By Nick Byard
In a move designed to reduce waste and carbon emissions, MEPs have voted overwhelmingly to invoke new powers gained under the Lisbon Treaty and begin the process of EU treaty change required to scrap the Strasbourg Parliament Seat. It will mean that MEPs base themselves solely and permanently in Brussels, if member states ratify the plan.
Pro Single Seat MEPs won the vote convincingly by 483 to 141, with 34 abstentions. The report adopted by the European Parliament was authored by MEPs Ashley Fox of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and Gerald Häfner of the Greens/European Free Alliance. It was a significant breakthrough for campaigners who argued that having two parliament buildings was expensive and unnecessary.
The report Location of the Seats of the EU Institutions was adopted by the EP’s European Committee on Constitutional Affairs before becoming the official position of the parliament this week. It required MEPs to invoke Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty, which gave parliament the right to propose treaty change to member states.
The EP went as far as it could to prepare the ground for a decision on scrapping Strasbourg sessions but member states are yet to have the final say. Nevertheless, campaigners believe that parliament cannot afford to wait for the European Council to take the initiative. Yesterday’s vote meant that the EP had forced the issue so that it no longer needed to wait for member states to propose treaty changes by a unanimous vote.
Proponents of a single seat have lambasted the expense of keeping the European Parliament meeting in two places, citing costs of £150m and annual emissions amounting to 190,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Gerald Häfner MEP, one of the authors of the report, said: “It creates extra costs, complete inefficiency, and environmental waste and shows a loss of power and an inability to reform.”
Parliament also requested that the European Court of Auditors produce a comprehensive analysis of the potential savings for the European Union budget were the parliament to have a single seat. The Parliament Bureau will commission an opinion poll and a Brussels Task Force will now be set up to examine the steps that need to be taken to ensure a smooth transition to a single seat.
Authors of the report have demanded a decision on a single seat by May 2019. However, France remains resolutely opposed to the idea of the EP leaving Strasbourg and is likely to wield a veto against any treaty changes. Some French MEPs slammed the vote as a “betrayal” and the French Embassy in London said that the Strasbourg seat was “not negotiable”. Last year the French government took legal action when MEPs tried to cut the number of sessions they hold in Strasbourg every year.
Nick Byard is a researcher at ResEuropa – a Policy Review partner organisation