Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

EU revolt: MEPs rebel and order Sassoli to make hasty U-turn on attempt to please Macron

Brexit Party MEP complains about journey time to Strasbourg

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MEPs are set to return to the institution’s French seat next month after months of cancellations because of the coronavirus pandemic. But a growing band of rebels wants the EU Parliament’s President to make a hasty U-turn on his decision to reintroduce in-person plenary sessions. It will mean more than 700 MEPs and thousands of staff will be expected to travel between Brussels and Strasbourg for one week next month.

Plenary sessions have been held digitally since the outbreak of the pandemic on the Continent, with just a smattering of MEPs allowed to attend in person.

Express.co.uk yesterday revealed that one Lithuanian MEP was canvassing colleagues to support a campaign to maintain the hybrid sittings.

And now the crusade is being endorsed by a growing number of MEPs, with dozens calling for Mr Sassoli to scrap Strasbourg’s return.

One MEP accused the Parliament’s president of risking the health of officials to please France’s Mr Macron, who vehemently supports the French seat.

The French President has long championed a return to Strasbourg, even claiming the EU would be “screwed” if the Parliament stopped meeting there.

In a private email to colleagues, seen by Express.co.uk, Dutch MEP Dorien Rookmaker said: “It is irresponsible and unexplainable to travel to Strasbourg in a situation in which we are still not allowed to work under normal conditions in Brussels.

“It is unacceptable to sacrifice the safety of our staff for political reasons.”

In another email, Polish MEP Jadwiga Wiśniewska added: “I strongly support your letter. I find the President’s decision extremely irresponsible, which may cause an epidemiological threat to MEPs and staff.

“President Sassoli, please withdraw your decision for the health and safety of the EP.”

The Parliament’s building in Brussels is still under lockdown, with strict rules on entry for both MEPs and their staff.

The campaign was started by Lithuanian MEP Rasa Jukneviciene, who wrote the original letter calling for Mr Sassoli to make a drastic U-turn.

She wrote: “Let us address you with a pending issue of high importance to the health and security of personnel of the European Parliament as well as our societies in general and directly related to the effective COVID pandemic management until the regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate enters into force in July.

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“The decision to return the European Parliament to its seat in Strasbourg in June is too hasty and puts the Staff of the European Parliament under unnecessary risk.

“The planned Strasbourg session in June means that a high number of personnel will be traveling without having had an opportunity to receive vaccination and, thus, without immunity to the coronavirus. The requirement for the returning staffers to undergo a quarantine of at least seven days confirms the projected health risk for them, their families, and the society.

“In addition, the mandatory quarantine after such work travel will strongly affect their and their families’ personal lives, which could also be avoided if the session was to be held in Brussels.”

She added: “The health of Members and Staff should be protected; moreover, the European Parliament should set the example in contributing to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, for these reasons travel activities should be reduced to a minimum until it can be done safely.”

European staffers have been told they will have to attend the plenary despite the current rigamarole of international travel.

They will not be exempt from the special measures in place to curb the spread of the virus as they move between Brussels and Strasbourg for the week.

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In an leaked briefing to staffers, Parliament officials said: “To enter France, you will need to carry and present on request the following documents.

“A printed version of your mission order; a certificate stating that you carry out essential functions for the Parliament in Strasbourg.

“The document will be issued by the resource directorate of your DG; a completed sworn declaration; a negative PCR test result; the test should be done no more than 72 hours before arrival in France.”

One sceptical source told the Politico website: “This is mad. Why not wait until September when everyone is vaccinated?

“What essential function is there in Strasburg when the plenary session can be easily held in Brussels, which has been the successful practice over the last 14 months?”

MEPs have repeatedly voted to ditch their second chamber in Strasbourg, which is unpopular with many officials due to the tiresome travelling and the lack of facilities in the small city.

Most EU nations are also in favour of ending the travelling circus, which is hugely damaging to the bloc’s reputation, but their efforts have been batted away by France.

The requirement for a seat in Strasbourg is written into the EU’s treaties, meaning France has an all-powerful veto which it has threatened to use if anyone tries to abolish it.

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