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6th Jun 2020

Coronavirus

MEPs vote by email on new coronavirus measures

  • The parliament's rooms will remain empty for next week's special session (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs will vote online during a one-day extraordinary session of the European Parliament on 26 March next week, on the EU commission's proposals combatting the coronavirus outbreak and its economic fallout.

It is the first time ever MEPs will vote by email - to avoid having to gather in one place - leaders of the parliament's parliamentary groups and president David Sassoli decided on Thursday.

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"We will have a special plenary next week and we agreed to organise special remote vote, a simple yes or no vote on the proposal of the commission," liberal Renew group leader Dacian Ciolos told journalists in a videoconference Thursday.

"We will receive MEP vote card by email, we will vote by hand, we will sign our vote, scan it and send it by email and the parliament's secretariat will count the votes," he said, adding the process will be secure, and retains the votes' "individuality".

MEPs in Brussels and living in other EU countries will be given the same process, and it will be probably used in April and May as well, he added.

"It will be the first plenary that will use the distance voting system. In the face of this emergency, we must use all the means we have available," Sassoli said in a statement.

The parliament's administration will be tasked to come up with proposals on "voting systems", as online voting will probably have to be used in the next months as well, Ciolos said.

MEPs will eventually also have to deal with the rules of procedure of the parliament, which says members can "cast their votes individually and in person".

"We don't encouraged MEPs in their member states to come to Brussels," Ciolos said, adding that the online voting system's aim is "not to push our colleagues to be present, in current situations it could be risky".

Ciolos said, however, that it is important that the parliament's activities are not completely blocked when "emergency decisions" need to be taken.

MEPs will vote on the commission's initiative to free up €8bn for member states from the EU budget, and direct an additional €29bn to help the health sector, tourism, SMEs and workers.

They will also vote on the commission's proposals on solidarity funds and on the initiative to suspend, for four months, rules that have forced airlines to keep empty "ghost flights" operating despite passengers staying away due to the spread of the virus.

There has been some debate among parliamentary groups earlier if MEPs present in Brussels should participate physically in the plenary.

"Remote voting is the best option to maintain parliaments capacity to act while keeping a safe distance. Plenary in person in this situation is not the right choice", Green German MEP Daniel Freund tweeted.

Snags

However, it still remains to be seen what procedure the parliament comes up with so that MEPs can continue debating, come up with realisations, and amendments later on.

The parliament has transformed four meetings rooms where remote sessions can be held if a significant number of MEPs are absent, with simultaneous interpretation, and four more are planned.

The parliament's leaders also propose not holding plenaries in Strasbourg in the next months, rather mini-sessions until July in Brussels.

An official said that this does not "put a questions around the Strasbourg seat", it is a consequence of the spread of the virus. MEPs gather once a month in Strasbourg for the parliament's plenary, but have been criticising the costly travelling to the French seat of the parliament.

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