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8th Aug 2022

MEPs seek public backing for war on Strasbourg seat

A group of MEPs have launched a "citizen's initiative" to collect a million signatures against having a European Parliament seat in Strasbourg.

The group Campaign for Parliamentary Reform (CPR) on Wednesday (10 May) announced a forthcoming campaign including a cyber petition, badges, posters, newspaper ads and traditional street-collecting of votes from citizens.

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"This arrangement costs too much, and our work cannot be carried out efficiently when the bodies that we are assigned to monitor - the commission and the council - are hundreds of kilometres away," Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Malmstrom said.

If one million signatures are obtained, the petition will be placed on communication commissioner Margot Wallstrom desk.

Under the frozen European constitution, a clause on participatory democracy allows for citizen's to invite the commission to submit proposal on matters where they consider Brussels intervention necessary.

Ms Wallstrom has said previously said she supports the citizens' initiative idea despite the current constitutional deadlock, however her spokesperson indicated the commission cannot do much about this issue.

"There is not much the commission can do, quite frankly. It is entirely up to member states to decide about the location of the seats of institutions," he said.

The official seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, used for twelve plenary sessions a year, has been enshrined in the EU treaty since 1992, and removing the clause would need to be agreed by all 25 member states, including France.

The costs of having the seat in Strasbourg are estimated to be around €200 million a year while the monthly trek to the Alsatian capital is often scathingly referred to as "a travelling circus".

Pressure is mounting on Paris

The MEPs initiative is the latest in a series of attempts to overthrow France's firm position on Strasbourg.

Although France had so far taken an unyielding position about giving up Strasbourg, MEPs hope the mounting pressure may lead to Paris giving in.

Many MEPs from new member states are also in favour of abandoning the Strasbourg seat as their travel arrangements - from little island Malta or from badly connected parts of Poland - creates logistical strife for MEPs and their assistants with absences as a consequence.

National governments have also been reluctant to bring up the sensitive issue with France, with MEPs on Wednesday accusing governments of tip-toeing around France.

"Governments try to keep Paris happy on this matter so they can get their support in other matters, for instance the services directive," German Liberal MEP Alexander Alvaro said, classifying the French stance as "stubbornness."

British conservative MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris said there could be an opening for government intervention in the matter, as the League of Polish families, outspokenly against the Strasbourg seat, will enter the Polish government soon.

"Now there is someone in a European government to bring this up," Mr Heaton-Harris said.

Face-saving deal

To soothe the bitter pill, MEPs are proposing that France gets an institution that allows the symbolic value of Strasbourg – as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation - to remain.

MEPs believe that placing the EU technological institute in Strasbourg would pander to French pride.

"We need to find a compromise that France can accept and still keep face," Mr Alvaro told EUobserver.

"The best thing would be if France itself took the initiative to end with the meetings in Strasbourg, but I do not think the French government will have that courage - at least not before the elections in 2007," he said.

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