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Creating a better environment for economic health – November I Plenary Session

Written by Clare Ferguson

© European Union 2016 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

© European Union 2016 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Changes in the labour market over the past few decades have highlighted a mismatch between citizens’ skills levels and labour market priorities. An OECD survey points out that 70 million adults lack basic reading, writing and digital skills. This situation was recognised in the Commission’s new skills agenda for Europe, aimed at adults without third level education, and which proposes establishing a skills guarantee for those not covered by the youth guarantee. Parliament is to put an oral question to the Commission on Tuesday afternoon, enquiring as to how the measures will be carried out at Member State level, with a vote taking place at a subsequent plenary session.

Listen to our podcast: Establishing a Skills Guarantee

One employment sector which is enjoying growing demand and new business opportunities is the EU transport sector, and particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism has prepared an own-initiative report, to be put to a vote on Wednesday afternoon, on the opportunities for small transport businesses. Parliament’s proposals include removing barriers and encouraging the take-up of opportunities provided by technological innovation in the sector, including more collaborative business models, whilst continuing to uphold EU employment standards. However, the sector also faces challenges such as congestion and digital transition, as well as decarbonisation. When legislating on transport matters, the European Parliament’s priority is to balance the demands for growth and business against the equally important need to reduce emissions. Whilst recent media focus has been on COP 22 in Marrakesh, Parliament has continued to work on negotiations to update and extend national emission ceilings for air pollutants in Europe. A compromise agreement between Parliament and the Council, has resulted in some changes to the original Commission proposal, including reducing premature deaths from air pollution, from the current level of 400 000 annually, by half by 2030. Parliament will vote on this report on Wednesday morning.

Listen to our podcast: National emission ceilings for air pollutants

With this priority in mind, Parliament is also keen to ensure that access to the EU aviation market is dependent upon mutual respect of EU social and environmental standards; that data protection and privacy are upheld; and that safety and security standards, as well as passenger rights follow the European model. The Commission’s new EU aviation strategy comes up for discussion on Wednesday afternoon, when Parliament will put an oral question to the Commission. The strategy proposes negotiation of comprehensive EU-level international aviation agreements with several third countries.

One environmentally friendly mode of passenger transport, which also helps boost economic development in EU regions is the use of ferries in coastal and inland areas. European cities as diverse as Stockholm, London and Venice all offer residents and visitors the opportunity to travel using ferries; outlying island communities depend on ferry transport; and the EU ferry and cruise ship industry carries 400 million citizens through EU ports annually, employing some 161 000 people. As maritime transport is a priority for the EU next year, Members will discuss a report from the Committee on Transport and Tourism on developing the competitiveness of EU waterborne passenger transport to improve emissions, safety and ticketing in the sector in the North Sea, Baltic and Mediterranean, late on Monday evening.

Turning to the state of the European economy, Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) since 2011, will visit Parliament’s Strasbourg seat on Monday evening, for a debate on the ECB’s 2015 annual report. Members will also discuss an own-initiative report on monetary policy and banking supervision in the euro area. The threat of deflation continues to haunt the euro area, and the ECB report highlights the difficulties of maintaining price stability in such a difficult economic and monetary situation. The ECB predicts a rise in inflation over the next two years, but in the meantime, the financial sector remains weakened by the financial and sovereign debt crises. While Parliament is well aware of the difficult economic outlook, and supportive of the ECB’s actions to defend the euro, the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee report warns against the problems caused by continuing low interest rates.

The effects of the weak economy, and the increasingly ageing EU population, place great stress on pension provision in EU Member States. This session Members will debate the revision of the Directive on institutions for occupational retirement provision, to improve the governance and transparency of occupational pension savings prevalent in certain Member States. The vote at first reading on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs’ report on the revision, known as IORP II, is expected on Wednesday afternoon. The amendments include a better balance of risks and benefits between generations; and a requirement for pension funds to take environmental, social and governance factors into account.

The recent Panama Papers affair has highlighted, and exacerbated public disapproval of, tax avoidance and evasion. While the European Parliament is only consulted on tax matters, which are decided in the Council, Parliament’s first agenda item on Tuesday morning is a debate on a Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs report. The report calls for amendments to Commission proposals to allow access to national anti-money laundering information for tax authorities across the EU. The Committee proposes including this information within existing mandatory automatic exchanges between tax authorities, widening the scope of such information, and extending the measures to cover virtual currency exchange, to ensure all taxpayers pay taxes in their country of residence. Another illicit international activity also associated with money laundering is wildlife crime, which will also be debated on Wednesday.

Also on the Parliament’s agenda this week is macro-financial assistance to Jordan, on Wednesday afternoon, while on Tuesday lunchtime, Parliament is due to adopt a new regulation adjusting the fisheries management plan covering several stocks of cod in European seas, (replacing a 2012 regulation that was annulled by the Court of Justice).

Finally, film is an excellent medium for encouraging debate on important issues, showcasing European artistic talent, and providing food for thought on our social identity and values. Parliament’s LUX Film Prize, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, will be awarded on Wednesday at lunchtime. The prize helps distribute and promote some of the best European films, which otherwise face overwhelming competition from the US film industry. The European film industry performed well last year, producing over twice the US output with 1 643 films, and record gross box office revenues reflect a growing audience, although US ‘blockbuster’ movies continue to attract a large following.

 

A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:
European Central Bank annual report 2015 (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
International aviation agreements (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Developing EU waterborne passenger transport (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
National emission ceilings for air pollutants (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Long-term management plan for cod fisheries (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Establishing a Skills Guarantee  (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Recast occupational pensions directive (IORP II)  (available in EN)
Challenges and opportunities for Europe’s small transport firms  (available in EN)
Access to anti-money laundering information by tax authorities  (available in EN)

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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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