Spanish government ministers this week continued outlining the priorities for their country's presidency of the EU Council to a range of European Parliament committees. MEPs took the opportunity to question the ministers as they embarked upon their six-month spell in office.
MEPs discuss implementation of Lisbon Treaty with Spanish minister
The implementation of the Lisbon Treaty was the main topic discussed at Monday evening's meeting of the Constitutional Affairs Committee with Spanish Secretary of State Diego López Garrido, who said it was the "number one priority" of the Spanish presidency. He emphasised the need for prompt action on issues such as the European External Action Service, closer ties with national parliaments, the EU's accession to the European Convention of Human Rights and the new "citizens' initiative".
MEPs were also keen to discuss the situation of the 18 additional MEPs who are to take their seats once the required changes have been made to the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the French decision to appoint their MEPs from their national parliament. Mr López Garrido defended this position by saying it was "not just a French whim" but a real technical problem. He hoped the necessary treaty change could be made swiftly without having to hold a convention for that purpose.
In the chair: Carlo Casini (EPP, IT)
The Spanish Presidency wants to implement the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty properly and quickly, work together closely with High Representative Catherine Ashton, and ensure the proper functioning of the common foreign and security policy until the new External Action Service is fully operational, Spain's foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos told the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday 4 February.
Enlargement is the Presidency's key priority, and "Croatia will be at the heart of the Presidency", he stressed. Despite the difficulties, Spain wants to press on with EU accession negotiations with Turkey, and intends "to give fresh impetus" efforts to resolve the name issue concerning the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Among other priorities, Mr Moratinos mentioned European Neighbourhood Policy, energy co-operation with Russia, the Middle East peace process, and co-operation with the Mediterranian region, Latin America and Asia. He also said that the Presidency wants to step up EU policies towards Africa.
In the chair: Gabriele Albertini (EPP, IT)
Two decisive factors have shaped the Spanish Presidency's co-operation agenda: the recent entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the international economic and financial crisis, Spain's foreign affairs minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, told the Development Committee on Thursday 4 February.
The humanitarian catastrophe caused by the earthquake in Haiti is the EU's first challenge in ensuring that the new institutional provisions are implemented properly. "Europe's response was exceptional, rapid and efficient", said Mr Moratinos, adding that lessons nonetheless need to be learned as regards crisis management.
"We cannot allow the economic crisis to become a development crisis", he continued, adding that extra financial resources should be made available for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the developing countries, so the development assistance is not affected.
With regard to the Millennium Development Goals, Mr Moratinos underlined that the Spanish Presidency will advocate an ambitious EU position during the June European Council, when key elements of the Development Agenda will be discussed ahead of the UN Summit in New York in September 2010. "The world expects form Europe a strong and committed signal" concluded Mr Moratinos.
In the chair: Eva Joly (Greens/EFA, FR)
Cristina Garmendia, Spain's Minister for Science and Innovation, described the Presidency's research priorities as "integration, involvement and inclusion" in the European Research Area told the Industry, Research and Technology Committee on Thursday 28 January.
"Research, development and innovation are a key to economic recovery, and science must get even more involved in finding answers to challenges such as energy sources, climate change, and health", she said, adding that without more interaction between science and innovation, "Europe will not be able to maintain leadership, or improve its position in the international arena".
She also pledged to cut the red tape hobbling the "fifth freedom", free movement of knowledge and talent, by improving scientists' mobility, simplifying rules for taking part in the EU's research framework programme and pushing forward public-private partnerships. On inclusion, the minister emphasized the importance of tackling poverty and social exclusion through the universal spread of knowledge.
Public authorities should trust researchers and change the project control system to impose "less burden in the initial stages, at the application, and stricter inspections when the project ends", she said in reply to questions from Pilar del Castillo Vera (EPP, ES), Teresa Riera Madurell (S&D, ES), and Maria Da Graça Carvalho (EPP, PT).
To improve the EU's ability to turn knowledge into products, we need to step up information exchange between universities, the public sector and business, and especially small firms, she said in a reply to Oriol Junqueras Vies (Greens/EFA, ES).
In the chair: Herbert Reul (EPP, DE)
"The priorities of this Presidency will be firstly to continue defining the pillars of the Common Fisheries Policy reform. In addition, we will focus on the reform of the common market organisation, on multiannual management plans for anchovy, horse mackerel and hake, and eco-labelling," environment minister Elena Espinosa told the Fisheries Committee on Thursday 28 January.
Carmen Fraga Estévez (EPP, ES) asked the minister's position on proposals to ban international trade in bluefin tuna. "I am here not as a minister of my country but as a Council President in office", she replied, adding that the Commission was finalising a report on the issue, and as Council representative she would need to await its findings. Replying to Raül Romeva i Rueda (Greens/EFA) on the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, she said that any such agreement provides for a joint committee to monitor contentious issues, and the next meeting on this particular agreement would take place the following week in Rabat.
"Respect for environment will be one of the key elements of the reform," Ms Espinosa said in reply to a question by Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE) on dealing with overcapacity. To a question by Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE, IE) on equality of fines for illegal fishing, she replied "I am open to this debate", and that she personally felt that "we need a certain level of uniformity."
In the chair: Carmen Fraga Estévez (EPP, ES)
Employment and Social Affairs
The Spanish Presidency will focus on defining the 2020 growth and employment employment and immigration minister Celestino Corbacho told the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Wednesday 27 January. "In the short term, this strategy must include structural measures to tackle the problem of unemployment - particularly youth unemployment, and in the long term, it must enable us to be competitive in a globalised economy", he said.
This strategy must "contain concrete objectives, because the Commission's consultation document has vague, all-incompassing ideas", said Parliament's rapporteur on the 2010 employment guidelines Csaba Öry (EPP, HU). "If we want citizens to understand us, the employment issue must be the priority and not simply flow from competitiveness" added Committee chair Pervenche Bérès (S&D, FR).
Social affairs minister Trinidad Jimenez stressed the need to strengthen social cohesion in the EU, notably in the context of the 2010 European year for combating poverty. "Concretely, the Spanish Presidency will focus on groups most at risk of exclusion, such as handicapped people, the elderly, and the Roma", she explained.
Minister for equality Bibiana Aído said she wanted equality issues included in the new 2020 strategy, "to enable women to participate more in the labour market".
In the chair: Pervenche Bérès (S&D, FR)
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
Strengthening protection of citizens' fundamental rights, adopting a directive on arrested people's rights, improving justice administration services at EU level and fighting against gender violence, terrorism and organised crime, in co-operation with third countries, were the key Spanish Presidency priorities listed by Spain's justice minister Francisco Caamaño Domínguez, before the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday 27 January.
Asked by several MEPs about the provisional agreement concerning SWIFT, the minister said that it was a prolongation of the previous agreement, which sought to prevent penetration of security mechanisms and signal that "we do not stop in our fight against terrorism". According to Mr Caamaño Domínguez, "it is impossible to postpone the agreement's entry into force, because it would be a unilateral decision" by the EU. "We have nine months to reflect on the exchange of information with the United States and on data protection, from a broader perspective", he declared.
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S-D, ES)
Spanish transport minister José Blanco Lopez, outlined his government's priorities for the sector: sustainable urban transport, security and economic competitiveness. The new Presidency would support legislation aiming to harmonize rail networks, so as to increase the proportion of freight transport, he told the Transport Committee on Wednesday 27 January.
On the question of passenger rights, Mr Lopez said he would work towards a strong agreement on two regulations currently in negotiation with Parliament and Member States, for road and maritime travel. Questioned by several MEPs on airport security measures, following the failed December terrorist attempt, the minister said: "with the Commission we believe in the need for increased security: citizens would not understand if we were to fail to act on such an urgent matter". On the use of body scanners, he said: "we must guarantee safety for passengers, but without invading people's privacy".
In the chair: Brian Simpson (S&D, UK)
Secretary of State for Tourism Joan Mesquida, told the Transport Committee that the main priority of the Spanish Presidency was for European tourism to become more competitive. To achieve this goal, he proposed co-ordinated action in the sector and measures to promote socially responsible tourism. The Spanish Presidency had organised three high-level meetings in this field. He also highlighted the Commission's Calypso project, which seeks to support European social tourism. A major effort was being made to bring EU tourist infrastructure into line with this plan.
To questions by MEPs about the promotion of cycling, Mr Mesquida said there were ongoing plans at European level in this area. The creation of a European network of tourism knowledge was another idea that had his backing.
In the chair: Brian Simpson (S&D, UK)
Building the consensus needed to put in place an EU legal framework for consumer rights, completing legislative work on textile labelling and working on the revision of product safety legislation are the Spanish Presidency's priorities, secretary-general for social policy and consumer protection Francisco Moza Zapatero told the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and Wednesday 27January.
The future directive on consumer rights currently before Parliament is a flagship project, but one which raises the issue of how far national laws in this area can or should be harmonised. "We don't want any levelling down", said Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE), stressing differences in consumer protection standards across the EU. Parliament's rapporteur Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE), welcomed the Presidency's wish to win agreement on simplified and transparent legislation, which would benefit companies and consumers. He nonetheless wondered how the Presidency could "achieve harmonisation instead of 27 different national regimes". Mr Zapatero advocated "mixed" rather than the "maximum" harmonisation suggested by the European Commission, and "great flexibility" to arrive at an all-party agreement.
The need to strike the right balance between simplifying legislation and maintaining a high level of consumer protection also informed discussion of textile labelling proposals. An update of product safety legislation is expected to be proposed soon by the Commission. MEPs also raised the question of Member States' transposition into their national laws of the EU directives on services and consumer credit.
In the chair: Malcolm Harbour (EPP, DE)
Climate change and follow-up work to Copenhagen summit will the top priority for the Spanish presidency, which "wants a binding agreement which will lead to the reduction of global emissions", Spain's environment minister Elena Espinosa told the Environment Committee on Wednesday 27 January. Other priorities include biodiversity, soil and air quality and water management policies.
Linda McAvan (S&D, UK) and Chris Davies (ALDE, U K), asked how the Presidency would seek "to get climate change back on track and on the international agenda". Ms Espinosa agreed that there was a "need to work internationally to maintain leadership and to strengthen our position on international stage" and expressed her readiness to do so. Richard Seeber (EPP, DE) asked what the Presidency intends to do to get integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) directive adopted rapidly. Ms Espinosa assured him that the Spanish Presidency will try to get an agreement on IPPC and said that though it is difficult, with "dialogue and flexibility" it should be possible.
In the chair: Jo Leinen (S&D, DE)
Industry, Energy and Telecommunications
The Spanish Presidency will press for a 2010-2014 action plan to promote the integration of the European energy market to be adopted at the Spring European Council, Spanish minister for industry, trade and tourism Miguel Sebastián told the Industry Committee MEPs on Wednesday 27 January. "Interconnected grids will make energy cheaper and improve our bargaining powers with producer countries", he said in reply to a question by Teresa Riera Madurell (S&D, ES). Mr Sebastián also reassured Lena Ek (ALDE, SE) that the plan would also push forward energy efficiency.
The Presidency will also urge the Council to approve a European electric vehicles strategy in February. If one day all cars in Spain were electric, this would amount to an emissions cut equivalent to planting 4.5 billion trees, he explained.
"We need to have a back-up for renewable energy sources. Coal is our plan B", said Mr Sebastián in reply to questions from Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/EFA, DE), and Konrad Szymanski (ECR, PL), on Spain's state subsidiaries for coal. Asked by Pilar del Castillo (EPP, ES) about the role of nuclear energy, Mr Sebastián stressed that it was up to Member States to decide whether to use nuclear energy, but he hoped to present a first draft on safe nuclear waste disposal during the Presidency's term.
The Presidency also plans to develop a new 2010-2014 strategy for creating a single digital market, said Mr Sebastián, adding that this "Granada strategy" will aim to improve cross-border e-commerce, inter alia by guaranteeing the interoperability of different payment systems.
"We have to find a European solution to the Opel problem", said the minister in reply to MEPs' concerns about the impact of car industry restructuring, especially in Antwerp (Belgium).
In the chair: Herbert Reul (EPP, DE)
"More trade opportunities and fewer barriers" is the Spanish Presidency's motto, trade minister Miguel Sebastián Gascón told the International Trade Committee on Wednesday 27 January. The Presidency's trade priorities are concluding the WTO Doha Round negotiations this year, fostering negotiations for the EU-Mercosur Partnership, concluding a Multipartite Agreement with Colombia, Peru and possibly Ecuador and the Agreement with Central America, he said.
Pablo Zalba Bidegain (EPP, ES) argued that the fair trade agreement with South-Korea was unfair due to its "knock-on effect on the European automotive industry." Mr Gascón replied that "it is a good agreement with an overall advantage for the EU, adding that it contains "protection clauses and different transitional measures to cushion the liberalisation, so that the affected sectors can adjust."
Asked about the implications of a possible free trade agreement with Columbia for human rights and workers' rights, Mr Gascón replied to David Martin (S&D, UK), Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA, FR), and Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE), that the negotiations should be inclusive. "If we restrict negotiations, the situations in Colombia will certainly not improve", he said.
In the chair: Vital Moreira (S&D, PT)
A regulation on successions and wills, the free circulation of judgements and public documents, better protecting intellectual property rights and interconnecting registers in the EU were some of the priorities outlined by Spain's justice minister Francisco Caamaño Domínguez to the Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday 27 January.
"A Europe of citizens sharing the same rights" is the key goal in the area of justice, he said. On company law, the Spanish Presidency aims to simplify the environment in which enterprises operate and reduce administrative burdens, so as to strengthen their competiveness in the global market. The Spanish Presidency envisages opening the e-justice portal by June he added.
The minister also listed as priorities enhanced co-operation in the context of the Rome II regulation (law applicable to non-contractual obligations) and the reform of Brussels I regulation (jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters).
In the chair: Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, DE)
"Establishing the future of the common agricultural policy (CAP) post 2013, making it more competitive and reinforcing the role of women in the sector" are Spanish Presidency priorities, Spain's minster for the environment and rural affairs Elena Espinosa told the Agriculture Committee on Wednesday 27 January.
Esther Herranz Garcia (EPP, ES), asked Ms Espinosa whether the recent farm trade agreement with Morocco and similar ones with other third countries put EU producers at risk. Ms Espinosa replied that both sides, imports and exports, needed to be considered.
George Lyon (ALDE, UK), said that the EU needs to "ensure more stability in the markets" following the dairy sector crisis and Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, DE) asked whether "market regulator mechanisms are still being discussed". Ms Espinosa replied that a safety net would be needed "in case of risks of job losses and damage to economy".
Replying to a question by Luis Capoulas Santos (S&D, PT) on new possible criteria for distributing direct payments, she said "we need to ensure the future CAP is fair and responds to specific needs".
In the chair: Paolo De Castro (S&D, IT)
The EU's Spanish Presidency will focus on defining an action plan to implement the EU's "Stockholm" justice and home affairs co-operation programme, setting up an internal security committee, and resolving technical problems with the Schengen and visa information-sharing systems SIS II and VIS, Spain's home affairs minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba told the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday 26 January.
He advocated an internal security strategy, to be defined "in a simple, brief and concise document" in order to "explain which risks and threats the EU countries are sharing" and the possible solutions. The Presidency would seek to give new impetus to transatlantic relations in the fight against terrorism, he added.
Mr Pérez Rubalcaba also proposed to focus on setting up joint police co-operation teams and an "Erasmus" programme for policemen. He underlined the Presidency's commitment to fighting gender violence, cyber-crime, money laundering and drug trafficking.
Spain's labour and immigration minister Mr Celestino Corbacho Chaves said he was committed to a "broad, long-lasting and integral" migration policy which takes account of labour market needs. The Immigration and Asylum Pact is the most appropriate basis for this, he said, stressing the need to work on legal immigration, integration policies, an action plan for unaccompanied minors, the permit directive and the seasonal workers directive. "Europe will need more immigration in the future", he acknowledged, but added that it must be "regular" and "controlled".
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)
" We want to use the strong points of the European health model - universality, equality and solidarity and access to safe and high quality health care - and to build a common European health area," Spain's health minister Trinidad Jiménez told the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee on Tuesday 26 January. Organ donation and transplantation, the pharmaceuticals package and food safety are the priorities for the Spanish Presidency, she added.
Cross-border health care was on the minds of many MEPs - Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (S&D, DE), asked whether the Presidency planned to "act as an honest broker" and Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE, BG), wanted to know how the minister planned to achieve results. Ms Jiménez replied that she would meet the new Commissioner in the coming days to discuss the issue and that she herself was committed to seeking consensus on the directive.
El?bieta ?ukacijewska (EPP, AT) and Michèle Rivasi (Greens, FR), asked whether the EU's response to H1N1 flu was proportionate. Ms Jiménez replied that decisions had been taken on the available data and that it was possible that they had prevented a wider epidemic.
In the Chair: Jo LEINEN (S&D, DE)
Promoting the "European heritage" label and supporting creative industries and the digitalisation of cultural content are the Presidency's cultural priorities, Spain's minister of culture Ms Ángeles González-Sinde told the Education and Culture Committee on Tuesday 26 January. Investing in culture can contribute significantly to Europe's recovery from economic crisis, she said.
Ms González-Sinde promised to strengthen access to cultural content on the internet and pursue the "Europeana" digital library project. It was feasible to widen online access to cultural works while protecting their copyright, the minister said in a reply to Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA, DE).
While backing Spain's plans to foster cinema digitalisation, many MEPs stressed the need to promote European cinema in general, e.g. by establishing a European actor training centre (Lothar Bisky, GUE/NGL, DE), or providing financial support for young filmmakers (Piotr Borys, EPP, PL). Ms González-Sinde promised to take the MEPs' proposals into account, while not forgetting more traditional cultural activities, such as concerts, theatres or circuses.
"We have been flooded with cheap American cinema products. Can we combat that?" asked Chrysoula Paliadeli (S&D, EL). Committee chair Doris Pack (EPP, DE), suggested that the EU diplomatic service should help spread European culture. Ms González-Sinde agreed, promising to discuss this with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.
In the chair: Doris Pack (EPP, DE)
Economic and monetary affairs
All the Spanish's Presidency's priorities for the EU economy will be geared towards "creating a solid base from which to make progress and avoid futures crises" Spain's economic affairs and finance minister Elena Salgado told the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on Tuesday 26 January.
Arlene McCarthy (S&D, UK), asked whether the EU should be more ambitious on regulating bonuses than the Council has been until now. Ms Salgado replied that the current draft directive requires that remuneration policies be reviewed so as not to encourage an excessive risk culture.
"Is the Stability and Growth Pact facilitating the recovery of growth or does it need an overhaul?" asked Diogo Feio (EPP, PT). Ms Salgado replied that the Lisbon Treaty will add some new elements, but in essence, the current pact is the key to economic recovery.
Quizzed on specific legislation in the pipeline and the Presidency's willingness to truly engage with Parliament, Ms Salgado said that she hoped to reach first-reading agreements with Parliament on the supervisory package and investment funds.
In the chair: Sharon Bowles (ALDE, UK)
"Education is an equalising policy" and the "best path out of poverty", Spanish education minister Angel Gabilondo told Lothar Bisky (GUE/NGL, DE), at a Culture Committee meeting on Monday 25 January. Asked by Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA, DE) about fresh funding for education projects, he replied "We'll be able to open a debate on new funding" only if "education is among the priorities for the 2020 EU strategy", i.e. if it is made an objective for the next six months.
"Any measures foreseen to facilitate mobility of teachers inside the EU?" asked Santiago Fisas (EPP, ES). "We need to recognise the involvement of the education community as a key factor" for the Bologna process, which aims to create a European Higher Education area, replied Mr Gabilondo.
The EU must aim to end "mutual distress between university and business" and back the idea that "social profitability is compatible with economic profitability", he added in reply to Morten Lokkegaard (ALDE, DK), who observed that "there is lack of harmony between university and the business world", and C?t?lin Ivan (S&D, RO), who asked about making the education system more flexible "to adapt to the changing nature of the job market".
In the chair: Doris Pack (EPP, DE)
Disparities between Member States and regions could be exacerbated by the economic crisis, and EU cohesion policy is an important tool for mitigating them, by restructuring economies and making regions more sustainable, Spain's secretary of state for finance Carlos Ocaña y Pérez de Tudela told the Regional Development Committee on Monday 25 January. He welcomed territorial cohesion's inclusion in the Lisbon Treaty, and promised to fight for its inclusion in the EU 2020 strategy.
The minister stated his commitment to simplifying rules and procedures, and ensuring that the money spent is better tied to stated regional policy aims. Constanze Krehl (PES, DE), stressed the need to clarify these aims. Old?ich Vlasák (ECR, CZ), said that no tightening of controls on fund recipients should increase their administrative burden. Spain shows how EU cohesion policy can spur economic development, noted Lambert Van Nistelrooij (EPP, NL). Due to the crisis, "there will not be more money", the minister warned Karima Delli (Greens/EFA, FR) in reply to her question about funding for social inclusion.
In the chair: Georgios Stavrakakis (S&D, EL)
Women's Rights and Gender Equality
Eliminating violence against women, the so-called "Maternity leave Directive", women's full participation in the labour market on an equal footing with men and reducing gender pay gap were the key issues discussed at the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee meeting with Spanish minister for equality Bibiana Aído Almagro on Monday 25 January.
MEPs wanted to hear more about specific measures the Spanish Presidency plans to improve the situation of women. By creating a European Observatory on Gender Equality and a European Protection Order for example, comparable data based on a set of common indicators and best practices could be exchanged to further the fight against gender violence, said Ms Aído Almagro.
In the chair: Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL, SE)
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