Written by Clare Ferguson,
The first item on Parliament’s agenda in April is – unsurprisingly given the paralysis in the United Kingdom regarding which direction to take on Brexit – Council and Commission statements on the United Kingdom withdrawal from the EU. The agreement, endorsed at EU leaders’ level back in November, would ensure an orderly UK withdrawal from the EU at the end of the Article 50 extension period. Alongside that agreement, the political declaration sets out the main parameters of the future EU-UK relationship, but this is no closer to finding approval in the UK Parliament. The statements on Brexit are followed on Wednesday afternoon with the penultimate debate in the series on the Future of Europe, this time with the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven.
On Wednesday evening, Parliament will debate a text agreed in trilogue on applying internal market rules to gas pipelines entering the EU from countries outside the EU. With ongoing controversy over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the tightened rules will ensure that, while the EU Member State on which such a pipeline arrives is responsible for the application of EU law, the Commission will have to authorise negotiations on such projects, must be kept informed of their progress and must authorise the signature of any such agreement.
Parliament will then decide whether to grant approval to a Multiannual plan for the fisheries exploiting demersal stocks in the western Mediterranean Sea, which aims to protect vulnerable stocks of fish and crustaceans living on the sea bottom from over-exploitation. The plan involves Italy, Spain and France cooperating to ensure that their fishing fleets’ activities are sustainable.
Later on Wednesday evening, Members will also vote on a proposal to curb the fraudulent use of EU citizens’ identity and residence documents, of which there are many different types in circulation. Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee wishes to strengthen the proposal so that all Member States recognise EU national identity cards, that there are clear rules on validity, and that only authorised staff may handle the biometric identifiers involved. The changes should make it harder for criminals and terrorists to use EU identity papers.
Following Council and Commission statements on EU-China trade relations, a joint debate will be held on Wednesday night on customs in the EU. The final file on the agenda on Wednesday is that of road infrastructure safety management, where proposals to improve safety have been made with the aim of reducing fatalities and serious injury on EU roads. Parliament will decide whether to formally adopt the text agreed with Council. On Thursday lunchtime, Members are expected to return to the transport-related files debated during the last plenary session, to vote on the proposals on rules for posted workers in the road transport sector and on working conditions for drivers.
On Thursday morning, Members will debate two files with a direct effect on EU citizens’ lives. The first is a provisional agreement on the proposal to create a pan-European personal pension product (PEPP) – a new framework for voluntary pension contributions aiming to tackle the shortfall in pension provision in our ageing society. The PEPPs are expected to offer greater choice in savings plans, including a switching service and a default option with a guaranteed return of at least the sums contributed. The file is also the subject of a vote on the tax treatment of pension products, scheduled for Thursday afternoon. The second proposal, on work-life balance for parents and carers is a proposal to redress the gender balance in the workplace. Introducing a right to two weeks paternity leave, while maintaining current maternity leave arrangements, the work-life balance package aims at permitting parents and carers the flexibility to care for their family by affording greater choice in who takes a break
The data economy is a top EU priority under the digital single market. On Thursday lunchtime, Members will vote on an agreement to improve access to valuable existing public sector information, such as land registries and statistics that can be used to help grow the economy, or develop artificial intelligence, and help administrations themselves to face the challenges of modern society. The four main changes proposed include making the data available in real time, making re-use of documents free of charge or at limited cost, preventing exclusive arrangements that favour commercial companies, and increasing the supply of high-value public data.