The retention of the veto

Gisela Stuart MP

A rather clumsy statement in the House of Commons today by Gisela Stuart, opponent of the Lisbon treaty, on the subject of the location of the European Parliament. It is well-known that the EP moves between Brussels and Strasbourg every month, and almost as well-known that it is a ridiculous state of affairs. This flying circus costs the taxpayer some 200 million euros a year.

Why does it continue? Well, because the requirement for the EP to hold a certain number of plenary sessions each year is was written into the Maastricht treaty on the initiative of the French government and has not been removed since. To remove it would require unanimity – that’s what treaty amendments require – and a French government that gave up parliamentary sessions in Strasbourg would demand something rather substantial in return. As it is, the other member states might regret the monthly voyage to Strasbourg but it costs them less than whatever else the French might want instead. So the system remains.

Gisela Stuart today suggested that the decision on the seat of the EP should be made by qualified majority voting and not by unanimity. That’s fine, except that she is in general a critic of the moves towards QMV in the treaty. Britain is losing influence as a result, she says. But France would lose influence as a direct result of something she is proposing.

Now, it is fair enough to argue that Britain should be seeking score points in Europe and gain influence at the expense of France, as long as one does not also pretend to argue for the pro-European case overall. That’s what anti-Europeans do.

The case for Europe, on the other hand, has got to be won in every country, including France, and a pro-European case that is based on the explicit removal of French rights is not going to be very credible.

To argue for QMV on the seat of the European Parliament as part of an overall package of moves towards QMV in general would be different, but that’s not Gisela Stuart’s position. She gives get another example of the confusion that besets opponents of the Community method. The stubborn retention of EP sessions in Strasbourg is the consequence of an absence of QMV and Britain’s interest is harmed as a result. When will the Eurosceptics learn?

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