Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,
The highlight of September’s plenary session was the State of the Union speech by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announcing a number of legislative proposals to come by the end of the Commission’s mandate. The debate on the Future of Europe continued, this time with the Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, addressed Parliament as well as the Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev. Parliament approved, inter alia, proposals on the European Solidarity Corps, Single Digital Gateway, and countering money laundering. Parliament also voted an amended report on copyright in the digital single market which is now ready to be negotiated with the Council.
State of the EU-US relations
An own-initiative report on the state of EU-US relations was adopted. Despite recent divergences between administrations, Parliament and the US Congress remain committed to working together on issues linked to trade in the framework of WTO rules. The Parliament calls for the EU’s full and definitive exemption from US customs duties on steel and aluminium. Members support a new balanced and mutually beneficial transatlantic trade agreement. They also suggest strengthening the EU-US relationship on cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, the fight against tax fraud, energy, climate change, digital and migration.
European Solidarity Corps
Parliament adopted an agreement negotiated with the Council on the European Solidarity Corps. Parliament has been keen to ensure that this new opportunity for young people to volunteer in education, health, environmental protection, disaster prevention, and the reception and integration of migrants and asylum-seekers, is funded by fresh money, rather than reallocations. Parliament’s negotiators were largely successful in ensuring that the Corps will provide meaningful, non-profit opportunities that help the vulnerable while also improving young people’s job prospects. The budget will provide €375.6 million over the period from 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2020. It provides that financial support for solidarity activities should be at an indicative level of 90 % for volunteering projects and 10 % for training courses or jobs, or both, with a maximum of 20 % being allocated to activities limited to national level.
Structural Reform Support Programme
Members adopted the trilogue agreement on the proposal to amend the Structural Reform Support Programme. The Commission had proposed to expand the scope and financing of the programme to cover future euro-area membership preparations. Parliament wanted such requests to be prioritised, and stressed that other cohesion policy priorities should not be impacted.
Copyright in the digital single market
The modern digital environment has changed the way copyright-protected works and content are created, produced, distributed and used in the EU and beyond, rendering current legislation inadequate to deal with the issues thrown up by widespread use of the internet. Members voted (438 votes for, 226 against and 39 abstentions) on the amended Commission proposal, supporting provisions to tackle exceptions to copyright protection in the digital single market for research and education (text and data mining), press publishers’ rights, and the ‘value gap’ created by online sharing. The debate followed the rejection in plenary in July of the Legal Affairs Committee’s agreed mandate to negotiate with the Council on the proposal. The main differences between the European Parliament and the Council are on Article 13, on the exclusion of small and micro-enterprises for the Parliament, and the softening measures backed by the Council. Trilogue negotiations can now start.
Controls on cash entering or leaving the Union
The European Parliament approved, by a large majority, the trilogue agreement reached in May of this year on the proposed regulation aiming to reinforce controls on movements of cash into and out of the EU. This is intended to close the gaps in existing laws that could be exploited for the purposes of money laundering or financing terrorism, specifically by tightening up definitions of ‘cash’.
Countering money laundering through criminal law
Members approved the trilogue agreement on the proposal for a directive concerning the fight against money laundering through criminal law. It provides for a maximum prison sentence of at least four years and a number of alternative sentences for the infringements listed in the directive, such as a temporary or permanent exclusion from access to public funding. Member States will have up to 24 months to transpose the new provisions into their national laws.
Protection of personal data processed by the Union institutions and bodies
Parliament debated and voted a compromise text on the protection of personal data processed by the Union institutions and bodies. Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs Committee is keen to see a harmonised regime that also covers the sort of sensitive operational data processed during judicial and police cooperation.
Single Digital Gateway
Parliament debated and voted a compromise text agreed with the Council on the Single Digital Gateway. Digitalisation should make it easier for citizens to obtain information or carry out an administrative procedure throughout the EU. The Commission accordingly made a proposal for a single digital gateway. Member States will now have to provide their most frequently used procedures online, in at least two languages. Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection succeeded in modifying the proposals to ensure the facility is clear, simple, and provides adequate data protection and access for the disabled.
Plastics in a circular economy
Around 2 % to 5 % of plastics produced end up in oceans, damaging coastal and marine ecosystems. While plastic is a cheap, durable and convenient material, poor treatment of plastic waste impacts on nature, the climate and human health. Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has urged the Commission to increase recycling of plastics and curtail the use of single-use plastics by 2020, and following a joint debate on the EU strategy for plastics in a circular economy, Parliament voted a resolution on the Commission’s strategy for plastics in a circular economy.
Amending budget No 4/2018: mobilisation of the EU Solidarity Fund
Parliament approved Amending Budget No 4 to the 2018 EU budget allowing aid of €34 million to be paid out to support reconstruction efforts in Greece, Poland, Lithuania and Bulgaria, following natural disasters in 2017. This support, under the EU Solidarity Fund, provides for €16.9 million for Lithuania (heavy rain and flooding), €12.2 million for Poland (violent storms) and €2.2 million for Bulgaria (flooding). Greece will receive €2.5 million following an earthquake in 2017 on Kos.
Implementation of pesticides legislation
Parliament voted a report on the implementation of the Plant Protection Products Regulation that expresses concerns regarding misuse of emergency authorisations allowing individual countries to apply derogations.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Ten decisions of parliamentary committees (JURI, IMCO, ITRE, TRAN, EMPL, ECON and LIBE) to enter into interinstitutional (trilogue) negotiations were confirmed. Only one vote was held, on the LIBE report on listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement, and the decision to enter into interinstitutional negotiations was approved in that case.
Read this ‘At a glance’ note on ‘Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, September 2018‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.