Written by Clare Ferguson.
Members return to meet in plenary in Strasbourg to an agenda that reflects the increasingly worrying convergence of Russia’s war on Ukraine, climate and energy crises. Members can expect to hear the Commission’s plans for addressing the continued crisis situation during the President of the European Commission’s statement on the State of the Union, scheduled for Wednesday morning. In terms of the Commission’s ongoing priorities, EPRS analysis shows that the von der Leyen Commission has already submitted almost two thirds of its over 500 targeted initiatives, with almost half of those already adopted. Members will also take a wider view of the future of the EU in a return to the ‘This is Europe’ series of debates with EU Heads of State or Government. The Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, is expected to take part in the debate on Tuesday morning.
A summer of drought after a year of floods has kept the need to fight climate change at the top of the agenda. Correcting the EU’s dependence on Russian gas has also become urgent. Reducing energy consumption and boosting use of renewables will be key to helping Europe weather the coming storm. Members are expected to consider two Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) reports on parts of the ‘fit for 55’ package (the EU’s plans to achieve climate neutrality by 2050), during this session. On Monday evening, Parliament is due to consider proposals to revise the Energy Efficiency Directive, where the committee seeks a more ambitious reduction in both primary and final consumption. It proposes binding national contributions based on Member States’ consumption levels, setting milestones in 2025 and 2027. The ITRE report also targets energy consumption in public buildings, and provides more detailed proposals to implement the ‘energy efficiency first’ principle. On Tuesday afternoon, Members are scheduled to debate another ITRE report, on the proposal to revise the Renewable Energy Directive. The committee supports the new 45 % renewable energy sources target, and seeks further innovative renewable energy and storage technology targets, to improve flexibility to cope with peaks in demand. The report also proposes tightening sustainability criteria for biomass and accelerating grants for renewables permits. It also sets more ambitious targets for the transport sector and greater promotion of renewable fuels in the maritime sector. The votes on the reports will set Parliament’s position for trilogue negotiations with the Council.
In advance of the Council and European Commission statements expected on Tuesday afternoon on the EU response to the increase in energy prices in Europe, Members are due to consider a report from Parliament’s Committee on Budgets (BUDG) on Monday evening. The interim report on the 2021 proposal for a revision of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) aims to set out the Parliament’s position before the Council formally asks for its consent to the revision. The revision is needed to raise the MFF ceilings to incorporate the social climate fund and to introduce an automatic annual adjustment of the MFF ceilings based on new own resources, to allow for the repayment of Next Generation EU borrowing. The BUDG committee report supports incorporating the social climate fund in the Union budget and the MFF, and calls for additional funding to help vulnerable household and transport users in the transition to climate neutrality. The report supports the use of all available Union budget instruments to provide economic and financial support both to Ukraine and to help EU citizens face the consequences of Russia’s aggression. The BUDG committee has also adopted a report on an amending budget, which notes that implementation of the EU’s 2021 budget left a high surplus (over €3.2 billion), mostly from higher than expected customs revenues, competition fines and some under-spending. To enter this sum as revenue in the 2022 budget, and reduce Member State contributions accordingly, the European Commission has proposed draft amending budget No 2/2022 (DAB 2/2022).
Despite their crucial role in mitigating climate change, the loss of forests to agricultural expansion is becoming acute, with 90 % of forest loss driven by production of agricultural commodities, many of which are exported to the EU. On Monday evening, Members are expected to consider a report from the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on the European Commission’s response to Parliament’s demands to tackle the issue by introducing new rules on export due diligence. The committee calls for the proposed deforestation regulation to cover a significantly higher level of minimum controls on a wider range of commodities (livestock, maize and rubber, and possibly sugar cane, ethanol and mining products). Penalties should be stronger and compensation mandatory when the rules are breached. The new legislation should also ensure that imports to the EU are produced in conformity with human rights. The result of the vote will set Parliament’s position in advance of negotiations with the co-legislators.
While EU governments set their own minimum wage levels, on Tuesday afternoon, Members are expected to consider a provisional agreement on legislation to ensure minimum wage protection is available to workers throughout the EU and lead to a decent standard of living. Parliament has succeeded in enhancing workers’ access to a minimum wage in the proposal, setting an 80 % threshold for collective bargaining. Under the new rules, statutory minimum wages would be updated every two (or four, if indexed) years. Once the final agreement is adopted, Member States have two years to transpose the directive into national law.
Turning to foreign affairs, during Question Time scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission (HR/VP) is expected to update Members on the state of play of the war in Ukraine, before giving a statement on the situation in the Strait of Taiwan. Members are also expected to consider a Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) report on a proposal for a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood on Tuesday afternoon, which comes as the effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine are being felt in the region, not least on food security. The AFET report urges action to seize the momentum to boost long-term growth and development through economic cooperation. It also encourages promotion of regional integration in the southern Mediterranean, with a view to establishing a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area.
Council and Commission representatives are expected to attend the plenary on Monday evening to brief Members on the situation regarding spyware systems in Greece, the latest EU country after Hungary, Poland and Spain to be accused of spying on journalists and opposition politicians.
In a joint debate on fisheries scheduled for Monday evening, Members are due to consider two Fisheries Committee (PECH) reports. The first concerns transposing the new 2022 measures for north-west Atlantic fisheries management. The EU is a party to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), and is therefore obliged to transpose new NAFO measures, so that they apply to EU vessels. The PECH report highlights the importance of complying with these conservation measures, which affect around 40 EU vessels with a 2021 catch of about 45 500 tonnes. The EU is also party to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and Members are expected to debate a second PECH report on a provisional agreement to transpose the WCPFC management measures for tuna fisheries. While only a few EU vessels have recently fished in the area, they land large quantities (14 000 tonnes in 2020).
Finally, on Thursday morning, Parliament is scheduled to consider a Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) report on the proposal to revise the rules applicable to European political parties and foundations, which help form European political awareness and communicate EU citizens’ wishes. The AFCO report proposes that parties from Council of Europe members that are not EU Member States should be eligible to become European parties, and proposes changes to their financing. To ensure parties comply with EU values, the committee proposes to streamline the deregistration procedures, particularly in cases where parties have not met standards on transparency, gender balance or the use of political advertising.