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  1. In the morning, MEPs debated the priorities of tomorrow's meeting of EU leaders in Brussels - with counter-terrorism measures and the Ukraine crisis high on the agenda - see "Key Video"
  2. At the lunchtime voting session, MEPs approved a resolution calling for an investigation into what involvement EU countries might have had in facilitating CIA interrogation of 9/11 suspects.
  3. MEPs also gave their backing to a resolution calling for the Commission to propose a new law to make the labelling of the origin of meat compulsory in processed meals.
  4. After lunch, the sitting resumed with debates on the political crisis in Yemen and the humanitarian situation in Iraq and Syria.
  5. This was followed by debates on monitoring of human rights in the EU, the role and resources of the EU's border control agencies, and ways to improve access to expensive new medicines.
  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


That wraps up tonight's final debate on access to new medicines.

The plenary session will continue tomorrow morning from 08.00 GMT, when MEPs will be discussing possible ways to improve laws to tackle child abuse on the internet and - as per tradition for a Thursday - will discuss a number of topical human rights cases.

'Only a problem for poor countries'

Spanish Green MEP Jordi Sebastia is the latest left-leaning member tonight to accuse the Commission's current regulatory structure for drug patents of protecting the profits of pharmaceutical companies ahead of the interests of patients.

He notes the problem of poor access to new drugs "used only to be a problem for poor countries", but that the health services of several of the EU's richer countries are now finding it difficult to afford certain treatments.

Jordi Sebastia

Patent challenges

Tonight's debate comes after the French medical organisation Médecins du Monde (MdM) yesterday became the first group to

challenge a drug patent in Europe.

The group is challenging a patent held by U.S. drugmaker Gilead Sciences, accusing it of charging "exorbitant" prices for a hepatitis C drug called Sofosbuvir.

MdM said they felt the drug was not "sufficiently innovative" to warrant its patent.

Drugs companies have argued, however, that patents are vital to protect investment in new drugs for the future.

September debate

French Green MEP Michele Rivasi tabled an

oral question on the price of medicines at the September plenary sitting to prompt a similar debate in reaction to the price of a drug used to treat hepatitis C.

Michele Rivasi

'Not goods like any other'

Christos Stylianides says that since the Commission last expressed concern about the price of medicines last September, the new team - which took office last November - continues to "uphold the principle that medicines are not goods like any other".

He tells the chamber that a new expert group within the Commission met two weeks ago to look at ways of using existing EU pharmaceutical legislation more effectively, in order to to improve timely access to medicines.

Christos Stylianides

Transparent pricing

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica says that although regulation of the pricing of new medicines is a power that lies with the member states, the Commission should promote "systematic exchanges" between EU countries to make pricing systems more transparent.

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica

Medicines debate

That's the debate on Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office finished - like the previous debate on fundamental rights, there won't be a resolution to wrap up the debate during this plenary session.

The final item of the evening is another debate without a resolution - on access to expensive medicines in the EU.

The high cost of new treatments for diseases like Hepatitis C has already been discussed by MEPs in plenary last autumn, but a number are seeking to re-open a debate on what might be done at an EU level to help member states provide greater access to expensive drugs at a time when their budgets are under increasing pressure.

Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides will speak for the European Commission.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Parliamentary State Secretary for the EU Affairs in Latvia, will continue to speak for the Council of Ministers.

Commissioner round up

Closing this debate on behalf of the Commission, Frans Timmermans says the issue of migration is "one of the biggest challenges the EU faces for a generation".

He warns against politicians offering "very simple, one-dimensional solutions" to the problem, and adds that putting an end to free movement within the EU - as advocated by some of the more Eurosceptic members - will not solve the issue.

However, he adds that in order to prevent exploitation from dangerous crime smugglers, migration into the bloc still needs to be regulated closely.

He finishes by telling the hemicycle that the Commission is working to come up with a new "holistic" migration package - which he reminds members is one of the items on the executive's "work programme" for this year.

Frans Timmermans

'Catch the eye'

We're now on to the the five-minute 'catch the eye' procedure that closes the round of MEP speeches.

MEPs can make a brief contribution if they can get the attention of the acting President, who is chairing the debate.

These short free-for-alls contrast with the regimented bulk of the Parliament's debates, when speakers representing each political grouping take part according to pre-arranged lists.

The procedure resembles 'protocol' in Westminster, where MPs try to catch the eye of the Speaker in order to be called to speak.

'Step up' support

Maltese centre-right MEP Roberta Metsola warns of an upsurge in migrants in Libya due to the worsening situation there, quoting predictions that the numbers coming to Europe will increase rapidly when the weather improves later this year.

She says Frontex is "only as good as the commitments made by member states" - who she says must be encouraged to "step up" their support for the agency.

Roberta Metsola

Picture: Ildiko Gall-Pelcz

Ildiko Gall-Pelcz
Hungarian MEP Ildiko Gall-Pelcz is in the chair for this evening's debate

'Mare Nostrum'

Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstrom mentions "Mare Nostrum" - a sea-rescue operation launched in October 2013 by Italy in response to a tragedy off the island of Lampedusa, in which 366 people died.

The operation - which ended late last year - was aimed at rescuing seaborne migrants, with Italian vessels looking for ships carrying migrants that may have run into trouble off the Libyan coast.

The EU now runs a border control operation, called Triton, which only operates close to Europe's coast, with fewer ships.

The new operation's smaller budget has

led to criticism from some human rights groups, who consider that it will result in more migrant deaths at sea.

Dangerous crossing

The UNHCR says almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe last year, making it the world's most dangerous sea crossing for migrants.

More than 200,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean during the same period, and the UNHCR expects the figure to remain high in 2015.

Rescued migrant

Lost lives

Labour MEP Claude Moraes - who chairs the civil liberties committee in the Parliament that drafted last month's resolution - claims that, in the 14 years since Frontex and the EASO have been in existence, 22,000 lives have been lost by migrants trying to get into Europe.

Claude Moraes

European Parliament resolution

The European Parliament passed a

resolution at its plenary session in December urging EU states to "fairly" share the burden of dealing with the situation in the Mediterranean, and urging solidarity with those countries - such as Italy - that receive "the highest numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in either absolute or proportional terms".

Comissioner comments

Frans Timmermans, who has stayed in the chamber to represent the Commission again in this debate, says the EU is facing the highest levels of external migration on its external borders since the 1990s.

He tells MEPs that "the time is gone when we could leave it in the hands of a few member states and ignore it", urging greater co-operation between EU countries on the matter.

Border debate

Next up, MEPs are going to be debating the future of Frontex - the EU's border agency - and the European Asylum Support Office.

Of course, today's scheduled debate comes as the UN announces today

another 300 deaths in the Mediterranean of migrants from North Africa trying to enter Europe.

UNHCR Europe director Vincent Cochetel has said the incident is a "tragedy on an enormous scale".

Human rights

Closing this debate on fundamental rights enforcement, Frans Timmermans tells the chamber that "democracy alone is not enough for the guarantee of human rights".

In response to accusations from some MEPs that the Commission has been interfering in the business of democratically-elected governments by ticking them off about fundamental rights, he says an electoral majority, however large, of any government does not given it the right to go against agreed treaties, adding that "nobody forced any state to sign and ratify the Charter [of Fundamental Rights]".

He underlines the Commission's determination to "take member states to task" over breaches.

Frans Timmermans


Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld tweets: "there is no such thing as an illiberal democracy" says @TimmermansEU in debate on #RuleofLaw #FundamentalRights

EU values

The European Commission currently polices the rule of law in the EU under a

framework that it revised in March last year.

It outlines powers the Commission has to warn countries if they are at "clear risk" of committing a "serious breach" of EU values.

Article 7 of the EU's treaties - which has been mentioned a few times during today's debate - gives the Commission the power to withdraw voting rights from offending countries, but it has never been used.

French Socialist Christine Revault D'Allonnes Bonnefoy urges reform of the legal structure so that it might be easier to use against countries that seriously breach human rights.

Scoreboard results

Sophia In 't Veld

However, scoreboards obviously pose no problem for Dutch liberal Sophia In't Veld, who holds up an example of one compiled by her own political group of countries in the EU in relation to how well they are respecting fundamental rights.

Although she says she won't mention the score of individual countries by name, she says that Denmark and Sweden are the only countries who have been given a "green" rating by her group.

She urges a stronger, binding legal framework for the Commission to monitor the performance of member states.

No "scolding tongue"

"A helping hand is always better than scolding tongue", says Conservative Timothy Kirkhope, as he outlines his suspicion of attempts to "quantify" the extent to which countries live up to certain rights.

Saying that he fears "scoreboards, quantifiers and benchmarks" will serve only to provide tools for "political point-scoring", he instead urges the Commission to help develop debate within EU countries on how they can improve the upholding of rights and the rule of law, and to remove barriers to job market, assist with social mobility, and fight against discrimination.

New chair

Sylvie Goulard
There's been another change in the President's chair, with French MEP Sylvie Goulard taking charge of this debate

"Illiberal democracy?"

Frans Timmermans says that compromise on the values of the EU compromises "the very fabric of co-operation" that forms the basis of the Union.

He adds that it is of "huge significance to him personally" that he has been given a new role in the new Commission to ensure the rule of law in the EU.

Possibly alluding to

remarks made by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban in July last year, he says there can be "no such thing as an illiberal democracy".

Mr Orban was quoted as saying that "...those who say that democracy is necessarily liberal are trying to put one school of thought above the rest, and we're not going to grant that privilege."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

recently said, when asked by a reporter, that she didn't understand the concept.

Frans Timmermans

Copenhagen criteria

Countries applying to the EU are expected to live up to the "

Copenhagen criteria" - which define obligations in areas such as press freedom, equal rights for minorities or judicial independence.

However, once they are part of the EU, there is no regular assessment of the performance of EU member states in these areas, and the Commission only has limited tools to enforce sanctions against breaches.

The previous European Parliament voted several resolutions calling for better monitoring of rights.

Fundamental rights debate

That's the debate on Yemen finished.

Next up, MEPs are going to be debating ideas for an EU-wide framework to monitor how member states are living up to their obligations to uphold democracy and fundamental rights.

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica remains in the chamber to represent the Council of Ministers in the debate, and Commission deputy chief Frans Timmermans will speak on behalf of the European Commission.

"Failed state"

Labour MEP Richard Howitt - who sits on the Parliament's foreign affairs committee and often speaks during the plenary sessions on foreign affairs matters - notes that the crisis in Yemen threatens the prospect of "another failed state" in the region.

He urges immediate efforts to find the "right diplomatic responses" to developments, and says the EU must make further efforts to support groups advocating reform in Middle Eastern countries.

"The failures of a failed state are our failures too", he concludes.

Richard Howitt

The Houthis

The Houthis are members of a rebel group, also known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism.

Zaidis make up one-third of the population and ruled North Yemen under a system known as the imamate for almost 1,000 years until 1962.

Houthis take their name from Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, who led the group's first uprising in 2004 in an effort to win greater autonomy for their heartland of Saada province.


Security concerns

This afternoon's debate comes as the US, UK and France

announce they are closing their embassies in Yemen due to the deteriorating security situation in the country.

The UN is a currently attempting to broker talks between political factions and Shia rebels who control the capital Sanaa and dissolved parliament last week - an action Ms Lukasevica says EU ministers consider to have "no legitimacy".

She also says any solution to the crisis will require addressing the "underlying causes of instability", as well as the country's deteriorating economy, and says the Council urges all actors in the region to work together on a new constitution for the country.


Yemen debate

Next up, MEPs are going to be discussing the EU's response to the ongoing political crisis in Yemen, with Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Parliamentary State Secretary for the EU Affairs in Latvia.

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica is making a statement on behalf of Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign affairs chief.

Latvia currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, which groups together the national ministers of the 28 EU states - whose foreign affairs "configuration" is chaired by Ms. Mogherini.

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica

Closing speech

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides makes a closing speech to wind up the debate on Iraq and Syria, by telling MEPs that the stability of the EU depends on the "stability of our neighbourhood".

The vote on the resolutions will take place tomorrow.

'Catch the eye'

We're now on to the "catch the eye" procedure - when MEPs not on the speakers' list can make short interventions.

Commission support

The role of the EU Commission itself has so far been limited to providing humanitarian support for those who have been displaced as a result of the fighting.

At the end of last week, the Commission unveiled a

new strategy for the region, including measures to:

  • Better match humanitarian finding with efforts to help the "medium and long-term" needs of those who have been displaced.
  • Build up assistance to neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon to help them cope with the spill-over of refugees across their borders
  • Promote "advocacy and communication" to counter radicalisation in the region

The Commission says that the EU is the leading donor in of support for the victims of the crisis in Syria, with more than € 3.2 billion in assistance from the Commission and the member states.

Syrian involvement

Labour MEP Afzal Khan says it is imperative that humanitarian activities are a "top priority" in the region, but also adds that the rise of IS will not be abetted until the severed from the "roots" of the group - whose growth he says has been encouraged by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

What is IS?

Islamic State - also known in Arabic as Da'esh - is a radical Islamist group that is aiming to establish a "caliphate", a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia.

Its vision is intensely hostile to Shia Islam, as well as to governments and monarchies in the rest of the Middle East, and of course the West.

It has achieved what few terror groups have wanted or managed to do, namely to create a trans-border de facto state and wants to expand.

It has captured and is now administering strategic territory in north-west Iraq and is headquartered in eastern Syria. The US estimates there are 20,000- 31,500 IS fighters.

IS fighters

Arms and oil

Portuguese left-wing MEP Marisa Matias links the rise of IS in the region to both the state financing of fundamentalist groups in Syria by other Middle Eastern countries, and the "disastrous" military interventions of certain EU countries in the region.

She says the time has come for EU countries to clamp down on trading arms with countries in the region, and to stop buying any oil that comes from areas occupied by IS.

Marisa Matias

Millions displaced

The spread of Islamic State (IS) militants has caused a humanitarian disaster in the region, with over 7.6m Syrians displaced inside the country and 3.8m in neighbouring areas.

In Iraq, over 2.1 million people were displaced in 2014 and the UNHCR estimates that some 330,000 refugees face a winter living in sub-standard shelters.

The humanitarian situation has also had a knock-on effect on Europe's borders and immigration situation, with migrants fleeing the conflict trying to get into Europe via the Mediterranean.

According to the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), 165,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean in 2014, compared to 60,000 in 2013.

Food aid in Syria

Jihadi recruits

British Conservative Charles Tannock says he regrets that over 500 jihadis have so far joined IS in the Middle East and calls for the UK government to "step up" its effort in the region.

He also adds that he welcomes the recent escalation of air strikes against targets in the region by Jordan.

The increased strikes

follow the brutal murder of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh last week by IS militants, with a video having been circulated apparently showing him being burned in a cage.

Moaz al-Kasasbeh

Humanitarian efforts

German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok - who chairs the Parliament's foreign affairs committee - thanks the Commission for its humanitarian efforts in the region.

He says Western countries had never had to deal with a group like Islamic State (IS) before, that he says has "no interest" in negotiations or finding any kind of solution to the fighting.

He urges co-operation between the Western-backed coalition and neighbouring countries in the region as the only way to resolve the conflict.

Elmar Brok