A Selection of the best questions MEPs asked EU institutions on your behalf.

As the not-so-wintery days turn into warm weeks, weeks into even warmer months, and the air is finally filled with the promise of summer, the population of Brussels takes full advantage of the sunny spells. Suddenly, every waffle van is accompanied by an equally popular ice-cream truck. And while some of you are enjoying ice cream in a park, MEPs keep on working hard – on your behalf. In the month of March Members of the European Parliament asked, in total, 1087 questions principally to the European Commission and the Council. Last month and for obvious reasons, many of the questions (more than 20) addressed the situation in Ukraine (e.g. 1, 2, 3).

MEPs also closely followed international news, asking questions about the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, the ongoing deterioration of Pompei and its necessary safeguard and even the NekNomination phenomenon. In a more traditional way, the attention of MEPs has been caught by international developments such as the worrying events around the Turkish judiciary system (e.g.1, 2) and the referendum on EU immigration in Switzerland (e.g.1, 2, 3).

The most legalistic question

Like most, if not all industries in Europe, the building industry too is a subject to certain EU standards that it needs to observe. The problem arises when the EU itself seems to be sending confusing messages about whether some of its guidelines can be still used as European assessment documents. Luckily, MEP Małgorzata Handzlik is on the case!

Harmonisation of conditions for the marketing of construction products – European technical approval guidelines and European assessment documents’ by MEP Małgorzata Handzlik (EPP, PL)

Article 66(3) of Regulation (EU) No 305/2011 of 9 March 2011 stipulates that guidelines for European technical approval (ETAGs) published before 1 July 2013 in accordance with Article 11 of Directive 89/106/EEC may be used as European assessment documents (EADs). I understand from sources in the building industry, however, that the Commission is demanding that the European Organisation for Technical Assessment transpose 35 ETAG documents – containing 95 detailed parts – into EADs before European Technical Assessments (ETAs) can be issued on the basis of those documents in accordance with the Construction Products Regulation. The Commission is also refusing to allow the notification of entities acting as third parties in processes involving the assessment and verification of constancy of performance as regards products covered by ETAG documents (used as EADs). Meanwhile, under the transitional arrangements, an explicit guarantee has emerged to the effect that the consolidated technical knowledge brought together in the ETAG documents approved by the Commission will be freely exploited in the use of ETAGs as EADs, thereby making it possible for ETAs to be issued on this basis. Even if one were to argue about the non-compliance of ETAGs with the above regulation, it is nonetheless important to point out that decisions on over 400 harmonised standards are not fully in line with all the provisions of the regulation, and it has been left to the producers and the notified bodies to ensure that they are implemented correctly. As far as notification is concerned, the electronic notification tool currently in use does not have an ‘ETAG’ category, while the Commission’s publicly accessible database on notified bodies does include an option for entities to be notified in writing.

In this connection:

  1. Does the Commission take the view that these actions are in line with Article 66(3)? It seems that preventing producers from using European technical assessments in accordance with the Construction Products Regulation, meaning that CE marking cannot be used on the products concerned, is a barrier to the proper functioning of the market. Businesses are sustaining huge losses as a result of the current situation. What steps is the Commission going to take on this matter, and when will it be taking them?
  2. When is the Commission going to adapt the electronic notification system so that an ETAG category may be used?
  3. Can the Commission confirm that, until such time as the system is adapted, the usual procedure with regard to construction products covered by ETAG documents (used as EADs) will be notification in writing?

The most local question

The summer is fast approaching and with it many of us will embark on journey across the English Channel. A peculiar and very unfortunate case occurred on of one of the ferries operating between France and the UK when a man allegedly fell overboard while having a smoke. In light of the above, MEP Catherine Bearder asks the Commission whether it is planning on regulating installation of CCTV cameras on-board ferries in the EU for preventing future similar events.

CCTV on ferries’ by MEP Catherine Bearder (ALDE, UK)

On 20 May 2013, one of my constituents, Richard Fearnside, died whilst on the P&O Pride of Kent ferry.

I understand that Richard went for a cigarette on deck but never returned. Both the ship and surrounding waters were searched, but he was not found. His parents and the authorities do not know what happened to Richard as there were no CCTV cameras installed on the deck of the ferry.

In light of this, will the Commission consider taking action to ensure that all ferries operating within the European Union are required to install CCTV cameras on open decks?

The Most EU relevant question

In his question to the European Commission, MEP Salvador Sedó i Alabart makes a very timely and important point – many Member States unduly blame the EU for the financial crisis caused within the realm of individual states while they do not credit the EU where credit is due. This lazy attitude of many politicians creates a perception among Europeans that then translates into the so-called euroscepticism, a phenomenon definitely worthy to be fight.

Salvador Sedó i Alabart (PPE)

Anti-Europeanism’ by MEP Salvador Sedó i Alabart (EPP, ES)

Now that European Parliament elections are just around the corner, we are seeing how the anti-European stance of certain groups is intensifying in a good number of countries in the European Union.

Many people in these Member States blame Europe for the negative effects of the financial crisis, playing down or simply ignoring the mistakes made within the internal politics of each of the respective countries. Equally, we have seen on many occasions how the governments of the Member States have taken credit for actions and efforts in which the European Union has played a key role. This has resulted in a simplification of the facts that have filtered through to society, which is under the impression, as its politicians would have it believe, that the crisis has worsened due to European intervention. This clearly fallacious idea has become deeply embedded in the minds of Eurosceptics and radical groups that staunchly oppose European integration.

In view of this observation, what measures does the Commission have in mind to reverse this distorted view of reality?

Does it believe that the governments of the countries of the European Union should agree on a stance to explain the significance and importance of the EU within the respective societies, with a view to specifically preventing an increase of anti-European scepticism based on inaccurate information?

The Most Eurosceptic Question

Notwithstanding the recent publication of guidelines on how to effectively ensure prevention against welfare tourism, some MEPs will not let go of the issue. Despite multiple accounts of the contrary, MEP Diane Dodds still believes immigrants take massively advantage of more generous benefits system, to the point that she depicts them as a burden on the social system, a language that should be strongly rejected.

Migrant benefits’ by MEP Diane Dodds (NI, UK)

As the UK government investigates avenues to curb the number of people migrating to the country in order to take advantage of a more generous system of benefits and services than they may be entitled to in their home state, whilst at the same time welcoming migrants who come to work, what is the Commission doing to ensure that undue pressure is not put upon individual Member States and that they are able to put in place their own reasonable measures to make the burden of migration more bearable?

The best rhetorically gifted and politically charged question

MEP Willy Meyer is convinced that the Vice-President and High Representative of the EU contradicts the UN Resolution in which the Israeli army was found guilty of facilitating crimes of a nature as horrific as genocide itself. Kathy Ashton is, allegedly, taking advantage of her own mandate in defence of Israel’s interests.

VP/HR – Position of Catherine Ashton regarding United Nations Resolution 37/123’ by MEP Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL, ES)

In response to my question E-013037/2013 the Vice-President and High Representative of the European Union stated, in relation to Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, that ‘No actions of this sort have ever been undertaken by the government of Israel’.

This assertion openly contradicts the terms of Resolution 37/123 of the United Nations, in which the General Assembly ‘resolves that the massacre was an act of genocide’, in reference to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, where the Israeli army was a necessary collaborator, according to the Kahan Commission itself. In the light of this information, the Vice-President and High Representative is publicly contradicting the position of the General Assembly of the United Nations, as well as Israel’s own justice system by way of the aforementioned Commission. Even though the Israeli army was not directly responsible for that genocide, its role as a necessary facilitator of those crimes has been recognised.

This unprecedented denial by the Vice-President and High Representative of the European Union of the text of an official Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations constitutes total disdain for the will of the greatest international forum in the world. In affirming that Israel has never committed acts of genocide, Mrs. Ashton is taking advantage of her own mandate as the representative of the European Union before the UN to challenge a Resolution of the General Assembly in defence of Israel’s interests. In the event that Mrs. Ashton does not retract, her defence of the interests of Israel is being undertaken at the cost of undermining the image of the EU vis-á-vis the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Does the Vice-President and High Representative reaffirm her assertion referred to above?

In the event of retraction, does she consider that some actions may have been carried out in violation of Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA?

The most unexpected question

Those of you who occasionally follow developments in the US State-level politics must be used to the recent flood of surprising – to say the least – policies and initiatives. Kansas has come dangerously close to introducing corporal punishment in schools which consist of the administration of up to ten consecutive slaps with an open hand on the buttocks of a fully clothed child. Indeed, in light of the above MEP Sergio Silvestris is concerned whether similar practices are used in the EU too.

Bill to allow corporal punishment in Kansas schools’ by MEP Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (EPP, IT)

A female representative in the Kansas House of Representatives has put forward a bill, the provisions of which include corporal punishment in schools, consisting of the administration of up to ten consecutive slaps with an open hand on the buttocks of a fully clothed child. The bill also provides for recourse to force when necessary to contain or limit improper behaviour by a young person or maintain control, while admitting the possibility of reddening or bruises on the skin of the person punished.

The proposed measure is intended for teachers and educators, but the bill has already been the subject of widespread criticism from parents and educators, who describe these educative measures as spartan and antiquated and indeed a first step towards ‘the legalisation of child abuse’.

The Representative has responded that corporal punishment in Kansas and the other 49 states of America is allowed, but has never been precisely defined.

With reference to this singular debate, can the Commission clarify whether:

  1. There are EU Member States whose legal systems still allow corporal punishment?
  2. It is aware of examples in the EU in which the right to physical integrity of children is disregarded in educational institutions?

Answers to the questions from previous months