3rd Dec 2023

Dutch leader vows to raise Strasbourg issue at EU summit

Despite attempts by the Austrian EU presidency to prevent a debate on the Strasbourg seat of European Parliament at the summit today, the Dutch prime minister has said he will lobby for the scrapping of the "undesirable" seat.

Jan Peter Balkenende told Dutch deputies on Wednesday (14 June) he would try and start a discussion on the issue when he meets his European counterparts in Brussels for the two-day summit, starting this afternoon.

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Mr Balkenende said he would "operate tactically" and follow closely an opening speech by the parliament's president Josep Borrell who was planning to raise the controversial subject, according to Dutch papers.

The €200 million arrangement, often dubbed Europe's "travelling circus" as MEPs once a month move between Brussels and Strasbourg with their staff and crates of documents, has been increasingly criticised by citizens and MEPs themseves.

Over the past few months, the critics have managed to boost their forces, particularly by linking the issue with recent allegations over a rent scandal involving the Alsatian city.

A petition in favour of the only one parliament seat - in Brussels - has already gathered over 560,000 signatures, and according to ANP agency around half of the signatories are Dutch.

But EU government leaders can only agree any change in the provisions unanimously, as the Strasbourg seat is enshrined in the bloc's treaties and Paris is very unlikely lend its support to the campaign.

According to diplomats, Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has convinced Mr Borrell not to raise Strasbourg at all at the summit.

"I see the argument about costs but Strasbourg is more than a location - it's a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation," Mr Schussel told the Financial Times.

And several parliamentary leaders also seemed to back down during a last-minute meeting before the summit, with only the liberals, greens and Independence/Democracy group pressing Mr Borrell to talk about Strasbourg at the top meeting.

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