VILNIUS — The EU is “screwed” if the European Parliament no longer meets in Strasbourg, French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday.
Macron’s remarks, on a visit to Lithuania, reflect growing French anger over decisions by the Parliament to meet in Brussels rather than travel to Strasbourg for plenary sessions, due to restrictions and concerns linked to the coronavirus.
“Right now I am fighting tooth and nail for the idea that the European Parliament should meet in Strasbourg because if we accept that the European Parliament only meets in Brussels, we are screwed — because in 10 years everything will be in Brussels and people will only speak among themselves in Brussels,” Macron said in a debate with students at the University of Vilnius.
“But Europe does not represent this idea, the idea is for everyone to respect each other, for one to go toward the other,” he said.
Macron increased the pressure on the Parliament last week by writing personally to the legislature’s president, David Sassoli, to demand a swift return to “institutional normality.” The Elysée palace made that letter public on Monday, further upping the ante.
In his reply to Macron, obtained by POLITICO, Sassoli sought to defuse tension over the issue. He stressed his attachment to the Parliament’s Strasbourg seat and promised that the assembly had the “firm will” to resume its sessions in the Alsatian city “as soon as the health situation will allow it.”
Sassoli plans to cancel its forthcoming Strasbourg session due to run from October 5 to October 8, after Belgian authorities designated the city as a red zone due to the number of coronavirus cases. A second Strasbourg session scheduled for next month, to begin on October 19, is also in doubt.
In his letter to Macron, Sassoli defended the Parliament’s stance. He said moving a “considerable amount” of people from Brussels to Strasbourg, “a high-risk zone to another high-risk zone,” would “inevitably cause a notable increase of the risk of exposure to the virus not only for MEPs and staff but also for the population of the regions in question.”
“In accordance with its duty of care toward its members and staff, and as a matter of health protection, it is up to the institution to limit that risk,” Sassoli wrote.
Macron and Sassoli are due to meet and discuss the issue of Strasbourg ahead of the upcoming European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday, according to several Parliament officials.
This article has been updated.