European Parliament under pressure to reverse decision to hold plenary in Strasbourg

MEPs from across the political divide are imploring Parliament’s authorities to hold the session in Brussels instead due to concerns about the ongoing health crisis.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

08 Sep 2020

The assembly’s President David Sassoli has personally pledged on several occasions that the institution would fulfil its treaty commitment and go ahead with the Strasbourg plenary from 14 September.

But that is looking increasingly unlikely with all the MEPs contacted by this website expressing doubts about the suitability of hundreds of people converging on the city at the present time.

During the pandemic many MEPs have participated in parliamentary committees via video links from their home countries with relatively few attending personally at the Parliament in Brussels.

A decision is likely at the next meeting of the Conference of Presidents, or group leaders, due on Thursday.

Businesses in Strasbourg say the monthly commute from Brussels, dubbed the “travelling circus” by some, is vital for their trade and the French authorities, over the years, have fiercely resisted all calls to relocate Parliament permanently to Brussels.

Any change to the split seat arrangement would need a revision of the EU treaties which many see as highly unlikely.

“Moving hundreds of people to Strasbourg is not the best idea for now. Parliament must lead by example and agree to hold the plenary in Brussels” Philippe Lamberts, Greens co-leader

The authorities in Strasbourg say it is a safe place to work from and want the European Parliament to hold its September plenary there.

France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune said, “An extremely strict health protocol has been put in place by French authorities in cooperation with the European Parliament. Everything is done so that the plenary session in September can take place in good conditions.”

Among those voicing opposition to next week’s plenary in Alsace is Greens co-leader Philippe Lamberts who said, “Moving hundreds of people to Strasbourg is not the best idea for now. Parliament must lead by example and agree to hold the plenary in Brussels.”

The Belgian member warned, “Failing that, the Greens/EFA will limit its physical participation to the absolute minimum.”

Fellow Greens member Sven Giegold said a majority of the group has raised serious concerns about the September plenary session taking place in Strasbourg, both from a public health perspective, and also for the “image of the Parliament.”

Dutch Socialist deputy Kati Piri told The Parliament Magazine, “I don’t think it would be responsible for the European Parliament to hold its plenary session in Strasbourg as it would risk the further spread of COVID-19 all over Europe. Until this pandemic isn’t under control, Parliament should have all its meetings in one place, and it’s logical to do that in Brussels.”

“I have serious doubts. Alsace/Strasbourg has just been declared a red zone. That would have consequences for travelling back from Strasbourg” Danuta Hubner MEP

Luxembourg EPP member Christophe Hansen said, “I will follow the recommendations of the French government when it comes to Strasbourg. I hope we will have more clarity this week.”

Polish EPP deputy Danuta Hubner told this website, “I have serious doubts. Alsace/Strasbourg has just been declared a red zone. That would have consequences for traveling back from Strasbourg.”

“The decision by the COP [Conference of Presidents] will take place later this week but that leaves no time for organising travel and confirming or cancelling hotel reservations. Formally, there is no reason to make around 2,000 people from the entire EU to go to a red zone.”

She went on, “Assuming that the majority of MEPs, with one assistant each plus 300-500 officials, drivers and medical service would go, this is a lot of people. Technically, all can be done from Brussels. For a purely political gesture the cost is too high.”

A major item on the agenda next week is the State of the Union debate by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

There will also be the final vote on own resources for the upcoming EU budget and other votes to upgrade the EU Civil Protection Mechanism/RescEU; maritime transport in Emission Trading, improving car emission controls and combating global deforestation.

“Until this pandemic is under control, Parliament should have all its meetings in one place, and it’s logical to do that in Brussels” Kati Piri MEP

MEPs are also due to take stock of the economic and social impact of the Coronavirus and discuss ways to address medicine shortages. In a busy week, the groups will also set out the most urgent foreign affairs topics to be addressed with EU High Representative Josep Borrell.

On Tuesday a Parliament spokesman told this site, “The focus of the session will be on the core activities and remote voting will still be possible. The bureau decision of 20 March allowing for an alternative electronic remote voting system was extended until 30 September.”

The spokesman added, “The priority for Parliament is to ensure the safest possible work environment and travel and accommodation conditions for members and staff - and also the local population.”

A Commission spokesman told reporters, “We, like everyone else, are still waiting for a decision on where the plenary will be held. It is not possible to comment until we know.”

He added, “General precautionary measures have already been in place in all Parliament's places of work, including physical distancing, masks, cleaning of rooms and surfaces.”

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