Parliaments

Week ahead in the European Parliament

Migrants on the Greece-Macedonia border Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

MEPs are back for something of a Groundhog Week in Strasbourg, as attention returns to the latest developments in the European migration crisis.

Monday's EU summit with Turkey will be debated with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday morning, whilst UN High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi will address MEPs on Tuesday.

The crisis will no doubt also dominate a debate on Wednesday afternoon with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, whose country has received the highest per capita share of asylum seekers in all the EU.

Debates on this topic have taken on an increasingly Sisyphean quality in recent months, but MEPs will soon find a more formal role in the EU's response.

The legislation to set up the planned EU border force has now started to make its way through the cogs of the Civil Liberties Committee, and MEPs will also be called on to approve plans to free up €300m in aid for humanitarian groups in Europe.

They will also get a say on forthcoming plans to overhaul the EU's Dublin regulation, which says refugees should claim asylum in their country of arrival.

But before all that, here's what on in the week ahead...

Monday

The sitting kicks off with a debate on proposals to merge an existing EU scheme for distributing milk in schools with one aimed at distributing fruit and vegetables.

The previous European Commission, led by Jose Manuel Barroso, proposed the merger in the hope of making them easier for local authorities to administer.

MEPs will vote on Tuesday on whether to give final backing to the merger package they reached with national ministers in December.

This will be followed by debates on proposals to harmonise EU legislation aiming to control transmittable diseases among animals.

After this, they will discuss EU proposals to increase market access in certain port services, including refuelling, maintenance of access paths and waste collection.

Plans to open up competition in more sensitive areas - including cargo handling - have not been included in the measures in the face of previous opposition.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Previous attempts to liberalise port services in 2001 and 2004 ran into heavy opposition

Port authorities would, however, have to disclose greater details of their public contracts to national and EU monitoring authorities.

MEPs on the Transport Committee have said the proposals are not clear on which kinds of public investment would fall foul of the EU's rules banning state aid.

They have proposed some amendments to the plans, but have not yet decided to give a mandate to start negotiations on the plans with national ministers.

There will also be debates on how best to tackle fraud against the EU budget, and how the EU could help drive the development of a "data-driven economy".

Tuesday

To mark International Women's Day, the day will begin with debates on the socio-economic prospects of women in Europe, and the situation of female asylum seekers in the EU.

A draft motion prepared by the Women's Rights Committee, that will be put to the vote at lunchtime, calls for women asylum seekers to have the right to request female interviewers and interpreters when their asylum applications are processed.

Like all such "own initiative" resolutions, it will not be binding on either the Commission or national governments.

After this, MEPs will hear a speech from Filippo Grandi, the UN's High Commissioner for refugees.

After the lunchtime voting session, they will debate the situation in war-torn Syria, after the declaration of a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" last month.

Following this comes the day's main debate with the Commission on its efforts to find an EU-wide solution to the worsening migration crisis.

With a controversial scheme to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc barely being implemented, the Commission has now proposed to directly fund humanitarian agencies working within Europe for the first time.

Donald Tusk said last week that he could see consensus emerging on a "comprehensive strategy" to mitigate the crisis, but by his own admission time to save passport-free travel in Europe is running out.

Following this, MEPs will debate a draft agreement aiming to reform the way in which EU institutions co-operate to create new legislation.

Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen will then announce plans to revise EU rules on the pay and benefits rights of workers who have been temporarily posted abroad.

MEPs will also debate the merits of setting up a a "social triple A" scheme to measure socio-economic standards in the 28 member states.

The idea would be similar to the "triple A" system used by credit ratings agencies to measure the creditworthiness of national governments.

In the evening, they will debate legislation that would set new EU-wide standards relating to the rights of children in criminal trials.

MEPs have agreed a common position on the law with national ministers, which will be put to a final vote at Wednesday lunchtime.

Wednesday

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders are both expected to speak during the morning's debate on this month's summit of EU leaders.

They will also be debating this week's EU summit with Turkey, at which leaders will try to seek further assurances of a speedy implementation of a €3bn funding deal the bloc agreed with the country last year.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption More than a million people claimed asylum in the EU last year

During the lunchtime voting session, MEPs will vote on whether to back a motion calling on the Commission not to renew an anti-counterfeiting agreement it has with cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International (PMI).

The EU has an agreement with the company, as well three others, that sees them pay $2.15bn to the EU and its member states in return for the EU dropping legal procedures against them for loss of duties caused by illegal trade in cigarettes.

The EU's current agreement with the company is due to expire in July - but not all MEPs are convinced of the case to renew it.

The afternoon sitting will see MEPs hear and debate a speech from Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on the "current state of the European Union".

It is expected that the migration crisis will also be a dominant theme in the debate - particularly given Sweden's decision in January to introduce border checks on its border with Denmark.

After a debate on the political instability in Eritrea, MEPs will assess the progress made towards EU membership by Macedonia and Montenegro.

The evening will also see a debate on what financial support the EU should be offering to victims seeking compensation from the side-effects of Thalidomide, the medical drug that caused unexpected and serious damage to unborn babies in the 1950s and 1960s.

Following the conclusion from a UN Working Group that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been "arbitrarily detained" in London's Ecuadorian embassy, MEPs will also debate current levels of international protection afforded to whistleblowers.

Thursday

The final day of the session will begin with a debate on the EU's response to the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America.

The infection - suspected of leading to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains - has been declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organisation.

Following this, MEPs will debate a motion setting out recommendations to improve the eurozone's banking union.

Amongst the myriad regulations passed in the wake of the financial crisis to improve the stability of the area's banks, eurozone countries have agreed common standards for the amount of reserve capital banks should have to hold.

They have also established direct monitoring of the zone's biggest banks by the European Central Bank (ECB).

Debate is likely to centre on what many see as the next stage: setting up a Eurozone-wide guarantee scheme to protect bank deposits.

The complicated issue is, however, a political hot potato owing to strong opposition from Germany.

As per tradition, MEPs will also debate motions relating to three topical human rights cases.

This month, they will focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, free speech in Kazakhstan and the case of Giulio Regeni, an Italian student at Cambridge University who was found dead in Cairo last month.

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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