One-seat Parliament campaign in EU Treaty pitfall

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A campaign to end the Parliament’s monthly Strasbourg session has gathered one million signatures. But the issue may result in an institutional Pandora’s Box that EU nations have no intention of opening for now, a leading French MEP told EURACTIV.

The ‘One Seat’ campaign for the EU Parliament to end its monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg and relocate full-time to Brussels gained momentum on 20 September, when it reached the symbolic one-million signature mark.

The petition, launched in May 2006, was handed to the Commission on 21 September by a group of Parliamentarians, led by Cecilia Malmström MEP. The Swede said that she hoped the matter will soon be dealt with as part of discussions on the EU’s future institutional arrangements.

“We are very excited to present the European Commission with the first citizen initiative ever,” said Malmström, in a reference to a provision of the EU Constitution on participatory democracy that French and Dutch voters rejected last year. 

“The fact that citizens have spoken out about this issue shows how they would like the European Union to function – in an efficient and transparent manner,” she said.

According to the petitioners, the dispersion of Parliament’s activities between three working places – Brussels for the daily Parliamentary work, Luxembourg for administration and Strasbourg for the plenary sessions – “has a negative impact on time and cost-effectiveness and the overall image of the European Union”. 

“This waste of tax-payers’ money is destroying public opinion,” the campaigners say in reference to the ‘No’ votes to the Constitution in France and the Netherlands.

However, it is highly unlikely that the petition will go beyond the Brussels sphere for now, France having already signalled that it would not accept any change to the existing arrangements which are inherited from the post-war Franco-German reconciliation.

Joseph Daul MEP, a Frenchman who is tipped to lead the Parliament's largest political group next year - the centre-right EPP-ED - says the question of the Assembly's location is "a false issue".

"It is written in the Treaties", says Daul. "Those who do not agree have to tell their heads of state and governments that the treaties have to be renegotiated," he told EURACTIV. "But we saw it already - no one is ready to put the Treaty back on the table again."

However, Daul says he is open for discussion. "If the treaties have to be renegotiated, then we renegotiate the whole [of the institutional arrangements], not just the Parliament's seat."

"Why have all these agencies in London, Frankfurt or Parma?" he asks. "They too cost a lot of money. Why not relocate them too in Brussels?" According to Daul, these decisions are of a political nature, which, by definition, involves horse-trading.

The decision to hold most of the Parliament's sessions in Strasbourg was laid down in a 1992 summit agreement, which was confirmed by the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. Any decision to change it would require an amendment to the EU Treaties, a process which requires unanimity between all EU member states.

The 732 MEPs, their staff, journalists and lobbyists travel the 450 km to Strasbourg for twelve four-day sessions a year. Ten large trucks, loaded and driven by a team of 30 men, are needed to transport files and equipment back and forth each time. The EU's 'travelling circus", as it is often called in Brussels, costs tax-payers an estimated €200 million per year.

  • At their June 2006 summit, EU heads of state and government decided to prolong the so-called "reflection period" that followed the rejection of the Constitution until after the French Presidential elections in Spring 2007.
  • January-July 2007: German presidency wants to put forward proposals on how to proceed with the Constitutional Treaty.
  • July-December 2008: French presidency could bring possible solution to constitutional deadlock.

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