Written by Clare Ferguson,
Parliament returns to work for this first plenary session of 2020 with considerable plans for the year ahead (although two major issues remain to be settled: the future multiannual financial framework and the withdrawal of the United Kingdom). While there will be no review of the outgoing Presidency, Council and European Commission statements presenting the programme of activities of the new (and first) Croatian Council Presidency are expected on Tuesday morning, and will give an indication of the main issues to be tackled in the first half of the year ahead. The priorities for the Presidency’s six-month tenure include developing European economic and social cohesion and convergence; making stronger connections between European citizens, focusing on the infrastructure that allows smooth mobility of people and goods; boosting internal security to protect citizens and tackling migration issues; and strengthening multilateralism and Europe’s influence in the world.
Included in the first of these priorities is the von der Leyen Commission’s new European Green Deal. Following the extraordinary debate held on 11 December 2019 (in a new format of ‘scrutiny session’ that Parliament may repeat in future), Members will vote on a motion for resolution on Wednesday lunchtime. The Green Deal encompasses a number of initiatives, such as legislative proposals on a European climate law, extension of the EU emissions trading system, a carbon border tax and a review of energy taxation. Among the new strategies planned on issues such as industry, sustainable foods, biodiversity and new funding plans, is an ambition to ‘lead the world’ at the 2020 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Accordingly, Members will hear a Commission statement on the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity on Wednesday afternoon. The EU post-2020 biodiversity framework to 2030 needs to be in place in time for the 15th meeting of the parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, China in October 2020. Parliament, however, is already asking questions about the – as yet unachieved – 2020 biodiversity targets, and how the Commission proposes to strengthen implementation of measures to protect biodiversity, notably by moving away from voluntary commitments and towards legally binding measures to conserve and protect nature.
The Commission has also planned for a major new initiative to build stronger connections between European citizens and the EU. Parliament has already been preparing for the planned Conference on the Future of Europe, and will set out its position following a debate on Wednesday morning. Parliament has high expectations for the conference and is eager to contribute to its conception, which requires careful design to afford maximum opportunities for citizens to contribute to the future direction of the European Union, while avoiding the pitfalls inherent in any selection. Already in late 2019, Parliament set up a working group to reflect on the structure of the proposed Conference, seeking to ensure that the aims and scope of the conference remain realistic and result in meaningful outcomes.
Returning to the final priority on the Presidency’s list, to strengthen Europe’s influence in the world, Members will debate the 2018 Annual report on the human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter on Tuesday afternoon. This comprehensive exercise takes stock of all EU actions in the area of human rights and democracy. Its publication provides Parliament with an opportunity to review EU action and make recommendations for the future, in an annual resolution adopted in response to the report. The 2018 EU report underlines the importance of the EU taking a leading global role in defence of democracy and human rights, particularly in the face of rising authoritarianism and shrinking space for democracy worldwide – a view Parliament is expected to share.