Wallström: “Strasbourg has become a negative symbol”

The communications commissioner argues that times have changed and that the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament no longer works as a positive symbol of Franco-German unity.

Commissioner Margot Wallström knows that this autumn the Commission must somehow handle the issue of a million signatures on a petition that argues for the European Parliament to have only one seat. 

Although she realises that the issue will be up to the Council, her mind is made up: “Something that was once a very positive symbol of the European Union reuniting France and Germany has now become a negative symbol – of wasting money, bureaucracy and the insanity of Brussels institutions,” she says in an interview with the magazine E!Sharp.

She advises the EU to be careful: “One has to try to both explain why it was placed there and pay respect to that, but also say that times have changed and now this is impractical and too expensive.” 

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson  has said: “I like the parliament in Strasbourg. But it is very hard to justify the cost,” while Commission President José  Manuel Barroso has refused to comment on the petition, since he cannot act upon it.

Presidential hopeful, France’s Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy gave his full backing in June 2006 to Strasbourg as seat for the EP. He cites it as a “symbol of Franco-German reconciliation and of European Unity.

Pierre Moscovici, former European affairs minister and MEP, argues that “by reducing the EU to an issue of money, accounting and buildings, we overlook the very essence of the European construction”.

Emmanuel Vallens  of JEF, Young European Federalists, (who does not represent JEF’s official position) is also for one seat, but states that it should in fact be in Strasbourg: “What motivates the media is not where the Parliament is, but whether it is powerful or not. Power is a matter of competence, not of geographical location. If its competences were stronger, having the EP away from Brussels would not prevent MEPs from summoning Commission or Council officials or travelling to Brussels from time to time.”

Placing the planned European Institute of Technology, EIT, in Strasbourg, has been suggested as a possible bargaining chip, if the EP should eventually only sit  in Brussels. 

 

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