Written by Clare Ferguson.
Following on swiftly from the October I plenary session, Members will meet in Strasbourg for the October II session, again in hybrid format, with a number of important files on the agenda.
Despite the extreme weather conditions experienced during the last two years, the Covid‑19 pandemic appears to have diverted governments’ attention somewhat from the robust and urgent action needed to follow up on their Paris Agreement commitments. Developed nations have not yet honoured their promises to deliver funding by 2020. With COP26 fast approaching, Members will vote on a motion for resolution, tabled by Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), on Wednesday evening. The draft resolution calls for stricter rules on voluntary cooperation to reach mitigation goals under Article 6 of the Agreement. It also urges that Europe show greater climate leadership to ensure a green global recovery and climate policies that align with the just transition principle. While underlining the need to end fossil fuel subsidies, the resolution also notes the urgency of tackling transport, agriculture and methane emissions.
One initiative aimed at pushing the switch to sustainability in EU food systems, the ‘farm to fork’ strategy, is likely to see continued lively debate on Monday evening. Parliament’s ENVI and Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committees have tabled a joint own-initiative report that welcomes the strategy, but urges greater action on balancing economic needs against sustainability criteria. The committees call for action across the spectrum of the food system, to support farmers and food producers alike in reducing their environmental impact. The report notes that EU countries’ strategic post-2022 common agricultural policy plans will be key to a successful transition to a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system.
However, the main theme for this second session of October is the EU budget. Parliament’s reading of the 2022 EU budget is scheduled to take place on Tuesday afternoon, with Members deciding on amendments to the Council’s position on this second budget under the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework. The amendments proposed by the Committee on Budgets (BUDG) reverse the cuts proposed by the Council, and instead propose a considerable increase in contributions to the Covid‑19 recovery. The BUDG committee wishes to see greater allocation to boosting investment, tackling unemployment, and laying the foundations for a more resilient and sustainable Union. Once Parliament agrees its position, the file will go to a meeting of the Conciliation Committee, bringing together Parliament and Council delegations, for consideration. Members will also vote on a BUDG committee report recommending that Parliament endorse the Council position on Draft amending budget No 4/2021, on Tuesday lunchtime. This amending budget updates the revenue side of the EU budget, now that the new system of own resources is in place, including a revised revenue forecast for the 2021 budget. The amendments also cover adjustments to the United Kingdom’s post-withdrawal contributions to the EU budget and certain EU countries’ reductions in annual contributions.
Parliament has exclusive competence to grant or refuse discharge for the execution of the EU budget and returns to the remaining discharge decisions for the 2019 financial year, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday lunchtime on discharge for the 2019 budget of the European Council and Council (postponed since April 2021). Parliament has refused to grant discharge to the Council every financial year since 2009, and a Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) report recommends the same outcome in respect of the 2019 budget. The CONT committee regrets that the Council’s refusal to cooperate demonstrates a lack of respect for Parliament’s role as guarantor of the democratic accountability of EU institutions’ spending. The other file, scheduled for debate on Thursday morning, concerns the 2019 budget discharge for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. Here, the CONT committee now recommends granting the discharge postponed in April 2021. The committee nevertheless makes a number of recommendations concerning the Agency’s operations: on the effectiveness of its primary operations at the external EU borders, including the respect of fundamental rights; and on its human resources and financial management in particular. For these reasons, the committee recommends freezing part of the Agency’s budget until 2022, pending improvement.
Turning to the money in our own pockets, Members will consider adoption at first reading of the agreed text on the proposed credit servicers directive, on Tuesday lunchtime. During the financial crisis, many people were unable to repay their loans, leading to banks accumulating unsustainable levels of unpaid loans (known as non-performing loans, or NPL) on their balance sheets – and loans being bought or passed on to credit servicers for, sometimes robust, collection. With an eye to the possible economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis, this legislative proposal aims at safeguarding borrowers’ rights, while also promoting a sound secondary market in NPLs. Parliament’s Economic & Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee has ensured that the draft text protects consumers and small businesses who experience financial difficulties during this delicate period.
We’ve been able to drive wherever we like in the European Union since 2009, thanks to EU legislation that ensures that our motor vehicle insurance covers us throughout the EU. The time has now come for a revision of the directive, in particular to better protect road traffic accident victims against those who drive without insurance. On Thursday morning, Members will debate an agreed text on the proposed revision of the Motor Insurance Directive at first reading. The agreement includes Parliament’s demands that motor insurance price comparison tools meet certain standards and that they are certified by Member States, with possible fines for misleading consumers. It also excludes light electric and off-road vehicles. The European Commission will need to evaluate implementation of the revised rules after seven years.
On Monday evening, Members will debate a Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) legislative-initiative report with recommendations to the Commission on protecting workers from asbestos. The committee calls for a ‘European strategy for the removal of all asbestos’, a substance which causes cancer, killing 30 000 to 90 000 people in the EU every year. Given the persistence of asbestos in buildings in the EU and the need to update exposure limits, the EMPL committee proposes to connect policies to remove asbestos, strengthen worker protection and support for victims. This could include updating current legislation on protecting workers, and new proposals on recognising occupational diseases and standards for compensation, as well as mandatory screening of buildings.
Looking beyond the EU’s borders, and against the background of China’s renewed and aggressive pursuit of its ‘One China’ policy, a timely debate on EU-Taiwan political relations and cooperation is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. There are many reasons for Parliament’s continued support for Taiwan, not least its position as an active democracy in the region and as an industrial nation supplying vital semiconductors, among other things. The Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) report accompanying the draft recommendation calls for an enhanced partnership, a stronger bilateral investment agreement, supports Taiwan’s efforts to gain a seat at the international table, and expresses concern regarding the Chinese position. Members are expected to vote later in the session on a draft recommendation to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President.
The Commission is also expected to make statements to Parliament during the session on its 2022 work programme, the rule of law crisis in Poland, on pushbacks at the EU’s external borders, on preparations for the European Council meeting later in the week and the outcome of the Western Balkans Summit.