12th Aug 2022

Strasbourg mayor fights back in EU rent scandal

The mayor of Strasbourg has hit back at allegations concerning rent-overcharging for the European Parliament, urging MEPs to keep the debate separate from discussions on the two seats of the EU assembly.

Fabienne Keller addressed MEPs from the budget committees on Monday (15 May), right at the beginning of the first Strasbourg session after the whole affair came to light last month.

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  • The parliament's president plans to raise the issue of ditching the Strasbourg seat at the June summit (Photo: EUobserver)

She distributed a document of almost 100 pages full of photocopies of contracts and archive materials, recording payments for the parliament's buildings, in a bid to react to accusations which she viewed as "particularly unfair."

The main allegation being investigated by MEPs is that the Alsatian capital may have overcharged the parliament by €2.7 million a year for the last 25 years as it paid less to real estate SCI-Erasme, which helped develop the site, than it charged the parliament.

But Ms Keller's key counter-argument was that the city pays less to the firm due to the different nature of the contract it has with SCI-Erasme.

"Very different contracts link the city to the European Parliament on the one hand and the city to the civil real estate company on the other. The first one is a classic rental contract and the second is a financial contract comparable to borrowing," she said.

Ms Keller argued that MEPs knew about this arrangement all the time and could see all the documents, stressing that the Strasbourg city had some additional duties - such as renovations and maintenance work.

Also, she pointed out "the city has to assume risk of vacancy. If the parliament leaves, the city is obliged to honour the contract with SCI."

But deputies appeared unconvinced by some of her arguments.

"This is a bit of a steal isn't it, really. You've made quite a penny here," commented German centre-right MEP Markus Ferber, head of the investigation.

He argued that for the past seven years, since the Strasbourg seat was officially recognized in the EU treaties, the city could be assured that the parliament would not leave the building.

"Could you not say we have legal certainty now, so let's do things differently," Mr Ferber said.

Other MEPs criticised the figures for various maintenance works the Strasbourg city has charged and urged the mayor to let EU auditors go through the accounts – something which she agreed to do.

Different debate?

During Monday's meeting, several parliamentarians again criticised the fact that it costs €200 million per year to keep the Strasbourg seat.

But the mayor countered "I would say its the meetings that you have in Brussels that cost €200 million a year," earning herself applause from some MEPs.

She said she understood the difficulties the deputies have when travelling for their work, but stressed "the choice of Strasbourg was made to underline that Europe was constructed to guarantee peace."

"We are talking about the Europe of Strasbourg, that of democracy and human rights which is the focus of this project. Entrusted with this historic and singular mission, Strasbourg has always wanted to accommodate parliamentarians in an appropriate manner," she concluded.

The parliament's president, Josep Borrell, is due to raise the matter with EU leaders at a top summit in June - as only member states may change the treaties.

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