Strasbourg travelling circus must go on, says EU court advisor
By Benjamin Fox
The European Court of Justice was accused of being out of touch after its top advisor insisted that the European Parliament could not scrap its monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg.
In a legal opinion issued on Thursday (6 September) the Court's Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi stated that existing case law demanded the continuation of twelve sessions per year. Although the opinion is not legally binding, Advocate General opinions are usually endorsed by the Luxembourg-based court.
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In March 2011, MEPs amended their calendar to scrap plenary sessions scheduled for October 2012 and 2013 by merging two sessions into one week. In response, the French government, supported by Luxembourg, which also hosts Parliament offices, called on the Court to overturn the Parliament's decision claiming that they were in breach of the treaties.
Mengozzi claimed that the Parliament's legal team had failed to justify its changes its calendar in what he described as a move to "artificially split into two" the October session.
The EU treaties require the Parliament to hold twelve plenary sessions in Strasbourg, under a protocol agreed in 1992 at the EU summit in Edinburgh chaired by John Major, a former UK Prime Minister.
However, the cross-party single seat group of MEPs, which campaigns for the Parliament to have all plenary sessions in Brussels, has sought to find ways to minimise the Strasbourg sessions. Supporters of the single seat campaign say that the Strasbourg sessions are expensive, with research indicating an annual cost of over €200 million per year.
Others claim that the monthly trek, which sees MEPs and officials uprooted from their Brussels offices, damages both the environment the public perception of the Parliament.
British Conservative Ashley Fox, one of the MEPs to table amendments to the calendar, accused the Court of being "completely out of touch" and making "a warped interpretation of EU treaties."
Meanwhile, Rebecca Harms, co-leader of the Green MEPs said that Mengozzi's position was “at odds with legal advice given to MEPs ... so there is hope that the ECJ will not follow today's recommendation."
She also called on governments to re-open debate on the issue, adding that "the taboo on the EP's senseless seat arrangement must be ended."
However, others saw reason to be encouraged.
They take heart in the fact that Mengozzi asked for the parliamentary calendar as a whole to be examined.
In July 2012, MEPs voted 432–218 for a single seat. Parliament President Martin Schulz is among the most prominent supporters of retaining the Strasbourg sessions.