Row flares over plans for MEPs to return to Strasbourg

Around 80 deputies sign strongly-worded letter expressing opposition to planned return to French city as ‘too hasty’.
Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

31 May 2021

Both the French and European Parliament authorities say they are satisfied that the pandemic is sufficiently under control to allow the return of MEPs and a limited number of staff members.

But some MEPs have written to Parliament’s president David Sassoli expressing their fierce opposition to the move, saying the planned return to the French city is “too hasty.”

Around 80 deputies have signed the strongly-worded letter which, despite increasing vaccination rates in Europe, including France, claims that a “high number” of parliamentary staff will still travel without being vaccinated against COVID-19.

It also points out that anyone returning from Alsace to their home countries next week will still most likely have to quarantine, which would be unnecessary if the plenary session was held in Brussels.

It is believed that anyone returning from Strasbourg would need to undergo a quarantine of at least a week.

Members who do decide to travel will have to show that they are MEPs and also provide evidence of a negative PCR test result. The test must have been completed no more than 72 hours before arrival in the country.

"The letter was organised by EPP member Rasa Juknevičienė, who is also a health professional. It was sent to the Parliament’s president and MEPs but not to parliamentary staff and urges the assembly’s authorities to hold off on returning to Strasbourg until the autumn, arguing that this delay would “not make a dramatic difference” to parliamentary work"

The letter was organised by EPP member Rasa Juknevičienė, who is also a health professional. It was sent to the Parliament’s president and MEPs but not to parliamentary staff and urges the assembly’s authorities to hold off on returning to Strasbourg until the autumn, arguing that this delay would “not make a dramatic difference” to parliamentary work.

However, a Parliament spokesman defended the decision to allow MEPs and staff to travel to Strasbourg, if they wish too.

On Monday, the spokesman told this website, “As for the last sessions, the votes in parliament next week will be electronic which will also be possible from distance. MEPS with speaking time (in the plenary and committees) that cannot be present can intervene from parliament’s liaison offices.”

The spokesman went on, “The EU treaties provide that the plenaries takes place in Strasbourg barring exceptional circumstances that would lead the President to propose another decision.

“All precautionary measures will be taken to ensure the safe organisation of Parliament’s work. All measures established by the national authorities have been duly explained and communicated to MEPs and staff, including the procedures to respect ahead, and after, travel to Strasbourg.”

On Monday, some of Parliament’s political groups reacted to the dispute, with a spokesman for the biggest, the EPP, saying, “Our group position is that the president is the one who needs to decide where to hold the plenary session and if he considers there are the sanitary conditions that enable us to go to Strasbourg, we need to go as foreseen in the Treaty.”

"On Monday, some of Parliament’s political groups reacted to the dispute, with a spokesman for the biggest, the EPP, saying, “Our group position is that the president is the one who needs to decide where to hold the plenary session and if he considers there are the sanitary conditions that enable us to go to Strasbourg, we need to go as foreseen in the Treaty”

He added, “We expect that David Sassoli will take the final decision around the Conference of Presidents of Thursday.”

A GUE/NGL Group spokesman said, “The letter that has been sent round to the parliament about not going to Strasbourg. I have no idea if any MEPs from our group have signed it. At heart, it is quite a personal choice.”

The row comes amid France’s continuing battle against the virus. The number of patients in French hospitals with COVID-19 has fallen while the number of new Coronavirus infections increased at the slowest pace since June 2020.

The current, gradual unwinding of France's third nationwide lockdown has showed no signs of leading to a resurgence of the epidemic, but France has still had over five million cases of the virus and just over 100,000 deaths, among the world’s worst.

France is the fourth country in Europe to have reached the 100,000 fatality tally after the UK, Italy and Russia.

A second wave proved even more violent in France and was compounded earlier this year by the emergence of more transmissible variants. Since October, more than 65,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus.

A surge in cases attributed to the British variant prompted President Emmanuel Macron to announce a new hybrid lockdown on March 31. Currently, all non-essential shops across the country are closed, inter-region travel is restricted and a nationwide night-time curfew starts at 7pm.

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