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Parliamentary Highlights

This is for people who want more information on actual reports/legislation going through the Parliament.

Summary of Strasbourg Session (17 - 20 November 2003)

Court of Auditors' Report - Budgetary Control Committee

The Court of Auditors' Report on the 2002 budget was presented to the Budgetary Control meeting on Monday evening. The Court was unable, for the ninth consecutive year, to give the EU's accounts the all-clear.

The Court has been unable to offer a 'Statement of Assurance' on the grounds that there are 'numerous weaknesses' in the supervisory and control systems and 'still errors of the same type and with the same frequency as previous years.'

Chris Heaton-Harris MEP said: "Yet again this report questions the reliability of the Commission's accounting practices and the accounts themselves.

A positive statement on the 2002 accounts was vital for the credibility of the Commission. The Eurostat scandal has once again thrown into doubt the safety of taxpayers' money and these findings do nothing to change that.

The current Commissioners have presided over 3 years of dodgy accounts. Unless they can assure us that the 2003 accounts are correct, their legacy to the EU's taxpayer will be a decade of fraud."

Eurostat - Budgetary Control Committee

On Tuesday, Prodi, Kinnock, Schreyer and Solbes appeared before an extraordinary meeting of the Budgetary Control Committee to discuss Eurostat. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, admitted that whilst Commissioners should take political responsibility in principle for wrong-doing within their departments, it was not always necessary to do so in practice. He also admitted to breakdowns in communication between the Commission, Olaf and the Director-General of Eurostat in the Eurostat affair.

At the meeting, he launched an 'action plan' in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on his failing Commissioners over the Eurostat affair. This seeks to: amend the Code of Conduct governing relations between Commissioners and their departments; introduce a new system for collecting and cross-checking information relating to allegations of fraud, irregularities or wrong-doing; and improve the information channels between central services and the operational departments.

Chris Heaton-Harris MEP said: "Prodi says one thing and does another. He tells his Commissioners that they should take political responsibility in principle, but not in practice. So much for the squeaky-clean Commission.

His so-called 'action plan' is a clear case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Yesterday, the Court of Auditors failed to give the accounts the all-clear for the ninth year running. This, on top of recent financial scandals such as Eurostat, proves that there is fraud in the accounts, little has been done to stop it and yet still no-one is prepared to take responsibility for this failure."

Excise Duties on Petrol and Diesel - Commission Statement

The European Parliament rejected a Commission proposal on excise duties on petrol and diesel fuel. The report has been sent back to committee following rules of procedure. Parliament is unconvinced that "gasoline tourism" is really a problem of such magnitude as to warrant total harmonisation as proposed by the Commission. The House also questions whether it is actually desirable to eliminate tax differences between Member States saying that "an element of tax competition is quite healthy".

Hallmarking - Klass Report

Proposed changes to EU laws to end the requirement of compulsory hallmarking of jewellery, the centuries-old method of quality assurance, have been shelved following a top-level committee of EU diplomats on Wednesday.

The meeting decided that no further progress should be made with the EU Precious Metals Directive, following opposition from nine EU countries to the plans. The immediate threat to British hallmarking has now been lifted.

Malcolm Harbour MEP said: "Compulsory hallmarking is the key to less fraud, greater consumer protection and better marketing, there is no need for this directive at all.

The decision to shelve these new laws is welcome, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the proposal is completely withdrawn from the negotiating table. I will therefore be calling on the Commission to dismiss this flawed proposal once and for all."

Cyber Crime - Paasilinna Report

The European Parliament approved a proposal to step up co-operation between EU countries in the fields of information security. The plan comes in response to growing concerns over computer viruses and attacks on critical computer systems.

The new European Information and Security Agency will be established as a 'centre of excellence'. It will bring together EU experts to promote security of computer systems, raise co-operation between governments and ensure that information on potential security dangers is quickly shared.

Malcolm Harbour MEP said: "It is essential for online consumers to have complete confidence in the security of their personal information and their financial transactions. It is also vital that every possible measure is taken to protect communities from attacks on vital computer infrastructures - in transport, financial services and energy supply.

More and more computers are linked to broadband internet. They are vulnerable to external attacks and unprotected systems can accelerate the spread of computer viruses. This new agency must encourage the spread of practical and effective measures to ensure network safety."

Market Access to Port Services - Jarzembowski Report

The European Parliament rejected the text of the conciliation agreement on the directive on the opening-up of the market in port services.

The consequence of this vote is that the whole legislation, as proposed by the European Commission and amended in conciliation, now falls.

Cancer Screening - Mussa Report

The European Parliament voted to encourage Member States to do more to combat cancer, particularly sharing best practice on three cancer screening tests.

Since the establishment of the Europe Against Cancer Programme in 1985, cancer rates have dropped overall by 10%. However, it is estimated that approximately one European in four will die of cancer. This report recommends increasing the availability of a number of important tests to identify cancer: PAP smear screening for cervical abnormalities starting between the ages of 20-30; mammography screening for breast cancer in women aged 50-69; and faecal occult blood screening for bowel cancer in men and women aged 50-74. Other tests may also be recommended once research shows that they meet the criteria for organised cancer screening, for example the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test for prostate cancer.

John Bowis MEP said "Cures for cancer are still being sought, but year by year we see progress. The formerly unmentionable disease has, to some extent, overcome the stigma, not least because of advances in medical science giving hope to patients and families. These depend on early diagnosis, which comes from screening.

This is a welcome document to help spread best practice in the fight against cancer, particularly during the week of National Cancer Awareness Day. There is need for still more research into new tests, and screening tests must be available to all workers exposed to mutagenic and carcinogenic substances.

Screening for bowel cancer - new in the UK - is the first screening test available to men. It will be interesting to see how men react to screening programmes in terms of take-up and whether their general health-seeking behaviours are improved as a result. Prostate cancer has now overtaken lung cancer as the most common cause of cancer in British men. It is therefore crucial to continue to raise awareness of symptoms and to invigorate our efforts to develop a screening test for this cancer."

Sheep tagging - Adam Report

The European Parliament rejected a proposal from the European Commission which would have cost British farmers almost £100 million per year. The plan would have meant every one of Britain's 37 million sheep would have to carry a fourteen-digit code number on a tag in both ears.

Under the proposal, every time a sheep or lamb is moved, the farmer would have to manually write down and record the identification number. If a tag were lost, the farmer would be forced to check every sheep in his flock until he discovered which one was missing so that an identical replacement tag could be ordered. Instead, the Parliament voted to adopt the batch system currently used in Britain, where movements of flocks, not individual sheep, are recorded.

The proposals will now be discussed at the Agriculture Council on 16th December.

Neil Parish MEP said: "After the horrors of the foot and mouth outbreak, we are all keen to make sure that we can trace and treat our animals quickly. However, the UK Government has estimated that tagging Britain's sheep flock under the Commission's impractical proposals would cost at least £96m - between £13,000 and £16,000 per farmer.

The Commission has refused to accept any of the opinions that the Parliament has put forward. This issue will now come before EU Agriculture Ministers and I hope that they can agree to a workable proposal using the Parliament's recommendations, which will ensure the safety of our sheep without forcing British farmers out of business."

IGC - Council and Commission Statements

On Wednesday morning, the Council and the Commission made statements on progress in the Intergovernmental Conference.

The timetable of meetings is as follows:

•  18 November - Brussels - Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs
•  28-29 November - Naples - "Conclave" of Ministers for Foreign Affairs
•  9 December - Brussels - Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs
•  12-13 December - Brussels - Summit of Heads of State and Governments on the Constitution

Jonathan Evans MEP said: "A European Constitution would transform the EU from a partnership of nation states to a full political union. The British people deserve the right to decide on this huge change in a referendum."

Defence Equipment - Queiró Report

The European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution drawn up in response to a Commission paper on an EU defence equipment policy.

Arguing that the EU needs to develop its own military capabilities if it wants to ensure the credibility of its foreign and defence policy objectives, the House calls for the strengthening and rationalisation of the European arms industry. Conservatives voted against the report.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP said: "This report seeks to address problems in the European defence industries merely by extending EU competence and adopting a rather narrow viewpoint. The consistent failure of many continental European states to spend more on defence not only undermines the transatlantic alliance but also damages our defence industries. Our armed forces need the best, state-of-the-art, interoperable equipment for their difficult tasks. Defence industrial link-ups and collaboration should be with the most advantageous partners, wherever they might be. Simply empowering the European Union is not the answer."

•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 5-6 November 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 20-23 October 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 22-25 September 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 1-4 September 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 30 June - 3 July 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 2-5 June 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 12-15 May 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 7-10 April 2003
•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 26-27 March 2003
  •  Plenary Highlights 10-13 March 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 10-13 February 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 13-16 January 2003
•  Plenary Highlights 17-20 December 2002
•  Plenary Highlights 18-21 November 2002
•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 6-7 November 2002
•  Plenary Highlights 21-24 October 2002
•  Plenary Highlights 23-26 September 2002
•  Plenary Highlights 2-7 September 2002