In this week’s newsletter, we focus on the European Parliament’s plenary session. Which decisions have MEPs adopted on issues related to our five topics?
Making EU southern borders safer for migrants
Following the tragedy in Lampedusa on 3 October, where a boat full of migrants sank near the coast causing the death of several hundreds of them, Italian politicians had asked the EU to reform its immigration policy (in particular, the Dublin regulation) to achieve a better burden-sharing of the inward flow of illegal immigrants. Cecilia Malmström, the competent EU Commissioner, and the ministers for Internal Affairs discussed the matter this week at a meeting of the Council.
MEPs called for reforms as well, during a debate with Mrs Malmström and the Lithuanian Council Presidency. They want to increase the solidarity with Member States most affected by illegal immigration and also tackle the problem at the roots by working more closely with the countries of origin and of departure. MEPs also expressed support for a common policy for legal migration. In addition, they also discussed border control and approved the operating rules of “Eurosur”, a communication network “designed to improve the detection, prevention and combating of irregular immigration and cross-border crime”. Eurosur is aimed at strengthening the exchange of information between national authorities and Frontex (the EU agency responsible for managing EU borders), e.g., by sharing real-time data. Safer borders are not only a matter of reducing illegal immigration, but also a necessity to better protect migrant’s lives. Member States which take part to this border surveillance system will have to respect Human Rights, e.g., the “non-refoulement” principle which means that they will not be allowed to send back the illegal migrant to its place of departure where this would put his/her life at risk.
On Tuesday, the EP approved an aid of more than €3.7 million in aid from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGAF) to Italian workers to help them going back on the labour market following the loss of their previous job because of the economic crisis or globalisation. This measure concerns over 1,500 workers in Lombardy and Piedmont. The aid remains conditional upon the Council’s approval.
On Wednesday, MEPs adopted a draft directive aimed at making professional mobility within the EU easier for members of regulated professions (including several medical professions and architects). The plan is to introduce a European professional card which would accelerate the recognition of the qualifications and experience in another Member State. At the same time, the system would make it harder for those barred from doing a profession in their home State to circumvent the ban by setting down in another Member State. In addition, the draft directive also includes proposals to establish common training frameworks and to recognise traineeships as part of professional experience. The system would rely on electronic information exchanges between national administrative authorities. Applications for recognition would be done by the home State’s authorities rather than through an application of the professional to the host country’s authority.
Petitions to the European Parliament
During this session, the MEPs adopted the 2012 activity report of the Petitions Committee. The EP received nearly 2000 petitions, of which 1406 were admissible, in 2012. The main topics were fundamental rights (rights of children, rights of disabled people, freedom of expression, access to justice, etc.), the environment (showing many failures to implement EU directives on specific topics) and economic and social issues (due to the on-going crisis; e.g., about housing and unemployment). The report also indicates that the most active petitioning citizens were coming from Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania and the UK. As regards the targeted authority of the petitions, the EU came first, followed by Spain, Germany, Italy and Romania.
As a reminder: any EU citizen can submit a petition to the EP on a topic that affects him/her personally and falls within the scope of the EU’s competencies.
Source: European Parliament.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded to Malala Yousafzai
The 25th Sakharov Prize, which is named after a Russian dissident scientist during the Cold War, was awarded to a young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, “for her fight to promote education for girls in the face of Taliban violence”. This was decided by the EP Conference of Presidents (EP President + the Presidents of the political groups). Having become a famous blogger, starting to write after Talibans had closed her girls’ schools in 2009, she faced threats and survived a murder attempt in October 2012 when she was shot while going home on a school bus.
Martin Schulz, the EP President, recalled that “some 250 million young girls around the world cannot go freely to school” and that her example reminded us of “our duty and responsibility to the right to education for children”. Other finalists of the Sakharov Prize were Belarusian political prisoners and Edward Snowden.
Source: European Parliament.
A glass half-full and half-empty for the tobacco industry
The European Parliament discussed this week how to tackle smoking in the EU. Linda McAvan MEP (S&D, UK) will lead the negotiations with the Council to agree on a final text. She claimed that the deal reached in the EP would reduce the risk that young people start smoking. Action was needed, as statistics show a downward trend in the total number of smokers, but increasing figures for young smokers in many Member States. Therefore, flavoured cigarettes and other special products aimed at attracting teenagers, in particular young girls, would progressively be banned in the EU. Small packs (less than 20 cigarettes) would also be prohibited. Moreover, the size of picture warnings on cigarette packs would be bigger (65% of the package), in an attempt to increase their deterrent effect. However, slim cigarettes would not be banned.
Regarding e-cigarettes, they would be regulated as medicinal products only where producers claim they cure diseases. Where they do not make such claims, there are different rules. MEPs want to ensure that only products of good quality circulate on the market. However, this does not affect the trade of e-cigarettes, which would not be restricted to pharmacies.
If the Council and the EP agree on a common text, Member States will have 18 months to transpose the directive in their respective domestic laws.
The Environment Council meets on October 14th in Luxembourg.
From 16 to 18 October, the Interparliamentary Conference on Economic and Financial Governance in the EU will take place in Vilnius. Discussions will take place on following topics: “ensuring the correct after-crisis economic governance structure in the EU; bank unions and integration of the financial sectors in the EU; achievements and outlooks for budget consolidation and structural reforms in Europe”.