Members of the European Parliament gathered this week in Strasbourg to the first session of 2011. Additionally to agreed points of the agenda, MEPs also discussed the situation in Belarus after the elections on 19th of December, 2010. At the opening of the session, EP president Jerzy Buzek also highlighted the 20th anniversary of Lithuania`s Bloody Sunday, on which 14 people were killed during Lithuania`s struggle for independence from the Soviet Union.
Belgian Prime Minister Yves Letermes came to Strasbourg to discuss Belgium`s six months of work, which has finished at the end of 2010. The Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU is a role model for future holders of the post because Belgium worked successfully under the new Lisbon Treaty framework, most of Parliament`s political groups said during a debate. However, more than half a year after the elections, one of the initial countries of the EU is still governed by a caretaker government due to irreconcilable interests of country`s regions and their inability to agree on a permanent government.
The incoming Hungarian Presidency announced its priorities, such as economic situation, strong support to the enlargement of the EU and Schengen area, energy security, climate change, family policy, Roma integration, and freedom of religion. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán reiterated his government`s readiness to modify the Media Act, if the European Commission requires it to do so to ensure its conformity with European law. The new Media Act, which gives strong control power to governmental bodies over media, was the main point of criticism to Hungary on Wednesday`s meeting.
Criticism and sanctions for A. Lukashenka
Stressing that the recent elections in Belarus was yet another missed opportunity for a transition towards democracy, MEPs adopted a resolution, which demands a re-run of the elections in accordance with international standards, condemns in the strongest terms possible the brutal repression by the police and KGB, and calls for an immediate release of all detained persons.
"The brutal police crackdown after the rigged presidential elections was a real eye-opener for EU institutions and Member States, demonstrating clearly the unchanged nature of Lukashenko`s regime." - said Estonian MEP Kristiina Ojuland from ALDE.
Some of the detainees need permanent medical care and medicines (such as Belarusian intellectual A. Feduta, widely known in Lithuania), therefore, one of the initiators of the resolution Leonidas Donskis succeeded to include a point, calling Belarusian authorities to provide unhindered access for the detainees to relatives, legal assistance and medical care. A separate point on the attempts of the Belarusian authorities to take into state custody Danil Sannikov, three-year-old son of the Presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, and Irina Khalip, an investigative journalist, who have both been jailed, was also incorporated due to the efforts of Leonidas Donskis and his colleagues.
MEPs called on EU institutions to review EU policy towards Belarus, establish targeted economic sanctions and to freeze all macrofinancial aid, review the European Neighbourhood Policy and to consider the possibility of suspending Belarusian participation in the Eastern Partnership. EP proposes to re-apply the visa ban on the Belarusian leading authorities expanding it to the officials, who can be considered responsible for the vote-rigging and post-election brutal repressions and arrests of the members of the opposition. The sanctions should remain in force minimum until all political prisoners and detainees are released and exempted from charges. The resolution also urges to increase financial aid to the civil society, independent media and non-governmental organisations in Belarus to promote democracy and oppose the regime. A separate point calls on to continue and increase financial aid to the European Humanities University (EHU) based in Vilnius.
MEPs also expect EU Member States not to weaken the EU action with bilateral initiatives with the Belarusian regime that undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the European foreign policy.
Lithuania received comments regarding homophobic draft law
For the second time during the current legislature, the European Parliament expressed its concern regarding homophobic manifestations in Lithuania. On Wednesday, EP adopted a resolution put forward by four political groups, including ALDE. The European Parliament called on the Lithuanian parliament to reject a draft law that would amend the Code of Administrative Offences to punish the promotion of homosexual relations with a fine. The provision, however, would not apply to heterosexual relations. MEPs ask President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who had criticised the law earlier, to veto the provisions, should they be approved. However, the Parliament rejected to include a more stringent point, which calls on the European Commission to launch infringements procedure against Lithuania, should the draft law be adopted.
The resolution was triggered by "a series of worrying events", such as the adoption of a Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information, an attempted ban by local authorities on holding equality and gay pride marches and the use by leading politicians of inflammatory or threatening language and hate speech.
"I welcome a firm position of the President Dalia Grybauskaitė, and the representatives of the Government regarding the draft law, put forward by Petras Gražulis. However, Lithuania has joined the club of the European states and adopted a set of certain values, therefore, it should not be surprised by actions against threats to human rights. It`s a question of confidence in Lithuania: if Lithuania is not capable to solve its internal problems, the Community takes an action" - says the Member of the European Parliament, Leonidas Donskis from ALDE.
It will be easier to seek healthcare abroad
On Wednesday, the European Parliament finally approved a new EU law setting out patience rights to seek medical care in another EU country and to be reimbursed for related costs. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU failed to reach an agreement during the first reading because some Member States feared the wave of "health tourism". After introducing some safeguards, which will prevent adverse consequences of the implementation, the Parliament approved the new rules. Once signed into law, Member States will have 30 months to make changes to their national legislation.
"Now it is important to monitor the proper implementation of this directive and ensure that it delivers concrete public health benefits for patients right across Europe" - said Antonyia Parvanova from ALDE political group, which had been actively working on the establishment of such system for the benefit of the EU citizens.
The new rules clarify that EU citizens can be reimbursed for healthcare they receive in another Member State, as long as the type of treatment and costs would have normally been covered in their own country. Each country must establish a ‘contact point’ to provide information to patients considering seeking treatment abroad. On the insistence of MEPs, there are additional provisions for supplementary information for patients with rare diseases.
On Wednesday, the European Parliament also adopted a report on cooperation between countries in research, care and prevention of Alzheimer disease. The report has been backed by the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.
MEPs also adopted a report on the EU-wide adoption of abandoned children with the aim to save children from a life in orphanages. This subejct is particulary important for Lithuania, which has the biggest number of children in orphanages in the EU. However, the MEPs also stressed the need to give the priority to the adoption in a child`s native country.