Thursday, 22 May 2008

Strasbourg round up

With the end of another plenary session down in Strasbourg I thought it might be useful to try and summarise some of the key decisions taken by the Parliament this week:

MEPs adopted an own initiative report on a new integrated maritime policy for Europe which coincided with the first European Maritime Day on 20 May. The aim is for Europe to bring together the various sectors that are currently treated separately, such as fisheries, shipbuilding, port activities, tourism, coastal management, environmental protection and maritime safety and which will both deliver on growth and jobs and set high standards of protection for the marine environment and respond to key challenges such as climate change, energy security, migration and drug trafficking. There was a clear view that the Commission's Action Plan for an Integrated Maritime Policy needs to be much more ambitious and as it stands includes too few practical measures.

Of particular interest for Scotland is that MEPs are keen to see that a comprehensive European Strategy for Marine and Maritime energy is financed properly. The importance of wave power is highlighted as an alternative clean energy source and the Commission is called on to take this form of renewable energy into account in future action plans. While the Common Fisheries Policy came in for some criticism in that neither the sustainability of marine resources or the economic viability of the EU's fishing fleets and coastal communities has been well served by it there was clear recognition that any future integrated maritime policy for the EU should be developed in such a way that it avoids the failings of the CFP - i.e. the issue of overcentralisation and the failure to take account of the regional diversity of the EU's waters.

MEPs also voted to ensure that the framework directive on an EU marine strategy which was adopted on 14 May has a key role to play within any joined-up EU maritime policy.

In an interim report on the scientific effects of climate change, MEPs said that current mitigation efforts on climate change are “insufficient” to stem global warming in the long run though as Alyn Smith MEP stressed this week the EP should look to put its own house in order first given the amount of carbon emitted and money wasted with the monthly trek from Brussels to Strasbourg. Talking of which, the EP's travelling circus madness continues with the Parliament's adoption of the calendar of meetings for 2009.

The Parliament reached a first reading agreement with the Council on proposed European legislation which if adopted by national governments on 5-6 June would see seriously damaging the environment made a criminal offence in all 27 EU Member States. Currently, not all EU countries have criminal sanctions. MEPs agreed that in principle national governments should apply criminal measures to punish any illegal behaviour by people and companies likely to harm the environment (damage air, soil, waters, plants and animals), when committed intentionally or with serious negligence. This would force those countries that currently only fine offenders to apply "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" criminal penalties and would also mean that polluters could no longer benefit from differences in national law. It is supposed to be aimed at ensuring stronger enforcement of existing EU environmental standards.

The agreed legislation is limited to areas where the EU has competence, leaving national legislation intact in other areas. The approved list of offences that would be deemed crimes includes environmental damage caused by the emission of radiation into air, soil or water, the disposal and shipment of waste, and the production, storage and transport of nuclear materials, and the manufacture and distribution of ozone-depleting substances as well as penalties for trading in protected fauna and flora species and the deterioration of a habitat within a protected site.

This brings to an end a long running battle over the past 8 years between the Commission and national governments about the legal basis of the proposed legislation and whether the Commission had the right to intervene in criminal matters. This ended up in the European Court of Justice which ruled last October
that the EU has competence to require Member States to introduce criminal penalties for environmental damage but it does not have the authority to decide on the type and level of criminal sanctions. It is up to each Member State to decide on penalties.

MEPs called on the Commission to stick to its commitment to propose comprehensive legislation to combat any discrimination in access to goods and services on grounds of sex, race, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation.

On Burma, MEPs condemned the slow response from Burmese authorities to the grave humanitarian disaster following the cyclone and asked them to open up cyclone affected areas to international aid operations and to immediately grant visas to aid workers.

In passing a resolution on soaring food prices, MEPs want to see priority given to investment in agriculture, aquaculture, rural development and agribusinesses in developing countries. Fairer international trade rules and an assessment of the effects of speculation on food prices are also underline. On agro-fuels, the Parliament wants production to be linked to strong sustainability criteria and to see second generation bioenergy developed.

The Parliament backed a common animal health strategy for the EU which in today's globalised world where diseases don't respect borders it is all the more important to ensure there is concerted action.

The report also called for "action covering the compulsory electronic and DNA-based genetic identification and registration of animals at EU-Level and the introduction of a comprehensive and secure animal movement monitoring system, but draws attention to the cost of such a system, particularly for farms working with economically unfavourable farm structures; calls on the Commission to help farmers cope with the high costs incurred through the procurement of the required equipment, by creating the possibility for Member States to incorporate such measures within their rural development programmes - i.e. electronic sheep tagging. Given the significance of this issue for Scotland's sheep farmers where the Commission's proposals are proving to be unworkable and where Scotland's National Farmer's Union and the Scottish Farmer currently have an ongoing petition against the Commission's electronic sheep tagging proposals, the SNP voted against this offending paragraph as did the Scottish Liberals. In the end this paragraph got through backed as it was by the Tories and Labour.

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