Written by Clare Ferguson,
The key debate on the agenda for the second European Parliament plenary sitting takes place first thing on Tuesday morning, to hear about the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 19 and 20 October 2017. The European Council will focus on the continuing migration issue, action to progress the EU’s digital agenda, major current problems in external affairs, and cooperation in relation to Europe’s defence. President Tusk has also put forward a new agenda for EU leaders, aiming to stimulate faster decision-making in future on practical solutions to pressing EU issues. The European Council is also expected to postpone its decision on moving to the second phase of Brexit negotiations, due to lack of progress on the three first-phase priority issues.
Linked to the issue of migration, a joint debate on Wednesday will cover plans to develop an integrated EU border management system, beginning with the proposed EU Entry/Exit System. This database should allow for faster, more efficient, border controls that transfer information on non-EU travellers (fingerprints and a facial image) entering and exiting the EU. However, information on travellers shared between Member States must also respect the right to private life and protection of personal data. Members will also discuss the consequent amendments required to the Schengen Borders Code.
Listen to the podcast on ‘Smart borders: EU Entry/Exit System‘
Planning for future EU action continues, and the Council has already discussed the European Commission’s draft EU budget for 2018 – and proposed certain reductions to strategic investment programmes. On Tuesday afternoon, Parliament’s reading of the 2018 EU budget will consider a report from its Committee on Budgets that proposes not only to reverse these cuts, but to increase spending on programmes aiming to respond to EU citizens’ main concerns: jobs and growth, security, and tackling climate change.
Following this debate, (and a discussion on foreign affairs issues), Parliament will decide whether or not to grant discharge for the 2015 budget for the Council and European Council. The decision, postponed from spring, will take account of the Budgetary Control Committee’s proposal to refuse to grant discharge once again. The Committee insists that the Council must undergo the same scrutiny as other institutions, whereas the Council and the European Council submitted a joint expenditure budget, and provided insufficient information on building project spending, among other issues on which the committee notes a lack of cooperation.
Continuing on the theme of accountability, on Monday evening, Members will return to the insecurity faced by those who bring information into the public domain regarding organisations or persons who act against the public interest. While the EU institutions themselves employ measures to protect whistle-blowers, no legislation provides a minimum level of legal security and equal treatment for individuals who take considerable personal risks to expose such issues as the Panama Papers.
Another subject for joint debate during this plenary session are the common rules on securitisation and the proposed European framework for STS securitisation. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the EU aims to protect investors by harmonising the rules on what loans can be packaged as a security, and how. Parliament will consider the proposals on maximising due diligence, risk retention, and transparency through a simple, transparent and standardised (STS) securities framework, in a first reading scheduled for Wednesday evening.
This proposal also has consequences for the prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms in the EU. Parliament will therefore also consider a Commission proposal to revise existing legislation regarding risk in financial institutions. Adjusting the framework regulating credit and investment in the EU, the Capital Requirements Regulation, should allow for greater oversight on the one hand, and increase the flow of greatly needed investment and capital within the EU on the other.
External trade is also the subject of a joint debate during this session, as Parliament considers the Free Trade Agreement talks with Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday night. The EU seeks to reach a delicate balance between greater market access and defending the EU’s interests – particularly regarding trade in agricultural goods. Both the Commission and Parliament agree that the negotiation mandates should not include investment protection and resolution of investment disputes, and should thus only cover trade issues that fall under exclusive EU competence.
Listen to the podcast on ‘FTA talks to start with Australia and New Zealand‘
Modern, intensive farming methods rely on the use of fertilisers to improve crop yield, leading to increased international trade in phosphates. As farming is an important activity in the EU, the fertiliser market is booming, particularly in phosphate-based inorganic fertiliser. Mineral-based fertilisers make up 80 % of the market in the EU, but are not without their problems, such as the consequences of water polluted by run-off, or the high levels of carcinogenic cadmium found in some phosphate fertilisers. As part of the wider push to create a circular economy, the European Commission is proposing limits to harmful substances in fertilisers, and to encourage the re-use of appropriate waste material to nourish crops. This would have the added benefit of reducing EU reliance on imported minerals. On Monday evening, Parliament will discuss a Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection report on CE-marked fertilising products.
Continuing on the theme of harmful substances, the European Commission proposes to amend the current legislation on protection of workers from carcinogens or mutagens at work (specifically, exposure limit values). To tackle work-related deaths in the EU, 53 % of which are due to cancer, the Commission proposes to include or revise limits for exposure to 13 cancer-causing substances in the workplace. Council and Parliament reached a compromise text, providing for Commission assessment of the threat posed by reprotoxins, and tighter limits on exposure to chromium VI, hardwood dust, and potentially also silica, which Members will consider on Wednesday morning.