Written by Clare Ferguson
EU values are top of the agenda for the second plenary session of February, in Brussels, with a Commission statement expected on Wednesday afternoon on its decision to activate Article 7 (1) TEU as a result of the situation on the rule of law in Poland. Article 7 addresses any ‘serious and persistent breach by a Member State’ of the values of respect for ‘human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, set out in Article 2 TEU’. Later on Wednesday, Members will also consider the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs’ annual report on the situation of fundamental rights in the EU in 2016, which details the many challenges facing the EU’s pursuit of policy that reflects the values of Article 2 TEU.
Following an earlier statement on the European Council discussions during its informal meeting of 23 February 2018 on the long-term EU budget, as well as foreign affairs issues such as Syria, Turkey, and Brexit, Commission Vice-President/High Representative Federica Mogherini attends the plenary session on Wednesday evening to make a statement on the proposed EU-Cuba Agreement, where EU relations have developed on the basis of respect for democracy and human rights through the ground-breaking EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA), signed in 2016. Council and Commission statements are also expected on Wednesday evening on the work and legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Under Rule 113 on recommendations on the Union’s external policies, reports are tabled for Thursday morning on cutting the sources of income for jihadists, specifically targeting the financing of terrorism, and on the EU’s priorities for the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, scheduled to take place in New York from 12 to 23 March 2018.
Alcoholic beverages with a minimum alcoholic strength of 15 % volume, known as spirit drinks, provide €10.2 billion a year in export earnings in the EU. The European Commission has proposed to update legislation regulating the sector and providing protection for local specialities. Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee is in favour of aligning current legislation in this area with the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and proposes amendments to the proposal that would retain the Parliament’s role in the procedure, move registration of geographical indications of spirit drinks to an electronic register, and limit the levels of sweeteners. Parliament will discuss the Committee’s amendments and the mandate for trilogue negotiations on Wednesday evening. On an even ‘sweeter’ note, the final agenda item for Wednesday night is the prospects and challenges for the EU apiculture sector, a sector where production is insufficient to cover demand on the EU market, despite reaching 200 000 tonnes of honey annually
Following statements from the Council and Commission on Wednesday evening on the removal of several third countries from the EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, the first item on the agenda on Thursday is the mandatory automatic exchange of information in the field of taxation, where the Commission proposes to increase transparency in the way tax advice is provided to anyone trying to avoid taxation, such as companies carrying out aggressive tax planning. Although Parliament is only consulted, the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) adopted a report seeking to strengthen the Commission’s proposals, particularly on reporting, while clarifying any exemptions for tax advice providers (known as intermediaries).
Later on Thursday morning, Parliament will vote on a report on the 2017 annual report on EU banking union. The report covers the three main elements of banking union: the single supervisory mechanism, the single resolution mechanism, and the – not yet in place – proposed European deposit insurance scheme. For the completion of the banking union, greater cooperation between national authorities is required to deal with emerging challenges to euro stability.
Members also consider a recommendation that the Parliament consent to the Council decision on the conclusion of the EU-US bilateral agreement on prudential measures regarding insurance and reinsurance on Thursday morning. EU insurers and reinsurers currently face barriers to trade with the United States, particularly linked to the amount of collateral they must maintain in the USA. Should Members vote to agree to ratification by the EU, the agreement will enter into force five years from the date of signature. Later on Thursday, Members will also vote on a first reading of a report on insurance distribution and the date of application of Member States’ transposition measures. Members are also expected to vote on Thursday lunchtime on a proposal to set up a special committee on financial crimes, tax evasion and tax avoidance, as well as on the nomination of a Member of the Court of Auditors.