Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochaka.
A number of important debates were held during the May 2021 plenary session, in particular on Parliament’s rights to information regarding the ongoing assessment of the national recovery and resilience plans, on a revised industrial strategy for Europe and on recent migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. Members also held a debate on possible waiving of the WTO TRIPS agreement on Covid‑19 vaccines to help developing countries fight the pandemic; on business taxation; and on Roma equality in the EU. Two joint debates took place, on hydrogen and energy strategies, and on data protection adequacy. Members debated a statement by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, on the EU position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A number of programmes under the multiannual financial framework were approved, and debates and votes were also held, inter alia, on the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations in developing countries, on the digital single market, consumer use of artificial intelligence and on company liability for environmental damage.
EU strategies on hydrogen and energy system integration
Following a joint debate, Members voted on Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) own-initiative reports on developing EU strategies on hydrogen and on energy system integration. The transport, buildings and industry sectors still rely heavily on the use of fossil fuels, a situation that should change if the EU is to reach its climate-neutrality ambition. The ITRE committee report states that an EU hydrogen strategy should be based on clean hydrogen and requires measures to speed up hydrogen market and value chain development. The committee also underlined the need to balance energy systems and to ensure energy accessibility. Crucial energy efficiencies could be achieved through investing in upgraded EU energy infrastructure, storage and interconnections, as well as encouraging consumers to play their part too, for instance by contributing to energy production.
International transfers of personal data
Members debated and adopted two resolutions concerning international transfers of personal data. A first resolution, tabled by Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), concerned the Schrems II ruling, which forbids the transfer of personal data to a non-EU country (the United States in this case), without an equivalent level of data protection. The resolution maintains Parliament’s position that, without reform, surveillance laws in the USA prevent the European Commission adopting a new adequacy decision. The interim solution found since the United Kingdom became a third country runs out next month. In light of the Commission’s much-criticised draft adequacy decision, a second resolution calls for improvements to the draft decision before it can be adopted, in view of the UK’s level of data protection.
Draft amending Budget No 2/2021: Covid‑19 response, multiannual financial framework adjustment, and mobilisation of the EU Solidarity Fund
Parliament adopted draft amending Budget No 2/2021, along with a decision mobilising the EU Solidarity Fund to provide assistance to those hit by natural disasters in France and Greece, and to help 17 Member States and 3 accession countries face the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Among other issues, the amending budget sets aside financing for the EU Covid‑19 response, including the provisional deal on an EU digital Covid certificate to facilitate free movement in Europe during the pandemic. However, Parliament’s Committee on Budgets also regretted that the Commission had combined so many urgent issues and technical adjustments in a single amending budget.
Access to justice in environmental matters
Members debated and voted on the amendments adopted by the Environment Committee (ENVI) to the report on access to justice on environmental issues under the Aarhus Convention, as well as on plenary amendments, but postponed the vote on the legislative resolution. The file is therefore referred back to the ENVI committee for interinstitutional negotiations. Changes proposed by the Parliament would inter alia open up the review mechanism to allow qualified members of the public other than NGOs to challenge acts that breach environmental law.
Just Transition Fund
Members debated and approved the interinstitutional agreement on the Just Transition Fund, the compromise reached with the Council. Parliament has had considerable input in the final agreement, securing voluntary top-ups from cohesion policy, conditionality on climate neutrality, higher co-financing rates and a new Green Rewarding Mechanism. While Parliament’s ambitions for a larger budget did not prevail, the final agreement nevertheless allocates €17.5 billion to helping workers who lose their jobs in fossil fuel production, as well as the transformation to clean energy technologies.
Creative Europe programme 2021-2027
Parliament debated and approved the Creative Europe programme for 2021‑2027 at second-reading stage. Parliament is keen to continue support for the European Union Youth Orchestra and seeks a special focus on the music industry and cinema, with a €1 842 million budget (36 % more than the previous programme) to support cultural projects, in an area hard-hit by the Covid‑19 pandemic.
Members debated and approved one of the EU’s most known and best-loved programmes, the regulation on Erasmus+, at second reading. Parliament secured an extra €1.7 billion for the flagship policy and insisted on ensuring the inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities in the target of 12 million participants.
European Solidarity Corps 2021-2027
Parliament also debated and approved the proposed revision of the European Solidarity Corps Regulation at second reading. Parliament’s negotiators have secured a number of modifications to focus the programme on volunteering opportunities for young people in solidarity and humanitarian projects, particularly outside their home country, including a 15 % increase on the previous budget.
Fiscalis programme 2021-2027
Parliament debated and approved Council’s first-reading position, without amendments, as an early second-reading agreement on the Fiscalis programme for 2021‑2027. The programme’s goal is to improve the operation of tax policy (including administrative cooperation with regard to taxes) and support tax authorities. The €269 million budget will enhance administrative and information technology capacity, as well as operational cooperation.
Turkey: 2019 and 2020 country reports
Members debated and adopted a resolution on the European Commission’s latest country reports on Turkey. The 2019 and 2020 reports on Turkey reflect the strained nature of EU relations with the country in the light of backsliding on democratic values and tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. While Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) has many concerns regarding Turkey’s commitment to the rule of law, democratic values and women’s rights, it has also pointed out that Turkey is hosting some 4 million refugees. Until relations improve however, accession talks are effectively at a standstill, and prospects for modernisation of the Customs Union remain suspended.
Montenegro: 2019 and 2020 country reports
Members debated and adopted a resolution on the European Commission’s latest country reports on Montenegro. A candidate for accession since 2008, the Commission’s reports on Montenegro show progress in accession negotiations and demonstrable respect for democratic standards in recent elections. Nevertheless, the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) is critical of the lack of progress on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – May 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.