Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson.
A solemn ceremony was held in Strasbourg to honour the Parliament’s late President David Maria Sassoli, who died the previous week. Following this sad occasion, the main point on the agenda for the January 2022 plenary session was the already scheduled mid-term election of Parliament’s President, 14 Vice-Presidents and 5 Quaestors. Parliament also debated the programme of activities of the French Council Presidency, with Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic.
Election of Parliament’s President
Parliament holds elections for its President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors at the start and again at the mid-point of each term. Roberta Metsola (EPP, Malta) was elected President of the European Parliament with 458 votes in favour, and thus comfortably securing the absolute majority of votes cast (50 % +1), in the first round of voting. President Metsola will hold office for the second half of the current term, up to the next European elections. Elections to the offices of Vice-Presidents and Quaestors were also conducted. Voting for all the posts was by secret ballot, with three rounds needed to complete the election of the Vice-Presidents who make up Parliament’s Bureau, and two rounds for the five Quaestors.
French Presidency of the Council
France took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January 2022, and Parliament hosted President Emmanuel Macron for the customary presentation to Parliament of the priorities of the Presidency. Although France has considerable experience of the role, including during the 2008 financial crisis, this Presidency will have to tackle the continuing Covid‑19 pandemic, the energy crisis and the EU’s relations to the east, as well as the ongoing aftermath of Brexit, all whilst holding a national election. Priority is also expected to be given to the conclusions of, and preparing the follow-up to, the Conference on the Future of Europe, seeking to take stock of citizens’ recommendations in defining the future of the Union.
Digital services act
Parliament debated and approved its position on the proposed digital services act by 530 votes to 78, with 80 abstentions The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) report on the proposal, which seeks to define digital service provider accountability for ensuring a transparent and safe online environment, endorses the European Commission’s proposal to update the EU regulatory framework. The committee suggests amendments to include more stringent content moderation, and stronger transparency and consent requirements for targeted advertising, especially better protection of children. The committee wishes to impose additional obligations on very large online platforms and online marketplaces, but also recognises the need to allow waivers for smaller companies. Further amendments introduced in plenary aim at protecting freedom of expression and freedom and pluralism of the media, as well as introducing a new provision on the right to use and pay for digital services anonymously. The text adopted in plenary constitutes Parliament’s mandate for interinstitutional negotiations.
European Medicines Agency
Members approved a provisional agreement reached with the Council on a proposal for a reinforced role for the European Medicines Agency. The new legislation will make it easier for the Agency to act with greater agility and assuredness in emergencies. The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) report stressed the need for ‘more Europe’ in health, including creating an interoperable digital platform to monitor and report on medicine shortages; addressing the shortcomings that experience with clinical trials revealed during Covid‑19; and calling for more transparency in the steering groups’ work.
Parliament has long echoed citizens’ concerns about animal welfare in calling for action to ensure that the high standards demanded by EU law are respected in all EU countries. In 2020, Parliament set up a Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT) to investigate European Commission enforcement and Member State implementation of EU rules. Members debated the ANIT committee’s concluding report and voted on recommendations to the Council and Commission. The ANIT report on alleged contraventions of EU law on animal transport indicated a number of measures that could be introduced to ensure transport is less stressful for animals, including acknowledging new scientific evidence. The report noted that, while some Member States actively protect animals during transport, others could be stricter in their interpretation and enforcement of EU law, and urged the Commission to present an action plan. The rules on transporting vulnerable animals are a particular concern.
Nomination of members of the Court of Auditors
Even though the opinion adopted by the European Parliament on nominations to the Court of Auditors is not legally binding, Parliament holds a public hearing for each candidate, which encourages Member States to propose nominees who meet the competence and impartiality requirements of membership of the Court. Members endorsed the position of Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) following recent hearings, giving a favourable opinion on two candidates whose mandates are to be renewed (Czech nominee Jan Gregor and Latvian nominee Mihails Kozlovs), as well as a new Slovenian nominee, Kristijan Petrovič. However, Members followed the committee’s position and confirmed the unfavourable opinion on the renewal of the mandate of the Polish nominee, Marek Opioła, maintaining Parliament’s negative opinion voted when the candidate was originally nominated to the position he now holds.
Situation in Kazakhstan
Members debated the situation in Kazakhstan, where protests since the beginning of the year, initially triggered by a rise in fuel prices, have led to chaos. The unrest has roots in citizens’ frustration at perceived political inertia in the face of inequalities. Parliament issued a resolution on the situation, demanding a proper international investigation into the crimes committed against the people of Kazakhstan.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed, without a vote, two mandates for negotiations from the Agriculture (AGRI) Committee on the proposal for a recommendation for a decision on additional requirements for certain types of intervention specified by Member States in their common agricultural policy (CAP) strategic plans for 2023‑2027, and on the proposal for a decision on rules on paying agencies and other bodies, financial management, clearance of accounts, securities and the use of the euro.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – December 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.