European Union's March summit to go ahead, staff sent home over coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 19, 2020. Picture taken February 19, 2020 REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo reuters_tickers
This content was published on March 12, 2020 - 19:16

By Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A summit of European Union leaders will go ahead as planned at the end of March but most European Commission staff will be required to work from home from Monday due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Seeking to stop the virus spreading but still make policy for its 450 million citizens, the EU will rely mainly on video conferences and home-working, although the March 26-27 summit is seen as "essential", the bloc said on Thursday.

"The capacity of the Union to take decisions must be upheld," the Council of the European Union, which coordinates EU governments in Brussels, said in a statement.

EU economy ministers will still meet on Monday. Foreign ministers will also gather as planned on March 23, while Europe ministers will also meet on March 24, before the summit.

The European Commission, the EU executive, approved a 12 million euro (£10.6 million) aid scheme by Denmark to compensate organisers of large-scale events cancelled due to the coronavirus, saying it was in line with EU state aid rules.

Denmark's compensation scheme is the first such measure by an EU government.

Separately, most of the Commission's staff will work from home.

"As of Monday, all colleagues in non-critical functions will have to telework," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told staff in a transcript of a video message seen by Reuters.

"Colleagues who ensure critical functions will need to be present at work," she said, adding that they would work in shifts.

Around 32,000 people are employed by the European Commission, mainly in Brussels but also in Luxembourg. Von der Leyen said six Commission staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Schools for children whose parents work in EU institutions, which are known as the European Schools, will also close from Monday, von der Leyen said.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mark Heinrich)

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