European Parliament plenary highlights: 4 - 7 February
Highlights from the February session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Hollande calls for eurozone 'government'
The French president came to Strasbourg for his first formal session with MEPs since being elected to the Elysée Palace in 2012. Speaking the language of many euro-enthusiasts in the parliament, he called for more social, tax and budgetary integration leading to, in his words, a "eurozone government". But the leader of the Liberal group, former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, wanted to go even further. "Europe has no future unless we become a federation - even an empire," he proclaimed before adding "in a good sense". President Hollande also used his debate with MEPs to defend the recent French intervention in Mali, saying it had EU backing. But UKIP leader Nigel Farage questioned whether there was a more cynical motive for the military action. He claimed the intervention was merely being used as a "distraction" from the current woes in the eurozone. "I do not want the UK to be part of a militaristic, war-like European Union," he concluded.
MEPs vote to end fish discards
After voting on over 300 amendments, MEPs finally set out their position on reform of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. For many MEPs, the key vote was on the issues of discards, where MEPs backed a Commission proposal to end the controversial practice of throwing edible dead fish back into the sea instead of breaching quota allowances. The new fisheries policy is due to come into force in 2014, but there was criticism of many member states for their hesitancy in reducing annual catch allowances to boost sustainability. The European Commission has warned that 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Atlantic stocks are overfished.
EU governments attacked for 'nationalistic' attitudes
On the week that EU leaders gathered in Brussels for yet another summit on the EU's long term budget - the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) - the Commission president accused some governments of being purely focused on national interests. Jose Manuel Barroso urged EU leaders to strike a deal on the MFF, after previous talks collapsed, insisting that the EU's budget made up only 1% of GDP but was a vital tool for investment in growth and jobs. Calls for more money were rejected by the leader of the Conservative group, Martin Callanan, who said the EU needed a "better not a bigger" budget. But the stance of the British government was attacked by socialist group leader Hannes Swoboda, who accused David Cameron of "exaggerating and scandalising" the size of the budget.
Action urged over gender violence
Ahead of a forthcoming meeting of the United Nations on violence against women, the chair of the European Parliament's Women's Rights Committee claimed that violence or the threat of violence was now an everyday reality for women across the EU. He cited the fact that the fear of violence meant that women habitually avoided public transport at night or travelled in groups. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding agreed with the tough line from MEPs, saying that one in five women have suffered physical violence at least once in their life. She pointed to EU measures including the European Protection Order and the directive on human trafficking, but warned the EU could only play a limited role, urging MEPs to lobby their national government to introduce tougher measures to tackle the problem.
Whining about wine
A bid by US wine exporters to be allowed to use designations such as "château" and "clos" was overwhelmingly dismissed by MEPs. The European Commission has announced a further delay over the decision whether or not to relax labelling rules for wine imports, following complaints from wine producers in countries such as France. The veteran Luxembourg MEP Astrid Lulling said the US's demands would damage the reputation of European wine, whilst a French MEP Nathalie Griesbeck said the move would be tantamount to selling off European heritage. MEPs from other wine producing countries such as Italy, Portugal and Spain were also outraged, fearing it would open the floodgates to imitation "branded" wines undercutting European wine producers.