Wrapping up

The European Parliament session that just got underway this evening marks the second-to-last MEP gathering in plenary in Strasbourg before voters head to the polls in June.

The European Parliament’s March plenary session has begun in Strasbourg, running until Thursday. MEPs are in overdrive, pushing to finalise key legislation before the June elections mark the end of the current legislature. This is the penultimate plenary session in Strasbourg, with the last one scheduled for 22-25 April, besides an additional mini-session in Brussels on 10-11 April.

A main development during this plenary will be a debate tonight and a vote to be taken tomorrow on the European Parliament’s position on new rules to verify and pre-approve green marketing claims to protect consumers from misleading ads. The European Parliament’s negotiator on this dossier in the committee on the environment, public health and food safety (ENVI), is Maltese Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer (S&D).

Speaking to The Journal on the margins of January’s plenary session, Cyrus Engerer explained how the EU is taking an important step to combat widespread ‘greenwashing’ and ensure that consumers have access to accurate and reliable information about the environmental performance of products and services.

MEP Cyrus Engerer (S&D). Photo: David Mallia

Commenting about this week’s adoption of Parliament’s position, Engerer said: “56% of EU consumers consider the environment when purchasing goods and services. However, more than half of the green claims on the market, such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘green’, are unreliable or sometimes even false. The Green Claims Directive will apply to explicit environmental claims made by traders about products placed on the market or put into service, including through online marketplaces, or traders and environmental labelling schemes in business-to-consumer commercial practices. For the S&Ds the goal is clear: making sure that consumers are well informed and not tricked. The path is also clear: we need prior verification carried out by independent verifiers, to limit claims on carbon offsetting and set appropriate penalties. No more greenwashing!”

Another of the priorities in this plenary will be a call by MEPs on the EU’s member states to end obstruction to the Due Diligence Directive. After the provisional agreement on the directive, reached by the European Parliament and the Council last December failed to secure a majority in the Council, MEPs are expected to quiz the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Commission about the state of play of this legislation and how to overcome the blockage by some member states. MEPs are set to call on the Council to ensure it adopts the directive before the end of the current legislature.

European legisltors will this week also vote on the Artificial Intelligence Act. After a debate tomorrow, MEPs are on Wednesday expected to approve an agreement reached with EU countries establishing obligations for AI based on its potential risk and level of impact. AI applications that pose a clear risk to fundamental rights – such as biometric categorisation systems based on sensitive characteristics, social scoring, or AI used to manipulate human behaviour – will be banned in Europe. AI systems considered high-risk, used for example in critical infrastructure, education, healthcare, law enforcement, border management or elections, will have to comply with strict requirements. Fast-expanding general-purpose AI (GPAI) models will also have to comply with transparency obligations and EU copyright rules, while the most powerful models will face additional safety requirements. Considering the increasing difficulty with recognising artificial or manipulated audio-visual media (“deepfakes”) online, such content will have to be clearly labelled.

Also high on the agenda is the European Media Freedom Act, with MEPs set to give their final green light on Wednesday to this new legislation aimed at protecting EU journalists and media from political or economic interference. The spotlight will also be, amongst other items, on proposals to prevent and reduce waste from food and textiles across the EU, and to reduce the energy consumption and greenhousegas emissions from the buildings sector.

One file which, unfortunately, will not see resolution before June – as had been expected – is the proposed legislation on the right to digitally disconnect from work. Maltese Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba (S&D), who has spearheaded the European Parliament’s struggle to update worker’s rights to correspond to the new realities of the digital age, was looking forward to the finalisation of the file and is, understandably, disappointed about the matter. When he spoke to The Journal on the margins of the December 2023 plenary session, Agius Saliba was full of enthusiasm following the assurance that European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicholas Schmit, had just given MEPs in plenary that the European Commission would follow up the commitments given by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to legislate on the right to disconnect. During that plenary, the EP overwhelmingly approved, by a vote of more than 75%, a legislative report and a fully-fledged draft directive to be proposed by the EP to the Commission.

MEP Alex Agius Saliba (S&D). Photo: Frederic MARVAUX/European Union

Now, the Maltese MEP, who’s also Vice President of the S&D Group, told this portal that things got stalled because Commissioner Shmit has been elected as the S&D’s candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission. The conservative European People’s Party (EPP) has just endorsed incumbent President Ursula von der Leyen’s bid for a second term as Commission chief.

“Disappointingly, the Commission has blocked the progress of a file we understand to be finalised,” MEP Agius Saliba informed The Journal. “This move by the Commission, dominated by the center-right, appears intended to prevent the center-left from delivering two key proposals to European citizens: the right to disconnect from work and fair compensation for internships.” As a result, these important pieces of European legislation will have to be delayed until the next parliamentary term.

These are the main items on the MEPs’ agenda this week:

Artificial Intelligence Act: Parliament to adopt landmark law

MEPs will vote on new rules to ensure artificial intelligence is trustworthy, safe and respects EU fundamental rights, while supporting innovation.

MEPs set to adopt plans to decarbonise the EU buildings sector

 Plans to reduce the energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions from the buildings sector will be debated on Monday and voted on by plenary on Tuesday.

Media Freedom Act: more protection for EU journalists and press freedom

MEPs are set to give their final green light on Wednesday to new legislation to protect EU journalists and media from political or economic interference.

Parliament to mark International Women’s Day (8th March)

Ivana Andrés and Alba Redondo from the Spanish women’s national football team will address MEPs in a ceremony on Tuesday.

MEPs to look ahead to March European Council

In a debate with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU on Tuesday morning, MEPs will outline their expectations for the 21-22 March EU summit.

EP to adopt position on textiles and food waste reduction

On Wednesday, MEPs will adopt their proposals to prevent and reduce waste from food and textiles across the EU.

Euro 7: Parliament to adopt emissions limits for cars and other road vehicles

 New EU rules to reduce emissions from passenger cars, vans, buses, trucks and trailers will be put to a final vote by MEPs on Wednesday.

Pollution: MEPs to vote on deal with Council to reduce industrial emissions

 The new rules aim to reduce air, water and soil pollution from industrial installations and large livestock farms.

Green claims: protecting consumers from being misled

Following a debate on Monday, MEPs will adopt on Tuesday their position on new rules to verify and pre-approve green marketing claims to protect consumers from misleading ads.

Parliament set to back stricter rules for toy safety

The draft rules aim to decrease the number of unsafe toys sold on the EU’s single market and better protect children from toy-related risks.

MEPs seek to renew trade support for Ukraine and Moldova

MEPs are set to vote on their position on extending the temporary trade liberalisation measures for Ukraine and Moldova amidst Russia’s war of aggression.

Fighting foreign interference

During Question Time on Tuesday, MEPs will quiz Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová about EU governments’ preparedness to combat foreign interference, including from Russia.

Ukrainian children deported to Russia: plenary debate

On Wednesday, MEPs will discuss with the Council and Commission how to address the urgent concerns surrounding Ukrainian children being forcibly deported to Russia.

Stronger rules on the evasion of EU sanctions and confiscating criminal assets

MEPs are set to adopt two new laws to improve the enforcement of EU sanctions, and to strengthen the rules on finding and confiscating criminal assets.

Improved protection for EU consumers against damage by defective products

Following a debate on Monday, MEPs will take a final vote on Tuesday on revamped rules ensuring access to compensation for damage caused by defective products for consumers.

Cyber Resilience Act: Boosting the security of digital products

MEPs will debate on Monday and vote on Tuesday on new cyber resilience rules to protect digital products in the EU from cyber threats.

Animal welfare: MEPs want clear timeline for updating EU rules

On Thursday, MEPs will quiz the Commission on an announced revision of EU animal welfare legislation.

Due diligence directive: MEPs to call on member states to end obstruction

MEPs are set to urge the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Commission to ensure the corporate sustainability due diligence directive will be adopted before the end of this legislature.

Parliament to decide on longer and heavier “green” trucks

On Tuesday, MEPs will vote on EU rules to change the weight and dimension limits applied to zero-emission trucks and buses for international road transport.

Updated rules for a combined work and residence permit for the EU

On Wednesday, MEPs will hold a final vote on revised administrative procedures for delivering a permit to third-country nationals wishing to live and work in the EU.

MEPs to vote on major overhaul of EU Customs Code

On Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will adopt its position on the biggest reform of the EU customs system since the Customs Union was established in 1968.

Votes on EU’s budget priorities for 2025 and new EU financial rules

On Wednesday, MEPs are set to adopt Parliament’s budgetary guidelines for 2025, as well as new rules to better protect EU financial interests.

Parliament to assess Armenia-Azerbaijan peace prospects

On Wednesday, MEPs will set out their stance on efforts to achieve lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“This is Europe” debate with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo

On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister of Finland Petteri Orpo will speak to MEPs to outline his vision on Europe’s challenges and future.

Court of Auditors: MEPs to vote on new Italian member

Plenary will vote on Thursday on supporting the candidacy of Carlo Alberto Manfredi Selvaggi, nominated by the Italian government, for the EU Court of Auditors (ECA).

Resolutions on human rights and democracy

Parliament will hold urgent debates on human rights, democracy and rule of law topics on Wednesday afternoon, followed by votes on Thursday.

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