Page last updated at 16:46 GMT, Monday, 14 January 2013

Opening of the session

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has criticised EU High Representative Baroness Ashton for being unable to attend a proposed emergency debate on the situation in Mali.

During the opening of the January plenary session on 14 January 2013, MEPs called for an urgent debate to raise France's military intervention in the central African country.

They wanted the debate to take place on Wednesday during the foreign affairs debate, but the parliament was informed that Baroness Ashton would only be available on the Tuesday, meaning a major change in parliament's business.

"In no national parliament would it be thinkable for a member of the government not to attend," said Mr Schulz.

"No member of the Commission, no member of Council, no High Representative can turn around and say 'I'm sorry, my diary doesn't allow me to come to parliament'", he stated, saying that he would be speaking to Baroness Ashton to try and resolve the situation.

Elsewhere during the opening of the session, Mr Schulz paid tribute to the families of three Kurdish activists who were murdered in France, earlier this month.

The three women were found shot dead at the Kurdish information centre in Paris on Thursday.

MEPs also noted the sentencing of former Austrian MEP Ersnt Strasser for bribe-taking.

Mr Strasser, a former interior minister was sentenced to four years in jail after being caught up in a "cash-for-laws" scandal in 2011, exposed by the UK's Sunday Times newspaper.

The opening of the session gives MEPs the chance to amend and approve the agenda, and for any general announcements to be made.

Highlights of the four day session include a debate on the priorities of the incoming Irish presidency of the EU and a review of the outgoing Cypriot presidency.

MEPs will also vote on new laws on the regulation of credit ratings agencies and on the creation of a banking union within the eurozone.

Useful links:

Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work.

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.

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