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Summary

  1. The sitting began with a debate on EU rules regulating the maximum size of lorries, followed by a debate on ELTIFs, an EU-wide mechanism to promote long-term infrastructure investment.
  2. Both items were approved at the voting session from 10.30am, along with a regulation to set an EU-wide cap on the fees banks charge retailers to process debit and credit card transactions.
  3. MEPs also heard a speech from King Abdullah II of Jordan, making his fourth appearance in the Strasbourg chamber (see Key Video).
  4. The afternoon session saw debates on the priorities for next year's EU spending, efforts to combat fraud in the EU budget and last week's Ebola conference.
  5. In the evening, MEPs discussed progress reports on EU membership made by candidate countries Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Kosovo.
  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

End of the day

That's it for the day in the European Parliament.

MEPs will be back in the hemicycle from 08:00 GMT tomorrow morning, when the first debate will be on this month's meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

Leaders are set to discuss

recently announced plans by the European Commission to set up an EU-wide "energy union", relations with Russia and the situation in Ukraine, and economic governance and the "European Semester" programme.

Economic reform urged

Slovakian centre-right MEP Eduard Kukan says that, following a long pause, the country should take advantage of the normalisation of ties with Serbia to address "substantial issues" its economic development, including addressing the issue of high unemployment and fighting organised crime.

What does Parliament's resolution say?

Parliament's resolution - to be voted on tomorrow - calls on EU leaders to sign and conclude the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo early this year.

It also urges the government in Pristina to strengthen the rule of law, ensure judicial independence, fight unemployment, corruption and organised crime, as well as foster structural economic reforms.

Relations with Serbia

One of the key stumbling blocks to a potential Kosovan EU bid is its relationship with Serbia.

Serbia supports ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo - about 50,000 people - who refuse to be governed by Pristina.

A landmark 2013 deal paved the way for the two countries to make progress towards EU accession, with both sides pledging not to block each other's bids.

The report notes that progress in implementing the deal has slowed "markedly" since last March, due to snap elections in Serbia in the same month and in Kosovo in June.

Kosovo's elections led to a six-month political deadlock in Pristina, with a failure to form a government blocking all institutional development. The two countries only resumed bilateral talks last month.

Kosovan flag
BBC

What did the report say?

The

2014 progress report said that Kosovo's Stabilisation and Association Agreement deal showed the country could handle its integration agenda - with Commissioner Hahn adding last month that it could enter into force as early as next year.

It notes, however, that there was "weak political support" for anti-corruption measures and dire need for reforms to the country's economy, which remains one of the most under-developed in Europe.

Membership moratorium

It's worth pointing out that, prior to taking office, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out any enlargement of the EU during the term of the current EU executive - which is due to end in 2019.

"It's hard to imagine that one of the candidate states with whom we are negotiating will have, in time, met all the accession criteria," he said in July.

Juncker
Reuters

Kosovo debate

That's the debate on Serbia finished, and we now move onto the last of tonight's debates, which is on the EU membership aspirations of Kosovo.

This Balkans territory is last in the queue to join the EU, as international disagreements remain over its 2008 declaration of independence.

Although many countries - including the UK - recognise Kosovo, there remain many countries that do not, including five EU member states and fellow membership aspirant Serbia.

As a result, Kosovo has not acquired official candidate status, although it did move closer to the EU last year with the initialling of its Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the bloc in July.

Despite this, political deadlock after elections in June, corruption and unemployment have all stymied progress.

'Reconciliation with history'

Centre-right Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev calls on Serbia to "open the files of reconciliation with its own history" by publishing information on the past activity of its secret service.

He also urges the country to strive to encourage growth in the "economically backward" outer regions, where many minorities live.

What do MEPs recommend?

Parliament's

resolution, written by German centre-right MEP and Angela Merkel ally David McAllister, commends the Serbian government for its commitment to the European integration process.

However, it urges it to step up efforts to implement socio-economic reforms, ensure the independence of its judiciary and enhance the transparency of media ownership.

It also calls on Serbia to align its foreign policy more closely with that of the EU, and deplores the country's failure to do so in respect of EU sanctions against Russia.

What did the Serbia report say?

The report on Serbia was arguably the most positive in tone.

Although the country has not opened or closed any of the 35 chapters of the

acquis - rights and obligations binding on all member states - the country has fully assessed its position in relation to 28 of them, and should finish "screening" the rest fairly soon.

In addition, Serbia continues to meet the political criteria for membership, and parliamentary elections held in March last year confirmed the pro-Europe outlook of the new government.

However, the report notes that much progress still needs to be made with judicial reforms and media transparency. It also found that Serbia aligned itself with 28 out of 45 EU declarations and Council decisions last year - a reduction on 2013.

Belgrade
BBC

Council position on Serbia

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica is on her feet again to outline the Council's position.

She says that with the opening of accession negotiations last year, Serbia has moved to a "new stage" in its EU membership bid.

She adds that "benchmarks" have now been set for how the country can meet requirements on EU law chapters concerned with the rule of law, and that progress has been made in the fight against organised crime and on judicial reform.

She continues that "continued" efforts are required, however, for further progress to be made - and highlights legal protection of minorities as an area where steps are still needed.

There are also "concerns" about freedom of expression in the country.

Kalniņa-Lukaševica
BBC

Serbia progress report

That's the debate on Macedonia finished, and MEPs will shortly turn to the case of Serbia.

The EU formally began accession negotiations with the country last year, after it clinched a landmark deal with Kosovo, allowing for a normalisation of ties, in 2013.

Thus, the Commission's

progress report last year was the first since the start of talks.

What's Parliament's position?

Parliament's

resolution on Macedonian membership, drafted by Slovenian Liberal Ivo Vajgl, highlights the judiciary, media freedom and politicisation of the government at central and local level as areas that require improvement.

It stresses that the name dispute must be solved before the end of accession talks, but says it should not be an obstacle to their starting - and calls on new EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini to come up with new initiatives to overcome the current stalemate.

It will be put to the vote tomorrow.

'Traducing history'

Notis Marias, from the Independent Greeks party that recently went into coalition with left-wing Syriza in Athens, becomes the latest Greek MEP in this debate to state that he stands opposed to any potential Macedonian membership bid whilst there remain calls within the country to use the name "Republic of Macedonia" - which he says "traduces history".

He claims that EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini used the term to refer to the country recently in a press release, and calls on her to "correct" it in line with rulings from the UN.

Notis Marias
BBC

What was the Commission's assessment?

The Commission's latest progress report was largely critical of Macedonia's progress, citing the hindering of the functions of the parliament and government interference in the media as areas that need considerable improvement.

The country scored worst across the Western Balkans last year for media freedom, ranking 117th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.

'Political crisis'

Labour MEP Richard Howitt - a "shadow rapporteur" on the resolution for the Socialist and Democrat group - say he fears Macedonia's steps to EU membership will be held up by the growing political "crisis" in the country, with opposition politicians accusing the governing party of spying and interference.

Richard Howitt
BBC

Last month, Macedonia's government was

accused of operating an illegal wire-tapping programme by opposition politicians.

Zoran Zaev, head of the opposition Social Democrats, also said Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski had spied on journalists and religious leaders.

What's in a name?

One of the biggest obstacles to EU membership remains Macedonia's official name - which it cannot agree with the Greek government.

Greece objects to the country calling itself "the Republic of Macedonia", which it says implies a territorial claim to its own northern province of the same name.

As a result, international organisations - including the EU - refer to the country as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" as a compromise.

Entry of new members remains an issue which requires unanimous support from EU states - meaning that Greece can continue to block the country's membership on its own.

'Strong political will'

Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for EU Affairs Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica says further progress in Macedonia's steps towards EU membership will require "strong political will".

She says that the Council in December remarked that the country has achieved a "high level of alignment" with the EU acquis, but expressed concern about the "increasing politicisation" of political institutions.

They also said the country needs to work towards a "definitive conclusion" of its name dispute through the UN.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica
BBC

Macedonia report

That's the debate on Montenegro finished, and MEPs will now turn their attention to progress in accession talks made by Macedonia, which has been a candidate country since 2005.

Like every progress report published since 2009, the Commission's latest report again recommended that accession talks with the country get underway - but this remains yet to be approved by EU leaders in the European Council.

With a

long-standing dispute with EU country Greece over the country's name continuing, however, it is unlikely this is going to change any time soon.

'Strong political will'

Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for EU Affairs Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica says further progress in Macedonia's steps towards EU membership will require "strong political will".

She says that the Council in December remarked that the country has achieved a "high level of alignment" with the EU acquis, but expressed concern about the "increasing politicisation" of political institutions.

They also said the country needs to work towards a "definitive conclusion" of its name dispute through the UN.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica
BBC

Press freedom

Slovenian centre-right MEP Milan Zver underlines the need for greater progress in Montenegro to address the issue of media freedom - remarking that the country came 114th out of 180 countries in the 2015

World Press Freedom Index.

Milan Zver
BBC

What's in the Parliament's resolution on Montenegro?

Parliament's

resolution on the progress report stresses the need for Montenegro to tackle corruption and organised crime, as well as improve media freedom.

It also calls on the country to solve its border disputes.

However, it commends the country for being, along with Albania, the only EU candidate in the Western Balkans to have fully aligned itself with the EU's position on Ukraine.

It was approved overwhelmingly by the Foreign Affairs Committee last month by 50 votes to 4, with 2 abstentions.

Background on Montenegro

Montenegro emerged as a sovereign state in 2006, when just over 55% of the population opted for independence in a referendum.

The vote heralded the end of the former Union of Serbia and Montenegro - itself created only three years earlier out of the remnants of the former Yugoslavia.

The language of the latest report hints that the country's moves to EU membership may be slowing - with even Prime Minister Milo Đukanović

hinting in November last year that Montenegro could decide to stop EU talks, as Iceland did in 2013.

Montenegro flag
BBC

Warm words

Austrian Green Ulrike Lunacek has warm words for Mr Tannock's resolution, adding that she supports its insistence that greater steps need to be made in the country to tackle corruption and to improve the independence of the judiciary.

She adds, however, that she would have preferred more in the text referring to protection of the environment in economic development, especially given Montenegro's

constitutional definition as an "ecological state".

'On the right track'

Conservative MEP Charles Tannock - a member of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and author of the Parliament's

resolution to be put to the vote tomorrow - says that, although Montenegro requires further reforms in a number of areas, its progress towards eventual EU membership "definitely remains on the right track".

In particular, he praises the extent to which it has aligned its foreign policy with the EU's external actions - especially in supporting sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea.

Reforms needed

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says the executive has made it clear to Montenegro that it must begin implementing, and not simply passing, changes to their law to bring it into line with the acquis.

"It's time to shift from processes and procedures to changes on the ground," he adds.

Overall, progress in accession negotiations will be determined by steps to ensure the rules of law, but he also signals the need for economic reforms to bring the country in line with the EU economy.

Johannes Hahn
BBC

Montenegro's progress

First up, MEPs will debate progress made towards membership by Montenegro, which has been an EU candidate country since 2010 and has been engaged in accession negotiations since 2012.

The country's

2014 progress report notes progress in opening and provisionally closing several "chapters" of the acquis communautaire - the entire body of EU laws a country must adopt and enforce before it can join the EU.

As the only Western Balkan country to have opened and provisionally closed negotiating chapters, Montenegro can be seen as something of a leader in the region in this respect.

However, the report also expressed concern at the lack of progress in other areas, such as in securing media freedom, implementing legislative reforms and tackling corruption.

For the first time, the report acknowledged that accession talks may last longer than expected - and concluded that the country was "not the poster child" for EU accession.

View of Persat and the Adriatic Sea, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
BBC

Candidates

That's the debate on the Ebola conference finished.

Next up this evening, MEPs are going to be joined by the EU's Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, to debate reform efforts made during 2014 by three countries who are candidates for EU membership: Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia.

After that, MEPs will also debate the case of Kosovo - whose case is more complicated because it is not recognised as a country by a number of EU countries, even though talks towards an association agreement have started.

The Ebola situation in Liberia

Andrew Harding

Africa correspondent

BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding reported from the country last week that there had been

no new cases reported for over a week.

Education needed

German left-wing MEP Stefan Eck tells MEPs that greater resources should be put into education in the countries concerned, given that the virus was spread in large part due to the eating of unsafe bush meat.

Stefan Eck
BBC

Prevention

German centre-right MEP Birgit Collin-Langen says preventing a repeat of the virus will involve greater funding for research into the virus, as well as training for nurses in the affected countries.

Birgit Collin-Langen
BBC

EU contribution to fight against Ebola

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner and EU Ebola co-ordinator Christos Stylianides outlines the contributions made towards research against the virus by the EU.

He says participants at the conference agreed a framework for the recovery of the three countries most affected by the spread of the virus: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

He adds that it is vital long-term measures are taken to strengthen health systems there, or it will be "a matter of time before another epidemic erupts".

He says discussions will now continue at a meeting of the World Bank at its spring meeting in April, and at a UN-led conference at the end of May.

Crucial moment

Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for EU Affairs Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica tells MEPs last week's conference came at a "crucial moment" in the development of the crisis, as the countries affected move towards their "recovery phase".

Ms Kalniņa-Lukaševica is speaking on behalf of the Council (representing member states), because Latvia took over the EU's six month rotating presidency at the start of this year.

She adds that the conference was also an opportunity to learn lessons from the crisis and work towards the rebuilding of health systems.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica
BBC

Mapping the outbreak

You can see how the virus spread throughout west Arica on this

section of the BBC News website.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates more than 9,800 probable, confirmed or suspected deaths as a result of the virus, as of last week.

Liberia and Sierra Leone have been the most affected countries, with approximately 4,117 and 3,565 deaths respectively.

WHO admits, however, that these figures are underestimates, given the difficulty collecting the data.

Map
BBC

Ebola conference

That's the debate on fraud in the EU budget finished - MEPs will put their resolution to the vote tomorrow.

MEPs are now going to hear statements from the Commission and the Council of Ministers about the Brussels

conference on Ebola organised by the EU last week.

UN representatives at the conference pledged to help west African countries that have been affected by the virus to reduce their infection rate to zero, and improve their health infrastructure to prevent the virus spreading again.

Simplification

Budgets Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva lends her support to a simplification of budget rules, arguing that not only will this make it easier to avoid errors in budget spending, but will also make EU spending more transparent.

She adds that the Commission "looks to the Parliament" as a partner in making this happen.

In response to criticism of the idea during the debate, she defends the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office, which she says will "help protect the interests of the European Union" if given "the right mandate".

Kristalina Georgieva
BBC

Catch the eye begins

We're now onto the "catch the eye procedure" - when unscheduled speakers can get the chance to make short interventions.

Prosecuting fraud

The debate has soon turned to the contentious issue of the setting-up of a European Public Prosecutor's Office to prosecute fraud in the EU budget.

The Commission came

forward with proposals for an EPPO in 2013, arguing that it would make it easier to prosecute those who avoid prosecution for budget abuse by fleeing to another EU country.

Opponents, however, say they fear the powers of the office would be expanded to other areas, and could eventually be a path to an EU-wide criminal justice system.

MEPs gave their backing to the proposals in March last year, but there remains some opposition among the member states.

The UK, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark have already opted out of the scheme.

Court
BBC

Cut off?

German Liberal Michael Theurer points out that 80% of the EU's budget is handled in the member states, and says his group supports cutting off payments to authorities or organisations that can be shown to have made mistakes.

How much went missing from the 2013 budget?

The commission's

report found 1,609 established or suspected cases of fraud or errors in 2013, up around 30% from the previous year.

However the overall amount - €309m - was 21% less than the year before.

Italy, Poland, Romania, Greece and Germany reported the largest affected sums, while Ireland reported none.

However, the commission points out that this does not necessarily reflect the actual amount of irregularities in each country, because of differences in how each country defines and reports it.

Coming up with the sums depends very heavily on the level of co-operation and competence of national authorities, who are responsible for reporting back the data to the Commission.