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A viral photo of an empty European Parliament proves nothing


Les Décodeurs, France

25 May 2019, Updated: 25 May 2019

A viral photo of an empty European Parliament proves nothing

Shared widely on social network for years, the photo has been seen by millions… along with a misleading commentary.

Less than a week before the European elections, an (old) photograph of a virtually empty European Parliament did the rounds on social networks, as proof, according to the creators of the post, of absenteeism among MEPs.

What the social media posts say:

Isn’t life beautiful?” asks hacktivist group Anonymous on Facebook. They then proceed to rail against absenteeism within the European Parliament. “According to the punch clock they’re all present… In reality = they punched in in the morning and left right after for their own personal business!”
“This has to do be shared once, a hundred times, a thousand times.” The creators of the post evidently succeeded in this goal: while the post was created last year, it has drawn an increasing amount of comments and shares as the 26 May elections draw closer.


Why this picture proves nothing

According to AFP, who we contacted, the photograph was taken by Frederick Florin on 18 November 2008.
As the description which accompanies the image indicates, the photo was taken during a plenary session in the Strasbourg Parliament, where the topics up for discussion were the financial crisis, the outcome of the European Council’s attendance at the G20 summit in Washington, and the European Commission’s plans for 2009.

The video of this session is still available on the European Parliament website. It paints a completely different picture. If the three MEPs seem alone in Florin’s photograph, it’s because they arrived early. In fact, few MEPs take their seats during the opening of the session. When the time comes to vote, however, the majority of elected representatives are present. According to official figures, 709 MEPs out of 788 took part in the vote on 18 November 2008.

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AFP’s image is regularly used to illustrate absenteeism in the European Parliament. While it turns out that this image provides a poor illustration, absenteeism does indeed occur within the Parliament. According to official figures on the MEP Rankings website, MEPs are conscientious when it comes to plenary sessions, where attendance reaches almost 90 percent. However, attendance at a plenary session is only recorded by means of a signature. Indeed, certain MEPs have their own tricks to seem more present and active in the European Parliament than they actually are.

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