Written by Clare Ferguson,
Parliament’s second plenary session of November 2020 sees Members again able to speak in debates from the Parliament’s external offices in EU countries (and as has been the case since March, they can follow the debates and vote from home). The agenda naturally reflects the ongoing coronavirus situation, but also touches on other issues central to the Union that have been much in the headlines recently – the single market and media freedom. While it now seems unlikely that differences between Member States over the EU’s next long-term budget will be resolved in the coming days, if there were to be a break-through, Parliament would be ready to move quickly to add the rule of law conditionality and the long-term budget (multiannual financial framework) files to the agenda.
Everyone should have access to accurate and verified information, and a free, independent and sufficiently funded media is vital to democracy and upholding the rule of law. On Monday evening, Members are expected to debate the deteriorating media environment in Europe and what measures could best strengthen media freedom, protect journalists, and tackle hate speech and disinformation in the EU. Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has identified six main areas where EU action could make a difference in improving the situation. These include: ensuring robust media freedom and pluralism, and the political independence of the media; protecting (particularly investigative) journalists; tackling the distortive effects of an insecure financial environment on media ethics; and charting a course through the tension between justified freedom of expression and unjustified permissibility of hate speech, as well as disinformation. The committee proposes stronger monitoring, including checks on public funding of media, as well as increased measures against misinformation, particularly on the part of digital platforms. The Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (VP/HR) will also attend the session on Tuesday afternoon to make a statement on the fight against impunity for crimes committed against journalists around the world. The Council and Commission are also expected to make statements on Hungarian interference in the media in Slovenia and North Macedonia, on Wednesday afternoon.
The plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 will demand an effort from every one of us. However, changing our production and consumption patterns requires a strong lead from the EU to make durability a focus of manufacturing processes. One way to achieve this is to help manufacturers to improve their products on one hand, and by enabling consumers to make sustainable choices and to repair and recycle more easily on the other. The first item on the agenda on Monday afternoon is a debate on an Internal Market (IMCO) Committee report on improving the sustainability of the single market for both business and consumers, suggesting that consumers could be encouraged to make better environmental choices by ensuring a ‘right to repair’, improving guarantees and promoting better product information. In a separate debate on Tuesday morning, Members will consider representative actions to protect the collective interests of consumers. Often known as ‘collective redress’, EU proposals seek to enable consumer organisations or independent public bodies to bring actions in the name of consumers to court, to end infringements of consumer legislation and to allow compensation. This legislative proposal now needs its second reading in Parliament, on the basis of the text agreed with Council in trilogue. A statement is also expected on Monday afternoon from the European Commission on the planned post‑2020 New Consumer Agenda.
In response to the coronavirus public health emergency in seven EU countries, as well as an earthquake in Croatia and flooding in Poland, Members will vote on draft amending budget 9/2020 during Monday evening’s voting session, which would mobilise a total of €823.5 million from the EU Solidarity Fund. To help people in the affected regions, Parliament’s BUDG committee stresses the urgency of releasing the funding quickly.
Partly due to the coronavirus crisis, violence against women has worsened in the EU. Parliament has consistently supported a strong stance on the issue, repeatedly calling for EU accession to the Istanbul Convention and for its ratification by those individual Member States that have not yet done so. On Wednesday morning, Members will hear a Commission statement on the Istanbul Convention, which sets legally binding standards on prevention of such violence. However, as things stand, Parliament will not be formally requested to consent to EU conclusion of the Convention until the European Court of Justice has delivered an opinion on the Convention’s compatibility with the Treaties.
Later on Monday evening, Members are expected to debate the foreign policy consequences of the Covid‑19 outbreak, following a short presentation of a Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee report. The committee urges the EU to seize the opportunity to respond to the changes in the international landscape, following both the effects of the pandemic and the results of the recent United States election, to play a stronger role in rebuilding the multilateral order. The report suggests a new forum for liberal Western cooperation, emphasises the need for strategic autonomy, and presses for an EU global sanctions regime for human rights violations, among other proposals. Looking back to our own, European, elections of last year, on Tuesday morning Members are expected to vote on a Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) Committee report proposing to strengthen the electoral process. While turnout was higher in 2019, the report regrets that the results do not reflect the true diversity and gender balance in Europe’s population. It also raises possible improvements to the European electoral system, such as remote voting for citizens in specific circumstances; transnational lists; and the establishment of a European Electoral Authority, among other things. Furthermore, the report suggests a reflection on the Spitzenkandidaten process during the forthcoming Conference on the Future of Europe, and highlights the dangers of foreign interference in the run-up to elections.
On Tuesday afternoon, Members will hear a statement by the VP/HR on the geopolitical implications of the Abraham Accords, followed by a debate (held over from the November I session). Parliament has a long commitment to peace in the Middle East, and (despite Palestinian Authority and Palestinian factions’ concerns), has welcomed the United States-brokered normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.