European Parliament on lockdown over Coronavirus

Parliament’s President David Sassoli has extended the current shutdown until 30 March.
credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Mar 2020


The Parliament was due to host a raft of committee meetings next week, but it seems likely these will all now be cancelled and that Parliament will essentially shut down until the end of the month at the earliest.

Most staff in the EU institutions in Brussels - the Commission, Parliament and Council - are now thought to be working from home.

A message from Parliament’s Secretary General Klaus Welle, seen by this website, says he has ordered all DGs to introduce teleworking for all colleagues “whose physical presence in the Parliament is not absolutely indispensable.”

It goes on to say that the measures will take effect from next Monday, adding, “At this stage it will be 70 percent teleworking. That means presence in the office will be limited to 1.5 days per week. Later, teleworking could be increased to 100 per cent of working time, dependent on further developments.”


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Any such decision, the German official said, hinges on “updated” information.

The move comes amid further restrictions throughout Europe, including in Poland where schools and universities have been shut.

In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel says that the virus could spread to as much as 60 to 70 percent of its population, while it was reported that Austria and Slovenia will shut their borders with Italy, the EU country so far most affected by the virus.

This comes despite a warning that such a move could be in breach of the Schengen rules.

On Tuesday, European Council President Charles Michel held a video conference on COVID-19 with EU leaders.

He issued a statement which read, “Member States expressed sympathy with Italy and other Member States that are severely hit.”

“The crisis we face because of Coronavirus has both a very significant human dimension, and a potentially major economic impact. It is therefore essential that we act decisively and collectively” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

“During the video conference we emphasised the need to work together and to do everything necessary and to act swiftly. We stressed the need for a joint European approach and a close coordination with the European Commission. Health Ministers and Interior ministers should consult daily to ensure proper coordination and aim for common European guidance.”

“The Commission said it will continue its engagement with the industry and pursue joint public procurements and to purchase personal protective equipment. Any unjustified obstacles are avoided. Particular attention must be given to masks and respirators.”

“Member states stressed the importance of reinforcing efforts on research. The Commission has already mobilised €140 million of funds and selected 17 projects to do this,” he said.

He added that an EU summit on 26 March will decide whether to take any further action.

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton held a videoconference with high-level representatives of EU big manufacturing companies of “Personal Protective Equipment” who, he later said, expressed their willingness to increase production in order to face the increasing demand.

A follow-up videoconference will take place next week.

On the economic front, the Commission will set up a Corona Response Investment Initiative aiming to channel €25bn of investment to directly support the national health care systems, SMEs, labour markets and other vulnerable parts of the EU economy.

It will use €7.5bn of unspent structural funds and the release of some €17.5-€18bn of further structural funding.

"During the video conference we emphasised the need to work together and to do everything necessary and to act swiftly. We stressed the need for a joint European approach" Charles Michel, President of the European Council

After taking part in the EU leaders’ video conference, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “The crisis we face because of Coronavirus has both a very significant human dimension, and a potentially major economic impact.

It is therefore essential that we act decisively and collectively, to contain the spread of the virus and help patients, and to counter the economic fallout.”

The fallout includes the continued cancellation of events in Europe, including the showpiece Economic Ideas Forum EIF next week in Berlin, co-hosted with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

A message to participants from the organisers said, “It is with great regret that we must inform you of the decision to cancel. In order to avoid any potential risk for all of us regarding the COVID-19 outbreak that is producing major concerns and increased precautionary measures all over Europe, we have decided to adopt similar measures to the majority of organisations when it comes to meetings and public events.”

Petcore Europe also announced the postponement of a major event scheduled to be held on 16 April in Brussels due to the virus.

A spokesman said, “The decision to postpone the event was made due to the significant impact the COVID-19 virus has on international travel and events. In circumstances like these, the health aspect has to go first.”

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