Parliament hopes to resume plenary sessions in Strasbourg in September

Parliament cancelled all plenary sessions in the French city due to the spread of the Coronavirus - the last parliamentary session held there was in February.
Press Association

By Martin Banks

29 Jun 2020

In recent months, plenary sessions have been held in Brussels, with the vast majority of MEPs taking part remotely from their home states.

The absence of MEPs and up to 3,000 parliamentary staff has badly hit the economy of Strasbourg, which relies heavily on the Parliament’s regular monthly commute.

However, President David Sassoli has signalled that Parliament could be set to return for its regular monthly sessions in France from September.

“I cannot wait to return to Strasbourg and I have made that clear to French authorities. We want to return in September if this is possible and providing all the necessary conditions prevail” David Sassoli, European Parliament President

Sassoli said, “I cannot wait to return to Strasbourg and I have made that clear to French authorities. We want to return in September if this is possible and providing all the necessary conditions prevail.”

Speaking in Parliament, he added, “Last week I spoke to the Strasbourg mayor and also the French EU affairs minister so we and they could get all the necessary information and make a decision. In July we plan to put all the strands together and hope that by September we will be able to go back and return to a more normal way of life for Parliament.”

“If we can that would be a fitting closure to what has been a very difficult cycle. I certainly think it [September] is possible.”

Not everyone, though, is in favour of a September relaunch of the Strasbourg sessions, with Irish MEP Sean Kelly telling this website, "I think September is too soon for us to go back to Strasbourg."

While much of the parliamentary work is done in Brussels, the Parliament also sits in Strasbourg, according to the EU treaties. MEPs only meet in France for their plenary sessions for one week every month.

“Of course, there is no reason for the European Parliament to just continue to sit in Brussels. But I am afraid nobody can make such a decision today” Danuta Hubner MEP

The twin seat arrangement has been a cause of controversy for years and many have again called for the regular commute to France to be axed, with Brussels becoming the only seat for the Parliament.

Environmental groups point to the “carbon footprint” of thousands of staff, lobbyists and media trekking to the city once a month.

While MEPs may have been absent from Strasbourg for months, Parliament’s sprawling building has been playing its part in helping the local needy in the city.

During the health crisis, the facilities have hosted a screening centre and a COVID-19 consultation centre. Four medical diagnostic laboratories from the region have been responsible for testing the public.

The building’s kitchens have also provided an average of 500 meals per day, seven days a week for local people in need and Parliament has offered its car/truck fleet for the transportation of supplies across the city.

“We would probably limit the number of people attending as a precaution so as to minimise and limit any risk. This would be for the benefit of parliamentary and other staff and also the city of Strasbourg itself” European Parliament spokesman

The aid effort has been done in conjunction with the local Croix Rouge charity and the Prefecture du Bas-Rhin.

Asked about the possibility of returning to Strasbourg in just over two months, Polish EPP member Danuta Hubner said she was unsure, adding, “I do not believe anybody knows today what September will bring.”

Hubner, a former EU commissioner, said that returning to Strasbourg was important “if life is to get back to normal,” but she noted this involves MEPs having to travel safely “from 27 Member States to Strasbourg.”

If the necessary conditions are met, she said “of course, there is no reason for the European Parliament to just continue to sit in Brussels. But I am afraid nobody can make such a decision today.”

A Parliament spokesman told this website that no final decision had yet been taken on when sessions in Strasbourg might resume.

The spokesman said, “Parliament is very willing to return but the key thing will be whether the sanitary conditions are suitable and can be guaranteed in places like hotels and restaurants where people attending the session will be circulating.”

“The city and region were among the most badly affected during the height of the pandemic, so this is an important consideration.”

The spokesman cautioned that even if September gets the go ahead, it is unlikely that the usual number of parliamentary staff will be allowed to attend the session.

“We would probably limit the number of people attending as a precaution so as to minimise and limit any risk. This would be for the benefit of parliamentary and other staff and also the city of Strasbourg itself.”

Brussels will hold one more plenary sitting in July before closing for the summer. The shortfall in Strasbourg sessions means there is likely to now be an extra plenary in Strasbourg later on this year.

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