February 14, 2011
A Sad Tale of Two Cities
A new study shows that an overwhelming majority of MEPs want to discontinue monthly trips to Strasbourg, preferring instead to meet solely in Brussels. Unfortunately, a change in the Lisbon treaty would be necessary to enact the money-saving proposals.
Some 88 percent of MEPs and assistants want to have their own say on where the European Parliament meets, with 91 percent preferring Brussels, a newly-published survey carried out by Zurich University in 2011 says.
Support for scrapping Strasbourg has been constant for the past 10 years: 69 percent in 2000, 72 percent in 2006 and 70 percent in 2010. But the latest figures show a spike in favour of change.
The data was presented on Thursday as part of a major review called A Tale of Two Cities and was commissioned by a group of 10 current and former MEPs.
Forty percent of the people surveyed also said Strasbourg´s poor transport, accommodation and working environment have a serious impact on their professional performance.
The change would save €180 million a year and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, the study added.
In 2002, it was estimated that if the Parliament had a single seat, 317 full-time staff posts could be abolished, a figure likely to have increased following enlargement.
The Zurich findings are the latest in a long series of Quixotic attempts to break the impasse on Strasbourg. But all efforts smash against the wall of member states - EU countries, notably France, would have to amend the EU treaty to make the move. And there is no political will to do it.
In its current form, the EU treaty says 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 periods of additional plenary sessions shall be held in Brussels. The committees of the European Parliament shall meet in Brussels. The General Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg."
British Liberal MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who led the Zurich initiative, says that times are changing because the EU legislature gained new powers under the Lisbon Treaty and should decide for itself where to congregate.
"The European Parliament serves 500 million people. In today´s climate, the economic and environmental cost of two seats can no longer be justified. The two-seat arrangement is an anachronism," he said in a press statement.
His working group aims to break the taboo on top-level discussions on the issue.
Anti-Strasbourg chatter has been fuelled in recent years by events such as the collapse of the plenary chamber´s ceiling in 2008, another ceiling collapse in 2009 and travel chaos due to the Icelandic ash cloud last year.
The gripe list also includes strikes by French transport workers. Only six EU capitals have direct flights to the city, meaning MEPs shuttle around EU airports to get to meetings and break the session early on Thursday to get home for the weekend.
Hotel profiteering in Strasbourg is considered a growing problem: Anecdotal evidence and spot-checks suggest that Strasbourg hotels routinely double their prices during plenary sessions, the report notes.
The British government quickly welcomed the study amid a climate of crisis-related austerity.
"The report not only makes clear what a huge and unnecessary waste of time and resource it is for the European Parliament to have a seat both in Brussels and in Strasbourg, as this Government has always argued, but also shows a dramatic change in sentiment amongst MEPs towards one seat," a UK government spokesman said in a press statement.
There was no communique from Paris.
Source: Valentina Pop - EUObserver