New European Parliament has no time to waste | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.05.2014

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New European Parliament has no time to waste

Once the next president of the European Commission is chosen, the newly elected members of parliament will be able to get to work. They won't have much time to get used to their new jobs: important decisions lie ahead.

The newest members of the European Parliament will have to patient: Their first plenary session in Strasbourg won't take place until early July, when they'll vote for the next president of the European Commission. Whether the Parliament and European Union heads of state and government will be able to agree on a candidate by then remains to be seen.

But it won't just be through these headline-making political decisions that European parliamentarians will make in facing off with the European Council and, later, the new commission. There are many other substantial issues they'll need to address in short order.

EU-US free trade agreement

The planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States was the source of much controversy during the election campaign. While advocates of the free trade zone, comprising 800 million citizens on two continents, are hoping for a trade revival between the two economic powers, opponents have expressed fears that strict European standards will be weakened, providing the examples of disputes over chlorinated chicken and genetically modified foods.

Protests against the EU-US free trade agreement TTIP in Berlin

The proposed free trade agreement with the US was the focus of controversy in the EU election campaign

As is customary with trade issues, the European Commission alone has been leading the negotiations with the US government, bound by a mandate passed by the then 27 member states last June. Both parties had originally planned to wrap up the talks by the end of 2014, but the project has now been delayed by at least a year.

That leaves the new parliamentarians with significantly more time to influence the negotiations. But a decision on whether a signed contract will even enter into force once all is said and done also lies in their hands, since the contract must be ratified by the European Parliament. This is more than a mere formality, as was evident in July 2012 when the parliament put an end to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in reaction to public protest.

Until possible conclusion of negotiations, parliamentarians will have the opportunity to alter the course of talks between Brussels and Washington, publicly on the parliamentary stage - but also behind the scenes. Each political faction, for example, sends a representative to a TTIP monitoring group. They have access to all negotiation documents and are kept up-to-date on the progress of the talks by the commission, as is the parliament's International Trade Committee.

Data privacy

Google logo

The EU's new data protection regulation challenges policies of Google, Facebook and other big online companies

The verdict came like a thunderclap: Just days before the European elections, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that Europeans have a "right to be forgotten" on the Internet. With that decision, EU citizens may now require search engines like Google to delete their personal data from search results under certain circumstances.

The judges based their ruling on an EU data protection directive from 1995; the EU's new data protection regulation, updated to meet the requirements of the Internet age, is finally ready and waiting to be approved.

After years of negotiations, the outgoing parliament overwhelmingly approved the new regulation in March. But the 28 national governments have yet to implement the new measures, which are meant to improve online privacy.

German Green parliamentarian Jan Philipp Albrecht, the rapporteur for the proposed regulation, told DW that a reluctant government in Berlin needs to act. "We need to remind the government of their responsibility," he said. "If governments do nothing, then nothing will happen on this issue." Should national governments end up calling for amendments to the regulation, they will need to depend on the cooperation of the new parliament.

European stagnation

Greece, Ireland, Portugal: In the past five years, the European Union has been working in crisis mode. This "political state of emergency" has especially played into the hands of EU leaders, as all eyes looked to the regular crisis summits."The European Union has become very council-heavy," said Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Europe think tank.

House construction - thermal insulation

The European Parliament is fighting for ambitious climate change goals, including in energy-efficient construction

It's a development that has worried even Martin Schulz, the outgoing president of the European Parliament. "The plethora of summits, the growing fixation with meetings of the heads of state and government, is severely diminishing the part played by the only directly elected community institution, the European Parliament, in decision-making processes," said Schulz in his presidential inaugural speech in January 2012.

Will Parliament be able to reverse this trend? The selection of top candidates for the European Commission presidency, introduced for the first time in this election, could give parliament greater legitimacy. A power struggle with the heads of state and government over the selection of the new commission president would also be an opportunity to raise its profile - but with an open-ended result.

Climate complications

The European Council hasn't had influence only over financial policy in recent years - EU leaders have also slowed parliament's progress on climate and energy issues. Take, for example, negotiations on the EU's 2030 climate goals. While parliament has proposed three ambitious goals - carbon dioxide reduction, the expansion of renewables and energy efficiency - heads of state and government have been far less ambitious.

If parliamentarians want to make their influence felt, they don't have much time: The final decision on the EU's energy and climate policy framework to 2030 is due in October. And the world's next major climate conference is scheduled to take place in Paris in late 2015.

Banking union

Demonstations in Madrid's financial center

The banking union could prevent European taxpayers from again having to bail out ailing banks

The economic situation may have stabilized in the EU's southern member states, but the crisis is far from over, said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel. "Europe is a bit more stable - but just a bit," he said.

To spare Europe from such severe financial crises in the future, the European Parliament approved a banking union in April. "The great hope is that the European Central Bank, as the new supervisory authority, will come down harder on banking problems than the national supervisory authorities," said Wolff of the EU's far-reaching and unifying step.

Framework legislation for this banking union has already been adopted by parliament and the European Council, but many details still need to be clarified in coming months.

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