Commission President gears up for first “State of the European Union” address

On Wednesday Ursula von der Leyen will outline the impact of the Commission’s work in mitigating the COVID-19 health and economic crisis and present her vision for recovery and the fight against climate change.
Ursula von der Leyen

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Sep 2020

Socialist group leader Iratxe García Pérez has written to von der Leyen saying, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for the EU and we will be judged on our efforts to emerge from this crisis stronger, having helped those who need it the most.”

García Pérez, a Spanish deputy, adds, “With Next Generation EU, we have already shown that we can work together to rally behind a resilient and sustainable recovery. This week, we expect von der Leyen to listen to our calls and set a path for a more sustainable Europe that puts people and their wellbeing first.”

MEPs will also adopt their position for negotiations with EU ministers on setting up the Just Transition Fund, a cornerstone of the EU’s European Green Deal which aims to support regions most affected by the energy transition.

The Greens claim that due to “intense lobbying” from the gas industry, the current proposal negotiated at committee level includes the subsidising of gas projects.

A Greens/EFA group spokesman said, “We support the need to help regions and communities in transitioning away from carbon-intensive industries, but we cannot support initiatives that continue to fund fossil fuels.”

“In the midst of a climate emergency and the COVID-19 recovery, the EU must be looking to renewable and clean alternatives to coal, oil and gas.”

Portuguese MEP Pedro Marques, Socialist spokesman on the issue, said, “The Fund is not only linked to the target of climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest, but also to the intermediate target of 2030 to ensure that from the beginning we are on the right path forward and a significant part of the fund will be dependent on concrete achievements of decarbonisation goals.”

“This week, we expect von der Leyen to listen to our calls and set a path for a more sustainable Europe that puts people and their wellbeing first” Iratxe García Pérez, S&D Group leader

In a busy week, the plenary, which was switched from Strasbourg to Brussels at short notice due to concerns about the spread of Coronavirus in the French city, is due to accelerate the procedure that will enable the EU to borrow €750 billion for the “Next Generation EU” recovery plan.

The vote on the “own resources” decision will make it possible to start the ratification process in 27 EU countries - so that the COVID-19 recovery plan can be launched as soon as possible.

Italian deputy Elisabetta Gualmini said the Socialist group said own resources funding should come from contributions based on non-recycled plastic waste and the extension of Emissions Trading Scheme, digital services taxation and a carbon border tax.

Funding should also be generated, she said, from financial transaction tax and a common consolidated corporate tax base.

She said, “The text to vote this week proposes to establish a legally-binding calendar for the introduction of an ambitious basket of own resources which shall be linked to the implementation of European policies.”

“European leaders need to understand that now is the chance to give the EU the power to finance entirely the recovery plan and help its citizens and not the time to put a bigger burden on them. Almost 70 percent of the European budget is currently financed by national contributions. For the EU to claim its operational legitimacy, this must change.”

At this week’s plenary session, MEPs are expected to call for an urgent EU response to address the humanitarian crisis on the island of Lesbos following the fire that razed the Moria refugee camp.

More than 12,000 people are stranded without shelter following the fire in Greece. MEPs will call on the Commission and Council to provide immediate humanitarian and medical assistance to evacuate the people “as swiftly as possible and to provide a sustainable solution for the people of Moria” by relocating them to other Member States.

MEPs will also debate the “democratic backsliding” and rule of law breaches in Poland and will call on the EU to act to protect fundamental rights in the country.

They will vote on a report by Spanish Socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar that gives a “detailed overview of how the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights have been undermined and damaged in Poland since 2015.”

The report was adopted by a large majority by the Civil Liberties Committee in July and calls on Member States to “finally take the Article 7 procedure seriously and declare that there is a clear and serious breach of the rule of law and European values by Poland.”

He said, “The situation is very concerning, and unfortunately has deteriorated even more over the summer, with the escalation of hate speech and police brutality against LGBTI people.”

The Greens group said the Polish government, the Law and Justice party “has continued to undermine the independence of the judiciary.”

A spokesman went on, “There must be no place in Europe for discrimination and hatred. ‘LGBTI-free zones’ in Poland fly in the face of human rights and European values.”

In a series of debates with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, MEPs will speak about the situation in Russia and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, on Belarus, Lebanon and the upcoming special EU summit. Resolutions will be put to the vote on Russia, Belarus and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Greens wants the EU to “further the cause of democracy and freedom in Belarus by strengthening assistance to Belarusian civil society and immediately ceasing any financial support to the government and state-controlled projects.”

Meanwhile, EPP deputy Andrius Kubilius, author of a resolution on Russia to be voted on this week, said, “Alexei Navalny saw the changes in Belarus as an inspiration for the people of Russia to follow. His poisoning comes at a moment when he was using his media platform to increase public awareness of the democratic revolution going on there and of the brutal repression and torture committed by the Lukashenko regime against the people.”

“His poisoning brings even more evidence of what kind of regime the Kremlin represents nowadays and how dangerous it is to be a partner of the Kremlin’s geopolitical projects like Nord Stream 2,” added Kubilius, a former Prime Minister of Lithuania.

On Poland, the EPP says there has been “increased pressure and discrimination" on independent judges and prosecutors and the media and this has been ‘both ethnic and sexual.’”

It says it will call on governments to “advance within the rule of law procedure and declare that the Polish government is at clear risk of a serious breach of the EU's basic values.”

MEPs will also debate proposed new measures on Thursday for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse, as part of the Security Union Strategy. This comes after Europol reported a 106 percent increase in child sexual exploitation in the past year.

An EPP spokesman said, “Fighting these atrocious crimes, both online and in the real world, that concern the most vulnerable members of society, is a fundamental priority.”

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