Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson.
Among the highlights of the May I plenary session were debates on the EU budget and own resources, as well as on 55 reports on the discharge for the 2021 budget. Members addressed a variety of issues, including the revision of the Stability and Growth Pact, and the role of farmers as enablers of the green transition and a resilient agricultural sector. Further debates concerned Ukrainian cereals on the European market, the act in support of ammunition production (on which Parliament voted to fast-track the legislative proposal, with a vote during the May II session), updating the anti-corruption legislative framework, the roadmap on a Social Europe, fighting cyberbullying of young people across the EU, and the adequacy of the protection afforded by the EU-US Data Privacy Framework. Members also considered Commission statements on oceans, biodiversity and fisheries. A debate was held on the European Citizens’ Initiative, ‘Stop Finning – Stop the trade’.
Finally, Members heard and then debated a ‘This is Europe’ address by Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, and heard an address by Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President of Portugal, in a formal sitting.
2024 EU budget – Borrowing costs of the EU recovery instrument
The biggest issue on Parliament’s agenda this plenary session was the EU budget. Members held a joint debate on the current multiannual EU budget and own resources. Parliament adopted a Committee on Budgets (BUDG) initiative report addressing the undermining of the EU’s capacity to finance its priorities as a result of rising borrowing costs for the EU recovery instrument. Members also debated a BUDG report urging a revision of the EU’s long-term budget by 2024. To avoid having to cancel existing programmes due to lack of funds, the committee calls on the Council to act urgently to adopt the stalled Own Resources Decision.
Discharge for 2021
To ensure the transparent and democratic scrutiny of how public funds are spent, Parliament’s elected Members decide whether the EU institutions have disbursed their budget in accordance with the rules. Members debated and voted 55 reports on the discharge procedure for the EU’s 2021 budget. The Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) recommended granting discharge to all 33 EU decentralised agencies and 9 joint undertakings. However, the committee also drew attention to the European Court of Auditors’ recommendations, including the need for all joint undertakings to adopt common guidelines. In the light of the continued institutional differences between Parliament and the European Council and Council, the committee once again proposed to postpone the decision on discharge of their 2021 budget. In the interests of transparency, Parliament has refused to grant discharge to the Council each financial year since 2009. By contrast, the CONT committee proposed to grant discharge to all other EU institutions and bodies, although it again made observations on opportunities to improve budgetary management. For the first time, the discharge procedure for the European Commission also applied to the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). Here, the Commission appears to have taken previous CONT committee criticism on board, and CONT proposed that Parliament grant discharge to the Commission, all executive agencies and for the European Development Funds for 2021. However, it also drew attention to the need for stronger control on spending by national authorities and non-governmental organisations. Parliament voted to grant discharge in all cases, except for the Council and European Council.
Methane emissions reduction in the energy sector
Members continue to focus on efforts towards mitigating climate change. The oil, gas and coal sectors are responsible for more than a third of man-made methane emissions worldwide. Members debated and adopted a position on the European Commission’s proposal for an EU strategy to reduce energy sector methane emissions, based on a joint report by Parliament’s Committees on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and on Industry, Research and Energy. Parliament can now start interinstitutional negotiations on this basis. Among other changes, the report seeks to oblige the Commission to set a binding 2030 methane emissions reduction target for all actors in the sector.
Empowering consumers for the green transition
Members debated a Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) report that seeks to strengthen protection and legal certainty for consumers and economic operators alike, in the context of a Commission proposal to empower consumers for the green transition. The adopted text sets Parliament’s position for trilogue negotiations with the Council.
EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women
Members considered and followed a joint recommendation from the Committees on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) and Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), voting to give Parliament’s consent for ratification of EU accession to the Istanbul Convention. First proposed in 2016, six EU countries have refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. However, as the European Court of Justice has ruled that unanimity in the Council is not necessary in this case, the way is open for EU accession to an agreement that addresses gender-based violence (GBV).
2022 reports on Serbia and Kosovo
Members debated and adopted two Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee reports, following up the Commission’s annual reports for 2022 on Serbia and Kosovo. In the first, on Serbia, the committee welcomed the country’s continued ambition for EU membership. However, it regrets Serbia’s failure to align with EU sanctions against Russia and its continued difficult relations with Kosovo. Normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina would be an important step forward on Serbia’s path to EU membership. Although the second report, on Kosovo, calls for a commitment to genuine dialogue with Serbia, the AFET committee commended Kosovo’s progress on reforms and fighting corruption, and particularly praised Kosovo’s condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Stop Finning – Stop the trade’
Members held a debate on the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Stop Finning – Stop the trade‘ which, with over 1.1 million signatures, has earned support across the EU. The initiative aims to ban fin trading – other than when naturally attached to the shark’s body – in the EU, which remains one of the biggest exporters and transit centres for shark fins. Indeed catching sharks is now largely carried out for the purpose of fin trading, according to the ECI’s organisers, in particular with the aim of exporting to Asian regions.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Members confirmed without a vote several mandates to enter interinstitutional negotiations, from the Budgets and Budgetary Control (BUDG/CONT) Committees on amendments to the EU’s Financial Regulation, from the Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committee on labelling of organic pet food, from the Foreign Affairs and Industry, Research and Energy (AFET/ITRE) Committees on European defence industry reinforcement through a common procurement act, and from the Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Committee on protection of workers from asbestos.
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘Plenary round-up – May I 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.