Auteur: Benjamin Fox
BRUSSELS - MEPs backed a single seat for the European Parliament with a thumping majority on Wednesday (20 November).
Deputies backed a report by British Conservative Ashley Fox and Gerard Hafner, a German Green MEP, by 483 votes to 141 and 34 abstentions.
The report, which is not legally binding, does not commit support for either Brussels or Strasbourg. Instead it calls for the European Parliament to use its power under the EU treaties to launch a procedure to change the treaty, with a view to allowing the parliament to decide on the location of its own seat.
Nonetheless, most MEPs favour a single seat in Brussels where the bulk of the assembly's legislative work takes place.
The parliament currently spends 48 days a year in Strasbourg an arrangement which was agreed by EU leaders at a summit in Edinburgh in 1992.
A study by the parliament's own Secretary General revealed that the annuals costs of shuttling MEPs and officials to Strasbourg and maintaining the buildings are more than €100 million. It also results in around 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
However, a majority of MEPs scrapping the Strasbourg plenary sessions would require the support of all EU leaders, effectively giving France a veto.
French president Francois Hollande publicly ruled out giving up the Strasbourg sessions during a speech to deputies in February. Only a handful of France's 74 MEPs backed the report.
Shifting EU summits or the Committee of the Regions to Strasbourg or basing a European university at the buildings are among the ideas to have been mooted by politicians as a way to compensate the French city for the loss of prestige and revenue from the plenary sessions.
During a debate on the report on Tuesday (19 November), Fox commented that the most frequently question asked by his constituents was 'why are there two European Parliaments?'.
"The EP should have one seat and should decide itself where it sits," he said.
"What was once a symbol for peace and reconciliation in Europe is becoming a symbol for the absolute incapacity of the EU to reform itself," said Hafner.
"The practise of shifting thousands of people and resources from place to place is not only costly, inefficient, wasteful and environmentally-damaging, but, above all, it is bad for European democracy," he added.
For her part, French socialist deputy Catherine Trautmann, a former mayor of Strasbourg, accused the report's authors who giving ammunition to eurosceptics, adding that MEPs should withdraw their attacks on the city as "a symbol of waste".
But Fox dismissed this charge as "nonsense on stilts" pointing out that only four deputies spoke against the report, all of whom were French.
"French members should be honest that they are acting in their selfish national interests," he said, adding that "if the Parliament was based in Bristol I would do the same."