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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Council Question Time

  President. The next item is questions to the Council (B6-0332/2005).


  John Purvis (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I rise on behalf of a colleague, Mr Kamall, who last month submitted to the Council Question H-0688/05 concerning China textile quotas. He has not as yet received a reply in any form. I wonder whether you could ask the Council of Ministers when he can expect a response. In normal circumstances we expect a response the next day.


  President. – Mr Purvis, I have received notification that the Council’s answer is due at any moment. In fact, the Council is present in the Chamber and I should ask it to give precedence to answering that question.

Question No 1 by Andrew Duff (H-0761/05)

Subject: Green Line Regulation in Cyprus

Does the Council believe that the recent modification of the Green Line Regulation has fulfilled its purpose of making a significant increase of trade between the North and the South of Cyprus?

Is it an appropriate and adequate response to the political engagement by the Council in April 2004 to assist the development of North Cyprus?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. In response to the earlier point, I cannot claim to be familiar with the specific question. I think if I had seen the question I would probably have had an answer. However, I can assure you that it is a matter the Council will look into and endeavour to ensure a reply is forthcoming.

In relation to this question, the so-called Green Line Regulation was adopted by the Council on 1 May 2004 with a view to facilitating the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community through the facilitation of trade between the northern part of Cyprus and the European Union customs territory. As the honourable Member rightly points out in his question, the Council adopted amendments to the Green Line Regulation in February 2005 to try to extend its scope and effectiveness, thus contributing further to the integration of the island.

In its first report on the implementation of the Green Line Regulation from 1 May 2004 to 30 April 2005, the Commission concludes that the crossing of persons is running smoothly, but that the volume and value of goods crossing the line remains limited.

While the report mentions the last amendments adopted in February 2005, the Commission implementing decisions concerning the new goods covered were still under preparation. Therefore, a full evaluation of the effectiveness of these amendments was not possible.

The Commission is due to report again on the Green Line Regulation in 2006 and will be reporting on the implementation of these provisions. As for other measures, which are intended to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community, the Council is aware of its responsibilities and efforts are continuing in that regard.


  Andrew Duff (ALDE). – I thank the President-in-Office of the Council for his reply. Will he include, as an important part of his and the Commission’s assessment of progress, a quantified assessment of the volume of trade across the green line intended for third countries?

Could he also explain why it is that Turkish Cypriot trucks are blocked from travelling to the south? It is patently absurd that a Turkish Cypriot vehicle can be permitted on the streets of Strasbourg, whereas it is blocked on the streets of south Nicosia.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I thank the honourable Member for the points that he has raised. I can assure him I have listened carefully to them and noted them. With the permission of Parliament, I shall pass them on directly to the Commission so that they can inform the ongoing work that the Commission is taking forward.


  Chris Davies (ALDE). – Commission officials told me last year, when I was in Nicosia just after the Green Line Regulation had come into effect, that in practice the Greek Cypriots were taking every opportunity to find reasons for preventing its maximum application and that trade was still being very severely restricted. I realise that this is a matter for huge frustration amongst members of the Council, the vast majority of whom want to see direct trade with Northern Cyprus.

No one in the Council likes to rock the boat, but is it not time to do a bit more public naming and shaming when EU citizens, whose elected representatives are unfortunately not yet recognised by this Union, are being kept oppressed by one Member State?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The European Union foreign ministers expressed a desire to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots at the April 2004 General Affairs Council. At the Council’s request, the Commission produced two draft regulations to deliver on this commitment. Perhaps some of the frustration of which the honourable Member speaks reflects the fact that it has not yet been possible to agree them. However, I can assure Parliament that we will continue efforts to achieve agreement. Clearly that will involve a number of Member States. I can assure you that we are determined, if we can, to reach agreement to give expression to that decision of the General Affairs Council.


  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – I thank the President-in-Office for his reply, but is it not shameful that a year and a half after the Council made that pledge to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots there is still no direct trade and no financial aid? Could he give a pledge that there will be agreement by December, by the end of the British Presidency?

Is the President-in-Office aware that some of the land crossings between the north and south of Cyprus are sometimes shut, so the refusal of direct air flights out of and into Northern Cyprus effectively shuts off Turkish Cypriots from contact with the outside world? There was some legal thinking going on inside the Foreign Office about licensing direct flights to Northern Cyprus. Could he tell us what has happened to that thinking?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I would respectfully remind the questioner that I am answering on behalf of the Presidency today, rather than the British Government. She is welcome to correspond with me separately, in a different forum, about the views of the British Foreign Office on the licensing of flights.

That being said, I share the Member’s frustration about the progress we had hoped to see in light of that earlier General Affairs Council commitment. However, as discussed at great length in our previous conversation about future financing, securing agreement often depends not on the will of one country, even one country holding the Presidency, but on the capacity to secure the support of all countries. That is why, notwithstanding the genuine frustration we share with her, I can only assure her that we will continue our earnest endeavours to reach agreement. At this stage, however, I cannot give her any guarantee of the date on which that agreement will be reached.


  President. – Question No 2 by Panagiotis Beglitis (H-0762/05)

Subject: Draft negotiating mandate for the conclusion of a stabilisation and association agreement between the EU and Serbia/Montenegro

In April 2005, the Commission finalised and submitted to the Council a draft negotiating mandate for the conclusion of an EU stabilisation and association agreement with the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Despite recognition of the strategic importance of Serbia and Montenegro to the security and stability of the region and the country's recognition by the EU, it was hitherto the only country in the Western Balkans whose European prospects were excluded from the European process.

Why the delay in considering and adopting the negotiating mandate enabling negotiations to commence? When does the Council plan to adopt the mandate and confer it on the Commission? Given that, in the case of Croatia, the requirement of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia did not prevent the EU from opening accession negotiations, why, in the case of Serbia and Montenegro, has that requirement been stipulated in such an unconditional manner, thereby establishing a policy of double standards? Why does the Council not open negotiations immediately, whilst retaining the possibility of checking that the relevant requirement has been fulfilled at a later stage and, in any case, before the completion of negotiations and the signing of the agreement?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I entirely agree with the honourable Member about the importance of Serbia and Montenegro moving towards the European Union. That is why I am delighted that the Council authorised the Commission to open negotiations for stabilisation and association and the agreement with Serbia and Montenegro at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 3 October, of which I have already spoken. A formal ceremony to open negotiations was subsequently held in Belgrade on 10 October, in the presence of the Commissioner for Enlargement, Mr Rehn.

The decision to begin SAA negotiations follows the positive feasibility study that Serbia and Montenegro received from the Commission in April 2005. As one of our Presidency objectives, the United Kingdom sees this as a significant step for Serbia and Montenegro on the road to the European Union. It also affirms the European Union’s commitment to the Thessaloniki Agenda, which emphasises that the future of the western Balkans lies in the European Union.

The Council has judged that the pace and conclusion of negotiations will depend in particular on Serbia and Montenegro’s progress in developing its legislative framework and administrative capacity, the effective implementation of the Constitutional Charter and, of course, full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The Council and Commission will jointly review Serbia and Montenegro’s performance in these areas before negotiations conclude.


  Panagiotis Beglitis (PSE).(EL) Mr President, I should like to ask the President-in-Office of the Council, Mr Alexander, two brief questions.

Firstly, knowing that a referendum will be held in Montenegro in 2006 on its possible secession from the joint state of Serbia-Montenegro, to what extent will progress in negotiations on the stabilisation agreement affect this referendum in Montenegro?

Secondly, to what extent will negotiations on the stabilisation and association agreement be affected by the parallel negotiations due to start on the final status of Kosovo and, furthermore, does Mr Alexander believe that the position of Serbia on the question of Kosovo will affect the progress of negotiations on the stabilisation and association agreement?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. In the course of our Presidency, I have personally had the opportunity to travel to Belgrade and hear directly from representatives of Serbia and Montenegro of their desire, ultimately, for European Union membership and their desire to move forward the process of stabilisation and association agreements. I therefore think we would be getting ahead of ourselves – given the recent announcement that was given formal expression when Commissioner Rehn visited Belgrade recently – if we anticipated what may or may not be the conclusion of a potential referendum in the future.

However, I would certainly make the point – and this was a point I made very clearly on behalf of the European Union when I met with representatives both of Serbia and Montenegro – that the challenge of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal is an immediate and contemporary one. We have been heartened by some of the steps that have taken place in Belgrade in recent months and the level of cooperation that has been shown in comparison to earlier levels of cooperation. However, let us be very clear this afternoon in this Chamber that there is further and real progress that must be made to secure full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.


  Bart Staes (Verts/ALE). – (NL) Mr President, I apologise for being late, as a result of which I missed some of the response by the President-in-Office, but, as we are discussing Serbia, let me tell you that I was in Kosovo last week – the Albanian part of Serbia’s northern province to be precise – where people are extremely worried about the fate of 2 500 people who are still missing. Serbia is refusing help to recover those bodies.

Surely one of the conditions we in the European Union should attach to our continued support for Serbia should be that that country must cooperate with UNMIK and with the Albanian authorities in Kosovo in order to ensure that all those people who have lost relatives at least know where they are, where those bodies are and that those bodies are returned so that they can be given proper burial. Can the President-in-Office promise that this will be one of the conditions for continued cooperation with Serbia?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I understand the strength of emotion around such issues, not least given the opportunity that I have had in recent months to travel, not just to Serbia and Montenegro, as I have just described, but also to Kosovo, and hear for myself the very real challenges that continue to confront Kosovo in particular and the region more generally.

In that regard, in the course of the conversations that I had both in Belgrade and in Pristina, I emphasised the importance of awaiting Ambassador Eide’s report. In that sense, our hope would be that this would provide the basis on which a way forward could be found that would be to the satisfaction not only of one element of one community but that would serve the broader interests of peace and security in the region.


  President. – Question No 3 by Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (H-0763/05)

Subject: Young people in rural and remote areas and use of the Structural Funds and other financial instruments

With the end of the 2000-2006 planning period in view, what is the Council's assessment of the results achieved through the use of the Structural Funds and other financial instruments in terms of the social integration, education, training and vocational development of young people living in rural, island, mountain, sparsely populated and remote areas, and areas facing demographic problems?

Does the new plan for 2007-2013 include measures which target this group to promote their integration into their natural social environment and enable them to continue living there?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Council has not assessed the impact of the structural and cohesion funds on the social integration, education, training and vocational development of young people living in areas facing demographic problems.

The Third Cohesion Report on Economic and Social Policy, which reports on the progress made towards achieving economic and social cohesion through SCF, the EIB and other financial instruments, was adopted by the Commission on 18 February 2004. Part of the report focuses on the impact of Community policies, competitiveness, employment and cohesion and the impact and added value of structural policies on such areas.

The Council is aware of the importance of the role of young farmers, particularly in the development of the rural environment and environmental conservation. In 2003, 24% of agricultural holdings were headed by a person under 45 years of age. Generational renewal must be guaranteed in particular by means of special early-retirement measures combined with support for setting up.

During the current programming period, i.e. from 2000 to 2006, approximately EUR 2 billion from the Community budget will have been allocated directly to young farmers to help them establish themselves. That amount is earmarked for the financing of investments and to help them set up in business through consultational services.

Looking ahead, the Council has recently adopted a range of measures in the framework of the Rural Development Regulation for 2007-2013, in particular aid of up to EUR 55 000 per holding, aid for modernisation and the possibility of utilising the national reserve to help young farmers to establish themselves.


  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, I thank the Minister for his reply and I hope that financing will be decided quickly so that, by 2010 and 2013, everything he has told us about will have been put into practice.

I also wish to ask if suitable provision will be made for the education and culture of these areas which, of course, are based on the reproduction of human resources.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Let me deal first with the issue of progress towards achievement of an agreement on future financing. I would simply reiterate what I have said before this afternoon, which is that we are sincere in our endeavours to try and reach agreement in December. The tenor of the question reflects the sense of urgency on the part of not just one Member State but a number of different Member States about the need to reach agreement on future financing.

I set out before the Council the terms of the third cohesion report on economic and social policy, which reported on progress. It would be helpful to make it clear that the target date for adoption of the EU-wide rural development strategy is autumn 2005. The framework for monitoring and evaluation should be agreed by the end of 2005 and Member States will then produce national strategy plans in line with an overarching European Union strategy. So clearly there will be a national as well as a European locus at that juncture. These plans will include quantified objectives for rural development spending, tailored to regional circumstances, against which, of course, the effectiveness of the spending can then be judged.


  Josu Ortuondo Larrea (ALDE). – (ES) Mr President, Minister, the British Government has indicated that it is in favour of reducing the CAP and lowering agricultural subsidies, and I would therefore like to ask the Presidency-in-Office of the Council whether it believes that young people living in rural and mountain regions are going to be able to integrate better into their natural environment and whether they will have more life opportunities as a result of this proposal to abandon the common agricultural policy.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. If the honourable Member is referring to World Trade Organization talks, a framework agreement involving both the United States and the European Union, which essentially got the trade talks back on track, was reached back in 2003.

The position on the prospective trade talks in the critical days ahead was discussed at the General Affairs Council last week and is a matter of ongoing concern and direct interest to the European Commission, which leads for us in that area.

However, there is a risk that discussion of the importance of the Doha development round will be narrowed down to a discussion of agriculture and rural development issues. The European Union has a great deal to gain from a successful conclusion to the World Trade Organization talks, not just in agriculture but also in services and non-agricultural market access. So we all, whether we live in rural or urban areas, have a common interest in ensuring a successful conclusion to the World Trade talks. A spur to greater global trade is a spur to greater global prosperity.


  President. – Question No 4 by Fiona Hall (H-0766/05)

Subject: Energy end-use efficiency

In light of recent shocks to the energy market such as the increase in oil prices and heightened public concern over the effects of climate change, what is the Council under the UK Presidency doing to ensure that the proposed directive on energy end-use efficiency and energy services (COM(2003)0739 – C5-0642/2003 – 2003/0300(COD)) takes into account the more rigorous measures to encourage energy saving supported by a strong majority in Parliament?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Council is well aware of the issues raised by the honourable Member and shares her view that measures on energy efficiency are one of the key instruments in tackling climate change. Against this background, I can assure the honourable Member that the Council is sparing no effort to reach an agreement on this important draft directive with the European Parliament at second reading.

As regards the extent to which the Council is taking into account the amendments adopted by the European Parliament at first reading during these negotiations, I can confirm today that the Council is making a substantial effort to accommodate key elements of these amendments. Several elements have to be considered in order to develop a compromise leading to an effective directive, such as how long the directive should apply, the level of the savings target, the role of the public sector, the use of energy efficiency indicators and benchmarks, as well as a reliable monitoring system.

It is clear that an adequate balance has to be struck between realistic and achievable targets and over-ambitious ones that will only diminish the credibility of Community legislation.


  Fiona Hall (ALDE). – Thank you for that encouraging and positive response, but I have to say that it is disappointing that the Council is weakening the proposals before Parliament, particularly by reducing the level of the targets and making them non-binding. This means that, under the UK Presidency proposals, the target has been cut so much that, in the UK, it is pretty much what is being achieved by measures already in place.

If the Government has a genuine commitment to energy efficiency, when are we going to see it in terms of a toughness in the current negotiations between the Council and Parliament? We have had a lot of rhetoric about climate change and energy saving, but we still are not seeing the action in the actual text on the table.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I am grateful for the opportunity to respond. I was somewhat naively touched by the description of my answer being encouraging if a little unsurprised then to hear it described as disappointing. Let me try to offer what comfort I can to the honourable Member by addressing the specific issue of the merits or demerits of mandatory targets.

We have been clear throughout that all Member States are committed to increasing their energy savings in line with the targets set out in the directive. However, mandatory energy savings targets could lead to short-term measures being implemented purely to meet targets, rather than the long-term focus which is needed. It can also focus attention and resources unduly on measuring rather than doing.

Member States felt that it would be inappropriate to create the possibility of being taken to the Court of Justice on the grounds of non-achievement of the prescribed levels of savings. For example, if a Member State achieved only 5% savings after six years instead of the prescribed 6%, the achievement of targets would partly rely on changes in consumer behaviour. Member States aim to influence this through the different measures proposed in the draft directive. However, the effectiveness of these measures is not completely predictable or entirely within the control of Member States themselves.

On top of that, we already have mandatory targets as part of our commitments under Kyoto. Placing specific targets on individual elements of the package of measures, such as energy efficiency being undertaken to reach that target, would reduce the flexibility we require in meeting them.


  President. – Question No 5 by Sarah Ludford (H-0767/05)

Subject: The use of the Community framework for law enforcement purposes

Does the European Court of Justice judgment on the appropriateness of Community law for imposing criminal penalties (Case C-176/03, 13 September 2005) encourage the Council in the direction of using the Community framework rather than the unsatisfactory intergovernmental one for law enforcement measures? Is the UK Presidency exploring positively the potential to use Article 42 TEU for this purpose? How will it guard against fora like G5 and G8 and new Schengen developments further prejudicing transparent, democratic and comprehensive EU-wide cooperation? Will it at least keep the European and national parliaments informed about the evolution of intergovernmental negotiations and future plans?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. As repeatedly stated by the Court of Justice, the choice of legal basis for the adoption of legally binding instruments must rest on objective factors. The judgment of the Court of Justice confirmed that the Community legislator may take measures relating to the criminal law of the Member States when that is necessary for the achievement of the Community policy in question. The Court of Justice also reiterated that, as a general rule, criminal law matters did not fall within the scope of Community competence. It did not decide about the scope of application of Title 6 of the Treaty on European Union as such, nor did it limit the scope of application of Title 6 beyond the very specific issue on which the Court of Justice ruled.

The use of Article 42 is not being considered at present. The Council cannot and should not seek to prevent Member States from cooperating bilaterally or multilaterally on police and judicial matters, as long as they observe the obligations incumbent upon them under the Treaties. Cooperation outside the framework of the Treaties is, by definition, not undertaken by the Council. Neither the Council nor its Presidency can therefore provide information regarding such forms of cooperation for the European Parliament.

Information regarding cooperation on police or judicial matters under Title 6 is transmitted to the European Parliament on the basis of Article 39 of the Treaty. As regards the information to national parliaments, this is solely a matter for the individual Member States, not the Council or its Presidency.


  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – President-in-Office, thank you for your reply, but there is considerable concern about the proliferation of fora for addressing security and border control issues. A few months ago, the French Prime Minister, Mr de Villepin, talked about how Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and France are moving forward in discussions on police cooperation, exchanges of intelligence, border controls, and internal security. Then we have the Prüm Convention among seven Member States, which seems to go back to the Trevi system of the 1970s. This is not only undemocratic and untransparent, but surely it also fails to provide the added value of really addressing terrorism and immigration challenges in common. Surely this is not in the interests of the European Union as a whole?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I am certainly aware of the informal meetings that the honourable Member describes. However, there is no more eloquent testimony to the approach that we have taken, whereby the whole of Europe is involved in these discussions, than the role that our Home Secretary, Mr Charles Clarke, has played both with this Parliament and, indeed, with other members of the relevant Council.

I also think – if you reflect upon the remarks made by our Prime Minister earlier today – it is clear that dealing with the issue of personal and physical security, not least in the light of the terrible incidents that took place in London on 7 July, remains one of the key priorities for our Presidency. Our ambition certainly includes taking forward that work as we anticipate the conclusion of our Presidency in the December European Council, which, of course, will involve all Member States.


  Richard Corbett (PSE). – I welcome the Council’s description of the effect of the judgment of the Court of Justice, which was accurate, but I ask that the press reaction to this judgment – not least in Mr Alexander’s own Member State – be countered wherever possible.

The press has given the impression – and this has been amplified by Euro-sceptics – that the Commission will now be able to decide sentencing policy in different Member States by itself; that is to say, it would be able to determine the sentences for different crimes. That is far from being the case. Even in the Community framework, the Commission proposes, but the Council and Parliament dispose.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I am grateful to the honourable Member for reflecting on the importance of my answer. I hope that the accuracy of my answer will fulfil the purpose. The Presidency of the European Union is responsible for many things, such as seeking a way forward on future financing or trying to chart a course for a modern Europe in the age of globalisation.

Notwithstanding those very considerable challenges, I am glad that our responsibilities do not extend to the editorial policies of many of the newspapers in question. It is inherent in the nature of a union of democracies to have a free press and the best way to counter some of the misunderstandings and myths perpetuated about this particular issue and more generally is to ensure that the factual information I imparted today is spread outside this chamber and comes to be understood by the wider public.


  President. – Question No 6 by Elizabeth Lynne (H-0769/05)

Subject: Deregulation

Will the UK Presidency support José Manuel Barroso in his efforts to curb unnecessary and burdensome lawmaking initiatives from the European Commission? Despite assurances from this Presidency that it would act to prevent superfluous lawmaking and to promote the principle of subsidiarity, we see the UK Presidency arguing for the addition of impractical legislation, such as the protection of workers from sunlight in the directive on optical radiation. Will the Presidency seize the opportunity to help bring some sense to ‘joke’ EU lawmaking?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Better regulation in all its aspects is a high priority for the Council and indeed for our Presidency. The Commission’s report on the outcome of its screening of pending legislative proposals, to which the honourable Member refers, will be studied with great interest within the Council. We have scheduled a policy debate on better regulation, including the screening package, for the November Competitiveness Council.

The honourable Member specifically mentioned the optical radiation directive. She will appreciate that, as the Presidency, we now need to consult all Member States and work for an agreement that is acceptable both to the Council and to this Parliament. We have all signed up to improving the way Europe regulates itself. We the Council, the Commission, and again this Parliament, need to work together to make that commitment a reality now.


  Elizabeth Lynne (ALDE). – Thank you, President-in-Office, for your reply. I am delighted that you have reiterated the commitment to better legislation, but we need action. We know that we are going to conciliation on the optical radiation directive. I understand that the Council of Ministers is going to get rid of natural radiation from the optical radiation directive, but why was it brought forward to start with? It was brought forward by the Council of Ministers. I would like to know which ministers and which Member States pushed for it. That really demonstrates our need for EU Council meetings to be held in public. Then we would be able to know which countries are pushing for this sort of joke legislation which brings the EU into disrepute. Will the President-in-Office commit himself to pushing for EU Council meetings to be held in public?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I sense that the honourable Member is inviting me to shed some light on the workings of the Council and, given the terms of the directive in question, I hesitate to do such a thing.

On the substantive issue of transparency, we had a discussion earlier today, not least in light of what our Prime Minister, on behalf of the Presidency, stated earlier this month in reply to a question asked in Parliament on the eve of the British Presidency. The process of seeking to take forward the undertaking he gave to look at the specific issue of transparency within the Council is now in the process of being taken forward.

Rather similarly to the Council initiative which she described originally, it requires a degree of support beyond the Presidency-in-Office of the Council. In that sense, it is a necessary part of making progress on the issue of transparency that we take others with us. That is why a process is now established under our Presidency to seek to find a way forward.


  Richard Corbett (PSE). – Is this not just another case where an important issue tends to get hijacked by the Euro-sceptics in the press and in politics? The very valid issue of better regulation is portrayed by Euro-sceptics as Brussels bureaucrats imposing burdens on businesses. Whereas, in fact, we all know that no European legislation can be adopted unless it is approved both by the Council and the Parliament and that good European legislation is an exercise in cutting red tape: one patent instead of twenty-five; one trademark and registration form and fee instead of twenty-five; a single administrative document for our lorries at frontiers instead of the forty-something there used to be.

Good European legislation is good, bad European legislation is bad, but we should not let the Euro-sceptics claim that it is all bad.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I certainly concur with the question the honourable Member has put to me in terms of the need to delineate between legislation where it is appropriate and, indeed, where there are areas where there are alternatives to regulation that should be considered.

I would, however, emphasise in my reply that the terms of his question – leaving aside the specific issue of how the press deals with these matters, for which none of us, I am afraid, are directly responsible – emphasises in my mind the importance of all the institutions of Europe seeking to take forward this agenda of better regulation. This is not an agenda that, with the greatest of respect to Commissioner Verheugen or, indeed, to President Barroso, can be achieved by their efforts alone, nor can it be achieved by this Parliament alone. It needs to be a shared endeavour between the Council, the Presidency and Parliament. If there is a genuine commitment – as I believe there is a growing commitment within each of those institutions to grasp this agenda and drive it forward – then we will hopefully in the future see less of the headlines of the type that the honourable Member describes.

I would, however, with a little more optimism, highlight the kind of coverage that was received in the United Kingdom for President Barroso’s and Commissioner Verheugen’s prior announcement in terms of draft legislation being ditched where it was deemed to be otiose and unnecessary. It was almost uniformly welcomed in the pages even of the most sceptical British newspapers. To establish credibility for the Commission, the Presidency and for Parliament, it is necessary for us to be seen to be taking decisive action on what is unquestionably one of the issues of concern, not simply to the business community across Europe, but also to our citizens.


  Philip Bushill-Matthews (PPE-DE). – Mr President-in-Office, I welcome your comments and your reply. I support your commitment to deregulation and a number of colleagues will try and help you achieve that. But, going back to the original point about deregulation and to the optical radiation directive, Prime Minister Tony Blair said in this House this afternoon that there is a need to regulate where necessary but also to deregulate when it is necessary for our competitiveness.

Would you agree that, in terms of deregulation for competitiveness, we should revisit the mother directive of this optical radiation directive, which was the original 1989 directive? I asked this question last time and got the answer that it is up to the Commission to initiate revisiting the directive. We know that, but would you please undertake to invite the Commission to revisit that framework directive or at the very least invite the Council to invite the Commission?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The most constructive way forward would be for me to pass on to the Commission the strength of feeling that has been communicated by the honourable Member. I am aware that this is not the first time that this issue has been raised, and I will certainly make sure that the Commission is made aware of the concerns that he has raised today.


  President. – Question No 7 by Catherine Stihler (H-0771/05)

Subject: Microbicide clinical trials

4.9 million people were infected with HIV in 2004, more than in any previous year. As 75% of young people infected are women and girls, the increasing vulnerability of women is underlined along with the inherent need to expand current prevention options, particularly for women.

The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) was set up in February 2004, with one third of its budget to be funded by Member States (plus one third from the Commission, and one third from the private sector).

In the light of the rise in HIV infection rates and the creation of the EDCTP, can the Council provide information on what funding Member States have provided to the EDCTP, and as a result, which microbicide clinical trials are currently being funded by the EDCTP?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I could not agree more with the honourable Member about the unfolding tragedy of HIV infection cases amongst women and girls. As we know, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership is a group of 14 Member States plus Norway from outside the European Union.

The initial investment to establish the partnership was provided by the European Commission with a EUR 200 million allocation over five years through the Sixth Research and Development Framework Programme which runs from 2002 to 2006. The partnership has a total budget of EUR 600 million for the period from 2003 to 2007: in addition to the EUR 200 million provided by Community funding, EUR 200 million will come from Member States and a further EUR 200 million will be sought from industry, charities and private organisations.

It is the responsibility of each Member State to contribute in kind through their national research activities. Various projects funded by public money in each Member State count towards the total EUR 200 million contribution.

The Council has identified a need for joined-up action between the Commission and Member States in partnership with the Clinical Trials Partnership to support the research and development of new tools to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, a fact underlined in the conclusions of the General Affairs Council on 24 May this year. The partnership has identified a number of specific research topics and will issue calls for research proposals for these topics over a two- to three-year period.

Only one trial relating to HIV was funded last year, which will look into providing anti-retroviral drugs to children with HIV. Calls for research proposals issued last month include a specific call for research on microbicides. The title of this call for research is ‘Capacity building for the conduct of phase I, II and III trials of vaginal microbicides against sexual transmission of HIV’. Applications will come in over the next few months and funding decisions will be made next year.


  Catherine Stihler (PSE). – Obviously, microbicides could revolutionise AIDS prevention throughout the world. Current clinical trials are already showing positive results, but this requires funding.

As you are aware, Mr President-in-Office, the United Kingdom Department for International Development has been very supportive of research into microbicides. Do you agree with me that support for clinical trials into microbicides is essential in tackling AIDS and, particularly in view of the priority the United Kingdom Presidency has attached to Africa, will the Presidency encourage other Member States to involve themselves with the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The simple answer is ‘yes’. It reflects our commitment, not just to the blighted continent of Africa – perhaps the only continent in recent years to have moved backwards on many of the key indicators that were so graphically highlighted in our own Prime Minister’s Commission for Africa report – but also to supporting other countries as they seek to meet the Millennium Development Goals, which were reiterated in September at the Millennium Review Summit in New York.

It also emphasises the importance of clinical research being taken forward if we are to find solutions to a challenge as great as HIV/AIDS.

I can assure the honourable Member, who I know has an abiding and passionate commitment to tackling injustice, not just at home but abroad, that we are determined to support the efforts of the partnership as I described, not least through the efforts of the Department for International Development that she highlighted in her question, but also by encouraging other Member States to play their important role in what is a hugely important contribution by the European Union plus Norway to confronting a genuinely global challenge and a global problem.


  President. – Question No 8 by Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (H-0774/05)

Subject: Conclusion of an agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Azerbaijan on certain aspects of air services

On 29 August 2005, a Turkish Cypriot aeroplane flew direct from the illegal airport in the so-called 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' to the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. This flight followed a direct flight on 27 July 2005 from Azerbaijan to the occupied territories. These flights took place in breach of the principles of European and international civil aviation. Bearing in mind the proposal for a Council decision (COM(2005)0060 final) on the conclusion of an agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Azerbaijan on certain aspects of air services, replacing Member States' bilateral agreements with the Republic of Azerbaijan, can the Council say how it will respond to the conduct of Azerbaijan, using the political means at its disposal?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The draft agreement referred to by the honourable Member does not cover air transport between Cyprus and Azerbaijan. The sole purpose of this draft agreement is to ensure that, where a bilateral agreement between a Member State and Azerbaijan exists, such an agreement complies with Community law. Since there is no such bilateral agreement between Cyprus and Azerbaijan, this draft agreement has no bearing on the issue the honourable Member raises relating to flights from Azerbaijan to the area of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of the Republic does not exercise effective control.


  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL).(EL) Mr President, I thank the Minister for the very substantial reply which he has given me. Would he nonetheless permit me to remark that he has given me technical answers to a purely political question. Of course we all know that Azerbaijan needs to comply with the guidelines of the United Nations and the ICAO, but I want to know what the Council's view is of the fact that Azerbaijan continues to maintain flights to airports on the occupied territories of the Republic of Cyprus.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I would merely reiterate the technical points that I made. In some political questions the technical answer is often the best. However, it would also be important – given the terms of the supplementary question – to make clear that the European Commission has no competence to get involved directly in this matter: it is a bilateral issue between the Government of the Republic of Cyprus and the Azeri Government. That also reflects the position of the Council, which would hope that a resolution to this matter could be found on a bilateral basis.


  President. – Question No 9 by Sajjad Karim (H-0775/05)

Subject: Agenda of EU-Israel Association Council

In response to the debate on the situation in the Middle East, held in the European Parliament on 7 September 2005, Douglas Alexander, speaking on behalf of the UK Presidency of the Council, repeated the 'clear view' of the Council on the Separation Barrier in East Jerusalem and assured Members that 'where [lt]the Council has[gt] concerns about Israeli actions on human rights, will raise – and raised those concerns with the Israeli Government.' Mr Alexander also explained that the Council would be considering, in due course, which issues to raise at the EU-Israel Association Council, scheduled for the end of this year.

Could the Council outline the process by which the agenda for the EU-Israel Association Council is decided and, in the light of Israel's continued failure to comply with the ICJ opinion of 9 July 2004, could the Council offer any possible justification as to why the implementation of the opinion of the highest international court, which articulates erga omnes incumbent on all Member States, should not be at the top of the agenda?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Council has already indicated, in its reply to Written Question E-3041/05 by the honourable Member, the European Union’s position on the separation barrier and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the question.

The issue of the separation barrier is a fixed agenda item in the continuous political contacts between the European Union and Israel, including those scheduled in the context of the forthcoming EU-Israel Association Council meeting.


  Fiona Hall (ALDE), deputising for the author. Thank you for that reply. Despite the early optimism felt after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the picture today is much bleaker than had been hoped for. Last week, Israel broke off diplomatic contacts with the Palestinian Authority after three young settlers were killed near Hebron. In The Independent yesterday, James Wolfensohn reportedly accused Israel of acting almost as though there had been no withdrawal, delaying making difficult decisions and preferring to take difficult matters back into slow-moving subcommittees.

How does the Council, in its role as a member of the Quartet, plan to bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table and ensure that those early feelings of optimism are not wasted?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I would certainly agree with the honourable Member that there are times of frustration and disappointment as we seek a way forward in the Middle East peace process. That notwithstanding, we have to recognise that the withdrawal she describes marked a significant step forward and represented a significant opportunity to move forward in the roadmap process, which had not been as clear in previous years. So I recognise the tragedy she describes and the consequences that have followed.

However, on the specifics of how, as a member of the Quartet, we can continue to progress, I would like to place on record, on behalf of the Council, our gratitude and support for the continuing efforts of James Wolfensohn. Given the very constructive role he has been able to play to date, he has a critical personal role as the Special Envoy for Disengagement.

The European Union is ready to help. This is a real test for the Palestinian Authority and for Israel, but also a great opportunity.

Despite the disappointments and frustrations, we need to take a longer view. All those who want to see a peaceful and stable Middle East must continue to support the efforts of the Quartet, and the Special Envoy in particular.


  David Martin (PSE). – President-in-Office, I am encouraged by your reply. Would you, through the EU-Israel discussions and through the Mediterranean process, point out to Israel and its neighbours that their security is best guaranteed not by separation, fences or barriers, but by integrating with each other economically and politically and through cultural, scientific and technical exchanges? Only through that mutual reinforcement of contact will security be guaranteed for the Palestinians and Israelis and the region as a whole.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I endorse wholeheartedly the points that have been made by the questioner. Of course Israel has a right to protect itself from acts of terrorism, but equally all of us understand that it is necessary to find a way forward and a political solution to the challenges of the Middle East. In that regard, and notwithstanding the very real difficulties that the Middle East continues to face, I think we should take pride in the efforts that the European Union has been able to make in this troubled and difficult area of the world and we should be encouraged in particular by the strength that Mr Wolfensohn has been able to bring to his role as the Quartet’s special envoy.

Of course there is more work to be done, of course the European Union stands ready to make those points directly to Israel and to the Palestinian authorities, and of course the European Union stands ready to help in other ways if it can.

However, I would simply reiterate that, ultimately, the responsibility lies primarily with Israel and with the Palestinian authorities. It is both a great test for them and also a great opportunity, for exactly the reasons the questioner set out.


  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – I agree with the last supplementary question and the answer given, and in that spirit note how idiotic it was to demand the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, as some did, or to talk about a boycott of universities in Israel. This is completely counterproductive.

With reference to the desire to enlarge opportunities for Palestinians, to which the Presidency referred, can the President-in-Office give us any further encouragement about EU support for economic development in Gaza and enlighten us about suggestions that there could be an EU contribution to securing the borders of Gaza, particularly the border with Egypt?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I say to the honourable Member that, firstly, the issue of economic development is inextricably bound up with the issue of security. The European Union is committed to continuing the enhanced support for the Palestinian civil policing through EU corps, in order to help build the necessary security environment in Gaza following Israeli withdrawal, so as to allow exactly the kind of economic development that is necessary.

We also welcome the agreement between the Governments of Israel and Egypt on basic security arrangements along the Gaza-Egypt border. A resolution to the issue of the crossing point on the Rafah border is also needed and is essential to the fate of other crossings and issues such as the port and airport.

The European Union continues to be one of the biggest international donors to the Palestinian Authority. Last year assistance to the Palestinians from the European Community amounted to some EUR 250 million. That included assistance to refugees, food aid, the health and education sectors, the private sector, municipalities and institution-building. The Commission has recently announced a larger package of support to the Palestinians and will provide around EUR 280 million in 2005. That money includes a substantial contribution to help tackle the priorities identified by Mr James Wolfensohn. The European Union’s aim is to ensure that disengagement is a success and a step toward implementing the roadmap.

The Commission attaches strict conditionality to the budgetary assistance it has provided to the Palestinian Authority. The conditions mainly reinforce the need for transparency of the Palestinian Authority’s public finances, strengthening the prudent management of the budget and encouraging progress on overall financial and administrative reform.


  President. – Question No 10 by Dimitrios Papadimoulis (H-0777/05)

Subject: Framework decision on the retention of data (CNS/2004/0813)

The Council is moving ahead with the process of adopting the framework decision on the retention of data despite the reactions of Parliament concerning the legal basis and the lack of proportionality between the ends and the means, those of human rights organisations concerning respect for civil liberties and those of industry concerning the high cost. Does the Council share the views of officials that 'the cost is not a political problem'? How will it safeguard human rights and deal with constitutional obstacles in various Member States to the general implementation of such a framework decision? What are the Council's views on UK Ministers' objections that a Europe-wide system is unnecessary as the need for security can be better served through 25 national systems?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. After the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 2005, the Council reiterated the urgent need for an EU instrument on retention of communications data, called for in the wake of the Madrid bombings, and made a commitment to agree to it by October 2005.

The draft framework decision tabled by four Member States in April 2004 does not aim at recording the content of any communication, but rather at the retention of so-called traffic data. These data, such as the names of the persons connected with a phone call or the time of the communication, are necessary for law enforcement authorities effectively to investigate criminal offences and bring successful prosecutions in an age when criminals exploit the advantages of modern communications facilities.

The proposal for a directive on retention of traffic data, which the Commission adopted on 21 September 2005, and which the Council considered in October, also concerns traffic data and not the content of communications. A decision has yet to be made on whether the framework decision or directive is the appropriate legal base for such rules by the Council on data retention. In the meantime, work will continue on the substance, in consultation, of course, with the Commission and the European Parliament.

At its meeting on 2 July 2004, the Council stressed the need to give particular consideration to the proportionality of the measure in relation to costs, privacy and efficiency. The Council aims at an instrument that balances law enforcement requirements with the right to privacy and costs, and which is compatible with Member States’ constitutions.


  Adamos Adamou (GUE/NGL), deputising for the author. – (EL) Mr President, Minister, thank you for your reply, but following the conclusions of the legal service of the Council and bearing in mind the legal problems that will arise if this proposal is adopted within the framework of the third pillar and the information about the commitment of the Dutch Minister not to agree to a proposal within the framework of this pillar, when does the Council intend to withdraw its proposal?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The thinking, as set out by our own Prime Minister earlier in the course of meetings, is to try and secure agreement on the way forward in the course of the UK Presidency. That suggests December as the opportunity when, under the scenario that we would wish to see, under pillar one, as our Home Secretary Charles Clarke has proposed, we can see progress being made in relation to this instrument. I hope that directly answers the question because we continue to seek to find a basis under pillar one rather than under pillar three, as the question implied.


  Claude Moraes (PSE). – As the President-in-Office has just said, Charles Clarke made the welcome decision for the European Parliament to now give its views on this proposal. As the Parliament is now in the process of putting its view, could I ask the President-in-Office to take the safeguard argument seriously? We accept the need for retention of data and we are looking at the timings now. We are moving very much in the right direction, but we need concrete and collective safeguards. Will he give an assurance that that aspect will be taken very seriously, because Parliament wants to see the Council treat that as a priority.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I should like to make a couple of points directly in reply to the points that the honourable Member has raised.

Firstly, the British Presidency is committed to securing agreement on the data-retention measure before the end of the year, as I said, and is taking forward work on substance in consultation with the Commission and European Parliament alike, which have made these points. We remain committed, however, to the belief that retention of specific communications data for a fixed period is a proportionate reaction to the threat of terrorism and that the associated costs are not excessive.

On the specific point of the pillar under which we should make progress, it is important to add one point to the discussions that have taken place in Parliament today, and that is to say very honestly that I do not believe our citizens will care whether the measure is decided under the first or third pillar. What we need is a proposal that can be agreed quickly and will allow for effective law enforcement without threatening the fundamental rights of European Union citizens.

On the specific point that the honourable Member raised, we agree that all retained data must be held securely in line with data protection principles and that information exchange must be accompanied by high standards of protection. Police and other public authorities will not have unrestricted access to the retained data and will have to meet national standards to access private information. The content of calls or messages – as I sought to suggest earlier – would not be retained. It is merely a question of providers keeping records of who called whom, where and when. This is part of striking the balance that we believe is necessary between protecting people from terrorism and serious crime and, on the other hand, respecting civil rights.

We believe, therefore, that our response must be proportionate and respect common democratic values. We must defend our communities from the threat of attack while upholding human rights in accordance with international law and the ECHR. For let us be very clear: the terrorists want to attack not only our lives but also our way of life.


  Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE). – I would like to thank the Minister for his reply; I certainly share his concerns. However, recently in Ireland an Irish citizen won an international lottery of some EUR 100 million – I cannot remember the exact figure. There was immediately something in the region of 60 hits on her private social security file and extra hits on her private taxation file, which the Revenue Commissioners are examining.

It seems to me that we need to take care to ensure that information within the public service is not actually used by terrorists as a source of intelligence, where organisations like the Provisional IRA sometimes have their intelligence officers in situ in the public service. I would ask the Minister to be very careful to ensure that there are proper checks and balances and that those who abuse for their own purpose intelligence or information gathered in any way in the public interest are dealt with very severely.

I would like to make one other point: I understand that private detectives, for example, have people within the various public services, but they pay ...

(The President cut off the speaker)


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I cannot comment on the specific case of the lucky lottery winner, who, as it transpired, was not so lucky when it came to the invasion of privacy described. Nor, I hope, would you expect me to comment on your allegations and suggestions on public services and data protection in individual Member States.

The Presidency is keen to see progress on data protection and we agree that all retained data must be held securely, in line with data protection principles, and that very high standards of protection should be required for exchanges of information.

The police and other bodies should not have unrestricted access to the retained data and it is essential that national standards for access to private information are met. If those standards are deemed insufficient in the honourable Member’s country, then I suggest that that is a matter that should be raised with the Member State, just as it is raised with the Presidency when we are considering data protection at a European level.


  President. – Question No 11 by John Purvis (H-0784/05)

Subject: Animal tallow and the Waste Incineration Directive 2000/76/EC

Rendered animal tallow (animal fat) is included in the Waste Incineration Directive 2000/76/EC(1) (WID), and after December this year it will have to be incinerated under very strict conditions. Currently it is used as a fuel in steam boilers in rendering plants and in the production of biodiesel. However, the conditions of the WID directive appear to preclude its use for these purposes. Is this not inconsistent with the Commission's environmental policy of encouraging competitive and efficient alternative energy sources?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Waste Incineration Directive neither precludes nor discourages the use of waste as a competitive and efficient alternative energy source. Rather, the aim of the directive is to prevent or to limit, as far as is practical, negative effects on the environment and human health from the incineration and co-incineration of waste.

When adopting legislation, the Community legislator carefully examines possible trade-offs in relation to other Community policy objectives. Waste tallow is only included in the scope of the directive where it is incinerated or co-incinerated. Other waste disposal or recovery operations involving waste tallow, such as its processing into bio-diesel, are not subject to the directive’s requirements but are subject to control under the Waste Framework Directive.


  John Purvis (PPE-DE). – Thank you for your response. The Commission did in fact respond to a similar question yesterday, but it did feel that there were practical problems with the implementation of this directive, especially in three Member States – including the Member State you and I know best, President-in-Office – which had implemented it in the most rigid form. May I ask whether it would be possible to postpone implementation in those three Member States until the Commission can come up with a much more practical application of this directive? Surely that would be consistent with our desire for a more sensible form of EU legislation. It would also benefit our Scottish constituency farmers and our Scottish environment.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Greatly tempting though it would be to answer, both as a Scottish Member of Parliament and as a British Minister, I would respectfully remind myself and this Chamber that I answer today on behalf of the Presidency.

In that context, while I have sympathy with the points made by the Member about the need for these practical difficulties to be addressed, it would seem more appropriate that these matters be brought to the attention of the Commission by the individual Member States acting in their own interests rather than it be, in the first instance, a Presidency matter.

However, on the way forward and on the prospect of action by the European Commission, let me take the opportunity to say that the Commission has indicated an intention to place a consultancy contract, within the next month, for a study of the environmental, regulatory and operational impacts of the inclusion of the burning of waste tallow within the scope of the Waste Incineration Directive. The study will include recommendations to the Commission concerning whether the application of the Waste Incineration Directive’s regulatory controls to the burning of waste tallow is appropriate. These recommendations are expected to be made in the middle of next year.


  David Martin (PSE). – President-in-Office, this might seem in some senses quite an obscure topic, but it is extremely important. You are right to say that there is a review, but the problem is – the last point you made – the fact that the review will not be completed until next June. Once companies, farmers and so on stop burning tallow through incinerators, they are unlikely to return to it, so we need a decision before the end of the year.

The Commission has not promised, but indicated, that it would look sympathetically on the idea of excluding tallow from the directive. Only 3 of the 25 Member States include tallow within the scope of the directive.

A simple solution would be for the Presidency to ask the Commission to consider putting out an advisory note stating that tallow should not be considered as part of the Waste Directive. I think that would be met with a sympathetic response from the Commission.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Firstly let me place on record my understanding, not least given my own responsibilities back home, of the importance of this issue and the fact that there are a limited number of Member States which have moved much more rapidly than others in implementing this directive.

It has not previously been put to me that the Presidency should approach the Commission to issue the advisory note because, clearly, up until now the position has been clear in relation to this as in relation to other directives. Whether to invest in any necessary upgrading to comply with the directive when it comes fully into force at the end of this year is a matter for a commercial decision by the rendering companies and biodiesel companies burning tallow as fuel.

However, if the situation is as the honourable Member describes, in that there is now genuine uncertainty as to the merit or demerit of making those investment decisions because of uncertainty as to the status of the directive, I will certainly consider sympathetically the point that has been made to me and perhaps I will be able to write to the honourable Member to confirm the way forward.


  Elspeth Attwooll (ALDE). – Thank you for that response, President-In-Office. It is not only tallow that creates a problem, although it is the most pressing one.

There is a real need to achieve carbon neutrality and to avoid placing unnecessary costs on business. So, saying Mr Martin’s suggestion is one way forward, I would also ask whether the Council would be prepared to support Members of the European Parliament in asking the Commission to produce a list of materials in relation to which it will refrain from instigating any infringement proceedings under the Waste Incineration Directive until an analysis has been conducted of their overall environmental effect when used as a fuel source.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Given the range of views that have already been expressed as to the right way forward for the Presidency, the sensible approach would be to reflect on both of the suggestions and write to both of the honourable Members in due course, once this debate is concluded.


  President. – Question No 12 by Claude Moraes (H-0790/05)

Subject: Kurdish question in Turkey

In the light of the Council's positive approach to negotiations on the entry of Turkey to the European Union, can the Council update us on progress for the negotiations during the UK Presidency? Can the Council comment on the particular position regarding Kurdish cultural and human rights as part of any negotiation package?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. As the honourable Member will be aware, the Union opened accession negotiations with Turkey on Monday 3 October. This was a historic moment and another important step in the evolution of the European Union-Turkey relationship. It marked the beginning of a long and rigorous process that will be guided by the negotiating framework adopted by the Council the same day. The Commission started screening the science and research chapter on 20 October.

The European Union will continue to monitor respect for the human and cultural rights of the Kurdish people and the situation in the south east of the country in general. As stipulated in the negotiating framework, Turkey should consolidate and broaden legislation and implement measures on, inter alia, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and minority rights. Progress in these areas should be irreversible, fully and effectively implemented. The Commission will therefore continue to monitor it closely and to report regularly to the Council.

The Council can assure Members that the Union attaches great importance to this issue as part of the ongoing reform process in Turkey. Hence progress will continue to be monitored and evaluated in all the relevant bodies.


  Claude Moraes (PSE). – I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the President-in-Office on his role in Luxembourg, a negotiation he probably will not forget.

On the very serious question of the Kurdish community, I am in contact with the largest community centre of Kurds anywhere in the United Kingdom. Whilst they are grateful for the negotiations, they are anxious that you do not let the positive energy that is now flowing in these negotiations negate the very real human rights considerations the Kurdish community still has. They feel that this should be a major part of any negotiation – it is a symbolic part – and we ask the President-in-Office to continue to take that seriously.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Let me take this opportunity to place on record my respect and admiration for the work that the honourable Member has taken forward over a number of years for communities such as the Kurdish community in London. In response to his generous tribute to my role in the negotiations and the assertion that I would never forget it, I think I was in some danger of forgetting my own name by the end of 30 hours of serial and continuing negotiations! But I am delighted to say that, notwithstanding the lack of sleep and the considerable effort on all sides, we managed to reach what I think was a constructive way forward which reflected the long historical association between Turkey and Europe, the prospect of European membership having been held out to Turkey for 42 years. It was a genuinely historic moment in Luxembourg and one from which I think many of the Members of the European Parliament can take real pride.

However, the emphasis that I place on that moment in history, as I hope I reflected in my initial answer, is that it marks the next step of a journey that Turkey is on. In many ways, the destination is important but so too is the journey that Turkey is taking to reach that destination. In that regard, I believe that those of us who have long argued for Turkish accession to the European Union have the best interests of those who have, in the past, been fearful of their human and civil rights within Turkey at heart, because the very process of accession and the rigour which I sought to reflect in my earlier reply in many ways represent one of the best guarantees that can be afforded to such communities that the progress we all wish to see as Turkey makes that journey over the decade or so ahead will actually be made, and that there will be a transparent means by which the scale and pace of that progress can be judged, not just by the communities within Turkey but also by the wider international community within the European Union.


  President. – Question No 13 by Richard Corbett (H-0792/05)

Subject: Respiratory diseases and the Lisbon Agenda

In considering the health section of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development, will the Council consider the relevance of different types of health issues to the Lisbon Agenda?

Is the Council aware that respiratory diseases cost European health services more than €102 billion and are the most frequent conditions requiring general practice consultations and emergency hospital admissions, presenting an enormous burden in terms of working days lost?

Does the Council agree that research in this area is likely to provide both health and economic benefits and therefore make a major contribution to the Lisbon strategy?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. As the honourable Member is aware, the Council is currently examining the Commission proposal of April 2005 for the Seventh Framework Programme for 2007-2013 – or FP7 – which will be decided by this Parliament and the Council under the codecision procedure.

The Council has, on several occasions, confirmed the importance it attaches to research and technological development activities in the context of the Lisbon Agenda. I hope the commitment of our own Prime Minister and the Presidency to that agenda was obvious to all Members of this Parliament from his remarks earlier this afternoon.

The research programme in particular is the main Community instrument. Further research into respiratory diseases would be timely. Respiratory diseases are currently the leading cause of death in the European Union and yet these illnesses have a lower profile than many other diseases such as heart disease.

The honourable Member is right to draw attention to the significant economic loss caused by these diseases in particular. In the European Union, 41 300 lost work days per one thousand of the population are due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease alone.

Productivity losses resulting from this disease amount to EUR 28.5 billion annually. The Commission proposal for FP7 includes health and environment as priority research topics. As regards research potentially relevant to respiratory diseases, the following topics are proposed amongst others: innovative therapeutic approaches and intervention with potential applications in many diseases; transnational research into infectious diseases and major diseases including cancer; the quality, efficiency and solidarity of health systems; enhanced disease prevention and better use of medicines; the interaction of environmental factors such as pollution with human health.

The Framework Programme indicates the broad lines of research activity and therefore does not exhaustively list the potential individual research topics. These will be elaborated on in the specific programme decisions and during the execution of the programme, which is the responsibility of the Commission.

Research projects are selected mainly on the basis of open calls for proposals to the scientific community and take into account various criteria such as scientific excellence and European added value.


  Richard Corbett (PSE). – I thank the Presidency for an encouraging reply and for the commitment shown by Mr Blair earlier to boosting RTD in the European Union budget.

Research is an area where a common programme, rather than 25 separate national programmes, can provide added value and can save money. Health, important in its own right for the human beings involved, is also important in terms of our economic performance. The statistics you quoted show that this is an area that can tie in with and be a flagship example of how the Lisbon Agenda can be matched in the field of research.

May I urge the Council to persevere with that line of argument in its internal deliberations.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I can assure you that I will reflect on and bear in mind the remarks the Member has made.

I reiterate the commitment and importance we attach to using the framework directive in the kind of ways that I outlined in my initial answer. If I can offer a ray of optimism to the Member, it would simply be to say that he is not a lone voice in this Parliament in making this case.

Even while I was sitting at desk No 2 and our Prime Minister was still addressing the Chamber this afternoon, one of your colleagues in the Socialist Group had already passed a note to me saying that they took the strength of commitment to research and development shown by our Prime Minister during his speech as a very clear indication that the Seventh Framework Programme would be fully funded to the extent that she wanted.

I am not able to give such an indication today, given the interrelated issues of financing that such a commitment would involve, but, in its own way, for me, it reflects the strength of feeling, not just amongst the Council – which I believe will be reflected in the Council tomorrow at Hampton Court – but amongst a wide cross-section of Members of this Parliament, that research and development is one of the key priorities for the Union moving ahead in the future.


  President. – Question No 14 by Bernd Posselt (H-0794/05)

Subject: Minorities in Turkey

Does the Council feel that the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey has changed by comparison with last year, in particular in the light of the law on religion?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The European Commission has agreed that the reforms of recent years have strengthened minority rights. However, there remain a number of outstanding concerns, which the Commission will address in its regular report, due on 9 November. The Commission and the Council will continue to monitor these issues closely.

Non-Muslim religious communities continue to experience difficulties with questions of legal personality, property rights, training, residents’ rights and work permits for Turkish and non-Turkish clergy, schools and internal management. A new law on foundations is expected to resolve some of these problems.

The European Commission has acknowledged that the latest draft is a significant improvement on its predecessor. The Union has urged Turkey to adopt such a law promptly and ensure that it is fully compliant with European standards.

On his visit to Ankara from 6 to 8 October 2005, Commissioner Rehn urged the Turkish Authorities to take into account the Commission’s comments on the draft law. The European Union has also repeated its calls for Turkey to reopen the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary.

With regard to the rights of those belonging to ethnic minorities, some progress has been achieved, notably in the field of cultural rights, but further progress is needed. Furthermore, the situation in the south east of Turkey remains a matter for concern.

The negotiation mandate agreed by the European Union that will guide accession negotiations with Turkey in the months and years ahead stipulates that Turkey should work towards further improvement in respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as consolidate and broaden legislation and implementing measures on, inter alia, freedom of religion and minority rights.

The Council can assure the honourable Member that the Union attaches great importance to these issues. Hence monitoring and evaluation of progress, as well as dialogue with the Turkish side, will continue in all the relevant bodies.


  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, these problems mainly affect the Christian minority groups in Turkey, where Christians face the threat of their disappearance from the scene. Their numbers are dwindling, and the Ecumenical Patriarch fears that there may well be no Christians left in Turkey by the time the accession negotiations come to an end. It is for that reason that I have a very specific question to put to you. The Law on Religion was submitted to the Commission, which had some trenchant criticisms to make of it. The Turks said that their parliament would make improvements to it. Do you have any definite indications that such improvements have been made, particularly where the property law and the training of priests is concerned? Have you received any definite indications, and will you insist on them being reflected in action over the course of the coming weeks, or do you intend to wait until the Turkish Christians have died out before dealing with this?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I think it most appropriate to await the Commission report on exactly these matters, because it is important – rather than to deal on the basis of individual examples, or sometimes even of anecdote – to have evidence on which to base assertions that are being made.

It is certainly the case that the Union continues to urge the Turkish Government to reopen the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary, as I said, that closed back in 1971. The Turkish Government remains committed to this and is searching for a solution that is both compatible with Turkish law and acceptable to the Patriarchate.

On the specific issue of confiscation of Greek Orthodox Church property, Commissioner Rehn wrote to the Turkish Foreign Minister in June on the shortcomings in the draft law on foundations and highlighted the issue of property rights specifically.

The final point I would make – given the very negative construction that was placed in the question as regards the prospects for the Christian community within Turkey – is to place on record the fact that leaders of those Christian communities themselves have been some of those who have recognised the scale of progress that has been made in recent months in anticipation of the opening of accession talks. So, while I am respectful to the point the honourable Member made, I think we also need to listen to those Christian voices within Turkey who themselves are claiming that the very process and prospect of accession is providing for them and guaranteeing rights which, tragically, have not been available to them in past circumstances.


  President. – Question No 15 by Michl Ebner (H-0798/05)

Subject: Protecting and promoting alpine mountain cattle breeds

Under Regulation (EC) No 639/2003(2) the age of cows and heifers for which export refunds can be claimed was reduced from 36 to 30 months. Previously, under Regulation (EC) No 615/1998(3), animals had been eligible for export refunds up to an age at export of 36 months.

This makes things more difficult for cattle breeders in mountain areas. Mountain breeders are tied to autumn calving in the alpine cycle. Owing to the harsh conditions, mountain cattle breeds grazing on alpine pastures also develop more slowly, and biological factors mean that they cannot be mated until they are 24 months old.

Can the Council grant a derogation for alpine mountain cattle breeds as a matter of urgency, raising the export age for mountain cattle to the earlier limit of 36 months?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Under the procedure laid down for Regulation (EC) No 639/2003, to which the honourable Member refers, the Commission is responsible for submitting to the management committee any proposal for modifying implementing measures relating to conditions governing the payment of export refunds. The Council is requested to act only when a majority of delegations in the management committee has been unable to give an opinion on such a proposal. The Commission has made no such proposal.


  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE), deputising for the author. (DE) Mr President, this is a considerable problem for mountainous regions, which are particularly threatened by decultivation and desertification, and so, with regard not only to this but also to the environmental importance of these cattle breeds for the Alps, which are in any case at ecological risk, I would like to ask whether the Council endorses such a course of action, or whether it is maintaining absolute impartiality and declining to state a position on the subject.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The European Union has a wide variety of instruments aimed at assisting farmers across the spectrum. None, to my knowledge, directly targets alpine mountain cattle breeds, but many are aimed at farmers that deliver the kind of benefits that many European Union citizens would associate with alpine farming, such as managing sensitive landscapes and habitats and, indeed, maintaining biodiversity.

In response to the subsequent point made by the honourable Member, I would simply reiterate the importance of recognising the relative institutional responsibilities with regard to this Regulation, and I would suggest that, if there are continuing concerns of the type that the honourable Member has raised, then, given the relative responsibilities of the Commission and the Presidency, it might be more appropriate for them to be directed towards the Commission.


  President. – Question No 16 by Esko Seppänen (H-0804/05)

Subject: British rebate

The European Council failed to agree in June on the new financial perspective for the period from 2007 to 2013. One of the stumbling blocks to a consensus was the British rebate. Will the country currently holding the presidency submit a proposal to the European Council that would serve to treat the Member States equally or in other words do away with the rebates granted to the United Kingdom and some other countries?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. The Presidency is fully aware, as the Prime Minister and I have stated on numerous occasions today, of the importance of reaching an agreement on the new Financial Perspective, if we can, by the end of the year. We will work to achieve that. It has just completed a series of bilateral meetings with all Member States and the two accession states in order to determine the basis on which such an agreement might be possible.

In the light of these consultations, the Presidency hopes to draw up a proposal, which it intends to submit to the Council. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said in his letter to Heads of Government ahead of the informal meeting that will take place tomorrow at Hampton Court, that he believes agreement can and should be reached at the December Council, and that he will make every effort personally to achieve it by then.

All of that having been said, as was reaffirmed very powerfully by the turn of events at the June European Council, the ultimate determinant of whether agreement will be reached on the future Financial Perspective rests not on the will of one country – albeit one country holding the Presidency – but on the commitment of all 25 Member States of the European Union to work to secure that consensus.


  Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL). – (FI) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, in June this issue depended on just a few countries and, to a greater extent, on the country currently holding the presidency, the United Kingdom. At the time, you effectively torpedoed the solution, which would have allowed us to arrive at a financial framework for the period 2007–2013. Now that you yourself are drafting it, the question has arisen of whether it should form some sort of package, and I would like to ask this: is it possible that the joint financing of agriculture will be a part of this package, which would mean that Member States would start paying a portion of compulsory agricultural expenditure themselves?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Let me address both of those points in turn.

Firstly, although it might be convenient to the honourable Member's question for the United Kingdom to have been isolated in a minority of one at the June European Council, I am afraid that simply was not what happened. I know because I was there. Five Member States were unable to accept the Luxembourg Presidency proposals. From a British point of view, we were very clear that there were specific reasons why we were unable to accept that. However, it would be inappropriate for me to narrate or rehearse the arguments that were advanced from the British seat in June, given my responsibilities today to answer on behalf of the Presidency.

In relation to the general issue of agriculture, again, our Prime Minister addressed that in the course of his remarks today, namely that we believe it is necessary to have a pathway forward, in terms of reform, that recognises the kind of future challenges that the European Union will face in the course of the coming Financial Perspective.

Beyond that, I can simply reiterate the point with which I began my answer, which is to say that, as our own Prime Minister has made clear in the course of his remarks to this Parliament today, we are earnest in our endeavour to try and reach agreement on the future Financial Perspective, not simply because it would be somehow judged to be a success for the British Presidency or in the interests of one Member State, but because it would be in the interests of all Member States of the European Union to have a budget that reflects the modern priorities of the Union in an era of globalisation. There are particular demands on the Presidency from the A10 countries – the new accession countries – which have articulated repeatedly to us their clear desire for certainty in terms of prospective funds being available to them in the future. We have listened carefully to those points of view, consistent with our responsibilities as President. Given the difficulties of the June European Council, we did not immediately table proposals but rather sought to listen to the views that have been expressed in other Member States. We recognise that the political context in which discussions on future financing should take place would be better served by having had a prior conversation about the future direction of Europe, which is why we have organised the informal Heads of Government meeting tomorrow. After that meeting at Hampton Court tomorrow, we will then seek to make practical and real progress in relation to the challenges that we all recognise.


  President. – Question No 17 by Bill Newton Dunn (H-0808/05)

Subject: Style of answering questions in Question Time

A study of the current Presidency shows that it enjoys not giving direct answers to direct questions in Question Time. Is it deliberately adopting the style of the House of Commons, where national ministers glory in revealing as little as possible, contrary to true democratic principles, or, since the Presidency represents the Council as a whole and not the Commons, is it planning to use the continental system of helping the citizens who are its pay-masters by giving genuine information in answer to questions put to it?


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. Draft replies to oral questions at Question Time are drafted by the Council's Secretariat in cooperation with the Presidency and the Member States with the aim of providing the most accurate answers to questions put by honourable Members of this Chamber.

It should be recalled, however, that during Question Time the President-in-Office acts on behalf of the Council; hence he must decline to answer questions which are outside the Council's sphere of competence, for example, where matters of strictly internal politics are concerned.


  Philip Bushill-Matthews (PPE-DE), deputising for the author. Thank you, President-in-Office, and thank you for reaching question 17. On the last two occasions, we unfortunately ran out of time and my question was not answered.

My question is a follow-up. I believe that at the last Strasbourg part-session the Presidency decided unilaterally to change the system of answering questions so that the whole Council had to be involved. I understand that President Borrell Fontelles has written formally, asking for a return to the system that has served this House well for 30 years. I would urge you to do that. There might not be many of us here, but those who do come very much value this opportunity and would not wish the answers to questions that cannot be answered on this occasion to be further delayed.


  Douglas Alexander, President-in-Office of the Council. I can assure you that, in terms of what is an ongoing dialogue with President Borrell, there is no intention whatsoever of diminishing the capacity of ministers to be answerable and to answer questions directly to Members in the format that we are presently enjoying. I am not sure we are both enjoying it, but certainly you are! I can also assure you that there was nothing personal in our failure to reach question 17 in the two previous question times.

I think that ministers have an important responsibility to endeavour to address themselves to the questions that have been put. On the basis of my accumulating experience of answering questions in this Chamber, there are circumstances in which questions are put directly to us that are matters of national interest rather than being within the remit of the Presidency, and that, inevitably, is reflected in the answers that are given.


  President. As the time allotted to Question Time has elapsed, Questions Nos 18 to 46 will be answered in writing(4).

That concludes Question Time.

(The sitting was suspended at 7 p.m. and resumed at 9 p.m.)




(1) OJ L 332, 28.12.2000, p. 91.
(2) OJ L 93, 10.4.2003, p. 10.
(3) OJ L 82, 19.3.1998, p. 19.
(4) See Annex ’Question Time’

Последно осъвременяване: 21 декември 2005 г.Правна информация