European Parliament President cancels Strasbourg plenary amid COVID-19 concerns

David Sassoli has ruled that next week’s plenary will now take place in Brussels and not in Strasbourg as planned.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Sep 2020

The move comes after numerous MEPs voiced concern about the risk of a huge influx of people converging on the French city during the ongoing health pandemic.

Sassoli had favoured returning to Strasbourg for the week-long session, but now says that had the plenary gone ahead in France it would have required all attendees being quarantined on their return.

Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, or group leaders, were due to give their opinion on the issue at a meeting on Thursday. However, as President, the ultimate decision always rested with Sassoli and he has now decided to call a halt to rising speculation about whether or not Strasbourg would host the plenary this month.

MEPs have not met in Strasbourg, an official seat of the Parliament, since the start of the outbreak in the spring. According to the French authorities, the absence of tens of hundreds of MEPs, their staff and others is said to be costing businesses in the Alsace city a “small fortune.”

Many members want the two-site arrangement, which sees deputies decamping to France once a month, scrapped altogether, saying it is a waste of money and causes environmental damage.

“The resurgence of the pandemic in many Member States and the decisions taken by the French authorities to classify the entire Lower Rhine department as a red zone, obliges us to reconsider the move to Strasbourg” David Sassoli, European Parliament President

A statement by Sassoli, issued late on Tuesday, reads, “The seat of the European Parliament is Strasbourg, this is laid down in the Treaties that we want to respect.”

“We have done everything to resume the normal course of our plenary sessions in Strasbourg. However, the resurgence of the pandemic in many Member States and the decisions taken by the French authorities to classify the entire Lower Rhine department as a red zone, obliges us to reconsider the move to Strasbourg.”

Sassoli added, “While we are very disappointed about this decision, we have to consider that the transfer of the administration of the Parliament would entail quarantine for all staff upon their return to Brussels.”

“We are going through a difficult time and I am grateful for all the cooperation, availability and expertise shown by the City of Strasbourg, the health authorities, and the government.”

He concluded, “Parliament's wish is to return to Strasbourg and we are confident that, in the face of a decline of the pandemic, this will be possible.”

“I told David Sassoli that the plenary should take place in Brussels to avoid further and extra risk of further spreading the virus. We should lead by example” Iratxe García Pérez, S&D Group leader

The session from 14 to 17 September will now take place in Brussels, he said.

Earlier, Socialist group leader Iratxe García Pérez wrote to the President, saying she feared that having hundreds of MEPs, staff and others converge on the city could pose a serious health risk and lead to the Coronavirus spreading far and wide.

García Pérez, a Spanish MEP, said, “I told David Sassoli that the plenary should take place in Brussels to avoid further and extra risk of further spreading the virus. We should lead by example.”

She said the original decision to go to the French city “was taken at a moment when the Coronavirus cases were diminishing in Europe.”

“Now, two months later, several countries in Europe are facing another surge of the pandemic with daily infection rates constantly on the rise. More and more regions are labelled as so-called ‘orange’ or ‘red’ zones, indicating a medium or high circulation of the Coronavirus.”

She added, “The actual labelling depends on the criteria applied and differs slightly from country to country, but the trend of another dynamic of the virus is obvious. The Strasbourg department of ‘Bas-Rhin’ is also affected by this dynamic.”

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