Spate of burglaries hit European Parliament during Coronavirus lockdown

The crime spree appears to have taken place mainly while the building was effectively empty, with thieves accessing “sensitive” papers and breaking into secure cupboards in MEPs’ offices.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

06 Jul 2020

“Several hundred” MEPs have had computers, tablets and other items stolen from their offices while they were away during the Coronavirus lockdown.

It was initially reported that 50 MEPs’ offices were burgled but one MEP told this website the actual figure was “several hundred.”

For an institution that prides itself on its intense security the break-ins will come as a huge embarrassment. Security was stepped up several years ago after a robbery at an on-site bank in the Parliament.

One MEP aide said thefts were still continuing and described the situation, which amounts to a major security breach, as “crazy.”

“It is very problematic how poorly secured the European Parliament is. This is not only about valuables, but also about secret documents and data on computers” Erik Marquardt MEP

Several MEPs have reacted, with German Greens member Erik Marquardt telling this website, “Despite the series of thefts, there are still no warnings or indications of this from the security service.”

“It is very problematic how poorly secured the European Parliament is. This is not only about valuables, but also about secret documents and data on computers.”

The incidents have also prompted entertainer-turned-MEP Nico Semsrott to poke fun at the Parliament.

In an email headed “Security failure in the European Parliament” and sent to MEPs and assistants Semsrott writes: “Dear colleagues, just in case you haven't been robbed yet (you probably will be soon), here is the warning that you should have received at least six weeks ago, when the first cases were reported: Don't leave anything valuable in your offices! There is a series of thefts taking place. I am sorry you had to hear this from a comedian in Parliament and not from its security service.”

He adds, “This, of course, won't lead to any action being taken, as DG Safe is run by an incompetent party friend of David Sassoli [Parliament’s President] and not by a security expert.”

“So, being that neither Sassoli, Klaus Welle [Parliament’s Secretary General], nor DG Safe are able to help us, our only hope is to defend ourselves by doing what we do best: hopelessly printing messages on paper!”

“These last few months, members and staff have had access to the Parliament’s premises so, in fact, the building was not entirely empty. Therefore, people should refrain from blaming, but rather, act responsibly by locking offices properly and not leaving valuable goods in their offices” Christophe Hansen MEP

Semsrott even sent mock security signs for MEPs to download and a video with a manual on “how to use them.”

Luxembourg EPP member Christophe Hansen also told this site, “Everyone is aware that the sanitising crews and the maintenance crews regularly have access to our offices. Many of us, staff and members, also don’t lock their offices. The cupboards are not a secure place to store valuable goods.”

“And, these last few months, members and staff have had access to the Parliament’s premises so, in fact, the building was not entirely empty. Therefore, people should refrain from blaming, but rather, act responsibly by locking offices properly and not leaving valuable goods in their offices.”

One MEP's assistant, who did not wish to be named, said, “I can tell you that the Parliament's security told me on the phone that there have been hundreds of cases during the Coronavirus lockdown - and stealing continues.”

“From DG Safe we received information that the video surveillance has been switched off while these thefts have been happening. DG Safe people told me that their strategy is to ‘reimburse’ those who have been burgled instead of actually stopping the thefts. The head of DG Safe is not reacting at all so everything seems very weird.”

The assistant went on, “We, as well as many other offices, are not leaving valuables in the office anymore, but even to go to lunch feeling stressed. Thefts have occurred in lunch breaks while other offices around were full of people.”

“DG Safe told us that on a staffing level that they are thinking of asking Brussels police for help for the first time in years. Normally, the police do not enter the Parliament and, until now, we haven't seen any police.”

“The security services are fully informed and investigations are ongoing analysing all available data. Contacts have been taken with the MEPS who reported incidents to assure them that additional security measures have been swiftly implemented” European Parliament spokesman

He said, “It is crazy. I don't know any other parliament in Europe that has such problems and is not acting accordingly. We are just hoping the best for the future.”

A spokesman for Parliament told The Parliament Magazine, “These incidents have been notified in due time by several MEPs to our security services.  The number of reported thefts might have slightly increased at the start of the lockdown, taking advantage of unlocked offices and equipment left loose.”

“The security services are fully informed and investigations are ongoing analysing all available data. Contacts have been taken with the MEPS who reported incidents to assure them that additional security measures have been swiftly implemented.”

“The Parliament’s administration does everything in its remit to provide a safe working environment for the services of the institution and its members while allowing the European Parliament to maintain the openness and transparency that characterise it. Investigations are ongoing.”

A spokesman for David Sassoli declined to comment.

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