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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 (12 - 13 October 2005)

Situation in Iran

MEPs will start the mini-plenary by debating the situation in Iran after hearing statements from the Council and Commission. Douglas ALEXANDER, the UK Minister for Europe, will represent the Council in the debate. The House is also set to adopt a resolution on the situation in Iran.

In 2005, Parliament adopted two resolutions on Iran. On 10 March 2005, Parliament adopted Review of the Non-profileration Treaty - Nuclear arms in North Korea and Iran. On 13 January 2005, MEPs adopted a resolution on torture in Iran.

EU policy on Africa

MEPs will debate the situation in Africa following a statement by the Commission. On the same day, the Commission is to announce its new EU Strategy for Africa.

Development Commissioner, Louis MICHEL, emphasises the need for a comprehensive approach, covering areas that are prerequisites for sustainable development (peace and security, good governance), areas that create the economic environment for reaching the MDGs (economic growth, trade and infrastructures), as well as areas that have a more direct impact on the progress towards the MDGs (social services, environment).

The Communication to be published on 12 October would also propose to make a qualitative jump in the way the EU works together and make concrete suggestions on how to improve the EU's aid effectiveness.

The 10th session of the African Caribbean Pacific-European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly will take place in Edinburgh (United Kingdom) from 19 to 24 November 2005.

Situation in Ethiopia

Parliament will debate the situation in Ethiopia following statements by the Commission and the Council.

Elections took place in Ethiopia on 15 May. Ana GOMES (PES, PT) was the head of the EU observer team. Although the election campaign and the elections themselves went off fairly well, violence erupted soon after resulting in dozens of deaths.

Sugar reform: more financial support for ACP countries in 2006

Bernard Lehideux (ALDE, FR) for the Development Committee is demanding extra aid for the ACP countries hit by the overhaul of the Community sugar regime. MEPs in the committee want the EU to provide €80 million in 2006, double the €40 million proposed by the European Commission when it unveiled the reform in June this year.

The figure of €80 million would come from the External action budget heading, a key area in the ongoing negotiations between Parliament and Council on the 2006 budget. Given the "particular situation" and the "urgent nature" of this matter, rapporteur Bernard LEHIDEUX (ALDE, FR) hopes Parliament and Council will be able to reach agreement "at the first reading of the 2006 budget" so that the signatory countries to the sugar protocol (see link below) can anticipate the impact of the sugar reform and adapt their industries by the start of next year.

At the same time the Development Committee urges ACP countries affected by the reform to promote non-food uses of sugar such as bioethanol production. MEPs in the committee want the reform's flanking measures to be extended automatically to 2007 if negotiations on the next financial perspective drag on, thereby delaying implementation of the new instrument for development aid and economic cooperation.

Bernard Lehideux (ALDE, FR)

European education in quality assurance in higher education

A Council Recommendation from 1998 called for quality assurance systems to be based on a series of essential features, including evaluation of programmes or institutions through internal assessment, external review and involving the participation of students, publication of results and international participation. Ljudmila NOVAK (EPP-ED, SI) for the Culture and Education Committee will be tabling a draft legislative report on European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education.

More needs be done to make higher education in Europe a trustworthier brand, not only for European students but also for students from other continents seeking a higher education in Europe. To achieve this goal the Commission is proposing an updated Recommendation to encourage and facilitate the concept of "mutual recognition" in higher education. In addition, the Recommendation should act as a tool, which encourages the creation of European quality assurance systems and assessments. The adoption of the regulation would give a strong impulse to the establishment of a coherent European system of quality assurance in higher education and would also enhance quality, facilitate recognition of qualifications and promote student mobility.

A common set of general standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area, as proposed by the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), was adopted by Ministers of Education from 45 countries during their meeting in Bergen, Norway on 20 May 2005 in the context of the Bologna process.

The committee on Culture and Education is proposing a package of 18 compromise amendments to the Commission proposal of 30 September 2004. The compromise amendments were brokered by rapporteur Mrs Novak in talks with Council and Commission ("informal trialogue") after her report had been adopted by the committee on 30 August.

The deal aims at concluding the co-decision dossier in first reading. The committee agrees with the Commission proposal that "there is still a need to improve the performance of European higher education", adding that this particularly applies to quality.

Instead of being required, as the Commission proposed, quality assurance or accreditation agencies should now be encouraged by Member States to be independent in their assessments. For assessment purposes, the agencies should apply common features of quality assurance agreed in Bergen, "in such a way as to protect and promote diversity and innovation".

In addition to agencies and universities, representatives of national authorities together with social partners are encouraged to set up a European Register of Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agencies "based on national review".

For licensing purposes, the proposal calls on Member States to enable universities to choose an agency from the Register. However, the Culture Committee insists on compatibility with national legislation or permission by national authorities. MEPs in the committee also demand to delete a call on Member States to accept the assessments by all registered agencies as a basis for decisions on licensing or funding of higher education institutions, including eligibility for student grants and loans.

With a view to boosting their international reputation, Member States should also allow universities to seek a complementary assessment by another agency in the Register. Member States should promote cooperation between agencies in order to build up mutual trust and the recognition of assessments.

Ljudmila Novak (EPP-ED, SI)

Education crucial to making Europe more competitive

In order to achieve the Lisbon objectives, more emphasis should be placed on education and the EU should "as a matter of urgency" promote the convergence of the education systems of the Member States towards higher standards of performance. Guy Bono (PES, FR) for the Culture and Education Committee will be tabling a draft own-initiative report on education as the cornerstone of the Lisbon process.

The specific measures in the field of education and training at both Community and national level should focus primarily on target groups such as young people, job-seekers and those in search of training. The report calls on the Member States to implement the 'Education and Training 2010' work programme with the involvement of all the relevant players.

The report says that, .

MEPs in the committee lay great emphasis on developing a policy for lifelong learning and training which should result in social inclusion as well as being tailored to social, demographic and economic change. There should, for example, be systematic training in the use of new technologies in all lifelong learning and training establishments.

The report makes a number of other recommendations:

-   the Council, Commission and Member States should take steps to speed up the mobility of students, trainees, workers and researchers, as well as the mutual recognition of qualifications;

- priority should be given to reducing the high number of young people leaving school prematurely without qualifications;

- the Commission should create a pilot project aimed at framing an Erasmus-type programme for apprentices enabling the latter to have access to "new generation" Community education and training programmes;

- the Member States should strive to ensure a 15% increase in the number of science graduates between now and 2010, while at the same time correcting the imbalance between men and women;

- the Member States should frame more consistent national policies and improve the conditions for access by job-seekers to education and training, with the involvement of the social partners.

Lastly, the committee stresses the crucial role of universities in creating and spreading knowledge and called for greater synergy between European higher education, the European research area, European lifelong learning and the productive sector.

Guy Bono (PSE, FR)

Immigrant communities' integration through education

Miguel PORTAS (GUE/NGL, PT) for the Culture and Education Committee will be tabling a draft own-iniative report on immigrant communities' integration in Europe through multilingual schools and education.

The report looks at the rights of children in the school system and the duties of the Member States, and also examines the role of the Union in promoting good practice. It stresses that, even when the children and/or descendants of immigrants are proficient in the language of their host country, they should be given the opportunity to familiarise themselves with their mother tongue and the culture of their country of origin, without ruling out public funding for that purpose. It also says that primary and secondary schools should provide educational support to immigrant children, especially when they are not proficient in the language of their host country, to enable them to adapt more easily and prevent them being placed at a disadvantage.

Among its recommendations, the committee urges the Member States to encourage educational establishments to "take measures making for linguistic diversity whereby the choice of alternatives to the official language would not be limited to the most widely spoken European languages".

MEPs in the committee also advocate using different methods of promoting integration through multilingualism, such as the "Content and Language Integrated Learning" (CLIL) method, and wanted the Commission to provide increased support for specific training in this and other methods. Under the Leonardo da Vinci, Youth and Socrates programmes, the range of target languages should be widened to cover immigrants' mother tongues.

The committee also wants to see an EU network of schools employing different methods to promote integration through multilingualism and recommends that funding for this and other initiatives be provided under the horizontal lifelong learning programme. Lastly, MEPs in the committee call for special attention to be paid to the dissemination of cultural works from immigrants' countries of origin.

Miguel Portas (GUE/NGL, PT)

New challenges for the circus as part of European culture

The report by Doris PACK (EPP-ED, DE) for the Culture and Education Committee highlights the fact that cross-border mobility is a key feature of circuses and that circus activities, which are currently regulated at national level, could be the subject of EU measures. It also urges the Commission to introduce specific measures "to ensure that the circus is recognised as forming part of European culture".

The report also addresses the problem of schooling for children from travelling communities and calls on the Commission to set up pilot projects to determine appropriate models for the education of such children. MEPs in the committee suggest that the projects should include developing and supporting e-learning and distance learning, developing concepts for independent/self-reliant learning, introducing pedagogical monitoring tools, developing a teacher profile for tutoring children from travelling communities, and the establishment of temporary measures to remedy the academic difficulties facing children of itinerant people.

The committee also recommends that a mandate be conferred upon the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) to prepare a comprehensive set of standards for mobile circus facilities and finalise current work on the Safety Standard for Temporary Structures (such as tents). This would result in harmonised standards, making it easier for circuses to move among the Member States, and thereby contribute to the conservation of the European classical circus as well as ensuring public safety.

Lastly, the Commission is urged to draw up a European regulation governing the issue of visa and work permits for peripatetic artists in order to eliminate existing conditions which are hard for artists with short-term contracts to meet (e.g. the requirement to prove that there is a lack of equally-qualified people within the EU). The report suggests that the new legislation should make it possible to issue short-term visas/residence permits valid for up to 12 months, while taking "due care" to ensure that these provisions are not abused for the purposes of human trafficking.

Doris Pack (EPP-ED, DE)

Trade with China

Following their debate during the September II plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs are now due to vote on a call for rapid action by China to address the many concerns of EU industry, especially Intellectual Property Rights enforcements, national treatment, transparency and environmental, social and health standards. This comes in an own-initiative report drawn up by Caroline LUCAS (Greens/EFA, UK) for the International Trade Committee.

While welcoming China's implementation of some of its WTO obligations, the committee wants the Commission to offer effective backing to European companies regarding the "numerous cases of inadequate implementation or application by China" of other WTO obligations. MEPs in the committee are calling for measures to protect the intellectual property of EU firms. They call on China not to put up bureaucratic barriers to trade, and to award public contracts in a transparent and fair manner.

The committee welcomes the Commission's Memorandum of Understanding with China limiting textile exports but is concerned at the disruption caused to European retailers by the way it has been implemented. Looking ahead, it says the challenges currently being faced by the textile, clothing and footwear sectors will soon be experiences by others, such as the bicycle, automobile and iron and steel industries, and that these are systemic in nature, requiring a longer term strategy for the EU's international trade policy. MEPs in the committee not that relocations to China primarily affect the most vulnerable and least qualified workers, and call for "strong social solidarity to be shown with these workers" notably through support for training and retraining.

The report notes China's success in extricating over 300 million people from poverty over the last 20 years, but states MEPs' concern at the continuing extreme poverty facing a quarter of China's rural population. Noting with concern the lack of workers' rights in China, notably inadequate health and safety rules, the report calls for China to permit independent trades unions to be established, and for swift action against the use of child labour and forced labour.

MEPs in the committee express their serious concern at the high levels of pollution caused by China's industries and the growing consumption of natural resources such as timber from unsustainable sources. They urge the Chinese government to play a full and positive role in promoting sustainable development , while welcoming recent signs that China is taking serious measures to protect the environment.

The report calls for the EU to carry on a more intensive political dialogue with China, ranging from human rights matters to regional and global security issues. It calls for the establishment of a clear and effective policy of human rights conditionality with regard to the EU's general trading policy with China.

Caroline Lucas (Verts/ALE, UK)

Combating Euro counterfeiting - even in non-euro area Member States

EU funding to combat euro counterfeiting under the 'Pericles' programme should be available to all Member States and not just the twelve who have the euro as their currency. This is the substance of a proposal from the Council, on which Parliament will now give its opinion.

A consultation procedure report from the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee drawn up by Agustín DIAZ DE MERA GARCIA CONSUEGRA (EPP-ED, ES) recommends that the decision should be approved without amendment.

Agustín Díaz de Mera García Consuegra (EPP-ED, ES)

Action needed to tackle poverty among women

How can the EU and its Member States do more to combat poverty and social exclusion? Parliament is to debate an own-initiative report by Anna Záborská (EPP-ED, SK) for the Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities analysing the problem as it affects women in particular.

Mrs Záborská's report looks at four main areas:

-   the development of gender-based indicators and methodology, so as to measure the differing impact of poverty and social exclusion on women and men;

- the importance of involving poor women and families at all levels of decision-making;

- measures to improve the balance of family life and work in a disadvantaged environment;

- the contribution of civil society.

The report emphasises that "poverty has various manifestations" and that "new forms of poverty and marginalisation exist". Poverty is not only about lack of income, it can also be related to ill-health, limited or non-existent access to education, unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. A job is not in itself enough protection against extreme poverty, says the committee. It calls on Member States to take targeted action to ensure that disadvantaged women have access to housing, public health and education. It also draws attention to serious consequences of poverty, stressing that extreme poverty situations are "conducive to trafficking in women, to prostitution and to violence".

MEPs in the committee argue that "extreme poverty is more prevalent among women", saying that in seventeen of the Member States the risk of extreme poverty amongst women greatly exceeds the risk of extreme poverty amongst men. The majority of single-parent families, who run a greater risk of falling into poverty, are headed by a woman. A study of six EU Member States showed that female-headed households earn between 9% and 26% less than their male counterparts, the biggest disparity being in the UK (26%), followed by Sweden (14%), France (12%), the Netherlands (11%), Germany (10%) and Italy (9%). Moreover, the wage gap between men and women in Europe is still on average between 16% and 33%. More working women (30%) than men (6.6%) have a part-time job - a choice often forced upon women by a lack of affordable childcare facilities. In view of all this, the report calls on the Member States to take practical steps to address pay differentials and promote working conditions that will enable both women and men to participate fully in the labour market.

Anna Záborská (EPP-ED, SK) Rapporteur

Urban policy in the EU of 25 - Opportunity and challenge

Jean-Marie BEAUPUY (ALDE, FR) for the Regional Development Committee will be tabling a draft own-initiative report on the urban dimension in the context of enlargement. The committee is convinced that towns and cities and urban agglomerations or areas, including small and medium-sized ones, have a central role to play in achieving the revised Lisbon and Gothenburg objectives.

As to urban policy in the ten new Member States, MEPs in the committee recall that urban policy development priorities must continue to be reinforced at Member State and regional level after enlargement, to include housing and revitalisation of urban areas, infrastructure, transport, tourism, the environment, waste disposal, water supply, culture, training, education, social care and health.

The Regional Development committee also points out that there are great disparities in terms of urban policy between the 25 Member States, particularly as a result of the enlargement to include 10 new Member States. The new Member States, says the committee, often have no clear and comprehensive urban policy at national or regional level.

The committee points out that cities and urban agglomerations or areas represent 78% of the European Union population and considers that urban areas are:

-   the place where both the most complex and the most common problems are concentrated (social exclusion, spatial and ethnic segregation, housing shortage, insecurity, drugs, pollution, contaminated former industrial sites, traffic, unemployment, lack of competitiveness, poverty, demographic changes, etc.)

- the place where the future is built: universities, research centres etc.

Jean Marie Beaupuy (ALDE, FR)

EU funding to tackle major animal disease outbreaks

Parliament is to debate a second report from the Agriculture Committee on a proposed system of co-financing support measures when a major animal disease breaks out. The consultative report by Niels BUSK (ADLE, DK) includes amendments reflecting Parliament's concern that distortion of competition does not arise in the event that Member States involve producers in providing part of the funding which they have taken on.

It was these concerns that originally led Parliament on 10 May 2005 to vote to reject the proposal altogether. Having now received additional undertakings from the Commission on this subject, the committee is proposing to approve the plans, but with some significant amendments.

The report calls for part-financing from the Community set at 75 per cent of the expenditure borne by the Member States - an increase on the 50 per cent proposed by the Commission. An exception is made for foot-and-mouth disease where the Commission was already proposing a 60 per cent EU share. These proportions were seen by the Agriculture Committee as a level sufficiently high to allow poorer countries to fight animal diseases when they break out.

The Commission's proposal aims to allow Member States to share responsibility for the application of exceptional market measures as well as giving them an incentive to do their best to stamp out the disease as quickly as possible.

Niels Busk (ALDE, DK)

Fishery resources in the Baltic Sea

The aim of the proposal being tabled by Zdzislaw Kazimierz CHMIELEWSKI (EPP-ED, PL) for the Fisheries Committee is the conservation of fishery resources in Community waters in the Baltic Sea area.

The committee proposes that an amendment be introduced which prohibits the use of driftnets with effect from 1 January 2008. MEPs in the committee call for "an assessment of the effects of using driftnets and other entangling gear on the sea mammal population" to be carried out before that date. They argued that the salmon driftnets used in the southern Baltic posed a minimal threat to porpoise, which were now extremely rare in the area. Moreover, all entangling equipment, including cod fishing nets, could cause death to sea mammals, but this was not dealt with. The problem therefore requires a thorough examination.

Zdzislaw Kazimierz Chmielewski (EPP-ED, PL)

Staffing of executive agencies

Parliament will hold a non-binding vote without debate on a proposed modification to the rules governing the appointment of accounting officers in EU executive agencies.

This will allow these posts to be filled by temporary staff as well as seconded permanent officials. The Budgetary Control Committee, in a report by its chairman, Szabolcs FAZAKAS (PES, HU), is recommending the changes be approved without amendment.

Szabolcs Fazakas (PES, HU)

•  Plenary Highlights 5 - 8 September 2005
•  Plenary Highlights 4 - 8 July 2005
•  Plenary Highlights 9 - 12 May 2005
•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 25th & 26th April 2005
•  Plenary Highlights 7 - 10 March 2005
•  Plenary Highlights 10 - 13 January 2005
•  Plenary Highlights 15 - 18 November 2004
•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 13 - 14 October 2004
•  Plenary Highlights 13-16 September 2004
•  Plenary Highlights 29 March - 1 April 2004
•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 25-26 February 2004
•  Plenary Highlights 9-12 February 2004
•  "Mini" Plenary Highlights 28-29 January 2004
•  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