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Debriefing of the October I plenary session

4-7 October 2021


TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Green win: the Biodiversity and Agenda 2030 report
  • EU solutions to the rise of energy prices
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) in criminal law and biometric surveillance
  • Pandora Papers
  • RRF recovery plans: state of play
  • Report on EU-US Relations
  • European Health Preparedness and Response Agency (HERA)

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Green win: Adoption of the Biodiversity and Agenda 2030 report

On Tuesday, the European Parliament adopted the Biodiversity and Agenda 2030 report - a big win for the Greens/EFA Group. Ahead of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, this report is key to addressing the external dimension of the EU biodiversity strategy and the role of development policy. This new report calls for putting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities at the heart of our decisions and for ensuring coherence in European development policies.

Michèle RIVASI MEP, Greens-EFA rapporteur responsible for indigenous peoples and local communities in the Development Committee, comments:

"This report is a victory. We cannot go to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and establish a real strategy for biodiversity without talking about those most affected by biodiversity degradation and the best guardians of nature: indigenous peoples and local communities.”

 

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EU solutions to tackle the rise of energy prices for businesses and consumers: the role of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and the need to tackle energy poverty

On Tuesday, following the recent surge in energy prices across the EU largely driven by soaring fossil fuel costs, MEPs debated the situation around rising energy prices. The Greens/EFA Group are calling for a massive expansion of renewable energies and measures for more energy efficiency, as well as targeted national measures such as an energy allowance for vulnerable households. The European Commission should also tackle price speculation.

Ville Niinistö MEP, Greens/EFA member of the Industry, Research and Energy committee, comments:

"The steep rise in fossil gas prices is the main cause for the increasing electricity prices in Europe. According to experts, this amounts to at least 80% of the price increase. (...) The price hike highlights the urgency to get rid of dependency on gas in Europe and hasten the transition to an energy efficient and fully renewable energy system. This is in the best interest of our citizens.”

Bas Eickhout MEP, Vice Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, comments:

"The EU is stuck in the gas trap with gas prices going through the roof. Right now, we need compensation for the vulnerable households. But, above all, we also need to make ourselves less dependent on gas and Russia. With swift measures for more energy efficiency, and a massive expansion of renewable energies. Today's high prices also show that the Commission must take action against price speculation and bring EU competition law in line with the Green Deal.”

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Green win: Report on artificial intelligence in criminal law and biometric surveillance

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and biometric mass surveillance by police forces poses huge threats to discriminated communities, civil liberties and privacy. On Wednesday, MEPs adopted a report on artificial intelligence in criminal law and its use by the police and judicial authorities in criminal matters. The report includes a paragraph that speaks out in favour of a ban on any processing of biometric data, including facial images, for law enforcement purposes that would lead to mass surveillance in publicly accessible spaces. With error rates of up to 99%, ineffective facial surveillance technology has nothing to do with targeted searches. The report also calls for a ban on AI-based predictive policing.

Patrick Breyer, Pirate Party MEP and Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur on the report on Artificial Intelligence in Criminal Law, comments:

“We have long called for a ban on these highly intrusive and error-prone technologies in public spaces. Biometric mass surveillance wrongfully reports large numbers of innocent citizens, systematically discriminates against under-represented groups and has a chilling effect on a free and diverse society. The message for the upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act, is that we must heed the warnings of civil society and the European Parliament and implement a ban on these authoritarian tools.”

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Pandora Papers

On Sunday 3rd October, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists started publishing the Pandora Papers. These papers reveal hidden offshore structures in tax havens through which wealthy people, among them prominent politicians, avoid taxation, launder money or hide their identity. Containing 2.94 terabytes of data from 14 different offshore providers, the Pandora Papers are the biggest leak of offshore data in history, bigger even than the Panama Papers.

On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted a report concerning EU policy on harmful tax practices. The report puts forward proposals to put an end to the race to the bottom and limit tax competition between Member States. An estimated EUR 36-37 billion of corporate income tax revenue is lost per year due to tax avoidance in the EU.

Specifically in reaction to the Pandora Papers, the Greens/EFA Group successfully secured a plenary debate on Wednesday, 6th October. The previous day, EU finance ministers agreed on an updated list of tax havens. Despite the Pandora Papers revelations, key jurisdictions do not appear on the list.

Sven Giegold MEP, finance spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, comments on the tax havens list:

“It's absurd that EU Finance Ministers are ignoring the revelations of the Pandora Papers and continuing to leave out key countries from the tax havens list. Investigative journalists published the biggest ever tax and ministers have not only shrunk the list of tax havens, they have left off jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, which are connected with two thirds of the shell companies in the Pandora Papers.”

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The state of play on the RRF recovery plans

On Wednesday, the European Parliament debated the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), which aims to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by making European economies and societies more sustainable and resilient to the green and digital transformation. It is vital that none of this money is lost to fraud and corruption or used to undermine fundamental rights.

The majority of EU Member States’ recovery plans have been approved so far, however, those submitted by Hungary and Poland have yet to be approved. Given the serious concerns around the rule of law and fundamental rights in both Hungary and Poland, the Greens/EFA Group call on the Commission and Council to ensure that the plans are fully in line with the RRF Regulation and respect shared European values as enshrined in the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

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Report on EU-US Relations

On Wednesday, after a key debate in plenary, the report on the future of the European Union’s relations with the U.S. was approved by a large majority of MEPs. Following the election of President Joe Biden, the report notes some improvements in transatlantic relations, and looks forward to joint action in the areas of climate change, health, security, and fundamental rights. In the wake of the US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan and the new AUKUS security pact, MEPs discussed next steps in developing EU-US relations with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell. The European Parliament also adressed the recent Texas abortion law, which was debated on Thursday.

The Greens/EFA Group welcomed the recent meeting of EU and US officials but recognises the need for more discussion on the nature of future transatlantic cooperation.

Reinhard Bütikofer MEP, Greens/EFA Member of the European Parliament’s Delegation to the United States, comments:

“The EU and US must together tackle the big challenges we face such as climate change, the green and digital transformation, trade policy, the pandemic, the strengthening of multilateralism and the global tensions between democratic politics and authoritarian rule. Issues of contention cannot be swept under the rug. The future of transatlantic relations must not be based on nostalgia, but be part of a larger vision for a better world that focuses on mutual cooperation among partners.”

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European Health Preparedness & Response Agency (HERA)

Drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, the aim of the new European Health Preparedness and Response Agency (HERA) is to ensure a coordinated EU response to future health crises. However, the Commission’s current proposals would exclude the European Parliament in the oversight of HERA. It is essential for public trust, transparency and accountability that the Parliament has a role in scrutinising the work of HERA. For this reason, the Greens/EFA Group called for a debate on this issue. A fully-fledged independent agency with a mandate of public interest (settled via ordinary legislative procedure and exposed to the same rigorous scrutiny as other agencies) should be the basis for HERA.

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Next issue of Greens/EFA Plenary debriefing: 22 October 2021

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