Written by Clare Ferguson,
Parliament’s calendar has been a little unusual this year – with European elections and the delayed installation of the new European Commission. This month saw Members sitting in an extraordinary session on a subject of urgent importance: how the European Union (EU) will tackle the climate emergency, declared by Parliament on 29 November 2019. That session, on 11 December, saw the new Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and Vice-President Frans Timmermans present their freshly adopted plans for a new European Green Deal, proposing to invest record amounts of public funds in advanced research and innovation, complemented by a strategy for green financing and a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, all aimed at making Europe the first climate-neutral continent.
Moving on to the agenda for the main December plenary session … Parliament will award its 2019 Sakharov Prize to laureate Ilham Tohti on Wednesday lunchtime. The European Parliament is committed to defending human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the award highlights those who stand up for the right to freedom of expression, safeguard minority rights or champion international law, and democracy. Currently imprisoned by the Chinese government, Ilham Tohti is a moderate advocate of Uyghur minority rights who eschews radical separatist movements in favour of dialogue with the Han majority. Parliament’s President has urged the Chinese government to release Tohti, and called for China to respect minority population rights, particularly in the light of the ‘China-cables’ exposé of Chinese treatment of the Uyghur. The new Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the EU, former EP President Josep Borrell, will make a statement on the Uyghur situation on Wednesday afternoon. During this session, Parliament will also commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty and that of the Charter of Fundamental Rights becoming legally binding, on Wednesday morning, as well as hearing about the conclusions of the latest meeting of the European Council – an institution that has evolved considerably since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.
Millions of European farmers stand to lose out when their EU income support ends in 2020, due to the lack of an agreement on the 2021-2027 EU budget and on the important reform of the common agricultural policy. Time is therefore pressing to ensure the stability of EU farmer income support post-2020. While there is broad agreement that interim measures are necessary, the EU still needs to put transitional provisions in place to bridge the gap. Parliament’s Budgets and Agriculture Committees agree that those who benefit from EU funding should not suffer harm because of the procedural delays, and have not proposed any amendments to the Commission’s proposal. Parliament will therefore vote on Wednesday lunchtime on its first-reading position on that proposal to agree a package of technical amendments to the regulations on EU financial discipline and flexibility between pillars and voluntary coupled support.
Parliament’s Committee on Petitions (PETI) recently held hearings of the five candidates for the position. The Ombudsman’s office represents citizens and others who wish to lodge complaints regarding the actions of EU administrative bodies, thereby ensuring that EU institutions respect citizens’ rights and the principles of good administration. Members will take part in the election of the European Ombudsman on Tuesday lunchtime, when the successful candidate needs to secure a majority of votes cast in a secret ballot (with subsequent rounds of voting planned for Wednesday if there is no clear winner).
If you’ve been doing some festive shopping lately, the chances are you have purchased gifts online, possibly in another country. E-commerce is booming, and while it offers opportunities to increase cross-border sales, the EU is keen to avoid that it also allows increased tax fraud. Tackling VAT fraud related to e-commerce therefore requires robust systems for the transmission and exchange of VAT-relevant payment data (such as who is supplying the goods). The European Parliament is consulted on two European Commission proposals (on maintaining and exchanging electronic payment records), and a joint debate on Monday afternoon will consider the corresponding Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) reports.
An important element of maintaining biodiversity is ensuring that fisheries worldwide are sustainable. Parliament’s Committees on Fisheries (PECH) and Budgets (BUDG) are in favour of concluding a new EU fisheries agreement with The Gambia aimed at doing just this, including a proposed annual EU contribution of €550 000. Half of this amount covers access rights for EU fishing vessels to Gambian waters and half should assist The Gambia to develop its fisheries sector in a sustainable manner, including preventing illegal fishing. The file is scheduled for vote on Wednesday lunchtime.