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European Parliament Plenary Session – February 2022

Autumn season - the European Parliament in Strasbourg - Ill river

Written by Clare Ferguson.

As is traditional early in the year, Members are expected to debate a number of points on the agenda in Strasbourg that highlight the Parliament’s position on the European Union’s place in the world, not least in the light of recent geopolitical tensions. The session also marks the 20th anniversary of the euro. Returning to the custom of inviting heads of state and dignitaries to Parliament, the President of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, is expected to address Parliament in a formal sitting on Tuesday, with his country shortly to hold elections.

Later on Tuesday, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP), Josep Borrell, will make a statement on EU-Africa relations, ahead of the (delayed) EU-Africa Summit, now scheduled for 17‑18 February 2022. Parliament is very much in favour of renewed EU partnership with the continent’s leaders, to strengthen links and tackle issues such as climate change and governance. However, it has underlined that this should not compromise democratic values in Africa. Democracy and human rights are Parliament’s first priorities in all its activities, and Members are expected to adopt a resolution on the EU’s 2021 annual report on human rights and democracy later on Tuesday afternoon, following consideration of the Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee’s own report. The AFET report calls for firm opposition to the decline in democracy and rising authoritarianism worldwide, exacerbated during the pandemic. It particularly highlights the need for better, results-oriented multilateral coordination to counter democratic erosion and to uphold human rights. In particular, the committee calls for support for the United Nations and respect for human rights in migration situations. It stresses the need to protect a number of individual rights and freedoms, to counter the effect of the pandemic on women, and to promote fair access to vaccines, among other things. The AFET report on human rights and democracy in the world also underlines the continuing fight against corruption and disinformation in elections, as well as the need to ensure human rights, particularly those of the most vulnerable in society, are upheld through trade and development agreements.

The HR/VP is also scheduled to make a statement on European security and Russia’s military threat against Ukraine on Wednesday, not least in the face of renewed US-Russia tensions. The EU common foreign and security policy (CFSP) sets the framework for EU action outside the Union, including promotion of the EU values highlighted in the 2021 human rights report. In a joint debate on Tuesday afternoon, Members will discuss implementation of both the CFSP and the EU common security and defence policy (CSDP), in light of the 2021 AFET committee annual reports. Noting the need to strengthen multilateral partnerships, the CFSP report calls for development of the EU’s role in peace mediation, and better use of the existing sanctions provisions. While there is a strong focus on the EU neighbourhood, the AFET report welcomes the opportunities to advance multilateral and bilateral agreements through partnerships with strategic players, such as the USA. Climate change is considered a particular threat, and the report supports measures to further European strategic sovereignty in key enabling technologies in view of the green and digital transitions. The report highlights the geopolitical challenges posed by the actions of countries such as Russia and China, and applauds progress on the Strategic Compass. As the CSDP structures Member State cooperation on the EU response to crisis and conflict, the AFET committee’s 2021 annual report focuses on the EU’s security and defence doctrine, including the Strategic Compass, CSDP missions and operations, crisis management, resilience, capabilities, partnerships and parliamentary oversight. While the Strategic Compass represents a step towards a common EU defence union, the report underlines the need for greater support for CSDP missions, better crisis coordination, and the need to increase EU sea, cyber-, space and air capabilities. The report also calls for reflection on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and for greater input from citizens on defence, notably in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

As climate change exacerbates crisis and conflict, steps to limit damage to the environment continue in line with the EU’s climate ambition. On Monday afternoon, Parliament is expected to consider a Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) own-initiative report on the EU offshore renewable energy strategy, an important element of the European Green Deal. The report calls for increased EU production of renewable energy, underlining that greater infrastructure investment is needed, including through EU funding, as well as further research and development and greater cooperation between EU countries. The report proposes that the scope of the offshore renewables market is widened to all EU sea basins, with streamlined permits and maritime spatial plans, and a more effective market design. To encourage the reduction of CO2 emissions and alleviate congestion, the EU proposes to change and extend the long-standing rules on charging heavy goods vehicles for using infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, to focus on distance travelled, rather than time taken. While national governments decide the charges on vehicles, the ‘Eurovignette’ system ensures there is no discrimination or market distortion. Members are scheduled to return to the issue on Wednesday afternoon, following negotiation between the co-legislators. Parliament is expected to consider the agreement, reached in trilogue, to extend the directive to cover charges for lighter vehicles, including passenger cars, and to progressively differentiate charges based on CO2 emissions and reductions for low emission vehicles. The draft agreement confirms Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) demands that Member States report regularly on the charges they levy and on the use of the revenue.

On Tuesday morning, Members are due to debate the final report concluding the work of Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) – strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – which makes recommendations aimed at combating the second most common cause of death in the EU. These include stronger EU action on cancer risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, and wider screening. To ensure that access to cancer treatment is fair and accessible, the report advocates facilitating access to clinical trials and innovative treatment, better management of medicine shortages, and transparency on fair pricing and affordability of pharmaceuticals. The BECA committee also underlines the need for more funding for cancer research. On Thursday morning, Members are also scheduled to debate formal adoption of a provisional agreement reached during interinstitutional negotiations on the fourth update of the legislation protecting workers from carcinogens and other harmful substances that may cause health issues such as infertility. The agreed text sets stricter occupational exposure limits for hazardous substances, where Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) negotiators have succeeded in including a requirement for the European Commission to present an action plan to set limits for at least 25 substances by the end of 2022. When it comes to protecting children, the EU already has some of the world’s strictest requirements on toys, particularly concerning hazardous chemicals. On Tuesday afternoon, in advance of an update to the legislation, Members are expected to debate an own-initiative report from the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), examining implementation of, and proposing improvements to, the Toy Safety Directive. The IMCO committee sees a need for even greater precaution regarding chemicals, particularly endocrine disruptors, in toys, and calls for stricter surveillance and enforcement. The report also proposes to update the legislation to cover ‘connected toys’ and to ensure that non-compliant toys are removed from online marketplaces.

Parliament has long echoed citizens’ concerns about animal welfare, in calling for action to ensure that the high standards demanded by EU laws are respected in all EU countries. Members will consider a Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) own-initiative implementation report on farm animal welfare on Monday afternoon. The committee calls for updated rules based on scientific data, impact assessments and a species-by-species approach that covers all species, as well as for uniform implementation. The committee urges that the legislation cover issues such as keeping hens in battery cages, docking pigs’ tails and castrating piglets. The report also advocates a common framework for voluntary animal welfare labelling, with the possibility of a mandatory system in the future. While farmers’ stakeholders welcomed the report, which they consider takes their competitiveness into account, it has been criticised by animal welfare organisations.

Mutual societies, associations, foundations and social enterprises often face multiple legal and administrative challenges when operating across EU borders. On Tuesday afternoon, Parliament is due to consider a legislative-initiative report calling on the Commission to propose legislation on minimum EU standards for cross-border associations and non-profit organisations. Enabling these organisations to obtain a legal personality would help them face the challenges identified in a Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee report, which stresses that national legal provisions for such organisations hamper the formation of a real pan-European civil society, leaving them open to discriminatory and unjustified restrictions, including regarding access to resources and free movement of capital.

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