Faced with what is now a new wave of the pandemic, national and European institutions find themselves forced to review how institutional work is carried out, ensuring that it continues as smoothly as possible. The numbers recorded in the last few weeks in Belgium, and especially in Brussels, have presented the leaders of the European institutions with the need to take measures to protect all those involved and safeguard the procedures of institutional activities.
As far as the European Parliament is concerned, at a press conference last week, President David Sassoli announced a marked increase in the number of infections. The October plenary session was held remotely and the only members present in the Chamber were those who were scheduled to give a speech. The invitation to avoid travelling was addressed to all MEPs, referring not only to the plenary, which had been moved again from Strasbourg to Brussels. In spite of this, Sassoli said he was satisfied that the parliamentary activity was not affected by “no physical presence”. In fact, the plenary session registered a record number of interventions and remote voting. “Ensuring democratic continuity and ensuring that MEPs’ voices can be heard”, is the priority pointed out Sassoli, who then stressed that work will continue to “ensure that the European Parliament remains open and continues to fulfil its fundamental functions”.
The same applies to the European summits in the EU Council, and the informal summit of the Heads of State and Government to be held in Berlin in mid-November will be take place with a videoconference at the decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And the same will apply to the Council’s work in the coming weeks with the informal meeting of EU leaders, scheduled for 29 October, as well as the summit between health ministers and the Eurogroup being held remotely and, according to the general agenda of the Council of the Union, the same regime will apply to the smaller working groups.
The European Commission, likewise, was unable to escape the increase in the number of internal cases – out of 32,800 officials, 230 were diagnosed positive by mid-October. And the top management are not excluded from this. The President of the Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, chaired the College of Commissioners remotely, after the decision to go into self-isolation due to a contact with a member of her staff that proved positive, a decision that came in the middle of the European Council.
The same questions and the same debates obviously also affect national institutions. In Italy, at the moment, there is a debate on how to carry out the work in the Parliament in order to ensure that its activities continue and guarantee its role in a situation where decisions are increasingly taken by means of an emergency decree. The digitisation of decision-making processes could, therefore, be an important alternative to guaranteeing democratic representativeness.