Trade

9 policy hot potatoes awaiting newly elected MEPs

Just because the European Parliament is kicking off a new term doesnt mean it starts with a clean slate. Plenty of thorny, unresolved or new policy issues will find their way onto the plenary agenda — or might even land straight on your desk.

Heres a brief on nine files you can expect to get familiar with fast over the next few months.

Holding internet platforms responsible

One of the looming challenges of the next five years is one of the biggest puzzles regarding the future of the internet: How do you regulate platforms like Facebook and Google to prevent wrongdoing but without killing the digital engine powering the modern economy?

Under current rules, internet companies are not liable for illegal content hosted on their platforms, including terrorist propaganda and hate speech. They are required to remove flagged illegal content but do not have to actively monitor whats posted by users. Some platforms have started to actively monitor for things like ISIS videos. A few also scan for nudity, racist comments or other harmful content.

The law at the center of the debate, the EUs e-Commerce Directive, was first adopted in 2000 and hasnt been updated since. Tech giants argue that the liability exemption it contains, along with a similar measure in the U.S. Communications Decency Act, is a cornerstone of the internet economy that turned them into some of the worlds largest, richest companies.

But the mood is changing and now the tech industry is gearing up to become part of the conversation when the European Commission, Council and Parliament reassess the liability regime.

Regulating truckers

Good luck cleaning up the mess left by the last Parliament on the controversial reforms to the haulage market. In the last mandate, lawmakers agreed their position on new EU rules governing how truckers can roam the bloc, including specifications on driving times, how many drop-offs they should be allowed to do in a foreign country and when local labor rules should apply to an inherently mobile workforce.

It might sound like a relatively mundane clutch of EU regulations, but the issue has split the bloc along rich and poor lines. French President Emmanuel Macron has been a vocal supporter of tougher rules for the sector in order to protect the Western European workforce from an influx of cheaper labor. But Central Europeans fear his alliance with Germany and Austria will shut their workers out of Europes single market and that the European Commission has taken Paris side.

Heres where the new Parliament comes in. After a fractious debate, rejected votes and much hand-wringing in the final months of the last mandate, a first reading was passed in plenary. But MEPs didnt sign off on the mandate to start interinstitutional negotiations, meaning more votes will have to take place before talks on a final set of laws can start with the Council.

Reforming gas rules

The upcoming energy agenda will be all about gas. Now that EU policymakers have agreed to reform the blocs electricity markets to accommodate more renewables and better connect power grids, the Commission is due to come out with proposals aimed at reforming gas markets, including by promoting what the industry calls “green” gas, such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Parliament will soon be called upon to weigh in with amendments.

Showering the planet with (green) gold

The new crop of MEPs will be hearing a lot about “sustainable finance” — the EU bubbles latest buzz word. The Commission wants to foster sustainable investment, while making sure that label is not used to “greenwash” investment in polluting businesses.

Figuring out what counts as a green investment will be crucial to harnessing the mix of government and private money needed to revamp the worlds energy, transport and farming sectors in order to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Whichever bloc sets the rules will also secure an immense advantage for its domestic financial industry, which is why Brussels is keen to set global standards.

An EU expert group has been assessing economic sectors to determine which activities classify as environmentally sustainable for investment purposes across the bloc. The next Commission will now consult on the suggested sustainable investment screening criteria, which will be the basis of any further legislation on sustainable finance.

Overhauling agriculture policy (at last)

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the largest single item on the EU budget, making its reform not just the mother of all files for Europes agriculture policy but one of the most highly politicized bits of the blocs policymaking.

The CAP reform aims at better targeting farm subsidies and making more of the money contingent on environmental protection. The bill is divided into three separate pieces of legislation.

EU institutions did not begin negotiating a deal before the European election despite a push from Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan. The Commission now needs to decide whether to move forward with Hogans plan or to withdraw the proposal and put forward a new vision for the CAP.

In Parliament, the agriculture committee managed to vote on a draft position, but ran out of time to bring the file to plenary for approval, which would have cemented it as the institutions position for negotiations with the Commission and Council. That leaves the newly seated agriculture committee free to restart the process.

Hammering out the EU budget

The new Parliament will have to negotiate with the Council of the EU on a myriad of regulations relating to the 2021-2027 EU budget. Parliament doesnt have a formal right to negotiate over the big decisive questions of the budget, but that doesnt mean it wont have a role to play. Once EU leaders reach unanimous agreement on the broad outlines of the next budget, Parliament has the power to vote it down, sending it back to the Council for another try.

The tussle over the budget is entangled with the CAP reform, since the budget negotiations will determine how much money is available for agricultural programs. The Commission has proposed a 5 percent overall drop in spending on agriculture, but experts have objected that a careful assessment of the Commissions plan shows the real cuts would amount to closer to 15 percent.

Fighting hackers

Europe is waking up to the vulnerabilities and risks that come with a globally integrated and complex information technology sector. Leading cybersecurity companies and Western intelligence agencies have warned that hackers — often state-backed — have infiltrated Europes industrial, economic and infrastructure companies for years, as part of industrial espionage campaigns. Its the kind of thing that keeps executives in Germanys industrial heartland up at night.

Cybersecurity lawmakers in the next Commission are likely to zoom in further on the issue of “supply chain security.” The outgoing Commission turned hawkish on some of the core questions around the digital security of Europes industries. It has pushed capitals to set up stricter security reviews for 5G infrastructure, in light of concerns about Chinese telecom vendors like Huawei. Meanwhile, it is drafting briefing books for its successor on how to decrease the dependency of European technology on foreign supply chain companies.

New MEPs will be faced with politically hypersensitive questions around global trade, trust and security, as the Commission presents its plans to counter these threats.

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