Parliaments

What next for MEPs this year?

It has been a tumultuous year so far in European Union politics.

As well as grappling with an historic migration crisis, figures within the EU institutions must also now contend with the reality of the Brexit vote in the UK.

EU leaders - without British Prime Minister Theresa May - are due to meet in Bratislava in September to ruminate on the bloc's future.

Over at the European Parliament, MEPs also have a number of pressing matters to deal with after their summer recess.

Visa-free travel for Turkey

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Image caption Turks currently need a visa to travel to Europe

Pledging to speed up Turkey's existing application for visa-free travel rights was one of the most controversial aspects of the migration deal that EU states struck with the country earlier this year.

The change would allow Turkish citizens to travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to three months without a visa - a right already granted to around 60 non-EU states.

Less than two months after the migration deal was signed, the EU Commission said the country was making enough progress towards meeting the bloc's 72 conditions that it could give its provisional backing to the plan.

But the original ambition to roll out the scheme by the end of June came and went - and the reaction of President Erdogan's government to a failed coup attempt in July has only complicated matters further.

Certainly one of the most difficult sticking points - a requirement for Turkey to bring its anti-terror laws closer to European norms - looks unlikely to get any easier in the near future.

The German commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, has said he couldn't see visa requirements being lifted before the end of the year.

But the Commission says that work on the proposal is continuing, with a spokesman declaring he hoped negotiations would conclude "sometime after the summer break".

Any proposal to lift visa requirements could face substantial opposition from MEPs - who, along with member states, must give their approval to the scheme.

Group leaders have already ruled out holding a ratification vote until they are satisfied all the criteria have been met.

Granting visa-free travel remains an unpopular idea among many MEPs due to security and human rights concerns.

Despite more recent conciliatory tones from Turkey, the country has previously said that withholding support could throw the EU's migration deal into doubt.

MEPs will have to decide soon after the recess whether to harden or soften their stance.

Changing the EU asylum system

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Image caption Thousands of migrants and refugees are currently being housed in Greek army-built camps

The European Commission unveiled its long-promised overhaul of EU asylum legislation in May, with proposals to replace the failing Dublin regulation.

The Dublin rules, under which migrants have to claim asylum in the country they arrive in, proved unworkable when Germany opened the door to Syrian refugees last summer.

Much like the Commission, MEPs have long supported the creation of a permanent EU-wide relocation scheme in response - but the plan encountered fierce opposition in national capitals.

Eastern and central European states have reacted strongly against relocation quotas, and Hungary will test the issue in a national referendum in October.

Both Italy and Greece have struggled to cope with the number of arrivals, with a temporary relocation scheme agreed last year having resettled only a fraction of the numbers promised.

Under the Commission's latest plans, the principle that asylum claims should be heard in a migrant's first country remains.

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

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

Despite support for greater EU co-operation on migration, an initial debate among MEPs revealed scepticism about how the latest revision would work.

Some MEPs criticised the size of the €250,000 fine that countries would have to pay for each asylum seeker from their quota that remains in another member state.

Others pledged to amend the circumstances under which an EU state would be able to transfer unaccompanied children to another.

The Parliament's home affairs committee is expected to take an initial position in the autumn, ahead of negotiations with national governments.

Railway contract rules

Also up for a final vote are new EU rules governing how national rail authorities can award domestic train contracts.

The proposals would introduce mandatory competitive tendering for public rail contracts, to begin seven years after the law is passed.

The plan is part of a wider EU scheme to boost rail travel in a bid to cut emissions from cars - and follows liberalisation of freight and international train services.

Negotiators from the European Parliament reached a provisional deal on the legislation at the end of April, with a final vote expected before the end of this year.

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The agreement contains a number of compromise provisions to allow national authorities to award contracts without putting them out to tender.

Such a move could be justified for less popular or geographically isolated routes, or for some low-value contracts.

However national authorities would have to justify direct awards by "substantiated" assessments, and notify the EU Commission.

The new rules are unlikely to have much of an immediate effect in the UK and Sweden, where contracts are already tendered among commercial providers.

However the changes would have a greater impact in countries such as France, Spain and Belgium, where publicly-owned companies are dominant.

Attempts by the SNCF - the publicly-owned railway company in France - to redraw workers' contracts in anticipation of the changes prompted strikes in April.

Grilling the new UK Commissioner

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Image caption Sir Julian is currently the UK ambassador to France

MEPs will also have the chance to question Sir Julian King, the UK's nominee to replace Lord Hill as the British EU commissioner.

He will be questioned by members of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee over how he plans to tackle his policy brief, which covers how the EU fights terrorism, organised crime and cyber-security.

The hearing will take place during the first plenary week after the recess, with a vote on his appointment taking place three days later.

The audition is supposed to allow MEPs to assess an incoming commissioner's suitability for the post, but could end up taking on a different dynamic entirely due to the UK's imminent departure from the EU.

It remains to be seen, for instance, how they will go about assessing the extent of his "European commitment".

Lord Hill's background as a lobbyist in the financial services sector was a recurring source of questioning during his three-hour appearance.

He was even called back for a second session before MEPs finally delivered a positive opinion on his appointment.

Some MEPs have voiced concern about handing the UK a commissioner covering security at a time when the country is about to begin its withdrawal from the bloc.

During a motion vote after the referendum, around a third of MEPs supported an (unsuccessful) amendment calling for a new UK commissioner not to be given a policy brief at all.

Market economy status for China

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The debate surrounding China's status at the World Trading Organisation (WTO) began the year as a complicated legal dispute but could become a political hot potato in the second half of the year.

China was not granted market status when it joined the WTO in 2001, but argues that the terms of its membership mean it should automatically get it at the end of this year, when a 15-year clause in its accession agreement is due to end.

Classifying China as a market economy under WTO rules would change the way EU countries calculate whether it has been "dumping" goods - selling them at a loss - on the European market.

Such a move is fiercely opposed by some industrial unions, who say it would hamper the ability of EU governments to protect themselves against unfair trading.

Chinese overproduction has been blamed in a number of countries - notably in the UK - for a decline in the steel industry.

The European Commission has said doing nothing may eventually leave EU countries in breach of WTO rules.

Shortly before the summer break, commissioners unveiled the outlines of a plan they promised to back up with formal proposals before the end of the year.

They pledged new legislation to beef up the EU's trade defence system, alongside a legal response that would allow the EU to fulfil its "international commitments".

A formal bid to change China's WTO status would have to win the backing of MEPs, who - along with member states - would have to approve the measure.

MEPs have already set out their opposition to any EU attempt to "unilaterally" grant China market status, whilst insisting that "non-standard" methodologies should continue to be used in Chinese anti-dumping investigations.