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Summary

  1. The sitting opened at 4pm with a debate on gender equality in the EU (see Key Video).
  2. MEPs then debated EU competition policy with Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
  3. MEPs then debated an oral question to the European Commission about the regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
  4. The final debate of the day was another oral question, requesting information from the Commission what assistance has been offered to haulage companies hit by Russia's embargo on EU food imports.
  5. As is traditional, the Monday sitting ended with a round of topical one-minute speeches.
  6. Text can be slow to load on these pages. Please hit refresh (F5) if live text does not appear below.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

  1. Goodnight

    And with that, tonight's sitting comes to an end and is formally closed.

    MEPs will reconvene tomorrow morning from 8am GMT for the second day of this month's plenary, when they will vote on laws to change rules regulating the maximum size of lorries and to establish an EU-wide cap on the fees banks charge retailers to process credit and debit card transactions.

    There will also be debates on the EU budget for next year, last week's Ebola conference in Brussels and progress made towards EU membership by Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo.

    King Abdullah II of Jordan will also give a speech to MEPs, from 11am GMT.

  2. One minute debates

    That's tonight's final debate finished. The sitting will now conclude with a round of short one-minute speeches.

    This item, traditionally held at the end of a Monday plenary sitting, allows backbench MEPs the chance to speak about any subject they choose.

    Most use it as an opportunity to speak on a recent news story or political development in their home region or country.

  3. Commissioner response

    Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc sums up for the Commission by saying that she will examine the proposals made by several MEPs during this evening's debate.

    She adds that the commission is monitoring the situation closely, but that she has no evidence at the moment to suggest "severe market disruptions" that go beyond individual cases.

    She underlines that the commission has "only limited means" to help, but pledges to work with member states and the World Trade Organisation to look at finding possible solutions.

    She rejects suggestions from one MEP that funds from the EU's Globalisation Adjustment Fund could be used to support affected companies, saying the fund was "not designed" for such circumstances.

    Violeta Bulc
  4. Sanctions defence

    Polish Conservative Kosma Zlotowski defends the EU sanctions against Russia, which he says were only imposed in response to the "crime" of its annexation of Crimea, and with the intention of preventing further aggression in eastern Europe.

    "Sanctions are costly, fair enough - but defence is costly", he adds.

  5. EU food exports

    EU food exports to Russia last year were worth a massive 11.8 billion euros (or £9bn).

    Russia was the EU's second-biggest market for food exports (10% of total), after the USA (13%).

    In the EU the biggest exporters of fresh fruit and nuts to Russia were its neighbours Poland (339m euros) and Lithuania (309m euros) in 2013.

    They were also the biggest for fresh vegetables (Lithuania - 340m and Poland - 173m).

  6. 'Selective memory'

    Greek Syriza MEP Kostas Chrysogonos says the commission may be guilty of a "selective memory", pointing out that Russia only imposed the ban as a response to EU sanctions - which themselves could only be implemented by breaking World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

    "There has to be reciprocity, or we must compensate all those affected", he adds.

    Kostas Chrysogonos
  7. Background on Russia's food embargo

    Russia imposed a "full embargo" on food imports from the EU, US and some other Western countries in August last year, in response to western sanctions over Ukraine.

    The ban includes fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports - and has hit some EU countries hard, particularly those in eastern Europe whose economies are more dependent on agriculture and trade ties with Russia.

    The Commission's response has been to provide affected producers with emergency financial aid to stop prices falling due to products going unsold.

    This has involved paying fruit and vegetable producers to give away surplus products for free, or helping milk producers to pay storage costs for butter and skimmed milk powder.

    Today's oral question notes that the aid total so far stands at over €155m.

    Fruit and vegetables
  8. Food transport affected

    Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc says that before the embargo took effect, Russia was the biggest importer of EU agricultural products after the United States.

    She says it is difficult to know how badly food transport companies have been affected, but says the sector has undoubtedly been affected.

    She says that, unlike with agricultural producers themselves, the commission cannot provide any direct financial assistance to those firms who have been hit by the ban, telling MEPs that she does not have an emergency fund for transport operators.

    However, she says that member states themselves can make emergency payments of up to €100,00 per year under EU competition rules - but that any funding above this limit must be declared and assessed first.

    Violeta Bulc
  9. Haulage debate

    That's the debate on endocrine-disrupting pesticides finished.

    We now move on to haulage matters, as MEPs take part in tonight's final debate: an oral question to the Commission from German Green MEP Michael Cramer.

    On behalf of the Transport and Tourism Committee, he's asking the Commission what it intends to do to help haulage companies that have seen their business hit by a Russian embargo on EU food imports imposed last August.

    The question claims that the ban - enforced in response to Western sanctions over Ukraine - has resulted in haulage companies that specialise in transporting food losing "the bulk of their contracts".

    It also says that a Russian representative recently announced at a meeting of the International Transport Forum that Russia would be reducing the number of ECMT international haulage licences it allows on its territory from 67 to 16.

  10. Executive defended

    In defence of the executive's position, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis repeats his commitment to put health first, which he says is particularly important to him personally as a former doctor.

    He says talk of the commission delaying the drawing up of regulatory criteria under commercial pressure is "not correct".

  11. 'Plenty of evidence'

    Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan, from the left-wing GUE group, disputes Ms Girling's analysis, arguing that there is "plenty" of scientific evidence to show the dangers of EDCs.

    She claims the decision to carry out the impact assessment was the result of lobbying from the chemical industry, adding that the case is an another example of the commission "bending to its corporate bedfellows".

    Lynn Boylan
  12. Scientific community 'divided'

    Conservative MEP Julie Girling takes much the same line, saying that the scientific community is still "divided" on the potential dangers of EDCs.

    She also argues that Parliament should not forget the potential "socio-economic" impact of greater regulation.

  13. Call for study support

    German centre-right MEP Jens Gieseke says he supports the commission's right to carry out an assessment and calls on MEPs to support the study rather than engaging in "ideological" arguments.

    He concedes that the commission's study might have been started earlier, but adds that MEPs should not "try to be more convincing than the scientists and experts in the industry".

  14. 'No compromises on health grounds'

    "There can be no compromises on health grounds," says Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who pledges to carry out all his duties in line with EU treaty obligations to regulate in the name of public health.

    While he cannot respond to the particular claims contained in the Guardian article, he tells MEPs that investigating EDCs is a "priority file" for him.

    Seeking to explain the decision to conduct an impact assessment into EDCs, he says there are still "divergent views" on the chemicals amongst both scientists and regulators.

    Whilst he says the commission is working towards a decision, this must be done "with full knowledge of the facts".

    "We need to make informed decisions, and make them in full transparency," he adds.

    Vytenis Andriukaitis
  15. Today's oral question

    The oral question for today's debate quotes an article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper last month, which claimed that as many as 31 endocrine-disrupting pesticides could have been banned by now on health grounds, if the promise to define EDC criteria by the end of 2013 had been met.

    Quoting a scientific document seen by the newspaper, the Guardian reported: "Commission sources say that the paper was buried by top EU officials under pressure from big chemical firms which use EDCs in toiletries, plastics and cosmetics."

    Italian Socialist Nicola Caputo, the author of the oral question, says there is not yet much public awareness of the chemicals, and asks the commission what it intends to do about regulating them.

    Nicola Caputo
  16. Picture: Ulrike Lunacek

    Ulrike Lunacek
    Image caption: Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek is taking charge of proceedings in the chamber this evening
  17. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals question

    That's the debate on EU competition policy finished. Remember, MEPs will be putting the resolution to the vote tomorrow lunchtime.

    We now move on to the next item this evening: an oral question to the Commission tabled by a group of 64 MEPs, led by Italian Socialist Nicola Caputo, about endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These are chemicals that scientists have linked to a rise in foetal and genital abnormalities, cancer and infertility.

    The Commission had a legal duty to set out the scientific criteria for how these are to be defined - a first step in regulating their use - by December 2013, but decided four months before this to instead carry out an impact assessment into what the economic effects of this might be.

    The MEPs are calling on the Commission to explain why this was necessary.

  18. 'Level playing field'

    Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds says she welcomes the fact that tomorrow's resolution will acknowledge that a "level playing field" for companies relies on all firms, regardless of their size, paying an equal share of tax.

    She calls on the Commission to look into the issue in the wake of the so-called "Luxleaks" revelations about the tax deals offered to multinationals in Luxembourg, where current commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker used to be prime minister.

    Anneliese Dodds
  19. Google investigation

    One of the longest-running competition sagas in the EU at the moment is the Commission's antitrust investigation into Google, which it launched in 2010.

    Rivals of Google, which has around a 90% market share for search engines in Europe, asked the commission to look into whether it had abused its dominant position in the EU's online search market and over-promoted its own services.

    The European Parliament passed a resolution last November calling on Ms Vestager to formally separate the activities of search engines such as Google from other commercial services.

    Google
  20. Commissioner comments

    Commissioner Vestager opens the debate by telling MEPs that fair competition is "part of our democracy" that allows talented individuals to "make their case" in an open market.

    She underlines that she feels markets in the EU must be kept open "in order to give everyone a fair chance".

    On adds that the need for an EU-wide single market for digital goods - a key priority of the current commission - is "obvious".

    Commissioner Vestager
  21. What does the Parliament's resolution say?

    Tomorrow, MEPs will vote on a resolution on the findings of a Commission report, published in May last year, on the EU's competition policy in 2013.

    The text, prepared by the Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, calls for the Commission to place small and medium-sized enterprises (or "SMEs") at the centre of their decision-making on competition rules.

    As befits procedure, the resolution is only put to the vote of the full chamber after it has gained the backing of the committee.

    At the end of January the committee approved the resolution by 51 to 2, with 4 abstentions.

  22. Competition policy debate

    That's the debate on gender equality finished. MEPs will be voting on the resolution tomorrow.

    Next up, we move on to a debate on EU competition policy with the Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

  23. 'Innovative solutions'

    Closing this debate on behalf of the Commission, Vera Jourova outlines her support for Mr Tarabella's report, adding that the Commission wants to find "innovative solutions" to promote women in entrepreneurship.

    She points out that the financial crisis has seen a rise in the number of women setting up their own businesses.

    Vera Jourova
  24. Catch the eye

    We now move onto the "catch the eye" procedure - when MEPs who were not on the speaker's list can make a short intervention if they can get the attention of the acting president Ryszard Czarnecki, who is chairing the debate.

  25. More opposition to clause 45

    Croatian MEP Marijana Petir from the EPP group becomes the latest on the right-wing side of the chamber to state her opposition to clause 45 in the non-binding resolution - on abortion - which she says is outside the remit of the Parliament.

    She says she fears the clause would "turn the European Parliament into a promoter of abortion", and that in any case it would be outside the rule of law for the Parliament to pass a resolution related to this area.

    Marijana Petir
  26. Gender equality report

    Euractiv .com

    News website

    In the run-up to International Women's Day, which took place yesterday, the Euractiv news website posted a special report on gender equality in the EU, which you can read here.

  27. Male-dominated Commission

    Portuguese Socialist Liliana Rodrigues points out that the Commission itself has not achieved gender parity in its current composition, with "under a third" of the new team being women.

    Women currently make up 9 out of the 28 members of the new Commission, which took power last November.

    Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said after his nomination as President that he wanted the Commission to be at least 40% female - and said he was disappointed by the male-dominated nominations put forward by member states.

    Liliana Rodrigues
  28. Another new chairman

    Ryszard Czarnecki
    Image caption: Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki has taken over as chairman of this debate
  29. What does the resolution say?

    Tomorrow, MEPs will vote on a non-binding resolution prepared by the Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee which, amongst other things, calls for 10 days' minimum paid paternity leave.

    Article 45 of the resolution calls for the recognition of a woman's right to abortion throughout the EU - an area of policy which lies with member states.

    Neither national governments nor the Commission will be forced to act upon the resolution - but it has still raised the ire of a number of MEPs, including Slavokian Conservative Branislav Škripek, who says it amounts to an attempt to intrude upon the remits of national parliaments.

    The Committee gave its approval to the resolution at the end of January - backing it by 24 votes to nine, with two abstentions.

  30. Blue cards: what are they?

    There's been a lot of talk about blue cards during this debate - but what are they?

    The so-called "blue card procedure" gives an MEP 30 seconds to ask a question of another MEP about a point they made in their speech, by raising blue cards they have on their seats.

    An MEP can be interrupted by more than one blue-card holder, if the President chooses to allow it. MEPs can make more than one blue-card request during a debate, but only if allowed by the President.

    For reasons of timing, interventions have been limited to one per MEP for this debate.

    Blue card
  31. Signal of support

    Whilst she says she does not support every line in tomorrow's resolution, Dutch Liberal Sophia in't Veld urges her colleagues to get behind tomorrow's motion, arguing that it is "extremely important" that the Parliament sends a signal of support to women.

    Sophia in't Veld
  32. Post update

    @EPPGroup

    EPP Group tweets: on @EPPGroup initiative #Libya will be discussed by @Europarl_EN. Crucial to address security situation cc @MonikaHohlmeier @RobertaMetsola

  33. What is the maternity leave directive?

    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.

    The Commission announced last year that, after almost three years of unsuccessful negotiations, it would be withdrawing the plans.

    Pregnant mother
  34. Condemns opposition

    There's support for Mr Tarabella's resolution from German Green Terry Reintke, however, who condemns "a reactionary opposition" that she accuses of "telling us to shut up about women's rights".

  35. Women on boards in the EU

    The European Commission published a report last October that showed that women made up only 16.6% of the boards of major publicly-listed companies in the EU.

    This was a slight increase from the 2012 figure, which was 15.8%.

    The figures also found women made up 17% of non-executive directors and 11% of senior executives in the EU.

    Female representation on boards was highest in Finland, at 29%. It was lowest in Malta - where it was 2.8%.

    The figure for the UK was 18.5%, which was slightly higher than the overall EU average.

  36. What was the company boards directive?

    The last Commission proposed an EU directive that would set a quota for the number of women non-executive directors on listed company boards in 2012.

    The new law would mean EU companies would have to have at least 40% female representation on boards by the year 2020 - or 2018 in the case of public companies.

    If they do not achieve this target, the law proposes that member states will have to dish out appropriate - but unspecified - sanctions.

    MEPs overwhelmingly backed the new rules in November 2013, but there has been opposition from several member states - including the UK - to the plans.

    The proposals cannot become law until they find qualified majority support from the member states in the Council of Ministers.

    Woman sitting at a board meeting
  37. Heating up...

    This afternoon's debate seems to be heating up pretty quickly, with German Conservative Beatrix von Storch taking considerable umbrage at clauses in tomorrow's resolution calling for an end to gender stereotyping.

    "No Parliament in the world has any business telling my husband whether he should be hanging up the washing," she says.

    She adds that she is glad tomorrow's vote will be a roll-call vote - where the vote of each MEP is recorded electronically - so that she will be able to see "who exactly supports this rubbish".

    Beatrix von Storch
  38. What did the Commission's report find?

    The Commission's latest report on gender equality noted that the women's employment rate across the EU stands at 63%, compared to 75% for men.

    It noted that the economic participation of women, as well as their contribution to family finances, went up in the years following the financial crisis - but also said that women are paid 16% less on average than men per hour of work.

    In addition, women are more likely to work part-time and to interrupt their careers - resulting in a gender gap for pensions of 39%.

  39. New chair

    Mairead McGuinness
    Image caption: With Martin Schulz having left the chamber, Irish MEP and Parliament Vice-President Mairead McGuinness has taken control of proceedings.
  40. Stalled legislation

    Commissioner Jourova tells MEPs that, although progress has been made towards improving the economic prospects of women across the EU, the task of gaining economic equality with men is still "unfinished business".

    She says a 2012 Commission proposal for an EU law to set a quota for women on company boards - blocked in negotiations with member states - "remains a priority" for the Commission, and she adds that she is "confident" it will be adopted later this year.

    She also praises efforts made by MEPs to build a "fresh approach" with negotiators from member states on another piece of stalled EU legislation - a maternity leave directive to increase the minimum period of paid maternity leave in the EU.

    Commissioner Jourova
  41. Genuine equality

    Belgian Socialist Marc Tarabella, who has compiled tomorrow's resolution, says genuine equality between men and women has to be based on non-violence between the sexes.

    He says EU states should ratify the Istanbul Convention - an agreement to tackle violence against women.

    He also urges the creation of a "European Year" themed around combating gender-based violence against women.

    Marc Tarabella
  42. Debate on gender equality

    With the week's agenda now confirmed, MEPs will move onto the first item on today's agenda - a debate with Vera Jourova, the Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Commissioner on gender equality.

    The title of this afternoon's debate refers to a Commission report published last April on gender equality during 2013.

    Tomorrow, MEPs will vote on a resolution prepared by the Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee which calls for 10 days' paid paternity leave and recognition of a woman's right to abortion and contraception in the EU.

    The Commission is not obliged to respond to this call for new legislation.

    The resolution also claims that the withdrawal of proposals for an EU maternity leave directive - which were abandoned in July last year - were partly to blame for the targets not being met.

    The committee gave its approval to the resolution at the end of January - backing it by 24 votes to nine, with two abstentions.

  43. Agenda amended

    Ms Hohlmeier is on her feet again - her group has also requested a Commission statement on Thursday on the situation in Libya.

    This time, the vote is carried. The agenda will be amended appropriately.

  44. Motion rejected

    German MEP Monika Hohlmeier speaks in favour of a motion lodged by her group, the centre-right EPP, to add a resolution to next month's plenary session to wrap up Wednesday's scheduled debate on Islamophobia in the EU.

    An electronic vote is tied at 152-152 - so, having not secured an overall majority, the group's motion is rejected.

    Monika Hohlmeier
  45. Sitting opened by President Martin Schulz

    Martin Schulz
  46. Good afternoon

    Hello and welcome to live coverage of this first day of the March plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

    The session will be opened shortly by Martin Schulz, the President of the Parliament, after which MEPs will have the chance to request additions or changes to the week's agenda or make points of order.

    Proposals to add something 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.

    A simple majority of votes is required to add an item to the agenda - and can be done on a show of hands.