Staffan Nilsson doesn't mind his organisation being criticised by MEPs; in fact he positively welcomes it. Mr Nilsson is the president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an advisory body that represents workers and employers as well as other interest groups. "[Criticism] actually gives us a good motivation to work better and also to explain better why the EU needs a non-political body composed of civil society leaders from member states, who are not politicians," he told us.
Short of becoming an MEP, it can be difficult to know what it is really like during a plenary session. But to give you an idea of what goes on in Strasbourg, MEPs posed for a unique 360° picture of the chamber. By zooming in or out, you can see everyone who attends the sessions, including EP president Martin Schulz and representatives from the Council and the Commission. Can you spot your MEP?
Parliament has reminded member states they still face negotiations over the EU's long-term budget before approval by MEPs. The European Council agreed spending plans for 2014-2020 on 8 February, but Parliament's four largest political groups have indicated that the deal as it is may not receive the necessary parliamentary majority. They feel it does too little to stimulate growth and job creation and are concerned it could lead to a structural deficit. "The real negotiations will start now."
MEPs will this week be visiting their constituencies, while some will also participate in international missions. A delegation will travel to Jordan to assess the extent of the refugee crisis while another will observe the presidential election in Armenia. MEPs will also visit Ireland, current holder of the rotating Council Presidency. On Thursday the One Billion Rising Day will call attention to violence against women.
French president Francois Hollande spoke of the need for common growth-oriented policies when debating Europe with MEPs in Strasbourg, while the plenary sent a stark warning to governments not to try to impose unreasonable cuts on the EU budget. Parliament also welcomed Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, endorsed a far-reaching reform of the EU's fisheries policy and voted for lower noise limits for cars.
Overcrowded refugee centres lacking even basic supplies have become a more frequent sight in many EU border states in the wake of the crisis. MEPs voted on 6 February to increase EU money to help these countries cope with migration flows. We spoke to Finnish Liberal MEP Nils Torvalds, who is responsible for steering the plans through Parliament, about why he recommended approval of the Commission's proposal.
Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki condemned the assassination of his country's opposition leader Chokri Belaïd in Tunis on Wednesday morning in a speech to MEPs. "This is a threat, a letter being sent to us," he said. "We reject that letter and continue to unmask the enemies of the revolution." EP president Martin Schulz expressed condolences to the Belaïd family and the Tunisian people, confident that "Tunisian authorities will do everything necessary to bring those responsible to justice".
MEPs are expected during this week's plenary to send a strong warning to member states ahead of Thursday's crucial summit, to provide the EU with sufficient funds for the tasks they have set it or risk Parliament rejecting the Union's spending plans for 2014-2020. French president Francois Hollande will discuss Europe's future and the Mali crisis with MEPs, while Parliament will also debate whether growth or austerity is the best way out of the crisis.
New limits for traffic noise, a radical reform of the EU's fisheries policy and priorities for the EU's long-term budget will all feature on Parliament's agenda for the plenary session of 4-7 February. MEPs will also welcome French president François Hollande and Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki to the chamber and vote on a proposal to make the pricing of medicine more transparent. In addition they will vote on a resolution on how to best tackle the crisis the coming year.
MEPs will discuss how to improve coordination on economic policies with 100 of their national counterparts in the EP this week ahead of the formal start of the European Semester at next week's EU summit. Also, Somalian president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will visit the EP on Thursday to exchange views with MEPs on developments in the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, political groups will prepare next week's plenary and journalists are able to attend an EP seminar on asylum policy.