Every month the European Parliament meets in Strasbourg for four days. Just four days a month. There’s a Parliament building in Strasbourg, a permanent building, a large permanent building, and we meet there four days a month. You might think that’s a bit daft when we’ve got a perfectly good Parliament building in Brussels, but you’ll only think it’s a bit daft until you find out we move the whole Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg and back every month.
At the end of a Brussels session I pack my office into a trunk, everything I’ll need in Strasbourg goes in; porters pick it up and take it to the train. They do the same for the other 765 MEPs as well as Parliament officials and support staff, Commission officials, translators, Council staff, and so on. It’s all there waiting for us when we all arrive 220 miles away in Strasbourg where we work for four days before we pack it all up and ship it all back to Brussels for the next three weeks.
Imagine a farmer deciding to spend one week out of every four working on a different farm on the other side of the country. He’d have to cart himself there and back, but he’d also have to move all of his animals, trucks, fertilisers, staff, food, fuel, and whatever else he needs. A news agent having a shop on one side of town for three weeks and moving the lot to another shop on the other side of town for a week, then back again? Inefficiency, waste, and inconvenience.
That’s the Strasbourg saga every month. Historically, Strasbourg was highly symbolic to the EU because it’s in Alsace that France and Germany fought over for generations and having a seat of Parliament there showed that the days of war were over and the days of cooperation had started.
It’s a lovely symbol but it doesn’t justify the expensive logistical nightmare and environmental waste of moving Parliament from city to city. The EU stretches from the northern tip of Finland in the Arctic Circle to Cyprus in the Mediterranean, it is 28 nations now, not the 6 that started it.
Brussels has the infrastructure to support Parliament and other EU institutions already in place. Near Parliament is the Commission and across the road is the European Council. The business and politics of the European Union is in Brussels, and the 220 mile travelling circus to Strasbourg is a museum piece of an EU now vanished.
Strasbourg gives people with an axe to grind the perfect whetstone to grind it on. When someone brings this up as an example of waste and inefficiency in the EU, I’m forced to agree with them. Edward MacMillan-Scott, co-chair of the Campaign for a Single Seat for the European Parliament (www.singleseat.eu), made the point when speaking to the New York Times: “When you look around Europe and the financial problems in Greece, the U.K., Ireland, Portugal, I cannot understand an organisation that would pay $285million for something so counterproductive.”
The single seat campaign has overwhelming support amongst parliamentary members and staff. More than three quarters of MEPs support the replacement of the two seats of Brussels and Strasburg with one fixed seat in Brussels. There’s a majority in all political groups and in all EU countries except France and Luxemburg. No other EU issue has such support across the Parliament.
Savings from switching to a single seat in Brussels are estimated to be at least €180m a year, and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 a year in environmental savings - a worthy saving on a building which is left unoccupied for 317 days a year. I’m a member of the same Parliamentary group as the Greens and you might think that this is a predictable objection from an MEP in the EFA/Green Alliance given the environmental waste it clocks up, but it’s all just so unnecessary.
Parliament can complain as much as it likes but we don’t decide where and when we meet. Parliament meeting in Strasbourg is in the Treaties which established the EU and it would need a treaty amendment to change that. Member states, all of the 28 nations in the EU, would have to agree to the switch and any moves to try that have so far been blocked by France and Luxembourg.
Strasbourg is an inconvenience and a waste that we can all live without. Strasbourg does well out of it; hotel prices go up by 150% when we come to town, but it’s all a public waste. As national governments are cutting their budgets, including their contributions to the EU budget, we have to tighten our belts and there is no more obvious place to start than the Strasbourg travelling circus.
Facts and Figures:
The cost of Strasbourg
The financial cost:
€180m: The additional yearly running costs of a multi-seat European Parliament.
€600m: The cost of the European Parliament's new buildings in Strasbourg.
€80m: The amount the City of Strasbourg overcharged.
+150%: The average increase in hotel prices during parliamentary weeks in Strasbourg.
The environmental cost:
19,000t: The amount of CO2 created by moving to Strasbourg each month.
2: The amount of flights the majority of MEPs must take to get to Strasbourg.
317: The amount of days the building in Strasbourg sits empty, but still heated and lit.
818km: The distance the Parliament's equipment travels each month to Strasbourg.
40%: The amount the European Parliament voted to cut CO2 emissions by 2030.