Ash cloud to disrupt EU parliament session
EU officials expect there to be too few MEPs in Strasbourg on Monday (19 April) to make voting possible because of the volcanic ash cloud over Europe.
"There may not be enough MEPs to form a quorum. Those who were stuck in Brussels anyway can make it. But some of them have to take three flights to get there," said a parliament official.
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At least one third of the parliament's 736 deputies have to be present in plenary for a vote to be legally valid. Some MEPs were unable to fly home from the EU capital last week when ash from a volcano in Iceland grounded flights across Europe. But many others are now stuck in their constituencies.
EU officials have been asked to make the trip from Brussels to Strasbourg anyway. The heads of the parliament's political groups will then meet in the French city to decide what to do.
If there are not enough MEPs, options include formally opening the session and then immediately closing it, sending everyone home; holding debates only but not votes, which could take place later; having no debates or votes but ploughing through the rest of the schedule.
The situation has restarted chatter about the folly of having multiple seats for the EU parliament, an obligation under the EU treaty.
It has also led to jokes at MEPs' expense. "If they held the votes by written procedure, it would set a dangerous precedent. None of them would ever come to parliament anymore," one EU official quipped.
The EU has already put off a number of events on Monday. A meeting of agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, Croatia accession talks in Brussels and a trip by EU and IMF officials to Athens have all fallen victim to the ash. Pakistan has also postponed a summit with EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday, AFP reported.
Meanwhile, many top guests did not make the funeral of late Polish president Lech Kaczynski in Krakow on Sunday.
The Vatican Cardinal due to say mass, US President Barack Obama, German leader Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy of France were among the vast majority of foreign VIPs who did not come.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev braved the ash and flew in, while delegations from Poland's neighbouring countries drove or took trains.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, who set out by car from Brussels on Thursday, was the only senior EU figure present.
"We have seen that all those grand phrases about European unity are really nothing but cliches," Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a eurosceptic and a personal friend of Lech Kaczynski, who drove from Prague to Krakow, said on Czech TV.
After last week telling airlines they must compensate passengers as normal, the European Commission at the weekend changed direction and created a high-level group to explore the option of financial aid to air carriers, which have been haemorrhaging €230 million a day since the volcano struck.
EU transport ministers will on Monday also hold a special videoconference about safety after airlines over the weekend complained that the travel ban is too strict.
The Brussels-based air traffic body, Eurocontrol, on Sunday evening said that 19,000 out of 24,000 flights were cancelled on the day, with airspace partly or fully closed in 17 EU countries. It predicted "positive evolution" in the coming days and said isolated pockets of "upper airspace" are becoming ash-free.