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European Parliament Plenary Session – November I 2020

Written by Clare Ferguson.

European Parliament plenary sessionThe first item on Parliament’s agenda for the November I session, now that the outcome of the US presidential elections is clear, is to take stock of the results, which are likely to have considerable impact on political and trade relations worldwide.

However, before turning to external policy, and in anticipation of a final agreement on the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF), Members will discuss next year’s spending plans in anticipation of the overall framework being formally adopted. On Wednesday afternoon, therefore, Members will debate amendments to the Commission’s proposed EU general budget for 2021, with particular focus on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. While Council has proposed considerable reductions, Parliament’s Committee on Budgets (BUDG) has tabled a report which reverses many of the cuts and proposes increased spending on programmes linked to Next Generation EU (NGEU) funding, the European Green Deal, and education and employment, among other priorities for Europe’s recovery.

However, the coronavirus crisis has also had an effect on NGEU itself, with doubts raised that the funding available under the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan is sufficient to successfully execute the European Green Deal under current conditions. The need to improve climate-related aspects of the agreement on future EU spending is an important aspect of Parliament’s criticism of the European Council’s agreement on the next MFF. Specifically, Members will debate a report on Wednesday afternoon, adopted jointly by the BUDG and Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committees that, although welcoming the plan and supporting the mix of public and private funding, questions whether the promised €1 trillion can indeed be mobilised by 2030, given the negative economic outlook. Parliament’s committees propose changes to the current plans to take account of the role of trade policy, to measure the impacts effectively, and to ensure that the ‘do no harm’ principle is respected.

The Covid‑19 pandemic has also highlighted that disease recognises no borders, and led to calls for greater coordination of health matters in the EU. On Thursday morning, Members will debate the establishment of an important programme of EU health policy actions, known as EU4Health. With funding proposed under NGEU, the new programme would strengthen EU coordination on health matters, in line with Parliament’s position to place stronger focus on preventing disease, promoting health measures and reducing health inequality throughout the EU. Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee has put forward a report that supports the proposed EU measures, particularly to fight cancer, as well as suggesting that an EU-wide steering group of public health experts is set up to oversee implementation.

A crucial part of the economic recovery will involve getting people back into work. On Wednesday evening, Members will vote on formal adoption of a decision on the way forward for the EU network of Public Employment Services (the organisations that support job-seekers) in the EU. The report by Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) highlights the benefits reaped by these organisations working together to improve support for those searching for employment. The report proposes a revised focus for the network – to work towards preventing unemployment and increasing employability, especially by encouraging the improvement of digital skills in the EU workforce.

Maintaining a level playing field in trade relations is important to securing employment levels in an economy. In a joint debate on Thursday afternoon, Members will discuss an International Trade (INTA) Committee report on the EU-China agreement on cooperation on and protection of geographical indications. These quality denominations are an important aspect of trade agreements, protecting producers against counterfeiting. The proposed agreement protects geographical indications for 100 products each from the EU and China. The INTA committee report calls for strong implementation of the measures agreed, including deeper customs cooperation.

Turning to a key EU environmental policy, Members consider several issues regarding prudent management of fishing stocks during this session. On Wednesday evening, Members will vote on formal adoption of a provisional agreement to provide financial support for the crew and communities affected by the poor health of cod stocks in the Baltic Sea, including over 300 fishing vessels in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, Denmark and Germany. As the fisheries will have to close permanently, and there is no capacity for vessels to convert to target other under-pressure species, financial support under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will be necessary to cope with the major reduction in fishing opportunities. Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH) has approved the proposal to close the eastern and western Baltic cod fisheries as well as western Baltic herring fisheries.

The first ever EU bilateral fisheries agreement, signed with Senegal in 1979, has allowed EU vessels to fish in Senegalese waters while also helping to support the development of a sustainable fisheries policy in the region. Following a joint debate on Thursday morning, Members will vote on consent to a new protocol to implement the agreement. Parliament’s PECH committee has recommended that consent be granted, and indicates some priorities for modernising fishing control, to help Senegal fight illegal fishing. In the case of the Seychelles, the EU’s most financially significant tuna agreement, Parliament will also consider on Thursday morning, whether to consent to a new agreement providing access to fishing grounds in the western Indian Ocean, and cementing cooperation on sustainable fishing in the region. Parliament’s PECH committee calls for better implementation of sustainability measures, particularly in view of the overfishing of yellowfin tuna in the region. More generally, the PECH committee criticises the provisional application of international agreements prior to Parliament giving its consent.

Parliament stands by its long-term commitment to a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, including a negotiated and viable two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The EU has recently welcomed the normalising of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, known as the ‘Abraham Accords’. Brokered by the United States, the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions have nevertheless denounced the agreements. On Wednesday afternoon, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will make a statement before Parliament on the geopolitical implications of the Abraham Accords in the region.

Finally, following Mairead McGuinness’s nomination as Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union, Members will take part in the election of her replacement as first Vice-President of the European Parliament on Thursday morning. The Vice-Presidents replace the President in the chamber and are responsible, as members of the Bureau, for financial, organisational and administrative decisions on Parliament’s functioning, as well as interinstitutional relations.

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