Parliament asks for treaty revision on Strasbourg seat


A parliamentary committee adopted a report that calls on member states to abolish MEPs' monthly commute from Brussels to Strasbourg. The latest attempt to reduce the number of parliamentary seats might force the Council to discuss a treaty change.

The constitutional affairs committee adopted a report yesterday (14 October) calling on the Parliament to push for a revision of the EU treaties, with the aim of scrapping Strasbourg as Parliamentary seat.

If MEPs pass such a motion for treaty revision at a plenary session, EU member states will be obliged to answer the call.

The committee report stressed once again that Parliament wanted to determine its own working arrangements, and to choose where their meetings are held. Rapporteurs Ashley Fox and Gerald Häfner repeated the Parliament’s wish that “in order to fulfill its function deriving from the treaties and the expectations of the electorate – Parliament needs the right to organise itself”.

Long-standing issue to reduce costs

The issue of the EU legislature's location has been on-going for many years but if Parliament adopts the motion, it will be a first proper step to start dialogue between the Parliament, Council and Commission.

The Parliament’s back-and-forth between Brussels and Strasbourg costs European taxpayers an estimated €102 million per year, the Parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle, said last week.

The location of the seats of the European Parliament is defined in the EU treaties (Protocol 6, Lisbon Treaty) and can only be changed if member states agree to a treaty change at a European summit meeting.

Having laid hold of the Parliamentary seat in Strasbourg at the 1992 Edinburgh European summit, France is extremely unlikely to waive this right. It has been backed by other member states, including Belgium and Luxembourg.

French MEPs have also consistently voted to keep the issue off the agenda. The parliamentary seat offers plenty of advantages to France and is an important symbol of France’s position in the EU.

Last April, MEPs voted in favour of an amendment urging the member states to take up the issue of the Parliament’s seat in a next revision of the treaty, a vote that Parliament watchdog VoteWatch selected as one of the ten votes that shaped the 2009-2014 legislature.

In March 2011, MEPs voted in favour of reducing the Strasbourg sessions in time. The decision was annulled after France took the European Parliament to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that it was unconstitutional in December 2012.

In 2006, a ‘One Seat’ campaign led by a group of parliamentarians including current home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström gathered one million signatures in a petition over a period of less than five months. The petition did not get any follow-up from member states.

Rapporteur and co-author of the report and German MEP for the Greens group Gerald Häfner said: “The report adopted by MEPs today breaks the omerta on officially discussing the flaws of the multi-seat operation of the European Parliament. It is high time that democratically-elected MEPs were able to decide on the seat of the parliament to which they are elected.”

“The European Parliament's operating arrangement has sadly become a symbol of waste in the EU,” Häfner added. “The practise of shifting thousands of people and resources from place to place is not only costly, inefficient, wasteful and environmentally-damaging, it also seriously damages the public perception of the EU.”

Rapporteur and co-author of the report Ashley Fox (ECR Group, UK) said: “From here on we take the debate to the Presidents and Premiers in the European Council to help us win the treaty change we need. This should be the point where MEPs take a stand, align themselves firmly and decisively with the people and with common sense, and say this madness must stop.”

Catherine Trautmann of the French socialist delegation of S&D said: “the fact that the seat is in Strasbourg has never hindered the European Parliament to perform according to its competences. Since when does self-determination have to lead to concentration? From a democratic point of view, we have to ensure a presence of the European institutions across the territory.”

“I don’t think the Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg keeps Europeans awake at night. European democracy will fare better than getting wound up about an issue in which the protagonists know that they won’t achieve anything”, since it is “exclusively the competence of the Council”, she added.

Constance Le Grip, rapporteur for the EPP group on the report says: “The debate on the Parliament’s right to decide their own organization is a legitimate issue, if this debate is done while respecting the European Treaties and the prerogatives of the member states. Yesterday’s report, initiated largely by the promoters of the ‘One Single Seat’ campaign, is biased towards the supporters of a pure and simple centralisation of all activities of the EP in Brussels.”

According to a decision taken in 1992 at an Edinburgh EU summit, Strasbourg is an official seat of the European Parliament: 12 four-day plenary sessions per year must take place there. Any decision to change this would require an amendment to the EU treaties, a process which requires unanimity among all EU member states.

The value of current twin-seat system is often called into question, mostly due to the issue of cost. According to its opponents, the EU's 'travelling circus' costs taxpayers an estimated 200 million per year.

The European Parliament also has a third seat in Luxembourg, where its administrative offices (General Secretariat) are located. The EU assembly held a few plenary sessions in Luxembourg between 1967 and 1981.

Subscribe to our newsletters