Race to get end-of-term legislation through EU parliament
By Honor Mahony
With just three plenary meetings left before the European Parliament finishes its current term, MEPs still have some major legislation to clear before they hit the campaign trail ahead of the June elections.
Among the most important are the energy and telecoms bills - flagship liberalisation projects of the current commission. Both are only inching their way through the legislative pipelines.
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The telecoms package, which aims to create an EU-level supervisor for telecoms regulators and overhauls the rules for management of radio spectrum, is stalling on the issue of how much power should be given to the European Commission.
Three-way talks - between MEPs, member states and the commission - are aiming to finalise a compromise so that the vote can be taken before May, the last session of the current European Parliament.
Meanwhile, the energy package, aimed at deregulating the gas and electricity sectors, is in difficulty over the scope of "unbundling" - the separation of electricity generation from its transmission, breaking the control of large national providers' over both production and supply.
Other big chunks of legislation include the working time directive, a controversial law restricting the working week to 48 hours. Late last year, MEPs upset the apple cart by rejecting a recommendation from the member states and voting to end opt-outs from the 48-hour-week within three years. If a joint text can be agreed with member states, the final vote could be held in May.
MEPs are also due for first-round votes on an EU bill to make it easier for patients to receive paid medical treatment in other member states (with a first vote in April), one on extending the protection of authors' copyright by 20 years up to 95 years (March), and another law on making buildings more energy efficient.
Meanwhile, a bill on the nutritional labelling of food may be postponed until the next legislature because of the sheer number of amendments it has received.
Draft EU laws that have already begun the legislative process in the European Parliament, meaning that they have been voted on in committee, are automatically carried over to the next term.
After the final May plenary session, parliament will reconvene in July for its constitutive session following the June elections. Its first legislative meeting will be in September.
Meanwhile, the new parliament (2009-2014) will see a major increase in its powers if the Lisbon Treaty is passed in Ireland, which is to hold a second referendum on the pact later this year.
The Lisbon question
The new EU rulebook would give MEPs co-legislative rights in a series of new areas, including agricultural and fisheries policies, judicial co-operation in criminal matters, police co-operation, services of general economic interest, space policy and tourism.
Mindful of the upgrade in their powers, the euro-deputies in the constitutional affairs committee earlier this week asked the European Commission to tell them of "pending proposals" that will be affected by moving from one treaty to another.
It also left open the option of changing its opinion on a piece of legislation if it moves from a consultative basis to full co-legislation.
"Parliament will decide which position it takes regarding opinions that have already been adopted in consultation procedures on matters which have been changed to the ordinary legislative procedure," said a report by German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen.