European Parliament President David Sassoli is set to announce later on Tuesday that next week’s plenary session will not take place in Strasbourg due to concerns over a spike in coronavirus cases in the French city, according to three Parliament officials.
The session will be held in Brussels instead, the officials said. One of the officials said Sassoli was “doing a last check” with French authorities but would then announce the cancellation.
Sassoli’s move reverses an initial decision to resume sessions in Strasbourg next week, after a break due to the virus that stretched back to March. It follows pressure from many MEPs and staff, who voiced outrage at the idea of forcing thousands of people to travel to an area that was designated as a coronavirus “red zone” last week.
MEPs were meant to hold a scaled-down version of the usual plenary in Strasbourg, with a limited number of lawmakers debating in person and votes taking place using a remote system.
They were supposed to attend the annual State of the Union address by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and vote on important texts, including one on resources for the EU budget — a key step in creating the bloc’s coronavirus recovery fund.
Last week, however, France’s health ministry issued a statement announcing that the city had “just passed the warning level,” of 50 new cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents over the last seven days. That warning “indicates an area of high circulation of the virus,” the statement added.
Several officials said that despite such warnings, the French government and local authorities in Strasbourg had pushed to maintain the session there. The city of Strasbourg gains a lot economically from the monthly arrival of European lawmakers and officials. Taxi drivers, restaurants and hotels are among those who benefit the most.
In a normal month, 705 MEPs and some 2,500 parliamentary workers converge on Strasbourg for a plenary session.