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17. 3.

98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 82/77

The following rates are applied:

Belgium 21
Denmark 25
Germany 15
Greece 8
Spain 16
France 5.5
Ireland 0
Italy 16
Luxembourg 15
Netherlands 6
Austria 20
Portugal 17
Finland 22
Sweden 25
United Kingdom 17.5

The current situation will be subject to revision in the context of the introduction of the new common system of
VAT which will address the question of VAT rate harmonisation. More details on the Commission plans in this
area are to be found in the programme adopted in July 1996 (2).

Under Community law zero-rating is permitted for a transitional period and for a limited number of items only.
Member States are not allowed to introduce a zero-rate on new goods or services. The Commission does not
envisage to propose making new zero-rates possible.

(1) OJ L 145, 13.6.1977.

(2) COM(96) 328 final.

(98/C 82/128) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2436/97

by Jessica Larive (ELDR) to the Commission
(16 July 1997)

Subject: Monk seal catastrophe off the coast of Mauritania

Between 200 and 300 monk seals live along the Atlantic coast of West Africa, most of them in Mauritania and off
the coast of Western Sahara. Large numbers of them have died, probably as a result of an infection, and are
currently being washed ashore in Mauritania, as reported in the Telegraaf of 11 June 1997 and in the press release
issued on 22 May 1997 by the Seal Centre (SRRC) in Pieterburen, according to which the seal population has

The Seal Centre is working with various local centres to limit the extent of this catastrophe as far as possible.
ISIFER, a Spanish group, is also studying the monk seals as part of a Commission-funded LIFE project but is
working completely on its own. A steering committee has been set up to oversee scientific research activity.

Given what may be described as a catastrophe, it is crucial that all the organizations concerned join forces to
prevent the disappearance of monk seals from this region.
C 82/78 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 17. 3. 98

1. Is the Commission aware of the catastrophe currently occurring off the coast of Mauritania? If so, can it do
anything about it?

2. What conditions are imposed on ISIFER under the aforementioned LIFE project?

3. Who or what is responsible for monitoring this?

4. Has cooperation between the various organizations and with the local population been ensured?

5. Has it been ensured that the steering committee has all the required expertise (e.g. in the area of infectious

Answer given by Mrs Bjerregaard on behalf of the Commission

(18 September 1997)

1. The Commission is aware of the exceptionally high rate of mortality within the monk seal colony at Cabo
Blanco. The Commission has authorised the Canary Islands Government, a beneficiary of the Life-Nature project
entitled ‘Action for the conservation of the monk seal in the Atlantic’, to, if necessary, redirect part of its initial
budget in order to step up its emergency activities (analyses in order to identify the cause of the mortality;
boosting the scientific team at the scene; meetings of the scientific committees monitoring this event; emergency
action to be taken on the spot in order to safeguard the surviving animals).

2. As a beneficiary under the Life contract the Canarian Government has made the ISIFER Association
responsible for carrying out certain of the activities provided for in the contract. To this end the ISIFER is
cooperating with various partners. The Commission does not share the Honourable Member's view that the
ISIFER is working completely on its own.

3. In view of the critical situation as regards this species and the technical complexity of this project this has
from the outset been accompanied by a scientific committee comprising specialists from the Seals Specialist
Group within the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and its Resources (IUCN). During the
mortality period information on the developments in the situation and on the action taken has regularly been sent
to the specialist scientists and institutions (IUCN, United States Marine Mammal Commission, Bonn
Convention, Mediterranean Action Plan within the United Nations Environment Programme).

4. The ISIFER Association is cooperating closely with the Mauritanian authorities that are responsible for
nature conservation. In addition frequent contacts have been maintained with the Mauritanian Association of
Monk Seal Friends in Nouadhibou.

5. The scientific committee consists of several world specialists in seal conservation, including the Chairman
of the IUCN's Seals Group, Dr P. Reinjders. Dr Kennedy from the Northern Ireland Veterinary Science Division,
a virologist specialising in infectious diseases of marine mammals, is also involved in the project. He travelled to
Mauritania during the mortality period in order to take samples and examine the disease. He himself and
Dr E. Costas from the Madrid veterinary faculty have carried out several virological and toxicological analyses
on the seal tissue sent by the ISIFER team. In addition a large number of analyses have been conducted on the
samples sent by the same team to the Community reference laboratory in Vigo (Spain).

(98/C 82/129) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2439/97

by Friedhelm Frischenschlager (ELDR) to the Commission
(16 July 1997)

Subject: SOCRATES action programme

In the past two years it has become evident that the Socrates action programme has made an important
contribution in the field of European education.

With Socrates so well known and so popular and with the new Member States having joined this programme, the
financial resources with which it is endowed seem very modest.
− Will cooperation with the new Central and Eastern European countries result in a decline in the quality of the
Socrates programme?
− How does the Commission intend further to increase transparency in the allocation of financial resources
with a view to curbing misuse?