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The Week : 04-10-99(s)

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Vote - Monday 4 October


Monday 4 October - MEPs defeated by 173 votes to 79 with 17 abstentions a call for the Commission to make a statement on the refusal of the French government to allow British beef into France. Speaking in favour of the motion, Liz Lynn (West Midlands/ELDR) said that British farmers had lost £1.5bn worth of exports through BSE and scientific tests now proved that British beef was safe. She was supported by Joe McCartin (Connacht/Ulster, EPP/ED) who said that the French action was a threat to the single market.

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Food safety top priority says Commission President


Food safety top priority says Commission President

Tuesday 5 October - Opening the debate, Commission President Romano Prodi told MEPs that whilst the Commission's duty was to protect Europe's citizens from any health dangers, and ensuring food safety was an essential part of this, the challenge now was to put into place an efficient reliable and credible food safety policy. This should include clear labelling of substances in foodstuffs enabling consumers to make a choice - for example where GMO foods are concerned - on environmental and ethical grounds. It was also vital to ensure that citizens were aware of potential dangers. This was where it was necessary to be confident that the latest scientific information and inspection systems could ensure this. The way to do it, he contended, was to impose strict monitoring of all aspects of the food chain. To do this, he added, it was necessary to update EU legislation and ensure that it was coherent.

Mr Prodi then raised the possibility of setting up a food agency, an idea that has already been discussed at great length and something that is happening at a national level in some member states. A European Agency, he contended, could be modelled on the lines of the European Medicines Agency, which is responsible for reporting on the safety of new drugs, or perhaps the US Food and Drugs Administration, which has more far reaching powers. At the moment, Mr Prodi added, he did not have a firm view about this and felt that there should be extensive debate of the question. It was also important to take into account the international dimension.

The Commission's intention now, he said, was to issue a White Paper on food safety, concentrating on defining the "precautionary" principle. The aim would be to review existing food law, put forward proposals before the end of the year 2000 with a view to having a new body of legislation in place by 2002. He added a word of warning, "no food can ever be guaranteed totally safe". Consumers must realise this and that was why it was important that consumer bodies should be fully involved in the ongoing discussions.

In the ensuing debate, Karl-Heinz Florenz (D, EPP/ED) commented that moves on food policy only seemed to be happening whenever there was a new scandal. He wanted to know what action was being proposed with regard to liability and he asked where Council was for today's debate in view of the fact that a lot of the responsibility lay with the member states. Existing early warning systems were just not working, he added, commenting that a 1991 European directive designed to improve safety by listing substances that were safe had hardly been implemented, since only one substance had been named after six years of deliberations.

It was then the turn of Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (D, PES) to emphasise the need for bridging gaps in existing legislation and she suggested a number of ways in which this could be done. There could be a dioxin register, for example, she said, pointing out that it seemed a contradiction that different levels were tolerated in fish than was possible in meat. In addition, there should be stricter controls on the components of animal feed and a "rapid alert system" would improve the situation in enabling official bodies to react whenever there was a need. This should be coupled with improved monitoring, she added. As to the idea of a food agency, it was important to ensure that if such a body was set up, it was not subject to the pressure of industry and was able to take truly independent judgements to gain the confidence of the public. For the Liberals, Frédérique Ries (B, ELDR) drew attention to the swift action taken by the Belgian authorities to deal with the recent food scare, pointing out that the system of controls and checks introduced, enabled the Belgian beef ban to be lifted. At the same time, she emphasised the importance of other European member states showing solidarity with Belgian farmers who were in no way responsible for the events that had taken place. The conclusion was, she added, a need for strict controls on the food distribution system and an early warning system put into place. The EU could do more at a research level by involving its own bodies such as the research centre at Ispra, she said. For the Greens, Danielle Auroi (F) pointed out that consumers had lost faith with the food production industry as it is today and no longer believed that existing controls were sufficient. There was, she added, a need for a strict definition of the "precautionary" principle, clear labelling and checks on air and ground water.

Phillip Whitehead (East Midlands, PES) was particularly incensed about the use of sewage sludge in animal feed and the fact that no Commission official seemed able to come up with an explanation as to why this practice was still continuing. There was, he said, a need to act quickly where laws were being breached and to improve monitoring and inspection systems to check on possible new threats. Commenting on the idea of a food agency, he noted that similar doubts had been expressed when it was proposed to set up the Environment Agency. This new body, he added, could set a benchmark and play a vital role in reassuring consumer confidence. Mr Whitehead emphasised the need to be able to act quickly whenever there was a perceived threat and for improved procedures to tackle the dangers of new pollutants. It was also important, he emphasised, to formulate a common European strategy to take to the WTO, and to set specific targets to be agreed over a 3- year period, including a definition of how the "precautionary" principle would work.

David Bowe (Yorkshire and the Humber, PES) stressed the importance of effectively implementing and enforcing existing legislation. He believed that if this had been done in the past, the dioxin crisis would not have arisen. He was not sure if a food agency was the right way forward and questions remain about the nature and structure of such an agency. He was one of a number of speakers to stress the importance of it being accountable. He also noted that there was already confusion over who in the Commission was responsible for what in the realm of food safety. Ian Hudghton (Scotland, Greens/EFA) believed that it was right for public authorities and the EU to play a role in promoting food safety. He was also unhappy at the maintenance of the ban on British beef by an individual member state, arguing that this action was a "bitter blow" to Scotland's beef farmers. A similar point was taken up by Liz Lynne (West Midlands, ELDR) who also castigated the French government, noting that since 1996 there had been no cases of BSE in the eligible age group. She therefore called for the French ban to be lifted.

John Cushnahan (Munster, EPP/ED) welcomed the Commission's commitment to restoring consumer confidence in food and the announcement of a White Paper on EU food law. He believed that Commissioner Byrne should "go the extra mile" and establish an independent food agency along the US lines. This, he believed, would restore consumer confidence in food and the citizens' confidence in the EU. Pat the Cope Gallagher (Connacht/Ulster, UEN) too welcomed the Commission's undertakings and noted in particular the need for proper consultation of the fishing and aqua-culture industries, as well as having scientific testing of dioxin.

Commission President Romano Prodi promised that the White Paper would be ambitious and stressed the importance of establishing both democratic and technical control of any agency. The body would need to have both uniform and decentralised structures and he emphasised that Commissioner Byrne would have a coordinating role in respect of other Commissioners who were involved in this issue. Commissioner Byrne himself emphasised that the real objective was to achieve food safety as a pillar of EU policy. He was gratified by the House's favourable response to the announcement of a White Paper and he promised that all key areas would be examined, such as control of the food chain and the early warning system. Although the full shape of the proposed agency had not yet been realised, he underlined that it needed to be both fully independent and to have a sufficient level of accountability. The Commissioner then updated the House on his meeting with the Agriculture Council in the previous week. On the dioxin issue, he noted that tests in Belgium revealed that in 1% of cases, there was a small residue of dioxin which came from background industrial pollution. If this problem existed in Belgium, it was likely to also occur elsewhere and he wanted to see monitoring in other member states to assess the issue. Mr Byrne also noted that if there were still difficulties and ambiguities in current legislation dealing with sludge in foodstuffs, he would seek to resolve this. In conclusion, he promised that the health issue would be of primary importance in the EU's approach to international trade and its relationship with the WTO.

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Ban on British beef - Commission reacts


Ban on British beef - Commission reacts

On the question of the French ban on British beef, Mr Byrne stated that the preliminary advice he had received indicated that the French authorities had produced no new evidence. He was therefore seeking urgent meetings between France and the Commission at which the French government would have to explain their actions. If new evidence were to arise, he said, he would discuss it with his advisers. However, he wished to resolve the present difficulty in a diplomatic manner. In a press release, Parliament President Nicole Fontaine (F, EPP/ED) stated that a member state should not act against the Commission, however she felt it was necessary to examine the reason for the French decision. She believed that the Commission ought to have informed Parliament on the reasons behind its decision to lift the embargo on British beef. She also called for dialogue on the issue and a just solution.

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Balance of payments aid to the Balkans post Kosovo


Balance of payments aid to the Balkans post Kosovo
Consultation procedure
(A5-0017/0018/0019/1999 - Martin)

Tuesday 5 October - Reporting for the Industry Committee, Hans-Peter Martin (A, PES) recommended approval of 3 Commission proposals designed to provide balance of payments aid for Bulgaria, Romania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The aid takes the form of the balance of payments loan of .200m to Romania, .100m to Bulgaria and .50m to FYROM. Of this .50m, .30m comprises a grant which, as Esko Seppänen (Fin, EUL/NGL) speaking for the Budgets Committee explained, had not been covered in the budget. A logical conclusion therefore was that it could only go ahead at the expense of aid to other countries, a policy he steadfastly opposed, calling for a revision of the ceiling on EU expenditure (financial perspective). Replying to this point later, Commissioner Pedro Solbes explained that there would not be a problem with this year's budget and that it could only arise next year. He would prefer Parliament not to vote a specific amendment calling for the financial perspective to be raised just for this issue, as the problem could arise in other areas of expenditure. He acknowledged that it was up to the budgetary authorities, ie. Council and Parliament to take a decision to resolve the problem.

Amplifying the background to the loan, Mr Martin explained it was part of an international financial package involving the World Bank and the IMF, and with Romania facing a balance of payments deficit of $320m and Bulgaria a deficit of $500m, the aid was much needed. Mr Martin was anxious to see proper and close monitoring of the funds and measures taken to ensure that it reached the people in need and contributed to social welfare. In reply once again, Mr Solbes explained that the loan could not be considered in the same way as other funds, that it would therefore be tricky to include specific references to social development in the legislation. However, he did explain that IMF strings to such loans provided for an element to go towards social needs and he was confident that this indeed would happen. As to reporting to Parliament, while he explained that given the confidential nature of the financial information, this could best be done by informing Parliament's committees responsible.

The proposals were approved with amendments designed to ensure that there is proper monitoring and that the funds are spent "in accordance with the principles of sound and efficient management", proper reporting for Parliament and that the countries use the funding to improve social and economic conditions for the people.

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A boost for renewable energy


A boost for renewable energy
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A5-0016/99 - Langen)

Tuesday 5 October - Welcoming a Council agreement on the Altener II renewable energy programme, Werner Langen (D, EPP/ED) explained that the objective was to increase the share of total energy taken up by renewables from 6 to 12%. The funding was designed to bring this about. Mr Langen also emphasised the need to support solar energy and in particular Biomass, where using "set-aside" land for this purpose was a distinct possibility. Promoting hydro-electrical and wind energy was also important, he said, while an amendment tabled by the committee takes up such issues as increasing Parliament's involvement in the procedure and increasing the commitment of the member states by a new energy charter for renewables (EURONEW). Another amendment seeks to restore the cut made by Council in the funding to the original .81.1m. Taking up this point, Mechtild Rothe (D, PES) said that the total funding was vital to provide the necessary support to ensure that the programme was successful. For the Liberals, Samuli Pohjamo (Fin) emphasised the importance of reducing the EU's dependence on imported energy resources as well as contributing to improving competitiveness. It would also help European companies developing new technology, he added, making a special plea for peat to be included in the list of renewables to be supported.

For the Greens, Ilka Schröder (D) was concerned that the new liberalisation of the electricity market did not have too harsh an impact on small companies which could expect to benefit from the renewables progamme. Providing access to the national grids was important, he added, and the policy to encourage renewables should be encouraged with tax incentives. For the EUL/NGL group, Esko Seppänen (Fin) was also concerned about the high level of oil, gas and coal imports and felt this programme could contribute to reducing this dependence. Olivier Dupuis (I, Ind) on the other hand, was one member who felt that in view of the vast amounts being spent on nuclear energy and the nuclear fusion programme, the funding here was totally inadequate and therefore he said that he would be voting against the common position. Eryl McNally (Eastern, PES) on the other hand, welcomed the proposal and the pledge of the member states to foster renewables. It was important to keep up to date in this area and this indeed would be helped by a new programme available on the Internet. It was, she concluded, relevant to all sectors of society and showed how the EU could act in a sensible and progressive way to the benefit of all Europeans. Glyn Ford (South West, PES) too welcomed the proposal but was another speaker to consider that the resources were insufficient. It would however be helpful for small scale projects and, he felt, should help to promote exports in a technological area where Europeans were in the lead, such as ocean thermal energy conversion.

Replying to the debate, new Commissioner Loyola De Palacio Del Valle-Lersundi welcomed Parliament's support and emphasised the Commission's commitment to promoting environmentally friendly sources of energy for the future which would be beneficial to the planet. In principle, she was prepared to accept most of the amendments, although she did question the usefulness of attempting to come up with a new energy charter at this point in time in view of previous initiatives in this area which have not succeeded. She recognised the importance of providing access to national grids across the EU and expected the reform of the CAP to include ideas to develop Biomass.

In approving Council's common position, Parliament passed a number of amendments designed to promote the export of renewables, restore the .81.1m as proposed by the Commission and reaffirm Parliament's support for a Charter on Renewable Energy (EURENW) to be drawn up.

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SAVE II and the efficient use of energy


SAVE II and the efficient use of energy
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A5-0015/99 - Ahern)

Tuesday 5 October - Welcoming Council's common position on a similar energy improving measure, the .68.4m SAVE programme, Nuala Ahern (Leinster, Greens) underlined the need for close monitoring and analysis of the new initiative to promote energy investment and improve efficiency. At the same time, it should also lead to reducing pollution, she added, especially as the EU could not agree on an energy tax. She also wanted the Commission to agree to reducing energy demand by 1.5% per annum as against the target figure of 1%. Wim van Velzen (NL, EPP/ED) too underlined the importance of the programme in helping to reduce emmissions and respect the Kyoto Agreement. He did however, warn against creating too high expectations, adding that it was necessary to be realistic. In this sense, he was looking for voluntary agreements which he felt would be very effective with industry. At the same time, it was also vital to involve Central and Eastern European countries and ensure that small firms could benefit from the programme. Eryl McNally (Eastern, PES) underlined how the programme could contribute towards creating jobs and helping competitiveness and indeed show how energy companies could encourage the use of more energy- saving appliances and help with more energy efficient designs for housing. Domestic consumers were, she pointed out, the most prolific energy users. She too agreed on the need for monitoring and analysis of the programme and emphasised the importance of involving regional and local networks. Eduard Beysen (B, ELDR) saw the programme as a key factor for the EU's credibility to go hand in hand with the liberalisation of the industry.

Replying to the debate, Mrs Palacio welcomed the report and once again was able to broadly accept most of the amendments, although she felt that the 1.5% figure was not realistic, pointing out that the 1% figure, if maintained over a number of years, would represent real progress. She also made the point that the programme was not legislative in nature and therefore some amendments had to be ruled out on procedural grounds. Like a number of speakers in the debate, she expressed her sympathy for the victims of the recent South Korean nuclear accident.

In approving Council's common position, Parliament approved a number of amendments including one to increase the budget for 1998-1999 from .64 - .68.4. The amendment designed to increase energy efficiency by 1.5% per annum as against 1% in the common position was not adopted.

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Warm welcome for South Africa agreement


Warm welcome for South Africa agreement
Assent procedure
(A5-0020/99 - Kinnock)

Tuesday 5 October - Welcoming the long-awaited agreement with South Africa, Glenys Kinnock (Wales, PES) told MEPs that the European Parliament would be the first Parliament to give its assent and as such hope to set a lead to the other national Parliaments so that it could come into force swiftly. She reminded the House that it stemmed from the 1994 Berlin commitment to negotiate an agreement with the new South Africa and contribute towards developing the country now that racism and apartheid had been tackled. Nevertheless, she agreed with commentators who had described the EU's position as "devious" and "protectionist" in allowing the negotiations to be dominated by sectoral interests. Nevertheless, it did include an important breakthrough by including for the first time agricultural products in a free trade agreement. At the same time there would be financial help for South Africa, which would also be allowed certain safeguards. Her main concern however, was with the regional impact of a free trade area on neighbouring African states such as Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho heavily reliant on customs revenues.

For the EPP/ED, Michael Gahler (D) emphasised the importance of the agreement in contributing towards the promotion of human rights equality and the rule of law. Taking up one small point, ie. the concern of the South Africans not to be allowed to use names like port for their products, he was able to point out that Germany had the same problem with sparkling wine but that sales of "sect" were buoyant and did not seem to be adversely affected by not being able to use the term "champagne". Miguel Martínez Martínez (E, PES) did point out that there are a few points still to be resolved in the discussions on port and sherry but he looked forward to progress here and felt the agreement should promote solidarity with the country, a welcome move following the abolition of apartheid. The agreement was also supported by Bob Van Den Bos (Nl, ELDR) while Eurig Wyn (Wales, Greens/EFA) too expressed concern about the delay in the negotiations and looked forward to it being implemented and putting it into practice as soon as possible. He did however warn that it could not solve all South Africa's problems overnight and there was still a tremendous task ahead to help with the social development of the country. Paul-Marie Couteaux (F, UEN) openly said that he was a supporter of protectionism and therefore was one speaker who could not support the agreement, while for the Greens, Caroline Lucas (South East) raised the concern of neighbouring African states. Swaziland, she pointed out, relied on customs revenues for 40% of its income and there were real fears that this could be threatened by tariff reductions since neighbouring African states have a free trade agreement with South Africa and will be therefore affected by cheap imports from Europe. This could also have an adverse effect on local companies. She urged close monitoring of the accord.

Concluding for the Commission, Poul Nielson noted that the agreement was being ratified by Parliament before it had been signed and he wanted to thank MEPs for their support. He also wanted to achieve a quick agreement on the wines and spirits dossier. He hoped that national governments would speedily approve the agreement, but he cautioned that it might take two to three years before they all did. To move things along, he concluded, parts of the agreement would be applied from next year.

In approving the agreement on South Africa, MEPs voted 430 to 72 with 23 abstentions. Parliament called for special aid for neighbouring African countries which would be adversely affected.

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Prodi speaks to Parliament


Prodi speaks to Parliament

Tuesday 5 October - Commission President, Romano Prodi, came before MEPs to update them on the latest meeting of Commissioners. On the issue of Director-General posts in the Commission, he stressed that the reforms would mean that the nationality of the outgoing member of staff would not be a factor in the appointment of the new Director-General. Mr Prodi did, however, recognise that implementing a policy of promotion by merit would upset the national balance that had heretofore prevailed. He later promised to tackle the structural problems in the Commission that had led to very few women holding senior posts, however he cautioned that change would not take place overnight and a "cultural revolution" would be needed.

Among other items on which Mr Prodi briefed the House were transfers in the 1999 budget such as the allocation of .15m to Turkey, .21m to Kosovo, .20m to South African cooperation and .10m to support the environment and tropical forests. He also stressed the importance of building the internal market and hoped to make the scoreboard a more important element in this process. He also spoke of the Comission's annual report on the competitiveness of EU industry and, in reply to a call from Roger Helmer (London, EPP/ED) for a reduction in the burden of taxes and regulations, he argued that human resources needed to be the main priority in developing industrial production in Europe.

Other questions raised included child abuse in a European Commission nursery with Mr Prodi promising to look into this question in detail. He also received a petition from Johannes Blokland (Netherlands, EDD) protesting at the official reprimand received by the Commission official, Paul van Buitenen . However, the President commented that this reprimand had been an administrative procedure. He also confirmed to Pat Cox (Munster, ELDR) that he was happy to make himself available as a general principle to answer Parliament's questions. Mr Cox was one of a number of members to welcome the Commission President's making himself available to Parliament in this way. In response to Michael Cashman (London, PES) who called for urgent action to stop France's unilateral ban on British beef, he echoed the words of Commissioner David Byrne, stressing that urgent clarification on the issue had been requested from the French authorities.

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Relations with Turkey


Relations with Turkey

Wednesday 6 October - Opening the debate, Kimmo Sasi for the Council began by stressing that Turkey had a crucial role to play in promoting peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region. He also noted that the EU was Turkey's most important trade partner. However, he recognised that there were still problems in the way of Turkey's accession, most notably in the field of human rights. Nevertheless, he welcomed in particular the fact that no death sentence had been implemented since 1984 and hoped that Turkey would rapidly remove the death penalty from its statute books. He looked forward to a permanent and just solution over the Cyprus question where he welcomed Greek support. Mr Sasi also noted that 400,000 people had been left homeless after the recent earthquake and stressed the desire of the EU to support Turkey. In conclusion, he urged the Parliament to support the EU's strategy, most notably on financing of Turkey.

It was then the turn of Commissioner Günter Verheugen who lamented the fact that EU-Turkey relations had deteriorated since the conclusions of the December 1997 European Council in Luxembourg which the Turks had regarded as inadequate. He too wanted to encourage Parliament to support the current EU strategy on Turkey. Mr Verheugen also recognised that Turkey did not yet meet the Copenhagen criteria on such issues as human rights and protection of minorities, although there had been some progress in this area. Nevertheless, he believed that it would be a serious error to refuse Ankara equal footing with other countries wishing to join. He wanted a "road map" and timetable for accession to be prepared. At present, it was not a question of embarking on accession negotiations but of achieving the first step of granting Turkey applicant status.

For the EPP/ED, Hans-Gert Poettering (D, EPP/ED) concluded from Mr Verheugen's statement that a decision would be taken at the forthcoming Helsinki Summit to grant Turkey applicant status and he stressed that this was a very important step. He was convinced that Turkish membership of the EU would change the nature of the Union politically, culturally and economically. He wondered what had changed since December 1997 when Turkey had declined to attend a special conference on enlargement. He believed that Turkey was far from satisfying the Copenhagen criteria in such issues as rights of minorities. The EU could not base its policies on an illusion, he said, while emphasising that he did favour a partnership and he wanted an EU-Turkey forum at which all relevant issues could be debated. "If we allow Turkey in", he said, "what should we be saying to Russia or Ukraine?" In conclusion, Mr Poettering argued that the time was not yet right to talk of Turkish membership of the EU. This line was rejected by Johannes Swoboda (A, PES) who argued that Turkey did indeed need a timetable for accession, although the PES would reserve its opinion on the length of the process. He pointed to positive signs such as steps towards a political solution of the Kurdish issue and the release of the human rights campaigner Akin Birdal. The EU must respond positively to such changes, he said, and should contribute to helping Turkey consolidate constructive change.

For the Liberals, Andrew Duff (Eastern) argued that failure to assure Turkey of its status as a candidate for membership would provoke a real crisis in EU-Turkey relations and he warned that the Parliament was dragging its feet on the issue. He wanted Turkey to have a clear prospect of membership. This line was not followed by one member of his group - Baroness Sarah Ludford (London, ELDR) - who argued that the chief obstacle to Turkey's accession was not anti-Islamic prejudice but Ankara's inability to meet the criteria of democracy laid out at Copenhagen. She pointed to "repression of the Kurdish people" and an insufficient response to the PKK ceasefire. She believed there was a need to intensify the EU-Turkish relationship but that it was not yet on track to join.

Ozan Ceyhun (D) for the Greens/EFA noted that even the Turkish Supreme Judge of the Appeal Court had said that Turkey was a country with a constitution but that it was not a constitutional state. He believed there was a need for further democratisation and support for the forces of democracy. However, he recognised that there were still considerable discussions within his group on a definite line on the issue. Alexandros Alavanos (Gr, EUL/NGL) said that any decision on Turkish membership needed to be based on principle and that the EU could not simply follow US policy. He noted that Slovakia had been castigated for human rights abuses and believed that Turkey had not made sufficient progress in this area. A similar line was taken by Bastiaan Belder (Nl, EDD) who noted that an arms struggle was continuing in Turkey and he called for a practical demonstration of fundamental human rights. Francesco Speroni (I, Ind) struck a similar note, condemning Ankara's ill treatment of minorities and called for fundamental changes in legislation. Only then could Turkey become an applicant country, he believed.

Bashir Khanbhai (Eastern, EPP/ED) was one of a number of speakers to stress Turkey's key strategic geographic and economic position as well as the crucial role it played in NATO. He reminded the House that large numbers of Turks lived in Germany and that the UK had a significant Muslim population. He believed that the religious complexion of Turkey was an historical accident and that its culture was distinctly European. He could not accept that there was an intellectual basis for rejecting Turkey which was linked to the EU by geography and culture. Gary Titley (North West, PES) declared himself "puzzled" by the debate as he was unable to discern the difference between the situation at the time of the Luxembourg Summit and now. "What is new?" he mused. He declared that Turkey had to meet the Copenhagen criteria but this was a dynamic process and the EU needed to work with Ankara in this area.

Replying to the debate, Mr Sasi underlined the need for Turkey to improve its human rights record and show signs that it was moving towards adopting Western values in such areas as respect for democracy and minorities. If this happened, then it would enable a decision to be taken on approving Turkey as a candidate country at the Helsinki Summit. Stability in Turkey was also important for improving prospects for stability across the whole of Europe, he added.

Taking up the question of Turkey's "candidate" status, Mr Verheugen explained that it was not a question of Turkey joining immediately or in the near future but rather a tactical change in the sense of examining what Turkey was doing to fulfil the criteria for membership, especially with regard to respect for human rights and minorities. He frankly admitted that he did not know whether Turkey would ever, in fact, become a member of the EU, adding however that, if we did not try now, then it would never happen. The importance of negotiations was to enable the EU to enter into a serious dialogue with Turkey and discuss practical points of detail. As to cultural differences and the question of Islam, he underlined the need to take a long-term view and see how Islamic values would be adapted in the years to come. It was also important to remember the EU's financial obligations to the country and the importance of stability in the region.

The House voted by 259 votes to 187 with 84 abstentions to endorse this resolution which reaffirms Turkey's eligibility to apply for membership of the EU. While welcoming the progress made by Ankara towards meeting the political and economic criteria for membership the resolution stresses that there is still a considerable way to go and urges the Turkish government to continue the process of democraticisation. An amendment from the EPP-ED group that was adopted calls for a pluralistic dialogue between the EU and Turkey within the framework of an EU-Turkey "Forum on the Future".

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Middle East peace process - optimism for peace


Middle East peace process - optimism for peace

Wednesday 6 October - Opening the debate, Finland's Foreign Minister, Kimmo Sasi, was optimistic about the restoration of the peace process in the Middle East following the election of the Barak government. It did, he said, mark a turning point in Middle East relations, with the new Israeli government showing that it was now serious in putting the peace process on track. He felt there was now political will for direct negotiations to implement the Wye Accord. It was, he said, important for the Finnish government and the EU with Finland's President, Maarti Ahtasari, showing his interest by visiting the region in the summer. The EU intended to be more active in the process, he added, explaining that this should in no way be interpreted as competing with the USA. Amplifying this point, he explained that the EU was in fact the largest aid donor to the Palestinians where one of the aims was to introduce a stable civic society based on good governance. Another aim was to finance small-scale projects that brought people from both sides together. It was, he said, important to ensure that the new Sharm el-Sheikh memorandum committing both sides to fulfilling the Wye Accord was met in full. A one-year deadline had been set for this, which he recognised was ambitious. At the same time, it was necessary to pursue the peace negotiations in neighbouring countries, i.e. Syria and Lebanon and here he felt the time was now right for reconciliation.

In his first speech to plenary, the new Commissioner, Chris Patten, too agreed the opportunity for peace was now higher than it had been for many years. The stage had now been set to relaunch the process with a start being made through the release of political prisoners and troop withdrawals. Another important development was the opening of the safe corridor linking Gaza with the West Bank which enabled goods and people to flow freely. Much now depended on the political will of both sides to come together and the EU would do all that it could to help. Like the Council President, he emphasised the EU's contribution to practical projects such as developing the sea port at Gaza which also had political and social, as well as economic, importance. Another positive sign was the new meeting taking place, with the EU in the chair, of the Regional Economic Working Group which brought together peoples from all sides. He also emphasised the importance of the
"people-to-people" projects of which there were seventeen in all, backed by some .5m in EU aid and ready to be implemented. The challenge now was to foster Palestinian development and at the same time to recognise Israel's genuine security fears. On the Palestinian side, he drew attention to the forthcoming meeting with Mr Arafat in Brussels to discuss the findings of a new EU report showing ways of strengtening institutions in the country. He, too, emphasised that it was not a question of the EU competing with the USA and once again at the practical level there was a need to solve the problem of the refugees and he did not underestimate the importance of this and emphasised the EU's willingness to do all that it could to give peace a chance.

In the ensuing debate, most speakers too saw the election of a new government as offering an opportunity to relaunch the peace process based on dialogue, with Gerardo Galeote Quecedo (Spain) speaking for the EPP/ED, warning, however that the task ahead should not be underestimated. Terrorism, he said, was a real danger and a threat to both sides, while at a practical level he looked forward to the launch of the Euro/Mediterranean Parliamentary Form as another means of enabling the EU to play a role in the region in supporting dialogue. For the PES, Pierre Schori (Sweden) too welcomed the new opportunity for pushing ahead with the peace process and he underlined the need to develop democracy and ensure respect for human rights. Baroness Emma Nicholson (South East, ELDR) too felt it was time to celebrate the "good news" and practical decisions such as opening the Gaza Strip corridor. She pointed out, however, that there was still a need for changes to ensure that free trade brings about "fair pricing and honest labelling" and this had been absent, as far as Palestinian goods and, in particular textiles and agricultural products, were concerned. She acknowledged there were still risks ahead but the prize would be well worth it.
While welcoming the new opportunity for peace, Nelly Maes (Belgium) for the Greens/EFA, also emphasised the need to ensure that Palestinian imports into the EU enjoyed the same benefits as those from Israel while, for the EUL/NGL, Luisa Morgantini (I) pointed out that it was vital for the occupation of southern Lebanon to come to an end and Palestinian lands to be returned. The question of Palestinian refugees still had to be addressed, as did the status of Jerusalem, not to mention the need for Israel to stop building new houses in Palestinian areas. Gerard Collins (Munster, UEN) too was optimistic about the new prospects for peace. He underlined the practical need for the Wye River agreement,especially regarding the transfer of control to Palestinians to take effect and the "land for peace" agreement to be implemented. He welcomed the Palestinian decision to abandon its earlier commitment to the destruction of Israel. However, key issues such as the status of Jerusalem, water rights, refugees and settlements, still needed to be resolved, he said. There was also the question of some 250,000 refugees in the Lebanon. However, he thought there were prospects of improving the situation both here and in Syria. The EU and USA could work together to improve matters, he added.

Replying to the debate, Mr Sasi once again expressed his view that the target date of one year to bring about the implementation of the Wye Agreement was "ambitious". He felt, however, there was a real possibility it could be achieved by the year 2001.

Replying to questions, Commissioner Patten underlined the importance of the EU's role by pointing out that some .1.5bn had been given to help the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the 1994-98 period while the EU had also contributed a further .505m to the UN Relief Agency. This showed a substantial commitment to the region. The EU recogised the need for outstanding trade questions to be settled and pointed out that negotiations were now taking place.

In adopting its subsequent resolution the House welcomed the recent Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement which has ended the deadlock in the region since December 1998 when the previous Israeli government suspended the Wye Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian authority.The new agreement calls for further Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank and sets a timetable for negotiations on a final settlement between the two sides.

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Parliament's calendar of part-sessions - Year 2000


Parliament's calendar of part-sessions - Year 2000

Wednesday 6 October - Parliament approved the calendar of the dates for next year's sessions as proposed by the Conference of Presidents. Amendments to scrap Friday mornings were rejected.

PLENARY PART-SESSIONS
2000

        Strasbourg                    Brussels

        January 17-21
                                
        February 14-18                February 2-3

        March 13-17                March 1-2    
                                March 29-30    

        April 10-14                            
                
        May 15-19                May 3-4

        June 12-16

        July 3-7

        September 4-8                September 20-21

        October 2-6
        October 23-27

        November 13-17                November 29-30

        December 11-15             
                                    

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Technical reports


Technical reports
Consultation procedure
(10097/99-C50090/99) (10098/99-C50089/99) (SEC(99)780-C50060/99) (SEC(99)781-C50061/99) (SEC(99)986-C50100/99) (SEC(99)1037-C5-0101/99) (SEC(99)1050-C50102/99) (COM(99)290- C50126/99)

Wednesday 6 October - Parliament approved a number of technical proposals for legislation covering pensions for Europol staff, energy questions and animal health.

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Amsterdam Treaty and legislative changes


Amsterdam Treaty and legislative changes
Co-decision procedure - first reading. Simple majority required for amendments to be adopted.
(A5-0008/99 - Westendorp y Cabeza) (A5-0014/99 - Jackson)

Wednesday 6 October - Parliament confirmed first reading reports from the Industry and Environment Committees where the legislative base has changed following the coming into force of the Amsterdam Treaty.

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Eleventh international AIDS conference in Lusaka


Eleventh international AIDS conference in Lusaka
(B5-0121/0122/0126/0128/0137/0139)

Wednesday 6 October - Following the Lusaka international conference designed to commit the international community to taking stronger measures to combat AIDS, Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the fight against AIDS to be a priority for development policy and for African governments to put in place plans to combat the disease.

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Paddington train crash


Paddington train crash

Wednesday 6 October - In response to Brian Simpson (North West, PES) who spoke of the "terrible train crash" near Paddington Station in London, President Nicole Fontaine stated that she would be writing to the British Prime Minister to express the House's sympathies with the families and victims of the crash.

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The WTO and the Millennium Round


The WTO and the Millennium Round

Wednesday 6 October - Opening the debate, Council President Kimmo Sasi said that the Millennium Round would deal with a large number of trade issues with agriculture one priority. He emphasised the need to take a pragmatic approach and to include environmental factors. Food exports were important to the EU and as such it was necessary to remove any obstacles to trade and improve access to world markets.

As far as services were concerned, the aim was to adapt international rules to globalisation and ensure there was fair treatment for foreign investments. He also acknowledged the need to take account of the special needs of developing countries. Mr Sasi then referred to the social dimension and taking account of workers' rights. He also recognised the need to involve Parliament in the forthcoming negotiations.

Speaking for the Commission, Pascal Lamy began by stressing the positive elements of globalisation which had allowed economies of scale, had promoted the successful industrialisation of South East Asia, and had created an inter-dependent global village. However, he recognised that there were risks if there were not proper rules and strong multilateral institutions. Through the negotiations of the Millennium Round, he hoped that a better balance would be struck between efficiency and equity and between growth and the protection of the environment.

He noted that the Commission had proposed an extensive agenda and a short timetable for Seattle, arguing first that liberalisation "a la carte" did not work and real progress meant that the negotiations should not get bogged down in sectoral negotiations. He also believed that the world economy needed a direction after the financial crises of emergent and transitional economies in the last two years. He stressed an important need to define the rules and consolidate the WTO in order to reinforce its multilateral character, and to have adequate rules for investment and competition - areas in which there had been difficulties. Specifically on the issue of investment, he stressed that the Commission was not seeking to impose on developing countries the EU's investment codes, but to establish a clear framework for foreign investors. He also recognised the great challenge posed by competition to developing countries, but argued that it was necessary to establish a body of principles and procedures in this field. He also argued that, in such areas as protection of the environment, consumer health and the audio visual sector, there was a shortage of rules and procedures and noted in particular that President Prodi had committed the EU to a fundamental revision of food legislation in the years up to 2002. He stressed the importance of the precautionary principle in handling areas where there was scientific uncertainty.

Mr Lamy then turned to the issue of establishing a link between commercial liberalisation and making progress on establishing the fundamental rights of workers. These two objectives were not only compatible but also closely linked. It would be the task of the EU at Seattle, he said, to persuade developing countries of the importance of making social progress and here he drew a parallel with the progress made in both areas in post-war Europe. He stressed that the principle aim of the Millennium Round was sustainable development and that this firstly concerned developing countries and integrating them effectively into the world economy. The proposed agenda of the Millennium Round sought to respond to the concerns and needs of developing countries such as access to markets, special and differentiated treatment and aiding trade investment and competition. In conclusion, Mr Lamy declared that it would be up to the EU, member states and European citizens to adjust with success to globalisation. He called on Council and Parliament to support the Commission in the task that lay ahead.

Speaking for the EPP/ED, Konrad Schwaiger called for the EU to adopt a firm attitude towards US imports. He wanted the new round of negotiations to serve to establish a better global balance in which the interest of the EU, which constituted the biggest market, were taken into account. His group was particularly concerned with environmental protection and intellectual property. Opening the EU's markets to developing countries was also one of the priorities. For the Socialists, Erika Mann (D) considered that it was necessary to link together trade and social aspects in the negotiations so that everyone could profit from the opening of markets. She supported the Commission's approach which was founded on globalisation and sustainable development. She insisted that the negotiations should be global and that a better balance should be reached between American and European models. She also underlined the importance of consulting unions and NGOs.

Nick Clegg (East Midlands) offered the strong support of the Liberal Group to Council and Commission in their objective of ensuring that negotiations should cover a wide area such as removing customs duties and social issues, competition and investments. He stressed, in particular, that Parliament should be kept better informed on what was happening. Paul Lannoye (B, Greens/EFA), for the Greens/EFA, underlined the importance of having fair and adequate rules for world trade and suggested that there were significant weaknesses at present in this area, noting the problems over bananas, GMOs and wines. He warned, in particular, of the dangers of too much liberalisation and stressed the importance of environmental protection and social rights. This point was also taken up by Sylviane Ainardi (F, EUL/NGL) who argued that profitability should not be at the expense of people and the environment. Charles Pasqua (F, UEN) took a sceptical view of the WTO, noting a decline in the annual growth in OECD countries from 5.2% in the 60's to 2.1% in the 90's. Yves Butel (F, EUL/NGL), too, challenged the "logic of globalisation".

Holding a positive view on the negotiations, James Elles (South East, EPP/ED) spoke with approval of the high rates of growth and low unemployment in the US and the UK. He was one of a number of speakers to call for a large EP delegation to be sent to Seattle as the Round raised legislative problems and legislators needed to be present. Linda McAvan (PES, Yorkshire and the Humber) called for a balanced package covering social justice, the environment and job creation. Along with many speakers, she underlined the needs of developing countries.

Glenys Kinnock (Wales, PES) also took up the case of developing countries who would not necessarily benefit from the world trading system. Opening up world markets under the WTO was not sufficient, she said, and there was a need to look at other issues such as subsidies for agricultural exports, a social clause and ensuring that developing countries could enjoy food security. It was also vital to ensure that the benefits of the Lomè Convention for the developing countries were taken into account. Taking up the cultural and audio visual dimension, Mo O'Toole (North East, PES) drew attention to the rapidly expanding related technological sectors involving telecoms and computers. It was necessary to adopt a flexible approach, she said.

Replying to the debate, Mr Sasi emphasised the importance of transparency in discussions on free trade as well as promoting democratic development and preventing fraud. Opening up markets to an even bigger degree offered the hope of prosperity to all if it was done in a fair way, he said. For the Commission, Mr Lamy recognised the need to improve the procedures for settling disputes. He accepted the need to take special measures to help developing countries.

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Climate change


Climate change

Wednesday 6 October - Emphasising the importance of climate change, Finland's Minister for the Environment Satu Hassi pointed out that rising temperatures in Europe and the USA could have a negative impact on health with diseases such as malaria spreading to both continents and he pointed out that poorer countries would be less able to adapt and there was a danger that they would fall even further behind. It was important for the credibility of the EU to come up with a new strategy to counter the dangers. The new policy should be closely connected to development policy and use should be made of technological developments as part of the long-term strategy for dealing with the problem.

For the Commission, Margot Wallström too emphasised the importance of the EU playing a leading role in countering the dangers of climate change but she warned that the Kyoto Agreement was not yet near to ratification and coming into force. Emission levels were still high. On this point, she said the Commission would be coming forward with a paper on "emissions trading" which, she felt, if properly administered, could contribute towards reducing levels. There was, she emphasised, the need for an interim strategy, bearing in mind the fact that there was still no agreement at an EU level for an energy tax. She supported the idea of doubling the use of renewables as discussed earlier this week and she also felt that there was a role for tax incentives to encourage member states to move away from fossil fuels.

Caroline Jackson (South West ) speaking for the EPP/ED group began by reflecting that Parliament's building was a monument to how humankind had not responded well to the environment, with very little natural light entering it. She believed that the Kyoto Protocol had created expectations but Parliament had the feeling that, since then, things had "gone to sleep". She recognised that implementing the Protocol would cost money but she believed it was worth it. She welcomed, in particular, the Green Paper on emissions trading and stressed the importance of an action programme to enable the EU to catch up with the commitments made at Kyoto. Bernd Lange (D, PES), speaking on behalf of the Socialist group, argued that CO2 reductions offered economic opportunities. He did not believe that it should be permissible for more than 50% of emissions trading to take place outside countries. He was glad that the Commission had promised to work closely with Parliament, noting that this had not always happened in the past. Karl Erik Olsson (S) for the Liberals, also wanted Parliament to seek to influence the nature of the agreement, arguing that trading emission rights was a means of increasing effectiveness with minimum costs. He did not consider it right, at present, to get into percentages and wanted general objectives to be set for the moment. A different line was struck by such speakers as Jonas Sjöstedt (S, EUL/NGL), who was sceptical about emissions trading.

John Bowis (London, EPP/ED) stated that the amendment he was tabling was intended to help more informed decisions to be taken. Quoting the case of the UK, he stated that an increase in energy bills could drive companies out of the country to re-locate elsewhere. The UK would then be claiming to have reduced emissions although it would have in fact simply lost jobs and exported its pollution to another country. Avril Doyle (Leinster, EPP/ED) expressed her concerns about Irish government complacency over the Kyoto Protocol with emissions likely to be well above the target set. She called for a net reduction in emissions, arguing that the problem should not just be exported.

Concluding for Council, Satu Hassi, underlined the importance of achieving a common energy tax, while for the Commission, Margot Wallström, stressed that the the planned Green Paper would have practical proposals. She was ready to accept that some member states could go ahead before others.

Parliament subsequently adopted a resolution expressing support for an EU strategy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, to be accompanied by the early ratification by the member states of the Kyoto Protocol. Parliament also reaffirmed its support for the goal of achieving a 15% reduction in greenhouse-related emissions by the year 2010. To bring this about, there is support for encouraging energy efficiency . In addition, MEPs want discussions to focus on possible use of tax incentives to promote energy-saving transport. MEPs also believe that air transport should be included and the resolution raises the possibility of a kerosene tax and tighter rules on aircraft emissions and noise levels. Other points taken up in the resolution include the use of subsidies for fossil fuels and an energy tax. MEPs believe that those member states supporting such a tax should be allowed to go ahead. MEPs also believe that, following the adoption of Kyoto, there will have to be stricter monitoring arrangements.

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Crisis in Chechnya


Crisis in Chechnya

Thursday 7 October - In adopting this resolution the House expressed its regret at the loss of life in Chechnya and Dagestan and called on the Russian authorities to undertake "legal operations" in order to reestablish internal security throughout the territory of the Russian Federation with full respect for human rights. The resolution also condemns the "acts of terrorism" perpetrated in Russian cities and calls for all necessary measures to be taken to resolve the conflict. Amendments that were passed also strongly condemn the Russian military intervention in Chechnya and express alarm at the Russian Prime Minister's rejection of negotiations with the Chechen President.

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European Code on arms exports


European Code on arms exports

Thursday 7 October - The House voted without amendment to welcome the first annual review of the Code of Conduct on the export or transfer of arms, while calling on Council to ensure that the consolidated report of the annual review process is published in full and that Parliament has an opportunity to give its views on it. MEPs also urged the Council to extend the scope of the agreement so that it applies to licensed production agreements outside the EU concluded by EU- based defence manufacturers.

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Death penalty


Death penalty

Thursday 7 October - The resolution congratulates Council for having decided to submit to the UN General Assembly a resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty and calls in particular for a universal moratorium on executions. One resolution also expresses concern at the death penalty passed on the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

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Human rights violations in the Moluccas


Human rights violations in the Moluccas

Thursday 7 October - MEPs voted without amendment to urge the Indonesian government to ensure that the "delicate ethnic and religious balance" in the Moluccas is preserved and to ensure that there is full respect for human rights in the territory.

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Belarus


Belarus

Thursday 7 October - The resolution which was passed without amendment expresses concern at the disappearance of a number of political figures in Belarus and calls on the authorities to locate them and ensure their safety. It also calls upon the Minsk government to ensure full respect for human rights in the country and to undertake the economic and political reforms that would enable cooperation to be restored between the EU and Belarus.

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Roma people in Kosovo


Roma people in Kosovo

Thursday 7 October - The House in this resolution which was passed by 414 votes to 7 with 19 abstentions called for proper protection to be provided by KFOR and the leaders of the Albanian community for the Roma population and other ethnic minorities in Kosovo. One amendment was passed deploring the abductions and murders of minority groups in Kosovo, in particular Serbs, since the end of the conflict.

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Air crash in Italy


Air crash in Italy

Thursday 7 October - The resolution calls for the completion of the investigation into the crash that took place in Ustica in Italy in 1980 when a DC9 flying from Bologna to Palermo was shot down with 81 passengers on board in unknown circumstances. It also calls for the EU to ensure that more effective rules are in place to ensure the safety of civilian aircraft in relation to NATO and other military activity.

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Nuclear accident in Japan


Nuclear accident in Japan

Thursday 7 October - The resolution offers the House's sympathy to the people of Japan following the nuclear accident in the Tokaimura conversion plant and deplores the inadequacies in safety procedures. It urges the Japanese authorities to take all necessary steps to reassess these procedures.

 
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