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Summary

  1. The first day of the December plenary session began at 16.00 GMT.
  2. The first item was a debate on whether the EU should join CITES, an international agreement that seeks to protect endangered animals and plants.
  3. After that, MEPs debated plans to abandon rules that would label tar sands oil a "highly polluting" type of fuel, ahead of a vote on the proposals tomorrow.
  4. The evening saw debates on rules governing lorry drivers and an oral question to the Commission about EU research collaboration with Mediterranean countries.
  5. Hit 'Key Video' for video coverage of the evening session. On-demand video for the rest of the day's business can be found on the BBC Democracy Live website.
  6. Text can be slow to load on these pages. Please hit refresh (F5) if live text does not appear below.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Session ends

The short speeches are now finished, bringing this evening's session to a close.

Proceedings from the Parliament will begin again from 08.00 GMT. The highlight will be in the afternoon, when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will appear in the chamber to present the Commission's legislative programme for next year.

You can read a run-down of the rest of the week's business

here.

Tax avoidance

Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds brings up a very topical subject at the moment - tax avoidance in the EU, in the wake of the "LuxLeaks" revelations surrounding tax deals granted to multinational companies in Luxembourg whilst the new Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was prime minister there.

She outlines proposals from her group - the Socialists and Democrats - to solve the problem of large companies being able to pay very low rates of tax.

The issue is expected to reappear in a debate tomorrow, when Mr Juncker is in the chamber to present the Commission's legislative programme for the week ahead.

Anneliese DODDS
BBC

'Destructive' HS2

UKIP MEP Jill Seymour uses her chance to speak to slam the proposed HS2 high-speed rail line, calling it a "destructive" project that will damage the environment, and "destroy" local communities.

She adds that she feels the "victims" of HS2 have not been awarded "adequate compensation" for land compulsorily purchased by the government, which she says is a "national disgrace".

Debate ends

That's the debate on the Mediterranean research partnership finished.

MEPs will now close today's session with a round of short speeches.

Under the Parliament's one-minute speech rule, MEPs can make short speeches on any subject that pleases them, if they can get the attention of the acting president.

This is normally a time for members to raise a subject relevant to their country or constituency, or of personal interest to them.

'Asset for peace and stability'

Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas closes the debate on behalf of the Commission by telling MEPs that research co-operation with Mediterranean countries can be an "asset for peace and stability" in the region, adding that the Commission shares Parliament's concerns that such projects should be given the maximum possible opportunities to succeed.

Greens support principle

Spanish Green MEP Ernest Maragall says his group supports the general principle of increasing research co-operation with countries outside the EU, but insists that the proposals should be tailored to the needs of the countries concerned, particularly the Mediterranean countries.

The programme should include specific rules on how the biodiversity of the partner countries can be protected, he adds.

Ernest Maragall
BBC

The question

The oral question, tabled in the name of Polish MEP and former Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, notes that a number of EU member states and partnership countries have committed money to a scientific joint programme relating to food systems and water resources, on the basis that article 185 of the EU treaties will be used to establish its legal status.

Water supply research

Italian centre-right MEP Massimiliano Salini says he "warmly endorses" proposals to increase research co-operation with Mediterranean partner countries, adding that research into water is "vital" for improving the development opportunities for countries that lack reliable water supplies.

Massimiliano Salini
BBC

'Institutional stability'

The oral question being put to the Commission is on whether it still intends to use Article 185 of the EU treaties to implement the research partnership.

The question argues that using this particular element of the EU treaties to give a legal basis to the partnership will give it the "institutional stability" that would help participants to secure long-term funding.

Research partnerships debate

That's the debate about transport operators finished.

We move on to the next item on the agenda: a debate on a research partnership programme between the EU and its "partner countries" in the Mediterranean, such as Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey.

The programme, which is called the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area - or "PRIMA" - aims to increase collaboration in the field of scientific research.

'No place' in the EU

Closing the debate on behalf of the Commission, transport commissioner Violeta Bulc says that illegal cabotage is not included in the Commissions's proposals because - although it contravenes the law - it does not pose a threat to the health or safety of drivers.

In response to criticism from some MEPs during the debate, she adds that the Commission is committed to reducing social dumping, which she says has "no place in the European Union".

Violeta Bulc
BBC

Hoping for a compromise

Irish Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly says that he remains optimistic that a compromise can be found with the Commission, although he believes a resolution rejecting the current proposal will be backed by MEPs at the voting session tomorrow.

He adds that he hopes that this will give more time for the Commission to come up with revised plans that better match the expectations of Parliament.

Conditions 'we cannot tolerate'

"More and more, drivers are working under conditions that we cannot tolerate," says Danish Socialist Ole Christensen, who adds - in the manner of many left-leaning MEPs during tonight's debate - that he will only support Commission proposals that do more to prevent "social dumping" and include illegal cabotage in the list of infringements that can lead to drivers losing their "good repute" status.

Ole Christensen
BBC

Cabotage

The Commission's list of infringements was rejected by the Parliament's transport committee earlier this month, with MEPs saying they wanted the list to include stricter rules on road safety, particularly with regard to illegal cabotage.

This is when a vehicle registered in one country carries goods in another country without getting the proper authorisation.

'Ample evidence'

Labour MEP Lucy Anderson says there is "ample evidence" that not taking road safety rules seriously poses a real danger to the lives of people who work in the transport sector, quoting figures that over 3,000 people died in the sector across the EU in 2011.

Lucy Anderson
BBC

EU rules background

The EU directive covers road hauliers using vehicles of over 3.5 tonnes of "maximum authorised mass", as well as commercial road passenger journeys involving vehicles with seats for 9 or more passengers, including the driver.

'Serious infringements'

MEPs are debating changes to EU rules that decide how "serious infringements" for transport operators should be classified.

The original directive sought to define the working rights of people who work in the transport sector, in relation to matters such as break times and safety regulations.

Italian MEP Daniela Aiuto says the rules need to be updated to prevent "social dumping" - this is when social or employment conditions are eroded by moving production to countries with lower employment standards, or where foreign workers are exploited as "cheap labour" without rules being observed.

Daniela Aiuto
BBC

Debate finishes

That's the debate about the Fuel Quality Directive finished. A vote on the changes will take place tomorrow.

MEPs now move on to the next item on today's agenda: a debate about the "good repute" of transport operators in the EU.

Unscheduled speeches

We'll now have five minutes of "catch the eye", allowing unscheduled speeches from MEPs who were not on the speaker's list.

What is tar sands oil?

Tar sands oil can only be extracted after clay-like sands have been dug up in open-pit mines with huge shovels, or blasted with steam and pumped to the surface.

As a result, the oil costs more to produce than regular crude, uses more water and energy, and therefore emits more carbon.

Some MEPs object to the changes on the grounds that it will water down effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change deal

Lots of MEPs are mentioning Lima - this is because United Nations members

reached an agreement there over the weekend on how countries should tackle climate change.

Delegates approved a framework for coming up with the various national climate "pledges" to be submitted at a subsequent summit in Paris next year.

Fuel types

"This is not against Canada, we just want to have differentiation between different fuel types," says Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout.

He adds that having different labels for fuels that causes greater or lesser damage to the environment is an important part of allowing the directive to work effectively, leaving his group no other option but to oppose the proposals, "with pain in my heart", at the vote tomorrow.

Bas Eickhout
BBC

Environmental marker on fuel

The changes being proposed would change the EU's fuel quality rules, which assign a "value" to different kinds of fuel based on emissions caused during its entire life-cycle.

Suppliers have to use these values when reporting on the "carbon intensity" of the fuel they supply to member states, which are supposed to be reducing their transport emissions by 6% before 2020.

Under the plans, tar sands fuel (otherwise known as natural bitumen) would be assigned a value of 107g of CO2 compared with 93g for conventional crude oil, but refiners would not have to report if they use crudes with the higher value.

Different fuel

Liberal Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy says differentiating between different kinds of fuel is "crucial" to help the fight against climate change.

He adds that he is "extremely disappointed" by the proposals produced by the Commission last month, adding that they seem "contrary" to the stated aims of the directive.

'Balanced compromise'

Calling the new rules a "balanced and workable compromise", Commissioner Moedas tells MEPs that the Commission's revised guidelines will allow the directive to promote greenhouse gas reduction whilst also addressing "stakeholder concerns".

Carlos Moedas
BBC

The changes being proposed would change the EU's fuel quality rules, which assign a "value" to different kinds of fuel based on emissions caused during its entire life-cycle.

The Commission's proposals have been welcomed by the Canadian government, which fears that the special category for tar sands oil would make it harder for companies to export it into the EU.

However, a number of Green and environmentally-minded MEPs are deeply unhappy about this, since they see tar sands oil as a more polluting kind of fuel that causes greater damage to the environment.

Tar sands oil proposal

That's the debate on the endangered species convention finished.

MEPs now move on to the next item on today's agenda: a debate about changes to the EU's

Fuel Quality Directive that the European Commission proposed in October.

The changes being proposed by the Commission would mean that tar sands oil would not have to be labelled as a "highly polluting" type of fuel - allowing it to have the same kind of emissions rating as conventional petrol or diesel.

Grateful for support

Closing the debate on behalf of the Commission, Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas tells MEPs that the Commission is grateful for the Parliament's "strong support" for EU membership of the convention, adding that it will give the bloc a "stronger voice" internationally in this area.

He says that if MEPs approve membership at the vote tomorrow, the EU will become a full member of the convention next year.

Catch the eye

We're now onto the "catch the eye" procedure, during which MEPs who were not scheduled to speak will get the chance to make short interventions.

Brink of extinction

British Conservative Richard Ashworth tells MEPs that it is the "stroke of midnight" for several of the world's endangered species, adding that the illegal trade in animal products is the victim of a vicious circle - the rarer an animal becomes, the higher the financial value given to it, which thus increases demand for its trade.

Richard Ashworth
BBC

Paying the price

Slovakian centre-right MEP Ivan Štefanec tells the chamber that giving the EU full membership of the convention would allow the financial contributions made by member states to be reduced.

The convention is funded by a

trust fund into which the different member countries pay contributions, depending broadly on the size of their economies.

The UK currently pays just over 5% of the budget - with the United States paying about 22%.

'Sovereign state'

UKIP MEP Julia Reid says the recommendation for EU membership of the Convention is "another EU power grab" by the bloc, adding that she thinks membership of international agreements like CITES is emblematic of the Union "behaving live a sovereign state".

Julia REID
BBC

'New approach'

British Conservative Julie Girling says she welcomes EU membership of the CITES convention, adding that full membership for the bloc would give EU countries a "platform to move forward together" on the issue.

He says she hopes full EU membership will be "just the beginning" to a new EU approach to the convention.

'Non-attached'

Greek MEP Georgios Epitideios is one of the Parliament's "non-attached" members.

This is because his political party - Golden Dawn - is not affiliated by any of the Parliament's

seven political groups.

Georgios Epitideios
BBC

Protection

The

Convention is an agreement between 180 states that tries to ensure international trade in of wild animals and plants does not cause threats to their survival.

It gives various degrees of protection to more than 5,600 kinds of animals and 30,000 species of plants - whether they are traded as "live specimens" or included in products like fur coats, food products or medicines.

Further support

There is also support for EU membership from the Socialist, Conservative and Liberal groups.

Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan, on behalf of the leftist GUE group, uses her speech to underline that people in developing countries are often pushed into trading in illegal goods due to a lack of other economic opportunities.

EPP support

Croatian centre-right MEP Dubravka Šuica says now is the "right time" for the EU to side with the fight against illegal trade in products that come from endangered species, adding that stronger efforts to fight illegal trade will make trading conditions easier for legitimate business.

She says the centre-right EPP group will support EU membership at the vote tomorrow.

'Observer status'

Although all EU member states are signed up to the Convention, the EU itself only has "observer status" at the moment - since membership was restricted to countries only when it came into force in 1975.

However, following some changes to the Convention made towards the end of last year, the EU can now join as a separate body in its own right.

Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas says the CITES convention is a "very efficient instrument" and says adding the EU to the list of signatories will increase the bloc's "visibility" on the issue.

He urges MEPs to back EU membership of the convention.

Support for membership

Spanish MEP Pilar Ayuso is the Parliament's "rapporteur" - or lead negotiator - on this matter, on behalf of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

Her

resolution is asking MEPs to approve the EU joining the Convention as a member, arguing that it will make the bloc's position more transparent and give the Commission a beneficial role finding "balanced compromise" between different EU countries in the meetings.

However, she is not able to speak in the chamber today, so instead a speech in favour of the resolution is made by another Spanish MEP, Esther Herranz Garcia, who says approving EU membership to the Convention would be a "logical step".

Esther Herranz Garcia
BBC

Vice-president presides

As is customary, Martin Schulz leaves the chamber, to be replaced by Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness - who is one the Parliament's 14 vice-presidents.

Mairead McGuinness
BBC

First item

We now move on to the first scheduled item on this afternoon's agenda: a debate about whether the Parliament should give its consent to the EU joining an international agreement called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

MEPs will vote tomorrow on whether to give their approval - a majority will have to vote in favour to give Parliament's consent to the decision.