Institutional Affairs

MEPs tell Buzek to seek end to Strasbourg seat

23.03.11 @ 09:29

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - MEPs have called for a meeting with EU leaders to discuss the scrapping of the European Parliament's Strasbourg and Luxembourg seats, also opting to delay their approval of the Council of Ministers' 2009 budget until later this year.

  • Strasbourg interior: MEPs have lined up against the 'travelling circus' (Photo: EUobserver)

If backed by the full complement of euro-deputies, the decisions by members of parliament's budgetary control committee this week (21-22 March) are likely to further inflame tensions with member states, with France typically taking a dim view of MEP calls to axe monthly trips to the northern French city.

Parliament's approval - or discharge - of the Council's annual budget has traditionally been underpinned by a gentleman's agreement of limited scrutiny, but last year MEPs opted to take a closer look.

That failed to improve the situation this year however, say MEPs.

"We asked the Council questions but they didn't answer. We asked for documents and they sent them late. They refused to come to our meetings," German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Grassle, a member of the budgetary control committee, told this website.

"If you told me last year that we would have had the same problems again I wouldn't have believed it," she added. "We won't give up. There can't be a gentleman's agreement, in Germany this would be unthinkable."

"Parliament is the discharge authority. This drives right to the heart of what democracy is about. This is not the member states' role."

The parliamentary committee will return to matter this autumn, with approval also delayed for the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Police College, the European Medicines Agency and the European Atomic Energy Community.

Under the current system, MEPs also have to sign off on their own accounts. Discussing the matter on Tuesday, members of the budgetary control committee called for a number of improvements in parliament's future expenditure, conscious that member states are implementing a raft of unpopular spending cuts across Europe.

Finnish centre-right MEP Ville Itala was the draftsman, or rapporteur, of the parliament's 2009 discharge report. "There was a good atmosphere this year. The rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs were all Nordic, ie above the garlic line," said one parliamentary official working on the topic, suggesting that countries situated at latitudes above Brussels were likely to be more transparent and reformist.

One amendment calls on European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek to seek a solution to the legislature's current three-seat situation, over which member states have control under EU treaties.

"[The committee] stresses that real savings could be achieved if parliament only had one workplace in the same location as the other Union institutions ... [and] calls on the President of the European Parliament ... to suggest to the European Council [of EU leaders] that they make it possible for the Union to make these savings," says the final report.

A study by parliament's secretary-general has estimated that €160 million could be saved in 2011 if parliament only had one seat.

Itala's discharge report "deplored" the fact that some MEPs are still entitled to hire family members under a special derogation, also requesting "the secretary general to consider whether there should be specific rules preventing members employing each others family members".

The MEPs asked parliament's top administrative official to see whether MEP air miles could be returned to the legislature in order to reduce the cost of future flights, calling for a carbon offsetting programme to reduce the parliament's carbon footprint.

Tensions are also simmering over plans to build a House of European History for those visiting Brussels. "It's a brilliant idea in itself but MEPs begrudge the unilateral decision-making by parliament's bureau on the subject," said the parliamentary source.

The museum on European and EU history is set to be housed in parliament's Eastman building on the edge of Park Leopold, but MEPs have raised concerns over its potential costs and parking facilities.

The full plenary of MEPs will vote on the 2009 parliamentary discharge report in May.

Watch the British MEP Ashley Fox chat to the EUobserver about his efforts to put an end to the European Parliament's monthly commute to Strasbourg.

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