The European Parliament will again hold meetings in Brussels this week

The three planned committee meetings, though, will be confined to just one day, Thursday 2 April, with the vast majority of deputies taking part remotely. 
Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual 

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Apr 2020

The European Parliament will again hold meetings in Brussels this week.

A European Parliament spokesman said that in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 the institution is reducing the need for physical meetings on its premises.

But this, it was added, is “without compromising its role of democratic scrutiny nor parliament’s ability to approve the necessary legislative measures to combat the virus and support the public, consumers, businesses and emergency services.”


A spokesman said, “The required social distancing of 1.5 metres will be respected on parliament’s premises at all times. Any parliamentary activities, like committee and plenary meetings, which are still taking place will be web-streamed and can be followed by the media without requiring their physical presence on the premises.

“MEPs, EU commissioners and council representatives will be able to participate remotely.”

Three committee meetings are planned for Thursday and the process for MEPs’ taking part will be the same as last week’s “virtual” plenary session.

The spokesman said, “A physical room has been booked to ensure web streaming so MEPs, staff, journalists and others can follow proceedings.

“Members are encouraged to follow remotely – many have to due to travel restrictions. Those that are able, may come in person but arrangements are in place to ensure social distancing.”

Last Thursday, parliament held a plenary where MEPs backed a raft of measures by the European Commission to help tackle the Coronavirus crisis.

The spokesman went on, “I don't have much feedback on the plenary session last week but from the voting figures we saw a very high percentage participate with only about 20 MEPs not taking part in the votes.”

The parliament’s activities start this week when its president David Sassoli and the leaders of the political groups (Conference of Presidents) meet on Thursday to discuss the assembly’s upcoming plans, including legislative and budgetary files linked to the EU response to the pandemic.

Parliament’s Internal Market Committee will discuss with European Commissioner Thierry Breton, EU measures to tackle COVID-19 and how member states are cooperating with each other.

So-called “Green lanes “to ensure that essential goods, such as medical supplies and food reach those who need them the most, as well as the joint purchase of medical supplies, are likely to be addressed in the debate on Thursday.

Elsewhere on Thursday the Civil Liberties Committee will assess the situation at Greece’s external borders with the country’s Minister for Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi.

Concern has been voiced by a number of MEPs and others about the plight of migrants trapped on the Greek/Turkey border.

Taking part in the same debate will be Greek Minister for Citizen Protection Michalis Chrisochoidis; Croatia’s State Secretary for European and International Affairs Terezija Gras; Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European way of life Margaritis Schinas and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson plus representatives of Frontex and the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Meanwhile on Monday the EU said it would free up fresh funding to help tackle the effects of the pandemic.

EU Member States adopted two legislative acts to release funding from the EU budget. One of the acts amends the rules of the structural and investment funds, while the other extends the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund.

The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative gives member states access to €37bn of cohesion money to strengthen healthcare systems, support SMEs, short-term working schemes and community-based services.

Of the total, about €8bn will come from unspent pre-financing in 2019 under structural funds. The new measure allows Member States to spend unused money to mitigate the impact of the pandemic instead of returning it to the EU budget. Another €29bn will be disbursed early from allocations which would have been due later this year.

Also this week, the EU announced that it will suspend, until 24 October, the airport slot requirements which oblige airlines to use at least 80 percent of their take-off and landing slots in order to keep them the following year. The waiver is designed to help air carriers cope with the drastic drop in air traffic caused by the Coronavirus crisis.

Oleg Butković, Croatian Minister for the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, said, "It seems clear now that this crisis will not be over very soon. Waiving the ‘use it or lose it’ rule until October will help mitigate the heavy economic impact on airlines and give them certainty over the whole summer season"

The European Commission says it is also intensifying efforts to repatriate European citizens to their home countries. There are still almost 100 flights planned over the next days and last week, the Commission proposed to boost the EU budget by some €45m to help repatriation efforts.

In another new move, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also issued guidelines to ensure the free movement of “critical workers.” This includes, but is not limited to, those working in the health care and food sectors, and other essential services like childcare, elderly care, and critical staff for utilities.

Member States have introduced internal border controls to limit the spread of Coronavirus but a Commission spokesman said, “it is imperative that critical workers are able to reach their destination without delay.”

The spokesman added, “This responds to requests made by EU leaders on 26 March and seeks to address practical concerns of citizens and companies affected by the measures taken to limit the spread of the Coronavirus.”

In a video address, her now normal means of communicating Commission announcements von der Leyen said, “Over the past weeks we have taken strong measures to limit the spread of the Coronavirus in the EU.

“Certain national governments have introduced controls at internal borders. But we have one and a half million people in the EU who live in one country and work in another. They need to cross the border to go to work. Many of them have jobs that are important for us all to get through the crisis.

“This is why today we are publishing practical advice to the national governments on mobile workers in the EU. The aim is to ensure that these workers can reach their workplace without delays, while taking precautions to keep them safe and limit the spread of the virus.”

She added, “It is particularly important that those working in sectors that are critical to fight the coronavirus can reach their workplace rapidly. These are the people working in the health care sector, in childcare, elderly care, firefighters and police officers, transport workers.”

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