Friday

22nd Jan 2021

MEPs find new line of attack against Strasbourg

Upcoming elections, a changed political context, and new powers to change the EU treaty have put wind in the sails of MEPs hoping to persuade governments to drop Strasbourg as a seat for the European Parliament.

The topic has been on the fringes of the political agenda for over 20 years, but according to British Liberal MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, a leading single-seat campaigner, the "omerta" on the previously sensitive issue has been broken.

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But still euro deputies are careful not to couch the discussion in terms of Brussels versus the French city of Strasbourg, to where the entire parliament decamps once a month.

Instead, they say it is an issue of necessary self-determination for a parliament that has come of age in terms of its legislative powers.

Where the EU institutions sit is fixed by the EU treaties and can only be changed by member states.

Deputies have long complained about the difficulty of getting there – transport routes to Strasbourg are notoriously poor – as well as about the estimated €180 million a year it costs the taxpayer and the CO2 emissions it entails.

"We should talk about the simple right of parliament to take its own decisions, to organise its own work," said German Green deputy Gerald Haefner during a seminar on the issue on Tuesday (23 April).

He is co-authoring a report by the constitutional affairs committee, to be ready by the end of the year, on how parliament can put into practise a new power to make proposals to change the EU treaty - necessary for this seat issue.

Haefner said he plans to draft a report that will make it difficult for his colleagues to say No, with French MEPs normally keen to maintain the status quo. The report will stress the importance of the parliament deciding its own fate rather than being the "puppet" of other institutions.

Haefner wants to keep the emotive and political issue of what happens to Strasbourg - which fears the loss of the monthly influx of free-spending MEPs, assistants and lobbyists - out of the discussion.

"If we vote for that the next step would be to enter into negotiations with the council (member states). It will then end up in a European Convention. We will then negotiate on questions of compensation [for Strasbourg]," he noted.

Ideas for compensation range from moving an EU court there to setting up a new university.

Ken Daly, a lawyer advising the single seat campaign, noted that if there was "political will" a "simple" treaty change could be made, something that has already happened three times in the last two years, including to set up the eurozone bailout fund (ESM).

For his part, McMillan-Scott is challenging EU member states to come up with a “roadmap” for a single seat by the end of June, something MEPs overwhelming called for in a vote last October.

Ahead of the June 2014 European election, where the costly "travelling circus" as it colloquially known is often a doorstep issue, McMillan-Scott and his fellow one-seaters also want political parties to put the single seat issue into their party manifestos and those running for election to sign a pledge on it.

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