Written by Aidan Christie,
Once the last of the first round of hearings of the European Commission candidates put forward by Ursula von der Leyen concludes on Tuesday 8 October, the attention of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will turn to the first plenary session of the new term to be held in Brussels. The focus will still be on the hearings process, however, with decisions to be taken by the political group leaders on possible additional hearings of certain candidates, as well as hearings of the replacement nominees from Hungary and Romania.
Among the highlights of the session will be debates following statements from the Council and Commission on the forthcoming European Council meeting, and on the next multiannual financial framework (MMF) and the own resources system. As regards the first of these, the 17-18 October European Council meeting is the last one scheduled under the current leadership, with Charles Michel taking over from Donald Tusk as President on 1 December, and Jean-Claude Juncker due to hand over to Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission on 1 November. Von der Leyen has been invited to attend the European Council meeting and the leaders are expected to discuss the programming for the coming five years, on the basis of the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda agreed in June.
The other main subject to be discussed by the Heads of State or Government will be the EU’s post-2020 budget, with the Finnish Presidency of the Council outlining the progress made on narrowing the gaps between Member States’ positions on the MFF; the subject is nevertheless expected to return to the European Council’s agenda in December. The new Parliament will therefore be taking its first opportunity to outline its position on both the MFF and the own resources system in advance of the leaders’ discussion. A motion for a resolution tabled by four political groups (EPP, S&D, Renew and Greens/EFA) largely seeks to reiterate the positions adopted by Parliament during the last term.
On Wednesday evening, the High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, is due to make a statement on the situation in Ukraine. With the election in Ukraine of a new president, and then parliament, earlier this year, efforts have been stepped up to relaunch talks under the Normandy format. President Volodomyr Zelenskiy’s room for manoeuvre remains limited, however, and there is little sign of the commitments made under the Minsk Agreements being followed through; the conflict thus continues in the Donbass region.
On Thursday morning, there will be a debate on a report from the EMPL committee on the employment and social policies of the euro area, a contribution to the annual European Semester process. Parliament’s position is supposed to feed into the Council’s recommendations on euro-area policies, due to be adopted in November. The committee’s report emphasises the need to strengthen social rights, so that they stretch to all, as well as to develop labour market and education policies to ensure adequate social protection and address skills mismatches more effectively.
Parliament is due to vote on Thursday on draft amending budget No 4 (DAB 4/2019), in which the Commission is proposing to reduce commitment and payment appropriations for 2019, on the basis of updated needs and revenue forecasts. In its report, the Committee on Budgets voted to amend the Council’s position, seeking to redeploy savings to other major EU programmes that are currently lacking in funding. It is therefore calling on the Commission to present a new proposal along those lines. Parliament will also debate the issue of greening the European Investment Bank (EIB), with the Bank’s president taking part. This issue has gained in significance in the light of the Commission President-elect’s priority to develop a European green deal.