The European Parliament in Strasbourg
May 25th, will take place the European elections. One of elections stakes is obviously the renewal of the European political class, but also the kind of Europe that wish to voters. For my part, I am more interested in the European Parliament itself and its issues. For some time, considerable controversy moved about the choice of the place of Parliament. Strasbourg is considered as an important symbolic city, but presents a deficit of structure, especially in transport.
Therefore, most MEPs call for a single seat in Brussels in order to save costs simplifying all administrative and practical approach.
But is it really a wise choice, what is the scope of the place of the European Parliament? What compromise does it seem interesting to adopt?
I. Introductory Elements
Firstly, we point out the Edinburgh European Council of 11 and 12 December 1992 when the governments of Member States reached an agreement on the seats of the institutions, which provides:
1. Parliament has its seat in Strasbourg with the twelve periods of session.
2. Periods of additional plenary session held in Brussels;
3. Parliamentary committees meet in Brussels;
4. General Secretariat and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg.
This decision was criticized by the Parliament. However, the Court of Justice in its judgment of 1 October 1997 in case C-345/95confirmed that Parliament’s seat was fixed in accordance with Article 289 of the EC Treaty. The content of this decision was included in the Treaty of Amsterdam in the form of a Protocol annexed to the Treaties.
What is actually the controversy?
In an article published in the French newspaper “Le Figaro”, the blogger Fabien Cazenave explains that most participants (Sweden, Finland , Latvia, Greece , Portugal, Romania , Ireland … ) were forced to stop in Frankfurt to catch a bus then until Alsace. For the Portuguese, they must pass over the city in order to go in Frankfurt to take the bus. !
In the same view, it lacks an important transport links between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. It is not normal to make a train ride from 6am 30 with a stop 1:30 to rally Brussels to Strasbourg whereas 400 miles separate the two cities. Some even go to Paris or take their car, which is more economical.
Accordingly, sessions that would last four days are reduced to two and a half days. Brussels intends to keep their members by offering many appointments, activities in order to abandon Strasbourg.
Consequently, The European Parliament has called for an EU treaty change to stop MEPs’ and instead make Brussels the parliament’s permanent home..
The costs and CO2 emissions have grown as the parliament has got bigger and more powerful over the years, they say. Unanimity is required for a treaty change, so France can still block it. Only EU governments, jointly called the Council, currently have the power to change a treaty.
The current Strasbourg shuttle requires 766 MEPs and more than 3,000 members of staff to move their offices entirely to the French city on the Rhine for a few days every month. The border city symbolised European reconciliation after World War 2, with Germany on the opposite bank. Businesses in Strasbourg thrive on the monthly influx of MEPs, lobbyists and others involved in the parliament’s work.
MEPs overwhelmingly backed a report by the UK Conservative MEP Ashley Fox and a German Green MEP, Gerald Haefner, which calls for a treaty change to « allow parliament to decide on the location of its seat and its internal organisation ».
As the EU body, which most directly represents European citizens, the report says, parliament « should be granted the prerogative of determining its own working arrangements, including the right to decide where and when it holds its meetings ».
The report was adopted with 483 votes for and 141 against. There were 34 abstentions. British MEPs are in the vanguard of the campaign to stop what they call the « travelling circus ».
The Single Seat campaign website says that every year the Strasbourg shuttle wastes at least 180m euros (£150m; $243m) and generates 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
The campaigners point out that more than one million EU citizens have signed a petition calling for the parliament to have a single seat in Brussels. The EU can already introduce legislation if at least one million citizens request it, through the Citizen’s Initiative procedure.
The Fox Haefner report says the monthly migration to Strasbourg is detrimental to the EU’s reputation, « especially at a time when the financial crisis has led to serious and painful expenditure cuts in the member states ».
Why should remain the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament?
In spite of these arguments, we regard that Strasbourg must stay the seat of the European Union.
Indeed, Strasbourg has unchallenged legitimacy as Seat of the European Parliament. The treaties officially enshrine this legitimacy and establish the different places of work in accordance with principle of geographical diversity.
Far away from Brussels, embodies European democracy and independence.It reflects the institution’s principle of geographical diversity. The plenary sessions enjoy an atmosphere conducive to parliamentary work and the city is spared the criticisms, so strident in this election campaign period, of Europe being in its “eurocratic bubble” embodied by Brussels.
Also, a report by the European association of young entrepreneurs has deciphered the Parliament’s budgetary documents, indicating that the annual cost and carbon footprint are four to five times lower that the figures circulated. 51,5 million euros, equivalent to 10 cents per annum per citizen, 0,04% of the budget of the European Union, less than the cost of postage stamp, and 3250 tons of Co2 for the carbon footprint.
Accordingly, access to Strasbourg is constantly improving. Thetravel times for rail travel are decreasing. At “Strasbourg-Entzheim” airport 17 new air routes have been opened since January 2012 with the welcome arrival of 6 new low cost airlines. Also, accommodation is improving too with a growing number of beds and the increased room capacity close to the Parliament is the “Wacken European district” will provide a suitable solution.
Today, the best weapon that François Hollande is invests in Strasbourg. For Fabien Cazenave, it may be wise to launch an important project by changing the airport in Strasbourg like Brussels, Frankfurt or Paris.
Also, the project « Eurocap-Rail » is critical in order to reduce the transport time in train between Brussels and Strasbourg in one more hour. Thus, ifFrançois Holllande wants to save the beautiful symbolic of Strasbourg, boarder town with two countries which are committed in two wars, he must bring others arguments that the seat of Strasbourg is guarantee by treaties.He must invest in order that Strasbourg acquires a European future.
So, Strasbourg is not the question but the answer. Strasbourg is not the problem, but the solution.
Author : Robin Alves