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European Parliament Plenary Session – March II 2021

Written by Clare Ferguson,

With several major debates on the agenda, Members will pack a number of legislative items into the short time available for the part-session taking place on 24 and 25 March 2021. Before that, however, they will discuss preparations for this week’s European Council meeting. Switched to videoconference only a few days before, this meeting of EU leaders will focus on issues with vaccine supplies and the vaccination strategy, and will also debate the Commission’s proposed ‘Digital Green Certificates’ which could be used to prove an individual has been vaccinated or has a recent negative test.

On Wednesday afternoon, Members are scheduled to debate the reform of EU financing, known as own resources, following which they are expected to vote on three Council regulations that complete the EU budget’s revenue system. The new revenue streams envisaged under the Own Resources Decision are required to raise sufficient resources to repay borrowing for the Next Generation EU (NGEU) funding, which aims at financing key EU objectives on climate change and the digital economy. Members will consider the proposed regulation on implementing measures that requires Parliament’s consent; and a further two proposals on which Parliament is consulted, concerning the operational provisions for collecting new own resources from plastic packaging waste and value added tax, agreed under the Own Resources Decision. Further proposals for new own resources include a carbon border adjustment mechanism; a digital levy; a revised emissions trading system (ETS); and financial tax contributions. However, the Own Resources Decision is currently undergoing ratification by the Member States, without which spending under NGEU cannot begin. A Committee on Budgets (BUDG) report furthermore deplores the delays in ratification, which is holding up vital borrowing and lending operations under the NGEU recovery instrument – urgently needed to prioritise the recovery from the coronavirus crisis. On Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will also debate the BUDG committee report, which aims to propose a set of guidelines that will assist the European Commission in drawing up the draft 2022 EU budget. Naturally, committee’s focus is firmly on prioritising the social and economic recovery, particularly in respect of the impact on young people. The BUDG committee also calls for maximum flexibility in disbursing the budget to face the challenges of climate change and digital transition, and underlines the importance of health and security spending.

There is no doubt that the economic shock of the coronavirus measures will be severe. In a further joint debate on Wednesday, on the capital markets recovery package, Members will debate the provisional agreements reached during interinstitutional negotiations on two European Commission legislative proposals. The first updates the framework for securitisation in the EU to enhance banks’ capacity to help to fund the recovery, and the second amends the securitisation framework itself. While the provisional agreements incorporate most of the changes called for by Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON), proposed performance-related triggers and amendments on non-performing exposures were not agreed upon. However, some additional details have been included, such as specifying the formulae to calculate the maximum capital requirement in case of a qualifying traditional non-performing exposures securitisation. The proposals also task the European Banking Authority with monitoring the measures and reporting to the European Commission, which will consider whether to propose further amendments.

Despite the economic ravages of the pandemic, the EU stands by its firm commitment to tackle the climate emergency and – accounting for one-third of the entire EU budget – cohesion policy is set to make a major contribution. On Wednesday evening, Members are expected to debate an own-initiative report by the Committee on Regional Development (REGI), which points to the need for coordinated and coherent climate action across all policies and governance levels. The report stresses the key role of local and regional authorities in translating the wider EU climate ambition stated in the Paris Agreement and European Green Deal into action at the local level.

Aiming to boost international cooperation on both climate change and migration issues, Members will discuss an own-initiative report from Parliament’s Development Committee (DEVE) on proposals for a new EU-Africa strategy on Wednesday evening. The DEVE report underlines the need to refocus the partnership towards attaining greater sustainability and inclusive development, with particular focus on security, agriculture and health issues, and human rights.

Finally, to both protect legitimate business interests and simultaneously reinforce protection of human rights in the world, the need for new limits on exports of dual-use items has become clear. There is considerable EU trade in these goods or technologies, which are generally used for civilian purposes, but can also be turned to alternative military use in, for example, weapons of mass destruction, or cyber surveillance. Under consideration for some years now, Members will turn their attention to this important human rights issue on Thursday afternoon, in a debate on an interinstitutional agreement on the revision of the export control regime.

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