Written by Clare Ferguson with Rebecca Fredrick.
Members gather for the second plenary session of October against a backdrop of continued and worsening geopolitical tension. The agenda features a formal address by Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia – with Members having recently called for the country to receive all necessary assistance to deal with the humanitarian crisis due to the violence in Nagorno‑Karabakh. Council and Commission representatives are also expected to make statements on the recent Hamas attack against Israel, condemned by President Roberta Metsola as ‘terrorism in its worst form’, and on the effectiveness of EU sanctions on Russia. A Commissioner will respond to Members’ questions regarding EU policy on tackling organised crime during the question time session. Following Council and Commission presentations, Members are scheduled to debate the forthcoming European Council meeting. On Wednesday, Members are set to elect a new vice-president and quaestor, as two Members were elected to national parliaments in general elections, and must therefore vacate their seats. The president of the Court of Auditors, Tony Murphy, is expected to be present for a debate on the Court’s 2022 annual report.
On Monday evening, Members are set to consider a report jointly adopted by the Committees on Budgets (BUDG) and Foreign Affairs (AFET) on establishing the Ukraine Facility, to support the country’s recovery from Russia’s aggression and its EU ambitions. Sourcing the proposed €50 billion of financial support, in the form of grants and loans, would however necessitate a revision of the EU’s multiannual financial framework. This means that support from EU governments and Parliament must be unanimous. Parliament’s committees wish to see greater ambition and more accountability on use of the funding. They also propose that the Facility enable the use of frozen Russian assets to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction. Agreement on establishing the Ukraine Facility is urgent if the EU is to continue to support Ukraine without interruption in 2024. Parliament’s decision on the file will set its mandate for interinstitutional negotiations with the Council.
Despite Montenegro’s majority support for joining the EU, and with a new prime minister designate (Milojko Spajić, from the ‘Europe Now!’ movement), seeking to form a new government, Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) report scrutinising the European Commission’s 2022 report on Montenegro’s progress towards EU accession regrets the country’s failure to build on this support to build consensus. On Tuesday afternoon, Members are expected to debate the AFET report, which expresses particular concern about the consequent delays to the reforms necessary for the country to aspire to EU membership. Nevertheless, AFET welcomes Montenegro’s alignment with the EU on foreign and security policy, particularly on sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Recent events have heightened the demand for 21st century technologies, such as artificial intelligence, 5G, semiconductors, green technologies and biotechnologies. On Monday evening, Parliament is set to consider a report, drawn up jointly by the Committees on Budgets (BUDG) and on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), on a proposal to set up a platform on strategic technologies for Europe (STEP) to help ensure EU industry can access the tech it needs. Using reprogrammed EU funding to leverage investment, and with a €10 billion reinforcement from the EU budget, the platform would direct funding to projects strategic to achieving the green and digital transition. The STEP platform should encourage EU development and manufacturing of digital and net-zero technologies, as well as biotechnologies and life sciences and medicines. The report as voted will form Parliament’s position for interinstitutional negotiations with the Council.
All of the above initiatives will require sufficient budget to achieve the EU’s goals. On Tuesday afternoon, Parliament is scheduled to debate the BUDG committee report on amendments to the Council’s position on the draft EU budget for 2024. The report stresses the need for additional funding to address both the economic and social consequences arising from the COVID‑19 pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine, the worsening climate crisis and resulting extreme weather events. The BUDG position aligns with Parliament’s position to raise budgetary ceilings in the mid-term revision of the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF), and to integrate funding for STEP (see above), aid, migration and neighbourhood policies – and reverses the Council’s proposed reductions. Once adopted, the report will constitute Parliament’s reading of the 2024 EU budget., and its position for conciliation talks with the Council, which are scheduled to run until 13 November.
Turning to the current year’s budget, on Wednesday, Members are expected to vote on a BUDG committee report on draft amending budget No 3/2023. The BUDG report endorses the Council’s position to update the revenue side of the 2023 EU budget to account for the latest economic forecasts. It also makes adjustments to accommodate expenditure related to the new Defence Industrial Reinforcement Instrument and the European Chips Act; the cancellation of appropriations from the reserve line for the sustainable fisheries partnership; and the reinforcement of the budget of the European Data Protection Supervisor.
And, as every year, the European Parliament continues to closely scrutinise how the EU budget has been implemented. On Tuesday, Members are due to vote on a report by the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) which concludes that, due to a lack of cooperation from the Council, it cannot take an informed decision on granting discharge for the European Council and the Council for their 2021 budget, and thus Parliament should reject the discharge for them. The CONT committee calls on the Council to improve its legislative transparency, as it has every year since 2009.
EU citizens are strongly opposed to fur farming, on animal welfare grounds, but also due to the environmental risks of the toxic chemicals used in fur production and the animal waste from intensive farms, not to mention the potential for the development of infectious disease. However, Europe is a major producer of fur products, with Poland, Lithuania, Greece and Finland major producers of farmed mink. On Thursday morning, Members are set to debate a 1.5 million-signature European Citizens’ Initiative, demanding that the EU ban fur farms and their products. While support for a ban on fur farms is overwhelming, the economic consequences for fur farmers will have to be mitigated.
The EU’s common fisheries policy aims to conserve fish stocks and ensure European fishing fleets work in a sustainable manner. An EU fisheries control system makes sure everyone follows the rules, but the current framework has long been due a complete overhaul. On Monday evening, Members are expected to consider an agreement reached with the Council to revise the EU fisheries control system. The new legislation introduces tracking of all fishing vessels, electronic reporting of all catches, monitoring of recreational fisheries and improved product traceability – with CCTV to monitor vessels at high risk of not complying with their obligation to land all catches and conserve fish stocks. Parliament’s negotiators have succeeded in ensuring that the revised legislation will harmonise sanctions for non-compliance throughout the EU, where there are currently wide disparities between countries.