A new website has been launched, with a campaign for the European Parliament to be based in Brussels rather than to have to keep moving to Strasbourg for plenary sessions. It would save 200 million euros a year, money which could be put to much better use. And it would lead the way to much more efficiency in the institutions. You can visit the website here, and sign its petition.
The choice of Strasbourg as the site of the Parliament is an historic one, as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, but as we have remarked before, the immediate post-war settlement is no longer a sufficient foundation for the modern European Union. A protocol to the Amsterdam treaty turned a previous intergovernmental agreement into a treaty commitment. To change it now will require unanimity within the European Council plus ratification in all 25 member states. In Ireland, that would probably mean a referendum. So, we’re stuck.
Denis MacShane has argued in a recent Fabian Society paper that moving to Strasbourg one week a month should not be such a problem because all the documents can be carried on memory sticks rather than in paper form. While in principle that might work, whoever supposed that the paperless office actually used less paper than the traditional sort? And there are still the questions of the buildings that lie empty and the excessive costs of travel and hotel accommodation. In that light, the tin trunks of paperwork seem only a small part of the problem.
Furthermore, aside from the waste and the inefficiency, there is a second reason for change. There is the principle that the European Parliament should be allowed to determine its own working arrangements. Members of the Parliament are elected by the citizens with the power to appoint and remove the European Commission and to approve much of the legislation (more than half, in fact), but not to choose where they themselves meet. That is ridiculous. The European Parliament is just as much a parliament as any of the national parliaments of the member states, and ought to be afforded the same rights of self-determination.
As it stands, any decision to end the monthly journey to Strasbourg requires the agreement of the national parliaments but not of the European Parliament itself. This is the wrong way round. Shouldn’t the EU be trying to observe the principle of subsidiarity?
The cost and waste of the EP being based in more than one site is a perfect example of the problems caused by the national veto. Regular meetings in Strasbourg remain at the insistence of the French government. It is a ligne rouge, if you will. The national veto may be a powerful weapon in your hands, but it is a dangerous weapon in somebody else’s.