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Summary

  1. The sitting began with a debate on the enforcement of parental leave rights within the EU.
  2. They then debated a motion calling on EU member states to do more to protect potential victims of human traffickers.
  3. At the voting session, they passed a non-binding motion opposing “any unilateral granting” of market economy status to China by the EU at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
  4. After the voting session, the sitting will finish with a short debate on foreign currency loans.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Goodbye

European Parliament

Strasbourg

And with that, the very short debate comes to a close, bringing this day's sitting - and this week's plenary session - to a close. 

MEPs will next next sit in plenary in Brussels on Wednesday 25 May. 

Commissioner outlines 'initial assessment' of Croatian law

Debate on foreign currency loans

European Parliament

Strasbourg

UK Commissioner Lord Hill, whose brief includes responsibility over financial regulation, kicks off this extremely short debate by telling MEPs that mortgages taken out in foreign currencies "can become a problem" if offered to households that are not able to deal with fluctuations in currency rates. 

The issue has has become a particular issue in some Eastern European countries, where many households took out mortgages in Swiss francs before the financial crisis to take advantage of lower Swiss interest rates.

However, many have struggled to meet repayments since the Swiss central bank scrapped its currency cap in January last year. 

Lord Hill says an initial assessment of Croatian legislation allowing Swiss-franc loans to be converted into euros has shown that currency switching "can justify" protection in certain circumstances. 

However, he says that allowing borrowers to exchange Swiss francs into euros at artificial rates would "go beyond" what is needed to protect consumers. 

Lord Hill
BBC

Short speeches to begin soon

European Parliament

Strasbourg

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

MEPs will now break for lunch, after which the week’s sitting will conclude with a (very short) debate about foreign loan currencies with the UK’s EU Commissioner Lord Hill. 

MEPs oppose 'unilateral granting' of market status to China

Voting session

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs have passed a non-binding motion to oppose “any unilateral granting” of market economy status to China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In a resolution backed by 546 votes to 28, they say the country has “not yet fulfilled” the five criteria set by the EU to define market economies.

China was not granted the status when it joined the WTO in 2001, but argues that the terms of its membership mean it should automatically get it at the end of this year.

The motion says the European Commission should work with the EU’s major trading partners to find a response that respects WTO rules whilst also reflecting concerns expressed by EU industry.  

Any recommendation from the EU Commission on how to respond will have to gain the approval of MEPs, as well as national governments.

Granting the status has been opposed by a number of industrial unions, who have said it would make it harder to impose higher tariffs on cheap Chinese imports such as steel.

It also states that a “non-standard” method should continue to be used to calculate tariffs on Chinese steel that is dumped – sold at a loss – on European markets. 

Redcar
Getty Images
Cheap Chinese steel has been blamed for the loss of European steel jobs, including in the UK

MEPs call for clearer labelling of fish

Voting session

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs also pass a motion calling for a clearer system for labelling the origin of fish.

It comes after an environmental group published a report based on DNA sampling which showed that around a third of fish sold in Brussels restaurants was mislabelled.

The group’s survey was based on samples from 150 restaurants in the Belgian capital, including the restaurants of the European Commission and European Parliament. 

Fish dish
BBC

MEPs approve human rights motions

Voting session

MEPs begin the voting session by approving the three human rights motions they debated this morning, which:

  • condemn a recent decision by prosecutors in Crimea to ban the Mejlis, the unofficial parliament of the region’s Tartar people
  • condemn attacks last April against demonstrators protesting against the death of an opposition figure in the Gambia
  • call for a “thorough investigation” into disputed elections in the tiny African nation of Djibouti last month.

Commissioner: election inquiry 'of utmost importance'

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova tells MEPs that the EU "remains an important partner" of Djibouti, although the rights situation in the country is "a matter of concern". 

She adds that human rights activists in the country are subject to harassment and there has been a "narrowing" of political opposition. 

She says the Commission agrees that an "international inquiry" into the conduct of the elections is "of the utmost importance". 

Vera Jourova
BBC

Voting session to begin soon

European Parliament

Strasbourg

With this morning’s debates having come to an end, MEPs are now taking their seats for today’s voting session, which will begin shortly. 

Djibouti’s thin-skinned democracy

By Tomi Oladipo, BBC Monitoring Africa security correspondent

BBC Monitoring

Djibouti is clearly a little nervous about democracy, as within 48 hours of arriving to report on the forthcoming elections, I was among a three-man BBC team detained and expelled without explanation. 

The Red Sea nation is an important security hub, hosting military bases from the US and France.

It was my first visit and I was most looking forward to seeing how the country operated with so many military personnel representing different interests.

Read more

Debate on disputed Djibouti elections begins

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Finally this morning, MEPs are debating a motion calling for a “thorough investigation” into disputed elections in the tiny African nation of Djibouti. 

The country’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh won a landslide victory last month in an election criticised by opposition parties and rights groups.

He faced five rivals in the election, but three opposition parties boycotted the poll – with activists also complaining of political repression and curbs on basic freedoms in the run-up to the vote.

The motion also backs a call from the EU for the results from each polling station in both the 2013 and 2016 elections to be published. 

Ismail Omar Guelleh
AFP/Getty Images
President Ismail Omar Guelleh has been in power since 1999

MEPs urge EU action on Gambia

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Valencian nationalist Jordi Sebastia says the EU should stop all aid donations to the regime in Gambia, although humanitarian aid should continue to be granted. 

The EU withdrew millions of euros in funding for Gambia in 2014 over its poor human rights record. 

Labour MEP David Martin says the EU "has to do more", and send a "clear demarche" to the Gambian government that it will "consider cutting relations in total" if arbitrary detention does not end. 

Debate on Gambia protests begins

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Next, MEPs are debating a motion to condemn attacks last April against demonstrators protesting against the death of an opposition figure in the Gambia.  

The rights group Amnesty International, along with the other activists, has called for an inquiry into the death of Solo Sandeng following protests calling for electoral reform.

The tiny West African nation is set to hold presidential elections in December - opposition groups have called for changes to electoral laws to enable the elections to be free and fair.

The Gambia has been ruled by President Yahya Jammeh since he came to power in a coup 20 years ago. 

Protest in Gambia
AFP/Getty Images

Commissioner: Mejilis ban 'grave attack' on Tartar rights

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova tells MEPs that the decision by prosecutors in Crimea to brand the Mejilis an extremist organisation is a "grave attack on the rights of the Crimean Tartars as a whole".

She adds that the move represents a further "deterioration in the human rights situation" in the region. 

Vera Jourova
BBC

Labour MEP: Tartars face 'longstanding discrimination'

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Richard Howitt
BBC

Labour MEP Richard Howitt says the Crimean Tartars have faced "longstanding" discrimination, and events since the annexation amount to a "new wave of repression".

He adds that ban on the Mejilis amounts to infringing the Crimean people's "right to the freedom of association". 

French Front National MEP Jean-Luc Schaffauser takes a dissenting view from many MEPs, saying the assembly was "never recognised by Ukraine" before the annexation. 

Russia 'repeating' Soviet-era deportations - MEP

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Lithuanian Green Bronis Rope says that the Tartars were "the first to be accused of being criminals" when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. 

He tells MEPs that discrimination against the minority amounts to Russia "trying to carry out ethnic cleansing" and "repeating" the forced deportation of the group by the Soviets in 1944. 

Conservative MEP Charles Tannock says that 20,000 Tartars have fled to mainland Ukaine since Crimean annexation - which risks becoming a "21st Century version" of events in 1944. 

He urges EU and Western nations to keep up the pressure of sanctions against Russia. 

Charles Tannock
BBC

Debate on Crimean assembly ban begins

Human rights debates

European Parliament

Strasbourg

The first debate is on a motion condemning a recent decision by prosecutors in Crimea to ban the Mejlis, the unofficial parliament of the Crimean people, on the grounds that it is an extremist group.

The motion says that the ban should be immediately reversed, describing the assembly as the “legitimate and recognised representative body of the indigenous people of Crimea”.

It also urges the EU to provide financial support to the body whilst it is banned.

Control of Crimea was seized by Kremlin-backed forces in early 2014, and the territory, which has a Russian-speaking majority, voted to join Russia in a referendum that Ukraine and the West deem illegal. 

Human rights debates to begin

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate on EU anti-trafficking rules finished – next, MEPs are going to be discussing motions relating to three topical human rights cases.

Commission 'pro-active' in policing EU trafficking laws

Debate on human trafficking

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova tells MEPs that the Commission has been "particularly pro-active" in ensuring application of anti-trafficking legislation. 

She adds that the EU "has delivered" in this area, but that "a lot remains to be done".

She says that the Commission has received information suggesting that of the 27 member states concerned by the legislation, "full transposition" into national law has been achieved in 26. 

She adds that following a political agreement on legislation, transposition in Germany, the final state, is expected "soon". 

Vera Jourova
BBC

MEP: Countries 'slow' to implement anti-trafficking law

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder tells MEPs that EU anti-trafficking legislation is an "excellent framework" but that many EU countries have been "slow" to implement it.

She adds that uneven application of the law is "failing the victims of Europe". 

She says that the victims of trafficking "should be properly provided for", including the rights to legal services, healthcare and the right to claim compensation. 

Catherine Bearder
BBC

Debate on anti-trafficking law begins

Debate on human trafficking

European Parliament

Brussels

That’s the debate on EU parental leave laws finished – MEPs will vote on their motion at lunchtime.

MEPs are now debating a motion calling on EU member states to protect potential victims of human traffickers.

The draft text, drawn up by Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder on behalf of the Women’s Rights Committee, says EU anti-trafficking law is not being properly implemented.

It comes after the David Cameron said the UK will take in more unaccompanied Syrian refugee children from Europe, although it has not committed to a specific figure.

There are around 10,000 unaccompanied children who have disappeared since arriving in the EU last year, according to Europol, the EU’s police agency. 

What is the maternity leave directive?

Debate on parental leave rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

The Commission first proposed the law in 2008 - stating that the minimum period of paid maternity leave in the EU should be increased from 14 to 18 weeks.

MEPs backed the plans in 2010, and narrowly voted to extend the minimum period to 20 weeks.

However, the proposals ran into opposition from social affairs ministers in the member states, who overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

A blocking minority of countries - including the UK - had argued that the law would be too costly and impose too big a burden on businesses. 

Pregnant woman
PA

Commissioner: Need for 'better designed arrangements'

Debate on parental leave rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova says there is a need for "better designed arrangements" to help families reconcile work and family life. 

She adds that some families still face "significant challenges" in this area - and that the Commission is conducting "intensive dialogue" with EU states over how they apply the parental leave directive. 

MEP: Women suffering 'real discrimination' over jobs

Debate on parental leave rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Belgian Socialist Maria Arena, who has compiled the motion on behalf of the Employment Committee, says parental leave is an important tool to "better reconcile" work and home life.

She says that women currently still suffer "real discrimination" in the labour market due to worries from employers that they will lose money if they take time off to have children. 

She says that leaving parental rights transferable "reinforces traditional stereotypes", with women taking on a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to raising children.  

Maria Arena
BBC

Good morning

Debate on parental leave rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

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

The session will be getting underway shortly, when MEPs will be joined by Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova to debate the enforcement of parental leave rights within the EU.

EU rules dating from 2010 give employees the right to four months’ unpaid parental leave, with one of those months must be granted on a non-transferable basis.

Plans to extend the minimum period of paid maternity leave in the EU from 14 to 18 weeks have been stalled for years following disagreements between MEPs and national ministers.

At lunchtime MEPs will vote on a draft motion which expresses concern at the “disparities” in how different member states have implemented previous EU laws.