Parliaments

Week ahead in the European Parliament

This week sees MEPs return to Strasbourg for their final plenary sitting of the year.

With David Cameron due to head to Brussels later in the week to seek further agreement on his plans to renegotiate the UK's terms of EU membership, MEPs will debate the state of talks so far on Wednesday morning.

They will also be discussing last week's Paris climate summit on Tuesday afternoon, after negotiators reached a deal aiming to curb global warming to less than 2C (3.6F) by the end of the century.

And watch out for another interesting debate on Tuesday, as the Commission announces further details of its plans for an EU border and coast guard force.

The proposals could spark a lively debate about EU power and national sovereignty, amid reports that the Commission plans for the unit to be able to operate independently of national governments.

Here's what's coming up this week...

Monday

MEPs will kick off the sitting with a debate on the European Commission's plans for an EU-wide "energy union", which it announced in March.

The scheme aims to further integrate EU electricity grids and boost renewable energy generation, in a bid to reduce the dependency of eastern European countries on imported Russian gas.

On Tuesday, they will vote on a draft resolution expressing concern that the scheme could be undermined by plans to double the capacity of the Nord Stream gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

A number of EU countries have set out their opposition to the extension in a letter to the Commission, which is due to assess whether the project complies with EU law.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption MEPs will this week debate the EU's contribution to a new global climate deal

Following a debate on proposed changes to trademark legislation, they will discuss how the EU can provide support to the victims of terror attacks.

After that, they will discuss a motion from the environment committee, due to be put to a vote on Wednesday, calling for the Commission to overturn a recent decision approving the use of a weed-killer-resistant GM maize crop.

It comes shortly after MEPs rejected the Commission's proposals to allow member states to ban imported food containing GM crops ruled as safe for consumption by the EU food safety authorities.

The measures were intended as a compromise to allow the standoff in the current authorisation process between pro and anti-GM countries, but was dismissed as unenforceable and a threat to the single market in a vote in October.

In the evening, they will also discuss a report on the EU's Progress Microfinance Facility, a scheme set up in 2010 to boost the availability of microcredit to small businesses.

Tuesday

The morning session will get underway with a debate on EU oversight of Eurozone countries' budgets as part of the so-called European Semester programme.

The Commission published a review of the scheme last month, introducing a new timeline for budget oversight and calling for Eurozone countries to have a "single seat" at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the lunchtime voting session, Commission deputy chief Frans Timmermans is due to announce further details of a planned EU border and coast guard force.

The new force is intended to bolster current patrols of the EU's external frontiers, with countries like Greece struggling to cope with huge numbers of people crossing their territory as a result of the migration crisis.

Increasing numbers of asylum seekers and migrants have put pressure on the Schengen area, the passport-free travel zone that includes 22 EU states.

According to the Financial Times, the new force will aim to replace Frontex, the EU's current border agency, with a unit whose deployments will not be able to be unilaterally vetoed by national governments.

The EU executive, however, could face an uphill battle in convincing national governments to agree to the reported details of the plan as it stands.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The EU has said the external borders of the Schengen area need to be strengthened

After this, MEPs will debate the new climate deal reached at the UN conference in Paris last week.

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete has hailed the agreement as "the major multilateral deal of the 21st century", but campaigners have expressed doubts about whether it goes far enough to protect the planet.

In the evening, MEPs will debate a report from the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee urging greater transparency to reduce corporate tax avoidance by multinationals in the EU.

Amongst the 24 recommendations included in the draft are calls for a common EU tax identification number, country-by-country reporting of profits and a voluntary "fair tax payer" label to encourage companies to pay their "fair share" of tax.

The day's business will end with debates on EU trade relations with China and efforts to improve the mobility of workers within the 28-nation bloc.

There will also be a debate on new measures, announced a fortnight ago, to improve access to services for people with disabilities.

The new rules will introduce EU-wide accessibility standards for products such as TVs, e-books, telephones and cash machines.

Wednesday

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to join MEPs for the debate on this week's EU leaders summit in Brussels, likely to be dominated by discussion of the "political dilemmas" remaining in the UK's renegotiation of EU membership.

David Cameron has already admitted that he will miss his original target of getting a final deal signed off at the two-day meeting, but will push for further agreement on measures to be approved at the next summit in February.

A bid to make EU nationals work up to four years in the UK before claiming in-work benefits has run into considerable opposition, with European Council President Donald Tusk warning "substantial political differences" remain over the plan.

Downing Street has rejected a number of newspaper reports over the weekend claiming the prime minister will climb down on the plan, with Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond saying the UK government would consider proposals which will achieve the "same effect in a different way".

EU co-operation on anti-terrorism measures, reform of the Eurozone and the migration crisis have also made it onto the draft summit agenda.

Image copyright Reuters

After this, there will be a short ceremony to award the Parliament's Sakharov Prize for human rights to Raif Badawi, the blogger sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for "insulting Islam".

Parliament President Martin Schulz will be presenting the €50,000 award to Mr Badawi's wife, who will receive it on his behalf.

The lunchtime voting session will see a vote on a resolution urging EU action to remedy the crisis in the European steel industry, following a plenary debate on the issue last month.

The afternoon sitting will begin with a debate the results of an EU report into respect of human rights internationally during last year, ahead of a vote on Thursday on the Parliament's annual human rights resolution.

This year's draft motion, which weighs in at over 14,000 words, calls for human rights clauses to be included in "all the EU's international agreements", and further action to tackle the "root causes" of migration to Europe.

It also says the EU should lobby for the term "climate refugee", describing those effectively forced from their homes due to environmental changes, to be defined in international law.

Migration will remain on the agenda in the evening, with a statement from the Commission on the use of force against asylum seekers.

This will be followed by a debate on efforts to reform the constitutional architecture of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which the EU has made a condition for further membership talks.

The debate is meant to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dayton peace accord, the agreement ending the 1992-95 Bosnian War which left the country with a governance structure which critics say has perpetuated ethnic divisions.

The evening session will also see debates on a revision to the EU's partnership agreement with Vietnam, and a resolution calling on member states to better apply EU rules on export licences when selling weapons to non-EU countries.

Thursday

The sitting will kick off with a debate on a recent decision by the European Patent Office, which MEPs say would make it possible for companies to patent "essentially biological" plant traits.

In an oral question, the legal affairs committee has said the consequences of the ruling could contradict EU legislation dating from 1994.

MEPs have also expressed concern that the ruling might undermine innovation in the plant breeding sector, and lead to reduced competition in the food industry.

They will then move to their three topical human rights motions, including a motion which calls for the release of Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested during a raid on the Al-Fath mosque in Cairo in 2013.

His family have said he was taking refuge in the mosque during violent clashes between supporters of the democratically-elected ousted President Mohammed Morsi and the security forces.

His trial is due to resume this week - his tenth court appearance in over two years of detention.

MEPs will also vote on a resolution calling for action to protect the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The park, which has received substantial EU funding, is one of the most biodiverse protected parks in Africa and home to critically endangered species of mountain gorillas, elephants and lions.

Conservationists have warned the Park's wildlife is threatened by continued conflict in the country, as well as reported plans to grant drilling concessions to oil companies.

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