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

The Christmas period is over and we are, once again, implicated in one of the biggest deception campaigns of all time – that yes, you too CAN lose without effort and with a smile on your face that stone and a half you gained at your Granny’s Christmas dinner table! However, before we forever say goodbye to 2013, we have one outstanding account to settle with the month of December: our monthly review of MEPs’ questions.

December tends to traditionally be a short month and due to the season’s festivities the MEPs break up for the Christmas holidays in the middle of the month. That means that the number of questions asked also tends to be lower – with only 652 questions for December. That said, rest assured that MEPs once again produced content worth reviewing: no questions were asked on potential breaches of the subsidiarity principle in the delivery of presents to children or on a potential misuse of CAP funding for feeding Santa Claus’ reindeers.

Instead, on a general point, many of the questions asked last month referred to EU citizenship rights. Whether we’re talking about the EU citizenship for sale in Malta , the implementation of and support for National Roma Inclusion Strategies or the very topical issue of free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, MEPs do care about your citizenship rights – or at least they ask questions about them. To a lesser extent, MEPs also paid attention to matters of foreign affairs with a number of questions concerning the recent and still current developments in Ukraine and the review of the economic partnership with Mexico. But now, more specifically, read on for the selection of the December’s best.

The most legalistic question

A paragraph-long question without introduction or contextualisation, filled with very specific  legal talk and precise references to legal documents… Nothing comes as close to the definition of a legalistic question than MEP Olejniczak’s query as regards fruit and vegetable producers.

Interpreting the provisions of Article 49(4) of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 543/2011’ by MEP Wojciech Michał Olejniczak (S&D, PL)

Could the Commission please explain whether and in what cases and circumstances, without prejudice to the provisions of Article 103a(1) point (b) of Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007, which refers to the fact that the recognition plans for fruit and vegetable producer organisations may only include those investments required to attain recognition, it would be possible – pursuant to Article 49(3) of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 543/2011 – for a fruit and vegetable producer group to be recognised as an organisation even if it had not carried out all of the investments set out in the recognition plan that are required for recognition and eligible for EU financial support and had transferred the aforementioned unimplemented investments to an operational programme without modifying the already‑approved recognition plan?

Could the Commission please also explain to whom (to a government agency or to the entity that used to be a group) Article 49(4) of Regulation 543/2011 is directed – that is to say, whom does the four‑month period concern? Is it incumbent upon the entity that used to be a producer group or to the government agency issuing the decision on recognising the former group as a producer organisation to adhere to the aforementioned deadline?


The most local question

A question on the water quality of a tiny lake in Baden-Württemberg in Germany – whose size is less than one hundreth of Monaco’s territory, was bound to be branded as the most local question. The question posed by MEP Theurer is a good example of how local interests can be defended at the EU level.

EU Directive 2006/7/EC’ by MEP Michael Theurer (ALDE, DE)

EU Directive 2006/7/EC concerning the management of bathing water quality was adopted on 15 February 2006.

The lake ‘Buchhorner See’ in Baden-Württemberg (Germany) has good water quality. This is due to the fact that, in 2004, the water was drained out, it was cleared of fish and 10 000 m3 were dredged.

In the EU Directive, an average of the values measured in the last four bathing seasons is used to describe the water quality. This results in the demonstrably good water quality of the Buchhorner See being described as poorer than it currently is.

1.      Does the EU Directive provide for the possibility of a re-assessment so that the good water quality of the Buchhorner See is also reflected in the assessment table of the EU bathing water quality report?

2.      Article 4c allows for the option of assessing the bathing water quality on the basis of a data set encompassing the last three bathing seasons only. Does this Article offer an opportunity to carry out a re-assessment?


The most EU relevant question

Unfortunately for us, EU citizens and regular users of the rail system, the Single European Railway Area proves once more that the EU’s Single Market in services has a long way to go to come anywhere near its proclaimed vision. In this respect, MEPs Tarabella and Cottigny are looking at ways to overcome the deadlocks and wondering whether obstacles to interoperability can be considered as infringments of competition rules.

Rail transport’ by MEPs Marc Tarabella (S&D, BE) and Jean Louis Cottigny (S&D, FR)

When will the Commission complete the implementation of the Single European Railway Area and ensure full transparency in the flows of money between infrastructure managers and railway undertakings? What progress has been made? What is holding up the drafting of a proposal by the Commission?

Doe the Commission plan to study the possibility of adopting a legislative proposal for a European regulatory body that would cooperate with existing national regulators and act where they do not exist or, where appropriate, when they are inactive?

The single market in the rail freight sector is affected by incorrect or incomplete transposition of EU law by Member States and by bottlenecks to cross-border mobility that harm competition and growth.

Doe the Commission believe that the market barriers put in place by operators or technical aspects that differ from one Member State to another, such as track gauges, energy supplies, signalling systems and other similar obstacles concerning the interoperability and accessibility of infrastructure can be considered infringements of competition rules?


The most Eurosceptic question

MEP David Casa is concerned by the increasingly paternalistic and overcaring Commission which has been spreading its tentacles in areas he clearly considers as marked for national oversight only. Although the European Commission’s President, Barroso, acknowledged in his last State of the Union Speech that “not everything needs a solution at the European level,” MEP Casa takes the argument to an extreme and suggests that the EU should have not responded to breaches of the rule of law in Hungary and Romania.

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union’ by MEP David Casa (EPP, MT)

It is a basic principle of liberalism that individuals have the right to do whatever they want as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. This includes the liberty to put themselves in danger if they choose to do so.

However, the latest regulatory approaches of the EU and some of its Member States are rather moving towards a form of paternalism, by over-regulating people’s lives and limiting their freedoms. The list is endless and in recent times has included gambling, drinking, eating sweets or – as the latest novelty – the use of plastic bags.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which the EU agreed to be its central base of governing action, includes some of the following principles: (Article 1) allowing citizens to live freely and not subjecting them to over-regulation and state paternalism; (Article 15) allowing citizens to pursue a freely chosen occupation; (Article 17) allowing citizens to use their lawfully acquired property; and (Article 20) avoiding any unequal treatment of equal situations.

The Commission is quick to respond to the mere possibility of one-time breaches of grave proportions, even when they pertain to more abstract areas such as the rule of law, as was the case in Hungary and Romania. Violations of the Charter perpetrated under the banner of paternalism have been affecting the fundamental rights of citizens in small doses for much longer periods of time, but the Commission remains silent. This tendency to ‘protect people from themselves’ is often justified by the possibility that they will otherwise become a social liability.

In the Commission’s view, are potential social costs a sufficient reason to restrict fundamental freedoms? If not, what steps does the Commission plan to take in order to avoid excessive paternalism at the hands of Member States?


The best rhetorically gifted and politically charged question

In direct line with his question selected in our October edition, Jean-Luc Mélenchon continues to launch new grievances, accusing the European Commission of running its own business around the TTIP negotitations in the spirit of secrecy. Although Jean-Luc Mélenchon has certainly got a point, one cannot be too surprised that the EU is exercising cautious measures to guard itself against NSA’s agents.

The Commission’s secrets’ by MEP Jean-Luc Mélenchon (GUE/NGL, FR)

According to the Danish magazine Notat, the Commission held a secret meeting on 22 November 2013 with representatives of the 28 Member States.

How can the Commission justify the secret nature of this meeting? Who is it hiding from?

The purpose of this meeting was to develop a communication strategy to reassure people about the large transatlantic market currently under negotiation. The aim was to define the terms of the debate by communicating positively in order to reduce fears and avoid a mushrooming of doubts. Thus, by the Commission’s own admission, the people reject this agreement. This is good news.

Therefore, rather than working to reach an agreement, should the Commission not be putting a stop to the negotiations instead?

The Commission justifies this need for communication by the perception that the EU is not in a sufficiently strong position to engage with the United States. However, this confidential negotiation or the exact terms of the agreement were not even made known to MEPs and to the peoples of Europe, despite having, at the same time, the United States spying on EU institutions and actually putting us in a position of weakness.

Does the Commission have any intention, at the very least, of informing MEPs about these negotiations in order to restore the balance of power?


The most unexpected question

Are you close to Mother Nature and wish for this relationship to continue after you’re dead? A recent trend in Germany and Austria suggests that people are being cremated and having their urns buried amongst the roots of old trees in protected areas. What a terribly romantic and attractive idea for nature lovers, isn’t it? MEP Rodust has warned against the damage this practice is causing to our environment. So if you consider yourself a true friend of nature, think twice before writing your last will as your actions continue to have an impact on our planet from beyond the grave. 

Permissibility of cremation ash in EU-protected forests declared as SACs’ by MEP Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE)

In Germany and Austria, a change to the funeral culture has occurred, whereby semi-natural forests – including forests in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – are increasingly being used to bury urns amongst the roots of old trees.

Studies have shown that cremation ash (approximately 2.5-3 kg per urn) contains heavy metals (mercury in particular), sometimes at alarming levels.

Various documents relating to this practice reveal that up to 12 urn pits are dug per tree. With approximately 100 suitable trees per hectare, this gives an input of ash of approximately 3000 kg/ha. There are no upper limits for volumes of ash under planning law, however, and, on the basis of the information available, their toxic effects have not yet been the subject of discussion.

Based on current observations, the new practice is also resulting in significant streams of visitors. The undergrowth is being cleared to accommodate them and a gathering place is being created. The consequences of this are the creation of trails, soil compaction and disturbance of wild animals.

  1. Has the Commission been informed by parties with participating interests that SACs in Germany and Austria are being used as places to bury cremation ash?
  2. How large are these designated or planned burial areas, and, under planning law, what volume of ash is permitted to be introduced into SACs in Germany and Austria?
  3. Is the Commission aware of the toxicity of cremation ash?
  4. What is its view of this trend against the background of the prohibition of deterioration?


Answers to the questions from previous months

In case of interest, here are the answers the EU bodies have given to the questions featured in the last months’ articles…