Coronavirus crisis hastens remote-control Europe

The business of EU government is being transformed by the coronavirus crisis.

The need for speedy decisions and remote working are forcing the EU to modernize its antiquated decision-making processes, and officials predict this moment may one day be seen as a breakthrough in how Brussels makes its most important decisions.

EU ambassadors on Wednesday are expected to adopt temporary new rules for Council of the European Union meetings where diplomats or ministers can’t attend in person because of quarantine or social distancing measures to fight the pandemic.

And several members of the European Parliament are pushing leaders to create the capability for a virtual plenary, using electronic “tokens” to verify the identities of MEPs during votes and other software for electronically signing amendments.

All governments face logistical obstacles in a pandemic but the challenges are especially acute in Brussels where key actors in the co-legislative bodies — the Council and the Parliament — must travel from out of town to attend meetings and cast votes.

In a draft document seen by POLITICO, the Council has set out new rules lowering the number of officials required to attend Council meetings in person.

The question of being physically present is especially sensitive for the Parliament, given the longstanding feud not just over the requirement of MEPs to vote in person, but for the entire body to travel to Strasbourg to hold its monthly plenary sessions.

How to keep the EU functioning and able to take decisions without officials being in the same room has taken on new urgency as national leaders decided Tuesday to replace their regular March summit next week with a videoconference.

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