23rd Sep 2021

MEPs fearful of 'red zone' Strasbourg plenary

  • Parliament president David Sassoli (l) and commission president Ursula von der Leyen previously in Strasbourg. There will be no handshakes this time (Photo: © European Union 2019 - Source : EP)

As MEPs prepare for the European Parliament's first plenary session in Strasbourg since back in February, question marks surround next week's trip to France, after the French government designated the city a coronavirus "red zone".

On Sunday (6 September), French health authorities have put seven more departments, including Lille, Strasbourg and Dijon, on high alert as Covid-19 infections continue to rise.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It means authorities can impose exceptional measures, such as mandatory face masks.

Concerns had already rising among MEPs on whether holding the plenary session next week in France was too much of a risk, and whether it sends the right signal to EU citizens.

The parliament - in line with the EU treaty - needs to hold 12 plenary sessions in Strasbourg per year, even though MEPs have previously voted to scrap the costly monthly travel.

Preparations for the trip are currently ongoing, as the parliament decided in July to resume meetings in Strasbourg in September.

Parliament president David Sassoli is now to make the final decision ahead of the assembly's leadership and parliamentary group chairs meeting on Thursday (10 Thursday).

The leader of the Socialists and Democrats, Sassoli's group, Iratxe Garcia in a letter last week argued against going, saying that "threat of the pandemic is still very much present".

"Throughout Europe, we are asking our citizens to make sacrifices, to follow mitigating measures and to limit their movements, it is therefore impossible either to explain nor to justify why their representatives should increase the risk to counter these efforts," she wrote to Sassoli.

"The European parliament must lead by example and agree to hold the plenary in Brussels. Failing that, the Green group will limit its physical participation to the absolute minimum," co-chair of the Greens, Philip Lamberts said, The Green group historically supports dumping the Strasbourg seat altogether.

The liberal Renew group will discuss the issue at their meeting on Tuesday, while the centre-right European People's Party - whose MEPs are divided on the issue - will support Sassoli in his decision.

Parliament officials say the groups' positions are part of the many elements Sassoli is considering when deciding next week's meeting.

Sassoli is seeking out the advice of French authorities of the parliament's medical service, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which he needs to balance with the treaty requirement. Neglecting that could, in theory, prompt France to take the parliament to the European Court of Justice.

The "analysis is ongoing", a parliament spokesperson said, adding that "all [information] will be taken into account, but there is also the legal obligation".

"We know that it's going to be difficult," a parliament source described the dilemma, adding: "If the president decided not to go, the French will put pressure on him, but if we go and something happens, it will be president's responsibility."

"I will go to Strasbourg, and I will sit in my office to keep social distancing, like in Brussels" said the source.


Political groups sent a letter to the secretary general of the parliament, Klaus Welle, on Monday with questions about the specific arrangements in Strasbourg.

Next week's travel means that even with minimum staff, over a thousand people will make their way to the French city, with MEPs arriving from all over Europe.

Rooms in the parliament will be cleaned regularly, and there will be measures to make sure people can keep a safe distance - for example, extended hours at the canteen.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will also travel to Strasbourg to deliver her 'State of the EU' speech, launching the union's political season.


Parliament mulls allowances for home-working MEPs

The European Parliament's internal decision making-body, the Bureau, is set to decide on whether MEPs should continue to receive a daily €323 lump sum despite working from home.

Polish MEP makes false claims on EU parliament infections

The European Parliament's chief administrator Klaus Welle had set the record straight after a Polish MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group made false claims on Polish television on infection rates at the Brussels assembly.

The EU parliament in the time of corona

The democratic engine of the EU - the European Parliament - has closed due to the virus, but one MEP explains how deputies continue to try to work.


First return to Strasbourg for EU Parliament This WEEK

There will be still a very limited number of people traveling to Strasbourg. Many think it is an early return: those travelling will have to respect the French curfew and will need to quarantine upon their return to Belgium.

MEPs to declare EU an LGBTI 'freedom zone'

The symbolic move is an attempt to buttress against right-wing governments' increased scapegoating of LGBTI people, particularly in Poland and Hungary.

News in Brief

  1. French ambassador to return to US after Macron-Biden call
  2. Borrell: EU needs armed force independent of US
  3. Polish region does U-turn on gay rights
  4. Johnson makes fun of French anger on submarine deal
  5. Ukraine vows 'tough response' after gun attack on top aide
  6. Poland again delays ruling on primacy of EU law
  7. EU to table emergency proposals on gas-price surge
  8. EU delays first set of anti-greenwashing rules

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  2. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body
  3. Lead energy MEP silent on gas meetings before vote
  4. WHO makes major cut in 'safe' air-pollution levels
  5. EU negotiators defend high Covid vaccines prices paid to pharma
  6. The EU's 'backyard' is not in the Indo-Pacific
  7. French MEPs lead bogus EU monitoring of Russia vote
  8. Europeans think new 'Cold War' is here - but not for them

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us