Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.
During the October I plenary session Members held a number of debates, including on the need for speedy adoption of the EU asylum and migration package. Other debates focused on: precarity in Europe and the need to aid the deprived; large-scale corrupt sales of Schengen visas; medicine shortages and EU strategic healthcare autonomy; the European Central Bank’s 10th consecutive increase in reference interest rates; proposals to extend glyphosate use; and on the Energy Charter Treaty. In the external relations field, topics debated concerned: EU–China trade relations, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh after the Azerbaijan attack and threats against Armenia; Moldova’s EU path; and recent developments in the Serbia–Kosovo dialogue.
Parliament approved the appointment of Wopke Hoekstra as member of the European Commission responsible for climate action, and the allocation of an additional role, as Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, for Maroš Šefčovič. Members heard a statement by Parliament’s President marking 10‑years since the tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa. Petr Pavel, the Czech President, addressed Members in a formal sitting.
Revision of the EU’s 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework
In view of the need to address the urgent budgetary shortfall and to provide additional financial support to Ukraine, Members debated the Committee on Budgets (BUDG) interim report on the proposal for a mid-term revision of the 2021-2027 EU multiannual financial framework (MFF). The BUDG committee would like to see the amount proposed (€65.8 billion) increased by a further €10 billion. Of this increase, €2 billion should go to reinforcing the single market, an additional €1 billion to migration management, and an increase of €1 billion each to the budget allocations for security and defence and for EU action in the rest of the world. With the remaining extra €5 billion, the committee proposes to strengthen the EU Flexibility Instrument, and the Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve. To prevent another payments backlog towards the end of the MFF period, the committee also wants to abandon the annual appropriation payment cap.
European media freedom act
Members debated a Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) report on a proposal to establish a common framework for media services in the internal market (known as the ‘European media freedom act’). The CULT committee proposes to include, among other things, greater transparency on state and non-EU financial support for media outlets, better protection for journalists who are pressured to reveal their sources, and stronger rules on the use of spyware against journalists suspected of criminal behaviour. The report sets Parliament’s position for negotiations with the Council.
European green bonds
Members adopted the compromise text negotiated by the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) on the proposal to regulate European green bonds (debt securities for climate and environmental projects). While the EU is a global leader on the green bond market, the risk of market disruption through ‘greenwashing’ necessitates a uniform definition and a regulated standard. In the world’s first voluntary standard for using a ‘Green Bond’ label, Parliament’s negotiators succeeded in ensuring that all green bond proceeds go towards sustainable activities included in the EU taxonomy (with some flexibility). Companies will have to disclose how such investments feed into their transition plans, and respect greater scrutiny of the environmental claims made of green bonds in general.
Economic coercion by third countries
Non-EU countries are attempting economic coercion (restricting trade or investment to influence the EU or its Member States’ sovereign choices), and the phenomenon is on the rise. As the EU currently has no legal framework in place to fight such coercion, a new proposal seeks to deter countries from this type of action. Members adopted the political agreement reached by the International Trade Committee (INTA) in trilogue negotiations. The text sets a clear definition of economic coercion, and of EU action to counter it. Parliament’s negotiators succeeded in adding a timeframe and a broad list of possible responses. While retaliation should be proportionate, Parliament has insisted on stronger democratic control of the substance and process, and ensured that non-EU countries should pay for damages caused by economically coercive practices.
Intelligent road transport systems
Intelligent transport systems (ITS) use real-time traffic information to make transport safer and more efficient and reduce emissions and energy consumption. As current EU rules governing ITS date from 2010, the Commission proposes to bring them into line with the latest technological developments, to accelerate the availability of data to feed into ITS tools, and enhance its interoperability. Parliament’s negotiators ensured crucial data on road restrictions are included in this shared data. Members adopted the provisional agreement reached by the Transport and Tourism (TRAN) Committee in trilogue negotiations.
Urban wastewater treatment
With consequences for human and environmental health, micro-organisms, solvents, detergents, fats and oils, metals and other substances from households and industry all end up in urban wastewater. Members debated a Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) report supporting a proposal to update EU urban wastewater legislation. As the new law would introduce a system where pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies pay for any water pollution they cause, the ENVI committee would like to see EU countries also contribute a maximum of 20 % of the financing to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants, to avoid a knock-on effect on medicine prices. The committee seeks stronger monitoring and better reuse of treated wastewater. It also calls for new washing machines to include microfiber filters. The adopted report sets Parliament’s position for future negotiations with the Council.
Classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures
Members debated an ENVI committee report on the classification, labelling and packaging of hazardous substances and mixtures, seeking to fine-tune the proposal, clarify rules on mixed substances, exempt renewable botanicals, and reinforce the scientific basis for classification. The ENVI committee would also like to see new hazard criteria for immunotoxicity and neurotoxicity by the end of 2025, and to assess progress in the development of alternative methods to animal testing. The adopted report sets Parliament’s position for negotiations with the Council.
Protection of workers from asbestos
Despite the ban on asbestos in the EU, exposure to this carcinogen kills more than 70 000 people a year in Europe. Members adopted the agreement reached by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) in negotiations with the Council, on proposals to amend EU law on asbestos in the workplace, by lowering the limits to which workers may legally be exposed. According to the agreed text, new exposure limits would be 10 times lower than current limits, and demolition companies across Europe would need a permit. The new rules also aim to help workers avoid exposure to asbestos by setting protective equipment standards and decontamination procedures.
Question Time with the Commissions – EU–China trade relations
Valdis Dombrovskis (Executive Vice-President) answered questions on EU–China trade relations, where the EU’s trade deficit has risen substantially and there have been a number of confrontations between the two partners in recent years.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Three decisions to enter into interinstitutional negotiations were approved without a vote: on reports on measures to reduce the cost of deploying gigabit electronic communications network (ITRE); on data collection and sharing relating to short-term accommodation rental services (IMCO); and on the amendment of Protocol No 3 to the Statute of the Court of Justice (JURI). Members also voted to approve a LIBE committee decision to enter into negotiations on a report on the Schengen Borders Code.
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘Plenary round-up – October I 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.