European Parliament

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

  • Railways (Freight, passengers, crews) - 1st reading (Tuesday)
  • Turkey - pre-accession talks (Wednesday)
  • Anti-terrorism - data retention (vote - Tuesday)
  • Capital Adequacy Directive (1st reading, Monday/Tuesday)
  • Annual audits of accounts (debate Monday, vote Tuesday

Railways - 1st reading of four proposals

On Tuesday MEPs will be debating a package of proposals for new legislation affecting the railways sector. There are four proposals covering: rail freight; competition in passenger services; passenger compensation for delays; and train crews.

Rail Freight: Amendments adopted at the committee stage give the thumbs down to European Commission proposals that rail freight operators should pay compensation where they fail to meet punctuality and reliability standards. MEPs have argued that existing rules are far stricter for railways than they are for road transport and that the proposal would not further the aim of moving freight from road to rail.

Competition in passenger services: MEPs will be voting on amendments bringing in competition in international passenger services by January 2008 rather than 2010 and in domestic passenger services across the EU by 2012, whereas the European Commission proposal did not even mention domestic services.

Passenger compensation: MEPs will be voting on amendments specifying the levels of financial compensation to be awarded to passengers who suffer delays of one, two or three hours or more.

Train crews: The 4th part of the package concerns certificates needed by train drivers working across borders by January 2007. However, it would concern other crew members from 2009 if agreed in its current wording.

Turkey (Wednesday)

Negotiations on Turkey's accession to the EU are due to start on 3 October. MEPs will hear statements from the European Commission and UK Presidency of the EU on the latest state of play, before voting on a resolution on the principle of Turkey's accession.

Anti-terrorism - data retention (vote Tuesday)

The UK, Ireland, France and Sweden have proposed new rules to allow the retention of data by telephone and internet providers for the purpose of preventing and prosecuting acts of terrorism. The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee voted to reject the proposal in the absence of a study proving the 'unquestionable need' for such arrangements.

A debate on the proposal took place on 7 June. Since then, of course, there have been the 7 July attacks in London and the debate between Home Secretary Charles Clarke and MEPs at the last session in Strasbourg. Will the full Parliament maintain its June rejection of the proposal? The Civil Liberties Committee meets on Monday before the full Parliament vote on Tuesday.

The UK Presidency has indicated that it will try to push through the initiative regardless of how the European Parliament votes. Meanwhile, on 21 September, the European Commission tabled its own proposal in this area - a proposal which would require codecision (i.e. equal decision-making power between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers).

Capital Adequacy Directive (1st reading; debate Monday, vote Tuesday)

The Capital Adequacy Directive, which receives its 1st reading next week, would bring in a new way of calculating the capital held by banks and other financial institutions. The aim is to increase flexibility in financial markets, allowing banks to free up capital provided they can show how they manage risk.

Although over 500 amendments were adopted at the committee stage, informal discussions between the Parliament, European Commission and Council indicate that agreement could be reached after this 1st reading. Should this be the case, the Council of Ministers would have to agree to all amendments adopted by the full Parliament - the directive would then have to be implemented by 1 January 2007.

Annual audits of accounts (debate Monday, vote Tuesday)

The aim of this directive is to clarify the duties and ethics of auditors and audit firms in the wake of scandals at companies such as Parmalat and Enron. The European Commission had proposed that all listed companies should have a separate audit committee to oversee their accounts. But MEPs in the Legal Affairs Committee argued that individual Member States should be able to decide whether to apply this rule or whether to allow existing supervisory boards to perform the functions of an audit committee. This more flexible approach has been agreed in informal discussions between the European Parliament's rapporteur and representatives of Council and Commission - this compromise should allow the directive to be adopted at first reading. Governments would then have two years to implement the directive in domestic legislation.

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