Written by Clare Ferguson.
Parliament sits again in plenary in Strasbourg for the last session before the summer break – and the first for the incoming Slovenian Council Presidency – with the final adoption of a number of funding programmes for the 2021-2027 period on the agenda. It is Slovenia’s second turn in the Council chair since joining the EU in 2004, and the parliamentary dimension has grown in importance in the meantime, with the Slovenian parliament taking on the role of facilitating national parliaments’ contribution to EU work over the coming six months.
Parliament continues to work with the European Commission and Council to revise the EU legislative framework on asylum and migration, but in the meantime, the institutions have agreed on the measures the new specific heading on financing migration and border management in the EU’s 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework should fund. Following a joint debate scheduled for Tuesday evening, Members will consider adoption at second reading of the agreed text on the proposed Asylum, Migration & Integration Fund 2021-2027. This fund aims at strengthening the common European asylum system, supporting legal migration and countering irregular migration, as well as managing migrants’ return and readmission to third countries. Parliament has succeeded in changing the name of the fund to the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to better reflect the focus on solidarity and responsibility, including legal migration, as well as efficient management of migration flows. Under the revised agreement, those Member States most affected by migration and asylum challenges should receive appropriate and proportionate financial and practical assistance. Parliament is also expected to consider its formal adoption at second reading of an agreement on establishing an Integrated Border Management Fund to provide financial support, allocated proportionately to the countries most affected by requirements for external border management and visas. Parliament has been keen to ensure that the instrument respects fundamental rights, fair treatment of third-country nationals and the right to asylum and international protection, including the obligation to save people in danger at sea.
One of the objectives of the Integrated Border Management Fund is to operate in conjunction with the new Internal Security Fund (ISF) to tackle terrorism and radicalisation, organised crime and cybercrime, and to assist victims. On Tuesday lunchtime, Members are scheduled to vote on adoption of an agreement on the proposal to establish the ISF to ensure a high level of security within the EU, at second reading. The agreement takes account of Parliament’s demand to align the actions funded with fundamental rights, and extends the objectives of the funding to better preparation and protection against security risks, with a final budget allocation of €1.9 billion.
While health matters have long been the exclusive prerogative of national governments, the Covid‑19 pandemic underlined the need for an EU-wide health policy. To date, Parliament’s focus has been on better protecting people in Europe by ensuring medicines and medical devices are both accessible and available. On Wednesday afternoon, Members will consider Parliament’s position at first reading on European Commission proposals to reinforce and extend the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The proposal aims at stronger EMA coordination of the EU response to health crises, particularly in respect of monitoring and mitigating critical medicine and medical device shortages, which proved to be a weakness during the pandemic, as well as greater EU coordination of clinical trials. Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) would like to see much more transparency built in to the proposals, including for a digital platform to monitor medical supplies, as well as within the work of the proposed steering group.
Parliament’s Committee on Budgets is keen to see all available funding used to boost the coronavirus recovery, and accordingly calls for the EU budgetary surplus resulting from higher revenues and unspent funding in 2020 to be dedicated to assisting victims of the pandemic. The surplus mainly results from higher than expected customs duties and lower expenditure – itself partly due to Covid‑19. On Tuesday lunchtime, Members will vote to adopt Parliament’s position on Draft Amending Budget No 3/2021, which aims at entering the 2020 general budget surplus, totalling almost €1.77 billion (less than in the previous year), as revenue in the 2021 budget. If agreed, under the current rules, the move will reduce Member States’ gross national income contributions to the 2021 budget.
Action to preserve a healthy environment can also protect people’s health and wellbeing. With the aim of ‘living well, within planetary boundaries’, the proposed eighth EU environment action programme for 2021‑2030 should encourage a societal step-change through a ‘sustainability first’ approach that accelerates measures to reach the EU’s long-term environmental goals. On Wednesday afternoon, Members will consider an ENVI committee report on the Commission’s proposal, with a view to fixing the committee’s mandate for trilogue negotiations. Aiming to ensure the changes required by the environmental and climate transition do not lead to inequality, the committee calls for priority objectives to be achieved by 2030, including ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, with the programme becoming a governance tool for environmental policy beyond the Green Deal. The committee notes that a sustainability agenda can indeed boost prosperity and proposes integrating the sustainable development goals, biodiversity, and social objectives into the European Semester process.
Financing the Green Deal and Europe’s long-term climate ambitions is increasingly the focus of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the world’s largest multilateral banking facility. However, the Committee on Budgetary Control’s (CONT) report on the control of the EIB’s financial activities in 2019 highlights the danger that a lack of transparency and accountability could lead to fraud and corruption in respect of the bank’s operations. Members will consider the committee’s report on Monday afternoon, in a joint debate in the presence of Werner Hoyer, President of the EIB. On Tuesday lunchtime, Members will also vote on Parliament’s position on a CONT committee report on the European Commission’s 2019 report on protection of the EU’s financial interests and the fight against fraud – an issue of particular concern given the need to ensure sound management of coronavirus recovery funding. Fraudulent activity appears stable in 2019, although detection remains difficult and violations of public procurement rules in the health sector are of particular concern. The CONT committee notes that over half the reported fraud in 2019 concerns only two Member States, and calls for improved information exchange, data collection and control. The committee also welcomes the recent adoption of conditionality rules aimed at protecting the Union budget.
Seamless networks are also key to promoting growth and competitiveness in the EU, as well as strengthening cohesion and boosting sustainability. Following a joint debate scheduled for Tuesday morning, Members will consider Parliament’s formal adoption at second reading of agreements on the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and ‘smart TEN T’. These legislative initiatives seek to renew not only European transport networks, but also energy and digital connections across the Union. While the proposals for a ‘smart TEN-T‘ aim at financing a programme of swifter transport permit processes, the CEF proposal aims at establishing a financing infrastructure to facilitate investment in key network projects. The €30 billion allocated to the proposed CEF will be shared between measures to upgrade transport, energy and digital networks. This is, however, significantly less than Parliament had requested.
The proposal to exempt internet providers from e‑Privacy measures temporarily, so that they can legitimately remove child sexual abuse material online, raises serious concerns, particularly in respect of the unintended consequences for fundamental rights to privacy and data protection. Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) recommended significant additional privacy safeguards and a shorter application period. Parliament’s negotiators have secured the exclusion of audio communications from the proposed regulation’s scope and mandatory impact assessments of data protection, as well as compulsory human review. On Monday evening, Members will consider the resulting agreement on this sensitive file at first reading, aiming to square EU privacy rules with measures to combat child sexual abuse online.
Finally, EU funding support for the fisheries sector has changed greatly since the 1970s, with increasing focus on the social and environmental aspects of the sector. However, this shift is not without contention, as the regulators grapple with the issue of avoiding that investment in fishing capacity leads to overfishing. On Monday evening, Members will consider Parliament’s second-reading position on a hard-won agreement with the co-legislators to continue funding the common fisheries policy through the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund. The change to the fund’s name reflects an increased focus on aquaculture. While financial assistance to shipping fleets would be extended to cover 12‑24 m vessels, stricter conditions will apply.