Parliaments

European Parliament: what's coming up in 2016?

The EU faced a tumultuous year in 2015, with the migration crisis, terror threats and the Greek debt drama placing the 28-nation bloc under heavy strain.

Overall, however, the year was quieter on the legislative front - with new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker making good on his pledge to cut the number of new laws emanating from the EU's executive.

Only 23 new initiatives were included in the EU executive's legislative programme for the year, a significant reduction from some years under previous administrations.

After their Christmas recess, MEPs at the European Parliament are due to resume legislative work next week.

What proposals await their consideration in the coming year?

A new EU border force

Image copyright AP
Image caption Frontex found itself under increasing strain last year

The year ended with the Commission unveiling plans for a new EU border and coastguard to curb the record influx of migrants into Europe.

Strengthening the EU's external borders has become a top priority in the efforts to maintain the passport-free Schengen area, with a growing list of countries deciding to reimpose border controls.

The new force will have greater powers than Frontex, the existing EU agency. Most controversially, the new body could - in emergency situations - deploy guards to a country's border against the wishes of its government.

The regulation to set up the force says the Commission would be able, after consultation with experts, to deploy guards using implementing acts that could not be overruled unilaterally by a member state.

The new unit requires the approval of MEPs, along with a qualified majority of national governments, before it can come into force.

The Parliament's biggest political groups have indicted broad support for the new force, meaning it is likely to get their approval.

Eurosceptic MEPs have criticised the plan as an invasion of national sovereignty, but are not numerous enough to block it.

However, the Parliament's second-biggest group, the Socialists and Democrats, has said the new unit will need to be subject to "real political scrutiny", and has called for MEPs to be given an official oversight role.

It is not yet clear whether the initial proposals - which would allow MEPs to summon the agency's executive director to give evidence - will be enough to satisfy this demand.

The task of scrutinising the plans has been handed to the Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Labour MEP Claude Moraes.

Changes to EU broadcasting rules

Another new law set to make its way through the European Parliament in the coming months is the Commission's plan to make online TV subscriptions "portable" across the EU.

The new legislation would allow subscribers to watch TV whilst staying "temporarily" outside their normal country of residence, something currently prohibited by so-called geoblocking restrictions.

The Commission is keen to get the new rules approved this year, so they can come into effect in 2017 - the same year when a ban on mobile roaming charges is due to begin.

At the moment, a number of subscription services - including Netflix and Sky's Now TV - restrict or vary access to those outside their home country.

Whilst a number of technical sleights of hand can be used to get round these restrictions, the Commission has argued that extending legal access could provide a boost to Europe's creative industries.

However, actually implementing the changes could prove tricky, in both technical and political terms.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Access to the BBC iPlayer is currently only available within the UK

Some representing independent producers have expressed concern that too much market liberalisation could make it difficult for national or niche distributors to make a living.

In addition, it is unclear to what extent the changes would apply to national broadcasters that offer services online, including the BBC.

The corporation's iPlayer service has been specifically name-checked in the past by the EU's digital single market commissioner Andrus Ansip as an example of an internet service he would like to see extended.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, however, has confirmed the iPlayer will not be covered by the new rules, since it does not verify a user's country of residence.

Despite this, the BBC has said it is "interested" in the idea of giving licence-fee payers access to the iPlayer in other EU countries, but said aspects of the new regulations would need clarification.

The Commission itself has said that setting up a verification system to make this work could prove "too burdensome and expensive".

MEPs will no doubt want to specify how this could be done - and who would pay for it to be set up.

An EU-wide passenger data scheme

After years of resistance on civil liberties grounds, MEPs are also set to give their imprimatur to Commission plans to set up an EU-wide scheme for sharing information on airline passengers.

Negotiators from the European Parliament struck a deal on the proposals in December, which could be put to a final plenary vote as early as late January.

Image copyright Getty Images

Under the plans, airline companies would be forced to hand over information provided by passengers when they check in for flights, such as their name, contact numbers and credit card details, to the national security authorities of EU countries.

The European Commission, as well as national governments, have argued that the information sharing system is a vital tool in the fight against transnational crime and terrorism.

The UK is already operating its own programme, whilst a number of other EU countries are building their own systems.

The Parliament had initially been sceptical - with the Civil Liberties Committee deciding to throw out the plans in 2013.

MEPs later committed to passing the scheme following last January's attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, but made majority support conditional on agreeing an update to the EU's data protection rules.

The latest version of the legislation contains a number of differences to the 2011 proposals tabled by the European Commission.

Governments will be able, but not obliged, to apply its provisions to flights within the EU, as well as those between EU countries and those outside the bloc.

The data will be stored for five years, but "masked out" - effectively anonymised for first searches - after six months.

After this, the data would still be available to security services, but would require specific authorisation. National governments had originally wanted all the data to be fully available for up to two years.

New recycling targets

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Commission's new recycling plans have drawn a mixed response

The end of 2015 marked what some saw as an historic step in efforts to reduce world greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly 200 countries signing up to a UN deal in Paris aiming to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C.

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete has hailed the agreement as "the major multilateral deal of the 21st Century", but some have questioned whether the largely non-binding commitments will be enough to protect the planet.

In any case, the Commission wants EU states to take the lead - and has said that new targets to reduce waste and make better use of raw materials are part of its plans to reduce carbon emissions.

MEPs on the Environment Committee are set to start examination of a new set of recycling targets in the coming months.

The Commission has proposed that no more than 10% of waste collected by local authorities ends up in landfills by 2030.

In addition, it has proposed that at least 65% of this waste is recycled by the same year.

However, waste management varies greatly across the EU: 46% of municipal waste is recycled in Germany, for example, whilst only 3% is re-used in Romania.

The Commission's solution to this stumbling block is to give certain southern and eastern European nations - including Estonia, Greece and Slovakia - up to five more years to achieve the targets.

The EU executive has touted the new rules as "more ambitious" than previous proposals which it took out of its legislative programme for last year.

However, the Green group, as well as other left-leaning groups, have said they consider the new plans a watered-down version of previous objectives mooted under the previous regime of Jose Manuel Barroso.

Some have vowed to call for tougher targets when MEPs get their chance to amend the legislation.

Parliament's own resolution on the targets last July proposed higher targets for local authority waste and packaging recycling, and made no mention of additional time for certain member states.

It is therefore likely that much negotiation remains before the targets are likely to be given the green light.