A majority of MEPs voted on Wednesday (20 November) for a resolution aimed at giving the European Parliament the power to change the EU treaty to decide when and where they meet, in Brussels or Strasbourg, a vote that irritates France.
With 483 votes in favour and 141 against MEPs gave their approval to a resolution saying that the Parliament should have the right to decide where to hold its plenary sessions, in which all the institution's members are gathered.
All of the Parliament's 12 plenary sessions take place in the French city, a symbol of Franco-German post-war reconciliation. Some meetings are also held in Luxembourg.
Most of the EU legislature's activities take place in Brussels.
The text seeks to allow the Parliament to be fully in charge of its own internal organisation, including the location of its seat.
Detractors of the monthly migration to Strasbourg have a number of arguments to call on, including travel costs, pollution and poor transport connections.
The expense of travelling from Brussels to Strasbourg has been estimated at between €169 and 204 million, or 15-20% of the Parliament’s yearly budget, while CO2 emissions associated with the trip are estimated at between 11,000 and 19,000 tonnes, MEPs say.
A symbolic vote
However, the MEPs' vote has no real impact on the decision of the seat's location for now. The Parliament does not have the power to change it, as the member states have the final say on any treaty change. The decision must be taken unanimously and France has no intention to accept such a change.
MEPs also asked the European Court of Auditors to conduct a full analysis of the potential savings generated from the Parliament having a single seat. They also requested a survey of EU citizens’ views on the prospect of maintaining Parliament’s three places of work, with specific reference to the financial, environmental and efficiency costs of this arrangement. The poll’s results should be made public by February 2014, in time for the EU elections campaigns.
For the moment the vote may be little more than symbolic but it may set a precedent for future treaty change discussions.
France opposed to a single seat
Apart from the Greens, all French MEPs voted against the transfer of the Parliament seat to Brussels. In the French National Assembly, MP Andre Schneider called on the government to clarify its position on the MEPs’ vote.
“The European Strasbourg is in danger! The anti-Strasbourg are gaining ground,” he proclaimed, warning against the 'centralisation' that would result from such a decision.
“From a legal aspect, this battle is lost and incomprehensible”, Hélène Conway-Mouret, the minister in charge of French citizens abroad, replied.
“To question the location of the EU Parliament would jeopardise all the compromises made on the seats of the EU institutions, something which I doubt member states are ready to engage in”, she said.