Pandemic should be ‘wake-up call’ on Parliament’s split site arrangement, says MEP

Irish MEP Clare Daly’s demand comes with the institution set to return to Strasbourg next week for its first plenary in the city since the start of the crisis.
Strasbourg Parliament

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Oct 2020

There is still uncertainty on whether the plenary will go ahead in the Alsace city with political group leaders due to rule on this on Thursday.

Even if the session goes ahead, there will be only one assistant per MEP allowed to travel to Strasbourg and the programme will be strictly limited to the plenary session with no committee meetings or hearings.

Parliament has not met in Strasbourg for several months, due to concerns that moving hundreds of MEPs and staff would further spread the virus.

Daly, a  GUE/NGL member, told this website, “There’s not a chance in hell of the Parliament going to Strasbourg, but clearly the President is under pressure from the French Government to be seen to defend its relevance when it’s clear that the pandemic has exposed the utter craziness of this set-up.”

“In actual fact it should be a wake-up call for the ending of the Strasbourg arrangement. Moving thousands of people in an expensive, environmentally-destructive manner is wrong at the best of times, in a public health crisis it would be lunacy.”

But her comments were contradicted by French Renew Europe member Nathalie Loiseau, who told The Parliament Magazine that she was strongly in favour of a return to Parliament’s traditional “second” home.

She said, “Yes, it is wise to go back now because Strasbourg is safe.”

“It should be a wake-up call for the ending of the Strasbourg arrangement. Moving thousands of people in an expensive, environmentally-destructive manner is wrong at the best of times; in a public health crisis it would be lunacy” Clare Daly, GUE/NGL

A spokesman for the Renew Europe group said, “We'll accept the decision by the president David Sassoli.”

A Parliament spokesperson told this website there was “no need not to go to Strasbourg.”

“There is a constant monitoring of the sanitary situation in Strasbourg and Brussels. Should there be a negative security assessment by the President, a decision would be communicated before the Conference of Presidents on Thursday.”

“Parliament’s bureau has decided on measures to accommodate a progressive return of members to the offices, including continued teleworking of staff to reduce physical presence in Parliament’s premises, enhanced social distancing measures and the use of community masks, temperature checks among others.”

“It is necessary to continue to ensure Parliament's operational capacity, in particular its legislative and budgetary activity, while at the same time avoiding health risks for members, staff and other persons working in and visiting the Parliament.”

Turning specifically to the Strasbourg session, the spokesperson said that Parliament has insisted on “the development of a complete health and safety protocol for hotel rooms, transportation and limitations to catering facilities capacities and reduction of the staff travelling to the minimum number required to be present.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Commission has brought in new measures as a response to a big spike in Coronavirus cases among its staff in Brussels.

“There is a constant monitoring of the sanitary situation in Strasbourg and Brussels. Should there be a negative security assessment by the President, a decision would be communicated before the Conference of Presidents on Thursday” European Parliament spokesperson

Multiple staff members have been diagnosed with the virus and a Commission spokesman said the recently announced extra measures are designed to protect staff.

He said, “We have had pretty tough and strict measures since the start, and these have now been reinforced. We are keeping staffing levels to 20 percent of their normal levels in each department.”

“We will also ensure that adequate sanitation and masks will be provided for all staff. There will be temperature checks at entrances, there is upgraded office cleaning and only essential missions will be allowed.”

He added, “The vast majority of meetings are now online.”

 

He said, however that it was still up to commissioners to decide “what is and is not an essential mission and whether they need to travel abroad in their role. This is our position and it has not changed.”

The Council still plans to have a physical summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

 

The Commission spokesman said, “We have full trust in the wisdom of the Council President to make the most appropriate decisions on this.”

Elsewhere, on Tuesday, the Council agreed on EU-wide coordination on measures restricting free movement related to the Coronavirus pandemic.

A Commission spokesman said the agreement “will provide more clarity and predictability for citizens with a common map and colour code based on common criteria.”

Member states, he said, should also “provide citizens with clear and timely information about what they must do and which restrictions are in force.”

He added, “Our right to move freely across the EU has been severely impacted by the pandemic. On top of this, citizens have been faced with so many different rules and procedures, unclear information about areas of high and low risk, and a lack of clarity about what to do when travelling.”

“A month ago, the Commission put forward a proposal on how to address these challenges and support the millions of EU citizens who travel in the EU every day. Member States have now reached an agreement on how to put this into practice.”

“We welcome this agreement to bring more order to a currently confusing situation. It sends a strong signal to citizens and is a clear example of the EU acting where it absolutely should. We have learned our lessons: we will not surmount the crisis by unilaterally closing borders, but by working together.”

“For the millions of citizens with an essential reason to travel - be it for important family reasons, for their livelihoods, or to ensure that we receive the goods we need - today's agreement will also be a welcome improvement to a currently precarious situation. No quarantine measures should be applied in these cases.”

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - EU moves to end Cypriot and Maltese Golden Passport schemes

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