David Sassoli says Strasbourg plenary cancellation an ‘extremely difficult decision’

Coronavirus surge forces last minute change of plan says European Parliament president.
European Parliament in Strasbourg

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Oct 2020

Speaking at a news conference after the decision, Sassoli said, “This was a very difficult choice for me because I was convinced this time that I could manage the transfer to Strasbourg.”

With a surge in Coronavirus cases across the EU, the plenary will, he told reporters, again be held in Brussels. He added that he wanted to “make sure that democracy is not blocked, above all in a moment like this one.”

“I have invited all MEPs whose presence is not vital next week in Brussels to work remotely. But we must do all we can to avoid the closure of the parliament, especially at a time of so many ongoing important discussions about the EU’s future and that of its citizens.”

The Italian added, “I thank the French authorities for their understanding.”

He said he had spoken to French president Emmanuel Macron at the EU summit on Thursday and said he had “expressed his understanding of the situation.”

Sassoli said, “He of course has had to take some very dramatic measures in France this week to control the pandemic.”

“We are experiencing very trying times and have to realise a second wave may happen. We face an even more serious situation than we did last march which was dramatic enough” European Parliament president David Sassoli

“We are experiencing very trying times and have to realise a second wave may happen. We face an even more serious situation than we did last march which was dramatic enough.”

The decision, he said, had been taken in agreement with group leaders and follows a report from the European Parliament’s medical service and information from the Belgian and French authorities on the evolution of COVID-19.

This showed, he said, that the risk to public health is considered to have increased “significantly.”

The parliament has not met in Strasbourg, its traditional second home, since the start of the health crisis.

A parliament spokesman said, “On the basis of this evaluation, it was decided that the necessary security conditions have not been met to allow Parliament to convene in full, in person, for the plenary session next week.”

He added, “To ensure Parliament remains operational, and in particular its legislative and budgetary activity, while avoiding additional risks, members will be advised to participate remotely. Many plenary interventions will be made from Parliament’s liaison offices in member states while taking into account the national measures in place.”

“The French and Belgian authorities have been informed of this decision and Parliament reiterates its wish to return to its Strasbourg seat as soon as possible and to convene in person, as soon as the situation allows for it” European Parliament spokesman

He said, “The French and Belgian authorities have been informed of this decision and Parliament reiterates its wish to return to its Strasbourg seat as soon as possible and to convene in person, as soon as the situation allows for it.”

Some MEPs, including Portuguese Socialist Lidia Pereira, voiced disappointment that they only learned of the decision via Twitter. She said it would be “wiser” for Sassoli to inform MEPs “about the function of the next plenary session, and then inform Twitter.”

France’s EU Affairs Minister Clément Beaune also voiced disappointment saying she hopes the Parliament will meet again soon in Alsace.

Meanwhile, Sassoli said he hopes agreement can still be reached on the EU’s next long-term budget, known as the MFF.

In a speech to EU leaders on Thursday, he said, “Parliament has retreated significantly from its initial positions on the MFF. Let me remind you that our negotiators asked for an additional €39bn, a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1,800bn but one which would make an enormous difference to citizens.”

Speaking later at the news conference, he said, “We do not want a delay on the MFF and I hope that we can wrap this up quickly. That is in everyone’s interests and that is what we want to do.”

“But this is a negotiation and we have to ensure we incorporate all the things that will help the MMF and not have a detrimental impact. I hope we can get round the negotiating table again very quickly. I want to do this quickly but I also want to do it well.”

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