A series of big topics were on the agenda for Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg between 12-15 March. Arguably the most important was a debate and vote on the EU’s post-2020 budget. It is one in a series of steps that will lay out the future priorities of the Europe’s political union. The biggest moot point is whether member states should pay more or less to EU coffers after Brexit. Obviously, contributions will drop dramatically once the EU’s third biggest country leaves the bloc, but should member countries give more as a result? As Greens, we believe the budget should at the very least be maintained, if not enhanced, but it’s not a universally held view.
Also on the agenda was a debate on the controversial double-promotion of civil servant Martin Selmayr, US steel and aluminium trade tariffs that could result in hundreds of job losses in Europe, and the signing of the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence against women. Framing the debate was the latest in a series of speeches by national leaders on the ‘Future of Europe’ by Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa.
Future of Europe speech by Portugal’s António Costa
The Portuguese Prime Minister was the third, after his Irish and Croatian counterparts, to give a speech to the European Parliament on the ‘Future of Europe’. António Costa, a socialist politician, came to power with the support of three other parties on the political left: the Communist Party, the Green Party and the Left Bloc.
Under the agreements signed by the progressive parliamentary majority, Portugal reached a post-crisis moment with economic growth, diminishing deficit, and with growing job creation. In his speech, Costa claimed this proves the rejection of the oft-said ‘There Is No Alternative’ claim, and that by affirming democratic sovereignty at the same time as complying with EU rules, the Portuguese government has helped people regain trust in democracy and the European Union.
In response to islamophobic remarks by far-right MEP Marcel de Graaf, a member of the Dutch Freedom Party, Costa - who is of Indian origin - hailed diversity as a positive characteristic of Europe.
Responding for the Greens, Philippe Lamberts - the co-chair of the Greens/EFA Group - agreed that the progressive government in Portugal had shown that an alternative was possible and that budgetary responsibility is compatible with social justice. But the Green MEP also reaffirmed that Portugal is not yet a leader in ecological transformation as the oil exploration in the Portuguese coast and the practices of intensive fishing show.
The Portuguese PM and the Green Group share the ambition of a bigger European budget with more own resources reached through taxes that can only be successfully applied at the European level: a digital tax, a pollution tax or a tax on financial transactions.
Lamberts further pointed out the contradiction on the Portuguese government’s support for CETA, a treaty, which he says, is in contradiction with the measures of social justice that are being introduced in Portugal.
Top EU diplomat Martin Selmayar gets a grilling
MEPS had harsh words for the civil servant Martin Selmayr after his promotion to the position of European Commission Secretary-General. It was widely felt that his promotion was a fait-accompli without any real competition or genuine recruitment process.
In an op-ed, Europe’s young Greens FYEG said the promotion undermined the democratic process, whilst Greens/EFA co-president Philippe Lamberts said Selmayr had come to dominate the Commission’s proceedings, prizing “obedience over creativity” among his staff.
MEPs voted unanimously to give the Budgetary Control Committee the task of investigating the procedure of Selmayr’s appointment and on the basis of the committee’s work, they agreed to vote on a resolution at a plenary later this year.
A robust and future-proof 2020 budget
MEPs expressed their views on the EU’s post-2020 budget as part of the plenary debate and vote. The European Green Party co-chairs Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer reiterated the need for a post-2020 budget that is both robust and future-proof. Our view is the budget must at least remain the same - or even be enhanced - if we are to fulfill our potential.
Priorities include better investment in research, infrastructure projects, as well as European funds, such as the Youth Employment, the Erasmus+ scheme and the European Volunteering Service to make sure young people are adequately supported.
Avoiding a trade war with the US over steel and aluminiun tariffs
New tariffs on US steel and aluminium imports announced recently by US President Donald Trump have sparked fears of a global trade war. European imports would be severely affected. Currently only Canada and Mexico have received exemptions from the tariffs, although the US president also referred to an Australian exemption in a tweet.
In a speech to the European Parliament, the Europeam Green Party co-chair Reinhard Bütikofer called for genuine united support for the European Commission's approach that would involve taking the case to the World Trade Organization arbitration panel.
Keeping up the momentum on women's rights
The first meeting of the European Parliament after International Women’s Day included a debate around the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. While all EU states signed the Convention, only 17 have ratified it. The European Parliament urged the remaining states to ratify this important document for women's rights.
Another item on the agenda was the issue of equality in EU trade agreements. The European Parliament recognised that trade is not gender neutral, despite resistance from the political right, by approving a report that aims to contribute to eliminate the negative effects of trade in gender equality.
A fairer tax system in Europe
The European Parliament approved a new harmonised EU corporate tax plan to guarantee that digital and global firms pay taxes in the country where they earn their profits, using their online activities to calculate how much tax they need to pay. Under this proposal, digital and global companies that currently avoid paying taxes would instead have to pay in the member state where they have a "digital presence".
Eva Joly, the Green MEP that spoke on behalf of the Greens/EFA Group, called the proposal a "fiscal revolution" as companies would calculate their tax bills by adding the profits and losses in all EU member states and then share the resulting tax between the member states depending on where the profits were generated, making it impossible for companies to move their headquarters to low-tax jurisdictions.
We're proud to present our team of Greens/EFA MEPs who will be working on the new @Europarl_EN special committee on financial crimes, #taxevasion & tax avoidance 👏 We'll never give up the fight for #taxjustice! pic.twitter.com/yn5bVxuUcQ— Greens in the EP (@GreensEP) March 13, 2018
A Brexit deal that protects citizens' rights
The European Parliament called for an association agreement between the EU and the UK to structure the post-Brexit relationship, bearing in mind the red lines the UK government has already put on the table. This would secure equal and fair treatment for EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens in the EU, as well as preserve the rights of citizens as set out by the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland.
The next European Parliament plenary is set to take place between 16-18 April.