Plenary highlights: UK referendum, migration, taxes, ECB, TiSA

The debate on the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership dominated Parliament´s first February plenary alongside migration, the future of Schengen, the liberalisation of services and car emissions. In addition Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addressed MEPs. Read on for more details of what happened during this week’s plenary session.

The UK’s future in the EU was hotly debated on Wednesday, a day after European Council President Donald Tusk presented his proposals for a new settlement with the country. In the debate, most MEPs said that the UK staying in the EU would be the best solution for both the country itself and the Union, but others disagreed while some questioned the reforms Whitehall had asked for.

The EU needs to overcome its paralysing fears and divisions and manage migration and refugee flows effectively, said many MEPs during Tuesday’s plenary debate on Schengen. Protecting the EU’s external borders effectively is vital to safeguarding the Schengen zone of passport-free travel, they said during the debate with the Dutch presidency of the Council and the European Commission

On Wednesday MEPs approved their recommendations for ongoing talks on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which would involve the EU and 23 countries from around the world liberalising services. MEPs want the deal to facilitate European companies’ access to international markets while protecting essential public services. More on TiSA in our infographic.

MEPs decided against rejecting a plan to temporarily raise NOx emission limits for diesel cars on Wednesday, after the Commission promised a review clause and tabled a long-term legislative proposal to revamp the EU car approval regime.

Pierre Moscovici, the commissioner responsible for economic affairs, presented Commission proposals to fight  corporate tax avoidance on Tuesday while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi defended the bank’s monetary policy decisions in a debate with MEPs on Monday. He also announced that the ECB would revise its monetary approach in March.

On Tuesday Parliament approved a European platform to improve cooperation between EU countries on tackling undeclared work, which accounts for 18% of the EU’s gross domestic product. Watch our interview with   Bulgarian S&D member Georgi Pirinski, who is responsible for steering the proposal through Parliament.

Speaking in plenary on Tuesday, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves called on the EU to act decisively on migration: “We will handle this migration crisis if we show the resolve of our forebears.” The following day, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari also addressed the  plenary, pledging to rescue the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists.

The European Commission should produce a strategy for gender equality and women’s rights for the period 2016-2020 as soon as possible and deliver on its political commitments,  MEPs said in a resolution adopted on Wednesday. Later on the same day they discussed  how to tackle sexual harassment and violence against women in public spaces.

The EU should find a way to protect European companies against unfair competition in the form of dumped imports from China without damaging trade relations with the country, according to most MEPs in a plenary debate on Monday night with trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

Our Facebook fans had the opportunity to discuss the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and other trade agreements with German S&D member Bernd Lange, the chair of the international trade committee, on Wednesday. Check out the entire chat and read our overview.