Week ahead in the European Parliament

MEPs return to Strasbourg for the first time since the summer recess, and for only the second plenary session since May's European Parliament elections.

My colleague Alasdair Rendall has been having a look at what's happening this week in the European Parliament.

With the new European Commission still to be formally approved, there is a dearth of legislative business, meaning the week will be taken up with a series of statements on topical affairs, and debates on the various ongoing foreign crises, from Ukraine to Gaza.

Monday

The session begins as ever at 4pm, with the formal opening of the session from European Parliament president Martin Schulz. This is the opportunity for general announcements to be made and for tributes to be paid to the victims of various disasters that have occurred since the last plenary session in July. It is also the opportunity for MEPs to amend and formally approve the week's agenda.

The first substantive item of business is a question from MEPs to the European Commission on the impact to European agriculture of the recently imposed Russian trade ban. The embargo, which began last month, affects any imports from the EU of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports.

The ban is having a particularly detrimental impact upon Poland, whose exports to Russia are worth around €1.13bn a year.

There will then be a statement from the European Commission on trade with the so-called "Euromed" countries, which includes various Middle Eastern and North African countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.

MEPs will then question the European Commission on Bolivia's access to preferential trading tariffs with the EU, given that the Bolivian Congress recently passed provisions that reduce the country's minimum working age from 14 to 12 in some cases.

Under the so-called "Generalised Scheme of Preferences" programme, tariffs can be lowered or scrapped for imports from certain developing countries, in return for these countries meeting minimum standards of labour laws and human rights.

Monday will conclude with the "one-minute speeches", the monthly free-for-all which allows MEPs to discuss any topic they wish, without prior notice, up to a maximum of one minute.

Tuesday

An 8am start will see MEPs hold a debate on the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the general state of EU-Russia relations.

The debate will be made up of two elements.

First of all there will be a statement on behalf of the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs on recent developments in Ukraine, which has seen severe fighting in recent months in the East of the country.

This has led to a series of economic sanctions against Russia, whom Nato say is still keeping about 20,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, and around 1000 inside eastern Ukraine itself.

The second part of the debate will focus specifically on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which aims to establish a free trade area with Ukraine.

The agreement was signed by EU and Ukraine leaders in June, but still needs to be ratified by the European and Ukrainian parliaments before it comes into force.

It was the decision last year by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to reject the agreement that sparked off the current conflict between EU- and Russian-leaning Ukrainians.

The daily voting session - including the formal vote on the EU-Ukraine Agreement - takes place as ever at 11am.

The afternoon session gets under way with a statement from the Council of Ministers on its position on the draft EU budget for 2015.

The Council - which represents national governments - is proposing €145 billion in commitments, and €140 billion in payments - a cut of €522 million in funds for new projects and €2.1 billion in those for paying incoming bills in 2015.

Parliament must now state its position on the Council's proposals before three-week conciliation talks between the two institutions start at the end of next month.

Money matters will remain to the fore in the next statement from the Council and Commission on shortages of payments in the budget of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme.

Horizon 2020 commits a €80 billion pot of money for investment in research and innovation over the next seven years, to help Europe's commercial competitiveness.

This will be followed by a statement on the development of the digital single market in the EU, and a statement on this month's UN Climate Summit in New York.

There will then be a statement from the European Commission on the progress of the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement.

The agreement has already been concluded, but still needs to be approved by the European Parliament before it comes into effect.

Tuesday concludes with yet another statement, this time from the Commission on access to life-saving medicines.

It follows concerns from MEPs that the cost of some drugs in the EU is prohibitively high.

Wednesday

Another 8am start sees MEPs gather to hear statements from the Council and Commission on the preparations for the forthcoming Eurozone summit.

The Brussels summit in October will bring together heads of state or government of Euro area countries to discuss ways to boost the single currency bloc's sluggish economy.

Earlier this month the European Central Bank (ECB) cut interest rates to just 0.05%, in a moves designed to revive lending, following a slowdown of manufacturing output, and an inflation rate of just 0.3%.

The idea of a Eurozone-only summit came about in 2008, as the financial crisis deepened, and was formalised by 2013's Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

The morning session will close with a statement by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers on the roll-out of the European Youth Initiative (EYI).

The EYI was launched in January and aims to drive down youth unemployment - which has reached more than 50% in some countries - across the EU.

The €6bn initiative aims to help EU countries combat youth unemployment in regions where it exceeds 25%, however MEPs have criticised national governments for their tardiness in rolling out the scheme.

After the daily voting session, the afternoon will see a series of foreign affairs statements.

This will begin with a statement on the EU's response to the Ebola outbreak.

The EU has announced funding worth €139m to help governments in West Africa tackle the crisis by strengthening their health services and secure food and water supplies.

Globally more than 2,100 people have died of the virus this year.

This will be followed by a statement on the situation in Iraq and Syria, following the rise in recent months of Islamic State (IS).

IS has seized vast swathes of Iraq and beheaded several hostages in recent months, leading to US airstrikes.

Next up in the roll-call of foreign affairs crises to be debated will be Libya, which has been hit by anarchy since Colonel Gaddafi was overthrown by militias, backed by Western countries.

The militias have been fighting for power among themselves since then, with an Islamist-linked group, Libya Dawn, capturing the capital, Tripoli, earlier this month.

Wednesday will conclude with a statement on the EU's response to the summer's conflict in Gaza.

The seven weeks of fighting left over 2,100 Palestinians dead, according to UN and Palestinian officials.

On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and seven civilians were killed.

Thursday

The final day of the session begins once again at 8am with a statement to MEPs on the EU's annual report on human rights and democracy in the world.

The report, prepared by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and backed by the Foreign Affairs Council, covers the EU's activities in 2013.

In 2013, the EU adopted guidelines on protecting freedom of religion and belief, and guidelines to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world.

As regular viewers will know, Thursday afternoon usually sees the monthly human rights debates take place. However, due to a lack of legislative activity this month, these have been brought forward to Thursday morning.

The three countries to be scrutinised and - no doubt - criticised by MEPs this month are Azerbaijan, Burundi and Bangladesh.

With the absence of an afternoon session, Thursday, and indeed the plenary session, will conclude with the daily voting session.

The next plenary session will be in Brussels on 8 and 9 October; however, in the meantime, MEPs will be devoting their attention to the confirmation hearings of the candidates for the European Commission.

These will take place in the various committees of the European Parliament, and as many as possible will be shown live on BBC Democracy Live, with highlights on BBC Parliament.