Gerard Collins (Munster, UFE) was looking for a balanced approach to reform and emphasised that preserving stability was paramount. He reminded the Council Presidency that the EU budget only amounted to just 2% of the overall spending in the member states and that it would be unfair on some member states to pursue a policy that amounted to "re-nationalisation" of the CAP. He recognised that the argument had become bogged-down over the question of national contributions and supported the retention of the Cohesion Fund for Ireland up until the year 2003. Alonso Puerta (E, EUL/NGL) too, was disturbed that discussions seemed to be reflecting national interests, thus threatening economic and social cohesion, and indeed the whole Agenda 2000 enlargement programme. Like Mr Collins, he felt that the EU budget was not particularly large and indeed would face difficulties in delivering what was expected in terms of European policies. He also took the German Presidency to task for pursuing a policy that seemed to reflect concerns about national contributions rather than interests of Europe as a whole, and, he added, it was important to take the trade advantages of the single market into account, as part of the overall equation. Neither did he think that the Commission had been playing much of a role in trying to achieve a compromise. Elisabeth Schroedter (D, Greens) was another speaker who emphasised the need for a balanced agreement to take into account all interests, and at the same time, express solidarity with those particularly affected by the budget reforms. If this wasn't possible, she said, perhaps it would be better to postpone agreement on the Agenda 2000 package.

Catherine Lalumière (F, ERA) on the other hand, contrasted German Foreign Minister Fischer's speech to Plenary in January, in which he outlined a vision of stronger European policies and closer integration, thus holding out the hope of an effective German Presidency in Office with the situation today. Unfortunately, this hope now did not look like being realised as talks were becoming bogged- down over "who pays what". The danger, she said, was that pursuing a policy based on savings it would strip the EU budget of vital resources needed to carry out an EU programme on combatting employment and tackling social problems. She reminded the House that Agenda 2000 was designed to pave the way for a successful enlargement of the EU, but if arguments concentrated on national contributions and re-nationalising the CAP, then the EU would lose its momentum as a body uniting the member states. She concluded by warnig that the Berlin Summit could "make or break" the Union.

Ole Krarup (Dk, I-EN) on the other hand, felt the EU leaders and institutions were divorced from reality when discussing such issues as reform of the CAP and enlargement, which he felt had not been thought out, especially with regard to providing adequate financial means to achieve the political objective. He did not think enough emphasis had been placed on developing democracy and solid political structures in the countries concerned, while EU policies such as the CAP and the Structural Funds were just seen as a source of money for those likely to benefit. The EU's management problems with regard to the budget only exacerbated the whole question, he added. Cristiana Muscardini (I, Ind) was another speaker to take issue with the German Presidency for concentrating on reducing its national contributions. In a move to redress the balance Klaus Rehder (D, PES) pointed out that the German Presidency was only now trying to come to grips with an agricultural policy that had got out of hand and where reforms had been neglected over the years. Previous policies, based on export refunds and encouraging surpluses were irresponsible and did not help small farmers, he contended. Reforms must concentrate on bringing the CAP more in line with market needs. Gerardo Galeote Quecedo (E, EPP) did not see how the Council Presidency could claim there had been progress in the negotiations. On the contrary, he said, the present situation where the Presidency was producing new proposals all the time, seemed to show how much confusion reigned. He too called on the Presidency to put aside preoccupations with the size of national contributions and concentrate discussions on developing common EU policies designed to create jobs and reduce inequalities. Any other approach was doomed to lead to failure, he argued. Gisèle Moreau (F, EUL/NGL) called for a new approach that would be based on examining new ways of raising revenue such as company taxation or increasing the VAT element. Jim Nicholson (Northern Ireland, I-EN) predicted that this would be like other reforms of the past and would not bring about any savings. In fact, he warned, US policy was designed to destroy the fabric of rural society and European agriculture and that perhaps it was time for those countries who had benefitted so far from the EU budget and consider themselves to be "great Europeans" to begin to pay part of their way. Arlene McCarthy (UK, PES) was concerned that the failure to agree in Berlin would lead to delays in funding new regional programmes, compounding the situation, which in the past, had lead to delays, underfunding and cancellation of projects. There should be a proper transitional period of six years to enable those regions losing out from future EU funding to adapt to the new situation. She was also concerned to see the urban initiative programme that had a lot to offer in terms of dealing with deprivation in the EU continue. Furthermore, it was important for the EU to keep in place a means to respond to any future industrial crises similar to what had happened to coal and steel, in the past. Her other concerns were that programmes should be based on true partnership with those involved and regional authorities, and that the eventual package should find widespread support in the European Parliament.

Terry Wynn (Merseyside East and Wigan, PES) reminded Council Presidency that for any agreement to be successful, it needed the approval of Parliament and Council through an interinstitutional agreement. Without this there would be no Agenda 2000, he said, that was why it was vital for the two sides to come together in an acceptable compromise. At the same time, agricultural reform was vital, as without this, there could be no enlargement. It was also important to enable the EU to take a strong position in WTO negotiations, otherwise it would only be reacting to American initiatives. And, he warned without a reform of the CAP based on the Commission proposals, there was a real danger of a return to the bad old days of surpluses and food mountains and no-one wanted that. If the farm ministers couldn't agree, then the dossier should be passed to the General Affairs Council, he said, adding that CAP reforms should not be allowed to threaten the whole Agenda 2000 programme. He did feel however, that ministers should agree this before looking at the other problem, ie. future financing, where none of the options were completely satisfactory. This, he said, should be the subject "of long and further discussions". What was important was for the EU to get back on track by showing its commitment to social cohesion, combatting unemployment, supporting the environment and providing the means to achieve this.

Replying for Council, Mr Verheugen took on board all points made in the debate but responded to criticisms over the question of German contributions. He did say that the German Presidency had been acting with a view to reaching a settlement acceptable to all sides, and while it had been conscious of the national interest, it had not been pushing this at all.

MEPs could not agree on any of the draft resolutions that were tabled that sought to send a message to the European Council in advance of the extraordinary meeting that it will be holding in Berlin on 24-25 March. The joint motion for resolution was rejected by 215 votes to 164 with 6 abstentions. The vote on other motions was postponed.

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Support for Kosovo peace conference


Support for Kosovo peace conference
(B4-0227/99)

Wednesday 10 March - Opening the debate for the Council President-in-Office Günter Verheugen updated MEPs on the state of play of negotiations to resolve the crisis. He stressed that the EU would be doing everything possible to bring next week's negotiations in Rambouillet to a successful conclusion. Although he was sad that the previous negotiations did not succeed he argued that they did prepare the ground for a settlement. He believed that the draft agreement appeared to strike a fair balance, as it ensured the territorial integrity of Serbia while securing a high degree of autonomy for the Kosovo Albanians. In three years time there would be an international conference on the whole situation. Mr Verheugen noted that the Kosovo Albanians were calling for rapid stationing of NATO troops to enforce the settlement, while Belgrade was equivocating on the issue. He said that the moderate Kosovo Albanians had indicated their willingness to sign up to the agreement that was on the table and that the NATO threat was still there if necessary. Mr Verheugen went on to remind the House that there were over 200,000 refugees and he said that there would be a Donor Conference as soon as possible after a settlement had been achieved in order to rebuild the province, where war damage was estimated at .330 m.

Following this line Commissioner Marin stressed that a critical point was being reached and that pressure was being put on all sides to sign up to the agreement. He too stressed the importance of reconstruction and the need to develop civil society.

Most speakers in the debate stressed the need to reach a settlement. Johannes Swoboda (A, PES), however, stated that to achieve peace a partnership between the sides was necessary. This did not exist at present, he said. Doris Pack (D, EPP) warned that Serb soldiers were moving into Kosovo despite the agreement and this threat was forcing Albanians to flee. Stopping this, she believed, came before making plans for future aid. Hadar Cars (S, ELDR) wanted the EU to "Europeanise" the Balkans and bring them into the common European home. Per Gahrton (S, Greens) supported the international community and - if necessary - the use of armed force. He pointed to Scandinavia as a region where stability had been achieved between different countries after many centuries of internecine warfare.

A discordant note was struck by Ioannis Theonas (Gr, EUL/NGL) who did not believe there could be a military solution to the problem and warned against the threat from NATO which, he believed, only encouraged the more extremist elements. Olivier Dupuis (I, ERA) believed that the EU should be firmer in its approach and recognise that President Milosevic was an aggressor who was responsible for many deaths. His power, said Mr Dupuis, was based on the repudiation of democracy.

The House in this resolution expressed its full support for the efforts of the Rambouillet Peace Conference to find a political solution to the conflict in Kosovo and welcomes the progress made so far. It stressed that a peace agreement needs to be sustained by international peace-keeping troops and urges the EU and all member states to make a substantial contribution to the implementation of all aspects of this agreement.

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Fishing and conservation - call for crackdown on illegal catches


Fishing and conservation - call for crackdown on illegal catches
(A4-0063/99 - Hardstaff)

Wednesday 10 March - Mrs Hardstaff's resolution, calling for firm action to be taken to deal with illegal fishing and a reduction in catches of those species under threat, was approved without debate.

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Labelling of dangerous substances in Austria and Sweden


Labelling of dangerous substances in Austria and Sweden
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(C4-0065/99)

Wednesday 10 March - The common position was approved.

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Financial agreements with Cyprus and Malta


Financial agreements with Cyprus and Malta
Assent procedure
(SEC (99) 0026)

Wednesday 10 March - The agreements were approved.

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Energy saving agreement with Hungary


Energy saving agreement with Hungary
Assent procedure
(COM(98)0811)

Wednesday 10 March - The proposal to allow Hungary to participate in EU energy saving programmes was approved.

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The Commission's budgetary powers - vote postponed to next session


The Commission's budgetary powers - vote postponed to next session
Consultation procedure
(A4-0107/99 - De Giovanni)

Wednesday 10 March - Parliament decided to postpone the vote on a draft agreement with the Commission regarding the forwarding of confidential information to the Budgetary Control Committee in the context of its responsibilities to approve the Commission's management of the accounts. The vote will take place at the next part-session to be held in Brussels 22/23 March.

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Pressure vessels


Pressure vessels
Cooperation procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0094/99 - Camisón Asensio)

Wednesday 10 March - The common position was approved with amendments.

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Trans-European Networks and help for seaports and airports


Trans-European Networks and help for seaports and airports
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0074/99 - Piecyk)

Wednesday 10 March - Parliament approved a Commission proposal designed to clarify the rules for qualifying for financial assistance under the TENs programme for seaports and airports together with a number of amendments including one relating to the criteria for ports to qualify. Parliament voted for an annual traffic figure of 1.5m tons of freight or 200,000 passengers as against the 1m ton figure proposed by the Commission.

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Health dangers from hairdryers and mobile phones


Health dangers from hairdryers and mobile phones - MEPs vote for strict safety provisions
Consultation procedure
(A4-0101/99 - Tamino)

Wednesday 10 March - In approving a Commission proposal designed to examine the potential health effects, and in particular the threat to workers exposed to non-ironising electro-magnetic radiation from electrical appliances such as hairdryers and mobile phones, MEPs approved a number of amendments designed to improve safety, including one which would oblige member states to lay down minimum safety distances for the siting of transmitters and other electrical transmission equipment including mobile phone base stations in relation to public building, housing and work places.

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Amsterdam - a boost to an EU health policy


Amsterdam - a boost to an EU health policy
(A4-0082/99 - Needle)

Wednesday 10 March - MEPS voted to adopt the resolution which calls for increased awareness of health issues across the EU and the integration of health impact assessment studies into all other policy areas, especially agriculture and transport. It goes on to call for EU priorities to focus on best practice in member states and to encourage the raising of standards through closer involvement with practitioners on the ground. One amendment calls on the Commission to do further work on the impact of food on health and to improve public information policy in this area.

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Middle East and the Mediterranean - concern at lack of progress


Middle East and the Mediterranean - concern at lack of progress
(A4-0042/99 - Colajanni / A4-0095/99 - Sakellariou)

Wednesday 10 March - Opening the debate Luigi Colajanni (I, PES) stressed that the situation in the Middle East was very worrying. The deadline of 4 May that had been set by the Wye Agreement for the conclusion of the Oslo peace process was not likely to be met and he warned against the Palestine authority making a unilateral declaration of independence which would in turn provoke a reaction by Israel that would be destructive to the peace process. He urged the EU to play a greater role in the peace process and called also for a clarification of the situation on EU aid to the region.

Turning to the Barcelona process which aims to promote links between the EU and other countries bordering the Mediterranean, Jannis Sakellariou (D, PES) was unhappy with the delay in the signing of the five association agreements between the EU and the five countries bordering the Mediterranean. He too called for the EU to play a more active role in the Middle East peace process which had, he said been negatively affected by the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu. This role should include speaking rights for the EU representative at meetings. He wanted all the countries bordering the Mediterranean including Libya to be integrated into the Barcelona process, and also for there to be involvement by the Balkan states. He wanted the forthcoming Euro-Med conference in Stuttgart to come forward with new ideas in the field of security policy such as the question of immigration. Finally he called for action to be taken to resolve the problem of indebtedness from which many Mediterranean countries suffered.

Lord Tomlinson (Birmingham West, PES) for the Budgetary Control Committee was concerned over the future regulations for financing the Middle East peace process and noted that 54 cents in every dollar of aid for the process came from the EU budget. He welcomed the interinstitutional collaboration that had been achieved in this area to ensure there was appropriate budgetary control. Detlev Samland (D, PES) for the Budgets Committee was also supportive of the Commission's proposals on aid. He recognised that the programme had to be carried out in collaboration with partners and that it was difficult to profile spending during the year. However he noted that the backlog of funding had not been taken up and that more effective financial profiling would help.

For the Council President-in-Office Günter Verheugen stressed that the EU had supported the US in its lead role in the peace process, and that since 1993 it had provided a generous financial contribution. The EU was aware of the problems in achieving a settlement, which were exacerbated by a declining economic output, however he stressed that the situation would have been worse without EU support for the Palestinian authority. He also underlined the EU's support for the EuroMed partnership, for Jordan, and developing a proper water supply in the Middle East.

Commissioner Manuel Marin agreed with the House that the Stuttgart conference would be very important and he wanted all sides to sign up to the joint programmes. He stressed that it was important to bear in mind the political nature of the Barcelona process and the political nature of some of the agreements. On the Middle East he stressed that the Commission was following the recommendations of Lord Tomlinson's report but that financial programming was very difficult. He also warned that if the Wye Agreement did not go ahead things would be very difficult. He called for greater transparency in the Palestinian budget, but also wanted Israel to accept that the EU and the Palestinian Authority had already signed a bilateral agreement and wanted Jerusalem to see the benefits of its security of a prosperous Palestine. He also noted that the Commission would be proposing to Parliament and Council that it should not deal with any more current expenditure for the Palestine authority. Up to now, he said, the EU had funded this expenditure for political reasons.

Johannes Swoboda (A, PES) stressed the need for proper control over the money going to the Middle East peace process and for a balance to be struck between political decisions to fund the process and financial discipline. He supported moves to bring back Libya into the international community. This line was supported by Antonio Graziani (I, EPP) who called for links with all Mediterranean countries - including Libya. Jan Bertens (Nl, ELDR) warned that the Middle East peace process was at a dead end and that the role of the EU was crucial in the search for peace. Leonie van Bladel (Nl, UFE) warned that the deadline of 4 May was hanging over the peace process like the sword of Damocles and she wanted the Palestinian Authority to move away from making a unilateral declaration of independence. She also could not agree that Israel should withdraw unilaterally from the Lebanon without an agreement with Syria. The threats of the past to its security had to be removed. Alexandros Alavanos (GR, EUL/NGL) welcomed the two reports but raised the situation of the Kurds which, he said, was having a destabilising affect on relations in the eastern Mediterranean and further afield.

In Mr Colajanni's resolution, the House expressed its support for the Middle East peace process and called on all sides to avoid taking actions that could exacerbate the situation. An amendment regrets the fact that the Israeli government subsequently added new unilateral conditions to the original Wye agreement that had brought the implementation of the accord to a standstill. MEPs also want to see an independent Palestinian state and the recognition by the Arab world of the State of Israel's existence. It goes on to express concern over the gaps in proper financial control over EU funding to the region, and an amendment that was passed expresses interest in the outcome of the investigation by the Court of Auditors into the issue.

The House passed Mr Sakellarious's resolution calling for the ratification of the association agreements signed between the EU and five other countries under the Barcelona process, which aims to promote links between the EU and other countries bordering the Mediterranean. It urges an end to the current deadlock in the Middle East peace process and calls on the EU to play a more prominent role in the process. The resolution goes on to call for Libya to be invited to the next conference of the Barcelona process that will be held in Stuttgart and for other countries not currently involved to be granted observer status.

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Nuclear sector in central and eastern Europe - concern over safety


Nuclear sector in central and eastern Europe - concern over safety
(A4-0088/99 - Adam)

Wednesday 10 March - Gordon Adam (Northumbria, PES) outlined problems faced by the EU in attempting to improve safety in nuclear power stations in Eastern Europe post-Chernobyl. The EU's policy was designed to improve safety primarily in the first generation reactors and to a certain extent this had been achieved, he said. The aim was to work through the International Atomic Energy Agency with a view to ensuring respect for international standards. The problem was that the countries concerned resented what they saw as "unwarranted interference", especially in view of the importance in economic terms to countries such as Lithuania and Bulgaria, who exported nuclear energy worth $600m annually to Turkey. It also had to be admitted that the EU had failed to ensure the closure of unsafe reactors. The lesson to be learned was that policy should be based on real cooperation and negotiations. The EU should not try to impose its will on the countries concerned since this was doomed to failure.

For the Commission, Hans Van Den Broek accepted the points made by Mr Adam but did say that lessons had been learned. It was now recognised that the EU had to deal with sovereign states with their own policy towards nuclear energy and that it wasn't possible to insist on closing down reactors. Nevertheless, progress had been made in improving safety standards and he argued that the .800m spent on this had in fact had an impact and that the role of independent regulatory authorities had been strengthened. The aim was to improve operating practices and for example to modernise nuclear waste management and this had been partly achieved. There were however design problems with the early reactors and, he said, it would cost billions of euros to finance a policy of wholesale closure. In fact, he said, some $600-800m had already been spent on improving the Sarcophagus at Chernobyl.

Nevertheless, the Commission, he said, would continue to argue for the closure of nuclear power stations when it was the only realistic strategy and modernisation was not possible. He undertook to report back to Parliament on the management of future programmes designed to improve safety.

MEPs adopted an unamended resolution on the need to improve safety provisions in nuclear reactors in Eastern Europe. The resolution calls on the Commission and the EBRD not to grant any funding for first generation reactors except for short-term safety improvements and not to grant any Euratom loans for the modernisation of other reactors until there is a clear commitment to close down first generation reactors considered unsafe.

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Amending the rules-suspension threat for MEPs not declaring financial interests


Amending the rules - suspension threat for MEPs not declaring financial interests
(A4-0070/99 - Corbett, Gutiérrez Diaz, Palacio Vallelersundi, Ford, Spiers, Vecchi et al)

Thursday 11 March - In voting through numerous rule changes designed to enable Parliament to adjust to the workings of the Amsterdam Treaty, MEPs voted to tighten the rules relating to the declaration of financial interests. The rule now stipulates that the names of members who have not completed the register within the due time limit will be published in the minutes after due warning. The rule then goes on to state "if the member continues to refuse to submit the declaration after the infringement has been published, the President shall take action in accordance with Rule 110 to suspend the member concerned." The original proposal to oblige members to declare all benefits above .100 was not approved, but another amendment designed to exclude members not completing the register from office in the Parliament did go through as did the amendment obliging chairmen of intergroups and other unofficial grouping to declare all forms of financial or secretarial support.

Other rule changes designed to strengthen Parliament's role in relation to, for example, the appointment of the President of the Commission and the duties of the new High Representative for the CFSP, were also approved, as were changes designed to improve procedures relating to legislation. Parliament voted to commit itself to more transparency, in particular by improving public access to documents with the details to be worked out later. The new rules also states that "unless a committee decides otherwise, its documents shall remain public." The rule changes will apply as from the day the Amsterdam Treaty comes into force.

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A new deal for members' assistants


A new deal for members' assistants
Consultation procedure
(A4-0098/99 - Lehne)

Thursday 11 March - MEPs approved with amendments a new proposal designed to regularise the situation of members' assistants. At present, members receive a monthly allowance of .9,559 and the intention in the legislation as amended, is that the salaries of assistants and other staff should be paid directly by the European Parliament on the instruction of the member. Implementing provisions relating to the exact amount of the salary, working conditions, other activities including lobbying and social security will be worked out at a later date.

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1999 Annual Economic Report


1999 Annual Economic Report
(A4-0102/99 - Fourçans)

Thursday 11 March - Mr Fourçans' resolution, which takes the view that there is still not enough convergence between the member states of the eurozone, and calls for more cooperation at a political level in the areas of tax, monetary and labour policy was approved with a number of amendments, including one expressing support for a "European investment pact" to complement a wider employment pact and for consideration to be given to the launch of eurobonds as a means of supporting large scale infrastructure projects.

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Support for cross-European energy links


Support for cross-European energy links
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0087/99 - Adam)

Thursday 11 March - MEPs approved a proposal to lay down a number of guidelines relating to Trans-European Networks (TENs) in the energy field with a number of technical amendments.

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Promotion of renewable energy sources


Promotion of renewable energy sources
Cooperation procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0085/99 - Robles Piquer)

Thursday 11 March - MEPs approved a multi-annual programme on renewable energy to run from 1998 to 2002 with a number of amendments emphasising the importance of renewables in contributing to cleaning up the environment.

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Energy efficiency


Energy efficiency
Cooperation procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0084/99 - Bloch von Blottnitz)

Thursday 11 March - MEPs approved another multi-annual programme designed to promote energy efficiency with a number of amendments emphasising the need to support energy programmes that result in reduced pollution.

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Aid for the tobacco industry


Aid for the tobacco industry
Consultation procedure
(A4-0067/99 - Trakatellis)

Thursday 11 March - MEPs approved a Commission proposal to amend the regulation relating to tobacco production with a view to increasing quotas for Austria, Belgium, France and Germany, with a number of amendments from the Agriculture Committee relating to the quotas for individual categories of tobacco. Amendments proposed by the Environment Committee designed to reduce the subsidy were lost.

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Rational energy use


Rational energy use
(A4-0086/99 - Stockmann)

Thursday 11 March - Mr Stockmann's resolution, calling on the Commission to give priority to energy efficient programmes in future energy projects, was approved unamended.

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Bank charges following the introduction of the euro


Bank charges following the introduction of the euro
(B4-0244/99)

Thursday 11 March - In this resolution MEPs are expressing their concern about the persistently high level of bank charges for conversion transactions between currencies participating in the euro zone, including charges for cross border payments. It urges the Commission to make information about these charges available to the public, thus allowing comparisons to be made between the situation before and after the advent of the euro. The resolution also supports the deadline of 31 March 1999 set by the Commission for the banking and financial sector to ensure full transparency of bank charges.

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Support for the peace process in Caucasus


Support for the peace process in Caucasus

Thursday 11 March -MEPs voted to endorse the peace plan proposed by the Minsk Group to resolve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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Human rights in Cuba


Human rights in Cuba

Thursday 11 March - The House condemned the adoption of new laws in Cuba which have extended the scope of the death penalty and limited the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

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Attacks on human rights activists in Colombia


Attacks on human rights activists in Colombia

Thursday 11 March - In this resolution the House condemned the attacks on human rights workers in Colombia and called for the rule of law to operate in the country.

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Violence in Indonesia


Violence in Indonesia

Thursday 11 March - The House voted to urge the Government of Indonesia to put an end to the violent incidents on the Molluccan archipelago and to restore the rule of law.

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Amnesty for prisoners of conscience urged


Amnesty for prisoners of conscience urged

Thursday 11 March - The House voted to call on the UN Commission on Human Rights to support the "Millennium Amnesty" for prisoners of conscience that has been proposed by the European Parliament. It also called for all necessary measures to be taken to prevent the harassment of human rights campaigners.

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Repression in Belarus


Repression in Belarus

Thursday 11 March - MEPs in this vote called on President Lukashenko of Belarus to reestablish democracy and to assure respect for human rights in his country with the holding of free and fair presidential elections.

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Russia under fire for human rights abuses


Russia under fire for human rights abuses

Thursday 11 March - The House voted to urge on the Russian government to ensure that international conventions and charters on human rights were observed and called in particular for freedom of religion to be guaranteed and all forms of intolerance to be combatted.

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Unhappiness at UN Macedonian withdrawal


Unhappiness at UN Macedonian withdrawal

Thursday 11 March - The House voted to express its regret at the failure of the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of its preventive deployment force in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It calls on the People's Republic of China to reconsider its decision to veto the extension of the mandate beyond 31 August 1999.

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Alpine avalances


Alpine avalanches

Thursday 11 March - MEPs in this vote expressed their sympathy to the families of the victims and others affected by the avalanches in the Alps in France, Italy and Austria.

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Simplifying customs rules


Simplifying customs rules
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0080/99 - Paasilinna)

Friday 12 March - The House voted to endorse the Commission proposal to amend the legislation which established the Community Customs Code. A series of amendments were adopted that seek to make the legislation more transparent and responsive to traders' needs.

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Help to inventors


Help to inventors
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0096/99 - Añoveros Trias de Bes)

Friday 12 March - MEPs voted to adopt with amendment Commission proposals that provide an alternative to patents for minor inventions.

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Yes to links with Uzbekistan


Yes to links with Uzbekistan
Assent procedure
(A4-0071/99 - André-Léonard)

Friday 12 March - The House gave its assent to the proposed Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Republic of Uzbekistan

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Human rights concenrs over Central Asia



Human rights concerns over Central Asia
(A4-0069/99 - Truscott)

Friday 12 March - MEPs voted in favour of the resolution on the Commission paper on links with the republics of Central Asia. The resolution stresses the economic and political importance of the region but underlines the need for monitoring closely the human rights situation.

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Social security and the pensions time bomb


Social security and the pensions time bomb
(A4-0099/99 - Pronk)

Friday 12 March - MEPs voted to approve without amendment the resolution on the Commission's analysis of social security spending in the EU which examines in particular the recent trends in social spending designed to provide incentives for getting people back to work, reversing the trend towards early retirement and tackling the increasing cost of health and long term care.

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Shipping - no to equality for foreign crews


Shipping - no to equality for foreign crews
Cooperation procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A4-0075/99 - McIntosh)

Friday 12 March - In approving amendments tabled by the transport committee MEPs voted against a move by the Commission to oblige ship owners on certain services, operating in EU waters to lay down the same conditions and services for crews recruited in a non-EU member state. Parliament also adopted a number of amendments relating to a proposal on manning conditions for passenger and ferry services, including one designed to impose a ban on allowing sailors to live permanently on board the ships where they are working.

In the absence of Anne McIntosh (Essex North and Suffolk South, EPP), Per Stenmarck (S, EPP) argued that in the present situation with regard to shipping, and pressures on the industry, it was not an appropriate time to introduce changes regarding the rules affecting crews, and in particular, recruitment of sailors from overseas. The Commission wants to make sure that all crews and ships operating in EU waters enjoy the same conditions and pay, but Mr Stenmarck did not feel that the time was appropriate to push for change and that there was little chance of it getting through the Council.

Brian Simpson (Cheshire East, PES) on the other hand, while recognising the present deadlock in Council with regard to opening up shipping in EU waters, did feel that the time had come to tackle the problem of European vessels recruiting crews from overseas and paying low wages. He therefore supported the move to ensure that all sailors enjoy the same conditions.

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Support for closer EU-India ties but worries over nuclear weapons and poverty


Support for closer EU-India ties but worries over nuclear weapons and poverty
(A4-0066/99 - André-Léonard)

Friday 12 March - The House voted its support for a strong EU-India relationship by endorsing this resolution on Commission proposals for an enhanced EU-India partnership. The resolution however, condemns the nuclear tests conducted by both India and Pakistan, while amendments that were passed recognised India's security concerns. There is also concern about religious tension and the exploitation of children.

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Green light to aid for Bosnia


Green light to aid for Bosnia
Consultation procedure
(A4-0097/99 - Schwaiger)

Friday 12 March - The House voted to endorse the Commission proposal to provide Bosnia with financial support.

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Questions to the Commission


QUESTION TIME
Questions to the Commission

Tuesday 9 March - MEPs Fernando Pérez Royo (E, PES) and Robin Teverson (Cornwall and West Plymouth, ELDR) looked to the Commission to diffuse tensions in Gibraltar following the recent queues at the Spanish border and the seizure of the Spanish fishing boat 'Pirana' by the Gibraltarian authorities. In response to Mr Perez Royo who looked to the Commission to bring Gibraltar into line through respecting EU financial legislation, Mrs Bonino said the UK faced legal proceedings for failing to ensure that an EU directive on company law had been implemented in Gibraltar. But Mrs Bonino did not want to become embroiled in the fishing dispute or the border dispute, pointing out that both were national issues to be resolved by the countries concerned.

 
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