Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Parliament saved €3 million by meeting in Brussels

The European Parliament has directly saved between €3 and 4 million by temporarily holding two plenary sessions in Brussels, after the ceiling in Strasbourg collapsed over summer.

The exact cost per session is hard to calculate, having to take into account numerous variables such as plane tickets from different European cities for freelance interpreters, who are flown in from home countries for the plenary sessions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The collapsed ceiling in Strasbourg prompted parliament to hold its September sessions in Brussels (Photo: European Parliament)

Parliament staff also get a fixed allowance of "just a bit less than €1,000" for one week of Strasbourg, which would amount to €1.2 million per session just for travel and hotel expenses for full-time personnel, parliament spokeswoman Marjory van den Broeke told EUobserver.

"But if you count the people who come in additionally, there is already more per session, and if the maintenance and electricity bills of the [Strasbourg] building are taken into account, the sum is even bigger," she said, summing it all up at €1.5-2 million per plenary.

European Commission officials and staff also regularly travel to Strasbourg, with the whole college of 27 commissioners meeting in the French city on Tuesdays during a plenary week.

But administration commissioner Siim Kallas has in the past played down the impact of commission trips, saying in a formal answer to a parliamentary question in 2007 that most commission officials go "only when matters of their responsibility are discussed," stay for the duration of the meeting and do not carry down masses of equipment or files.

The total cost of trips to Strasbourg made by commission members in 2002-2007 was approximately €9.5 million in total, he said.

"The per diem for officials are of around €95 per day for Strasbourg," Valerie Rampi, commissioner Kallas's spokeswoman, added.

For transparency hawks such as the Austrian MEP Hans Peter Martin, "the constant commuting Brussels-Strasbourg-Brussels is irresponsibly expensive" and "paralyses the efficiency" of the European Parliament.

"We are constantly moving, while decisions are taken elsewhere," he said.

"On the other hand, the travelling circus is for numerous staffers and MEPs the perfect excuse to be lazy. One is 'unfortunately' always on the road and therefore 'unable' to find the right documents or to finish his paperwork."

The independent MEP, a former Social-Democrat, a few years ago sparked criticism from colleagues after capturing on hidden camera how some MEPs signed their names on the attendance allowance list, only to leave the building shortly afterwards.

A separate campaign to establish the parliament's seat in Brussels permanently by the then MEP and current Swedish minister of EU affairs, Cecilia Malmström, drew over 1 million signatures in 2006.

But the Strasbourg seat is assigned by the EU Treaty, so that any could only be accomplished by consensus of all 27 member states, including France, with Nicolas Sarkozy stating several times that Strasbourg is "not negotiable."

A financial blow

French politicians are not the only people in favour of keeping the two seats. As one Eastern European parliament assistant put it, the decision to hold both sessions in Brussels was "quite a financial blow," with the loss of the €1,000 allowance coming after the long summer break and in the context of lower pay for eastern European aides in general.

German Christian-Social Democratic MEP Bernd Posselt supports scrapping Brussels as a parliamentary seat altogether. "As long as Europe is not a centralized state, I think it is wise to spread the institutions in several places," he said.

The member dismissed any safety fears over the Strasbourg building after a 10-tonne portion of the ceiling in the plenary chamber fell down in August and a subsequent renovation of handrails in the giant glass "atrium" in another part of the complex.

"Our group [the EPP-ED] has decided to call for similar checks for the Brussels buildings, and you will see that there are way bigger problems there, because the real construction scandals took place in Brussels," Mr Posselt claimed, insisting that the Strasbourg repairs are finished and the building is safe to return to.

Report due

According to Mrs van den Broeke, the technical evaluation of the repair works is to be presented to the Secretariat General by the end of the week, with the report being drafted by different external experts from several companies.

"The parliament made sure that none of these experts were active at the time this building was being built, so there would not be a conflict of interests," Mrs van den Broeke she said.

The findings of the report will determine if the Strasbourg building is safe enough for the October plenary to take place in France. But the 22 September plenary will take place in Brussels.

EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans

An emergency resolution adopted at the European People's Party (EPP) congress in Zagreb calls on the EU Council and member states to take a positive decision on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible.

Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

The outgoing president of the EU council, Donald Tusk, is set to be elected as the president of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP). Tusk will have to deal with the final decision over Hungary's ruling Fidesz.

Catalan MEP is 'elected', court advisor says

In a boost for the cause of three Catalan MEPs, the advocate general of the EU Court of Justice has recognised their mandate as elected MEPs - but it is up to the parliament if they should enjoy immunity.

Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority

Although the governing Socialists Party (PSOE) won the most seats at Sunday's elections, the political deadlock continues with a deeply-fragmented scenario, in which the far-right Vox party is in a strong position while the centre has become irrelevant.

Can Sunday's election end Spain's endless deadlock?

Uncertainty surrounding this weekend's Spanish election - the fourth in four years - is rising, as polls suggest that the outcome of Sunday's vote could be as inconclusive April's election. Thousands of police are on the streets of Barcelona.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

Wilmès becomes first female PM of Belgium

On Sunday, Sophie Wilmès was appointed as the new prime minister of Belgium - becoming the first female head of government in the country's history. She replaces Charles Michel who becomes president of the European Council.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us