22nd Nov 2017


Strasbourg for EU summits

The sound of a thousand trunks rattling over cobblestones must signal the start of another European Parliament session for Strasbourg locals, but over four months on from the One Seat campaign achieving its one millionth signature, we seem no closer to ending the monthly trip to Alsace.

Launched by Cecilia Malmström in May 2006, One Seat campaigned for the European Parliament to sit only in Brussels, and achieved its target by September. It proved so stirring that it was even responsible for the unusual sight of Eurosceptics united alongside Europhiles for the same cause.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The issue of Strasbourg is so engaging because it not only symbolizes the positive things the EU is about but also fuels many of the negative perceptions people have of the Union.

So while Strasbourg stands for former enemies united by the same values and flourishing in the stability of peace, it also represents inefficiency and unnecessary expense that sceptics are so fond of highlighting.

Those who maintain that Strasbourg should remain a seat of the parliament stress the importance of history, and the city's symbolic value.

A small cost compared to war

When BBC radio interviewed French MEP Alain Lamassoure last year, quizzing him on the expense of the Strasbourg sessions, he justified them by saying that 200 million euros was a small cost compared to war.

This is of course true, after all nothing is as costly as war, but the closest Strasbourg has come to hostilities in the past 60 years is an unseemly scrabble for the last slice of a tarte flambée and it seems hardly likely this would escalate should the parliament ever leave town.

But, with the French holding a veto on this issue, will this ever happen? It is easy to empathise with the reluctance of the French. No national government would be quick to give up something so prestigious or economically valuable. This is something the rest of the Union must recognise before the current stalemate is broken.

But the French must themselves acknowlegde a whole host of problems Strasbourg sessions create. They have become increasingly problematic for the institutions, embassies, NGOs and journalists who all incur great costs making the (far from straightforward) trip south and, perhaps more importantly, spend over the equivalent of a working day getting there and back.

For as long as the Parliament continues to use the Strasbourg building for just 48 days a year, the Union will struggle to fight the perception that it is wasteful and has a casual attitude to public funds.

The trip is also contradictory to the EU's vow to tackle climate change. A convoy of lorries making a lengthy and unnecessary journey (not to mention the additional flights and cars that head to France) suggests a culture of "do as I say, not as I do" rather than leading by example, as the EU must do.

Strasbourg for EU summits

In an attempt to break this deadlock and find a solution acceptable to the French, I, along with Malmström and three other MEPs, tabled Written Declaration 0033/2006 suggesting that the parliament no longer sits in Strasbourg but as a quid pro quo the city hosts quarterly European Council ("summit") meetings.

By doing this Strasbourg would not lose any prestige nor would the city's spirit of reconciliation be forgotten.

What's more, it makes sense. The Parliament, the Commission and the regular Council of Ministers interact daily and require close contact. They should remain full-time in Brussels.

In contrast, the summit meetings are supposed to take a strategic view and would benefit from being a certain distance from Brussels, encouraging more independent reflection, away from the hurly burly of the permanent institutions.

Strasbourg obviously fulfils this criterion and the building could easily be adapted to host summits, with the security and excellent press facilities it already has.

The constitutional package

Much of the continent is now awaiting the outcome of the French presidential elections, and progress on the Strasbourg issue, since the blaze of publicity in September, has stalled.

The issue of the constitutional treaty – whether to save it, modify it or replace it – will be discussed soon after those elections. Whatever package is agreed should include a solution to the problem of the parliament's monthly trek to Strasbourg .

By doing this the EU can demonstrate that it is listening to its citizens. It also shows willingness from the Union to improve its efficiency, cut costs and asserts a desire to keep moving forward.

We know France will not simply accept a simple loss, but with the status quo so evidently preposterous, it should look at this credible, realistic and generous alternative put forward by the 199 MEPs who signed my Written Declaration.

I will miss the tarte flambée though.

The author is a Labour MEP

EU must confront Poland and Hungary

Curtailing NGOs and threatening judicial independence are the hallmarks of developing-world dictators and authoritarian strongmen, not a free and pluralistic European Union.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

The anti-glyphosate lobby strikes again

Opponents of glyphosate too often rely on one - contested - piece of research, or smear their opponents as stooges for the chemicals industry.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

Clean energy package needs market, not just targets

While discussions on targets and objectives are important, the focus must not be on the percentage, but rather on delivering fundamental market reforms in order to reach targets in place.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  3. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  4. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  5. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  6. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  7. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  8. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  9. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  11. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'

Latest News

  1. 1.3 million European citizens in call for glyphosate ban
  2. EU 'cannot afford' lengthy German deadlock
  3. David Miliband: EU should take over 500,000 refugees
  4. EU bans 'geo-blocking' - but not (yet) for audiovisual
  5. EU monitoring of Libyan coastguard done by Libyans
  6. Greek opposition leader promises end to 'surreal' era
  7. Refugee case could topple Slovenia government
  8. Leak: EU states weaken post-Dieselgate testing

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  3. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  4. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  6. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  8. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  10. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  11. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies