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Minutes – Monday, 9 October 2017 – PE 612.090v02-00 – Committee on Legal Affairs

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Minutes – Monday, 9 October 2017 – PE 612.090v01-00 – Committee on Legal Affairs

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Text adopted – General budget of the European Union for 2018 – all sections – P8_TA-PROV(2017)0408 – Wednesday, 25 October 2017 – Strasbourg – Provisional edition

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 314 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 106a of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community,

–  having regard to Council Decision 2014/335/EU, Euratom of 26 May 2014 on the system of own resources of the European Union(1)
,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002(2)
,

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 1311/2013 of 2 December 2013 laying down the multiannual financial framework for the years 2014-2020(3)
(MFF Regulation),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 2 December 2013 between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on budgetary discipline, on cooperation in budgetary matters and on sound financial management(4)
(IIA of 2 December 2013),

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 March 2017 on general guidelines for the preparation of the budget(5)
,

–  having regard to its resolution of 5 April 2017 on Parliament’s estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2018(6)
,

–  having regard to the draft general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2018, which the Commission adopted on 29 June 2017 (COM(2017)0400),

–  having regard to the position on the draft general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2018, which the Council adopted on 4 September 2017 and forwarded to Parliament on 13 September 2017 (11815/2017 – C8‑0313/2017),

–  having regard to its resolution of 5 July 2017 on the mandate for the trilogue on the 2018 draft budget(7)
,

–  having regard to Rule 88 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgets and the opinions of the other committees concerned (A8-0299/2017),

Section III

General overview

1.  Stresses that Parliament’s reading of the 2018 Budget fully reflects the political priorities adopted by an overwhelming majority in its abovementioned resolutions of 15 March 2017 and of 5 July 2017; recalls that sustainable growth, jobs, in particular youth employment, security and climate change are at the core of those priorities;

2.  Highlights that the Union continues to face numerous challenges and is convinced that, while maintaining budget discipline, the necessary financial resources must be deployed from the Union budget, in order to meet the political priorities and allow the Union to deliver concrete answers and to effectively respond to those challenges; underlines that Union spending should be based on the principle of European added value and should respect the principle of subsidiarity;

3.  Reaffirms its commitment to financing Union policies that enhance jobs and growth in all its regions through investment in research, education, infrastructure, SMEs and employment, in particular youth employment; fails to understand how the Union can achieve progress in those fields considering the cuts proposed by the Council under subheading 1a; decides instead to additionally reinforce research and innovation programmes that have a very high implementation rate and which, due to oversubscription, are faced with a particularly low success rate for applications;

4.  Remains committed to the pledges made by Parliament during the negotiations on the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), namely to minimise the impact of EFSI-related cuts on Horizon 2020 and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) in the framework of the annual budgetary procedure; proposes, therefore, to offset those cuts by restoring the original annual profile of those two programmes, in order to allow them to fully accomplish the objectives agreed during the adoption of the relevant legislation;

5.  Expresses its political support for the establishment of the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) and welcomes the legislative proposal put forward in this regard by the Commission; considers, however, that, pending a decision on the financing of the ESC and the adoption of the relevant regulation under the ordinary legislative procedure, no financial provision should be entered for this purpose in the 2018 Budget; decides, therefore, that relevant appropriations and redeployments, entered by the Commission in the Draft Budget 2018 (DB), should be for the moment reversed, as the decision on the 2018 Budget should not prejudge in any way the outcome of the legislative negotiations; remains fully committed to integrate the decision on ESC financing in next year’s budget immediately via an amending budget, in case the negotiations on the relevant regulation are not concluded before the end of the 2018 budgetary procedure;

6.  Is concerned by the fact that youth unemployment remains at unprecedented levels and is convinced that, in order not to jeopardise the future of an entire generation of young Europeans, additional actions need to be undertaken; decides therefore to reinforce the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) beyond the level proposed by the Commission for 2018; stresses that such reinforcement should be considered as additional to the overall allocation that was politically endorsed for YEI in the context of the MFF mid-term revision, and not as a mere frontloading of that allocation in the 2018 Budget;

7.  Recalls that cohesion policy plays a primary role in achieving economic and social convergence in the Union, and thus in ensuring development and growth; stresses that in 2018, cohesion policy programmes are expected to catch-up and reach cruising speed; emphasises Parliament’s commitment to ensuring adequate appropriations for those programmes that represent one of the core policies of the Union; is however preoccupied by the unacceptable delays in the implementation of operational programmes at national level; calls on Member States to ensure that the designation of managing, auditing and certifying authorities is concluded and that implementation is accelerated; furthermore calls on the Commission to go further with the simplification of the related procedures;

8.  Is highly concerned at the rise of instability and uncertainty both within and outside the Union; insists on the need for a renewed focus on the Union’s approach to cohesion, integration, peace, sustainable development and human rights; calls upon the Commission and the Member States to connect and boost efforts towards further sustaining peace and conflict prevention; recalls the worldwide inspiration brought by the Good Friday Agreement while acknowledging the unprecedented challenges and pressures in the aftermath of the United Kingdom 2016 Referendum; calls upon the Commission and Member States to enhance their support for reconciliation to secure peace and stability in Ireland;

9.  Believes that, while at present the peak of the migratory and refugee crisis seems to have decreased, the Union must stand ready to respond to any future unforeseen event in this area and pursue a more proactive approach in the field of migration; therefore urges the Commission to continuously monitor the adequacy of allocations under Heading 3 and make full use of all available instruments under the current MFF to respond in a timely manner to any unforeseen event that might require additional funding; recalls that, while the Union managed to put in place some mechanisms helping to cope with this situation, still over one hundred thousand refugees and migrants have arrived to Europe by sea so far in 2017 according to the UNHCR; decides therefore to reinforce in a limited manner the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund and the Internal Security Fund, as well as the agencies with responsibilities in the field of asylum, such as the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which need to be provided with adequate financial and human resources; notes, once again, that the Heading 3 ceiling is vastly insufficient to provide for appropriate funding for the internal dimension of the migration and refugee crisis as well as other priority programmes, such as culture and citizenship programmes;

10.  Underlines that Heading 3 has been largely mobilised in recent years to address the migratory and refugee crisis and that such actions should continue for as long as needed; notes however that the funding provided so far is insufficient; decides for this reason to reinforce agencies in the field of Justice and Home Affairs which, due to increased workload and additional tasks, have been facing shortage of staff and funding in the past years;

11.  Underlines that, in light of recent security concerns across the Union, funding under Heading 3 should also have regard to measures which will lead to enhancing the security of Union citizens;

12.  Reiterates that an essential part of the solution to the migratory and refugee crisis as well as to the security concerns of Union citizens lie in addressing the root causes of migration and devoting sufficient financial means to external instruments that aim at tackling issues such as poverty, lack of employment, education and economic opportunities, instability, conflict and climate change which is one of the underlying causes behind increasing migration flows; is of the opinion that the Union should make an optimal use of financial means under Heading 4 which proved to be insufficient to equally address all external challenges, considering that the resources are clearly insufficient and should be increased in a more organic way;

13.  Regrets that, while preparing its position, Parliament has not been sufficiently informed about the budgetary impact of a possible political decision to extend the Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRT); reiterates its longstanding position that new initiatives shall not be financed to the detriment of existing EU external projects; calls therefore on the Commission, in the event of the prolongation of the FRT, to propose its financing through fresh means and involve more local NGOs in its implementation; notes that the Heading 4 ceiling is vastly insufficient to provide a sustainable and effective response to the current external challenges, including the migration and refugee ones;

14.  Recalls that the Union budget must support the fulfilment of the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Union’s own long-term climate goals by achieving the target of 20 % climate spending in the 2014-2020 MFF; regrets that the Commission has failed to put forward concrete and realistic proposals to achieve these goals; therefore proposes increases above the level of the DB for climate-related actions; notes however that these increases are not sufficient and calls on the Commission to present all the necessary proposals to reach the goals in the forthcoming draft budgets; notes, in this context, that 8,2 % of total commitment appropriations proposed in the DB are related to biodiversity protection; highlights that an annual increase of 0,1 % stands in contrast to the worrying and accelerating decline in species and habitats;

15.  Appreciates that the new approach of ‘Budget Focused on Results’ has for the first time been integrated into the internal budgetary preparation of the Commission in order to review the expenditure based on experience achieved so far and identify possible adjustments;

16.  Restores the cuts proposed by Council to the DB; fails to understand the reasoning behind the proposed cuts, for example those to Horizon 2020 and CEF, two programmes already affected by redeployments to EFSI, as well as those to external policies; contests, in any event, Council’s declared intention to target budget lines with a low execution rate or absorption capacity, as this is not substantiated by the actual implementation figures and ignores the varying implementation patterns of certain programmes;

17.  Concludes that, for the purpose of adequately financing all pressing needs, and considering the very tight MFF margins in 2018, all means available in the MFF Regulation in terms of flexibility will need to be deployed; expects that the Council will share this approach and that an agreement will easily be reached in conciliation, allowing the Union to rise to the occasion and effectively respond to the challenges ahead; underlines that the deviation each budgetary year from the original programming under the current MFF advocates in favour of an upward adjustment of the ceilings in the MFF post-2020;

18.  Sets the overall level of appropriations for 2018 at EUR 162 597 930 901 in commitment appropriations and EUR 146 712 004 932 in payment appropriations;

Subheading 1a – Competitiveness for growth and jobs

19.  Rejects Council’s unjustified EUR 750 million cuts to subheading 1a, which alone represent almost two thirds of the overall Council cuts in commitments in MFF headings; notes that such cuts contradict Council’s own stated political priorities;

20.  Insists that in order to achieve sustainable growth and job creation in the Union, boosting investments in research, innovation, education, infrastructure and MSMEs is key; warns that such cuts proposed by the Council would jeopardise programmes with real European added value and a direct impact on job and growth creation, such as Horizon 2020 or CEF; points out, in particular, that sufficient funding for Horizon 2020 is essential to allow for the development of research and innovation, leadership in digitalisation and for the support of SMEs in Europe; recalls that this programme has demonstrated a strong European added-value with 83 % of Horizon 2020-funded projects that would not have gone ahead without Union-level support; reiterates the importance of the CEF funding instrument for the completion of the TEN-T network and for achieving a Single European Transport Area; consequently decides to reverse all cuts made by the Council and, furthermore, to fully restore the original profile of the Horizon 2020 and CEF lines that were cut for the provisioning of the EFSI Guarantee Fund;

21.  Stresses, in addition, the need to strengthen both the education and training and the youth strands of Erasmus+, as part of strategic investment in European youth;

22.  Stresses that sufficient financial support for microenterprises, entrepreneurs and SMEs should be the key priority for the Union as these are the main source of job creation across Europe; emphasises that securing good access to finance is essential for keeping SMEs competitive and for helping them to overcome challenges related to access to the internal market as well as to the global market;

23.  Decides, therefore, to further reinforce beyond the DB and the pre-EFSI and pre-ESC profiles those programmes that are key to boosting growth and jobs and that reflect widely agreed Union priorities, namely Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 (Marie Curie, European Research Council, SME Instrument), COSME, and EaSI (Progress and Eures); calls on the Commission to provide sufficient funding for budget lines related to WIFI4EU and to keep its investment commitment between 2017 and 2020;

24.  Welcomes the inclusion of the Special Annual Events budget line in the 2018 Budget, which will allow the development of a sense of European belonging among citizens; notes that the scope of the Special Annual Event should demonstrably serve the added value to the European citizens across the Member States;

25.  Stresses the importance of stimulating cooperative defence research in Europe for addressing key capability shortfalls at a time when international developments and uncertainties increasingly require Europe to step up its efforts on defence; supports the increased allocation for the Preparatory Action on defence research; calls for a defence research programme with a dedicated budget within the next Multiannual Financial Framework; reiterates, nevertheless, its longstanding position that new initiatives shall be financed through fresh appropriations and not to the detriment of existing Union programmes; underlines, furthermore, the need to improve the competitiveness and innovation in the European defence industry;

26.  Is of the opinion that increased resources should be allocated in the framework of the 2018 Budget in order to conduct a comprehensive and unbiased assessment of the risk posed by third countries in terms of their strategic deficiencies in the area of anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing, based on criteria defined in Article 9 of Directive (EU) 2015/849(8)
, and to establish a list of ‘high-risk’ jurisdictions;

27.  Calls on the Commission to ensure an adequate level of allocations enabling the European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM) to effectively perform its duties and tasks listed in Annex VII to Directive 2010/63/EU(9)
, with particular reference to coordinating and promoting the development and use of alternatives to animal testing including in the areas of basic and applied research and regulatory testing;

28.  As a result, increases the level of commitment appropriations for subheading 1a above the DB by EUR 143,9 million (excluding pre-EFSI and pre-ESC restoration, pilot projects and preparatory actions), to be financed within the margin available as well as a further mobilisation of the Global Margin for Commitments;

Subheading 1b – Economic, social and territorial cohesion

29.  Disapproves of Council’s proposed cuts of EUR 240 million in payments under subheading 1b, including on support lines and reverses them, pending updated forecasts from the Commission;

30.  Notes with increasing concern that the unacceptable delays in the implementation of the European Structural and Investment Funds have undermined their effectiveness and put pressure on the managing authorities and beneficiaries; reiterates once again the risk that the current delays can have on the accumulation of unpaid bills in the second half of this MFF and at the beginning of the next one; reiterates strongly its call on the Member States to seek advice and assistance from the Commission in order to address the delays in the designation of the managing, certifying and auditing authorities; is further alarmed by the downsize trend and the lack of accuracy of the Member States’ estimates;

31.  Recalls that youth unemployment rates remain unacceptably high in the Union; emphasises that, in order to address this issue, it is of importance to ensure proper funding of the Youth Guarantee schemes through the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and the ESF; welcomes the agreement on the need to provide fresh funding for the YEI, and the inclusion of the corresponding appropriations in the DB 2018; considers nevertheless that, given the challenges and risks posed by youth unemployment, the YEI should benefit from increased appropriations and therefore decides to bring the YEI to EUR 600 million in commitments in 2018; moreover, considers that professional training actions, towards the youth and in particular the apprenticeship should be eligible for financing under the cohesion policy;

32.  Welcomes the new EUR 142,8 million financial envelope which has been created to facilitate the implementation of the Structural Reform Support Programme between 2017-2020;

Heading 2 – Sustainable growth: natural resources

33.  Recalls that the Commission’s proposal to increase appropriations to finance the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) needs are largely due to a significantly lower amount of assigned revenue being expected to be available in 2018; notes the Council’s cuts of EUR 275 million, but considers that the Commission’s Amending Letter should remain the basis for any reliable revision of EAGF appropriations and restores the DB levels accordingly, pending an examination of this Amending Letter in conciliation;

34.  Stresses that storage programmes have proved effective in times of crisis and that a reduction in the financial resources earmarked in the planning process would be counter-productive;

35.  Underlines that part of the solution to address youth unemployment lies in adequately supporting young people in rural areas; proposes therefore an increase of EUR 50 million above the level of the DB for payments for young farmers; emphasises the need to use the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and other Union funding schemes to facilitate young people’s access to jobs in the fishing industry;

36.  Decides, in line with its Europe 2020 targets and with its international commitments to tackle climate change, to propose an increase of EUR 21,2 million above the level of the DB for climate-related actions; reiterates that both the European Court of Auditors (ECA) as well as ECOFIN ascertained that the Union budget is not in line with its climate targets;

37.  Recalls that taxpayers’ money should not be used to support the rearing or breeding of bulls for fighting activities; believes that breeding or rearing for those purposes should not be eligible for basic payments and asks that the Commission submit a proposal in order to amend the current legislation on this issue;

38.  Increases therefore commitment appropriations by EUR 78,1 million, thus leaving a margin of EUR 619,7 million below the ceiling for commitments in Heading 2 once pilot projects and preparatory actions have been deducted;

39.  Emphasises, with regret, that disasters generally affect those who have less means to protect themselves, whether they be individuals or States; considers that the response to natural or man-made disasters should be as rapid as possible so that damage is minimal and people and property can be saved; calls attention to the need for an additional increase in funds, particularly in the budget lines linked to disaster prevention and preparedness within the Union, taking into account, in particular, fires in Spain and Portugal (resulting in tragic loss of human life), which have a dramatic and substantial impact on people;

40.  Draws attention to the threat factors weighing on numerous forest ecosystems, such as, among others, the spread of invasive alien species, pests (such as pine nematode and others) and forest fires; considers that sufficient financial resources should be addressed through community support programmes and measures to the evaluation of ecological and plant health of forests and their rehabilitation, including reforestation; notes that such resources are particularly important and urgent to some Member States, namely Portugal and Spain following previous successive fires throughout the national territory;

Heading 3 – Security and Citizenship

41.  Emphasises that for Parliament, tackling migration and security must remain top Union priorities and reiterates its conviction that the Heading 3 ceiling has proven vastly insufficient to fund adequately the internal dimension of those challenges;

42.  Notes that, while the number of migrant crossings on the Central and Eastern Mediterranean routes into the Union fell in the first nine months of 2017, pressure on the Western Mediterranean route remains; notes that more than one hundred thousand migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in the first nine months of 2017, with over 75 % arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain; is of the opinion that increased funding is needed to fully cover the needs of the Union in the field of migration, notably through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund to support Members States in improving integration measures and practices for those in need of international protection, especially unaccompanied minors, and, where necessary, carrying out return operations for those not entitled to protection while fully respecting the principle of non-refoulement; in this context also insists that the EASO shall be equipped with adequate financial and human resources to allow the agency to fulfil its assigned tasks;

43.  Is in favour of the creation of a new budget line for a Search and Rescue Fund to support Member States in their obligations under international maritime law; asks the Commission to present a legislative proposal to set up such an EU Search and Rescue Fund;

44.  Is convinced that, in order to effectively tackle security concerns of Union citizens, the budget of the Internal Security Fund needs additional funds to equip the Member States better in the fight against terrorism, cross-border organised crime, radicalisation and cybercrime; underlines, in particular, that sufficient resources must be provided for reinforcing security infrastructures and boosting information-sharing between law enforcement agencies and national authorities, including through improving the interoperability of information systems while guaranteeing at the same time respect for individual rights and liberties;

45.  Highlights the crucial role played by the Union agencies in the area of justice and home affairs in addressing pressing concerns of Union citizens; decides therefore to increase budgetary appropriations and staffing of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), including the creation of 7 staff posts for the new operating unit called Europol operating unit for missing children, as well as to reinforce the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust), EASO and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL); reiterates the contribution of these agencies to enhancing cooperation between Member States in the field;

46.  Asks the Commission, in the light of the actual progress made in ongoing interinstitutional negotiations, to provide updated information on the financial implications in 2018 of pending legislative proposals as part of the European Agenda on Migration, in particular the reform of the Dublin system, the Entry/Exit System, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System and EASO, so that it can be taken into account in the conciliation phase;

47.  Regrets Council’s arbitrary cuts of more than EUR 30 million in commitment appropriations to numerous programmes in the areas of culture, citizenship, justice, public health, consumer rights and civil protection, in disregard of these programmes’ excellent implementation rates and despite already insufficient levels of financing that leave many high-quality projects unfunded; restores all lines to the level of the DB and proposes additional increases to relevant lines;

48.  Reiterates its conviction that it is time to boost funding for important Union programmes in the areas of culture and citizenship, in particular Creative Europe and Europe for Citizens, which have a key role in supporting cultural and creative industries, as well as participatory citizenship, especially in view of the European elections in 2019; reiterates that all institutions must honour the political agreement found on the 2018 funding for the European Year of Cultural Heritage by providing sufficient appropriations for it through Creative Europe’s Culture sub-programme, in the absence of a separate budget line for the Year; calls on the Commission to review initiatives under the ‘multimedia actions’ budget line to ensure that the budget effectively supports high-quality independent coverage of Union affairs;

49.  Is in favour of increased transparency of and visibility for the Daphne objective of the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme, as a key Union tool in combatting all forms of violence against children, young people, women, LGBTI people and other at-risk groups; supports setting up a European monitoring centre on gender-based violence within the European Institute for Gender Equality;

50.  Reinforces Heading 3 by EUR 108,8 million in commitment appropriations above the DB, excluding pilot projects and preparatory actions, and proposes to finance these reinforcements by a further mobilisation of the Flexibility Instrument;

Heading 4 – Global Europe

51.  Stresses once again that the Union’s external action is faced with ever growing funding needs which greatly exceed the current size of Heading 4; considers that the mobilisation of the Union budget to respond to the migration challenge will continue to require dynamic responses in the coming years; stresses that an ad hoc one-year increase, such as that in 2017, cannot be considered sufficient in view of the complex challenges that the Union is facing and the urgent need for stronger Union external presence in today’s global world;

52.  Is of the opinion that priority should be given to the Union’s immediate neighbours and to measures aimed at tackling the main issues they are facing, namely the migratory and refugee crisis and corresponding humanitarian challenges in the Southern Neighbourhood, and the Russian aggression in the Eastern Neighbourhood; believes that stability and prosperity of the Union Neighbourhood are beneficial to both the concerned regions and to the Union as a whole; reiterates its call to increase support to the Middle East Peace Process, the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA to cope with growing needs, in order to achieve the Union’s stated objective of promoting development and stability in the region and support the resilience of Palestinians; reiterates that supporting countries which are implementing association agreements with the Union is pivotal to facilitating political and economic reforms, but stresses that such support should apply as long as those countries meet the eligibility criteria, especially as regards the rule of law and enforcing democratic institutions; therefore decides to increase resources for the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), for the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) and for Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA);

53.  Stresses the importance of the role that Europe plays at global level in eradicating poverty and ensuring development of the most deprived regions, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals; therefore, allocates additional financial resources to the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and Humanitarian Aid; recalls that, since a significant proportion of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea are coming from Sub-Saharan Africa, Union support in this region is key to tackling the root causes of migration;

54.  Opposes the drastic reductions in financial contributions from the external financing instruments (ENI, IPA, PI and DCI) to Erasmus+, despite the fact that youth exchange programs are one of the most successful long-term investments into cultural diplomacy and mutual understanding, and decides therefore to increase these contributions;

55.  In view of the worrying deterioration of the situation as regards democracy, rule of law and human rights, decides to decrease the support for political reforms in Turkey; decides to put part of the remaining appropriations in reserve to be released when Turkey makes measurable improvements in the fields of rule of law, democracy, human rights and press freedom, with the aim of redirecting these funds to civil society actors for implementing measures supportive of these objectives;

56.  Is of the opinion that in order to adequately tackle disinformation campaigns, and to promote an objective image of the Union outside its borders, additional financial means are needed; calls therefore to step up funding to counter disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks; decides therefore to increase resources for strategic communication actions to be carried out in the Neighbourhood as well as in the Western Balkans; recalls the importance of investing in the visibility of the Union’s external action in order to strengthen the impact of funding in that field and enhance Union public diplomacy in line with the ambitions of the Global Strategy;

57.  Deems it necessary to increase appropriations for the Turkish Cypriot Community budget line for the purpose of contributing decisively to the continuation and intensification of the mission of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, the wellbeing of Maronites wishing to resettle and that of all enclaved persons as agreed in the 3rd Vienna Agreement, and of supporting the bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, thus promoting trust and reconciliation between the two communities;

58.  Stresses that the trend by the Commission to resort to satellite budgetary mechanisms such as trust funds and other similar instruments has not always proven to be a success; is concerned that the establishment of financial instruments outside the Union budget could threaten its unity and circumvent the budgetary procedure and at the same time undermine the transparent management of the budget and hamper the right of the Parliament to exercise effective scrutiny of expenditures; considers, therefore, that external instruments which emerged in recent years must be incorporated into the Union budget, with Parliament having full scrutiny over the implementation of these instruments; notes that by end of September 2017 a total of EUR 795,4 million has been committed for EU Trust Funds in the 2017 Budget; asks the Commission to present to the European Parliament and the Council the amount it intends to commit in 2018 to the Trust Funds; reiterates its concern that Member State contributions to these Trust Funds tend to lag behind their pledges; takes note of the ECA Special Report 11/2017 on the Bekou EU Trust Fund for the Central African Republic; is concerned about the deficiencies identified by the ECA, such as the lack of assessment for overall needs and the dysfunctional coordination mechanisms with other donors; expresses its intention to assess the added value of EU Trust Funds as an instrument of Union external policy;

59.  Recalls that in accordance with Article 24 of the MFF Regulation, all expenditures and revenues of the Union and Euratom shall be entered in the general budget of the Union in accordance with Article 7 of the Financial Regulation; calls on the Commission to preserve the unity of the budget and to consider it as a guiding principle when introducing new initiatives;

60.  Stresses the importance of election observation missions in strengthening democratic institutions and building public confidence in electoral processes, which in return promote peace-building and stability; emphasises the need to ensure sufficient financial resources for that objective;

61.  Points out that DCI funding shall not be redeployed in order to finance the new Capacity Building for Security and Development (CBSD) initiative under the IcSP; deplores the DB proposal to redeploy EUR 7,5 million from the DCI to the CBSD and stresses the urgent need to find alternative solutions to fill this gap;

62.  Reiterates its request that the budget line for EU Special Representatives be transferred, in a budget-neutral manner, from the CFSP budget to the administrative budget of the EEAS in order to further consolidate the Union’s diplomatic activities;

63.  As a result, decides to reverse almost all of the Council’s cuts and to reinforce Heading 4 by EUR 299,7 million above the DB in commitment appropriations (excluding pilot projects and preparatory actions, the transfer of EUSRs and adopted cuts);

Heading 5 – Administration; Other headings – administrative and research support expenditure

64.  Considers that Council’s cuts do not reflect the real needs and thus jeopardise the already significantly rationalised administrative expenditure; restores therefore the DB for all Commission administrative expenditure, including administrative and research support expenditure in Headings 1 to 4;

65.  Decides, in line with the conclusion of the “Joint Opinion of the Legal Services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on three aspects of the relationship between OLAF and its Supervisory Committee” of 12 September 2016, to hold 10 % of appropriations of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) until the Supervisory Committee is granted access to OLAF cases files, while slightly reinforcing its budget, in line with increased responsibilities;

66.  Takes note that, at the beginning of 2017, OLAF investigated a severe case of customs fraud in the UK which was caused by undervaluation of imported products and which has created a loss of income of almost EUR 2 billion for the Union budget in the period 2013-2016; is concerned that that fraud has not been stopped to date and that losses to the Union budget are still ongoing; asks the Commission to take into account the slow reaction of the UK administration to its recommendations in this regard when negotiating Brexit; asks those Member States that objected to the Union legal framework for customs infringements and sanctions to reconsider their position in order to allow for a speedy solution of this problem;

Decentralised Agencies

67.  Endorses, as a general rule, the Commission’s estimates of the budgetary needs of agencies; considers, therefore, that any further cuts proposed by the Council would endanger the proper functioning of the agencies and would not allow them to fulfil the tasks they have been assigned; considers that the new posts adopted in its position are needed to fulfil additional tasks due to new policy developments and new legislation; reiterates its commitment to safeguard resources and where necessary provide additional resources as to ensure the proper functioning of the agencies;

68.  In the context of the challenges the Union is still facing in terms of migration and security, and bearing in mind the necessity for a coordinated European response, decides to reinforce the appropriations for the Europol, Eurojust, CEPOL, EASO and the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA);

69.  Recalls the importance for the Union focusing on competitiveness for growth and jobs; recalls the strategic priority for the Union of fully developing and implementing its Galileo and EGNOS projects for which the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is partially responsible; recalls the GSA has a resourcing gap for cyber security and public regulated service and decides, therefore, to increases its level of appropriations;

70.  Considers that additional appropriation and staff are needed for the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) to fulfil its expanded mission related to the implementation of the electricity and gas network codes and guidelines and its monitoring;

71.  Recalls in particular that the European Environment Agency (EEA) helps the Union to make informed decisions about improving the environment, integrating environmental considerations into economic policies and moving towards sustainability, and that, in the context of the 2030 Union climate and energy policy, the Commission has proposed new work for EEA on the Governance of the Energy Union, without any corresponding increase in the establishment table;

72.  Stresses that while the budgetary resources and the number of posts for the European Border and Coast Guard seem adequate for the time being, the future needs of the agency in terms of operational resources and staff will have to be closely monitored;

73.  Welcomes the inclusion of adequate resources provided for in the 2018 budget to support the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs); underlines that the role of the ESAs is essential in fostering the consistent application of Union law and better coordination between national authorities, and in ensuring financial stability, better integrated financial markets and consumer protection and supervisory convergence; emphasises that in the interest of a prudent use of their budgets, the ESAs must stick to the tasks and to the mandate assigned to them by the Union legislator;

74.  Reiterates that, as agreed in the IIA of 2 December 2013, 2018 is the last year of implementation of the 5 % staff reduction and redeployment pool approach to the staffing of agencies; reiterates its opposition to any continuation of a global approach on agency resources after 2018; reaffirms its openness to achieving efficiency gains between agencies through increased administrative cooperation or even mergers where appropriate and through pooling certain functions with either the Commission or another agency; welcomes in this regard the initiative to further coordinate agencies activities via establishing the Network of EU Agencies’ Permanent Secretariat (now called the Shared Support Office) and supports the allocation of an additional establishment plan post to the European Food Safety Agency whose costs will be mutualised from the Union Agencies’ existing budgets and seconded to that office;

Pilot projects and preparatory actions (PP-PAs)

75.  Having carried out a careful analysis of the pilot projects and preparatory actions submitted as regards the rate of success of the on-going ones, excluding initiatives already covered by existing legal bases and taking fully into account the Commission’s assessment of the projects’ implementability, decides to adopt a compromise package made up of a limited number of PP-PAs, in view also of the limited margins available and the ceilings for PP-PAs;

76.  Stresses therefore the efforts made by the Parliament in this regard and asks the Commission to show good will in the implementation of the adopted PP-PAs at the end of the budgetary procedure, regardless of its implementability assessment, as for any decision of the European Parliament and the Council;

Special instruments

77.  Recalls the usefulness of special instruments to provide flexibility over and beyond the extremely tight ceilings of the current MFF and welcomes the improvements brought about by the mid-term revision of the MFF Regulation; calls for an extensive use of the Flexibility Instrument, the Global Margin for Commitments and the Contingency Margin in order to finance the wide range of new challenges and additional responsibilities that the Union budget is facing;

78.  Calls for an increase in the Emergency Aid Reserve (EAR) and the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) in light of the most recent and tragic disasters, namely the fires and extreme drought in Portugal and Spain;

79.  Recalls also the significance of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), the EAR and the EUSF; supports the Commission’s intention to provide for a quicker mobilisation of the EUSF by putting most of its annual amount in a reserve in the Union budget, on top of the amount already budgeted for advances; regrets the Council’s cut in that respect and restores partially the DB level, with the exception of the amount which has been frontloaded to 2017 via Amending Budget No 4/2017 and the mobilisation of the EUSF for Italy; calls for the extension of the scope of the EUSF to provide assistance to victims of acts of terrorism and their families;

Payments

80.  Is concerned about the current under-execution trend in payments throughout the Union budget, not only in subheading 1b, but also in Headings 3 and 4, despite the need to answer the surge of new challenges and the setting-up of flexible funding mechanisms; recalls that for the past two years the payment level of the Union budget was considerably decreased, coupled with a high level of budget surplus; expresses, therefore, its concern that the DB still leaves an unprecedented margin of EUR 10 billion below the payment ceiling, which reflects a low execution trend that may lead to an acute payment pressure at the end of the current MFF;

81.  Insists on the necessity to restore the DB in payments on all lines cut by the Council and reinforces payment appropriations in targeted manner, mostly on those lines which are amended in commitment appropriations;

Other Sections

82.  Regrets the repeated Council practice of increasing the standard flat rate abatement for the Union institutions; believes this to have a particularly distorting effect on the budgets of institutions with historically accurate abatement rates; considers that this approach does not constitute a targeted reduction nor sound financial management; restores therefore the abatement rate at the level of the DB;

Section I – European Parliament

83.  Maintains the overall level of its budget for 2018, as adopted in its abovementioned resolution of 5 April 2017, at EUR 1 953 483 373; incorporates budgetary-neutral technical adjustments to reflect updated information which was not available earlier this year;

84.  Notes that the level of estimates for 2018 corresponds to 18,88 %, which is lower than that achieved in 2017 (19,25 %) and the lowest part of Heading 5 in the past fifteen years; insists nevertheless that the drive for the lowest expenditure possible for the European Parliament should not come at the cost of a reduced capacity for Parliament’s ordinary legislative work;

85.  Reiterates Parliament’s priorities for the forthcoming financial year, namely, consolidating the security measures already taken and improving Parliament’s resilience to cyber-attacks, improving the transparency of the Parliament’s own internal budgetary procedure, and focusing the Parliament’s budget on its core functions of legislating, acting as one arm of the budgetary authority, representing citizens and scrutinising the work of other institutions;

86.  Welcomes the creation of the Parliament’s Bureau Working group on the general expenditure allowance; recalls the expectations of greater transparency regarding the general expenditure allowance and a need to work on a definition of more precise rules regarding the accountability of the expenditure authorised under this allowance, without generating additional costs to Parliament;

87.  Calls on the Bureau to make the following concrete changes concerning the general expenditure allowance:

   the general expenditure allowance should be handled in all cases in a separate bank account;
   all receipts pertaining to the general expenditure allowance should be kept by Members;
   the unspent share of the general expenditure allowance should be returned at the end of the mandate;

88.  Reduces the establishment plan of its General Secretariat for 2018 by 60 posts (1 % staff reduction target), in accordance with the agreement of 14 November 2015 reached with the Council on the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2016; recalls that the 35 posts granted to Parliament in 2016 related to new activities reinforcing security and, as such were exempted from the staff reduction target, as confirmed at the adoption of the Amending Budget No 3/2016 and the 2017 general budget(10)
; calls on the Commission to adjust its monitoring tables accordingly in order to provide to the European Parliament and the Council with accurate information at all steps of the procedure;

89.  Welcomes the exchange of views on Parliament’s building policy held on 11 July 2017 between the Committee on Budgets, the Secretary General and the Vice-Presidents responsible for Parliament’s building policy; considers that this dialogue ought to be a continuous process, particularly in the light of upcoming Bureau discussions on the refurbishment of the Paul Henri-Spaak building;

90.  Reiterates Parliament’s position as expressed in its abovementioned resolution of 5 April 2017 that there is further room for improvement on the control mechanisms related to European political parties and political foundations; notes in this regard the Commission’s proposal to amend Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 1141/2014(11)
and welcomes any effort to improve the accountability and transparency of spending;

91.  Recalls the 2014 ECA analysis which estimated the costs of the geographic dispersion of the Parliament to be EUR 114 million per year; furthermore, notes the finding from its resolution of 23 October 2013 on the location of the seats of the European Union’s Institutions(12)
that 78 % of all missions by Parliament statutory staff arise as a direct result of the Parliament’s geographic dispersion; emphasises that the report also estimates the environmental impact of the geographic dispersion to be between 11 000 to 19 000 tonnes of CO2
emissions; reiterates the negative public perception caused by this dispersion and calls therefore for a roadmap to a single seat and a reduction in the relevant budget lines;

Section IV – Court of Justice

92.  Restores the DB on all budget items cut by the Council which are essential to the functioning of the Court and restores the estimates for two budget items in order to enhance the Court’s ability to deal with increasingly high translation demands;

93.  Expresses its disbelief at the unilateral statement of the Council and the related appendix on the 5 % staff reduction in the Council’s position on the 2018 draft budget according to which the Court still needs to reduce its establishment plan by 19 posts; underlines that those 19 posts correspond to the 12 and 7 posts duly granted by Parliament and the Council in the 2015 and 2016 budgetary procedures respectively to address additional needs and insists therefore that those 19 posts should not be given back, the Court having already duly achieved its 5 % staff reduction requirement by suppressing 98 posts during the period 2013-2017;

Section V – Court of Auditors

94.  Restores the DB on all items cut by Council, in order to implement the work programme of the Court of Auditors and deliver the planned Audit Reports;

95.  Places a reserve on the item “Limited consultations, studies and surveys” pending the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on the revision of the Financial Regulation, and the revision entering into force in 2018;

Section VI – European Economic and Social Committee

96.  Restores the DB on all items cut by the Council;

97.  Increases two lines above the DB in relation to the work of Domestic Advisory Groups in trade agreements;

Section VII – Committee of the Regions

98.  Restores the DB on all items cut by the Council;

99.  Increases a number of lines above the DB in line with the Committee of the Region’s own estimates;

Section VIII – European Ombudsman

100.  Welcomes the work done by the Ombudsman in finding efficiency savings in her own budget when compared with the previous year;

Section IX – European Data Protection Supervisor

101.  Questions why the Council would reduce the budget of the European Data Protection Supervisor given the additional tasks conferred upon the institution by Parliament and the Council; restores therefore all the budget lines cut by Council to enable the European Data Protection Supervisor to fulfil his obligations and commitments;

Section X- European External Action Service

102.  Restores all lines cut by the Council;

103.  Creates a Strategic Communication Capacity budget item in line with the European Council conclusions of March 2015 and to equip the EEAS with adequate staff and tools to face the challenge of disinformation from third states and non-state actors;

104.  Decides furthermore to transfer EU Special Representatives from the CFSP chapter to the EEAS budget to strengthen the coherence of the Union’s external action;

105.  Provides an additional amount above the EEAS estimates for trainees in Union Delegations, in response to the findings of the European Ombudsman’s inquiry into unpaid traineeships(13)
;

o
o   o

106.  Takes note of the unilateral statement of France and Luxembourg annexed to the Council’s position on the draft budget for 2018, as adopted on 4 September 2017; recalls that representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission agreed on the pragmatic calendar for the conduct of the budgetary procedure, including the dates for the conciliation period, at the spring budgetary trilogue on 27 March 2017; recalls that the General Affairs Council approved that pragmatic calendar at its meeting of 25 April 2017, in full knowledge of the Parliament’s calendar of part-sessions for 2017; notes, therefore, that the budgetary procedure is proceeding in conformity with the pragmatic calendar agreed between the three institutions;

107.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution, together with the amendments to the draft general budget, to the Council, the Commission, the other institutions and bodies concerned and the national parliaments.

(1) OJ L 168, 7.6.2014, p. 105.
(2) OJ L 298, 26.10.2012, p. 1.
(3) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 884.
(4) OJ C 373, 20.12.2013, p. 1.
(5) Texts adopted of that date, P8_TA(2017)0085.
(6) Texts adopted of that date, P8_TA(2017)0114.
(7) Texts adopted of that date, P8_TA(2017)0302.
(8) Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2015 on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing, amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Directive 2005/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Commission Directive 2006/70/EC (OJ L 141, 5.6.2015, p. 73).
(9) Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (OJ L 276, 20.10.2010, p. 33).
(10) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0401 / P8_TA(2016)0411.
(11) COM(2017)0481.
(12) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0498.
(13) European Ombudsman, 454.2014/PMC.

African Delegates Press for Greater Regional Cooperation in Efforts to Resolve Western Sahara Question, as Fourth Committee Continues Decolonization Debate

Delegates from several African countries called for greater regional cooperation in the peaceful resolution of the Western Sahara question today, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on decolonization.

Senegal’s representative said that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) had established a correlation between a negotiated solution to the dispute and the reinvigoration of cooperation among countries of the Arab Maghreb region.  As such, there was great potential that a settlement in Western Sahara would lead to solutions to other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized trans-boundary crimes and irregular migration, among others, he noted.

Burkina Faso’s representative agreed that the final resolution of the Western Sahara question would allow the region to tackle counter-terrorism, adding that Western Sahara represented a regional dispute and thus sought cooperation with other countries in the region.

Kenya’s representative stressed that Africa’s decolonization remained a top priority, noting that various regional organizations had clearly expressed their position on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.  Kenya urged the international community to lend its full support to African efforts to overcome impediments to the process in Western Sahara, she said, underlining that both Morocco and Western Sahara were members of the African Union and must engage in direct talks.

Also drawing attention to regional efforts, South Africa’s representative highlighted the African Union’s strong commitment to the decolonization of Western Sahara with its appointment of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique, as the bloc’s Special Envoy for Western Sahara.  He recalled that the African Union had made a decision in 2015 calling on the General Assembly to determine a date for holding the referendum in the Territory.

Ahmed Boukhari, representative of the Frente Polisario, said the organization had always had a clear position governed by the principle of self-determination, which was the same as that of the United Nations and the African Union.  The continued occupation of Western Sahara was a slap in the face of the credibility of the United Nations, but today, the Secretary-General wished the peace process to resume and had chosen a new Personal Envoy, he said, adding that Polisario was resolved to work cooperatively with him.

Also speaking today were representatives of Togo, Peru, Gabon, France, Central African Republic, New Zealand, Benin, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Mexico, Mauritius, China, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Saint Lucia, Lesotho, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Venezuela and Namibia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United Kingdom, Argentina and Spain.

Petitioners on Western Sahara also addressed the Committee.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 9 October, to continue the decolonization general debate.

General Debate

KOKOU KPAYEDO (Togo) expressed regret that the different parties to the “thorny” conflict over Western Sahara had not reached agreement.  Emphasizing that negotiation was the only realistic way forward, he said Morocco’s initiative to grant Western Sahara broad autonomy was a constructive step towards a resolution of the dispute and represented a middle ground between the two sides.  He welcomed Morocco’s spirit of compromise, its efforts to develop the region and its progress on human rights.  Municipal elections in 2015 had been held without incident, he noted.  He called for a census in the Tindouf camps, in accordance with the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report.  Underlining the vital need to end the conflict, he pointed out that it posed the risk of tragic consequences for the Sahrawi people and was also preventing regional development at the risk of instability.  Settlement of the Western Sahara question would also require improved relations between Morocco and Algeria, he stressed, calling for dialogue between those countries.

FRANCISCO TENYA HASEGAWA (Peru), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American nations (UNASUR), pointed out that more than half a century since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514 on granting independence to colonial countries, more than 80 territories had won independence.  However, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained, he said, calling upon the United Nations to reverse that unjust reality.  Decisive political will was essential, he added, emphasizing that the administering Powers must cooperate with the Committee and ensure the sustained growth of colonized Territories.  He went on to voice support for Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands*, declaring: “There is no possible solution to resolve the Malvinas problem except through the involved parties.”

LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) reaffirmed her delegation’s support for the political process in Western Sahara, welcoming the ongoing efforts of the Secretary-General and his Sahara Envoy.  She also commended the Moroccan autonomy initiative, saying it had the potential to end the impasse and allow for a final settlement.  “We need to take up all the political initiatives,” she said, emphasizing the role of regional countries in maintaining stability and security in the Sahel region.

ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal), calling for a new approach to the Western Sahara question, pointed out that the Security Council considered Morocco’s autonomy proposal a serious and credible option.  That initiative had been put together in 

good faith and constituted an appropriate framework for a solution to the regional dispute.  He asked neighbouring countries to make their contribution as part of the United Nations process.  Noting that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) had established a correlation between a negotiated solution and the reinvigoration of cooperation between the countries of the Arab Maghreb region, he said that, as such, there was great potential that a settlement in Western Sahara would lead to solutions to other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized transboundary crimes and irregular migration, among others.

JACQUES LAPOUGE (France) said his country had cooperated fully with the United Nations on New Caledonia.  Earlier in the year, a United Nations mission had set out to observe the review of the special electoral list for the Territory’s provinces and congress as well as its efforts to establish a special electoral list for consultations.  The French authorities had read the mission’s report closely, and had encouraged and freely administered many of its recommendations concerning Caledonian local government.  Looking ahead to the coming weeks, he said that if a political accord was reached on the matter of electoral list inscriptions, the complementary review period could be longer than it had been in previous years, increasing the availability of United Nations teams.  France wished to play the role of arbitrator in the situation, rebalancing the local government situation while taking local culture into account, he said.  Recalling that the Nouméa Accord had set out a new division of competencies, he said that, accordingly, the gradually ascending competencies granted to the government of New Caledonia gave it the means to act within a legislative framework.  “In short, New Caledonia is sovereign,” he added.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) expressed regret that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories still did not possess the right to self-determination, noting that the people of Western Sahara had been waiting for decades to exercise that right.  In August, the Secretary-General had launched a negotiation process between the parties and appointed a new Personal Envoy, he recalled, expressing hope that he would receive the support required to achieve a peaceful and lasting solution.  The African Union remained strongly committed to the Territory’s decolonization with its appointment of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique, as Special Envoy for Western Sahara, he said, recalling also that in 2015, the regional bloc had made a decision calling on the General Assembly to determine a date for holding a referendum in Western Sahara.

AMBROISINE KPONGO (Central African Republic) said it was unacceptable that some were still fighting for their independence more than 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  “We seek emancipation for the countries and Territories still under colonization,” she said, while emphasizing that it would be wise to avoid radical positions with unknown impacts.  Spotlighting Morocco’s economic investment in Western Sahara, and the holding of democratic and free processes, she welcomed its “serious and credible” efforts and expressed support for the processes under way at the United Nations for the autonomy of Western Sahara.  “All parties must be realistic and show compromise,” she said, adding that resolving the long-standing dispute called for greater cooperation among neighbouring countries.  Reiterating the African position, she said all must be done to ensure that the continent was not fragmented by external forces.  She also reiterated the need to address the plight of refugees and ensure their human rights were protected.

CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand), underscoring his country’s commitment to its relationship with Tokelau, said it was guided “by the pace that Tokelau alone sets as it develops towards the future of its choosing”.  In the Territory’s last referendum on its relationship with New Zealand, in 2006-2007, the majority required for Tokelau to become a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand had not been met, he recalled.  While self-determination efforts were now paused, Tokelau continued to strive to improve its capacity and confidence in governing and managing its own affairs.  That was the best preparation for any future discussion of self-determination, he said, noting that Tokelau had built its own international profile in multilateral meetings on climate change.  New Zealand would support such efforts “as long as Tokelau wishes us to”.

JEAN-CLAUDE DO REGO (Benin) said that a consensual settlement must remain focused on ensuring greater stability in the Maghreb region.  Expressing support for any Security Council initiative laying out a timetable for the political process, he emphasized, however, that no initiative would succeed without a spirit of compromise on the part of all involved.  They must come to the table in order to secure a sustainable peace, he added.

MAHE ‘U.S. TUPOUNIUA (Tonga) said any compromise must be realistic, fair and in accordance with Security Council resolutions.  The Committee was currently at an important juncture in relation to the long-standing issue, he said, urging all involved to make important contributions to the United Nations led process in order to ensure the realization of a political solution.  Human rights and economic and social development must be guaranteed, he added.

AHMED ABDELRAHMAN AHMED ALMAHMOUD (United Arab Emirates) emphasized his country’s support for Morocco’s territorial integrity and for the kingdom’s efforts to reach a solution.  Noting that Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) described Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious and credible, he welcomed the kingdom’s efforts to develop Western Sahara, including through the new development model recently launched for the southern provinces.  It was important to enhance cooperation among members of the Arab Maghreb to ensure regional stability, he added.

YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras), associating herself with CELAC, stressed the need for ongoing dialogue among administering Powers, the Special Committee and the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Concerning the Malvinas Islands question, she emphasized Argentina’s legitimate rights to that Territory, urging renewed efforts for a peaceful resolution of the dispute.  She said her delegation had demonstrated its support for Argentina on various occasions, recognizing that country’s sovereign right to the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.  She reiterated that all Latin America supported Argentina’s claim.

RODOLFO FLORENTINO DÍAZ ORTEGA (Mexico) said that throughout the years, the United Nations had ensured that more than 80 colonies achieved independence.  However, it was important to remember that “colonialism is not over”, and that championing the principles of the United Nations Charter was a collective responsibility of the Organization.  Mexico reaffirmed its support for efforts to find a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the dispute over Western Sahara, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, he said, expressing support for the holding of a referendum that would determine the future of the Sahrawi people.  He called for efforts to ensure that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) continued to carry out its mandate fully and effectively.  On the Malvinas issue, he urged Argentina and the United Kingdom to seek a peaceful, fair and definitive solution to their dispute, and to avoid taking unilateral actions that could undermine prior agreements.

JAGDISH D KOONJUL (Mauritius) said no progress would be made unless the administering Powers dedicated themselves to the decolonization process.  An end to the suffering of the Sahrawi people was long overdue.  “We must ensure that the situation does not escalate into violence,” he stressed, pointing out that economic integration of North Africa had been delayed due to the situation in Western Sahara.  MINURSO must be free to carry out its mandate to organize the self-determination referendum, he said.  Since it was the General Assembly’s responsibility to complete the decolonization process, it would benefit from an advisory board of the International Court of Justice in relation to the legal consequences of the purported excision of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, he said, encouraging all Member States to participate in that process in support of completing the decolonization of Mauritius.

CHENG LIE (China) said the Non-Self-Governing Territories represented the legacy of Western colonialism.  While the Third International Decade for the Eradication for Colonialism was making progress, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained, particularly in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, he observed.  China supported the efforts of those Territories towards exercising the right to self-determination.  On the question of the Malvinas Islands, he said China supported Argentina’s rights, and called upon the parties concerned to engage in peaceful dialogue and negotiations towards finding a just, lasting and acceptable solution for all.

YEMDAOGO ERIC TIARE (Burkina Faso) welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2351 (2017) extending the mandate of MINURSO until April 2018 for the purpose of holding a referendum, saying that confirmed the Council’s firm will to help the parties reach a solution.  He said Burkina Faso supported the process under the auspices of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, noting that Western Sahara represented a regional dispute, and thus sought cooperation with other countries in the region.  In the context of counter-terrorism, he said a final resolution of the Western Sahara question would allow the region to tackle that problem as well.

HUSSEIN ABDULLAH (Nigeria) expressed regret at the continued existence of Non-Self-governing Territories that faced the challenge of exercising the right to self-determination.  “As new conflicts emerge, we must not lose focus on ongoing, unresolved old conflicts,” he said, noting that Western Sahara remained a Non-Self-Governing Territory even 40 years after the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justices on that issue.  The question of a homeland for the Palestinian people and the quest for a free and impartial self-determination referendum for the Sahrawi people were among the most urgent tasks on the United Nations agenda, he emphasized, calling on the Organization to set a date for the referendum.  “This Committee would be shirking its responsibilities if it fails to prick the conscience of the nations of the world to stand up,” he said.

CARLOS COSTA (Mozambique) said it was imperative to intensify efforts to end colonialism in all its forms.  Expressing great concern over the expansion of Israeli settlements, he called upon the international community to advance concrete actions for the attainment of a durable two-State solution to the question of Palestine.  Concrete action must also be taken to ensure that the people of Western Sahara could exercise their right to self-determination through implementation of the referendum and other elements of the relevant United Nations resolutions.  Lesotho welcomed Morocco’s re-entry into the African Union family, which could provide an additional avenue to the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, he said.

KINTU NYAGO (Uganda) reaffirmed his country’s support for the principle of self-determination.  “As we debate this today, many people still live under the bondage of colonization,” he said.  The issue of Western Sahara remained very much one of occupation and colonization in Africa, and Uganda was committed to the holding of a free and fair referendum as well as the total decolonization of the continent.  Morocco’s recent rejoining of the African Union offered an opportunity to resolve the Western Sahara issue.  Noting the Security Council’s call for a relaunch of the political process in a new dynamic spirit, he welcomed the appointment of the Personal Envoy for Western Sahara and urged him to establish time-bound negotiations between Polisario and Morocco.

COSMOS RICHARDSON (Saint Lucia) drew attention to the torrential rains, massive destruction and tragic loss of life suffered recently by Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Voicing his country’s solidarity with their peoples, he said the task of recovery and reconstruction would be daunting and external assistance would be required.  The annual resolutions on assistance in the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council would be of special importance.  Recalling the role of the United Nations in his own country’s self-determination process, he expressed concern that the same promise remained unfulfilled for many others, especially small island Non-Self-Governing Territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific.  The process had remained “virtually static” for more than a quarter of a century, he said, calling upon the Secretary-General to identify specifically that lack of implementation and take appropriate measures to move the process forward.

KELEBONE MAOPE (Lesotho) said colonialism violated the human rights of the colonized, and it would be in the best interest of humanity to implement the decolonization Declaration as part of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.  He reiterated the call to end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, including through negotiations on Western Sahara.  To that end, he expressed support for Western Sahara’s struggle for self-determination, emphasizing:  “Denial of this fundamental right will remain a source of conflict until independence is attained.”

MOHAMED CHERIF DIALLO (Guinea) said the question of Western Sahara must be resolved through a political and constructive dialogue.  Morocco’s autonomy initiative had the merit of transcending traditional positions, and it could also be instrumental in the holding of fair and free local and regional elections.  He noted with concern the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the protection of their human rights.

FREDERICK M SHAVA (Zimbabwe), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern that all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara question had failed so far.  Noting that most of the Sahrawi people were subjected to severe poverty and forced to seek asylum in neighbouring countries, he said the refugees looked to the international community for assistance.  Zimbabwe supported self-determination for the people of Western Sahara as well as fair and transparent dialogue.  Pointing out that MINURSO was mandated to ensure a free and fair referendum, he said:  “The people of Western Sahara are still waiting.”  He expressed support for the African Union’s call for immediate and direct talks between the two sides.

KOKI MULI GRIGNON (Kenya) said her country’s long struggle for national liberation from colonialism had set a strong foundation for its foreign policy orientation.  Kenya’s architects had underscored the link between national independence and humanity’s right to a shared heritage.  Africa’s decolonization remained a top priority, she said, noting that various regional organizations had clearly expressed their position on the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, and those of the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  “Western Sahara is still colonized because it is rich in natural resources,” she said, adding that the prevailing deadlock in the peace process only heightened tensions in the Territory.  Kenya urged the international community to lend its full support to African efforts to overcome impediments to the process in Western Sahara, she said, underlining that both Morocco and West Sahara were members of the African Union and must engage in direct talks.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said administering Powers had responsibilities under the Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  As such, they should develop time-bound work programmes on a case-by-case basis, in regular compliance with their reporting obligations.  He highlighted the need for educational and training assistance for students in those Territories, expressing appreciation for Member States that made scholarships available to them and requesting that others follow suit.

AMADU KOROMA (Sierra Leone) observed that the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism would end soon, but progress towards the goals set out in its programme of action was not encouraging.  Recalling that efforts had been made in previous years to forge a closer working relationship between the administering Powers and the Special Committee on Decolonization, he encouraged the administering Powers to provide information on the socioeconomic situation in the Territories, and to cooperate with visiting missions so that Special Committee members could receive information on the actual situation on the ground.  Concerning Western Sahara, he said that his delegation fully supported the ongoing process.  As for New Caledonia, the 2018 referendum would be crucial, he said, emphasizing that the problems of the electoral list must be settled amicably before the voting process.

INTISAR NASSER MOHAMMED ABDULLAH (Yemen) said her country supported the aspirations of Territories to independence, commending the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization towards that end.  Regarding Western Sahara, she said all relevant Security Council resolutions must be implemented and Morocco’s efforts to reach a solution must be supported.  She also highlighted Israeli settlement activities, stressing that they were the source of conflict in the Middle East.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in regards to a 3 October statement on Gibraltar, said the Territory’s people enjoyed the right to self-determination, a constitution supported by the referendum, and a vigorous political life.  The United Kingdom refuted allegations that it was illegally occupying the waters surrounding Gibraltar, she said, underlining that the State, which was sovereign over the land, was also sovereign over the waters.  Concerning taxation in the Territory’s, she said Gibraltar maintained a fair tax system and was in compliance with all legal European Union directives.  As for claims of cigarette smuggling through Gibraltar, she recalled the European Commission’s efforts to address that issue and Gibraltar’s commitment to work with partners, including its counterparts in Spain.

In response to the delegations of Peru, Mexico, Honduras and China regarding the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, she reiterated that the United Kingdom harboured no doubt about its sovereignty over the Territory.

The representative of Argentina, in right of reply, recalled that the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas were a part of Argentina, illegally occupied by the United Kingdom.  That was recognized by various international organizations, and the illegal occupation had led the United Nations to adopt various resolutions on the matter, he said.  All those resolutions recognized Argentina’s jurisdiction over the Malvinas, she pointed out, emphasizing also that the interests of the Territory’s people as well as their lifestyle were monitored and guaranteed under the Argentine Constitution.

The representative of Spain, speaking in right of reply in response to the United Kingdom, said the Treaty of Utrecht governed the question of Gibraltar.  Under that agreement, the waters fell under Spanish sovereignty and had never been ceded.  Therefore, the United Kingdom was illegally occupying the isthmus of Gibraltar.  She noted that there were no agreements between the European Union and Gibraltar on tax matters since Spain was a member of that bloc.  Spain was a democratic State governed by the rule of law, she said, describing the referendum said to have taken place in Catalonia as illegal.  Spain protected the rights of all citizens, and its police and Civil Guard responded to orders from the courts and judicial system to ensure legality and respect for all Spaniards.  If there had been excesses, that would be up to the courts to determine.

The representative of Algeria said the daily press releases were not reflecting the Committee’s discussions, recalling that his delegation and others had raised that issue in the past.  The matter had been raised during an informal meeting on the revitalization of the General Assembly.  At that time, lack of resources had been blamed, but considering the situation today, that seemed not to be the case.  The names of people who had not yet addressed the Committee were included in the press release, he said.  If that was a mistake, it was unjustifiable, he stressed.  He asked the Department of Public Information not to deviate from its objective, and the Secretariat to shed light on the reasons for what was happening.  He also asked for formal apologies and corrections.  What happened in the meeting must be faithfully reflected in the releases, he said, emphasizing that a representative of the Department of Public Information must appear before the Committee to explain the issue.

The Chair said he shared the delegate’s disappointment and anger, adding that the Secretariat and the Department of Public Information must clarify what had happened and provide an apology in an information note, as well as with an appearance before the Committee.

A Secretariat official apologized on behalf of the Fourth Committee Secretariat, saying it was following up with the Department of Public Information, and that a correction was being posted.

The representative of Algeria said the apology must not be directed to his delegation but to the entire Committee.

Petitioners on Western Sahara

NAVJOT KAUR, Chief of Staff, Young Progressives of America, said that building walls to keep people out instead of welcoming them in was cruel.  While Morocco had divided the Sahrawi, they refused to accept violations of their human rights.  Recalling former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2014 visit to the Territory, she said that during the visit he had noted the anger of the people who had lived there for more than 40 years and felt the world had forgotten their cause.  Indeed, they had every right to be angry because no progress had been made, she said, expressing hope that more would be achieved under the new Secretary-General.  However, the absence of cooperation from Morocco and its refusal to give the Sahrawi the freedom they deserved was concerning.  Both the European Union and the African Union were in support of the Sahrawi, and neighbouring countries around Morocco continued to accept refugees, she said, strongly urging the United Nations to resolve the decades-long dispute.

SILVIA BOAVENTURA, Justice for Western Sahara, said the people of Western Sahara were still waiting for freedom since Spain had occupied the Territory and then illegally transferred it to Morocco.  Those who lived under the violent and abusive Moroccan occupation could not live free, and the occupation authorities did not offer proper health care, education and other basic services, in contravention of human rights, she said.  The occupation had also built a large wall guarded by heavily armed guards.  “It is a war zone,” she said, adding that Morocco continued to unlawfully exploit both the people and their natural resources.  Many companies around the world did business with Moroccan firms benefitting from those resources, and the silence from the United Nations, other countries and the media and showed a lack of interest in the issue.  The United Nations must help the Sahrawi people’s pursuit of self-government, she stressed, calling for an end to the occupation.

FERAT AHMED BABA DIH, PhD student and adjunct instructor, New York University, said she was a refugee born in the camps, and outlined the history of the Sahrawi people, saying they still had a strong sense of belonging with a Territory “that is still their own”.  Noting that 2017 marked the forty-second anniversary of the Madrid Accord, which had been followed by the war between Spanish forces and the Polisario Front, she said many Sahrawi had been tortured or killed and those who had escaped had fled to Algeria’s Tindouf region where they remained to the present day.  In Western Sahara, the occupation continued, based on the idea that the Territory was a fundamental part of Morocco, and police brutality against the people was common.  She called upon the Government of Morocco to end its occupation and on the international community to “stop listening passively to our demands”.

AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Frente Polisario, said the continued occupation of Western Sahara was a slap in the face of the credibility of the United Nations.  Dozens of political prisoners languished in Moroccan jails as that country plundered the Territory’s natural resources, bringing drugs and instability to the region.  He recalled that after the agreement to hold a referendum, MINURSO had been established to organize it, but Morocco had unilaterally broken off its commitment and had been sabotaging the peace process ever since.  In August 2016, the kingdom had violated the terms of the ceasefire by trying to build a road in Guerguerat, which had almost led to violent conflict, he recalled.  Noting that today the Secretary-General wanted the peace process to resume and had chosen a new Personal Envoy, he said Polisario was resolved to cooperate with him, because it had always had a clear position, governed by the principle of self-determination, which was the same as that of the United Nations and the African Union.  The question was one of decolonization, he stressed.

The representative of Venezuela asked for greater detail on the occupying Power’s exploitation of natural resources in the Territory and how it affected Western Sahara’s capacity to develop in the future once the issue had been resolved.

The representative of Namibia said her country contributed aid for the refugee camps, and asked for information about accusations that it had been sold.  She asked what measures were in place to ensure that aid reached the refugees.

Mr. BOUKHARI said natural resources constituted one of the main reasons for the occupation, estimating that Morocco made between $7 and $12 million a year from the Territory’s resources.

Responding to Namibia’s representative, he said there had been no report of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in Tindouf or any other camp.  Instead a visiting woman accompanied by a French deputy had given information to the press.  Basically, the information was false, he said.

The representative of South Africa asked how the referendum would unfold.

The representative of Morocco, on a point of order, asked about the system for asking questions and responding within a time limit.  He also requested that petitioners be mentioned by name rather than by title.

The representative of Algeria said the floor could not be denied to a Member State because each had a sovereign right to speak.

The representative of Morocco said he was not trying to deprive Member States of the right to speak, but instead to group questions together.

The representative of Zimbabwe asked about the new Personal Envoy and expectations for his appointment.

Mr. BOUKHARI said in regard to the question of self-determination that three months would be enough to organize the referendum.  As for the Personal Envoy, he was a person of great authority, but he faced major problems because of Morocco’s insistence on maintaining the status quo so that it could continue to occupy the Territory.  He called upon all members of the Security Council to work together to ensure his success.

FATIMETU JATRI EMHAMED, Sahrawi student in Iowa, said that despite having pursued a college education and a career in the United States, she remained dispirited about her people’s plight.  It was regrettable to see France, a permanent member of the Security Council, constantly and blindly support Morocco in the United Nations on the issue of Western Sahara.  Calling upon all States to support the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, she said they remained oppressed and made to feel like foreigners in their own land.  Protesters and fighters had been imprisoned, she said, asking “Who else is going to speak for us?”  It was painful to call oneself a refugee when one still had a homeland, she said, rejecting allegations made yesterday linking refugees in the camps with terrorism.

KIM GUEST, President, Artists for Kids Rights, noted that freedom of expression in Moroccan-occupied areas of Western Sahara was strictly curtailed.  Moroccan authorities detained or expelled Sahrawi, Moroccan, Spanish and other foreign reporters covering sensitive issues related to Western Sahara.  The Government of Morocco asserted judicial and penal administration within the Territory and its security forces there had a history of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention and disappearances, she said.  Noting that Western Sahara possessed extensive natural resources, including phosphates, iron ore, hydrocarbon reserves and fisheries, she said a history of resource exploitation by foreign companies had left the local population largely impoverished.  The international community could not allow decolonization in that latest of colonial enclaves to be diverted as a result of the biased analysis or temporal interests of certain Powers, she said, emphasizing that the General Assembly must confirm its commitment to the relevant resolutions and decisions.

CHRIS SASSI, President, S.k.c., said the legal status of Western Sahara was unequivocal and it remained under occupation by Morocco.  Recalling that the International Court of Justice had rejected the historical links invoked by the occupying Power to justify its occupation, she said the European Court had reaffirmed that position in 2016.  The Territory’s status must be decided by the Sahrawi people, he emphasized.  Morocco continued its cruel oppression, pillaging natural resources and violating human rights, she said.  The kingdom also continued to refuse all visits to the Territory by parliamentary delegations, NGOs and others, she added, noting that Morocco enjoyed impunity with the complicit support of some Member States, even permanent members of the Security Council.  The Secretary-General and his new Personal Envoy must work to renew negotiations on the question of Western Sahara, she said.

JUAN CARLOS DUQUE, Executive Director, ONG Rehabiilitacion y Esperenza, also voiced concern about breaches of human rights, noting that the Polisario Front had marginalized the population, including people who questioned their authority.  He also voiced concern about the lack of liberty for those living in the Tindouf camps, drawing attention to a related Human Rights Watch report.  While the Polisario Front was on record as firmly opposing slavery, more must be done to eliminate residual slavery among the minority black population, he said.

CLARA RIVEROS, political scientist, CPLATAM Observatory, noted that the rate of political participation in Western Sahara was among the most notable in Morocco.  People had been elected democratically at the provincial, municipal and regional levels, and there was competition between the various political parties, she noted.  One of the very traditional parties had been displaced by an emerging political force, which was what democracy was all about.  Preferences had been changing in the region, leading to a new civil society because of the new sedentary living conditions of a formerly nomad population, she said.

RACHID TAMEK, President, Assemblée Provinciale d’Assa-Zag, said he wished to clarify Morocco’s history.  The kingdom had enjoyed internationally recognized borders for several centuries, he recalled, noting that, alongside Ethiopia, Morocco had been the last country on the continent to become a protectorate, divided between France and Spain.  The kingdom had been divided into six parts between those two Powers, and had regained its independence incrementally.  The repercussions of those events were still being witnessed today, he said, asking why there had never been a demand for a referendum in any other region, and why only Western Sahara was demanding one.  Speaking as a Moroccan Sahrawi citizen, he said it was because the region had borders with a neighbouring country that was interfering in its internal affairs.

NAGLA MOHAMEDLAMIN SALAM, representative in the United States of Nova (Western Sahara), said the Territory’s people were fighting for dignity and to choose where they would belong.  Ending the dispute over Western Sahara meant allowing the Saharawi people to vote and to choose by themselves, she said, underlining that they would not compromise the right to self-determination under any circumstances.

__________

*  A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Report – The evaluation of external aspects of the customs performance and management as a tool to facilitate trade and fight illicit trade – A8-0162/2017 – Committee on International Trade

on the evaluation of external aspects of the customs performance and management as a tool to facilitate trade and fight illicit trade

(2016/2075(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 19 July 2016 entitled ‘Trade for all – Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy’ (COM(2015)0497),

–  having regard to DG TAXUD 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, Ares (2016) 1266241 of 14 March 2016, and to DG TAXUD 2016 Management Plan, Ares (2016) 1266241 of 14 March 2016,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 21 August 2014 entitled ‘EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management: Tackling risks, strengthening supply chain security and facilitating trade’ (COM(2014)0527),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 19 July 2016 entitled ‘Progress Report on the implementation of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management’ (COM(2016)0476),

–  having regard to the Guidelines for Authorised Economic Operators (TAXUD/B2/047/2011),

–  having regard to the EU-China Smart and Secure Trade Lanes (SSTL) Pilot project,

–  having regard to the Council Resolution on the EU Customs Action Plan to combat IPR infringements for the years 2013 to 2017 (2013/C 80/01)(1),

–  having regard to the DG TAXUD report on EU customs enforcement of intellectual property rights for 2015,

–  having regard to the Strategic Framework for Customs Cooperation between the EU and China,

–  having regard to the Action Plan concerning EU-China customs cooperation on intellectual property rights (2014/2017),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 26 February 2014 entitled ‘Action Plan for monitoring the functioning of preferential trade arrangements’ (COM(2014)0105),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 2 February 2016 entitled ‘Action Plan for strengthening the fight against terrorist financing’ (COM(2016)0050),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 21 December 2016 entitled ‘Developing the EU Customs Union and Its Governance’ (COM(2016)0813),

  having regard to its resolution of 9 June 2015 on a strategy for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in third countries(2),

–  having regard to the European Court of Auditors’ Special Report No 23/2016: ‘Maritime transport in the EU: in troubled waters – much ineffective and unsustainable investment’,

–  having regard to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation,

–  having regard to the OECD report of 18 April 2016 entitled ‘Illicit Trade, Converging Criminal Networks’,

–  having regard to Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU),

–  having regard to Articles 207, 208 and 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Regulation 952/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9th of October 2013 laying down the Union Customs Code(3), and its related Delegated Act (Delegated Regulation No 2015/2446), Implementing Act (Implementing Regulation No 2015/2447), Transitional Delegated Act (Delegated Regulation No 2016/341), and Work programme (Implementing Decision No 2016/578),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 608/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 June 2013 concerning customs enforcement of intellectual property rights and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1383/2003(4),

–  having regard to the Commission’s proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2013 on the Union legal framework for customs infringements and sanctions (COM(2013)0884), and to the opinion of the Committee on International Trade for the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection on this proposal,

–  having regard to Article 24.2 of Regulation (EU) 2015/478 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2015 on common rules for imports(5),

–  having regard to the principle of policy coherence for development as stated in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to its resolution of 19 January 2017 on tackling the challenges of the Union Customs Code implementation(6),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on International Trade and the opinion of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A8-0162/2017),

A.  whereas the Customs Union is a basic pillar of the European Union, making it one of the largest trading blocs in the world, and whereas a fully functional Custom Union is essential for the credibility which the EU needs to guarantee its strength when negotiating trade agreements;

B.  whereas the implementation of the Union Customs Code is essential for the safeguarding of EU own resources, notably customs duties, and national tax interests;

C.  whereas a fully functional Customs Union is the basis for an effective fight against illicit financial flows and trade-based money laundering;

D.  whereas the implementation of the Union Customs Code (UCC), launched on 1 May 2016, risks being delayed owing to the lack of proper financing of common and functioning IT systems by 31 December 2020;

E.  whereas the progress report on the implementation of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management highlights that insufficient financing to upgrade the existing IT systems and develop the required new systems is a major issue hampering progress, most notably in relation to the new Import Control System; whereas in the absence of additional resources, a number of actions will not be able to be implemented by the end of 2020 as envisaged in the Strategy and Action Plan; whereas a delay would also affect the implementation of commitments to customs-related aspects in the context of the EU Agenda on Security;

F.  whereas the current fragmentation of customs control policies between the Member States must not lead to a situation resulting in additional administrative and time burdens or distortion of internal trade flows;

G.  whereas the proposed directive for a Union legal framework for customs infringements and sanctions does not make a clear distinction between criminal and administrative sanctions within Member States in full respect of subsidiarity; whereas this may encourage fraudulent economic operators to make strategic choices when importing from third countries, causing distortions in tax collection and a negative environmental impact, thus proving to be an ineffective deterrent to illegal trade activities;

H.  whereas complex customs rules and procedures, as well as different criteria and sanctions applied by authorities,can overburden small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), placing considerable strain on their limited resources and affecting their trade itinerary;

I.  whereas effective customs cooperation between the Member States’ customs administrations, authorised economic operators, police forces and judicial authorities, as well as other relevant actors with third countries and at multilateral level, plays a vital role, given the significant trade volumes, and is a cornerstone in the fight against illicit trade, terrorism, organised crime, money laundering, wildlife trafficking, tax evasion, drugs and tobacco trafficking and falsified medicines, as well as in the protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the EU, implementation of and respect for due diligence procedures for products in the global value chain, as indicated in the Commission’s ‘Trade for all’ strategy, and the tracking and possible elimination of interconnections between fraudulent actors involved in illicit trade activities in the international supply chain;

J.  whereas the EU has concluded customs cooperation and mutual administrative assistance agreements with South Korea, Canada, the US, India, China and Japan;

K.  whereas certain trade partners continue to ship the bulk of the illegal or counterfeited products entering the Union; whereas Malaysia accounts for only some EUR 2.5 million worth of such exports, while China and Hong Kong are responsible for over EUR 300 million and EUR 100 million respectively; whereas Belarus in 2015 alone caused a fiscal loss to the EU of EUR 1 billion, exporting products that totally circumvented VAT rules and health regulations;

L.  whereas according to the most recent Commission report on the enforcement of IPRs by EU customs authorities, the volume of counterfeit goods seized by those authorities increased by 15 % between 2014 and 2015; whereas more than 40 million products suspected of infringing IPRs, to a total value of almost EUR 650 million, have been seized at the Union’s external borders;

M.  whereas international free trade zones, together with those third countries that are most frequently the sources of illicit trade, represent potential background areas for a continued proliferation of trade in illegal products in the EU, leading to more intensive border controls and therefore being likely to require further specific analysis;

N.  whereas trade in counterfeit goods may contribute to the financing of criminal organisations active in terrorism, drug trafficking, firearms, money laundering and human trafficking;

O.  whereas combating counterfeiting is vital to protecting IPRs in Europe, safeguarding know-how and encouraging innovation;

P.  whereas the role played by customs in the security area is particularly relevant in preventing terrorist organisations from moving their funds and in disrupting their sources of revenue, as recognised in the Commission Action Plan for strengthening the fight against terrorist financing;

Q.  whereas customs services play an important role, in the context of the global trading environment, in coping with the damage done by illicit trade to the formal economy, while also aiding in better comprehending and tackling that same illicit trade;

R.  whereas networks of illicit activities have a detrimental impact on Member State economies in terms of growth, jobs, foreign investment, integrity of markets, competition, trade and loss of customs income, the latter loss being borne in the end by the European taxpayer;

S.  whereas illicit trade is a primary concern for business and poses a significant threat with growing global risks, in terms of transparency, integrity and financial value, mirroring the use of global trade schemes and supply chains;

T.  whereas counterfeiting, the illegal arms trade and drug trafficking generate large sums for transnational organised crime by means of illicit economic and business channels;

U.  whereas the increasing incidence of smuggling, trafficking and other forms of illegal and illicit trade not only have an impact on Member States’ collection of customs duties and on the EU budget, but are also strongly associated with organised international crime, threats to consumers and negative effects on the functioning of the single market, which undermine the level playing field for all competing companies, particularly SMEs;

V.  whereas protecting IPRs is key to both protecting and fostering the EU economy, as well as to growth and jobs;

1.  Calls on the Commission to work closely with the Member States to ensure a coordinated, uniform andefficient implementation of the new system set by the UCC, discouraging divergent practices among the Member States after the transition period through a common basic guideline for all European customs; calls on the Commission, in this regard, to develop benchmark analysis and information on customs operations and enforcement procedures in the Member States;

2.  Highlights that there is no system in place for identifying and monitoring differences in how customs authorities treat economic operators; calls on the Commission to require Member States to provide specific information on the type and number of customs checks at individual core port level;

3.  Invites the Commission to continue cooperation with the Member States and relevant trade stakeholders to address existing gaps in the control systems, develop further customs simplifications and reduce administrative burdens for legitimate traders focussing on the objective of simpler, safer trade, while ensuring at the same time appropriate, effective, efficient and harmonised controls at EU borders and the necessary support to relevant authorities; points out that effective customs controls must guarantee for the EU security, consumer safety, respect of environmental requirements and health regulations and of economic interests, with a particular effort regarding IPR protection and the fight against illicit trade, terrorism, money laundering, wildlife trafficking, tax evasion, drug and tobacco trafficking and falsified medicines ,as well as combating all forms of unfair competition that European firms which comply with EU standards may face;

4.  Emphasises the importance of completing the work of harmonising controls at all points of entry into the Customs Union, in particular on the basis of existing instruments;

5.  Calls on the Commission to pursue greater collaboration with the private sector in identifying fraudulent operators; stresses the importance of involving private stakeholders in the fight against illegal trade, including in wildlife and wildlife products;

6.  Recalls that the opportunity provided by the UCC and its rules on interconnected IT systems and electronic exchanges should be used to access data on reliable and legal trade and make it available through channels other than customs declarations, for example through international mutual exchange programmes such as the AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) programme or the Smart and Secure Trade Lanes (SSTL) project, with the aim of facilitating exchanges;

7.  Recalls that the development of the required IT systems needs sufficient financing and calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure the availability of resources for the necessary IT systems in order to meet the objectives of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management;

8.  Calls on the Commission to push for wider utilisation of the AEO programme; stresses the importance of promoting its benefits for trade whilst preserving stringent rules of compliance, as well as its robustness, reliability and compliance with third countries’ customs rules in trade agreement negotiations;

9.  Asks the Commission to coordinate and cooperate with customs, border agencies on the ground and stakeholders within the EU, as well as with its trade partners, in the area of data sharing, in particular as regards recognition of custom controls, trusted trade partners and mitigation strategies for dismantling illicit trade networks; calls on the Commission to improve and step up cooperation among its DGs on customs matters and, where necessary, to promote improved coordination between customs and law enforcement authorities, in particular regarding organised crime, security and the fight against terrorism, at both national and EU level;

10.  Invites the Commission to present a communication on ‘Best practices for custom controls and the enforcement of trade rules’, in the interim period, in order to provide a framework of reference for the competent control bodies in the Member States, highlight best practices and results, establish a set of key performance indicators, and analyse trade flows in counterfeit goods at border points;

11.  Urges the Commission to continue working on the implementation of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management, notably in the areas of availability of data, access to and exchange of information for customs risk management purposes, and the strengthening of capacities;

12.  Calls on the Commission to periodically report to the responsible committees of the European Parliament on the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management;

13.  Urges the Commission to investigate the different practices for customs controls in the EU and their impact on trade diversion, focusing in particular on EU customs at external borders;

14.  Notes that today divergent customs procedures, in particular regarding customs clearance, inspections, sanctions and controls, are resulting in fragmentation, additional administrative burdens, delays, variations in tax collection among Member States, market distortion and negative environmental impact; stresses that these divergent customs procedures may often favour access to some ports to the detriment of others with illegitimate operators importing counterfeit or undervalued goods, resulting in goods being delivered to their final destination via an unusual route and clearance being sought in a Member State other than the one importing the goods, either to reduce the likelihood of being subject to controls or to complicate any potential recovery procedure; asks the Commission, therefore, to analyse this ‘forum shopping’ problem and to assess its impact on trade, tax revenues, climate effects and customs duties;

15.  Reminds the Member States and the Commission of the importance of ensuring the timely availability of sufficient resources for the necessary IT systems in order that the objectives of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management can be met while ensuring the interoperability of systems to the benefit of customs authorities, legitimate traders and, ultimately, consumers and promoting jobs and economic growth in the EU;

16.  Insists on the need to advance from the current ‘less paper’ customs environment to one that is ‘paper-free’;

17.  Requests the Commission to work closely with the Member States, the OECD and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in reducing the existing gaps in the customs control systems by ensuring that illicit trade, counterfeiting and fraud are tackled using more systematically coordinated risk-based controls based on harmonised criteria for inspections, best practices and common procedures and working methods, in terms of both operating hours, economic and human resources and interoperable IT systems, with timely and appropriate support being provided by other competent authorities; recalls, in this regard, the importance of ensuring powers of inquiry for all EU customs and border agencies, and of guaranteeing appropriate training for their operators;

18.  Calls on Member State customs authorities to proactively use electronic data sharing facilities in order to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in the identification of anomalies in trade value mispricing and thus combat illicit financial flows and trade-based money laundering;

19.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that the progressive implementation of the UCC brings additional value to economic operators, establishing a level playing field throughout the Union, while at the same time ensuring that increased simplification of customs procedures does not create gaps in the customs risk management and control systems that could hinder the effective fight against illicit trade; regards it as essential that EU customs law should be harmonised, and calls on the Commission and the Member States to carry out regular monitoring of EU rules and their uniform application by the competent authorities, facilitating international trade as well as curbing illegal transnational activities;

20.  Urges the Commission to work further with the Member States on sharing best practices on customs procedures and VAT, cooperating with different competent authorities and, where appropriate, aligning policies as regards customs and VAT, with a view to ensuring synergies, including in finding and applying legal and practical solutions to challenges and opportunities relating to small consignments, e-commerce and simplification;

21.  Calls on the Commission, in light of Article 23 of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement calling for a Trade Facilitation Body, to consider transferring responsibilities of customs authorities from the national to the EU level as regards ensuring harmonised treatment along the EU points of entry, monitoring the performance and activities of customs administrations, and collecting and processing customs data;

22.  Invites the Commission, furthermore, to better develop an accurate cost-benefit analysis of the implications of harmonisation of the enforcement of criminal sanctions in place in the Member States to combat illicit trade activities and, if necessary, to present a proposal containing harmonised rules, always respecting subsidiarity, concerning the definition of those sanctions and offences in cases of transnational crime;

23.  Urges the Commission and the Member States to do more to develop and support joint training opportunities for customs agents in the Member States; emphasises that the harmonisation of training for customs agents in Europe will contribute to the effective implementation of the Union Customs Code;

24.  Requests the Commission to enhance cooperation with international trade stakeholders and trade representatives with a view to addressing all challenges stemming from the implementation of the UCC, including different and divergent national rules, reporting methods and means and the concerns of SMEs involved in trade with third countries;

25.  Recalls that certain fraudulent firms based in third countries are using e-commerce to offer counterfeit goods to European consumers, and that some goods may be billed under the minimum price level to avoid being checked by authorities or may be entering taking advantages of differences in invoicing arrangements, customs rules and penalties; asks the Commission to further investigate these problems and to reflect on how best to address risk related to e-commerce and to work closely with all concerned actors, including transport and courier companies, in order to support Member States in curbing this practice without creating barriers to the growth of e-commerce or hindering legitimate trade;

26.  Urges the Commission to ensure, jointly with Member States, that the EU implements to a maximum extent the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and continues to promote its implementation by the other WTO members for the benefit of the EU exporters, including by contributing to the efforts of developing countries, in order to enhance trade facilitation worldwide;

27.  Invites the Commission to reinforce international cooperation to further develop the implementation of the EU Strategy and Action Plan for customs risk management of the supply chain;

28.  Invites the Commission to reinforce its cooperation in customs matters with its main trading partners and their customs authorities, as well as to engage in a dialogue with the main originating countries of counterfeit goods, with a view to collaborating in the fight against illicit financial flows, money laundering, trade-based corruption, tax fraud and tax evasion, organised crime and terrorism, all of which undermine the health and safety of consumers, posing risks to society and the market while harming economies, and to further facilitate bilateral trade beyond strict TFA commitments; points out that this can be achieved by including subjects of trade facilitation such as standardised rules on methods, transparency, integrity and accountability of customs procedures, and the inclusion of anti-fraud and anti-counterfeiting chapters in all negotiations for free trade agreements (FTAs), or through specific customs agreements;

29.  Invites the Commission to continue and deepen customs cooperation in the field of IPRs with third countries and free trade zones that are most frequently the source of illicit trade; in this regard, believes it is necessary to foster both administrative cooperation between customs authorities at international level and the development of partnerships with private businesses, in order to counter customs violations and circumvention of tax obligations;

30.  Invites the Commission to strengthen cooperation with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and, in particular, the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights, in order to support initiatives on IPR enforcement such as facilitation procedures for rightholders through electronic exchange of data, which would also benefit SMEs, and to make the fight against counterfeiting and fraud one of its priorities in the WTO, involving the OECD and the WCO in its work on the matter; therefore stresses that the current Regulation on Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights plays an important role in the fight against counterfeiting (trademark infringements), piracy (copyright infringements) and smuggling of sensitive products, as well as in the areas of geographical indications, marking of origin and illegal trade; believes it vital that the above Regulation, along with the directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, is duly implemented throughout the Union and that necessary enforcement by customs authorities is conducted in a way that does not prevent legitimate traders from operating in good faith;

31.  Requests the Commission to coordinate in a better way the defence of geographical indication on agri-food products, within the Commission itself and also with the EUIPO, as a genuine value added on external markets; reminds the Commission of the importance of developing an equally ambitious policy on non agri-food geographical indications; points out that the introduction of a system for the protection of non-agricultural products by means of geographical indications which is coherent, simple, transparent and does not impose an administrative and financial burden represents an opportunity for SMEs and would strengthen the EU’s position in international trade negotiations;

32.  Notes that customs services are facing new kinds of challenges, related both to new ways of trading and to the security and protection of goods under import procedures or in international transit with a destination in Europe;

33.  Notes that the efficiency of customs procedures is crucial not only for trade facilitation, but also for effective and expedient law enforcement with regard to the counterfeiting and smuggling of excisable goods entering the EU; considers that customs services are at the crossroads between the secured movement of goods protecting consumers within the EU and the implementation of the provisions of trade agreements;

34.  Is of the opinion that the quality and performance of customs controls on the transit of goods, particularly for shipment and transport operations at ports and borders, is of the first importance and must be improved; regrets that there is currently a factual gap in terms of type of controls within the Union that favours some access routes, in particular ports, to the detriment of others, where the checks carried out are more stringent; considers it necessary to ensure that there are homogeneous and standardised control techniques among Member States for filtering at ports and borders, by promoting modern, technologically advanced and risk management-based control strategies;

35.  Considers that Member States should concentrate customs controls, and, to the extent possible, other relevant border controls, on high-risk consignments that are selected on a random basis using common selectivity criteria, including those relating to the nature and description of the goods, country of origin, country from which the goods were shipped, value of the goods, regulatory compliance record of traders, and means of transport;

36.  Supports all efforts to promote integrity in international trade with the move towards achieving fully electronic EU customs procedures by 2020, as foreseen in the new Union Customs Code, which will enhance the transparency of the control sampling of goods and containers;

37.  Feels that better coordination is needed between the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), customs authorities and market surveillance authorities in order not only to combat counterfeiting, but also to curb the trade in illegal products that infringe intellectual property laws in the EU;

38.  Stresses OLAF’s role in investigating the evasion of import duties (including conventional, anti-dumping and countervailing duties) on all types of commodities and goods, especially where involving false declarations of origin (in both preferential and non-preferential regimes) and undervaluation and wrong description of goods; calls on OLAF to play a more active role in the coordination of related investigations by national customs services of EU Member States and other partners both inside and outside the EU;

39.  Points out that regular Joint Customs Operations play a vital role in safeguarding EU public finances, by identifying where the risks lie on specific trade routes and protecting the citizens and legitimate businesses by preventing illegal products from entering the EU; calls on OLAF to step up its support for the customs authorities of EU Member States as well as some third countries in carrying out more joint customs operations, by means of its technical infrastructure, IT and communications tools, strategic analysis and administrative and financial support, in order to improve the effectiveness of customs services in conducting targeted checks at European level;

40.  Believes that the Commission should better monitor, on a standardised risk basis, countries benefiting from preferential treatment, notably in order to verify the implementation of rules of origin and cumulation; considers, in this context, that the checking of the originating status of imported products and the adequacy of the documents granting preferential treatment is a key component of control strategies and traceability;

41.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1)

OJ C 80, 19.3.2013, p. 1.

(2)

Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0219.

(3)

OJ L 269, 10.10.2013, p. 1.

(4)

OJ L 181, 29.6.2013, p. 15.

(5)

OJ L 83, 27.3.2015, p. 16.

(6)

Texts adopted, (P8_TA(2017)0011).