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Week ahead: Poland, Pandora and prices

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This week ended with Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal (pretty much a lackey of the PiS-led government), pushing the nuclear button on the primacy of EU law. Unlike Brexit, this is an existential issue for the EU and requires a severe and unequivocal response. It will be the number-one issue for heads of government when they meet in two week’s time, if there is not a miraculous U-turn between now and the European Council on 21-22 October.

When it was just Hungary - formerly loyal members of the European People’s Party - there wasn’t the same sense of urgency among leaders. Orban also liked to take things to the brink but then take one step back. Poland followed Hungary’s lead but has followed its logic to the end by questioning the primacy of the Treaties over the Polish constitution.

Bye bye Babiš?

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This might be a moment of truth, we see others looking towards Orban, like Slovenia’s Janša and the Czech Prime Minister Babiš taking similar ‘strong man’ positions. The dangers of inaction are becoming more worrying than action. Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic today and tomorrow, will show whether Babiš has been damaged by the revelations in the Pandora Papers that he has bought a $22 million French property through shell companies and didn’t declare it, which he is legally obliged to do as a member of parliament. 

EU-Ukraine Summit

Another name that popped out of Pandora’s box was Ukrainian Presdient Volodymyr Zelenskyy. On Tuesday (12 October), the EU-Ukraine Summit will take place in Brussels and might be an opportunity to ask about what the papers reveal about his relationship with the head of Ukraine’s intelligence agency, Ivan Bakanov.

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Energy prices

On Wednesday (13 October) the Commission will announce a toolbox of measures that states can take to help citizens and businesses deal with the recent hike in energy prices. The Commission proposal will lay out measures that can be taken swiftly - and that are compliant with EU law - include allowing direct payments to those most at risk of energy poverty, cutting energy taxes, shifting charges to general taxation. Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said: “The immediate priority should be to mitigate social impacts and protect vulnerable households, ensuring that energy poverty is not aggravated. Higher than expected ETS revenues provide space for doing so.”

An end to the sausage wars? 

Proposals from the UK  to reply to the UK’s threat to introduce safeguard measures will be proposed on Wednesday. Šefčovič will put forward four non-papers that he says will bring big changes. The  papers concern medicines, sanitary and phyto-sanitary surveillance, customs and a way to enhance democratic governance of the Northern Ireland Protocol.  

But Brexit is a multi-headed hydra, no sooner has one head been sliced off than another appears. Negotiations on Gibraltar to formalize the current framework agreement agreed between Spain and the UK on the Rock, since the UK left, will be laid down in a more formal legal basis, negotiations between the EU and the UK start on Monday. 

Add to this a fisheries council where quotas will be discussed and the impasse between France and Jersey (UK Crown Dependency) over licenses and it’s easy to see that this one will run and run - accompanied by bellicose headlines in the British press no doubt.

We also have ‘European Week of Regions and Cities’: The four-day event for cities and regions strut their European funded projects to create jobs, growth, more sustainable transport, a cleaner environment and end world poverty (well, not the last one).

European Parliament (courtesy of the European Parliament)

Climate change/COP26. Ahead of the November UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), the Environment Committee will vote on their input to the EU position. MEPs are expected to call for more ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets and more climate finance for developing countries. The COP26 will be the first opportunity to take stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement (Tuesday).

Media Freedom/SLAPPs. The Civil Liberties and the Legal Affairs committees will propose measures to strengthen media freedom and pluralism in the EU by curbing the phenomenon of vexatious lawsuits designed to silence journalists, NGOs and civil society. Parliament's proposals will feed into the upcoming Commission initiatives against SLAPPs (Thursday (14 October)).

Rule of law/Slovenia. A Civil Liberties Committee delegation will travel to Ljubljana to assess the situation regarding the rule of law and media freedom in the country. MEPs will meet NGOs, academia representatives, the government Ombudsman, journalists, state prosecutors and high-level government officials. The delegation will hold a press conference at the end of the mission (Wednesday to Friday).

Roaming. A proposal to extend by ten years current EU rules on the end of roaming charges, due to expire in 2022, will be voted on by the Industry Committee. The renewed legislation would also provide travellers with the same mobile network quality and speed as at home and better mobile access to emergency services for people with disabilities (Thursday).

European Critical Infrastructure. The Civil Liberties Committee will vote on a legislative proposal to better protect EU critical infrastructure for essential services such as energy, transport and drinking water. The rules would help EU countries prevent, resist and recover from disruptive incidents, such as natural disasters, terrorism or public health emergencies (Monday).

2021 Sakharov Prize. The three final candidates for the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought will be selected by the Foreign Affairs and Development Committees in a joint vote (Thursday). Alexei Navalny, nominated by the EPP and Renew Europe, is the currently the bookie’s favourite. 

2021 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism. Parliament will award the 1st Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for outstanding journalism work based on the principles and values of the EU. EP President David Sassoli will open the award ceremony (Thursday).

Plenary preparations. Political groups will prepare for the 18-21 October plenary session, where MEPs will outline their expectations for the European Council (21-22 October) and vote on resolutions on the Pandora Papers and transparency in the development, purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. They will debate and vote on the UN COP26 in Glasgow, 2022 EU budget, Farm to Fork Strategy and the economic and social policies of the eurozone.

European Parliament

MEPs call for partnership of equals with US to address global challenges

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MEPs advocate the EU’s strategic autonomy and call for better EU-US co-ordination on China to avoid tensions such as the ones caused by AUKUS deal, Plenary session  AFET.

In a resolution on future EU-US relations, MEPs welcome the US’s support for rules-based multilateralism, as this provides an important opportunity to re-engage, as an equal partner, with the US.

The report stresses that, in deepening transatlantic cooperation, the EU should strive to lead alongside the US, while fostering its strategic autonomy in defence and economic relations as a means to pursue its own legitimate diplomatic, security and economic interests .

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Better coordination and consultation on China

The EU and US need to explore areas of possible cooperation and better coordination on China to avoid transatlantic tensions, warn MEPs. They point to frictions that followed the adoption of the trilateral US-UK-Australia security deal known as AUKUS, which was struck without consulting EU allies.

Welcoming the recent progress on the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, Parliament specifies that coordination with the US on China should focus on protecting human and minority rights and de-escalating tensions in the South and East China Seas, Hong Kong and across the Taiwan Strait.

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It is positive that the inaugural EU-US Trade & Technology Council meeting took place on 29 September in Pittsburgh as planned, MEPs note, despite the tensions that need to be discussed in an open and frank manner.

Lessons from Afghanistan and more engagement in the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans

Deploring the Taliban’s violent takeover of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and European forces, the Parliament calls for deep transatlantic reflection on the lessons from the mission in Afghanistan to promote stability, security and good governance in the world. Transatlantic partners must engage with all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, they urge, bearing in mind the plight of the Afghan people who have sought refuge there and must be helped.

The EU should engage more with the US to renew the strategic partnership with countries of the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans, MEPs believe.

They call for coordination on this and on other foreign policy matters and suggest creating a Transatlantic Political Council (TPC) led by the EU High Representative and the US Secretary of State and supported by regular contact with political directors.

The rapporteur Tonino Picula, (S&D, HR) said: “This report could not be more timely. We need a renewed and strengthened transatlantic partnership to tackle the common challenges we face. Some of them have been well known to us for decades, but some are part of newer global dynamics. Without any doubt, the US remains the EU's closest and most important strategic partner. And I believe that a strategically autonomous Union would be the best partner for the United States!”

The resolution was adopted on Wednesday by 550 votes in favour, 83 against and 55 abstentions.

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Brexit

French minister Beaune: French fishermen must not pay for UK's Brexit failure

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Fishing trawlers are docked at Boulogne-sur-Mer after Britain and the European Union brokered a last-minute post-Brexit trade deal, northern France, December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said today (8 October) that French fishermen must not pay for the failure of Britain's exit from the European Union, writes Dominique Vidalon, Reuters.

"They failed on Brexit. It was a bad choice. Threatening us, threatening our fishermen, will not settle their supply of turkey at Christmas," Beaune told BFM TV.

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"We will hold firm. The Brits need us to sell their products," he added.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Jean Castex said France was ready to review bilateral cooperation with Britain if London continues to ignore the agreement reached over fishing rights in its post-Brexit trading relationship with the European Union. Read more.

Paris is infuriated by London's refusal to grant what it considers the full number of licenses due to French fishing boats to operate in Britain's territorial waters, and is threatening retaliatory measures.

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French fishermen have also said they could block the northern port of Calais and Channel Tunnel rail link, both major transit points for trade between Britain and continental Europe, if London does not grant more fishing licences in the next 17 days.

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Disabilities

Disability rights: A European Disability Card to harmonize status across the EU

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Mobility, education, housing and active inclusion in public life are key areas where Europeans living with disabilities would benefit from reform, say MEPs.

The EU should have a common definition of disability and introduce a European Disability Card to mutually recognise disability status across the EU, argue MEPs in a resolution approved with 579 votes in favour, 12 against and 92 abstaining.

Other recommendations approved by MEPs include more flexible assistance with rail travel and removing physical and administrative barriers to travel; education systems that can accommodate different kinds of learners and the needs of different students; and providing non-institutionalised, non-segregated housing to citizens with a disability, so that they can be active participants in their community.

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Ensuring accessibility

To participate equally in a society increasingly reliant on digital skills, Parliament calls for concrete measures, such as public bodies providing information in sign language, braille and easy-to-read text. Sign language interpretation should be introduced for speech-based events, and government buildings should be accessible, according to MEPs.

Discrimination and violence

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They also point out that the EU needs to focus more on combatting violence (including gender-based violence) and harassment, of which people with disabilities are disproportionately the victim, and to close the employment gap between people with a disability and others. Parliament also calls on the Council to move forward with a cross-cutting Anti-Discrimination Directive, currently stuck there.

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Rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) said: “People with disabilities continue to face multiple obstacles and discrimination in their lives. One of these is the lack of mutual recognition of disability status between EU Member States, which is a tremendous hindrance to their freedom of movement. Now is time to respond to our citizens’ concerns and to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in a barrier-free Europe. We have to promote their social and economic inclusion and participation in society, free from discrimination, in full respect of their rights, and on an equal basis with others.”

Background
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) came into effect in the EU in 2011. According to the convention, the Committee on Petitions plays a ‘protection role’ to ensure EU compliance with the CRPD. After receiving dozens of petitions related to these issues, the committee drafted a report assessing the current challenges facing people with disabilities.

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