Written by Clare Ferguson,
The second plenary session in May will open on Wednesday afternoon with an address by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, currently holders of the presidency of the Council of the European Union. One of the EU’s highest priorities is the completion of the Single Market, and the main focus of this second plenary session in May. The incorporation of 28 national digital markets into a single entity has thus received much attention under the Netherlands presidency. The European Commission will present its new Digital Single Market strategy, aiming at removing the final barriers immediately following the formal sitting. The strategy prioritises consumer access to digital goods and services, creating the conditions for digital networks to thrive, and maximising growth potential.
Turning to the Single Market in energy provision, Members will vote on an own-initiative resolution concerning the Commission’s proposals for a ‘New Deal for Energy Consumers‘, as part of a wider debate on putting citizens at the heart of the Energy Union and tackling energy poverty. The Commission proposes to harness the power of consumers themselves to shape the European Union energy market – a market which the Commission feels is dragging its heels over transformation to renewable energies and new technologies. Indeed, the retail energy market is well-furnished with obstacles which hinder consumer control of consumption. The proposed strategy aims to empower consumers to act, make smart homes and networks a reality, and intends to pay particular attention to data management and protection. Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee welcomes the new deal, and are ready to support moves to create an energy market which benefits citizens through greater efficiency and more environmentally-friendly renewable energy. Will other Members of Parliament agree that the ‘new deal’ can deliver on empowering consumers to act against energy providers, to avoid unfair commercial practices?
Following the debate, the Commission will make a statement on energy poverty, (which can be defined as an inability to heat one’s home or pay energy bills). High energy prices and poorly insulated housing, coupled with low income levels, mean that 50-125 million people are at risk of energy poverty in Europe. Member States are responsible for identifying and protecting those at risk; however the EU may be able to design its policies to ensure that the cost of transforming the current energy market to one with greater reliance on renewables is spread fairly across society.
Still on the subject of the Single Market, later on Wednesday evening Members are due to discuss a report by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee which highlighting that some non-tariff barriers persist, despite the fact that they were supposed to be removed after adoption of the Single European Act. The main reasons for the barriers to remain include a lack of implementation, inconsistent enforcement of rules, unclear definitions, as well as ‘gold-plating’ by Member States. These measures render supply chains more expensive and affect businesses and consumers alike, resulting in reduced choice, higher costs and inferior quality.
Members return to the Single Market on Thursday morning to discuss the EU strategy to update the Single Market. The strategy has the potential to boost economic growth by increasing competitiveness and sustainable growth, however some innovation and modernisation are required. Measures under consideration to end costly market fragmentation include: better tax coordination within the EU; simplified VAT rules for e-commerce; and an initiative on business insolvency. Although the Parliament has reservations concerning the sharing economy, particularly the danger of employment and tax abuse, Members are expected to call for greater flexibility in regulatory intervention. Regarding skills mismatches, a large number of Europeans are insufficiently digitally skilled and the demand for digitally skilled employees is growing. Members are likely to call for effective application of existing legislation to bring about a deeper and fairer Single Market which benefits all Europeans.
The Single Market is not the only subject for discussion, however, and Members will hear about the Council and Commission preparations for the 42nd G7 Summit scheduled for Japan on 26-27 May on Wednesday afternoon. The agenda, proposed by Japan, includes points on the global economy and the effects of falling oil prices, measures to deal with climate change, sustainable development, infrastructure investment and healthcare services. The Summit will also cover counter-terrorism (which may include discussion of the current thorny sovereignty issues in the South China Sea). The EU has been a full participant in G7 discussions since 1981.
The saga regarding the exchange of personal data between Europe and the United States continues, with the Council and European Commission expected to make statements before Parliament on transatlantic data flows on Wednesday afternoon. Since the successful Schrems challenge to the ‘Safe Harbour’ decision to share personal data, the legal position is uncertain, however the USA and EU continue to negotiate ways to exchange information whilst protecting European citizens’ rights to privacy. A new framework, the ‘Privacy Shield’ is under discussion, although the Parliament continues to voice considerable concerns.
The session opens on Thursday morning with the Commission and Council providing an update on EU measures to address the crisis in the dairy sector, where the continuing poor outlook for milk prices leaves little hope for short-term recovery in the sector. The latest exceptional measures include buying in milk products to public stocks, providing private storage facilities to clear surplus from the market, and voluntary supply management to stem production volume during the crisis. Whilst, a temporary increase in state aid is proposed to reduce or freeze milk production, the Commission is looking in particular at schemes to boost exports of agricultural produce in general.
Finally, MEPs will work through lunch on Thursday to debate a report from the Committee on Foreign Affairs on priorities for the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. The report calls for a new impetus to revitalise the General Assembly, and for more transparency in the selection process for a new United Nations Secretary-General. In the light of the current migration challenges and global threats to peace and security, the report calls, among other things, for reform of the UN Security Council, as well as for the EU to have its own seat at the UNSC.
|A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:|
|Delivering a new deal for energy consumers (available in EN)|
|EU priorities for the 71st UN General Assembly (available in EN)|
|Non-tariff barriers in the Single Market (available in EN)|
|The Single Market Strategy (available in EN)|
|Measures to address the crisis in the dairy sector (available in EN)|
|The 42nd G7 Summit (available in EN)|
|Transatlantic data flows (available in EN)|