Virtual sessions of the European Parliament may be illegal, Hungarian MEP Szájer says

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The partially online sessions of the European Parliament instituted with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic raise a series of questions regarding the legitimacy of its operations and decisions, Hungarian news and opinion portal Mandiner writes, based on an essay by Hungarian MEP József Szájer.

In his essay Szájer argues that the current mode of operation, however reasonable it may sound, is not entirely legal. The questionable nature of the European Parliament decisions brought under these rules since spring could even be annulled retroactively, thus destroying months of the European Parliament’s work. While this is not in anyone’s interests, day-to-day politics can easily override the current situation and the European Union’s institutional functioning needs to be clarified.

Szájer wrote that while the internal regulations of the European Parliament have been modified citing vis maior — a legal term meaning extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of the parties involved — that in itself “does not exempt us from creating a legal framework that ensures predictability, legal certainty and the rule of law in order to support the legitimacy of our actions.”

He wrote that while under the constraint of the coronavirus pandemic many national legislations, such as those of Romania and France, have changed their internal regulations allowing MPs to preform their duties “with the use of electronic equipment”, the fundamental regulations that remain in force still require the representatives’ physical presence.

The extraordinary procedural rules have led to a series of questionable practices, such as the proceedings of the March 26 plenary session of the European Parliament, at which 75 MEPs were present, three absent with justification, but still 600 MEPs cast their votes.

Furthermore, Szájer argues that throughout the summer, only MEPs physically present had the right to address the assembly, which has since been changed to allow all MEPs to use video links. While the European Parliament did modify its internal regulations to allow for these changes, any such changes should only have been made with consent of the member states.

“We must be aware of the fact that, in the current situation, each step taken by the European Parliament sets a precedent for the interpretation of the Rules of Procedure,” Szájer wrote. “Any extension of Parliament’s powers which is debatable in the light of the EU Treaty or secondary EU law could lead to confusion of interpretation, inconsistencies in application and undesirable long-term effects in both inter-institutional and multilateral relations.”

Title image: European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a media conference after an EU summit in video conference format at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. EU leaders held a video conference to address the need to strengthen the collective effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. They also discussed quarantine regulations, cross-border contact tracing, and temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU as well as the EU vaccine strategy. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP)

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