Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson.
The highlight of the September 2022 plenary session was the annual address by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on the State of the European Union (SOTEU). Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, was present for SOTEU and the debate that followed, where Russian aggression in Ukraine was again an important point. A ‘This is Europe’ debate was held with the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin. Members also debated Council and Commission statements on the EU response to the increase in energy prices in Europe, the urgent need for action at EU level to ensure humane treatment of migrants in Europe, the consequences of extreme weather phenomena and increasing EU efforts to fight climate change, and on the ecological disaster in the Oder River. Debates also took place on the state of the SME Union, surveillance and predator spyware systems in Greece, and the situation in the Strait of Taiwan.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy
Reducing consumption and boosting use of renewables will be key to helping Europe weather the energy crisis. Members debated and adopted positions based on two Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) reports on proposals from the ‘fit for 55’ package (the EU’s plans to achieve climate neutrality by 2050). Parliament adopted its position on the proposal to revise the Energy Efficiency Directive, by a large majority. To fight climate change and rising energy prices, the Parliament therefore seeks a more ambitious reduction in both primary and final consumption. The ITRE report proposes binding national contributions based on Member States’ consumption levels, setting milestones in 2025 and 2027, and targets energy consumption in public buildings. Members also voted overwhelmingly in favour of a second ITRE report, on revising 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 sets more ambitious targets for the transport sector and greater promotion of renewable fuels in the maritime sector. The results of the votes set Parliament’s position on the files for interinstitutional negotiations with the Council.
Adequate minimum wages
While EU governments set their own minimum wage levels, Members debated and adopted a provisional agreement on new EU legislation to ensure minimum wage protection is available to workers throughout the EU and thus will 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 should be updated every two (or four, if indexed) years. Member States have two years to transpose the directive into national law.
Despite their crucial role in mitigating climate change, the loss of forests to agricultural expansion is becoming acute, driven by production of agricultural commodities, many of which are exported to the EU. Demanding that companies ensure the products they sell in the EU are not the result of deforestation, Members adopted a report from the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) by a large majority. In its report 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, set stronger penalties and mandatory compensation, and protect human rights. The result of the vote sets Parliament’s position for negotiations with the Council on the proposal.
Interim report on the 2021 proposal for a revision of the MFF
Members adopted a Committee on Budgets (BUDG) report on the 2021 proposal for a revision of the multiannual financial framework (MFF), setting 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 also 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.
Draft amending budget No 2/2022
Noting 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, Members also adopted a BUDG report on an amending budget. Draft amending budget No 2/2022 (DAB 2/2022) will therefore enter this sum as revenue in the 2022 budget, reducing Member State contributions accordingly.
Statute and funding of European political parties and foundations
Parliament adopted a Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) report on the proposal to revise the rules applicable to European political parties and foundations. 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.
In a joint debate on fisheries measures, Members adopted two Fisheries Committee (PECH) reports. The first highlights the importance of transposing the new 2022 conservation 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 EU is also party to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and Members also adopted a PECH report on a provisional agreement to transpose the WCPFC management measures for tuna fisheries.
Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood
Members adopted a Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) report on a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood, 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.
Question time: The state of play of the war in Ukraine
During Question Time, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell, debated the state of play of the war in Ukraine with Members, noting that EU sanctions are helping Ukraine to continue to defend itself against Russian aggression.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed, without votes, mandates for negotiation: two from the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee, on the proposal for a regulation on standardisation organisations concerning European standards and European standardisation deliverables, and on the proposal for a directive on consumer credits; from the BUDG and Budgetary Control (CONT) committees on a proposal for a regulation on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union; as well as a mandate from the PECH committee on a proposal for a regulation on restrictions to the access to Union waters.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – September 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.