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Summary

  1. MEPs began the sitting by debating last week's meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk (KEY VIDEO)
  2. This afternoon, there were debates on efforts to clamp down on tax avoidance, and plans to give a further €1.8bn in emergency EU loans to Ukraine.
  3. MEPs gave final approval to the loan package at the voting session, by a majority of 492 to 107, with 13 abstentions.
  4. The evening session saw Parliament discuss the enforcement of national minimum wage laws for transport sector workers, and anti-Roma discrimination in the EU.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Goodnight

After a few extra "explanation of vote" speeches that have been rolled over from earlier in the session, vice-president Ildiko Gall-Pelcz brings the session of Parliament to a close.

MEPs will next meet in plenary for day-long sitting on 15 April, followed by the full plenary session between 27 and 30 April.

Closing speeches

Tonight's sitting will end with a round of short speeches.

This item, which traditionally closes Monday evening sittings during the full plenary sessions in Strasbourg, gives MEPs a chance to speak about any subject they choose.

Most use it as an opportunity to speak on a recent news story, or political development in their home region or country.

Debate finishes

That's the debate on anti-Roma discrimination finished.

MEPs will vote on the resolution on whether to recognise 2 August as the official remembrance day for the Roma genocide at the full plenary session in Strasbourg next month.

Commissioner replies

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova says that, given that anti-discrimination laws already exist across the EU, the focus should be on making sure that existing laws are properly implemented.

She tells MEPs that she is pleased by national strategies compiled by the member states to counter the social exclusion of Roma, and says member states must work hard to ensure that the plans which "look good on paper" will eventually "look good in practice".

Vera Jourova
BBC

Discrimination 'aggravated'

Romanian Socialist Damian Draghici says racial discrimination against Roma has been aggravated by deteriorating economic circumstances since the financial crisis.

He also tells the chamber that discriminatory polices against Roma have continued for "far too long" among some member states.

'Victims of prejudice'

Speaking on behalf of the EU's Council of Ministers - which represents member states - Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for European Affairs Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica tells MEPs that Roma in Europe are "too often the victims of prejudice and social exclusion".

According to EU human rights monitoring, 54% still experience discrimination in employment, she adds.

She says EU strategies to tackle discrimination should focus on three main objectives:

  • Tackling discriminatory and racist language
  • Raising awareness of Roma communities, particularly their history and culture
  • Empowering Roma to speak out and to "actively engage" in public life.
Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica
BBC

Discrimination against Roma

With the debate on the minimum wage for transport workers finished, MEPs now move on to tonight's final debate, which is on discrimination against Roma in the EU.

MEPs will also discuss whether to recognise 2 August as the official remembrance day for the Roma genocide in WWII, marking the killing of 2,897 Roma people in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on 2 August 1944.

A resolution on the matter will be put to the vote at next month's full plenary session in Strasbourg.

'Positive development'

Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc sums up the debate by telling MEPs that although she considers the establishment of national minimum wages in many EU countries to be a "positive development", they must not be applied in a way that undermines the EU's single market.

She says the Commission will continue to monitor the situation regarding the legality of the decision by Germany and promises to inform the Parliament "as soon as possible" of any developments.

Nevertheless, she pleads for patience from the MEPs, underlining the need for the Commission to proceed through "proper processes".

In the president's chair

Hungarian MEP Ildiko Gall-Pelcz - one of the Parliament's 14 vice-presidents - is in charge of tonight's debates in the chamber.

Ildiko Gall-Pelcz
BBC

'Simple' not 'complex'

Labour MEP Siôn Simon decries the Commissioner's comments at the opening of the debate that the situation was a "complex" one, arguing that the issue is actually "simple".

He says the EU's

Posted Workers Directive is "clear" on the matter, and urges companies to "pay the rate for the job in the country where you're doing business".

A minimum wage for the EU?

There is currently no scope for the EU to pass laws relating to pay - and minimum wages remain a matter for the member states.

Despite this, a number of MEPs and groups have talked about the possibility of introducing an EU minimum wage, although member states and MEPs on the right and centre-right are very much opposed.

The issue may come to the fore during the lifespan of this new Commission: in a speech before his confirmation vote in the European Parliament, current Commission President Juncker

called for the introduction of a "minimum social wage" in all EU countries.

He has also said he favours each EU country setting a minimum wage as a proportion of its own median income.

'Undercut' by low-wage countries

Italian MEP Daniela Aiuto from the Eurosceptic Five Star movement says that transport operators from low-wage countries have "undercut" competition from firms operating in countries where the minimum wage is comparatively high, such as in her native Italy or in Germany.

She proposes that the Commission comes up with new rules to reduce the gap between minimum wages in the EU which "take account of where companies do their business in Europe".

Daniela Aiuto
BBC

'A nonsense'

Slovakian Conservative Richard Sulik sets his store out early on in his intervention, calling minimum wages "a nonsense in economic terms".

He says that it leads to higher levels of unemployment, adding that it discriminates against those whose skills cannot meet a certain level of remuneration on the labour market by denying them work.

He asks the Commission to make sure the new German minimum wage is only applied to "those who are subject to German law".

He adds that foreign drivers on "cabotage" should have to be paid the minimum wage, but not those carrying out imports or exports.

What is "cabotage"?

The term, an importation from French, describes when goods are transported across a country by a vehicle that is registered somewhere else.

For the EU, this refers to cases where a vehicle registered in one member state is allowed to carry goods through another.

Current EU rules, which came into force in 2010, limit hauliers to a maximum of three cabotage operations within the seven day period following the delivery of an international load.

Lorry driver
Getty Images

The minimum wage in the EU

Currently, 22 out of the 28 EU member states have some sort of national minimum wage - none exists in Denmark, Italy, Cyprus, Austria, Finland or Sweden.

According to the

latest figures from Eurostat, big differences exist across the continent: the lowest minimum wage was in Bulgaria, at €184 per month, whilst at the other end of the scale workers could be expected to be paid at least €1,923 per month in Luxembourg.

At approximately €1,379 per month, the UK's minimum wage for a working week ranked 7th among EU countries.

Euro
AFP/Getty Images

Commissioner comments

Commissioner Bulc tells MEPs that, although the Commission is "thoroughly assessing" the impact of German rules on the transport sector and the single market, she is "not yet in a position" to provide a precise answer to the main question tabled by the Parliament.

She says, however, that the Commission will decide on any further steps after a "comprehensive assessment" of the situation has been completed.

Commissioner Bulc
BBC

'Serious problems'

Ms Ulvskog asks Commissioner Bulc to what extent national laws should apply to drivers passing through another member state, and what measures the Commission envisages to protect the social rights of transport workers.

She adds that the internal market will "never be brought to fruition" unless the EU executive addresses the "serious problems" caused by some EU regulation in this area.

Ms Ulvskog
BBC

Transport workers wages debate

With the debate on the Tunis attacks over, MEPs will now move on to the penultimate debate of this evening's session, which is on the enforcement of the minimum wage for transport workers in the EU.

The debate will consist of two elements:

There will be an oral question to the Commission from Swedish Socialist MEP Marita Ulvskog about how national minimum wage laws in the EU might affect lorry drivers who transport goods through more than one member state.

Additionally, Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc will deliver a statement on behalf of the Commission on complaints raised by a number of member states, including Poland, about a decision by the German government to force all companies to pay lorry drivers the country's new minimum wage of €8.50 an hour to their drivers when they are passing through Germany.

Some companies have complained that the move will unfairly weaken Polish transport firms.

Attack 'on Europe'

Closing this short debate, Ms Mogherini tells MEPs that the attack was an tack not "only on Tunisia , but also on Europe".

She says that the fight against religious extremism cannot be solved alone with security measures, but that it will also necessitate efforts on the economic front to "invest in the young people of Tunisia" and improve their prospects.

'Lone success' of Arab Spring

British Conservative MEP Charles Tannock calls the attack an assault on the "lone success" of the Arab Spring.

Although he says that it this stage it hasn't yet been possible to verify if Islamic State is indeed responsible for the attack, jihadist terrorists do in general pose "a threat to everything that the EU and this Parliament stands for".

As such, he says it is imperative that the EU does "everything it can" in economic and security measures to support the "fledgling democracy" of Tunisia.

Charles Tannock
BBC

'Promises of the Arab Spring'

Romanian centre-right MEP Cristian Dan Preda says the attack was on a country that "genuinely made efforts to transform into reality the promises of the Arab Spring".

He says Islamic State - which claimed responsibility for the attack - is based on a "twisted political interpretation" of Islam, and tells MEPs that the problem of radical Islamist terrorism poses a problem for Europe as well as north Africa.

Tunisia statement

With the voting session having come to an end and the "explanations of votes" cancelled due to the fact today's debates are overrunning, MEPs are now hearing a statement from EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on last week's terrorist attacks on the Bardo museum in Tunisia, during which at least 22 people were killed.

Federica Mogherini
BBC

Emergency loan approved

By a big majority of 492 to 107, with 13 abstentions, MEPs have approved the €1.8bn package of emergency loan for Ukraine.

Applications approved

Since 2007, the Globalisation Adjustment Fund has received 146 applications and has paid out €454.2m in EU money.

Today, applications have been received for:

  • over €5m for Greece, for Attica, a broadcasting company
  • €3.7m for Attica's publishing arm
  • just under €2.5 for Ireland, for Lufthansa Technik, an aircraft repair company.

All three applications are approved.

Voting session begins

That's the debate on the EU emergency financial assistance to Ukraine finished. MEPs now move on to this evening's voting session.

As well as voting on the loans package, the Parliament will vote on the resolution on tax debated earlier.

First though, MEPs are going to be voting on whether to approve applications that have been made to the EU's so-called Globalisation Adjustment Fund - a pot of money in the EU budget that can be claimed to help re-train people who have been laid off in large numbers at struggling companies.

'Freedom of Europe'

German MEP and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Elmar Brok criticises both the far-left and far-right MEPs who say they will not be supporting the measures at the vote.

In an impassioned intervention, he tells the chamber that supporting the loans package is about supporting the "freedom of all of Europe".

Elmar Brok
BBC

Where's the money coming from?

The money for MFA loans does not actually come out of the Commission's budget - the EU borrows it on capital markets or from financial institutions, and then lends it to beneficiary countries at the same interest rate and on the same repayment schedule.

The idea is that recipient countries benefit from the EU's high credit ratings - AAA from Moody's and Fitch, and an AA+ rating from S&P - that they do not enjoy themselves.

The aim is that the money is used to restore Ukraine's economy, which has collapsed since fighting started in the east of the country and since Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula last March.

Euros
PA

Groups' positions on loans

Speakers for the centre-right EPP, centre-left Socialist and Democrats, conservative ECR and liberal ALDE groups all lend their support to the Commission's proposals, and declare their intention to vote in favour of the plans at the voting session.

However, German left-wing MEP Helmut Scholz says his group will be voting against - not because it doesn't understand the need for economic reforms in Ukraine or support its right to territorial integrity - but because the loans are linked to the "same type of macroeconomic conditions" that have affected EU countries such as Greece.

Helmut Scholz
BBC

Under the plans, the loans - of which two thirds could be disbursed by the end of this year - would be conditional upon commitments to be agreed between the Commission and the Ukrainian government.

MFA loans

The loans package being debated this afternoon is the third tranche of loans proposed for the country under the Microfinancial Assistance (MFA)

programme, an emergency fund set up to assist EU partner countries.

Loans under the programme can only be proposed by the Commission, although because MFA assistance is decided by the so-called "ordinary legislative procedure", they also have to be approved by member states and the European Parliament.

Eurosceptic and left-wing MEPs have added a total of 12 amendments to today's text.

One from UKIP MEP Bill Dartmouth is asking that no loans be granted to Ukraine until a ceasefire has been in place for 30 days.

Amendments from the left-wing GUE group are asking for greater political commitments from the Ukrainian government on how the money will be spent, including a ban on it being used for military spending or on things which may "intensify the conflict" in eastern Ukraine.

Rapporteur speaks

Lithuanian centre-right MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis, who has acted as the Parliament's "rapporteur" - or lead negotiator - on the proposals, says the new assistance will help Ukraine follow through on its promises to reform its economy.

He says "even the critics" should take proposals for reform seriously.

He adds that not approving the Commission's proposals would lead the EU's critics to "rejoice" at the bloc's internal disunity.

To this end, he tells MEPs that he decided not to add any amendments to the executive's plans, given the "crucial importance" to pass the proposals as soon as possible.

Gabrielius Landsbergis
BBC

Ukraine loans debate

MEPs have finished debating the resolution on tax - the vote is due to take place shortly after 17.30 GMT.

Next up, we move to the last of the debates before the voting session, which is on proposals put forward by the Commission in January to grant a further €1.8bn in EU emergency loans for Ukraine.

MEPs on the International Trade Committee

gave their backing to the new financial support last week, approving the Commission's plans unamended by 30 votes to 7 with no abstentions.

If approved at the voting session, it will be the biggest ever single package of loans the EU has ever granted to a country outside the 28-member bloc.

Member states' jurisdiction

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes - a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in the Parliament - is also critical of the call in the resolution for increased tax harmonisation across the EU, telling MEPs that tax affairs should remain "a matter for member states to decide".

Corporation tax proposal

Polish centre-right MEP Dariusz Rosati lends his support of most of the provisions in this afternoon's resolution - but says he cannot support clause 25, which calls on the Commission to "carefully study the options for the introduction of a minimum rate of corporation tax" for the EU.

Dariusz Rosati
BBC

New law in 2016?

The new law will need to be agreed with member states before it can come into force, meaning the exact starting date of its provisions is not yet certain.

However, Mr Moscovici said he was hopeful a deal with national ministers could be struck before the end of this year, meaning the measures would be able to come into force for the start of 2016.

Background on the 'Luxleaks' scandal

The issue of tax avoidance has dominated the early life of the current Commission, which took office last November.

Only days after the new team started work, a raft of leaked files

disclosed by investigative journalists alleged that a number of large international companies had made "sweetheart" tax deals with the government in Luxembourg whilst the current Commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, was prime minister there.

Although he has insisted all the rulings complied with national and international laws, he later admitted in

an interview in a French newspaper that the revelations, had, "objectively speaking", weakened his position as Commission president.

The scandal led to a vote of no confidence being tabled against the new team at last November's plenary session - which it nevertheless

survived fairly comfortably by 461 votes to 101.

Tax rulings 'must be public'

Portuguese left-winger Marisa Matias says that the Commission's rules should be an "absolute minimum", and says that "previous experience" has shown that tax rulings don't just need to be exchanged between governments, but need to be made fully public.

Marisa Matias
BBC

Financial Transactions Tax

The resolution also invites EU member states that have not already done so - including the UK - to sign up for a planned financial transactions tax.

Plans to introduce an EU-wide tax were scuppered in mid-2012, because not enough member states agreed to it.

However, 11 member states (including France and Germany) said they still wanted to go ahead with the tax amongst themselves.

Canary Wharf in London
AP

What's in the resolution?

The resolution calls for tougher action to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion, and insists on the "general principle" that taxes should be paid where public services are consumed.

It also says tax systems should be designed to reduce burdens for smaller businesses, and lauds their contribution to the EU economy.

One of the more controversial points in the resolution states that "increased tax policy harmonisation" across the EU would help the bloc to meet its economic growth targets.

Tax harmonisation has been resisted by some MEPs, particularly in the Eurosceptic and Conservative groups, who argue that tax policy should remain a matter for national governments.

The text, which was approved by the committee last month by 46 votes to nine - with five abstentions, will be put to a final vote during this evening's voting session.

Tax solutions

Mr Moscovici says that there need to be solutions to tackle "aggressive tax planning" by big companies to exploit differences in the tax regimes between member states.

He says that, as things stand, the system "favours the strongest and discriminates against the weakest".

He tells MEPs that last week's proposals for a new law are part of a drive to make the EU a "leader" in global tax transparency.

Pierre Moscovici
BBC

What are the Commission's new plans?

Last week, the EU's executive

announced plans for a new law that would force tax authorities in the member states to file quarterly reports to other countries in the bloc on tax rulings they have struck with multinationals.

Other member states would then be able to ask for more information about individual tax decisions.

The rulings - sometimes known as "comfort letters" - are decisions from tax authorities giving individual companies clarity on how their corporate tax will be calculated, or whether the use of special tax provisions is legal.

The hope is that by making such "rulings" known between governments, tax authorities will be dissuaded from offering multinationals generous deals under which they very low rates of tax.

Euros
Reuters