The European Parliament wants to stay in one place

European Parliament. Strasburg, France one of the three sits of the House. Committee on Constitutional Affairs - European political parties and European political foundations: statute and funding (COD) - vote on a proposal for a regulation (EP Audiovisual Service).

European Parliament. Strasburg, France, one of the three seats of the House. Committee on Constitutional Affairs – European political parties and European political foundations: statute and funding (COD) – vote on a proposal for a regulation (EP Audiovisual Service).

At last – it was high time that the European Parliament took the responsibility to determine its own agenda and of course to decide where it sits! For decades now legislators travel incessantly to and from between Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, running after timetables and squandering taxpayers’ money in travel expenses and hotel bookings. Thank God last Monday the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament bravely decided that the legislative should have the right to decide where and when it meets. With 22 votes to 4 it decided that, “The European Parliament would be more effective, cost-efficient and respectful of the environment, if it were located in a single place”. No wonder that those 4 votes came from French MEPs.

Last June a Parliament working document, drafted by Rapporteurs, Ashley Fox (ECR, UK) and Gerald Häfner (Greens/EFA, DE) concluded that the multi seat character of the European Parliament is not any more sustainable. The turning point was, that under the Treaty of Lisbon the Parliament is upgraded to equal footing with the other three legislative bodies of the EU, namely the Commission and the Council. Parliament’s decision making procedures however are much more time-consuming and need an exact application of procedures. Consequently the work load of parliamentarians has multiplied and travelling between the three sites is not any more tolerable.

Travelling circus

That being given, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs took action and started working to solve this problem. The report drafted by the above mentioned two MEPs concludes that the European Parliament, “in order to fulfil its function deriving from the treaties and the expectations of its electorate – Parliament needs the right to organize itself in a modern and appropriate way – and therefore should initiate an ordinary treaty revision procedure in order to amend Article 341 and Protocol 6, granting Parliament the right to decide itself on matters relating to its internal organisation and calendar, and hence the question of its seat“.

In view of that, this Committee last Monday after hearing its two rapporteurs decided that “The European Parliament should have the right to decide where and when it meets”. Rapporteur Fox went one step ahead to describe what is happening now as a “travelling circus”. He said “Today’s vote is excellent news…it will be seen as a landmark in that process and a key achievement in our campaign to impose some sanity on this system. This house must be allowed to determine for itself where it sits. The will of the people must not be ignored on this issue, nor must the wishes of MEPs“. Co-rapporteur Häfner added “In times of crisis, it is not credible for the EU to expect only citizens to accept changes and budget cuts”.

How much does it cost?

The report estimates that additional annual costs resulting from Parliament’s geographic dispersion have been estimated at between €156 million and €204 million, equivalent to around 10% of Parliament’s annual expenditures. The CO2 emissions associated with moving among the three working locations have been estimated at between 11,000 and 19,000 tonnes. This is the recurrent costs weighing only on Parliament’s budget though. The triple seat working arrangements also imposes additional spending and travel on the other EU institutions and on journalists.

All that, however, was more or less known, probably not in that detail, but, in general terms, the wasteful character of the triple Parliament seat was evident long ago. The problem is that France has been traditionally regarding the issue as a key question of national sovereignty. Paris wants to see the European Parliament to convene also in Strasbourg, on French soil, that is, under French jurisdiction. Last time the issue was raised at the European Summit, the then French President Nicola Sarkozy, didn’t accept it as an item of the agenda.

This is obviously a left over from the post WW II (a continuation of WW I) era winners’ ideology, that plays no role whatsoever in today’s brave new world, where the economy and markets reign. If the triple seat of the EU Parliament is non-productive, it is definitive that it has to go. Of course France will not accept this change easily. It seems, though, the time is ripe for that to change also. France is no longer the political academy and the strategic anchor of the European Union. The economic might of Germany and the British support for the one Parliament seat solution will overcome Paris’s reaction. The fact that the two rapporteurs originate from Germany and Britain must be considered as a first defeat of France, foreshadowing the final outcome.

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