French MEPs prepare to fight over Strasbourg seat

Anne Sander is among the French MEPs that backs the European Parliament's Strasbourg seat. [European Parliament]

Many MEPs hope to replace the European Parliament’s Strasbourg seat with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which will leave London once the UK pulls out of the EU. But French politicians will not let go of Strasbourg without a fight. EURACTIV France reports.

The idea of abandoning the Strasbourg seat, where the European Parliament holds its monthly plenary sessions, in exchange for bringing the EMA to the Alsacian capital, gained traction after the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Emmanuel Macron as president.

The whole apparatus of the European Parliament currently decamps from Brussels to Strasbourg for one week each month, at a cost of around €114m per year, according to EU figures.

Single seat

It is not hard to find opponents of this arrangement among the MEPs themselves, many of whom criticise the unnecessary financial and environmental cost it generates.

But for many French politicians, for whom the defence of the Strasbourg seat has always been a priority, the latest assault on the Parliament’s two-seat model is particularly unwelcome.

“The Strasbourg seat cannot be bartered against a medicines agency,” said Jérôme Lavrilleux, a French EPP group MEP. Lavrilleux even threatened to quit his political group if it adopted an anti-Strasbourg stance.

But the former Republican politician, who was excluded from his party over an investigation into Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign financing, is not representative of the general feeling in Brussels.

“The question of a single seat for the European Parliament was again raised at the Conference of the Presidents, then at the EPP group meeting on 28 June. Obviously the French came out to defend Strasbourg,” French EPP group MEP Anne Sander told EURACTIV.

France turns to EU courts to defend Strasbourg Parliament

The French government has gone to new lengths to defend the European Parliament’s Strasbourg seat, filing a complaint against the Parliament’s 2017 budget vote, which took place in Brussels. Euractiv France reports.

The Strasbourg seat is a recurring topic of long and largely fruitless debate in the hemicycle. But the idea of substituting it for the EMA, one of the EU’s most important agencies, is being touted as a serious possibility.

Member states have until 31 July to submit their applications for the agency post-Brexit, and the field of candidates so far is strong. Sweden, Denmark, Italy, France, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Spain have all officially entered the race.

Strasbourg could trade Parliament seat for medicines agency

EU officials claim there is growing support for a proposal to close the European Parliament’s expensive second seat in Strasbourg and to sweeten the deal by giving the French city the European Medicine Agency in return.

Supporters of a single Parliament seat in Brussels see the EMA as a perfect way to sugar the pill in France. But France has already designated Lille as its candidate to host the agency.

“It is not up to the European Parliament to choose France’s candidate city. And France has already designated Lille. So that is the end of the debate,” said Sander.

A question of cost

But the question has been placed on the agenda for this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. “The debate will take place on Wednesday (5 July) and a resolution on the subject will certainly be presented at the following session,” Sander added.

This time, the debate on the financial cost of the European Parliament will also have to take into account another factor: the institution’s buildings in Brussels, built 24 years ago, need, at best, large-scale renovations and at worst, a wholesale demolition and reconstruction.

While no decision has yet been made, the cost of the works is estimated at €300m for renovation and €500m for demolition and reconstruction.

“From a financial point of view (even if symbols are priceless) it would be more advantageous to bring all the Parliament’s activities to Strasbourg, end the mini sessions and not rebuild the hemicycle in Brussels,” said Sander.

According to the MEP, the cost of the works needed on the institution’s Brussels seat could help rally other politicians behind the idea of a single seat based in Strasbourg.

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