30/09/2011 No less than two sessions in September

They’re back already! Having just left the city of Strasbourg ten days ago, MEPs are invading the Alsatian city once again for the second plenary session of September. Needless to say, there are many subjects under discussion this month. From September 26th to 29th, MEPs will be voting on a resolution on Palestine, debating the Euro with Jean-Claude Juncker, listening to José Manuel Barroso’s State of the Union address and deciding (at long last!) on the “six-pack”.

Boosting tourism in Europe

Are MEPs itching to go on holidays again? You would be forgiven for thinking so as a report on tourism in Europe is being presented during this second September session. However, the subject is of course much more serious.

The tourism sector, accounts for 10 % of GDP and 12 % of total employment in the EU and is the third largest socioeconomic activity in the Union, according to Carlo Fidanza’s (EPP, Italy) report. He is calling on colleagues to analyse the proposals presented in a European Commission communication [pdf] for a “new policy framework for tourism in Europe”.

In order to improve competitiveness in the tourism sector in Europe, this proposal makes provisions for four main axes :

  • work towards diversifying what is on offer to tourists by encouraging innovation, improving professional competency and making moves to extend the tourist season ;

  • promote sustainable, responsible and quality tourism to facilitate sound management of companies by establishing European labels (“Europa” label, “Ecolabel”, “Quality Tourism” label”) and by encouraging projects such as EDEN and networks such as NECSTouR ;

  • strengthen Europe’s image all over the world where it is considered as a collection of distinct and coordinated destinations ;

  • make the most of the existing policies and financial instruments to strengthen competitiveness in this sector.

The rapporteur will present his recommendation on Monday September 26th paying particular attention to tourist visas. Mr. Fidanza hopes that “the legitimate right and duty of Europe to control access to its territory will not make our tourist destinations less attractive and hopes that the institutions and the Member States are conscious of the need to coordinate and simplify procedures for granting tourist visas. He also hopes that Member States will examine the possibility of creating common consular offices to harmonise formalities and reduce the administrative burden on potential tourists.

Will the “six-pack” finally be voted on?

The impending vote on this issue has erroneously been announced several times since the spring but this time the vote should (all going well!) take place on Wednesday September 28th. This collection of texts relates to budgetary discipline and economic governance within Europe. It has been the cause of much conflict between the European Parliament and the Council on the one hand, and within Parliament itself, on the other.

The conflict centres on whether or not sanctions should be included and, if so, under what circumstances. Sylvie Goulard (ALDE, France), rapporteur on one of the six texts in the package, was kind enough to answer questions asked by internet users on Friday September 23rd.

The problem is that the opposition believes that there is too much emphasis on being tough and not enough on governance. They criticise the fact that the package is mainly limited to sanctioning countries that do not respect the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact which does not take into account the necessary conditions for boosting growth and employment in the Union. The Council however is primarily concerned with the reverse majority rule which is causing delays. This rule means that States will not have the power to impose sanctions; instead they can vote to refuse an automatic sanction imposed by the Commission by vote.

The vote on Wednesday is certainly the most hotly anticipated of this period as Europe is still fighting to extricate itself from the economic crisis.

Presidents and Commissioners to debate

Without a safety net

To make Commissioner question time more dynamic, the formula has been changed. From now on, Commissioners will no longer receive the questions in advance but instead will respond to questions on a specific subject for 90 minutes. The first commissioners to face MEPs under the new conditions will be De Gucht, Füle, Georgieva, and Piebalgs on the theme of “EU trade and third country relations”. 

As is traditional, the European Commission President will give his annual “State of the Union” address to MEPs. José Manuel Barroso’s speech will be followed by a debate in Parliament. The European Commission’s working programme for 2012 will be defined in October.

The day before Mr. Barroso’s speech, it is Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker’s turn to go before MEPs for a debate on the situation developing in the Eurozone. The most pressing questions, including those of Greece, will of course be asked and addressed but Mr. Juncker will also present his long-term vision.

Should Palestine be recognised as a State?

The response is not up to the European Union but the United Nations. Last Friday Mahmoud Abbas, Head of the Palestinian Authority, officially submitted a request to the UN for recognition of a Palestinian State.

The European Union will vote on a resolution on this topic on Tuesday September 27th following a debate with Catherine Ashton, High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs.

Taking up the challenge of European Union trade policy

Not to mention.... We have chosen to review some of the subjects on the agenda at the plenary session but there are many more! For the full agenda, see here.

On the morning of Tuesday September 27th an important debate will take place on Daniel Caspary’s report on the future of the EU’s trade policy. He calls on the European Commission to prepare a proper long-term strategy to meet these challenges.

According to Mr. Caspary, there are three major challenges facing EU external trade:

  • Europe and the United States’ share of global GDP is falling and will drop from 48% in 2000 to just 35% in 2020. European exports decreased from 19% to 17% of total global exports between 1999 and 2009. The world economy’s centre of gravity is shifting towards emerging markets.

  • Europe’s population is only barely increasing (5% increase expected by 2035 followed by decrease). Worse again, the working population has already started to decrease.

  • The EU is highly dependent on trade. Thirty-six million jobs, representing 18% of European employment, are linked – whether directly or indirectly – to external trade. In 2015, 90% of global growth will be generated outside the EU so the dependency issues will only get worse.

The report advocates more free-trade agreements and is in favour of strengthening dialogue with Europe’s major trade partners as a way of eliminating trade barriers, covert or otherwise. Will all MEPs agree with these conclusions? Find out Wednesday.


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