MEPs were informed on Saturday (17 April) that, "in accordance with [the European] Parliament's Rules of Procedure, it is legally required to proceed with the opening of the April part-session as scheduled on Monday 19 April at 17.00, in Strasbourg".
The communication from the Parliament's secretariat-general went on to say that "in the light of the information available on Monday about the opening of the airports in Europe and the likely presence of members, the political groups will meet on Monday afternoon, before the opening of the sitting, in order to take the appropriate decisions about any necessary modifications to the plenary draft agenda".
Core vs. periphery
However, the holding of this week's Strasbourg session has rapidly developed into a political hot potato between MEPs from continental Europe – who are within comfortable driving distance of the French city – and those from Europe's periphery, who feel they are being discriminated against.
To proceed with voting, the Parliament's rules stipulate that one third of MEPs must be present. It seems likely that this quorum will be reached, but MEPs from Europe's outermost countries – Portugal, Finland and Greece, for example – are complaining that their national interests will be ignored should the plenary session go ahead.
MEPs have been frantically exchanging emails over the weekend and on Monday morning (19 April), with many denouncing the lack of clear communication from the secretariat general and Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.
The emails, seen by EurActiv, have become increasingly bad-tempered, with some Central European MEPs calling on their peripheral colleagues to shape up and be "creative" in finding ways to get to Strasbourg.
In response, the peripherals are attacking this as an undemocratic solution. One British MEP said that "the current situation […] is that I simply cannot make it to Strasbourg, and I do not think any of our citizens would thank us for adding to Europe's congestion".
"All Nordic and Baltic flights are cancelled. Subsequently all trains and buses are full! The same goes for ferries. No rental cars are available! To hold a session with votes under these circumstances would be anti-democratic," said one Swedish MEP.
A Portuguese MEP bemoaned "the distorted geographical representation that may occur because of this situation". "MEPs from Greece, Cyprus, Estonia, Portugal and other countries will have extra difficulty in getting to Strasbourg - or Brussels, for that matter. Do you imagine voting on the financial situation, for instance, without the Greeks?" he added.
Silence from the Secretariat General
MEPs were vocally critical of the secretariat general, which they claimed had failed to respond to their repeated emails requesting clarification on the issue.
Well-positioned sources told EurActiv that the Parliament's political groups will meet at 16.00 today in Strasbourg to make a final decision on this week's agenda. Peripheral MEPs are hoping that the secretariat will open the session, as it is legally obliged to do, but close it immediately afterwards, rescheduling the voting for a future plenary session.
Council meetings cancelled
Meanwhile, the Spanish EU Presidency called an extraordinary meeting of EU transport ministers to discuss - via videoconference - the current state of play regarding the ash cloud, which is set to remain over Europe for some time yet.
Other developments saw the majority of EU telecommunications ministers, who were due in Granada for an informal meeting today, forced to speak to one another by videoconference after being grounded at home. The presidency had originally planned for the gathering to begin yesterday and finish tomorrow.
Indeed, many of the conferences and debates set to take place in Brussels this week, including those hosted by the EU institutions and think-tanks, have been cancelled or postponed, with speakers and participants unable to attend due to the flight restrictions.