Written by Clare Ferguson with Sophia Stone.
After a run of difficult years, Members of the European Parliament begin 2023 with a full agenda and some thorny issues to be grasped.
In a key debate on Wednesday morning, Members are scheduled to hear European Council and Commission statements on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 15 December 2022. Earlier, on Tuesday morning, they are due to hear Council and Commission statements presenting the Swedish Presidency of the Council’s programme of activities for the next six months. Sweden’s priorities are: to protect citizens and freedoms; promote a new growth and investment model; a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe; and to promote Europe’s interests and values globally.
In relation to EU freedoms, for 30 years, the single market has benefited us all through free competition under fair rules and the liberty to live, work, shop and retire anywhere we like in Europe. Estimates suggest the single market has added between 8 % and 9 % to EU gross domestic product. That’s not to say that there is no room for improvement – 447 million consumers and 23 million companies mean that the single market is a constantly evolving entity, which needs to adapt to challenges such as the COVID‑19 pandemic. In addition to a ceremony to mark this noteworthy anniversary, Members are expected to debate a motion for resolution on Monday evening, tabled by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). Underlining the single market’s vital role in creating a European polity, the IMCO text seeks renewed Member State commitment to implementing and enforcing existing single market legislation correctly and looks forward to renewed action to strengthen and modernise the single market. Members will also hear statements from the European Commission and Council.
While the single market has made it much easier to do business across borders in the European Union, wider globalisation sometimes causes issues when decisions affecting workers for multinational companies are taken far from their workplace. European works councils (EWCs) represent EU employees of large multinational companies, to ensure that their rights are protected. Despite an evident lack of effective consultation, however, the European Commission does not plan to revise the current EWC Directive. On Thursday morning, Members are due to debate a legislative-initiative report from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), calling on the Commission to take action to ensure European works councils provide meaningful consultation, and an end to exemptions, tougher penalties and access to justice.
The EU is, above all, a peace project. However, in a dynamic geopolitical situation, the EU can demonstrate its capacity to address external vulnerabilities in a robust manner – such as the unprecedented decision to mobilise funding for Member State weapons delivery to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression. In a debate on Tuesday afternoon, Members are due to discuss annual reports for 2022 on implementation of the common foreign and security policy, implementation of the common security and defence policy, and human rights and democracy in the world.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has added to worsening climate and energy crises, and increasingly assertive authoritarian regimes such as China and Iran are posing new risks to stability. In its 2022 report on the implementation of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) proposes that the EU redouble its efforts to strengthen international security through a military and defence union, by supporting qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council on security issues, ensuring greater strategic autonomy, and stronger mitigation of climate change vulnerabilities.
The AFET committee takes up the challenges triggered by Russia’s aggression, to focus on EU defence initiatives in its 2022 report on the EU’s common security and defence policy. (CSDP). Noting the dramatic deterioration of the security situation resulting from Russia’s actions, the committee urges that the EU provide all necessary assistance to Ukraine. It welcomes the new initiatives taken in 2022, such as progress on the Strategic Compass, and looks forward to proposals for stronger EU defence financing. Not limited to European soil, the report calls for stronger security partnerships in Africa and in the maritime sphere, particularly the Indo-Pacific. It also welcomes the climate change and defence roadmap, and underlines the need for more investment in ‘green’ defence. Following up on the Conference on the Future of Europe, the report calls for further discussion of using QMV in the Council for CSDP matters.
The consequences, particularly for the most vulnerable, of Russia’s war, are highlighted in a response to the European Commission’s 2021 annual report on human rights and democracy in the world, which details the greatly deteriorating environment. The report from Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) for the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) calls for a strong approach to war criminals and human rights violators in the context of the war in Ukraine. It also condemns the increasing threats to freedom of expression in many countries, and welcomes EU action to protect the most vulnerable, wherever they live. In this respect, the Human rights and democracy in the world, 2021 report is particularly in favour of integrating human rights values in trade agreements, and looks forward to greater cooperation between EU institutions on human rights issues.
Peace and security: interactive infographic on Peace and Security.
Food price inflation is another consequence of the war, as well as other factors including extreme weather, affecting all EU citizens. Parliament strongly supports the measures to address the impacts of the Russian invasion on energy and food prices in the EU, particularly those aimed at reducing dependence on imports and increasing domestic production. Parliament has also called for measures to shelter citizens from the worst inflation in commodity prices and has encouraged EU countries to consider taking tax measures to ease access to essential goods. Members are expected to put their questions to representatives of the European Commission on EU action to tackle food price inflation in Europe on Tuesday afternoon.
Stronger rules on waste shipments are needed to ensure that EU efforts to recycle waste do not lead to environmental degradation outside the EU. A report from Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) considers that European Commission proposals to this end could be strengthened, not least on monitoring what actually happens to waste exported outside the EU. The committee would like to see an assessment of waste management in non-EU countries that takes labour standards into consideration, as well as an end to EU exports of plastic waste. Members are expected to debate the report on Monday evening, with a subsequent vote setting Parliament’s position for negotiations on EU rules on waste shipments with the Council.
Corruption is a major challenge for the EU – all Member States are affected by the problem to some extent – and this exposure to organised crime, undetected fraud and high-level corruption can seriously harm the EU’s budget. Combating fraud and protecting the EU’s financial interests is therefore crucial. Members are due to debate a Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) own-initiative report on these efforts, detailed in the European Commission’s 2021 annual report on the protection of the EU’s financial interests (known as the PIF report), on Wednesday afternoon. Noting the challenging context in 2021 due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, the CONT committee nevertheless underlines the need for timely parliamentary scrutiny of the spending of the extraordinary EU funds made available for the recovery.
While shell companies, or ‘shells’ (entities with no, or minimal, economic activity) may serve commercial or business functions, they are also used to evade taxes. In response to a European Commission proposal for an instrument to ‘unshell’ companies being used to abuse the tax system, Parliament is set to debate a Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) report on Monday evening. The report proposes lower gateway thresholds to prevent EU shell companies from benefiting from tax advantages, shorter deadlines to address rebuttals, and welcomes plans to review the rules to prevent misuse of shell entities for tax purposes after five years. The proposal requires unanimity in the Council, where negotiations are ongoing, following consultation of Parliament.
Parliament’s 14 vice-presidents replace the president in the discharge of his or her duties, among other duties, and sit as a Member of Parliament’s Bureau, responsible for financial, organisational and administrative decisions on Parliament’s functioning. On Wednesday lunchtime, Parliament will vote to elect a new vice-president, after voting last month to remove the vice-president subject to ongoing investigations by Belgian authorities for alleged wrongdoing.
European Parliament Plenary Session – January I, 2023 – agenda
- Ten issues to watch in 2023: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPPfzoqPUImUT7HIcA7l34ieoAtU7GnWU
- Ten issues to watch in 2023
- State of play in the European Council in December 2022
- Priority dossiers under the Swedish European Council Presidency
- Thirtieth anniversary of the EU single market
- Revision of European Works Council Directive
- Report on the implementation of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) in 2022
- Report on the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP) in 2022
- Human rights and democracy in the world, 2021
- Question time: Food price inflation
- Strengthening EU rules on waste shipments
- Protection of the EU’s financial interests and combating fraud: Annual report 2021
- Unshell – Rules to prevent misuse of shell entities for tax purposes
- Vacancy for a Parliament vice-president