Parliaments

Week ahead in the European Parliament

UK flags on desks in the European Parliament Image copyright Reuters

The future composition of the European Parliament itself will be among the issues debated by MEPs this week at the assembly's plenary sitting.

On Wednesday they will vote on a draft blueprint drawn up by one of its committees on what to do with the British seats to be vacated after Brexit. Under the proposed plan, the size of the Parliament after the UK's exit would shrink from 751 to 705 seats.

Some countries would gain seats after a redistribution of 27 out of the UK's 73 seats - with the remaining 46 seats placed in reserve, possibly for a transnational constituency or for new member countries.

Supporters of a pan-EU constituency say the idea would reinvigorate elections to the assembly, which often have a low turnout. The idea has some influential backers - including the French President Emmanuel Macron. However others feel the plan would further distance the Parliament from the concerns of voters, and mean an opportunity is missed to further reduce the size and cost of the assembly.

Whatever is decided this week, it will only be the beginning - any decision will require the unanimous backing from remaining EU governments.

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

Monday

First up MEPs will be joined by European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi to debate the body's annual report for 2016. That year the bank decided to prolong the bond-buying programme it launched the previous year but with purchases scaled back. The programme has since been extended again, and is now due to end in September this year.

On Tuesday MEPs will vote on a report which welcomes the scheme but expresses concerns about its effects on asset prices and savers.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mario Draghi's mandate as ECB president ends late next year

After this they will discuss controversial diesel emissions tests on humans and monkeys carried out by a now-disbanded body. The exhaust fume tests were carried out by EUGT, which had been funded by Volkswagen as well as rivals Daimler, which owns Mercedes Benz, and BMW.

The day's main legislative debate is on new rules aiming to prevent online traders from offering different services to shoppers in different countries. Under the new law, people buying goods and services online will not be blocked or redirected to a different website based on their IP address. The new rules will not however cover products covered by copyright, such as e-books, downloadable music or online games.

The European Parliament has agreed a compromise on the new law with national ministers, which will be put to a final vote on Tuesday.

After a debate on the EU's efforts to tackle tax avoidance, they will discuss a proposed overhaul of the EU's carbon trading scheme.

The emissions trading system (ETS) works by making emitters buy "allowances" authorising them to emit greenhouse gases, within an overall agreed limit. Under the proposed changes, the rate at which emission allowances are withdrawn from the market would be stepped up from 2021.

Weak economic growth in the years after the scheme was set up in the mid-2000s has meant the price of allowances has fallen below expectations. MEPs have reached a provisional agreement on the reforms with national ministers which will be put to a final vote on Tuesday.

In the evening they will debate a proposal from the European Commission to add Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago to a blacklist of states considered at high risk of money laundering and terrorism financing.

On Wednesday MEPs will have the chance to veto the idea, amid concerns about the effect of including Tunisia in particular.

The economics and monetary affairs committee has advised against such a move - but only narrowly, by 32 votes to 28.

Tuesday

The sitting begins with the second "future of Europe" debate with Croatian Prime Minister (and former MEP) Andrej Plenkovic. It follows last month's inaugural debate in the planned series, led by the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

At the voting session they are likely to approve a decision to set up a special inquiry committee to investigate the EU's authorisation procedure for pesticides. It follows the recent controversy surrounding the re-authorisation of the weedkiller glyphosate, whose licence was eventually renewed for another five years last November.

One UN study called the chemical "probably carcinogenic", but the European Commission says EU food safety and scientific bodies have found no link to cancer in humans.

The European Parliament has called for all uses of glyphosate to be phased out by the end of 2022.

In the afternoon the main debate will be on the EU's new enlargement strategy for Western Balkan countries, to be announced on Tuesday. EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has ruled out new EU members until after next year but said Western Balkan states deserve "credible" membership prospects.

After this they will debate the next steps in Zimbabwe following the departure of former president Robert Mugabe in November.

They will also discuss the offensive by Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels to push a Kurdish militia out of Afrin last month, and the subsequent arrests in Turkey of hundreds of people after posting messages online criticising the move.

They will also discuss the situation in Venezuela, ahead of a motion vote on Thursday likely to call for efforts to restore political stability.

Wednesday

First up is the debate on MEPs' plans for the European Parliament after the UK loses its 73 seats after Brexit. The plan drawn up by the constitutional affairs committee will be put to a vote from 11.00 GMT.

There are a number of similar amendments down to reject the idea of a transnational list, from both the far-left and different hues of the Eurosceptic right. The language of some gives a clue to the divisiveness of the idea - one calls the proposal "totally out of touch with reality".

The issue has split the assembly's two biggest groups - the centre-left S&D group is in favour, but the centre-right EPP is opposed.

Constitutional matters will remain on the menu with a debate on suggested changes to the assembly's operating agreement with the EU Commission. The draft reaffirms the Parliament's commitment to the 'Spitzenkandidat' process for deciding the president of the EU Commission. Under the convention, the job is awarded to the candidate selected by the political group which wins the most seats in the European Parliament.

In the afternoon there will also be a debate on proposals made by the Parliament in 2015 to change European election law. MEPs suggested that EU citizens living elsewhere should have the right to take part, and that electronic voting could even be used. However they haven't had an official response to their ideas from national governments, which would have to endorse them.

Members of the constitutional committee have warned that time is running out to make changes in time for the elections due next year.

This will be followed by debates on a controversial government decree in Romania that would have shielded many politicians from prosecution for corruption.

The Romanian government now says it will scrap the move. It comes after days of large street protests against it.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some in Romania have demanded the government's resignation

MEPs will also discuss proposed changes to the external lending mandate of the European Investment Bank (EIB). The EU Commission wants the mandate changed to allow the bank to lend more to projects outside the bloc aiming to reduce migration.

The evening will see debates on the "shrinking space" for NGOs, and EU support for women's rights groups around the world.

Thursday

First up is a debate that is familiar to the assembly - on the coordination of daylight saving times in the EU.

Current EU legislation stipulates a common date in both spring and autumn on which clocks must be put forward and back respectively by one hour. Critics of the system say there is evidence the changes negatively affect industry and the tourism sector, as well as people's health.

MEPs on the transport committee have previously accused the commission of ignoring evidence on the downsides of the current system.

At lunchtime there will be a vote on a report from the committee calling on the EU's executive body to end the switches. However, the report's recommendations will not be binding.

After this they will debate and vote on the month's three motions on topical human rights cases. This month's group focus on Russia, Egypt and Haiti.

They will also vote on the motions debated earlier in the week on Venezuela and Turkey.

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

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

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