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European Union: Parliament Temporarily Allows Remote Participation to Avoid Spreading COVID-19

(Apr. 21, 2020) The Bureau of the European Parliament (Bureau) has agreed to temporary changes to the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament that allow for remote participation and electronic voting by members of parliament (MPs) and committee members. The changes are meant to allow members to “fulfil their democratic rights and legislative duties” while adhering to strict sanitary measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. The extraordinary remote participation procedure was first used in the plenary session on March 25, 2020. The changes will remain in effect until July 31, 2020, unless extended by a decision of the Bureau.

The Bureau is made up of the president and the 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament. (Rules of Procedure, rule 24, para. 1.) Among other things, the Bureau makes financial, organizational, and administrative decisions on matters concerning the internal organization of the European Parliament. (Rule 25, para. 2.)

General Rules

The Rules of Procedure provide that voting is a personal right that MPs exercise individually and in person. It generally takes place by a show of hands. (Rules 186, 187, para. 1.) However, rule 187 authorizes the president to decide to use an electronic voting system instead. The Bureau is in charge of the technical implementation of an electronic voting system. (Rule 192, para. 1.) The aforementioned rules for MPs apply, with the necessary changes, to committee members. (Rule 219.) 

Temporary Changes

According to the changes, MPs are allowed to participate remotely and vote electronically in plenary sessions and committee meetings. MPs who use this option connect via a link provided by the Parliament to a special videoconference system. During committee meetings, members may take the floor physically or remotely if authorized by the chair. However, during plenary sessions, only group leaders and representatives of the Council of the European Union and of the European Commission may intervene remotely. MPs in the European Parliament are grouped together by political affiliation. Currently, the Parliament is composed of eight political groups.

With regard to voting, all members, even those participating in person, will receive a ballot  sent by email to their official email address. The ballot, which must contain the name and vote of the MP in a readable form and the MP’s signature, must be returned from their official email address to the committee or plenary services in order to be counted. The ballot must be received in the dedicated official European Parliament mailbox by the time the vote is closed.