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Summary

  1. MEPs debate new rules for using and disposing of mercury
  2. They also discuss new EU rules giving shareholders greater rights to vote on director pay
  3. Debate on gender equality marks last week's International Women's Day

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Goodnight & Coming up tomorrow

And with that, today's plenary sitting comes to an end. 

MEPs will be back tomorrow from 08.00 GMT, when they will first debate tighter EU regulations for gun ownership, to be voted on at lunchtime.

They will also debate and vote on their initial position on new EU-wide recycling targets.

In the afternoon, they will debate the recent US executive order banning federal funds from international groups which perform abortions.

In the evening they will discuss rules for food safety inspections, and next year's EU budget. 

Short speeches begin

That's the short debates on the "own initiative" reports finished. 

Finally this evening, there will be a round of short one-minute speeches from backbench MEPs.

This item of business, traditionally held during the Monday plenary sitting, is normally used by MEPs to make points about topical issues or stories of interest to their country or region.

MEP presents report on horse handling

Presentation of "own initiative" reports

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Julie Girling
EP

British Conservative MEP Julie Girling has drafted a report from the same committee which calls on the EU to draw up guidelines for horse and donkey handling.

The report recommends that the guidelines cover responsible breeding, animal health and welfare standards and how the animals should be used in tourism.

It says the EU should also collate and provide information on examples of “good practices” in the different member states.

However, Ms Girling tells MEPs that the report stops short of calling for new EU legislation, adding that it is not clear how new EU-wide rules would "add value".  

National governments 'best placed' on rabbit welfare - Commissioner

Presentation of "own initiative" reports

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Vera Jourova
EP

Again responding for the Commission, Vera Jourova says that "all farmed animals" are already covered by EU legislation passed in 1998.

She adds that these rules already prohibit causing "unnecessary pain, suffering or injury" to farmed animals. 

Telling MEPs that rabbit meat production takes place mainly in Italy, Spain and France, she says the Commission is not minded to adopt new EU-wide legislation specifically for rabbits. 

These countries, she adds, will be "better placed" to address the issues raised in the report. 

MEP presents report on welfare for farm rabbits

Presentation of "own initiative" reports

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Stefan Eck
EP

Left-wing German MEP Stefan Eck presents his report on behalf of the agriculture committee, which calls for specific EU animal welfare guidelines for farm rabbits.

The EU currently has general provisions for farm animals, as well as specific rules for pigs, calves, laying hens, broiler chickens – but not rabbits.

The report says there are currently “grave concerns” about the welfare standards of farm rabbits in Europe, and variable national rules for battery cage sizes.

He adds that consumers are demanding "higher welfare standards" in the production of rabbit meat. 

Commissioner: EU privacy standards 'highest in world'

Presentation of "own initiative" reports

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Vera Jourova
EP

Replying for the Commission, Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova says that new technologies bring "significant challenges that we must deal with".

She says that protection of personal data should be a priority - and says the EU's new data protection regime , which was approved last year, will bring the "highest data protection standards in the world". 

She says that the Commission will be working with member states to ensure the new rules are "well understood" before they are due to come into effect in May 2018. 

MEPs presents report on smart devices

Presentation of "own initiative" reports

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Ana Gomes
EP

Portuguese Socialist Ana Gomes has compiled a report on behalf of the civil liberties committee about privacy protections in the use of so-called smart devices connected to the internet.

The report says that the benefits of smart devices will only be felt if accompanied by “strong enforcement” of fundamental privacy rights. 

MEPs to present committee reports

That's the debate on gender equality finished. 

Next tonight, there will be short debates on three non-binding “own initiative” motions prepared by the Parliament’s committees that will be put to the vote tomorrow.

These motions do not carry any legal force and are not binding on the Commission or on member states – but effectively serve as policy suggestions from MEPs. 

MEP urges greater ratification of Istanbul Convention

Debate on gender equality

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Ernest Urtasun
EP

Catalan nationalist Ernest Urtasun, who has drafted one of the three motion that will be voted on tomorrow, says more EU states need to ratify the Istanbul Convention. 

The Convention, which came into force in 2014, is an international treaty proposed by the Council of Europe aiming to reduce violence against women and girls.

Signatories commit to providing 24/7 helplines, giving the police the power to remove perpetrators from their homes, and setting up an adequate number of shelters and refuges.

All EU states have signed the Convention, but so far only 14 have fully ratified it. 

'Huge differences' on pay levels - MEP

Debate on gender equality

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Noris Marias
EP

Noris Marias, an MEP from the Independent Greeks party, says that there are "huge differences" between member states when it come to pay equality among men and women. 

However he says that the "biggest challenge" facing the EU is to combat violence against women. 

Diane James rejects 'positive discrimination'

Debate on gender equality

European Parliament

Strasbourg

German left-wing MEP Stefan Eck says that there is a growing "feminisation" of poverty in the EU due to the disproportionate effect of austerity cuts on women. 

UKIP MEP Diane James says that moves to promote better equality should not include so-called "positive discrimination" to "satisfy quotas". 

This would be "just as unjust", she adds, as other forms of discrimination. 

Diane James
EP

MEP urges EU spending on gender equality

Debate on gender equality

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Iratxe Garcia Perez
EP

Spanish social democrat Iratxe Garcia Perez says that despite being "an example" to other countries around the world, the EU has "moved backwards" in giving women access to certain services. 

She adds that there should be greater efforts made to look at the EU budget "from a gender point of view". 

Polish MEP Jadwiga Wisniewska, from the ruling Law and Justice party, says greater efforts should be made in areas such as reducing gaps in average salaries and pensions. 

However she accuses the women's rights committee of engaging in "ideological matters" instead of simply encouraging adherence to "good practice". 

'Work to be done' on equality - Commissioner

Debate on gender equality

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Vera Jourova
EP

Justice and Gender Equality Commissioner Vera Jourova says that despite "progress" in this area, there remains "a lot of work to be done" in the field of gender equality. 

She says the EU has an "important role to play" in this area - highlighting the need for action in the areas of "employment, pay and decision-making", and lessening violence against women. 

She adds that EU legislation setting binding targets for the number of women on boards remains "blocked" by a lack of agreement among national governments. 

However she says she hopes the governments will eventually come round to the Commission's position. 

Gender equality 'fallen down agenda' - Labour MEP

Debate on gender equality

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Clare Moody
EP

Labour MEP Clare Moody, who has drafted the report on the spending of EU funds in this area, says the EU is still "a long way" from achieving gender equality, despite 15 laws relating to it. 

She adds that gender equality appears to have "fallen down the political agenda", and that the EU's Daphne programme seen falls in funding since 2011. 

MEPs debate equality between sexes


          Protest rally marking the International Women"s Day in Turin
EPA
Rallies marking Women's Day were held across Europe last week

MEPs are now debating the success of EU policies to promote gender equality, to mark International Women’s Day last week.

There is EU legislation which aims to guarantee women equal pay and access to services, but some studies have suggested that it is not being properly implemented.

The women’s rights committee has produced three non-binding reports which:

  • recommends new EU gender equality legislation
  • repeats MEPs’ call for the Commission to adopt a new gender equality strategy
  • says member states should use EU regional funds to boost childcare provision
  • advocates more money for schemes to combat violence against women 

MEPs give backing to new rules

Debate on shareholder rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Axel Voss
EP

German Christian democrat Axel Voss says he would like to thank Parliament's negotiator for having taken out a number of "unnecessary points" from the Commission's original proposal.

He says the final text to be voted on tomorrow is one his group is "happy to support". 

The new rules are also backed by Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds, who says the new rules should encourage greater transparency for corporate pay.  

She adds that doing something about "excessive" pay for directors is "not anti-business". 

Commissioner: Time to adopt new rules

Debate on shareholder rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Vera Jourova
EP

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova says that the compromise position reflects a "balanced outcome" and that the time has now come to pass the legislation. 

She adds that the new rules will effectively implement lessons learned from the 2008 financial crisis. 

MEPs 'can be satisfied' with compromise deal

Debate on shareholder rights

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Sergio Cofferati
BBC

Italian social democrat Sergio Cofferati, who has acted as the Parliament's lead negotiator on the new rules, says the compromise reached last December is one MEPs "can be satisfied with". 

He says the changes represent "a significant step forward" and will "lay the foundations for further progress" in the area of director pay. 

He adds that the fact negotiations have taken three years before agreement was reached shows the "very sensitive" nature of the topic. 

MEPs debate EU rules for shareholder 'say on pay'

Euro notes being handed over
BBC

MEPs are now debating new EU legislation that would give shareholders in large EU companies greater rights to have a say on director pay.

The rules would mean pay policies would have to be voted on by shareholders every four years. Individual countries will be able to determine whether the votes should be binding or advisory.

According to the European Commission, only 13 EU countries currently give shareholders any kind of “say on pay”, either through a vote on directors’ remuneration policy or a report.

MEPs have reached agreement on the new legislation with national ministers last December, which will be put to a final vote tomorrow. 

UKIP MEP calls for national response to Convention

Debate on use of mercury

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Julie Reid
EP

UKIP MEP Julie Reid says the health dangers of mercury are "well known" and she supports the scope of the UN's Minamata Convention.

However, she says that she believes the aims of the of the Convention should be legislated for "on a national basis". 

Green MEP signals support ahead of vote

Debate on use of mercury

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Bas Eickhout
EP

Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout says his group will be supporting the compromise text at the vote tomorrow, whilst acknowledging that the Parliament would have ideally preferred more restrictions on mercury use. 

He adds that with the amendments, MEPs have "really strengthened" the text originally proposed by the European Commission. 

MEP hails concessions on use of mercury in fillings

Debate on use of mercury

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Massimo Paolucci
EP

Italian social democrat Massimo Paolucci says that whilst MEPs were not able to achieve their desired full ban on the use of mercury in dental amalgams, they were able to get concessions in a number of areas. 

Among these are a ban on their use with children under 15 or pregnant women, and the obligation on member states to produce national plans on how to phase out its use. 

The European Commission will also have to publish a plan in 2020 on how the metal can be phased out in dentistry, he adds. 

Commissioner urges backing for 'very good' compromise

Debate on use of mercury

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Vera Jourova
EP

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova however says she think the negotiations between the EU institutions on the new law have delivered a "very good outcome".

Asking MEPs to give their final backing to the compromise text tomorrow, she adds that the changes would only involve "limited changes" to EU law.

However she says the change will be a "major step forward", and push industries that still use mercury into finding mercury-free alternatives. 

German MEP: Final text shows 'footprint of German industry'

European Parliament

Strasbourg

German left-wing MEP Stefan Eck, who acted as the lead negotiator on the legislation for the Parliament, says that he would like the Minamata Convention to be implemented "as soon as possible". 

However he says that the final agreement on the legislation agreed by the other political groups is "not ambitious enough" for him. 

He says that the agreement that will be put to a vote tomorrow shows the "clear footprint of German industrial interests". 

MEPs debate regulations on use of mercury

Thermoter
PA
The use of mercury in new thermometers is banned in the EU

With the week’s agenda approved, MEPs have now moved to their first debate today, which is on EU efforts to reduce the health impact of releasing mercury into the environment.

The use of mercury in products such as batteries and thermometers is being phased out, but it is still used as a catalyst in certain industries.

Tomorrow MEPs will vote on measures that would align EU legislation on mercury with the terms of a 2013 UN agreement called the Minamata Convention.

This would introduce stricter criteria for banning mercury exports and its use in manufacturing, and requirements for how mercury waste is stored.

MEPs have backed the changes, whilst pushing for tighter rules on mercury storage and for greater national action to reduce the use of mercury in dental fillings. 

MEPs reject debate on Palestinian housing

European Parliament

Strasbourg

On behalf of the left-wing GUE group, Cypriot MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis asks for a debate tomorrow on what they call the "continuous demolitions" of Palestinian housing by Israel. 

However, the request for a debate is rejected. 

Neoklis Sylikiotis
EP

MEPs reject debate on CIA allegations

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Marcus Pretzell
EP

European Parliament Antonio Tajani announces that, after consultation with the political groups, Thursday's human rights debate on Sudan will be replaced with one on Zimbabwe. 

On behalf of the anti-EU ENF group, German AfD MEP Marcus Pretzell requests a debate today on the recent publication from Wikileaks of documents alleging that the CIA has developed ways to listen in on smartphone and smart TV microphones.

However, the request for a debate today is rejected.

Good afternoon

Hello and welcome to coverage of today’s plenary sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which will begin shortly.

The sitting will begin with administrative announcements, after which MEPs will have the chance to request additions or changes to this week’s agenda or make points of order.

Proposals to add a debate to the agenda have to be made to the President at least one hour before the sitting opens, and can be tabled by one of the Parliament’s committees, one of its political groups , or a group of 40 MEPs.

In order to be formally added, an item must be approved by a simple majority – and can be done on a show of hands.