EU parliament ceiling collapse saved €1.7 million
31.01.11 @ 16:20
BRUSSELS - Travel and accommodation savings of nearly €2 million were made in 2008 when MEPs were forced to relocate to Brussels due to a collapsed ceiling in the European Parliament's Strasbourg plenary chamber, according to documents published this month.
Responding to recent questions from MEPs, parliament's top official, Klaus Welle, estimated that the additional costs associated with holding two September sessions in Brussels as opposed to Strasbourg amounted to €818,740, largely due to train and hotel cancellation fees.
When subtracted from the €2,549,826 in additional savings however, the net difference was a gain of €1,731,086, said the secretary general.
The unexpected saving in EU taxpayers' money stems from the partial collapse of the Strasbourg 'hemicycle' ceiling on the 8 August 2008 while MEPs were away on their summer holidays.
Reports at the time suggested a first part of the ceiling came crashing down around 6pm in Strasbourg, followed by another section four hours later. The event, remarked some European newspaper readers the following morning, was a "superb metaphor" for the European Union.
Since then, parliament's plenary ceiling has been installed with a complex system of sensors so that any movement triggers an alarm before pieces of plaster start to fall.
The 2008 event restarted the long-running debate over the EU's "traveling circus" under which MEPs hold committee meetings in Brussels but plenary sessions in the northern French city of Strasbourg.
Parliament's secretariat estimates that the additional cost involved in dividing the legislature's political business between Brussels and Strasbourg amounts to about €10 million for each of the 12 main plenary sessions per year, the September 2008 savings being curtailed due to its last-minute nature.
The decision to divide the majority of parliament's work between the two locations was formalised in a 1992 agreement, but originally dates back to an offer by the Council of Europe (1949) to allow the European Coal and Steel Community's 'Common Assembly' (1952) to use its plenary chamber for meetings.
The Common Assembly gradually developed into the European Parliament, with members opting to conduct most of their business in Brussels, close to the other EU institutions. French politicians however have been reluctant let go of the additional revenue generated for Strasbourg hotels and restaurants when the 700-plus MEPs roll into town for three days a month.
In his written answers to MEPs this month, Mr Welle also puts an estimate on the travel and accommodation costs of carting parliamentary officials between Brussels and Luxembourg, the latter being home to a major part of parliament's administrative staff.
"7,052 missions were undertaken between Luxembourg and Brussels," reported the document, amounting to a total cost of €1,910,443.
The formal decision to locate over 2,000 members of parliament's staff in Luxembourg dates back to a 1996 agreement between the Luxembourgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and parliament's president at the time, Klaus Hansch.
An updated deal was agreed between parliament's president Nicole Fontaine and Mr Juncker in the year 2000, under which its was "stated that the majority of new posts following enlargements would be assigned to Luxembourg".