Written by Clare Ferguson,
With a Commission statement scheduled for Tuesday morning dealing with globalisation, the EU’s place in the world leads the agenda for the first European Parliament plenary session in May.
Multilateralism is a core element of EU international relations – both the 2003 European security strategy and the 2016 global strategy emphasise the importance of a rules-based global order – with multilateralism as a key principle. In light of recent protectionist shifts in the political landscape, the future of multilateralism is, however, in question. The United Nations (UN) is the foremost institution of the global liberal order. The formal sitting this session, scheduled for Wednesday lunchtime, will hear an address by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, a firm supporter of global solidarity and international cooperation through multilateral agreements. Guterres’ strong reformist agenda for the UN focuses on the institution’s operations in promotion of peace, sustainable development, and renewing the institution’s internal management, to face an increasingly troubled world.
Continuing on international trade relations, Parliament will discuss a report on the EU-South Korea free trade agreement, now in its fifth year, on Wednesday evening. Although some technical barriers persist, the total trade between the countries has risen to €85.9 billion in 2016. The recent election of liberal politician Moon Jae-in as the country’s President is expected to herald a more stable political era in the country, which could call on the EU’s dialogue and negotiating experience in a new approach to its northern neighbour.
As the global population rises, demands on resources increase. When some people find it hard to get enough to eat, throwing edible food away seems crazy – yet in the EU we waste 88 million tonnes every year. Parliament is keen to move towards a circular economy in the EU, and its Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) points out that clearly defining food waste, how it can be measured, and imposing a binding target to reduce waste by 50 % by 2030, can help. Members will discuss changing food labelling, so that food is no longer thrown away because of confusing ‘best by’ and ‘sell by’ dates, on Monday evening. This could both reduce food waste and simultaneously improve food safety, as well as making it easier and less costly to donate food to the needy.
Turning to affairs at home, one of the EU’s strengths is the variety of its regions, yet this leads to greatly differing needs for territorial development. As these cannot be met by a one-size-fits-all funding solution, the Parliament’s Regional Development Committee is proposing improvements to the way EU funding is disbursed, so that regions can obtain the right funding mix, balancing cohesion policy funding between financial instruments and grants, in a report for debate on Thursday morning. Allocating cohesion policy funding is not the end of the story, however. In difficult economic times, some countries need technical assistance to advance the administrative reforms required for planning and execution of cohesion policy funding, and Members will therefore also discuss a report on the outlook for technical assistance.
It can be hard for legislation to keep up with fast-moving new and emerging technologies. On Tuesday afternoon, Members discuss the growing influence of the financial technology sector, known as FinTech, on the financial services market, and the need for a level playing field. When the rules are not the same in different countries, new companies can be tempted to try ‘jurisdiction shopping’ – operating in countries where the rules are less strict – which puts both their own firms and customers at risk. In view of the fragmented nature of the measures to date, Parliament has identified a need for a comprehensive action plan on FinTech, to ensure that EU citizens are protected by common rules, without stifling innovation. The proposals for an EU framework for financial technology are based on three principles: same rules for same services; technology neutrality; and proportionality.
Finally, being locked out of your subscription to your favourite magazine, music stream, or video channel, when on holiday or a business trip in another country is annoying when you have paid for the service. On Wednesday afternoon, Members will take moves to end this unsatisfactory situation to the next level by voting on a compromise text on new rules on cross-border portability of online services. The moves include pinning down what is meant in law by ‘temporary presence’, and ‘Member State of residence’, as well as providing a waiver for providers of rights-free content. However, some key issues remain unresolved.