News from Parliaments

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French Senate Political Opinion concerning children deprived of all contact with their European parent

The European Affairs Committee of the French Senate adopted on 18 December 2019 a Political Opinion concerning children deprived of all contact with their European parent following a child abduction committed by a Japanese parent, which was sent to the European Commission in the context of the political dialogue.

The text of the Political Opinion can be found here (FR) and here (EN)

Source: The French Senate

EU Commissioner Kyriakides on official visit to Cyprus

The President of the House of Representatives, Mr Demetris Syllouris, received yesterday the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Mrs Stella Kyriakides, on her first official visit to Cyprus.

Mrs Kyriakides briefly presented her responsibilities in the context of her mandate. Both sides expressed their willingness to further enhance cooperation and contacts between the House of Representatives and the Commissioner’s Office.

Mrs Kyriakides also emphasized the need for strengthening dialogue with the citizens and, in this context, Mr Syllouris made specific proposals to be considered and put into practice in the immediate future.

Source: The Cyprus House of Representatives

Belgium – Flemish Parliament adopts resolution on Brexit

In accordance with Declaration 51 by the Kingdom of Belgium on national parliaments, annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon, the parliamentary assemblies of the Communities and the Regions act, in terms of the competences exercised by the Union, as components of the national parliamentary system or chambers of the national Parliament. For this reason, a reasoned opinion issued by one of those parliamentary assemblies has to be considered as a reasoned opinion of one of the chambers of the Belgian Parliament.

On 11 December 2019, the Flemish Parliament adopted a resolution on (post)Brexit, which was sent to the European Commission in the context of the political dialogue.

Flanders and the United Kingdom have and will maintain close historical, cultural, economic, political, diplomatic and academic ties. Around 30,000 British citizens live in Belgium and around 35,000 Flemish citizens reside in the United Kingdom.
Flanders regrets any form of Brexit, including a Brexit with an orderly withdrawal, but above all wishes to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Flanders, the EU-27 and the United Kingdom after Brexit will need clear agreements on the new mutual relationship, and all parties will benefit from an ambitious and comprehensive EU-UK partnership.
Flanders, due to its open and export driven economy within the EU-27, is likely to encounter the greatest difficulties because of Brexit: in this respect, Flanders is only preceded by Ireland and the Netherlands.
The Flemish Parliament calls upon the European Commission to quickly reach an ambitious and comprehensive post-Brexit EU-UK partnership, comprising amongst others these components:
- enabling Flemish-British trade by means of zero tariffs, an extensive customs cooperation, a guaranteed access for Flemish fishermen to British waters and as few as possible non-tariff trade barriers;
- clear and workable agreements to maintain the level playing field between the European Union and the United Kingdom;
- agreements for the cooperation with the United Kingdom on a wide variety of fields such as education, research, academic cooperation, safety, fishing, transport and energy.

More information on this resolution is available on the Flemish Parliament website (only in Dutch).

Source: Belgian Senate/Flemish Parliament

The Riigikogu received an overview of the Government’s European Union policy

On December 10, the Riigikogu heard Prime Minister Jüri Ratas’s report on the work of the Government in implementing European Union policies. In his speech, the Prime Minister focused on the climate neutrality challenge.

Ratas noted that an analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre had provided the knowledge that Estonia was capable of achieving the climate neutrality goal. This means that Estonia’s carbon emissions will have to be equal to carbon capture by 2050. The Prime Minister said that that goal could also be seen as a great opportunity. “An opportunity to save on natural resources, an opportunity to create new jobs and new technologies, as well as an opportunity to reduce dependence on certain energy carriers and the suppliers of such carriers,” Ratas said. He called on young technologists in Estonia to meet the challenge of the ‘green shift’.

In the Prime Minister’s words, the transition to climate neutrality should be technology-neutral and as market-based as possible. He confirmed that the whole Estonia was grateful to the people who had worked and were working in the oil shale industry in the East Viru county and that their contribution would not be forgotten. “The Government has made efforts to ensure that oil shale and the East Viru county would have a firm place in the new European Commission fund regarding a fair transition from fossil fuels to clean fuels,” Ratas said. He noted that Estonia needed to continually strengthen its energy security and supply security with the help of cross-border connections. Ratas said that the Estonia-Finland gas interconnection BalticConnector would be opened in Paldiski that week, and with it, the single market of the three countries would start functioning. He added that the construction of the Lithuania-Poland power line connection Harmony Link had begun in the previous week which was a very important project for synchronising the Baltic power systems with Europe. The Prime Minister noted that Rail Baltic was also a strategic connection with European centres and that, moreover, rail connection was a more environmentally friendly alternative to the polluting road transport of goods.

Ratas said that the Baltic states had sent a joint communication to their colleagues with a message that due to the volume of climate investments it was not right to reduce the overall volume of the long-term budget of the European Union or to reduce the funds that would enable the Baltic state to achieve these goals. The Prime Minister added that an impact assessment on the following steps would be completed in the following year, and then specific proposals would be made that needed to be realistic and feasible in order to really achieve climate neutrality in Europe.

In her report, Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Anneli Ott said that the new long-term budget of the European Union had to support an innovative, sustainable and future-oriented economic model, and the competitiveness of Europe on the global scale. Ott noted that, in the new period, Estonia was joining the group of regions in transition. She added that that would bring about a certain decrease in subsidies compared to the ending period, but Estonia’s annual per capita subsidies would remain the highest in the European Union over the following period, too.

The chairman of a committee said that agricultural subsidies continued to be one of the crucial topics for Estonia in the negotiations on the new budget framework. “We will need to persist in our efforts at every level to speed up the harmonisation of the direct payments because our farmers are competing with the farmers from other Member States in the same market. At the same time, we support creating a more flexible system that would take into account the particularities of each Member State in supporting their agriculture and rural life, and would ensure better preparedness for contingencies,” Ott assured. She admitted that the Union’s budget negotiations were different this time round: a large net contributor, the United Kingdom, was leaving, and the budget priorities and challenges had changed as well. In her words, internal security, education, young people, digitalisation, innovation and climate policy need larger support.

Ott noted that 31 January 2020 had currently been set as the date when the United Kingdom was due to leave the European Union. In her words, the goal is to maintain a close relationship, and well-rounded cooperation particularly in economy, foreign policy and security and defence with the UK. She noted that an intense period of negotiations over the terms and conditions of the future relations and a free trade agreement was ahead. “The United Kingdom will have elections in two days’ time and then we will have a clearer picture of what lays ahead. One thing is clear: Estonia’s main interest in the process of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union is that the leaving take place in a regular manner under an agreed withdrawal agreement that meets the interests of the parties,” Ott said.

During the debate, Raivo Tamm took the floor on behalf of the Faction Isamaa and said that the private sector played a great role in meeting the climate goals. It would need to make large investments into the energy and transport sector in cooperation with the European Union Member States. Tamm said that the mechanisms to support such green investments had to be made more simple and available.

When speaking on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, Ruuben Kaalep said that the membership of any international organisation had to strengthen Estonia’s national independence and sovereignty. In his words, it is important that Member States retain the right to make decisions for themselves in climate neutrality matters,

Enn Eesmaa who took the floor on behalf of the Centre Party Faction said that the European Parliament focusing on climate problems was only logical, and for the first time the European citizens had prioritised climate change in a Eurobarometer survey in as many as 11 countries. The global human rights situation is also one of the most burning issues, Eesmaa said.

When speaking on behalf of the Reform Party Faction, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus said that the European Union was the world leader in climate policy and a pioneer in defending privacy, human rights and freedoms. In her words, the ageing population of the European Union was a challenge, and a model was needed that would encourage people to pursue happiness by saving up more and being active for longer, instead of consuming.

Riina Sikkut took the floor on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction and said that Estonia could and had to stand firmly for the enlargement of the European Union and the Eastern Partnership. In Sikkut’s words, Estonia had an experience of what it meant for a society to have a great cause and to move towards a European Union that ensured human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Soirce: Estonian Riigikogu

Commissioner-designate Várhelyi visits the Hungarian National Assembly

Mr Oliver Várhelyi, Commissioner-designate for Neighbourhood and Enlargement held exchange of views with the members of the Committee on European Affairs of the Hungarian National Assembly on 22 November 2019. After his introductory address to the Committee, Commissioner-designate Várhelyi assessed the current state of play concerning the EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood policy and shared his ambitious plans. Regarding his portfolio, Mr. Várhelyi stated that it had both challenging and promising aspects as it was directly linked with the priorities on geopolitical Commission. The Commissioner-designate pointed out that he considered one of his main tasks to bring a new impetus in the EU enlargement policy. He underlined that even though there were two countries – North-Macedonia and Albania respectively – that would have been granted a green light to open the accession negotiations, there should be a unanimous consensus amongst EU member states to make that happen. He stressed that there would be much to expect from the next Western-Balkan summit to be held on 7 May 2020 in Zagreb, where in all probability further progress could be achieved. About the Western-Balkan region, he accentuated that it was in the common interest of both parts to avoid the destabilisation of the region undermining credibility and investments as well. In terms of conditions, he recalled that candidates should fulfil obligations and therefore were bound to implement necessary reforms. In case of the neighbourhood policy, Mr. Várhelyi mentioned a new approach to put into practice in accordance with the local ambitions and circumstances stressing the role and opportunities of the deep and comprehensive free trade agreements (DCFTAs) concluded with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Finally, Mr. Várhelyi expressed his intention to maintain a continuous dialogue with the Hungarian National Assembly with the aim of informing the members of the Committee on European affairs, in particular, about the activities and results of his portfolio on a yearly basis.

Source: The Hungarian National Assembly

Lithuanian Committee on European Affairs: there is a need to agree on the concept of Lithuania’s economy of well-being

In the course of Lithuanian and European discussions on the principles and measures of the welfare state, the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), for the first time ever, invited ministers of EU Member States to address the topic of the economy of well-being at the meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council on 5 July 2019.

The concept of the economy of well-being is a priority for the Finnish Presidency. Its core claim is that while people’s well-being is a value in itself, it is also vitally important for the Union’s economic growth, productivity, long-term fiscal sustainability and societal stability.

On 24 October 2019, the EPSCO Council adopted Conclusions on the Economy of Well-being thereby inviting Member States and the European Commission to include the aspect of the economy of well-being into national and Union policies and put people and their well-being at the centre of policy design.

Taking into account the Conclusions adopted by the Council of the EU, the Seimas Committee on European Affairs adopted a Decision on the Economy of Well-being thereby calling on the Government to participate actively in further deliberations concerning the economy of well-being and to cooperate closely on developing a reasoned and coherent cross-sectoral perspective of Lithuania.

The Government is also invited to consider developing a common method for measuring the various aspects of the economy of well-being by using well-being indicators for the monitoring of national and municipal budget processes and for knowledge-based decision-making.

The Decision of the Committee invites the top Lithuanian authorities to jointly initiate a broad and reasoned discussion to define the contour of Lithuania’s economy of well-being and, on that basis, agree on the concept of Lithuania’s economy of well-being and jointly develop success indicators to be achieved as a national objective by all political forces.

The Committee on European Affairs exercises consistent parliamentary scrutiny and, in line with the European Semester documents, has repeatedly adopted decisions related to the reduction of social exclusion, poverty and inequality. In the light of the recommendations of the European Commission to reduce social inequality and poverty indicators, which, according to the European Commission, are in a critical state, the Committee takes regular note of the implementation status of the European Pillar of Social Rights and consistently seeks close and effective cooperation between the Seimas and the Government in implementing the recommendations of the Council of the European Union for Lithuania.

Source: The Lithuanian Seimas

Annual IPEX National Correspondents Meeting in Vienna

On November 14-15 the Austrian Parliament hosted the annual IPEX National Correspondents Meeting in Vienna. Around 50 participants attended the meeting. In response to a request made by the Correspondents at their last meeting in Tallinn, the meeting was opened with a team building exercise. This new format allowed the Correspondents to get to know each other better and to reflect on their relation to IPEX as well as the improvements, remarks and accomplishments made so far. Subsequently, two separate training sessions were held, one for newcomers and one for experienced Correspondents , both focussing on improving and solidifying the skills required in the daily work of an national Correspondent.

After a welcome address by the Secretary General of the Austrian Parliament, Mr Harald Dossi, the second day started with the plenary meeting where various topics were presented and discussed, such as the Privacy Statement on IPEX, the new website of IPEX, the new categories of documents and the follow up of the Working Group on Promotion of IPEX. Afterwards a panel discussion between two correspondents sharing their experiences took place. Finally, the plenary meeting ended with two best practices, one concerning ECPRD and the other regarding social media activities in parliaments, which were followed by a debate. At this occasion the social media activity of IPEX was launched in view to increase its presence at this level and to provide information on the activities of parliaments in EU matters.

The future website will also facilitate and offer new elements to promote IPEX and to reach out to the whole audience of IPEX users. This is a decisive step for IPEX made possible by the European parliament as thanks to the efforts of the European Parliament the new website and new functions of the database will be fully covered by the EP’s budget.

Ensuing, the meeting continued in the afternoon with two workshops on ‘new categories of information on IPEX & newsletter pilot project’ as well as the current state of play of the activities in support of the national Correspondents and their tasks. Overall, the new format of the meeting was largely welcomed by the participants and it allowed for fruitful discussions within the workshops and the debate.

More information and the meeting materials can be found here. The photos taken during the meeting can be found under the following here: 14 November and 15 November 2019.

Source: The Austrian Parliament

A strategic debate on EU affairs in the Swedish Parliament

The Swedish Prime Minister’s statement of Government EU Policy was followed by a debate with party leaders.

On Wednesday 13 November a debate between party leaders on EU policy took place in the Chamber of the Riksdag. This was the first time that such a debate was be held. “I look forward to the Riksdag now holding a general and strategic debate on EU affairs at party leader level. I see this as a way for the Riksdag to contribute to greater openness and interest in the EU dimension in Swedish politics,” Speaker Andreas Norlén said before the debate took place. The Prime Minister opened the debate with a presentation of the Government's priorities in its work with EU affairs.

The debate is available via the Riksdag webcast service interpreted into English

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s speech

25 years since the EU referendum

On the day that the EU policy debate took place, it was exactly 25 years since the Swedish people voted in favour of EU membership in a consultative referendum. 52.3 per cent of the Swedish people said yes to membership, while 46.8 voted no. The following year, in 1995, Sweden became a member of the EU.

The Riksdag as a forum for debate on EU affairs will be strengthened

The debate between party leaders on EU policy will be held following a decision by the Speaker after consultation with the party group leaders in the Riksdag. The decision follows the report of the All-party EU Committee from 2018, in which several ideas to strengthen the Chamber of the Riksdag as a forum for debate on EU affairs were presented. For example, the All-party EU Committee considered that a recurring debate on EU affairs, preferably at party leader level, would be valuable. Each parliamentary year, there have traditionally been three debates between party leaders in the Chamber. A special debate between party leaders has also been held ahead of elections to the European Parliament.

Source: The Swedish Riksdag

Speaker of the Assembleia da República received Chief Negotiator of the European Union for Brexit

The Speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, received the Chief Negotiator of the Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU, Michel Barnier, in the context of his visit to Lisbon.

During the meeting, Michel Barnier informed the Speaker Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues of the latest developments regarding Brexit, as well as of the consequences the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union will have for the European project. Michel Barnier also expressed his deep commitment to maintaining a close relationship with national Parliaments, in particular with the Assembleia da República, considering that the national Parliaments of the different Member States are key players in the whole process.

In addition to an exchange of views on the Portuguese political situation, in particular on the results of the Legislative Elections of 6th October and the new composition of the Portuguese Parliament, the Speaker of the Portuguese Parliament and the Chief Negotiator addressed some of the major challenges the European Union with 27 Member States will face.

Source: Portuguese Assembleia da República

Finnish Grand Committee issued a statement on strengthening the rule of law principle in the European Union and questions related to the rule of law during Finland’s EU presidency

On 6 November, the Grand Committee of the Finnish Parliament issued a statement (SuVL 2/2019, in Finnish) on the Government’s reports concerning the European Commission’s communications to strengthen the EU’s capacity to promote and uphold the rule of law and issues related to the rule of law during Finland’s EU presidency.

The Grand Committee decided to support the Government’s stance, emphasising certain viewpoints of the significance and strengthening the principle of the rule of law. One dissenting opinion was appended to the statement.

The Grand Committee’s statement, the dissenting opinion and the Government reports (E 16/2019, E 17/2019) are available in the Parliament’s online service.

The rule of law principle is a shared key value of the EU

The Grand Committee states that all activities in the EU are based on treaties approved voluntarily and democratically by each member state. The Grand Committee emphasises that the rule of law principle is a central part of the shared values that all member states have committed to respecting, upholding and promoting.

The Grand Committee agrees with the stance of the EU’s new strategic programme, namely, that the shared values that form the basis of our democracy and society also form the basis of freedom, safety and wellbeing in Europe. Furthermore, the rule of law principle guarantees that these values are properly protected.

The rule of law principle is also an integral part of democracy and fundamental rights. The Grand Committee states that no well-functioning democratic constitutional state can exist without fundamental and human rights, and that securing fundamental and human rights calls for democracy and the rule of law, also referring to key principles of Finland’s Constitution.

According to the Grand Committee, the rule of law principle also strengthens the trust of people towards the EU, cooperation between member states, economic growth, trade and investments.

EU activities need to be coordinated to strengthen the rule of law principle

The primary goal of the actions proposed by the European Commission is to find a solution that protects the rule of law principle by means of cooperation and mutual support. Its proposals call for more knowledge, the establishment of a shared rule of law culture, proactivity and reactions at the EU level if national mechanisms fail. Strengthening the rule of law principle is also one of the key themes during Finland’s presidency of the EU.

The Grand Committee states that member states have the primary responsibility for ensuring that the rule of law principle is respected.

When actions are taken at the EU level, the focus should mainly be on the prevention of problems and on the establishment of dialogue and mutual understanding.

The Grand Committee supports the Government’s stance that reactions, activities and the readiness to set up effective, proportional and cautionary consequences in situations where national mechanisms fail and threats directed at constitutional states become relevant need to be strengthened.

Furthermore, the Grand Committee holds that the European Commission’s proposals for Rule of Law Review Cycle and Rule of Law Report regarding the rule of law principle are positive steps in the right direction. The Grand Committee also supports the Government’s aim to renew dialogue concerning the rule of law principle during Finland’s EU presidency in a way that makes this dialogue a general annual practice concerning the condition of the rule of law in the EU.

In addition, the Grand Committee states that it is vital that the EU’s tools and actions aimed to strengthen the rule of law principle in different forums and political sectors support one another and form a coherent whole.

According to the Grand Committee, it is important that all member states be treated in an even-handed and consistent way. The Grand Committee states that mechanisms must continue to be based on an impartial approach founded on evidence.

Finally, the Grand Committee also renews its stance that legal proposals related to the EU funding framework for protecting the budget in situations where there are general shortcomings in compliance with the rule of law principle in member states are important in principle and support the rule of law mechanisms available in the EU (see SuVL 12/2018).

Source: The Finnish Parliament
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