Written by Clare Ferguson,
The agenda this session is dominated by the election of the new President of the European Parliament, with time allowed on Tuesday for multiple rounds of voting. Candidates wishing to stand have to have their name put forward before Monday evening, when the January Parliamentary session opens with an announcement of the final field. Eight Members’ names are in the frame for now, although last-minute changes may come on Monday. The winner will be Parliament’s 30th President – a position which has gained in both power and influence under outgoing President Martin Schulz’s tenure. Elections will also be held this plenary session for the Parliament’s 14 Vice-Presidents, as well as the five Quaestors who are responsible for administrative matters concerning MEPs. In addition to the usual concern for political equilibrium, these office-holders, who together make up Parliament’s Bureau, will be elected in full consideration of geographical representation and gender balance.
Once the new President opens the sitting, the key debate this session is a presentation of the Maltese Council Presidency programme on Wednesday morning. Parliament will also hear statements from the European Council and European Commission on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 15 December 2016. It is clear that the ‘shocks and shifts’ of 2016 foreshadow serious challenges ahead – economic, migratory, social, and security – for the European Union and its citizens in 2017. The United Kingdom’s decision to ‘Brexit’, and the direction of the new Trump administration in the USA, are added complications to an agenda which already includes dealing with the continued effects of the economic crisis, the ongoing migration crisis, and emerging security issues such as terrorism and international tensions. During 2017, the EU has set itself additional targets to tackle rising inequality, achieve the EU’s ambitious environmental targets, and modernise some fundamental EU policies – the EU budget and the common agricultural policy. The new President and their team can expect interesting times ahead.
A short presentation is expected on Wednesday evening of a report on logistics in the EU and multimodal transport in the TEN-T corridors. Multimodal transport – that is, carrier transport that uses at least two different types of transport – relies on strong networks of transport options and could reduce emissions. Funded by the Connecting Europe Facility, trans-European transport network corridors should reduce barriers to integrated logistics solutions in Europe. With ambitious climate change targets to fulfil under the Paris Agreement, and continued pressure on energy security, combined transport modes are one solution to limiting the overall environmental impact of the huge EU market in goods distribution. As part of continuing efforts to shift up to 50 % of long-distance road freight to rail and inland waterways by 2050, Parliament’s own-initiative report calls on the Commission to do more to further investment and action on improving integrated logistics in Europe.
On Thursday morning, as is customary, Members will consider human rights issues. Before turning to the plight of refugees and migrants in European camps, Parliament will consider a report on the planned European Pillar of Social Rights, aimed at tackling growing economic and social inequality between European citizens. The European Parliament has long supported measures in favour of a more ‘social’ Europe, and the debate is likely to focus on stronger protection of vulnerable citizens, updating current legislation to reflect today’s society, and promoting respect for common social rights and minimum employment standards. The Commission is expected to make a final proposal in March 2017.
Finally, it is no secret that even some signatories to the main human rights treaties have less than spotless records on respecting basic human rights in areas such as children’s rights and labour laws. Taking a diplomatic approach is one way to encourage these countries to comply, but there are others – and trade incentives are among the most successful. In line with the EU’s rights-based focus in foreign relations, the EU has developed a generalised system of preferences (GSP) scheme, which grants preferential trade access to the EU market to developing countries who comply with human rights conventions. Should these countries violate human rights norms or counter basic labour rights, these preferences can be rescinded. The EU however prefers the ‘carrot’ – dialogue and negotiation with its partners – to the ‘stick’ of withdrawing preferences. The EU likewise legislates to ban imports of goods produced using child labour, as well as those which violate human rights, such as conflict minerals or torture and execution items.
|A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:|
|European Pillar of Social Rights (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Electing the European Parliament’s President (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)|
|Logistics in the EU and multimodal transport in the TEN-T corridors (available in EN)|