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Summary

  1. In the morning, MEPs debated the right to strike, as well as funding changes announced last week to the European Youth Initiative, a scheme to lower youth unemployment in Europe.
  2. The morning also saw a debate on how the Commission might further improve employee share ownership in the EU.
  3. The afternoon session opened at 14.00 GMT with a debate on revising the rules relating to what data can be shared by member states for traffic offenders.
  4. MEPs were then joined by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini to debate the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
  5. There were also discussions on the funding shortage for the UN's aid agency for Palestinian refugees and an upcoming review of the UN treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  6. The evening saw debates on EU measures to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM), as well as on ratifying the accession of eight non-EU countries to the UN' child abduction convention.
  7. Hit 'Key Video" for the afternoon debate on the crisis in Ukraine.
  8. 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

Goodnight

That's the debate on Hague Child Abduction Convention finished, bringing tonight's proceedings from the Parliament to a close. The vote on the accession of the eight countries will take place tomorrow.

MEPs will return to the hemicycle tomorrow morning at 08.00 GMT, when they will be debating the priorities of Thursday's meeting of EU leaders - including EU-wide counter-terrorism measures and the conflict in Ukraine.

Final "catch the eye"

We're now on to the "catch the eye" procedure - when MEPs can get the attention of the acting president and make short interventions.

Parental abduction

Parental child abduction refers to a situation where a child is unlawfully removed from its normal residence by a parent without the consent of the other parent, violating their custody or access rights.

According to the

latest available statistics, 990 applications to recover a child were made in EU countries in 2008, a 35% increase since 2003.

The highest numbers of applications were filed in England and Wales (283), followed by Germany (115) and Spain (88).

Some countries, such as Romania and Poland, have seen significant growth in the number of applications from 2003 to 2008 (respectively from 7 to 51 and from 18 to 67).

'Note of warning'

Labour MEP Mary Honeyball says she supports the accession of the eight countries, but sounds a "note of warning" over the process, pointing out there are "concerns" about a number of countries seeking accession.

She says that EU institutions have "no means" to monitor whether the terms of the convention are properly implemented in the countries, and urges an improvement in this situation in the future.

Mary Honeyball
BBC

Legal background

The EU itself cannot accede to the Convention, since this is only open to member states. All 28 EU members are currently signatories to the text, and their consent is required to accept new countries.

However, since a

2003 EU regulation covers similar legal areas, the EU's top court ruled last October that the future accession of non-EU countries to the convention should be ratified at an EU level rather than individually in all the member states.

This requires the European Commission to submit a proposal, which has to gain unanimous approval among relevant EU national ministers - before finally being rubber-stamped by the European Parliament.

This is the vote that MEPs will be carrying out tomorrow.

Child abduction convection

That's the debate on female genital mutilation finished.

We move on to the final item on this evening's agenda: a debate on the

Hague Child Abduction Convention, an international treaty which seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of being unlawfully taken to another country by one of their parents, without the other's consent.

MEPs are going to be voting on a resolution tomorrow calling for the EU to ratify the accession of eight countries to the Convention: Gabon, Andorra, the Seychelles, Russia, Albania, Singapore, Morocco and Armenia.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a term used to describe procedures to intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genitals on non-medical grounds - such as for cultural, religious or social reasons.

The practice is most common in 28 African countries, but is also prevalent in the Middle East (Yemen, northern Iraq) and Asia (Indonesia), and has been reported to a lesser extent elsewhere.

The practice is a prosecutable offence under national laws in all 28 EU states, either specifically as a criminal act or as an act of bodily harm - but despite this, very few cases are actually brought to court.

'Get on with it'

Julie Girling
BBC

British Conservative Julie Girling says it is time EU institutions - including the Parliament - "got on with it" when it comes to developing policies at a Europe-wide level to eliminate FGM.

Noting that prosecution rates for the crime are "far too low", she says states should "share best practice" in order to ensure more cases get to court.

FGM victims

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that around 140m women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM worldwide.

Official EU-level statistics on FGM in Europe are lacking - but a

recent study by the European Institute for Gender Equality found that there were victims - or potential victims - in at least 13 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK.

International fund

Commissioner Jourova outlines the body's support for work to eliminate FGM, both inside and outside Europe.

She tells the chamber that the Commission will shortly open calls for proposals for a 4.5m euro international fund to fight against the practice of FGM worldwide.

Commissioner Jourova
BBC

'Deep-seated' prejudice

Spanish Socialist Iratxe Garcia Perez says that FGM, internationally recognised as a practice which breaches human rights and the rights of the child, reflects "deep-seated" prejudice and sexism against women and girls.

Stating that it is a practice that she feels cannot be defended under any circumstances, she adds that "traditions and cultures have a limit where the respect of human rights begins".

Iratxe Garcia Perez
BBC

FGM action plan

The Commission adopted an

action plan on FGM in November 2013 outlining a number of proposals intended to lead to the eventual elimination of the practice in the EU - but MEPs have said they are concerned about a lack of deadlines in the plan, and that national laws banning the practice have proved difficult to enforce.

The plan pledged to:

  • Help provide reliable EU-level data on FGM, which could be used to provide a basis for future policies
  • Help member states to improve the support services they offer to victims
  • Help EU countries bring prosecutions against the practice more effectively
  • Ensure that women at risk are protected more effectively under EU asylum rules

FGM debate

That's the debate on the EU-ACP Joint Assembly finished. The vote on the resolution will take place tomorrow.

Next, MEPs are going to be debating efforts by the European Commission to help tackle female genital mutilation (FGM) in EU countries with the Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova.

Picture: Sylvie Guillaume

Sylvie Guillaum
BBC
Tonight's debate is being chaired by French MEP Sylvie Guillaume, one of the Parliament's 14 vice-presidents

Achieving 'great results'

However, the assembly gets a defence from Spanish centre-right MEP Rosa Estaras Ferragut, who says it is a forum that can "really achieve great results".

She says she also welcomes the timing of tomorrow's motion given that the time is right to look at updating the Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2010, which is the current treaty defining the members and role of the assembly.

Rosa Estaras Ferragut
BBC

Low attendance

Italian Eurosceptic Ignazio Corrao says he regrets the low attendance at the last meeting of the body on European soil, when it met in Strasbourg last December.

He says the body was not shown "huge interest" by the Commission, and no one from the Council of Ministers turned up at all - something which "didn't go down well" with the ACP representatives who attended.

"If you just want to go to to the Caribbean, there's no point, is there?" he concludes.

What is the EU-ACP Joint Assembly?

The Joint Assembly meets twice a year, alternating between an EU and an ACP country.

It comprises 78 MEPs and representatives of 78 ACP countries.

Its work mainly consists of setting up initiatives between the two blocs and adopting positions on topical human rights cases.

EU-ACP logo
European Parliament

Next debate

We now move on to the next debate on today's agenda, which is about the

EU-ACP Joint Assembly, a body that brings together MEPs and elected representatives in a number of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Tomorrow, MEPs will vote on a resolution commending the work of the body and calling for political dialogue between the two sets of countries to be strengthened, particularly in the area relating to the rule of law.

The

text also calls for any future replacement of the current treaty to include an explicit ban on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or sexual identity, which MEPs have asked for several times.

'Protect and strengthen'

Federica Mogherini sums up this short debate on the NPT by pledging to work to "protect and strengthen" the treaty in upcoming reviews and ensure that it eventually receives universal ratification.

She adds that the treaty itself is a prime security issue, and not something to make "naive" people feel better.

That finishes a long stint by Ms Mogherini in the chamber today - she will return tomorrow to debate the situation in Iraq and Syria.

Federica Mogherini
BBC

More on the NPT

India and Pakistan have both admitted to having nuclear weapons but they are not parties to the NPT, and therefore are not restricted.

India, long a critic of the perpetual nuclear monopoly that the NPT implies, carried out its first nuclear bomb test in 1974.

Israel, which is also not in the NPT, is reckoned to be nuclear-armed but it has not confirmed or denied this.

North Korea has carried out a nuclear test but

withdrew from the NPT in 2003, as any party to it can.

Lack of vote regretted

Sabine LÖSING
BBC

German left-wing MEP Sabine Losing says she regrets this evening's debate will not be wound up with a vote on a resolution. Calling nuclear weapons a "threat to the lives of all", she urges a future debate on the role of nuclear weapons policy within the EU.

What is the NPT?

The treaty - which originally came into force in 1970 before being extended indefinitely in 1995, places various obligations on nuclear and non-nuclear signatories.

The countries who have signed the convention and have nuclear weapons - China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States - are bound under the treaty not to transfer nuclear weapons or to help non-nuclear states to obtain them.

Those countries that do not have nuclear weapons agreed not to seek to develop or acquire them.

In exchange, the five nuclear states agreed to share the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear technology - like nuclear-generated electricity - and to pursue disarmament, with the eventual goal of getting rid of their nuclear arsenals entirely.

Trident II missile
Ministry of Defence

Nuclear weapons debate

That's the debate on Ukraine finished.

After a short 5-minute break, MEPs will move on to the next of today's foreign affairs debates, which is on the United Nations' Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on nuclear weapons.

The

treaty - which aims to to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology - is going to be reviewed this year at a conference in New York.

The terms of the treaty stipulate that review conferences must be held every five years.

Debate closes

Ms Mogherini makes a closing speech to bring this debate on Ukraine to an end.

Responding to criticism from some MEPs who questioned whether French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel alone are capable of representing all of Europe at tomorrow's Minsk meetings, she calls on MEPs to get behind the two leaders.

"This is a European effort - and don't play politics around this, because this is serious," she adds.

Ms Mogherini
BBC

Further measures against Russia

Estonian Socialist Marju Lauristin tells MEPs that if current EU economic sanctions against Russia - largely targeted at individuals - fail to yield a solution to the fighting, the bloc should stand ready to support further measures, including a possible oil embargo and supplying the Ukrainian forces with weapons.

No 'anti-Russian rhetoric'

British Labour MEP Richard Howitt urges his colleagues not to "ramp up the anti-Russia rhetoric" in their chamber debates - and says if European leaders such as Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel are prepared to make efforts to find a solution to the crisis, they have a duty to support them.

Peace plan

Polish Conservative Zdzisław Kransnodebski says he would not support any peace plan that involves freezing the current lines of the conflict, which he said would demonstrate that "might is right" and will "do not thing to stop further aggression from Russia".

T-shirt of support

Liberal Lithuanian MEP Petras Austrevicius wears a T-shirt in support of the freeing of Nadiya Savchenko - a Ukrainian pilot in custody in Moscow over the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine accuses Russia of abducting her and has demanded her release.

Petras Austrevicius
BBC

Minsk agreement

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has scuppered the so-called "Minsk agreement", a 12-point peace plan agreed between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels in the Belarusian capital last September.

However, the plan may form the basis of a new deal if diplomatic efforts are successful.

Details of the new plans have not been released, but the proposals are thought to include a demilitarised zone of 50-70km (31-44 miles) around the current front line.

You can read more about the original Minsk agreement

here.

Ukrainian forces
Reuters

Russian involvement

British Conservative MEP Charles Tannock - a member of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and a regular speaker on foreign affairs matters in the Parliament - accuses the Russian government of "doing everything possible to prevent peace" in Ukraine.

He mirrors accusations made by Nato countries and the West that Russia has been arming pro-Russia rebels in the country - something the Kremlin has repeatedly denied - and says this is being done to stir conflict in the region to create a "false narrative" to justify military aggression.

"Last chance"

German Socialist Knut Fleckenstein describes tomorrow's talks in Minsk as a "last chance", noting that failure to find a new peace settlement "will necessarily" lead to an escalation in the conflict, and the death toll so far - which currently stands at over 5,400 since April last year.

He says, however, that he rejects the idea of providing weapons to Ukrainian government forces.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama

said the US was studying the option of supplying "lethal defensive weapons" to Ukraine, if diplomacy failed.

Knut Fleckenstein
BBC

Ukraine debate

Federica Mogherini opens the debate by telling MEPs that an "already dramatic situation" in Ukraine has developed since she was last in the Parliament to discuss Ukraine during the January plenary session, notably with the escalation of violence in the region and the

shelling of the city of Mariupol.

She says "thousands of human lives" are at risk in the country, as well as the "principle" that borders should not be changed by force.

She tells MEPs that Monday's decision of foreign minsters not to implement further sanctions on Russia was done to create "space" for negotiations due tomorrow in the Belarus capital, Minsk to find a more lasting solution to the conflict, which she calls "a chance that cannot be missed".

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are due to meet to hammer out a peace deal after months of fighting.

Federica Mogherini
BBC

EU contribution

Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn closes the debate by telling the chamber that the Commission's 2015 contribution to UNRWA has been confirmed today at €82m.

Next up, EU foreign affairs chief will be returning to the hemicycle to debate the situation in Ukraine.

Johannes Hahn
BBC

What is UNRWA?

UNRWA was established in 1949, with a mandate to provide assistance to Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip that have been displaced by fighting in the

Middle East conflict.

It provides services such as education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

The agency says that financial contributions it receives - the overwhelming majority of which comes from voluntary contributions from UN Member States - have not kept pace with increasing demand for its services, caused by growing numbers of registered refugees.

As a result, the agency's General Fund has begun each year with a large projected deficit - which currently stands at $81m.

Launch an appeal?

Spanish Socialist Enrique Guerrero Salom says the fact the EU has been providing money to UNRWA for 42 years highlights the "shortcomings of the international community" in finding a credible long-term political solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

He says the European Parliament should launch an appeal to raise the money required by the UNRWA for the rest of 2015.

Enrique Guerrero Salom
BBC

Funding shortfall

The agency

has said that over 96,000 Palestine refugee family homes were damaged or destroyed during last summer's
Gaza conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants, requiring $720m in aid money.

UNRWA says it has only received $135m in pledges, leaving a shortfall of $585m - meaning that while funds remain available to start reconstructing homes that were totally destroyed, no money would be available to support repairs and rental subsidies for the homeless.

Next debate

Ms. Mogherini will be speaking again shortly to open a debate on the situation in Ukraine - but before that, MEPs will debate funding shortages in the UNRWA, the United Nations humanitarian relief agency for Palestinian refugees, with European Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Two weeks ago, the agency

announced that it would need to suspend its aid programme in Gaza to support repairs to homes that have been damaged or destroyed, due to a shortage in funding.

Sakharov winner

Closing the debate, Ms. Mogherini says the Commission will work further to support women and children victims of the conflict, and says they must also do more to support the work of Denis Mukwege - a Congolese doctor who

received the European Parliament's Sakharov prize last October for helping thousands of gang rape victims in the country.

Ms. Mogherini
BBC

'Catch the eye'

We're now on to the "catch the eye" procedure - when MEPs who didn't make it onto the official speakers' list can make short interventions.

DRC conflict

A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been at the centre of what some observers call "Africa's world war" - a five-year conflict in which government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, fought against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

Fighting was fuelled by the country's vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources. Some small militias are still fighting on.

Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, people in the east of the country remain in fear of continuing death, rape or displacement by marauding militias and the army.