22nd Oct 2016

MEPs risk fine for skipping Barroso's big speech

  • Empty seats in the Strasbourg plenary: a fine-inducing prospect (Photo: EUobserver)

With MEPs having something of a reputation for a patchy appearance rate in the EU chamber, moves are afoot to make sure that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is not humiliated during a first ever "State of the Union" speech.

To get derrières on as many of the 736 seats as possible, the leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament have suggested fining those MEPs who dare to give the three hour slot for the speech and debate a miss.

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An electronic test will be carried out three times during the debate, starting early on Tuesday (7 September), and deputies who are twice conspicuous by their absence may be subject to a small financial penalty.

The political group leaders' decision, put together at a meeting on Thursday, was summed up in an email sent to one of the smaller groups in the parliament.

"With a view to ensuring the highest possible attendance at the debate on the State of the Union, [it has been decided] to introduce specific checks on Members' presence in the Chamber using the electronic system at three different moments during the debate," the email said.

"What this means in practice is that there will be 3 "appel nominal de presence" during the State of the of Union debate. Those Members not present at 2 out of 3 checks will face a financial penalty."

The exact details are still to be worked out by the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and the institution's 14 vice-presidents when they meet on Monday evening.

It is likely that errant MEPs will be fined a quarter of their daily allowance. MEPs receive a daily diet of €298 for attending plenary and voting.

"It's not a question of fines, it is a question of getting your daily allowance," said one parliament source, dipping into the semantics of the move.

The new idea will be based on a fine system already used for attendance during voting. "The system is that if you are not present at at least half of the roll call votes during the plenary, you will lose half of your daily allowances of the week," the source went on.

Responding to the proposal, UK Liberal MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford said: "My reaction is incredulity. This is absurd! Has April Fool's day come early?"

She said that while attendance is often a problem, as much due to heavy workloads as anything else, an appeal to "courtesy" would have sufficed.

The outspoken MEP said that having heard about the proposal, she is not sure whether she will now attend the debate: "I might have a childish little protest and watch it in my office instead."

Another hostile reaction came from Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout: "I didn't know I was elected to a European school class that is getting penalties for not attending a very ground-breaking lesson. The best way to get great attendance is by delivering a State of the Union address that offers new insights and ideas for our European project.

"I fear people came to this ridiculous idea after reading the draft of Barroso's speech."

Mr Barroso's speech is to start at 9am Brussels time on Tuesday and is expected to take the temperature of the EU, which has been buffeted by the economic crisis, and which is struggling to find its feet on the global stage.

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