Written by Clare Ferguson with Peter Charles,
Last week’s International Women’s Day highlighted the ever-present danger of reversals to hard-won rights and values in today’s society. Much of recent political debate has focused on issues previously considered settled, particularly, progress, or rather the lack of it, on gender equality. Three reports on the European Parliament agenda for Monday evening deal with equality between women and men in the EU. The first calls for real action on implementing gender equality legislation in all EU policies and all Member States. Although legislation is in place, the pace and direction of change remains somewhat unsatisfactory. Equal access to goods and services, particularly in the insurance, banking, and transport sectors, is a case in point. Indirect discrimination in access to medicine and healthcare still leads to exclusion, with serious consequences for women. The possibilities for the EU to increase funding for all policies supporting gender equality, is the subject of the final report for discussion during Monday’s joint debate.
Protecting fundamental rights against misuse of personal data is a considerable downside to the opportunities big data promises for smart connected devices and easy access to information. In the near future, choices between using data for crime detection, and respecting privacy will become more problematic, when many aspects of our daily lives, such as access to healthcare, transport, and our various electronic devices, depend on the internet. Parliament is due to vote on Monday evening on a report emphasising the need to secure appropriate guidelines for data protection.
Listen to podcast ‘Fundamental rights implications of big data‘
Parliament’s key debate this session, on Wednesday morning, focuses on the conclusions of the 9-10 March European Council meeting, at which Donald Tusk was re-elected President for the two and half years up to November 2019, just after the next European elections. The debate will also consider the Rome Declaration, intended to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Rome Treaties, on 25 March. The mid-term has also brought several changes to the composition of the European Parliament, with a new President and members of Parliament’s governing bodies.
In the afternoon, a topical debate will mark the first anniversary of the attacks in Brussels and consider progress on the EU security agenda since then. The previous attack in Paris in 2015 prompted the Commission to bring forward a proposal on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. Whilst crime prevention is a Member State competence, the Parliament’s report underlines the importance of safely deactivating firearms and restricting civilian access to certain categories of weapon. On Tuesday morning, Members will vote on the agreed proposal for tighter restrictions on firearms possession. One source of funding for armed groups is the trade in conflict minerals, extracted under conditions that violate human rights. The EU proposes to establish legally binding supply chain due diligence obligations for importers of such raw conflict minerals, and Parliament will vote on an agreement seeking to ensure responsible sourcing for European industries on Wednesday afternoon.
Listen to podcast ‘Conflict minerals‘
Another delicate balance to strike is that of the EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP) – between conserving fish stocks, supporting the fishing industry whose livelihood depends on them, and ensuring citizens have access to this nutritious food source. Collecting appropriate scientific evidence on the status of fish stocks from the Member States, under the data collection framework, is vital to the CFP’s success. The European Commission is proposing to bring the framework for scientific advice into line with the CFP’s recent reform. Members will vote on an agreed text on Monday afternoon, which introduces a more regional approach, including measures to assess the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on marine ecosystems, and the effects of the ‘landing obligation’. The CFP also covers fisheries agreements with third countries – indeed a varied modern diet includes many foods originating outside our immediate region. Citizens therefore need to be sure that controls of their food are equally effective along the food chain, both within and outside the EU. Parliament will vote on Tuesday afternoon on new rules to enhance the transparency of official inspections and increase the accountability of food safety authorities.
The circular economy initiative attempts to harmonise the treatment of waste throughout the EU, with a focus on reuse and recycling. Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has prepared four reports on aspects of the Commission’s package of proposals, calling for more ambition on the treatment of waste, end-of-life vehicles, electrical and electronic equipment, on landfill, and on packaging waste. A priority of the Maltese Presidency, Members will vote on the committee’s reports on Tuesday morning. Mercury, waste, one of the UN Environment Programme/WHO ‘ten chemicals of major public health concern’, remains a serious health and environmental threat. The EU regulates mercury use since 2005; however, the European Commission now proposes to align EU legislation with the Minamata Convention, a global treaty aimed at phasing out use of mercury in any manufactured products, in dental care, extending the ban on import/export, and ensuring the safe disposal of mercury waste. Parliament will discuss the proposals on Monday afternoon.
See also our animated infographic on Circular Economy
Finally, turning to foreign affairs on Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will consider the Commission’s 2016 report on Montenegro’s candidacy for EU accession. Of all the current candidates, Montenegro is perhaps the most advanced in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration, as it is about to become a NATO member. Nevertheless, the country still needs to implement reforms in key areas, particularly freedom of expression, corruption, and state expenditure. Members will discuss a report by Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs welcoming Montenegro’s economic development and encouraging further structural reform.
|A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:|
|Circular economy: Four proposals on waste : DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL|
|Revision of the Firearms Directive : DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL|
|Conflict minerals : DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL|
|Mercury: aligning EU legislation with Minamata : DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL|
|Fundamental rights implications of big data : DE – EN – ES – FR – IT – PL|
|Assessing progress towards gender equality : EN|
|New framework for fisheries data collection : EN|
|Montenegro: 2016 report : EN|
|Official controls along the food chain : EN|