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Essayah: Online gambling must remain under the control of Member States

MEP Sari Essayah (EPP, Christian Democrats) urged the European Commission to propose a solution by which gambling activities would, due to their special nature, remain within the competence of Member States. Ms Essayah also called on the Commission to discontinue infringement proceedings during the debate in the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Friday 12th February.

In her argument Ms Essayah emphasised the fact that gambling games are not services in the regular sense of the term. Gambling can be addictive resulting in social costs and other negative consequences borne by Member States.

”The more gambling is deregulated, the more sport becomes a channel for gambling winnings and exposes it to money laundering associated with criminal activities”, warned Ms Essayah.

”Some dozen cases have been brought before the European Court of Justice, the most recent of which is the Liga Portuguese case. It is not right the matters related to gambling proceed only as a result of ECJ decisions and infringement proceedings. Rather, a political decision which does not lead to harmonisation must be made.”
”Many products which are not allowed to be sold across borders, can be sold online,” she reminded. ”Furthermore, online companies must also comply with the law in Member States.”

Ms Essayah encouraged  commissioner Barnier to prepare a Green Paper on gambling which should provide tools to prevent problems resulting from online provision from outside Europe.

Essayah: Finland must work for a sustainable energy policy in developing countries

Sari Essayah is disappointed that the attainment of the UN Millenium Development goals is proceeding extremely slowly. According to the Commission’s estimate, the intermediate goal of 0,56% of GNI being given to development aid will be achieved in 2012 at the earliest and not 2010 as originally envisaged.  Ms Essayah spoke on Saturday at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the local chapter of UNIFEM in Lapinlahti, Finland.

”I am concerned about the new ”ODA plus” concept in the Commission’s development policy report. According to the concept, development aid funds would also include other financial flows to developing countries in addition to traditional development aid. As such it will become possible to water down the concept of development aid to include expenses incurred in the course of crisis management, in combating and adapting to climate change as well as refugee matters. These will eventually serve as justifications for evading the actual development aid goal of 0.7% of GNI.

”On the contrary, I think that European countries should agree on binding annual supplements to development aid,” says Ms Essayah. She suggests that the tax deduction provisions of the law on income tax should be extended to cover donations to development aid organisations made by individuals. This would encourage citizens to participate in the attainment of the development cooperation goal.

According to Ms Essayah, the EU’s energy policy is not in all aspects sufficient in the long run. Large corporations have acquired hundreds of thousands of hectares of arable land in developing countries for the production of biofuels, to the detriment of local food production.

”The EU should reconsider this matter: it cannot take land away from people in developing countries in order to attain the 2020 biofuel goal. Rather, the goal should either be reduced or it should be attained solely through the use of so-called ”second generation biofuels” such as the wood gasification technique developed in Finland or algae-based biofuel production,” suggests Ms Essayah.

The energy demands of developing countries will also increase dramatically in the course of the next thirty years. Energy consumption will also increase by 250%.

”In particular, the problem of rising fossil fuel consumption must be addressed urgently. Finland could play an important role in taking its bioenergy know-how to where sunshine and other preconditions for crop cultivation abound,” says Ms Essayah.

Sari Essayah proposes amendments regarding organ transplants as well as animal welfare in industrial agriculture

MEP Sari Essayah (EPP, Christian Democrats) submitted two amendments today to the proposed directive on organ transplantation which is currently before the European Parliament.  The purpose of the proposed amendments is to ensure that participation by Member States in cross-border organ transplant cooperation is voluntary and does not oblige Member States to draw up joint organ waiting lists with other Member States. The other proposed amendment emphasised that it is the responsibility of Member States to address the shortage of transplant organs and furthermore, that shortfalls in national organ transplantation systems cannot be overcome by transferring patients or transplant organs from one Member State to another.

Yesterday Sari Essayah submitted 13 proposed amendments to a report by the Committee on Agriculture regarding animal welfare in industrial agriculture over that last five years. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to ensure that animal welfare indicators are developed further, that such indicators are not subject to interpretation, that they can be applied on farms in practice and that they are applied with common sense. Some of the proposed amendments removed paragraphs concerning the use of antibiotics as this matter is already covered in other documents.

Essayah: Camp Ashraf in Iraq must be protected

MEP Sari Essayah (EPP) participated in an urgency session of the European Parliament’s ”Friends of a Free Iran” (FOFI) intergroup last week. The session which focused on the situation of Camp AshrafinIraq was attended by a large number of MEPs.

CampAshrafhas for decades been home to around 3400 members and supporters of the Iranian opposition but recent events have seen the safety of the area and its residents seriously jeopardised. In particular, it is feared that the recent withdrawal of US forces from the area will place Ashraf residents under serious danger.Camp Ashraf has systematically been targeted  by the Iranian regime in its campaign against the Iranian opposition movement.

Sari Essayah appealed to the Finnish minister of foreign affairs Alexander Stubb as well as both the Iranian and Iraqi embassies in Finlandi n this matter.

“It is of paramount importance thatCampAshrafand its residents are protected and that the international community does all that it can in this regard. I have called forCampAshrafto be protected by both UN and US forces until a new government is formed in Iraq. This is vitally important in order to prevent further attacks on Ashraf,” commented Essayah.

Many residents of CampAshrafare committed to democratic change inIran. Protecting Camp Ashraf is therefore not only necessary for the safety of the residents but it is also of fundamental importance in defending democracy more generally.

Essayah: EU delayed in its action to help Iranian people

– Europehas delayed in its action to effectively help the Iranian people so far. I believe that a united policy overIranwould be the best way to support the opposition in its struggles, said MEP Sari Essayah in the event of International women´s Day and in solidarity with Iranian women´s resistance in the European parliament.

– The National Council of Resistance in Iran supports a nuclear-free Iran and is showing that there could be a totally different kind of Iran in the future. It is time for the EU to be firm on focused boycotts and take sides in this unfair struggle between the peaceful protesters and the violent and suppressive tyranny, Essayah concluded.

EU-Israel relations should not be hijacked by the slow progress in the peace process in the Middle East

”Anti-Semitism in all its various forms is not an unknown phenomenon even in present-day Europe. It is of paramount importance that Europe’s younger generations have a profound understanding of the darker periods in Europe’s history and the genocide of the Jews. The importance of historical awareness must be guarded as it is one of the most important tools in the fight against anti-Semitism”, said Sari Essayah MEP.

Essayah has organised a seminar on ’EU, Israel and intercultural dialogue’ today in the European Parliament in co-operation with the European Coalition for Israel. The programme includes discussions on how the demographic and cultural changes in Europe will affect relations with Israel and how the EU can promote ’universal values’ in the world community at large. Guest speakers include Tomas Sandell from the European Coalition for Israel, Bat Ye’or, author of ’Eurabia’, David G Littman, NGO Human Rights Defender at the United Nations in Geneva, and HE Ron Curiel, Israeli Ambassador to the European Institutions in Brussels, among others.

”The annihilation of the Jewish people was the evil goal that prevailed seventy years ago, and, unfortunately even remains the goal of some today. In particular, the most fervent proponent of the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is the current Iranian regime, which is also undoubtedly the greatest threat to international security today”, Essayah warned.

Sari Essayah emphasised that the planned upgrade of EU-Israel relations should not be hijacked by the slow progress in the peace process in the Middle East, especially as Israel is not the party refusing to come to the negotiating table.

”I believe that we should pay more attention to all the positive developments and breakthroughs in Israeli society today, in technology and commerce as well as in civil society. Europe needs Israel as much as Israel needs Europe as a partner in growth and development. EU Member States should embark on cooperation with influential Israeli actors in the field of science, research and culture more boldly and extensively than at present”, Essayah stressed.

Essayah recalled that every day, people in the Middle East greet each other with peace: shalom, salaam. ”As for our part, we want to do all we can so that people in both Israel and its neighbouring countries have the possibility to lead a safe and peaceful life, a life that we in Europe have had the opportunity to enjoy in the post World War II era, and particularly since the fall of the iron curtain.”

The role of the institutions in focus as eppointments for top EU jobs are made

The appointment of Belgian Christian Democrat Herman van Rompuy as the first president of the European Council is encouraging from the perspective of the smaller EU Member States. Ms Essayah welcomes the fact that the role of the EU institutions as well inter-Member State cooperation was emphasised.

”I personally respect the new president of the European Council for emphasising Europe’s Christian heritage eg with regard to Turkey’s EU candidacy. Mr Rompuy has significant expertise in economics as well as experience as a mediator and in uniting the people.

”The appointment of External Trade Commissioner Lady Catherine Ashton as the EU’s high representative suggests that equality was a significant factor in the appointments for the top EU jobs. It is a positive outcome that a representative of a Member State outside of the Euro and Schengen areas was appointed to the EU’s second most important position.

”However, many questions concerning EU’s external relations administration remain unanswered. Similarly, appointments to key positions in the administration are yet to be made. From the point of view of Finland, these appointments will be more significant in the long run than the recent high profile appointments. While EU politics is becoming increasingly centred on personal appointments, less attention is paid to important decisions.  I myself voted against the European Parliament’s statement calling for the EU’s expanding external relations administration to be brought under the ambit of the Commission. Personally, I consider that external relations should remain in the realm of the Member States and, consequently, of the European Council,” says Ms Essayah.

Essayah: Money should not be a major player in elections

The committee established to reform the law on financing election and political parties in Finland announced its central views on increasing the transparency of party financing today. The purpose of the committee’s work is to increase the transparency and openness of party financing in order to prevent commitments and inappropriate financing.

Overall, the Christian Democrats are content with the Committee’s views which nevertheless were not unanimously formed in all respects. Sari Essayah was the Christian Democrat representative on the Committee and submitted two dissenting opinions in the report to be published in November.

The Christian Democrats called for an annual maximum limit of 15 000 euros for individual donations. According to the model proposed by the Christian Democrats, campaign expenditure for individual candidates in parliamentary elections would be limited to 30 000 euros.

”My suggestion of a EUR 15 000 annual limit for individual donations would have been more efficient in stifling the election support given by associations and foundations,” says Ms Essayah.

The limit of 30 000 euros for campaign expenditure in parliamentary elections per candidate was, according to Ms Essayah, justified in order to ensure that campaigns would not expand unnecessarily and that money would not become the primary factor in elections.

The proposals of the Committee will be considered by the Finnish Government during the course of the autumn and parliament will decide on the matter next spring. It is intended that the new rules will be in force before the campaign period of the 2011 parliamentary elections beings next autumn.

Essayah calls on Turkey to protect human rights

Sari Essayah calls on Turkey, currently undergoing accession negotiations with the EU, to improve the protection of human rights. In particular, the rights of religious minorities should be protected to a higher standard.

According to Essayah, ”One of the prerequisites of EU membership is, and should be, that all discrimination against minorities should be stopped and international human rights conventions complied with. In this regard, Turkey must make improvements.

For example, Orthodox Christians have suffered discrimination and there may only be some three thousand of them left in Turkey. In particular, Sari Essayah wants Turkey to safeguard the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
”Seen from the point of view of a Western State where the rule of law prevails, it is incomprehensible that legislation should require Orthodox priests, bishops and the Patriarch to be Turkish nationals. The Turkish State must recognise that the Patriarch is the head of the worldwide Orthodox Church.. This situation means that it must be possible for the Patriarch to be chosen from any of the member churches. The Finnish Orthodox Church is also a member of the ecumenical patriarchate

”Turkey must bring the protection of property up to Western standards. Property illegally seized from the Patriarchate – especially churches – must be returned and training of priests must be preserved. Halki seminary must be permitted to open, so the interpretation of the law on private colleges must be altered. It must be possible for Christians to obtain permanent visas without discrimination. 

”Unless human rights improve very soon in Turkey, Turkey’s development towards a State where the rule of law prevails in compliance with Western standards will be jeopardised, and in that case it would remain impossible to conceive of the country’s acceding to the European Union.

If Turkey were to genuinely introduce the rule of law, safeguarding the human rights of the Christian minority, this would set an example to other countries with Muslim majorities. Turkey must choose its path in this matter, urges Sari Essayah.
MEP Sari Essayah is a member of the European Parliament’s delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly and promises to follow the human rights situation in Turkey closely.

”The values upheld by the Christian Democrats include the value of human beings as created by God as unique individuals and members of a community and their inalienable human rights. We do not accept discrimination in any form.”

The EU has also on several occasions condemned human rights violations, wherever they have occurred.

”As Christians, we protect the religious freedom of muslims  within the EU. Similarly, countries with Muslim majorities should guarantee full rights for Christians to worship and serve God in accordance with their faith and to freely proclaim the foundations of their religion.”

According to Ms Essayah, freedom of religion should not be compromised but rather safeguarded with the utmost care.

Essayah calls on the Finnish Government to prioritse the protection of jobs in the forest industry

Sari Essayah MEP is concerned that the forest industry has cut down activities in Finland at a rapid pace without waiting for the current recession to slow down.

“Securing jobs in the forest industry sector should be as clear a priority for the Finnish Government as has been the case for the German and French Governments in respect of the motor vehicle industry.”

Speaking at an event in Leppävirta, Ms Essayah said ”The Finnish State must not merely settle for taking payment on dividends and for pious hopes of alternative activities in localities where forest industry production is subject to severe cutbacks.” The State should rather use its voting power through an active shareholder policy and not merely submit to the corporate managements’ views which can often turn out to have been short-sighted, not giving due weight to the interests of the Finnish people. When an important industrial activity is experiencing significant cutbacks, regions and individual towns must not be left to deal with the consequences alone.

According to Ms Essayah, the forest industry package published by the Government recently is a step in the right direction, albeit insufficient as such.
“The cut in energy tax is under preparation and the demands of the Christian Democrats on the deductibility of the tax on electricity in order to ensure the competitive strength of industry are thus being taken into account.

“Some of the problems in the forest industry are the result of long-term difficulties while others result from the present economic crisis.  The measures to be undertaken should be diverse and will require a strong cooperative effort. The EU should exercise increased flexibility than at present, for example in the distribution of support grants from the globalisation fund.

“I also hope that forestry companies could take corporate social responsibility more seriously and believe in the future of the sector in Finland. Instead of closing functioning plants, forestry companies should seek to cut costs, increase efficiency and develop products in accordance with market demands.”