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European Parliament Plenary Session, March I 2019

Written by Clare Ferguson,

European Parliament Spring

© European Parliament / P.Naj-Oleari

The agenda for the first plenary session in March features, for this month’s debate on the Future of Europe, the attendance on Tuesday morning of Peter Pellegrini, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic. The Council and European Commission will make statements on Wednesday morning on climate change, and on preparation of the European Council meeting of 21 and 22 March 2019 (which will deal with Brexit preparations – also the subject of several reports, covering issues from fisheries to transport and aviation, expected to be put to the vote on Tuesday morning and Wednesday lunchtime). A statement from the Commission on recommendations for opening negotiations between the EU and the USA is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Data collected for security purposes, and the security of that data, are also very present on the agenda. A joint debate on Monday evening on the European Criminal Records Information System, will consider legislative proposals to upgrade the current system. The changes propose to plug a gap in the system’s coverage, by introducing a search mechanism and by centralising the data for third-country nationals, to allow authorities to share records of non-EU nationals’ criminal convictions. Parliament has been keen to ensure that the revised system upholds fundamental rights, that dual nationals would not be subject to the same fingerprinting requirements as third-country nationals, and that the need to include the sensitive issue of data on dual national citizens in the system would be re-assessed under a future revision.

Another system, this time for border management, the EU Visa Information System, needs to be updated to tighten background checks on visa applicants, and to improve information exchange between EU countries where gaps lead to less security. Parliament will debate a report on Tuesday night that seeks to share the data with other EU systems when the subjects are particularly vulnerable, or are illegally present on EU territory, whilst maintaining strong protection for individuals’ rights to confidentiality. However, this increasing use of IT systems by government bodies and other essential services, such as hospitals, also highlights the equally rising risk of cyber-attacks that could severely disrupt citizens’ lives, health and environment. To increase resilience to such attacks, it is proposed to give a stronger role to the current EU Agency for Network Information Security (ENISA), and to create a cybersecurity certification framework for IT systems, repealing the previous EU Cybersecurity Act. Members will debate two reports on Monday evening on an agreement broadening ENISA’s role to consulting and advising governments, citizens and businesses on cybersecurity, and on establishing a European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Centre and a Network of National Coordination Centres.

Although the European citizens’ initiative has allowed one million EU citizens to bring issues such as ‘Right2Water’ and ‘Ban Glyphosate’ to the forefront of EU attention, Parliament has criticised the mechanism for its lack of effectiveness. On Monday evening, Members will debate the proposed revision of the European citizens’ initiative to ensure that successful initiatives have greater political impact, by strengthening support for organisers, simplifying the rules and prolonging the deadline for the European Commission to respond.

Seeking to ensure that the 70 million people in the EU who live with a disability are able to access both products (such as computers, telephones and televisions) and services (such as media, transport and banking), on Wednesday lunchtime Members will vote on a text agreed in interinstitutional negotiations in view of the adoption of the long-awaited European Accessibility Act. The proposed directive aims, among other things, to harmonise accessibility requirements for products and services, and clarify the definition of the obligation of accessibility, as laid down in EU law.

Later on Monday night, with a view to formally adopting a text agreed with the Council, Members will debate a report on unfair trading practices in the food supply chain, of the sort that frequently pit small farmers against large conglomerates, usually to the former’s disadvantage. Parliament’s Agriculture & Rural Development Committee has succeeded in ensuring that the rules extend to all types of actors, include all agricultural products, and cover an extended list of prohibited unfair trading practices.

On Wednesday night, Members will also return to the debate on safeguarding competition in air transport, where a text agreed in interinstitutional negotiations now requires formal adoption in Parliament. As the original legislation to protect the EU against possible unfair commercial practices in international aviation was ineffective (and never used), the proposed revised regulation seeks to ensure both a high level of connectivity and fair competition with air carriers based outside the EU, allowing the Commission to act if competition is distorted by third country operators.

Following the financial crisis, many citizens and businesses found it difficult to keep up their loan repayments, leading to a large number of non-performing loans on EU bank balance sheets. On Wednesday night, Members will debate a provisional agreement between Parliament, the Commission and the Council to amend the current Capital Requirements Regulation (CRR), so that banks are obliged to ensure they have minimum reserves to cover losses on such loans. The agreement differentiates between secured and unsecured loans, and confirms Parliament’s proposal to reduce possible disincentives for credit purchasers, while also protecting borrowers.

Many EU countries also experienced financial difficulties during the 2008 financial crisis, leading to the creation of the European Stability Mechanism. Proposals to transform this intergovernmental mechanism into a European Monetary Fund are the subject of a debate on Wednesday afternoon. These include changes that would mean decisions on financial support would be taken by reinforced qualified majority (85 % of the votes), instead of unanimity. Pending a decision by Council, where there is marked reluctance on the part of Member States, Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) and Budgets (BUDG) committees have jointly prepared an interim report, the proposal itself being subject to the consent procedure (under which Parliament formally intervenes only at the end to accept or reject Council’s text).

Next year, 2020, is the last in the current multiannual financial framework, and Members will debate a report on Tuesday night on Section III of the proposed guidelines for the 2020 EU budget. Parliament’s Committee on Budgets is calling for an ambitious budgetary commitment prioritising further investments in innovation and research for economic growth, in security, in improving living and working conditions for citizens, and in combating climate change.

On foreign affairs, on Tuesday afternoon Parliament debates the 2018 country report on Turkey, which deals with the country’s EU accession aspirations. Although an EU partner since 1964, the recent military coup and subsequent failure to respect its commitments on human rights have led the Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs to recommend the formal suspension of accession negotiations with Turkey. Nevertheless, the committee’s report also recommends continued dialogue with the country and support for civil society and democratic reform, as well as recognition of Turkey’s role in assisting Syrian refugees. Turning to Afghanistan on Tuesday evening, Parliament will hold a joint debate on whether to give consent to the entry into force of the EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development, which seeks to support the Afghan government in peace- and state-building, as well as development and trade. The Agreement provides for political dialogue with the EU, on human rights, as well as the rule of law, health, development and education. It also seeks to put measures in place to halt corruption and organised crime, and to promote nuclear security, in a country that has long suffered from extremism and terrorism.

A list of all material prepared for this Plenary Session:
Establishment of the European Monetary Fund (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
European Accessibility Act (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Safeguarding competition in air transport (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Unfair trading practices in the food supply chain (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Visa Information System (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Revising the European Citizens’ Initiative (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Turkey: 2018 country report (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
Setting minimum coverage for potential losses stemming from non-performing loans (NPLs) (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
ENISA and new EU Cybersecurity Act (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
European Criminal Records Information System (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)
EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement (available in DE – EN- ES – FR – IT – PL)

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