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Plenary highlights: State of the EU, Afghanistan, health

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MEPs discussed the state of the EU and the situation in Afghanistan and approved the EU Blue Card reform and a fund to help with the impact of Brexit during September's plenary session, EU affairs.

State of the European Union

On Wednesday (15 September), Parliament held the European Commission to account and addressed Europeans' concerns during the annual State of the European Union debate in Strasbourg. In her speech, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined the path to recovery from the biggest global health crisis for a century, the deepest global economic crisis for decades and the gravest planetary crisis of all time.

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Afghanistan

Tuesday (14 September) saw an animated debate on the EU’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan. In a resolution adopted on Thursday (16 September), MEPs called for more humanitarian aid and a special visa programme for Afghan women seeking protection from the Taliban.

Disease prevention through better co-operation

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As part of the broader European Health Union, MEPs adopted proposals to strengthen the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and to improve EU co-ordination against health threats.

European Blue Card

MEPs approved the reform of the EU’s Blue Card system to make it easier to attract highly qualified workers from outside Europe on Wednesday. More flexible criteria include a lower salary threshold and shorter contract requirement. The new rules also aim to make it easier for beneficiaries to move within the EU and reunite with their family.

Brexit Adjustment Reserve

Also on Wednesday, Parliament approved the €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve, meant to mitigate the impact of the UK's departure from the EU on people, companies and countries.

Media freedom and rule of law in Poland

MEPs criticized proposed new broadcasting legislation in Poland, which may threaten media pluralism, as well as the latest Polish legal challenge to EU rules and values in the country. 

LGBTIQ

On Tuesday (14 September) Parliament called for same-sex marriages and partnerships to be recognised across the EU. MEPs said basic rights such as freedom of movement and rights of families should apply fully to all citizens everywhere in the EU.

Russia

Parliament rejected aggressive Russian policies in a resolution adopted on Thursday, but called for a new EU strategy to promote pro-democratic tendencies in the country.

China

A report on EU-China relations adopted on Thursday says the EU should continue talking to China about global challenges like climate change and health crises, while condemning systemic human rights violations and disinformation.

Animal testing

While Parliament recognises that animal testing has contributed to research and medical advances, as well as vaccines, it is calling for an EU-wide action plan to phase out the use of animals in research and testing.

Gender-based violence as a new area of crime

Members are calling on the European Commission to include gender-based violence as a new area of crime under EU law, in order to better address all forms of violence and discrimination based on gender.

More about the plenary session 

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European Parliament

Alexei Navalny wins prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought

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MEPs have awarded Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny the European Parliament’s 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala announced the 2021 laureate in the Strasbourg plenary chamber on Wednesday afternoon, following an earlier decision by the Conference of Presidents (President and political group leaders).

“We are making it clear that Putin's attempts to silence opponents are not working. Alexei Navalny deserves this award for his continued fight for human rights, open democracy and against corruption in Russia, as well as for his resistance to Vladimir Putin and his regime. For this fight, he almost paid the highest price: his life. He has been bullied, harassed, imprisoned, arrested, poisoned and re-arrested countless times since 2006 and he’s still standing. He is truly committed to the freedom of thought”, said Peter van Dalen MEP (NL, EPP) who put forward Mr Navalny’s candidacy. “By awarding him the Sakharov Prize, we are also honouring numerous other people who have fallen victim to Putin’s regime in recent years. Alexei Navalny is therefore the icon of the resistance against the dictatorship in Moscow”, concluded van Dalen.

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Rasa Juknevičienė, Vice-Chairwoman of the EPP Group said: “It is a clear signal to the Kremlin regime that the European Parliament will continue to support the fight for democracy, for human rights and against corruption in Russia. Russia can have a democratic future, Russia can be different, because all empires collapse. We want a Europe without dictators!”

Parliament President David Sassoli said: “The European Parliament has chosen Alexei Navalny as the winner of this year’s Sakharov Prize. He has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and through his social media accounts and political campaigns, Navalny has helped expose abuses and mobilise the support of millions of people across Russia. For this, he was poisoned and thrown in jail.”

“In awarding the Sakharov Prize to Alexei Navalny, we recognise his immense personal bravery and reiterate the European Parliament’s unwavering support for his immediate release”, he added.

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Vice-President Hautala said: “This year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded to an advocate for change. Alexei Navalny has shown great courage in his attempts to restore the freedom of choice to the Russian people. For many years, he has fought for human rights and fundamental freedoms in his country. This has cost him his freedom and nearly his life. On behalf of the European Parliament, I call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Background

Fighting corruption in Russia

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption activist and major political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He came to international prominence for organising demonstrations against President Putin and his government, running for office and advocating for anti-corruption reforms. In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned and spent months recovering in Berlin. He was arrested on his return to Moscow in January 2021. He is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, with more than two years still remaining. Now incarcerated in a high-security penal colony, Navalny went on a long hunger strike in late March 2021 to protest his lack of access to medical care. In June 2021, a Russian court banned Alexei Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, both now classified as extremist and undesirable by the Russian authorities.

The Sakharov award ceremony will be held on 15 December in Strasbourg. Read more about the other Sakharov Prize finalists in 2021 here.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov and the prize money is 50 000 euros.

Last year, Parliament awarded the prize to the democratic opposition of Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures.

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Asbestos

Asbestos protections could save 90,000 lives a year

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Responding to the result of the vote in the European Parliament on the Villumsen report on protecting workers from asbestos, ETUC Deputy General Secretary Claes-Mikael Ståhl said: “Nobody should die because of their job. Yet more than 100,000 people still lose their lives every year in Europe from work-related cancer and asbestos is responsible for more than half of those deaths.

“Construction workers, miners, firefighters and waste disposal workers have been among those most likely to develop lung cancer because of contact with asbestos, but the widespread use of the material in buildings means many teachers and office workers have also died.

“This silent killer has been tolerated for too long so trade unions are relieved the European Parliament has supported protections which could save up to 90,000 lives a year following a campaign led by the EFBWW and we call on the Commission and Council to put them into action as soon as possible. The Commission removed the asbestos from its own offices in the mid-1990s so it’s not right the problem should still be tolerated at other people’s workplaces.

“This is a vital first step towards ending the scandal of work-related cancer. But there are still no workplace exposure limits for 23 high-risk cancer-causing substances, while limits for another 27 carcinogens are often still far too high to protect workers from cancers which can be fatal or cause reproductive problems. It’s time for the Commission to match its rhetoric on combating cancer with action.”


Letter sent by European trade unions to MEPs

ETUC position on the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027

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European Youth Event (EYE)

Future of Europe: Citizens discuss foreign policy and migration

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People from across the EU met in Strasbourg to discuss trade, relations with the US and China and Europe’s approach to migration 15-17 October, EU affairs.

This was the last of four European citizens’ panel that will provide input from ordinary Europeans to the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The focus was on the EU’s role in the world and migration policy.

A total of 200 participants from all EU countries met in Parliament’s buildings to start a debate on how the EU should exert influence on the global stage, whether there should be an EU army and what to do with irregular migrants arriving on Europe’s shores.

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“I didn't expect it, but I feel really good [about the discussion]. I feel like something is moving in Europe. They [the EU institutions] are intending to move something, and hopefully not just on a superficial level but on a substance level,” said panellist Sotiria from Greece.

In search of common solutions

In discussions with experts, Europeans raised questions about EU relations with the US and China; arms exports from EU countries; and how feasible it is for the EU to speak with one voice at the UN Security Council.

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They also wanted to know why EU countries do not do more to train unskilled migrants and what the obstacles are to a uniform asylum system in Europe.

Joachim from Luxembourg said: “We are facing immigration from third countries, economic immigration, pushbacks at the border. Migration is an extremely complex issue and I find that it is up to Europe, as a bloc, as a unit of cultural values, to find a solution.”

Issues to be discussed

At the first of the three sessions of the panel, participants identified issues to be discussed in the next two sessions:

  • Self-reliance and stability
  • The EU as an international partner
  • A strong EU in a peaceful world
  • Migration from a human perspective
  • Responsibility and solidarity across the EU

The objective is to come up with recommendations about EU policy. They selected 20 representatives to join the Conference Plenary and present the outcome of their work.

In her welcome speech, Dubravka Šuica, European Commission vice-president and co-chair of the executive board of the Conference on the Future of Europe, underlined the commitment of EU institutions to act on citizens’ ideas.

“We open up a truly European public space, where from mountains to islands, from Lapland to Lisbon, you can share your ideas with others, appreciate different perspectives, and most importantly, you have the real possibility to make your voice heard and to stimulate change

What’s next?

The meeting of the fourth citizens’ panel concludes the first round of European citizens’ panels.

The fourth panel will meet again online 26-28 November and in person 14-16 January in Maastricht, the Netherlands, where they should finalise their recommendations.

The Conference on the Future of Europe meets in plenary 22-23 October to discuss progress so far and hear recommendations from young people, developed during the European youth Event.

The Conference’s conclusions. taking into account recommendations from the panels, are expected in spring 2022.

Get involved and share your ideas for the future of Europe on the Conference platform.

Find out what was discussed by the first, the second and the third citizens’ panels.

More information 

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