European Parliament row over MEP's refusal to wear face mask escalates

Right-wing German deputy Christine Anderson says she’s being wrongly targeted in a ‘pointless abuse of power’.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

29 Jun 2021

An MEP has been criticised by parliament’s president David Sassoli, and others, for refusing to wear a mask in parliament and during committee meetings.

Sassoli says right-wing German MEP Christine Anderson has been warned several times about the ruling which applies to all members and staff as part of the assembly’s efforts to curb the spread of Coronavirus within the parliament.

Anderson, though, says she has a medical derogation, saying this means she does not have to wear a mask.

Most recently she had an angry verbal spat with S&D Group deputy Evelyn Regner who was chairing a workshop, organised by the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM).

Regner asked her repeatedly to put a mask on but Anderson refused and ushers were called to escort her from the room.

It has since emerged that she had been taken to task about the issue previously.

A letter sent to her on 11 May by Sassoli, seen by this site, says, “It is mandatory to wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose at all times while in parliament’s buildings, including and while using parliament’s official cars.

"All members are required to wear a mask except for when chairing a meeting, when speaking from the front rostrum in plenary or when in an immediate office environment"  Chair of the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee, Evelyn Regner MEP

“Security agents are instructed to approach any person not wearing a medical mask to remind them of the rules in force.”

It goes on, “Security staff do not have a list of members and staff exempted from this obligation for medical reasons. Holders of such derogation are therefore asked to produce it whenever it is necessary. Once this derogation is visibly produced, access should be granted without any restrictions.”

Another mail, dated May 21, from Sassoli to Anderson reminds her of the need to wear a mask even when speaking in committee meetings.

The mail, also seen by PM, says, “Committee meetings are to be considered a closed room meeting.”

Sassoli tells Anderson that he had noted her claim that she had been “prevented from exercising your mandate freely in the way you saw fit.”

It says members have the right to participate in meetings remotely from their own offices.

The rules, he says in the mail, are needed “to limit the spread” of the virus.

Anderson, though, has made a robust defence, pointing to a mail, dated 20 October 2020 and sent by Denis Gillet, parliament’s medical advisor, which states, “I hereby confirm that you should be allowed to enter parliament’s premises without wearing a mask for medical reasons.”

“This is another example of Brussels double compliance. What an irony it is to face such a pointless abuse of power by Regner while this particular workshop itself debated the oppression of people in higher positions” Christine Anderson MEP

The note, seen by this site, reminds her to “keep physical distancing” and that, “Closed room meetings should be avoided.”

Regner, an Austrian Socialist, told this website, “This is not the first time she has been addressed by the President on this.

“All members are required to wear a mask except for when chairing a meeting, when speaking from the front rostrum in plenary or when in an immediate office environment. “

“These are the current rules of security in the parliament which actually have been in place for over a year now. A mask is thus mandatory for members in committee rooms. So they either wear a mask in the committee meeting room or they follow the meeting and speak from their office where they do not have to wear a mask. The latter is what most members in FEMM are doing.”

“In either case members can participate fully and their points are taken into account. We are still in a pandemic so the rules are in place for a reason and have to be followed by everyone. President Sassoli had already explained this officially to this particular member a few months ago. So she knows the rules and one wonders if she's only joining to cause provocation.”

Anderson is a coordinator for the Identity and Democracy Group in the FEMM Committee.

Her assistant told this site, “It is true that meetings in the committee can be followed online. In the past, however, there have been recurrent difficulties in accessing online if Ms Anderson wanted to position herself. Her comments were overlooked and another time technical difficulties were raised.

“She therefore preferred to be present directly at meetings in Brussels.

“After a thorough examination, Parliament’s Medical Service has exempted her from wearing a mouth-nose mask in Parliament. The President of the Parliament confirmed this exemption in an email to Ms Anderson dated 11 May following irritation at the entrance of the building.”

She said a recent clash on the issue between Anderson and Regner happened in a debate which was about “exploiting pressure and coercion from people in higher positions.”

The aide said, “Evelyn Regner not only did not give the floor to Ms Anderson, but also interrupted the committee until Ms Anderson had left the room as she did not wear a mouth-nose mask.

“The committee chair stigmatised Ms Anderson as a ‘rule-breaker’ while the committee was still being broadcast on the internet and did not allow her to speak and shut down her microphone. Other MEPs took the floor, with Spanish [ECR Group colleague Margarita] De la Pisa speaking explicitly in favour of the presence of Ms Anderson.”

She added, “Over a space of just over 300 square metres there was, in any case, sufficient distance between the approximately ten people present, including staff.

“But, even so, two security officers, as well as Parliament’s Vice-President Katharina Barley were called on to continue to exert pressure on Christine Anderson and encourage her to leave the committee

“I would add that Regner himself, who spoke so much about being in favour of wearing masks, did not have a mask during this debate.”

Anderson a member of the German nationalist Alternative für Deutschland party told PM, “This is another example of Brussels double compliance. What an irony it is to face such a pointless abuse of power by Regner while this particular workshop itself debated the oppression of people in higher positions.”

She said she would take unspecified action “against the restriction of the exercise of her free mandate” and that she would continue to raise the issue of “unequal treatment” in the Committee on Gender Equality.

De la Pisa also accused Regner of an “abuse” of her position and criticised for “not wearing a mask.”

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