The European Parliament usually switches between Brussels and Strasbourg each month, which involves transporting thousands of documents and eurocrats on a 600mile round trip and has been heavily ridiculed as a “travelling circus”. The move was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For the past six months the European Parliament has operated exclusively out of Brussels, but a plenary will be held in the French city next week.
The move, which will see an estimated 1,700 MEPs and eurocrats make the journey, is problematic as the Bas-Rhin department, where the Strasbourg Parliament is located, is on Belgium’s orange zone.
Belgium has colour-coded countries within the European Union, including individual districts, cities and regions, based on coronavirus infection rates.
An orange zone refers to places where a moderately high risk of infection has been identified.
Areas within this zone are not subject to travel restrictions, but people are asked to go into quarantine and take a coronavirus test on their return.
But Parliament officials have said the politicians will not have to self-isolate, as the Belgian guidance exempts people with “essential function”, which typically refers to key workers such as medics, health care professionals and transport workers.
Many people have questioned whether MEPs should be classed as essential workers.
Pieter Cleppe, a policy analyst and political commentator, wrote on Twitter: “Is it ‘essential’ for MEPs and their staff – which justifies a quarantine exemption – to waste scarce resources and move back and forth to #Strasbourg?”
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It is thought that due to current restrictions, about 1,700 people may go, though the figure could be considerably less.
Currently, the EU has permitted an MEP to bring one assistant with them to Strasbourg.
There are currently 705 MEPs in the European Parliament, so some 1,410 people could attend.
This sum doesn’t include the 350 official interpreters who will also attend the Strasbourg sitting.
The situation could become even more problematic if Strasbourg becomes a red zone, which imposes a formal travel ban.
People who return from red zone areas are treated as “high-risk contacts”, which means they have to be tested and go into quarantine immediately.
But again, the eurocrats would be exempt under the “essential function” criteria.