Parliament looks set to finally return to Strasbourg for monthly session

Plenary sessions in the French city were suspended due to the health pandemic, but it is believed the plan is for MEPs to return in June.
Press Association: European Parliament in Strasbourg

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 May 2021

It has been reported in the media that European Parliament President David Sassoli, who has been particularly keen for sessions in France to resume as soon as health conditions allow, hopes to allow MEPs to return to Strasbourg for the week-long session starting on June 7.

The reports, though, are unconfirmed and any resumption of the Strasbourg session would depend on continued improvements in tackling the pandemic.

Although parts of France are still in the so-called “red zone”, which severely restricts travel, there has, generally in the country, been a big improvement in the epidemiological situation and progress made in the Coronavirus vaccination campaign.

Coincidentally, the newly-launched Conference on the Future of Europe is due to hold its first plenary session in Strasbourg with about 400 participants due in the city on June 19.

For many months, members have generally been holding committee meetings and hearings remotely, usually taking part from their home states.

On Wednesday, a Parliament spokesman told this site, “Parliament's authorities aim to return to Strasbourg as soon as the sanitary situation allows it while ensuring all precautionary measures are taken to ensure a safe organisation of its work.”

“By default, if no specific decision is taken, Treaties provide for the plenaries to take place in Strasbourg. As for the last months, the sanitary situation is carefully evaluated before each session. If the situation allows - improved sanitary situation and increased vaccination among others - there might be no need for a specific decision to relocate the plenary session.”

“As far as the European Parliament is concerned, I am rather in favour of returning to normal functioning, as soon as possible. It is a parliamentary assembly and in order to fulfil our democratic role we must encourage debate. We realised that this is not fully possible remotely”

Fabienne Keller, Renew Europe

“For now, taking into account the current situation, Parliament’s leaders are invited to confirm the decision of the President to hold the May session next week in Brussels.”

The spokesman, however, refused to be drawn on the June session but said “more clarity” would be available nearer the time.

Renew Europe MEP Fabienne Keller says she welcomes any move to return to “normal” working arrangements.

The French member told this site, “As far as the European Parliament is concerned, I am rather in favour of returning to normal functioning, as soon as possible. It is a parliamentary assembly and in order to fulfil our democratic role we must encourage debate. We realised that this is not fully possible remotely.”

Strasbourg and the Alsace region had been one of the hardest hit in France by the health pandemic and the last parliamentary session held there was back in February 2020.

Parliament cancelled all plenary sessions in Strasbourg due to the spread of the Coronavirus and these have, instead, been held in Brussels.

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

“By default, if no specific decision is taken, Treaties provide for the plenaries to take place in Strasbourg … If the situation allows - improved sanitary situation and increased vaccination among others - there might be no need for a specific decision to relocate the plenary session” European Parliament spokesman

Sassoli, speaking last year, said, “I cannot wait to return to Strasbourg and I have made that clear to French authorities.”

But the move is still controversial due to opposition to the Strasbourg seat and a report earlier this year said the assembly’s current two-seat arrangement, which sees MEPs regularly switching between Brussels and Strasbourg, is unsustainable.

Called “The European Parliament's carbon footprint - towards carbon neutrality”, the report also recommended that the EU consider establishing Brussels as its sole base to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

The study analysed Parliament's carbon footprint in relation to the assembly’s declaration of a climate emergency in Europe and Parliament’s own plans to become carbon-neutral by 2030.

MEPs have, over the years, made repeated recommendations in favour of ending the Strasbourg sittings and other reports have said that scrapping the link with the Alsace city could generate annual savings of €114m plus a one-off saving of €616m if the buildings were sold off.

Parliament’s formal seat is in Strasbourg while Brussels and Luxembourg are “working places” and Luxembourg hosts the Parliament’s secretariat.

A treaty change would be needed to scrap Strasbourg as an official seat, something that the vast majority of French MEPs oppose.

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 were 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.

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - European Commission approves Coronavirus recovery plans for several Member States

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