Written by Clare Ferguson.
Parliament meets again in Strasbourg for the first session of June, with Members scheduled to attend a ‘This is Europe’ debate with the Taoiseach of Ireland, Micheál Martin (who is also expected at the inauguration of a statue of former Member, and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, John Hume in the Parliament in Strasbourg). Parliament will also hear European Council and Commission statements on the conclusions of the special European Council meeting of 30‑31 May 2022, and consider a draft resolution on the rule of law and the potential approval of the Polish national recovery plan (RRF). However, the main topic on the agenda is the twin challenge of reducing harm to the environment and fossil fuel use, with a full day of joint debate on the ‘Fit for 55’ package scheduled for Tuesday. On Monday evening, the Parliament is due to hold a question time session with the Commission, in a practice revived earlier this year, this time on the topic of reducing the use of pesticides and strengthening consumer protection.
The first of the files scheduled for Tuesday’s ‘Fit for 55’ joint debate is the proposed review of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), aimed at aligning the ETS with the Climate Law target of a 55 % reduction in net EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. In its report on the European Commission proposal, Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) calls for accelerated emissions reduction and for a system to reward best performers and innovation. The committee also proposes to include municipal waste incineration in the ETS from 2026, and to raise ambition in the maritime transport sector. The ENVI committee demands an end to free allowances and that the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) is completed earlier – by 2030. The report proposes to increase and rename the Innovation Fund as the Climate Investment Fund and make access to the Modernisation Fund conditional on legally binding climate neutrality targets and respect for the rule of law. Tuesday morning’s joint debate will also discuss Parliament’s position in negotiations with the co-legislators on the proposed EU CBAM, where the ENVI committee has proposed significant amendments to the proposed measures to prevent carbon leakage by levelling the playing field between EU and third-country producers. The proposal entails setting a carbon price for imported products and ending free emissions allowances for European industry. The committee report amends the proposal’s scope: broadening the products and sectors covered and allocating CBAM revenue to the EU budget. However, to support least-developed countries, ENVI suggests earmarking an equivalent amount for their decarbonisation efforts.
However, GHG emissions in sectors not included in the ETS account for around 60 % of EU emissions. The ‘Fit for 55’ debate therefore continues on Tuesday, with Members expected to discuss the revision of legislation governing measures to control GHG emissions in transport, buildings and agriculture. The Commission’s proposal aims at achieving climate neutrality by establishing binding national targets and setting annual emissions allocations (AEAs) for each EU country. Nevertheless, the ENVI committee calls for greater ambition, to align with the 2050 climate neutrality target. The ENVI committee also demands greater transparency in Member States’ actions under the regulation, including preparation of a Commission report on their AEA achievements. Parliament’s vote on the Effort-sharing Regulation will set its position for negotiations with the co-legislators.
Aviation emissions, projected to increase by 2050, are not included in the transport modes covered by the Effort-sharing Regulation. The ‘Fit for 55’ package aims to tackle these specifically, with Members expected to set Parliament’s position on the proposed revision of the EU ETS as regards aviation following Tuesday morning’s joint debate. The aviation proposal aims at amending the ETS Directive and implementing the current pilot carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation (CORSIA). Parliament already supports the elimination of the free allowances for emissions from flights to and from third countries, granted due to international pressure. An ENVI committee report on the proposals further calls for a 50 % reduction of these free allowances in 2024, before ending the exception in 2025. The ENVI report also supports the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, and proposes to direct 75 % of aviation allowance auction revenue to reducing the sector’s total climate impacts internationally.
Other ‘Fit for 55’ package proposals also concern transport sector CO2 emissions, which have barely fallen since 2005. To set Parliament’s position ahead of negotiations with the co-legislators, Members are expected to debate stricter CO2 emissions standards for new cars and vans on Tuesday afternoon (part two of the joint debate). The ENVI committee report on the proposal seeks to increase the 2025 emissions reduction target to 20 % and abolish the incentive mechanism to accelerate market uptake of zero- and low-emission vehicles after 2025. However, the committee insists that assessment of the socio-economic impact of the measures should be more frequent, including whether funding is needed to ensure a just transition in the automotive sector. The ENVI report also calls for a common EU methodology to assess car and van lifecycle CO2 emissions, fuel and energy consumption by 2023.
Members are also expected to debate Parliament’s position on proposals that aim to boost protection of crucial carbon sinks in the proposed revision of the regulation on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), also scheduled for part two of the ‘Fit for 55’ joint debate on Tuesday afternoon. The ENVI committee report on the proposal reiterates Parliament’s support for measures to halt deforestation and encourage sustainable farming, to protect the environment and the economic sectors that depend on it. The report disagrees with moves to merge LULUCF with agriculture measures however, and seeks to set national annual targets for 2026-2029, with penalties for non-compliance. It also underlines the need for coherence between EU policies that protect nature and biodiversity, and carbon storage measures.
Nonetheless, it is recognised that none of these measures will be cheap. Members will therefore also debate the proposed creation of a social climate fund as part of the joint ‘fit for 55’ debate (on Tuesday morning). This initiative seeks to match funding from EU own resources and Member State contributions to compensate those hardest-hit by the cost of the transition to a more environmentally friendly society – vulnerable households, small businesses and transport users. Parliament’s ENVI and Employment and Social Affairs have produced a joint report outlining expectations for national social climate plans to prioritise ‘clean’ mobility and limit temporary direct income support measures. The joint report defines ‘mobility poverty’, makes disbursement of funds conditional on countries respecting the rule of law, and asks that national plans consider the socio-economic challenges for islands and outermost regions. The fund would be primarily financed through the extension of the EU ETS to cover the buildings and transport sectors.
While the EU’s desire to become independent of Russian energy supplies has added impetus to the ‘Fit for 55’ initiatives, Parliament’s support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression means the country remains a major item on Parliament’s agenda. Ruslan Stefanchuk, Speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, is expected to make an address to a formal sitting of Parliament on Wednesday morning. As part of the now regular question time (scheduled for Tuesday evening) with HR/VP Josep Borrell, Members are scheduled to discuss EU external action to address the impact of the war in Ukraine on third countries. They are also due to debate a draft recommendation, prepared by the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), on EU foreign, security and defence policy in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The report recommends the EU move swiftly to establish a defence union and to underpin its common defence by implementing the Strategic Compass. It calls for the EU to embrace the aim of strategic autonomy and to hold regular Council meetings of EU defence ministers. Calling to replace the unilateral declaration on political accountability with a bilateral agreement with the HR/VP, AFET underlines the imperative for Parliament to scrutinise the Strategic Compass and use of the European Peace Facility.
Members are expected to debate Parliament’s position on the Commission’s 2021 report on Turkey on Monday evening. Turkey’s EU accession negotiations are currently on hold, due to democratic backsliding. However, relations with the EU have improved slightly, with a recent AFET committee report welcoming Turkey’s mediation in Russia’s war against Ukraine, and underlining the importance of cooperation with a NATO ally in the currently unstable geopolitical situation. The AFET report on the Commission’s 2021 annual report on Turkey’s accession nevertheless notes that the human rights situation in Turkey continues to deteriorate.
On Wednesday evening, Parliament is due to consider its position on an agreement reached between the co-legislators on the revised proposal for an international procurement instrument (IPI) to facilitate reciprocal access to procurement markets in non-EU (third) countries. The instrument would deter or disqualify tenderers from third countries that close their public procurement markets to EU bidders from bidding in the EU. Parliament successfully negotiated higher thresholds and fewer exceptions to the proposed rules, while minimising the administrative burden.
On Wednesday afternoon, Members are set to debate a crucial issue for Parliament – gaining the right of ‘direct’ legislative initiative. At present, the European Parliament, unlike national parliaments, only enjoys an ‘indirect right’ to propose legislation. This means it must submit a majority request to the Commission to prepare a proposal to implement the EU Treaties. To strengthen the EU’s democratic legitimacy, a report from the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) calls for a general and direct right of initiative for Parliament (the only directly elected institution). This would require Parliament to trigger a Treaty change, an issue discussed at the recent Conference on the Future of Europe in respect of the possibility of more far-reaching EU reforms.
The winner of the LUX Audience Award is due to be announced at a ceremony scheduled for lunchtime on Wednesday. The prize celebrates quality cinema in Europe, with the three competing films obtaining help with distribution, including subtitling in the 24 official EU languages and screening at the LUX Film Days in more than 60 cities. The winning film will also be adapted for those with visual and hearing impairments. Previous laureates have gone on to be highly successful in the EU and beyond.
Finally, on Wednesday lunchtime, Members are scheduled to vote on a Fisheries Committee recommendation to grant consent to the conclusion of a new EU–Mauritania Fisheries Agreement and Protocol – the EU’s economically most significant fisheries agreement. In updating this cooperation framework, Parliament supports increased fisheries cooperation between EU partners in West Africa and strengthens calls for a regional fisheries management organisation to deal with shared stocks.