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26/10/2011 An intense week at the European parliament

The agenda of the plenary session of the European Parliament, which opens today in Strasbourg and will continue until Thursday 27th October, seems to be very busy. The deputies are getting ready to debate the now notorious EU budget for 2014-2020, and the debate on the European Council that happened yesterday. Mafia, the Sakharov prize, political asylum, the fight against paedophilia... these are all issues that will be debated and voted on over the next three days. 


The fights against the mafia in the EU

On Tuesday problems related to organised crime in the EU will be debated. Deputy Sonia Alfano has highlighted the effects of organised crime in a report: it wastes resources, creates distortion in the domestic market by damaging businesses in the legal economy, encourages corruption and makes it difficult to observe democratic laws. In addition to this, organised crime, especially that which has mafia characteristics, takes advantage of the border situation in the EU and the legal differences between different member states so as to ensure every increasing profits. The EU needs stricter regulation to ensure that mafia type organisations do not have access to public funds. To improve the legal framework at the EU level, particular attention will be given to the issue of the full implementation of this objective with regard to mutual recognition of penal decisions, and improving judiciary cooperation between member states and with other countries. The deputies are also asking for new laws so avoid businesses connected with organised crime tendering for public contracts.

What kind of mobility do we want for EU workers? Should we open the EU work market to Bulgarian and Romanian citizens?

Though worker migration does have some positive affects, Traian Ungureanu says that the situation must be improved in his report on measures to encourage worker mobility within the EU. Cooperation must be reinforced so as to reduce disparities between national legislations and that of the Union, avoid all indirect and direct obstacles (discriminatory practices based on nationality, refusal to grant rights to family members, social security systems...) that prevent workers from moving freely to find work.

The rapporteur mentions the essential role of SMEs in this process, as their success is creating jobs, and demonstrates the importance of information and knowledge for migrant workers.

But the main message in this report is that no negative effects of work force mobility have been observes, especially after the waves of integration that we saw in 2004 and 2007, and nothing justifies keeping up barriers to a new work market, especially for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

The raporteur also encourages the Commission to create a long term mobility strategy in order to eliminate all legal, administrative or practical obstacles to the free circulation of workers. Strong protectionism with regards to worker movement might create a lack of confidence which could affect the Union’s performance as a world actor and affect its competitively.

Simplification and relaxing of European law related to public markets?

European law related to public markets has reinforced transparency in the transfer of public markets and in the fight against corruption, and it has also contributed to lowering prices. However the unilateral element of the legal aspects of this have caused an increase in transaction fees, and exterior services are expensive to obtain.

The reporter Heide Rühle believes that we should relax public market law while ensuring transparency, non-discrimination and respecting competition, while also doing away with various legal loopholes which caused appeals processes and lawsuits.

She suggests systematic observation of the markets, better implementation of the procedure negotiated with the prior publication of notice and new measures to improve transparency and general inclusivity of alternative offers. The option of adjustment or corrections of errors in offers must also be facilitated.

The European Commission must also give extra support to the practical aspects of this, for example through an organisation that shares best practices or creates techniques and approved methods, and also through supporting training programmes in member states.

According to the deputy, while the most expensive option has the same value in regulatory terms as the most economically advantageous one, there is little chance that anything will change. The principle of taking the most economically advantageous offer must become the norm.
The raporteur highlights the importance of access for small and medium businesses, SMEs. They have many obstacles however. She suggests the reduction of transaction fees for SMEs, and the inclusion of more alternative offers, and more frequent use of negotiating procedure.

Using the single market more intelligently to get out of the current crisis

On Tuesday the deputies will put questions to Commissioners Michel Barnier, John Dalli and Neelie Kroes about the act on the single market from spring 2011 and on the way in which we can get every possible benefit from the single European market. Using the market properly could potentially generate 4% growth for the EU GDP over the next 10 years, and thus help member states to pull out of the current crisis.

The 2012 EU budget

The Parliament will define its position on the 2012 EU budget on Wednesday 26 October. This will be a jumping off point for negotiations with the Council (European ministers for Finance) and should conclude within 21 days (a conciliation period). 

European Council conclusions

One of the crucial issues to be dealt with during the next plenary session is the Parliament’s highly anticipated evaluation on the European Councils conclusions from the meeting with heads of state that took place on October 23rd. This debate will take place on the 26th October and the Presidents of the European Council and Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso will take part.

Reinforced European protection for asylum seekers?

The Commission’s proposal relative to directive 2004/83/CE is part of an initiative that seeks to establish a common policy on asylum seeking by 2012. This directive has two key elements:

  • reasons for which a person is eligible to be granted the statue of refugee or ancillary protection,
  • the ramifications of this protection on the member state that is responsible for the protection, in terms of social rights, employment and visas.

The legal framework must be clarified, in accordance with jurisprudence in this domain, as well as the significant divergence that exists between member states and the significant variation in the rates of acknowledgement.
One proposed modification would be making the two types of protection more alike (status of refugee or ancillary protection) and to generally discuss people who benefit from international protection. However a difference in procedure remains possible in three different areas: social security, integration initiatives and visas.
The Council has said that the Parliaments views on the widening of the definition of family are not acceptable although some progress has been made (adding one parent or one family member related to the beneficiary when they are already present).

The fight against paedophilia in the EU.

On Thursday new rules will be voted on to fight paedophilia and online pornography. The directive looks to establish minimal regulations so as to define the penal infractions and sanctions with regard to exploitation and sexual abuse of children, of paedophilic pornography and of soliciting children for sexual purposes.

This kind of criminality is developing quickly, especially with the current advances in technology and its application, and so it is therefore a good idea to adopt and approach that deals with the roots of the problem. Because of their vulnerability, children can be mistreated or victims of sexual abuse. Children’s protection associations recommend that the definition of a child be someone who has not reached the age of consent in the member state, while a ‘youth’ is a person who has reached the age of consent but is not yet 18. This distinction is important from a legal point of view.

The current proposal deals with abuse and sexual exploitation of girls as well as boys. In order to deter repeat offenders, it recommends measure on a national level, like a free help line for people who feel that they may commit an act of paedophilia. An aspect that is often forgotten is that assistance and counselling for the family of the perpetrator is often required.    

There is intense discussion among the stakeholders on the issue of blocking of content and blocking paedophilia websites online. The difficulty is that there needs to be a careful balance between democratic regulation of the internet, freedom of expression and the protection of the wellbeing of our children.

President of the Parliament Jerzy Buzek and the leaders of the political groups will conclude the plenary session on Thursday on a lighter note, by choosing the recipient of the 2011 Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.

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