Written by Clare Ferguson,
With momentous political changes occurring on the European scene, the agenda for the second plenary session of October features a number of high-profile issues, encompassing the outcome of the October European Council meeting and the Brexit negotiations, European Union (EU) enlargement, the end of the current Commission’s term, negotiations on the future EU budget and financing the fight against climate change.
A debate on Tuesday morning follows European Council and Commission statements on the outcome of the important European Council meeting of 17 and 18 October 2019. If the United Kingdom House of Commons votes in favour of the deal announced on 17 October, it is likely that Members will then debate giving consent to the Withdrawal Agreement during this session.
Another item discussed at the European Council meeting features on the agenda on Wednesday morning, when Members will hear Council and Commission statements on the situation regarding EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Declared a priority by both outgoing and incoming Commission Presidents, Parliament supports the opening of negotiations with the western Balkan countries. However, Member States have expressed reservations regarding specific issues (regarding Albania in particular), and on the enlargement process in general. At stake is striking the right balance between the EU’s ability to honour its commitments towards third countries, whilst also protecting its own geostrategic and domestic interests.
Although the renewal of the European Commission has been postponed beyond the scheduled date of 1 November, current President of the Commission Jean‑Claude Juncker is expected to present a statement on Tuesday morning, encompassing a review of the Juncker Commission. Whilst facing some challenging situations during the 2014-2019 period, including terrorist attacks and increased refugee movements, analysis of the Juncker Commission’s 10 priorities shows that some two thirds of the Commission’s proposals during the period have resulted in changes to the law. However, progress has been slower on growth, jobs, investment and trade. The vote on the von der Leyen Commission has been postponed until late November, pending the organisation of hearings for new nominees from France, Hungary and Romania.
Members are expected to debate the Council position on all sections of the general budget of the European Union for 2020 on Tuesday afternoon. Once Parliament adopts its amendments, the budget will be the subject of conciliation negotiations between the institutions. However Parliament’s Committee on Budgets proposes to reject the reductions imposed by the Council and instead to increase expenditure on priorities such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and, in particular, meeting EU climate targets. The topical debate for this session, on Wednesday, will see Members discuss the current climate and ecological emergency in the presence of Council and Commission. While the EU is on track to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, with greater energy efficiency and increased use of renewables already achieved, more effort is needed. However, adapting to new climate measures, including providing mitigation, costs money, and may require a significant outlay of EU public resources.
Continuing on financial matters on Tuesday afternoon, the previous Parliament decided to postpone the decision on granting discharge for the 2017 accounts of the Council/European Council and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in March of this year. This now returns to the agenda, with Parliament expected to take a position in both cases. A Budgetary Control Committee report proposes that Parliament again refuse to grant discharge to the Council (which disputes the standing practice that Parliament grants discharge separately for each institution and body), as that institution has again failed to provide requested information, to separate the budget of the European Council from the Council’s budget, and to align with the interinstitutional transparency register. Corporate sponsorship of Council presidencies is also a sticking point. Regarding EASO, irregularities uncovered during the previous directorship led to refusal of that institution’s accounts for 2017. While the CONT committee notes that the new EASO management has committed to reforms, due to the previous problems in public procurement and recruitment procedures underlying payments, it proposes to refuse discharge for 2017.