Friday, 13 December 2013

Newsletter from the European Parliament, Friday 13 December 2013

The main players were occupied outside the EU this week, Commission President Barroso at Mandela's funeral and foreign policy suprema Ashton in Kiev, so MEPs in Strasbourg heard statements from their deputies. In the debate on the outcome of the Vilnius summit and the current situation in the Ukraine the suggestion was made to EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule that the EU needed a common policy towards Russia; and in the debate on the agenda of next week's European Council (summit) meeting a Liberal Democrat MEP asked Commissioner Sefcovic for a wide definition of security, since the main debate of the heads of state and government there will be on progress towards a common security and defence policy.

The discussion revolved around whether you should first build a bricks-and-mortar building to house the HQ for a European Defence Ministry and then agreed a shared purpose capable of mobilising a range of policy tools - trade, aid, energy policy - in support of greater security, do it the other way round, or some clever combination where you approach the solution from both ends. The issue is not settled (as you can imagine), and will be something both the EU and National Governments return to over the coming months/ years.

A proposal was introduced as part of the European broadcasting strategy to support the EU's foreign policy; the current operation of Euronews, which broadcasts in 13 languages, is far from satisfactory.

Events in Kiev were high on the Parliaments radar screen. A motion was passed condeming the use of armed force against the demonstrators and called for further active EU engagement to persuade the Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement it has negotiated with the EU.

Parliament approved a new fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco. This was unfortunate and many Liberals voted against it since, controversially, it includes the territorial waters of the western Sahara and is therefore in breach of international law. The EU approved new rules on deep sea fisheries but without the gradual ban on deep water trawling which many Liberals had sought. All is not yet lost, however, since the 28 fisheries ministers must also vote on the proposals and a final text then has to be agreed between MEPs and Ministers. In other votes an agreement reached with Council to backload 900 million surplus emissions trading credits, thus breathing new life, we hope, into emissions trading was ratified. MEPs voted down a move to develop policy on sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, at EU level. It is a matter for each member state, the opponents argued.

Finance ministers from countries in the euro-zone examined progress in management of the public finances in Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The following day they were joined by finance ministers from non-euro countries to discuss inter alia the revised savings tax directive, on which they are unlikely to make much progress until the OECD agrees rules on automatic exchange of information on bank deposits. Progress was made, however, towards a common policy on resolving failed banks, scheduled to be operational by 2015.

Employment ministers surprised everyone by reaching outline agreement on the draft posted workers directive, covering companies (normally sub-contractors) from one country carrying out work in another. If they can now reach agreement with parliament the draft directive may become law before Parliament rises in April for the elections.

The European Patents Office chose this week to launch, jointly with China's patent office, an online Chinese-English translation tool. These two languages are the most widely used in patent applications worldwide. China now lodges more patents than any other country. Last year it lodged nearly 17,000 in Europe alone.

MEPs welcomed two other recent developments: the compromise reached by 159 countries in the final hours of the WTO meeting last week which will simplify trade, support development and enhance food security; and the first legal instrument on Roma inclusion, adopted by the Council of Ministers on Monday, which will improve access to education, employment, healthcare and housing for the EU's 8-9 million Romanies.