The Brief – Treaties over common-sense?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

MEPs have packed their bags, ready to get back to Strasbourg after a forced six-month hiatus. But moving the entire EU circus to another country may not be the brightest idea right now.

In an unprecedented move, European Parliament President David Sassoli decided in March to avoid the monthly journey to Strasbourg at least until September and hold the plenary sessions in Brussels instead.

Based on a report from the EP’s Medical Service, the health risks were considered to be “significantly higher” if Parliament’s plenary sessions were to take place in Strasbourg in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Now that September has come, no new assessment has been made and hundreds of lawmakers, assistants, policy advisers, employees, administrative officers, lobbyists, translators, journalists, and security personnel are gearing up to resume the old habit of going to Strasbourg.

Sources in the Parliament have confirmed that all the preliminary preparations for the long trek to the Alsace are going as they always have before a Strasbourg session, which is scheduled from 14 to 17 September.

However, rumours have started doing the rounds that the session may not take place in the French city after all.

The situation is evolving and it’s now a 50/50 split. A final decision is expected next week and once again, Sassoli will be the one to make it.

“The European Parliament shall have its seat in Strasbourg where the 12 periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall be held.” This is what the Treaties say in one of the provisions so dear to the French.

French EU affairs secretary Clement Beaune has already spoken to Sassoli about resuming the activities in Strasbourg as soon as possible in the best sanitary conditions.

But Strasbourg is on Belgium’s orange-zone list, so people coming back to Belgium are asked to be tested and self-isolate, though on a voluntary basis.

But even if the situation in Alsace isn’t quite that bad, the question is: it is really worth it?

True, it is no small session, as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will deliver her State of the Union speech, and is also the first one after member states agreed on an unprecedented joint issuing of EU debt.

However, the importance of the session has nothing to do with where it takes place.

How do we react if von der Leyen mentions in her speech the need to reduce unnecessary journeys at this stage of the pandemic, speaking to people who have just made one?

How would Phil Hogan feel after having been forced to resign for not having respected COVID-19 guidelines, when hundreds of people are moving to an orange zone and going back to Belgium just for the sake of the Treaties?

Treaties are important and truly pro-Europeans are required to abide by the Treaties. But in these times it would be better to exercise common sense.

The Roundup

The protest rally in Sofia on Wednesday (2 September) marked the peak of two months of demonstrations demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. EURACTIV’s Kalina Angelova was there and captured the mood.

The European Commission said the bloc could slap new sanctions on Moscow only after a probe reveals who was responsible for what Germany says was the deliberate poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The European Commission has not ruled out a future ban on the use of facial recognition technology in Europe, as the EU executive mulls the findings of a recent public consultation on Artificial Intelligence.

The European Parliament will fight to have a say in the oversight of the EU’s €750-billion stimulus package, alongside the Council, MEP Jan Olbrycht, co-rapporteur on the EU’s next seven-year budget (MFF), told EURACTIV Italy in an interview.

Greece’s national blood donation centre EKEA, which is also the main testing hub for coronavirus, has warned hospitals across the country that it can no longer perform COVID-19 tests due to their “irrational” use that has created a shortage of reagents.

A proposed ban on polluting ship fuel in Arctic waters would only eliminate 5% of the most harmful climate-busting emissions due to a raft of waivers and exemptions, a new study warned.

Increasing the EU’s domestic supply of critical raw materials and cutting external dependencies got top billing in a new European Commission strategy, as the bloc started to get serious about its Green Deal and digital agenda.

The official draft for an amendment to Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) has been made public. It contains incentives for more wind energy in southern Germany and measures for ageing turbines, but critics say there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Views are the author’s

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