Cultural mores, wealth impact education process: OECD-EPRS conference

Written by Marcin Grajewski

Policy round table on ‘ Where all students can succeed: Analysing the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results ‘

Educational performance has largely stagnated in many countries over the last two decades despite increasing spending on education, according to recent findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), published every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Paris-based OECD also cautions governments that, while shaping their education policies, they should take such issues as gender, social equality, the culture of cooperation or competition, as well as students’ self-confidence into account. These factors affect the educational process as much as the syllabus, noted OECD experts, politicians and other analysts at an event organised in the European Parliament in late January. The event on PISA, which measures students’ ability to read, do maths and master science subjects, took place in the European Parliamentary Research Service’s (EPRS) Library Reading Room on 29 January 2020. The event was part of the fast developing EPRS-OECD cooperation programme.

PISA skills have been measured since 2000. Anthony Gooch, OECD Director for Public Affairs, stressed that this measurement had an immediate impact due to what news media called ‘the German shock’. This was the discovery in the early 2000s, that German students, thought to be among world leaders in educational terms, actually achieved mediocre results.


Nearly 20 years later, ‘We have not seen significant progress across countries, whereas if you look at financing, expenditure per student, it has increased, by 15 %’, noted Yuri Belfali, Head of Early Childhood and Schools, Directorate for Education at the OECD. China, Singapore, Estonia and Canada lead the OECD ranking, and, of more than 70 countries taken into account in the study, Kosovo, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines scored the worst.

Those results also made front-page headlines when the current report was published in early December 2019. Belfali presented a more nuanced view of the report, which helps countries understand their challenges better: ‘There was a ranking, but PISA can show much more beyond the ranking. We can understand challenges and opportunities. PISA contributes to peer learning and learning by comparison’, he stated.

Policy round table on ' Where all students can succeed: Analysing the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results '


For example, PISA also values equity, how education systems offer equal opportunities for students regardless of their background. Here, Slovakia displays a big gap between the poorest and richest in society, although it achieves the OECD average. In Portugal, the poorest students are achieving the average in Slovakia. In China, even the poorest student can achieve the OECD average.

Another factor is what the OECD calls a growth mind-set – or students’ belief that they can develop and change themselves for the better. A high growth mind-set is related to students’ high motivation to master tasks and confidence in tackling problems or setting the goals for themselves. Here, for example, Poland scores poorly, despite being among the leaders in the general ranking.

The culture of competition or cooperation is also important. In countries such as high-scorers Netherlands or Denmark, for example, the OECD saw more students open to cooperation than to competition. Competition was much more important in the United Kingdom, United States or Brazil. Cooperation helps the education process. ‘But competition can also be useful, if it is well designed, for students to be encouraged to try something hard. If too much competition impacts on their emotional well-being, however, it may work negatively on students’ performance,’ said Belfali.

 Policy round table on ' Where all students can succeed: Analysing the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results '


Finally, she noted that the gender gap is a common challenge for all countries, although the type of challenges are different by countries. Typically, girls outperform boys in reading, and boys outperform girls in maths. This then corresponds to their imagined future profession: many girls think they will become doctors, nurses or teachers, while boys consider a future as information technology workers and engineers. According to Belfali, ‘This is not necessarily related to student performance. Even high performing girls in science and maths do not necessarily expect to get into study in engineering or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This may be related to expectations transmitted by parents and communities to boys and girls, or the development of confidence’.

Sabine Verheyen (EPP, Germany), Chair of the EP Culture and Education Committee, lauded the OECD study. ‘We want our children to receive the best education possible. And the best way to guarantee this is to take a look around, to compare and to learn from each other. This is what makes the PISA study so valuable,’ she said. She added: ‘In my opinion, it is not desirable to make our European systems exactly the same and equalise everything, but we should make them comparable’.

Sara Baiocco, a Researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank, highlighted the growing importance of renewing digital skills and learning throughout life in a fast changing labour market. Both Baiocco and Verheyen underlined that the PISA should focus more on digital skills. In response, Belfali announced that there are indeed plans to measure this in the next survey in 2021.

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Just Transition Fund [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Pernilla Jourde and Agnieszka Widuto (1st edition),

© matthi /

The EU aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 % by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This will require a socio-economic transformation in regions relying on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries. As part of the European Green Deal, on 14 January 2020, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation to create the Just Transition Fund, aimed at supporting EU regions most affected by the transition to a low carbon economy.

Funding will be available to all Member States, while focusing on regions with the biggest transition challenges. The fund will support workers, companies, and regional authorities, encouraging investments that facilitate the transition. The proposed budget for the Just Transition Fund (JTF) is €7.5 billion, to be complemented with resources from cohesion policy funds and national co‑financing (up to a total of €30-50 billion). The Fund will be part of a Just Transition Mechanism, which also includes resources under InvestEU and loans from the European Investment Bank. Total funding mobilised under the mechanism is expected to reach €100 billion, according to the Commission.

In the European Parliament, the file has been entrusted to the Committee on Regional Development. The committee is due to hold a workshop on 19 February 2020 before starting discussion on the rapporteur’s draft report.


EU legislation in progress

Just Transition Mechanism

Just Transition Mechanism

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The European Council and the 2021-27 Multiannual Financial Framework

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,


EU Heads of State or Government will meet on 20 February 2020 for a special European Council meeting to discuss the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Both the Sibiu Declaration of EU Heads of State or Government and the 2019-24 Strategic Agenda state that ‘the EU must give itself the means to match its ambitions, attain its objectives and carry through its policies’. Following an initial informal discussion in February 2018, the European Council has touched regularly upon the MFF negotiations at its meetings over the last two years. Until now, however, the EU Heads of State or Government have not really attempted to reach an agreement. Most recently, in December 2019, the incoming President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was given a mandate ‘to take the negotiations forward with the aim of reaching a final agreement’. This confirms the European Council’s central involvement in the MFF negotiations, as was the case for the agreement in 2013 on the 2014-2020 long-term budget (see The European Council and the Multiannual Financial Framework, EPRS). This briefing will examine the discussions in and conclusions of the European Council over the past two years, outline the main topics debated and present the diverging views of the various players involved.

Discussions in the European Council since February 2018

Informal European Council meeting, 23 February 2018

On 23 February 2018, the EU Heads of State or Government met informally for an initial discussion on the 2021-2027 MFF. The aim was, in the words of the then European Council President, Donald Tusk, for ‘the European Commission [to] receive political guidance from the European Council, before coming up with its proposals’. Unlike the negotiations for the 2014-2020 MFF, in which the European Council only became fully involved after publication of the Commission’s proposal (The European Council and the Multiannual Financial Framework, EPRS), this time round the European Council began discussing its priorities for the next MFF at an early stage. EU Heads of State or Government discussed (i) the political priorities that should be addressed during the upcoming financial period; (ii) the overall level of expenditure in the next MFF; and (iii) the timetable envisaged for the MFF negotiations. At this meeting, EU leaders did not manage to agree on the overall level of expenditure, but a consensus emerged on the need for the EU to ‘spend more on stemming illegal migration, on defence and security, as well as on the Erasmus+ programme’.

Read the complete briefing on ‘The European Council and the 2021-27 Multiannual Financial Framework‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Family reunification rights of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection

Written by Anja Radjenovic,

© Ruslan Shugushev /

Separation of family members can have devastating consequences on their well-being and ability to rebuild their lives. This is true for everybody, but especially so for persons who have fled persecution or serious harm and have lost family during forced displacement and flight. In the case of beneficiaries of international protection, family separation can affect their ability to engage in many aspects of the integration process, from education and employment to putting down roots, as well as harming their physical and emotional health. That is why family reunification is a fundamental aspect of bringing normality to the lives of such people. While EU law ensures refugees and holders of subsidiary protection – the two types of beneficiaries of international protection – equal treatment in most areas, differences remain, among others, as regards family reunification in accordance with the Family Reunification Directive. Unlike refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection do not enjoy the favourable conditions associated with the right to family reunification.

After 2015, most EU Member States witnessed a significant increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in their territory, paralleled by an increase in the number of beneficiaries of international protection seeking reunification with their families. To establish some form of control over this unprecedented flow of people, Member States shifted away from awarding refugee status towards granting subsidiary protection, thus restricting the possibility of beneficiaries to reunite with their families. According to many legal experts, the fact that beneficiaries of subsidiary protection face stricter requirements regarding family reunification than do refugees disregards the particular circumstances related to their forced displacement and the corresponding difficulties they are likely to face in meeting these stricter requirements.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Family reunification rights of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Financing the EU’s administration: Heading 7 of the 2021-2027 MFF

Written by Velina Lilyanova,

© Ugis Riba /

In May 2018, the European Commission published its proposal for the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027, known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF). The proposed next MFF is structured in 7 headings, encompassing 17 policy clusters. The Commission has proposed a total budget of €1 134 583 million in current prices. The vast majority of these funds – over 93 % – is dedicated to a variety of EU programmes, and is invested primarily in Member States, as well as partially in partner countries as external spending. The remaining funds cover the administrative expenses of the EU, an underlying cost of all EU activities.

In the current MFF for 2014-2020, Heading 5 covers administration, while in the proposed 2021-2027 MFF, administrative costs will be funded under Heading 7, entitled ‘European public administration’. While in other policy areas there is more significant restructuring, the heading that covers EU administrative costs is comparable to that of the current MFF in size and structure.

In its proposal for the future Heading 7, the Commission upholds its view that, to ensure the smooth functioning of the Union, the EU budget must finance its administration adequately, particularly in view of the fact that the EU civil service has undergone two successive and substantial reforms within a short time frame, in 2004 and 2014. The Commission proposal aims to ensure that the EU can rely on a highly qualified administrative service, which respects a geographical and gender balance. The proposal has been backed by the European Parliament. On the other hand, in its first draft ‘negotiating box’ including figures from December 2019, the Council proposed a 2.6 % cut to the allocations in the Commission proposal and Parliament’s position.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Financing the EU’s administration: Heading 7 of the 2021-2027 MFF‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Financing EU external action in the new MFF, 2021-2027: Heading 6 ‘Neighbourhood and the World’

Written by Velina Lilyanova,

© European Union, 2019

In May 2018, the European Commission published its proposals for the new multiannual financial framework (MFF), the EU’s seven-year budget for the 2021-2027 period, followed by proposals for the MFF’s individual sectoral programmes. In the proposals, financing external action is covered under Heading 6, ‘Neighbourhood and the World’, which replaces the current Heading 4, ‘Global Europe’. Taking into account the evolving context both internationally and within the EU, as well as the conclusions of the current MFF’s mid-term review, the Commission has proposed changes to the EU external action budget in order to make it simpler and more flexible, and to enable the EU to engage more strategically with its partner countries in the future.

The proposed Heading 6 comes with increased resources and important structural changes. It envisages merging the majority of the current stand-alone external financing instruments into a single one – the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – as well as integrating into it the biggest EU external financing fund – the European Development Fund – currently outside the budget. Another proposed novelty is to set up an off-budget instrument – the European Peace Facility – to fund security and defence-related actions. With these changes, the Commission strives to take into account, among other things, the need for the EU to align its actions with its new and renewed international commitments under the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Climate Agreement, the new EU Global Strategy, the European Consensus on Development, the European Neighbourhood Policy, and to make EU added value, relevance and credibility more visible.

Negotiations on the 2021-2027 MFF are under way. The final decision is to be taken by the Council, acting by unanimity, with the European Parliament’s consent. However, in view of current political realities and the financial implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the adoption of a modern budget for the future remains a challenge that is not limited to Heading 6. Further developments are expected by the end of 2019.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Financing EU external action in the new MFF, 2021-2027: Heading 6 ‘Neighbourhood and the World’‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Financing EU security and defence: Heading 5 of the 2021-2027 MFF

Written by Sidonia Mazur,

© M-SUR / Fotolia

For the new 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF), the European Commission proposes to dedicate a separate heading to security and defence – Heading 5. Although the European Union (EU) has already financed action linked to security and defence, this is the first time that this policy area has been so visibly underlined in the EU budget structure. With an allocation of €24 323 million (in 2018 prices), Heading 5 is the smallest of the seven MFF headings and represents 2.1 % of the total MFF.

Heading 5 ‘Security and Defence’ under the new MFF consists of three ‘policy clusters’: security, (policy cluster number 12), defence (13) and crisis response (14).

The programmes and funds proposed for Heading 5 consist of old and new initiatives. They include the continuation of the current Internal Security Fund – Police instrument, funding for nuclear decommissioning and the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU). The European Defence Fund and the military mobility programme, which is a part of the Connecting Europe Facility, are new.

The European Parliament position is supportive of the Commission proposal, with the exception of the allocation for nuclear decommissioning, which the Parliaments sees as insufficient.

Even though the Council has not yet expressed its position on the 2021-2027 MFF, the Finnish EU Presidency contributed to the debate with its ‘negotiation box’ that proposed severe cuts to Heading 5, down to €16 491 million. The European Parliament reaction to this reduction is negative.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Financing EU security and defence: Heading 5 of the 2021-2027 MFF‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Competition in the EU and globally [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

© Fotolia

The digital revolution, global trade disputes and low growth in the European economy have, among other factors, revived the debate about the merits and drawbacks of the European Union’s strict EU competition rules, which cover cartels, market dominance, mergers and state aid. Some politicians and economists argue that competition is an increasingly global phenomenon and that the intra-Community trade context for which the EU competition rules were originally designed no longer applies and the rules themselves are, as a result, too prescriptive. This emerging view might encourage the Union to pursue a more active and coordinated EU industrial policy supported by more flexible rules on state aid and mergers in particular. The debate comes at a time when the U.S.-China trade conflict and problems in the World Trade Organisation are reshaping global economic competition, with new relationships and partnerships being formed.

This note offers links to recent commentaries, studies and reports from international think tanks on the EU’s competition and industrial policy challenges and on a changing naturee of global competition. More studies on trade issues can be found in a previous item from these series, published in September 2019.

A surprising new alliance: Europe and Japan
Centre for European Policy Studies, January 2020

How can European competition law address market distortions caused by state-owned enterprises?
Bruegel, December 2019

Industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises and market distortions: Problems, proposals and a path forward
Centre for European Policy Studies, January 2020

The economics of European sovereignty: What role for EU competition policy in industrial policy?
Jacques Delors Centren Hertie School, December 2019

What is the scope of the EU external competence in the field of energy today?
Jacques Delors Institute, December 2019

Detecting, investigating and prosecuting export control violations: European perspectives on key challenges and good practices
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, December 2019

The future of EU’s Eastern Partnership beyond 2020: EU’s engagement in a contested Eastern neighbourhood amidst internal crisis and geopolitical competition
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, December 2019

European seaports and Chinese strategic influence: The relevance of the maritime silk road for the Netherlands
Clingendael, December 2019

The UK and the EU should prevent mutual assured damage
Peterson Institute for International Economics, December 2019

An Industry Action Plan for a more competitive, sustainable and strategic European Union
European Policy Centre, November 2019

A primer on developing European public goods: A report to Ministers Bruno Le Maire and Olaf Scholz
Bruegel, November 2019

The drafting of a European Business Code
Fondation Robert Schuman, November 2019

EU–US relations on internet governance
Chatham House, November 2019

Establishing trust in an AI-powered future
Jacques Delors Institute, November 2019

How does China fare on the Russian market? Implications for the European Union
Bruegel, November 2019

Europe and China’s belt and road initiative: Growing concerns, more strategy
Egmont, November 2019

Beyond industrial policy: Why Europe needs a new growth strategy
Jacques Delors Institute, October 2019

A geographically fair EU industrial strategy
European Policy Centre, October 2019

With or without you: Are central European countries ready for the euro?
Bruegel, October 2019

The Netherlands and Germany, ensuring competitiveness in a net zero emissions world
E3G, October 2019

Emerging trade battlefield with China: Export competition and firm’s coping strategies
Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, October 2019

Shaping a new international trade order: Competition and co-operation among the European Union, the United States, and China
Dahrendorf Institute, October 2019

La politique de sanctions de l’Union européenne: Ambition multilatérale contre ambition de puissance
Institut francais des relations internationales, October 2019

The power to engage: Giving punch to a new EU global strategy 2020
Egmont, September 2019

A human-centric digital manifesto for Europe
Open Societies Foundations, September 2019

What are the benefits of data sharing? Uniting supply chain and platform economy perspectives
Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, September 2019

Economic polarisation in Europe: Causes and options for action
Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche, September 2019

Holding together what belongs together: A strategy to counteract economic polarisation in Europe
Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche, September 2019

Should the EU tax imported CO2?
Centre for European Reform, September 2019

New beginnings – Objective 2024: Better living and working conditions for all Europeans
Notre Europe, September 2019

Über-influential? How the gig economy’s lobbyists undermine social and workers rights
Corporate Europe Observatory, September 2019

The US-China 5G contest: Options for Europe
Instituto Affari Internzionali, September 2019

Delivering sustainable food and land use systems: The role of international trade
Chatham House, September 2019

Chinese method of currency internationalization
Instytut Sobieskiego, September 2019

Measuring the rise of economic nationalism
Peterson Institute for International Economics, August 2019

The threats to the European Union’s economic sovereignty
Bruegel, August 2019

The European Union energy transition: Key priorities for the next five years
Bruegel, July 2019

A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership
Bruegel, June 2019

The European Union versus the better regulation agenda: Why the outcome depends on a paradigm shift
European Trade Union Institute, June 2019

Sustaining multilateralism in a multipolar world
Notre Europe, June 2019

Cross border services in the internal market: An important contribution to economic and social cohesion
Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln, June 2019

Tech giants in banking: The implications of a new market power
Instituto Affari Internzionali, June 2019

Divergence and diversity in the Euro area: The case of Germany, France and Italy
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, June 2019

Net neutrality regulation: Much ado about nothing?
Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung, June 2019

China and the world trade organisation: Towards a better fit
Bruegel, May 2019

Who is big in Brussels?
Tænketanken Europa, May 2019

Digitalsteuer in der EU Wo stehen wir?
Bertelsmann Stiftung, Jacques Delors Institute, May 2019

Rule of law infringement procedures: A proposal to extend the EU’s rule of law toolbox
Centre for European Policy Studies, May 2019

L’Europe et la 5G : Le cas Huawei
Institute Montaigne, May 2019

Business (not) for peace: A call for conflict-sensitive policy in fragile states
South African Institute of International Affairs, May 2019

China and Europe: Trade, technology and competition
Observer Research Foundation, May 2019

Addressing China’s rising influence in Africa
Chicago Council on Global Affairs, May 2019

China’s race to global technology leadership
Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, May 2019

EP 2014-19 key votes: Copyright
Jacques Delors Institute, April 2019

Infrastructure for growth: How to finance, develop, and protect it
Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, April 2019

Posted workers regulations as a cohesion test in the enlarged EU
Friedrich Ebert Sftitung, April 2019

A roadmap for a fair data economy
Lisbon Council, April 2019

EU industrial policy after Siemens-Alstom: Finding a new balance between openness and protection
European Political Strategy Centre, March 2019

Standing up for competition: Market concentration, regulation, and Europe’s quest for a new industrial policy
European Centre for International Political Economy, March 2019

Effect of public procurement regulation on competition and cost-effectiveness
Robert Schuman Centre, European University Institute, March 2019

Escaping the startup trap: Can policymakers help small companies grow to major employers?
Progressive Policy Institute, February 2019

The German undervaluation regime under Bretton Woods: How Germany became the nightmare of the world economy
Max Planck Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, February 2019

Innovate Europe: Competing for global innovation leadership
World Economic Forum, January 2019

Vertical restraints and e-commerce
Bruegel, January 2019

Big data analytics need standards to thrive: What standards are and why they matter
Centre for International Governance Innovation, January 2019

Read this briefing on ‘Competion in the EU and globally‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Migration and border management: Heading 4 of the 2021-2027 MFF

Written by Alessandro D’Alfonso,

© robsonphoto/ Fotolia

The Treaty of Lisbon makes explicit reference to pooling financial resources to support common policies on asylum, immigration and external borders. While expenditure for these policy areas still represents a minor share of the EU budget, it has recently increased in the wake of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis. Since the resources available under the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) of the EU proved insufficient to address the crisis, EU institutions had to use the flexibility provisions of the MFF extensively.

Given the increasing salience of the policy areas, the European Commission has proposed the establishment of a specific heading devoted to migration and border management worth €30.8 billion (2018 prices) in the 2021-2027 MFF. As compared with the current period, these allocations would represent a significant increase in relative terms, especially as regards border management. The heading would finance two funding instruments, the Asylum and Migration Fund (AMF) and the Integrated Border Management Fund (IBMF), as well as the activities of relevant EU decentralised agencies, such as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the European Asylum Support Office. By designing these new funds, the European Commission seeks to improve synergies with other EU funding instruments and increase capacity to react to evolving needs.

Negotiations for the MFF package are very complex, involving different legislative procedures for the adoption of the overall MFF and the sector-specific instruments. The European Parliament, the Council and the European Council are working on the proposals, which have also triggered reactions from other stakeholders, including academics, think-tanks and commentators.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Migration and border management: Heading 4 of the 2021-2027 MFF‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, February 2020

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,

EP Plenary session - Preparation of the Extraordinary European Council Meeting of 20 February 2020 on the Multiannual Financial Framework

© European Union 2020 – Source : EP / Michel CHRISTEN

Highlights of the February session included debates on a review of economic governance; the revised enlargement methodology proposed by the Commission; a breach of Council Decision 2017/2074 concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Venezuela; the current situation in Syria; on fighting against antisemitism, racism and hatred across Europe; as well as on the ongoing threat to the rule of law in Poland. Members also adopted a resolution on the illegal trade in companion animals. They debated the state of play in the EU’s fight against money laundering (in light of the Luanda Leaks); the humanitarian situation of refugees at EU external borders; and the coronavirus outbreak. Members also voted on a resolution on EU priorities for the 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Preparation of the extraordinary European Council Meeting on the MFF

Members called for an ambitious compromise on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, hoping for early European Council agreement. Negotiations on the proposals put forward by the previous Commission are proving rather complicated, not least due to the withdrawal of a major net contributor in the UK. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, has called an extraordinary European Council Meeting on the MFF, scheduled to start on 20 February 2020, to attempt to finalise an agreement on the proposed new structure for EU finances, which aims at shifting the priority for spending towards a climate-resilient economy.

Mandate for negotiations for a new partnership with the UK

Members discussed statements from the Council and Commission statements on the negotiating mandate for the negotiations for a new partnership with the UK. By a very large majority, Parliament adopted its position on the EU-27’s priorities for negotiations, due to open in March, between the EU and the UK on a post-Brexit cooperation agreement, including trade. Parliament reiterated the well-known EU-27 principles: that a non-Member State must not have the same rights and benefits as a Member State; the single market’s four fundamental freedoms of movement are indivisible; the EU legal order and the role of the Court of Justice must be preserved; a level playing field must be ensured through guaranteed equivalent standards in social, environmental, employment, competitive, and State aid matters; and the EU’s financial stability must be underpinned by a balance of rights and obligations with proportionate financial contributions where appropriate.

Ongoing threat to the rule of law in Poland

A large majority of Members reiterated their concerns about the controversial reform of the Polish judicial system and, more broadly, about the state of the rule of law in Poland, underlining the continuing threat to the rule of law in Poland and the urgency of action.

SMEs and better regulation

Parliament is a staunch supporter of a business-friendly EU where small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and innovators benefit from a level playing field, and promotes the use of impact assessment to gauge the effects of new legislation on SMEs in particular. Members debated a Commission statement on the progress made with minimising the impact of EU legislation on SMEs through the better regulation initiative. The Commission gave an indication of what to expect in the new industrial strategy for Europe, expected in March 2020 and its communication on better regulation, expected sometime afterwards.

United States Middle East Plan: EU response in line with international law

Parliament also debated a statement by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles, on the EU response to the US Middle East plan proposed by US President Trump (‘the White House plan’). While there was no vote on the subject, the EU and Parliament are strongly committed to a two-state solution that respects international law.

Gender equality strategy

Progress towards gender equality has stalled, and the current Parliament has lost no time in demanding a robust EU gender equality strategy. The Commission made a statement on its proposals for a new gender equality strategy, the preparation of which involved informal input from the Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). Following a related plenary debate on 18 December 2019, Members adopted a resolution on the EU strategy to put an end to female genital mutilation around the world. Parliament has long been active in raising awareness of the need to act to end the practice, which it considers a form of persecution, as part of its combat against all forms of violence against women and girls.

Free Trade and Investment Protection Agreements with Vietnam

Parliament gave its consent to the EU’s conclusion of two trade agreements with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The agreements (a Free Trade Agreement covering exclusive EU competences, and an Investment Protection Agreement based on competences that are shared with EU Member States), could see exports to Vietnam rise by almost 30 %. Although there is some concern regarding the human rights situation in the country, Parliament’s committees scrutinising the proposed agreements have concluded that engaging with Vietnam is the best way to encourage improvement. The agreements must subsequently be ratified by Vietnam (as well as EU Member States in the case of the IPA), before entering into force.

European Central Bank – annual report 2018

Christine Lagarde attended the plenary session for the first time in her capacity as President of the European Central Bank (ECB), for the debate on an Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee report on the ECB’s annual report for 2018. Reflecting on the rather mixed economic results over that year, the committee pointed out the need for a review of ECB monetary policy, with full Parliament involvement, as well as public consultation. It also underlined the ECB’s responsibility for considering the impact of policy on the environment, and urged the ECB to continue to improve transparency and communication with citizens. The adopted report also calls for better gender balance on the ECB Executive Board and Governing Council.

For the strengthened European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG – formerly Frontex) to carry out its work in support of EU countries’ border and migration management, it, and border guards more generally, needs to be able to verify the documents presented by people wishing to cross the EU’s external borders. However, the proliferation of both authentic and fake documentation makes the agency’s work that much harder. Members debated and voted by a large majority to approve the upgrading of the False and Authentic Documents Online (FADO) system. Under the agreed text, the EBCG will take over management of the system, which stores details of travel, identity, residence and civil status documents, driving and vehicle licences issued by Member States or the EU. Personal data will be kept to the minimum necessary for operations and availability filtered according to status, such as authorities involved in document fraud, or the general public.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, FebruaryI 2020‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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