Plenary highlights: Ceta, robots, counter-terrorism, future of the EU

MEPs approved Ceta during this week’s plenary session followed by a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telling them how the EU-Canada trade deal was not just about commerce, but also about improving people’s lives. Newly-elected Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen also addressed the Parliament, while MEPs adopted new anti-terrorism measures and set out their ideas for the future of the EU.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada (Ceta) received Parliament’s backing on Wednesday and the next day the country’s prime minister addressed MEPs. “With Ceta, together we have built something important. Especially at this moment, on your continent and mine,” Trudeau said. He added: “Europe is a vital player in addressing the challenges we face as an international community.”

“The European idea is great. It is unique. It is worth all the effort,” said newly-elected Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen speaking in plenary on Tuesday. Van der Bellen visited the EU institutions on his first foreign trip after being elected last December.

MEPs approved on Thursday an anti-terrorism directive to tackle the phenomenon of aspiring or returning foreign fighters and so-called lone wolves. Preparatory acts such as travelling for terrorist purposes will be now criminalised. On the same day, MEPs also backed new rules for EU border checks to better identify travellers returning from battlefields or using false documents.

MEPs also adopted on Wednesday tougher measures to fight climate change. This includes reducing the amount of permits put on the EU carbon market by 2.2% each year (instead of the current 1.74%) and doubling the capacity of the market stability reserve. This should serve as an incentive for companies to switch to less polluting technologies.

MEPs set out their vision for the future of the EU in three resolutions adopted on Thursday, covering anything from reinforcing the euro zone to making the EU more democratic.

Some 1.7 million robots already exist worldwide, however their use is not yet properly regulated. MEPs asked the European Commission on Thursday for rules to regulate their use in order to clarify issues such as civil responsibility in case of accidents or damages.

European agriculture should be helped to move towards safer natural pesticides made from bio-organisms, pheromones or essential oils, as an alternative for the chemical ones, MEPs said on Wednesday.

The debt crisis in Greece was debated on Tuesday with MEPs agreeing that it is time action was taken to see the country out of the crisis and back on a path to sustainable growth.

Albania should step up its judicial reforms, while Bosnia and Herzegovina should overcome its ethnic and political divisions, MEPs recommended in two resolutions on the progress of the two Balkan countries towards EU membership.

Whistle blowers who expose cases of fraud against the EU budget, should be protected from prosecution in the EU and its member states, MEPs said and called on the Commission to come up with binding rules regarding this.