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An outraged French President has warned Europe is “screwed” if MEPs do not return to their seats at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg and stay in Brussels. Plenary sessions have not taken place in the French city due to the coronavirus pandemic in order to reduce the amount of travelling and spread of the deadly contagion. The European Parliament traditionally sits in Strasbourg once every month, with the rest of the sessions taking place in the Belgian capital.
Speaking to university students during a visit to Lithuania, Mr Macron insisted he would do everything it takes to restore France to the forefront of European politics.
He said: “At the moment I’m fighting tooth and nail for the idea that the European Parliament should convene in Strasbourg.
“If we accept that the European Parliament only gathers in Brussels, we’re screwed, because in 10 years’ time everything will take place in Brussels and people will only speak amongst themselves in Brussels.
“But Europe does not represent this idea, the idea is for everyone to respect each other, for one to go toward the other.”
The outburst from Mr Macron comes as the session in Strasbourg scheduled for next week looks set to be cancelled.
President of the European Parliament David Sassoli plans to scrap the upcoming session starting on October 5 due to the ongoing health crisis.
Belgian authorities have designated the city of Strasbourg a red zone following a rise in coronavirus infections across France.
A second session on October 19 is also in doubt.
In order to ramp up the pressure, the French President’s office also publically released a letter he sent to the EU chief.
In the letter dated September 23, following the cancellation of this month’s plenary, Mr Macron insisted the coronavirus crisis is “just as difficult” in Belgium as it is in France.
The French President highlighted the historical importance of the parliament in Strasbourg and described the city as “a capital of democracy and European values”.
He added: “France deeply regrets this decision. We must now look to the future to rectify this situation as quickly as possible.
“The health situation is certainly difficult, but it is just as difficult in Brussels as in Strasbourg.
“In these conditions, it is your responsibility to immediately implement the return to institutional normality and the resumption of plenary sessions in Strasbourg from October.”
In response to the French leader, Mr Sassoli defended the decision and made a “firm will” to resume business in Strasbourg “as soon as the health situation will allow it”.
The European Parliament consists of 705 elected members from across 27 EU member states.
In a letter to Mr Macron, the European Parliament President said moving a “considerable amount” of people from Brussels to Strasbourg is “a high-risk zone to another high-risk zone”.
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He added such a scenario would “inevitably cause a notable increase of the risk of exposure to the virus not only for MEPs and staff but also for the population of the regions in question”.
Mr Macron and Mr Sassoli are due to hold a meeting ahead of the upcoming European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday
The lack of movement of EU officials and MEPs across Europe is, however, set to save the bloc millions of pounds.
The monthly trip from Brussels to Strasbourg cost the EU £104 million in 2019, according to EU audits.
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