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European Parliament Plenary Session, January 2019

Written by Clare Ferguson,

Autumn season - the European Parliament in Strasbourg - Ill river

January is traditionally the month to look forward and consider the issues to watch for the year ahead – and this is reflected in the plenary agenda. The President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, will speak in the session on Wednesday morning, for the latest instalment in the series of debates on the Future of Europe. Members will also hear Council and Commission statements on Tuesday on the presentation of the programme of activities of the Romanian Presidency, which began this month. The Council and Commission will also make statements on Wednesday morning on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, and on Tuesday morning on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 13 and 14 December 2018, which set out the short-term EU agenda. This meeting agreed a schedule for negotiations on the multiannual financial framework negotiation, as well as a debate on the single market in early 2019, and assessed the EU approach to migration, among other issues. This latter topic will also be the subject of a Council and Commission statement on the reform of the EU asylum and migration policy in light of the continued humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and Africa.

Following a topical debate on comprehensive European education, research and remembrance of the totalitarian past on Wednesday afternoon, Members’ attention will turn to the situation of fundamental rights in the EU in 2017, and a report from the Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs committee. The report draws on the core EU values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights to underline areas where these came come under attack in 2017, including during the migration crisis. Despite the adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights, this was also the year that saw the first formal EU action following up on criticisms of the rule of law in EU Member States, including over moves to reduce women’s rights, curtail freedom of expression or judicial independence, and to discriminate against minorities. Freedom of religion and belief also feature on the agenda on Monday evening, when Members will discuss a report on the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU. The European Union’s Article 17 Dialogue offers churches, religious, philosophical and non-confessional organisations an opportunity to make their voices heard at EU level. As is the tradition, debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law also feature on the agenda on Thursday morning, notably the situation in Togo, Azerbaijan and Sudan.

On Monday evening, Members will get a chance to evaluate the effectiveness of equality policy in their own institution, with a debate on a report from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) on gender mainstreaming in the EU: State of play. While gender may not at first glance be a central consideration in policy on trade, or the environment, neglecting this aspect can perpetuate inequalities between women and men. For this reason, the EU has put in place a strategic engagement for gender equality for the 2016-2019 period. However, the FEMM committee report highlights that there is still some way to go to improve the current gender balance in Parliament itself, particularly in political and administrative posts.

Moving on to environmental issues, while the EU has some of the most stringent authorisation procedures for pesticides in the world, renewed approval of glyphosate in 2015 continues to cause controversy. The subject returns to the agenda on Monday evening, with Parliament due to consider recommendations from its special committee on pesticide authorisation. The committee recommends reinforcing the EU’s capacity for independent, objective and transparent assessment; fast-track approvals for biological pesticides; and greater monitoring of their impact on the environment.

Finally, the European Commission has proposed to update the 25-year-old rules on the use of vehicles hired without drivers, given the considerable changes in today’s market for road freight transport. Freight operators could reduce their environmental impact by hiring vehicles in other EU Member States instead of making longer journeys, and newer model rental vehicles could potentially be better for the environment. However, negotiations in Council are unlikely to proceed rapidly, as some EU Member States disagree with the proposals, fearing a loss of revenue from vehicle taxes and registration. Parliament will discuss a report from the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) at first reading on Monday evening.

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