How the EU could save €1.2bn: shut down Strasbourg circus
A new campaign aims to stop costly monthly ritual whereby 754 MEPs and staff decamp from Brussels
IS IT TIME the European Parliament finally gave up the expensive ritual whereby it decamps once a month from Brussels to Strasbourg, at a massive cost to taxpayers?
The question has been posed many times down the years. Now, with the contentious EU budget in mind, the suggestion comes from a source outside the EU - The Washington Post.
The EU Parliament is the world's only peripatetic governing assembly. In accordance with its governing treaty, MEPs are required to up-sticks from Brussels and spend four days a month sitting in Strasbourg (above), 220 miles away on the French border with Germany.
Not only do 750-plus MEPs need to travel to the French city, but secretaries, civil servants and truckloads of filing cabinets have to be shipped from their offices in Brussels, too. The cost is estimated at €180 million a year – a nice little saving if the Eurocrats could ever agree to stop it.
Back in May 2006, Swedish MEP Cecilia Malmström was so incensed at the expenditure and hassle involved that she started an online petition with the lofty aim of getting one million signatures from EU citizens.
The One Seat campaign demanded that the parliament be sited permanently in Brussels. At the time of its inception there were 732 MEPs shuttling to Strasbourg. Plus officials, the total monthly headcount was around 3,000.
Today, more than six years later, there are 754 MEPs, still making the monthly schlepp, and there is a fresh campaign to have it stopped.
Spearheading it is British Lib Dem MEP Edward McMillan-Scott. He told the Washington Post that over the next six years the ritual will cost €1.2bn (£969m) and emit 133,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the air.
McMillan-Scott complains that only six European capital cities have air links with Strasbourg, that city's hotels double their rates when the EU circus is in town and that the assembly building there is a safety hazard.
Could the tide be about to turn? Many MEPs enjoy their sojourns in Strasbourg - the restaurants are excellent – but a good proportion find it a pain in the neck, as well as a waste of money.
Writing to the Financial Times last week, McMillan-Scott pointed out that 23.7 per cent of MEPs voted in October to invite EU governments to resolve the issue by next summer.
Meanwhile, David Cameron has been told that there is no chance of the cuts he wants in the EU's annual administrative budget. Instead, the European Commission is pushing for the budget to rise from £45bn to £50bn.
What of Cecilia Malmström's petition – did it ever reach the one million mark? Yes – within six months, prompting The Guardian to ask on 1 November 2006 if this was "the end of the road" for the "roving parliament".
As for Malmström herself, she left the EU Parliament that same year, returning to Sweden to serve as a cabinet minister. But, in 2009, she packed her bags for Brussels - and Strasbourg - once more, becoming the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Asked then if she planned to re-open the debate, she said Sweden's six-month presidency of the EU was "probably not the best occasion to do that". She has subsequently remained silent on the issue.