Written by Clare Ferguson.
Members travel to Strasbourg once again for the first plenary session of this month, with an agenda that reflects some of the major preoccupations in the world today.
Following a debate scheduled for Tuesday morning, Members are expected to vote on a Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee report on the future of EU-US relations – a topic that has often hit the headlines in recent weeks. The rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan, with fears of large-scale refugee movements to neighbouring countries, is just one of the issues to have caused difficulties in transatlantic relations in recent months. The AFET report acknowledges the current divergences between the transatlantic partners, but nevertheless calls on them to take advantage of their strong partnership, based on shared values, to strengthen multilateralism. While the EU seeks to become more self-reliant in security and defence matters, considerable room remains for common action on foreign policy, security and economic objectives.
On security and defence in particular, Members are scheduled to debate another AFET report, on the state of EU cyber-defence capabilities, on Tuesday afternoon. Threats to society have become increasingly digital as malicious cyber-actors, from lone wolves to states themselves, have taken advantage of the vulnerabilities introduced by digitalisation to wage ‘cyber war’. Indeed, calls for a European cyber-defence policy and for a cyber-resilience act were made as recently as during last month’s State of the Union debate. The AFET report proposes to strengthen EU cyber-defence capabilities through strong cooperation, both with NATO and internally, with the ongoing Strategic Compass process providing an opportunity to reduce the current fragmentation in the EU’s cyber-defence architecture.
Taking advantage of the possibilities that artificial intelligence (AI) affords to tackle cyber and other security situations could improve prevention and detection of crime. However, as can be seen in countries that have taken this path, use of AI comes with other clear dangers to fundamental rights. On Monday evening, Members will debate a Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee own-initiative report on police and judicial authorities’ use of AI in criminal matters. Underlining the necessity of preserving Europeans’ fundamental rights in the use of AI in law enforcement and criminal justice, the report notably calls for a ban on facial recognition systems in law enforcement.
Global tax reform is another hot topic on the EU-US agenda. Tax evasion and aggressive tax planning exacerbate social inequalities and disrupt competition, all of which – particularly since the pandemic – has led to increasing demands from both public and parliaments to address the issue more forcefully. To this effect, EU policy reform on harmful tax practices has been pushed up the agenda. On Wednesday afternoon, Parliament is expected to consider a report from the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) that, among other things, recommends that further negotiations are based on the G7 commitment to ‘to a global minimum tax of at least 15 % on a country by country basis’. The report also urges revision of the Code of Conduct Group on Business Taxation and calls for fairer and more transparent tax incentives.
The European Union Agency for Asylum (EASO) assists EU countries to prepare for movements of displaced persons. However, despite Parliament’s backing, a proposal to revise the regulation on the EASO has been pending for some time. A provisional agreement was finally reached in June 2021. On Thursday morning, Parliament will debate and vote on approving the compromise agreement, with the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) having successfully championed a stronger EASO mission, including its support for processing asylum applications and addressing the root causes of migration in third countries. The Committee also sought a stronger focus on protection of fundamental rights at EASO. The agency should have a fundamental rights officer and a new complaints mechanism in future, and step-up the frequency of its monitoring of Member States’ implementation of the Common European Asylum System.
The Arctic region is rich in natural resources, including hydrocarbons, and yet paradoxically also faces both opportunities and vulnerabilities brought about by climate change. Parliament is due to debate a Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) own-initiative report (with a draft recommendation to the other institutions under Rule 118) on the Arctic region on Tuesday afternoon. The report supports the EU strategy in the Arctic, and calls for the region to remain a zone of peaceful cooperation, warning of the growing risk of confrontation in the region as Russia and China eye the opportunities of easier access to shipping lanes and natural resources such as rare earths and fisheries. The AFET committee is particularly concerned about the environmental and security impacts of such economic activity, both for biodiversity and for the four million people who live in the eight countries that cover the Arctic region – particularly indigenous communities. Greenland plays a specific geostrategic role in the Arctic and the North Atlantic, not least when it comes to the region’s fisheries. Earlier on Tuesday (lunchtime), Parliament is expected to consider the renewal of the key protocol under the EU-Greenland Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA), regulating the sustainable exchange of quotas between Greenland, Norway and the Faroe Islands. As the protocol expired in 2020, Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH) has recommended its renewal, while calling for improved data collection and for stocks fished by the EU to be managed sustainably.