Written by Clare Ferguson.
An important moment in Parliament’s oversight of the EU executive takes place during the September plenary session, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends Parliament on Wednesday morning to make her second State of the Union address. With a difficult year behind it, issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, the effects of climate change and increasing digitalisation continue to present the Commission with both challenges and opportunities. While the new multiannual financial framework allows financing for the recovery plan for Europe and Next Generation EU, Members will expect to hear how the Commission intends to address the challenges that remain to achieve its stated six priorities, including on the continuing issue of adherence to EU values.
The coronavirus pandemic and its effects nevertheless remain a priority issue, and the session commences on Thursday afternoon with a joint debate on health and disease prevention. As life has returned to something approaching normal during the summer, wider health issues remain a legislative priority, and efforts continue to strengthen the EU’s response to health threats. These include proposals to boost EU defences against cross-border health threats, and to strengthen the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Although responsibility for health policy remains with the Member States, the pandemic has highlighted areas where stronger preparedness measures could better protect EU citizens and address cross-border health threats in future. Parliament will debate a Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) report that supports increased consideration of all environmental, animal or human factors with an impact on health, as well as promoting cooperation and transparency – which could lead to smoother joint procurement for items such as personal protection equipment, should that be necessary in future. A further ENVI committee report on strengthening the ECDC is also due for debate. The committee proposes enlarging the ECDC’s mandate beyond communicable diseases to cover those that have a wide impact, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, diabetes, and mental illness. Once Parliament’s position is agreed on these two legislative proposals, interinstitutional negotiations can begin.
With an ageing population and an increasing need for skilled workers to sustain economic growth, the EU has to compete with other regions to attract highly qualified immigrants. On Tuesday evening, Parliament will debate a final text resulting from interinstitutional negotiations on the proposed revision of the EU Blue Card Directive. Parliament has long called for the revision of this legislation, which provides a legal route for migration to the bloc, not least in the face of considerable recent refugee movements. Should Parliament agree the new rules, skilled applicants will be admitted to remain on EU territory for at least two years if they are able to present a minimum six-month work contract or binding job offer. Admission to the EU Blue Card scheme should also become more inclusive, with reduced salary thresholds.
Later on Tuesday evening, Members are expected to take part in a joint debate on formal adoption, following interinstitutional negotiations, of the text setting out Parliament’s position at first reading on the Brexit Adjustment Reserve. Parliament has succeeded in modifying the proposals to ensure support for EU businesses – particularly fisheries and those in close proximity to the United Kingdom – against the additional costs ensuing from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. A €5 billion budget (in 2018 prices) will be made available over the period to December 2025, with funds distributed using an allocation method taking account of each country’s trade with the UK, its fisheries in UK waters, and the population size in maritime border regions neighbouring the UK. Members are also expected to debate measures to adapt the current 2021 EU budget to cover €1.6 billion in pre-financing for the ‘Brexit Adjustment Reserve’, under amending budget No 1/2021.
While the 1994 EU‑Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement remains in force today, relations have deteriorated since 2000. An already strained situation has worsened in the face of aggressive Russian foreign policy in Ukraine and Syria, as well as its repression of domestic dissent. Parliament is scheduled to debate political relations between the EU and Russia on Tuesday afternoon, following which Parliament is also expected to vote on a draft recommendation to Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee’s draft recommendations call for a revision of the current stance, which combines pushing back with constraint and engagement, and proposes to base future relations on six principles. These include activating deterrence against security and hybrid threats alongside dialogue and engagement that offers incentives, such as trade and visas, in support of Russian democratic transformation. Members also expect to hear a statement by the High Representative on the situation in Afghanistan.