In an opinion piece on March 19th, Danish MEP Pernille Weiss called for the European Parliament to reconvene in Brussels to prove that it is in fact not a Mickey Mouse Parliament.
Ms Weiss is correct in pointing out that the Corona crisis is serious and that it is evolving hour by hour. But she is wrong in her criticism of the Parliament deciding to cancel meetings, shorten the plenary and encourage MEPs and staff to work from home. It was the only right thing to do.
To gather 705 politicians and thousands of employees from 27 different countries in Brussels would be deeply irresponsible in a time where member states are in a race with time to stop chains of transmission and save as many lives as possible.
Moreover, if we were to meet, the many quarantine and curfew rules as well as the obvious logistical challenges of closed borders and cancelled flight routes would lead to a fragmented attendance without proper representation across party lines and nationality.
Ms Pernille Weiss should instead focus her efforts on pushing for a quorum at a distance. In our digital age, it should be possible to vote and hold committee meetings at a distance under extraordinary circumstances like these. And sure enough, the latest reports tell us that the Parliament is working hard to make that possible.
As such, we are voting next week to approve the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative that Ms Weiss mentions, freeing 37 billion euros for European small and medium-sized business – without meeting in Brussels.
But let us also dwell on the actual role of the European Parliament in a crisis like this, which in fact is rather limited. Health policy is national competency and so the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak is primarily a national issue. That is a sound division of responsibility that we should not try to change simply because we are in crisis mode.
Of course, everyone is eager to take action – it is in our DNA as politicians to get to work when the going gets tough. But in this very crisis, it is the responsibility of national parliaments to decide on the measures they find necessary to contain the outbreak. As it should be.
This does not mean that European governments should not cooperate and share experiences. And of course they do – through daily video conferences between ministers and common purchase of medical equipment. But the division of labour within our institutions makes clear that this coordination takes place in the Council and the Commission.
Politicians at different levels have different areas of responsibility, and in a crisis like this we as MEPs should not puff ourselves up to try to change this. Rather we must buckle up, strengthen the ability of the Parliament to work at a distance and spend our time preparing the many legislative procedures that will continue right on the other side of this crisis.
I look forward to the role the Parliament will play in the coming future, ensuring a socially just response to the economic consequences of the corona crisis and partaking in the critical debate on takeaways from the European response to this health crisis to make the union more resilient in the future.
At that point, we must judge whether the situation allows for us to discuss these issues face-to-face in the plenary. But until then, we must remain at our home workstations and continue our hard efforts online so as not to gather thousands of potential corona carriers from all corners of Europe and form new chains of transmission. I hope Ms Pernille Weiss will agree.
Marianne Vind is a Member of the European Parliament for the Danish Social Democrats