European Union lawmakers have cancelled their session at the parliament's headquarters in the French city of Strasbourg next week, despite a legal obligation to do so, because of the coronavirus, the assembly's president said on Tuesday.
EU law states that the parliament must hold a four-day session once a month in Strasbourg, a right defended by France, despite regular lobbying by lawmakers to change the rules and meet in Brussels, the assembly's second headquarters.
Authorities in Strasbourg had urged lawmakers to come. Next week's session has additional prestige as the president of the European Commission, the EU executive, will deliver an annual address to the parliament.
"The resurgence of the pandemic in many member states and the decisions taken by the French authorities to classify the entire Lower Rhine department as a red zone obliges us to reconsider the move to Strasbourg," European Parliament President David Sassoli said in a statement.
"The plenary session of the European Parliament … will take place in Brussels," he said, referring to the more regularly used assembly building in the Belgian capital, where EU lawmakers work when they are not in Strasbourg.
France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Strasbourg's mayor, Jeanne Barseghian expressed regret in a statement, calling for a "swift return to plenary sessions in Strasbourg".
Many EU lawmakers were concerned that moving the 705 members of the European Parliament, their staff and interpreters – more than 1,500 people – from Belgium to the eastern French city was an unnecessary health risk.
France's health minister Olivier Veran said on Tuesday that the COVID-19 situation in the country was worrying, with daily new cases at record levels, although he said a second wave of infections was avoidable.