Plenary round-up – July 2021

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson.

During the July 2021 plenary session in Strasbourg, Parliament continued to debate and adopt Multiannual Financial Framework programmes for 2021-2027, this time finalising programmes in the justice and home affairs, fisheries and infrastructure areas. Debates on a number of Council and Commission statements were held, including on the programme of activities of the Slovenian Council Presidency, on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 24-25 June 2021, on the Commission’s 2022 work programme, on the state of play of implementation of the EU Digital Covid Certificate Regulation, on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis in aviation, and on the 70th anniversary of the Geneva (refugee) Convention. A number of other debates were held, inter alia on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and Poland, on amendments to the Visa Information System, and on European Investment Bank activities in 2019. Members also debated international policy issues – the situation in Nicaragua, the repression of the opposition in Turkey, and the situation in Tigray, Ethiopia.

Connecting Europe Facility and smart ‘TEN-T’

Following a joint debate, Members adopted at second reading agreements on the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and ‘smart TEN T’. These legislative initiatives seek to renew not only trans-European transport networks (TEN-T), but also energy and digital connections across the Union. While the proposals for a ‘smart TEN-T’ aim at financing a programme of swifter transport permit processes, the CEF proposal aims at establishing a funding infrastructure to facilitate investment in key network projects. The €30 billion allocated to the CEF will be shared between measures to upgrade transport, energy and digital networks.

Eighth Environment Action Programme

Members debated and adopted Parliament’s negotiating position on the Commission’s proposal on the eighth EU environment action programme for 2021‑2030 that should encourage a societal step-change, through a ‘sustainability first’ approach, to implementing measures to reach the EU’s long-term environmental goals. The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee may now start trilogue negotiations. The committee calls for priority objectives to be achieved by 2030, including ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, with the programme becoming a governance tool for environmental policy beyond the Green Deal.

Justice and home affairs funds

Following a joint debate, Members adopted at second reading the agreed texts of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the Integrated Border Management Fund for 2021-2027. The first aims at strengthening the common European asylum system, supporting legal migration and countering irregular migration, as well as managing migrants’ return and readmission to third countries. Parliament has succeeded in ensuring the fund better focuses on solidarity and responsibility, including legal migration, as well as efficient management of migration flows. The second fund provides financial support, allocated proportionately to the countries most affected by requirements for external border management and visas. Parliament also adopted, at second reading, the new Internal Security Fund (ISF) to tackle terrorism and radicalisation, organised crime and cybercrime, and to assist victims. With a final budget allocation of €1.9 billion, the ISF aims to ensure a high level of security within the EU aligned with fundamental rights protection.

European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund

Members adopted a hard-won agreement at second reading with the Council to continue funding the common fisheries policy through the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund. The change to the fund’s name reflects an increased focus on aquaculture. While financial assistance to shipping fleets would be extended to cover 12‑24 m vessels, stricter conditions will apply.

European Medicines Agency

Members adopted Parliament’s negotiating position on the Commission proposal to reinforce and extend the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), referring it back to the ENVI committee for trilogue negotiations. The proposal aims at stronger EMA coordination of the EU response to health crises, particularly in respect of monitoring and mitigating critical medicine and medical device shortages, which proved to be a weakness during the pandemic, as well as greater EU coordination of clinical trials.

Draft Amending Budget No 3/2021

Members adopted Amending Budget No 3/2021, which enters the 2020 general budget surplus, totalling almost €1.77 billion (less than in the previous year), as revenue in the 2021 budget. The surplus mainly results from higher than expected customs duties and lower expenditure – partly due to Covid‑19. Under the current rules, Member States’ gross national income contributions to the 2021 budget will be reduced, but Parliament wants all available funding used to boost the coronavirus recovery, and accordingly calls for Member States to dedicate the surplus amounts to assisting victims of the pandemic.

Financial activities of the European Investment Bank (EIB) – Annual report 2019

Financing the Green Deal and Europe’s long-term climate ambitions is increasingly the focus of the European Investment Bank (EIB). However, the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) on the control of the EIB’s financial activities in 2019 highlights the danger that a lack of transparency and accountability could lead to fraud and corruption in respect of the bank’s operations. Members endorsed the committee’s report following a debate in the presence of Werner Hoyer, President of the EIB.

Protection of the EU’s financial interests

Members also voted on a CONT committee report on the European Commission’s 2019 report on protection of the EU’s financial interests and the fight against fraud – an issue of particular concern given the need to ensure sound management of coronavirus recovery funding. Fraudulent activity appears stable in 2019, although detection remains difficult and violations of public procurement rules in the health sector are of particular concern. The CONT committee notes that over half the reported fraud in 2019 concerns only two Member States, and calls for improved information exchange, data collection and control.

EU privacy rules conflicting with measures to combat child sexual abuse online

Members debated and adopted an agreement at first reading on EU privacy rules with measures to combat child sexual abuse online. The proposal to exempt internet providers from e‑privacy measures temporarily, so that they can legitimately remove child sexual abuse material online, raises serious concerns, particularly in respect of the unintended consequences for fundamental rights to privacy and data protection. Parliament’s negotiators have secured the exclusion of audio communications from the regulation’s scope, as well as mandatory impact assessments of data protection, and compulsory human review.  

LGBTI rights in the EU – Recent developments following the Hungarian law

Members debated and adopted a resolution on breaches of EU law and on the right of LGBTIQ citizens in Hungary as a result of the adopted legal changes in the Hungarian Parliament. On 15 June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a law originally intended to fight paedophilia, but which includes clauses prohibiting the portrayal to minors of homosexuality and gender reassignment. Additionally, the law prohibits homosexuality and gender reassignment from being featured in sex education classes, and stipulates that such classes can now only be taught by registered organisations. The law came into force on 8 July and has generated widespread criticism at EU level.  

Opening of trilogue negotiations

Members confirmed the mandate for negotiations from the Transport and Tourism (TRAN) Committee on the proposal for a regulation on the capacity of the European Aviation Safety Agency to act as performance review body for the Single European Sky.

Read this at a glance note on ‘Plenary round-up – July 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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