16th Aug 2022

We can't do anything about Strasbourg, commission says

MEPs have handed the European Commission a petition of more than one million signatures calling for an end to the "travelling circus" involving the Strasbourg seat of the parliament - but the EU executive has said there is very little it can do about it.

"We wanted to receive it, also out of respect for the Parliament," said a commission official, who added that Brussels will now study the petition.

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But there is little else the commission can do as the official seat in Strasbourg has been enshrined in the EU treaty since 1992 with any revision requiring unanimous approval of all member states.

"Even if the constitution were in force, the commission would still have no competence to do anything about it," the commission official said.

But the MEPs were in good spirits as they took the 10-minute walk from the parliament in Brussels to the commission, each carrying a bunch of gold-string wrapped papers amounting to more than one million names.

"The commission and [the EU governments] cannot ignore this strong call for change," said Swedish liberal MEP Celia Malmstrom, the initiator of the project.

"We will also hand over the signatures to the Finnish presidency and urge them to bring up the topic," she said adding that the more signatures they gather the more fun it will be.

"The EU is in a special situation after a period of reflection and we seek to reform and modernise the union," Ms Malmstrom said. "Now we need to put pressure on the national governments."

The entire Danish parliament agreed on Tuesday to put pressure on Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to help scrap the Strasbourg seat.

"It will be fatal if one million signatures are ignored," said German liberal MEP and chairman of the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform, Alexander Alvaro.

The online petition - oneseat.eu – was launched in May and reached the one million mark on Monday (18 September).

It took up an article in the now-shelved EU constitution which obliges the commission to consider an issue if a petition of at least one million EU citizens ask it.

Mr Alvaro suggested Germany could take the lead on this issue when it takes over the rotating EU presidency in January. "Berlin should build on its good relations [with France]," he said, adding that "a technology institute based in Strasbourg could boost the whole region".

Several suggestions have been made for what the parliament seat in Strasbourg could be used for. A research university - possibly the planned European Technology Institute - has been one popular choice, while some say the building - which stands empty 307 seven days a year - could be used for when EU leaders or heads of state meet for their biannual summits.

Johannes Laitenberger, the chief commission spokesman, stated on Monday that "if there is a debate, it is an issue legally for the member states and politically, first and foremost, for the parliament itself."

MEPs drop Strasbourg rent scandal investigation

MEPs in the budgetary control committee have signed off the parliament's 2004 accounts after months of blocking the move due to allegations that the parliament was paying too rent for its Strasbourg buildings.

One million EU citizens call for Strasbourg to be ditched

More than one million EU citizens have called for the European Parliament to abandon its second home in Strasbourg, while Brussels has distanced itself from EU communication commissioner Margot Wallstrom's comments on Strasbourg becoming a "negative symbol of wasting money".

One million EU citizens call for labelling of GM foods

A Greenpeace petition - signed by 1 million EU citizens - calls for the European Commission to legislate that food products such as eggs, meat and milk where the animal has been fed with genetically modified crops should be labelled as such.

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