The European Parliament has decided to go ahead today with a shortened and slimmed down plenary session in Strasbourg this week despite the volcanic ash cloud, which has caused air traffic havoc and prevented hundreds of MEPs from attending.
The ash cloud has already forced the cancellation and delay of numerous EU meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg, including a meeting of EU fisheries ministers and the planned summit between the EU and Pakistan on Wednesday.
Jerzy Buzek, president of the Parliament, said the session will end on Wednesday afternoon instead of Thursday and will not include votes because so few members managed to make it to Strasbourg because of continuing flight bans in many EU countries.
As a result many MEPs struggled to find alternative ways to get to the French city from their home countries. The Parliament hired a shuttle bus from Brussels to take MEPs to Strasbourg to ensure there were enough members for the quorum, which is a third of the 736 members, or at least 245. Parliament officials said this threshold had been met.
“Many of us had great difficulties getting to Strasbourg today and some didn’t manage to get here,” Buzek told a visibly empty chamber.
It was unclear how many MEPs in total made it to the French city, as some were still trying to get there and had not yet signed in. Some who did arrive on time were frustrated and upset over how the Parliament waited until the last minute to decide on whether to go ahead with its plenary this week.
“It would be very helpful for us if we get information about plenary sittings … earlier than we did it this time because I got the first information on Sunday and it was a bit tricky for me to come here,” said Jörg Leichtfreid, an Austrian centre-left MEP. “If we get information earlier than the plenary here, it would have been much fuller by now.”
Buzek said the Parliament had no choice but to proceed because of the assembly rules and the fact that the Parliament had to stick to its official calendar. “If this session has been approved in a plenary vote, then it cannot be cancelled,” said Buzek.
Buzek said the Parliament’s seven political groups agreed to cut this week’s work to three days, and to delay votes until the assembly’s next sitting on 5-6 May in Brussels. Debates on the European Commission’s 2010 work programme, and May’s EU-Canada summit will go ahead as planned.
The Parliament will also hold a special debate on the flight ban situation Tuesday morning and the possible economic damage it has done to airlines, importers and exporters and the travel industry.
The European Commission’s weekly meeting, which traditionally takes place in Strasbourg during the Parliament’s plenary sessions there, will take place as planned, Commission officials said. Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and the rest of the Commission would travel to Strasbourg for their weekly meeting which takes place on a Tuesday when the Parliament meets in Strasbourg.
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