World News

EU lawmakers back aid for virus-hit economy in remote vote

By Marine Strauss

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union lawmakers approved on Thursday emergency funds to cushion the bloc’s economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and shore up battered airlines by preserving their landing slots.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) gave near unanimous support for three sets of proposals at the conclusion of a session that spanned more than 12 hours.

It was the parliament’s first ever remote vote following the suspension of meetings due to the risk of coronavirus transmission. Only a handful of lawmakers gathered in the Brussels plenary chamber with the most of the 688 participating MEPs scattered under lockdown across Europe.

“From one day to the next, our lifestyles changed. Our streets emptied. Our doors closed. And we moved from a daily routine to the fight of our lives,” the head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, told the gathering.

Wearing white, latex protective gloves, she called on the chamber to vote into law a special 37-billion-euro ($40.8 billion) fund to allow the 27 member states to spend more to prop up their economies.

The legislation will also allow an existing natural disaster fund to support strained public health services across the EU.

The assembly also supported the suspension of a rule that strips airlines of their landing slots if they do not run most of their scheduled services – so as to ease an industry crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

After holding two test votes earlier in the week, members of the EU legislative arm had to print ballot forms at home, scan or photograph their signed votes and send them from their official email address for counting.

“Democracy cannot be stopped by this virus,” David Sassoli, the Italian president of the parliament, who appeared in the chamber in Brussels for the briefest of periods to announce the results of the votes.

($1 = 0.9065 euros)

(Reporting by Marine Strauss; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Daniel Wallis)