Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,
The highlights of the October II plenary session were the debate on the conclusions of the European Council meeting on 17 and 18 October 2018 and the presentation of the European Commission’s 2019 work programme, the last of the current legislature. Parliament also held debates on the use of Facebook users’ data by Cambridge Analytica and its impact on data protection, and the Cum-Ex trading scandal. The series of debates on the Future of Europe continued, this time with Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, urging European unity. Parliament voted on legislative proposals, inter alia, on drinking water; marine litter; the Schengen Information System; import of cultural goods; veterinary medicinal products; charging of heavy goods vehicles; and energy-efficient road transport vehicles. Members also adopted Parliament’s position on the EU general budget for 2019 and declined to grant discharge for the 2016 budget to the European Council and Council.
Quality of water intended for human consumption
Members debated and adopted a position on proposals to improve EU water quality standards through a revision of the Drinking Water Directive (by 300 votes to 98, but with 274 abstentions). Over 98.5 % of drinking water tested in the EU meets the standards today. However, not least in response to the first successful European Citizens’ Initiative, ‘Right2Water’, Members want to improve the quality of tap water, promote access for all European citizens to clean and safe water, and encourage consumers to drink tap water, which is much cheaper than bottled water and better for the environment. Measures approved include reducing toxic substance levels, and incentives to provide free water in public places and restaurants. Interinstitutional negotiations can begin once the Council reaches a position on the file.
Reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment
Marine litter, most of which is plastic, is a major threat to marine and coastal biodiversity with significant socio-economic impacts. Parliament adopted its position on the Commission’s proposal to reduce marine litter: single-use plastics and fishing gear by a large majority (571 votes to 53, 34 abstentions). The measures target the top 10 single-use plastics found on European beaches, as well as fishing gear.
Import of cultural goods
While no EU legislation currently exists on the import of cultural goods (except from Iraq and Syria), Parliament backed proposals to simplify EU customs rules, and to ensure that trade operators and buyers can be certain of the legality of the artefacts they purchase. Parliament is aiming to strike a balance between curbing the illegal import of cultural goods, particularly in view of their sale to finance terrorism, and avoiding a disproportionate burden for licit art market operators and customs authorities.
Charging of heavy goods vehicles for use of certain infrastructures
The EP is keen to apply the ‘user’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles in transport, particularly in the charging of heavy goods vehicles for using road infrastructure. Parliament adopted its position on the ‘Eurovignette’ report pushing for greater harmonisation of the currently ineffective road toll charges for such vehicles, by a large majority (398 for, 179 against and 32 abstentions). Parliament thus amended the mandate of the Transport and Tourism Committee which had been confirmed during the June 2018 plenary session. Interinstitutional negotiations can begin once the Council has reached its position on the proposal.
Promotion of clean and energy-efficient road transport vehicles
Parliament debated and adopted an Environment, Public Health & Food Safety committee report on proposed measures aiming to encourage the promotion of clean and energy-efficient vehicles for use by public services – which has met with limited success to date. The committee can begin interinstitutional negotiations once the Council has reached a position.
Schengen Information System
Following an informal agreement with the Council on a package of measures on the use of the Schengen Information System, Members discussed and voted on three reports on proposed regulations on the use of the database. Conscious of EU citizens’ demands to better address migration and security challenges, and to counter terrorism and serious crime in the EU, Parliament is however, also determined not to strengthen security measures at the expense of safe treatment of personal data. It is in favour of stronger centralisation of data such as fingerprints, and calls for further harmonisation of alerts on refusals of entry to the Schengen area. Members are also concerned about the ineffectiveness of the current EU policy on returning unsuccessful asylum candidates to third countries. The measures now await final approval by the Council.
Veterinary medicinal products
Three texts agreed with the Council in trilogue on authorisation and supervision of medicinal products for human and veterinary use, on veterinary medicinal products, and on medicated feed, were debated and adopted. The animal medicines package includes improved rules on authorisation of medicinal products for human and animal use, veterinary medicinal products and the manufacture, sale and use of medicated feed. The changes to the current framework seek to ensure that medicines are used when needed, without abuse leading to, for instance, raised antimicrobial resistance. Parliament insists that EU food standards are reciprocal, and that trading partners respect EU rules on antibiotics and antimicrobials that aim to protect citizens’ health. The Council will now give final approval to the three acts.
COP24 and COP14
Following a joint debate on the EU’s position in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland (COP24) and the 14th meeting of the Convention of Biological Diversity (COP14), Members adopted a resolution (by 239 votes to 145 with 23 abstentions). A key supporter of the Paris Agreement, Parliament seeks significant progress, including raising the EU emissions reduction target from 40 % to 55 % by 2030 and pursuing the more ambitious limit for a global temperature rise target of 1.5°C.
General budget of the European Union for 2019
Parliament decided to amend the Council’s position on the 2019 draft EU budget. The adopted report reverses almost all of the cuts proposed by the Council. Furthermore, it increases appropriations for a number of Parliament’s priorities linked to sustainable growth, competitiveness, security, migration and young people, and reduces the EU budget contribution to financing of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. With the Council subsequently notifying that it cannot accept all Parliament’s amendments, the three-week conciliation period for the two institutions to seek common ground will start on 30 October.
Discharge 2016: EU general budget – European Council and Council
Parliament debated and adopted resolutions, following second Budgetary Control Committee reports on the remaining EU institutions awaiting budgetary discharge for 2016. As in previous years, Parliament insists that the expenditure of all EU institutions is scrutinised in exactly the same way, and accordingly refused to grant discharge to the Council and the European Council, due to the ongoing lack of transparency in spending, particularly on buildings. It also refused discharge to the European Asylum Support Office.
EFSI Management appointments
The renewal of the appointment of Wilhelm Molterer (Austria) and Iliyana Tsanova (Bulgaria) to the posts of Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director, respectively, at the investment committee of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the financial arm of the ‘Juncker’ plan, was approved. Both candidates, in position since October 2015, saw their mandates renewed for a second period of three years.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Six parliamentary committee decisions (from TRAN, IMCO, INTA LIBE) to enter into interinstitutional (trilogue) negotiations were confirmed. Only one vote was held, on an AGRI committee report on unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships, where the committee’s decision to enter into intersintitutional negotiations was approved.
Read this ‘At a glance’ note on ‘Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, October I 2018‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.