Written by Clare Ferguson,
The annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought will be formally awarded to Saudi Arabian national Raif Badawi during the 14-17 December Plenary Session of the European Parliament, bringing a fitting end to a year in which global human rights have been severely tested.
Human rights are a key priority for the European Parliament, and Members will discuss and vote its annual key Resolution on Human Rights and Democracy on Wednesday. The Parliament is anxious to see human rights incorporated into all aspects of EU external relations, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and its sub-committee on Human Rights (DROI) have prepared a report reiterating the importance of including – and enforcing – human rights clauses in all EU international agreements; encouraging compliance with human rights in business dealings outside the EU; and importantly finding sustainable solutions to tackle the root causes of migration. In this last respect, after a joint debate on economic and monetary union on Tuesday, the Plenary will turn its attention to the Commission’s proposals for a European border and coast guard system, where urgent action is required to balance the delicate issues of national sovereignty and fundamental rights against the need to protect the EU’s borders and limit the budget used in the process (Listen to the podcast).
Indeed, issues of good governance, migration, human and labour rights were key in the negotiations for an EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation agreement, now close to finalisation, with the Plenary expected to vote on the agreement on Wednesday night. In another specific case highlighting the EU’s defence of human rights, the European Parliament has repeatedly urged Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leaders to refrain from nationalistic and secessionist rhetoric. The European Commission itself is applying pressure on the country regarding its accession application, noting that, despite bringing peace, the Dayton Peace Accord hinders EU integration, and constitutional reform is ‘urgently needed’. On Wednesday evening, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini will make a statement in Plenary marking 20 years since the agreement put an end to conflict in the Balkan region.
The human rights of EU citizens with disabilities will be debated late on Tuesday night. As the European population ages, the number of people with disabilities is growing. The European Accessibility Act, designed to help to remove daily obstacles to accessing goods and services by improving the internal market, is not being implemented to Members’ satisfaction. Vulnerable European citizens, who face difficulties in breaking into the labour market or accessing business credit, are supported by the EU ‘progress microfinance facility’. The facility has €193 million available to fund entrepreneurs from disadvantaged groups. However, on Monday evening the Parliament will highlight the need for the Commission to improve access to this microfinance for target groups such as migrants, refugees, long-term unemployed, young people, low-income persons, low-skilled workers and people with disabilities, who face administrative barriers to getting the finance.
Human rights are a fragile acquisition, often removed at the end of the barrel of a gun. At the same time, arms exports are also big business (€36.7 billion in 2013), with the lion’s share of EU arms being sold to states in the Middle East. The EU has agreed a common position setting out rules for arms exports. Of the eight criteria for assessing arms export licenses, one of the most significant is the level of respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in the state acquiring the arms. Another is that state’s attitude to terrorism and respect for international law, as well as the risk of diversion of the arms to an unauthorised end-user. Application of these rules is patchy, as the common position is interpreted by Member States to suit national strategy, financial interests, and with insufficient consideration of the use of the arms in unstable regions. MEPs will debate the need for effective and strict application of the rules, to which all Member States agreed, on Wednesday evening. An EPRS podcast explains the rules, and how they are broken.
Turning then to doing business in the EU, and perhaps of interest to those who may have used large international retailers for their festive shopping, Members will on Tuesday discuss an own-initiative report by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) on ‘Bringing transparency, coordination and convergence to Corporate Tax policies in the Union’, which lists 24 legislative recommendations to halt tax abuses by big companies, (who shall here remain nameless).
And what is in a name, in fact? Considerable commercial value if you are one of the EU’s suppliers of branded goods – and counterfeit goods hurt the profits of EU firms. The European Parliament and the Council have agreed to greatly reduce the fees for registration of EU trade marks (up to 37%), and have come to a compromise on renaming the EU Office for Harmonization as the ‘European Union Intellectual Property Office’. The new legislation, which should improve access to the EU trademark system, as well as simplifying and speeding up procedures, will be discussed in Plenary on Monday.
The last agenda item on Monday evening concerns the technical measures and multiannual plans for fisheries management, continuing the shift towards sustainable catches, where progress is slow.
The last Plenary session of 2015 will be a busy one, with the defence of human rights at its heart. EPRS have prepared a podcast dedicated to the human rights defenders who confront violence, abuses and impunity, risking their own lives, in other parts of the world to fight for the fundamental freedoms which form the basis of European society.
|A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:|
|Agreement on Community trademark reform (available in DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|EU rules on control of arms exports (available in EN)|
|European Border and Coast Guard System (available in DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|The Dayton Peace Agreement – 20 years on (available in DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (available in DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Fisheries technical measures and multiannual plans (available in EN)|
|The European Accessibility Act (available in EN)|
|Improving corporate tax policies in the EU (available in EN)|
|Implementation of the European Progress Microfinance Facility (available in EN)|
|Annual report on human rights and democracy in the world in 2014 (available in EN)|