Members' Research Service By / September 8, 2023

European Parliament plenary session – September 2023

The September plenary session is always an important moment in the Parliamentary year, with Members returning to Strasbourg to hear the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen’s annual statement on the State of the Union.

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Written by Clare Ferguson with Rebecca Fredrick.

The September plenary session is always an important moment in the Parliamentary year, with Members returning to Strasbourg to hear the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen’s annual statement on the State of the Union, as well as setting to work on a very full agenda. Other highlights are set to include an address to a formal sitting of Parliament by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader (and 2020 Sakharov Prize laureate). Members will also vote on the appointment of Iliana Ivanova as a member of the European Commission. On Tuesday, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Josep Borrell is expected to attend question time, which is set to focus on the challenges the coups d’état that have rocked west and central Africa in recent months pose to EU strategies in the region.

Weather patterns over the summer months have highlighted the need to raise the EU’s ambition when it comes to the share of renewables in energy consumption to tackle current climate and energy security challenges. Members are scheduled on Monday to consider the final text of an agreement reached with the Council on a new revision of the Renewable Energy Directive, setting a target for a 42.5 % share by 2030. If agreed, the new legislation should simplify permitting procedures for renewable energy projects. It would set specific targets for the buildings sector and use of biofuels in the transport sector and aims at promoting innovation and cooperation on cross-border projects.

Members are also set to discuss a Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) report on the ReFuelEU aviation initiative, in a debate scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. A provisional regulation agreed in trilogue negotiations places requirements on the uptake of aviation fuel at EU airports, to fight fuel tankering practices (when carriers avoid high fuel prices at a destination airport by refuelling an aircraft with more fuel than is necessary at departure, which increases emissions). The text also places progressively increasing requirements on the minimum share of sustainable aviation fuels suppliers must provide to EU airports, as well as on the proportion of synthetic fuels in the fuel mix.

As clean water is essential for healthy ecosystems, as well as for drinking, bathing, and agriculture, on Monday, Members are set to debate Parliament’s position for trilogue negotiations on a Commission proposal to update water pollution legislation. If adopted, the legislation would add over two dozen substances, including glyphosate, to the lists of priority surface and groundwater pollutants that EU government authorities must monitor and control. Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) wishes to amend the proposal to set much lower threshold values for groundwater than surface water, as groundwater environments are more vulnerable to stressors than surface ecosystems. The ENVI report also calls for a system of extended producer responsibility for water pollutants, and adds provisions on access to justice in cases of breach of the Water Framework Directive.

The largest environmental health risk in the EU, however, is air pollution, causing chronic disease and early death. Members are due to consider an ENVI committee report on a proposal to revise EU air quality legislation on Tuesday afternoon. The committee seeks stricter limit and target values for several pollutants, to be put in place by 2030. It proposes strict rules on compensation, and suggests Member States finance measures to improve air quality with money collected from penalties. The report proposes aligning future monitoring and review with World Health Organization guidelines and using comparable air quality indices across the EU. Adoption of the report would set Parliament’s position for negotiations on cleaner air with the Council.

As Russia persists in its war on Ukraine, highlighting gaps in EU defence investment, the Commission has proposed a €300 million fund to incentivise joint procurement of urgent and critical defence products – the European defence industry reinforcement through common procurement act (EDIRPA). On Monday evening, Members are due to consider the text agreed in trilogue negotiations, which would make funding available for purchases by consortia of at least three EU Member States. Contractors would have to be established (or have their executive management structures) in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. If adopted, the agreement would set rules on the portion of component costs that may come from third countries. A 5 % funding bonus would also be added when manufacturing involves small or medium-sized enterprises, or, following Parliament’s position, when defence procurement benefits Ukraine or Moldova.

In the face of growing geopolitical challenges, Members are set to debate a report from the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) on establishing a framework to ensure a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials (‘CRMs act’). While the proposal seeks to list 34 CRMs, including 16 ‘strategic’ raw materials and strengthen EU capacity to extract, process and recycle them, the committee would like to see higher benchmarks, more regular review of these lists and greater support for ‘strategic projects’ eligible for streamlined permitting processes and easier access to financing. Members will debate the ITRE report on Wednesday afternoon. If adopted, this would set Parliament’s position for negotiations with the Council.

Aiming to plan ahead against future shocks to the EU internal market that disrupt the free flow of goods, services and people, such as the recent pandemic, Members are set to consider a report by the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) regarding the proposed single market emergency instrument (SMEI) package, in a debate scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. The IMCO report proposes changing the instrument’s name to the ‘Internal market emergency and resilience act’ (IMERA), as well as its governance structure. The report underlines the importance of accountability in making emergency decisions and of protecting supply chains, and seeks a greater role for the Parliament in triggering the proposed ’emergency mode’ during a crisis. As during the pandemic, IMCO proposes to formalise the use of ‘fast lanes’ to facilitate the free movement of goods, services and workers, especially where relevant to an emergency affecting the internal market.

As EU border regions face specific challenges when working together on many projects, on Wednesday afternoon Members are expected to debate a new Committee on Regional Development (REGI) legislative-initiative report seeking to revive proposals for a European cross-border mechanism (ECBM). The committee proposes that Member States establish cross-border coordination points to coordinate and monitor projects that would remove obstacles to cross-border development. Member States would be free to decide whether to use the mechanism, which could also be used in regions bordering candidate countries.

With inflation impacting household spending, it is more important than ever to protect consumers who need to obtain credit to pay for goods and services. On Monday afternoon Members are therefore due to debate a provisional agreement reached between the co-legislators on a proposal for a new consumer credit directive. If adopted, the new legislation would ensure consumers have all the information they need to make an informed choice before they sign for a loan. Creditors would also have to make prior checks on their creditworthiness. As the financial landscape has changed since the original rules were set, the new consumer credit directive should also cover risky loans, those under €200, and loans offered through crowdfunding. Another new financial feature, the fast-moving crypto-asset sector, hampers tax authorities’ efforts to ensure citizens who invest in crypto contribute their fair share of the income they make to society. On Wednesday afternoon, Members are set to vote on a Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) report on the European Commission proposal to revise the directive on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation (‘DAC8’). The committee strongly supports introducing a reporting framework requiring crypto-asset service providers report on crypto-transactions, to fight tax fraud. However, the ECON report also points to a need for broader rules, covering ownership information on assets such as yachts and private jets, or valuables held at free ports and customs warehouses.

Another domain that has advanced beyond recognition in the 20 years since EU legislation was introduced to protect donors and recipients is medical treatments involving substances of human origin (SoHOs), such as blood transfusions, stem cell, cornea and skin transplants, and in vitro fertilisation. On Tuesday, therefore, Members are set to vote on an ENVI committee report on a proposal to bring EU law up to date and create more flexibility to cope with future developments. The proposal seeks to improve donation collection rates and planning for emergencies, with better registration and reporting by entities working with SoHOs, as well as to develop an EU platform to gather information and increase transparency. The ENVI report seeks to reinforce these measures, particularly those that improve protection for citizens who donate or are treated with human blood, tissues or cells. If adopted, the report will set Parliament’s position for future negotiations with the Council.

While the EU has well‑established geographical indication schemes for food and drink products, protection of regional non‑food craft and industrial products (CIs) is handled – if at all – at the national level. A proposed regulation on CIs would establish intellectual property rights to protect products whose quality, reputation or other characteristic is attributable to a specific geographical area. At least one step of the production must take place in the defined area, and, as a result of Parliament’s push during trilogue negotiations, Member State authorities will be required to facilitate the application process for micro-, small and medium‑sized enterprises and keep fees to a minimum. The resulting provisional text is scheduled for debate on Monday.

On Tuesday, Members are scheduled to vote on a provisional agreement for a regulation on the labelling of organic pet food. Pet food has been included under the rules for labelling of organic feed (intended for food-producing animals) since 2022. The agreement brings the labelling requirements for organic pet food closer into alignment with those for organic human food: pet food will be eligible for labelling with an EU organic production logo if 95 % of its agricultural ingredients are organic (compared to the 100 % required for organic feed).

Further afield, the Commission’s 2022 annual report on Türkiye notes ‘serious deficiencies’ in the functioning of the country’s democratic institutions, and points to a lack of progress on relations on Cyprus. On Tuesday afternoon, Members are scheduled to debate the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) assessment of the Commission’s report. The AFET report reiterates EU commitment to and support for refugees in Türkiye, as well as underlining the humanitarian situation arising from the earthquake in February. However, the committee emphasises that, although Türkiye remains an EU accession candidate, this process cannot resume under the current circumstances, and calls for ‘a parallel and realistic framework’ for EU-Türkiye relations.

The EU is a contracting party to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which manages the stock of eastern bluefin tuna in the Atlantic. The EU is therefore obliged to update fisheries laws to match ICCAT recommendations, which are adjusted regularly. Thanks to fishing quotas and other restrictive measures, bluefin tuna populations have recovered, leading the ICCAT to move to a management plan in June 2019. However, while Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH) adopted its report, supporting quotas for small-scale fisheries, in September 2020, the Council rejected the agreement reached in trilogue negotiations. Talks resumed in 2022, and Parliament will vote at second reading on a new agreement on Tuesday. The agreed text largely follows Parliament’s original position on fishing quotas for bluefin tuna, and sets new rules reflecting the latest ICCAT management plan.

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