Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.
With the war in Ukraine high on Parliament’s agenda, the highlight of the March II 2022 plenary session in Brussels was a formal address by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. Members held a debate with the Council and the European Commission on the need for an urgent EU action plan to ensure food security inside and outside the EU, in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They also debated the power of the proposed joint European action to secure more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy. Turning to the ‘Suisse Secrets’ scandal, Members debated how to encourage anti-money-laundering standards in third countries. Members also discussed the outcome of the European Council meeting in Paris on 10 March 2022, and the preparations for the 24‑25 March 2022 meeting. Several legislative files were adopted, inter alia on roaming charges; the cohesion action for the presence of refugees in Europe and use of funds under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) Regulation, both in light of the war in Ukraine; and on the Status Agreement between the EU and Moldova on Frontex operations.
Members debated extending and adapting current EU legislation on roaming charges. In interinstitutional negotiations on the proposal to revise the rules to increase transparency and network quality, Parliament succeeded in capping the wholesale roaming charges at €2 per gigabyte from this year, with a progressive reduction to reach €1 in 2027. Now that the Parliament has adopted the provisional agreement, it goes to the Council for confirmation, before citizens are able to ‘roam like at home‘ for a further 10 years.
Pilot regime for market infrastructure based on distributed ledger technology
Parliament is always keen to encourage technological solutions that benefit citizens in their daily lives. Members debated and adopted, by a large majority, the agreement reached between the co-legislators on a pilot regime developing trading and transactions in crypto-assets – usually known as cryptocurrencies (such as bitcoin and ethereum). Parliament is in favour of encouraging crypto-assets, as long as they do not pose a risk to financial stability, transparency or market integrity, or permit legal loopholes. Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) therefore proposed stricter limits on trading. Market capitalisation will be allowed up to €500 million in shares and issuance of bonds up to €1 billion.
Macro-financial assistance to the Republic of Moldova
Moldova has found itself on the frontline in Russia’s most recent aggression against its neighbours. The country has experienced Russian interference in its own democratic process in recent years, added to an economic downturn exacerbated by the pandemic. Moldova has nevertheless opened its borders to welcome large numbers of Ukrainian refugees. The country enjoys good political and economic relations with the EU, and signed association and free trade agreements with the bloc – Moldova’s largest trading partner – in 2014. The EU has provided €160 million in EU macro-financial assistance since 2017. In response to a Moldovan request for further assistance, the Commission proposed (before the outbreak of the war), to start allocating €30 million in grants and up to €120 million in medium-term loans. Members adopted this proposal by an overwhelming majority.
The fight against oligarch structures, protection of EU funds from fraud and conflict of interest
The Parliament has long stressed that corruption threatens democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermines citizens’ trust in the EU and its institutions. The sanctions necessitated by Russia’s war on Ukraine have highlighted the presence of Russian oligarchs and oligarchic structures on EU territory. Denouncing the current situation, especially in certain countries where EU funding is sometimes diverted to such persons (and not just Russians), Parliament’s Budgetary Control (CONT) Committee tabled a hard-hitting own-initiative report highlighting the need to protect EU funding against the risks of fraud and conflict of interest. Members debated and adopted a resolution which particularly condemns the use of EU agricultural funding for personal benefit, and warns against the threat to EU values of allowing oligarchs to gain control over the media and the judiciary.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
A number of committee decisions to enter into interinstitutional negotiations were announced: from the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee on the proposal for a directive on corporate sustainability reporting, from the Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) and Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committees on the proposal for a directive to strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms, and from the ECON committee on the proposal for a regulation on markets in crypto-assets.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – March II 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.