European Parliament’s Travelling Circus

The European Union is a strange thing. Instead of laws it has regulations and directives, instead of a constitution it has treaties, instead of a foreign minister it has a High Representative for Foreign and Security policy. And it has the seat of its parliament outside of its “capital”. That’s true. Even if a lot of people think that the huge glass building in the Leopold quarter in Brussels is the seat of the European Parliament, it is not true. The official seat of this institution is in the European quarter in Strasbourg, near the L’Ill river, close to the Palace of Europe (the seat of the Council of Europe) and the European Court of Human Rights. Why is that so? Why MEPs have to move, every month for 4 days to the capital of Alsace? And especially, can we stop this travelling circus?

visitingillu_groups1
Plenary chambers in Brussels and Strasbourg (Source: (c) European Union – European parliament)

WHY THE PARLIAMENT IS MOVING
The movements of the EP are decided by Protocol n. 6 to the Treaty of the functioning of the EU, which states that “The European Parliament shall have its seat in Strasbourg where the 12 periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall be held.” The same Protocol rules, that Brussels is the venue of committee meetings and additional plenary sessions, while in Luxembourg there is the seat of Parliament’s General Secretariat. This decision was formally taken unanimously by the then 12 Member States in 1992 and became part of the Treaties five years later.

To know why this thing is like that, we need to look back at the beginnings of the European integration. The predecessor of the EP was established in 1952, when the Common Assembly of the European Steel and Coal Community (ESCC) was created. Its meetings were held in Strasbourg, who was chosen by the then six member states, as it was seen as symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany. However, the city by the Rhine was chosen also for practical reasons, as there was already the plenary chamber of the Council of Europe, where the plenary sessions of the Common Assembly and then of the Parliament were held until 1999. That year the EP moved to its current building, which is used for plenary sessions three days per month (from Monday afternoon to Thursday morning), twelve times a year.

AN EXPENSIVE SYMBOL

Nevertheless this movements are not free. Based on a report, made by the European Court of Auditors in July 2014, the Parliament would save 113,8 million euros per year if it would stop with its monthly movements and permanently stay in Brussels. Besides, if the EP would be able to sell its Strasbourg building, it could gain another 616 million euros. If it could not sell it, the Parliament would have 40 million euros of one-off expenses. In any case, the permanent installation in Brussels would allow savings in a longer period of time (50 years) between 2,5 and 3,2 billion euros.

(Vir: (c) Evropska unija 2014 - Evropski parlament)
(Source: (c) European Union 2014 – European Parliament)

The European auditors have checked also the possible savings if the parliament would move also its Luxembourg staff to Brussels. In this case the savings would depend on the decision if the Parliament would rent or buy the office space needed to accommodate the newcomers. In the long run (50 years) the savings could reach a maximum of 100 million euros.

THE SINGLE SEAT CAMPAIGN
The MEPs tried already several times to finish the migration between Brussels and Strasbourg, lastly in 2013, when they adopted a resolution in which they pledged to have the possibility to decide about the organisation of they work, among others also about the place of their meetings. In this light they say that the EP would become more environmental and cost effective. In the resolution they decided that they would use the possibilities offered to them by the Lisbon Treaty. Among others, they would begin with the Procedure to change article 341 TFEU and Protocol n. 6. This possibility is given by article 48 of TEU, that allows the EP to propose to the Council Treaty amendments. Before this possibility was given just to the member states and the Commission.

The resolution was adopted by a large majority – 78% of all MEPs, among them also five of the 8 Slovenian MEPs. Even if all the political groups backed the resolution, we can find some DEZERTER. The most interesting is to see the votes from the French MEPs. Among 74 of them, 51 was against, 6 were abstained, while just 10 voted to adopt it (8 of them were members of the Greens).

(Vir: Twitter @SingleSeat)
(Source: Twitter @SingleSeat)

After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the “Single Seat” campaign was formed in the Parliament. It is formed by MEPs from different political groups that try to establish a single seat of the EP. The campaign was restarted on the 28th January of this year, when 78 MEPs signed the pledge.

HOW TO STOP THE TRAVELLING CIRCUS
If after the Second World War the installation of the European Parliament in Strasbourg was seen as a conciliation symbol between France and Germany, it is today seen as a symbol of money waste. In times of austerity, when citizens and governments have to save everywhere, this becomes even more obvious. This waste is therefore (specially before the elections and during the summer “no news” period) the target of eurosceptic groups, that have in this case every right to criticize.

However, the change would not be easy. Even if the Parliament can start with the Treaty change procedure, it has to be finalised by the member states. And here they need a unanimous vote. Everyone needs to agree. Also France. If we look at the result of the EP single seat resolution, when French MEPs voted against, we can easily say that it will be tough.

Nevertheless, the plenary sessions bring a lot of positive effects to Strasbourg’s economy. Every session brings to Strasbourg almost 4.000 people, which yearly leaves (based on data provided by the Single Seat campaign group) almost 20 million euros in the city, while the prices of the hotels during that week rise up for 150%.

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(Source: (c) European Union 2014 – European Parliament)

If the Parliament will be allowed to be full time present in Brussels and to stop being a flying circus will depend on what France will get in return. I know that here someone could say that this thing favourites big countries. But this is how this world works. This decision was taken, when EU geography was very different and when the Parliament powers were limited. However, time changes and therefore, also the Union has to change. It is time, that we forget the national ego and see what would be good for all of us. In this case a fully operative Parliament with one seat and rights, as the national parliaments have. Nothing more and nothing less.

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Avtor: Grega Jug

Diplomant evropskih študij in magister diplomacije (z magistrsko nalogo na temo konzularne dejavnosti EU). V preteklosti že pripravnik in začasni tiskovni predstavnik v Informacijski pisarni Evropskega parlamenta v Ljubljani, trenutno delam v osrednjem informacijskem centru Evropske unije EUROPE DIRECT v Bruslju. Velik ljubitelj evropskega povezovanja, ki ga skuša gledati s kritično distanco (čeprav ravno vedno ne uspe :). Poleg EU sem tudi velik ljubitelj TV serij in vsega kar je z njimi povezano.

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