Written by Clare Ferguson,
Improving the economy:
The European Parliament is consistent in its support for higher social standards in Europe. In the current climate of crisis on many fronts, the call for an alternative to austerity as a cure for the fragile economy is growing louder. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has stated an ambition that Europe should be ‘Social Triple A‘, and has followed-up with initiatives to support employment and social issues. The Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the Parliament have tabled an oral question to the Commission at the Plenary on Tuesday, to debate what ‘Social Triple A’ actually means for the promotion of a more social Europe.
A key issue in boosting EU economic growth is restoring confidence in the banking sector following the 2008 financial crisis. Progress on Banking Union, the EU-level banking supervision and resolution system, is the subject of a first annual report from Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, to be debated on Thursday morning, before a visit to Plenary by Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden. The Single Supervisory Mechanism, Single Resolution Mechanism and a common deposit insurance scheme make up the three pillars of Banking Union, which seeks to reduce risk and ensure capital requirements for euro area banks.
The EU’s 1 200 seaports employ over three million people, and service the transit of 74% of EU import/exports and 37% of trade. The port services sector is thus crucial to EU transport and competitiveness. ‘Soft’ measures proposed in 2013 to liberalise market access to port services have had no significant impact, therefore the Commission has proposed new measures, which MEPs wish to see amended to maintain existing port management models established in the Member States, among other measures, and to clarify what type of public investment in port infrastructure does not constitute state aid. Members will debate the measures on Monday evening.
Listen to podcast: Market access to port services and financial transparency of ports [Plenary Podcast]
Tuesday, 8 March is International Women’s Day, and Members will spend the morning on short presentations of reports on the worrying situation of ‘women refugees and asylum seekers in the EU‘, as well as, closer to home, ‘gender mainstreaming in the work of the Parliament‘ (on Monday evening).
With regard to the welfare of the youngest and most vulnerable members of European society – children – Members will have the opportunity to confirm a compromise text on a directive protecting the rights of children in criminal proceedings on Tuesday afternoon. According to the Commission, the treatment of the approximately 1 086 000 children facing criminal charges in the EU each year varies widely between Member States. The proposal considers anyone under the age of 18 to be a child and extends not only those rights accorded to adults, such as the right to a lawyer, to privacy and to a fair hearing to children, but also underlines the role of the holder of parental responsibility.
In a measure to bring new impetus to efforts to encourage school children to eat healthily, the tussle over the legal basis (and therefore where the funding will come from) for the proposed reformed scheme to provide fresh fruit, vegetables and milk in schools would seem to be finally over. On Monday Members will debate the compromise text, which, if adopted, will allocate a total budget for the scheme of €250 million, which Members wish to see distributed more fairly between Member States. The scheme should also include further educational measures and a wider range of healthy products.
Listen to podcast: Reformed scheme for fruit and milk in schools [Plenary Podcast]
Animal to human transmission of disease can impact both citizens’ health and the economy. As transmissible diseases in animals can spread regardless of borders, EU-wide action to prevent outbreaks is necessary. Scheduled for Monday evening, adoption by the Parliament of the Council’s position at first reading will complete the current legislative procedure on animal health law. The proposals aim to improve the coherence of the current system, with a focus on prevention of diseases like foot-and-mouth or avian influenza, an emphasis on biosecurity measures on farms, and the use of vaccinations.
Improving the EU:
Following the Constitutional Affairs Committee endorsement, an interinstitutional agreement on better law-making now requires Parliament’s approval in plenary on Tuesday afternoon. The purpose of the agreement is to ensure the highest quality of legislation by promoting simplicity, clarity, consistency and transparency. The agreement encourages the use of tools such as impact assessments and stakeholder consultations when considering new legislation. Improved communication to the public, both at EU and at Member State level is also a focus.
After lunch on Tuesday, Members will consider the Commission’s plans to modernise the framework of harmonised consumer price indices. Although the current legislation providing for the measurement of inflation is essential to EU governance and the European Central Bank, the regulations have grown organically over many years. Streamlining the measures into one regulation would modernise the process. However, Members are concerned that the new measures should not impose additional burdens on the Member States.
Protecting the EU’s financial resources and the fight against fraud are the subject of a Budgetary Control Committee report for debate on Monday evening. The Committee express concern about the increase in reported fraud and irregularities in expenditure. EU institutions should improve cooperation to tackle the problem, and Member States should fully implement the existing Directive. The report also highlights better use of e-procurement and protection of whistle-blowers.
Finally, on Wednesday afternoon the Plenary will hear Council and Commission statements on the 2015 reports on the process to enlarge the EU to include the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Montenegro. Although Montenegro is a ‘scoreboard leader’ among countries negotiating for EU accession, problems remain regarding corruption, organised crime and media freedom. FYROM’s future accession is conditional upon implementation of a political agreement, brokered by Commissioner Johannes Hahn in 2015, to hold free and fair elections. Due to the political crisis, snap elections are due in June 2016; but concerns remain on the country’s human rights record.
|A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:|
|Reformed scheme for fruit and milk in schools (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Market access to port services (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|2014 report on protection of the EU’s financial interests – Fight against fraud (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Law-Making (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Procedural safeguards for children suspected or accused in criminal proceedings (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Animal health law (available in EN)|
|Gender mainstreaming in the EU: State of play (available in EN)|
|Harmonised indices of consumer prices (HICP) (available in EN)|
|What is ‘Social Triple A’? (available in EN)|
|FYR Macedonia: A ‘conditional’ recommendation (available in EN)|
|Montenegro: Progress amidst political turmoil (available in EN)|
|Banking Union – 2015 annual report (available in EN)|