4th Mar 2024

EU summit opens with silence on Strasbourg folly

Thursday's EU summit opened with silence on a subject dear to the 568,000 Europeans who recently signed a petition for the European Parliament to drop its €200 million a year second home in Strasbourg.

Parliament president Josep Borrell had planned to speak up on Strasbourg in his keynote speech to EU leaders, but cut the point the week before, after Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel told him to.

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  • Josep Borrell "quite likes going to Strasbourg" (Photo: European Parliament)

"Consultations with member states - in particular with France, the host state - made clear the issue is not one the council should be considering," Mr Schussel's letter stated.

The Austrian "nein" was also good enough for socialist MEP leader Martin Schulz - the champion of the anti-Strasbourg campaign in recent weeks - to drop the issue without complaint.

Mr Schulz' office told EUobserver he got what he wanted - to show that the Strasbourg folly is the fault of member states, not MEPs, with any move needing EU 25 consensus on a treaty change.

"In this sense, it was a success," his spokesman said, adding that - to the best of his knowledge - Mr Schulz has not himself signed the "populist absurdity" of the anti-Strasbourg petition.

The petition, pressing for just one parliament seat in Brussels, has gathered over 568,000 signatures in one month, fuelled by recent revelations that Strasbourg overcharges the EU by millions on rent.

The parliament's Liberal group indicated Mr Schulz' push was "never a real campaign" so much as a stunt designed to get British socialist anti-Strasbourg MEPs, such as Gary Titley, off his back.

President Borrell's emotional attachment to his original anti-Strasbourg speech could also be questioned. "He quite likes going to Strasbourg, actually," his spokeswoman indicated.

"The issue is not dead but it's definitely closed for the moment," she added.

If the two MEP leaders never really believed they would get Strasbourg on the summit agenda, then it is equally true most EU prime ministers don't care about the topic.

Vague statements that the EU should be "more efficient" or "parliament should be in one place" had to be pulled through the teeth of the Dutch and Danish leaders by press in the summit run-up.

"No. No. No one really talks about this in Portugal. I think it is only exciting for you journalists," Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates told EUobserver.

"What if they do have 500,000 signatures? You have 500 million people in the EU so I don't think France is that scared," one EU diplomat said. "It's a Don Quixote thing."

And so the Spanish president of the European Parliament instead took the line of Sancho Panza - the pragmatic squire to Don Quixote's idealistic knight in the old comic novel.

His speech before EU leaders was a dutiful run-through of parliament's official recommendations on the constitution - they want a new treaty by 2009 - and enlargement - a good thing that requires a new treaty.

"Each time difficulties arose, we drew on our shared beliefs for the imagination needed to overcome them," he concluded, quoting EU founding father Paul-Henri Spaak in a conciliatory vein.

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