Written by Clare Ferguson with Jack Meredith,
Yazidi survivors and public advocates Nadia Murad Busee and Lamiya Aji Bashar will receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought – the European Parliament’s recognition of human rights activism, bestowed annually – on Tuesday. Parliament’s Conference of Presidents selected the activists on 27 October, ahead of the other finalists: Turkish journalist Can Dündar and fellow defenders of freedom of expression in Turkey; and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzemilev. Since Murad Busee and Bashar’s escape from ISIL/Da’esh imprisonment and slavery, following the invasion of their hometown in Sinjar/Iraq, and the massacre of many of its residents, they have campaigned to raise awareness of the plight of the countless victims of trafficking, in particular women, and of the Yazidi community more broadly. Murad was previously honoured with the Council of Europe’s Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in October 2016. The Parliament has also called on the Iraqi government to allow for the Yazidi population to return, and on the UN Security Council to bring those responsible for the violence in Iraq and Syria, and the Yazidi genocide, to justice. The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually to individuals or organisations who advance freedom of expression; safeguarding the rights of minorities; respect for international law; development of democracy and implementation of the rule of law.
Following a review of the Slovak Council Presidency on Tuesday afternoon, the plenary will continue discussion on human rights, with its Annual report on human rights and democracy in the world in 2015. The recent slide towards authoritarian regimes challenges EU values of human rights, the promotion of democracy, civil society, and fundamental freedoms worldwide. Parliament is particularly keen to defend the continued respect of democracy and human rights in the light of the current security and migratory challenges.
The December plenary session will also focus on transport, with the second reading of the ‘market pillar’ of the fourth railway package and a vote to confirm trilogue agreement on proposals to further liberalise EU rail markets for a truly integrated EU rail area. The ‘market pillar’ proposals were put forward in January 2013 and follow on from the ‘technical pillar’ – dealing with rail safety and technical compatibility – adopted on 28 April 2016. The adoption of the ‘market pillar’ could prove to be a new milestone for the EU rail sector. While many changes, including full rail freight and international passenger transport liberalisation, have already been achieved, it is hoped the fourth rail package will usher in a new era of increased competition and rail management consistency in the EU. During its first reading in 2014, the Parliament highlighted social aspects of the proposals, insisting that liberalisation of the market should not lead to a worsening of rail workers’ social and working conditions. Parliament also stressed the importance of allowing competent authorities to decide whether to issue public service contracts via a tendering process or by direct award, though insisted service quality requirements must be fulfilled in the latter case. The joint debate on the railway package will take place on Monday evening, with a vote in plenary session on Wednesday.
The approximately 1 200 seaports in the EU are fundamental to its economy, enabling 74 % of EU cargo imports and exports and 37 % of EU trade. Ports employ over three million people in the EU and, with greater potential for jobs and investment in the future, are crucial to its transport sector and competitiveness. Over 90 % of freight and passengers passing through EU ports transit through the 329 seaports of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T). Moves to improve market access to ports, their efficiency and financial transparency are therefore highly sensitive, particularly when they touch on Member State social and employment rules or whether or not public investment in port infrastructure constitutes state aid. After much negotiation and several rejected proposals, Members will debate a compromise on Monday evening, with a vote on Wednesday of the December plenary session.
Continuing on the transport theme, international aviation agreements are the subject of a vote on Thursday lunchtime. The European Commission’s aviation strategy is one year old this month, and Members were interested in hearing about the objectives, timeframe, and procedures envisaged for negotiations with third countries during the debate in November. The Parliament’s focus is on securing bilateral rights for market access, with an emphasis on safeguarding EU safety standards.
Tuesday’s plenary session will open with a Commission statement on its ‘clean energy for all’ package, with one aspect being questions surrounding future EU-US cooperation on energy in the light of the recent US elections.
Clean energy is vital to combating climate change, one of the many challenges to the EU rural economy, along with food security and territorial cohesion. On Tuesday evening, Members’ attention will turn to the Common Agricultural Policy, transformed by successive reforms to focus on promoting sustainable agriculture, with income, rather than price, support and a system of direct payments. The severe impact of the crisis on EU farmers is a particular concern for Parliament, which hopes to boost employment in rural areas by promoting innovation and reducing the effects of price volatility.
Another long-held EU priority is fisheries management. The Skagerrak agreement, allowing Danish, Swedish and Norwegian vessels to fish in each other’s waters has been operating on a provisional basis since January 2015 and now requires Parliamentary consent to enter into force. The original Skagerrak agreement, signed in 1966, was adopted prior to changes to the rights and duties of states with respect to ocean space and resources brought in by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. A new agreement became necessary in 2009, when Norway, growing increasingly discontent regarding conservation and control of vessels fishing in its waters, gave five years’ notice of its termination of the original agreement. Conservation of tuna stocks are the subject of binding recommendations adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), but which must pass through Parliament before becoming law applicable to EU fisheries. The European Commission is proposing to transpose a number of ICCAT recommendations into EU law, with the aim of preserving stocks of tuna species in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The Parliament will debate deep-sea stocks in the north-east Atlantic in Plenary on Monday evening, and are expected to vote a resolution on the EU-Norway Agreement on reciprocal access to fishing in the Skagerrak on Wednesday lunchtime.
Finally, cultural and creative industries employ 1 % of the world’s active population and contribute 3 % of global GDP. As the creative industries require workers qualified in both arts and technology, they may have a key role to play in the alleviation of current economic and employment difficulties in the EU, and present the potential to promote inclusive, sustainable growth and innovation. A European Parliament own-initiative report on a coherent EU policy for the cultural and creative sector will be discussed on Monday evening.