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Strasbourg EP seat ‘lies dormant for 89 per cent of the year’

The 12 European Parliament plenary sessions in Strasbourg each year come at a steep price, to both the taxpayer and the environment – says Ashley Fox MEP

The debate surrounding the location of the European Parliament is not a new one. The EP has objected to its two-seat arrangement since its first meeting in 1958 but the wishes of particular member states have stood in the way of change. When the Council of Europe was formed in 1949 Strasbourg, as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, was an obvious choice for its base of operations.

With the recent entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 however, the working style and methods of the parliament have changed radically. It is clear to see that the structure of the parliament calendar no longer corresponds to the needs of the modern legislative process. Reform is more necessary than ever.

The 12 regular plenary sessions in Strasbourg come at a steep price, to both the taxpayer and the environment. Conservative estimates place the cost at between €156m and €204m, or roughly 10 per cent of the EP’s annual budget. The carbon footprint of transporting documents and equipment, not to mention some 5,000 MEPs and staff, is also substantial – calculated at 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Moreover despite the cost of heating, staffing and maintaining the substantial Strasbourg building, it lies dormant for 89 per cent of the year.

As many member states are forced into extreme measures of austerity, how can the EP justify this expenditure? How can we hope to retain the support of voters if we continue to throw their money into this charade? As the only European body democratically elected by European Union citizens, the parliament should have the autonomy to determine its own seat and working procedure.

A report published by Gerald Hafner and myself, has been crafted as a roadmap towards treaty change. It was passed convincingly by the EP Constitutional Affairs committee by 22 votes to 4, and by 483 to 141 in the plenary session this week in Strasbourg. Our report is structured around two key principles. Firstly, that the parliament should have one seat. And secondly, that the EP itself should have the right to decide where that seat is. The question at stake is not one of Strasbourg versus Brussels but two seats versus one.

British faith in the union is already wafer thin. The so-called ‘travelling circus’ between Brussels and Strasbourg has become an object of ridicule across the EU. A treaty change of this kind would be a demonstration of a parliament that respects the demands of its constituents. We need a union that is dynamic and flexible.

The current multi-seat arrangement constitutes an area where important savings are possible. Changing the seats could become a new symbol in this era of responsibility and restraint. It is my hope that this plenary vote on the location of the seats of the European institutions will be the first step towards a modern and efficient working structure for the parliament.

Ashley Fox MEP is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament

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