Written by Clare Ferguson,
With the European elections fast approaching, and the Brexit situation still fluid, the Future of Europe is naturally high on Parliament’s agenda in February. On Tuesday afternoon, Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, will speak in the latest of the series of debates on the subject.
Parliament will begin the session however with a joint debate on three reports on implementation of the Treaty provisions on EU citizenship, enhanced cooperation, and political control over the Commission on Monday night. Regarding EU citizenship, Members are likely to highlight issues regarding free movement of people and increasing citizens’ participation through voting in European elections. By agreeing specific measures under ‘enhanced cooperation’, groups of countries can act together in the absence of agreement between all Member States, demonstrated by the recent agreement simplifying the rules regarding property regimes for international couples in Europe. Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee has proposed improvements to the procedures for such agreements, warns against creating parallel institutions, and looks at how disputes might be settled. Political control over the Commission, a Parliament prerogative, will be the last point of Monday’s debates. The Constitutional Affairs Committee has prepared a report that supports the use of the Spitzenkandidaten process to bring the Parliament and Commission closer. The report also underlines other political procedures, such as approval of the budget, which allow the Parliament to act effectively. However, criticism is nevertheless aimed at the lack of transparency in the Council, particularly regarding the EU budget.
A joint debate will take place on Wednesday evening with a view to the Parliament giving its consent to three agreements between the EU and Singapore, which seek to take political, trade, and investment relations to a new level. Signed in 2018, the three agreements, on free trade, investment protection, and partnership and cooperation, will significantly increase the EU’s trading presence in the region, and serve as a model for developing deeper relations with other countries in ASEAN.
Fisheries also figure largely on this month’s agenda. On Monday evening, Members return to proposals on a multiannual plan for the Western Waters, an area of the north-eastern Atlantic. The proposed plan covers fisheries exploiting stocks of fish and crustaceans living close to the sea bottom (known as demersal species), including deep-sea stocks. Parliament is keen to minimise the socio-economic impact of the measures proposed, by ensuring recreational fisheries do not have significant impact on fish stocks, and by expanding the management area for seabass. Parliament now needs to approve the provisional agreement reached with Council formally. Members will also decide whether Parliament consents to a new protocol to the EU-Côte d’Ivoire fisheries agreement, which determines the EU financial contribution in return for fishing rights in the area. The protocol should promote genuine sustainable development in local fisheries, and increase the added value to Côte d’Ivoire, in exchange for this use of its natural resources. Parliament is also expected to vote on giving consent to the EU-Morocco Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement on Wednesday (but only after a vote on whether to refer the agreement to the Court of Justice), despite concerns regarding disputed waters around the Western Sahara. This agreement will provide fishing rights for128 EU vessels, in return for an average annual EU contribution of €40.15 million.
On Wednesday evening, Members will consider whether to approve the final text of a proposal to create a framework for the screening of foreign direct investments into the EU. Such inward investments, in sensitive areas such as water, health, media, aerospace, or election infrastructure, by foreign investors who may be directly or indirectly controlled by foreign governments, is an area where scrutiny is necessary on the grounds of security or public order. Member States will retain the power to decide on FDI in their countries, but the Commission will be able to screen and if necessary publish an opinion on FDI, particularly should the investment have a negative effect on another EU Member State.
Electronic road toll systems are on the agenda once more on Wednesday evening. Parliament may formally adopt the text agreed between the Commission and Council during this session. The revised text now ensures vehicles require lower amounts of on-board equipment, and has improved information exchange on vehicle data, allowing for the pursuit of vehicle owners registered in another EU Member State for unpaid tolls, which makes it easier, and fairer, for providers of road tolls and drivers alike.
The principle of mutual recognition of goods crossing EU borders allows for frictionless trade in goods lawfully marketed in one Member State in any other EU country. On Wednesday night, Parliament will debate an agreement between Parliament and Council on a revision of the current rules to address some shortcomings in its application. The new rules would mean that Member States would have to justify any market access restrictions imposed, speed up the assessment of goods, and improve procedures to solve any problems. This could mean introducing SOLVIT-based procedures to resolve disputes between companies and authorities more quickly, as well as improved training, cooperation and legal procedures. Parliament is also likely to be supportive of an agreement on a Commission proposal to review cross-border payments and currency conversion charges, up for debate on Wednesday night. The proposals would reduce charges for cross-border euro payments and improve transparency regarding conversion fees. This would allow greater certainty for people making payments by card or withdrawing cash in non-euro area countries about how much they are likely to be charged.
Finally, the Commission’s 2018 country report on Bosnia and Herzegovina is also on the agenda for the February plenary session. The country has made little progress in its EU accession ambitions, with inter-ethnic tensions still making headlines in the country. Political, judicial and public administration reforms are still lacking, and little has been achieved in the fight against corruption. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee is concerned by this lack of progress.
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