26th Oct 2016

EU court backs France over €200m Strasbourg sessions

The European Court of Justice has backed the French government in its dispute with the European Parliament over the much maligned Strasbourg plenary sessions, ruling that the assembly had breached treaty requirements for 12 plenary sessions per year.

The case was brought before the ECJ after MEPs adopted two amendments to parliament's calendar of plenary sessions for 2012 and 2013, scrapping one of the two sessions planned for October and merging the two into one week-long session.

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  • EU court - Parliament must hold 12 Strasbourg sessions per year (Photo: Architecture Studio)

In a statement released on Thursday (13 December), the court said that "the periods of plenary part-sessions as provided for in the contested votes for October 2012 and 2013 do not satisfy the requirements resulting from the Treaties concerning the seats of the institutions."

With the October 2012 'super-session' having already taken place, the court annulled Parliament's vote on the 2013 calendar.

The annual cost of the Strasbourg sessions, which see several thousand MEPs and officials uprooted to the Alsace for four days per month, is estimated at €200 million.

The judgement did not come as a surprise to parliament, with Paolo Mengozzi, the advocate general of the Luxembourg-based court, having issued a legal opinion in September to the effect that existing case law demanded the continuation of 12 sessions per year.

The steering committee of the cross-party Single Seat group, which campaigns for Brussels to be formally recognised as the assembly's sole location, admitted that "he ruling is regrettable, but we expected it."

The group said there was "a compelling case for a change to the treaty to remove this wasteful obligation imposed by EU governments" and added that MEPs would "examine their new powers to initiate the Treaty change necessary to achieve a single seat."

The mood among MEPs has evolved in recent years, with a clear majority now in favour of a single seat in Brussels.

Although Parliament has previously used non-binding initiative reports to demand changes to the EU treaties, it has no control over where it sits.

EU leaders agreed a deal on the location of the EU institutions in 1992. The decision was then added as a protocol to the EU treaties in the Amsterdam treaty.

For his part, French leader Francois Hollande said in a statement: "This judgment bears witness to Europe's attachment to respect for the treaties on the seats of the institutions and its desire to see Strasbourg, the symbolic town of European reconciliation, fully play its role as parliamentary capital."

The ruling comes as parliament faces a further dilemma over its part-sessions, with the Parliament chamber in Brussels closed for repair until November 2013 after cracks in the ceiling beams were discovered.

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