Written by Clare Ferguson
There is a distinctly global feel to the agenda for the first European Parliament plenary session of October. In preparation for the 22nd Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC in Marrakesh, Members return to the subject of climate change on Tuesday, with the ambition of the EU’s current pledges to cut emissions put into question in a draft resolution by Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Members have also tabled oral questions to the Council and Commission regarding the action they intend to take to ensure that COP 22 makes advances on the key elements of the Paris Agreement. Dependent on discussions among ministers in the Environment Council on 30 September, Parliament may also be asked to give its consent to the ratification of the Paris Agreement next week, with Ségolène Royal, president of the COP 21 expected to attend the vote. If it proves possible for the EU to conclude its ratification of the Paris Agreement in early October, the threshold for the agreement to enter into force would likely be reached before COP 22 starts.
The European Union has long held good relations with the 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries known as the ‘ACP’, however the ACP countries themselves are less and less homogenous. The Cotonou Agreement regulating EU-ACP relations since 2000 comes to an end in 2020, and unpicking the strands of the agreement, based on the core EU values of promoting democracy, supporting development and trade cooperation, would not be simple. Several options exist for replacing the Cotonou Agreement, and the first plenary session of October will kick-off with a debate on a report calling for the agreement to be renewed as a framework of direct agreements on a regional basis. Parliament’s priority is to ensure an equal political partnership, and to bring the European Development Fund, from which development assistance is paid, under the control of the EU budget.
While most people would agree that free trade in goods is a good thing, they would probably also agree that trade in items that could be used for torture or execution should be subject to strict controls. Balancing limitations to trade is delicate, and loopholes in current legislation are being exploited, despite the EU’s best efforts to ban and/or control trade of such materials. Members of the Parliament’s International Trade Committee have worked with civil society organisations and the Council to come to a compromise revising the current ban, on which Parliament will vote on Tuesday morning. The revision includes prohibiting services and advertising related to goods used in torture and execution, and the creation of an Anti-Torture Coordination Group.
Federica Mogherini, Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has been asked to make a statement to Parliament regarding the Colombian Peace Process, following the signature of the Final Peace Agreement in Colombia on 26 September 2016, and which is likely to alter the EU relationship with the country.
Returning to European waters, EU agreements to protect European fisheries lay down agreed control measures, such as inspections at sea and on land, and sanctions for those who break the rules. It is vital that these controls are carried out in the same way for all fishing fleets in all EU countries. On Monday evening, Parliament will discuss the measures in place to ensure that, through Member State cooperation, fisheries rules are uniformly respected, and that control procedures and sanctions are standardised across the EU.
Another area where uniform legislation can help businesses to operate throughout the single market is that of materials which comes into contact with our food. The food that we eat is an excellent delivery system for chemicals – which may be either beneficial or harmful to our health. The issue of food contamination from packaging and other materials that come into contact with food also appears to be underestimated. On Wednesday, Parliament will debate a report by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), which indicates that there is a dangerous gap between the reality of food production in the EU, and the legislation governing food contact materials (FCM). Organisations representing both businesses and consumers appear to agree, as shown in an implementation assessment prepared by EPRS for the ENVI Committee. Members will look at ways to increase public health and consumer protection on food contact materials throughout the EU, whilst simultaneously harmonising regulation of FCMs to facilitate the single market.
Finally, an important element in ensuring that citizens enjoy their right to a free trial is making sure that those involved in criminal proceedings who do not have the means to access a lawyer are provided with legal aid. On Tuesday morning, Members will scrutinise a compromise to the Commission’s original proposal for a directive to ensure the effectiveness of the right to access to a lawyer in criminal and in European Arrest Warrant (EAW) proceedings, in a first reading.