Written by Clare Ferguson.
Members meet in Brussels for the second plenary session of May 2022, with the geopolitical situation dominating the agenda once again. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the need for strong alliances. However, Ukraine’s request for European Union membership comes at a time when several other countries are still grappling with the accession process.
Parliament sees stability in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood as crucial to countering possible Russian influence in the region. The session is scheduled to open on Wednesday with Maia Sandu, President of Moldova, addressing a formal sitting, followed by a debate on the Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee’s annual report on progress to date with implementation of Moldova’s EU Association Agreement.
Members are then expected to debate two further AFET annual reports on the enlargement process for EU membership candidates North Macedonia and Albania – where the committee regrets the lack of progress within the Council on opening accession negotiations. North Macedonia is the most advanced candidate in terms of its accession process, and the AFET report highlights North Macedonia’s positive record in its transition to democracy. However, Bulgaria continues to block the opening of accession negotiations due to a cultural dispute, and the report nevertheless calls for North Macedonia to continue its administrative and political reform. Negotiations on Albania’s EU membership bid have not yet begun. Indeed, Albania’s international standing on corruption has even fallen since its EU application in 2014. The AFET committee’s annual report on Albania‘s progress highlights persisting issues of judicial independence, corruption, freedom of speech and minority rights, and calls on the Albanian authorities to eliminate corruption and criminality in public life.
Indeed, the rule of law is a key element of democracy and is one of the founding values of the EU, binding on all its Member States as well as candidate countries. On Wednesday, Parliament is scheduled to consider a report from the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee, prepared in response to the European Commission’s 2021 rule of law report, which monitors the situation in EU countries. Covering four areas (justice systems, anti-corruption, media pluralism and freedom, and institutional checks and balances), this second report notes that there have been positive developments, despite the stress that the Covid‑19 pandemic placed on democratic systems. However, the committee repeats its view that the Commission should make country-specific recommendations and monitor their progress. The committee also criticises the rule of law report for failing to take account of Parliament’s previous recommendations that it should include monitoring of all key EU values: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including for minorities.
Later on Wednesday, Parliament is expected to debate the thorny issue of taxation in the globalised, digitalised world. In recent years, digitalisation has made it easy for large multinational enterprises to shift their profits to countries with preferential tax regimes, thereby putting their profit before the opportunity to pay fair taxes to the societies that host them. This strips countries of revenue on which they depend to fund social benefits, such as healthcare, and investment. Parliament has long demanded reform in this area, and the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) recently agreed a framework for a minimum corporate tax rate. Members will consider an Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee report, introducing a clause to the proposals to allow revision of the proposed minimum tax rate threshold of €750 million a year. Parliament’s opinion on the proposal to implement the agreement in the EU will then feed into the Council decision, where a unanimous vote is required.
Returning to human rights on Thursday morning, Members are scheduled to debate the Commission’s response to oral questions on proposals concerning the right to education in the EU. To ensure that people in the EU have access to a quality, inclusive education for personal fulfilment, to enable them to participate fully as citizens, and to boost their employment chances, the Commission has proposed to build a European education area by 2025. The aim would be to offer work-based learning to at least 60 % of recent graduates, and learning opportunities for adults up to 65 years old. Further goals will promote learning for a sustainable environment by 2030, such as ensuring a good level of education in mathematics, science and computer skills for all.