Parliaments

Week ahead in the European Parliament

A man adjusts a UK flag ahead of press conference in Brussels Image copyright AP

MEPs meet in Strasbourg this week, and will get another chance to size up the UK's ongoing EU renegotiations.

A row over a proposed "emergency brake" to prevent EU citizens from claiming in-work benefits will likely continue at a debate on Wednesday about this month's European Council summit.

David Cameron has previously said he is "hopeful" of securing a final deal at the two-day meeting, but talks on a deal are still to be concluded.

The prime minister has of course yet to pen an RSVP to a long-standing invitation from Parliament President Martin Schulz to discuss his aims with MEPs.

Although the Parliament has not exactly been the locus of diplomatic efforts so far, the prime minister could need its approval to pass secondary legislation required to make his plans a reality.

Meanwhile, the migration crisis is continuing unabated - with Greece's future inside the Schengen area likely to dominate a debate on the passport-free zone on Tuesday afternoon.

Here are the main things to watch out for at this month's plenary...

Monday

European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi will be in town to kick off the afternoon sitting with a debate on the Bank's activities during 2014.

The year saw the ECB attempt to cope with sluggish economic growth and very low interest rates.

It also saw the setting up of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) - the EU's body for monitoring the stability of large banks in the Eurozone.

However, the debate it likely to be dominated by discussion of the Bank's role in supervising EU bailouts and providing emergency lending to cash-strapped countries such as Greece.

After this, MEPs will debate the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), a wide-ranging deal to liberalise trade in services under negotiation since 2013.

The agreement is being negotiated in stages between the 28 EU countries and 22 non-EU nations, including Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and the US.

On Wednesday, they will pass a non-binding motion setting out their position on the agreement - which they will have the eventual power to veto.

The draft text expresses broad support for the deal, but says the final text should not endanger public services or domestic regulations.

There's also an interesting debate on a big political battle that could flare up later this year: whether the EU should grant market economy status to China.

China argues the terms of its membership at the World Trading Organisation (WTO) mean it will automatically get market status at the end of this year, meaning the EU will have to soon decide whether it agrees.

The move is likely to face huge opposition from European industrial unions, which have argued that market status could make it even harder to impose anti-dumping measures on China.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption State-subsidised Chinese steel has been blamed for the rapid decline of steelmaking in Europe

Tuesday

The morning session will see a debate on the Commission's new anti-tax avoidance measures, which it announced last week.

The package of measures includes proposals to block the most common tax avoidance methods, and plans for member states to share tax-related information on multinationals.

Tax policy is, however, notoriously difficult to change at an EU level, given that new laws require unanimous approval among all 28 national governments.

It comes as the EU is being called upon by both Labour and the SNP to investigate Google's recent £130m tax deal with the UK.

Before the lunchtime voting session, MEPs will take in a speech from Toomas Hendrick Ilves, one of their former colleagues who is now Estonian president.

After the votes, there will be a series of three debates relating to the worsening migration crisis.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Denmark is the latest country to re-impose controls at its borders

Commission deputy chief Frans Timmermans is expected to speak in the first debate, on the long-term future of the passport-free Schengen zone.

Six out of 26 Schengen countries have re-imposed temporary border controls of some description in response to a huge increase in migrants from the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean.

Several states say they plan to seek EU permission to prolong their controls for as long as two years.

Deliberation is likely to focus on Greece, which last week got a scolding from the Commission for "seriously neglecting" its obligations to control its borders.

MEPs will also debate the "non-refoulement" principle - which prevents governments from sending asylum seekers back to dangerous countries - and the EU's proposed €3bn deal with Turkey for its help in alleviating the crisis.

In the evening, MEPs will debate the future of the EU's gender equality strategy, and hear a statement from the Commission about a recent legal decision relating to potentially harmful "endocrine disruptor" chemicals.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last month that the Commission has not been quick enough to set criteria for testing the chemicals, which some researchers claim may affect human hormones and cause disease.

Wednesday

Commission President Juncker, who last week received David Cameron in Brussels, is due to speak during the morning debate on the leaders' summit.

The Netherlands, currently in the EU's rotating presidency hotseat and a key UK ally in Europe, will be represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Bert Keonders.

The summit is set to be dominated by talks on the UK's renegotiation deal, although President Juncker is also keen to ensure leaders get enough time to discuss new measures to combat migration.

The proposed "emergency brake" on welfare payments, which is facing resistance from some Central European nations, will doubtless draw a mixed response from the non-British MEPs.

Their reaction could be more than academic - especially if the final deal includes the need to pass new EU laws.

Any new legislation could require their final approval, depending on what is finally negotiated.

The day's voting is expected to get underway at around 11.30 GMT, after another set-piece speech from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

As well as approving their position on the TiSA talks, MEPs will decide whether to reject plans for a new EU-wide system for testing car diesel emissions following the Volkwagen scandal last September.

Although there is wide agreement on the need for a new testing regime, the Environment Committee have objected to plans to initially raise the current limits for nitrogen oxides as part of the changes.

Pitted against them are those MEPs who say any new testing scheme is better than letting the current one carry on for any longer than necessary.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Some MEPs say the plans as they stand could weaken environmental standards

In the afternoon, MEPs will debate the intertwining EU futures of Serbia and aspiring candidate Kosovo.

There will also be foreign affairs debates on the postponed presidential election in Haiti, the recent rejection of a national unity government in Libya, and the current economic turmoil in Venezuela.

The evening sitting will also see a debate on protecting women from sexual harassment in public areas, following the alleged mass sexual offences in Cologne by men of mainly Arab and North African origin.

Thursday

An 08.00 GMT kick-off will see MEPs debate whether isolated islands in the EU should get a greater share of the bloc's regional development funds.

Some MEPs are also pushing for the Commission to change how it measures the islands' "economic and social vulnerability".

After that, there will be debates and votes on this month's set of resolutions on topical human rights cases.

This month, MEPs will discuss discrimination against the Tartars in Russia-annexed Crimea, the death sentence given to Bahrain citizen Mohammed Ramadan, and the plight of five missing book publishers in Hong Kong.

One of them, Gui Minhai - who is also a Swedish national - recently appeared on Chinese state TV saying he voluntarily handed himself over to the authorities.

Some in Hong Kong have alleged they are being detained by China because of books critical of the mainland, including an unpublished work about the private life of the Chinese president.

Following debates last month, there will also be votes on motions relating to the desperate humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen, and the killing of religious minorities by the Islamic State group.

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

A guide to how the European Parliament's plenary sessions can be found here.

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