Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.
The February 2022 plenary session in Strasbourg took place at a time of considerable international tension. Members debated statements by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell (HR/VP), on EU-Russia relations, European security and Russia’s military threat against Ukraine. Parliament debated Council and Commission statements on the cyber-surveillance of politicians, prosecutors, lawyers and journalists, and others in EU Member States. Members also debated the HR/VPs statement on EU-Africa relations, and in a formal sitting, heard an address by Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia. A debate was held on the consequences of the European Court of Justice ruling on rule of law conditionality. Parliament celebrated the 20th anniversary of the euro, in the presence of Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank.
Charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructures
To reduce 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. While national governments set vehicle charges, the ‘Eurovignette’ system aims to ensure no discrimination or market distortion. Members approved at second reading the Council’s position, following the agreement between the co-legislators, to focus charges on distance travelled, rather than time taken. Charges will be extended to lighter vehicles, with reductions to encourage use of low-emission vehicles. The approval confirms Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) demands for transparency, with Member States required to report regularly on the charges they levy and on the use of the revenue.
Protection of workers from risks related to exposure to carcinogens at work
Members debated and adopted the provisional agreement reached during interinstitutional negotiations on the fourth update of the legislation protecting workers from carcinogens, mutagens and other harmful substances that may cause health issues, such as infertility (reprotoxins). 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.
Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer
Members debated the report concluding the work of Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) – strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – making recommendations aimed at combating the second most common cause of death in the EU. These include stronger EU action on risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, wider screening, and more funding for research. 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 pharmaceutical pricing. Parliament also calls for better protection of patients’ rights through a Europe-wide ‘right to be forgotten’.
Common foreign and security policy and common security and defence policy
The EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP) sets the framework for EU action outside the Union. In a joint debate, Members discussed implementation of both the CFSP and the common security and defence policy (CSDP), discussing the Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee’s 2021 annual reports. Noting the need to strengthen multilateral partnerships, AFET calls for an enhanced EU role in peace mediation, and better use of the existing sanctions provisions. While focused on the EU neighbourhood, the report welcomes 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 of Russian and Chinese actions, and applauds progress on the Strategic Compass. The AFET report on CSDP focuses on the EU’s security and defence doctrine. It urges a more action-oriented policy, a stronger EU defence sector, and underlines the need for greater Parliamentary scrutiny of CSDP action.
Human rights and democracy in the world
Democracy and human rights are Parliament’s first priorities in all its activities, and Members debated and adopted the 2021 AFET annual report on human rights and democracy. The report calls for firm opposition to the decline in democracy and rising authoritarianism worldwide, exacerbated during the pandemic. It 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 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 also underlines the continuing fight against corruption and disinformation in elections, as well as the need to ensure trade and development agreements uphold human rights.
A statute for European cross-border associations and non-profit organisations
Mutual societies, associations, foundations and social enterprises often face multiple legal and administrative challenges when operating across EU borders. Parliament debated and adopted a legislative-initiative resolution from the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee, calling on the Commission to propose legislation on minimum EU standards for cross-border associations and non-profit organisations. Enabling these organisations to obtain legal personality should help them face challenges, such as national legal provisions that leave them open to discriminatory and unjustified restrictions on access to resources.
A European strategy for offshore renewable energy
As climate change exacerbates crisis and conflict, steps to limit damage to the environment continue in line with the EU’s climate ambition. Parliament debated 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 the EU to increase production of renewable energy, underlining that greater infrastructure investment, research and development is needed, as well as more 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.
Implementation report on on-farm animal welfare
Parliament has long echoed citizens’ concerns about animal welfare, demanding action to ensure that the high standards demanded by EU laws are respected in all EU countries. Members debated a Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) own-initiative implementation report on farm animal welfare calling for updated rules based on scientific data, impact assessments and a species-by-species approach that covers all species. The committee warns that implementation should be uniform, and urges extension of the legislation to cover issues such as battery-caged hens.
Implementation of the Toy Safety Directive
Members debated a Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) own-initiative report, 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 calls for legislation to cover ‘connected toys’ and to ensure that non-compliant toys are removed from online marketplaces.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed, without vote, a mandate for negotiation from the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee on the proposal for a regulation ensuring financial stability in the banking system (on the prudential treatment of global systematically important institutions).
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – February 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.