Written by Clare Ferguson,
Parliament opens its doors for the first plenary session after the summer on Monday evening, with an agenda focused on climate issues and the EU budget. A Commission statement on the situation of EU forests scheduled for Monday evening will be followed on Tuesday morning with a statement on the Union’s common position ahead of the 23 September UN Climate Action Summit in New York. While the Commission has lately proposed to boost the share of EU spending that addresses climate change mitigation from 20 % to 25 %, the 2014-2019 Parliament sought a greater share, at 30 %. The new Parliament is likely to continue to prioritise more ambitious climate action targets, seeking to protect nature, improve air quality, promote the circular economy, and better control pesticide use. On Tuesday afternoon, Council and the Commission will also make statements on the devastating Amazon forest fires, which raise increasing concern among EU policy-makers and international environmental groups in respect of the potential environmental and climate change implications of the proposed free trade agreement with Mercosur.
Council representatives will be present in the chamber on Wednesday afternoon to present the Council position on the draft general EU budget for the 2020 financial year. Council and Parliament decide on the EU’s finances by means of an annual budgetary procedure, where Members can modify the annual budget draft through amendments to the Council’s position, before working out an agreement on the annual budget through negotiations consisting of trilogue meetings and conciliation.
However, as business regarding the 2019 budget is not yet completed, Parliament will firstly vote on a series of Committee on Budgets (BUDG) reports on draft amending budgets for the 2019 financial year on Wednesday lunchtime. The first of these, draft amending budget No 1/2019, concerns the surplus €1.8 billion left over from the 2018 financial year. The BUDG committee agrees to see this surplus, largely resulting from higher competition fines revenue and underspending during 2018, used to reduce Member State contributions to the 2019 EU budget. Members are then expected to vote on the BUDG report on the European Commission’s proposed draft amending budget No 2/2019, where a €100 million increase in funding is required to reinforce the Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ programmes (key to the current EU push to increase competitiveness). According to BUDG, the proposal takes the agreement reached between Parliament and Council during the budget negotiations into account. The committee warns however that the Commission already needs to find a way to provide increased funding for the Erasmus+ programme this year. Members will also vote on the BUDG report on the proposed draft amending budget No 3/2019. This proposal seeks to mobilise the EU Solidarity Fund (available to all Member States struck by a natural disaster), to help Austria, Italy and Romania in their recovery efforts following flooding and extreme weather events resulting in landslides and damage to crops and infrastructure. The BUDG committee confirmed the decision to seek emergency funding, and underlined the urgent need for financial assistance in regions hit by natural disasters in 2018.
Under the Treaties, Parliament is consulted on the appointment of the President of the European Central Bank. Furthermore, an interinstitutional agreement between the Parliament and ECB ensures it also has a say on the candidates for Chair and Vice-Chair of the Supervisory Board, dealing with supervision of banks. On Tuesday, Parliament will debate and vote on the favourable opinions delivered by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on the Council’s July recommendation to appoint Christine Lagarde to the post of ECB President and the Bank’s proposal to appoint Yves Mersch as Vice-Chair of the Supervisory Board.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (VP/HR) is to be present in the chamber to make a statement on recent developments in the political situation in Colombia. Although the EU has provided a range of support, including bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, humanitarian and development aid, and trade relations; implementation of the peace accord in Colombia has had mixed results to date, leading to frustration among the population. A statement will follow by the VP/HR on the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following the Indian Parliament’s withdrawal of the constitutional guarantee of high levels of political autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir. The long-running dispute between India and Pakistan over this mountainous region has resulted in terrorism and violence, exacerbated by a loss of rights and freedoms for the local population, as well as religious tensions, and leading to high levels of Indian troop movements in the area. Earlier, on Monday evening, the VP/HR is to make a statement on the volatile political situation in Hong Kong. The traditional debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law will take place on Thursday morning. During this session, these will cover the situation in Turkey, the Rohingya in Myanmar and the situation of women’s rights defenders and imprisoned EU dual nationals in Iran.
The key debate on Wednesday morning will consider Council and Commission statements on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, where, despite the current chaotic UK position, the withdrawal agreement and political declaration remain the only negotiated solution to date. On a, not unrelated, issue, a statement from the Council and Commission is expected on Tuesday afternoon on the increasingly concerning phenomenon of foreign electoral interference and disinformation in national and European democratic processes, of which the Brexit referendum is seen as an example.
Finally, Council and Commission will also make statements on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe and on the state of implementation of anti-money-laundering legislation on Wednesday afternoon.