Written by Clare Ferguson,
Continuing to mark International Women’s Day 2021, the agenda for the first plenary session of March 2021 kicks off with a ceremony celebrating women’s day, not least their role in fighting on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, it is no secret that the pandemic has also had a highly gendered impact on women, with women more likely to suffer a negative impact in their professional and personal lives. Women continue to be under-represented in business and political leadership – even in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, the Parliament has already made recommendations on the need for a gendered response to Covid‑19, such as the adoption of effective gender mainstreaming tools that could mitigate the negative consequences and contribute to halting the reversal of gender equality.
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A joint debate on the European Semester scheduled for Wednesday morning will look at the economic outlook for Europe’s recovery from the pandemic, with an emphasis expected on social and employment policy. The Council and European Commission are also expected to make statements on the action plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. This will be followed by the formal signature, by the presidents of the EU institutions, of the recently endorsed Joint Declaration on the Conference of the Future of Europe, an initiative long supported by Parliament, which now begins its work to engage with citizens’ concerns. As direct representatives elected by people in EU countries, Parliamentarians are keen to contribute along with citizens themselves, to building a truly Citizen’s Union.
Even before the current pandemic, investment in the EU had yet to recover to pre-financial crisis levels. On Tuesday morning, Members will debate a joint Budgetary Committee and Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee legislative report on the proposed InvestEU programme, designed to streamline investment support and now adjusted to tackle the post-coronavirus investment landscape. Parliament has been fierce in its advocacy for adequate resources to finance the recovery, securing a €1 billion top-up for the EU guarantee and measures that could mobilise an extra €35-40 billion in investment through incorporating European Investment Bank legacy portfolios. Thanks to the Parliament’s efforts, the proposals now include the possibility for Member States to use InvestEU funding to provide capital support for otherwise viable small and medium-sized businesses that have been hard-hit by the pandemic.
Also under consideration before the current pandemic, Parliament has long supported moves to establish a coherent EU health programme – following through by negotiating an additional €3.4 billion for the EU4Health programme during the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework negotiations. Parliament will proceed with its first reading of the proposed legislation to establish the programme on Tuesday morning. While the programme will focus on combating cross-border health threats, ensuring affordable medicine and promoting stronger health systems, it is expected that Parliament will steer the programme towards support for measures with clear EU added value.
Parliament elects the European Ombudsman at the beginning of each parliamentary term, and is due to discuss an own-initiative report on the Ombudsman’s annual activity report for 2019 on Tuesday afternoon, in the presence of the Ombudsman herself, Emily O’Reilly. The annual report covers a wide range of issues where the Ombudsman has investigated complaints and initiated enquiries into possible maladministration by EU institutions or agencies. In 2019, these included senior EU staff appointments, ongoing transparency issues in the Council and Eurogroup, and the treatment of disabled people and asylum-seekers. While the institutions complied with the Ombudsman’s recommendations in the interests of good administration in most cases, the annual report makes some key recommendations for further action on: decision-making accountability in the Council; public access to documents; interviews with asylum-seekers; appointment procedures; and on citizens’ participation in EU policy-making. Parliament’s Petitions Committee (PETI) is largely in agreement with the Ombudsman’s assessment, particularly with regard to remarks concerning the Council and the transparency register.
Finally, while fisheries control is an exclusive EU competence under the common fisheries policy, EU countries are responsible for controlling their fishing activities, with the European Commission checking that they fulfill their responsibilities correctly. Advances in technology allow more effective controls to protect fish stocks, and the rules are therefore being revised. On Tuesday afternoon, Members will debate a legislative report on this revision from the Fisheries Committee that supports the new rules in general, while seeking to protect small fishing vessels, and reserving the imposition of CCTV onboard for those who commit infringements.