An extraordinary plenary session of the European Parliament will take place on 26 March to enable MEPs to approve measures to tackle COVID-19.
It will be the first ever plenary session to use a remote voting system.
The move was announced on Thursday by European Parliament President David Sassoli, who said the EU measures were “comparable to the Marshall plan” in World War 2.
He and Parliament’s group leaders, the so-called Conference of Presidents, held an informal exchange of views on Thursday where they approved the move.
Sassoli said, “The European Parliament is doing its duty and will continue to do so. Parliament must remain open, because a virus cannot bring down democracy. We are the only European institution voted in by its citizens and we want to continue representing and defending them.”
Next Thursday’s agenda includes: The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, which will make available €37 billion of the Cohesion funds to Member States to address the consequences of the crisis; a legislative proposal to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund to cover public health emergencies, and a Commission proposal to stop the so-called ghost flights caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It is key that the European Parliament adopts these three proposals swiftly, to provide concrete support to EU citizens and to the Member States in this unprecedented situation,” Sassoli said.
“It is key that the European Parliament adopts these three proposals swiftly, to provide concrete support to EU citizens and to the Member States in this unprecedented situation” David Sassoli
The Bureau of Parliament will adopt specific measures to ensure the votes can be organised remotely. This plenary will formally replace the session foreseen for 1-2 April.
In a statement issued late on Thursday, Sassoli went on, “I want to express my warmth and solidarity to all those suffering and all those who have lost loved ones. I want to stress my admiration and support for all those who are on the front line fighting this pandemic.
“Europe is moving. Faced with this dramatic situation, with a duty to defend lives, livelihoods, and stability for all, the EU is acting. Of course, we had to fight against national selfishness, but now it is a clear how we are going to face this emergency.
“The decision by the ECB to make €750 billion available adds to Parliament’s calls, to the measures of the Commission, to those of the states, to possible additional initiatives, such as mobilising another €500 billion from the European Stability Mechanism, the so-called bailout fund.”
“We are talking about an intervention that, overall, is close to €2 trillion. The greatest demonstration of the power of European solidarity in a long time. Comparable to the Marshall plan, the programme that helped us get back from the ruins of World War II.”
“This money will help us limit the effects of Covid-19 and will support research to identify an effective vaccine. It provides useful resources to support our economy and our model of social protection. It will protect jobs, businesses, and ensure families are not left alone in the face of these challenging times.”
"At this stage it provides money needed by our medical facilities, by doctors and staff who, with great passion and generosity, are committed to saving the lives of many. The Union cannot allow anyone to remain alone. None of you will be left alone.”
“We are talking about an intervention that, overall, is close to €2 trillion. The greatest demonstration of the power of European solidarity in a long time. Comparable to the Marshall plan, the programme that helped us get back from the ruins of World War II” David Sassoli
Meanwhile, the Commission has decided to further restrict access to the Berlaymont for external visitors, limiting it to staff responsible for critical functions.
As a result, journalists will no longer have access to the press room.
A Commission spokesman said, “We will of course review this decision as soon as conditions allow it. To keep ensuring a good level of communication between the European Commission and the media, we will hold a daily online press briefing at 12pm as of Friday.”
Elsewhere, similar restrictions are being introduced at NATO headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels.
A spokesman said, “We have been carefully monitoring the situation and continues to take preventative measures for the wellbeing and safety of all NATO staff and visitors.
In line with the latest measures adopted by the Belgian authorities to reduce movements and meetings in Belgium physical access to HQ will no longer be possible until further notice.”