Written by Clare Ferguson,
The agenda for the European Parliament Plenary Session of 29 and 30 January 2020 is a sombre one, featuring a solemn ceremony in remembrance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU).
The European Parliament has been warning against the rise of neo-fascist violence and particularly the increase in violence against Jews for some time, calling for EU countries to take action to counter revisionist narratives that aim at denying or trivialising the mass murder of 6 million European Jews. Jewish communities in the EU have consequently been shrinking recently, in reaction to the increase in acts of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education is vital to keeping the memory of victims alive and learning from past mistakes. Holocaust remembrance in the EU takes place around International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, the date on which the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp in Poland was liberated. The commemoration provides an ideal opportunity to promote public discourse on the facts of the Holocaust. It is also an occasion in many EU Member States, as in Parliament itself, to honour the victims of the less well known Roma and Sinti Holocaust.
Later on Wednesday evening, Members will approve or deny consent in a single vote (with no amendments possible), to the conclusion, by the Council on behalf of the EU, of the treaty on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The text of the treaty was agreed between EU leaders and the UK Prime Minister in October 2019. The product of a rather tortured process, the Withdrawal Agreement includes provisions covering citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, rules on the transition period, governance, protocols and annexes. A separate Political Declaration provides the basis for future EU-UK economic and security cooperation. Should Members concur with the Constitutional Affairs Committee recommendation to give their consent to the agreement, it should enter into force at the end of January, whereupon the United Kingdom will become a third country, ending 47 years of EU membership. With the departure of 73 British Members, the Parliament itself will consequently change. Twenty-seven seats will be redistributed among 14 Member States, with the remaining 46 seats held in reserve for future EU enlargements and/or the possible creation of a transnational constituency.
Looking to the future, Members will hear a statement on the Commission’s Work Programme for 2020 on Thursday morning. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced considerable changes in the focus and scope of the Commission’s work for the next few years. President von der Leyen’s ambitions include forging a stronger partnership between the Commission and Parliament by, among other things, providing greater support for Parliament’s right of legislative initiative, prioritising dialogue between the institutions during international negotiations, and submitting legislative proposals in response to Parliament resolutions adopted by a majority (in line with Article 225 TFEU).