The week ahead at the European Parliament

In a regular guest post, my colleague Alasdair Rendall from BBC Democracy Live takes a look what's coming up in this week's plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg...


To keep within the Treaty guidelines that there should be 12 Strasbourg plenary sessions every year - but to allow MEPs a month off in August - October sees two plenary weeks.

The first kicks off at 4pm (all times BST) with a question to the European Commission on the state of the European carbon market. The question has been prompted by the recent decision to reject a plan to rescue the EU's ailing emissions trading scheme, which has been hit by a drop in carbon prices.

This will be followed by a debate on a new fisheries agreement between the EU and Mauritania. The proposed deal would allow EU vessels to fish in Mauritanian waters, in return for a financial assistance package of around €70m. However the Fisheries Committee rejected the proposal in May, saying it was a "bad deal for taxpayers".

Monday evening concludes - as is traditional on a Monday - with short presentation of a series of non-legislative committee reports, and the so-called one minute speeches. These are a particular peculiarity of the European Parliament, and allow MEPs to speak for a minute on any subject they wish, without having to give prior notice. It is basically a chance for an MEP to get a particular issue off their chest. Expect the day's proceedings to finish around 10pm.


An early 7:30am start sees MEPs debate controversial new laws on tobacco packaging. The draft directive would ensure that cigarette packages sold in the EU have bigger health warnings. There is strong division within the groups over whether the directive should be used to bring in tougher controls over e-cigarettes. Some say they should be tightly regulated to ensure that their ease of availability doesn't "lure" people to cigarettes. However others say they should be made more easily available and less tightly regulated to allow people to quit harmful tobacco-based cigarettes.

The controversial topic of tobacco marketing is followed by the equally controversial subject of fracking. MEPs will debate revisions to the EU's Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, which could make fracking subject to tough impact assessments. Supporters of these revisions think this could make it more difficult for exploratory products to get off - or rather under - the ground. Votes on both pieces of legislation will take place during the lunchtime voting session.

Tuesday afternoon's session kicks off at 2pm with a debate on signing off the 2011 accounts for the EU's Council of Ministers. The sign-off - known as "discharge" in EU jargon - has been repeatedly postponed, due to complaints by some MEPs that the Council, which represents EU governments, hasn't done enough to improve the transparency of its accounts.

The rest of the afternoon and evening will be made up of a series of questions to the Commission, establishing the EU's position on a range of subjects including the European research area; the Istanbul Convention on tackling domestic violence; negotiations for an investment agreement between the EU and China; trade between the EU and Taiwan; and the budget of ACER - the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators.

Tuesday evening will also see two pieces of legislation debated. The first is on the thorny subject of recreational boats. The new laws - steered through parliament by British Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour - will bring in tougher laws on noise and emissions for pleasure craft, such as small motor boats and yachts.

The second piece of legislation is on the far more controversial subject of pilots' flying times. The Commission wants to standardise the varying time limits for flying times across the EU. The UK pilots union, Balpa, says this could threaten safety, and at committee stage, the Transport Committee rejected the proposals. It is still anybody's guess which way the vote will go at plenary.

The vote on both pieces of legislation will take place during Wednesday lunchtime's voting session.


The day begins at 8am with a statement by the Commission and the Council on the plight of Syrian refugees. Around 2.1 million refugees are believed to have fled Syria since the conflict began in 2011, and the EU is currently the world's biggest donor to the humanitarian aid effort.

This will be followed by a vote on amendments to a flagship piece of EU single market legislation - the Professional Services Directive. The directive allows for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications in certain professions, including doctors, nurses and architects. MEPs are expected to approve the introduction of an e-card detailing a person's qualifications and experience, making it easier for them to practice their profession in another EU state.

However at the same time the directive will be amended to allow EU governments to introduce a language test when someone applies for a job in another EU country. This follows patient safety concerns surrounding EU medical professionals who may not have an adequate grasp of the language of the country in which they are practicing.

The lunchtime voting session will be interrupted for a short "formal address" by the president of Senegal. Macky Sall will be the latest in a long line of leaders giving a short speech to MEPs.

Wednesday afternoon begins at 2pm with two statements from the Commission and the Council. The first will be on the situation of the Roma people in Europe, following concerns that they are becoming marginalised and victims of discrimination in many EU countries. This will be followed by a statement on the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe.

MEPs will then question the Commission and the Council on their response to a parliamentary report on the hugely controversial subject of "extraordinary rendition". Several EU countries - including Lithuania, Poland and Romania - are accused of hosting secret CIA prisons or allowing CIA flights carrying terror suspects to use their airports.

A critical report by the European Parliament was debated a year ago, and MEPs want to know what progress has been made in responding to MEPs' concerns. These include questions over whether collaboration with the CIA breached EU provisions on asylum and judicial co-operation.

There will then be a statement from the Commission on migratory policies in the Mediterranean Sea. This was originally due to focus on a row between the EU and Malta over the island's reticence during the summer to admit over a hundred African migrants who were rescued by a tanker in the Mediterranean. However the debate is likely to be overshadowed by last week's sinking of a boat carrying migrants to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.

A further controversial issue - the allegations of spying by US authorities on EU citizens - will then be debated, with MEPs urging the Commission to suspend the SWIFT agreement as a result of the allegations. SWIFT - based in Brussels - covers the transfer of financial data and handles millions of transactions every day.

In allegations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, there were claims that the US NSA monitors bank data in the EU, and a number of MEPs say the agreement that allows the US to access SWIFT data should be suspended.

Wednesday evening will conclude with questions to the European Commission on strengthening cross-border law enforcement co-operation, and on the future of the European Economic Area, the free-market grouping of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. MEPs are expected to urge the Commission to allow the three micro-states of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino to join the EEA.


It's another early 7:30am start on Thursday, for a question to the European Commission on caste-based discrimination, followed by a question on tackling homophobia in Russia. MEPs have been highly critical of the Russian government's recent introduction of a law imposing fines for "propagandising of non-traditional sexual relations". The new law portrays homosexuality as a danger to children and the family, and human rights groups say it has led to a rise in the number of attacks on gay men in Russia.

This will be followed by a new law amending the use of cadmium-based batteries, and a debate on the annual report of the European Parliament's Petitions Committee. Petitions can be brought forward by any EU citizen on a matter within the EU's powers, and the committee hears around 1,500 cases a year. In 2012 the majority of petitions focused on the EU as a whole, rather than specific countries.

Germans were the most active petitioners, followed by Spaniards, Italians, Romanians and Britons.

Thursday - and indeed the plenary session - will conclude with the traditional monthly human rights debate. This month MEPs will turn their attention to violence against Christians in the Middle East, media censorship in Sudan, and recent violence in Iraq.