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European Parliament Plenary Session – July 2020

Written by Clare Ferguson,

© Architectes : Vandenbossche SPRL, CRV S.A., CDG S.P.R.L., Studiegroep D. Bontinck, ©Façade et Hémicycle – Arch M. Boucquillon Belgium – European Union 2019 – Source : EP

The agenda for the July session – the last regular session before the summer, and likely the last in Brussels, with Parliament planning for a return to Strasbourg in September – opens with Council and European Commission statements. The first, with Chancellor Angela Merkel setting out the programme of activities of the German Presidency, will be followed by debate on the outcome of the European Council’s video-conference meeting last month, at which EU leaders held a first discussion on the recovery plans. With the focus remaining firmly on getting Europe back on its feet following the coronavirus outbreak, statements follow on the preparation of the next European Council meeting, where leaders will focus on the economic recovery, aiming to reach agreement on the revised proposal for the EU multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 and the proposed ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery fund.

The transport sector was key to maintaining EU food and medicine supplies during the coronavirus outbreak, and three important files on social and market legislation in the transport industry return to the agenda on Wednesday afternoon. These aim at ensuring better working conditions for freight drivers, whilst at the same time improving road safety by ensuring adherence to common safety standards and fair competition – by tackling the issue of ‘letterbox’ companies, for example. Should Members adopt the three proposals at this second-reading stage, on the basis of texts agreed in trilogue with the Council; the ‘Mobility Package’ measures will finally become law, bringing to an end a long and controversial process.

Measures to reorganise EU assistance for various specific EU sectors following the pandemic and in light of its expected economic consequences are now in preparation, with statements expected from Council and the Commission on Wednesday on the EU post-coronavirus public health strategy. The Commission is also due to respond to an oral question tabled on Friday, on the role of cohesion policy in tackling the socio-economic fallout from Covid‑19. The question intends to clarify exactly how the Commission intends to share cohesion funding between existing priorities and the coronavirus recovery, particularly in the light of the delay in agreeing the legislation on regulating cohesion spending and the revised EU budget proposals. Members have already criticised the proposal to reduce funding for the cultural sector in the next MFF, and Council and Commission statements are expected on the sector’s post-coronavirus recovery on Friday morning.

Good economic governance will be even more important in the difficult years to come, and Members will consider a number of reports on economic matters during this session. On Wednesday evening, Members will vote on the Committee on Budgets’ report on the 2019 annual report on the European Investment Bank’s financial activities. The report welcomes the EIB’s reinforced focus on the EU priorities of green investment and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, but underlines that the bank can still do more in this direction. The report also expresses concern regarding continued exceptions for gas projects, the geographical coverage of EIB lending, the use and control of intermediaries to disburse external lending, as well as transparency towards other EU institutions. The EIB’s move towards greening the EIB’s investment policy is also a focus of the annual report on control of the EIB’s financial activities in 2018. Members will also discuss the Budgetary Control (CONT) Committee’s report on Wednesday, which looks in greater detail at the activities of the EIB and the types of transactions and relationships it deals with. The need to ensure funding for climate sensitive projects, and to ensure ethics, integrity, transparency and accountability in all EIB activities are key points highlighted in the report.

On Wednesday evening, Members will also vote on a report on the 2018 report on protection of the EU’s financial interests and the fight against fraudulent use of EU funding, which records a 25 % fall in the number of irregularities compared to the previous year. However, Parliament’s CONT committee is concerned that the amounts involved in such fraud have nevertheless risen by 183 % and demonstrate new patterns in fraudulent activity, which necessitate continued vigilance and action by the EU Member States.

Human rights remain a key priority for the Parliament, and on Thursday morning, Members will hold a joint debate on statements by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, on the 2019 annual report on human rights and democracy. The report provides an overview of EU actions to promote human rights worldwide, using development instruments, trade conditionality, external policies and diplomacy. The debate is just the first stage in a process under which Parliament will prepare its own report later in the year, providing indications for future measures, in advance of the adoption of a new EU action plan on human rights. Seeking to extend the humanitarian support currently provided for refugees and host communities in response to the Syria crisis in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, Members will also debate two Budgets Committee reports on Thursday afternoon. These propose a draft amending budget (No 5) to the 2020 EU general budget, as well as mobilisation of the contingency margin in 2020. Members will also hear and debate Council and Commission statements on Thursday afternoon regarding another human rights issue, that of the socio-economic exclusion and discrimination against Roma peoples. Parliament has already drawn attention to the need for stronger measures and will be making recommendations for the new EU framework for the equality and inclusion of Europe’s largest ethnic minority.

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