21 October 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: State aid component of EU regulations – Community guidelines on state aid for environmental protection
Will the Commission clarify if the UK Government can lawfully provide direct capital funding or state aid for the construction of biomass power plants in Northern Ireland in addition to funding such ventures through the provision of renewable obligation certificates?
Will the Commission clarify if it is lawful within EC law for the UK Government to grant in addition to funding through renewables obligations certificates circa EUR 34 million of direct capital funding or state aid for the Rose Energy biomass power plant in Northern Ireland, to assist Northern Ireland poultry producers to comply with the Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC?
Will the Commission confirm if it considers that the UK Governmentâ€™s proposal to grant state aid to fund construction of the Rose Energy Biomass plant in Northern Ireland in addition to granting renewable obligations certificates to the project constitutes an unfair competitive advantage for Northern Ireland poultry producers? Is it aware that poultry producers in the Republic of Ireland have borne the costs of compliance with the Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC themselves without funding assistance?
Answer given by Mr Almunia on behalf of the Commission
The United Kingdom (UK) can indeed give state aid for the construction of biomass power plants in Northern Ireland, in addition to the funding it already gives through the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). However, there are rules applicable to cumulation of aids. When granting ROCs, the UK should take into account any investment aid given to the project.
The Commission is not aware of any aid for the construction of the Rose biomass power plant. If indeed the UK intends to grant EUR 34 million to build a biomass power plant, it would need to notify such an aid, which would probably be examined in the light of the Community Guidelines on state aid for environmental protection (the Environmental Aid Guidelines) and would be subject to a detailed assessment.
In general terms, under the Environmental Aid Guidelines, Member States can grant investment aid under certain conditions and provided that it is not for the purposes of meeting mandatory EU standards. In parallel, they can support electricity production from biomass, insofar as the aid complies with the criteria set out in Chapter 3 of Environmental Aid Guidelines.
29th October 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: European Commission leadership and action on nutrition
On Tuesday 21 September there was a high-level political gathering on the sidelines of the UN MDG Review Summit to provide support to the Roadmap to Scale up Nutrition (SUN), an initiative led by the UNSG Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, Dr David Nabarro, and formally launched in New York. The Roadmap is the result of the collective efforts of a wide range of stakeholders, including donor countries, countries with a high undernutrition burden, the private sector, civil society organisations and UN agencies, and aims to operationalise the Scaling Up Nutrition Framework, endorsed by over 100 stakeholders and which calls on all partners to scale up efforts against the huge toll of undernutrition in a coordinated, multi-stakeholder approach.
Over the past year, there have also been significant steps taken by EU Member States to enhance their contribution to tackling undernutrition. For example, France and the UK both launched their first ever nutrition strategies earlier this year, and in May 2010 the Council of Ministers agreed. This unprecedented level of leadership was preceded by significant steps from EU Member States when in June 2010 the Council called on the EU and its Member States to act together towards â€˜accelerating progress on tackling hunger and improving nutrition by scaling up EU funding for programmes on chronic and acute malnutritionâ€™ and invited â€˜the Commission to present a Communication on Nutritionâ€™.
There is a unique window of opportunity for the EC to join this unprecedented momentum on nutrition and we would like to ask the Commission the following.
1. Can the Commission confirm the request of the Council in June 2010 to present a Communication on Nutrition?
2. Can the Commission clarify when this communication will be presented to Parliament?
3. Can the Commission clarify whether the nature of nutrition is reflected in participation by the different DGs (e.g. DG Dev, AIDCO and ECHO) to ensure a comprehensive, cross-sectoral approach across the emergency and development spectrum?
4. If not all three DGs are participating in drafting the communication, can the Commission clarify why this is not the case?
5. Could the Commission inform Parliament on its formal position towards the SUN Roadmap?
29th July 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: Second Generation Biofuels.
The production of sustainable second-generation biofuels can promote economic growth in rural areas and diversify the incomes of farmers in Europe. Energy crops can be grown in areas with poorer soils and less productive land. Does the Commission believe that a more â€˜supportiveâ€™ policy environment is necessary to encourage the production of these biofuels within the EU, and does the Commission intend to take any steps with regard to promoting this production? What role for example does the Commission see for second-generation biofuels within the reform of the common agricultural policy?
Answer: Given by Mr. Ciolos on behalf of the Commission
The Commission believes that a set of tools for the promotion of â€˜second-generationâ€™ biofuels is already operational. The Renewable Energy Directive establishes an overall binding target of a 20 % share of renewable energy in final gross energy consumption by 2020 as well as a specific target of 10 % share of renewable energy in transport for 2020.
Second-generation biofuels are expected to contribute to reaching both these targets. The investor confidence created by binding targets is particularly important for second-generation biofuels because of their relatively high capital intensity. In addition, the directive, in Article 21(2) establishes that the contribution of biofuels from waste, residues, cellulosic and ligno-cellulosic materials shall be counted twice that of other biofuels for the purpose of compliance with the target and towards any â€˜biofuel obligationsâ€™ or â€˜renewable transport fuel obligationsâ€™ laid down by Member States.
The CO2 reduction target introduced by Article 7a of the Fuel Quality Directive also promotes advanced biofuels that have higher Greenhouse gas (GHG) performances.
Close to EUR 80 million have been contracted for Research projects and other support actions for second generation biofuels. In addition, so far nine contracts for large scale demonstration of second-generation biofuels for a total Commission support of about EUR 72 million have been signed or are under negotiation with the EU industry under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7).
Further, in the framework of the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan) the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative (EIBI) is being in the last stages of approval by the Commission and Member States and is expected to be launched in November 2010. The EIBI is based on six Bioenergy value chains, five of which concern second generation and advanced biofuels. The EIBI will provide the mechanism to target financial resources from the Member States, the Industry and the Commission for demonstration plants and reference plants in advanced biofuels across the EU.
In addition, Member States may, of course, also decide (within the limits of EU law) to support the development of second generation biofuels at national level, further contributing to speeding up progress in this important sector.
Increased supply and better use of bioenergy is one of the priorities of the common agricultural policy. This includes support to the supply of cellulosic and ligno-cellulosic biomass from agriculture, for example for planting of perennial grasses or for the establishment of short rotation crops or forestry.
For â€˜post 2013â€™, the Commission is currently in the process of reviewing whether and how the existing support within its Rural Development Policy can be improved.
27th July 2010, question for written answer to the Commission, subject: different custom tariff levels on fuel ethanol imports.
Can the Commission clarify the different custom tariff levels which are applied to fuel ethanol imports into the Member States of the EU? What effect, if any, do these different tariffs levels have on the coordination and development of an EU ethanol sector? Does the Commission believe that such differing tariffs are at odds with the spirit of the single market?
Answer: Given by Ms. Semeta on behalf of the Commission
The Commission informs the Honourable Member that the customs tariff is applied uniformly in all Member States and depends on the classification of a particular product within the Combined Nomenclature (CN). The classification is determined taking into account the general rules for the interpretation of the CN, and technical characteristics of the product. Therefore, for identical products no different customs tariff levels are applied to fuel ethanol imports into the European Union (EU).
Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is classified under CN code 22071000 as undenatured ethyl alcohol (conventional duty rate 19.2 EUR/hl) and under CN code 2207 20 00 as denatured ethyl alcohol (conventional duty rate 10.2 EUR/hl). Certain ethyl alcohol based blends are classifiable within Chapter 38 (conventional duty rate up to 6.5 %).
Given the development of the ethyl alcohol market, the Commission is assessing how to improve clarity and ensure uniformity concerning the classification of different types of the described range of products.
The abovementioned rules, goods descriptions and duty rates for importation into the EU apply whether these products are used for fuel or other purposes.
It has to be noted that conventional duty rates are bound by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and may only be changed through negotiations at World Trade Organisation (WTO) level. However, a large number of third countries are benefitting from free access to the EU market either under bilateral or through EU autonomous tariff concessions irrespectively into which Member State ethanol products are imported.
22nd July 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: The rules on applying VAT to carbon taxes.
Can the Commission confirm the rules in respect of Value Added Tax being applied to the carbon tax element of energy consumption charges and the purchase of petrol and diesel etc?
Under Article 73 of Council Directive 2006/112/EC (the VAT Directive), in respect of the supply of goods or services, other than as referred to in Articles 74 to 77 (specific cases), â€˜the taxable amount shall include everything which constitutes consideration obtained or to be obtained by the supplier, in return for the supply, from the customer or a third party, including subsidies directly linked to the price of the supply.â€™
In particular, and as expressed in Article 78 of the VAT Directive, the taxable amount shall include the following factors:
- Taxes, duties, levies and charges, excluding the VAT itself.
- Incidental expenses, such as commission, packing, transport and insurance costs, charged by the supplier to the customer.
This implies that in particular any taxes other than the VAT itself, such as excise duties or carbon taxes in the case that your Honourable Member refers to, constitute a part of the taxable amount when it is linked with the supply of goods or services made by the supplier.
2nd July 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: Commission tool kit for using the structural funds in order to ensure access for, and non-discrimination against, people with disabilities.
The Commission, in reply to Oral Question H 0257/10, stated that it had drawn up a â€˜tool kitâ€™ for using the structural funds â€˜in order to ensure access for, and non-discrimination against, people with disabilitiesâ€™.
Can the Commission provide comprehensive details of this â€˜tool kitâ€™?
Answer given by Mr. Andor on behalf of the Commission.
The toolkit, which is available in printed format on the Commission website(1), provides information and guidance on how to comply with the non-discrimination and accessibility requirements of the EU Structural and Cohesion Funds.
Finalised in March 2009, it was discussed with the Committees in charge of implementing the Structural and Cohesion Funds, namely the Coordination Committee for the Funds and the European Social Fundâ€™s informal technical working group in October 2008 and June 2009 respectively. It was also presented at numerous conferences and seminars (such as Open Days 2009 and European Day of People with Disabilities 2009).
The toolkit is intended to provide managing authorities, intermediate bodies and project promoters with a practical tool for drafting, implementing, monitoring and evaluating Structural Fund programmes and projects. In particular, it aims to encourage an understanding of the specific needs of people with disabilities and further the implementation of the non-discrimination and accessibility requirements stemming from the obligations in Article 16 of the General Regulation( on the Structural Funds.
The document covers the policy background and main principles under various chapters, such as â€˜The citizenâ€™s model of disabilityâ€™, â€˜EU disability policiesâ€™, â€˜Understanding the issue of disability mainstreamingâ€™, â€˜Regulations for the 2007 13 programming periodâ€™, â€˜How to mainstream the disability perspective throughout the life cycle of Structural Fundsâ€™ (covering the partnership principle, programming, management, flexibility financing, technical assistance, information, publicity and awareness-raising).
There is no one â€˜ready-madeâ€™ model for mainstreaming disability issues in the Structural Funds. Each Member State needs to adjust the good practice and recommendations in the toolkit to its own needs and strategies. The toolkit gives practical examples of good practice at various stages of the programming and implementation process. It also gives examples of indicative non-discrimination and accessibility checklists for Structural Fund and Cohesion Fund programmes and projects.
7th July 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: Problems with pyrite in the construction industry.
Pyrite is a naturally occurring mineral that can cause serious structural damage if materials contaminated by it are used in the construction of buildings. Problems occur when pyrite used in buildings comes into contact with water or air: building foundations expand causing concrete to crack and floors to â€˜liftâ€™.
The misuse of materials contaminated with pyrite in the construction industry in Ireland has come to light in recent months. The damage caused has resulted in homeowners in Ireland having to vacate their homes.
Is the Commission aware of any issues that give rise to concern relating to pyrite in the construction industry?
Can the Commission outline the extent of the pyrite problem in the EU or, indeed, is it aware of similar problems in other Member States?
With the boom in the construction industry over the last decade, does the Commission anticipate a higher incidence of such problems with pyrite-contaminated materials?
Answer: Given by Mr. Tajani on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware that pyrite in aggregates used in concrete could significantly damage the final concrete structure. However, it is not aware of any wide spread use of contaminated aggregates in the Member States. In addition, the Commission’s RAPEX notification database on dangerous consumer products has not shown any information from a Member State (also none from Ireland) about pyrite-contaminated construction products.
It is the responsibility of a Member State to establish efficient market surveillance systems to ensure that harmful products can be identified and withdrawn from national markets as well as to inform other Member States about problems encountered with specific products. Therefore, it depends to a large extent on the efficiency of each national market surveillance system and the expertise of professionals to select products of sufficient quality if problems as highlighted by the Honourable Member could occur on a larger scale.
22nd June 2010, question for written answer to the Commission. Subject: Technical solution for the low-level presence of non-authorised GMO’s.
In 2009, traces of non-EU approved genetically modified (GM) maize varieties were found in soybean shipments to Europe. Because of the zero tolerance policy of EU unapproved biotech products, this resulted in a halt to imports of US soybeans and soy meal into the EU. This caused serious shortages and financial losses for Europeâ€™s food, feed and livestock industries, which depend on a secure supply of imported vegetable protein for food and animal feed production.
The intention of the new Commission to make science-based decisions when it comes to biotechnology issues is much appreciated. The potential for minute traces of unapproved events turning up in shipments of soy or any other crop is very real today. Therefore, we urge you to bring forward without further delay the Commissionâ€™s proposal for a practical measure to cover incidences of minute traces of GM events not yet authorised in the EU so as to avoid further cost, hardship and inefficiencies for Europeâ€™s hard-pressed food and animal feed sectors.
In 2008 the College of Commissioners had instructed the Commission services to bring forward a technical solution to the low-level presence (LLP) issue to avoid trade disruption. Can the Commission please specify the reasons for which the publication of such a proposal has been delayed so far? Does the Commission have a concrete timeframe for putting forward a proposal on LLP in the near future?
The existing regulatory situation in the EU regarding green biotechnology together with the absence of a technical solution will create serious food and feed supply problems. What are the Commission’s plans to improve this situation and to secure the EU’s competitiveness on world markets, given the fact that the cultivation of biotech crops in the major exporting countries of North and South America is increasing and will continue to do so?
Answer: Given by Mr. Dalli on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware of the high volumes of soybeans and/or soybean meal which are imported to the EU for food and feed uses and the impact that low level presence (LLP) of EU unauthorised GMOs in imported feedstuff may have on EU livestock producers.
The Commission is still working on the definition of a technical proposal to address this issue. Delays are due to the complexity of the matter.
The draft Commission Decision once finalised will need to be submitted to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) for opinion and be subject to the regulatory procedure with scrutiny, according to Article 5a of Council Decision 1999/468/EC
3rd June 2010, written question to the Commission. Subject: Eu directives and regulation pertaining to tailing dams.
Can the Commission list the directives and regulations that govern the extractive industries, to include the creation of mines and associated items, e.g. tailing ponds, waste heaps, etc. and the management thereof?
Is the creation of, or management of, or extension to tailing dams subject to European directives or regulations?
Does the Commission retain a list of those Member States that have authorised extensions to tailing dams, or does it require Member States to record such information?
Would the proximity to urban areas be a factor in allowing the establishment of or extension to a tailing dam?
Answer: Given by Mr. Potocnik on behalf of the Commission
The creation of new mines is subject to the requirements of Directive 85/337/EEC as amended by Directives 97/11/EC, 2003/35/EC) and 2009/31/EC, also known as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive. Under the EIA Directive, projects likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location, must be made subject to an assessment of their environmental effects prior to development consent. Participation of the public is a key feature of EIA procedures.
The EIA Directive distinguishes between project requiring a mandatory EIA (so-called Annex I projects, e.g. quarries and open-cast mining where the surface of the site exceeds 25 hectares) and those where Member States authorities must determine, in a procedure called â€˜screeningâ€™, if projects are likely to have significant effects (so-called Annex II projects, e.g. underground mining). The competent authorities have to take into account a list of criteria as detailed in Annex III of the directive to assess the significance of the potential impacts.
The existence of â€˜densely populated areasâ€™ is among the criteria listed in Annex III of the directive. If it appears that projects are likely to have significant effects, an EIA is necessary. The EIA must identify, describe and assess in an appropriate manner the direct and indirect effects of a project on the following factors:
- Human beings, fauna and flora
- Soil, water, air, climate and landscape,
- material assets and cultural heritage
- The interaction between the factors mentioned in the first, second and third indents.
In addition to the EIA Directive, Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of extractive waste also applies for facilities in which extractive waste is managed including tailing dams. A permit is compulsory for these facilities before the beginning of the operations and this permit has to be adapted in case of important modification and/or extension of the facility.
The Commission does not retain a list the Member States that have authorised extensions to tailing dams. This information should be available at Member State or local level as these installations have to be covered by a permit. Nevertheless, according to Article 20 of Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of the extractive waste, Member States have to achieve by May 2012 an inventory of the closed and abandoned extractive waste facilities which cause or could cause in the future serious environmental and health impacts. These inventories have to be made available to the public.
6th April 2010, written question to the Commission. Subject: Impact of animal by-products Regulation of wool merchants in Ireland.
The Animal By-Products (ABP) Regulation ((EC) No 1774/2002) sets out rules on the use or disposal of ABPs under three possible risk categories. Wool falls under Category Three of the regulation, in that it poses little or no risk to human health.
1. Can the Commission comment on recent newspaper reports in Ireland (attached) that the conditions specific to Category-Three ABPs will drive many small wool merchants out of the market?
2. Are the conditions laid down in the regulation regarding the collection, transportation and storage of Category-Three ABPs not disproportionate to the risk that these products represent, given that they are low-risk by-products?
The health rules for animal by-products not intended for human consumption, including wool, are currently laid down in the Animal By-products Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002.
Wool is classified as a product with limited risk (â€˜Category Câ€™), provided that it originates from animals that did not show any sign of diseases transmitted via the wool. As a consequence, wool has to be stored in intermediate plants which are constructed in a way which allows for cleaning and disinfection and in which basic measures for pest control and the prevention of contamination from animal by-products with a higher risk are in place.
Furthermore, wool has to be properly identified with a label as Category C material. During the transport to another Member State, it has to be accompanied by a commercial document according to the model prescribed by the Animal By-products Regulation. However, for the transport of wool within the same Member State, Member States may decide to allow for the use of a different model, which contains basic information regarding the origin and the destination of the wool.
Those requirements are intended to ensure basic hygiene and traceability, in the interest of the health of producers and of workers handling wool, and in the interest of the animal health status of flocks from which wool is harvested. Therefore, the burden imposed by those requirements can be considered as proportionate, when weighed against the potential negative effects on health and on the economic interests of the sector which might be damaged in situations of disease outbreaks. In particular, since the requirements are not difficult to fulfil for small establishments, they should not have any particularly detrimental effect on their activities.
The classification of wool has been confirmed by the new Regulation (EC) No 1069/2009, which will become applicable in March 2011.
Currently, the Commission is carrying out wide consultations with Member States and stakeholder organisations, with a view to preparing technical rules for the implementation of the new Animal By-products Regulation. In that context, the appropriate safeguards for the handling of wool will also be reflected upon further.
9th September 2010, question for question time to the Commission. Subject: Changes to the EU freedom of movement directive and prevention of sham marriages.
As a consequence of the European Court of Justice ruling in the Metock judgment of 25 July 2008, some Member States â€“ including Ireland â€“ have had to drop their demands for a change in Directive 2004/38/EC(1) on the free movement of people within the European Union to prevent immigrants arranging marriages of convenience in order to stay in the EU. One of Irelandâ€™s main marriage registrars warned recently that 10-15% of the civil ceremonies conducted across Ireland may be sham marriages aimed purely at circumventing immigration rules.
Does the Commission share Member Statesâ€™ concerns about the potential for exploitation of the directive in light of the Metock ruling? Has the Commission received information from any Member State about abuse and violation of Directive 2004/38/EC and, if so, what mechanisms are in place for sharing such information with other Member States? Does the Commission believe that Member States can stamp out marriages of convenience without changes to Directive 2004/38/EC and, if so, exactly how?
9th September 2010, Question for question time to the Council, Subject: The possibility of a double-dip recession: sustainability of the 3% target.
Can the Council respond to comments by the respected Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz that the European economy risks sliding back into recession due to spending cuts imposed by EU governments in an attempt to reach the 3% deficit limit laid down in the Stability and Growth Pact?
Is this 3% target a realistic one, considering that some Member State finances are under severe strain at present?
20th July 2010, Question for question time of the Commission, subject: Cabotage rules
On 14 May 2010, new rules came into force in relation to cabotage under EU Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009(1). A number of road hauliers in Ireland have expressed concern about how the rules are being interpreted in other Member States. Can the Commission clarify if the new rules are being implemented equally across all Member States? Is the Commission aware of the problem which some hauliers are encountering whereby they have faced fines and the seizure of trucks carrying out operations which were, up to the implementation of EU Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009, completely legal? Is the Commission aware that the ‘combined transport’ concept is also unworkable for trade between Ireland and the UK due to the minimum 100 km water journey and maximum 150 km road journey? Is the Commission concerned about the impact of the Regulation on the single market and the free movement of goods and services?
Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009 indeed modified the regime for the provision of road freight cabotage operations. As from 14 May 2010, the provision of cabotage, i.e. of national carriage for hire or reward carried out on a temporary basis in a host Member State, must be linked to a previous international road transport of goods. Furthermore, the new regime contains clear and simple rules as regards the timeframe for the provision of cabotage operations. These new rules are set down in a regulation meaning that they are directly applicable in all Member States.
As far as the Commission is aware, the new cabotage rules as defined by Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009 are generally appreciated by the haulage industry as they provide legal certainty, with lesser risk of being sanctioned for infringing the rules. They allow transport operators to better plan their international operations and offer them the opportunity to reduce the number of empty return runs. The Commission is not aware of differences in their implementation across Member States, but will of course monitor the situation and take whatever initiatives are appropriate if problems arise.
The Honourable Member also refers in her question to multi-modal transport. The conditions under which a multi-modal transport operation can be considered as combined transport are laid down in Directive 92/106/EEC. According to this Directive, for liberalised combined transport methods to result in a real reduction in road congestion, they should involve road journeys of limited distance. The liberalization of the initial and final sections of a combined transport operation applies to combined transport operations using sea routes provided that the sea journey represents a substantial part of the combined transport operation. Therefore, Directive 92/106/EEC provides that in order for a road transport operation to be considered as an initial or final leg of a combined road-sea transport operation, the maritime section of the combined transport needs to exceed 100 km and the distance between the port where the trailer is picked up and the final destination of the goods by road must not exceed 150 km. In this case, the initial or final road leg does not fall under the definition of “cabotage”, and is therefore not subject to Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009.
25th January 2010, written question to the Commission, Subject: the growth of retail outlets selling so-called legal highs
The EU Drugs Action Plan (2009â€“12) includes wide-ranging measures to strengthen European cooperation to curb the adverse consequences of drug use and cut drug-related crime. It is conceived around five priorities: reducing the demand for drugs; mobilising European citizens; reducing supply; improving international cooperation; and improving understanding of the drugs phenomenon.
Is the Commission aware of the huge amount of concern surrounding the growth of so-called head shops â€” retail outlets specialising in the sale of drug paraphernalia and â€˜legal highsâ€™, which, if consumed, may have the effect of acting like an illegal substance â€” that are able to continue trading by advertising their products as being â€˜not for human consumptionâ€™?
Can the Commission confirm if head shops fall within the scope of the EU Drugs Action Plan? If not, does the Commission consider it necessary to develop a common strategy for combating the sale of legal highs?
Can the Commission provide a list of those Member States, if any, that have laws in place to regulate the activity of head shops? Can it confirm what those regulations are?
What plans does the Commission have to address this growing problem?
Answer: Answer by Mrs. Malmstrom on behalf of the Commission
The EU Drugs Strategy 2005-12 and the EU Drugs Action Plan 2009 12 set a number of objectives and actions aimed at enhancing cooperation and effectiveness of drug policy at European level. However, drug policy and drugs legislation is primarily a competence of the Member States. The European Union has a complementary role in this field.
The Commission is aware of the existence of so-called â€˜head shopsâ€™, which exist in several Member States under different names (e.g. smart shops, herb shops), offering a wide variety of products. The regulation of these shops and outlets is the competence of the Member States and may involve legislation on e.g. food safety, consumer protection, medicines, trade but also drug control legislation. As a consequence regulation of â€˜head shopsâ€™ does not fall under the scope of the EU Drugs Strategy and/or EU Drugs Action Plan.
Some Member States may have imposed specific restrictions on this type of shop at national or local level, e.g. age restrictions. However, information on the regulation of â€˜head shopsâ€™ in the Member States is not structurally collected at EU level and an overview of such legislation can not be provided. Nevertheless, most Member States have legislation in place against the promotion and/ or encouraging of drug use. Furthermore, all Member States have procedures and/or systems in place to deal with new psychoactive substances that emerge on the drugs market and that may pose a health or social risk.
The European Union does have a clear role in the exchange of information, risk assessment and possible control of new psychoactive substances across the EU. An important instrument to this extent is the European Union’s early-warning system (EWS), which is run by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in cooperation with the Network of Reitox National Focal Points. The EWS provides a quick-response mechanism to the emergence of new psychoactive substances on the drug scene in European countries. Through the EWS, the Member States can rapidly exchange information on new substances, including â€” inter alia â€” information on health and social risks and forensic analysis/ chemical description. More than 90 substances have been reported through the EWS since its establishment in 1997. In addition to the activities conducted under the EWS, the EMCDDA conducts additional activities to monitor the market of legal psychoactive substances, for example by conducting an annual snapshot study on the online drugs market.
As a cornerstone of EU Drugs Policy concerns the principle to base responses on the best-available scientific evidence, substances notified in the EWS can also be made subject of a formal risk assessment process if deemed necessary.
Council Decision 2005/387/JHA of 10 May 2005 on the information exchange, risk assessment and control of new psychoactive substances(1) provides a procedure through which the potential health, social and other risks of a new psychoactive substance can be assessed. The assessment is conducted by the Scientific Committee of the EMCDDA, extended with the Commission, European Medicines Agency (EMEA), Europol and other relevant experts. On the basis of a Risk Assessment Report from the Scientific Committee, the Commission decides whether it is deemed necessary to present an initiative to the Council to make the substance subject to control measures. The Commission intends to assess the functioning of this Council decision in the course of 2010.
14th July 2010, question for question time of the Council, Subject: Possible impact of enhanced economic policy co-ordination.
Can the Commission provide information and clarification on the possible implications of corrective action, namely sanctions, as outlined in the Communication on enhancing economic policy coordination for stability, growth and jobs and tools for stronger EU economic governance (COM(2010)0367)?
Should Member States exceed the requirements laid out in the Stability and Growth Pact, payments from the EU to national governments could be suspended. How can the Commission ensure that this action would not adversely affect citizens, for example farmers, if such sanctions are imposed?
How can the Commission ensure that national governments will be in a position to respect their commitment to farmers and other recipients of EU supports, especially at a time when many Member State finances are under significant strain in the current economic climate?
In the event that Member States are unable to meet this need, what does the Commission propose should happen?
Answer: Answer by Mr. Karel De Gucht, member of the Commission
Mr President, the 30 June communication on enhancing economic policy coordination for stability, growth and jobs is a follow-up to the Communication we released on 12 May and presents concrete tools for enhanced economic policy coordination.
We propose a more effective surveillance framework with improved fiscal surveillance, stronger surveillance of macroeconomic imbalances and a more rigorous ex-ante coordination of economic policies under the â€˜European semesterâ€™. Our proposals have been well received in the Council, by the Herman Van Rompuy taskforce and by Parliament, as well as in the media. The conclusions of the European Council of 17 June gave a clear endorsement to our suggestions and encouraged us to go ahead with making better economic governance in Europe a reality as soon as possible.
The Commission will adopt the necessary formal legal proposals in the course of this month. It will count on the Councilâ€™s and the European Parliamentâ€™s support to adopt the necessary legislation and make these proposals operational as soon as possible. As part of the legislative package we will propose a new toolbox of sanctions and incentives for compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact. Strengthened enforcement mechanisms for fiscal rules are a central element of our proposals, key to the credibility of our fiscal framework, and an important topic under discussion in the taskforce.
As outlined in the 30 June communication, we will propose in the first stage a new system of sanctions for the 16 euro-area Member States on the basis of Article 136 TFEU and for, firstly, the preventive and corrective arms of the Stability and Growth Pact and, secondly, the corrective arm of the surveillance of harmful macroeconomic imbalances. This reflects the greater interdependence and stronger constraints in the monetary union. The sanctions will be complementary to those already foreseen by the Stability and Growth Pact but intervene at an earlier stage of the excessive deficit procedure and more automatically.
To improve compliance in all 27 Member States we plan, in the second stage, to introduce the possibility of suspension and cancellation of current and future financial appropriations from the EU budget. This would concern expenditure related to cohesion policy, the common agricultural policy and the fisheries fund. Hence, the objective will be to use the EU budget as complementary leverage to strengthen incentives for compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact requirements.
14th July 2010, question for question time 2010, Subject: Informal Agricultural council, September 2010.
What conclusions have been drawn by the Belgian Presidency resulting from the high-level CAP conference in Brussels in July? Can the Presidency comment on the upcoming informal Agriculture Council on 19-21 September? What will the Presidency propose to Member States at this Council with regard to the CAP post-2013?
Furthermore can the Council update Members on any developments at Council level with regard to the ongoing Mercosur talks?
Answer: Given by Mr. Olivier Chastel, President en exercise du Council
Firstly I congratulate the Commission for the success experienced by its public consultation on the common agricultural policy post-2013, with nearly 6,000 contributions received from the general public, stakeholders and focus groups and other research institutes. This consultation has kept all its promises.
Furthermore, the overview of the contributions showed the interest that our entire society in the future of European agriculture. The CAP is far from being solely a matter for farmers.
As you know, this public consultation led to the conference on the CAP after 2013, the Commission held on 19 and 20 July. The synthesis of contributions, panels and discussions that took place at the conference are a valuable contribution to better target reflection.
With regard to the Council, you know that agriculture ministers have committed the past two years, a work of reflection led by the successive presidencies: France, Czech Republic, Sweden and Spain. Now that we are in the final straight, the Presidency wishes to advance this debate as much as possible. It is paramount that the realities of today’s CAP and the challenges of the future CAP should be assessed at fair extent that other big debate, that of the EU budgetary framework for the period 2014-2020 .
As you know, the future of the CAP will be the focus of the informal meeting of Agriculture Ministers, taking place from 19 to 21 September in Belgium. The chairman of your Committee on Agriculture, Mr. De Castro has also been invited to attend this meeting to guide our informal discussions. The Presidency has been amply reflected the results from the July conference and has prepared a note which will be finalized in the next few days.
The assessment that the President has fired and we intend to discuss at our next discussion, confirming the relevance of the objectives of the CAP as reaffirmed in the Treaty of Lisbon: to ensure safe food supply and quality for European citizens maintain sustainable agriculture across the European territory, protect the environment and the landscape and contribute to sustainable development of rural areas – we talked about in the previous question.
Moreover, the assessment made by the Presidency also confirms the real value of a common agricultural policy at European level and the importance that the CAP is in the context of Europe 2020.
The next discussion will be followed in October with a final policy debate on the future of the CAP in the Agriculture Council. Thus, the Council has contributed, as did the European Parliament, a significant process of reflection. I am certain that the Commission is also considering the good work that was done by the Council and European Parliament. I am sure she will make every effort to present a paper that receives the support of both institutions. Once the call is available, the Presidency will launch the debate in Council.
As regards negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement with Mercosur countries, I would first like to point out, while being aware of the economic importance of such an agreement, the Committee on European Parliament’s agriculture and agriculture ministers share, for the most part, the same vision about the potential risks that such an agreement poses to sensitive sectors of European agriculture. You are aware that last May the Council noted the concerns expressed by a significant number of Member States in a joint note.
I would also like to recall that the Commission is obliged to respect the negotiating mandate. Moreover, last May, the Commissioner CioloÅŸ assured the Board that the Commission would ensure that the negotiations with Mercosur are compatible with the common agricultural policy and the basic interests of European agriculture.
In summary, I would like to stress that the Council will continue to monitor extremely vigilant discussions with Mercosur, in particular in the Committee on Trade Policy. The next bargaining session is scheduled for next October and I can assure you that the Presidency will ensure that the negotiating mandate is scrupulously respected.
1st June 2010, Question for question time for the Commission, Subject: WTO talks.
Could the Commission outline its view of the stalled WTO talks? Specifically, can the Commission comment on when and if it believes the talks will recommence, what the negotiating mandate will be for these talks, and how the move to reopen bilateral discussions with Mercosur and the recent conclusion of the EU-Central America Association Agreement will fit with the WTO talks and mandate?
1st June 2010, question for question time for the council, subject: Food supply chain.
Can the Council outline what plans it has, if any, to address transparency in the food supply chain, in particular the role and power of the major supermarket chains in the EU?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the July 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The Council is fully aware of the need to find satisfactory and effective solutions to the issue of improving the functioning of the food chain, with one such solution being measures to increase transparency in the system.
The volatility of prices observed in the food supply chain has been at the top of the EU institutionsâ€™ political agenda for some years now. The Council is closely monitoring the consequences of the imbalance that exists within the food chain, where a small number of distributors have become the sole partners of millions of farmers.
During its meetings of 18 January and 29 March the Council gave its verdict on the need to ensure that a sustainable, balanced relationship is established between farmers and large distributors. The Council already felt that transparency throughout the food chain was regarded as a key factor in encouraging competition and combating price volatility.
As far as specific measures are concerned, in the Presidencyâ€™s conclusions of 29 March 2010 on the Commission communication â€˜A better functioning food supply chain in Europeâ€™, the Presidency invited the Commission to propose measures suitable for increasing transparency in the food chain. The measures included, in particular, increased monitoring of pricing, through an analysis of costs, mechanisms and added value, in accordance with competition law and trade secret protection. The Presidency emphasised the importance of making best use of the statistical data already available rather than imposing new and costly information communication obligations, so as to avoid unwarranted administrative costs.
These proposals for specific measures, if presented by the Commission, will be examined by the Council at the appropriate time.
1st June 2010, question for question time for the Council, Subject: EU preparedness in the event of a major oil spill.
Can the Council reassure this House that the EU has contingency plans in the event of a major oil spill in its waters? Can it confirm who would be responsible for the containment and clean-up operation, and how that would be funded? In the light of the US oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, what steps is the Council taking in relation to the European offshore oil industry?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the June 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The Council is aware that, following the tragic accident at a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, resulting in a major oil spill, the risks associated with off-shore oil and gas operations have become of increased concern not only in the US but also in Europe.
In the EU there are specific bodies and mechanisms which can quickly respond to a possible accident. With a fleet of oil recovery vessels under contract across the EU, the European Maritime Safety Agency has the means to complement Member States’ capacity to deal with sea pollutions. The Civil Protection Mechanism of the EU provides support to Member States in the event of a major emergency and facilitates co-ordination of intervention.
The Council has addressed the question of EU preparedness at its meeting on 31 May 2010. It was informed that the Commission services, as the gravity of the situation in the Gulf of Mexico became clearer, launched a review of applicable EU legislation to make sure that it is adequate to minimize the risk of a disaster of similar nature. Given that Member States are responsible for the adoption of the most of the applicable legislation on safety of operations and health protection this review will be carried out in liaison with national regulatory bodies.
To guarantee safety, beyond the regulators’ diligence the attitude and practices of the industry are essential. Politics and business need to work together to ensure that the environment in the European Union is as safe as possible. In this context, the Council was informed that the Commission is launching dedicated discussions with industry and stakeholders and that, at a first meeting on 11 May, the industry was asked to make a commitment that all possible efforts are made to avoid a similar accident near EU shores. A second meeting is scheduled for July.
13th October 2009. Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: Meat imports from non-community countries.
The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) carried out inspections in Brazil between 20 January and 2 February 2009 to check that Brazilian exports comply with Community standards. From the report published subsequently by the FVO, it would seem that some certification bodies do not meet the standards required.
In view of the irregularities found by the FVO, can the Commission guarantee that the 1500 Brazilian holdings authorised to export to the EU meet the Communityâ€™s requirements?
The FVOâ€™s report also revealed serious deficiencies in the traceability system run by the Brazilian holdings, especially with regard to animal identification and databases.
In light of the inspection results, what guarantees can European consumers be given that all meat from Brazil meets the EUâ€™s food safety requirements?
The FVO also found that a large number of consignments in transit through the EU did not have official certificates. Furthermore, the meat in these consignments had not undergone sufficient maturation and 50% of the animals concerned came from an area that was not approved by the EU.
Do the border inspection posts actually check products from non-Community countries or do they only check the accompanying documents?
21st July 2009. Oral Question to the Council. Subject: Message for FAO high-level meeting.
What message will the Council be delivering on behalf of the EU at the forthcoming session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)?
Answer by Ms. Cecilia Malmstrom, President in office of the Council
The UN FAO conference will start on 18 November. One of the most important items on its agenda is reform of the FAO. The reform process is based on the action plan approved by all the members of the FAO in 2008. This action plan involves many different types of reforms. Among other things, the future activities of the FAO will be determined by a results-based management system that will promote greater efficiency as regards the allocation and utilisation of scarce resources. We also expect the reform process to have long-term effects on the FAOâ€™s work on matters concerning its staffing and local offices. The conference will also deal with matters relating to changes in the FAOâ€™s charter and the reforms to the Committee on World Food Security.
This reform is important because it is linked to the establishment of a global partnership on agriculture, food security and supply. In order to discuss these matters at a political level, the FAO is holding a World Summit on Food Security in Rome on 16-18 November. The Presidency will be represented there and we will present a declaration that is partly based on the Councilâ€™s conclusions on food security that will be adopted at the FAO conference.
In its conclusions concerning the FAO on 11 November 2008, the Council acknowledged that the current food crisis demands a common united and coordinated response from the global community, supported by civil society and the private sector. To this end the EU should support a global partnership for agriculture and food in accordance with the EUâ€™s action plan for the Millennium Goals. This was welcomed by the European Council in June 2008.
Furthermore, in its conclusions, the Council welcomed the ongoing reform of the FAO that is being implemented in a constructive manner by all the member states of the organisation within the framework of the conferenceâ€™s committee. In the light of this, the Presidency feels that the summit should have a clear political aim and launch a new management system for world food security, with a rejuvenated and stronger CFS taking a leading role.
The Presidency feels that it is essential that this summit establishes a forward-looking, action-based system capable of getting to grips with the current food crisis and increasing efforts to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal â€“ to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Reform of the CFS and broad commitment to the global partnership will be of the utmost importance in bringing this about.
The Presidency feels that the summit should have this clear political aim, to launch a new system for managing the worldâ€™s food supply in which a rejuvenated and stronger CFS plays a leading part. At an operational level, the Presidency feels that this summit needs to establish a forward-looking, powerful system capable of taking on the challenge of the current food crisis and increasing efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
21st July 2009. Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: Lisbon treaty referendum in Ireland.
Can the Commission outline the reasons why it believes Ireland should vote â€˜yesâ€™ in the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and also the implications of a second â€˜noâ€™ vote for Europe?
The EU has grown to 27 Member States and half a billion citizens, while its current institutional set-up was designed for a much smaller Union. The Commission considers that the Treaty of Lisbon would make the EU more democratic, efficient and transparent. It would enhance the powers of the Parliament and strengthen the role of the national parliaments. It would give a stronger voice to the citizens by allowing them to call on the Commission to bring forward new policy initiatives.
On policy issues, the Treaty would allow the Union for example to fight more effectively against cross border crime, illegal immigration and trafficking of women and children. The Treaty would also give the Union a clearer voice on the international stage, on issues such as climate change and the fight against global poverty.
If ratified, the Lisbon Treaty would enable every Member State to have a Commissioner, implementing the decision of the European Council as part of the wider package of legally binding guarantees designed to meet the concerns expressed in the 2008 Irish referendum.
23rd September 2009. Oral Question to the Council. Subject: Revision of regulation No 1/2005
Can the Council outline the views of the Presidency with regard to the review of Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport? Is the Presidency sensitive to all aspects of the potential impact of the revision?
Answer by Ms. Cecilia Malmstrom, President in office of the Council.
Thank you for your question. The Council naturally shares the Memberâ€™s concern regarding animal welfare. The Presidency responded to a similar question from Mrs Harkin in September and stated then that one of the aims of the Swedish Presidency is to encourage the debate on animal welfare, and this is listed as one of the priorities of our Presidency.
At the meeting on 7 September this year, the Council received news from the Commission that a draft proposal for a review of Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport will be tabled as soon as possible. At the same meeting, the Council obtained the views of the delegations on the need for new instruments to improve the control and inspection of the international transport of live animals, for example, satellite navigation systems. An appropriate satellite navigation system could facilitate supervision by the Member Statesâ€™ authorities, as it is currently very difficult to prove a lack of compliance using the instruments we have today.
Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 is a more forceful piece of legislation on the protection of animals during commercial transport, as it ascertains the parties concerned and assigns them areas of responsibility and it introduces tighter measures in the form of permits and inspections, as well as more stringent rules for transport.
Certain aspects of animal transport are not covered by the provisions, namely the maximum number of journeys and spatial requirements for animals. In accordance with Article 32 of the Regulation, these aspects are to be included in a report that is to be presented within four years and may be accompanied by a new proposal.
The Presidency can confirm that we intend to start examining the Commissionâ€™s proposal on the review of the regulation as soon as the Commission submits it. This has not happened yet, but as soon as it arrives, the examination will begin, as we share the Memberâ€™s interest in the review of this regulation.
23rd September 2009. Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: Horse welfare
The economic downturn has led to a significant decline in the sale value of bloodstock. There has been a marked increase in the number of abandoned horses in many Member States, with owners unable to pay for the care of their animals. Does the Commission share the concerns expressed by animal welfare organisations regarding the well-being of horses at this time? Has the Commission any plans to examine this issue, or indeed any proposed action on it?
The Commission has not received information from the Member States or complaints from non governmental organisations for the protection of animals regarding a marked increase of abandoned horses due to the decline of sale values of bloodstock. However, the Commission is aware of the issue through articles published in the press.
Council Directive 98/58/EC of 20 July 1998 lays down general minimum standards for the protection of animals bred or kept for farming purposes, including horses. The Directive does not apply to horses intended for use in competitions, shows, cultural or sporting events or activities. The Directive requires that Member States ensure that the owners or keepers take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury.
Member States are primarily responsible to implement this Directive and, in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official controls, they must take all the necessary measures to ensure that Community provisions relating to the protection of animal health and welfare are implemented. It is the responsibility of the Member States to ensure that the opportunities provided by Community legislation are used in a sensible way and thus help to prevent neglect and abandoning of horses that for economical reasons can no longer be kept under adequate conditions. In this respect, the Commission wishes to draw the attention of the Honourable Member to Regulation (EC) No 504/2008 on the identification of equidae, which is important when considering, under controlled conditions regarding food safety, the slaughter option for equine animals.
10th November 2009. Oral Question to the Council. Subject: EU oversight of the European banking sector
Can the Council confirm exactly what powers of oversight the European Union now has in relation to the banking sector, how those powers are structured and whether it considers the structure to be working? What further powers, if any, in relation to banking oversight does the Council consider necessary?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the November 2009 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The task of contributing to the smooth conduct of policies pursued by the competent authorities relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions by paragraph 5 of Article 105 of the TEC is attributed to the European system of Central Banks. If further powers of supervision were to be given to the European Central Bank, recourse should be made to the enabling clause enshrined in paragraph 6 of that same Article. Therefore, so far, the oversight of the banking sector has essentially remained with the Member States.
In this context, the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) gives advice to the European Commission on policy and regulatory issues related to banking supervision and promotes cooperation and convergence of supervisory practice across the European Union. However, neither the ESCB (European System of Central Banks), including the ECB, nor the CEBS, exercise any direct supervisory power of the banking sector.
In June 2009, the European Council stated that the financial crisis had clearly demonstrated the need to improve the regulation and supervision of financial institutions, both in Europe and globally.
On the same occasion, the European Council also recommended that a European System of Financial Supervisors (ESFS), comprising three new European Supervisory Authorities (ESA), be established aimed at upgrading the quality and consistency of national supervision, strengthening oversight of cross border groups through the setting up of supervisory colleges and establishing a European single rule book applicable to all financial institutions in the Single Market. The European Council further agreed â€˜that the European System of Financial Supervisors should have binding and proportionate decision-making powers in respect of whether supervisors are meeting their requirements under a single rule book and relevant Community law and in the case of disagreement between the home and host state supervisors, including within colleges of supervisors. ESAs should also have supervisory powers for credit rating agencies.â€™
The Commission has now submitted to the Council and the Parliament in September this year – as part of the overall legislative package for a new financial supervisory architecture for the EU – a proposal to establish a European Banking Authority.
The aim of the proposal, which is currently under examination both in the Parliament and in the Council, is to strengthen the supervisory arrangements in the banking sector in line with the recommendations of the group of high level experts, chaired by Mr de LarosiÃ¨re.
As the legislative proposals are under codecision procedure, the Council will cooperate closely with Parliament with a view to achieving an agreement on the proposals in first reading as soon as possible.
10th November 2009. Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: Responsibility for food security within the current institutional setup.
The current institutional set-up provides that the issue of global food security falls under the remit of several different Commissioners. Can the Commission confirm when was the last time a meeting of its College discussed the subject of global food security; what was the agenda for the discussion; and the outcome of the talks?
Does the Commission consider the matter of future global food security as one that requires a holistic approach to policy making and if so, what proposals will it bring forward to provide a more strategic approach at EU level?
As food security is a multifaceted issue, responding to that challenge requires the coordinated contribution of several policies and instruments. Further to the sector-specific actions pursued by the various Commissioners concerned, the College of Commissioners has regularly assessed the global food security situation and, in particular, since the 2008 agricultural commodity price increases.
The College of Commissioners addressed food security-related issues at the time of the adoption of the Communication on â€˜Tackling the challenge of rising food prices. Directions for Actionâ€™ in May 2008. The Communication set the agenda for subsequent Commission actions in various areas, within the EU and at a global level.
In July 2008, the Commission attended the high level conference organised by the French Presidency at the European Parliament (â€˜Who will feed the world?â€™). Later on in July, the College had the opportunity to come back to food security when discussing the results of the G8 Leadersâ€™ Summit in Hokkaido Toyako. In that context, the issue of the EU â€˜Food Facilityâ€™ and its contribution to promote agricultural production in developing countries was referred to.
More recently, progress in the global efforts to fight food insecurity was discussed during the College debate on the results of the Lâ€™Aquila G8 Summit of 8-10 July, at the meeting of 14 July 2009. On that occasion, President Barroso stressed the importance of the shift from the concept of food aid to food assistance and of the significant financial and conceptual contributions from the EU, welcoming the momentum generated by the G8 Summit.
On 26 September 2009, the Commission was one of the main speakers at the roundtable â€˜Partnering for Food Securityâ€™ organised by United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. At the event, organised in marge of the UN General Assembly, the Commission reaffirmed the principles and pledges agreed upon at the Lâ€™Aquila G8 Summit in July.
Last week, the President of the Commission, the Commissioner responsible for Agriculture and the Commissioner responsible for Development and Humanitarian Aid participated at the World Food Summit convened by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, confirming once again the importance the Commission gives to global food security in international fora. The Food Facility was welcomed by FAO as a rapid response of the EU to the food crisis of 2007-2008.
Concerning future strategic proposals, the Commission has just launched on 16 November 2009 a wide, web-based consultation on an â€˜issues paperâ€™ to gather orientations and views from relevant stakeholders regarding the proposed rationale, scope, strategic objectives, approach and implementation of a revised food security policy framework for the EU .
As the discussions during the FAO Summit in Rome demonstrated, a holistic approach to food security is crucial. At the EU level, this will be ensured through the Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) process.
Concerning the food security situation of the Union itself, the EU has been responding to recent challenges through the reform process of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has been ongoing for the past 15 years. We have focused on a number of policies, such as the switch from product to producer support, linked to the respect of basic land management standards, the provision of a market safety net through intervention and the reinforcement of rural development with more resources. These have boosted the production potential of European agriculture while also respecting the necessary territorial and environmental balance of farming in the EU. Analysis indicates that the projected level of farm productivity and competitiveness in the EU should enable its farm sector to respond to the growing domestic demand.
1st December 2009. Oral Question to the Council. Subject: Biodegradable Waste
Can the Council comment on Member State progress with regard to diverting biodegradable waste from landfill, as outlined in the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC)?
Answer by Ms. Cecilia Malmstrom, President-in-Office of the Council
Every day, large quantities of waste are produced in the EUâ€™s Member States. How we deal with this waste naturally has a major impact on the environment. The Commissionâ€™s recently published report on the implementation of the EUâ€™s legislation on waste concludes that although some Member States have made progress, huge implementation efforts are required in a great many States if the infrastructure for waste management is to meet EU requirements. The Directive on landfill is particularly difficult to implement.
As regards diverting biodegradable waste from landfill, the Commissionâ€™s report states that only nine countries achieved their target reductions in 2006 â€“ according to the fairly limited information available. The Council has stated previously in its conclusions of June 2009 that it agrees with the Commission. It is very important that the EUâ€™s targets for diverting biodegradable waste from landfill are met. The Council also called upon the Commission to continue with its impact analysis in order to prepare a proposal for EU legislation on biodegradable waste if appropriate.
The Council stated that the need for EU legislation should be noted, and particularly the need for legislation on the recycling of biodegradable waste by means of composting and energy recovery in biogas facilities with subsequent recycling of residual material. The Council also stated that better management of biodegradable waste would contribute to more sustainable management of our resources, increase land protection, help combat climate change and, in particular, enable targets for diverting waste from landfill, recycling and renewable energy to be met.
1st December 2009. Oral Question to Commission. Subject: Inpection of Haulage Vehicles at Calais Port.
Hauliers passing through Calais Port en route to the UK have for some time experienced problems with regard to the inspection of their vehicles for clandestine entrants by the French and UK authorities. It would appear that the UK authorities adopt stricter checks on vehicles entering their territory than the inspections carried out by their French counterparts. Hauliers are subject to on-the-spot fines when clandestine entrants that are not detected by the French authorities are then found during mandatory inspections by the UK Border Agency.
Can the Commission comment on this ongoing situation? Does the Commission believe there needs to be greater parity between the checks carried out by French authorities (which fall under Schengen border controls) and those by the UK Border Agency? Does the Commission think it is fair that hauliers are held responsible for failures in the inspection process?
The Commission is aware of the difficult situation in the areas around Calais harbour with regard to the presence of third country nationals attempting to enter the United Kingdom in a clandestine way. The Commission is also aware of the level of checks and vehicle inspections on exit carried out by the French authorities. This level can be considered as high, especially taking into consideration the technical equipment deployed.
The British authorities are conducting entry checks on French territory on the basis of a bilateral agreement between France and the United Kingdom. The Commission cannot express an opinion on the level of border checks conducted by the United Kingdom either on its own territory or in France because the United Kingdom is not bound by the relevant provisions of the Schengen acquis.
Different levels of detection are not necessarily due to different procedures or equipment but to other reasons for example the technical limitations of such equipment or its use: random, based on intelligence or risk analyses. In the Commission’s understanding, hauliers are not held responsible for failures in the inspection process; sanctions on hauliers are connected to the care which is expected from them by the UK authorities in relation with their national legislation on carriers’ liability in the custody of their vehicles (for example in selecting a place to park or sealing their vehicles).
21st December 2009. Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: Misleading business directory companies
What advice can the Council offer to the thousands of European citizens who fall victim to misleading business directory companies such as the European City Guide, operating from Spain, and others?
Can the Council give this House an assurance of the EU’s commitment to ending practices of misleading business-to-business advertising?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the January 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The Honourable Member can be fully confident of the Council’s commitment to fighting against forbidden practices of misleading advertising, whether in business-to-business or in business-to-consumer transactions, and notably to insist on the complete implementation and effective enforcement of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005/29/EC (which covers business-to-consumer relations) and the Misleading Advertising Directive 2006/114/EC, which covers business-to-business transaction and would apply to cases raised by the Honourable Member.
However, it is the responsibility of national courts and authorities to strictly and effectively apply these provisions.
It is not therefore for the Council to comment on allegations of unfair practices in individual cases.
Finally, the Honourable Member’s attention is further drawn to Article 9 of Directive 2006/114/EC, which requests Member States to communicate to the Commission all measures taken in implementation of the Directive. No indication has so far been provided to the Council by the Commission that there are any problems or shortcomings with the implementation of the Directive in any Member State, and the Commission has not submitted any proposals for additional legal measures.
21st December 2009. Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: Decrease in bee population.
Can the Commission outline what action it has taken in response to the European Parliament’s Motion for a Resolution on the situation in the beekeeping sector, adopted on 20 November 2008 (P6_TA(2008)0567)? Can the Commission comment on the recently published EFSA study on bee mortality (03.12.2009)? Does the Commission have any immediate plans to act on the reportâ€™s recommendations?
The Commission is well aware of the problems of the beekeeping sector underlined in the European Parliament Resolution of 20 November 2008 [B6-0579/2008 /P6_TA-PROV(2008)0567 ].
The Commission has already taken several actions as regards the health of bees, and it has in particular:
reviewed the regulation on residue limits of veterinary medicines in foodstuffs; this should help to increase the availability of veterinary medicines for bees
proposed a new Regulation concerning the placing on the market of plant protection products in which, amongst others, the existing criteria for the acceptability as regards the exposure to honey bees laid down in Directive 91/414 have been further reinforced. That Regulation has been adopted meanwhile by the European Parliament and the Council
for relevant insecticides already approved, conditioned the authorisation with strict risk mitigation measures to be implemented by Member States
supported several research projects for a total funding of about 5 million EUR.
The Commission has also established an internal co-ordination platform to ensure synergies and optimal use of resources.
Following a request of the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently published a study on the mortality in bees and its causes in the EUThe EFSA study identifies that multiple factors such as disease agents, climate change, use of pesticides and veterinary drugs are involved in colony losses. However, the relevance of many of the factors involved remains unclear. The BEE DOC research project starting in March 2010 is expected to provide more information on this question. The EFSA report also highlights that Member States have very different surveillance systems in place for bee mortality and diseases and this hampers a better understanding of the health problems affecting bees.
In this regard, in the next months the Commission intends to discuss with experts, stakeholders and the Member States’s competent authorities the establishment of an EU reference laboratory for bees and of a network at EU level for a more harmonised surveillance of the health of the bees.
The Commission aims to sustain bees and other pollinators through the promotion of habitat connectivity and the integration of the biodiversity policy into other policy sectors. Rural development programmes provide several measures which are relevant also to beekeepers, including advisory services, training, support for modernisation of holdings and different types of agri-environmental measures favourable to bees.
As explained above, the Commission has already taken several actions and will continue to do so to tackle the health problems of bees, taking into account the new scientific information that will be available.
27th July. Written question to the Commission. Subject: Lyme disease.
The incidence of Lyme disease in the EUâ€™s population is growing steadily. At present, Lyme disease is not notifiable in many EU Member States, meaning that diagnosis of the disease can be a prolonged process.
Is the Commission aware of this problem? Does the Commission recognise the benefits of notifiable diseases? Furthermore, would the Commission consider it beneficial for Lyme disease to be classed as a notifiable disease?
Answer: Given by Mr. Vassiliou on behalf of the Commission.
Lyme-Borreliose, a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, has an estimated incidence of 1 70/20 000 in Europe. Like other diseases, the incidence varies substantially across Europe, and is higher in the regions with the highest infection rates in ticks which are the disease vector. Although the geographical distribution has been increasing, higher incidence has traditionally been reported in Central Europe. The latest available figures indicate an incidence of 4.1 for the EU27 in 2005 (ranging from 206 cases per 100 000 inhabitants in Slovenia to 4 cases in Italy). The latest available figure for Germany (1999) was 1,7/100 000.
The epidemiological surveillance of communicable diseases in the EU is regulated by Commission Decision 2119/98/EC and by its implementing acts and by Regulation (EC) No 851/2004 of Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 establishing a European Centre for disease prevention and control (ECDC). In the specific case of Lyme disease, legal provisions come under Commission Decision 2000/96/EC amended by Commission Decision 2007/875/EC. Under these legal provisions vector borne diseases, including Lyme disease, should be covered by the Network of surveillance at Community level, and criteria for surveillance and any relevant information should be circulated among the members of the Community Network.
The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) is currently reviewing the process of reporting of vector borne diseases, including Lyme disease, in order to identify how to improve the reporting of this disease in the European Union.
Finally the Commission considers sound epidemiological information on the spread of Lyme disease in the EU particularly important, considering also the potential association of Lyme disease to climate change.
17th September 2009, written question to the Commission. Subject: Spanish IBI tax.
The Commission confirmed in its answer of 18 February 2009 to Question P 0561/09 that a preliminary analysis of the main features of the Spanish IBI tax revealed that Local Entities are not allowed to differentiate between residents and non-residents for the purposes of the IBI.
In light of evidence of a difference in treatment between residents and non-residents, can the Commission confirm what action it is taking?
The Honourable Member refers to the Commission’s answer to Question P 0561/09 by Mr Kinnock in which the Commission confirmed that, according to a preliminary analysis of the main features of the Spanish â€˜Impuesto sobre Bienes Inmueblesâ€™ (IBI), Local Entities are not entitled to differentiate between residents and non-residents for the purposes of the IBI. The Honourable Member asks the Commission to confirm what action it is taking â€˜in light of evidence of a difference in treatment between residents and non-residents.â€™
A closer examination of the specific situation in Estepona has revealed that there are certain differences in treatment between persons registered in the local census of Estepona and those who are not. These differences however do not concern the application of the IBI as such, but result from the fact that the Municipality of Estepona has decided to grant direct subsidies to those home owners who have their permanent residence there and are therefore registered in the census of Estepona. This measure applies indiscriminately to residents of Spain and residents of other EU Member States. A resident of Spain registered in the census of Barcelona owning a real estate property in Estepona will not be entitled to this municipal subsidy, in the same way that a resident of another EU Member State who is not registered in the Estepona census would not be able to benefit from such a direct subsidy. Any EU citizen, whether he or she is a Spanish national or a national of another EU Member State, who has his permanent residence in Estepona and is registered in the local census would be eligible for this subsidy.
For this reason, the Commission is of the view that the applicable tax legislation is not in breach of Community law and has therefore not initiated infringement proceedings against Spain in respect of this measure.
18th September 2009, written question to the Commission, Subject: Condition attached to the use of leader programme funding.
Does the Commission stipulate minimum standards of public accessibility for projects that are supported with funds from the Community initiative for rural development (Leader+); for example, would a footbridge built using Leader money be required to offer wheelchair access?
Answer: Given by Mrs. Fischer Boel on behalf of the Commission
The Leader approach previously supported under a Community Initiative (Leader+) is now integrated under the 2007 13 rural development programmes funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).
Eligibility rules for operations supported under the EAFRD are defined at Member State level in the programming documents.
Member States have also to respect Article 8 of the Council Regulation nÂ°(EC) 1698/2005(1) according to which Member States shall ensure that any discrimination based on disability is prevented during the various stages of programme implementation. This includes the stages of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
This principle is relevant for public infrastructure projects such as transport and built environment under Axes 3 and 4 of the rural development programmes. As the EAFRD is managed and implemented on a shared management basis, it is up to Member States to take the necessary measures ensuring implementation of this principle.
23rd September 2009, written question to the Commission, Subject: Supermarket buyer power in the EU retail food sector.
Over the last months different initiatives from the Commission, such as the communication on Food Prices (December 2008) and the roadmap of the High-Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry (May 2009), as well as the farmersâ€™ protests against low milk prices have indicated that potential abuses at the end of the food chain are taking place. Indeed, a majority of Members of the European Parliament already subscribed in February 2008 to a Written Declaration requesting DG Competition to investigate and remediate the abusive buyer power of supermarkets in the different EU countries.
Can the Commission confirm what work is currently being undertaken with EU Member States to further analyse the retail market and the effects of buying practices of supermarkets?
As stated in the Commission’s reply to the Parliament’s Written Declaration No 88/2007 on investigating and remedying the abuse of power by large supermarkets operating in the EU, the primary objective of EC competition policy is to make markets work better to the benefit of consumers. The Commission, therefore, tackles buyer power to the extent that it harms, or could potentially harm, consumers.
In light of the surge in food prices that peaked in 2007, a number of initiatives have been taken in order to address potential malfunctions in the food supply chain, including the retail sector. In particular, the Commission has adopted three Communications on food prices. These Communications have been designed to provide both an immediate and a long-term response to the surge in food prices and to mitigate the impact that this trend has on final consumers. The issue of a potential imbalance of bargaining power of the food supply chain has been addressed in these initiatives.
Thus, the communication on â€˜Tackling the challenge of rising food prices; Directions for EU actionâ€™ of May 2008 set up a Task Force to examine the functioning of the food supply chain, including concentration and market segmentation of the food retail and distribution sectors in the EU.
The Food Task Force produced a first report of its findings embodied into a second Communication on â€˜Food Prices in Europe â€” including a roadmap to improve the functioning of the food supply chainâ€™ adopted in December 2008, to which the Honourable Member refers in her question. This second Communication proposed a roadmap to improve the functioning of the food supply chain consisting of five main sets of measures:
- Promoting the Competiveness of the food supply chain to increase resilience to World price shocks.
- Ensuring a vigorous and coherent enforcement of competition and consumer protection rules in the food supply markets by the Commission and National Competition and Consumer Authorities
- Reviewing regulations that have been identified as restrictive, both at national and EU level and enhancing regulatory harmonisation in cases where regulations continue to fragment the Single Market
- Providing better information to consumers, public authorities and market operators by setting up a permanent European monitoring of food prices and the supply chain; and
- Examining measures to discourage speculation to the detriment of commercial operators in agricultural commodity markets.
As a follow-up to this roadmap, the Commission has adopted on 28 October 2009 a new Communication on â€˜A better functioning food supply chain in Europeâ€™. This new text, addressed to the Council, the Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, presents further analyses on issues related to price formation and the interplay of market operators in the food sector. The Commission proposes concrete actions at Member States and Community levels aiming at improving the functioning of the food supply chain in Europe. These actions are designed to: (i) promote sustainable and market-based relationships between stakeholders of the food supply chain; (ii) increase transparency along the food supply chain to encourage competition and improve its resilience to price volatility, and (iii) foster the integration and competitiveness of the European food supply chain across Member States.
In terms of competition policy, the new Communication calls for an enhanced cooperation between the Commission and the National Competition Authorities (NCAs) in the framework of the European Competition Network (ECN) in order to develop a common approach to relevant competition issues aiming at a sustained exchange of information, a swift identification of problematic cases and an efficient allocations of tasks among each member. It may be useful to recall that retail markets tend to be mostly national in scope with differing legal, economic, political and cultural characteristics. For these reasons, NCAs are well placed to tackle competition concerns arising on these markets. In particular, over the last two years, NCAs have granted priority to case by case investigations, as well as to broader inquiries regarding food markets. These actions have improved the overall understanding of the functioning of the food supply chain. In addition, certain investigations have led to the finding of a significant number of serious infringements, such as cartels and resale price maintenance cases. These infringements were swiftly remedied through cease-and-desist orders, accompanied where appropriate by substantial fines (for instance the decision adopted by the Italian NCA regarding the pasta sector, on 26 February 2009, and the decision adopted by the Portuguese NCA concerning the tomato sector, on 15 October 2009).
In parallel, the Commission has strengthened over the last years its dialogue with NCAs on food related issues, including the retail sector, in the framework of the ECN. In line with the action envisaged by the new Communication of October 2009, the Commission will continue its coordination with NCAs, and develop a coherent approach in terms of forthcoming advocacy, monitoring and enforcement efforts so as to ensure the optimal functioning of the food supply chain to the benefit of consumers. It goes without saying that, in addition, the Commission will continue enforcing EU competition rules, should anti-competitive practices having a Community dimension arise.
In addition to these actions on the field of competition policy, the communication acknowledges that the tense relationships between the actors of the chain are a key hurdle to its competitiveness and efficiency. The frequent asymmetries of bargaining power, stemming from the diversity of actors active within the chain, may conduct to unfair contractual practices, to the long term detriment of all, actors and consumers alike. The communication thus proposes that the Commission work with Member States to better identify unfair contractual practices, to increase the awareness of actors on the issue and to facilitate notification of potential abuses.
In this latest Communication, the Commission has also published the first edition of the European Food Prices Monitoring Tool with the aim of making available existing data on price levels and developments. It has also recommended Member States to constitute web-based food retail price comparison services. Both initiatives will enhance transparency on price-setting, in particular with respect to consumer prices of food, and contribute to increase competition intensity in food markets.
Last, but not least, the Commission has set up in 2008 a High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry which adopted its Report and 30 recommendations in March 2009. The mandate, status and membership of this Group will be broadened as stated in the October 2009 Communication, with a view to create a forum of discussion for the European food supply chain.
In addition to the new Communication of October 2009 and in the framework of the Internal Market policy, the Commission will also present a further Communication on the market monitoring of the retail sector as a follow-up to the Single Market review in 2010. This future Communication will, among other issues, analyse the buying practises of supermarkets.
5th November 2009, written question to the Commission. Subject: Sterling depreciation.
The UK Government has presided over 20 % depreciation in sterling over the last 18 months. For Ireland, which exports over 40 % of its agri-food produce to the UK, the impact of this depreciation has been extremely serious. In the past, Member States were in a flexible position which enabled an overvalued currency to be devalued to a more competitive exchange rate. As a eurozone member, however, Ireland is no longer able to directly address this issue. Our indigenous industries are suffering badly due to the economic downturn and some can no longer afford to operate under these export conditions with the UK.
Can the Commission outline what mechanisms or policy instruments are available to eurozone members in the face of this type of depreciation? Would the Commission look sympathetically at applications by Member States seeking to relax state aid rules so as to come to the assistance of export businesses operating in this difficult economic climate? What is the Commission’s view of the actions of the UK in its policy of currency depreciation?
The euro and the pound sterling are freely floating currencies, the exchange rates of which are determined in the financial markets. Neither the United Kingdom (UK) nor the euro area use the exchange rate as an economic policy instrument.
Exchange rates can be subject to significant fluctuations, which are generally, although not always, related to changes in economic fundamentals. The depreciation of sterling can be related to a number of economic factors. These include financial market participants’ concern about the UK’s large trade deficit coupled with a growing budget deficit, and significant contingent liabilities, fears that the recession may be deeper in the UK than in other advanced economies and more significant interest rate cuts by the Bank of England than by the European Central Bank. In addition, although to a lesser extent than the United States (US) dollar, the euro has benefited from flight-to-safety flows since the outbreak of the financial market crisis. Furthermore, the depreciation of the pound sterling in 2007 and 2008 started from a level where the pound was clearly above its long-term historical average.
Many exporting companies in the euro-area manage their exchange rate risk through financial instruments or natural hedges(. In particular, financial instruments such as currency futures allow exporters to convert future receipts in foreign currency into domestic currency, thereby eliminating the risk of changes in the exchange rate.
Concerning state aid measures, the general principles of state aid rules continue to apply. One of these principles is that state aid awarded for export activities cannot be declared as compatible since the distortive effects of such aid are considered as too high and therefore as insurmountable in the balancing test which forms an integral part of any state aid assessment. Thus a relaxation of rules for export aid is not envisaged. However, the Commission, in its temporary framework for state aid measures in the context of the economic crisis, took account of the special needs of exporters and accordingly simplified the rules for obtaining export-credit-insurance, a possibility which has been used by Member States.
30th November 2009, written question to the Commission. Subject: EU aid to Palestinian refugees
Can the Commission provide a list of all EU aid programmes â€” financial assistance as well as â€˜in kindâ€™ â€” that are currently directed specifically towards the residents of the Palestinian refugee camps, as defined by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East?
Answer: given by Ms. Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission
Most EU assistance to Palestine refugees is directed through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The EU and its Member States are now the biggest donors to UNRWA.
Since 2006, EU funding to UNRWA has exceeded EUR 100 million per year, with a record EUR 169.57 million in 2009. This funding consists of an annual contribution to UNRWA’s core budget of EUR 66 million in accordance with the provisions of the Joint Declaration between the Commission and UNRWA signed on 28 February 2007 and covering the period 2007 10 as well as humanitarian aid, crisis response support and project-oriented development assistance.
For the first category, in 2009, UNRWA received EUR 77.2 million from the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) broken down as follows:
- Contribution to the General Fund: EUR 66 million;
- Support for Organisational Development Plan: EUR 1 million
- Support to Quality Education Services: EUR 10 million;
- Support to Events Marking UNRWA’s 60th Anniversary EUR 0.2 million
In addition, an amount of EUR 39.70 million, intended primarily for refugees in Gaza was allocated from the Food Facility and EUR 5 million from the Food Security budget line. The latter is destined for refugees outside Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
In 2009 Directorate-General Humanitarian Aid (DG ECHO) has supplied humanitarian assistance to a value of EUR 19.3 million to fund food assistance, cash for work, protection and Gaza relief activities.
Since 2007, the Instrument for Stability has provided EUR 34.8 million of crisis response assistance to UNRWA in Gaza (early recovery support following the recent conflict), Lebanon (reconstruction of the Nahr-el Bared refugee camp and support to displaced refugees), and Syria (addressing exclusion of youth refugees to prevent radicalism and conflict). A table, which is sent directly to the Honourable Member and to Parliament’s Secretariat, provides a summary of assistance provided by all Commission services to UNRWA between 2000 and 2009.
In addition to these programmes there are a number of smaller projects financed from thematic budget lines, chiefly the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and the line for Non State Actors and Local Authorities in Development which target refugees in part, albeit not explicitly.
19th January 2010, oral question to the Commission. Subject: Overseas Property Ownership
Notwithstanding a Member State’s competence in respect of the rules governing the system of property ownership, is the Council aware of the significant number of problems experienced by many EU citizens arising from ownership of property in a Member State other than their own?
In particular, what action has the Council taken in respect of Parliament’s Resolution, P6_TA(2009)0192, on the ‘impact of extensive urbanisation in Spain on individual rights of European citizens, on the environment and on the application of EU law’?
Will the Council act by calling on Member States to carry out a thorough review and to revise all legislation affecting the rights of individual property owners, in order to bring an end to the abuse of rights and obligations enshrined in the EC Treaty, in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in the ECHR and in the relevant EU Directives, as well as in other conventions to which the EU is a party?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the February 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The honourable Member is reminded that the Council of the EU does not have a general competence regarding property rights, urban development, or land use. Indeed, according to Article 345 TFUE, the treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.
It is therefore now up to the relevant competent Spanish authorities to take the appropriate measures in order to remedy the situation referred to by the honourable Member.
9th January 2010, oral question to the Commission. Subject: Airport Security in the EU
In light of the recent foiled bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport and the shocking discovery that a passenger unwittingly carried explosives on board a flight to Dublin after a Slovakian airport security test went awry, can the Commission reassure this House that the subject of airport security is high on its agenda?
Can it further confirm that it is working with Member States to review current security measures?
What Europe-wide guidelines exist for so-called ‘bomb sniffing tests’, and does the Commission consider them robust enough? Does it consider EU rules as being necessary for all manner of airport security?
What is the Commission’s view on the need for more stringent security measures for passengers?
What is the Commission’s view on the use of imaging technology, otherwise known as body scanners, as one means for screening passengers?
The Commission is in a permanent dialogue with Member States, international partners and international organisations to exchange and develop aviation security measures. It chairs a standing regulatory committee established by EU aviation security legislation that meets periodically several times a year, and if necessary ad-hoc in order to react on pending issue. Furthermore the Commission exchanges views with stakeholders at regular intervals. Up-dating of existing legislation to reply to new developments is common and has happened at several occasions during recent years.
EU airports can only use screening equipment that is listed in and further described by EU legislation on aviation security. In principle, screening equipment, for example explosive trace detection (â€˜bomb sniffingâ€™), must follow detailed performance and operating principles, where available. In order to achieve one-stop-security within the EU, airports must apply common basic aviation security standards.
The attempted terrorist attack on flight NW 253 to Detroit on 25th December has again confirmed the reality of the threat against civil aviation. At different levels the Commission is participating in the evaluation and possible follow-up to the incident.
More stringent measures applied by some Member States unilaterally allowed under EU law. The Commission considers however that a more sustainable way forward, with common standards at EU level, is required. Adding new detection technologies such as advanced imaging technology to the list of permitted equipment may be one element, provided that concerns related to health, privacy and data protection can be dealt with in a satisfactory manner. However, other measures, such as more in-depth cooperation of law enforcement services and more efficient exchange of available data are equally needed.
For more details regarding the possibility to introduce body scanners into the list of permitted screening technologies, the Commission would like to refer its reply to oral question H-0001/10.
12th May 2010, oral question to the Commission. Subject: Reopening of negotiations with Mercosur with view to concluding a free trade agreement.
The College of Commissioners agreed at its meeting of 4 May to reopen negotiations on a free trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries. Should an agreement result from these negotiations, it is probable that it will be very detrimental to the interests of European agricultural producers, notably in the beef, poultry meat, wheat and fruit and vegetable sectors. There may be indirect adverse consequences for other sectors, including the pigmeat sector.
Could the Commission explain:
- what measures it intends to take to provide adequate compensation for EU producers whose economic interests are adversely affected by a free trade deal with the Mercosur bloc?
- how it will ensure that the standards in terms of food safety, labour conditions, environmental protection and animal welfare of the products imported from the Mercosur countries are equivalent to those demanded of EU producers?
- the relationship between such an agreement and the ongoing negotiations on a multilateral agreement at WTO level?
4th June 2010, Oral Question to the Commission. Subject: The implications for EU agriculture of the re-opening of negotiations with Mercosur with a view to concluding an Association agreement.
The College of Commissioners agreed at its meeting of 4 May 2010 to reopen negotiations for an Association Agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries. Should an agreement result from these negotiations, it may present EU agricultural producers with considerable challenges, notably in the beef, poultry meat, wheat and fruit and vegetable sectors. There may also be indirect adverse consequences for other sectors including the pig meat sector.
â€“ What is the precise mandate which has been given to the negotiators with regard to the agricultural aspects of the negotiations?
â€“ Can the Commission provide Parliament with a detailed analysis of the likely impact on European producers if a deal is agreed on the basis of that mandate?
â€“ Which measures, if any, does the Commission intend to take to provide adequate compensation for EU producers whose economic interests are adversely affected by an Association Agreement with the Mercosur bloc?
â€“ How will it ensure that the standards, in terms of food safety, labour conditions, environmental protection and animal welfare, for the products imported from the Mercosur countries are equivalent to those demanded of EU producers?
â€“ What is the relationship between such an agreement and the ongoing negotiations for a multilateral agreement at WTO level?
18th February 2010, oral question to the Council, subject: Scheme to reinforce economic policy co-ordination and surveillance of eurozone members
Could the Council elaborate on suggestions that eurozone countries may have a greater say in how the economies of their fellow eurozone members states are run? A recent Commission announcement said that the Commission would come forward with a scheme to reinforce economic policy co-ordination and counter-surveillance before June, in line with the powers under the Lisbon Treaty. Does the Council endorse this approach for greater economic co-ordination and does the Council believe that this new approach would strengthen the eurozone?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the March 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The recent economic crisis and current developments on financial markets have shown the importance of close coordination of economic policies, as confirmed by Heads of State or Government of the EU as well as by the President of the European Council on the occasion of their informal meeting on 11 February.
Primary responsibility for their economic policies lies with the Member States themselves. The EU monitors and coordinates them, in particular in the context of the Stability and Growth Pact and Broad Economic Policy Guidelines. While the Stability and Growth Pact focuses chiefly on enforcing and maintaining fiscal discipline, the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines aim at ensuring multilateral surveillance of economic trends in the Member States. Structural policies, especially with a view to increasing competitiveness, leading to higher growth and employment are coordinated in the framework of the Lisbon strategy, which will be re-launched this spring as the EU 2020 strategy.
All these instruments are based on partnership and cooperation among the Member States. The Lisbon Treaty provides the euro area with additional legal framework in order to ensure the proper functioning of the economic and monetary union. The existence of the Euro Group is formally recognised in Article 137 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Protocol 1(No. 14) on the Euro Group. Furthermore Article 136 TFEU allows the adoption of additional measures applicable only to the euro area, aimed at strengthening the coordination and surveillance of the budgetary discipline of the euro area Member States or setting out economic policy guidelines for these Member states. Such measures are adopted in accordance with the relevant procedure from among those referred to in articles 121 and 126 TFEU with the exception of the procedure set out in article 126(14) TFEU.
The Commission intends to submit this spring a proposal to the Council to reinforce economic policy co-ordination and surveillance on the basis of these provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. The Council will examine the Commission’s proposal upon its receipt.
18th February 2010, Oral Question to the Commission, Subject: State aid to small and medium sized enterprises active in the production of agricultural products.
Article 11, Paragraph 8 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 1857/2006(1) on the application of Articles 87 and 88 of the Treaty to State aid to small and medium-sized enterprises active in the production of agricultural products states that from 1 January 2010 any compensation paid to farmers for crop losses due to adverse weather conditions will be dependent on whether farmers have taken out insurance policies covering at least 50% of their annual production or
production-related income. Where farmers have no crop insurance any compensation offered to them will be reduced by 50%. In Member States where crop insurance is not offered by any insurance company what is the status of Article 11, Paragraph 8?
Can the Commission provide information on risk assessment instruments currently available in Member States, specifically those Member States where insurance products are offered to farmers, for instance what level of cover is provided by these insurance products and how these products are financed â€“ are they funded by the state, funded by farmers or jointly funded?
If, in a given Member State, no insurance company proposes insurance contracts covering damages brought about by the statistically most frequent climatic events, Article 11(8) of Regulation (EC) No 1857/2006 will not be applied but the aid scheme providing for compensation for losses will not be eligible for a notification exemption in accordance with the same Regulation. In such a case, the Member State could notify the aid scheme to the Commission by virtue of Article 108(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and show in the notification that, despite all reasonable efforts, affordable insurance covering the statistically most frequent climatic risks in the Member State or region concerned was not available at the time the damage occurred. If such evidence is provided, the 50 % reduction will not be applied.
A variety of different risk management tools are currently available in Member States. With regard to insurances, mostly classic insurance schemes are available in the EU (mainly single-risk and combined insurance, but also yield insurance), and these are generally private. In many Member States, only a limited number of insurance companies are operating. The level of development of the agricultural insurances in each country is mainly linked to two decisive factors:
â€“ The needs faced by each country (risk level);
â€“ The economical support to the insurance systems given by each Member State.
Some governments subsidize insurances while others provide aid ex-post on an ad-hoc basis through compensation schemes or calamity funds, which can be partially financed by the agricultural stakeholders on a voluntary or compulsory basis.
The report Agricultural Insurance schemes, which was financed by the Commission and last updated in 2008, presents the different existing risk management tools available to farmers in the EU. This helps to better understand the evolution of insurance systems in Europe, since the development of insurance systems is strongly correlated to the presence of other risk management tools and to the role of the public sector, in particular ad-hoc aid measures.
11th March 2010, oral question to the Commission. Subject: Unemployment amongst people with disabilities
Can the Commission outline its view as to the extent to which and how unemployment among people with disabilities and action to combat the rising numbers should form part of the EU’s strategy on growth and jobs?
Does the Commission believe that within the European Employment Strategy guidelines specific indicators should be set for people with disabilities?
The Commission is aware of the difficulties facing people with disabilities in the European Union as regards access and retention in employment. Under the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, the situation of disabled people on the labour market has been covered by the three overarching objectives outlined in Guideline 17 of the Guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States. In the Commissionâ€™s proposal for a Europe 2020 strategy, the priority of inclusive growth clearly addresses people with disabilities too. The Commission is also fully committed to a disability mainstreaming approach, and it will thus ensure that people with disabilities are able to benefit under all proposed flagship initiatives covering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Specific indicators on the employment situation of people with disabilities could certainly be useful for the future European employment strategy. However, the lack of a consistent definition of disability across the EU is a major obstacle to identifying comparable indicators. Furthermore, the Commission underlines that the five headline targets proposed are representative of what Europe 2020 tries to achieve: high economic and employment growth (employment rate target), which is smart (R&D/innovation target and tertiary education target along with the early school leavers target), inclusive (reducing poverty target) and green (20/20/20 targets). The headline targets are not supposed to reflect all the aspects of Europe 2020 and should by definition be of a limited number.
11th March 2010, oral question to the Council. Subject: Progress towards the UN millennium development goals.
What progress is the Council making with its plans for an ambitious EU position with regard to the Millennium Development Goals?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the April 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
2010 is a key staging part in progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The EU attaches particular importance to ensuring the success of the High Level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs in September of this year.
Over the past nine years, significant efforts have been made towards achieving the MDGs, although progress has been uneven, both across sectors and regions. The Sub-Saharan African region in particular is lagging behind. The economic and financial crisis calls into question the ability to meet the MDGs by 2015, and risks undermining progress made so far.
With only five years remaining before 2015, the Council sees the September High Level Plenary Meeting as a unique opportunity to take stock and assess what has been achieved so far, and to set out what more needs to be done by 2015. We have to use this opportunity to galvanize a coordinated international effort in order to accelerate further progress towards the MDGs.
In terms of the process, the EU will continue to play a leading role as the world’s largest donor, and will make all necessary efforts to ensure a focused and action-oriented outcome of the High Level Plenary Meeting. As part of its preparations for this meeting, the Council is expected to adopt an updated EU position which it will submit to the June European Council, taking into account the Commissionâ€™s â€˜Spring Packageâ€™ on development cooperation and the Report established by the UN Secretary-General for the High Level Plenary Meeting which was presented last month.
6th April 2010, Oral question to the Council, Subject: EU 2020 delivery timetable.
Can the Council outline the timetable for Member States to convert into national goals the five headline targets that have been agreed as the key elements of the new strategy for jobs and growth, known as the EU 2020 strategy?
The present answer, which has been drawn up by the Presidency and is not binding on either the Council or its members as such, was not presented orally at Question Time to the Council during the May 2010 part-session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The March European Council agreed on the main elements of the new Strategy for Growth and Jobs, which will be formally adopted at the June European Council. This includes the five headline targets which will guide the action of the Member States and of the European Union:
a 75% employment rate for women and men aged 20-64;
an investment of 3% of GDP in research and development, together with an indicator on innovation intensity;
the confirmation of the so-called 20/20/20 goals on climate and energy;
a reduction of school drop-out rates and an increase in the share of population with tertiary education, and
promoting social inclusion, in particular reducing poverty.
The March European Council also agreed that, in the light of these headline targets, Member States will set their national targets, taking account of their relative starting positions and national circumstances.
The work to establish national targets has already started. Supporting the efforts at the national level in each Member State, the preparatory bodies of the Council are currently discussing the national targets. In parallel, bilateral consultations are taking place between every Member State, the Commission, and the Presidency, to review the overall situation for all five targets for each country.
Regarding the methodology for national targets, the European Council conclusions state that Member States will set them according to their national decision-making procedures, in a dialogue with the Commission in order to check consistency with the EU headline targets. The European Council will examine the results of this dialogue in June.
At national level, the targets will be confirmed in the National Reform Programmes to be presented in the autumn of 2010.
6th April 2010, Oral Question to the Commission, Subject: EU Budget review
During the British Presidency in 2005, the European Council invited the Commission â€˜to undertake a full, wide ranging review covering all aspects of EU spending, including the CAP, and of resources, including the UK rebate, to report in 2008/9â€™.
Can the Commission provide us with information on the current status of this review? Does the Commission intend to issue a Communication on this matter and can the Commission outline in detail the proposed timeline for this?
After consultation with the Parliament Committee of Budgets and in order to better link the Budget Review with the Europe 2020 strategy and the Work Programme of the new Commission, and to allow the new College to take ownership of this major initiative, the President of the Commission has decided to postpone the presentation of the Budget Review to the third quarter of 2010. This timing should allow the Parliament to make its views known on the future orientations of the EU Budget by the end of 2010. The President of the Commission announced this timing to the EP Plenary early in 2010.
The Commission is currently working on the Budget Review and is also about to launch the internal preparation for the closely linked next Multiannual Financial Framework. The Commission intends to present a Communication on this matter during the first semester of 2011.
10th May 2010, Oral question to the Commission, Subject: Eu structural funds – funding exclusion.
The EU, as signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reflects the core elements â€“ of anti-discrimination, equal opportunities and active inclusion measures â€“ in its own disability strategy.
In March 2010, the Commission was represented at a conference in Brussels hosted by the European Coalition for Community Living which addressed the issue of ‘Funding exclusion while promoting inclusion? The use of European Union funding to maintain the institutionalisation of people with disabilities’.
The Commission is aware of the concern among NGOs that European Structural Funds are being used to renovate existing, or build new, long-stay residential institutions for people with disabilities, in contravention of the rights of these citizens.
Given the strong convergence of objectives between the overall EU Disability Strategy and the UN Convention, what action will the Commission take to address this problem and ensure that EU funds are not used in this inappropriate way, but are rather directed towards the provision of community based living for persons with disabilities?
Answer: By Ms. Viviane Reding, Vice President of the Commission
I would like to answer the oral question tabled by Mrs McGuinness by saying that, although the responsibility of organising and administering residential care lies with Member States, the Commission is keen to promote the right of people with disabilities to live independently by supporting services in the community as an alternative to living in institutions.
By the end of this year, the Commission will have adopted a European disabilities strategy for the years 2010-20, which will set out a coherent framework for implementing the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disability. Providing support for people with disabilities to live independently and de-institutionalising all the systems will be among the priorities. In particular, it will highlight the potential role of the Structural Funds in this regard.
Priorities for the use of Structural Funds are, of course, set at national and regional level, but the Commission will work with the Member States on the exchange of good practice and guidelines as to how best to use those funds in order to promote the personal autonomy and the right of persons with disabilities to live independently.
I would also like to mention the European Social Fund as an instrument to eliminate the barriers to the participation of people with disabilities as equal members of society. The Social Fund can finance, among other things, counselling, training adapted to the specific needs of people with disabilities, rehabilitation, job creation in sectors such as social economy, special support to promote entrepreneurship among persons with disabilities, and awareness raising campaigns to combat discrimination. It can also provide training and retraining of staff to facilitate the transition from institutional care to community-based services.
The European Regional Development Fund can be used concurrently to develop social infrastructure to support such new services.
In this regard, the Commission has drawn up a tool kit for using the Structural Funds in order to ensure access for, and non-discrimination against, people with disabilities. This tool kit is designed in order to allow the management authorities, the intermediate bodies or the project promoters to prepare, implement, monitor and evaluate the Structural Fund programmes and projects.