Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.
The highlights of the January I 2023 plenary session were debates on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 15 December 2022 and the presentation of activities planned under the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The session opened with a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the single market, followed by a debate with the Council and Commission on the matter.
Debates were held on the surge of respiratory infections and the shortage of medication in Europe; on the need to increase transparency, integrity and accountability in the EU institutions; on terrorist threats posed by far-right extremist networks; on criminalisation of humanitarian assistance, as well as on the Global Gateway. Members also debated foreign affairs issues, including the EU’s response to the appalling attack against civilians in Dnipro; strengthening action against the Putin regime and military support; and the establishment of a tribunal on the crime of aggression against Ukraine. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, spoke on the EU response to the protests and executions in Iran, and on strengthening the EU‑Latin America partnership.
During question time, Members posed questions to Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski on EU action to tackle food price inflation in Europe. Finally, Parliament elected Marc Angel (S&D, Luxembourg) to the post of Vice‑President of the European Parliament.
Thirtieth anniversary of the single market
In relation to EU freedoms, for 30 years, the single market has benefited Europeans through free competition under fair rules and the liberty to live, work, shop and retire anywhere in Europe. Estimates suggest the single market has added between 8 % and 9 % to EU gross domestic product. With 447 million consumers and 23 million companies, however, the single market is a constantly evolving entity, which needs to adapt to challenges such as the pandemic. Members adopted, by a large majority, a resolution, tabled by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), which underlines 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.
Strengthening EU rules on waste shipments
Stronger rules on waste shipments would ensure that EU efforts to recycle waste do not lead to environmental degradation outside the EU. Members debated and adopted a report from Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) calling for stronger European Commission proposals to this end, 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. The vote sets Parliament’s position for negotiations on EU rules on waste shipments with the Council.
Unshell – Rules to prevent misuse of shell entities for tax purposes
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 debated and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) report. Members support the ECON proposals to lower gateway thresholds to prevent EU shell companies from benefiting from tax advantages, impose shorter deadlines to address rebuttals, and review the rules to prevent misuse of shell entities for tax purposes after five years. The proposal now requires unanimity in the Council, where negotiations are ongoing, following consultation of Parliament.
Revision of the European Works Councils Directive
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. Members debated a legislative-initiative report from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), which calls on the Commission to take action to ensure European works councils provide meaningful consultation, end exemptions, and introduce tougher penalties. The vote will take place in plenary on 2 February.
Human rights and democracy in the world
The consequences, particularly for the most vulnerable, of Russia’s war on Ukraine are highlighted in the response to the Commission’s 2021 annual report on human rights and democracy in the world, drafted by Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI). The report 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, Members debated and adopted the Human rights and democracy in the world, 2021 report, which in particular favours integrating human rights values in trade agreements, and looks forward to greater cooperation between EU institutions on human rights issues.
Annual reports on the implementation of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and common security and defence policy (CSDP) in 2022
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. Members debated and adopted the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) 2022 annual report on implementation of the CFSP, which highlights the combined effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine and worsening climate and energy crises, with increasingly assertive authoritarian regimes such as China and Iran posing new risks to stability. In its report, 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.
Members also debated and adopted a second AFET report, on EU defence initiatives, its 2022 report on the EU’s 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 progress made in 2022, such as 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.
Protection of the EU’s financial interests and combating fraud – Annual report 2021
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 debated and adopted 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).
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members challenged the mandate for negotiations from the Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Committee on the proposal for a directive on improving working conditions in platform work, and a vote on confirming the mandate is now scheduled in plenary on 2 February 2023.
Read this ‘plenary at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – January I 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.