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Parliamentary Highlights

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

Summary of Brussels "Mini" Session (28 - 29 January 2004)

Single European Sky - Fava Report and Sanders-ten Holte Reports

Parliament has approved a conciliation agreement which had been agreed with Council. The 'single sky' proposals will create a single system of air traffic control in Europe. The agreement should lead to better safety conditions for air travel as well as ensuring that Europe's airspace is used more efficiently. It also takes account of the needs of all users, both civil and military. The reconfiguration of the EU's upper airspace will alleviate congestion which is currently costing the aviation industry nearly £2.5 billion a year. These alterations will shift the focus to the use of flexible airspace as is currently the case in the UK. Conservative MEPs succeeded in removing the inclusion of military operations and training from the proposals.

Jacqueline Foster MEP said: "One of our key objections was the inclusion of military operations and I am delighted that this has now been removed from the proposals.

These measures will go someway to creating a more efficient use of airspace, but Member States such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland, which are responsible for 44% of delays, must make their own radical improvements to help ease the situation. We should now see an improvement in safety, efficiency and the economics of air traffic management which, as air traffic across Europe continues to grow, is good news for the industry, for business and for the consumer."

Packaging and Packaging Waste - Corbey Report

MEPs voted through the conciliation agreement on reducing packaging waste. The proposals to revise the 1994 Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste state that the amount of discarded packaging must be cut sharply following a deal reached between MEPs and EU governments. Under the revised directive, there will be a substantial increase in the recovery and recycling of packaging waste, raising the minimum recycling target for such waste from 25% to 55% by 2008. The UK currently recycles 44% of its packaging waste.

Conservative MEPs voted for the report having removed concerns over the compliance date for the new increased targets.

If a tighter deadline had been adopted, as advocated by the Greens and MEPs from other Member States such as Germany, the UK would have faced a substantial increase in costs estimated by the UK Government to have potentially reached an extra £2.6 billion over five years. The targets and deadline would have also increased pressure on local authorities struggling to deal with the growing burden of EU waste legislation.

John Bowis MEP said: "We all want to see a reduction in the amount of packaging waste. We have managed to maintain a challenging but realistic timetable for these increases, but the UK Government must now support local authorities to ensure that they can deliver the new targets they have agreed to."

Committee of the Regions 2001 Discharge - Avilés Perea Report

Parliament voted to grant discharge to the Committee of the Regions for the budget year 2001. Parliament had postponed granting discharge in April as there were a number of serious concerns, such as the reimbursement of expenses to Members of the Committee of the Regions and over-tendering procedures. Conservative MEPs voted against the discharge.

Chris Heaton-Harris MEP said: "The European Parliament must not turn a blind eye to fraud and the misuse of taxpayers' money. One of the few powers we have is to hold off from giving the accounts the all-clear until problems are sorted out. MEPs must show that they will not accept fraud and mismanagement by refusing to sign off these accounts.

Europe's taxpayers have been cheated for too long. The British Government has said that it will take fraud seriously, yet its own MEPs are not prepared to stand up to the EU Institutions which have failed to protect taxpayers' money."

Follow-up to 2001 discharges - Casaca Report

Following the Eurostat scandal, this report follows up to the 2001 discharge with a focus on the Commission's actions in tackling financial wrongdoing at Eurostat.

The report insists that "individual Commissioners are politically responsible for wrongdoings by their departments" and are accountable to the Parliament, while noting that so far, no Commissioner has taken political responsibility for the abuses at the statistics office Eurostat. It criticises as unacceptable "the extremely long delays, the resistance and the hesitation of the Commission" in transmitting vital reports on Eurostat to Parliament.

The report also argues that sending files or complaints to the anti-fraud office OLAF has become a standard excuse for failing to act. A comparison is made between the relative harshness with which whistleblowers have been treated with the leniency shown towards officials investigated for serious wrongdoings.

Conservative MEPs tabled amendments to the report calling for Commissioners Solbes, Kinnock and Schreyer to take political responsibility, also stating that they had brought the European Institutions into disrepute. The amendments were rejected and the discharge was granted.

Chris Heaton-Harris MEP said: "The 2001 accounts were only signed off because Parliament had been denied access to important information relating to the Eurostat affair. Despite assertions to the contrary, there are still strong grounds that Members of the Commission may have had access to the alarming information contained in the audit reports on Eurostat.

There is a complete lack of political responsibility within the Commission, which brings the name of all European Institutions into disrepute. Commissioners Kinnock, Solbes, and Schreyer all have a case to answer about their failure to protect taxpayers' money."

EU-UN Relations - Laschet Report

MEPs voted to strengthen EU co-operation with the United Nations. The report points out that the EU and its Member States provide more than 50% of the UN's operational funds and peacekeeping forces, as well as over 60% of development aid. Therefore Europe should play a more active role within the UN by helping reform its organisational set-up so as to make the multilateral system as a whole more effective.

The report recommends that the number of permanent and non-permanent members be increased to better reflect the current situation in the world. The committee suggests replacing the current veto system with a 'double veto', i.e. a veto by a minimum of two permanent members.

Liberal Democrat MEPs voted against an amendment tabled by Conservative MEPs which sought to enshrine the UK's permanent seat on the Security Council. The amendment urged EU Member States to reach agreement on the institutional reform of the UN but to maintain "the United Kingdom's and France's permanent seats and veto power on the Security Council."

Charles Tannock MEP said: " This amounts to a back door route to eventually replacing the UK's permanent seat with an EU seat. This would be disastrous for Britain's ability to promote its own vital national interests. The UN is a collection of independent nation states. The EU is not a state. Giving the EU a permanent seat would endow it with state-like responsibilities. Conservatives will continue to fight this tooth and nail."

Professional Qualifications - Zappala Report

Parliament took the decision to postpone this vote again. MEPs will now vote upon the report in the February plenary session in Strasbourg.

The report proposes a significant number of amendments to the Commission's proposal to simplify and reform the existing provisions for mutual recognition of qualifications. These form an important element of the European Internal Market and problems with mutual recognition are still a significant barrier to the freedom of individuals or companies to provide services across the European Union.

Some of the proposals will not be supported by Conservative MEPs as they disadvantage UK professionals. In particular, the proposals from the Rapporteur to create a new category and definition for professional engineers will not be supported as this would rule out mutual recognition for most UK engineers.

Malcolm Harbour MEP said: "Reform of the mutual recognition requirements is essential for a thriving internal market. However, the rules must not discriminate against existing professionals and must provide for different types of professional training and development. We hope that parliament will endorse our changes so that UK professionals will be able to freely offer their skills across an enlarged EU."

Proposal for a decision - Parliamentary Committees

Parliament passed new proposals from the Conference of Presidents which will change the structure, number, powers and responsibilities of parliamentary committees.

Conservative MEPs submitted an amendment to the proposals which would envisage the new Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality being one of Equal Opportunities instead. This would deal with the promotion and protection of equal opportunities for women, children and disabled people. This was rejected by Parliament.

The new structure will be:

Parliamentary Committees of the European Parliament (2004-2009)

I. Committee on Foreign Affairs
II. Committee on Development
III. Committee on International Trade
IV. Committee on Budgets
V. Committee on Budgetary Control
VI. Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs
VII. Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
VIII. Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
IX. Committee on Industry, Research and Energy
X. Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection
XI. Committee on Transport and Tourism
XII. Committee on Regional Development
XIII. Committee on Agriculture
XIV. Committee on Fisheries
XV. Committee on Culture and Education
XVI. Committee on Legal Affairs
XVII. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
XVIII.   Committee on Constitutional Affairs
XIX. Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality
XX. Committee on Petitions;

•  Plenary Highlights 12-15 January 2004
•  Plenary Highlights 17-20 November 2003
•  "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