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Summary

  1. The sitting opened at 07.30 BST with a debate on a draft EU law that would place a cap on the amount of crop-generated biofuels that could be used in the transport sector.
  2. MEPs then debated proposals - backed at the voting session - which would force member states to take measures to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags (see 'Key Video')
  3. Before the voting session, MEPs debated new EU rules that would require ship owners using EU ports to monitor and report annual CO2 emissions from January 2018.
  4. MEPs began the afternoon sitting by debating the EU's new security strategy for the next five years.
  5. MEPs also debated a draft EU law to aiming to improve regulation of "money market funds", and reports to sign off spending in 2013 by a number of EU agencies.
  6. In the evening, MEPs debated financing of an EU employment initiative and estimates for the European Parliament's budget for next year.
  7. The sitting closed with a debate on the protection of whistleblowers and journalists who disclose confidential information relating to national tax rulings on multinationals.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Session closes

And with that, tonight's sitting comes to a close.

The session will resume tomorrow from 08.00 BST, when MEPs will kick off hold a debate with Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council head Donald Tusk on last week's emergency EU migration summit.

Disappointment at comments

Irish liberal MEP Marian Harkin expresses some disappointment as the Commissioner's comments, saying she "heard nothing" in her presentation about the specific issue of the Luxleaks revelations.

She points out that, at the moment, the European Ombudsman and the European Court of Auditors are the only EU institutions to have policies on how they treat those who want to disclose information confidentially.

"Has the Commission nothing more to say on this issue?", she asks.

Marian Harkin
BBC

Commission statement

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova says that although there is not EU legal framework on whistleblowing in general, there are EU policies for disclosing information confidentially to authorities in the areas of competition law and the EU's market abuse regulation.

However, she concludes quite a short speech by pointing out that the enforcement of whistleblowing protections is a matter for member states to decide for themselves.

Vera Jourova
BBC

Debate on whistleblowers

That's the debate on Parliament's budget for next year finished.

The final debate tonight is one that was added to the agenda yesterday at the request of the left-wing GUE group to debate protection for whistleblowers who disclose information to journalists relating to tax rulings.

It follows the

recent decision of a court in Luxembourg to charge a French journalist with aiding the leaking of confidential information at accounting firm PWC, which led to the disclosures about custom made tax deals for large corporations known as "LuxLeaks".

Assistants controversy

The debate on the Parliament's expenditure next year has been in the news recently following a decision to include in Mr Deprez's report a proposal to increase MEPs' monthly allowance.

The budgets committee earlier this month approved the plans to increase by €1,500 per month the amount of money MEPs can spend on assistants' salaries, supplies, and studies.

Mr Deprez has said this change was requested by the bigger political groups, but the proposals have not gone down well everywhere.

Syed Kamall, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group

has said the changes risk "bad headlines" for the Parliament.

Belgian MEP Sander Loones, from the same group, makes a similar point in the chamber tonight, saying that increased spending "while ordinary people are having to tighten their belts" risks undermining confidence in the EU.

Debate on Parliament spending

That's the debate on changes to financing of the European Youth Initiative finished - MEPs will vote on the proposals tomorrow.

Next, MEPs are going to be debating a resolution prepared by Belgian Liberal Gerard Deprez, chair of the Budgets Committee, on the Parliament's administrative budget for next year.

The

text seeks to set the Parliament's administrative budget for next year at €1.82bn, a 1.6% increase on last year's budget.

It names "exceptional" spending required in order to beef up security of Parliament buildings and its presence online as the source of €15m of this increase - measures Mr Deprez describes as "necessary and urgent".

However, he points out that the budget for Parliament has not gone up in a number of years despite an increase in parliamentary workload arising from the Lisbon Treaty, and says the proposals are in line with the "general context of budgetary rigour" in EU institutions.

Gerard Deprez
BBC

'Catch the eye' speeches

We'll now have five minutes of speeches from MEPs not on the speaker's list during the "catch the eye" period.

Criticism of funding levels

Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber, from the left-wing GUE group, says the amount of money in the Initiative, even bearing in mind the proposed changes , is "way below" the amount that would be needed to have a long-term effect on reducing youth unemployment in the EU.

She also adds a note of scepticism about the quality of the posts that will be created, asking "are these going to be open-ended contracts or internships?"

Inês Cristina Zuber
BBC

Where will the money go?

The money from the Initiative will be targeted at regions where youth unemployment is over 25%.

The map below shows what this means in terms of where the money will head - regions that are eligible are shown in orange, those that are not are shown in yellow.

According to the Commission, if the changes are implemented it will mean Spain will be the biggest beneficiary of funds in 2015, receiving €283m - and Italy the second-biggest, with €170m.

Map of EYI funding allocations
European Commission

More info on the funding changes

No extra money would be allocated - but the Commission decided to increase the co-called "pre-financing rate" in the 2015 budget from just over 1% to 30%, effectively bringing forward a bigger chunk of the long-term budget.

The Commission has claimed doing so will substantially increase the number of young people benefiting from the scheme this year - from between 14,000-20,000 to between 350,000-650,000.

Given the high levels of youth unemployment in many parts of Europe, the Commission has said reducing joblessness is one of its key political priorities.

Call for urgent finance

French centre-right MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier says she hopes for approval of the report tomorrow, noting that the effort to get EU funds to regions with high levels of unemployment presents a "race against time".

Elisabeth Morin-Chartier
BBC

Debate on Youth employment financing begins

That's the debate on 2013 spending over - MEPs will vote on the 52 reports to grant "discharge" tomorrow.

MEPs are now debating a legislative report that would approve funding changes announced by the Commission last February to the

European Youth Initiative, a scheme it proposed in 2012 to reduce youth joblessness in Europe.

The Commission has said it wants to make around a third of the 2014-2020 budget available in this year alone - around €1bn out of a €3.2 billion tranche.

The Initiative funding tops up money already given to member states under a separate scheme called the European Social Fund (ESF) in regions where youth unemployment is over 25%.

MEPs have to give their approval to the changes before they can come into effect. The report being debated now will be put to the vote tomorrow.

It was backed overwhelmingly by the Budgets Committee earlier this month by 50 votes to 2 - suggesting it will pass easily at the vote tomorrow.

'Culture change' needed

British Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth says the reality of real-terms reductions to the EU's long-term budget require a "significant change in attitude and culture" when it comes to spending by the EU institutions.

His comments draw a "blue card" response from UKIP MEP Bill Dartmouth, who asks him whether he agrees that the "fault line" between net beneficiary and net contributor countries from the EU budget cannot be bridged.

"If you insist on maximising fault lines you will never achieve a European Union where states work together", Mr Ashworth replies.

Richard Ashworth
BBC

Unjustified spending?

Italian MEP Marco Valli from the Eurosceptic Five Star party criticises the amount spent in the EU budget on the Parliament's own political groups and political foundations, which he says has gone up by "a huge amount" with "no justification".

Marco Valli
BBC

A question of reputation

French Socialist Sylvie Guillaume - who is also one of the Parliament's 14 vice-presidents and herself often chairs debates in the hemicycle - says that although the levels of misreporting and fraud present only a relatively small amount of the EU's overall budget, the issue has "high visibility" and is therefore or high importance to the reputation of the Union.

Sylvie Guillaume
BBC

Commission 'encouraged'

Budgets Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva tells MEPs that, as it is a "core accountability procedure", the EU executive takes the budgetary discharge procedure "very seriously".

She adds that she is encouraged by the recommendation of Parliament's budgets committee to grant discharge to the Commission's spending in 2013.

On the broader issue of protecting the EU budget against fraud and accidental misreporting, she says that there need to be mechanisms in place in the member states to report any budgetary problems early.

She also says there is an urgent need to simply the rules, adding that "simpler rules means fewer errors".

Kristalina Georgieva
BBC

Projects in the firing line

MEPs on the budgets committee have proposed to withhold approval of the 2013 spending of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and the following four EU projects:

  • the ARTEMIS Technology Platform
  • ENIAC (European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council)
  • IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative)
  • ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor)

Debate on 2013 'budget discharge' begins

That's the debate on money market funds finished - Parliament will vote to set out its position on the proposed reforms tomorrow lunchtime.

MEPs are now debating a package of 52 reports to sign off spending by a number of EU agencies and projects in the 2013 financial year.

This process, known in the EU jargon as granting "discharge" to the spending, is meant to give the Parliament a role in scrutinising the way in which EU money is spent.

Parliament's budgets committee has recommended that discharge be postponed for an EU agency and four of the projects, as well as the Council of Ministers and the European Council.

Commission response

Summing up for the Commission, UK Commissioner Lord Hill debates confirms the need to "make progress" on the file after MEPs have set out their first-reading position.

He pledges to underline the importance of a deal to the Latvian presidency of the EU Council of Ministers - due to end in June - noting that there is now "momentum" gathering behind an agreement.

"If we don't take it, I fear will will struggle to get it back again", he adds.

Lord Hill
BBC

'Meddling' to blame?

UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe says he gets the impression from the speeches in the chamber that money market funds and similar instruments were completely to blame for the slump in Europe's economy following the financial crash in 2008 - but that "nothing could be further from the truth".

Instead, he says that the crisis was caused by the structure of the euro and the "meddling of this chamber" which is in danger of driving financial institutions away from Europe.

Divided views

Labour MEP Neena Gill - who is the Parliament's lead negotiator, or "rapporteur", on the legislation - says it has left the house "deeply divided".

Nevertheless, she says that despite failures to find a compromise during the term of the previous Parliament on new regulation, she is pleased that a first-reading position has now been found between the Parliament's three biggest political groups: the EPP, her own Socialist and Democrats group and the liberal ALDE.

She has some sharp words for members of the left-wing GUE, Green and Conservative ECR groups, who voted against the current text at its vote in the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee.

She says that although she tried to take some of their suggestions "on board" in her report, the nature of their opposition would continue to leave the MFF sector "totally unregulated".

Neena Gill
BBC

What are MMFs?

MMFs are mutual funds that purchase short-term assets such as money-market instruments issued by banks, governments or corporations - such as treasury bills or certificates of deposit.

They must have a residual maturity of less than two years to qualify as a standard MMF and no longer than 397 days to qualify as a short term MMF.

MMFs in issue in the EU are worth approximately €1 trillion and constitute around 15% of the Union's funds industry.

The Commission has said further regulation of the funds is needed due to their "systemic" importance in the financial system.

Robust MMFs

That's the debate on allegations of collusion between the German security services and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States finished.

Next up, MEPs will debate an EU law proposed in 2013 under the previous Commission to improve the ability of so-called "money market funds" (MMFs) to withstand financial shocks.

The Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee have backed the proposals at first reading, and have made some changes to the Commission's original proposals.

Their text will be put to the vote tomorrow lunchtime, after which negotiations with member states in the Council will begin.

City of London
Getty Images

Angry response

However, Mr Voss's intervention draws an angry response from Dutch Liberal Sophia in 't Veld, who accuses him of complacency, before adding that privacy is nevertheless a legal matter in the EU.

"We happen to have rules on this continent," she tells him.

She says she can see from his speech that his centre-right EPP group "clearly does not care" about the privacy rights of EU citizens, an accusation she also repeats about the EU Council, representing member states.

'Suspicions and interpretations'

German Christian Democrat Axel Voss - who belongs to the same national party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel - criticises the timing of today's debate, noting that there is not enough clear information on the case for a proper debate to take place, and that MEPs can only base their comments on "suspicions or interpretations".

He also says they should not "pretend" that they have the power to change the national security arrangements of the member states - which is a matter for national governments.

National security

Representing the Commission again, Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova stresses that "many facts remain unclear" about the case at the moment.

She stresses however, that national security is a competency reserved to the member states - which is also an area exempt from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Vera Jourova
BBC

Covert operations debate

That's the debate on the European Prosecutor's Office finished - MEPs will vote on the resolution tomorrow.

We now move on to a debate added to the agenda yesterday at the request of the Green/EFA group, on recent reports in the German media alleging that the German intelligence services helped the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States to conduct spying operations in Europe.

Fighting fraud 'priority'

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova says that fighting fraud in the EU budget is a "priority" for the Commission, and that despite the opposition from some quarters, she remains "truly convinced" of the need for an "independent" EPPO.

She says that criteria to guarantee the integrity and professionalism of EPPO members are already present in the proposals, adding that she doesn't consider the "yellow cards" shown to the proposals by several member states as a final matter.

Vera Jourova
BBC

Commission keen for agreement

According to the EU's treaties, setting up the EPPO would require unanimity among the remaining member states, excluding those who have already chosen to opt out.

This looks very unlikely at the moment - although Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova mentioned in her opening speech in this debate that the Commission still wants to see an agreement before the end of next year.

If unanimity cannot be reached, it can still go ahead under the EU's "enhanced co-operation" mechanism, if at least nine EU countries want it.

This would allow those states more in favour of the scheme to go ahead without formally changing the body of EU law - whilst leaving the door open to states who might wish to join at a later date.

Approval needed

German Green Jan Philipp Albrecht says he deplores the fact that no representative of the Council of Ministers - the body that represents national ministers - is taking part in this afternoon's debates.

He says that no EPPO will ever materialise unless member states take account of the position of MEPs.

Although the regulation to establish the EPPO is not going through the Parliament under the "co-decision procedure" - which would allow MEPs to make amendments - it will have to be given a "yes or no" approval by members, Mr Albrecht notes.

He repeats the Parliament's overall position - that an EPPO of some kind is desirable - but says the "conditions must be right".

Jan Philipp Albrecht
BBC

Opposition to the EPPO

In its resolution last year, the European Parliament expressed its general approval to the establishment of an EPPO.

The text also said the body should have open and transparent appointment procedures for the European Prosecutors, in which MEPs should be involved.

There is substantial opposition to the idea, however, from the Eurosceptic group and amongst the Conservative ECR group - both of whose representations in the Parliament have since been boosted after the elections last May.

The idea has also met with opposition from some member states - the UK, Republic of Ireland and Denmark have already negotiated opt-outs from any eventual scheme.

At the launch of the policy in 2013, the UK Conservatives' justice spokesman in the European Parliament, Timothy Kirkhope, said the EPPO would be "a step too far down the road towards a federal super-state, with USA-style federal prosecutors".

Background on the EPPO

The idea of setting up a European Prosecutor's Office was proposed in 2013 by the previous Commission.

With fraud targeted at the EU budget estimated to cost around €3 billion per year, the EU executive argued that an EPPO was necessary to prevent fraudsters avoiding prosecution by fleeing to a neighbouring EU country.

Under the plans, criminals would be charged by delegated prosecutors in the member states, who would act under the direction of a European Public Prosecutor.

Particularly invasive measures − such as surveillance of telecommunications − would need a prior authorisation by national courts exercising judicial review of the EPPO's actions.

Gavel
BBC

Debate finished

That's the debate on the EU's new security strategy finished.

Next, MEPs are going to be discussing a new resolution - to be put to the vote tomorrow - on plans to set up a European Prosecutor's Office (EPPO).

The EPPO would be a decentralised EU body charged with investigating and prosecuting cases of fraud against the EU budget - something which is currently the responsibility of member states.

Parliament has already expressed its position on the plans in a

resolution in March last year - but this debate today is meant to take account of the latest discussions on the matter among member states.

Strengthening Europol

Commissioner Avramopoulos seeks to reassure MEPs by telling them the Parliament will be a "crucial partner" in implementing the terms of the security strategy.

In response to points made in the debate, he says that strengthening of Europol will continue to see the agency operate within its "existing mandate".

He adds that MEPs have made it clear that the "utmost priority" for the strategy was to use existing laws in a more effective way - something which he says the new strategy will do.

Security review

There's a renewed call from Portuguese Socialist Ana Gomes for a review of security tools that the EU "already has".

This was a proposal included in a

resolution that MEPs approved last December - which also called for member states to increase their co-operation on security matters, notably by increasing the extent to which they share intelligence.

Ana Gomes
BBC

Questioning commitment

There's a lukewarm response to the Commissioner from Dutch Liberal Sophia in 't Veld, who says she is not convinced that the Commission has really followed through on a commitment to assess whether existing legislation is working as effectively as possible.

She says that any proposals to expand the role of Europol must be accompanied by a "proper parliamentary process", and that as a general rule, not new powers should be granted to security agencies without "new safeguards."

@catherinemep

MEP Catherine Bearder tweets: MEPs approve law to reduce use of #plasticbags in EU by 80%. Huge step forward for tacklng marine litter

Renewed efforts

British Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope outlines his priorities for what the EU's security concerns should be.

He says there needs to be a renewed effort from MEPs to pass long-stalled law to force airline companies to share passenger information with national security forces - a file of which he is Parliament's main negotiator, or "rapporteur".

He also says the strategy should help member states prosecute cross-border terrorist offences, and fight against the "root causes" of terrorism.

He adds that there should be more sharing of crime-related information between EU countries.