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HOUSES OF THE OIREACHTAS Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU Bulletin No. 4: December 1 - 19 2008 Prepared by the Oireachtas EU Liaison Office, Brussels Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Contents Page Lisbon Treaty ......... ………………………………………….......................…... European Council Agreement ................................................. ............. Possible Transition Measures for the Presidency....................................... Possible Transition Measures for the European Parliament ........................ 3 3 3 4 European Parliament – Political and Legislative Highlights ..............….......... 4 Agreement on Pesticides Package................................................................ 4 No agreement on Working Time Directive ................................................. 6 Climate Change Package Adopted ............................................................ 7 Directive on Toy Safety ............ ............................................................ 8 Israeli and Egyptian Foreign Ministers at the EP ......................................... 10 Emergency Food Aid Facility Agreed…… ......................................... 11 Dalai Lama addresses Parliament ....................................................... 11 Inter-Parliamentary Activities …………………………………... ..................... 12 Meeting of Secretaries General ......... ................................................. 12 New Secretary General appointed at the European Parliament……....... 13 Upcoming inter-parliamentary events .......................................................... 13 European Commission News …………….......................………………………. 13 Limited aid to pigmeat sector............................. ........................ ……. 13 Employment barriers for EU Migrant Workers .......................................... 14 New legislation affecting petrol stations....................................................... 15 Green paper on management of bio-waste ................................................. 15 New proposal on organ donation..... ............................................................ 16 European Council / Presidency News …………………………….........………. 17 European Council Meeting.................................. ........................ ……. 17 President Sarkozy reviews the French EU Presidency....................... ……. 17 China critical of EU Presidency meeting with the Dalai Lama .................... 19 2 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU December 1 - 19, 2008 1. LISBON TREATY European Council Agreement At the recent European Council meeting in Brussels, the Lisbon Treaty was discussed with a view to defining a roadmap which would lead to the ratification of the treaty in Ireland. The European Council noted the concerns of the Irish people presented by the Taoiseach relating to taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality. Provided that Ireland committed itself to attempt to ratify the Lisbon Treaty before the end of the current Commission (31 October 2009), the European Council agreed to retain one Commissioner per member state, and to address all of the concerns set out set out by the Taoiseach to the mutual satisfaction of Ireland and the other Member States. The necessary legal guarantees will be given on the following three points: nothing in the Treaty of Lisbon makes any change of any kind, for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the Union's competences in relation to taxation; the Treaty of Lisbon does not prejudice the security and defence policy of Member States, including Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality, and the obligations of most other Member States; a guarantee that the provisions of the Irish Constitution in relation to the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon attributes legal status to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights or by the justice and home affairs provisions of the said Treaty. In addition, Council confirmed the high importance attached to several issues social progress and the protection of workers' rights; public services, as an indispensable instrument of social and regional cohesion; the responsibility of Member States for the delivery of education and health services; the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local Governments in providing, commissioning and organising non-economic services of general interest which is not affected by any provision of the Treaty of Lisbon, including those relating to the common commercial policy. The Taoiseach had been seeking a legally binding assurance on the issue of workers rights, but this was not possible in the face of strong opposition from the UK in particular. The issue of workers rights is particularly sensitive in the UK, which negotiated its own protocol to the Lisbon Treaty to ensure that the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights would not override British law. The binding guarantees sought by Ireland could have caused political problems in the UK. 3 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ The Taoiseach stressed that the Government had not committed itself to holding a second referendum. This was conditional on the Government being fully satisfied with the guarantees to be negotiated in the areas of concern to the Irish people. In the coming months, the Czech Presidency will oversee the discussions between Ireland and the other Member States on the precise form of these guarantees. Indications are that a decision , and a date, for a second referendum will not be made until after the European Parliament elections in June 2009. A European Council meeting is scheduled for 18/19 June 2009. Lisbon Treaty - Possible Transition Measures for the Presidency In the event that the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force when a six-monthly Presidency of the Council has already begun, the European Council agreed that the following transition arrangements would apply the Member State holding the six-monthly Presidency of the Council will continue to chair all the remaining meetings of the Council and the European Council, as well as third-country meetings, until the end of the period of office; the following six-monthly Presidency of the Council will be in charge of taking the necessary specific measures relating to the organisational and material aspects of the Presidency of the European Council and of the Foreign Affairs Council during its period of office. On these issues, close consultation will be established between this Presidency and the President (elect) of the European Council and the High Representative (designate) of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Lisbon Treaty - Possible Transition Measures for the European Parliament In the event that the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force after the European Parliament elections of June 2009, transitional measures will be adopted in order to increase, until the end of the 2009-2014 legislative period, the number of MEPs of the twelve Member States for which the number of MEPs was set to increase in the framework of the IGC which approved the Treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, the total number of MEPs will rise from 736 to 754 until the end of the 2009-2014 legislative period. This arrangement should enter into force, if possible, during the year 2010. 2. EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT – POLITICAL AND LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS European Parliament and Council reach agreement on Pesticides Package Council and Parliament representatives have reached a compromise agreement on the final shape of new EU pesticides legislation. The Parliament will vote on the deal in Strasbourg in January and it must then be formally endorsed by the full Council. The compromise deals with two pieces of legislation: a regulation on the production and licensing of pesticides, and a directive on the sustainable use of pesticides. 4 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ The key points of the regulation on the production and licensing of pesticides, as now agreed, are as follows: A positive list of approved "active substances" (the chemical ingredients of pesticides) is to be drawn up at EU level. Pesticides will then be licensed at national level on the basis of this list. Certain highly toxic chemicals, namely those which are genotoxic, carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction, will be banned unless their effect would in practice be negligible. Developmental neurotoxic, immunotoxic and certain endocrine-disrupting substances will be banned if they are deemed to pose a significant risk. If a substance is needed to combat a serious danger to plant health, it may be approved for up to five years even if it does not meet the above safety criteria. Products containing certain hazardous substances are to be replaced within three years if safer alternatives are shown to exist. Member States will be able to license pesticide products at national level or through mutual recognition. The EU will be divided into three zones (north, centre and south) with compulsory mutual recognition within each zone as the basic rule. But individual States will be allowed to ban a product, for example because of specific environmental or agricultural circumstances. The new legislation will only gradually supersede existing EU law. Pesticides which can be placed on the market under current legislation will remain available until their existing authorisation expires. There will therefore be no sudden large-scale withdrawal of products from the market. The main points of the directive on the sustainable use of pesticides, as agreed, are: Member States will adopt National Action Plans with quantitative targets, measures and timetables to reduce risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment, as well as measures to encourage integrated pest management and alternative pest control methods. Aerial crop spraying will in general be banned, but with exceptions subject to approval by the authorities. Requests to use aerial spraying must be submitted in due time to the authorities. If the authorities do not reply within a set time to a request submitted in accordance with an approved application plan, the request is deemed approved. Member States must ensure appropriate measures are taken to protect the aquatic environment and drinking water supplies from the impact of pesticides. These will include buffer zones for the protection of aquatic organisms and safeguard zones for surface and groundwater used for drinking water, where pesticides must not be used or stored. Lastly, Parliament and Council agreed to prohibit pesticide use or keep it at least to a minimum, in specific areas used by the general public or by vulnerable groups, such as parks, public gardens, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds and playgrounds and in the close vicinity of healthcare facilities. 5 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ No Agreement on Working Time Directive The European Parliament has voted to support amendments to the draft Working Time Directive to that there must be no exceptions to the 48 hoursmaximum working time calculated over a reference period of 12 months and that any opt-out must end three years after adoption of the directive. It also determined that any period of on-call time should count as working time. By adopting this position, the Parliament expressed its disagreement with the Council, where a common position was adopted on 9 June 2008, notably regarding the “opt-out” and on on-call time, an issue of particular importance for the health sector. The directive is now likely to go into conciliation, the final stage of negotiations with Council. In 1993 the UK won an opt-out clause allowing it not to apply the maximum 48hour working week if a worker agrees to work longer. The Parliament proposes the abolition of this clause, which is used in some Member States, three years after the revised directive enters into force. The Parliament feels that an annualisation of the reference period for calculating weekly working hours would allow a sufficiently flexible organisation of working time. Fifteen Member States currently exercise the opt-out. The Council position proposes that the opt out be subject to more stringent conditions protecting the safety and health of such employees, so that the employee are not required to work in excess of 60 hours a week averaged over three months, or 65 hours a week averaged over three months when the inactive part of on-call time is regarded as working time. Additionally, it considers that the inactive part of on-call time should not be regarded as working time unless national law, or in accordance with national and/or practice, a collective agreement or an agreement between the Social Partners provides otherwise. During the debate, Irish MEP Marian Harkin said that the directive as amended was an opportunity for the European Parliament and Council to ensure that citizens could achieve a good work/life balance. Proinsias De Rossa MEP also supported the Parliament position, saying that the current opt-out in use in 14 Member States is an attack on the idea of building Europe on the basis of common decent working and living conditions, and this, he said, must not be allowed to happen. Mairead McGuinness MEP was of the view was that under the Council proposal, the possibility for an employee to opt out of the maximum average working week of 48 hours, provided for in the original Working Time Directive, is subject to more stringent conditions in order to protect the health and safety of workers. Ireland did not originally avail of the opt out and does not intend in the future to avail of this option. However, Ireland has always recognised, from a pragmatic perspective, that a somewhat stricter oversight of a continuing Opt-out had to be an acceptable element in any overall compromise finally achieved on this sensitive dossier and therefore welcomed the suitable “Cap” now achieved at the Council on the number of hours worked, which was an essential factor for many Member States. Regarding the other key aspects of the draft Directive, 6 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ relating to On-call time, Compensatory Rest and Reconciliation of Work and Family life, Ireland believes that the correct balance has been achieved in the Council common Position. Climate Change Package Adopted The European Parliament has adopted the EU's climate change package which aims to ensure that the EU will achieve its climate targets by 2020 - a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, and a 20% share for renewables in the EU energy mix. Ahead of the vote in the Parliament, rapporteurs reached informal agreements with the French Presidency on the proposals which all fall under the co-decision procedure, which places the European Parliament and Council on an equal footing as colegislators. Revising the EU's Emission Trading System The revised EU Emission Trading System (ETS) is a key tool for achieving the EU's aim of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. It will apply from 2013 to 2020 and should lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 21 % compared to reported 2005 levels. The EU ETS is a "cap and trade" system - it caps the overall level of emissions allowed but, within that limit, allows participants buy and sell allowances as they require, so as to cut emissions cost effectively. The Community-wide quantity of allowances issued each year will decrease in a linear fashion, so as gradually to reduce the overall level of emissions each year. The ETS currently covers over 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors, which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU's emissions of CO2 and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining 60 % will be covered by the 'non-ETS' Effort Sharing decision. In the first and second ETS trading periods (2005 -2012) the great majority of allowances were allocated free of charge to installations. The revised directive establishes auctioning from 2013 in principle, but it includes several exceptions, as advocated by the European Council on 12 December 2008. Under the compromise, installations in sectors which are exposed to a significant risk of carbon leakage will in most cases be allocated 100% of allowances free of charge. Carbon leakage refers to competition from installations in from third countries with no carbon reduction targets in place. The amount of allowances allocated free of charge to those installations in sectors deemed not exposed to the risk of carbon leakage in 2013 will be 80% free of charge and thereafter the free allocation will decrease each year by equal amounts resulting in 30% free allocation in 2020, with a view to reaching no free allocation by 2027. From 2013 onwards, member states will auction all allowances which are not allocated free of charge. Irish concerns with the package are mainly focused on the effort sharing proposals for the national 20% reduction obligation for the non-ETS sector and is generally supportive of the proposal for the ETS. Ireland is satisfied that a robust ETS should remain the cornerstone of the EU reductions effort. Irish MEP Avril Doyle was the Parliaments rapporteur responsible for the ETS package. 7 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Effort sharing: Member States targets for CO2 reduction The "effort sharing" decision sets binding national targets for each EU Member State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from non-ETS sources (e.g. road and sea transport, buildings, services, agriculture and smaller industrial installations), between 2013 and 2020. These sources currently account for about 60% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions. The decision aims to reduce these emissions by 10% overall between 2013 and 2020, so as to contribute towards the EU's overall aim of a 20% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The effort sharing decision is the first of its kind worldwide. Member state targets are in the range +20% to -20% relative to 2005 emissions for these sectors, and the Irish target is -20%. The Irish position is that the package is a good compromise that respects the overall environmental ambition level of the EU while ensuring that adequate flexibilities are available to industry and member states to meet their targets in a manner that maximises the protection of jobs in the EU. Carbon Capture and Storage Parliament also approved a proposed directive providing for the legal framework for the new carbon dioxide capture and storage technology (CCS). To cut their CO2 emissions, industrial installations and power plants can in future use this new technology to capture CO2 and store it permanently and safely underground in geological formations. It is principally aimed at coal/ gas plants and from CO2 intensive industries such as steel/ cement. Basically, CO2 will be captured at source and transported via pipe networks to designated storage sites , such as depleted oil/ gas fields. An issue during negotiations related to the funding of CCS demonstration projects so as to facilitate the subsequent roll-out and large-scale use and deployment of CCS. CCS is a new and expensive technology and an EU programme of 10-12 demonstration projects is envisaged to assess the various technological options, to build public confidence and ensure commercialisation by 2020. The Parliament secured the funding for demonstration projects by ensuring that 300 million ETS allowances will be awarded to large scale CCS projects in the EU. Ireland fully supports the directive as adopted. Renewable Energy This new directive lays down mandatory national targets to be achieved by the Member States through promoting the use of renewable energy in the electricity, heating and cooling, and transport sectors in order to ensure that by 2020 renewable energy makes up at least 20% of the EU's total energy consumption. The agreement foresees that by 2020 renewable energy - biofuels, electricity and hydrogen produced from renewable sources - account for at least 10% of the EU's total fuel consumption in all forms of transport. Ireland is fully supportive of the agreement reached. The proposed directive requires that Ireland achieve an overall target of 16% of final energy consumption from renewable energy to be met across the electricity, heat and transport sectors by 2020. This target will require Ireland to increase its overall 8 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ renewable energy share from 3.1% in 2005 to 16% in 2020. The 10% renewables in transport target for 2020 will be mandatory for all 27 member states. Reducing CO2 emissions from new cars This new regulation will set emission performance standards for new passenger cars registered in the EU. The compromise agreed sets a target of an average of 120g of CO2/km for the whole car industry by 2012, compared to the current levels of 160g/km. The regulation sets an average target of 130g CO2/km for new passenger cars to be reached by improvements in vehicle motor technology. It will be supplemented by additional measures to achieve a further 10g/km reduction, so as to reach the 120g/km target, through other technical improvements. The compromise introduces a long term target for 2020 for the new car fleet of average emissions of 95 g CO2/km. Manufacturers will be given interim targets of ensuring that average CO2 emissions of 65% of their fleets in January 2012, 75% in January 2013, 80% in January 2014 and 100% from 2015, have to comply with each manufacturer's specific CO2 emissions target. In case the average emissions of CO2 exceed the targets, manufacturers will have to pay fines. Ireland is not enthusiastic about the final outcome , which is a dilution of the original Commission proposal in terms of ambition. However, Ireland can reluctantly accept it rather than delay agreement on the package. The lower ambition in the final outcome will have implications for the achievement of emission reduction targets from the non-ETS transport sector in the Effort Sharing Directive. However, it is important that an ambitious long-term target is set for 2020 in the 2013 review of the regulation. New Directive on Toy Safety Adopted Following agreement with the Council, the European Parliament has adopted the revised directive on toy safety. The directive aims at making toys safer and will strengthen safety regulations, ban carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic substances and restrict the use of heavy metals and of fragrances. The choking and suffocation risks have been addressed more rigorously, as well as new rules concerning toys contained in food. A toy is defined under the directive as a product intended to be used for playing by children under 14 years of age. A list of products not regarded as toys is annexed to the text. It includes party decorations, collectors' items clearly intended for people aged fourteen or over (including reproductions of real firearms or faithful scale models), puzzles with more than 500 pieces, fireworks and new products such as video games and game consoles. Manufacturers will have to ensure that toys are not harmful or toxic to children's health through a safety assessment. Also clarified and strengthened are the rules regarding warnings on packaging and on toys themselves. Warnings must be in a language that is understandable to consumers and be visible at the point of sale, including online shops. Specific provisions concern warnings stating that the toy is not suitable for children under 36 months and toys for children under 36 months must also meet higher safety standards. New provisions on noise 9 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ emitted by toys will be established. The aim is to protect children from the risk of impairment of hearing caused by sound emitting toys. New standards will be stronger and more comprehensive, and will limit the peak values for both impulse noise and prolonged noise emitted by toys. The directive will enter into force twenty days after its publication in the Official Journal. Member States will then have 18 months to implement the directive. Toy manufacturers will have 2 years to adapt to the new requirements during which toys which comply with the current legislation may continue to be placed on the market. Israeli Foreign Minister at the European Parliament Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, spoke to the EP‟s Foreign Affairs Committee on 2 December. She defended Israel‟s position on the West Bank settlements and stressed the sincerity of Israel‟s commitment to peace in the Middle East. She emphasised that Hamas represented an extreme ideology that did not recognise international laws and this made the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians more complicated. The vision of Israel, she said, was for a peace treaty that could be translated into reality. Ms. Livni stated firmly that continuing the negotiations already decided in the Annapolis agreement was essential to achieving peace, but she warned against too much intervention from outside. The eagerness of the international community would lead to failure. It would take time, she said, and a premature closing of the gaps separating the partners would only lead to violence. She was keen to see the EU‟s relationship with Israel upgraded. There was, she said, a public perception of Israel as a state that wants to control the Palestinians. A stronger relationship with the EU would, she said, hopefully change this perception. A more supportive EU role in the peace process would be welcome and helpful in serving the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians. With regard to possible accession to the EU, she said that upgrading Israel‟s relationship with the EU was already a very important step. Finally, Ms. Livni confirmed that it was no longer official policy to extend settlements in the West Bank, and she assured the Committee that Israel was not going to build new settlements, confiscate land or extend settlements. These were policies of the past that did not represent the opinions of the vast majority of Israelis today. Egyptian Foreign Minister addresses European Parliament The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, also met with the EP‟s Foreign Affairs Committee. He urged Israel to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of the Arab League's peace plan. If the Israelis were willing to negotiate on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative, that would be enough to reach an agreement, he maintained. The peace plan calls for Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and for a solution to be found to the problem of the Palestinian refugees. In exchange for this, around 50 Arab and Muslim countries would recognise Israel and establish full diplomatic relations with it. The Foreign Minister also called for the new US administration to relaunch the peace initiative. Turning to the question of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Ahmed Aboul Gheit explained that 10 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Egypt was continuing to play a mediating role. He criticised the international community, the European Union and the United States for not recognising the democratic validity of the elections from which Hamas emerged victorious. If the international community had supported this organisation, it may have changed its outlook, which could have prevented the Hamas coup d'état. Finally, on the blockade of Gaza, the Foreign Minister condemned the collective punishments meted out in the Gaza Strip. His view was that the scenario was always the same - generally Israel provoked the Palestinians, they responded with missiles and the Israelis closed the borders. Emergency Food Aid Facility Agreed The European Parliament at it‟s December plenary session in Brussels voted through a Regulation for a €1 billion Emergency Food Aid Facility. This was negotiated with Council and Commission by Gay Mitchell MEP, a member of the EP‟s Development Committee and a Vice-President of the Parliament's delegation to the EU-ACP Assembly. The purpose of the Facility is to finance measures aimed at supporting a rapid and direct response to volatile food prices in developing countries (i.e. support to the next 2-3 harvests by improving access to seeds and fertilisers) and safety net measures. Although primarily a rapid response instrument, the Facility will also seek to ensure coherence between short-term measures and more structural measures with a view to preventing the recurrence of the current food crisis, i.e. to strengthen the productive capacities and governance of the agricultural sector in developing countries. The facility will provide €1 billion to be spent over the next 2 years to assist those suffering from rapid increases in food prices in the developing world. Getting approval quickly was necessary in order to meet the March/April 09 planting season. The objective is that monies will be spent on seeds, fertilisers, and other means to assist farmers in developing countries as well as on emergency food aid. The funds will come from three sources: the flexibility instrument, the emergency aid reserve and the redeployment of funds within the external relations heading. MEP Mitchell expressed his disappointment that the original proposal to take this money from the EU agricultural surplus was blocked by both Council and Parliament sources. Ireland has strongly supported the proposed Facility since it was first presented by the European Commission and participated actively in the Council discussions to agree the Facility‟s financing methods. The Taoiseach has publicly stated his support for the Facility as part of the EU‟s commitment to assisting those most vulnerable to hunger and food insecurity. Dalai Lama addresses the European Parliament The Dalai Lama addressed a formal sitting of the European Parliament on 4 December as part of European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. In his welcoming address, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering alluded to the recent atrocities in Mumbai, saying that in such times, faith leaders who preach 11 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ a message of peace and reconciliation between peoples can make a major contribution to our society. The Tibetan spiritual leader chose to speak without notes. Describing himself as just one of 6 billion people, he said his first concerns were to promote human values and religious harmony. He stressed the importance of leading a happy life, which could best be achieved by having peace of mind and argued that there was today too much emphasis on material values, with too much stress, suspicion, ambition and greed. However, he believed that inner value did not necessarily come from religious teaching but is a biological necessity, since we are all social animals. In fact, he saw secular ethics and an emphasis on inner peace as a basis for a happy life, and he advocated secular methods , including common sense, common experience, religious and scientific findings. Turning to his other major concern, the fate of Tibet, the Dalai Lama reiterated his well-known position that he sought not independence but general autonomy for Tibet within the People's Republic of China, and also that he was committed to non-violence in pursuing that goal. The Chinese constitution, he pointed out, specifically mentions minority rights. Indeed, his approach was best for China itself, since general harmony and unity can only come through trust and mutual respect . He also asked the European Union to play a role, saying that while it should keep close to China, nevertheless - to quote a Tibetan saying - if you are a true friend you will make clear your friend's faults. The EP President stressed that the Parliament has consistently sought to highlight the human rights of the Tibetan people. While respecting China's territorial integrity, he stressed that in dialogue with China, the EU has a responsibility to be open and honest in expressing commitment to shared values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedom of expression . 3. INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ACTIVITIES Meeting of Secretaries General The Secretaries Generals of the national parliaments of EU Member States met at the French national Assembly in Paris on 15 December. The main purpose of the meeting was to consider and decide on the issues to be discussed at the Conference of Speakers of the EU Parliaments which will be held in Paris on 27-28 February 2008. Oireachtas Secretary General Mr. Kieran Couglan attended the meeting, while the Seanad was represented by Mr. Peter Finnegan. Ronan Gargan, EU Policy Advisor and John Hamilton, EU Liaison officer also attended. The Clerk took the opportunity to inform his colleagues on the work of the Oireachtas following the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, and in particular on the conclusions of the Sub-Committee on Ireland‟s Future in the EU. Following discussion, it was agreed that four main topics for the Speaker‟s Conference next February would be as follows Institutional future of the EU and implementation of the clauses of the Lisbon Treaty by national parliaments; 12 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Europe and crisis management – the involvement of national parliaments; The preparation of the parliamentary dimension of the Presidency of the EU; The future of Europe for the year 2030. Following the precedent set at the last Speakers Conference in Lisbon, it was agreed that in order to promote a candid and open discussion, the first agenda item would be discussed privately at a session limited to the Speakers and one advisor. New Secretary General appointed in European Parliament The European Parliament's Bureau has made a unanimous decision to appoint Mr. Klaus Welle as the Parliament's next Secretary General. His appointment will take effect on 15 March 2009, following the retirement of the present Secretary General, Harald Rømer. Born in July 1964, Klaus Welle has held a number of senior positions at the European Parliament, including Secretary General of the EPP-ED group and Director General for Internal Policies. In the latter role, he worked on implementing the Inter-Institutional Agreement on Better Regulation, aiming to increase the impact of Parliament's role in the legislative process. He also represented Parliament as a "Sherpa" in the administrative level preparations for the Lisbon Treaty under the German Council Presidency. Since January 2007, Mr. Welle has been Director of the Cabinet of EP President Hans-Gert Pöttering. Upcoming Inter-Parliamentary Events Joint Committee Meeting on Progress in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, European Parliament, Brussels, 19/20 January. Meeting of Committee Chairpersons on “Secure and sustainable energy for Europe”, 25/26 January, Czech Senate, Prague. Invitations have been issued to the relevant Oireachtas Committees 4. EUROPEAN COMMISSION DEVELOPMENTS Commission provides limited aid to Irish Pigmeat Sector Following the decision of the Irish authorities to take various precautionary measures regarding pig meat, such as the recall from the market all pigmeat and pigmeat products produced from pigs slaughtered after 1 September 2008 and temporarily suspend the marketing of pigmeat, the European Commission announced that they would provide limited assistance in the form of a private storage aid scheme. Given the exceptional circumstances and the difficulties that the pigmeat market in Ireland is experiencing, the European Commission agreed to introduce an urgent market support measure in the form of a specific private storage aid scheme. This EU-funded storage scheme will involve only meat coming from pigs reared in Ireland on farms not affected by contaminated feed. Under the aid scheme, a maximum of 30,000 tonnes of pigmeat can be 13 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ stored for a period of up to 6 months. The level of aid varies according to the cut of meat. Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said that the EU needed to take practical steps to help support the Irish pork sector at this difficult time, and that the Private Storage Aid would allow producers to put their products in storage at the expense of the EU budget. Doing so would help to prop up the market. The meat can then be sold out of storage at a later date, when the market has recovered. Commission calls for lifting of remaining employment barriers on EU migrant workers Validimir Spidla, the European Commissioner with responsibility for employment, has called on all EU countries to lift the remaining employment barriers, arguing that the new workers had not caused serious disturbances on labour markets, nor had they flooded them, as some had feared. Additionally, he stressed that workers from the new EU member states had contributed to the economic growth by bringing more workers where they were most needed, and had had little or no negative impact on wages and unemployment levels. However, Belgium has decided to keep barriers in place for Bulgarian and Romanian workers for three more years, amidst fears of growing unemployment in the context of the economic crisis. Given the economic crisis situation and the risk for unemployment rates to increase in the months to come, the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Joelle Milquet said that it was wise to take all necessary precautions. Belgium also argued that the majority of the older member states had decided to maintain their restrictions for a new three-year period as well. Additionally, he said that the measures could be beneficial for the two countries, notably for Romania, as Romania has currently the highest rate of labour shortage in Europe. Since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, other EU member states have been able to restrict access to their labour markets for the new workers for a set period of a maximum of seven years, after which all of them must fully open up. This means that Bulgarian and Romanian workers need a work permit, accompanied by often lengthy and heavy administrative procedures, to be legally employed in these countries. All of the EU's older members, with the exception of Sweden and Finland, have opted to use this clause for an initial period of two years, and some have already announced or hinted they intend to keep the measures in place for a second three-year period. The Netherlands recently opted not to open their borders for Bulgarian and Romanian workers, citing the economic crisis which has caused concern for rising unemployment. Luxembourg also announced it would not open for the EU's newest members. In contrast, almost all of the member states that joined the EU in 2004 have fully opened their markets for Bulgarians and Romanians, while Sofia and Bucharest have not imposed limitations to workers from other EU states. 14 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Commission proposes legislation to limit harmful vapour emissions from petrol service stations The Commission has proposed new legislation to ensure that harmful petrol vapour which escapes during the refuelling of cars at service stations is captured and recycled. Petrol pumps in many service stations across the EU will need to be fitted with equipment that can recover 85% or more of this vapour. Petrol vapour contains benzene, which is known to cause cancer, and contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone ('smog'), one of the air pollutants most damaging to human health and the environment. The proposed directive will require petrol vapour recovery (PVR) technologies to be fitted to petrol pumps at all service stations with an annual petrol throughput greater than 500 cubic metres per year when they are newly constructed or substantially refurbished. All service stations situated underneath residential accommodation will also need to install this equipment irrespective of their size. The largest existing stations, with a throughput greater than 3000 cubic metres per year, will also have to implement PVR, by 2020 at the latest. PVR equipment is already installed in petrol stations in about half the Member States. The proposed directive will extend this practice to the whole of the EU. The proposal now goes to the Council and European Parliament for their consideration under the co-decision procedure. Commission publishes Green Paper on the management of bio-waste The European Commission has published a Green Paper on the management of bio-waste in the European Union. Bio-waste, biodegradable garden, kitchen and food waste, accounts for around one third of municipal waste and has major potential impacts on the environment. When disposed of in landfill sites, it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide and a major contributor to climate change. While waste management in the EU is governed by a substantial body of regulation, there may be room for further improvement in the area of bio-waste, which offers potential advantages as a source of renewable energy and recycled materials. The Green Paper explores options and opportunities in bio-waste management in the EU and will contribute to the assessment of the need for legislative action. It addresses in particular the best level for action – EU, national or local – and asks Member States for their respective views. The Green Paper includes an overview of the current bio-waste management practices in the EU, and looks at the benefits and drawbacks of these methods, taking into account environmental, economic and social issues. The Paper also looks at the impact of the existing regulatory measures. Bio-waste management is already subject to a number of EU and national legislative measures including obligatory diversion from landfills, encouragement of recycling, incineration and composting and product standards and requirements. The Green Paper will also consider the need for new legislation which could help direct more bio-waste towards recycling and energy recovery. The Paper is intended to stimulate a debate among stakeholders and help the Commission assess the need for additional EU action. The next step will be an impact 15 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ assessment of a possible legislative proposal, which will be carried out in 2009. A legislative proposal, if justified by the impact assessment, could be adopted in 2010. The views of all stakeholders, including the public, are invited. The consultation will remain open until 15th March 2009. Commission publishes proposal on Organ Donation The Commission has published a draft directive to address safety and quality measures for organ donation and a 10 point action plan to work with Member States on strengthening organ donation and transplantation systems in Europe. There are currently 56,000 patients waiting for a suitable organ donor in the EU. and it is estimated that every day 12 people die while waiting for transplantation. The Directive and Action Plan address three key challenges: improving the quality and safety of organs across Europe, increasing organ availability and making transplant systems more efficient and accessible. The Directive provides a clear legal framework for organ donation and transplantation in the EU. This means that in every Member State a national competent authority will be created or designated to ensure compliance with EU quality and safety standards. These standards include establishing a traceability system of human organs and a reporting system of serious adverse events and reactions. To facilitate exchange of human organs, data collection on specific organ characteristics will be standardised. Finally, national quality programmes will ensure continuous monitoring of performance and result in improved processes and learning. The goal of this Directive is to minimise the risk for the organ transplant recipient, to improve and optimise the allocation of organs across the European Union and to provide the transplant surgeon with the necessary information to make the best choice. The Action Plan (2009-2015) is a 6 year plan with 10 priority actions addressing the 3 key challenges in organ donation and transplantation in Europe. The Action Plan aims to stimulate joint actions and facilitate coordination with Member States. This will be achieved through different mechanisms such as exchanging good practice or creating EU wide agreements on specific topics. For example, one priority area is improving the knowledge and communication skills of health professionals and patient support groups on organ donation. A second key area is the exchange of experiences on the use of Transplant Donor Coordinators to increase the number of available organs. This proposal will the subject of a COSAC Subsidiarity Check. National parliaments have been requested to conduct the subsidiarity check on this proposal within eight weeks from the publication of the proposal in all the official EU languages. The eight week period will expire on 6 February 2009. 16 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ 5. EUROPEAN COUNCIL / PRESIDENCY NEWS European Council Meeting, Brussels The European Council met in Brussels on 11 and 12 December 2008. In addition to the agreement on a roadmap for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council approved a European Economic Recovery Plan, equivalent to about 1,5 % of the GDP of the European Union (or around EUR 200 billion). The plan provides a common framework for the efforts made by Member States and by the European Union, with a view to ensuring consistency and maximising effectiveness. The European Council also reached agreement on the energy/climate change package which should enable this package to be finalised with the European Parliament by the end of the year. This decisive breakthrough should enable the European Union to honour the ambitious commitments entered into in this area in 2007 to maintain its leading role in the search for an ambitious and comprehensive global agreement at Copenhagen next year. The European Council also demonstrated its intent to give new impetus to the European Security and Defence Policy in order to meet the new security challenges. President Sarkozy addresses the European Parliament on the French Presidency In a wide-ranging review of the work done under the French presidency of the EU over the last six months, President Nicolas Sarkozy told the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg that France had sought to organise the work of its presidency on the basis of two convictions: that the world needs a strong Europe and that Europe cannot be strong if it is not united. Mr. Sarkozy spoke first of the Georgian crisis, where his main aim had been to stop the war and not fall into the same trap as in Bosnia, where the USA had taken the lead and Europe followed. In the global financial crisis, unity had been crucial and a European recovery plan had been agreed. If Europe's countries and institutions had not taken responsibility, this would have led to the destruction of the European banking system. The Mediterranean Union was another project where compromise had proved crucial, and would provide a way to ensure that Europe plays a part in the Middle East. The EU, must cease to be just a fund provider and must have a say in the peace process. On climate change, Mr. Sarkozy told the Parliament that agreement on the legislative package had been very difficult to achieve, as each Member State had reason for dissatisfaction. However, compromises had been accepted. Unanimity had been important to ensure that any deal would be implemented and he added that the European Parliament's determination to get an agreement was a powerful factor in securing a deal among the governments. With the climate change initiatives, Europe will be the first to accept legally binding rules by 2020 and will be strengthening these limits as agreement is reached globally. On defense, Mr. Sarkozy referred to next year's NATO summit, saying that member states must understand that European security and defence policy is complementary to NATO. 17 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Lastly, turning to the "constitutional question", he pointed out that the Czech constitutional court had just indicated that the Lisbon Treaty ratification process could go ahead. This left Ireland. He emphasised that as part of a compromise agreed every country would have a Commissioner and Ireland would have guarantees for its neutrality, fiscal independence and family law. He hoped for a positive result from a fresh referendum by the end of 2009. In conclusion, Mr. Sarkozy said Europe required an understanding between different nations, and he stressed that he was not an integrationist and was determined to preserve the nation state. Nevertheless Europe is not the enemy of nations and nations are not the enemy of Europe. Above all, he believed it is easier for Europe to have big ambitions than small ones, because only big projects have the power to overcome national egos. During the ensuing debate, several Irish MEPs took the opportunity to comment on the agreement reached at the European Council on the Lisbon Treaty. Brian Crowley MEP congratulated President Sarkozy on his efforts and welcomed the compromise that has been reached to allow for a second decision from the Irish people with regard to the Lisbon Treaty. In the light of experience over the last six months in particular, Mr. Crowley said that what is really needed is a Europe that cooperates, coordinates and works together to achieve common goals with a basis of understanding and tolerance for the differing opinions. Kathy Sinnott MEP said that an overwhelming number of Irish voters did not want a second referendum. They had made their decision and it made no sense to them to continue the debate in the middle of a global economic meltdown. They are concerned with unemployment and with budget cuts that are affecting the most vulnerable. They feel alone in these problems, with their leaders chasing the Lisbon phantom. In voting „no‟ people voted to protect their jobs, their farms, their families and their constitution. Marian Harkin MEP said that subject to satisfactory conclusions, the Irish Government would run a second referendum. This was the essence of democracy with politicians working to produce a solution and then asking the people for their consent. The government must, she said, pay very careful attention to those who are trying to influence the outcome and those who are funding part of the „no‟ campaign. Ireland was and will be a battleground for the heart and soul of Europe. Colm Burke MEP felt the key point was that the concerns expressed during the Lisbon referendum in relation to taxation, military neutrality and abortion were largely based on misinformation. The reality is that these issues are either unaffected by the Lisbon Treaty or have protocols already attached safeguarding Ireland‟s position. There must, he said, be a meaningful engagement with the Irish people to rebuild understanding of, and support for, the European process. Voter research after the referendum revealed a very low level of public understanding of the role and functions of the European Union. This disengagement is a major challenge for both the European Union itself and for 18 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ the national political system and should not be under-estimated again by the Irish Government. He proposed a constitutional change to allow future international treaties to be referred to the Irish Supreme Court when they are agreed, to establish which provisions should be put to the Irish people. He also proposed the establishment of a new constitutional office of an EU citizens officer. The appointee would act as an independent advisory officer on all aspects of EU legislation, including its transposition into Irish law. This individual would be responsible for providing impartial information on the facts about European issues, in particular when conflicting arguments arise. Proinsias De Rossa MEP welcomed the decisions on the Lisbon Treaty by the European Council. The right of each Member State to nominate a Commissioner had been secured and guarantees would be negotiated to address other concerns. The content of the guarantees will have to satisfy the broad majority of Irish and European citizenship, but they must not be used to freeze social progress in Ireland or Europe or to deny the benefits of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to anybody. Avril Doyle MEP thanked all the member states for making the effort to accommodate Ireland with a Commissioner and legal guarantees on taxation, neutrality, the right to life, education and the family. While there will still be those who will continue to argue against a second referendum, the majority of the Irish continue to acknowledge and fully appreciate Ireland's EU membership, particularly at this time of unprecedented global economic difficulty, when marginalisation and loss of influence cannot be an option. The problem for Ireland, Mairead McGuinness MEP said, was not so much the contents of the Treaty , but in dealing with the issues that people have concerns about, and the Council has done that. Responsibility now rested on those who support the Treaty to canvas widely for the values that are in the Treaty and to divide the issues of national concern from those at European level. China critical of EU Presidency meeting with the Dalai Lama China has reacted angrily to a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, warning of consequences for China's relations not only with France, but with the EU as well. The French President is the first European leader to meet the Dalai Lama while holding the EU's rotating presidency. The meeting took place on 6 December in the Polish city of Gdansk, in the margins of a gathering of Nobel Peace prize winners. China urged the French to fully understand the damage generated to bilateral relations as well as to China-EU relations. China, which has branded the Dalai Lama a separatist for demanding self-determination for Tibet, has consistently opposed any meeting between him and foreign leaders. Ahead of the meeting, China had expressed its discontent and called off an EU–China summit planned for 1 December. which was to include talks over the worldwide economic downturn and decisions on further co-operation in dealing with the crisis. A number of Chinese news editorials have also called for boycott of French products in China. French trade with China is worth more than €25 billion. 19 Recent Developments in the European Parliament and the EU: Dec 1 - 19, 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________________ Mr Sarkozy stressed he was free to meet whomever he choose while the French economy minister Christine Lagarde also downplayed China's angry reaction, calling it a minor incident that should not hinder economic relations between the parties. 20
"Recent Developments in the EP EU"