News / Europe

EU Lawmakers Seek to End Costly 'Traveling Circus'

FILE - A member of the European Parliament attends a debate on the state of union, in Strasbourg, September 11, 2013.
FILE - A member of the European Parliament attends a debate on the state of union, in Strasbourg, September 11, 2013.
Reuters
— The European Parliament will agree on Wednesday to scrap its second headquarters in Strasbourg and end what lawmakers say is a 200-million-euro-a-year traveling circus between the French city and Brussels.

But France, keen to keep a symbol of its status as a founding member of the European Union, is likely to veto the decision when it is taken before national leaders.

At a time of intensified demands for budget cuts and  economic hardship across Europe, EU leaders and many lawmakers want to stop the vast cost of having two parliamentary bases and use Brussels, the EU's main seat, as the sole headquarters.

EU law, however, says that the parliament, the only elected body among the EU's institutions and one of increasing clout, must have a four-day session once a month in Strasbourg.

That entails 766 members and their staff moving 430 kilometers (270 miles) from Belgium to the eastern French city, which is actually closer to Munich than to Brussels.

Reams of parliamentary documents must also be shifted and a large number of reporters and lobbyists also have to tag along.

The monthly move is estimated to cost between 156 million and 204 million euros ($275 million) a year, but also has an environmental impact that Green MEPs and many others find unacceptable at a time of heightened climate awareness.

Roughly 2,400 parliament staff also work in Luxembourg.

Since the European Union's Lisbon treaty came into force in 2009 - giving the European Parliament new powers - a growing number of MEPs have campaigned against the costly set-up, with the most vocal opponent Britain's Edward McMillan-Scott.

“Over 75 percent of lawmakers want to end the costly and inefficient monthly, four-day trek to Strasbourg from our home in the political capital of the European Union,” said McMillan-Scott, a British Liberal Democrat.

Vacant

The glass and steel Strasbourg building stands almost vacant for more than 300 days a year and accrues 12 million euros in maintenance costs.

France, however, has defended its right to host the assembly and all the business it brings.

In the latest of several rulings in France's favor, the European Court of Justice last year annulled a European Parliament decision to reduce the number of sessions in Strasbourg, saying it is for EU governments to decide changes.

EU governments must all agree on granting a single seat to the parliament, effectively giving France a veto on any campaign seeking to put an end to the two-seat arrangement.

Lawmakers still hope to garner enough public support to eventually pressure France to give in, building on a 2006 petition that was endorsed by more than 1 million EU citizens.

EU lawmakers argue the parliament has undergone a transformation since it was created as an assembly in 1952, moving from a consultative body without the power to propose legislation to a house representing a 28-nation bloc of 500 million and co-legislating with governments.

“The traveling circus between difference workplaces leads to unjustifiable costs and environmental damage that can no longer be explained to the public,” Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) said in a statement.

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