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Summary

  1. The sitting began with a debate on how the EU could protect Europe's rail supply industry from unfair competition from overseas.
  2. MEPs then debated and approved human rights motions relating to democratic standards in Cambodia, Tajikistan and Vietnam.
  3. After the voting session, MEPs debated whether the Commission has done enough to keep them informed of negotiations on various international agreements.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Session ends

European Parliament

Strasbourg

And that's it for the European Parliament this week, as the plenary session draws to an end. 

MEPs will next have a plenary sitting on 22-23rd June, when they will hold a two-day "mini plenary" in Brussels.  

Background on MEPs and TTIP documents

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

One of the biggest international agreements that has attracted criticism for a lack of transparency is TTIP, the trade deal that the EU is currently negotiating with the United States.

Although negotiations with the US authorities are being conducted by officials from the European Commission, the eventual deal will have to be ratified by the European Parliament.

After pressure from the Parliament and the EU’s Ombudsman, MEPs now have the right to read some of the confidential negotiating documents in a special “reading room”.

MEPs are allowed to make handwritten notes, but are not allowed to make copies or recordings of the documents, including by photographing them.

Some have criticised this system as undemocratic, and called for a greater number of documents to be made available not just to MEPs but also the public.

The European Commission maintains that a certain level of secrecy is required because some of the information is commercially sensitive. 

Greenpeace reading room
Reuters
Greenpeace recently set up their own "reading room" in Berlin where members of the public could read leaked TTIP documents

UKIP MEP criticises 'farcical' transparency provisions

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

UKIP's Diane James says the debate about transparency brings "into sharp focus" some of the debates about the accountability of EU institutions during the UK's referendum debate. 

She too picks up on the provisions for MEPs to view TTIP documents - saying that her party colleague John Stuart Agnew was threatened with "punishment", including fines, if he disclosed confidential information. 

She adds that it is "absolutely farcical" that an MEP was only allowed to see the documents in what she describes as a "windowless cell". 

She says that not offering greater transparency provisions undermines the ability of the EU to push for greater democratic standards in its external policies. 

Diane James
BBC

MEPs 'have to fight tooth and nail' for information

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Spanish left-winger Paloma Lopez Bermejo says that the European Parliament has to "fight tooth and nail" to get hold of information. 

She says this cannot be justified given that the Parliament is the "only democratically elected European Union body". 

She criticises transparency provisions relating to the TTIP trade deal the EU is currently negotiating with the US - where MEPs are only allowed to view confidential documents in a "reading room".

"It's as if we can't tell the people of Europe what it negotiates on their behalf," she says. 

Paloma Lopez Bermejo
BBC

MEPs complain over information on EU-Turkey deal

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Angel Dzhambazhi
BBC

Bulgarian Conservative Angel Dzhambazhi says it is "scandalous" that MEPs were not consulted before the EU struck its recent migration deal with Turkey.  

He adds that the fact the deal contains budgetary implications - an area where the Parliament has competence - means they should have had the ability to give their view on it before it was signed. 

Czech Liberal Dita Charanzova agrees, saying MEPs were "left with a lot of questions" about the Turkey deal and had to get information via the media. 

She adds that she has "never seen such an active interest" than at the moment in the EU's trade deals during her time as an MEP. 

She adds that the Parliament is treated as a "second class institution" when it comes to gaining information, although she says she would like to praise the steps to improve transparency from the current EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. 

Commission to propose 'improved arrangements' soon

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos says that the EU executive is committed to providing MEPs with "full and immediate information at all stages of negotiations". 

He says that recommendations for "improved practical arrangements" will be made shortly after the conclusion of an agreement on "better law-making" between the main institutions. 

However, he notes that each institution is responsible for providing its own information to MEPs - adding that, for example, the Commission would not be responsible for providing information on agreements negotiated by the Council of Ministers. 

He adds that the Commission is monitoring "closely" how this procedure is implemented. 

Dimitris Avramopoulos
BBC

MEP questions information flow to Parliament

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Maltese centre-right MEP Roberta Metsola says that the European Parliament's power to approve international agreements was expanded in 2010 under the Lisbon Treaty. 

She says that under the treaties, other EU institutions are obliged to give information about the agreements in advance of a decision having to be made. 

She adds that this should not be "limited to requests for information", but that other EU bodies should "take the initiative" to give information to MEPs. 

She asks how the Commission intends to ensure EU institutions "live up to" this requirement. 

Final debate to begin shortly

Debate on international agreements

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Hello and welcome back to this plenary sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Finally today, MEPs will shortly be joined by Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to debate how well the Parliament has been kept informed on negotiations for international agreements. 

Voting session ends

European Parliament

Strasbourg

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

After this there will be a break for lunch, after which the sitting will resume at 14.00 BST with a debate on whether the Commission has done enough to keep MEPs informed of negotiations on various international agreements. 

MEPs back document simplification drive

Voting session

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs give final approval to proposals aiming to reduce the administrative burden of buying a house, getting married or registering a new residence in different EU country.

The new rules would mean EU citizens would not have to get authenticated copies made of certain public documents – including birth certificates – when they move to another EU state.

The requirement to get official documents “authenticated” can incur large fees, particularly if the documents need to be translated.

The measures were first proposed by the European Commission in 2013 as part of a drive to simplify the process of moving country within the EU. 

Filing cabinet
Science Photo Library

MEPs approve changes to tribunal change for EU staff

Voting session

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs also give their approval to a proposal to dissolve the European Union Civil Service Tribunal – a special court within the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) which examines disputes involving EU civil servants.

The Tribunal is no longer necessary because from this September such cases will automatically be transferred to the ECJ's General Court, where the number of judges is set to increase.  

ECJ
EPA
Plans to increase the number of judges at the ECJ have proved controversial

MEPs approve human rights motions

Voting session

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Firstly, MEPs approve their human rights motions which they debated this morning, which:

  • condemn the “worsening climate” for opposition politicians and human rights activists in Cambodia
  • calls for the release of several prisoners in Tajikistan
  • calls for an end to the “intimidation and persecution” of rights activists and journalists in Vietnam.

Votes to begin soon

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate on Vietnam finished – MEPs are now taking their seats for today’s voting session, which will being at 11.00 BST.

UKIP MEP criticises 'imperialist pretensions' of EU trade policy

Debate topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

UKIP's Diane James says that the EU's free trade deal with Vietnam, which it signed earlier this year, contained the "usual expectations" about an improvement to human rights. 

However, she says a recent trip to the country from US President Obama has proved that this approach has not worked. 

She calls on the EU to "stop using trade as a lever" to promote rights, which she says has not worked and has "imperialist pretensions". 

Diane James
BBC

Debate on Vietnam begins

Debates on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate about Tajikistan finished – MEPs will also put this motion to a vote during the voting session, which will begin shortly.

Next however MEPs are debating their final motion, which calls for an end to “harassment, intimidation, and persecution” against rights activists, journalists and bloggers in Vietnam.

Their draft motion also urges revision to Vietnam’s criminal code, which it says contains articles that are used to suppress freedom of expression in the country.

It calls on the EU delegation to Vietnam to use “all appropriate tools and instruments” to encourage respect for the human rights commitments in the country’s EU partnership agreement. 

'Overall legitimacy' of Tajik political system at risk - Commissioner

Debate on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides says that despite "some positive developments", the Commission has concerns about political participation and the treatment of prisoners in the country. 

He adds that the actions of the Tajik government risk damaging the "overall legitimacy" of the country's political system. 

He tells MEPs that the EU "stands together" with the government in "addressing these important issues". 

Christos Stylianides
BBC

'Little hope' for western path from Tajikistan - MEP

Debate on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Finnish Green Heidi Hautala accuses the Tajik government of using the fight against terrorism as a tool to "repress the rights of opposition parties". 

Conservative MEP Charles Tannock says that the moves the country has taken under President Rakhmon are "not those we would have hoped for".

He says the country is falling "more closely back into the orbit of Russia", with "little hope" at the moment that it will move  in a western direction. 

Charles Tannock
BBC

Debate on Tajikistan begins

Debate on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

That’s the debate on Cambodia finished – MEPs will vote on their motion during the voting session at lunchtime.

MEPs are now debating their second motion, which calls for the release of several people who have been imprisoned “on politically motived charges” in the former Soviet republic Tajikistan.

In particular, the text calls for the release of businessman and government critic Abubakr Azizkhodzhaev, who was arrested in February after criticising the President’s son-in-law.

MEPs point out that respect for “democratic principles and fundamental and human rights” was a condition of a partnership agreement the country has with the EU that came into force in 2010.

The draft text calls on the EU Commission to raise concerns about the rule of law in the country with the Tajik authorities, and closely monitor respect for political parties ahead of elections in 2020. 

Emomali Rakhmon
AP
President Emomali Rakhmon was recently granted an unlimited presidential term following a referendum

EU 'has serious concerns' with Cambodian democracy

Debates on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides says the EU has "clearly spelled out" its "serious concerns" at the narrowing space for opposition in the country. 

He adds that the Commission will "consider" whether it will be appropriate to send EU electoral observers to one of the elections in either 2017 or 2018. 

He adds that the Commission has "earmarked" €10m to support electoral reform initiatives in the country.  

Christos Stylianides
BBC

MEPs urge greater EU pressure on Cambodia

Debates on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Ignazio Corrao, from the Italian Five Star Movement, says that both the freedom of expression and the freedom of association in Cambodia are being "brutally repressed". 

He also notes that this is the third time in less than a year that MEPs have tabled a motion about these issues, and that the EU needs to "take a fresh look" at how it allocates development aid in the country. 

Austrian social democrat Josef Weidenholzer says the EU should "cast pressure" on Cambodia to improve democratic standards ahead of elections in 2018. 

Ignazio Corrao
BBC

Debate on Cambodia begins

Debate on topical human rights motions

European Parliament

Strasbourg

MEPs are now debating their first motion, which condemns the “worsening climate for opposition politicians and human rights activists” in Cambodia.

The draft text urges the Cambodian authorities to drop all charges against opposition leader Sam Rainsy and several members of the CNRP opposition party, as well as a number of activists.  

Mr Rainsy has been living in self‑imposed exile following an arrest warrant issued against him last year after he said the ruling party would "derail" elections due in 2018.

Cambodian leader Hun Sen has ruled for more than 30 years and is currently trying to exert more control over the media and social media in the country.

The text also calls for the EU Commission to set “clear benchmarks” for the conduct of the elections, and link EU development aid to improvements to the country’s human rights record. 

Protests in Phnom Penh
EPA
The arrest of activists recently sparked protests in the country

Debate on human rights motions begins

European Parliament

Brussels

That’s the debate on the railway supply sector finished – MEPs will now debate this month’s three topical motions on human rights cases.

The motions will be put to a vote shortly after the debates are finished, during the day’s voting session which is due to begin at 11.00 BST. 

UKIP MEP criticises 'free-for-all' of EU movement rules

Debate on rail supply industry

European Parliament

Strasbourg

UKIP's Jonathan Arnott says that the idea that EU states should consider granting market economy status to China is "like something out of Alice in Wonderland". 

He says the railway industry in the UK employs around 200,000 people and contributes around £9bn a year to the economy, and has "taken a market approach" that has not been seen elsewhere in Europe. 

He adds that the need for a skilled workforce in the sector shows the need for a skills-based immigration system rather than a "free-for-all" under EU freedom of movement rules. 

Jonathan Arnott
BBC

MEPs condemn 'unfair' Chinese competition

Debate on rail supply industry

European Parliament

Strasbourg

French centre-right MEP Nadine Morano says the European rail industry faces "hugely detrimental" competition from state-backed Chinese companies the benefit from "huge amount of public funds".

David Borrelli, leader of the Italian Five Star Movement in the Parliament, makes a similar point, branding China "public enemy number one" of the European rail industry. 

He expresses his concern about the contract to build the Hungarian section of a railway linking Budapest with Belgrade going to a state-backed Chinese company. 

He says that European companies are not being granted "symmetrical access" to the Chinese market. 

David Borrelli
BBC

Commissioner: Railway industry 'can improve its position'

Debate on rail supply industry

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides tells MEPs that Europe's rail industry has the capability to remain world-leading, and "improve its position" globally. 

He points to provisionally agreed EU legislation - known as the "railway package" - as a measure that will "remove barriers that hamper market access", and increase punctuality and reliability. 

The proposals would introduce mandatory competitive tendering for public rail contracts, with some exceptions, to begin seven years after the law is passed.

It still faces a final plenary vote in the European Parliament, expected before the end of this year. 

It has proved controversial in countries such as France and Belgium, where the railway market is currently dominated by national monopolies. 

Christos Stylianides
BBC

MEP: EU must 'avoid mistakes' of steel industry

Debate on rail supply industry

European Parliament

Strasbourg

German social democrat Martina Werner says the European rail industry is "a very strong sector" but is facing "structural problems" and competition from industrialised Asian countries. 

She adds that the industry needs to be "ready for the future" - and that the "mistakes" that allowed for the decline of the steel industry in Europe should not be repeated for rail. 

She says that smaller providers still suffer from the "fragmentation" of the European rail market, although she says that the recent opening of the Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland should be welcomed. 

She also calls for more money from the EU's flagship investment fund - which MEPs debated yesterday - to go to rail projects in Italy and Spain. 

Martina Werner
BBC

Good morning

Debate on rail supply industry begins

European Parliament

Strasbourg

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

The sitting will be getting underway shortly, when MEPs will be debating ways in which the EU could protect Europe’s rail supply industry from unfair competition from overseas.

The sector covers the manufacture of infrastructure such as rail lines, train carriages and signals.

In an oral question, MEPs on the Industry Committee are asking the Commission how it can promote investment and research to improve the competitiveness of the industry in Europe.

It also asks the Commission to give an initial assessment of how the sector would be affected if China gains market economy status at the World Trading Organisation (WTO) later this year. 

Tracks at Glasgow station
PA