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At the European Parliament’s latest plenary, MEPs debated the Bulgarian EU Presidency’s priorities with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boïko Borissov, and the future of Europe with Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
The Parliament approved three reports on pieces of EU law on renewables, energy efficiency and governance.
And MEPs held a debate on how to counter Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns that spread fake news across the EU.
This week, Europe delivered. Two key anti-terror laws were passed, making Europe more secure and Europeans safer, and the EU-Canada trade deal set a gold standard for all future trade deals.
The EPP Group adopted its position paper outlining our vision for the EU marking a hugely symbolic kick-off of the future of Europe discussions.
We also called on EU leaders not to let East Ukraine become Europe's 'forgotten war'. Russia should withdraw its forces, proxies and weaponry from Ukraine and honour the ceasefire. Until this is done, sanctions against Russia should be maintained.
EU-Canada trade deal: partnership over protectionism
It was judgement day at the European Parliament on Wednesday as Members got ready to vote on the EU-Canada trade deal. It was a choice about the direction Europe was going to take, whether it would be one of closing off, of looking inward, of protectionism, or one of openness, wealth and jobs for Europeans. And Europe chose wisely. It chose to lead where others fail to do so. By voting for CETA, it set the golden standard for all future trade deals and championed the cause of free trade globally.
"After seven years of negotiations, we are at an historical point", emphasised Artis Pabriks MEP, European Parliament Rapporteur on CETA, in his plenary address. Based on experience of previous trade agreements, the deal will save European exporters more than €500 million every year as nearly all import duties between the two countries will be eliminated. Furthermore, the agreement guarantees market access and creates a level playing field for businesses, advances EU agricultural interests by protecting 145 European Geographical Indications and safeguards property rights in an international context, while respecting high environmental, consumer and labour standards.
"The agreement is a golden standard for all further trade deals. CETA is double-checked and now ready to form the backbone of our future trade policy to speed up growth. All the concerns raised have been dealt with. I hope we all have the common sense to separate the wheat from the chaff and the facts from the myths", explained Pabriks, who steered CETA through the Parliament. And the result reflects that the majority - except the trade-hostile groups in Parliament - voted in favour of CETA in the end. The EPP Group has been the only major political force in the European Parliament which has always supported it.
"CETA is Europe and Canada's answer to Donald Trump's policy. In Europe we believe that building bridges is more efficient than building walls. Instead of protectionism, we want partnership. Instead of letting globalisation happen without us, we want to shape it with our high-level standards and norms", said Manfred Weber MEP, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, welcoming the positive vote in plenary.
2 key anti-terror laws passed making Europeans safer
After the Paris attacks, the EPP Group set out to reach ten objectives to better equip Europe to fight terrorism. This week we reached six of the ten objectives by voting for two laws which will make us Europeans safer. They effectively address the foreign fighters phenomenon making sure that EU nationals travelling to war zones for terrorist purposes can no longer come back into the EU undetected.
The first law passed was the Directive on combating terrorism steered through by Monika Hohlmeier MEP. She said: “Thanks to this EU law, we will not only secure a higher level of safety for citizens, but the EU will also comply with international obligations and standards set by United Nations (UN) resolutions on combating terrorism and the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters. In the EU, we need to clearly classify the planning and financing of terrorist attacks as well as travelling abroad for terrorist purposes as crimes.”
The second law was on checks at external borders where Barbara Kudrycka MEP was in the lead. She said: “There are more than 5000 EU citizens currently suspected of having joined the fighting in Iraq and Syria. At least two of the Paris attackers were French citizens who had been trained in Syria. We therefore need this new EU law which will ensure better coordination of Schengen border checks and help detect foreign fighters returning to the EU from war zones to cause havoc in European cities.”
The new EU laws will give EU Member States one year to criminalise travelling to third countries with terrorist intentions, being trained for terrorism, financing of recruitment, training, or travelling abroad for terrorism. The laws also lay down provisions for ensuring that victims of terrorist attacks receive proper care and help. Moreover, Member States will be obliged to carry out systematic checks of all passengers travelling to and from the Schengen area against databases of lost and stolen documents and to verify that those persons do not represent a threat to public order and internal security.
How we see the future of Europe
The EPP Group has adopted a position paper outlining its idea of what the EU should be in the future, authored by Paulo Rangel MEP, EPP Group Vice-Chairman responsible for the Future of Europe portfolio.
The paper comes at a crucial time for Europe and the world. Wars in the Middle East, terrorism, an aggressive Russia and a more inward-looking US: Europe is facing unprecedented challenges. This is why we put forward our vision of the future of Europe to kick off European discussions on the matter.
The paper is based on the three ‘non-negotiable’ transversal pillars of the EPP Group: defence of the democratic rule of law, defence of the four freedoms of Europe (free movement of goods, capital, services, and people), and defence of a social market economy. The great innovations of the document lie in the area of security and defence, in reforming the EU Institutions to bring them closer to European citizens, complementing the Economic and Monetary Union with an Innovation Union in the Digital Single Market, and reinforcing investment to boost growth.
The EPP Group’s position paper on the Future of Europe advances without reservation to a European Defence Union with real operational capabilities and in cooperation with the UN and NATO. It also calls for the development of military capacities for the European Border and Coast Guard and the European Civil Protection Body and a new generation of counter-terrorism measures.
It also suggests the conversion of the Council of Ministers (ECOFIN, AGRI, etc.) into a second parliamentary chamber - the House of States - and that Turkey cannot join the EU, but should remain in close partnership.
The document also expresses the EPP Group’s commitment to completing the Economic and Monetary Union, to seek a fairer social market economy with a social dimension at its core, to seek fair free trade agreements that make globalisation work for the citizens, and to address the demographic challenges and territorial inequalities within the EU.
Inspired by humanist thinking and Judeo-Christian roots, this strategic document is the ideological self-portrait of the EPP Group and reflects our belief in the European project and its indispensability for a global affirmation of the States, nations and citizens of the Union.
Reform of CO2 emissions trading system safeguards balance between jobs and climate protection
The European Parliament has taken an important step forward in its efforts to achieve the Paris climate goals by voting on a thorough reform of the Emission Trading System (ETS).
Ivo Belet MEP, Esther de Lange MEP and Peter Liese MEP described the reform as balanced. It guarantees that we implement the Paris Climate Agreement while safeguarding jobs and the competitiveness of European industry. This reform includes the necessary incentives to further reduce CO2 emissions, while at the same time it sufficiently protects those industrial sectors that are exposed to international competition.
For the EPP Group, it is important to avoid that energy-intensive companies move their production facilities and investments to regions without similar climate regulations. This would cause a move of CO2 emissions instead of a reduction (= carbon leakage).
The ETS overhaul must help reduce emissions of approximately 11,000 energy-intensive companies and energy producers to achieve a reduction of 43% of CO2 emissions by 2030.
From science fiction to reality: Parliament calls for EU-wide rules on artifical intelligence
Artifical intelligence is no longer a thing of the future.
The European Parliament called for EU-wide civil law rules addressing the fast-developing field of technology - robotics and artificial intelligence. Robots assisting in the field of medicine or the automotive industry is already an everyday reality, however the civil law rules need to be adapted in order to boost innovation and creativity, address issues of liability in the case of damages and set ethical standards.
The European Parliament is the first parliament to debate robotics and artificial intelligence. The Parliament’s Resolution initiates a timely debate on a wide range of issues related to robotics and AI including standardisation, safety and security, data protection, autonomous vehicles, care and medical robots, human repair and enhancement, drones, liability rules, ethical questions, but also considers education and employment.
“European industry in the field of robotics and AI deserves a legal framework within which it can continue to grow. Innovations go beyond borders and are carried out by experts from several Member States working together. This collaboration requires our support. The creation of EU-wide rules on robotics is a necessary step forward to allow the full exploitation of the economic potential of the sector, to promote growth and innovation, and to protect and create more jobs”, said Therese Comodini Cachia MEP, Parliament’s Rapporteur for robotics.
"Robotics and AI are no longer a sign of the distant future and we need to adjust the legal framework for them. In order to keep the European economy competitive, not only do we need to improve conditions for our industry, our companies and our SMEs to compete in the digital age, but we also need to raise awareness and analyse and evaluate advantages and disadvantages of robotics and artificial intelligence. We are launching a debate: robotics is not only about technology, economy and research; it is also about liability, ethical principles, legal questions and employment", said Axel Voss MEP, the EPP Group Spokesman on legal affairs.
“Despite the sensations reported in the past months, I wish to make one thing clear: robots are not humans and never will be. No matter how autonomous and self-learning they become they do not attain the characteristics of a living human being. Robots will not enjoy the same legal physical personality. However for the purposes of the liability for damages caused by robots, the various legal possibilities need to be explored. Who will bear responsibility in case of an accident of an automated car? How will any legal solution affect the development of robotics, those who own them and victims of the damage? We invite the European Commission to consider the impact of different solutions to make sure that harm caused to persons and to our environment is properly addressed”, concluded Therese Comodini Cachia MEP.
Russia sanctions should be maintained as long as troops remain in East Ukraine
We cannot let East Ukraine become Europe's 'forgotten war'. Russia needs to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally-recognised borders. This week MEPs called on Russia to withdraw its forces, proxies and weaponry from Ukraine and to honour the ceasefire.
The battles between the government and pro-Russian fighters have heated up again in East Ukraine, threatening to cause a new full-blown crisis.
The European Parliament debated if more pressure should be brought to bear, whether to impose new sanctions on Russia.
In escalating fighting, pro-Russian fighters have been closing in on Avdiivka and its 16,000 residents. It’s in an area of the Donbass region that includes the largest coke factory in Ukraine, providing energy for two-thirds of the country’s heat.
In a session she helped to organise, Sandra Kalniete, the EPP Group’s Spokeswoman on Ukraine, pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin: "There is an escalation of Putin’s war against Ukraine. A war in Europe, which has already claimed more than 10,000 human lives. With the Ukraine conflict, Putin is trying to make the EU and NATO irrelevant. If the Russian aggression escalates we should prolong sanctions and further increase them."
EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber agreed sanctions should be maintained after recent statements of the new US administration: "Now it is clear: Donald Trump wants Russia to give Crimea back to Ukraine. This means no lifting of sanctions is possible."