David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Strasbourg Round-up

Round-up of the European Parliament Plenary Session, Strasbourg, 13 - 16 March 2017

A circular economy to boost recycling, cut landfilling and curb food waste

MEPs voted to support a resolution setting out a positon on limiting landfilling and incineration of rubbish with the aim of close to three quarters of all waste being recycled by 2030. This comes ahead of negotiations with the member states on EU legislation aiming to reduce the environmental impact of waste. The ambitious recycling and landfill targets were restored in line with what the Commission had originally proposed in 2014.

With the demand for raw materials by the world economy likely to increase 50% in the next 15 years, re-use, recycling and recovery must become priorities. Sustainability, innovation and competitiveness should be explored to promote waste not as a problem but a resource with a circular development model keeping materials and their value in circulation.

Four reports on Waste and packaging waste, Landfilling and  Food waste were adopted by the Parliament ahead of negotiations with Council of ministers, which yet has to adopt its own position.

MEPs back mercury pollution curbs, in line with UN Minamata convention

New legislation restricting the use of mercury, a persistent pollutant that has adverse effects on the environment and human health, was adopted by the Parliament. The bill, already informally agreed with the Council of Ministers, aims to close the gap between existing EU legislation and the United Nations Minamata Convention against mercury pollution.

The legislation will replace the 2008 mercury export ban regulation, while incorporating its provisions. It also restricts mercury imports, bans its use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and phases out its use in manufacturing processes.

The legislation also aims to phase out the use of mercury in dental amalgam by 2030, and limits the maximum permitted period for temporary storage of waste mercury to five years, with a possible extension of three years.

Revision of EU Gun Laws

The 1991 EU firearms directive, last updated in 2008, set conditions under which private persons may lawfully acquire and possess guns or transfer them to another EU country. In the March Plenary Parliament backed a provisional deal on the1991 directive reached by Parliament and Council negotiators last December in line with the European Agenda on Security for 2015-2020. This backed tighter controls on blank-firing and inadequately deactivated weapons, like those used in the Paris terror attacks, and an obligation for EU member states to have an appropriate monitoring system in place for the issuance or renewal of licences and to exchange information.

There are new, stricter controls on certain semi-automatic firearms when they are fitted with high capacity magazines and on automatic firearms that have been converted into semi-automatics with the proviso that individuals who legally own these today will be able to continue to do so provided their own member state agrees.

Strengthening food checks

MEPs voted on new rules to tighten up official inspections throughout the food chain. The new legislation aims to improve food traceability, combat food fraud and restore consumer trust in the integrity of the food chain. This includes setting up a comprehensive and more effective control system along the whole food chain, including controls on food, feed, plant health, pesticides, animal welfare, organic production, protected geographical indications and regular unannounced, risk-based controls in all sectors. The new rules would also allow authorities to react faster in crisis situations. There would be the same and stricter penalities for fraudsters across the EU. The new rules also aim to improve the health and welfare of animals.

Conflict minerals: MEPs secure due diligence obligations for importers

Mineral-rich countries afflicted by conflicts face a vicious circle in which revenue from illegally extracted resources feeds armed revolts. This is most notable in high-risk areas in the world, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region.

Tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are used in the production of many high-tech devices, in the automotive, electronics, aerospace, packaging, construction, lighting, industrial machinery and tooling industries, as well as in jewellery.

A draft EU regulation to prevent the minerals trade from funding conflict and human rights violations was approved by MEPs. This “conflict minerals” law will oblige all but the smallest EU importers of tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold to do "due diligence" checks on their suppliers, and big manufacturers to disclose how they plan to monitor their sources to comply with the rules.

Thankfully MEPs persuaded EU ministers that due diligence checks should no longer be voluntary, but mandatory for importers of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold and their ores from conflict and high-risk areas.
Parliament also secured an undertaking that big EU firms (over 500 employees) that buy tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold to use in their products will be encouraged to report on their sourcing practices and will be able to join an EU registry.

A strategy to prevent conflicts over polar region heating up

The melting of Arctic ice could create new economic opportunities by allowing access to new stocks of gas and oil. It is also expected to boost tourism and open new trade routes which would cut transport times for goods between European and Asia in half.

At the same time it will pose additional risks to the environment and increase tensions between those countries with conflicting and competitive interests.

Parliament debated a report calling for the protection of the Arctic's unique ecosystem and setting out ways to defuse possible tensions. The Arctic has long been an area of constructive international cooperation and it is important that it stays that way by avoiding the militarisation of the area and respecting international law.

MEPs called for better protection of the Arctic's unique and vulnerable ecosystem, including a ban on Arctic oil and gas extraction.

Addressing gender imbalance

Much remains to be done in Europe before true gender equality is achieved, Parliament said on Tuesday, underlining amongst others the persistent male-female worker pay-gap. In a separate decision, Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke was severely sanctioned by Parliament for derogatory comments towards women during the previous plenary session.

Shareholders will be given a greater say in how company directors are paid, following new rules approved by Parliament on Tuesday. The aim is to help give firms a longer term outlook. The real owners and shareholders will also be easier to identify.
The newly re-imposed US “gag rule” cutting public funding to NGOs providing abortions and other family planning services in developing countries was debated in plenary on Tuesday. Most MEPs wanted member states to step in and fill the gap in funding while others said that the EU should respect the US government’s decision.

Minimum European standards for the rearing of farmed rabbits

MEPs voted for a report calling on the Commission to immediately bring forward proposals to end the mistreatment of rabbits.

Currently in the EU, farm rabbits are typically reared in very small cages, with no opportunities to exercise and express their natural behaviour - they are provided with an area of less than the size of two ordinary A4 sheets of paper per rabbit - and there is a high rate of disease and mortality amongst farm rabbits owing to factors such as infectious diseases which occur with high frequency in the unsuitable conditions of the cage system.

These conditions are as unacceptable as they are inhumane, and unless we have minimum welfare standards for farmed rabbits there will be no incentive to improve the conditions in which they are kept across the EU. And in Britain, we must ensure that any new European standards are maintained after Brexit - we cannot allow ourselves to become an offshore warren of low regulation and lower morals.


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