EP Plenary Newsletter 13-16 September 2021
This week in Strasbourg President Ursula von der Leyen will address the European Parliament in her annual State of the European Union address. MEPs will also be discussing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Human Rights in the EU and the rule of law.
State of the European Union: Ursula von der Leyen to address MEPs
At 9.00 on 15 September, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will deliver her State of the European Union address to the European Parliament, followed by a debate with MEPs.
Ursula von der Leyen is expected to outline the impact of the Commission’s work in the past year, particularly in tackling the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. She will also share with MEPs her vision for responding to the challenges the EU faces, including the economic recovery, the fight against climate change, the digitalisation agenda and the Conference on the Future of Europe.
MEPs, in their responses, will assess the Commission’s work and the initiatives envisaged for the coming year. They will also present their own views and ideas; the annual State of the Union debate is a chance for MEPs to scrutinise the work and plans of the European Commission and help set the EU’s direction.
The State of the European Union debate is a key moment to demonstrate the European Commission’s accountability towards the EU’s democratically elected representatives. This annual event is significant to promote a more transparent and democratic Union. It is an opportunity to bring the European Union closer to the citizens, highlighting the year’s core action points and challenges. Citizens’ rights and the democratic process are at the heart of this unique plenary debate
Debate: 9:00 am, Wednesday, 15 September
Parliament to discuss humanitarian and security situation in Afghanistan
On Tuesday, MEPs will debate how to respond to the Afghanistan crisis with EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell. A resolution will be put to the vote on Thursday.
MEPs and Mr Borrell are set to discuss how to react to the humanitarian and migration crisis, help people in need and protect those in danger in Afghanistan, particularly women and children. They are also likely to examine what support the EU could offer to Afghan refugees as well as to people who are still trying to leave the country, and how to engage with the Taliban authorities in Kabul.
Alongside humanitarian concerns, the latest developments in Afghanistan have also prompted discussions on what immediate lessons the EU should draw from NATO’s withdrawal. The security situation in Europe, the Common European Defence Policy, the EU’s strategic autonomy and the need to strengthen Europe’s military capacities are also likely to come up in the debate.
On 15 August, the Taliban reinstated their power in Afghanistan, triggering a crisis in the country with thousands of people trying to escape by air and land. Reacting to the crisis, European Parliament President David Sassoli called for a strong and common European voice on the international stage.
Health Union: enhancing disease prevention and cross-border cooperation
MEPs will debate and vote on two laws to strengthen the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and better tackle cross-border health threats.
In adopting their position on the two legislative proposals before the summer break, MEPs from the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), proposed a number of ways to enhance the EU’s disease prevention and control capacity. This would be ensured through an extension of the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to also cover major non-communicable diseases - for example cardiovascular diseases, cancer or diabetes - as well as through reinforced coordination between EU bodies and their national and international counterparts, and better involvement of member states.
They also outline how the EU should strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness and response when addressing future serious cross-border health threats, including through clear procedures and increased transparency around EU joint procurement and purchase agreements.
As part of building a European Health Union, on 11 November 2020 the Commission proposed a new health security framework, based on the experience dealing with the coronavirus. The package includes a proposal for a regulation on serious cross-border threats to health and a proposal to reinforce the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
LGBTIQ rights and anti-discrimination measures in the EU
In a resolution to be voted on by MEPs on Monday (results Tuesday), Parliament will assess the problems and discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ citizens and families in Europe.
The text prepared by the Petitions Committee calls for the pan-European recognition of same-sex spouses and registered partners, who should enjoy the same rights across EU member states. MEPs also say that parents of rainbow families should be consistently recognised as the parents of their children.
Parliament is expected to urge the Commission to launch infringement procedures against Romania, where the government has failed to update national legislation to reflect a European Court of Justice ruling that extends “spouse” provisions in EU law to same-sex couples. The draft resolution also points to the discrimination that LGBTIQ communities face in Poland and Hungary, and calls for further EU action (infringement procedures, judicial redress and budgetary tools) to address the situation.
Poland: MEPs to assess continued attacks on media freedom and the rule of law
MEPs, with Council and Commission representatives, will consider a draft bill which may threaten media pluralism, and the latest Polish challenge to EU rules and values.
The Polish government has proposed new broadcasting legislation that would bar entities from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from owning more than 49% of Polish media companies. The move is seen as an attempt to silence TVN, a US-owned network critical of the Polish authorities. On 12 August, Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said “the draft Polish broadcasting law sends a negative signal” for media pluralism and called for an EU Media Freedom Act “to uphold media freedom and support the rule of law”.
MEPs will also assess recent developments on the situation of the rule of law in Poland. In August, following a European Court of Justice ruling declaring the country’s disciplinary regime for judges incompatible with EU law due to its lack of independence from political influence, the Polish government gave up on its widely criticised judicial reform plans. However, it has not fully complied with the ruling to dismantle the Disciplinary Chamber of its Constitutional Tribunal, which has led the Commission to seek the imposition of financial penalties. In parallel, the Polish Prime Minister’s office had already submitted legal challenges to the country’s Constitutional Tribunal targeting the principles of the primacy of EU law and sincere cooperation between the EU and its member states. The Tribunal is expected to announce its decision in late September.
The debate will take place on Wednesday, a resolution will be put to the vote on Thursday.
EU Blue Card: final vote on new scheme to attract highly-skilled migrants
MEPs are set to give their final approval to the reform of the EU’s Blue Card directive, to facilitate the employment of highly qualified third country nationals in Europe.
In May 2021, Parliament and Council negotiators agreed on a revision of the 2009 Blue Card directive to make it easier for employers in EU member states to hire third country nationals. Originally proposed by the Commission in 2016, this will be the only legislative change at EU level in the field of legal labour migration in recent years.
The revised directive on entry and residence conditions foresees more flexible criteria, including a lower threshold for the minimum salary that applicants must earn in order to qualify for a Blue Card. It also expands the rights of beneficiaries with simplified intra-EU mobility and faster family reunification procedures.
Debate: Tuesday 14 September
Vote results: Wednesday 15 September
Procedure: ordinary legislative procedure, 1st reading agreement
EU-Russia: a strategy to counter the Kremlin’s politics and promote democracy
Parliament is set to encourage the EU to push back against Russia’s aggressive policies while laying the groundwork for cooperation with a future democratic country.
In a new assessment of the direction that EU-Russia political relations are taking, MEPs make clear that there is a distinction between the Russian people and President Vladimir Putin’s regime. The latter is, they say, a “stagnating authoritarian kleptocracy led by a president-for-life who is surrounded by a circle of oligarchs”.
Members stress, however, that Russia can have a democratic future. With that in mind, they ask the Council to adopt an EU strategy for a future democratic Russia, incorporating incentives and conditions to strengthen domestic democratic tendencies.
Debate: Tuesday 14 September
Vote: Wednesday 15 September, results Thursday 16 September
Procedure: own-initiative report
Ending the use of animals in research and testing
In a resolution to be put to the vote on Wednesday (results Thursday), Parliament will present ways to accelerate the transition to a research system that does not use animals.
Current EU legislation protects the welfare of animals still needed for research. As its ultimate goal, the legislation aims to stop animals being used for scientific purposes, by continuously replacing, reducing and refining their use in research, regulatory testing and education.
MEPs are expected to call for increased efforts at both EU and member state level including targeted funding, better coordination and concrete goals on how to replace animals in specific scientific areas.
The resolution will wrap up the debate held during the July Plenary.
Since 1986, the EU has had specific legislation on the use of animals for scientific purposes. The rules currently in place limit animal testing for research and set minimum requirements for accommodating and caring for animals. Animal testing for finished cosmetic products has been prohibited in the EU since 2004 and for cosmetic ingredients since 2009.
Debate: Thursday 8 July
Final vote: Wednesday, 15 September, results Thursday 16 September
Procedure: Resolutions on topical subjects
EU 2030 climate package: Parliament to assess Commission’s proposals
Following the publication of the latest IPCC report on climate change, Parliament will debate the “Fit for 55” package with Council and Commission on Tuesday.
MEPs will seek answers about ensuring the new laws proposed in the “Fit for 55 in 2030” package will meet the increased climate ambitions adopted in the European Climate Law. This debate comes little more than a month after the publication of the latest IPCC report confirming climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying.
The package comprises legislative proposals for the revision of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), amendments to the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Directives, as well as a revision of the CO2 standards for cars, Land Use, Land Use Change and forest (LULUCF) and Effort Sharing Regulations.
The European Climate Law adopted in June 2021 transforms the European Green Deal’s political commitment to EU climate neutrality by 2050 into a binding obligation for the EU and member states. It also increases the EU’s target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 40% to at least 55%, compared to 1990 level.
Debate: Tuesday 14 September
Procedure: Council and Commission statements