Written by Clare Ferguson,
Members of the European Parliament will be back in the debating chamber in Strasbourg on Monday, 18 January 2016, with a full agenda of legislative proposals, reviews and situational oversight before them.
Following a discussion on the Annual Report on EU Competition Policy, Members will begin the session by considering the stocks of Bluefin Tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Long overfished for its highly valuable and delicious flesh, the species is caught between a delicate balance of managing commercial exploitation and protection. The European Commission proposes inclusion of International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) recommendations in existing EU fisheries legislation (where they do not already exist), in a new regulation. Members are particularly keen to prioritise non-industrial and traditional fishing methods in the proposed recovery plan.
Whilst there will not be a vote on the matter this week, there will be a debate on Monday evening concerning emissions from light passenger and commercial vehicles. Pollution in the EU from transport has fallen in recent years, but nevertheless NOx and particulate matter emissions (particularly from diesel fuel) continue to harm both the environment and Europeans’ health. It is now well-known that cars emit different levels of pollutants when driving on the road, as opposed to under laboratory conditions, and the Commission have proposed an implementing regulation on new tests that better reflect real on-road emissions. The draft is opposed by Parliament’s Committee for Environment, Health and Food, who consider the draft raises current standards, but does not address current levels of emissions.
Listen to podcast: Measuring on-road air pollution from cars [Plenary Podcast]
Tuesday morning will mainly be devoted to consideration of a joint Committee report on the Digital Single Market Strategy, for which the Commission is to deliver 16 legislative and non-legislative initiatives by the end of 2016. The wide-ranging proposals to create a more dynamic EU economy include a three pillar focus on boosting consumer and business access to digital goods and services, developing conditions in which digital networks will prosper, and maximising the benefits of the digital economy. Parliament would like to see more effort in promoting an entrepreneurial culture and innovative business models; equal consumer protection for online and offline sales; undeterred circulation of legally acquired digital content or services; and a clear strategy to address e-skills shortages, especially among young people. This last issue will also be discussed on Monday evening, when Members will hear a presentation of a report on skills policies to combat the high levels of youth unemployment in the EU, where 4.5 million young people aged 15-24 years old are unemployed.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło will visit the Parliament on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the structured dialogue initiated between the Commission and Poland under the 2014 ‘Rule of Law Framework‘ with regard to two Polish laws – on the powers of the constitutional court and on the management of state TV and radio broadcasters.
High Representative/Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini will then update Members on a number of foreign policy issues. The first of these is the Colombian peace process. The conflict between the Colombian government and FARC rebels is the longest-running conflict in Latin America and has notched up three previous attempts to conclude a peace agreement. It appears that this time will be different, however, as the Colombian people are tired of the violence, and the social, historical and political context favours a definitive solution today. A sticking-point, however, may be the arrangements for reparations and justice for the estimated 220 000 people killed during the conflict and the many surviving victims of the violence.
Mogherini will then make a statement on the catastrophic situation in Syria, where the European Union, Russia, Iran, the USA and Turkey all have an interest in ending the violence. This will be followed by a further address on the delicate relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which, while posing a risk to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015) on Syria, also endanger the carefully brokered nuclear deal with Iran.
In the current high-alert climate, the Parliament is equally committed to defending EU citizens’ security and European values such as the protection of civil liberties. An important debate will take place on Tuesday afternoon on another aspect of EU law: strengthening the presumption of innocence in the EU. Despite international safeguards, numerous breaches of the principle by EU Member States have reportedly occurred: 26 violations between 2007 and 2012. The presumption of innocence is an essential element of the right to a fair trial. The Commission proposal before the Parliament seeks to ensure suspects and accused persons are presumed innocent until final conviction and that the burden of proof remains with the prosecution. The Parliament is keen to stress that evidence obtained by violating rights is inadmissible, that forcing individuals to make statements or answer questions should be expressly forbidden, as should leaking information to the press which could jeopardise a person’s right to a free trial.
Listen to podcast: Strengthening the presumption of innocence in the EU [Plenary Podcast]
Three proposals for revision of internal market measures will then occupy the rest of the evening. These harmonisation measures concern safety standards and labelling for items as diverse as cableways, gas fires and oven gloves. The measures on personal protective equipment, appliances which burn gas for fuel, and cableways such as ski lifts, are intended to make it easier for suppliers and safer for consumers by agreeing safety standards to apply throughout not only the EU, but also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
On Wednesday morning, the new Dutch Council Presidency will present its programme for the coming six months, and Members will hear more about the priorities for improving and simplifying EU legislation, on measures to boost growth and jobs, and to encourage citizens themselves to participate in policy-making.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Parliament will welcome Laurent Fabius, President of the recent Paris Climate Conference COP21, who will make a statement on the Paris Agreement’s new framework for global climate action. While initial international reaction to the Paris Agreement was largely positive, some commentators note that huge efforts will be needed to overcome the gap between the ambition of the agreement and the emissions reductions pledged by the Parties.
Federica Mogherini will then return to the chamber to make statements on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, on the systematic mass murder of religious minorities by ISIS, on various Free Trade Agreements, and on the Mutual Defence Clause recently invoked by France, and the situation in south-eastern Turkey.
Concluding this first session of the year, the agenda for Thursday is dominated, as is customary, by debates on breaches of human rights, including EU citizens in detention in India, and the situation in Ethiopia and North Korea. The Commission will also be questioned on its plans for negotiating trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.