This week in the European Parliament

The last European Parliament plenary session of the year has traditionally often focused on Human Rights, as Parliament’s spokesperson Jaume Duch reminded the press at Friday’s pre-session briefing

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

13 Dec 2021

This time, however, a big legislative workload, a resurgent Covid pandemic and crises at the EU’s borders and in its neighbourhood don’t leave too much room for traditions this year.

There will be the award ceremony for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on Wednesday, of course, and with the laureate Alexei Navalny still imprisoned in Russia, his daughter Daria and his chief of staff Leonid Volkov will be in Strasbourg to accept the prize.

Already on Monday evening, Volkov and Navalnaya will be hosted by the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), together with its Human Rights subcommittee (DROI) and the Committee on Development (DEVE) for an exchange of views.

The AFET committee had voted on the annual report on the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy on Friday, and its chair David McAllister (DE, EPP) commented afterwards on how to equip a Union “confronted with a multitude of complex foreign and security policy challenges”.

The EU would have to step up its engagement, he argued, and not only with “massive investments in additional equipment and operational capabilities”, but also by internal reform: “The EU's decision-making processes must be made more efficient. Unanimity hinders our ability to act quickly. Majority decisions in the Council are needed more often.”

A sentiment shared by his country’s new minister for foreign affairs, Annalena Baerbock, when she attended the Foreign Affair Council in Brussels on Monday:

Two of the current challenges will take centre stage several times in Strasbourg this week: the situation at the Russian-Ukrainian border as well as the stand-off at the EU’s borders with Belarus will see dedicated debates.

The former, where an unprecedented Russian military build-up is stoking fears of an imminent invasion is on the agenda on Tuesday afternoon, and the latter on Wednesday afternoon. But they will no doubt also feature in the general debate in preparation of next week’s final EU Council summit of the year scheduled for Wednesday morning.

The EPP Group’s president, Manfred Weber commented in a press statement: "We have to show Putin what the consequences will be if he decides to further undermine Ukraine's territorial integrity".

On the Belarus border crisis, where the proposed Council decision on provisional emergency measures for the external border is going to be discussed, controversy can be expected.

There will be the award ceremony for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on Wednesday, of course, and with the laureate Alexei Navalny still imprisoned in Russia, his daughter Daria and his chief of staff Leonid Volkov will be in Strasbourg to accept the prize

While the countries concerned - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - have welcomed the measures, the Greens/EFA Group, who initiated the debate, is worried about human rights standards. In a press release they stated that the proposals do “nothing to prevent the current practice of pushbacks, which sends asylum seekers, including families, under inhumane circumstances to Belarus with no access to protection”.

In conclusion, the group “demand the Commission change course and come out with a plan that respects human rights and the right to asylum”.

The main legislative dossier this week is the Digital Europe two-pack, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The DMA will see its plenary debate on Tuesday morning and its first reading vote the day after. The rapporteur, Andreas Schwab (DE, EPP), as well as the shadow rapporteurs have expressed their views in opinion pieces for the latest edition of the Parliament Magazine and are also being published on this website.

The Renew Group’s shadow Andrus Ansip, former Commissioner for the Digital Single Market, wrote that the legislation was an internal market tool and not a protectionist one:

“Its purpose is to ensure effective competition within digital markets and, in particular, a fair and competitive online platform environment.”

The DMA’s sister act, drafted by Christel Schaldemose (DK, S&D) is lagging a little bit behind because compromises necessary for an agreement were a bit harder to find but it will its final vote in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) on Tuesday morning.

A press conference with the Danish Social Democrat about the outcome is scheduled for 13:10.

The EPP Group’s shadow, Arba Kokalari (SE), commented on Friday: “The DSA will put an end to the digital wild west where the big platforms set the rules themselves and criminal content goes viral".

The main legislative dossier this week is the Digital Europe two-pack, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA)

Parliament will hold a formal sitting with an address by the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

The ECR Group, who invited him, explained in a press release that he was originally meant to address the house upon the occasion of an Africa summit last year which had to cancelled because of the pandemic.

While the situation still does not allow for such a summit to take place, the group stressed that “EU-Africa relations should transition from a development-oriented relationship to one of trade which aims to put African nations on an equal footing and raises African standards”.

Wednesday afternoon’s topical debate, initiated by the EPP Group with support from groups to the right of it, concerns the new European Commission Guidelines on inclusive language, which have been subject of not always accurate criticism by politicians and commentators on the right.

On the left, this decision has caused bewilderment and derision.

An S&D Group spokesperson commented at Friday’s press briefing, that his group was “pretty surprised by the choice made by the EPP Group”. He added: “taking into account that Europe is facing great challenges, we find that choice a bit weird.”

Two of the current challenges will take centre stage several times in Strasbourg this week: the situation at the Russian-Ukrainian border as well as the stand-off at the EU’s borders with Belarus will see dedicated debates

The Left Group’s spokesperson used slightly blunter language. “It’s been pretty interesting seeing the centre and far right work themselves up in hysterics about this”.

He argued that this was a “clear example of fake news” and regretted that the Commission seemed to have caved in under the pressure and withdrawn a document which, he argued, seemed “quite fair and balanced and is, basically, about not being an arsehole in the workplace”.

Thursday will see its traditional human rights focus retained, with, notably, a debate about the latest state-sponsored reprisals against the Russian civil rights and historical society Memorial, the 2009 Sakharov laureate.

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