Written by Clare Ferguson,
Unsurprisingly, the agenda for this final plenary session of Parliament’s 2014-2019 term will deal with a range of issues that are emblematic of the major themes that have marked this eighth legislature.
EU policy on migration was always high on this Parliament’s agenda, and two files scheduled for debate on Wednesday afternoon deal with issues linked to future migration policy. Parliament is expected to take a position on the provisional agreement to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard, including measures to engage 5 000 EU border guards (from January 2021), with a further 5 000 operational staff in operation by 2027, including a ‘rapid response’ team. The changes aim to ensure the same high border-management standards throughout the EU, and to provide more support for national authorities involved in managing migration and the fight against cross-border crime at the EU’s external borders. Members will then turn to consider the revision of the EU Visa Code, which would increase the visa fee to €80; simplify the procedures for requesting visas and harmonise multiple-entry visa rules. The proposals also seek to ensure that non-EU countries cooperate in readmitting their illegally staying nationals.
The financial crisis and the challenges of the shift to digital processes have affected EU citizens and businesses alike. Digitalisation and an ageing population have brought about major changes in the EU labour market in recent decades, leading to unfair employment practices such as ‘zero hours’ contracts. On Tuesday morning, Members will debate proposals to reform labour market rules, to ensure transparent and predictable working conditions in the EU. Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee wants to ensure that employers provide timely information for their employees, respect probationary periods and set out working conditions for those who work non-standard schedules. A proposal for a regulation on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services returns to the agenda on Tuesday afternoon, seeking fairer contractual relations between online giants (such as Amazon and Google) and other online businesses (such as hotels or restaurants). Encouraging fair competition between businesses, as well as protecting consumers’ health and safety, is behind proposals on the market surveillance and compliance of products, which Members will debate on Tuesday afternoon. The proposals seek greater coordination of rules on market surveillance of harmonised industrial products, which represent 69 % of the overall value of industrial products in the internal market. On Wednesday night, Members will debate an agreement on measures to improve the use of digital tools and processes in company law. Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee wants to see stronger measures throughout the EU to make it easier to set up and register a business, including greater use of online submission for official company documentation.
The pharmaceuticals sector is an important source of jobs and growth in the EU. On Tuesday evening, Members will consider a compromise on proposals to improve the intellectual property rights regime for the industry, which suffers from competitive disadvantage in export markets. Due to the lengthy testing and trials necessary to obtain EU market approval, pharmaceuticals firms can extend the patent protection on their products through a supplementary protection certificate (SPC) for medicinal products. The proposal would allow EU-based companies who do not hold the rights within the EU to manufacture generic or biosimilar versions of medicines still under SPC protection inside the EU, providing this is done exclusively for export to a non-EU market, or for stockpiling in anticipation of the patent protection’s expiry. The new rules could lead to €1 billion annual net additional export sales, create new jobs, and allow better access to quality and affordable medicine.
Over the current legislature, controversy has also erupted on more than one occasion on environmental issues, not least over the way in which products and substances are authorised (and renewed) for use in the EU. Members will vote to adopt Parliament’s position on an agreement concerning the transparency and sustainability of risk assessment in the food chain on Tuesday afternoon, which are a direct follow-up to citizens’ demands, notably regarding a ban on glyphosate. The current proposals would improve public access to the scientific studies carried out on sensitive products and substances. Against the background of emissions scandals and warnings about the deteriorating climate change situation during this legislature, the review of the Clean Vehicles Directive has shown poor results to date. Members will debate a proposal on Wednesday night that should tighten up definitions of clean road transport vehicles and set stronger emissions thresholds. Immediately afterwards, Parliament debates an agreed text setting CO2 emission performance standards for new heavy-duty vehicles, such as buses, trucks and trailers, at 15 % lower than current standards. Such issues often come to light thanks to whistle-blowers. On Monday evening, Members will debate EU proposals to give whistle-blowers greater protection when they report on breaches of EU law (such as money laundering, or contravening environmental or food safety regulations), where the situation varies greatly between EU countries. However, the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee insists the measures should be stronger, including that journalists and non-governmental organisations can enjoy anonymity and legal protection when reporting on whistle-blowing.
An EU success story – the key role played by the Horizon 2020 programme in the first ever observation of a black hole – underlines the importance of EU research funding. The EU is proposing to replace this successful programme when it ends in December 2020 with the Horizon Europe package. In a joint debate on Tuesday afternoon, Members will consider a report on proposals to establish and implement the Horizon Europe programme that encourages an even more ambitious programme, not least because it could generate some 100 000 new jobs, as well as to allocate 35 % of the Horizon Europe budget to climate objectives.
Members will also discuss a number of finance-related issues, with a joint debate on banking reform and financial supervision, and several other financial issues. Among these, Members will debate collective investment funds – which pool investor capital for investment in collective securities portfolios – in a joint debate on Monday afternoon. While the EU provides passporting possibilities to ensure a wide range of cross-border distribution of investment funds, at present, little advantage is taken of these opportunities in a market that remains relatively small and predominantly national. The proposals under consideration would align national requirements and harmonise verification, creating economies of scale, reducing investors’ fees and opening up the market. In addition, the current prudential supervision and requirements of investment firms, which facilitate savings and investment throughout the EU’s capital markets, is too complex and inefficient. Members will also debate proposals on Monday night to update the EU regulatory framework for investment firms, taking account of the size and nature of investment firms and the risks involved. In a joint debate on Wednesday night, Members will discuss a compromise on proposals on covered bonds – debt securities issued by credit institutions, secured by a pool of mortgage loans or public sector debt. Covered bonds provide vital long-term finance for many EU Member States, channelling funds to the property market and the public sector. However, both use and regulation of these bonds varies greatly between EU countries, and a common definition is lacking.
Having been postponed again, to 31 October 2019, Members will hear Council and Commission statements on the state of play of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia, Krišjānis Kariņš will attend plenary on Wednesday morning, for the last debate in the series on the future of Europe.
Turning to the details of how EU laws are decided on Wednesday evening, Members will debate proposals on a revision that would adapt legal acts to the Treaty of Lisbon. The proposal aligns ‘regulatory procedure with scrutiny‘ (RPS) measures, from 64 basic acts, with the delegated acts procedure, where European Parliament and the Council have the right of veto and may revoke the delegation. However, agreement on a further 104 acts, and on acts in the justice policy field, will have to wait until the new legislative term.
Finally, the European elections for the ninth European Parliament are approaching fast. Members will hear a Commission statement on Tuesday afternoon on protecting the integrity of the European elections, particularly considering international threats to cybersecurity.