Bursting the Bubble

Any Questions…?

7 November 2013 | by and

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

It is again the beginning of the month, and that can only mean one thing: another healthy dose of our selection of the best of what Members of the European Parliament asked on your behalf in October. Since your lives are already way too busy to find the time to read though all 1,385 questions posed, we took it upon ourselves to do the job for you.

Beyond the plenitude of regular monthly questions on animal welfare and the much disputed potential accession of Turkey into the EU, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also took the opportunity to ask about the integration of the Roma, the tragedy in Lampedusa, the friendly USA spying on its allies in Europe, or Russia’s struggle with respecting LGBT rights. For those of you who keep themselves abreast with the latest news, these issues raised by MEPs would hardly come as a surprise. However, what might surprise you are the questions that have made it into our selection below. For those of you on Twitter and wishing to engage, feel free to use the hashtag, #anyquestion .

(If you missed our first article, or need to refresh your memory on the selection process and the definition of particular question categories please see here)

Most Legalistic Question

Who said that for a question to be a good question it needs to be short? Since the policy-making in the EU involves both the European and national levels, it is sometimes difficult to determine, in a particular policy, which level is responsible for what. In the legal jungle that the EU has come to be, even MEPs themselves sometimes ask the Commission for clarification. One example is Andrea Zanoni’s question concerning biogas.

Biogas plant digestate used neat: request to assess whether the substance should be registered under Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006’ by MEP Andrea Zanoni (ALDE, IT)

‘Under Law No 134 of 7 August 2012 converting Decree-Law No 83 of 22 June 2012 introducing ‘urgent measures for national growth’, digestate from individually or jointly operated on-farm anaerobic digestion plants which is used for agricultural purposes is classed as a by-product. This also applies if the anaerobic digestion is combined with other physical or mechanical processing of livestock manure, crop residues or residues obtained by farms from the by-products of industrial crop processing and reuse, used alone or in combination.

In its judgment No 33588 of 31 August 2012, the Court of Cassation (Third Criminal Chamber) also equated digestate with livestock manure under the terms of the Ministerial Decree of 7 April 2006 on ‘General criteria and technical standards for regional regulation of the use of the livestock manure for agronomic purposes, mentioned in Article 38 of Legislative Decree No 152 of 11 May 1999’.

Even though livestock manure is not classed as bio-waste, according to page 5 of the Green Paper ‘On the management of bio-waste in the European Union’, COM(2008)0811, December 2008, ‘if not stated otherwise, the term “compost” in this document refers both to compost directly produced from bio-waste as well as composted digestate’. This suggests that the usual practice is to send digestate to composting plants, as opposed to using it neat.

Under Article 2(2) of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (the REACH Regulation), the regulation’s provisions on ‘substances, preparations and articles’ do not apply to waste as defined in Directive 2006/12/EC, whereas the substances mentioned in Annex IV and those mentioned in Annex V are only exempt from the provisions of Titles II (Registration of Substances), V (Downstream Users) and VI (Evaluation).

Annex V, point 12 of the REACH Regulation exempts compost and biogas from the above-mentioned obligations; however there is no mention of digestate in the annex.

Under EU law, does Article 6 (‘General obligation to register substances on their own or in preparations’) of the REACH Regulation apply to digestate?’

Most Local Question

Very few of us stop to think about consequences of the austerity measures that have hit Greece particularly harshly, aside from the obvious. Georgious Toussas was concerned that these measures could inevitably lead to the privatisation of one beach in the East Peloponnese.

No to privatisation of Karathona beach’ by MEP Georgios Toussas (GUE/NGL, EL)

‘Privatisation of Karathona beach in Nafplion Argolidas (100 hectares) is currently being negotiated by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund. This will have a serious impact on the working and grassroots classes in the area as a whole. This unacceptable decision forms part of the anti-grassroots policy of the New Democracy/PASOK coalition, the EU and the Troika to sell off the country’s public spaces and infrastructure to monopoly groups.

The commercialisation of Karathona beach has been pursued for many years now. Nafplion municipal council has granted licences for shops on the beach, which basically block free access for local workers.

Nafplion municipal council has allowed an illegal rubbish dump to operate directly above Karathona beach; this is an accident waiting to happen in terms of the health of bathers and local residents and a permanent source of environmental pollution. The rubbish dump is bursting at the seams and fires have broken out on numerous occasions, causing fire damage to part of the mountain. The stench is unbearable and the first rains of the season have washed filthy water down from the dump into the sea.

The New Democracy/PASOK coalition, previous governments, the Nafplion municipal council and the East Peloponnese regional government have a great deal to answer for, because they refuse to separate paper, glass, metal and organic waste as the first step towards effective and cheap recycling. They have opted to maximise mixed refuse dumps and go down the incineration route. This poses a huge threat to public health, because it produces carcinogenic dioxins and other forms of waste which are harmful to health and damage the environment. Waste management is designed so that waste companies make a profit, not to protect the health of ordinary people and the local environment.

What is the Commission’s stand on the fair demands by local workers in the area being put forward by the Greek Communist Party, the Popular Rally and the media that Karathona beach should not be sold off and that beaches with suitable infrastructures should be accessible to everyone, free of charge? What is its stand on the demands being made for a government waste management agency to be set up, for waste to be sorted at source, recycled and composted (for organic fertiliser) and for the remainder to be buried in landfills, for the jobs and labour rights of all workers in this sector to be protected and for the dump to be closed immediately and the site restored?’

Most EU Relevant Question

Freedom of movement is one of the four freedoms guaranteed to all EU citizens. Title IV of the Treaty on Functioning of the EU does not allow countries to pick and choose which of the four they will respect. Joanna Skrzydlewska asks the Commission to take appropriate steps to remind the Netherlands of this fundamental principle.

Speech by the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, 10.9.2013’ by MEP Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (EPP, PL)

‘The Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher has announced that he will investigate the impact of economic migration on the local job market in an effort to persuade the Commission to fight the influx of cheap labour from Eastern Europe and in particular from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. The Minister has stated that immigrants work for longer than the regulations permit and that they are employed by dubious employment agencies and for rates which he described as ‘wage dumping’. The Minister told the Dutch press that, in common with Denmark and Great Britain, the problem will get worse before anything changes.

The stance taken by Minister Asscher goes against what was adopted in the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of the Maastricht Treaty, which laid down rights to which all workers in the EU are entitled, for example the right of free movement and the right to a decent income, better working conditions and social protection. The Charter applies to every Member State, and therefore also to Holland.

This is not the first time a member of the Dutch government has spoken against the rights of EU citizens.  In January 2012 the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment gave a press interview in which he called into question the principle of equal treatment for EU citizens.

     –  Has the Commission taken steps to clarify the current situation? If so, what action has it taken?

     –  If the Commission has not taken any action, when and how does it intend to prevent a repetition of the kind of speech made by the Dutch Minister, which smacks of discrimination against people from Member States in Eastern Europe?

     –  Does the Commission intend to initiate a procedure to hold the Dutch government liable for violating the rules which are binding in all Member States?

     –  In what other ways does the Commission intend to put pressure on the Dutch government to ensure that this kind of unequal treatment of EU citizens is not repeated?’

Most Eurosceptic Question

It is perfectly understandable, given the names being so similar, that the Council of Europe is often mistaken for the European Union and hence, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The question by MEP Auke Zijlstra demands the Commission to comment on a matter that has very little to do with it, while implying that the EU is responsible for the ECHR decisions.

Millions paid out to murderers, rapists, paedophiles and terrorists’ by MEP Auke Zijlstra (NI, NL)

The Times reports that Britain has lost 202 European human rights cases involving criminals since 1998, resulting in millions of pounds being paid out in compensation. Judges in Strasbourg have paid out GBP 4.4 million to recipients including murderers, rapists, paedophiles and terrorists. These rulings have caused a tremendous outcry in the UK.

     1. What is the Commission’s opinion concerning the rulings of the ECHR judges resulting in millions of euros being paid out to murderers, rapists, paedophiles and terrorists because of infringements of their human rights that are in no way comparable to the crimes that were committed?

     2. Does it regard the paying of these sums to villains as a way of improving EU citizens’ trust in the European judicial system?

     3. What is the Commission’s opinion regarding the way that European human rights are currently included in penal cases?

     4. Does it think that this trend in ECHR decision-making contributes to the common European fight against particularly serious crime, such as terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children?

     5. How does the Commission propose to keep (gain) the public’s trust in the judicial system and in safeguarding human rights?

     6. Does it have a list of the countries affected by this kind of ruling by the ECHR judges?

     7. Is the Netherlands on this list? If so, how many cases in the Netherlands have there been and what amount was paid out?’

The Best Rhetorically Gifted And Politically Charged Question

With the Transatlantic Free Trade Area currently being one of the most salient issues in Brussels, Jean-Luc Melenchon takes on the Commission’s secretive behaviour.

Secret negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TFTA)’ by MEP Jean-Luc Mélenchon (GUE/NGL, FR)

‘Records are being kept of the TFTA agreement negotiations, which have been embarked on by the Commission in the utmost secrecy. Those records are equally secret. Indeed, only MEPs on the Committee on International Trade may see those records – at meetings held in camera with no agenda, in English only, and with no interpretation into the EU’s official languages or even into the Commission’s other working languages (French and German).

     Why is the Commission submitting to the demands of the United States’ Government for ‘confidentiality’ – a government which, I might add, is spying on us?

     Is the Commission waiting for the agreement to be signed before informing the public’s representatives what is in it?

     Why are the secret records being drawn up only in the language of the United States? Is English soon to become the EU’s sole language?’

Most Unexpected Question

In case you ever wondered to what extent the Commission is paving the way for the 22nd century, ask no more – Marc Tarabella has asked on your behalf!

Robots’ rights’ by MEP Marc Tarabella (S&D, BE)

Robot law seems to be materialising in various ways, since lawyers are working on the creation of a ‘robot personality’ and on the allocation of robot social security numbers, France’s Ministry of Productive Recovery is drawing up a non-binding draft charter of ethics, and the Commission is considering granting robots a legal personality.

Human-replacing robots are something that the Commission is starting to introduce with its Petrobot project. Together with a consortium of 10 European companies led by the oil company Shell, it is seeking to develop robots which can replace humans in ‘inspections of pressure vessels and storage tanks widely used in the oil, gas and petrochemical industry’.

It says that granting legal status to robots and intelligent systems is an option and nothing more.

     1. What is the reality of the situation?

     2. What is the goal?

     3. What is the budget for this policy area?

Answers to Last Month’s Questions

And in case you are interested to see whether the EU bodies have responded to the questions featured in the last month’s article…

What do you think?