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EU leaders will reevaluate the need for in-person meetings over the coming weeks in light of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, European Council President Charles Michel said Friday, after three leaders were knocked out of this week’s summit because of infection risks.
Michel defended his decision to call two face-to-face summits within the last two weeks, arguing that a sensitive discussion two weeks ago on tensions with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, and a high-stakes discussion on Brexit on Thursday, would have been impossible to accomplish via videoconference. But he conceded that the steep rise in infection numbers would influence decisions on meetings going forward.
“Over the coming weeks, meeting by meeting, theme by theme, in consultation with the different leaders, we will decide on the wisest way to proceed and organize our meetings to ensure that the European institutions can function but guarantee as far as possible everyone’s safety,” Michel said at the summit’s closing news conference.
Hours after warning Michel of the health risks of holding in-person summits during a pandemic, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin left the meeting on Friday to enter self-isolation because of infection risk.
Marin, who raised her concerns about the in-person gatherings on Thursday night, learned that she had been in close contact with a Finnish MP infected with coronavirus before leaving Helsinki for Brussels.
The forced absences from the summit only highlighted the increasing disconnect between the aspirations of political leaders to keep face-to-face democracy functioning and the reality of the fast-worsening second wave of infections.