News from Parliaments

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European Affairs Committee of the Hellenic Parliament briefed on Portuguese Presidency priorities

The priorities of the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council was the subject on the agenda of today's European Affairs Committee meeting, on the occasion of Portugal assuming the rotating presidency of the EU on 1st January 2021 – for the fourth time in its history. The members of the Committee were briefed by the Ambassador of Portugal in Greece Mrs. Helena Paiva.

In his introductory remarks, the 1st Vice-chair of the Committee, who chaired the session, Mr. Dimitris Keridis, welcomed the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency, especially the importance attached to the social dimension and the need to support the European social model, after more than ten years of its being eroded, as a result of the financial crisis and the pandemic. He underlined the interest of our country to swiftly and effectively implement the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the Recovery Fund, on which will depend the growth rate of the European economy, pointing out the necessity to create – for the first time – common European tools, that will complement the national fiscal stabilizers. Finally, Mr. Keridis referred to the significant contribution of Portugal in managing the migration crisis, both by accepting to relocate refugees in its territory and by contributing to the protection of the external borders.

Mrs. Paiva presented the five main priorities of the Portuguese presidency, - resilience of the Union, a social, green, digital and global Europe – noting that they are based on the very principles that prompted Portugal to join the European Community in 1986. She pointed out that with a deal on the MFF and vaccination succesfully proceeding, the EU now has the vision, the programme and the financial tools that allow it to respond to the social dimension of the crisis and to fulfill the Union's strategic goals, which is what the citizens expect after all.

When answering questions by Greek MPs and MEPs, Mrs. Paiva noted that the Portuguese PM supports the proposal of PM Mitsotakis to adopt common rules on a digital certificate, underlining the importance of tourism for the economies of both countries. Regarding the migration issue, Mrs. Paiva – recognizing Greece's contribution as a front line state – stressed that the objective of the Portuguese Presidency is for there to be an agreement, on a single mechanism, which will be resilient and reliable and which will be based on a fair allocation of duties and responsibilities. Lastly, the Portuguese Ambassador underlined her country's opposition to unlawful claims and threats against the sovereign rights of EU member states, pointing out that the Portuguese Presidency will defend the EU's interests, and the interests of its member states, in order to ensure regional stability.

Summing up, she called on Greek MPs to submit their proposals in writing, so that they can be put to good use by the Portuguese presidency.

Source: The Hellenic Parliament

Debate on EU Policy in the Swedish Parliament

On 20 January 2021, the Swedish Riksdag held a debate on EU policy. The Minister for EU Affairs, Hans Dahlgren, opened the debate by presenting the Statement of Government EU Policy 2021. The Minister stated, among other things, that he was convinced that the EU will overcome the Covid-19 crisis and that “Sweden will continue to help building cooperation in the EU”. In following debate, the Members of Parliament raised issues such as vaccination certificates, taxation on an EU level, reaching climate neutrality by 2050, migration and the Commission’s recent proposal on minimum wages in the EU.

The debate can be viewed on-demand with English interpretation via the Riksdag webcast service.
Minister Hans Dahlgren’s speech is available on English on the Government website.

Source: The Swedish Parliament

Lithuanian Seimas has set its priorities under the European Commission Work Programme 2021

On 15 January 2021, the joint meeting of the Committee on European Affairs and Committee on Foreign Affairs approved the priorities of the Seimas under the European Commission Work Programme 2021, a document focused on initiatives to create a fairer, healthier, greener, and more digitalised society. The Seimas priorities, aimed at constructive progress on most pressing matters for Lithuania, will be communicated to the Government and EU institutions.
On 20 November 2020, Virginijus Sinkevičius, member of the European Commission, presented the European Commission Work Programme 2021 at a joint meeting of the Seimas Committee on European Affairs and Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Seimas committees, having subsequently considered the Programme, identified the most important issues based on their remit, thus committing themselves to active participation in the preparation of respective positions of the Republic of Lithuania.
Next, members of the Seimas committees presented the priorities identified based on the remit of the committees as defined in the Statute of the Seimas. In line with the conclusions made by the specialised committees, the Committee on European Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Affairs welcomed the following initiatives:

Priorities of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania under the Commission Work Programme 2021

Serial No
    European Commission Work Programme Initiative No    Title of the proposal or legislative act    Joint conclusion of the Committees on European and Foreign Affairs
1.    1.    Fit for 55 package    Highly relevant
2.    2.    Circular economy package     Highly relevant
3.    3.    Biodiversity and toxic-free environment package     Highly relevant
4.    4.    Sustainable and smart mobility    Relevant
5.    5.     Europe’s digital decade    Highly relevant
6.    6.    Data package    Highly relevant
7.    7.    Digital levy    Highly relevant
8.    9.    Platform workers    Relevant
9.    10.    Industrial strategy for Europe    Highly relevant
10.    11.    Foreign subsidies    Highly relevant
11.    14.    Deepening the Capital Markets Union    Highly relevant
12.    16.    EU green bond standard    Highly relevant
13.    17.    Anti-money laundering package    Highly relevant
14.    18.    Fair economy package    Highly relevant
15.    20.    Deterring and counteracting coercive actions by third countries    Relevant
16.    21.    Performance framework 2021-2027    Relevant
17.    22.    Completing the Banking Union    Highly relevant
18.    23.    Excise duties package    Relevant
19.    24.    Strengthening the EU’s contribution to rules-based multilateralism    Highly relevant
20.    26.    Southern Neighbourhood    Relevant
21.    28.    Research, innovation, education and youth    Highly relevant
22.    31.    European biomedical research and development    Highly relevant
23.    32.    European health data space    Relevant
24.    33.    Follow-up initiatives under the new pact on migration and asylum    Relevant
25.    34.    Schengen package    Highly relevant
26.    35.    Follow-up to the EU security strategy    Relevant
27.    36.    Follow-up to the European Education Area and a updated skills agenda    Highly relevant
28.    37.    EU strategy on combating antisemitism    Relevant
29.    38.    Rights of children    Highly relevant
30.    39.    Preventing and combating specific forms of gender-based violence    Highly relevant
31.    40.    Fighting  hate crime and hate speech    Relevant
32.    42.    Transparency and democracy package    Relevant
33.    43.    Long-term vision for rural areas    Relevant
34.    44.    EU disability strategy    Relevant

Source: Lithuanian Seimas

Lithuanian Seimas CEA: the European Commission’s Proposal for a Directive on adequate minimum wages in the European Union complies with the principle of subsidiarity

On 8 January 2021, the Committee on European Affairs reverted to the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on adequate wages in the European Union (hereinafter referred to as the Proposal) submitted by the European Commission on 28 October 2020. The objective of the Proposal is to establish minimum criteria to ensure more effective functioning of national minimum wage frameworks. The proposed Directive creates a framework to improve the adequacy of minimum wages and facilitate access of workers to minimum wage protection in the EU.

During the discussion, representatives of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour presented the updated position of the Republic of Lithuania on the Proposal. Lithuania no longer believes that the Proposal contradicts the principle of subsidiarity. However, Lithuania’s position is to negotiate more favourable conditions for application of the Directive in Lithuania. Representatives of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation and the Lithuanian trade union Solidarumas expressed their support for the Proposal, arguing that the control measures, greater involvement of social partners, promotion of social dialogue and collective agreements provided for in the Proposal will help to ensure adequate wages for Lithuanian workers and lead to reduced social exclusion, greater inclusion of unskilled workers into the labour market, lower levels of emigration, decreased share of envelope (cash-in-hand) wages and the associated shadow economy, and to larger revenue of the state, local authorities and honest businesses.

The Proposal was forwarded for consideration to the Seimas Committees on Budget and Finance, on Economics, on Social Affairs and Labour, and the Committee on Human Rights. Having assessed compliance of the Proposal with the principle of subsidiarity and the position of the Republic of Lithuania, the Committees presented their conclusions to the Committee on European Affairs.

The Committee on European Affairs, noting that many workers in the EU are not protected by adequate minimum wages, being aware that the Proposal aims to promote collective bargaining on wage setting in all Member States, as Member States with high collective bargaining coverage tend to display a lower share of low-wage workers, lower wage inequality, and higher minimum wages than Member States with a minimum wage set by legislation; having examined the conclusions of the Legal Department of the Seimas and the Ministry of Justice on the Proposal; having noted the conclusions of the Seimas committees; taking the view that the increase in the minimum wage determined on the basis of the national criteria established under this initiative will improve the balance of public budget (less than 0.1 % of GDP), while the impact on the administrative burden will be limited because the aim is to strengthen the existing institutions and procedures; drawing attention to the fact that poverty and inequality indicators in Lithuania remain among the highest in the EU, while a collective bargaining coverage rate only amounts to about 20 per cent, and the Proposal aims to improve working conditions and reduce in-work poverty by establishing a system of minimum standards; believing that an increase in the minimum wage would result in a reduction of wage inequality, in-work poverty and gender pay gap; having considered that the proposal does not preclude the Member States from ensuring minimum wage protection in the form of a statutory minimum wage or of wages set by collective agreements, has decided that the Proposal complies with the principle of subsidiarity and supports the position of the Republic of Lithuania, opening the way for further negotiations of the Government on the Proposal.

Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into their national legislation.

In Lithuania, wages are regulated by Article 141 of the Labour Code of the Republic of Lithuania. The minimum hourly pay and the minimum monthly wage are approved by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania upon the recommendation of the Tripartite Council and in view of the country’s economic development indicators and trends. Currently the minimum monthly wage in Lithuania amounts to EUR 642. If the Directive is adopted, the minimum monthly wage in Lithuania will be EUR 738.

Source: Lithuanian Seimas

Belgian Federal Parliament: Exchange of views on the trade and cooperation agreement between the EU and the UK

On January 6, 2021, the Federal Advisory Committee on European Affairs had an exchange of views with the Prime Minister, Mr Alexander De Croo, on the trade and cooperation agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
During the exchange of views, the senators and members of the House discussed the following points:
-    The importance of the Fisheries Agreement, which allows European fishermen to fish in UK waters for a further five years;
-    The Brexit Adjustment Reserve of the EU and the way in which the financial resources will be distributed among the European member states and in Belgium;
-    The unfortunate decision of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the Erasmus program;
-    The future bilateral relations between Belgium and the United Kingdom.
The Federal Advisory Committee on European Affairs has decided to closely monitor the consequences of Brexit by holding regular meetings on this topic.

Source : The Belgian Federal Parliament

Croatian Parliament ratifies Council Decision on the system of Own Resources of the European Union

Zagreb, 18 December 2020 – The Croatian Parliament unanimously ratified the Council Decision on the system of Own Resources of the European Union on Friday, 18 December 2020. Even though, in terms of Article 311 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, Croatian constitutional system does not require for this Decision to be confirmed by the Croatian Parliament, MPs welcomed the debate on this topic and the practice to keep the Parliament more involved in the process of adoption of the EU budget and the new Multiannual Financial Framework.
Prior to the plenary debate, held on 16 December, the Finance and Central Budget Committee and the European Affairs Committee both supported the decision to ratify the Council Decision on the system of Own Resources of the European Union in separate committee meetings, held the day before, on 15 December. European Affairs Committee pursued the issue of ratification of the Decision in the Croatian Parliament already at its first session of the 10th parliamentary term, held on 28 July 2020, when the Vice-President of the Government and Minister of Finance reported to the Committee on the crucial meeting of the European Council, where the new MFF was agreed on.

With the ratification in the Croatian Parliament, Croatia has ensured the timely adoption of the Decision on Own Resources on its side. Following parliamentary ratification, Croatian Government will inform the Secretary General of the Council that the Decision on the system of Own Resources has been approved by Croatia.

Source: Croatian Parliament

Belgian Federal Parliament: Exchange of views with European Commissioner Reynders

On December 16, 2020, the Federal Advisory Committee on European Affairs had an extensive exchange of views with Mr Didier Reynders, European Commissioner responsible for Justice, on the situation of the rule of law in Belgium and the European Union in 2020.

During the exchange, senators and members of the House of representatives discussed, among other things, the scope of the report, including the definition of the rule of law, the digitization of the judiciary, the fundamental values, the inclusion of groups such as LGBTQIA+ and the protection of women and children. The recently approved mechanism whereby the acquisition of EU funds by a European member state is linked to the respect of the rule of law in that member state was also extensively discussed.

Source: The Belgian Senate

Finnish Parliament: Grand Committee gave its statement on EU’s migration and asylum policy

On 4 December, the Grand Committee gave its statement on Commission’s proposal for development of EU’s migration and asylum policy (new Pact on Migration and Asylum). The Committee handled the issue based on a government report (E 125/2020 vp) and committee statements from the Foreign Affairs Committee (UaVL 8/2020) and the Administration Committee (HaVL 25/2020). The Parliament will decide on Commission’s legislative proposals separately at a later stage.

The Grand Committee agrees with the Finnish Government position while emphasising some viewpoints in its statement. The Committee adopted the statement after voting. Two dissensions are appended to the committee statement.

The Grand Committee supports the Commission’s comprehensive approach to European migration and considers it important that migration and asylum policies are developed at EU level. The Committee expects Finland to be active in the negotiations and seek solutions for a resilient and balanced common system.

The Grand Committee supports Commission’s goal of putting in place a framework for management of migration in a humane way that is consistent with European values. The Committee emphasises that the requirements of international law and human rights must be respected and upheld in all activities. Together with the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Grand Committee agrees with the goal of ensuring that humanitarian actors can operate in land and sea and preventing the criminalisation of humanitarian activities.

In the Commission’s proposal, the Member States will be bound to act responsibly and in solidarity with one another. Each Member State must contribute in solidarity in times of stress, help to stabilise the overall system, support Member States under pressure and ensure that EU fulfils its humanitarian obligations. The Commission proposes a system of flexible contributions from the Member States which could, for instance, relocate asylum seekers from the country of first entry or take over responsibility for returning individuals with no right to stay.

The Grand Committee sees that the asylum system and division of responsibilities in the EU area must be just, resilient and effective in a way that all Member States can carry out their duties in a normal circumstance. Moreover, the Grand Committee together with the Administration Committee considers it important for Finland, located at EU’s outer border, to have a common mechanism for solidarity if a Member State comes under pressure. According to the Grand Committee, the proposal requires further clarification on solidarity to determine the efficacy of the mechanism as well as its implications for Finland.

The Grand Committee agrees with the Finnish Government that it is important for Member States to build equal and resilient partnerships with third countries. These partnerships would help address shared challenges such as migrant smuggling, will help develop legal pathways and effective implementation of readmission agreements.

Source: The Finnish Parliament

Commissioner Várhelyi had exchange of views with the Hungarian National Assembly

The Committee on European Affairs of the Hungarian National Assembly held an exchange of views via videoconference with Mr Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement on 30 November 2020. In his introductory address, Olivér Várhelyi paid particular attention to the 2020 Communication on EU enlargement policy of the European Commission. With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, he underlined that he is also responsible for crisis management with regard to the regions concerned by his portfolio. In the framework of several emergency assistance measures, the EU managed to mobilise a package over EUR 3,3 billion for the benefit of Western Balkans citizens and businesses and additionally EUR 1 billion  in favour of the Eastern Partnership countries. The   assistance is designed to help these nations easing the repercussions of the crisis as well as to diminish the negative impact of the pandemic on the healthcare systems. Regarding the accession process, he pointed out that the EU is more than ever committed to engage serious conversations with the Western-Balkan region with the objective of increasing cooperation and strengthening economic ties. The Commissioner has also said that the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans EUR 9 billion for economic convergence and the EUR 20 billion Western Balkans Guarantee facility is equivalent to the one-third of the whole regions’ GDP. As for the Southern Partnership, the Commissioner informed about a EUR 2,3 billion financial assistance and urged the renewal of the Barcelona Process. The members of the Committee on European Affairs had questions about EU-Turkey relations, minority rights in the concerned nations, current state of play of the accession negotiations with Serbia as well as the Armenian-Azeri conflict.
Finally, Mr. Várhelyi expressed his intention to maintain a continuous dialogue with the Hungarian National Assembly.

Source: The Hungarian National Assembly

Finland: Grand Committee approves the agreement on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework

The Grand Committee adopted the Finnish Parliament’s position on the agreement between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (MFF) reached on 10 November. In the MFF negotiations, Finland has emphasised the conclusions of the European Council meeting in July. Moreover, Finland sees that the most essential questions regarding the MFF should be treated as a package.
The Parliament does not have remarks on the Finnish Government position. The Grand Committee decided on the issue after voting.

The Parliamentary procedure was based on Government communication (UJ 44/2020 & U 45/2018). The Finance Committee provided a statement to the Grand Committee before the latter adopted the Finnish Parliament position.
Decisions regarding the Multiannual Financial Framework are part of a package EU leaders agreed on at the European Council meeting in July. During this autumn, the Grand Committee has discussed, e.g., the EU recovery instrument, the Rule of Law Mechanism and the EU’s own resources. Ultimately, the decision on own resources will need to be ratified in a plenary session of the Finnish Parliament.

For further information on the handling of the Multiannual Financial Framework and EU recovery instrument in the Finnish Parliament.

The Grand Committee discussed the Single Resolution Fund
Minister of Finance Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) briefed the Grand Committee on the meeting of the Eurogroup on 30 November. The current proposal would advance the introduction of a common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund (SRF) by two years to the beginning of 2022. Minister of Finance Vanhanen stated that Finland’s long-term goal has been to break the link between the banking sector and taxpayers. The common backstop to the SRF will facilitate borrowing by the Single Resolution Fund and will ultimately be covered by contributions from the banking sector.
The Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) is a key element of Europe’s banking union. SRM consists of an EU-level resolution authority, the Single Resolution Board, and Single Resolution Fund financed by the banking sector. Its purpose is to ensure an orderly resolution of failing banks with minimal cost to taxpayers and to the real economy.

After voting, the Grand Committee decided to agree with the Government position to support the advancement of the timetable regarding the common backstop to the SRF given that Finland’s conditions are met.

Source: The Finnish Parliament
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