Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.
The June I 2021 plenary session took place in Strasbourg once more (although still in hybrid form), some 15 months after the previous session was held there, with coronavirus-containment measures restricting the Parliament’s activity throughout that period. A number of important debates took place, including on European Council and European Commission statements on the conclusions of the special meeting of the European Council on 24 and 25 May 2021, and on preparation for the G7 and EU-US Summits. Members also debated the state of play on implementation of the Own Resources roadmap and Parliament’s scrutiny of the Commission and Council assessments of the national recovery and resilience plans. Debates were also held on the rule of law situation in the European Union, including the application of the conditionality regulation. Members discussed the follow-up to the Porto Social Summit, as well as the situation of women in politics. Debate was held on systematic repression in Belarus and its consequences for European security in the light of Belarus’ interception of a civilian plane. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell, made statements on the situation in Afghanistan and in Cuba. Parliament also voted on the proposed EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, and on amendments to information systems required for operation of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. In a formal ceremony, Parliament awarded the annual Lux Audience Award to a Romanian documentary, Collective, directed by Alexander Nanau.
EU Digital Covid Certificates
Members approved by an overwhelming majority the proposed EU Digital Covid Certificate for EU nationals as well as the parallel proposal covering third-country nationals. Parliament agreed to an accelerated procedure to consider these proposals. The co-legislators agreed on a compromise on the certificate proposal, now named the ‘EU Digital Covid Certificate’, and the system should be in operation by 1 July 2021. Parliament has ensured that the testing required is more affordable and accessible, through the allocation of around €100 million for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. If necessary, EU countries may still impose duly justified additional restrictions with 48 hours advance notice. The second proposal covers travel for third-country nationals within the EU.
European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) 2021-2027
The European Parliament approved the interinstitutional (trilogue) agreement on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) 2021‑2027 (without a vote) at early second reading. The ESF+ budget for social inclusion is greatly needed to provide resources to improve youth employability and equal opportunities for children at risk of poverty in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The compromise reached between the co-legislators after some disagreement allocates an €88 billion EU budget for employment, education and social inclusion measures (almost 8 % less than under the previous multiannual financial framework, MFF).
Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument 2021‑2027 – Global Europe
Members endorsed, at second reading, the final text agreed between the Parliament and Council on the regulation establishing the new single financing instrument Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument 2021‑2027 (NDICI, also known as Global Europe) in the 2021‑2027 EU budget. As agreed, the proposal allocates €70.8 billion (in 2018 prices) under the 2021‑2027 MFF and brings together the 10 previous funds for external action along with the European Development Fund. The agreement enhances Parliament’s oversight of the strategic direction of the funding, including ending assistance to countries that do not respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Establishing the instrument for financial support for customs control equipment
Parliament formally adopted (without a vote) an early second-reading agreement on establishing the instrument for financial support for customs control equipment. The instrument will be used to purchase, maintain and upgrade detection equipment for customs controls at external EU borders. Parliament has succeeded in amending the proposal to ensure the equipment has optimal cybersecurity and safety standards. The regulation now takes effect retroactively, as of 1 January 2021.
EU Ombudsman’s status
Following 2019 proposals to update the EU Ombudsman’s Statute, to align it with the Lisbon Treaty and strengthen the role of this guardian of institutional accountability and transparency, Members debated a new European Parliament regulation governing the Ombudsman’s duties, in the presence of Emily O’Reilly, the current European Ombudsman. Members adopted a resolution based on the Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) Committee’s report, to which is annexed an amended text for the European Ombudsman’s statute. This new text follows informal consultations with the Council, which had indicated it would be in a position to give consent to the regulation. Once formally received, the Parliament will vote on final adoption of the new statute.
State of the SMEs Union
Over 60 % of European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which employ 100 million people, have reported a fall in turnover in 2020. In a joint debate on the State of the SMEs Union, Members called on the European Commission to take action to reduce barriers and red tape for SMEs. Parliament had requested that the European Commission set ambitious targets for the reduction of the administrative burden on SMEs by June of this year, and would also like to see better assessment of the costs and benefits for SMEs of proposed EU legislation in future.
Cyber-attacks in the EU
Members heard Council and Commission statements on recent cyber-attacks on EU and national public and private institutions, particularly in light of the EU digitalisation agenda, as part of a joint debate, including an oral question on the future EU cybersecurity strategy. The 230 000 daily new malware infections detected by the ENISA cybersecurity agency between January 2019 and April 2020, give an idea of the scale of the issue. Members also adopted a resolution on the EU’s cybersecurity strategy for the digital decade.
European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the cage age’
With nearly 1.4 million signatures, the European citizens’ initiative, ‘End the cage age‘ has gained sufficient support to oblige the European Commission to propose legislation to ban the use of the remaining cages, farrowing crates, stalls and pens still authorised in the EU for a range of livestock. Members debated and adopted a resolution, based on an Agriculture & Rural Development (AGRI) report, proposing to phase out cages in farming, possibly by 2027.
Parliament’s right of inquiry
In 2012, Parliament proposed to revise the regulation of its right of inquiry, whereby a majority in Parliament may set up a temporary committee of inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Union law. Although the Parliament has the right of initiative, adoption of the regulation is subject to a special legislative procedure requiring Council and Commission consent, which has not been forthcoming to date. Seeking to break the deadlock on strengthening Parliament’s right of inquiry, the Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) Committee sought assurance from both the Commission and the Council that they will engage in good-faith political dialogue with the Parliament to reach agreement. While both Council and Commission representatives claimed to be ready to cooperate with Parliament on this file, both underlined that they could not agree to the text unless Parliament changed several aspects.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed the mandate for negotiations by the Regional Development (REGI) Committee on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Brexit Adjustment Reserve.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – June I 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.