Unusually, this month saw two Strasbourg plenaries of the European Parliament, October, 3- 6 October and 24 – 27 October.
In the first of October’s Strasbourg plenary sessions of the European Parliament I and my fellow MEPs were extremely proud to be part of a large majority that voted to endorse the ratification of the Paris climate agreement (COP21). In December last year, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. The endorsement of 55 parties representing at least 55% of global emissions was needed for the Agreement to enter into force. While the first condition had already been met, the European Parliament’s vote qualified the second condition as well. The EU will now join major greenhouse gas emitters including the US, China and India at a meeting in Marrakesh next month.
MEPs also voted to reinforce measures to ensure that the EU is no longer complicit either directly or indirectly in torture or executions beyond its borders. One of the aims of the European Union’s foreign policy is to promote respect for fundamental rights. The prevention and eradication of all forms of torture and ill-treatment worldwide is at the heart of the EU’s human rights policy. While the EU continues to use all its available tools of diplomacy and cooperation assistance to eradicate torture and raises the matter consistently in political and human rights dialogues with countries outside of the EU, these issues persist across the world. We therefore must continue to look at further measures. The abolition of the death penalty is a cornerstone of what is called the EU ‘acquis’, ie. the body of laws and norms that a country has to comply with in order to a be a member of the club.
The situation in Syria was debated following the collapse of the ceasefire and mounting US-Russia tensions. Moscow was blamed by many, while others called for greater EU involvement in peace efforts.
Solutions are needed in Calais to help local residents, migrants living in improvised camps and motorists heading for the port and the channel tunnel, said MEPs in a debate on Tuesday evening.
MEPs expressed alarms at plans in Poland to further restrict access to abortion and in vitro fertilisation during a debate on Wednesday afternoon.
During the 24 – 27 Plenary Yazidi survivors and public advocates Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar were announced as this year's Sakharov Prize laureates. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament to honour individuals or organisations for their courage in defending human rights and freedom of expression. Nominated by both the S&D and ALDE groups Murad and Aji Bashar survived sexual enslavement by Islamic State (IS) and following their traumatic and harrowing escapes have become spokespersons for women afflicted by the terrorist group’s campaign of sexual violence.
MEPs successfully voted for a resolution calling on the Commission to establish, as soon as possible, an EU wide legal limit on industrial trans fats or trans fatty acids (TFAs) in food. Scientific evidence has proved that trans fats pose a serious long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, infertility, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and obesity.
For over three years the EU has been trying to update its plant health legislation to avoid the entry of non-native harmful pests and diseases. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament, which includes Labour MEPs, has been pushing for the strengthening of this system and during this Plenary we voted to support stronger protection of EU plants from imported pests or organisms such as insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses. The new rules include a preventive and rapid response mechanisms.
New EU-wide rules were approved by the European Parliament designed to ensure that the websites and applications of public administrations, hospitals, courts and other public sector bodies are made more accessible for disabled and elderly people enabling them to access data and services on the internet like a tax declarations, applying for benefits and paying bills. Under the new rules, the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies - from administrations, courts and police departments to public hospitals, universities and libraries - will have to meet common accessibility standards.
MEPs called on the Commission to establish rules requiring EU firms to respect human rights in all their global operations and to include clauses on corporate liability for human rights violations in EU trade and investment agreements. MEPs also advocated creating a certified “abuse-free” product label at EU level.
The Parliament endorsed a resolution urging the release of Turkish journalists being held without compelling evidence of criminal activity. MEPs pointed out that the Turkish government has arrested at least 99 journalists and writers and closed the offices of more than 150 media outlets.
My colleague and fellow Labour MEP Richard Howitt was responsible for a resolution, adopted during this plenary, encouraging the EU strategy towards Iran to be “comprehensive, cooperative, critical and constructive”, with the EU using the influence gained as a result of the Iran nuclear deal to leverage a new regional security structure for the whole Middle East.
MEPs also adopted Parliament's position on the EU's budget for next year, insisting on more funds to help young people find work, boost economic growth and assist non-EU countries with the impact of the migration crisis.