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Summary

  1. Hungarian PM joins MEPs for debate on new law threatening CEU university in Budapest
  2. Frans Timmermans announces EU legal action against Hungary over the measure
  3. MEPs discuss plans to change EU employment rules
  4. Debate follows on constitutional referendum in EU applicant Turkey
  5. Evening sees debates on whether to sign off spending by EU bodies

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Goodnight & coming up tomorrow

And with that, today's debates come to a close. 

MEPs will be back tomorrow from 07.30, when they will debate the European Investment Bank's annual report.

Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem joins MEPs for debate on the Greek bailout.

At lunchtime, MEPs will vote on whether to sign off EU spending in 2015. 

MEPs make short speeches

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

This item of business is normally used by MEPs to make points about topical issues or stories of interest to their country or region. 

MEP presents report on farmland ownership

Presentation of "own initiative" reports

European Parliament

Brussels

Next tonight there will be a short debate on a non-binding report from the agriculture committee calling on the Commission to set up a task force to examine the ownership of agricultural land in the EU.

It adds that the concentration of farming land among relatively few owners poses risks for rural development, jobs and the environment. 

German social democrat Maria Noichl
EP
German social democrat Maria Noichl drafted the report

MEP: EU should be 'engaging on international scene'

Debate on clothes monitoring rules

European Parliament

Brussels

Jean Lambert
EP

Green MEP Jean Lambert says increased monitoring of clothing imports is  "absolutely crucial", as are efforts to increase workers' rights. 

This is an area where the EU institutions should be "actively engaging on the international scene", she adds. 

MEPs debate call for clothes monitoring rules

Rana Plaza disaster
Reuters
The Rana Plaza disaster killed over 1,000 garment workers

Next tonight MEPs are debating a motion calling on the EU to introduce mandatory due diligence for imported supplies in the clothing industry.

The EU Commission promised a “garment initiative” in this area in 2014 following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothes factory in Bangladesh – but has not yet proposed one.

The disaster prompted a debate in Western countries about the ethics of importing cheap clothing from countries with lower labour standards. 

MEPs debating fishing in EU 'outermost regions'

Fishing boat in front of setting sun
PA

MEPs are now debating a non-binding report from the fisheries committee which recommends regional strategies for “outermost” EU fishing regions.

These regions include waters around the world belonging to EU members, such as the Canary Islands (Spain), Madeira (Portugal) or Guadeloupe and Martinique (France).

Fishing boats in these areas have to conform with the EU’s common fisheries policy, with some exceptions.

The report calls for better data collection on the state of fish stocks, and for the EU Commission to consider providing specific financial support to fisheries in such areas. 

MEP: Council non-co-operation 'biggest issue'

Debate on EU spending in 2015

European Parliament

Brussels

Ryszard Czarnecki
EP

Polish Conservative MEP Ryszard Czarnecki says a lack of co-operation from the Council is the "biggest issue" facing the proper application of the discharge procedure. 

He accuses the institution of failing to provide necessary information of respond to written questions submitted by the European Parliament. 

What has the committee recommended?

The budgetary control committee has recommended that tomorrow MEPs sign off spending for administrative sections of the EU budget.

It also recommends that spending by the European Commission and all six executive agencies should be signed off as well.

However it recommends that a decision on whether to grant “discharge” to the Council of the EU and European Council is postponed until October.

This has happened every year since 2011, with MEPs complaining that the Council refuses to hand over enough information. 

EU flags outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels
Reuters
The committee recommends signing off EU Commission spending

MEPs debate EU spending in 2015

Euro notes handover
BBC

MEPs are now discussing a series of reports from the budget control committee on whether to sign off on EU spending in various areas during 2015.

This process – known as “granting discharge” – is required by the Parliament’s treaty role to monitor and scrutinise the way the EU budget is spent.

It usually occurs in the spring, after the European Court of Auditors, the EU's auditing authority, has produced its annual report.

MEPs will vote on the reports tomorrow morning. 

MEPs debate 'cultural heritage' plans

MEPs are now debating a proposal to be voted on tomorrow which would designate 2018 as a “European Year of Cultural Heritage”.

Under the plans, around €8m from the EU budget would be spent on events and campaigns.

The money for the scheme will come from the Creative Europe budget line, as well as from EU structural, student exchange and research funds.

The idea was first mooted in 2014 – the European Parliament formally called for it during 2015. 

Commissioner: Previous EU support 'clearly deemed useful'

Debate on EU support for 'structural reforms'

European Parliament

Brussels

Valdis Dombrovskis
EP

Euro and Social Dialogue Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis says he is confident the programme will help countries strengthen their economies, noting previous EU support was "clearly deemed useful".

He says that although support provided under the plan will have a "broad scope" but that elements relating to cohesion policy objectives will be "clearly emphasised".

The assistance plans will be "tailor-made", he adds, and developed in consultation with the country that requests them. 

He adds that the plans will be transmitted "without delay" to the European Parliament to increase scrutiny. 

Labour MEP: Funding method 'should not set precedent'

Debate on EU support for 'structural reforms'

European Parliament

Brussels

Derek Vaughan
EP

Labour MEP Derek Vaughan makes a speech on behalf of German MEP Constanze Krehl, one of Parliament's two lead negotiators on the new law.

He tells MEPs that structural reforms are "too often" associated with privatisation and budget cuts, rather than promoting research, education and training.

"Those are the kind of structural reforms I think we should be supporting," he adds.

He says that taking money from cohesion funds to support a new project should not "set a precedent" - and that the assistance should still comply with "cohesion policy aims".

MEPs debate EU support for 'structural reforms'

Office workers at night
AFP

MEPs are now debating legislation to increase the amount of EU administrative support offered to member states undertaking “structural reforms” to their economies.

The new law was proposed in late 2015 as part of a drive to encourage countries to better comply with reform recommendations issued by the Commission.

The new scheme would see the Commission offer increased research, advice and training to countries that requested assistance.

The proposed budget of €142m is to be redirected from a section of the EU budget called European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds.

MEPs will vote tomorrow on whether to approve a final draft of the legislation they agreed with national ministers in February.

UKIP MEP: Yes-voting Europe-based Turks should go back home

Debate on Turkish referendum

European Parliament

Brussels

Gerard Batten
EP

UKIP MEP Gerard Batten says the results of the referendum signal the "end of democracy" in Turkey. 

He notes the "disturbing" level of support among Turks living in Europe for the changes. 

The "logical conclusion" of this enthusiasm, he adds, is that those Turkish nationals who approved the changes should have the "courage of their convictions" and migrate back to Turkey to live under such a system. 

Liberal MEP backs new EU relationship for Turkey

Debate on Turkish referendum

European Parliament

Brussels

Guy Verhofstadt
EP

Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the Liberal ALDE group, adds his voice to those calling for the EU to call off the current accession talks with Turkey. 

He also says the EU should not continue to send €650m a year to the country to support its "pre-accession" efforts.

He calls for a new relationship with the country based on an association agreement - to focus on an "upgraded" customs union in exchange for measures to boost democracy.   

Tory MEP calls for relationship based on 'co-operation'

Debate on Turkish referendum

European Parliament

Brussels

Syed Kammall
EP

British Conservative Syed Kammall, who leads the ECR group, says the EU needs to perform a "balancing act" in its relations with Turkey. 

He says the bloc should "be honest" about the unlikelihood of membership but warns that "completely turning our back" on the country is "not an option". 

He calls for a new relationship based on co-operation rather than the "more distant goal" of membership. 

MEP warns against anti-Turkish feeling

Debate on Turkish referendum

European Parliament

Brussels

Kati Piri
EP

Dutch Labour Party MEP Kati Piri, who is Parliament's "rapporteur" on Turkish matters, says there are "serious questions" about the conduct of the referendum. 

She says she welcomes the Commission's call for an independent investigation into the matter. 

If President Erdogan's proposals are "implemented unchanged", she adds, then the EU should suspend the accession process. 

However, she says that criticism of the current Turkish leadership should not turn into anti-Turkish sentiment. 

EPP chief: EU should stop accession talks with Turkey

Debate on Turkish referendum

European Parliament

Brussels

Manfred Weber
EP

German Christian democrat MEP Manfred Weber, who chairs the centre-right EPP group, says it is now time for the EU to "reassess" its relationship with Turkey. 

It is clear, he says, that the country is "going in the wrong direction".

He says his group takes the view that full EU membership is "no longer realistic" for Turkey - and that accession negotiations should end. 

However, the EU should seek to continue co-operation in areas such as security, academic exchange and on the current customs union. 

Turkey’s EU membership: The end of the road?

Debate on Turkey's constitutional referendum

EU flag in Turkey
EPA

This month’s referendum marks the latest stage in the deterioration of relations between the EU and Turkey – which has been an official candidate country since 2005. 

Last month President Erdogan accused Germany and the Netherlands of "Nazi" tactics after they refused to let Turkish ministers hold referendum rallies in their countries.

EU leaders have also reacted with concern to the closure of media outlets and mass arrests in the country since the failed coup last July.

In November, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to “freeze” Turkey’s EU accession talks due to the government’s clampdown.

Austria’s foreign minister is among those to call for accession talks to end completely.

So far the Commission has not cancelled accession talks but has reportedly called on EU foreign ministers to consider a new format for relations when they meet on Friday. 

Referendum result 'a matter of concern' to EU

Debate on Turkish referendum

European Parliament

Brussels

Johannes Hahn
EP

Johannes Hahn tells MEPs that the conduct and content of the referendum are a "matter of concern" to the European Commission. 

He says the EU executive is concerned that the additional presidential powers will move Turkey "even further" from European standards on issues such as the separation of powers. 

He adds that the OSCE has noted there was no "level playing field" between the two sides in the referendum. 

MEPs debate Turkey referendum result

President Erdogan
EPA

MEPs have now been joined by the Commissioner responsible for EU enlargement negotiations, Johannes Hahn, to discuss the results of the constitutional referendum in Turkey earlier this month.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly won the vote to hand himself new powers.

The role of president used to be a largely ceremonial position but Erdogan supporters have argued a more executive presidency will modernise the country.

Opposition parties and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have complained about voting irregularities ahead of the poll.

The EU Commission has urged President Erdogan to seek the “broadest possible” consensus on how to implement the results of the vote. 

MEP: Eastern and western Europe should be better 'aligned'

Debate on new EU employment rules

European Parliament

Brussels

Tom Vandenkendelaere
BBC

Belgian centre-right MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere says there should be greater "alignment" between the social rights of western and eastern European states. 

The EU's proposals are "very bold", he adds.

Another MEP from the same group, Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, says she supports the Commission's aspirations but social systems are better regulated at a national level. 

What's a 'social triple A'?

Debate on new EU employment rules

Scrabble tiles
BBC

A number of MEPs have mentioned a “social triple A” scheme for the EU - but what is it?

Broadly speaking, the idea would be to give the bloc a way to measure socio-economic standards in EU states, alongside traditional economic indicators like GDP. 

The idea would be similar to the “triple A” system used by credit ratings agencies to measure the creditworthiness of national governments.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said before taking office that he wanted to make the EU a “social triple A” in the social sense – but no definite plans have yet been tabled.

Originally, an idea that was mooted was to include social criteria – measuring things like inequality and unemployment – in the European Semester, the programme through which the Commission monitors national debt and deficit levels. 

The Commission has effectively endorsed that idea in its announcement today. 

MEP: EU plans 'are insufficient'

Debate on new EU employment rules

European Parliament

Brussels

Jutta Steinruck
EP

Maltese centre-right MEP David Casa gives his backing to the new measures, adding that people in Europe are "expecting us to act". 

The measures, he adds, will strengthen the EU's "social dimension". 

However German social democrat Jutta Steinruck questions whether the measures announced today will be enough. 

The plans are "simply insufficient", she adds.   

German MEP warns against EU action

Debate on new EU employment rules

European Parliament

Brussels

Ulrike Trebesius
EP

German MEP Ulrike Trebesius, from the Conservative ECR group, says the new EU rules may end up hindering investment. 

She adds that the new regulations will affect smaller companies more than larger ones. 

EU states must take responsibility for their own social security rules, she adds, and the EU should respect this principle. 

Timmermans: New measures will help women

Debate on new EU employment rules

European Parliament

Brussels

Frans Timmermans
EP

Frans Timmermans says the mix of new laws and "non-legislative action" will help women to get into and stay in employment. 

He says proposed changes to the EU's parental leave directive will keep the minimum parental leave at four months - but set a minimum rate of pay that must be at least equivalent to sick pay. 

"I do not accept that our daughters have to fight the same battles that our grandmothers had to fight," he adds. 

MEPs to debate new EU employment rules

Construction site in Berlin
EPA

MEPs have now been joined by Euro and Social Dialogue Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis to debate the plans to revise EU employment and social rules.

Today the Commission has announced plans for a non-binding “proclamation” setting out various employment rights – to eventually be adopted by the Parliament and member states.

It would initially apply only to eurozone countries but non-euro countries could take part.

The Commission has also announced plans to increase the legal EU minimum for parental, paternity and carers' leave.

It also wants to set up an online “scoreboard” to rank the social standards of member states – and incorporate the data into its European Semester budgetary monitoring process.

Orban: EU's migrant quotas 'have failed'

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Viktor Orban
EP

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban makes a closing speech, reassuring MEPs that he is sure the issues raised in the debate about CEU will be "easily resolved". 

Responding to criticism of Hungary's position on EU migration policies, he says that migrants do not want to come to Hungary but only to "transit" through the country to Germany and Austria. 

"I think we should be rewarded for this rather than being defamed", he adds. 

He adds that it is now "evident" that the EU's compulsory migrant quota policy has failed - because even countries not openly opposing it are failing to implement it.

MEP: EU not a 'pick and choose entity'

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Roberta Metsola
EP

Maltese centre-right MEP Roberta Metsola says the European Union is not a "pick and choose entity".

EU values, she adds, are "not up for negotiation". 

Hungarian MEP Peter Niedermuller, from the opposition Democratic Coalition party, accuses Mr Orban of turning Hungary into an "illiberal democracy" based on corruption. 

He also says his own Fidesz members do not agree with him. 

Central European University – background

Debate on Central European University

The main CEU building in Budapest
Reuters
  • Founded to "resuscitate and revive intellectual freedom" in parts of Europe that had endured the "horrific ideologies" of communism and fascism
  • Occupies a converted building that began as an aristocrat's palace before becoming state-owned offices for a planned socialist economy
  • Has 1,440 students - 335 from Hungary and the rest from 107 other countries
  • Presents itself as a champion of free speech, with links to universities in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Kazakhstan 

Farage calls on Hungary to 'join the Brexit club'

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Nigel Farage
EP

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage says he sometimes wonders why Mr Orban, as a "democratically elected leader" keeps returning to the European Parliament to be "attacked by non-entities". 

He says it is "becoming obvious" that Hungary is "not a nation" for as long as it remains an EU member. 

He also has a dig at CEU, which he calls a "propaganda machine which masquerades as a university". 

"Surely it's time," he adds, for Hungarians to be given a referendum on whether they should leave the EU and "join the Brexit club". 

Verhofstadt: Orban has 'dumped democratic values'

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Guy Verhofstadt
EP

Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the Liberal ALDE group, says that Mr Orban was the "Emmanuel Macron of Hungary" when he first met him in 1989. 

However he says that since then the Hungarian Prime Minister has "dumped" his democratic principles and is now guilty of harassing NGOs and "chasing away" critical media. 

He accuses the Hungarian government of "paranoia" and seeing "enemies everywhere" - like a "modern day version" of old Communist Hungary. 

He adds that Hungary should not accept "the money of the European Union" but not its values. 

Polish MEP: CEU has 'ideological profile'

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Zdzislaw Krasnodebski
EP

Polish MEP Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, from the ruling Law and Justice, praises the work of CEU, but says the university of "very clear ideological profile" that it "does not try to hide".

He says that European universities have become places of "conformity", which "repress" those with diverging views. 

He adds that it is up to national governments to regulate their own education sectors.

Socialist leader questions Fidesz role in EPP group

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Gianni Pitella
EP

The leader of the Socialist and Democrat group, Italian MEP Gianni Pitella, says the EU should take the matter "to the wire". 

He adds that this includes using Article 7 of the EU treaties, which asks national governments to suspend a country's voting rights. 

He says the stance on Hungary is about defending culture, science and the rights of students. 

Taking aim at Mr Weber, he asks whether the centre-right EPP group should still be welcoming MEPs from Fidesz. 

EPP chief calls on Orban to 'take on board' EU concerns

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Manfred Weber
EP

German Christian democrat MEP Manfred Weber, whose centre-right EPP group houses Fidesz's MEPs, says the CEU offers Hungarian students the "advantage" of getting a degree in two countries. 

"We do not understand why this advantage is being removed from the university," he adds. 

He says the EU must always defend the freedom of researchers, and he calls on Mr Orban to "take on board" the Commission's concerns about the new law. 

He adds that the government's questionnaire on EU policies is about "stirring up dissent against Europe". 

However he says Mr Orban must be given credit for never "shunning debate" - and says he has always listened to EU concerns in the past. 

Hungarian PM calls on MEPs to 'overcome prejudices'

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Viktor Orban
EP

Prime Minister Orban also defends his government's national consultation on EU measures such as migration - which was criticised by Frans Timmermans in his speech earlier.

He says the Hungarian government has taken a "clear position" on the measures where it disagrees with the policies of the Commission included in the questionnaire. 

Supporting a "Europe of strong member states", he asks MEPs to overcome their "prejudices" and listen to "reasoned arguments". 

"We have always said that we want to respect the rules of the club, and we have always done so."

Orban: New law will increase transparency

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Viktor Orban
EP

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he is glad to be back in Brussels to discuss Hungary, noting he wants to help them "make an informed decision". 

The assembly's previous motions on Hungary, he says, have not "stood the test of truth". 

He takes a swipe at George Soros, who he accuses of "destroying the lives of millions of Europeans" through financial speculation, and being an enemy of the euro.

After an appraisal of Hungary's economy, he says the new university law applies to 28 "foreign universities", and will "end privileges" and increase transparency. 

Background to the new university law

Debate on Central European University

CEU main building
AFP

The new law requires universities offering degrees with non-European accreditation, such as CEU, to open campuses outside Hungary.

CEU President Michael Ignatieff has said such legislation is "punitive and discriminatory".

CEU does not have a US campus. It offers US and Hungarian-accredited postgraduate degrees, and has 1,440 students - 335 from Hungary and the rest from 107 other countries.

The new law also requires such institutions to sign up to international treaties to govern their operations.

CEU says the changes mean it faces having to close to new enrolments in February 2018.

The government believes that CEU is part of a campaign orchestrated by George Soros to destroy the traditional values of Hungarian society and undermine national sovereignty.

Prime Minister Orban views Mr Soros as an ideological enemy.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs believes Mr Soros's "open society" is a utopia.

"His NGOs [non-governmental organisations] behave like governments... they think they have the right to say what's best for the country. But they have no political mandate." 

Timmermans: EU to launch legal action against Hungary

Debate on Central European University

European Parliament

Brussels

Frans Timmermans
BBC

European Commission deputy chief Frans Timmermans says the Commission shares the concerns of those who are "worried" about developments in Hungary. 

He adds that the new university rules are "perceived by many" to be targeted at the Central European University, which he describes as a "pearl in the crown". 

To applause, he tells MEPs that following today's meeting, the Commission has decided to launch the first stage of infringement proceedings against the country over the measure. 

He notes that the Hungarian government will now have one month to respond to concerns that that the new law could breach internal market and fundamental rights laws.