Parliaments

Week ahead in the European Parliament

Migrants in Greece Image copyright AP
Image caption Around 50,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece

Not for the first time this year, this week's Strasbourg plenary session is not exactly replete with big legislative votes.

MEPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to give final approval to new powers for Europol, the EU police agency, and new residence rights for non-EU students.

But aside from the usual votes on topical motions and minor legislation, the main interest will lie in debates undertaking a tour d'horizon of a number of EU policies.

The Commission's latest proposals to revise EU asylum law will be debated on Wednesday afternoon, along with the long-term future of the Schengen area.

With another emergency get-together of eurozone finance ministers taking place on Monday, MEPs will also take the chance on Tuesday to review the latest impasse over releasing funds from Greece's bailout deal.

Here's what's coming up this week...

Monday

After a speech from Parliament President Martin Schulz to mark Europe day, MEPs will kick off the sitting by debating the EU's "cohesion policy".

Cohesion spending, which accounts for around a third of the EU's budget, covers various investment schemes designed to reduce economic differences between different regions in the EU.

Via two motions and an oral question, MEPs will prod the Commission into encouraging greater flows of funds towards smaller business and cut-off mountainous regions whose economies depend heavily on farming and tourism.

After that, there will be an update from the Commission on controversial plans to double the capacity of the Nord Stream gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

The consortium behind the project includes a number of European energy companies - including Eon, BASF and Shell - as well as state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A number of EU countries have stated their opposition to the Russia-backed pipeline deal

Last December MEPs passed a motion expressing concern that the extension could undermine the EU's attempts to reduce the dependency of the bloc on Russian energy imports.

The Commission is examining whether the project could fall foul of the same EU competition laws that scuppered the South Stream pipeline project in 2014.

Following this, they will debate a motion calling for a clearer system for labelling the origin of fish.

It comes after an environmental group published a report based on DNA sampling which showed that around a third of fish sold in Brussels restaurants was mislabelled.

The group's survey was based on samples from 150 restaurants in the Belgian capital, including the restaurants of the European Commission and European Parliament.

In the evening, they will discuss whether to ratify the renewal of a wide-ranging fisheries agreement between the EU and Mauritania, and the EU's first-ever fishing deal with Liberia.

Tuesday

The sitting will begin with a debate on whether the EU should grant market economy status (MES) to China.

China was not granted MES when it joined the World Trading Organisation (WTO) in 2001, but argues that the terms of its membership mean it should automatically get it at the end of this year.

Others disagree - and are eagerly awaiting the results of the EU Commission's public consultation on the matter, expected sometime next month.

Changing China's status could change the way the EU calculates anti-dumping tariffs on "dumped" Chinese exports, and is likely to face huge opposition from European industrial unions.

MEPs - who would eventually have to approve any change - will set out their current position in a motion vote on Thursday.

After the lunchtime voting, the afternoon sitting will begin with a debate on the state of negotiations over releasing funds to Greece from its EU-IMF bailout, following the latest meeting of Eurozone ministers on Monday.

The scale of government cuts to release the next batch of loans has been the subject of months of fraught negotiation.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Greek Finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos is in Brussels for more bailout talks this week

After debating the EU's contribution to this month's World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, MEPs will also take stock of EU trade talks with the Mercosur bloc of Latin American countries.

Having been stalled for years, the chances of reaching a deal improved last month when the two sides agreed to renew their negotiation efforts, with "market offers" to be exchanged this month.

In the evening, MEPs will also debate the continuing economic and political crisis in Venezuela.

It comes after last week the opposition presented the country's electoral authorities with a petition calling for a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Many Venezuelans are furious because of a deep recession, food shortages and a power crisis that has cut supply to four hours a day in most cities.

Wednesday

The sitting will begin with a debate on proposed new powers for Europol, the EU's Hague-based police agency.

Under legislation proposed in 2013, the agency is set to get additional powers to set up specialised units to combat certain types of crime and terrorism.

However, there will also be new rules governing its use of personal data, and greater oversight of its work from the European Parliament and national MPs.

MEPs reached a deal on the new rules with national ministers last November, which they will put to a final vote at lunchtime.

The morning session will also see a debate on new entry and residence rules for non-EU students on the European Voluntary Service.

The plans would introduce an EU-wide right for students to stay at least nine months after finishing their studies, and work at least 15 hours a week whilst completing their degrees.

The UK, Ireland and Denmark have all used their treaty rights to opt out of the legislation - which will also face a final vote at lunchtime.

The afternoon will begin with the debate on the EU's proposed new asylum rules.

The Commission's latest scheme would see the essentials of the Dublin regulation kept in place, with refugees still normally required to claim asylum in the EU member state in which they arrive.

However an automatic relocation scheme - backed by big fines for states that refused to comply - would kick in if a country receives more than 150% of its annual "share" of asylum seekers, based on population and economy.

The plans would require support from most member states as well as MEPs - the UK and Ireland can opt out of asylum policies, whilst Denmark is also exempt.

MEPs will stay on a similar theme after that, with a set-piece debate scheduled on the future of the passport-free Schengen zone.

After this they will discuss EU tax transparency rules announced at the start of this year which would force national tax authorities to share information about their tax rulings for multinationals.

MEPs are obliged to give their view on the measures before they can be adopted - although they do not have the power to block or amend them.

In the evening they will ask the Commission for an update on investigations into the involvement EU states had in facilitating alleged human rights abuses by the CIA.

The allegations relate to interrogation techniques used by US security services between 2001 and 2006 at "secret prisons" situated in a number of EU states.

They will also discuss whether the EU should introduce new labelling rules requiring the country of origin to be marked on dairy produce and on processed meat such as sausages and ready meals.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption MEPs argue that mandatory origin labelling for milk would boost consumer confidence

Mandatory country-of-origin labelling rules already exist for fresh beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil and honey.

A majority of MEPs support extending this to cover processed meat and milk - but the EU Commission says this should remain voluntary so as not to increase costs for consumers.

Thursday

The shorter final day of the session will open with a debate on the enforcement of parental leave rights within the EU.

At lunchtime MEPs will vote on a draft motion which expresses concern at the "disparities" in how different member states have implemented previous EU laws.

After this they will discuss a motion calling on EU member states to do more to protect potential victims of human traffickers.

The draft text, drawn up by Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder on behalf of the Women's Rights Committee, says EU anti-trafficking law is not being properly implemented.

Attention will then turn to this month's motions on topical human rights cases - with the Crimean Tartars, Djibouti and the Gambia all in the spotlight.

The voting session will come after this, when MEPs will put all of their rights motions to a vote, as well as the motion on whether the EU should grant market economy status to China.

Please note: This agenda is subject to modification at the opening of the session on Monday afternoon.

A guide to how the European Parliament's plenary sessions can be found here.

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