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Summary

  1. The Parliament began today's sitting at 2pm by debating initial plans for an EU-wide "energy union" that were unveiled earlier today, with the Slovak Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič.
  2. After that, MEPs debated the Greek bailout, the crisis in Ukraine and EU counter-terror measures with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk (Key Video).
  3. MEPs then discussed the work of the European Central Bank (ECB) in 2013 with its President, Mario Draghi.
  4. The sitting concluded with a Commission statement and debate among MEPs on the situation in Venezuela, followed by a round of one-minute speeches.
  5. 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

Plenary session ends

With the one-minute speeches over, tonight's sitting draws to a close.

The Parliament will next meet in plenary in Strasbourg next month, between 9-12 March.

Debate closes

That's the end of tonight's final debate on the situation in Venezuela.

Tonight's sitting will now close with a round of one-minute speeches.

The occasion is usually used by backbench MEPs to raise issues of topical importance or relevance to their country or region.

'Genuine dialogue'

Commissioner Stylianides closes the debate by noting that Ms Mogeherini, although not present in the chamber tonight, has made numerous statements on the subject of Venezuela.

He says it is in everyone's interests that "genuine dialogue" can take place, not just within Venezuela but between the country and the EU, and repeats his call for human rights to be respected in the country.

Commissioner Stylianides
BBC

MEPs want more Mogherini

Czech Liberal Dita Charanzova says she is "amazed by the lack of respect" shown by EU foreign affairs chief in not speaking in the chamber tonight, instead sending Commissioner Stylianides as her replacement.

Her comments get her a ticking off from veteran German MEP Elmar Brok, chair of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, who tells her such an arrangement is in line with the agreement MEPs have with Ms Mogherini.

The low attendance rate of the previous foreign affairs representative - the UK's Catherine Ashton - was a regular complaint of MEPs during the previous Commission.

However, Ms Mogherini has made a number of marathon late-night appearances in the Parliament already, since she officially took office last November.

Dita Charanzova
BBC

'Threat' to South America

Conservative MEP Charles Tannock - who sits on both Parliament's foreign affairs committee and human rights subcommittee and is a regular speaker on foreign affairs issues - says that President Maduro is "oppressing" both the country's media and its people and contravening human rights.

He notes that in the view, the model of government he is developing is a "threat to the whole of South America".

'Spectre of a coup'

"Once again, the European Parliament has to turn its attention to Venezuela" says Spanish centre-right MEP Luis de Grandes Pascual - who obviously seems certain of the Parliament's role in overseeing EU foreign policy.

He says the shooting of a student during protests in the country was a "predictable" move from President Maduro, whom he accuses of seeing "the spectre of a coup d'état everywhere around him".

Luis de Grandes Pascual
BBC

Venezuela background

Tonight's debate comes after the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was earlier this week

indicted for plotting violence against Venezuela's government - a move condemned by the country's opposition.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition mayor of being involved in a US-backed coup.

This comes on the anniversary of the start of protests against Mr Maduro's rule that left dozens of people dead.

In a resolution adopted at the December plenary session of the Parliament, MEPs said Mr Maduro's government had used "systematic violence" to suppress the protests.

Protesters in Venezuela
BBC

Venezuela debate

That's the debate on the ECB finished. MEPs will vote on the resolution at next month's plenary session.

Finally tonight, MEPs will hear and debate a statement from Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides on the situation in Venezuela.

This item was added to today's agenda following the approval of a motion made at the start of the sitting by the centre-right EPP group.

'Driving force' of recovery

Spanish centre-right MEP Pablo Zalba Bigegain wraps up this debate on the activities of the ECB, by also expressing his regret that Mario Draghi did not stay for the full discussion but also noting - in Mr Draghi's defence - that it started an hour behind schedule.

He tells the chamber that the Bank's quantitative easing programme announced last month needs to get credit flowing to small businesses - which he says will be the "driving force" of economic recovery in the eurozone.

Pablo Zalba Bigegain
BBC

Draft resolution

Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri chairs the Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, which is responsible for drafting the

resolution on the ECB on which the full chamber will vote next month.

It has already backed the text by 39 votes to 7, with 5 abstentions.

Although the ECB is meant to be an independent institution, under the terms of the treaties the Parliament has a role in scrutinising its actions.

ECB President Draghi also has to make a minimum of four public appearances per year in front of members of Mr Gualtieri's committee.

Roberto Gualtieri
BBC

'La politique de la chaise vide'

French MEP Sylvie Goulard criticises the organisation of tonight's debate, saying if Mr Draghi's timetable had been known beforehand, the speakers' list would have been arranged differently.

She adds that she does not like "la politique de la chaise vide" - empty-chairing - and says she regrets that the debate will now have to continue the debate without him.

UKIP MEP David Coburn makes a point of order to say that the commissioner's early departure tonight is "a fine example of the contempt with which Mr Draghi holds this house".

Commissioner's early reply

Saying that he needs to leave shortly, Mario Draghi gives his reply to MEPs in the middle of the debate, instead of at the end as would be usual.

He says he wants to remind MEPs that the economic crisis of the last few years was caused by a combination of "several things that went wrong in the financial markets" but also by a lack of confidence among investors.

He says that overall the outlook for the eurozone economy "is more positive than it looked a few months ago", but stresses the need for national governments to go further in carrying out economic reforms.

"You seem to give a lot of responsibility to the ECB," he continues, before adding that the Bank's monetary policy powers - in setting eurozone interest rates, for example - can not on their own bring about growth if the economic environment in member states is not right.

Mario Draghi
BBC

Central bank attacked

Notis Marias, an MEP from the Independent Greeks party - currently in coalition with the anti-austerity Syriza party in Athens - delivers a stinging criticism of the ECB's actions in recent negotiations with the left-wing Greek government over an extension to the country's bailout.

Stating that the body has become a "state within a state", he accuses the body of only wanting "to make sure that is has profits" on the loans it offers to debt-laden countries, and says that its actions amount to an attempt to "blackmail the European people" and their elected governments.

Notis Marias
BBC

Turbulent year

2013 was a turbulent year for the EU economy.

According to the Commission's spring 2014 forecast, GDP in the euro area fell by 0.4% in 2013 after a decline of 0.7% in 2012.

Unemployment in the euro area rose from 11.3% at the end of 2012 to 11.9% at the end of 2013 - and remains high.

Anti-austerity graffiti in Spain
BBC
Anti-austerity graffiti in Spain, where youth unemployment is currently around 50%

'Structural reforms'

Commissioner Dombrovskis tells the chamber that the Commission shares the Parliament's view that the current period of low inflation and low oil prices should be used as an opportunity to implement "adequate fiscal and structural reforms" across the EU.

The debate will now continue with speeches made on behalf of the Parliament's seven political groups.

Commissioner Dombrovskis
BBC

'Forceful monetary response'

Mr Draghi tells the chamber that the ECB's "more forceful monetary response" announced last month became necessary this year following falling inflation -throughout last year.

Mario Draghi
BBC

'Swift response'

Pablo Zalba Bigegain highlights the "swift response" of the ECB in its interest rate decisions to restore confidence in the single currency.

He says however, that an "expanded monetary policy" - referring to the ECB's quantitative easing programme

launched a few weeks ago - will not be enough to boost demand in the EU economy, and stresses the need to economic reforms to continue alongside the plan.

Pablo Zalba Bigegain
BBC

ECB activities

That's the debate on the EU leaders' meeting finished.

In today's next debate, MEPs will be joined by European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi and Euro and Social Dialogue Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis to debate the ECB's activities during 2013.

Spanish centre-right MEP Pablo Zalba Bidegain has prepared a

resolution on the matter, which will be put to the vote at next month's full plenary sitting in Strasbourg.

ECB headquarters in Frunkfurt
AFP

Vote respected

Closing the debate, Jean-Claude Juncker says that he "respects" the vote in Greece at the end of last month, but the effect of this was not "simply to annul exiting treaties" - adding that such an approach would "kill off Europe".

He adds that there been much criticism of the Commission's actions of late, partially because of journalists "writing about what governments have said" on the situation in Greece - adding that he doesn't like the "tone" of the debate, which he says is too antagonistic.

He says that negotiations should not be seen as a matter of winners and losers, but that the "European approach", of benefit to all, should be allowed to prevail.

Jean-Claude Juncker
BBC

Reforms

Robert Peston

Business editor, BBC News

On his blog, BBC Economics Editor

wrote recently that the reform proposals submitted by the new Greek government effectively amount to a political transformation of the new government from what in the UK would be considered "traditional leftists" into "Blairites".

PNR data

Aside from the pressing issues of Greece and Ukraine, there's also been much discussion in this afternoon's debate about the issue of the Commission's plans for a new law on the sharing of passenger name record - or "PNR" - data.

The Commission has committed to proposing revised proposals for a new EU law that would force airline companies to share passenger information with national security agencies for flights entering and leaving EU airspace.

The original plans, tabled by the Commission in 2011, were

rejected by members of Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee back in 2013 - with many MEPs refusing to support the plans due to concerns about how the data would be stored and used.

At last month's plenary sitting, MEPs committed to finding a solution to the deadlock, and to work towards passing some kind of PNR package before the end of this year.

Tomorrow, Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope - the Parliament's lead negotiator on the matter - will present his

new plans for the law to the Civil Liberties Committee.

However, German Green Jan Philipp Albrecht - a longstanding critic of the Commission's plans - says the new proposals leave the PNR legislation "practically unchanged".

Arrivals at Heathrow
BBC

Reform plans

Yesterday, eurozone finance ministers

approved reform plans submitted by Greece's new left-wing government in order to obtain a four-month extension of its €240bn bailout, due to expire on Saturday.

The new extension will have to gain the backing of several national parliaments before it can gain final approval.

In order for continuing to extend the deal, eurozone ministers as well as the so-called "troika" of EU institutions managing the bailout have demanded that Greece make economic reforms and make greater efforts to tackle corruption and tax evasion.

Protesters outside Greek Parliament
BBC

'Destroying democracy'

Ukip deputy leader Paul Nuttall accuses the Commission of "destroying democracy in its very cradle" by resisting the initial demands of the newly-elected Greek government - claiming that the Greek people have been pushed "to the brink" by austerity policies imposed by the so-called "troika" of EU institutions monitoring the country's bailout.

"Sovereignty in Greece is not yours to take", he adds, before calling for the Greek people to "invoke the spirit" of Ancient Greek thinkers and resist the terms of the deal.

Paul Nuttall
BBC
Paul Nuttall makes a speech in the Parliament beside another Ukip MEP, David Coburn

Greek bailout package

Liberal group leader and former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt says that the four-month extension of the Greek bailout package should be welcomed as a useful mechanism that will allow the new Greek government the time to "think about" new reform measures.

He adds, however, that he was "not too much impressed" by the letter the Greek settlement sent to the Commission outlining reforms to be taken, and calls for the new Greek government to go further in its plans for economic change.

He criticises EU policy in Ukraine as being too reactive, and calls for new economic sanctions to be prepared now in order to deter any further aggression from Russia.

"We always react to a move of Putin - we must do the opposite," he adds.

Winning score...

A moment of inter-institutional levity in the chamber amongst the seriousness of this afternoon's debate, as Parliament President Martin Schulz gleefully informs Mr Juncker that this afternoon, the Parliament's interns - or stagiaires - beat the Commission's interns 10-1 in a football game.

Martin Schulz
BBC

Working hard

Jean-Claude Juncker says, four months into its term, the "major headline projects" of his Commission are all underway.

He tells the chamber, however, that an agreement on the legislative elements for the Commission's will "need" to be concluded by June - quite a tight timeframe in EU legislation terms.

He tells MEPs that, under the terms of the EU's treaties, these legislative parts could have been enacted without the Parliament's consent, but that his decision to enact the proposals with the Parliament - the so called "co-decision" procedure - is the fulfilment of a promise he made to MEPs.

On matters economic, he updates the chamber on this afternoon's news that has just been confirmed by the Commission: that France will have to cut its structural deficit by an extra 0.2% of GDP this year to comply with EU budget rules, and that the country is not under "enhanced monitoring procedures".

Jean-Claude Juncker
BBC

Debate underway

Donald Tusk gets the debate underway by addressing the issue of the situation in Ukraine, telling MEPs that a ceasefire between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian government

forces signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk just under two weeks ago has been violated "more than 800 times" according to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

He says the European Council gives its "cautious support" to the new deal, but they remain "sceptical" about its success.

On the issue of security measures, he says the EU can effectively diminish the risk to citizens without lowering the "right to privacy", and tells MEPs that EU leaders will discuss new security measures at their summit in June.

He also says the Council is "glad" that, after tense negotiations, eurozone finance ministers "gave the green light" to reform plans

submitted by Greece's new left-wing government in order to obtain a four-month extension of its €240bn bailout, due to expire on Saturday.

Donald Tusk
BBC

@Europarl_EN

European Parliament tweets: 2014 EU #CitizensPrize laureates are at #EPlenary in Brussels today.

Check out the winners

EU leaders meeting debate

Next up, MEPs are going to be debating the results of the meeting of EU leaders held two weeks ago in Brussels, with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council.

The debate focused on three main areas, which will also dominate this afternoon's debate: developments in the crisis in Ukraine, the bailout in Greece, and further EU-wide counter-terrorism measures in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last month.

Need to diversify

Energy Union Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič brings this debate to a close by thanking MEPs on the Parliament's development and energy committees for their support of the Commission's approach.

He says the strategy set out today means the Commission is "taking the energy issue to its highest level" - adding that "never before" has the Commission been clearer on the need to diversify Europe's energy sources or in pushing for the need for transparency in gas contracts signed by EU members.

Maroš Šefčovič
BBC
Maroš Šefčovič stands next to his boss and Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker

@eucopresident

European Council President Donald Tusk - a former prime minister of Poland -

tweets: "#EnergyUnion a priority for March European Council. Good input for the discussion from the Commission @MarosSefcovic. #EUCO."

Mr Tusk will be arriving in the chamber shortly, for today's next debate on the meeting of EU leaders held two weeks ago in Brussels.

Interventions

Portuguese centre-right MEP Nuno Melo is the last scheduled speaker in this debate.

MEPs who did not make it onto the speaker's list will now have the chance to make short interventions during the Parliament's "catch the eye" procedure.

Nuno Melo
BBC

Going further

Euractiv .com

News website

Nigel Cotton, Director of Technology and Innovation at the European Copper Institute,

writes on the Euractiv website that the EU should not just concentrate its polices on the task of reducing fossil fuels, but also on existing heating and cooling technologies.

Fuel independence

British Conservative Ashley Fox urges the completion of an EU-wide energy union that offers his constituents in Bristol a greater number of energy providers from which to choose their supplier, adding that "the key to energy union is interconnection".

He also adds that an energy union would give Europe more political independence and reduce its need to import fuel from countries where the supply can be threatened.

He says if the goals become a reality, Russian gas "will never be switched off, because there will be no point".

Ashley Fox
BBC

Opposition

One of the EU states that has voiced most opposition to plans for EU monitoring of energy agreements is Hungary.

Last week, the country's Prime Minister, Victor Orban, told reporters that he was expecting an "escalating conflict" with the European Commission over the plans.

The Wall Street Journal

quoted him as saying that the Commission's current approach meant the EU was "heading into an energy union that hinders national sovereignty".

He was speaking after Hungary last week extended and amended its 20-year gas supply contract with Russia.

Victor Orban
Reuters

'Huge obstacles'

The Guardian

In the Guardian, Fiona Harvey

writes that the Commission's plans represent the "most ambitious attempt to date at harmonising energy networks across borders", but faces "huge obstacles" that may take years to overcome.

Scrutiny

Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek - a former President of the European Parliament - hails the possibility of giving the European Commission an "ex-ante", not just an "ex-post", role in scrutinising energy deals that EU members negotiate with so-called "third-countries" - i.e. countries outside the bloc, such as Russia.

This would effectively mean the Commission would have greater possibility to analyse the deals before (and not just after) they are signed.

Today's

document says the Commission should be informed at an "early stage" about any agreements being struck, so that it can more rigorously assess whether they comply with EU internal market and security criteria.

It also mentions the possibility of "standard contract clauses" for deals, and the possibility of measures to ensure that the EU "speaks with one voice in negotiations with third countries" - something that may well be resisted by certain national governments.

Jerzy Buzek
BBC

Energy sovereignty

French Front National MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser says the Commission's plan "rides roughshod" over the energy sovereignty of member states, and risks creating greater energy insecurity in Europe.

Scope of strategy?

Luxembourgish Green Claude Turmes criticises the scope of today's strategy, suggesting that existing targets and legislation are already more ambitious than what is being proposed.

He calls for more "cross-national debate" with national Parliaments and European city councils to decide on stronger measures to create energy union across the EU.

Claude Turmes
BBC

@EP_President

EP President tweets: Current events highlight urgency for EU to increase energy security, diversify and speak with stronger voice internationally #EnergyUnion