Parliaments in emergency mode: How Member States' parliaments are continuing with business during the pandemic

24-04-2020

The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by a huge array of public measures aiming to protect against and mitigate the consequences of the virus. While citizens have had to adjust to weeks of lockdown in their homes as a consequence of the emergency measures adopted by Member States, public institutions have been forced to move quickly to adapt their ways of working to a new and unprecedented scenario. These changes are particularly challenging for parliamentary institutions, as their functioning is based on the principles of pluralism, deliberation and transparency. How can decisions be adopted on the basis of those principles if many members cannot attend parliamentary sessions owing either to the restrictions on freedom of movement and bans on public gatherings in virtually all Member States, or to personal health concerns? National parliaments in the EU have adopted a variety of approaches to address this challenge. Some have gone entirely digital, using remote technology to ensure all members can take part in parliamentary work, including voting. Others have opted to adopt parliamentary decisions with a reduced number of members while ensuring the balance of power between their different political groups. Some others, finally, have decided to adopt social distancing measures, allowing members to continue with their parliamentary activities from different rooms of the parliament premises or from another location entirely. Given the particular difficulties in travelling between Member States, the European Parliament opted for the first solution, holding its first ever digital plenary session, in which Members voted remotely using a new electronic voting procedure, on 26 March 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by a huge array of public measures aiming to protect against and mitigate the consequences of the virus. While citizens have had to adjust to weeks of lockdown in their homes as a consequence of the emergency measures adopted by Member States, public institutions have been forced to move quickly to adapt their ways of working to a new and unprecedented scenario. These changes are particularly challenging for parliamentary institutions, as their functioning is based on the principles of pluralism, deliberation and transparency. How can decisions be adopted on the basis of those principles if many members cannot attend parliamentary sessions owing either to the restrictions on freedom of movement and bans on public gatherings in virtually all Member States, or to personal health concerns? National parliaments in the EU have adopted a variety of approaches to address this challenge. Some have gone entirely digital, using remote technology to ensure all members can take part in parliamentary work, including voting. Others have opted to adopt parliamentary decisions with a reduced number of members while ensuring the balance of power between their different political groups. Some others, finally, have decided to adopt social distancing measures, allowing members to continue with their parliamentary activities from different rooms of the parliament premises or from another location entirely. Given the particular difficulties in travelling between Member States, the European Parliament opted for the first solution, holding its first ever digital plenary session, in which Members voted remotely using a new electronic voting procedure, on 26 March 2020.