Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson.
During the first plenary session of October 2021 in Strasbourg, Parliament held a number of debates, in particular on the proposed EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, which should ensure a coordinated EU approach for future health crises. Debate also took place on possible European solutions to the rise in energy prices for businesses and consumers and the role of energy efficiency and renewable energy, highlighting the need to tackle energy poverty. Members discussed the release of the Pandora Papers and the implications for efforts to combat money laundering, tax evasion and avoidance.
Debates were held on several human rights issues, including the humanitarian situation in Tigray. Members heard a statement from the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell, on the situation in Belarus following the violent repression of protest in the country.
A number of resolutions and legislative acts were adopted, inter alia on artificial intelligence in criminal law, the EU road safety policy framework 2021‑2030, the Aarhus Regulation on access to information and public participation in environmental matters, on the state of EU cyber-defence capabilities, and on the Banking Union annual report 2020.
European Union Agency for Asylum
A compromise agreement reached on the proposal to revise the regulation on the European Union Agency for Asylum (EASO) is an important step forward in building future common European migration and asylum policy. Members debated the compromise reached by negotiators from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), in which Parliament successfully championed a stronger EASO mission, including support for processing asylum applications and addressing the root causes of migration in third countries. The reinforced role agreed for EASO includes a stronger focus on protection of fundamental rights, with the agency expected to engage a fundamental rights officer, a pool of 500 experts, a new complaints mechanism, and to step up the frequency of its monitoring of Member States’ implementation of the common European asylum system. The vote on this report will be held at a future part-session.
Future of EU-US relations
Following a debate, Members voted 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 – by a very large majority. 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 acknowledged the recent divergences between the transatlantic partners, but nevertheless called 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.
EU cyber defence capabilities
Parliament debated and voted on another AFET committee report, again with a large majority, on the state of EU cyber-defence capabilities. 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.
EU policy on harmful tax practices
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. With EU policy reform on harmful tax practices more prominent on the agenda, Parliament held a debate, followed by a vote on a report from the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON). Among other things, the report recommends that further negotiations are based on the G7 commitment 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.
Artificial intelligence in criminal law
Members debated and voted on 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 need to preserve Europeans’ fundamental rights when AI is used in law enforcement and criminal justice, the report notably calls for a ban on facial recognition systems in law enforcement. While the possibilities that artificial intelligence (AI) affords to tackle cyber and other security situations could improve prevention and detection of crime, its use comes with other clear dangers to fundamental rights, as can be seen in countries that have taken this path.
The Arctic: Opportunities, concerns and security challenges
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 debated and voted on a Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) own-initiative report (with a draft recommendation to other European institutions under Rule 118) on the Arctic region. 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.
EU-Greenland Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement
Greenland plays a specific geostrategic role in the Arctic and the North Atlantic, not least when it comes to the region’s fisheries. Members considered 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) recommended its renewal, while calling for improved data collection and sustainable management of stocks fished by the EU. The renewal was approved by an overwhelming majority.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed one mandate for negotiations from the Industry Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee on the proposal for a regulation on guidelines for the trans-European energy infrastructure.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – October I 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.