European Parliament

MEPs meet in Strasbourg this week for a plenary session of the European Parliament. Highlights of the agenda include:

  • REACH - Chemicals regulations  
  • Court of Auditors report
  • Airline blacklisting 1st reading
  • Pensions directive
  • European Commission Work Programme 2006

REACH - Chemicals regulations
One of the most important pieces of legislation in this Parliament is set for its first reading in Strasbourg. MEPs will debate the REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) proposals on Tuesday, with the vote due to take place on Thursday lunchtime.

REACH aims to strike a balance between the need to protect health and the environment, and the need to avoid imposing excessive burdens on industry. Over 1,000 amendments have been tabled by Parliament's environment, industry and internal market committees, as well as by other MEPs. Some of the main issues to be voted on are:

  • whether to impose a duty on businesses not to market products which are dangerous to health;
  • what minimum production levels would trigger the need for a chemical safety assessment report?;
  • what threshold to apply under which information requirements might be eased;
  • whether to bring in a 'quality mark' for articles produced in line with REACH;
  • what to include on the list of exemptions;
  • how to limit experiments on animals;
  • the role of the future European Chemicals Agency.

Once the European Parliament has had its 1st reading, it is for the Council of Ministers to try to reach a Common Position between the 25 Member State governments. Unless they accept all the amendments adopted next week, the Regulation will return to the European Parliament for a 2nd reading at a later date.

Court of Auditors report
Tuesday morning sees the presentation in the full Parliament of the annual report of the EU's Court of Auditors. This covers the management of the EU budget for 2004. As in previous years, a lively debate is expected which will kick off the European Parliament's work in deciding whether to grant discharge (clear the accounts) of the various EU institutions for 2004.

The Annual Report will be formally published shortly before Tuesday's debate. The Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee will receive a preliminary presentation at its meeting on Monday evening, 14 November, in Strasbourg.

Blacklisting of airlines
Airlines which do not meet international aircraft safety standards are the subject of this proposed Regulation due for its 1st reading by the European Parliament next week. The aim is to ensure that passengers know which operating company will be running their flight and which airlines have been subject to operating bans or air traffic restrictions.

Over 50 amendments were adopted at the committee stage, including:

  • not allowing each EU Member State to set its own inspection criteria for setting up a blacklist;
  • publishing a list on the websites of the European Commission and both national civil aviation authorities and individual airports;
  • notifying passengers immediately if there is a change of operating carrier.

Pensions Directive
The new Occupational Pensions Directive is the subject of an oral question to the European Commission on Monday. By 23 September 2005, when the directive was supposed to come into force across the EU, only 9 Member States had introduced domestic legislation to comply. The UK did not meet the deadline but has since adopted new rules which allow a UK employer to sponsor an occupational pension scheme established elsewhere in the EU, and make it possible for a UK-based scheme to accept contributions from employers located elsewhere in the EU.

The MEPs are asking what action the Commission will take against countries that have yet to implement the directive. They ask for an analysis of the problems faced by certain member countries, and they ask for details of any prudential rules adopted which go beyond the directive and could thereby inhibit cross-border cover.

European Commission Work Programme 2006
On Tuesday morning, MEPs will debate the European Commission's Work Programme for 2006. This was adopted at the end of October. It sets out both the overall strategic priorities for the Commission and what legislative proposals and other communications it plans to publish.

2006 will be the European Year for Mobility of Workers. Among the specific pieces of legislation listed are proposals on bringing aviation into the EU's emissions trading scheme; a directive on clearing and settlement; and a revision of existing rules on safety of toys. The Commission also proposes to pursue its better regulation agenda with refinement of its business impact assessments.

European Commission

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso will meet with World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz in Brussels on Monday.

External relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner will entertain the UN's Kosovo rapporteur Martti Ahtisaari in Brussels on Monday and Afghanistan leader Hamid Kharzai in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

Communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom and Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende will hold a major subsidiarity conference in the Hague on Thursday.  Subsidiarity is a legal concept that decisions should be taken at the lowest political level where possible.  Mrs Wallstrom will also travel to Prague with Mr Barroso on Friday to kick off Brussels' "plan D" - a series of public debates about the future of Europe in the wake of the defunct EU constitution.

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