Banner page The European Parliament The European Parliament
Banner page


The Week : 03-11-99(b)

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]


Roy Worsley & Tim Boden
PHS 4C-87 & 85
43, rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels
Tel: +32 2 284 2941-3459
Fax: +32 2 284 6515

During Plenary sessions
in Strasbourg:
WIC 433/431
Avenue Robert Schuman
F-67070 Strasbourg
Tel: +33 388 17 4751-3785
Fax: +33 388 17 9355


[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

French-UK beef ban - end in sight?

French-UK beef ban - end in sight?

Wednesday 3 November - David BYRNE, European Commissioner responsible for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, held out the possibility that an end to the French ban on UK beef exports was in sight. Elaborating on requests by the French authorities to follow up further details regarding five key points, i.e. traceability, testing, beef by-products, controls and labelling, Mr Byrne explained that it was rather a question of clarification than challenging the judgment of the EU Scientific Food Committee, which on Friday pronounced British beef as being as safe as that coming from any other country. Affirming his confidence in the judgement of the EU Scientific Food Committee, Mr Byrne agreed that restrictions on UK beef exports were no longer necessary but that, in adopting a precautionary approach, it was "not unreasonable" to take on board the concerns of the French authorities.

When challenged by British MEPs such as Caroline JACKSON (EPP/ED, South West), Liz LYNNE (ELDR, West Midlands), Phillip WHITEHEAD (PES, East Midlands) and Struan STEVENSON (EPP/ED, Scotland), Mr Byrne insisted that this should not be considered as a setback nor indeed a victory for France. Further clarification, he added, would be a small price to pay for a successful conclusion of this dispute. He was confident that this could be reached over the next few days, enabling the Commission to come up with a final agreement clearing the export of British beef in two weeks' time, i.e. for its meeting on 16 November. One point to emerge was the question of the export of beef by-products, but here Mr Byrne explained that this was no longer an issue, as there was in fact no plant in the UK able to carry this out. Underlining the fact that he considered the next stage to be the "correct" approach to the question, if litigation was to be avoided, he did remind MEPs that this option could not be ruled out if negotiations failed. A full report of the Scientific Food Committee had, he said, been sent to MEPs.

In response to a question from Georges BERTHU (UEN, F) , Mr Byrne stresssed that he favoured the establishment of a European Food Safety authority and that work was ongoing in relation to this, although no final decisions had been taken as yet and the constitution of such a body still needed to be decided. It was important to ensure that the rights of members states were taken into account, he noted.

The Commissioner told Simon MURPHY (PES, West Midlands) that he was conscious of the problems of the British farmers and that he too wanted a swift resolution of the problem. He agreed with Mr Murphy that a delay of a few days was better than a lengthy process of litigation. In response to Robert STURDY (EPP/ED, Eastern), who wondered why a decision could not be taken immediately as there was no new scientific evidence, Mr Byrne underlined that it was sometimes difficult to resolve an issue both "quickly and diplomatically". In conclusion, Mr Byrne informed Danielle AUROI (Greens/EFA, F) that, from 2003, all beef would be labelled.

NB    More details on the report of the Scientific Steering Committee are available on Parliament's internet site.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Council and Commission statement - Macroeconomic dialogue

Council and Commission statement - Macroeconomic dialogue

Wednesday 3 November - Opening the debate for the Council, Sauli NIINISTÖ announced that on the table at the Helsinki Summit would be a report from the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers of the EU (ECOFIN) on the macroeconomic dialogue. The importance of this dialogue had grown since the advent of EMU which represented a new start for business and in economic policy. Mr Niinistö also announced that all prime movers at EU level would be attending the next ECOFIN Council meeting to take the dialogue forward. Council, Commission, the two sides of industry and the European Central Bank would attend. He considered that the attendance of the ECB was particularly significant. He emphasised the need to build confidence in economic policy and to respect the independence and autonomy of the parties involved. Mr Niinistö also stated that this EU-level dialogue should not replace the dialogue at national level. In order to simplify matters, there would only be representatives from the Council and not from the member states. In conclusion, Mr Niinistö stated that the dialogue was not a matter of economic policy coordination, but of meeting the challenges of the new world created by EMU.

For the Commission, Pedro SOLBES MIRA emphasised the importance of ensuring stability, boosting employment and laying foundations for economic growth. In order to achieve this, price stability and budgetary discipline would be essential, he said.

Othmar KARAS (EPP/ED, A) for the EPP broadly welcomed the macroeconomic dialogue, whilst stressing that it was not a replacement for politics and should concentrate on embellishing points to enable political measures to be taken forward. He stressed that growth and employment were both important. A less positive line was struck by Robert GOEBBELS (PES, L) who had doubts about the real impact of the dialogue. He questioned the added value of the exercise, seeing it as only the latest in a long line of processes. Carles-Alfred GASOLIBA I BÖHM (ELDR, E),however, supported the initiative believing it to be a welcome step to attaining consensus He did, however, stress the key role of SMEs which, he noted, did not appear to be involved in the dialogue.

For the Greens/EFA, Jean LAMBERT (Greens/EFA, London) raised firstly the issue of the environment. This was covered in the Treaties, she said, and should be incorporated into all EU deliberations - including the macroeconomic dialogue. She wanted to see a real dialogue and not one that would have negative effects on the poor of the world. Finally, she pointed to the "democratic deficit" and asked how MEPs would be involved in the process. She was unhappy that they were not being treated as mature enough to participate. Ioannis THEONAS (EUL/NGL,Gr)was not pleased that the dialogue appeared to be focussing on the economic and not on the social dimension. The unemployed deserved better, he said.

Hans BLOKLAND (EDD, Nl) described the dialogue as the latest in a long line of "European talking-shops". He was unhappy that the EU appeared to be assuming the dimensions of a state and was failing to deal properly with subsidiarity and proportionality. Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA (IND, I) called for a less "dirigiste" economic policy and compared Europe's growth rates unfavourably with those of the US.

Stephen HUGHES (PES, North East) regretted the fact that Parliament was following the meeting from the sidelines. It had been excluded for no good reason, he said. The dialogue would be addressing not just technical issues but also highly political matters and, he argued, which were appropriate for MEPs. He hoped that it would be taking account of the active labour market measures implemented since the Luxembourg Summit. Alan DONNELLY (PES, North East) also expressed his dissatisfaction that Parliament had not been involved and expressed the hope for a macroeconomic dialogue and not the monologue that MEPs had become accustomed to. He stressed the importance of the dialogue, arguing that at times of difficulty it could have a critical influence on the way citizens viewed EU institutions.

Replying for Council Sauli NIINISTÖ recognised the concerns of MEPs to be involved in the dialogue but pointed out that his hands were tied as he was following on from the decisions taken at the Cologne Summit. While he was generally optimistic about economic prospects and employment following the introduction of the euro, he did say that this also brought about new risks. There was also a lack of skilled labour. The aim now was to create confidence to encourage investment and to ensure that there was no overlap between the different responsibilities of EU institutions, such as for example the ECB and Finance Ministers. He undertook to promote transparency with due respect for confidentiality.

For the Commission, Anna DIAMANTOPOULOU pointed out that it was not possible to solve Europe's employment problems overnight but that this new approach meant that for the first time there was a genuine European employment policy, bringing together all those involved and dialogue should be given an opportunity to work. Creating jobs was also a priority of national economic policies. Taking the transparency point a step further, Commissioner Pedro SOLBES MIRA undertook to keep MEPs informed of developments, pointing out that other factors to be taken into account included structural policy and the need to examine demand.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Working hours - Overwhelming support for shorter hours for doctors after 4 years

Working hours - Overwhelming support for shorter hours for doctors after four years
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A5-0041/99 - Smet) (A5-0042/99 - Hughes)

Wednesday 3 November - In the debate when MEPs discussed two Council common position on working hours, there was overwhelming support across the board for reinstating Parliament's first reading position with regard to the situation of junior doctors, ie. that they should be brought within the scope of the directive, limiting the working week to 48 hours within a four year period rather than the thirteen year period agreed by EU Ministers. The intention is also that the maximum hours works should be fixed at 54 hours a week over a 4 month reference period during the transitional period. This was the line recommended by Miet SMET (EPP/ED, B) reporting for the Social Affairs Committee and indeed endorsed by Stephen HUGHES (PES, North East) who said it was just not realistic to expect junior doctors to be able to perform an 18 hour day effectively. Jean LAMBERT (Greens/EFA, London) too felt there was a need to reduce working hours for trainee doctors on health and safety grounds alone and, she pointed out, long hours contributed to the drop- out rate in the profession, especially amongst women. Brian CROWLEY (UEN, Munster) too supported the 4 year transitional period to introduce a shorter week for trainee doctors, although he pointed out there were difficulties with the application of the working time directive in general. To be successful, he said, it should be effective, easily enforceable and clearly related to health and safety needs. There was, he said, a danger of over-regulation here and there were differences of opinion as to the costs of implementing the directive. Furthermore, it would not be uniform across the EU, he argued. He was concerned about the failure to agree regulations for the road transport sector, where action was need to deal with not only road deaths but traffic congestion as well. He also felt the special considerations for fishermen had not been sufficiently taken into account.

Welcoming the separate agreement on enforcement of working hours at sea, Stephen HUGHES (PES, North East) explained that it should be seen in conjunction with two other pieces of legislation regulating working hours, with a view to avoiding unfair competition, or "social dumping". The three agreements are scheduled to come into force at the same time by mid-2002. Mr Hughes did however, express concern about another related proposal, this time governing the road transport sector, which remains blocked in Council.

Liz LYNNE (ELDR, West Midlands) was another speaker to express her support for a transition period of four years to bring junior doctors within the scope of the working time directive. It was not uncommon, she said, for trainee doctors in the UK to work from 9am on Saturday to 5pm on Monday without a break. It was obvious, she stressed, that their judgement would suffer if they did not have adequate rest periods.

Proinsias DE ROSSA (PES, Dublin) also stressed that tired workers were a risk to themselves and others, and he considered it scandalous that Irish trainee doctors worked over 80 hours a week. He also underlined the dangers of lorry drivers falling asleep at the wheel and argued that the tachograph legislation was not rigorously applied and that there was a need to take steps to protect the public at large. This would be costly, he admitted, "but what price could be put on the life of a child?"

Pat the Cope GALLAGHER (UEN, Connacht/Ulster) argued that flexibility was essential in the fishing industry - the scope of which should include those working in the fresh fish processing industry. Although there could be no compromise on health and safety, he was not in favour of amendments that would, he felt, put too many constraints on fishermen. However, on the issue of junior doctors' hours, he did support a transition period of 4 years. Peter SKINNER (PES, South East) pointed to UK proposals which were in advance of the proposed directive on junior doctors' hours. He also pointed to the case of workers in the emergency services. The whole issue was fraught with practical problems, he said.

Ian HUDGHTON (Greens/EFA, Scotland) was particularly concerned about the case of self- employed or share fishermen who jointly owned their boats and could not control their working times. The fishermen, he said, were already subject to codes of practice and must be regarded as special cases. He therefore sought the Commission's assurance that share fishermen would be excluded from the scope of the directive. However, Anna DIAMANTOPOLOU, in her subsequent response, was unable to give a satisfactory reply on this issue, despite questioning from several members. On the following day, Mrs Smet stated that the proposal did not cover the self-employed.

Senator Avril DOYLE (EPP/ED, Leinster) was yet another speaker to express concern about the hours of junior doctors, of whom there are some 3,000 in Ireland "often working excessive hours." "In protecting our doctors", she said, "we are protecting our patients." The same line was followed by Mary BANOTTI (EPP/ED, Dublin), a former nurse, who found it ironic that on the eve of the millennium, "we are still talking about doctors who are working under Dickensian conditions." She too wanted these junior doctors to be involved in the directive within 4 years.

Den DOVER (EPP/ED, North West) could not see how the measure on seafarers' hours of work could be monitored satisfactorily. There could be no EU jurisdiction over ships from third countries, he said, and ports should not be dictating to visiting ships on the hours of work of their seamen.

Concluding for the Commission, Mrs Diamantopolou noted that Council was now proposing a 7 year transition period for junior doctors while Parliament was proposing a 4 year period. In her view, the Commission's half-way house proposal of a 5 year period was an appropriate solution. She cautioned against Parliament taking too extreme a position on this issue as this could lead to a long delay in the implementation of the proposal. However, she recognised that this issue would be going to conciliation if the relevant amendment was passed.

The common position on the enforcement of seafarers' hours of work on board ships using EU ports was approved without amendment.

With regard to working hours for junior doctors, the House voted to postpone the vote on the common position. The vote will now take place at the November Strasbourg session.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Cars - Boost for fuel economy and cutting pollution

Cars - Boost for fuel economy and cutting pollution
Co-decision procedure - second reading. 314 votes required for amendments to be adopted.
(A5-0040/99 - Sterckx)

Wednesday 3 November - Reporting for the Environment Committee, Dirk STERCKX (ELDR, B) welcomed a Council agreement on fuel economy labelling for cars as part of the EU's campaign to cut CO2 emissions and thus reduce pollution in line with commitments at Kyoto. The agreement provides for displaying a fuel economy label on or near all new cars in showrooms, publishing a fuel economy guide free of charge containing information on all new models, displaying posters in showrooms with a list of fuel consumption data for all models and publishing promotional literature, e.g. on the Internet.

Since Council accepted 14 of Parliament's amendments adopted at first reading, Mr Sterckx did not see the need to table further amendments and looked forward to the new legislation coming into force by the end of the year 2000.

Robert GOODWILL (EPP/ED, Yorkshire and the Humber) however, while welcoming the intentions behind the directive, did express some surprise as a simimlar scheme is already in place in the UK. It appears on this occasion the EU is following the UK's lead. A similar scheme is also in force in Sweden. He did nevertheless express a number of concerns, one relating to the intention to publish a list of the top ten vehicles by category. This could be open to abuse by manufacturers tinkering with vehicles, he felt, and urged close monitoring of the legislation.

For the Commission, Margot WALLSTRÖM too welcomed the agreement, which she described as a first step towards improving information in this domain for consumers. The Commission, she added, would be making fuel economy details relating to cars on sale in Europe available on the Internet.

The common position on proposals to improve consumer information on the fuel economy of cars was approved without amendment.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Employment guidelines must be tightened up

Employment guidelines must be tightened up
(A5-0045/A5-0046/99 - Menrad)

Thursday 4 November - Opening the debate, Winfried MENRAD (EPP/ED, D) stated that he was reporting on two separate items from the Commission. Firstly, on the Joint Employment report for 1999 and secondly on two proposals establishing the Employment Committee and setting out the guidelines for member states employment policies in 2000. On the 1999 report, he welcomed the fact that 1.8m extra jobs had been created but stressed that youth and long-term employment were unacceptably high. He wanted Parliament to be more involved in drafting and implementing the Growth and Stability Pact. He also set out the areas that he believed to be essential to promoting growth, including more vocational training; more employee share ownership; new approaches to energy taxation; measures to make companies more adaptable; and flexibility on working hours. He also underlined the need to strengthen measures to promote equal opportunities.

For the Economic Committee Mathieu GROSCH (EPP/ED, B) stressed that the employment guidelines must be based on goals that have actually been set and on trustworthy data. Money on training must be spent properly to get rid of unemployment, he said. Jobs should be created where there was a need and it was vital to avoid " political dirigisme". Mr Grosch also called for real and not subsidised jobs. Platitudes were not acceptable, he said, concluding with a call for guidelines that were specific and targeted. For the Women's Committee, Maj Britt THEORIN (PES, S) argued that results so far to promote female equality were slight. There was still higher female unemployment, she said, and she called for effective integration of equality considerations into EU legislation. She also reminded the House that the Amsterdam Treaty had laid great stress on gender equality.

Bartho PRONK (EPP/ED, Nl) considered it to be a useful exercise for the Commission to take stock of what member states were doing, although he felt that the demographic aspect was missing from the Commission report. Anne VAN LANCKER (PES, B) saw worrying signs that the Luxembourg process was getting bogged down and she called for greater substance to the guidelines. She stressed the importance of quantitative bench-marking, including monitoring the levels of long-term unemployment. She also felt that the strategy for fighting unemployment should not be only considering the US model where there was a different social situation. Anne JENSEN (ELDR, Dk) was broadly in favour of the Employment Pact, arguing that it respected subsidiarity while also seeking a level of coordination of member states' policies. She stressed the importance of the social dialogue, while also emphasising that it should not supplant the democratic process.

Hélène FLAUTRE (Greens/EFA, F) considered there needed to be more practical demonstration that the EU's competitiveness policy was actually in favour of jobs. There was too much cut-throat competition, she said. Of the 22 employment guidelines, she noted, none dealt with the issue of less working time. She stressed the need to support the young, the unemployed and the long-term unemployed. Local initiatives were also important, she concluded. Herman SCHMID (EUL/NGL, S)stressed the need to strengthen convergence while bearing in mind regional and national diversity.
Liam HYLAND (UEN, Leinster) argued that the central aspect of any jobs policy should be to guarantee a fair distribution of job opportunities through regionalisation. He noted that unemployment was falling in Europe and now stood at 6% in Ireland. However, those who were still without jobs often had few skills and little chance of employment. He called for entrepreneurship to be promoted and for support to go to local government job initiatives in his own constituency of Leinster. He also stressed the importance of increasing childcare facilities, especially in rural areas.

To tackle unemployment, Phillip BUSHILL-MATTHEWS (EPP/ED, West Midlands) advocated a policy based on tax reductions, reducing social security contributions and red tape. Furthermore, he could not go along with the notion that the euro had contributed to making a better climate for creating jobs. He believed it was still untried and "the jury was still out." He also saw as "ominous" suggestions that Europe's employment guidelines should be "reinforced" or "binding". What was needed was different national solutions according to the problems in question, not a centralised approach, and if there were attempts to impose this, then he would oppose it, he added. Jonathan EVANS (EPP/ED, Wales) on the other hand, was concerned about mainstreaming and the need for more training. Women, he said, were poorly represented at a management level and more was needed to counter this. Richard HOWITT (PES, Eastern) agreed but he was particularly concerned to promote the needs of the disabled. The EU, he felt, could do more in this direction by setting targets for getting the disabled back to work and also for evaluating the success of various programmes.

Replying to the debate, Anna DIAMANTOPOLOU explained that she saw the EU's role as being to reinforce that of the member states and told the House that there was broad agreement in Council on the directions on which EU policy should go. There should be greater focus on the transition from training to work, more emphasis on using new technology, promoting the information society and increasing the role of both the local authorities and the social partners. In addition, she felt insufficient attention had so far been paid towards lifelong learning and that the EU could be more ambitious in setting targets for the use of new technology and in particular the Internet.

In the subsequent vote, Parliament endorsed the establishment of an Employment Committee. Amendments called for regular and systematic consultation between the Committee and management and labour and also for its remit to cover financial and social as well as economic policy areas. MEPs also want the Committee to participate in the preparation of the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines of the EU.

They also voted with amendment to endorse the Commission's proposals for guidelines for member states' employment policies in 2000. One amendment would increase the numbers of unemployed who are offered training from a minimum of 20% to one of 25%, while also setting targets for the inclusion of women in training programmes based on the average of the three most successful member states in this respect. Other areas addressed by amendments include the emphasis on the importance of boosting female employment and of establishing minimum standards for informing and consulting employees.

In a separate resolution on the 1999 Employment Report, Parliament called on the Commission and Council to improve the relationship between the broad economic guidelines and the employment guidelines. MEPs see EMU as a powerful stimulus for improving productivity and creating a positive climate for new jobs. They want to see a strengthening of the link between creating jobs and social protection, with basic minimum social standards relating to employment conditions. Parliament also wants to see more emphasis placed on improving equal opportunities, mainstreaming and setting quantifiable targets for employment and training that can be properly evaluated.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Scientific agreements with third countries

Scientific agreements with third countries
Consultation procedure
(A5-0049/99 - Gahrton - China, A5-0047/99 - Linkohr - Argentine Republic)

Thursday 4 November - The House voted in favour of the proposals for scientific and technological cooperation agreements between the EC and China, and the EC and Argentina.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Protest at Russian actions in Chechnya - vote on scientific agreement postponed

Protest at Russian actions in Chechnya - vote on scientific agreement postponed
Consultation procedure
(A5-0048/99 - Quisthoudt-Rowohl - Russia)

Thursday 4 November - Parliament voted to postpone its vote on the proposed scientific and technological cooperation agreement between the EC and Russia on the recommendation of the reporter. It wished to register a protest at Russian military activity in Chechnya and there were calls for a speedy settlement of the crisis. Commissioner DIAMANTOPOULOU had said before the vote that in her view a postponement would send out the wrong message to Moscow.

[Start of Doc] [Previous] [Next]

Internal market - call for deregulation

Internal market - call for deregulation
(B5-0204/1999 - Palacio Vallelersundi)

Thursday 4 November - In adopting a resolution which welcomes the new approach by the Commission towards the internal market, based on greater involvement of small firms and the citizen and consumer interests, MEPs want to see an improvement in the business environment through a programme targetted towards simplifying legislation and minimising the regulatory burden. The resolution also emphasises the need to eliminate national subsidies which distort the market and the importance of market forces contributing towards the levelling of indirect taxes. In addition, the resolution draws attention to the importance of creating a genuine legal framework for the internal market, to be based on harmonisation, where necessary, or mutual recognition and country of origin. Attention is also drawn towards the necessity for a coherent approach to regulating the Internet to electronic commerce, intellectual property, distance selling and data protection with a view to protecting consumer rights.

  Legal notice