Written by CLare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.
Russia’s war on Ukraine was again at the top of the agenda for the May I 2022 plenary session in Strasbourg. Members held three important debates related to the war: on the social and economic consequences for the EU and reinforcing the EU’s capacity to act, on EU preparedness against cyber-attacks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and on the impact on the EU transport and tourism sectors. Parliament debated Commission and Council statements on threats to the safety of journalists and media freedom, marking the annual World Press Freedom Day, on ongoing hearings under Article 7(1) TEU regarding Poland and Hungary, on the state of play of EU-Moldova cooperation, on building a wall on the Poland–Belarus border in the Białowieża primeval forest, and on threats to stability, security and democracy in western Africa and the Sahel. The follow up of the Conference on the Future of Europe was also debated. Following on from recent reforms to the structure of the plenary agenda, and in particular the return of question time with the Commission, Members discussed Europe’s energy autonomy – the strategic importance of renewables and energy interconnections and efficiency – with Commissioner Kadri Simson. A debate entitled ‘This is Europe’ was held with the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, and other Heads of State or Government are expected to take part in future plenary sessions. Among the other debates held were those on the discharge for the 2020 budget, the EU action plan for organic agriculture, distortive foreign subsidies, the 2021 annual report on competition policy, and on artificial intelligence in a digital age.
As every year, Members carry out democratic oversight of spending under the EU budget, and in a joint debate considered 53 reports examining whether EU institutions, agencies and other bodies complied with the rules and the principles of sound financial management in their 2020 expenditure. Firstly, Members followed the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) recommendation that Parliament grant discharge to the European Commission and to all six executive agencies, which are responsible for the bulk of EU budget spending. It also granted separate discharge for the European development funds. The committee insisted that the Commission act to end violations of the rule of law and to use the tools it has to make payment of EU funding conditional on respect for EU values. It also highlighted the risk of a continuing gap between the high level of commitments and the amount of payments made. It made recommendations concerning monitoring of expenditure and detection of fraud.
On discharge for the other EU institutions, Members postponed, following the CONT committee recommendation, the decision on granting discharge for the European Council and Council, and for the Economic and Social Committee, with the committee to table new reports within six months. The committee decried the European Council and Council’s refusal to disclose how it has spent EU taxpayers’ money, a situation that has persisted since 2009. It also criticised the European Council’s interference in the legislative process, when it has no legislative role. The committee criticised the re-appointment of a member investigated for harassment to the Economic and Social Committee. While the committee had recommended postponing discharge, Members voted to grant discharge to the Court of Auditors, while demanding clarification on the payment of allowances at the Court of Auditors, following media reports of misuse. Parliament then granted discharge to 9 joint undertakings and 31 of the 32 EU decentralised agencies, where action has largely been taken to remedy previous shortcomings. Members however postponed the discharge for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency until the agency has addressed the findings of an EU Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) investigation regarding harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks, and has shared the outcome with Parliament.
Strengthening Europol’s mandate
New technologies are altering the security domain, providing both an opportunity to enhance EU action to counter serious crime and terrorism and a challenge to protecting personal data. Parliament approved the provisional agreement resulting from interinstitutional negotiations on the proposal to strengthen Europol‘s mandate. While Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee supported the proposal, it sought stronger safeguards, democratic oversight and accountability. The approved text will reinforce cooperation with private parties and third countries, encourage research and innovation at Europol, and improve the rules on how the law enforcement agency deals with both data analysis and protection.
Persistent organic pollutants
Parliament debated and adopted by large majority a report on a proposal which would strengthen limits on the use of certain harmful chemicals. The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety proposes stricter limits than in the Commission’s proposal for persistent organic pollutants (carbon-based chemicals that get into our bodies through the food chain) in waste. The committee proposes stronger restrictions on chemicals found in incinerated waste, pesticides, water and fireproofing, aiming for a toxic-free environment. The adopted report sets Parliament’s position for negotiations with the Council on the proposal.
Artificial intelligence in a digital age
Parliament set up its Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) in 2020, to investigate the challenges of deploying AI technologies and to analyse their impact on the EU economy. The committee has now completed its work, and Members debated and then adopted a resolution on its final report on the potential opportunities and risks, as well as measures to ensure the EU becomes a global leader in AI. The report concludes with an urgent call for action to promote a human-centric, trustworthy and inclusive approach to AI, based on fundamental rights, that manages risks while taking full advantage of the benefits.
Election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage
Members debated and voted by a small majority a Committee on Constitutional Affairs report proposing to further harmonise the national rules on European elections. The rules on eligibility and accessibility are not the same in every EU country at present, and as well as further harmonising them, the Parliament proposes to create a Union-wide constituency. This would give citizens two votes (one national, one Union-wide), with the second used to elect 28 Members to the European Parliament through transnational electoral lists – with strict requirements to ensure reasonable balance among Member States – and a uniform electoral system. Now that the Parliament has adopted its formal proposal, it is transmitted to the Council, which has to adopt the new rules, following the Parliament’s consent on the final text. Once adopted, the new regulation would also need to be ratified by each Member State before it can come into force.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed, without a vote, mandates for negotiation from the Fisheries Committee (PECH) on the proposal for a regulation on conservation and management measures for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, and on the proposal for a regulation on certain provisions for fishing in the GFCM (General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean) Agreement area, as well as from the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) on the proposal for a directive on the harmonisation of the laws of the Member States relating to the making available on the market of radio equipment (common chargers for mobile phones).
Members also approved by a vote mandates for negotiations from the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on the proposals for regulations extending the framework for the issuance, verification and acceptance of interoperable Covid-19 vaccination, test and recovery certificates (EU Digital Covid Certificate) to facilitate free movement of EU citizens during the pandemic and for third-country nationals legally staying or residing in the territories of Member States.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – May I 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.