MEP Gregorová discusses home office
Written by Redaction Nantes on 10 avril 2020
Work limitations have been imposed throughout Europe by the coronavirus and European Parliament is no exception. Just like many other workers throughout Europe, MEPs have had to adjust to new working conditions. To discuss how MEPs are working from home and topics that European Parliament and some of its committees are continuing to address, we are here today with Markéta Gregorová, member of the Czech Pirate Party and since 2019 Member of the European Parliament.
Most people in Europe work from home now, how are you managing your work as an MEP from home?
Well, I recently moved from Brussels to Prague, as I have family and friends here, and I considered that to be stuck in Brussels completely alone would be the worst option. And I moved to a new flat because I didn’t have one in the Czech republic. So it was kind of hectic to try and find something when everybody is under quarantine, or afraid to meet you. So it was a little bit of a slow process but I’m getting back on track!
How does plenary session and remote voting work?
Well, it’s very peculiar; I recorded a video about it on my YouTube channel, if anybody wants to see it first hand. The discussions are narrowed down to just the leaders of political groups, which is actually now huge topic of discussion, whether all the MEPs should be allowed to participate in the online debates or participate in another way. That’s one part, the other is of course voting. For now the European parliament decided that the most secure method, because they do not have an electronic system or an application, is to send an email with the ballot paper. Then the MEP has to print out the ballot paper, sign it, scan it, and send it back. The interesting thing about it is that not everybody has printer or scanner, which was the example in my case. So I used Adobe Reader to sign it electronically. I don’t think they minded, they counted my last votes. However if you do not even have that, because you are Apple user or whatnot, then you can actually write down the whole ballot paper by hand, with all the boxes and brackets, and then sign it manually and take a photo of it. It sounds very bizarre, but it’s the only way. Because you have to send it from your personal EP email address, it can be checked to see if it really belongs to you. Right now this is the most secure thing, even though I personally don’t think it’s that secure, but it’s the best we have right now.
Is it efficient, doesn’t it take too much time?
Yes, that’s also why we are now voting in a special regime: we are voting only on the most important things, and of course on the measures relating to the coronavirus pandemic. There’s not really that many proposals usually in the plenary, and even at the normal speed it can take up to two hours. And in these conditions it would take days. They have to give you time to send the email, which usually takes an hour, then they have to count it. If the voting is on amendments, then after counting the amendments we then have to vote on the proposals. So yes, the last plenary, even though it was just a simple vote, it took the whole day. That’s why we now have this special regime. And I hope that the European parliament will be able to come up with some more swift electronic measures so we can also get back to normal work, and start to vote even on the things that are now postponed, but are still important.
In which committees are you currently participating and what are the main topics of discussion in them?
I am a member of the International Trade, Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense and the Constitutional Affairs committees. Of course, these are diverse committees, with diverse problems and things to deal with. I recently participated in the Constitutional Affairs committee; they are dealing with the usual business. For instance, the rule of procedure of the EP because there are huge gasps in transparency. Also for the International Trade Committee I am a rapporteur of opinion on Georgia and on the Association Agreement with Georgia, and really there nothing really has changed for me. I have to create the opinion, I have to discuss it with other shadow rapporteurs. For Foreign Affairs, I have to discuss a lot of things there, as well as acting as a shadow rapporteur. So of course, the EP is dealing with coronavirus, but I feel like we are mainly discussing this as a whole. In the committees, I see a lot of everyday work as usual, or we are at least trying to do it as usual.
In your political group Greens/European Free Alliance, are you staying in contact remotely? And if so, what are you currently discussing concerning coronavirus?
Yes, we are staying in contact remotely. There is the normal calendar of group meetings, and we are doing video calls. This format is sometimes actually even better than the normal group meetings, because we all know that we are in a meeting where you can’t see everybody that well, so everybody raises their hands, and doesn’t take up anyone’s time too much – just one minute each and that’s it. It’s really efficient, I like it. As for the coronavirus measures, we had the last group meetings and the new one will be next week. So I will mention things that already took place, because I do not have the agenda for the next week yet. However we were voting in the plenary session on the measures taken, for example the money that were distributed to various countries. That was something we needed to discuss thoroughly. There were also discussions about how to counteract the disinformation regarding coronavirus which are of course now emerging everywhere and are diffused by various countries. And the Greens are dealing also with the fact that right now the Turkey Greek situation on the borders is quite postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, however it doesn’t mean that it won’t be on the table next month or quite soon again. So the Greens, quite vocal in this topic in general, are discussing this as well because we need to prepare for that.
Are there any surprising new outcomes from home office that could be introduced when the work of an MEP returns to normal again?
Even though I know the security concerns, I am personally huge fan of electronic voting. Of course the system we have now cannot really work in the future because you can’t have regular voting during plenary session for some and have this paper email system for others. But if there could have been implemented some electronic system in this time, I think it will be beneficial for the future. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily for everyone, but maybe for people that are stuck somewhere or in hospitals. Because they should be allowed to participate and vote. I think we are already in the 21th Century and we have all the necessary tools, we can access them and can develop them. Why not to invest the energy in that. And of course more video calls in the future. I think right now people see how many meeting could have been a call. Because it really saves time and energy for everyone. I am not saying to abolish the one on one personal meetings, because they are very important in creating the understanding and connection, but lot of more technical meetings could still be made via video calls. So I say, let’s go into the future.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for Europe and the European Union right now?
One of the biggest challenges that, at least I see as a resident of one of country that’s quite eurosceptic, is the disappointment with the European Union. Because lot’s of people actually don’t know how it works. Even though we are trying to explain and we are trying to tell them that the Member States didn’t give the EU such powers to deal with this situation in different manner that it does, they still tent to get disappointed. So one thing is the challenge to explain enough to know why the EU acted as it acted, why it can distribute money and not create some international cooperation. And also of course the other challenge is to keep the union together, because right now we can see that lots of the Member States are going solo. And I think it’s a very dangerous precedent for the EU. This is exactly the case where we should have and could have cooperated together, and it could have led to better results. And this precedence will impact us in the future. If one country decides that they want to create the natural herd immunity and spread the virus, and the other country decides they want to contain the virus as much as possible, then they will not be able to loosen up the borders between them. Because if one of the does loosen the borders and the population that does have the virus starts to travel, what will happen? This is a case where we shouldn’t have go solo. So I think these are the huge challenges for the EU why it’s important.