Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Opinion

EU's Strasbourg parliament should become a university

  • Should Strasbourg become a seat for a new European University? (Photo: Valentina Pop)

During the referendum campaign in the UK, the cost of the European Parliament's "travelling circus" between Brussels and Strasbourg was highlighted by some Brexit supporters as one of the 20 reasons why UK citizens should vote in favour of leaving the EU.

Even though many arguments used by the Leave campaign were greatly exaggerated and some were outright lies, the remaining 27 EU countries should take that particular criticism on board and use this occasion to reduce the obvious overspend that is linked to the European Parliament having more than one seat.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • A survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and an anti-communist dissident, Bronislaw Geremek became a historian, minister and MEP. (Photo: Bronislaw Geremek office)

For years, the European Parliament has had to move 400 km south once a month. Almost 4,000 people temporarily relocate from Brussels to Strasbourg to facilities that are only used four days per month. It is a situation that is hard to justify to European citizens who have been tightening their belts since the beginning of the financial crisis. The travelling circus also provides fuel for euroscepticism across the continent.

At the request of a majority of MEPs eager to stop the circus to save their time and taxpayers’ money, the European Court of Auditors in 2014 estimated the additional cost of having two European Parliament seats at almost €114 million per year.

It is finally time for Brussels to be the sole seat of the European Parliament.

Positive, useful, future-oriented project

Of course ending this absurd situation will not be easy. Multiple attempts have already been scuppered over the years. Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament according to a protocol attached to the Treaty of the EU and consequently 12 four-day plenary sessions per year must take place there, including the vote on the EU budget.

Changing this protocol would require an amendment to the treaties, a process which requires unanimity among member states, and that can therefore be vetoed by the French government.

To avoid this, France will have to be compensated somehow. It is essential to put on the table a positive, useful, future-oriented project for the EU but also for France and the city of Strasbourg.

Strasbourg was chosen by the founding fathers of the EU because it made sense from a historical and political perspective as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.

However, France has to understand that nowadays it has absolutely no interest in keeping what is now nothing more than a symbolic seat of an EU institution, and should try to obtain something more valuable on its soil for the 21st century.

No-one who works closely with the European Parliament can seriously claim that Strasbourg is the main or even the relevant seat of the Parliament.

It is therefore the right time to revive the proposal made 10 years ago by Bronislaw Geremek and Jean-Didier Vincent to create a truly European University in the European Parliament buildings in Strasbourg.

Concrete benefits

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of the European University Institute (EUI) of Florence. This European postgraduate studies institution that specialises in social sciences was inaugurated on 15 November 1976 after long negotiations between member states.

These discussions were far from easy and lasted for almost 20 years, but ultimately gave birth to what is considered by many academics as one of the visible success stories of EU integration.

Every year, the EUI awards about 120 PhDs in law, history, political science and economics to carefully selected students from all corners of the EU, demonstrating the valued added of European education and research projects.

A solution for Strasbourg could be to establish an undergraduate European University there, modelled on the EUI. It would fill the Parliament premises with students, professors and researchers from all over Europe and would be financed by the EU budget.

The money saved by the centralisation of the European Parliament operations in Brussels would be, for instance, sufficient to cover almost entirely the annual budget of a university such as Paris Sorbonne, which has more than 20,000 students and 1,300 professors and researchers.

This project would offer concrete benefits for young Europeans and would be in line with one of the key priorities highlighted in the French-Italian-German initiative set up after the Brexit vote to improve the EU quickly by focusing on ambitious youth programmes because, as the declaration rightly states: “Europe will succeed only if it gives hope to its young people.”

'We must now build Europeans'

This new European university should be named after Bronislaw Geremek, a survivor of the European atrocities of the 20th century and a symbol of the reunification of Europe after the fall of the iron curtain.

He grew up and survived in the Warsaw ghetto to become a respected historian, a founding member of the Solidarity movement (‘Solidarnosc’), a political dissident under the communist regime, and ultimately a foreign minister of Poland after the fall of the regime and a MEP from 2004 until his death in 2008.

He wrote a few months before his tragic death that “after building Europe, we must now build Europeans. Otherwise, we risk losing it".

Opening a European University in Strasbourg named after him and showing that the EU is able to listen to the legitimate criticism of its citizens and take action to make a better use of its resources would be a tremendous first step in that direction

Gregory Claeys is a researcher at Bruegel, Dirk Schoenmaker is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Magazine

The travelling circus

Twelve times a year, MEPs relocate from Brussels to Strasbourg - and then back again. Not by choice, but because a treaty forces them to - and it is costing taxpayers more than €100m per year.

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us