EU lawmakers return to Strasbourg after more than a year

The European flag, left, and the Union Jack, right, fly with other European flags outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jan.31, 2020.
The European flag, left, and the Union Jack, right, fly with other European flags outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jan.31, 2020. Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
By Euronews with AP
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A plenary session hasn't been held in the eastern French city since February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


European lawmakers are returning to Strasbourg this week for the first time in over a year.

The June plenary session will take place in a hybrid format. Previous meetings were held remotely because of the dangers posed by travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But according to Portuguese MEP Lidia Pereira, it is a risky strategy.

"It is a significant number of people, the staff that have to be moved and it can be a risk factor. And therefore, that's the reason why I think it would be more prudent to wait for a higher rate of vaccination And then we could go to Strasbourg in a much more safer way than we are doing today," Pereira told Euronews.

"And we are also very restrictive in terms of our movement within Strasbourg because everything is still closed. So it's going to be quite an experience."

EU staff and legislators mostly have their parliamentary base in Brussels, but almost all plenary sessions need to be held 450 kilometres away in Strasbourg as foreseen in the EU treaties.

The practice is not without critics who argue that the annual €114 million price tag is a waste of money.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary stop to the practice and a previous attempt to bring back EU lawmakers to the French city in September 2020 was cancelled a week before as COVID-19 cases were rising again in France.

But now that parliamentary business is finally resuming in Strasbourg, the city's former Mayor and now MEP, Fabienne Keller, says it is a symbol of life slowly returning to normal, despite negative PCR tests on arrival in France being needed and quarantine measures still being required on return to Belgium.

“Well, I see it as a symbol of the fact that we are going to vote in Strasbourg, the European covid certificate to ease the travel issues you are mentioning," Keller told Euronews.

"Normally we are living in the Schengen area where, as you know, the movements are totally free. This is an important gain of the European Union and some of the staff are coming from Brussels, it is true, but not everybody."

According to official data, the 14-day incidence rate in the Belgian capital currently stands at 239 infections per 100,000 population, while in the Bas-Rhin, the northeastern département where Strasbourg is located, the 7-day incidence rate stands at 87 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

France requires travellers from other EU member states to present a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours.

MEPs are this week expected to give their final approval to the EU Digital COVID Certificate to facilitate travel within the 27-country bloc. The certificate will enable its holder to prove that they have either been fully vaccinated, have recovered from the disease or recently tested negative. The debate and vote will take place on Tuesday with the results coming out on Wednesday.

European lawmakers will also vote on whether to ask the World Trade Organisation to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines — a call backed by the World Health Organisation.

They will also debate what the EU's response to the forced diversion of a plane by Belarusian authorities to arrest a journalist should be. A resolution on the matter is expected on Thursday.

On Monday, MEPs will debate the new 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy and vote on it the day after. The resolution calls for, among other things, 30% of EU land and sea areas to be protected and underlines that urgent action is needed to stop the decline of bees and other pollinators.

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