Written by Clare Ferguson.
Following Parliament’s extraordinary plenary session on Ukraine on 1 March 2022, Members return to Strasbourg for the March plenary session, with a number of related issues on the agenda, including a debate with the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas on the security situation, scheduled for Wednesday. In the meantime, the EU has pressed ahead with new sanctions and certain banks are now cut from SWIFT. The EU is also moving fast to counter the implications for energy and agricultural trade. Parliament is due to hear Council and Commission statements on the deterioration of the refugee situation as a consequence of the uneven military balance of power in the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Parliament expects that all measures will be underpinned by a robust EU budgetary response.
The European Parliament resolution on the Russian aggression against Ukraine called for an end to ‘golden visas’ for wealthy Russians. The invasion has highlighted the problematic consequences of issuing ‘golden visas’ (residence in return for investment) or ‘golden passports’ (nationality in return for financial investment). However, a considerable number of EU countries offer these schemes to those (estimated at over 132 000 people between 2011 and 2019) who are wealthy enough to pay. While investment received is estimated at €21.4 billion, the schemes bear obvious risks to sincere cooperation between EU countries, and commodify EU rights, as well as posing security, corruption, money laundering, and tax avoidance risks. Parliament has expressed concern regarding these schemes since 2014, and Members return to the issue on Monday evening when they are expected to consider a legislative-initiative report from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The committee demands that the Commission come up with proposals to phase out citizenship by investment schemes completely, and propose new laws to harmonise and govern the rules on residence by investment schemes.
Parliament has also long criticised countries who attempt to influence elections and other democratic processes in EU countries. Russia and China are among best-known sources of foreign interference, but over 80 countries spread disinformation online. In a debate scheduled for Tuesday morning, Members will hear the conclusions of a report on external attempts to influence elections and other democratic processes in EU countries from Parliament’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference (INGE). The committee’s report summarises the EU’s main vulnerabilities to foreign interference, witnessed in several recent elections, and recommends a comprehensive EU strategy to develop resilience. Greater awareness of the problem should be encouraged through media literacy, by closing loopholes that allow foreign financing of political parties, and through stronger sanctions for foreign actors who interfere with our democracies.
A political, economic, social and cultural life, where freedom of expression and of association are respected, is one guarantee of a resilient civic society. Parliament is concerned that the EU civic space has deteriorated, particularly since the pandemic, with some governments hindering civil society organisations’ participation in democratic life. On Monday, Members are expected to debate a LIBE committee own-initiative report, advocating new measures, including a specific EU strategy, to protect and boost civil society organisations in the EU. The report underlines that the strategy should align with EU action in other fields, including on racism. Members are then scheduled to consider a Culture and Education Committee own-initiative report on the role of culture, education, media and sport in the fight against racism. Considering the 2020 EU action plan on racism, the committee underlines the action still needed to combat stereotypes, develop inclusive education, raise awareness of the history of racism and ensure fair representation of ethnic minorities in the media. The committee insists that adequate resources be made available to ensure that the ambitions can be realised, and calls for the Commission to act on discrimination in sport. The committee also urges EU countries to take effective measures to prevent the media from spreading hate speech and false narratives about particular ethnic groups.
The world celebrates international women’s day on 8 March, and Ukrainian writer Oksana Zaboujko is due to address Parliament on Tuesday lunchtime. Fittingly – given the consequences of war for women – Parliament is then scheduled to debate elements driving gender parity in EU external policy. Members are scheduled to consider a report prepared by the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) and the Development (DEVE) Committees, on the third EU gender action plan, which seeks to mainstream gender equality in external policy. The report welcomes integration of the EU action plan on women, peace and security into GAP III, as well as the inclusion of climate change considerations, among other things. However, regretting the Council’s failure to endorse GAP III, it also criticises the omission of issues including women’s access to natural resources; sexual exploitation and violence; and the inclusion of women in mediation processes. Finally, it calls for more EU action to counter the effects of the pandemic on women, and greater focus on gender equality in trade and investment policy.
On Wednesday afternoon, Members turn to the EU’s climate ambitions and the eighth environment action programme – the framework for EU environmental policy to 2030. Parliament is expected to vote on a draft agreement reached between the co-legislators, setting the priorities for EU objectives targeting a sustainable economy. While the aim is to ensure that environmental measures do not perpetuate social and gender inequalities, and to phase out fossil fuel and other harmful subsidies, the agreement does not set the specific 2025 and 2027 deadlines requested by Parliament. A key issue in attaining climate goals and energy independence is coping with uneven wind and solar power generation. Here, Parliament supports the introduction of a legislative framework to ensure that the batteries we turn to in support of renewable energy are themselves sustainable. Members are also scheduled to consider Parliament’s position at first reading on Wednesday afternoon, on European Commission proposals for a regulation concerning batteries and waste batteries. The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee’s report calls for higher ambition, with a wider scope to include e-bike and other light transport batteries, and greater diligence throughout the battery lifecycle, from manufacture to recycling. The vote in plenary should set Parliament’s negotiating position and open the way for interinstitutional negotiations to begin.
Finally, Members return to the subject of agricultural statistics on Tuesday afternoon, to consider adoption at first reading of the agreed text on the proposed overhaul of the regulation on economic accounts for agriculture, formalising regional agricultural data reporting. During the negotiations, Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) underlined the need to ensure cost efficient data collection and avoid redundancy in data reporting.