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...

Just two weeks after their previous visit, MEPs return to Strasbourg for their second plenary session of the month.

To allow MEPs a month off in August - but to ensure that they remain compliant with treaty obligations to have 12 plenary sessions a year - one month each year sees a double plenary session.

This plenary has been embroiled in controversy as, at the last minute, the Conference of President - the body of senior MEPs that decides the agenda - decided to postpone debate and vote on the EU's long-term budget, the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF).

They accuse the Council of Ministers - which represents EU ministers - of reneging on a deal struck between the institutions earlier in the year to provide a top-up to this year's budget, in return for MEPs backing the MFF.

This has thrown the agenda into disarray, as the postponement of the MFF vote also means the postponement of debate on a series of legislative packages that were dependent on MFF funding.

Barring any last-minute deal, we now wait until November for what could be a heated debate.

This all means that this week's plenary session is much quieter than it could have been, but still sees a number of potential highlights.


The session begins with its traditional formal opening by parliament president Martin Schulz at 4pm BST.

This is the chance for MEPs to approve and amend the agenda, and will no doubt see some angry words over the postponement of the MFF debate.

This will be followed by a question to the Commission on the EU's role at the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, the 19th such event since the flagship UN Climate Convention was signed at the "Earth Summit" in Rio in 1992.

Most of the rest of the evening will focus on a series of trade debates.

The first looks at a new regulation giving the Commission greater powers to enforce its trade rights under WTO agreements.

Currently it can take months or even years for the EU to implement retaliation measures in the event of a breach of a trade agreement.

The new regulation is designed to speed up the process, but MEPs are keen to ensure that parliament is properly consulted whenever retaliative measures - such as sanctions - are being considered.

MEPs will then question the Commission on EU trade policy with countries of the former Soviet Union - the so-called "Eastern Partnership" - ahead of a major summit taking place in Vilnius in November, which could see a series of association and trade agreements being signed or initiated.

The final trade debate will be on new rules on so-called "drug precursors".

This will give the customs officials more powers to monitor and seize chemicals used in products such as pharmaceuticals, perfumes and plastics, but which can also be illegally diverted to be used in the production of hard drugs.

Monday will conclude, as ever, with the one-minute speeches - the 30 minute session of quick-fire speeches on any topic an MEP issues - followed by debate on a series of non-legislative committee reports.


An early start (7.30am) will see MEPs propose an emergency debate on aligning various EU trade and taxation rules with the forthcoming change of status of the French department of Mayotte.

The Indian Ocean island voted in a referendum in 2009 to become a French Overseas Department; as a consequence it will join places such as the Canary Islands, the Azores and Martinique in becoming a formal "Outermost Region of the EU" on 1 January 2014.

This will be followed by MEPs debating a key piece of legislation, the medical implants directive.

Designed following the 2010 breast implant health scare, the new rules are designed to improve patient safety, with stricter monitoring and better traceability.

Tuesday morning will conclude with a potentially heated debate on the EU's annual budget, with MEPs expected to reverse millions of euros of cuts imposed by the Council of Ministers.

The lunchtime voting session will be interrupted at 11am for a special ceremony involving Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

She will be receiving the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought - however this will be the 1990 prize which she was unable to receive in person.

The afternoon session begins at 2pm with MEPs debating the findings of the specially-convened committee investigating organised crime, corruption and money laundering.

The committee was set up in 2012, and its final report recommends abolishing banking secrecy and eliminating tax havens.

There will then be a statement on the Council's e-justice Action Plan, followed by a question to the Council on Croatia's nomination to the Court of Auditors.

The European Parliament has already rejected the nomination of Neven Mates, but the Council looks set to insist on his nomination, despite Mr Mates himself saying he would withdraw his nomination if the parliament gave a negative opinion.

This will be followed by a statement from the European Commission on the controversial topic of so-called "benefit tourism".

This follows a Commission report earlier this month that found claims that unemployed EU citizens were moving to other countries to claim benefits and health care were wildly exaggerated.

Another statement from the Commission follows, this time on the EU's policies towards its eastern and southern neighbours.

Tuesday evening will conclude with two fisheries-related debates.

The first will be on the establishment of a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will fund measures to make EU fisheries more sustainable.

The second will be on a Green Paper from the Commission that calls for better mapping of the European seabed to improve knowledge of potential development in maritime industries.


Another 7:30am start sees MEPs hold their key debate with the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the forthcoming summit of EU leaders (the European Council), which takes place in Brussels later in the week.

The summit is due to focus on economic growth and developing the "social" aspects of economic union, but these debates generally become a chance for a general "big picture" exchange of views on the state of the European Union.

The morning will conclude with an assessment of the European Semester - the annual scrutiny process of each EU country.

MEPs say there is a lack of a focus on efforts to boost employment.

Wednesday's voting session will include a vote on whether to formally recommend suspension of the SWIFT agreement that allows US authorities to access certain financial data hosted in Brussels.

It follows a heated debate at the last plenary session after allegations of widespread surveillance of EU citizens.

The afternoon begins at 2pm with the annual debate on the EU's common foreign and security policy, in the presence of the EU's High Representative Baroness Ashton.

A critical report by the Foreign Affairs Committee says the EU has not yet developed a clear strategy for its relations with the rest of the world.

The MEPs accuse the EU's European External Action Service of being "reactive rather than proactive".

Foreign affairs dominate the next couple of debates, beginning with a debate on the current situation in the Maldives.

The country's Supreme Court recently annulled the result of the country's presidential election, and the incumbent president has since pulled out of the race.

This will be followed by a statement on the detention by Russia of 30 Greenpeace activists who were arrested following the seizure of the vessel Arctic Sunrise.

Wednesday evening concludes with a short debate on new laws bringing together various EU rules on protecting the public from radiation into one overarching directive.

This will be expanded to increase protection from naturally occurring radiation, such as radon gas, which occurs in a number of areas in the UK.

The day's business wraps up with a debate on the EU's General Union Environment Action Programme, which sets out the EU's environmental priorities until 2020.

These cover such broad-based aims as "environmental protection" and "sustainability".


An 8am start sees MEPs debate the European Commission's recent proposals on reforming the telecoms industry in the form of the so-called "Connected Continent" package.

This covers everything from roaming charges to net neutrality, and MEPs want to know why so many unrelated measures are being lumped together in one legislative package.

There is also concern that such a major policy proposal is being brought forward just seven months before the end of the current parliamentary mandate.

MEPs will then question the Commission on the future of European wine sector, following a series of liberalisation measures that have occurred in recent years.

The morning concludes with a statement on the development of an EU strategy for the Carpathian region.

So-called macro-regional strategies already exist for the Baltic and Danube regions, and MEPs have urged the Commission to come forward with similar proposals for the Carpathian region, which covers parts of Poland, Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Thursday will see an early afternoon finish, straight after the lunchtime voting session as there is no human rights debate, as this took place during the first October plenary session.