Written by Aidan Christie with Rebecca Fredrick.
This week, Members hold their second March plenary session, this time in Brussels. The agenda is full, with debates scheduled on the rule of law in EU countries and on two environmental files – but the planned vote on measures to help ensure equal pay for equal work is likely to attract the most attention.
Before moving to the legislative work, on Wednesday, Parliament will hold a ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, which brought an end to three decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland. The EU has done much to support the peace process, even before the Agreement was reached in 1998, in particular through targeting funding on measures to foster cross-community reconciliation and economic development. In the same spirit, the recently agreed Windsor Framework to facilitate the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the UK’s EU withdrawal Agreement seeks to prevent the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, safeguarding both the all-island economy and the EU single market.
Parliament is also due to hear statements on Wednesday from the European Council and Commission on the conclusions of the 23-24 March European Council meeting.
A key moment of the second March plenary session will be Thursday’s vote on adoption of the provisional agreement on equal pay for equal work between men and women, reached after five long trilogue meetings. Despite the right to equal pay being enshrined in the EU Treaties since 1992, the gender pay gap currently sits at 12.7 %. The European Parliament has for years been calling for stronger measures on equal pay. If adopted, the present proposal would increase transparency around pay and access to justice for victims of pay discrimination. Notably, the legislation requires all companies – regardless of size – to make available to employees their criteria for determining remuneration as well as a breakdown of remuneration in the company. The burden of proof on pay-related issues will shift from worker to employer, and companies with over 100 employees will be obliged to publish their gender pay gap, and to conduct a joint assessment with their employees if it exceeds 5 %.
Following the equal pay debate, Members are set to debate a European Commission statement on its third annual rule of law report on Thursday morning, and subsequently vote on a motion for a resolution on the report, tabled by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). This year, the Commission took into account Parliament’s call for the inclusion in the report of specific recommendations directed at each Member State. While the LIBE motion acknowledges this addition, it expresses concern that many of the recommendations lack specificity. Additionally, it calls on the Commission to address in their entirety other requests which Parliament has previously made, namely, establishing an advisory panel of independent experts, including fundamental rights in the scope of the report, and providing implementation deadlines for country-specific recommendations.
Turning to the environment, in a joint debate scheduled for Wednesday afternoon Members are due to discuss two reports tabled by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), with the aim of fixing Parliament’s position for trilogue negotiations with the Council. The reports concern proposals that aim to bring existing legislation into alignment with EU climate goals and with the Montreal Protocol.
The proposed revision of the Ozone Regulation would update current rules on ozone-depleting substances (ODS) to reduce administrative burden, facilitate monitoring, and further reduce ODS emissions. Parliament seeks to establish a rolling review mechanism by which the Commission would be required to assess every 2.5 years (beginning in January 2025) the availability of alternatives to ODS prohibited by the Montreal Protocol but whose use is permitted in the EU in certain applications. The ultimate aim is to phase out such exemptions. The second proposed regulation concerns fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases), a particularly strong – although non-ozone-depleting – category of greenhouse gases (GHG). EU rules on F-gases have been in place since 2006 and have led to significant reductions in GHG emissions. However, in light of the EU’s goals of 55 % GHG reductions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, Parliament is pushing further. Among the ENVI committee’s proposed changes to the Commission’s proposal are a prohibition on the use of F-gases in sectors where alternatives are technologically and economically feasible, steeper product phase-down trajectories, firmer deadlines after which certain F-gases will not be allowed to be placed on the market, and the introduction of minimum fines for non-compliance.
Before the end of the Wednesday evening sitting, Members are expected to debate a provisional agreement, endorsed by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), on the proposed regulation on general product safety. If adopted, the regulation would replace existing legislation which has become less effective as a result of digitalisation, supply chain evolution and changes in consumer behaviour. The text agreed in trilogue has taken into account Parliament’s demand that product safety assessments must consider the consumers targeted (for example, children and older people), as well as its stance on consumers’ right to remedy in the event of a product recall.
- Plenary session agenda
- Review of the F-gas Regulation
- Revision of the Ozone Regulation
- EU general product safety regulation
- Equal pay for equal work between men and women
- European Commission’s third rule of law report
- The Windsor Framework
- EU cohesion policy support to 25 years of peace in Northern Ireland
- Outcome of the meetings of EU leaders of 23-24 March 2023