Members' Research Service By / March 10, 2023

European Parliament Plenary Session – March I, 2023

As the world continues attempting to achieve the tricky balancing act needed to tackle international aggression, deteriorating climate conditions and looming economic downturn, Parliament meets in plenary determined to ensure the best outcomes for European citizens.

© European Union 2019 / Architecture-Studio

Written by Clare Ferguson.

As the world continues attempting to achieve the tricky balancing act needed to tackle international aggression, deteriorating climate conditions and looming economic downturn, Parliament meets in plenary determined to ensure the best outcomes for European citizens. The latest ‘This is Europe’ debate is due to take place on Tuesday morning, with the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, is expected to attend the session on Wednesday morning, when Members are scheduled to hear European Council and Commission statements on the preparation of the European Council meeting of 23-24 March 2023. This will be the first time he appears in advance of a European Council meeting, rather than reporting to plenary after each meeting.

One of the biggest questions facing lawmakers since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is how we can ensure energy security in the European Union in 2023. Members of the European Parliament are expected to take the opportunity to scrutinise the European Commission’s action on this topic at ‘question time’ on Tuesday afternoon. Whereas concerted EU mitigation has avoided energy shortages to date, the bloc faces multiple challenges to continue to cut consumption, improve energy efficiency and diversify energy supplies (by using more renewables, domestic sources and LNG), whilst simultaneously working towards climate neutrality. All EU countries are currently net energy importers. With no signs of Russia ending its war, and climate change still a threat, the EU needs to redouble efforts to move from a short-term crisis response to true energy security.

In a joint debate scheduled for Monday evening, Members are set to discuss the outcome of the negotiations on the ‘Fit for 55’ proposals aimed at reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions by 55 % by 2030. Members are expected to vote on a provisional agreement, endorsed by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), on revising the Effort-sharing Regulation. The legislation sets binding targets for each EU country to reduce emissions not covered under the emissions trading system (ETS), which now need updated to reflect the EU’s greater climate ambition. The revision requires a just and socially fair transition, with Parliament insisting on reinforced corrective action, transparency, and the importance of scientific advice. Parliament is also expected to formally adopt a provisional agreement on revising the market stability reserve for the EU ETS, which adjusts the number of allowances in the reserve, the auctioning of which provides significant revenue for EU countries. Similarly, Members are set to formally adopt a text agreed with the co-legislators on revising the Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry Regulation (LULUCF), which manages carbon removals through sustainable forestry and land management. While some of Parliament’s demands for a stronger framework, and environmental and economic monitoring, were not addressed, a review is scheduled for 2025.

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To further reduce the energy wasted through badly insulated and energy-inefficient buildings, Parliament is also expected to set its position for negotiations with the Council on accelerating action under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, following a debate on Monday evening. Parliament’s discussion follows a Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) report, seeking to set an earlier zero-emissions deadline for all new buildings. Fossil fuel heating systems should disappear altogether by 2035, with residential buildings set to reach EPC class E by 2030. Where renovations would lead to rent rises not compensated by energy savings, however, the report seeks an exemption for public social housing.

During the ‘question time’ scheduled for Tuesday afternoon with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, Members are expected to seek answers regarding efforts to strengthen trans-Atlantic ties to face global multilateral challenges. While President Joe Biden’s administration has a more cooperative approach to the EU than that of his predecessor, long-running trade disputes have proven hard to reconcile, and the Inflation Reduction Act has recently fuelled significant concerns in Europe. Nevertheless, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened transatlantic ties.

In a joint debate on relations with the United Kingdom, scheduled for Tuesday evening, Members are set to discuss a Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) implementation report on the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. They are also expected to hear a Commission statement on the recently agreed Windsor framework. The framework seeks to improve the movement of goods under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (the part of the Withdrawal Agreement seeking to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and safeguard the all-island economy, the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and the integrity of the EU single market). The chairs of the European Parliament UK Contact Group and Parliament’s delegation to the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly have welcomed the Windsor framework, but also promised detailed parliamentary scrutiny and thorough monitoring of its implementation.

Elsewhere, the EU is an active mediator in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the EU is a particularly important trade and assistance partner for Armenia, Azerbaijan (considered an authoritarian regime) is an important EU energy supplier. Parliament seeks to advance discussion on a future Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty to address the root causes of the conflict. Members are consequently set to discuss Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) own-initiative reports on EU-Armenian relations and EU-Azerbaijan relations on Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday morning, Parliament is expected to consider a Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) report, in view of setting a position for trilogue negotiations on the proposed data act, aimed at governing fair access to and use of data in the EU. The report seeks to clarify the data covered by the legislation, strengthen protection of trade secrets, ensure fairer contracts for customers and provide them with more power to switch provider. It also demands fair remuneration for access to data, and sets the terms for ‘public emergency’ access to privately held data.

The European Parliament is a staunch defender of those who act to protect human rights. On Wednesday afternoon, Members are set to debate a Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) own-initiative report assessing the framework for protecting human rights activists working in non-EU countries. The report calls for consistent application of the EU guidelines, to a wider range of rights defenders, and for specific support for those defending women’s sexual and reproductive rights. As well as debating the implementation of the EU guidelines on human rights defenders, Members are expected to hear statements from the Council and European Commission on human rights defenders protecting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Finally, Parliament is expected to debate a European Citizens’ Initiative on Thursday morning, backed by over 1 million citizens and calling for bee-friendly agriculture for a healthy environment. Reacting to declining bee populations, the initiative seeks an EU response to redressing the balance between priorities on food security, the environment and agricultural practices.

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