Written by Clare Ferguson with Sophia Stone.
Members return to Strasbourg for the final plenary session of 2022, with much of the agenda still reflecting issues we flagged up back in January in our analysis of the ‘ten issues to watch‘ this year – the green and digital transitions, energy supply security, defence and human rights. A ‘This is Europe’ debate is planned with the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Robert Golob, on Tuesday. The outcome of the recent COP27 climate change conference will be debated on Monday afternoon. European Commission representatives will give statements on relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union response to the United States Inflation Reduction Act, the Commission’s reports on the situation of journalists, and various human rights issues.
Supporting people’s basic rights and democratic values, both in the EU and the wider world, is one of Parliament’s top priorities. Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for outstanding achievements in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms since 1988. Laureates Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize. Having taken a courageous stand for freedom and democracy in the face of great hardship since the Russian invasion, the 2022 award goes to the brave people of Ukraine. President Roberta Metsola is due to present the Sakharov Prize in a ceremony in a formal plenary sitting on Wednesday.
The war in Ukraine and its consequences are also having a considerable impact on the EU’s finances, with the multiannual financial framework (MFF) under extreme strain. The MFF was not designed to cope with emergencies with huge financial implications, such as COVID‑19 and Russia’s invasion of its neighbour. Members are therefore expected to debate a Committee on Budgets own-initiative report on Wednesday, calling for an urgent revision of the MFF to increase the EU budget and make it more flexible. The committee calls for the Commission to propose an upscaled 2021-2027 MFF to provide a resilient EU budget fit for new challenges – with a bigger and more flexible budget, fresh revenue streams, action on preserving the budget from fluctuations in debt repayment for the EU recovery instrument and greater scrutiny and transparency.
The consequences of Russia’s attack on Ukraine are also scheduled for debate on Tuesday, when Members are due to consider a Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) report on the European Commission’s proposal to amend EU energy legislation under the REPowerEU plan. The ITRE committee implicitly endorses the higher renewable and energy efficiency targets proposed, and goes further, calling for a reduction in the delays in approving renewable energy installations. The vote on the file should set Parliament’s position for trilogue negotiations.
The war in Ukraine and the COVID‑19 pandemic have also affected international relations worldwide. One such area is relations with China, which are undoubtedly set to change, posing questions as to the EU’s priorities in trade, particularly in sensitive areas such as telecoms. Members are set to hear the Commission’s answers on the protection of strategic infrastructure from China’s influence during the question time session scheduled for Tuesday.
However, access to strategic infrastructure is not uniform for EU citizens themselves. Over 80 % of total EU territory is rural, supplying much of the EU’s natural resources in terms of biodiversity, agriculture and more. Those living in many rural EU areas face challenges ranging from finding employment to connecting to the internet. To remedy the situation, the European Commission has drawn up a long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas to encourage their resilience in the face of an ageing population, poor connectivity, and lack of opportunity. Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) has responded with an own-initiative report, due for debate in plenary on Monday. The report underlines the key role of rural areas in the EU, and the need for action to support the needs of their populations, underpinned by dedicated funding.
Continued discrimination and a failure to ensure equal rights for persons with disabilities to participate in social and political life are compounded by a lack of suitable accommodation, among other things. On Monday, Parliament is scheduled to debate a Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) own-initiative report on progress towards implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the EU. While the report recognises the efforts made to meet the standards described in the Convention, the committee decries a number of serious failings, particularly the use of EU funding to construct institutions, despite an EU target to end the practice of placing persons with disabilities in care.
Finally, on Tuesday, Parliament is set to debate a Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) own-initiative report on the implementation of the new European agenda for culture and the EU strategy for international cultural relations. The first strategy sets social and economic objectives for EU cultural policy (for the post-pandemic recovery, employment) and touches on opportunities also identified in the second, for cooperation with non-EU countries on the role of cultural diversity and heritage in sustainable socio-economic development and driving peace. The CULT committee recommends, among other things, paying stricter attention to employment conditions for creative workers, easier access to funding for small entities, better synergies with programmes like Erasmus+, Horizon Europe and the New European Bauhaus initiative, and emphasises freedom of artistic expression as an indicator of respect for the rule of law. Looking to cultural relations outside the EU, the report regrets the lack of focus on sustainable development and warns against perceptions of cultural diplomacy as ‘Eurocentric’.
The full agenda is available here.
- 2022 Sakharov Prize laureate: The brave people of Ukraine
- A long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas
- Cultural policy in EU and external relations
- Upscaling the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework: A resilient EU budget fit for new challenges
- Towards equal rights for persons with disabilities
- REPowerEU: Amending energy legislation
- Question time: Protection of strategic infrastructure from China’s influence
- COP27 climate change conference: Outcomes
- Ten issues to watch in 2022