Brussels officials cancelled the session in the parliament’s headquarters in the French city next week, despite a legal obligation for it to go ahead. EU law states the European Parliament must hold a four-day plenary session once a month in Strasbourg – a right defended by France – despite regular pressure from ministers to change the rules and instead meet in Brussels. Next week’s parliamentary session has additional importance as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will deliver an annual address.
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But the European Parliament will now hold the plenary session in Brussels after Strasbourg and the surrounding area were identified as coronavirus hotspots by French authorities.
European Parliament President David Sassoli said in a statement: “The resurgence of the pandemic in many member states and the decisions taken by the French authorities to classify the entire Lower Rhine department as a red zone obliges us to reconsider the move to Strasbourg.
“The plenary session of the European Parliament will take place in Brussels.”
France had initially reacted calmly to the move, with Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Strasbourg Mayor Jeanne Barseghian calling for a “swift return to plenary sessions in Strasbourg”.
They said in a joint statement that French authorities had been working on a “strict health protocol” to ensure the plenary could be held safely”.
But French Government spokesman Gabriel Attal has now reacted furiously to the decision to move the plenary session from Strasbourg to Brussels.
Mr Attal, who is also a politician within Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM party, said after the French Cabinet’s weekly meeting: “The decision is incomprehensible and was taken in a rather unilateral way.
“The prevalence rate of the virus in Strasbourg is lower than in Brussels.”
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The furious comments went significantly further than those expressed in a statement by French President Jean Castex on Tuesday evening, following a phone call with European Parliament President Mr Sassolli.
Mr Castex’s office had said: “While expressing his deep regrets, the Prime Minister took note of the clear will expressed by President Sassoli to organise very quickly the next plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and if possible as soon as October 2020.
“Prime Minister Jean Castex reaffirmed the profound attachment of France and the government to Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament.”
France is desperately struggling to contain a huge new spike in coronavirus cases throughout the country after strict lockdown measures were gradually lifted by President Macron and his Government.
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On Thursday, health authorities reported 9,843 confirmed coronavirus cases in the most recent 24-hour period – the highest tally of daily additional infections since the pandemic began.
This new and unwanted record came six days after the previous high of 8,975 cases.
The total number of infections in France now stands at 353,944.
A further 19 people have died following COVID-19 infections in France, with the death toll increasing to 30,813 – the seventh highest in the world.
The number of people in hospital from coronavirus jumped by 93 to a total of 5,096, with the tally increasing for the 12th successive day.
On Tuesday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran admitted the coronavirus situation in the country is worrying, but believes a second wave of infections is avoidable.