Parliaments

Week ahead in the European Parliament

MEPs are back in Strasbourg this week for their first plenary session of 2016.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned in his New Year press conference last week that the EU faces a "crisis of credibility" on multiple fronts in the coming 12 months.

Strengthening the Eurozone, the UK's EU renegotiations and the migration crisis are likely to dominate a debate on Wednesday morning with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The Netherlands is due to face a host of challenges as chair of the EU's rotating presidency for the first six months of this year.

Rhetorical sparks are sure to fly at a debate on Tuesday afternoon, when new Polish prime minister Beata Szydło is due to clash with MEPs over an EU inquiry into whether new Polish laws break EU democracy rules.

It follows an acrimonious war of words between the new Eurosceptic government and the EU Commission over changes to media laws and the make-up of the country's constitutional court.

Here's what to watch out for this week...

Monday

The sitting will kick off with a debate on a report from the Commission on the enforcement of EU competition rules during 2014.

This will be followed by discussion of new fishing quotas for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, to be put to a vote on Tuesday.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

An increase in the current catch limits for the highly valuable species has been recommended by a worldwide fisheries body.

This will be followed by a debate on proposals to set up a new EU-wide system for testing car diesel emissions following the Volkwagen scandal last September.

MEPs on the Environment Committee have objected to plans to initially raise the current limits for nitrogen oxides as part of the changes.

However, a vote to veto the scheme agreed between EU governments has been pushed back to next month's plenary session.

With the week's legislative agenda looking pretty light, the evening session will be taken up with debates on several non-binding "own initiative" motions.

This month, the resolutions will focus on changes to EU financial services rules, measures to promote entrepreneurship among women, improving the eligibility of young people for the modern jobs market, and using "intercultural dialogue" to promote more tolerant societies.

Tuesday

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel will be in town to review his country's six-month tenure of the EU presidency, which ended earlier this month.

The period was marked by EU countries struggling to agree on measures to cope with a massive increase in migration and resolve the debt crisis in Greece.

But the country scored some diplomatic victories: EU countries finally agreed to rules banning mobile roaming charges, and squared a deal with MEPs on an airline passenger data sharing scheme they had long blocked on civil liberties grounds.

Following this, MEPs will debate a resolution expressing broad support for the Commission's ambitions to boost trade in digital goods.

The draft text also welcomes plans to end "unjustified" blocks on websites for TV subscribers staying in another country inside the EU.

After the voting session at lunchtime, the afternoon session will kick off with a debate on last month's EU leaders' summit.

During the summit, leaders discussed strengthening EU anti-terrorism co-operation after November's terror attacks in Paris, and the state of the UK's negotiations on EU membership.

Expectations that a deal can be reached soon have been raised after Jean-Claude Juncker said last week he was "quite sure" an agreement could be finalised at a summit scheduled for next month.

Mr Juncker, as well as European Council President Donald Tusk, are both due to speak during the debate.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The changes to Polish media law provoked protests earlier this month

After this comes the debate on Poland's new government, which has already ruffled numerous feathers in Brussels over its changes to Polish media and judicial appointments.

The governing Law and Justice party has previously accused public broadcasters of left-leaning bias and pursuing an agenda against the government.

However, the European Commission has said the changes to media laws and the constitutional court could endanger press freedom and the rule of law.

Ahead of the debate, the PiS MEPs have defended the changes to judicial appointments as "remedial action" made in response to changes made by the previous administration.

The position taken by the British Conservative MEPs could be an interesting one to watch, given that they sit in the same political group as the PiS delegation.

The evening sitting will see a series of foreign affairs debates on the current state of talks to end Colombia's civil war, the situation in Syria and the breakdown in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The EU has pledged €26m towards making the Colombian peace plan work, including €21m towards economic development projects promised to regions affected by the conflict.

Wednesday

Jean-Claude Juncker is scheduled to make another appearance during the morning's debate on the Dutch presidency of the EU.

Over three hours of debate have been scheduled to chew over possible solutions to the many challenges facing Europe in the coming six months.

At lunchtime, the day's voting session will see a vote on proposed changes to EU rules aiming to strengthen the presumption of innocence during court proceedings.

MEPs on the civil liberties committee have expressed broad approval for the measures, which include making sure that suspects are not presented as convicted in pre-trail media appearances, and that no inferences are drawn if a suspect chooses to remain silent.

However, they have pushed for provisions allowing the burden of proof to be reversed in certain circumstances to be removed completely from the Commission's proposals.

They are due to vote on a "first reading" position on the matter, after which negotiations on the measures with national ministers will begin.

In the afternoon, MEPs will be joined by French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius to debate last month's UN climate deal in Paris.

After this, they will discuss the desperate humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen, and the killing of religious minorities by the Islamic State group.

There will also be a debate on growing tensions in south-eastern Turkey, where there has been an increase in violence following the breakdown of a ceasefire between the army and Kurdish rebels last year.

Relations with Russia will be at the fore of a debate on future links with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Security in Paris has been stepped up in the wake of last November's attacks

Ahead of voting on a non-binding motion on Thursday, MEPs will also debate the implications of France's decision to trigger an EU mutual defence clause after November's attacks in Paris.

France is the first country to invoke Article 42.7 of the treaties, which obliges other EU countries to provide aid and assistance for its declared "war" against the Islamic State (IS) group.

EU governments have unanimously pledged support for the fight against IS, but it remains to be seen what activating the clause will mean in practice.

MEPs will also debate the EU's proposed association agreement with Kosovo, which they will decide whether to ratify on Thursday.

The agreement, which aims to increase political ties and trade relations with the country, was ratified by the Kosovan national assembly two months ago.

The EU recognises Kosovan independence, although EU candidate Serbia does not.

It comes at an interesting time, given that the Dutch government announced over the weekend that a special court will be set up in the Hague to try serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic minorities and political opponents during the during the 1999-2000 war.

Thursday

The day's sitting will kick off slightly earlier than usual with a debate on how to counter the increased terror threat in the EU after November's brutal attacks in Paris.

After this, MEPs will debate the possible EU trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

The European Commission is expected to start initial assessments on deals this year, with formal negotiations set to begin in 2017.

This will be followed by a short debate on a report from the Parliament's petitions committee about hearings it held during 2014.

The sitting will finish in traditional fashion with debates and votes on human rights resolutions, which this month with focus on Ethiopia, North Korea and EU citizens detained in India.

Please note: This agenda is subject to modification at the opening of the session on Monday afternoon.

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