26 май 2011

25 май 2011

Call for Europeans to elect 25 MEPs from EU-wide list

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Members of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee have backed a report that calls for the creation of 25 additional MEPs, elected on a pan-European basis in order to boost the legislature's popular legitimacy.
The report's draftsman, Liberal UK MEP Andrew Duff, also hopes the scheme will in effect result in the election of the president of the European Commission, while eurosceptics fear the move will further undermine the EU nation states.
Mandated under the EU's Lisbon Treaty to take a fresh look at parliament's composition, MEPs in the constitutional affairs committee backed the Duff report on Tuesday (19 April) by 20 votes to four.
The proposed system, which would see EU citizens receive two ballot sheets during European elections - one for national candidates and one for EU-wide ones - now needs to win the majority support of MEPs during a full sitting of the house this June, as well as the backing of national governments.
"The proposals ... if passed ... will transform the elections to the European Parliament. They will create a European dimension to the campaign that has never been there before," Duff told journalists after the committee meeting.
"They will personalise the election campaign because there will be characters that will be up for trans-national support," he added.
The EU-wide list would have to feature candidates from at least one third of EU member states, with a new mathematical formula on how to distribute MEPs yet to be determined.
"Above all, it will force these European political parties that we have had for years ... to become full-scale campaigning organisations, competing with ideologies and policies," Duff said.
"It's an important step forward for post-national democracy."
This last point is exactly what some politicians fear, seeing the pan-European initiative as a further undermining of the nation state in favour of an 'ever greater union', with the four MEPs voting against the report all from Britain, according to Duff.
The island nation has traditionally been seen as a more reluctant member of the EU.
"I am confident that the British government would veto this proposal if it ever came to the European Council," Conservative UK MEP Ashley Fox said in a statement. "I cannot remember a single person on the doorstep who has told me they would ever support such a move."
Elect Barroso's successor?
With several of the report's proposals requiring an EU Treaty change, an intergovernmental conference and ratification in each EU member state, Duff conceded that it would be a tough challenge to have the plans adopted.
But with critics frequently complaining about a lack of democratic accountability in the EU, the Liberal MEP believes the plan could also enable EU citizens to have a greater say over the next president of the European Commission, rather than the current behind-the-scenes negotiation that saw Jose Manuel Barroso and his predecessors secure the post.
The proposal is not specifically mentioned in Tuesday's report, but Duff believes European political parties would be willing to identify one person on the EU-wide MEP list as their preferred choice for the top commission post.
The highest placed MEP on the EU-wide list, who also enjoyed party support, would take the commission job in 2014, with members of the constitutional affairs committee also calling for a better alignment between parliamentary and commission terms.
"It all sharpens the politics of the [European] election campaign," said Duff.

EU wins new powers at UN, transforming global body

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy will now be able to address the United Nations no differently from US President Barack Obama, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Russia's Dimitri Medvedev.
In order to win the vote, the EU had to agree to changes to the global organisation that transforms the UN from an assembly of nation states into a body that also offers representation rights to regional blocs as well, including potentially the African Union, the Arab League and the South American Union.
The EU on Tuesday was given almost all the rights in the global chamber that fully-fledged states enjoy after the General Assembly backed 180 to two a resolution giving the bloc, which until this week only maintained observer status at the UN, the union the right to speak, the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right of reply, the right to raise points of order and the right to circulate documents.
There will also be additional seats put in the chamber for the EU's foreign policy chief, High Representative Catherine Ashton and her officials.
Ashton and her team have lobbied heavily over the last six months, according to her representatives, with a major offensive in the last 48 hours by the high representative herself in New York, to push through the changes after the EU was dealt a surprise defeat last September when other regional blocs voted against a similar resolution.
She declared herself "delighted" at the win, which, she said: "will in future enable EU representatives to present and promote the EU's positions in the UN."
Last year, two groups in the chamber resisted the move. The first, some of Brussels' closest allies in the world, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, consulted with each other and agreed to abstain on the original motion, according to one Commonwealth diplomat, as they were annoyed by the "presumption" of the EU, who had delivered the resolution for consideration the night before the vote.
After half a year of consultations, the Commonwealth allies appear to have had their procedural concerns dealt with.
But the second group, led by Caricom, the Carribean's regional integration bloc inspired by the EU, felt that it was unfair that Brussels should win additional rights but not themselves or other similar bodies, from the Gulf Co-operation Council to the Pacific Islands Forum.
In order to win over these refuseniks, the EU had to back an amendment to the resolution, put forward by Hungary - currently at the helm of the bloc's six-month rotating presidency - that gives these other blocs the same rights Brussels has won, should they ask for them.
"Following the request on behalf of a regional organisation which has observer status in the general assembly and whose member states have agreed arrangements that allow that organisation's representatives to speak on behalf of the organisation and its member states, then the general assembly may adopt modalities for the participation of that regional organisation's representatives," read the amendment.



Le 13 avril, la Commission européenne a proposé deux règlements pour mettre en œuvre la coopération renforcée en matière de brevet approuvée par le Conseil de l'Union européenne le 10 mars dernier. Le premier règlement instaure la validation dans le territoire des 25 Etats membres d'un brevet délivré par l'Office Européen des Brevets. Il devra être adopté par le Conseil (majorité qualifiée) et par le Parlement en codécision. Le deuxième règlement fixe le régime linguistique et devra être approuvé par le Conseil à l'unanimité des 25 Etats participants, après consultation du Parlement européen. Le régime linguistique proposé est celui du l'OEB (allemand, anglais, français), mais avec des compensations pour les demandes de brevets dans d'autres langues et une période transitoire de 12 mois pour les brevets délivrés dans les trois langues jusqu'à la mise à disposition d'un système de traduction automatique de grande qualité.
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La Commission européenne a publié, le 11 avril, son troisième rapport sur la mise en oeuvre du mandat d'arrêt européen, en vigueur depuis 2004. Entre 2005 et 2009, les Etats membres ont émis 54 689 mandats d'arrêt européens donnant lieu à l'extradition de 11 630 suspects. Selon le rapport, avant la mise en place du mandat d'arrêt européen, la procédure d'extradition prenait en moyenne une année, délai qui est à présent réduit à 16 jours, lorsque le suspect consent à son extradition, ou à 48 jours, lorsque ce n'est pas le cas. Afin d'améliorer le fonctionnement du dispositif, la Commission a demandé aux États membres de veiller à ce que les acteurs judiciaires, ne délivrent pas de mandat d'arrêt pour des délits mineurs et les a encouragés à émettre des propositions avant la fin 2011 dans le but d'approfondir la formation des agents de police, des autorités judiciaires et des professionnels du droit sur cette question.

EU pledges aid for new Chernobyl sarcophagus

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The European Commission has pledged €110 million toward the building of a new sarcophagus for the Chernobyl nuclear plant - an arched, cyclopean structure which is to slide over the damaged reactor and to provide Ukraine with roughly 100 years to dispose of the nuclear waste.

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon will co-chair an international donors conference in Kiev on Tuesday (19 April). An estimated €740 million in total is needed to replace the current sarcophagus, which is coming to the end of its life after being hastily built following the nuclear accident in 1986.
The conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown and has been planned for several years, although recent events in Japan have added impetus to the occasion. A nuclear safety summit will take place immediately afterwards in the Ukrainian capital.
"Nuclear safety is a global issue that requires a global response," Barroso said in a statement ahead of the meeting. "We hope that our key partners will also step up their contributions in order to complete the works of the shelter by 2015."
France is expected to pledge at least €47 million, with a consortium made up of French construction companies Bouygues and Vinci winning a 2007 tender to build the 108-metre-high structure over Chernobyl's infamous No. 4 reactor, together with a separate facility to store spent nuclear fuel from the other units.
Engineers are planning to build the 20,000-tonne dome beside the Chernobyl reactor, using rails to then slide it over the cracked protective casing currently in place.
To this day, it is still unclear how many deaths were caused by the explosion, which spread radioactive material over a vast area but affected mostly Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Russia.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests 4,000 deaths may have been caused as a result of escaped radiation at the plant, while others, such as Greenpeace, say the figure is tens of thousands more.
The anniversary comes amid a fresh debate on the wisdom of nuclear energy in the European Union following events in Japan. The German government recently decided to place a temporary moratorium on energy production at seven of the country's oldest plants.
A recently-published 2050 low-carbon 'roadmap' by the commission envisaged nuclear power taking up a larger share of Europe's energy mix in the years to come. But more detailed plans later this year are likely to include more non-nuclear options.
At the same time, a behind-the-scenes battle for influence between the EU and Russia has been evident in the weeks leading up to the international donors conference, with both sides keen to draw Kiev further into their orbit.
The EU is pressing for an Association Agreement with Ukraine, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin travelled to Kiev earlier this month to promote a special relationship with the Moscow-led Single Economic Space - a customs union that includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"On the future EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, we both confirmed our determination to conclude negotiations in the course of this year but there is still much work to do," Barroso said after a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday.
So far, Yanukovych has attempted to keep both sides happy, suggesting one agreement does not exclude the other.
But commission officials are adamant that if Ukraine joins the Russia-led club, it will be impossible to sign a free trade agreement with the Union - a key component of the association treaty.

Gay couples should enjoy equal pension rights, says EU court

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Members of same-sex civil partnerships should enjoy the same pension rights as heterosexual married couples, EU's top court said on Tuesday (10 May) in a ruling which sets an important precedent for the lesbian and gay community.

"A supplementary retirement pension paid to a partner in a civil partnership, which is lower than that granted in a marriage, may constitute discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation," which is banned under EU law, the Luxembourg-based court said in its ruling.

The case had been brought forward by Jurgen Romer, a German national who claimed he was discriminated against when his former employer, the City of Hamburg, refused to grant him a tax break available for married couples to his pension after he entered a civil partnership with his long-term partner.

EU judges found that Romer had been discriminated against under German law, as "the same obligations are incumbent on both registered life partners and married spouses," concluding that the two situations are "comparable."

Although it is non-binding, the ruling sets an important precedent for other EU member countries recognising civil partnerships or gay marriages.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden recognise gay marriage, whereas eleven other countries have legalised same-sex civil unions.