‘The polycentric and opportunistic capital of Europe’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Carola Hein, associate professor of Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania writing in the journal Brussels Studies, outlines a new model for a decentralised European capital based in Brussels and other host cities.

The location of EU headquarters, and in particular of the Commission, Council and Parliament, have been debated for the past 50 years, the author writes. And since Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg were confirmed in 1992 as the official headquarters of the EU, newly created decentralised agencies have settled in more than 20 cities. 

The issue was brought to the fore again by Cecilia Malmström’s one-seat campaign (EURACTIV 21 September 2006) to relocate the European Parliament permanently to Brussels. Currently the Parliament holds its week-long monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg, has its secretariat in Luxembourg, and both convenes extraordinary sessions and does its everyday work in Brussels.

Attempts to relocate to Brussels have failed due to the opposition of member states. The author writes that although a single capital may be more effective for the EU’s administrative purposes, this is not an option “given the particularities of EU unification, the interests of member states, and the desire of some host cities to limit the number of EU employees in their walls”. 

On the other hand, decentralisation of the institutions has the advantages of bringing the EU closer to its citizens. Moreover it can lead to the construction of a capital “with the innovative character and multilayered structure of the EU itself”.

However the author warns that careful planning is necessary “to ensure that the continuing decentralization of specific institutions does not impede their effectiveness, to respond to the host cities’ special needs due to their particular history, size, or political structure, and, most importantly, to provide citizens with ample opportunities to have their voices heard as easily as those of organized lobbying groups”.

Subscribe to our newsletters