Written by Clare Ferguson,
Parliament meets again in plenary from Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 May 2020, using the temporary alternative electronic voting procedure introduced since the coronavirus outbreak, with the agenda including up to three voting sessions. Owing to the many votes required – and depending on the number of amendments tabled – the announcement of the results of the final Friday votes may exceptionally take place only on the morning of Saturday 16 May. In contrast to recent sessions, where the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the agenda, Members now turn to ‘normal’ business and in particular, the thorny issue of the EU budget, in what promises to be difficult times ahead.
On Wednesday, following statements from the Council and the European Commission, Members will address the prospects for future financing for the EU and its coronavirus recovery plan. Parliament’s first legislative initiative report of this term requests that the European Commission make a legislative proposal seeks to set up a contingency plan for the EU multiannual financial framework (MFF), where lengthy negotiations in the European Council and Council have delayed agreement. The coronavirus outbreak of course exacerbates both this delay and its consequences. The Treaties provide for extension of the annual level of resources available in the final year of the current MFF, until agreement is reached. However, there is a risk to the smooth functioning of the EU budget, since many of the EU’s current programmes will expire at the end of 2020, unless a new budget, or contingency plan, are agreed soon. The report before Parliament calling on the Commission to make an urgent legislative proposal for such a contingency plan requires an absolute majority of Parliament’s 704 Members to vote in favour, under Article 225 TFEU.
The bulk of Members’ time this session will however be taken up in ensuring that EU funds were used correctly in 2018 by the European Commission and executive agencies, as well as the other EU institutions, the decentralised agencies and joint undertakings. This annual exercise involves consideration of 56 reports from Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT), which scrutinise each EU entity’s use of EU funding and recommend whether or not to grant approval (discharge). The Committee proposes that Parliament grant discharge for the European Commission, and six agencies, as well as (in a separate report) for the Commission’s disbursement of European Development Funds. However, while noting that the Commission intends to recover €1 billion from Hungarian programmes in which it discovered irregularities, the Committee highlights respect for the rule of law as a precondition of sound financial management, underlining that measures should be taken to ensure that active farmers benefit from agricultural funding. Regarding the rule of law, statements are also expected on Wednesday from the Council and the European Commission, on coronavirus related emergency legislation in Hungary and its impact on fundamental rights.
For EU institutions other than the Commission, the CONT committee recommends granting discharge except, once again (as has been the case since 2009), the European Council and the Council. The committee proposes to postpone a decision in the light of continued lack of cooperation between the institutions. The committee also proposes to postpone a decision in respect of the Economic and Social Committee, until the Committee provides evidence that it has taken measures regarding cases of alleged harassment. For 32 EU decentralised agencies and 8 joint undertakings, the CONT committee recommends discharge in all cases, but nevertheless underlines the continued importance of the principles of good financial management.
Returning to the coronavirus pandemic, Council and the European Commission will intervene in plenary on Wednesday evening to provide statements on the conclusions of the European Council’s video-conference meeting of 23 April 2020, where European leaders discussed coordinated and common measures to address the outbreak and lifting lockdown measures. On Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will consider a proposal put forward by the European Commission, and tabled without a report by Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, that seeks to provide enlargement and neighbourhood partners with macro-financial assistance (MFA) to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. If agreed, the MFA package would provide €3 billion to help enlargement candidate countries such as Albania and North Macedonia, and those in the southern neighbourhood such as Jordan and Tunisia, which face a recession resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Statements are also expected on Thursday from the Council and the Commission on the use of contact tracing apps in the fight against the virus. Members will debate vaccines and therapeutics in the context of Covid‑19 on Thursday afternoon.
Members will vote on Wednesday afternoon on a report recommending that Parliament agree to an extension of the Protocol on the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and Mauritania, currently under renegotiation. This would rollover an existing extension to the 2015 agreement whereby the EU gain access rights to Mauritania’s mixed fisheries in return for payment and for support for the country’s fisheries sector.
On Thursday morning, representatives of the Council and the European Commission are expected to return to the chamber to make statements on the recent 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, generally recognised as the founding document of today’s European Union.