Tuesday, December 12, 2017
   
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Briefing from Strasbourg July plenary session

As the European Parliament once again sets of for their monthly sojourn to Strasbourg, complete with suitcases, trunks full of paperwork and paperclips and mission forms which keep a whole department in employment, we take a look at some of the key 'debates' in the chamber.
 
Thursday saw Commission President Juncker getting angry with MEPs for not turning up to a debate about the Maltese Presidency, describing the European Parliament as "totally ridiculous" and sparking a row with the Parliament's president Antonio Tajani.
 
Mr Juncker, waving his hands so wildly he hit his own microphone, said he wanted to welcome the 30-odd MEPs "who have actually taken the trouble to turn out" and said the low attendance showed the parliament was not "serious".
 
Mr Tijani took umbrage with the unusual attack and said: "Mr President could you please have a more respectful attitude. You may criticise the Parliament yes but the Commission does not control the Parliament it's the Parliament that should be controlling the Commission." 
 
The Maltese President Joseph Muscat told the European Parliament that all member states must share the distribution of what he termed refugees even though many have been proved to be economic migrants. Some EU member states and the Commission want there to be an allocated number of migrants but this has proved contentious. Italy has threatened to close its ports as the migrant crisis continues for another summer with the UN reporting that last weekend 10000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean. 
 
Mr Muscat also attacked the EU for the UK voting to leave the bloc, calling the decision a "disastrous creature" and said the EU should have seen it coming "but none of us acted to stop [it]"
 
He criticised other EU leaders for watering down policies which were of concern to the UK when Mr Cameron came to 'renegotiate' such as immigration. 
 
It is not the only problem Mr Juncker has faced this session: The EU is under increasing pressure to shut up shop in Strasbourg which costs the tax payer £100million a year in travel costs alone. 
 
In a bid to end the travelling circus which only stays in place because the French veto it at Council, they are planning to move the European Medicines Agency HQ from London and offer it to France. 
 
French MEP Jerome Lavrilleux has threatened to quit the European People's Party (EPP) if it backed any move away from Strasbourg. The EPP, which includes the parties of President Juncker, Manfred Weber, chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Guy Verhoftstadt, has refused to adopt an official position. 
 
Meanwhile a non legislative report led by the S&D group was passed to ensure greater corporate tax transparency within the EU. The someone oxymoronic 'ambitious compromise' secured by the socialists means companies with a turnover of €750 million have to disclose information such as their assets, employees and the amount of tax paid in every company they do business in.  This will include information about their subsidiaries established outside the EU including tax havens.
 
The vote opens the door to the negotiations with the Council of ministers.
 
ALDE firebrand Guy Verhofstadt has used Strasbourg as an opportunity to claim that people would not mind giving their taxes directly to the EU as long as the amounts were the same.
 
Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said allowing the EU to have its own tax would "create a direct link between the EU and its citizens". He also called for further integration by EU countries on intelligence and investigation on terror and criticised Theresa May's offer on EU citizen's rights post Brexit. 
 
"So the paper of the Commission and more especially the proposals of [budget] Commissioner [Gunther] Oettinger take fully on board the idea to transfer the so-called GNI contributions of member states into own resources. Why? Because then you create a direct link," he told reporters. 
 
"For the citizens it doesn't make a big difference, it's exactly the same amount they've got to pay - they've got to pay it not to the member state but they're going to pay it directly to the Union. 
 
There was also a debate on the EU military where any pretence that there are no plans for an EU military strategy were dropped, with the High Representative Federica Mogherini telling MEPs, "we have today men and women in EU uniforms serving under the EU flag."
 
"A stronger European Union in the field of security and defence is good," she added.
 
Meanwhile Commissioner Katainen said he "encouraged Member states to be active developing EU security and defence cooperation and our treaties allow member states to do what ever they want. He outlined the European Defence Fund which will have three main areas: 
 
defence research €25 million and next year €40 million 
Joint development of capabilities using the EU budget EU budget funding for defence would be €1bn a year. Total investment of €5bn per year. 
3) Joint defence capabilities so shared military resources.
 
Mr Katainen said the proposals being voted on by MEPs in Strasbourg provided a "progressive framing of a common union defence policy leading to common union defence."
 
When confronted by ECR MEP Geoffrey Van Orden that it was "about European political integration" the Commissioner nodded his head. 
 
The Parliament held a debate ahead of the G20 meeting in Germany with Estonia addressing MEPs as the Council representative. Mr Maasikas said Tusk and Juncker would be involved in discussions in an environment which is "particularly charged" and "global cooperation can no longer be taken for granted."
 
He warned that although global economic growth was positive there was still political uncertainty. Taking centre stage at the talks would be trade, climate change, migration, digitalisation and combating terrorism. 
 
Mr Maasikas said the EU was committed to open trade and multilateralism but also indicated that the EU would continue to push their non tariff barriers upon the developing world, including social and environmental standards.
 
'We're getting our mojo back' - Commissioner Timmermans
 
Commissioner Timmermans said the agenda looked beyond economics and mentioned migration and combatting terrorism. He said a 'values based trade agenda' and the Paris climate agreement were at the top of the list, adding it was the "moment to show our unwavering commitment to global multilateral governance." 
 
The commissioner also took a swipe at anti-EU movements, saying they were working "against a background of rising ultranationalist politics posing a risk to global economic growth and rules-based global order."
 
The main EU messages presented in Germany will be the 'positive EU contribution' the bloc has made to the global economic situation with its 2% growth and to reaffirm its commitment to Paris climate agreement.
 
The Commissioner said they would "welcome it" if the US would reconsider its decision but the deal cannot be renegotiated. He also said they were looking for a strong signal from China on steel, where the superpower has been dumping on the global market causing a crisis in European countries who are constrained by EU environmental rules. 
 
Other proposals including fighting against tax evasion and tax avoidance with increased transparency.
 
On migration, he admitted it is a "challenge that is going to be with us for quite some time: Decades."
 
"We must preserve a commitment to a global response to tackling forced displacement," he said, adding that they "Must break the business model of migrant smuggling."
 
"We cannot leave Italy alone in this: everybody should do their part."
 
The topic of Brexit was mentioned during the debate to boos from MEPs who do not think that the UK should have fair access to the single market.
 

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