High-speed train link reinforces Parliament’s Strasbourg seat

Musicians playing in Strasbourg at the Parliament's opening session, June 30, 2014 [© European Union 2014 - European Parliament]

Musicians playing in Strasbourg at the Parliament's opening session, June 30, 2014 [© European Union 2014 - European Parliament]

Those campaigning against the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg were dealt a major blow on Tuesday (8 July) when France’s national railway company, SNCF, announced a new direct TGV route between Brussels and Strasbourg. EURACTIV France reports.

By spring 2016, it will take just three and a half hours to travel from Brussels to Strasbourg, the two host cities of the European Parliament.

SNCF will launch a direct high-speed train link that will travel twice a day in each direction.

There is only one direct route by high-speed train between the two cities. It is chartered by the European Parliament for plenary sessions that take place once a month. A train journey currently takes five and a half hours as the train travels through Wallonia and Luxembourg. The SNCF blames this on Luxemburgish and Walloon infrastructure because it is not suitable for high-speed trains. The SNCF told EURACTIV France that the new route will meet the needs and expectations of their customers.

Brussels-Strasbourg relationship at heart of European Parliament debate

Strasbourg is difficult to get to, be it by train or plane. This is the main complaint for European officials that travel between the two cities every month.

“The problem of rapid access to Strasbourg is the number one weapon for the anti-Strasbourg guerrilla,” said Constance Le Grip, author of a report by the European People’s Party on the location of the seats of the European Union’s institutions. She welcomed the new high-speed train connection, which she says responds to the demands and needs of train users.

>> Read: MEPs demand autonomy in deciding Parliament seat

“It is obvious that this is not just a railway issue, it is also a political issue,” she said, adding that the announcement will take “the wind out of the sails” of those who are against the Strasbourg seat.

According to Le Grip, “anti-Strasbourg” MEPs will have less to complain about, but there are still other problems. It is difficult for MEPs from across Europe to fly to Strasbourg and the lack of hotels mean that once a month the price of a room skyrockets.

“SNCF’s decision will not solve all problems in one go, but it is a step in the right direction,” Le Grip said.

According to a decision taken at the European Council in Edinburgh 1992, the European Parliament’s official seat is situated in Strasbourg.

Just twelve four day plenary sessions take place there every year. Any changes require changing the European treaties, which needs a unanimous decision from the EU member states.

The double-seat system often comes under fire for being a waste of money. Those against the Strasbourg headquarters point out the costs of transporting documents and staff between the cities, which costs European taxpayers €200m per year.

The European Parliament also has a building in Luxembourg for its administrative offices. Some plenary sessions took place in Luxembourg between 1967 and 1981.

  • Spring 2016: new high-speed train connection between Strasbourg and Brussels

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