Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist, Alexei Navalny, will be awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in a ceremony on Wednesday at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, where the body’s plenary convenes on December 13-16.
The EP will also, among others, hold a debate on Wednesday with the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and the EU Slovenian Presidency, in view of the forthcoming EU Summit and will discuss about the situation regarding the EU borders with Belarus.
Russian politician Alexi Navalny, who will receive the 2021 Sakharov Prize, is currently imprisoned in Russia and can therefore not attend the award ceremony in Strasbourg himself. His daughter Daria Navalnaya will receive the prize on his behalf from EP President, David Sassoli.
President Sassoli and Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny’s political advisers, who served as his chief of staff during Navalny’s 2018 presidential election campaign, are scheduled to hold a press conference after the award ceremony.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was established in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
On Wednesday morning, MEPs will debate with the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Slovenian EU Presidency about the forthcoming December European Council and the fight against COVID19.
The evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and the EU’s response to both the public health and economic crisis, rising energy prices, security and defence issues and external relations will be the main topics discussed by heads of state or government during their meeting.
MEPs will also discuss with the Council and the Commission the EU`s response to the global resurgence of COVID-19 and the new emerging COVID-19 variants.
On Wednesday, MEPs will quiz the Commission and the Council on the proposal to adapt EU asylum rules in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania to deal with migrants coming from Belarus.
The European Commission has proposed to modify the asylum, return and reception rules at the EU borders with Belarus for six months. This would give Poland, Latvia and Lithuania greater flexibility in dealing with the arrival, organised by the Lukashenka regime, of migrants and asylum-seekers at their borders. Authorities would then have longer to register a person’s application for international protection, the border asylum procedure -which imposes stringent restrictions on applicants-, would apply to almost all applicants and could take up to 16 weeks, and return procedures would be faster.
To enter into force, the proposal needs the approval of the Council once it has consulted the European Parliament. In the plenary debate, MEPs are likely to question the merits of adopting this decision given the current humanitarian context, as well as the choice of the legal framework being used to change these rules, which circumvents the Parliament as co-legislator, only giving it a consultative role.
On Tuesday afternoon, MEPs will discuss the large-scale Russian military build-up along the Ukrainian border with EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell.
Russia has recently moved thousands of troops near Ukraine’s eastern border, even though the Russian government has denied any plans to attack the neighbouring country.
Western leaders, including those of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy, have called on Russia to de-escalate current tensions, while signalling their readiness to respond firmly to any Russian aggression, such as by issuing tough economic sanctions.
MEPs are expected to call for more to be done to stop gender-based cyber-violence, in light of the worrisome increase in those affected by it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The draft legislative initiative tabled by the Women’s Rights and Civil Liberties committees asserts that the EU lacks a legal framework to combat gender-based cyber-violence and a minimum level of protection and reparation for victims.
The EU therefore needs a directive that provides a common criminal law definition of cyber-violence to ensure convergence at national and EU level. It should also include harmonised sanctions and protection mechanisms in line with the standards set out in the Istanbul Convention, MEPs urge.
The draft text stresses that cyber violence against women and LGBTIQ people is a continuation of gendered violence offline, and that problems such as cyber harassment, cyber stalking, violations of privacy, and recording and sharing images of sexual assault need to be addressed urgently.
The debate will take place on Monday, the vote is scheduled for Tuesday.
The Parliament will vote on its position on the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which sets rules on what big online platforms will be allowed to do and not do in the EU. The draft law, to be debated on Tuesday and put to a vote on Wednesday, blacklists certain practices of large platforms acting as “gatekeepers” and enables the Commission to carry out market investigations and sanction non-compliant behaviour.
The Digital Markets Act, as amended by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on 23 November, sets new obligations and prohibitions directly applicable to such platforms, with a view to ensuring fair competition.
It will apply to the major companies providing so-called “core platform services” most prone to unfair business practices. These include online intermediation services, social networks, search engines, operating systems, online advertising services, cloud computing, and video-sharing services, which meet the relevant criteria to be designated as “gatekeepers”. MEPs also included in the scope of the DMA web browsers, virtual assistants and connected TV.
Other changes introduced to the Commission’s proposal are related to the definition of gatekeepers based on certain thresholds, the list of obligations and prohibitions (“do`s and don’ts”), including new provisions on targeted advertising and on interoperability of services, restrictions to “killer acquisitions”, EU enforcement, the role of national competition authorities and fines.
MEPs are set to demand that the EU and its member states propose concrete measures to uphold women’s rights and reduce gender inequalities.
In a draft report to be debated on Monday and put to a vote on Wednesday, MEPs call on member states to take practical measures to ensure that women have equal access to the labour market, with equal pay and equal labour rights. Taking into account the rise in violence against women during the pandemic, the draft report also urges member states to make sure that perpetrators of abuse are identified and pursued by the police. To tackle gender-based violence, MEPs will reiterate that Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia should ratify the Istanbul Convention, and that comprehensive EU legislation on this matter is needed.
MEPs will recall that access to sexual and reproductive health and rights is a fundamental right that may not be withdrawn, and that the denial of abortion care constitutes a form of violence against women.
On Wednesday, MEPs will discuss whether national recovery plans meet the agreed targets as well as the situation in countries that have not yet had their plans approved.
During the debate, MEPs are set to enquire whether national recovery plans fully meet the agreed targets for the green and digital transformation as well as for employment and social policies such as health care and education. MEPs will probably stress that the clock is ticking to implement reforms and investments, and are likely to demand solutions from the countries that are lagging behind.