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Summary

  1. The sitting began with a debate on the EU's response to the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America.
  2. MEPs then debated a motion setting out recommendations to improve the eurozone's banking union.
  3. After this, MEPs debated and approved human rights motions calling for free elections later this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and free speech in Kazakhstan.
  4. They also called for a joint investigation by the Egyptian and Italian authorities into the death of Giulio Regeni, an Italian student whose body was found in a Cairo street last month.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

  1. Goodbye

    That's it from the European Parliament this afternoon, and indeed this week. You can catch up on the other day's sittings by visiting the Parliaments section of the BBC News website.  

    MEPs will be back in Strasbourg for their next plenary week on 11 April. 

  2. Commissioner: market 'is reacting' to storage scheme

    Debate on aid for pigmeat farmers

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    For the Commission, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says the Commission is aware that pig breeders are in a "very difficult situation", with prices falling due to a combination of increased production and the Russian embargo. 

    He says, however, that 90,000 tonnes of pigmeat were taken into storage in January, and that there are "clear signals that the market is reacting". 

    He also says that a 2015 solidarity pact allows the Commission to take "targeted measures" to countervail falling prices.

    Johannes Hahn
  3. EU common agricultural policy 'has stablised prices to some extent'

    Debate on aid for pigmeat farmers

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Polish centre-right MEP Czeslaw Adam Siekierski says that the crisis in the pigmeat sector is taking place in a context of world food prices falling 15% over the last four years. 

    He says these drops in prices have been made worse by pig farmers seeing the "largest market" for their products removed as a consequence of Russia's ban on food imports from the EU. 

    He adds that the EU Common Agricultural Policy has been able to "stablise things to a certain extent", but asks the Commission how it will guarantee that money from price stabilisations will find its way into the hands of the farmers themselves. 

    He says that, among various "intermediaries", the farmers can often find themselves the "weakest link" in the food chain. 

    Czeslaw Adam Siekierski
  4. Good afternoon

    Debate on aid for pigmeat farmers

    Hello and welcome back to coverage of this afternoon's plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. 

    There's only one short debate scheduled for this afternoon's sitting - an oral question to the Commission about falling prices in the pig meat sector. 

    MEPs on the Agriculture Committee have asked the Commission what impact it thinks the EU's private storage scheme might have on prices. 

    The scheme provides financial aid for farmers to put pigmeat into temporary storage - with the aim of stabilising prices by taking some products off the market. 

    Pigs in Spain
    Image caption: Pig breeders in many European countries are struggling to stay profitable
  5. Voting session ends

    With 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 for lunch, after which MEPs will return for a short afternoon session, during which they will debate EU assistance for pig farmers. 

    The Agriculture Committee has tabled an oral question asking the Commission what help it will provide to those affected by the Russian ban on EU food imports.

    The embargo was introduced in the summer of 2014 in response to sanctions that Western countries imposed on Russia following its annexation of Ukraine. 

  6. MEPs give initial backing to medicinal product regulations

    Voting session

    MEPs approve their initial position on two pieces of legislation to change EU rules governing medicinal products used on farm animals.

    They also back proposals to amend a law to improve marketing authorisation for veterinary medicinal products, which is to be separated from that for medicines for humans. 

    However, MEPs decide not to push the legislation to a "first reading" vote, meaning informal negotiations on a text likely to get the agreement of national ministers will continue. 

  7. MEPs pass human rights motions

    Voting session

    MEPs pass the three motions on human rights cases they have debated this morning, which:

    • condemn the “deteriorating” situation regarding freedom of expression in Kazakhstan
    • call for a “swift, transparent and impartial” joint investigation by the Italian and Egyptian authorities into the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo last month
    • condemn the "increasing political violence” against opposition politicians and journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  8. Commissioner: 2016 'should be presidential year'

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Responding to this third human rights debate on behalf of the Commission, Commissioner Hahn says DR Congo is a country facing "immense challenges". 

    He adds that it is true that the country's security still depends on "that has become the UN's largest peacekeeping mission ever".

    He says that 2016 "should be a presidential year", but that political consensus is still required to make elections happen. 

    He tells the EU has issued statements to the government of its need to respect its obligations, after peaceful protests has been met with "repression in some cases". 

    He says the bloc is committed to a longer-term engagement with the country, and that it has "invested heavily" in security and long-term aid in the country.

    Commissioner Hahn
  9. Debate on DR Congo begins

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    Finally this morning, MEPs are debating a motion condemning the “continual reports of increasing political violence” against opposition politicians and journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The opposition in the country suspects that President Joseph Kabila is planning to stay in office beyond the expiry of his current term in November, alleging that he is trying to delay elections.

    The motion calls for DR Congo to hold “timely” elections before the end of the year, to take place in an environment that is “conducive to transparent, credible and inclusive” polls.

    It also says the amount of electoral observation support provided by the EU must depend on progress made in implementing the recommendations of previous missions made in 2011 and 2014. 

    President Kabila
    Image caption: There are concerns that President Kabila may try to cling onto power
  10. Commissioner pledges co-operation to 'bring perpetrators to justice'

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Replying for the Commission again, Commissioner Hahn says that the torture and murder of Mr Regeni is an "unacceptable tragedy for the entire European Union". 

    He tells MEPs that EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has raised the case twice with the Egyptian foreign minister. 

    He pledges co-operation with the authorities in the country to "shed full light" on the case and "bring the perpetrators to justice". 

    Commissioner Hahn
  11. MEP critcises 'weak' motion

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Mario Borghezio

    Italian Lega Nord MEP Mario Borghezio, whose group has not signed the joint motion, says he thinks its condemnation of the authorities in Egypt is "a bit weak". 

    He also criticises fellow Italian and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini for "not saying a word" about the case at a recent meeting of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. 

    Centre-right Tomas Zdechovsky picks up on the news that the Egyptian government appears to be co-operating with a team of Italian investigators sent to Cairo, which he calls a "step in the right direction". 

  12. Debate on death of Italian student begins

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    That’s the debate about freedom of expression in Kazakhstan finished – MEPs will vote on their resolution shortly.

    Next, MEPs are debating a motion condemning the killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo last month.

    Mr Regeni’s body, which had shown clear signs of torture, was found beside a road in Cairo's western outskirts.

    Egyptian authorities have denied any involvement by security services.  

    The text of the motion, backed by seven political groups, calls for a “swift, transparent and impartial” joint investigation into the death by both the Egyptian and Italian authorities. 

    Giulio Regeni's funeral
    Image caption: Giulio Regeni's funeral was held in the Italian town of Fiumicello last month
  13. Commissioner: EU has 'consistently raised' concerns

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Responding for the Commission, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn tells MEPs that the EU has been "at the forefront" of calling for greater media freedom in the Kazakhstan. 

    He adds that concerns in this area have been "consistency raised" with authorities in the country. 

    He says that the EU "stands ready" to help the country work to improve standards in the future. 

    Johannes Hahn
  14. MEP questions 'moral authority' of EU

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Tatjana Zdanoka

    Tatjana Zdanoka, an MEP from the Latvian Russian Union, questions whether the EU has the "moral authority" to question media and judicial standards around the world. 

    She says that the Parliament itself has passed motions to condemn "serious systematic deterioration" in media freedom and the rule of law in Hungary. 

    MEPs also held a debate on respect for the rule of law in Poland this January, following constitutional changes announced by the country's new government that are subject to an inquiry by the European Commission. 

    But centre-right Estonian MEP Tunne Kelam says the motion is not about "lecturing" the country, but helping to ensure the application of "shared values". 

  15. Debate on press freedom in Kazakhstan begins

    Debate on topical human rights motions

    Newspapers
    Image caption: Most media outlets in Kazakhstan are controlled or influenced by members of the president's family

    That’s the debate on the Eurozone banking union finished – MEPs will vote on their resolution later today.

    Next, MEPs are going to be discussing motions relating to three topical human rights cases.

    The first is a joint resolution drawn up by seven political groups condemning the “deteriorating” situation regarding freedom of expression in Kazakhstan.

    The text also specifically expresses concern at recent detentions of journalists and the “indiscriminate blocking of news, social media and other websites”.  

    The motion says that ratification of a co-operation agreement the EU signed with the country in December should be conditional upon a “concrete engagement” by Kazakhstan to conduct political and democratic reforms.

    The agreement will need to be ratified by the parliaments of all 28 member states, as well as the European Parliament. 

  16. Banking union 'an old idea'

    Debate on eurozone banking union

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    German social democrat Jakob von Weizsacker says the task of completing the banking union has only been half-completed. 

    In particular, he says tackling the problem of underperforming loans "has not been fully dealt with". 

    UKIP's Steven Woolfe says the banking union shows the EU is "stuck in the past" and trying to complete "an old idea".

    He says the structure can take the blame for poor economic and high unemployment in the eurozone. 

    Steven Woolfe
  17. MEP criticises 'different signals' on capital buffer levels

    Debate on eurozone banking union

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    German Green Sven Giegold says there is "a lot" to be welcomed in the Commission's actions since the financial crash, but more needs to be done in some areas. 

    In particular, he says that the Commission should do more to tackle "shadow banking" - borrowing and lending which occurs outside the regulated banking sector.

    He also criticises the Commission for sending "different signals" on new capital buffer requirements. 

    Such levels of capital reserve, he says, must not be lowered if Europe is to learn lessons from the financial crisis. 

    Sven Giegold
  18. Commissioner: New supervisory powers 'feel well established'

    Debate on eurozone banking union

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Replying for the Commission, UK Commissioner Lord Hill - whose brief includes responsibility for financial services - says the motion is a reminder of "how much has been achieved" since the banking union legislation was put in place. 

    He adds that the single supervisory system for eurozone banks "already feels very well established". 

    He says he agrees with the view that further legislation should proportionate, and avoid "unnecessary compliance requirements", particularly for smaller banks. 

  19. ECB powers 'must have parliamentary scrutiny'

    Debate on eurozone banking union

    European Parliament

    Strasbourg

    Italian social democrat Roberto Gualtieri, says the establishment of the banking union represents the most comprehensive attempt to introduce a monetary union in the eurozone since the single currency was introduced. 

    The MEP, who chairs the Parliament's powerful Economics and Monetary Affairs Committee, says passing overview over big eurozone banks to the ECB was a "significant" transfer of power. 

    He adds that this transfer also now needs to be accompanied by "an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny". 

    He says that the new monitoring process should be considered "a success", but that the co-ordination between micro and macro-prudential authorities could be improved. 

    Roberto Gualtieri
  20. Debate on banking union begins

    That’s the debate on EU assistance to fight the Zika virus finished – MEPs will vote on a resolution at next month’s plenary session.

    Next, MEPs are debating a motion on the Eurozone’s banking union – the series of measures passed following the 2008 financial crisis to try to improve the stability of the area’s banking system.

    It set common Eurozone standards for the amount of reserve capital banks should have to hold, plus brought in direct monitoring of the largest Eurozone banks by the European Central Bank (ECB).

    The draft motion says this monitoring process – known as the single supervisory mechanism – has been a “remarkable achievement”.

    Notably, the draft text also calls for a “high and uniform level of protection of deposits” across the eurozone.

    Setting up a Eurozone-wide guarantee scheme to protect bank deposits is a political hot potato owing to strong opposition from Germany.

    ECB
    Image caption: The ECB, based in Frankfurt, monitors the health of the biggest eurozone banks