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Plenary highlights: COVID-19 certificate, EU-UK, investment

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MEPs agreed their position on a COVID-19 travel certificate and approved the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement as well as major investment programmes.

On Thursday (29 April), Parliament set out its position on a certificate for easier safe traveling during the pandemic, which would show whether a person has been vaccinated, had a recent negative test result or recovered from Covid. MEPs want no additional restrictions such as quarantine or testing for travellers holding the EU Covid-19 certificate. They also called for access to “universal, accessible, timely and free of charge testing”. The aim is to reach an agreement in time for the summer.

Parliament approved the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement by a large majority, setting the rules for the future partnership. During the debate on Tuesday (27 April), MEPs argued the deal was the best option to minimise the worst effects of the UK having withdrawn from the EU. They also stressed that Parliament must play an important role in monitoring how the agreement is applied.

MEPs also approved major programmes within the EU's long-term budget: Horizon Europe (€95 billion), which funds science, research and innovation; the LIFE programme (€5.4bn), supporting climate action, biodiversity and clean energy; and the space programme (€14.8bn) including satellite services such as Galileo and Copernicus.

MEPs approved updated rail passenger rights on Thursday, which increase support in case of delays and assistance for people living with disabilities.

On Wednesday (26 April), Parliament approved new rules forcing internet companies such as Facebook or YouTube to remove content promoting terrorism within an hour of being notified. This refers to pictures, audio or videos inciting people to commit terrorist acts, but not journalistic or educational content, nor polemic or controversial views on sensitive issues.

On Thursday, MEPs deplored the military build-up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, the attack in the Czech Republic and the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. If Russia invades Ukraine, the EU must make clear the consequences would be severe, including an immediate halt to EU imports of oil and gas from this country, they said. In a separate debate, they called for increased political engagement to improve EU-India relations. Their recommendations come ahead of an EU-India summit on 8 May.

MEPs also endorsed Digital Europe, the first EU financial instrument for digital infrastructure and technologies, which will invest €7.6bn in five areas: supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills, and ensuring a wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society.

On Tuesday, MEPs adopted proposals to strengthen  the European Civil Protection Mechanism so that the EU can respond faster and more effectively to large-scale emergencies such as pandemics or earthquakes. The mechanism has a budget of €3.3bn budget for 2021-2027, about five times as much as in the previous seven years. On the same day, the Parliament renewed the European Globalization Adjustment Fund to allow more Europeans to access financial support if they lose their jobs due to globalisation or other societal challenges.

MEPs also approved 2021-2027 funding for the European Defence Fund and the Single Market programme.

Also on Tuesday, Parliament voted in favour of cleaner maritime transport as part of efforts towards a climate-neutral Europe. Besides a 40% emissions cut by 2030 and the integration of the shipping industry in the EU's emissions trading system, MEPs advocate alternative fuels as substitutes for heavy oils and other greening measures for European ports and ships.

Lobbyists will have to sign up to the EU Transparency Register and disclose information in order to lobby the Parliament, Council and the Commission. A new agreement between the three institutions got MEPs’ approval on Tuesday.

Parliament also adopted a resolution calling for a global minimum corporate tax rate. MEPs stressed that current international tax rules are outdated. If an agreement on new tax rules at OECD level better reflecting changes that economies have undergone due to globalization and digitalisation fails, the EU should go it alone, they said.

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EU countries should ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health

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MEPs urge member states to protect and further enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in a report adopted today (11 May).

In the draft report approved by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality by 27 votes in favour, six against and one abstention, MEPs point out that the right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), are fundamental women’s rights which should be enhanced and cannot in any way be watered down or withdrawn.

They add that violations of women’s SRHR are a form of violence against women and girls and hinder progress towards gender equality. They thus call on EU countries to ensure access to a full range of high-quality, comprehensive and accessible SRHR, and remove all barriers impeding full access to these services.

Access to abortion, contraception and sexuality education

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality MEPs stress that some member states still have highly restrictive laws prohibiting abortion except in strictly defined circumstances, leading to women having to seek clandestine abortions or carry their pregnancy to term against their will, which is a violation of their human rights. Thus, they urge all member states to ensure universal access to safe and legal abortion, and guarantee that abortion at request is legal in early pregnancy, and beyond if the pregnant person’s health is in danger. They also recall that a total ban on abortion care is a form a gender-based violence.

Furthermore, MEPs demand that EU countries ensure universal access to a range of high-quality contraceptive methods and supplies, family counselling and information on contraception.

They also urge member states to ensure access to comprehensive sexuality education for primary and secondary school children, as SRHR education can significantly contribute to reducing sexual violence and harassment.

The negative impact of the pandemic on women’s health

Regretting that access to abortion continues to be limited during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the effects the pandemic has had on the supply and access to contraceptives, MEPs urge EU countries to consider the health impact of this crisis through a gender lens and ensure the continuation of a full range of SRHR services through the health systems.

Rapporteur Pedrag Matić (S&D, HR) said: ‘‘In the text adopted today, we clearly call on member states to ensure universal access to SRHR for all, and demonstrate there is strength in the EP to counter those opposing basic human rights. Sexuality education, access to contraception and fertility treatments as well as abortion constitute some of the key components of SRHR services. This is an important step in ensuring that all EU citizens have access to SRHR and that no person is left behind in exercising their right to health.

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Civil protection: Council adopts new rules to strengthen disaster response

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The Council today (11 May) adopted a regulation to strengthen the EU civil protection mechanism. The new rules will allow the EU and the member states to better prepare for natural and man made disasters and to respond faster when they strike, including in cases which affect a majority of member states simultaneously, such as a pandemic. The text also sets out the funding of the civil protection mechanism in the context of the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027.

The proposed rules will allow the European Commission to address gaps in the area of transport and logistics, and, in cases of urgency, directly procure certain additional rescEU capacities. These rescEU capacities, as well as those hosted by member states, will be fully financed from the EU budget.

Prevention and preparedness will also be improved under the proposed regulation. The Commission, in co-operation with member states, will define and develop EU disaster resilience goals in the area of civil protection

The text sets out a total of  €1.263 billion in funds for the 2021-2027 period. It also includes an amount of up to €2.56bn to implement the civil protection related measures to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis foreseen in the EU recovery instrument. This is an increase of over three times as compared to the 2014-2020 budget. It reflects the strengthening of the EU's collective response to disasters, including the recent establishment of a reserve of capacities (rescEU), the reinforcement of the European civil protection pool and the improvements in disaster prevention and preparedness.

Background

The EU civil protection mechanism was first established in 2001 and it coordinates the response to natural and man-made disasters at the EU level. Its objective is to foster cooperation among national civil protection authorities, increase public awareness and preparedness for disasters and enable quick, effective, coordinated assistance to affected populations.

The EU civil protection mechanism includes a European civil protection pool. This is a voluntary pool of capacities pre-committed by member states for immediate deployment inside or outside the EU. The civil protection mechanism was last amended in 2019, when an additional reserve of resources, called rescEU, was created to provide assistance in situations where overall existing capacities are insufficient.

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EU and Japan hold high-level policy dialogue on education, culture and sport

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On 10 May, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel held a videoconference with the Japanese Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Koichi Hagiuda (pictured), to discuss EU-Japan co-operation in the fields of their portfolios. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to continued cooperation and support from their respective programmes, and agreed to join forces on researcher mobility. This ongoing cooperation has taken on new significance during the COVID-19 crisis, which has hit these sectors hard.

Commissioner Gabriel said: “Education, culture and sport bring people together – to learn, to teach, to create and to compete. International cooperation in these areas will always lead to a better understanding – like between Europe and Japan. In Brussels, as in Tokyo, we are looking at the future of education and the digital transition. I was delighted to exchange ideas and good practices in this field, as well as in culture and sport, with Mr Hagiuda and his team.”

Ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Japan, Minister Haiuda shared updates during the meeting on the organisation of such a large-scale event in these unprecedented times. Commissioner Gabriel and Minister Hagiuda also welcomed the progress of the three special joint EU-Japan Erasmus Mundus Master programmes in robotics, extended reality, and history, which were launched as an outcome of the first policy dialogue of July 2018. Finally, they both emphasised the importance of people-to-people exchanges and agreed to maintain direct discussions on a regular basis. The forthcoming EU-Japan Summit will further highlight the scale and breadth of cooperation under the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement. A joint statement and more information following today's meeting are available online.

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