European Parliament learns to live with coronavirus

A president in self-imposed isolation. MEPs prevented from voting. Italian lawmakers stranded in Brussels. Cleaners asked to scrub floors and door handles several times a day. Meetings and press conferences canceled.

Welcome to the European Parliament in the time of coronavirus.

MEPs were supposed to be in Strasbourg this week for their monthly plenary. Instead, they stayed in Brussels for a massively reduced session as the assembly took action to avoid contamination, causing unprecedented disruption for the 705 MEPs and 4,800 staff and contractors.

Italys announcement Monday that it was locking down the entire country was clearly of concern to some of the Italian MEPs who showed up to work in Brussels, as they feared being unable to return to their country anytime soon. That was coupled with the announcement that an external trainer who had given classes to Parliament staff had contracted coronavirus.

“Its a very strange, even surreal situation and also one that is difficult to handle psychologically,” Laura Ferrara, an MEP from the 5Star Movement, told POLITICO. “I have my family there in Italy, and I am very concerned but I dont know if I should go back.”

In the meantime, the Parliaments administration recommended “telework” for all staff members who are pregnant or over 60.

Although Ferrara is not from the north of Italy, which was in lockdown before the rest of the country, she said that “arriving from the south, I have stopovers in Rome or Milan, which means I enter the red zone.”

In mid-February, she decided to stay in Brussels because she was “scared” of being stranded in Italy and unable to return to Brussels to “continue my work.” She canceled a number of meetings in Italys south, including at the University of Salerno and at a school in Reggio Calabria.

Her colleague Fabio Castaldo, a Parliament vice president, was another of the nine 5Star MEPs who showed up in plenary on Monday.

He decided two weeks ago to stay in Brussels and says he washes his hands regularly, tries to “avoid moving about too much” and has “a very quiet and normal life.”

European Parliament (EP) President David Sassoli announces that the EPs plenary session, which was scheduled to last four days, has been reduced to a single day | François Walschaerts/AFP via Getty Images

But he said that work must go on and shutting down the Parliament “would be a great error, a mistake also for democracy. Because it would mean we surrender … solutions are needed to fight [the virus] like our doctors, our nurses who courageously take precautions every day but then they go to work.”

Parliament President David Sassoli took a number of steps to tackle coronavirus. He first banned access to Parliament for visitors. He then moved the plenary session from Strasbourg and later downgraded it to just 24 hours, scrapped all voting and canceled the April plenary session in Strasbourg (its due to be held in Brussels).

He also recommended that members who had traveled to the most-affected areas in the last 14 days self-quarantine. That advice hit close to home on Tuesday when Sassoli, who took a recent trip to Italy, decided to work from his Brussels home as a precaution.

His decision to isolate himself came after he put in place new rules for all those who chair “governing bodies of Parliament, plenary, ordinary and extraordinary committee meetings” to make sure that attendees “do not approach each other closer than 1 meter when seated,” and “avoid direct physical contact such as handshakes,” according to a statement seen by POLITICO.

In addition, “persons showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as sneezing, running nose or cough shall not attend the meeting,” Sassoli said, adding that the House of European History, the Parlamentarium and the Europa Experience “shall be closed unless indicated otherwise.”

The assembly is bound by the EU treaties to organize 12 plenary sessions a year, and there are “no rules saying the institution can prevent an MEP from coming to work.”

In the meantime, the Parliaments administration recommended “telework” for all staff members who are pregnant or over 60. Extra cleaning of the pRead More – Source

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