Written by Clare Ferguson,
The biggest issue on Parliament’s plenary agenda for this session is the discharge procedure for the EU’s 2015 budget. To ensure the transparent and democratic scrutiny of how public funds are spent, Parliament’s elected Members decide whether the EU institutions have disbursed their budget in accordance with the rules. As the European Commission, and its executive agencies, handle the lion’s share of the EU budget, the debate on Wednesday evening will first focus on the Budgetary Control Committee’s recommendation that discharge should be granted. The accounts do not emerge unscathed, however, as the Committee is critical of issues caused by two main problems – the difficulties of aligning funding and spending over a multi-annual programming period that does not mirror five year political mandates, and delays caused by late payments. Subsequently, Members will consider the accounts of the EU institutions other than the European Commission, including nine institutions, representing 2.3 % of the overall budget. For eight of these, Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee has made comments, and recommends that discharge is granted. The ninth, the European Council and Council, has been problematic in the past, due to disagreement on the procedure between Council and Parliament. For this reason, Parliament is likely to agree to postpone the decision regarding the European Council and Council to October. Finally, Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control proposes to grant discharge for all of the EU’s decentralised agencies and joint undertakings. Discussion of financial matters will continue to dominate the debate on Thursday, with the Presidents of the European Investment Bank and the Eurogroup attending plenary to discuss, respectively, the EIB’s annual report and the state of play on the economic adjustment programme for Greece.
Although the focus in recent months has moved away from the financial crises in Greece and Cyprus, the countries are still suffering the effects of painful restructuring. Learning some lessons from the political fallout of the handling of the crisis, the European Commission is proposing a structural reform support programme, with a €142.8 million budget (coming from existing regional funding), to help Member States who request assistance in organising reforms aimed at boosting growth. On Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will discuss the compromise achieved with the Council to ensure that the programme is extended to include the regional and local levels, that funding does not set a precedent, and that the programme is accompanied by adequate scrutiny and transparency. Whilst on the subject of the regions, other items on the plenary agenda include a discussion on an own-initiative report on fishing-fleet management in the EU’s Outermost Regions (in the North Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean), on Wednesday evening, focusing on modernising the fleet and promoting sustainable fishing.
Recent political upheaval in Member States, as well as the effects of the financial and migration crises, have underlined the importance of the values on which the European Union is based, values that have been forged through our common history and cultural heritage. The challenges the Union currently faces make this an opportune moment to pause and reflect. Parliament has therefore recommended that 2018 be declared the European Year of Cultural Heritage, and will vote on the proposal on Wednesday evening. Human rights values will also feature largely later on Wednesday night, when Parliament is expected to remind the Commission of its pledge to put forward a proposal on responsible management in the garment industry, following the Rana Plaza garment factory tragedy in 2013. Despite several Member State initiatives, the Commission has yet to put forward a proposal. Parliament’s Development Committee would like the EU to ensure mandatory due diligence, transparency and traceability for garment supply chains, enforcement of labour standards and respect for human rights, in an industry that employs up to 75 million people throughout the world.