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24th Jan 2021

MEPs call for treaty change to scrap Strasbourg seat

  • The European Parliament holds 12 plenary sessions in Strasbourg every year (Photo: European Parliament)

Members of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee want to the revise the EU treaties to put an end to the monthly trek to Strasbourg.

The committee on Monday (14 October) said the European Parliament should be allowed to determine the location of its seat in an effort to save millions of euros, cut carbon emissions, and streamline legislative procedures because of increased workloads.

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The European Parliament is located in Brussels but deputies are required to hold plenary sessions in Strasbourg, located some 435km away, twelve times a year.

Dubbed the ‘travelling circus’, the moves are said to cost the EU taxpayer up to €200 million every year.

Each session requires transporting some 5,000 parliament officials, staff, and MEPs along with eight lorries full of documents and equipment.

“The practise of shifting thousands of people and resources from place to place is not only costly, inefficient, wasteful and environmentally-damaging, it also seriously damages the public perception of the EU,” said German Green MEP Gerald Hafner.

Hafner, who co-wrote the committee’s report along with UK Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, said democratically-elected MEPs should be able to decide on the seat of the parliament.

The transport alone leads to an estimated 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

"Think how foolish the parliament looks when it allows this while lecturing its citizens about climate change,” said Fox.

The building in Strasbourg is used 42 days in the year. It is empty and not in use for the remainder of the year but remains heated and staffed.

Hotels in Strasbourg are also known to double or triple their prices during the sessions.

The 2009 Lisbon Treaty gave the parliament greater legislative powers and oversight with inter-institutional meetings going from around 16,000 in 2009 to nearly 40,000 in 2013.

The report notes that member states and the European Commission are all located in Brussels.

The Strasbourg sessions isolate the MEPs from the institutions, civil society, and the press corps, it notes.

But France, backed up by Belgium and Luxembourg, has resisted moves by the MEPs to scrap the Strasbourg session despite opposition by MEPs.

Some 250 MEPs in 1999, around 40 percent of the assembly at the time, signed a letter condemning the arrangement.

They then adopted a resolution, with 401 votes in favour and 77 against, to amend the treaties and to give the parliament the right to decide on its seat by absolute majority.

“This suggestion was ignored by MS [member states] during the Intergovernmental Conference that followed,” notes the report.

Meanwhile, some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition to move the seat to Brussels.

The two MEPs say all avenues, except for a treaty change, have been exhausted and now want to initiate an ordinary treaty revision procedure in order to grant parliament the right to autonomously decide on its internal organisation, calendar, and seat.

"This is the first time the parliament has formally set out its intention to pursue a policy of treaty change to end this crazy state of affairs,” said Fox.

The parliament is set to vote on the committee’s report in November.

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