19/12/2011 Europe and you: water quality, labelling of fruit juices, access to institutional documents

This week European deputies will vote on and debate European regulations to better protect citizens in the plenary session in Strasbourg. The limiting on phosphates should improve water quality, labelling on fruit juice will be improved, and citizens’ access to institutional documents will be facilitated. The Commission will strengthen consular protection for European citizens travelling in or resident in non-member countries.

Knowing what’s in our fruit juices

Labelling rules for fruit juices and nectars should be better defined, after deputies vote on Wednesday 14th December, and it is passed by the Council. According to rapporteur Andres Perelló Rodriguez (S&D, Spain) the priority is to give consumers precise information so as they know what they are buying. This regulation will force producers to be clearer.

Currently, juice that contains 90% apple juice and 10% strawberry juice can claim to be ‘strawberry juice’ however with new legislation, it must be called ‘apple and strawberry juice’.

From now on, to be sold as ‘orange juice or ‘strawberry juice’ the juice in question must be pure. A lot of orange juices, especially those imported from Brazil or the United States, regularly have up to 10% of mandarin juice added to give colour and taste. The labelling then should now include the word ‘mandarin’.

However, the most important thing is to distinguish between juices and ‘nectars’, as this is important for diabetics, parents and those on a diet. This is why fruit juices, as opposed to nectars, cannot contain any added sugar or sweetener. Also, if nectars want to put ‘without added sugar’ on their labelling, they must not contain any artificial sweetener, like saccharine, so as to avoid any confusion.

Declaration of rights

On the 13th of December the European Parliament voted to ensure that all people suspected of, or accused within the framework of legal proceeding in another EU country will henceforth have the right to a ‘declaration of rights’ that informs them, in a language that they understand, of all of their rights. Every year in the European Union there are more than 8 million legal proceedings and this measure will strengthen mutual confidence between judicial authorities in member states.

This proposal is part of the measures linked to the idea of a fair trial, which hopes to reinforce confidence in a single judicial space within the European Union.
It would also add the right to translation and interpretation as well as information on the penal procedures.

Any person confronted with a legal procedure has fundamental rights: the right to a lawyer, the right to be informed on the charges against them, the right to translation and interpretation for those that do not understand the language in which the procedure is being held, the right to remain silent and to be brought before a judge soon after being arrested.

There are five new elements in the text:

  • The suspects will be informed of their rights immediately after their arrest.
  • They will receive the ‘declaration of rights’, a written declaration of all their rights
  • The declaration of rights will be easily understandable and devoid of legal jargon
  • It will be available in a languages understood by the suspect
  • It will contain practical details relating to personal rights

This measure is to be adopted in the coming weeks by the Council so as to come into law.

Improvement in water quality thanks to the limitation of phosphate in detergents

The use of phosphates and phosphorus composites in detergents will be limited in the future, as Euro-deputies have debated the issues and will vote on it tomorrow as part of the revision of the regulation that would provide for, from January 2013, the limitation of phosphorus composites in washing machine products to 0.5 grammes per wash. With regards to dishwashers, we must wait until 2015 for the same regulations to be applied.

In France, 20 millions washes are done daily and 88kg of cleaning products are used by a French household every year,’ according to Euro-deputy Françoise Grossetête (EPP, France).

With this new regulation, water quality will be much improved and aquatic life much more protected, ‘phosphates (used in detergents to reduce the hardness of water and improve washing) are largely responsible, along with nitrates, for the development of algae and the phenomenon of aquatic weed pollution, according to Françoise Grossetête (EPP, France).

Detergents are the third largest source of phosphate waste in surface water, after agriculture and used water. France has limited the use of phosphates in detergents since 2007. In other states, it has been a voluntary initiative on the part of the producers. But water quality has still deteriorated, as we can see in the Danube or in the Baltic Sea.  

More transparency in public access to European institutions’ documents

This week, European deputies should also vote on better access for European citizens to documents from all European institutions and organs, not only the Parliament, Commission and the Council. This is not new, but it will now be part of the fundamental rights, as the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union has had added legal powers.

In his report, deputy Michael Cashman (S&D, United Kingdom) supports the progressive approach that would allow citizens to be sure that we, the institutions are responsible for our actions’.

The traditional exceptions have been maintained, especially for some documents of public and private interest. However, they will not apply if a higher public interest justifies the publication of the document.

The rules for the classification of the documents (top-secret, secret, confidential, restricted availability and declassified) are also being reviewed: to classify a document, the institution must prove that its publication could endanger the protections of important EU interests, or that of one or more member states.

European protections of victims of crime

With the implementation of this decision, all people protected by penal law in an EU member state will have similar protection when they go to a different member state.

The victims of crime (sexist violence, harassment, kidnapping, stalking or attempted murder) could ask for a European protection order, to ensure the same protections they had in their own member state, and they could transfer this to the state in which they want to move t, or in which they already reside.
For deputy Carmen Romero López (S&D, Spain) ‘The directive relative to the decision on European protection is an important step towards the creation of a European judicial area’.

Right to more consular protection for Europeans travelling or resident in non-member countries.

The European Commission hopes to improve its assistance to European citizens in crisis situations, like those that took place in Japan, Libya and Egypt (150,000 EU citizens were effected during these crises) or during individual emergencies during their trips abroad.

Unfortunately, European citizens are increasingly exposed to crisis situations, both natural disasters and mad-made emergencies. Every year, 5,120,00 EU citizens visit a non-member country where their own member state does not have representation, and 1,740,000 EU citizens live in these countries.

Through proposed legislation, the Commission looks to reinforce the framework in which coordination and cooperation takes place between member states. Thanks to consular protection, all citizens of EU member states can already ask for assistance from another member states, if the state that they are from is not represented in that country.

The suggestion strengthens this right, as it highlights the fact that when a member states embassy is not ‘accessible’, that’s to say when a citizen cannot get to it and return to where they were in the same day, this is considered as non-representation, and they can ask for assistance from another member states embassy or consulate.

Also, in case of crisis situations, a ‘pilot’ member state could coordinate and direct assistance operations for non represented citizens of the EU.
A website dedicated to consular protection has been created by the Commission. It details the contact information of consulates and embassies of Member states in non-member countries.

Commissioner for justice, Viviane Reding said ‘The right to the same consular protection so that EU nationals can be an example of European solidarity throughout the world.’ The only countries in which all 27 countries are represented are the United States, China and Russia, however in nearly every country in the world there is at least one EU country represented.


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