Some 754 MEPs, 3,000 staff and 25 trucks leave Brussels destined for Strasbourg every month and Conservative MEPs want it to end.
Conservative MEP Ashley Fox writes for for the website publicserviceeurope.com on his campaign to reduce the costs of the European Parliament's 'Travelling Circus'.
The question of where the European Parliament should sit has been an ongoing debate for many years. The EP is the only assembly in the world that cannot decide where it sits. Instead, it is forced by treaty to hold 12 sessions a year in Strasbourg. It chooses to hold all its other meetings in Brussels.
Some 12 times a year, the 736 MEPs and well over 3,000 staff and officials make the 850 kilometre round-trip. They stay for just four days in a building, which cost taxpayers across Europe €457m and sits unused for more than 300 days of the year.
In a report published last month (Feb 2011) called "A Tale of Two Cities", it was found that the requirement to meet in Strasbourg costs €200m annually. Every time the EP relocates from Brussels to Strasbourg, public money is needlessly wasted. At a time when national governments are making difficult decisions on where to cut budgets, maintaining two seats is a bad joke.
What was once a symbol of reconciliation is now just a symbol of waste. It does more to harm the image of the EU than any other issue. And the report shows a dramatic change in sentiment amongst MEPs, with 70 per cent now in favour of having a single seat based in Brussels.
Not only is there the cost element to take into account, but every time we relocate we are wasting many hours of travel time and placing a considerable impact on the environment – at the same time as the EP is putting environmental issues at the heart of the agenda. Yet, one Friday a month more than 25 trucks leave Brussels carrying 4,000 trunks - containing the official documents of the 736 MEPs, interpreters and officials – destined for Strasbourg. One of the easiest ways for the parliament to reduce its carbon footprint would be through a single parliamentary seat.
The monthly relocation emits at least 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Add to this the cost of heating and servicing additional buildings, which are unused for the majority of the year and we lose all credibility in the debate over the environment. Recently, during a speech in the EP alongside Prince Charles, the parliament's President Jerzy Buzek said that this parliament is ''the most environmentally-aware assembly in the world''. That claim rings hollow.
That is why, after being elected in 2009, I became involved in the One Seat campaign. I know that it requires a treaty change so I researched what I could do to reduce the number of trips that we take to Strasbourg. The parliament is required to meet in Strasbourg 12 times per year. As we miss a session in August, we have traditionally caught up by holding two sessions in one month in the autumn.
So in 2010, I proposed that we merged the two proposed September sessions of 2011 into one week - with a committee day in between to ensure a clear delineation. When this was voted on in May 2010, it was defeated - but I was pleased to get the support of 265 colleagues in a named vote. It is now clear that the Franco-German leadership of the parliament's two largest political groups were fearful of this result.
A couple of months later they brought forward a vote on the 2012 calendar, so as to deprive us of time to get organised. With a phenomenal amount of support from MEPs from across the political groups in the parliament we re-tabled a similar amendment to the 2012 calendar. The vote looked like being very close and at the last minute, the European People's Party and socialist groups pulled the vote off the agenda. Hardly democracy at its best.
Earlier this month (March 2011), the vote on the parliament's 2012 calendar was finally placed back on the agenda, along with a vote on the 2013 calendar. The aim was obviously to prevent any further discussion for two more years. So I decided to collect the 148 signatures necessary to get a secret ballot on the issue. This would ensure that the EPP and Socialist and Democrats group leaders could no longer put pressure on their Members to support the Strasbourg seat.
The result was phenomenal. We obtained a majority of 104 in favour of reducing the number of journeys from 12 to 11 times a year. It may seem like a small step, but its significance is huge: for the first time the EP has sent an incredibly strong signal that it wants to stop its monthly travelling circus. France has now indicated that it intends to mount a legal challenge. But I would urge them to respect the will of parliament. Even if they win the battle, they have already lost the war.
Ashley Fox is the Conservative Party MEP for South West England and Gibraltar
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