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Summary

  1. Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic leads debate on future of the EU
  2. MEPs vote to set up inquiry committee into pesticide authorisations
  3. MEPs debate EU's new enlargement strategy for Western Balkans
  4. Debates on Zimbabwe and Turkish military offensive in Afrin follow
  5. MEPs also debate EU sanctions against Venezuela

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Coming up tomorrow

That's the debate on Venezuela finished - MEPs' final debate tonight is on the financial condition of UNWRA, a UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

However, that's where we leave our coverage for tonight.

The European Parliament kicks off at 08.00 GMT tomorrow with a debate on what to do about the 73 seats that will be vacated by British members after Brexit.

In the afternoon, MEPs will debate the corruption laws in Romania and the external lending mandate of the European Investment Bank.

Decision on sanctions 'not taken lightly' - Mogherini

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Federica Mogherini
EBS

Federica Mogherini tells MEPs that the decision to impose the latest restrictions on Venezuela was taken "with a heavy heart" and "not taken lightly".

They do not harm the Venezuelan people, she insists - adding that the decision to expel the Spanish ambassador to Caracas was "unacceptable".

The travel ban and asset freezes were made as "invitation to engage seriously" in negotiations to resolve the ongoing political crisis with the opposition, she says.

This must include a mutually-agreed date for presidential elections and guarantees to ensure their fairness and credibility, she adds.

Debate on EU sanctions against Venezuela begins

Mr Maduro blames "international economic sabotage"
Reuters
Mr Maduro has accused Spain of being behind the latest sanctions

Next up, MEPs are discussing the situation in Venezuela, ahead of a motion on Thursday likely to call for efforts to restore political stability.

Venezuela has the world's highest inflation rate and has for years struggled with the shortage of basic goods, including medicines.

The supreme court in Caracas recently imposed restrictions on the main opposition coalition ahead of presidential elections, due in April.

The EU has imposed a travel ban and frozen the assets of seven senior Venezuelan officials – leading President Nicolás Maduro to accuse Spain of plotting to oust him.

Bulgarian MEP: Show more respect to Turkey

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Nedzhmi Ali
EBS

Bulgarian Liberal Nedzhmi Ali criticises the "aggressive" tone of the debate, adding that the European Parliament should avoid "strong condemnation" of an important economic and political ally.

The EU is "starting to forget" the number of refugees taken in by Turkey, he adds.

Freezing the accession talks would only serve to isolate the country, he says, and urges MEPs to "show greater respect for our neighbour".

"We need Turkey and Turkey needs us," he adds.

MEP criticises opposition crackdown in Turkey

Debate on EU-Turkey relations

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Kati Piri
EBS

The European Parliament's lead MEP on Turkey's stalled EU accession, Kati Piri from the Dutch Labour party, says the EU should be "loud and clear" on human rights in Turkey.

The state of emergency has led to "rule by decree" in the country, she says, with "all opposition voices" labelled as terrorists or terrorist sympathisers.

German liberal Nadja Hirsch calls for the EU to formally freeze Turkey's accession talks - as the European Parliament called for in November 2016.

This is a "matter of credibility", she adds.

MEPs debate Turkish offensive in Syria

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Smoke rises from Syria's Afrin region
Reuters

MEPs are now discussing relations with Turkey, after Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels launched an offensive to push a Kurdish militia out of Syria's northern region of Afrin last month.

They will also discuss the subsequent arrests in Turkey of hundreds of people after posting messages online criticising the move.

The Turkish government says the People's Protection Units (YPG) are an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades.

The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK - an assertion backed by the US, which has provided the militia and allied Arab fighters with weapons and air support to help them battle the so-called Islamic State group (IS) in Syria.

Mogherini 'would support' EU observers in Zimbabwe elections

Debate on Zimbabawe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Federica Mogherini
EBS

Ms Mogherini says Zimbabwe now has a "unique opportunity for change" - although it is up to the new government to "make the first move".

An "entire people", she says, are waiting for "true democracy".

She says she hopes credible elections will take place later this year, and tells MEPs the EU is supporting media training and biometric voter registration.

She "would support" the idea of sending an EU electoral observation team, she adds - provided they are invited by Zimbabwe and the relevant conditions are met.

MEPs debate situation in Zimbabwe

EU external affairs chief Federica Mogherini returns to the front of the hemicycle for the next of this afternoon's debates, on the political situation in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has undergone rapid political change in the past year, with the departure of former president Robert Mugabe in November, after 37 years in power.

Its new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised that elections scheduled for later this year will be fair and free from violence.

Rule of law begins at home?

Guardian Brussels correspondent tweets:

Western Balkans: Membership prospects

Debate on Western Balkans

People look for souvenirs at a stall at the main square of Skopje
EPA
Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991

Serbia and Montenegro have both started formal EU membership talks – the former in January 2014, the latter in June 2012.

Macedonia and Albania are both have candidate status but neither has yet begun accession talks.

Among other issues, Macedonia’s bid to join the EU has been hampered by a bitter dispute with Greece over the country’s name.

Many Greeks object to the country calling itself Macedonia, saying it implies a territorial claim on Greece's northern Macedonia region.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has signed an association agreement with the EU and has applied for membership.

Kosovo’s membership bid depends on normalising ties with Serbia. In addition, five EU states do not recognise the breakaway Balkans territory.

UKIP MEP: Enlargement is 'naked imperialism'

Debate on Western Balkans

European Parliament

Strasbourg

James Carver
EBS

UKIP's James Carver says he is opposed to any further expansion of the EU into the Western Balkans.

He calls it "naked imperialism" and "neocolonialism through other means".

French Front National MEP Dominique Bilde also speaks against, calling membership progress "illusory".

The EU, she suggests, is trying to "make up for its rejection" after the Brexit vote.

MEPs call for EU support on membership bids

Debate on Western Balkans

European Parliament

Strasbourg

David McAllister
EBS

German Christian democrat David McAllister says Western Balkan countries should be helped by the EU to meet "structural challenges" and international disputes.

As the lead MEP tracking Serbia's membership bid, he says the prospect of EU membership has led to "important economic and social reforms" in the country.

Romanian social democrat Victor Bostinaru says Europe will be "neither safe nor stable" without Western Balkans countries included.

He calls for "more than words" to promote investment in the region in the EU's next long term budget, which will run from after 2020.

Mogherini: Balkans timetables 'realistic'

Debate on Western Balkans

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Federica Mogherini
EBS

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says it is a "reality" that the Western Balkans are part of Europe both historically and geographically.

She tells MEPs that recent years have seen the EU increase investment, trade and security co-operation with the group of countries.

The strategy does not set a deadline for membership, she adds - although she says the time frames laid out in the document are "realistic".

Applications will remain "merit-based" she says - but this year could see the process become "more credible" and "irreversible".

MEPs debate EU paper on Western Balkans

MEPs have now been joined by EU external relations chief Federica Mogherini to debate the EU’s new enlargement strategy for Western Balkan countries, unveiled today.

The document says EU candidates Serbia and Montenegro could “potentially” be ready for membership by 2025 if certain conditions are met.

This would require “real and sustained reforms” in areas such as the rule of law as well as solutions to disputes with neighbouring countries, it says.

Both countries have already started EU accession talks.

Commissioner: Anti-FGM laws 'must be enforced'

Debate on tackling FGM

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Vera Jourova
EBS

Vera Jourova says the EU can contribute to combating the "evil practice" of FGM through improving data collection and supporting prosecutions.

The EU can also help in supporting "sustainable social change", she says.

The bloc has also contributed €11m to a joint UN programme to tackle FGM around the world, she tells MEPs.

FGM is illegal in all EU countries, she adds - but police and prosecutors "must enforce them".

Welcome back

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

First up this afternoon MEPs will be joined by Gender Equality Commissioner Vera Jourova to debate a report calling on EU states to step up efforts to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM).

Today is the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

The report also expresses concern that prosecuting the crime is a “challenge” in all member states and calls for the European Commission to provide training on investigating the crime.

Votes finish

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

This will be followed by a break, after which the sitting will resume at 14.00 GMT.

New post-2021 carbon trading system approved

Voting session

Power plant in Germany
Reuters
The trading system applies to more than 11,000 power stations and industrial plants

MEPs also approve a plan agreed with member states to revise the EU’s carbon trading programme for the years 2021-2030.

The emissions trading system (ETS) works by making emitters buy "allowances" authorising them to emit greenhouse gases, within an overall agreed limit.

Under the proposal, the rate at which emission allowances are being withdrawn from the market will be stepped up from 2021.

The plans are meant to stabilise allowance prices after weak economic growth in the years after the scheme was set up caused them to fall well below expectations.

MEPs sign off new rules for online retailers

Voting session

Person using a laptop
PA

MEPs give their approval to legislation they debated yesterday aiming to prevent traders within the EU from discriminating between online customers depending on where they live.

It means people buying goods and services online will not be blocked or redirected to a different website based on their IP address.

The new rules will not however cover products covered by copyright, such as e-books, downloadable music or online games.

The European Parliament had already agreed a compromise on the new law with national ministers.

It will now come into effect nine months after it gets the final sign-off from member states.

MEPs vote to set up inquiry committee into pesticides

Voting session

A French farmer inspects his tractor
Reuters

MEPs endorse a decision from the group leaders to set up a special inquiry committee to investigate the EU’s authorisation procedure for pesticides.

It follows the recent controversy surrounding the re-authorisation of the weedkiller glyphosate, whose licence was eventually renewed for another five years last November.

One UN study called the chemical "probably carcinogenic", but the European Commission says EU food safety and scientific bodies have found no link to cancer in humans.

MEPs have previously questioned the credibility of evidence used to support the conclusions of the EU agencies, and called for all uses of glyphosate to be phased out by the end of 2022.

The new committee will sit for nine months and will have 30 members.

Votes soon

That’s the debate with the Croatian PM finished; MEPs are now taking their seats for today’s voting session.

Croatian PM: 'Practical thinking' needed on lead candidate proposal

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Responding to the first round of short interventions, Andrej Plenkovic says he would like to see "a little bit more practical thinking" about the idea of putting lead candidates for the EU Commission on a list for transnational seats in the assembly.

The idea of creating a bloc of MEPs elected from pan-EU lists is among several ideas for replacing the 73 British seats in the assembly that will be vacated after Brexit.

Some want to combine this system with the existing convention that the designated candidate from the winning political group becomes president of the EU Commission.

He points out that at the moment, for example, it might be difficult for a candidate to campaign all over Europe within the current campaign spending limits.

MEPs begin short interventions

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Pavel Telicka
EBS

MEPs now begin an hour or so of "catch the eye" speeches from those who made applications to speak earlier in the debate.

Czech Liberal Pavel Telicka says Croatia "should be in" the passport-free Schengen area once it has fulfilled the relevant membership criteria.

Italian Five Star MEP Marco Valli calls for measures which he says will strengthen the eurozone, including a system for "fiscal transfers" between countries and measures to overcome tax havens.

Croatian MEP speaks up on smaller EU countries

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Ruza Tomasic
EBS

Croatian conservative Ruza Tomasic calls on Mr Plenkovic to carve out an "authentic Croatian position" in Brussels.

The EU will not fulfill its potential if the bigger countries are allowed to "impose their will" on the smaller ones, she says.

Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the Liberal ALDE group, says in the future MEPs must get a say on EU income as well as spending.

He also gives his backing to the idea of "embedding" the 'Spitzenkandidat' convention in pan-EU lists for seats in the European Parliament.

Austrian MEP calls for more 'social Europe'

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Josef Weidenholzer
EBS

Austrian social democrat Josef Weidenholzer says his centre-left S&D group supports a "European perspective" for countries in the Western Balkans.

Adding however that many are disillusioned by the status quo, he calls for "more social Europe".

This will involve rethinking the "dogma of austerity", better maternity and paternity leave rights and moves towards a European minimum wage, he adds.

Brexit should not be used as an excuse "to undermine the European budget", he adds.

Juncker in border dispute warning to Balkan applicants

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Jean-Claude Juncker
EBS

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says that with a few "exceptions", he generally likes the rhetoric about the future of the EU adopted by national leaders.

However he says governments now need to "practise what they preach" when it comes to the EU's budget.

He tells MEPs that "sensible savings can be made", but that cuts to cohesion funding for poorer regions or the common agricultural policy should be avoided.

He also says Croatia's border dispute with Slovenia must be solved - and it has become "also a European problem".

EU candidates in the Western Balkans will need to fully resolve such disputes before being allowed to join in the future, he adds.

Croatian PM calls for support in Schengen bid

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Andrej Plenkovic
EBS

Mr Plenkovic says he is "very happy" with the EU’s new enlargement strategy for Western Balkan countries, which will be launched later today.

The strategy will reportedly hold out the prospect of "potential" EU membership to six countries by 2025.

He also calls for more co-operation between EU defence structures and Nato, and tells MEPs he counts on their support for Croatia's bid to join the passport-free Schengen area.

He also gives his backing to the 'Spitzenkandidat' process for deciding the president of the EU Commission.

Under the convention, the job is awarded to the candidate selected by the political group which wins the most seats in European Parliament elections.

'Highly impressive array of languages'

The Sun's Brussels reporter tweets:

Croatian PM: Brexit 'a result of populism'

Debate on the future of Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg

Andrej Plenkovic
EBS

Andrej Plenkovic says the EU needs to make "intelligent use" of its budgetary resources.

European citizens must gain "a better understanding" of the benefits of EU membership, he says.

Switching into English, he calls the Brexit vote a "result of populism" and lack of awareness among voters about how the EU works.

"I see this as a bad decision" he says, but adds that he will "respect" the vote. He calls for unity among the remaining 27 states for the rest of the negotiations.

Good morning

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

The morning session will be getting underway shortly, when MEPs will be joined by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic for a debate on the “future of Europe”.

Mr Plenkovic is himself a former MEP, having held the office until he became Croatian PM in 2016.

This is the second in a planned series of debates about the future of the EU. The first took place last month with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.