EPP-ED Report Issue 10 / September II 2007 EPP-ED wants to close loopholes in toy safety legislation By Greet Gysen On Tuesday, MEPs debated with the European Commissioners for Enterprise & Industry and for Consumer Protection on what measures should be taken to increase toy safety and product safety in general. A joint parliamentary Resolution was voted on Wednesday calling for the strict enforcement of product and toy safety laws in the Member States, increased effectiveness of the rapid detection system RAPEX, adequate sanctions in the case that the CE marking is misused, a speedy revision of the Toys Directive and better cooperation with China and other third countries. Marianne Thyssen (B), Vice-Chairwoman of the EPP-ED Group, said that the recent large-scale recalls involving unsafe toys from China show that producers and policy-makers cannot let their guard down. Marianne Thyssen commented: "The recent incidents show that even though the EU has one of the best consumer legislations worldwide, we can never allow ourselves to become compliant. We need to remain attentive and close any loopholes that might exist in our legislation and surveillance system." Malcolm Harbour (UK), EPP-ED Internal Market Spokesman, asked toy manufacturers and Member States for extra efforts: "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unsafe toys must be stopped wherever they enter the single market. It is irresponsible makers and importers whose products have not been properly tested that present the biggest problem." Andreas Schwab (D), EPP-ED Vice-Coordinator on the Internal Market Committee, emphasised the importance of an accurate use of the CE marking: "The Commission needs to put in place adequate sanctions for the misuse of the CE marking. In addition, it needs to be assessed - in the framework of the revision of the Toys Directive - whether an obligatory third party certification is suitable." Corien Wortmann-Kool (NL), Vice-Chairwoman of the International Trade Committee, called on the Commission to put product safety higher on the agenda of trade negotiations: "To make sure countries such as China implement our health and safety standards to the letter when they manufacture goods destined for the European market, we should give them technical assistance and improve inspection and custom operations." Rail passengers to benefit from improved rights By Thomas Bickl The European Parliament has adopted a final agreement with Council on improved rights for rail passengers. EPP-ED Group Spokesperson, Georg Jarzembowski (D), who played a leading role in the negotiation, said: "The good news is that national railway tracks will be opened up to cross-border passenger services of companies from all Member States on the 1st of January 2010, whether they are private or state-owned companies. This means that, at last, we will see the common market for cross- border passenger services in place with better services and more choice for the customers. We expect that railway companies take the chance and provide competitive services so that rail travel becomes a real alternative to flying." Better news still for passengers is that as from the autumn of 2009, a compensation scheme for delayed trains will be put in place. If the delay exceeds one hour, passengers will be entitled to a refund of 25 per-cent of the ticket price. If a train is more than two hours behind schedule, passengers will get back half of the fare. Parliament secured that not only cross-border trains, but also domestic trains will be included after a transitional period. It is expected, however, that in most countries, both cross-border and domestic trains will be subject to the new refund system at the same starting date. This is going to ensure that delays throughout the EU will be reduced to a minimum, and railways will become a more popular means of transport. Strict measures to combat illegal immigration By Pedro López de Pablo The fight against illegal immigration should be at the top of the European political agenda. This was the main political message launched by EPP-ED Group Chairman, Joseph Daul (F), during the debate on the issue at the Strasbourg plenary session. "When we speak of illegal immigration, we support strict measures. Europe should shoulder its responsibilities and fight against the scourge of mafias who exploit human misery", Daul said. The EPP-ED admits that progress has been made since the creation of the Frontex agency, with rapid intervention teams at the borders and the increase of funds for external borders management. More than 1,200 illegal immigrants were rescued by EU teams in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands waters only during last summer. "But this is still not enough. We lack human, material and financial resources", Daul pointed out. The Chairman of the EPP-ED Group demanded a genuine protocol for the protection of external borders, welcomed the proposal to penalise employers who employ illegal immigrants and warned against mass regularisation of illegal immigrants. "Far from providing a solution, it gives the illusion to illegal immigrants and those hoping to emigrate that they will all be regularised, sooner or later. These massive regularisations contribute to perpetuating illegal immigration mafia networks and the trafficking of human beings", he said. On behalf of the most important political group of the European Parliament, Joseph Daul also called on the Member States to act with "effectiveness and coherence" to organise legal immigration flows in cooperation with third countries. The proposal of a European 'blue card' could be a possible solution to deal with the entry and residence conditions of highly-skilled and seasonal workers that the European labour market needs. The lack of employees has already appeared in sectors like agriculture or healthcare, and that will affect most of the EU countries in 20 years time, when more than a third of the population will be of retirement age. For Daul, the EU should not close its doors to migrants but it should assure that those who want to come to work legally will be hosted and integrated with dignity into European society. EU Digital Library: Safeguarding European creativity By György Hölvényi Internet has become one of the principal means of access to knowledge and learning. Setting up a digital library in the European Union would enable researchers, students, teachers, and people with physical disabilities to benefit from this system. Marie-Hélène Descamps (F), rapporteur of 'i2010 Towards a Digital Library', set out these proposals in Strasbourg. She emphasised that this European project would reinforce the expression of real European identity. It would also show our cultural and linguistic diversity towards other countries. "An EU digital library should be set up in order to offer reliable and quality material to our citizens. It is indispensable to maintain and safeguard European creativity", said Mrs Descamps. Through a unique, direct and multilingual way, this system would firstly ensure free access to texts, currently kept in libraries, and later to other cultural materials. Piia-Noora Kauppi (FI) welcomed the Descamps Report however she drew attention to one aspect: "Public-private cooperation and private sponsorship for the digitalisation of Europe's cultural heritage is an important element of the system as it stands now. We need to make sure that the new Regulation in this field will not threaten the benefits of the current system." Zdzisław Chmielewski (PL) also believes that Mrs Descamps' report is very persuasive. He emphasised however, that the crucial issue is the protection of digital sources. He suggested setting up common and coherent requirements in order to keep digital materials safe. The rapporteur also stressed the importance of creating a secure, electronic environment, where the protection of authors' and creators' rights is ensured. "We should constitute a so-called Director's Committee where cultural institutions have an important role. Other institutions and sectors, like archives, museums, cinemas and universities should be involved in the long term too", Descamps concluded. EP calls for energy diplomacy By Katarzyna Klaus An overwhelming majority of the Parliament adopted a report by Jacek Saryusz- Wolski (PL) calling for a Common Foreign Policy on Energy. "Europe today faces the challenge of energy security, therefore a genuine European foreign policy on energy would bring substantial added value to efforts made at national level", said Mr Saryusz-Wolski, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament. The underlying principles of the report are diversification - prioritising strategic projects such as the Nabucco pipeline, unity in defending the Union's interests by speaking with 'one voice' and solidarity in crisis situations. Mr Saryusz-Wolski is calling for a pro-active and broad energy diplomacy aimed at strengthening the Union's cooperation with all major producer, transit and consumer countries and for the creation of an energy market based on the principle of reciprocity. In this respect, the report recommends the inclusion of an 'energy security clause' in all EU agreements with producer and transit countries. "Today we have an institutional and decisional gap, therefore I propose setting up a new post of High Official for Foreign Energy Policy, after the new Treaty enters into force", said Mr Saryusz-Wolski. This office would allow for the coordination of all the policies related to external aspects of energy security. The report also calls for the application of the Energy Charter Treaty, including the Transit Protocol by the Union's major energy partners. The report appeals to Russia to ratify the Charter, while recognising that the EU should also negotiate a formal framework document in the context of the new EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Parliament adopts EU sugar market reform By Knut Goelz The European Parliament has adopted a proposal for a reform of the EU sugar market sector. Albert Deß (D), EPP-ED rapporteur, welcomed the outcome of the vote while at the same time asking for fair conditions both for producers and the industry: "Competitive facilities need fair conditions to maintain sugar production in the European Union", the German MEP said. Parliament has therefore set a clear signal for the sugar market sector, as the European sugar production of the European Union must be cut by 6 million tons until 2010 due to WTO commitments. Consequently, the plenary strongly urges the Council to follow its proposals for a balanced, substantive and reliable reform. This should also include improvements with regard to the restructuring funds. In detail, these measures shall also contain the possibility to receive full compensation for voluntary return of quotas as well as a higher share of restructuring aid for farmers. Furthermore, a special focus shall be put on regions that are affected by the closing-down of factories. Promotional measures for the income protection of former employees and their redeployment on the labour market are also envisaged. According to the rapporteur, this package of measures must be particularly focused on less-developed regions affected by cuts of production and the closing of factories so that they can invest in economic alternatives. The rapporteur underlined the importance of a reliable and functioning EU sugar market. Taking into account rising prices and a growing shortage of agricultural products, the European Union must not rely only on supplies from abroad. Gender equality: Key priority for the EPP-ED Group By Antti Timonen Equality between women and men in employment issues, such as gender pay gap, insecurity in the job market and reconciliation of professional and family lives, deserved the full attention of the EPP-ED Group when the Parliament voted on Piia-Noora Kauppi's (FI) report on Equality between Women and Men in the EU in Strasbourg on Thursday. In the report, the Parliament urges Member States to adopt reconciliation policies of professional and family life for both women and men. It has been shown that those Member States having adopted such policies have higher birth rates, a higher percentage of women in the labour market and higher employment rates. Education has been the key for female advancement - the rise in educational standards has gone hand in hand with increased female employment. The gender pay gap - on average 15% across the EU and up to 30% in some European countries - has not decreased. The Directives on the principle of equal pay for men and women have been there for more than 30 years, and the problem still exists. The Group's view is that this is totally unacceptable. In the adopted report, the Parliament urges the Member States to mutualise the costs of maternity leave allowance to ensure that women no longer represent a more costly source of labour than men. The report also calls on the Commission to develop gender analysis on the impact of pension reforms on women's lives in the EU with the objective of individualising pension rights as well as social security and tax systems. An increase in female entrepreneurship as well as women's participation in politics is encouraged. Effective education systems ensure cohesion By Marek Hannibal The European Parliament has approved a report by Tomáš Zatloukal (CZ) on the Efficiency and Equity in European Education and Training Systems. In various Member States, the efficiency of education systems is more dependent on the social and economic situation of families rather than on financial investments. Member States should prioritise public investment towards education at an earlier stage as it has been proven that it has the highest effect on the high quality pre-primary provision on children’s intellectual and social behavioural development. Equitable systems ensure that the results of education and training are unrelated to socio-economic background and to other factors which disadvantage individuals. The main task is to support individual education systems by involving pupils, students and adults from all social groups. The current situation is unsatisfactory. If significant changes are not made in bringing children from disadvantaged social groups into pre-school education, the number of children who drop out of school prematurely will not improve. An increased number of people will be vulnerable to the risk of social exclusion and unemployment. Education impacts on economic growth by increasing its human capital, its innovative power and facilitating the diffusion of technology. Each additional year of average school attainment raises productivity in the average EU country by 6.2% on impact and by a further 3.1% in the long run through its contribution to faster technological progress. Education makes a strong positive contribution to employment prospects; the EU unemployment rate ranges from 12.6% for people with less than upper-secondary education to 5% for people with tertiary education.
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