Written by Clare Ferguson,
The key debate on Parliament’s agenda for this Strasbourg session week (Wednesday) will be the Conclusions of the European Council meeting of 17-18 March 2016 and the outcome of the EU-Turkey summit – obviously linked to the migration situation in the Mediterranean. Conscious of the urgent need for a holistic EU approach to the crisis, Members will then vote on Wednesday afternoon on a proposal to amend the EU budget to provide a new instrument to finance emergency support within EU territory, with the first Draft Amending Budget of 2016. The first aim of this is to provide fast-tracked, swift financing for urgent relief in a major emergency inside the EU, where significant humanitarian impact is expected. The €300 million of humanitarian assistance available for Member States will support the supply of urgent relief in the form of food, shelter and medicine. Under the same amending budget, the EU intends to increase staffing to enhance counter-terrorism capabilities at Europol. An additional €2 million is earmarked to help achieve a safer Europe for all EU citizens by boosting cooperation with Member States carrying out counter-terrorism investigations.
Regarding relations with Turkey, Members will hear the Council and Commission’s statements on the 2015 country report, also on Wednesday. The debate is likely to confirm that, although challenging, the EU’s partnership with Turkey is crucial to facing the common – and major – problems of counter-terrorism and the migrant crisis. However, regardless of the continuing cooperation, Members will be concerned by the continuing issues regarding freedom of speech in the country, as well as Turkey’s slow progress on implementing the EU acquis.
Results of the Netherlands referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement aside, on foreign policy matters, this session will be looking to the east, with the implementation and review of the EU-Central Asia Strategy tabled for Tuesday afternoon. The plenary will hear the Council and Commission’s statements on its 2015 Reports on Turkey, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday. The 2015 report on Albania highlights judicial reform in the country, the completion of which is essential to Albania’s progress towards EU accession. Both the administration and the opposition have undertaken to ensure measures to achieve the necessary changes, despite initial resistance. Local elections in the country in 2015 proceeded largely without incident. Albania hopes to open EU accession talks this year, but must first tackle the five priority areas for entry: in addition to judicial reform, a more efficient public administration is required, as well as ending corruption and organised crime, and increasing respect for human rights, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the Roma population (the subject of a statement in plenary on Monday). There have been positive developments, and the country has stepped up international police cooperation, notably in combating drug trafficking. However, greater measures are required to fight widespread corruption and organised crime and the low number of criminal convictions remains a problem. Whilst Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession ambitions have been declared to be back on track, the 2015 report is rather less enthusiastic, with criticism of the country’s deeply rooted domestic issues and lack of reform. Here also there are concerns regarding judicial independence, the alignment of legislation with the EU acquis, and freedom of speech issues. High youth unemployment and the parlous state of public finances complete a picture where divisive rhetoric appears to be moving the country further from EU accession.
In the light of the recent revelations concerning offshore investments facilitated by a law firm from Panama, the Commission’s statement on the effectiveness of existing measures against tax evasion and money laundering, and the decision adopted on public tax transparency is likely to gain a large audience. While tax transparency may seem like a simple concept, its scope and design are highly contested. The EU seeks to remedy non-transparent practices like corporate tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning, with a number of solutions including rules to ensure the comparability and quality of company financial information, and registers to identify the real owners of companies. However, wider tax transparency increases the significance of confidentiality and data protection for companies.
Modern globalisation thus has some advantages and some downsides. The plenary will vote on a motion for a resolution on the continued, and worrying, spread of the Zika virus; which although first detected in Brazil, requires careful consideration of the risk of transmission in the EU, particularly once the holiday season begins. Considering the rise in air travel during the summer months, it is timely that the issue of passenger name record data appears on the agenda this session. Should Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs vote to recommend second readings on the proposals for protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data, and the processing of personal data for the purposes of crime prevention, a joint debate will take place on data protection on Wednesday afternoon. It can be expected that the Parliament will continue its consistent efforts to ensure that the proposed PNR directive is compliant with the proportionality principle, and includes data protection safeguards. Personal data protection is also a key area in transatlantic cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs.
Another unfortunate effect of the globalisation of freedom of movement and trade is that companies often relocate and workers lose their jobs. Indeed, unemployment is considered one of the main drivers of poverty within the EU. The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund provides assistance in such circumstances. Between 2007 and 2014, the fund has paid out €560 million in favour of some 122 121 redundant workers. Although car manufacturers are among the companies which apply for funding, perhaps new technologies, such as autonomous cars may reverse that trend.
The first reading of the Legal Affairs Committee report on the protection of trade secrets, such as valuable know-how and business information, will take place late on Wednesday. The EU is keen to set new common rules for protecting trade secrets and confidential information, given its importance to businesses and to SMEs in particular. Member State legislation on the matter differs greatly throughout the EU, presenting a key obstacle to the EU Single Market, as companies are reluctant to operate across borders with uneven protection. An EU-wide definition of what constitutes a trade secret will help to protect companies’ assets, but Parliament is equally keen to include safeguards to protect journalists and their sources, as well as whistle-blowers. In the same vein, employees should not see their particular experience and skills considered as trade secrets.
Listen to podcast: Protecting businesses’ trade secrets [Plenary Podcast]
Agriculture is a mainstay of the EU economy, and the animal breeding sector alone is worth €1.89 billion in added value. However, the need for a well-regulated animal breeding sector has resulted in a collection of rules for different breeds. The current legislation covering breeding animals, trade in such animals and their import, is considered to be sufficient. Nevertheless, in the continuing spirit of ‘better law-making’, Members will hear the first reading of a report which proposes to simplify the rules on the zootechnical and genealogical conditions for trade in breeding animals on Tuesday. Turning to fisheries, Members will hear a report on the proposed new international agreement concerning fishing on the ‘high seas’ – a resolution which is expected to break new ground in the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, such as fisheries, in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Renewal of fishing opportunities under the EU’s Fisheries Partnership Agreement with Greenland will also be put to Members.
Members will vote on Wednesday on a motion for a resolution regarding one of the world’s most widely used active substances in herbicides, glyphosate, which is currently the subject of scientific controversy regarding diverging assessments of its carcinogenicity. Parliament’s Environment, Public Health & Food Safety Committee is proposing that the European Commission drop its proposal to renew the authorisation of glyphosate for 15 years.
Finally, of the 28 Members of the European Court of Auditors, ten will be replaced at the end of their six-year term in 2016. Five of the six nominees are new, and each candidate has appeared before the EP’s Budgetary Control Committee to answer MEPs’ questions. Parliament has expressed concern that there continue to be few female candidates among the nominees. The plenary will vote to decide which of the candidates to recommend to the Council as suitable to be appointed.