Its not just European countries struggling to harmonize their responses to the coronavirus outbreak. EU institutions are also having trouble coordinating their measures to prevent the spread of the virus among employees.
The Commission has so far confirmed six cases of employees being infected with the coronavirus. The Council has three, while the Parliament has one.
But it was the Parliament — perhaps the busiest institution in terms of the number of people leaving and entering its premises — that took the earliest and most far-reaching measures once news broke that the virus had spread to Europe.
The Parliament decided on March 8 to ask 70 percent of its staff to begin working from home, regardless of their recent travels and health conditions. So-called vulnerable employees like pregnant women, people over 60 and those with “pre-existing health conditions” in particular were “authorized to telework,” according to a note sent to employees. The institution even urged employees to avoid public transport.
Parliament President David Sassoli initially banned access to Parliament for visitors. He then moved the plenary session from Strasbourg to Brussels and later shortened it to just 24 hours, scrapped all voting and moved the April plenary from Strasbourg to Brussels. Sassoli himself also decided to work from home as a precaution after a recent trip to Italy.
“The situation in which people who came back from yellow and red areas had to go to work in the Commission and the Council while Parliament told [their staff] to stay home was not very helpful” — Daniel Caspary, MEP
However, the Commission has only just started to ask its employees to telework. For weeks, it had ordered “asymptomatic” staff who hadnt traveled to any affected areas to come in to the office. Pregnant women and people over 60 had to decide whether to commute to work or not.
“I would be delighted if the European institutions were to take a united approach to the issue,” said Daniel Caspary, an MEP from the European Peoples Party. “The situation in which people who came back from yellow and red areas had to go to work in the Commission and the Council while Parliament told [their staff] to stay home was not very helpful.”
Some Commission officials said it took European Schools — where a number of EU staffers send their children — announcing they were temporarily shutting down on Thursday to get the institution to sanction remote working, and initially only if an employee requested it.
The Commission has now canceled all non-essential trips, external meetings as well as conferences, and the number of internal meetings has also been reduced, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an internal email sent to staff on Thursday. “We have increased the use of teleworking and videoconferencing. We give full support to parents and staff that care for family members, through flexible working arrangements,” it says.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen | Stephanie Lecocq/EPA
One-third of the Commission staff, or 9,000 employees, are now teleworking. “As of Monday, all colleagues in non-critical functions will have to telework [but] Colleagues who ensure critical functions will need to be present at work,” it adds.
Staffers will work in two shifts to “ensure business continuity.”
However, there was “no recommendation yet” on how to act in cases “where a staff member has a condition that increases the risk of an adverse outcome with COVID-19,” like pregnant and elderly people, according to earlier Commission rules.
At the Council of the EU, the situatioRead More – Source