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Summary

  1. In the morning, MEPs debated and then approved new powers for Europol, the EU's police agency, as well as new entry and residence rules for non-EU students.
  2. After the voting session at lunchtime, the sitting resumed with debates on the Commission’s latest proposals to revise EU asylum law and the future of the Schengen zone.
  3. MEPs also discussed the EU’s pledge to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel to the Schengen area.
  4. In the evening, they also debated tax transparency, and whether the EU should introduce country of origin labelling rules for milk and processed meat products.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Goodnight

European Parliament

Strasbourg

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

MEPs are back tomorrow from 07.30 BST for the final day of this week's session, when MEPs will debate the enforcement of parental leave rights within the EU.

They will then debate a motion calling on EU member states to do more to protect potential victims of human traffickers.

Before the voting session at 11.00 BST, they will debate this month's motions on topical human rights cases - with the Crimean Tartars, Djibouti and the Gambia all in the spotlight.

They will also vote on a non-binding motion on whether the EU should grant "market economy status" to China. 

After the voting session, the sitting will finish with a short debate on foreign currency loans. 

MEPs begin debate on hydroelectric power

Debate on hydroelectric power

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Finally this evening, Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis will represent the Commission in a debate about the future of the hydroelectric power sector within the EU. 

MEPs disagree on labelling scheme

Debate on mandatory food labelling

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Renate Sommer
BBC

German Christian democrat Renate Sommer says she does not back mandatory labelling for processed meat and milk, making a similar point to the commissioner by stating it would be hard to enforce. 

She tells MEPs that consumers who care deeply about where their food is from can "do that anyway" by buying from local producers. 

However, Labour MEP Glenis Willmott says that the Commission's reluctance to bring forward such a scheme is "disappointing to say the least".

She cites survey results claiming 84% of consumers want to see origin labelling for milk, and says the costs involved in implementing the scheme are "really quite minimal". 

Commissioner: 'Limited willingness' to pay for label costs

Debate on mandatory food labelling

European Parliament

Strasbourg

In reply, Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis says that interest in food labelling has "certainly grown over recent years".

He tells MEPs that the Commission is not pursuing mandatory origin labelling legislation at the moment on processed food and milk, citing "limited consumer willingness to pay for such information". 

He says that EU-wide legislation in this area would put an administrative burden on producers, and defining what constitutes "lightly processed" food could be difficult and legally uncertain. 

Vytenis Andriukaitis
BBC

Debate on food labelling begins

Debate on mandatory origin labelling

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs are now debating whether the EU should introduce new labelling rules requiring the country of origin to be marked on dairy produce and on processed meat such as sausages and ready meals.

Mandatory country-of-origin labelling rules already exist for fresh beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil and honey.

A majority of MEPs also support extending this to cover processed meat, as well as milk – but the EU Commission says this should remain voluntary so as not to increase costs for consumers. 

Members of the Environment and Public Health Committee have tabled an oral question to ask the Commission when it intends to outline the results of its feasibility studies into the policy. 

Milk
AFP/Getty Images
MEPs say clearer labelling would increase consumer confidence in products like milk

MEPs begin debate on inequality reduction

Debate inequality in Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate on tax transparency finished – MEPs will vote tomorrow on their motion to state their position on the Commission’s proposals.

MEPs are now debating whether EU inequality-reduction policies have been properly reflected in the Commission’s legislative programme for this year.

An oral question from the Employment and Social Affairs Committee says that inequality in Europe is increasing and is “damaging inclusive and sustainable economic growth”.

The Committee has also asked the Commission for an indication of what its inequality reduction policies will be in its plans for next year. 

OECD agenda 'does not go far enough' - MEP

Debate on tax transparency

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Theodor Dumitru Stolojan
BBC

Romanian centre-right MEP Theodor Dumitru Stolojan says the EU support efforts to "eliminate financial secrecy". 

There shouldn't be a single hiding place anywhere in the world", he adds. 

Italian social democrat Sergio Gaetano Cofferati says the principles advocated by the OECD "do not go far enough". 

He says the €750m annual turnover threshold for which companies will have to report data to tax authorities is too low, meaning "too few" companies will be covered. 

Commission proposals 'a long way short' - Green MEP

Debate on tax transparency

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato says she also welcomes the measures, although she adds that they fall "a long way short" of public country-by country reporting as supported by her group.

She adds that such a requirement should apply for "all multinational companies, not just a few of the large ones".

She calls for greater action from the UK government to clamp down on tax avoidance in its overseas territories, which she says lie "at the heart of the web" of worldwide tax havens. 

Molly Scott-Cato
BBC

MEP hails 'important step' towards transparency

Debate on tax transparency

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Finnish Conservative Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner says the country-by-country reporting requirements will mark an "important step" on the road to preventing tax avoidance from multinationals. 

She adds, however, that the issue is an "international problem" and the new EU rules are "not going to solve the problem alone". 

She also says that her group opposes an idea supported by some of the left-leaning MEPs to make the reports from national tax authorities public. 

Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner
BBC

Tax transparency and the EU

Debate on tax transparency

European Parliament

Strasbourg

The issue of transparency in the tax affairs of multinationals rose up the political agenda shortly after the current Commission took office in November 2014 with the Luxleaks scandal.

Disclosures from a consortium of investigative journalists showed how Luxembourg helped giant companies slash their global tax bills.

The scandal was particularly embarrassing for current EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who was prime minister in the country whilst many of the deals were struck. 

Since then, the Commission has launched a number of measures aiming to boost transparency, including the information sharing proposals being debated this afternoon.

Last month the EU executive announced plans to force the largest multinationals to publicly disclose the income tax they pay within the EU on a country-by-country basis.

The plans were broadly welcomed by MEPs, although some have complained that the scope of the new rules will only apply to activities within Europe. 

Euro coin and EU flags
Getty Images

MEP: Commission text 'goes in the right direction'

Debate on tax transparency

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Polish centre-right MEP Dariusz Rosati, who has compiled the motion that will be voted on tomorrow, says the text "broadly supports" the Commission's proposals, which "goes in the right direction". 

He says the Economic and Monetary Commission has made two recommendations: that the Commission should have to report "systematically" on the tax disclosures, and that it should get access to the tax ruling information, not just national authorities. 

He adds that MEPs thought this was necessary so that the Commission could properly carry out its role of ensuring fair application of EU state aid rules. 

Dariusz Rosati
BBC

MEPs move on to tax transparency

Debate on tax transparency

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs have now been joined by Taxation Commissioner Pierre Moscovici to debate new EU tax transparency rules.

Tomorrow MEPs will vote on a non-binding motion on whether to give their backing to plans to force national tax authorities to share information about their tax rulings for multinationals.

They do not have the formal power to amend the proposals – the draft gives general approval to the plans, whilst advocating some changes.

In particular, MEPs are likely to urge member states to exchange information not just with each other but with the Commission as well, arguing the EU executive needs it to properly enforce state aid rules. 

Have Turkey and the EU struck a dirty deal?

Gavin Hewitt

BBC chief corrrespondent

Initially, Brussels was robust, insisting the Turks must fulfil all the conditions without exceptions.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: "The criteria will not be watered down."

But, when it came to it, there was a fudge.

The commission believed the conditions had been "basically achieved".

Read more here

More criticism of Turkey deal

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Renate Sommer
BBC

German Christian Democrat Renate Sommer says that MEPs will "resist" pressure from Turkey to agree to the deal.

Bulgarian Socialist Iliana Iotova adds that it is "unacceptable" that national parliaments will not get a vote on the deal, and accuses Turkey of "blackmailing" the EU over the deal. 

"What are we going to do with the people who ask for political asylum?", she adds. 

Migration 'does not change' visa requirements - Romanian MEP

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Centre-right MEP Cristian Dan Preda says that some MEPs "want to forget" that the EU agreed to start the visa application process with Turkey before the migrant crisis escalated. 

He adds that the country is doing a better job of hosting refugees than a number of EU countries, but that "does not change the fact" that the EU has always asked for criteria to be met before visa-free travel is granted. 

However, UKIP MEP Mike Hookem says the deal with Turkey shows the EU states are prepared to "stoop to any depths" in their desire to resolve the migration crisis.   

Cristian Dan Preda
BBC

Le Pen: Turkey deal 'imposed by Mrs Merkel'

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

French Front National leader Marine le Pen criticises the EU for "creating the problem" by getting rid of internal borders in the Schengen zone, which she says has left countries unable to control their frontiers. 

Denouncing the agreement as "shameful", she says it has been "imposed by Mrs Merkel who had absolutely no mandate to do anything of the kind".  

Marine le Pen
BBC

MEP: Europe 'has left itself open to blackmail'

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Sophia in't Veld
BBC

Dutch Liberal Sophia in't Veld says her groups is happy "in principle" with the idea of granting Turkey visa-free travel, but the deal that EU leaders have struck with the country is "unsavoury". 

She says it should be clear from reports from the country that pledges on media freedom and protection for journalists are not being met. 

Adding that the remaining benchmarks are "not details", she says MEPs want the chance to judge Turkey's visa application on its merits rather than "selling out" over the situation with refugees. 

She says that Europe has left itself "open to blackmail" because of the failure of governments to agree an EU-wide response to the refugee crisis, before adding: 

They find it easier to make deals with dictators like Erdogan than agree between themselves"

Turkey visa controversy

The Telegraph's Brussels correspondent tweets

Visa-free travel for Turkey: the state of play

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Turkey began its attempts to gain visa-free access for its citizens in December 2013 – the Commission has said the deal only includes the promise to “accelerate” that process.

The change would give Turkish citizens the right to travel to countries in the Schengen zone for 90 days without having to get a visa. This would not apply to the UK or Ireland. 

This right is already held by people in a number of non-EU countries, including Brazil, Chile, Canada, Australia and the United States.

The final migration deal with Turkey specifies that it will only be granted if the country meets the 72 mandatory benchmarks in its judicial procedures.

However, former Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu recently told reporters that “no-one can expect Turkey to adhere to its commitments” if the June deadline is not met.

The Commission’s latest review concluded that Turkey is still to meet five benchmarks, including reforms to corruption and data protection, and bringing its terror laws in line with EU standards.

However, Turkey's president recently said it will not change its anti-terror laws in return for visa-free travel. 

Turkey and EU flags
Getty Images

'Progress to be made' on visa deal - Commissioner

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos says it is clear that there is "still progress to be made" by Turkey on the visa benchmarks, including on data protection standards, anti-corruption laws and anti-terror legislation. 

Turkey still has to agree a co-operation agreement with Europol, the EU police agency, he adds. 

However, he says he is "confident" that Turkey remains committed to working towards these goals before the end of June, and they should "remain optimistic" that the Turkish authorities will soon give a "final push" to the changes. 

Dimitris Avramopoulos
BBC

Dutch minister: Turkey 'has homework to do' on visa criteria

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Dutch defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert tells MEPs that national governments - sitting as the EU's Council - have not yet adopted a final position on whether visa travel should be granted. 

She adds that governments will "not take a decision based on political expediency".  

She adds that although the Commission's latest report found that Turkey has made "remarkable progress" in a number of areas, it has "a lot of homework to do" when it comes to meeting remaining criteria. 

She says that a potential solution to a stumbling block over the requirement for Turkey to roll out biometric passports would be "limited visa freedom" to apply to holders of these passports only.

However, she says that the commitment to extend visa-free travel to Turkey is "longstanding" - and would "benefit all parties concerned" if the process is completed.  

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert
BBC

Debate on Turkey visa pledge begins

Debate on Turkish visa proposal

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate about the future of the Schengen area finished – Dimitris Avramopoulos will stay to debate the EU’s pledge to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel to the Schengen area.

The promise to work towards granting visa-free travel by the end of next month was offered in return for Turkey taking back migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece in a deal agreed last month.

The Commission has given conditional approval to the plan, but said work “urgently” remains to be done in a number of areas.

The European Parliament political group leaders have said the process to grant approval to the proposal should not begin until all the criteria have been met.

Granting visa-free travel to Turkey would also have to be approved by national governments, where it remains a controversial proposal. 

MEP: Governments 'falling for populist discourse'

Debate on Schengen zone

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Peter Niedermuller
BBC

Hungarian social democrat Peter Niedermuller says it is "lamentable" to see so many countries "push away from something we have worked so hard to achieve" by reimposing borders. 

Portuguese centre-right MEP Carlos Coelho says he is worried that a number of governments are "falling for populist discourse", and calls on the Commission not to "justify national selfishness".  

'Absolute need' for controls - MEP

Debate on Schengen zone

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Harald Vilimsky
BBC

Austrian nationalist Harald Vilimsky defends the decision of his government to re-impose temporary controls on Austria's border with Germany, telling MEPs that there is an "absolute need" for controls whilst the number of potential criminals and terrorists crossing the border remains unknown. 

Swedish Liberal Cecilia Wikstrom, however, says allowing Schengen to fail could "cost over a billion euros". 

She adds that European taxpayers will "have to foot the bill" for providing extra border staff and will pay the price from lower economic growth. 

Commissioner: Schengen failure 'would be highly symbolic reversal'

Debate on Schengen zone

European Parliament

Strasbourg

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos takes a similar line - stating that the Commission would like to see controls end as soon as possible, and "within six months at the latest". 

He adds that the costs of border checks are "already visible" in a number of areas, with some countries suffering hits to their tourism sectors. 

However, he says that the "political cost" of the zone failing would be "much more important", as it would be a "highly symbolic reversal" of a "major achievement" of European integration. 

Dimitris Avramopoulos
BBC

Minister highlights 'huge costs' of border checks

Debate on Schengen zone

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert tells MEPs that she would like to "be clear" that the Schengen zone is "one of the greatest achievements" of the EU, even though it has been "severely tested" by the migration crisis. 

She says that keeping border controls on a permanent basis would impose "huge" costs on the economy, and that governments are working towards having controls removed by the end of the year. 

Debate on Schengen area begins

Debate on the Schengen zone

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate about proposals to revise EU asylum rules finished – MEPs have now been joined by Dutch defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert to debate the future of the Schengen area.

The passport-free travel area has come under serious strain, with a number of EU states having reintroduced temporary border controls.

Last week the Commission agreed to allow a further six months of controls at borders in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway – a non-EU state but member of Schengen.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has himself admitted that the zone is "partly comatose", and warned that its collapse could threaten the long-term future of the euro.

In March the Commission published its own research claiming that a permanent re-establishment of border controls would cost the Schengen economies between €5-18bn a year. 

Border control
EPA
The migration crisis has seen border controls return to the Schengen area

Commissioner defends 'realistic' rule changes

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Summing up the debate for the Commission, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos says the debate has shown a "huge diversity of opinions" on asylum policy. 

However, he defends the Commission's latest plan as "balanced and realistic". 

He adds that the notion of solidarity "can take various forms" - including financial payments. 

Dimitris Avramopoulos
BBC

Support for Commission's position

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Kati Pir
BBC

Kati Piri, from the Dutch Labour Party, says that the measures proposed last week are "extreme" but that the Commission was "left with no choice" given the pressure on states such as Greece and Italy. 

There's yet more sympathy for the Commission's position from Austrian centre-right MEP Othmar Karas, who says the EU executive is trying to respond to a "lack of European solidarity" from national governments. 

He says that "democracy has its limits" - one them being the respect for human rights. 

Green MEP voices burden concern

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Ska Keller
BBC

German Green Ska Keller says there is a danger that the new rules will not actually reduce the border on frontline states such as Greece - as under the plans, they would still have to initially assess whether asylum claims as "inadmissible" or not. 

UKIP's Jane Collins says that although "those in genuine need" should be given a "safe haven", the EU's proposals amount to "forcing countries to take on people who could well be terrorists and fining them if they don't". 

More criticism of Commission plans

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Austrian social democrat Josef Weidenholzer says the Commission "maintains the illusion" of the principle that asylum seekers should normally apply in their country of arrival. 

He adds that he supports the proposals for an EU-wide scheme to calculate refugee relocation, but the Commission's latest plan is still "tinkering around the edges" of the problem. 

Finnish Conservative Jussi Halla-Aho says that relocation "will not work" and will only "encourage people to come" - whilst re-establishing border controls has been shown to reduce flows. 

The question that EU countries need to answer, he says, is "how many people we can afford to take in socially and economically". 

MEP: Payment proposal 'seems like punishment'

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Slovakian social democrat Tanja Fajon says the financial sanctions envisaged in the Commission's latest proposals are "not enough when we're dealing with a European problem".

She adds that the revision will "not help us avoid the kind of situation we're seeing in Greece".

Conservative MEP and former Home Office minister Timothy Kirkhope says the payment proposal "seems like a punishment" for member states that refuse to take their share of a quota. 

Adding that his group has "always had reservations" with the compulsory relocation of asylum seekers, he says that the EU's asylum laws should be properly applied, rather than trying to "reinvent the wheel". 

Timothy Kirkhope
BBC

EU 'trying to flog a dead horse'

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

German left-winger Cornelia Ernst says the latest proposals to revive the Dublin rules amounts to little more than "flogging a dead horse".

She says the ability to refuse the burden-sharing element of the plan by making a payment will allow EU states to "get off the hook", but adds that people cannot be moved "like sacks of potatoes". 

Cornelia Ernst
BBC

Countries 'exonerating themselves' through refugee payments - MEP

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Maltese centre-right MEP Roberta Metsola says she thinks that overhauling the Dublin system is "essential", but that allowing countries to "exonerate themselves" from taking refugees through payments of fines is not the way to go. 

Bulgarian Conservative Helga Stevens says that relocation of refugees should be a "last step", and the priority should be to put in place an "appropriate border policy" to limit the number of new arrivals. 

Roberta Metsola
BBC

What’s the Commission's proposal?

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

The Commission’s latest scheme would see the essentials of the Dublin regulation kept in place, with refugees still normally required to claim asylum in the EU member state in which they arrive.

However, if a country receives more than 150% of its annual "fair share" of asylum seekers, then a scheme to relocate them to other EU states would kick in.

That share is calculated according to a country's population and economy – calculated by a newly-rebranded European Union Agency for Asylum.

Countries that refused to accept their quota would be fined €250,000 per person – with the money going to frontline states such as Italy and Greece that have carried the burden. 

What’s the reaction been?

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Greater powers to share out asylum seekers within the EU are generally favoured by Italy and Greece, which have become overwhelmed with the number of people claiming asylum there.

However the plans have alarmed several Central European countries, with Hungary calling the scheme "unacceptable" and Poland's foreign minister wondering if it was "a serious proposal".

The Czech Republic said it was an unpleasant surprise as it returned to a concept of permanent mandatory quotas which had been rejected last year.

EU states have a temporary scheme to redistribute 160,000 migrants around the continent, but it has met only a tiny fraction of this target since it was agreed last year.

The UK and Ireland can opt out of asylum policies, and the British government has already indicated it will not take part. 

What’s wrong with the Dublin rules?

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

The current Dublin regulation is designed to stop what has become known as "asylum shopping", whereby migrants make multiple asylum claims across Europe.

However the migration crisis has exposed flaws in the policy, leaving Greece and Italy dealing with the majority of cases.

Germany effectively suspended the Dublin rule last August, when it said it would take in all Syrian asylum seekers, prompting an influx of migrants and refugees into the EU via Greece and the Western Balkans.

The numbers travelling the route fell when countries along the way set up fences or imposed border controls, but that has left thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece. 

Border check in Lithuania
Reuters

Good afternoon

Debate on EU asylum rules

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Hello and welcome back to coverage of this afternoon’s sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The session will be resuming shortly, when MEPs will be joined by deputy Commission chief Frans Timmermans and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to debate the Commission’s plans to revise EU asylum rules.

It comes after the EU executive last week announced its proposals to overhaul the so-called Dublin system, which says that refugees should claim asylum in the country they arrive in.

Under the proposals, an automatic relocation scheme would kick in if a country receives more than 150% of its annual “share” of asylum seekers, based on population and economy.

The plans would require support from most member states as well as MEPs – the UK and Ireland can opt out of asylum policies, whilst Denmark is also exempt. 

Migrants in Greece
Reuters
Around 50,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece

Short speeches begin

That’s today’s short voting session finished – MEPs will now have the opportunity to make short speeches to explain how they voted.

After this, there will be a break for lunch, after which MEPs will be back at 14.00 BST to debate the European Commission’s latest plans to revise EU asylum law, which it proposed last week.

MEPs give approval to non-EU student rights

Voting session

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs also give final approval to new entry and residence rules for non-EU students and researchers that they have just finished debating. 

MEPs voted by 597 votes to 67 against an amendment that would have rejected the Parliament's agreed position with national ministers - meaning the agreed text is approved.  

Under the proposals, students will have the right to stay at least nine months after finishing their studies or research in order to look for a job or to set up a business.

They will also have the right to work at least 15 hours a week during their studies, whilst researchers will also be able to undertake longer exchanges within the EU than allowed at the moment.

The UK, Ireland and Denmark have all used their treaty rights to opt out of the legislation.

Voting graphic
BBC
The rejection means the agreed deal is approved