Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I’m spending a few days this week in Strasbourg, as the once a month “Strasbourg session” of the European Parliament takes place. The whole European Parliament decamps to France for a week, leaving behind MEPs offices, the debating chamber and all of the offices of the European Parliament in Brussels to move to, wait for it, exactly the same (give or take) set of offices in Strasbourg. The complex itself is huge, and yet is only used for a fraction of each year.
Ladies and Gentlemen – welcome to one of the world’s great boondoggles…
As a pro-European, Strasbourg is a challenge for me, because it encapsulates something that is fundamentally wrong with Europe as an entity – the power of vested interests (in this case, the French desire to have the Parliament meet on their turf). Few think that heading to Strasbourg once a month is a good idea, and the vast majority of MPs oppose it. Last month they voted 429-184 for a “single seat”. That’s the largest majority yet.
Labour’s MEPs are particularly keen to end the travelling Strasbourg circus. Their leader Glenis Willmott has outlined “three important reasons why we should now stop this farce”:
1. Governments should be seen to practice what they preach. It is a scandal to cause this totally unnecessary carbon footprint. (The University of York have estimated a carbon footprint of an extra 20,268 tonnes of additional carbon dioxide caused by this move.)
2. Governments are asking everyone in the public sector to tighten their belts. (Estimates claim a cost of €206 million on the extra seat.)
3. We only meet here for historic reasons. Strasbourg
represented reconciliation between France and Germany, but that generation has more or less disappeared now. We are now the new Enlarged Europe and the significance of the end of Franco-German hostility is now consigned to history text books
Unfortunately MEPs don’t get to decide where they meet. The Strasbourg session was agreed by EU governments as part of a protocol attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam (agreed by John Major as British Prime Minister) and is decided on by the Governments of the EU, not the parliament. Over a million signatures have been collected to call time on Strasbourg, but as yet that’s been to no avail. If moves were made by other EU governments to abolish the seat then France would simply veto. So it stays. The European project has delivered prosperity and unparalleled peace and security for its members. But sometimes the EU institutions are their own worst enemy…
But if the EU were to leave Strasbourg, what would become of the city (whose economy is boosted by the sessions) and the EU complex itself? Willmot has a few suggestions
“there are endless uses for the revamped European Parliament building. It could perhaps be a centre for European Summits making use of its excellent interpretation facilities, or perhaps a new European University. There are a host of ideas. ”
All of which must be better than spending €200m+ a year on moving a whole parliament hundreds of miles, surely?
Look out for more dispatches from Strasbourg on Twitter, and tomorrow on LabourList.