Behind the noise, nastiness and never ending-ness of Brexit, the European Union is wrapping up a five-year legislative term that features a number of initiatives sure to have a big impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. Bigger even than Brexit.
So, as the European Parliament this week holds its last plenary session before the May 23-26 elections, here’s a look at some EU actions during the current term slated to be felt far beyond the Brussels bubble and long after any actual U.K. withdrawal from the bloc.
Disposing of the Disposable
Everyday plastic goods like plates, cutlery and straws will be banned in the EU as of 2021 in a bid to clean up oceans. With plastics accounting for about 80 percent of marine pollution, the bloc took less than a year to agree to prohibit such throwaway items.
Drivers can get ready for a raft of new safety features in cars. New EU legislation requires autos to have automatic speed limiters, accident data recorders, driver drowsiness alerts and other such technologies as of 2022—part of a push to cut road fatalities that number around 25,000 a year in the bloc.
If Europe sees a significant increase in electric cars over the next decade, one big reason would be tougher caps on carbon dioxide from autos powered by gasoline and diesel. Over the objections of auto manufacturers, the EU set a 37.5 percent average CO2-reduction target for cars for 2030 compared with the 2021 limit.
The EU overcame years of deadlock over the use of data on air travelers by requiring carriers to provide governments in Europe with information—including the seat number, reservation date and payment method—about passengers on flights to and from the bloc. The European “passenger name record" program resembles a U.S. system established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Fee for Visa-Free
In another European anti-terrorist measure inspired by the U.S., the EU decided to screen visa-free travelers to the bloc starting in around 2021. The travel-authorization system will impose a 7-euro ($7.9) fee on would-be visitors and subject them to an automated advance check.
Eaters of kebabs may find them juicier thanks to an EU decision to allow phosphates in meat cooked on spits. It was a narrow verdict in the face of concerns that these additives pose a risk of cardiovascular disease, with German members of the European Parliament helping secure the change in food legislation.
In another hard-fought regulatory move, the EU decided to let one of the world’s most widely used herbicides—glyphosate—stay on the market until the end of 2022. The limited prolongation of the European license for glyphosate sought to balance the interests of agrochemical companies and farmers on the one hand and opponents who had cited the danger of cancer in consumers on the other.
In a rare venture into social policy, the EU boosted parental rights by agreeing to fix a minimum 10 days of leave for fathers after the birth of a child, with compensation at the level of sick pay. The new law also builds on an existing right of four months of parental leave by making two months non-transferable between parents instead one month—an effort to help keep women in the workforce.
Although it’s not a done deal yet because EU governments are still holding deliberations, the bloc took a big step toward ending the seasonal clock-change in Europe. The European Parliament voted last month to scrap as of 2021 the decades-old practice of capitalizing on natural daylight by putting clocks forward by 60 minutes between late March and late October.
One of the first—and most popular—EU decisions in the current legislative period wrapped up a high-profile initiative begun in the previous term: a ban on the premiums telecommunications companies charged for roaming services. The prohibition took effect in June 2017.