Written on September, 2020
Introduction: The Importance of Face-to-Face Interaction in Parliamentary Democracy
The European Parliament is a central institution for democracy, with 705 members representing 27 different Member States. Traditionally, the parliament functions as a physical place where people engage in face-to-face communication and decision-making. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted this norm, presenting unique challenges and forcing the European Parliament to adapt quickly and efficiently.
Digitalization and Communication: Expanding Access to Information and Parliamentary Proceedings
Before the Covid-19 crisis, the European Parliament had already embarked on a digitalization process, which focused on transitioning to a paperless institution and expanding communication and information services to the outside world. Efforts included broadcasting meetings and press conferences through TV and streaming services, maintaining a comprehensive and accessible website, and engaging with citizens on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These initiatives aimed to bridge the gap between the institution and the public, particularly younger generations.
Adapting to Remote Work: Ensuring Secure and Legal Solutions for Remote Meetings and Voting
During the pandemic, the European Parliament faced two main challenges: how to facilitate remote meetings and voting. Ensuring a secure and legal solution was critical for maintaining the integrity of the democratic process. In response, the European Parliament adopted remote conferences with interpretation in 24 languages, allowing MEPs to communicate in their mother tongue. A system for remote voting was also introduced, using emails containing scanned, physically signed ballots sent by MEPs through their accounts with two-step authentication.
Prioritizing Health and Safety: Implementing Measures to Protect MEPs and Staff
Throughout the crisis, the European Parliament focused on three main priorities: protecting MEPs and staff, ensuring business continuity, and demonstrating practical solidarity. Health and safety measures included temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing, and social distancing. The institution also provided equipment to facilitate remote work and continued operations, distributing 9,000 pieces of equipment to staff and assistants. These measures aimed to maintain the functioning of critical democratic infrastructure while safeguarding the health of all involved.
Lessons Learned and Challenges: Adapting to Remote Work Culture and Managing Remote Meetings
Despite the success of the adaptations, there were still challenges and lessons to be learned. Remote work was not a common practice within the European Parliament, and adjusting to this new way of working required the development of guidelines, technology testing, and new approaches to managing and moderating remote meetings. Interpreters, for example, experienced difficulty when they could not see the faces of MEPs during remote sessions. The pandemic accelerated the digitalization process, transforming a four-year plan into one that unfolded within a few months, highlighting the institution’s capacity for rapid adaptation.
Conclusion: The Lasting Impact of Covid-19 on the European Parliament and Democratic Processes
The European Parliament’s experience during the Covid-19 pandemic underscores the importance of adaptability, resilience, and innovation in the face of extraordinary circumstances. As the pandemic recedes, the European Parliament will continue to reflect on its experiences, learn from the challenges, and evolve to meet the demands of a changing world. The lasting impact of Covid-19 on the European Parliament and democratic processes will undoubtedly shape how the institution functions and engages with citizens in the years to come.
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