Written by Clare Ferguson,
EU relations with Canada top the bill this session, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressing the European Parliament on Thursday, following the previous day’s debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada, known as CETA, finally signed in October 2016. Except for a few sensitive agricultural products, the agreement will remove all tariffs on Canada’s trade with the EU. But that is not the end of what has become a rather long story. The final version of the agreement addresses fears of interference in public services, labour rights, and environmental protection, and negotiations sought to iron out concerns regarding compensation for foreign investors in cases of state expropriation. Provisional application of the agreement could begin as early as 1 March 2017, on the condition that the European Parliament agrees. Parliament’s consent is also required for the Council to make the final decision on ratification on behalf of the EU, as CETA is a ‘mixed agreement’. However, not all Parliamentary committees agree.
The environment also figures on the agenda on Monday evening, with a first reading of a report on moving towards more cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 % from 1990 levels. Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee is proposing a 2.4 % annual cut to emissions allowances, including for aviation and maritime sectors. In return, greater incentives are proposed to the most energy efficient companies in the form of free allowances, as well as increased funding for a proposed Innovation Fund to support projects on renewables, carbon capture and storage, and new low-carbon solutions.
First thing Thursday morning, Members will discuss an aviation strategy for Europe. Aviation has important potential for economic growth in Europe, but air transport needs to develop sustainably, that is with due regard for social issues, passenger rights, innovative technologies, and not least the environmental consequences of increased traffic. Safety and standards are likely to be the watchwords of the debate.
Looking to the future, if words like ‘beneficence’ and ‘nonmaleficence’ are unfamiliar to you, it might be comforting to know that Parliament is already considering the legal, social, economic, and ethical implications of robotics. On Wednesday afternoon, Members will discuss a report on civil law rules on robotics, in preparation for a not-so-distant future when automated cars, drones, and healthcare and agricultural robots will play a major role in our societies. Members of the public can also have their say regarding their concerns about legal rules on robots, in a public consultation running to the end of April 2017. The same afternoon, Parliament will consider progress on the European Cloud initiative, seeking to boost the EU knowledge economy by encouraging the open sharing of scientific data, policies and standards. Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy is concerned that technical and legal barriers, and a €4.7 billion financing gap, are obscuring the way forward to gaining promising economic advantages.
Members return to the threat posed by homegrown terrorism and ‘foreign fighters’ on Wednesday afternoon, in a debate on the pending proposal for a Directive on combating terrorism, which seeks to extend criminalisation of terrorist offences. Another measure under consideration is the reinforcement of checks at external borders, seeking more systematic use of the information already available in EU, Interpol and national databases to identify suspect EU nationals when they leave or return to the Schengen area. Both Parliament and Council are anxious to carry out the checks to maximum efficiency, without disproportionately affecting traffic flows.
On Tuesday evening, Members of the European Parliament will roll up their sleeves for a joint debate assessing the EU’s 2017 economic priorities under the European semester framework. With the benefits for EU employment, the economy and the single market in mind, Members will be looking at the Commission’s economic planning priorities, to boost investment, extend structural reform, and ensure responsible fiscal policy.
Members will consider two countries’ progress in obtaining EU candidate status: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania on Tuesday afternoon. While a report from Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee reports acknowledges Bosnia and Herzegovina’s readiness to advance its reform agenda, the country needs to keep up the reform momentum to overcome ongoing ethnic and political divisions. Likewise, both the Parliament and the European Commission are ready for accession negotiations to open with Albania, which has made progress, as soon as the country’s parliamentary and judicial reforms are complete.
Following a formal address by the recently elected President of the Republic of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, a third-country agreement signed in October 2016 figures on the plenary agenda. On Tuesday lunchtime, Members will vote to consent to the conclusion of the EU fisheries agreement with the Cook Islands. The agreement gives EU fleets access to tuna fisheries in the Pacific, in return for financial contributions tied to protecting marine ecosystems.
Finally, Members are due to discuss a trio of reports on the future of the EU. In preparation for the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties and as a contribution to the Commission’s White Paper on the future of the EU, due to be adopted in March, Members are due to vote on the Parliament’s position on key possible developments of the EU framework. Two reports from the Committee on Constitutional Affairs consider how the Union’s functioning could be improved, first within the current Treaty framework, and second in the light of possible changes to the Treaties. The third of the trio is a joint Committees on Economic Affairs and on Budgets report, due to be adopted only on Tuesday morning in Strasbourg, on creating a budgetary capacity for the euro area.