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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 (21-24 October 2002)

Growth and Stability Pact - Commission Statement

Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, made a statement to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the growth and stability pact, defending his description of EU rules on budgetary discipline as "stupid".

Confidence in the pact has been rocked by recent events. The announcement by the German Government last week that they would breach the rules limiting borrowing to 3% of GDP is the most recent in a long line of problems for the Euro-zone spending pact. The deadline for balancing budgets has been postponed 3 times and France still says that meeting the 2006 deadline is "not a priority". Italy meanwhile is preparing tax cuts which are likely to push it over the 3% limit, while Portugal has already breached the pact with a 4.1% deficit.

Theresa Villers MEP said: "The real loser in the game of chicken now being played out in Brussels between the European Commission, Euro-zone governments and the European Central Bank, is likely to be jobs and prosperity in the Euro-zone. What would really be 'stupid' would be for the UK to jeopardise economic stability by joining the faltering economies in the Euro."

European Parliament Representation

On 22nd October 2002 the General Affairs & External Relations Council meeting agreed to a reduction in the number of UK representatives to the European Parliament from 2004. Early suggestions indicate that the UK will suffer a reduction in representation from 87 to 78. With 3 remaining seats in Northern Ireland assigned by the government, this would result in the 11 mainland regions in the UK having their representation reduced by 9 from 84 to 75.

Jonathan Evans MEP said: "With this reduction in UK seats, it is more important than ever that British people elect to the European Parliament members who are prepared to work daily for Britain's interest in Europe and not Europe's interests in Britain. The Conservative Party represents the only British party determined to defend and improve Britain's interests in Europe."

Medicinal products for human use - Grossetête Report

Conservatives voted in favour of the report which sought to guarantee a high level of protection for human health through tighter market surveillance and vigilence procedures were passed by the European Parliament.

The four main objectives of the proposals are to guarantee a high level of health protection for all EU citizens; to complete the internal market in pharmaceutical projects, to meet the challenge of enlargement and to rationalise and simplify the existing system introduced in 1995.

John Bowis MEP said: "Our policy is to provide the best possible deal for patients and both encourage research into new drugs and to ensure they are safe, effective and at a price that is affordable.

We give a broad welcome to this proposal which would simplify the existing procedures for approval of medicines and support a balance between encouraging innovation in the pharmaceutical industry and ensure a fair price for health services and patients.

We are however opposed to advertising but support the sensible provision of information to patients about diseases and medicines. For this reason we opposed the British Labour Party's amendment which would have banned patient information campaigns promoted jointly by the Department of Health, the pharmaceutical industry and NGOs."

Veterinary medicinal products - Grossetête Report

Conservatives supported this report which is based on a Commission proposal to amend the Community code relating to veterinary medicinal products.

MEPs voted in favour of a Conservative amendment to a Commission proposal that will prevent huge costs being imposed on farmers.

The report had called for all medicines for food-producing animals to be made prescription only. In the UK, routinely used veterinary medicines such as vaccines, wormers and antiseptics are currently available from qualified agricultural supply merchants, whilst prescription only medicines such as antibiotics can only be prescribed by a vet. The effect of the proposal would have meant added costs to farmers in increased vets fees, and possibly the loss of rural businesses. The amendment allows the current system in the UK to continue.

Robert Goodwill MEP said: "This is great news for British farmers and rural businesses. The current system is not only economically better but has animal welfare benefits, enabling animals to be treated with medicines vital to their well-being. The prescription only system is overrated as the vets prescribing the medicines rarely get to speak to the farmer, let alone examine the animals concerned. I am grateful to all those who voted in favour of our amendment."

Comments by Jacques Chirac on the UK's budget Rebate

French President Jacques Chirac suggested that Britain's EU rebate should be reviewed.

Jonathan Evans MEP said: "Margaret Thatcher's rebate has been worth over £30 bn to Britain. The rebate is fundamental to our financial relationship with the EU and is non-negotiable.

President Chirac's intervention is nothing more than a lame effort to deflect the UK from pressing for urgent EU reform, particularly in the farming sector."

Charter of fundamental human rights - Duff Report

Conservatives voted against the Duff Report which calls for the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to be given the status of primary law. The Report was however adopted by Parliament. The Report suggests that classifying the Charter as primary law could open a new phase in the development of EU citizenship and make the Charter a key point of reference for the Court of Justice and national courts. The Report calls for the Charter to be incorporated into the new constitutional treaty without any changes to its substance, stating that any later alterations should be prepared by a new Convention, which should be gender balanced and should work to reinforce the principle of equality between the sexes. Timothy Kirkhope MEP said: "The Charter of Fundamental Rights deals with matters of social, employment and cultural policy, which must always remain the responsibility of the Member States. This Report is simply another example of representatives in Parliament signing away national interests in Britain."

Common rules on refugee status - Lambert Report

Conservatives voted against this report, which responds to the Commission proposal that lays down rules on which asylum seekers qualify for refugee status or subsidiary protection status, including provisions on minimum rights and benefits. The Report was however adopted by Parliament.

The report states that family members of an applicant who may qualify for international protection should include same-sex partners and children of the applicant's spouse or partner. It also states that they need not arrive in the host country at the same time as the applicant, but may join them later. In order to be considered as dependent relatives, they need not have lived together with the applicant in the country of origin.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP said: "Handling of asylum cases is the concern of national governments and parliaments. They should only be subject to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees. The internationally- accepted criteria should not be tampered with and neither should the legal systems of each state in handling procedures."

Attacks against information systems - Cederschiöld Report

Conservatives voted against this report which sought to approximate the laws on attacks against information systems. The Report was however adopted by Parliament.

Information systems include "stand alone" personal computers, personal digital organisers, mobile phones, intranets and extranets and the network servers and other infrastructures of the internet. Though the Decision will limit itself to unauthorised access to information systems (hacking), disruption of information (denial of service), executions of malicious software that modifies or destroys data, interception of communication and malicious misrepresentation, the Committee is worried about the protection of personal data as an appropriate data protection instrument is still lacking at a European level.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP said: "While British Conservatives are in favour of co-operation between Member States' authorities in this area, we are not in favour of harmonised custodial sentences which is why we voted against this report. Penalties given to cyber-criminals should be determined under national law and not at an EU level."

Report of Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management

The British fishing industry could have to brace itself for another devastating blow from the European Commission if recommendations in a report from the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management are implemented.

The Advisory Committee advise the European Commission and offer research into fisheries activity. The report recommends a complete halt for cod fishing in the North and Irish Seas. In an effort to save the dwindling numbers of fish, the report also recommends a closure of haddock, whiting and prawn fisheries where cod is caught as a by-catch.

Struan Stevenson, Chairman of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee and Scottish Conservative MEP, set up an urgent meeting between alarmed representatives from the fishing industry in Scotland and Fisheries Commissioner, Franz Fischler, this morning at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Struan Stevenson MEP said: "The impact of these scientific recommendations would be catastrophic to the British fishing industry costing upwards of 20,000 jobs and £1 bn out of the UK economy.

This morning's meeting between leaders of the UK fishing sector was timely because we were able to raise our immediate concerns over threats of complete closure of the white fish sector contained in the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management (ACFM) report.

However, Commissioner Fischler assured us that although he has not yet studied the report, his services have advised him that the impact is not as dramatic as we have claimed. The truth of this remains to be seen, but he is now well aware of our deep concerns."

Kinnock statement on budgetary reform

Conservatives in the European Parliament were delighted that Commissioner Kinnock appeared before Parliament and promised to "vigorously" pursue administrative reforms and present a report on progress made.

But they promised to continue to hold him and the Commission to account and declared their intention to carry on their work to eliminate waste, mismanagement and fraud wherever it exists across Europe's institutions.

Commissioner Neil Kinnock said in Strasbourg on Thursday: "We must, and will, pursue the administrative reforms vigorously. A comprehensive progress report on reforms will be produced in January for Parliament to inspect."

Chris Heaton-Harris MEP said "We need to see hard evidence that change is happening and happening quickly. My message to Commissioner Kinnock is simple, 'paying lip service to these recent concerns is not enough'.

Taxpayers lose billions of pounds a year through mismanagement under his watch - those same taxpayers now deserve to see real evidence that its not business as usual in the Commission and that they are delivering on change. We wait with baited breath."

Commissioner Kinnock was responding to recent allegations and revelations over the Commission's handling of its budgets, particularly those of the Commission's former Chief Accountant Marta Andreasen."

Air transport: compensation and assistance - Lisi Report

Conservatives supported the Lisi report which proposes setting up a scheme to compensate and assist travellers who are subject to delayed or cancelled flights. However, Conservatives also supported an amendment, which was passed, to reduce the proposed level of compensation for 'denied boarding'.

Building on a 1991 Regulation, the new proposal states that in cases of denied boarding, airlines must ask for volunteers to surrender their seats before preventing a passenger from boarding the aircraft. Passengers will also be offered a choice between having the cost of their ticket reimbursed, or being re-routed to their final destination either as soon as possible or at their own convenience. The latter also applies to cancelled and delayed flights. There will be no difference in redress between scheduled and 'budget' airlines.

MEPs voted to reduce the Commission's proposal for a 400% increase in compensation to passengers who are denied boarding.

The Commission proposal, which could be reintroduced, was originally for compensation at a level of €750 to passengers who are denied boarding on flights of less than 3,500 kilometres and €1,500 for flights of 3,500 kilometres or more. The Parliament voted to reduce the proposed levels of compensation for denied boarding to €200 for flights of less than 1,000 kilometres; €400 for flights between 1,000 kilometres and 3,500 kilometres; and €600 for flights of 3,500 kilometres or more.

Jacqueline Foster MEP said: "I fully support compensation for passengers who have been denied boarding or have been delayed, but if the level of compensation is set too high, it will inevitably push up prices and could threaten the viability of all carriers, in particular the budget airlines.

The European Parliament has been pragmatic in its approach to the issue of compensation, whilst the Commission still supports the higher rates. I urge Member States to follow our lead and not allow airlines to be ruined by excessive fines."

Insider dealing and market manipulation - Goebbels Report

The purpose of this Report is to present a Commission proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on insider dealing and market manipulation (market abuse).

The European Parliament voted to support this directive which could harm investors and limit the free flow of information to financial markets.

MEPs have decided that financial journalists should be subject to regulation by the Committee of European Securities Regulators (CESR), made up of securities and financial services regulators from all EU Member States, including the UK's FSA (Financial Services Authority).

Theresa Villiers MEP said: "We support tough rules to prevent and punish market abuse and insider dealing, but securities regulators do not understand freedom of speech issues which affect journalists.

The CESR has already demonstrated this in its recent consultation paper on market abuse which outlined measures which would be unworkable and impractical if applied to journalists.

This sort of heavy handed regulation would disrupt the free flow of information to the markets and harm the same consumer investors this directive is trying to protect."

Agrarian reform and rural development - Khanbhai Report

Conservatives voted in favour of the Khanbhai report. The draft Resolution calls for the progressive elimination of trade and tariff barriers and increased access to markets for developing countries. This draft own initiative Resolution on rural development in developing countries underlines the fact that 75% of the 1.2 billion people living below $1 a day live in rural areas. Their poverty, according to the draft Resolution, is largely due to obstacles preventing them realising high added value from their resources. It also calls on EU Member States, other industrialised countries and oil rich nations to honour their pledge and contribute a minimum of 0.7% of GNP for development assistance, as only 4 of the 15 EU Member States have done so. Bashir Khanbhai MEP said: "Three factors are involved in the issue of agricultural development in developing countries, in the same way as in that of eradicating hunger and rural poverty, namely production (for domestic consumption as well as export): employment (mainly of women on family farms), and the sustainable management of natural resources. Financial aid and technical assistance aimed at rural development must go hand-in-hand with the development of trade in order to avoid over-reliance on exports to the detriment of sustainable development. These objectives need to be reflected in institutional changes at both international and domestic levels."

Plenary Highlights 23-26 September 2002
Plenary Highlights 2-7 September 2002
Plenary Highlights 8-12 April 2002