European Parliament lifts remote working in a decision branded a ‘super-spreader event’

Greenpeace protesters cover European Parliament in paint

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President David Sassoli is facing backlash from several MEPs for scrapping the hybrid working system in place for the last year and a half in favour of a return to normalcy. The 705 European elected officials are now asked to attend all work sessions just like before the pandemic started.

The only difference being the requirement of a Covid passport showing proof of vaccination, a negative test or coronavirus recovery to enter the Parliament buildings.

Voting and debating must happen only in person and “physical distancing in plenary sittings should be lifted,” according to the new rules.

David Sassoli sent an edict to all MEPs on October 28 to announce the end of the hybrid model.

He said that while minimising Covid risks, “Parliament has the obligation to return to business as usual.”

Delphine Colard, the Parliament’s deputy spokesperson, said that Mr Sassoli’s decision on changing the rules was motivated by a “general willingness” among MEPs to return to physical proximity to enhance the quality of debates and strengthen democracy.

“The idea was that it was better to represent the citizens to be present somewhere,” Ms Colard said.

Over 550 MEPs already physically attended last month’s hybrid Parliament week in Strasbourg, meaning a physical Parliament sitting has “de facto” returned anyway, she added.

Several MEPs shared their outrage as they realised they could no longer vote online as they had been doing for many months.

On Wednesday, Danish MEP Karen Melchior said: “Member states are reinstating security measures against Covid and at the same time we are now sitting elbow to elbow in this room, travelling from all across Europe.”

“Where are the lessons learnt from the last year and a half?” the Renew Europe politician asked.

German Green MEP Daniel Freund told POLITICO: “We’re holding the biggest super-spreader event in Brussels.”

Freund said it was also a backward step in terms of technical innovation because Parliament has managed to operate fully digitally since March 2020.

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Luke “Ming” Flanagan, an Irish MEP from the Left group, attacked the mandate for physical presence, saying it was ludicrous to demand MEPs “burn up jet fuel” when remote participation works fine.

He accused the EU political class of hypocrisy more broadly, saying MEPs want to “continue eating in Place Luxembourg, sitting in first class, feathering our nests, while we ask other people to change.”

However, one Parliament insider from the Socialists and Democrats group told Politico that MEPs have had an easy ride: “MEPs are already mollycoddled. It’s the first Parliament in the world to have allowed people to vote from their living rooms for 18 months.”

“It’s a shame to have to insist on MEPs to come and do their duty. We would expect an obligation to be physically present would annoy anti-European or extremist MEPs, not the representatives of a democratic party.”

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