European Parliament votes in large numbers to relocate to Brussels

  • A majority of MEPs are fed up with the monthly migration to Strasbourg.
  • But the treaties need to be revised…

It’s the same old story: it’s an almost yearly ritual when the European Parliament, officially based in Strasbourg but whose main activity lies in Brussels, tries to choose a single site as its headquarters. On Wednesday supporters for the Brussels location won a clear symbolic victory in a plenary session in Strasbourg. The Parliament voted overwhelmingly by a majority of 483 votes out of 766 (with 658 presents) on a resolution calling for a revision of the European treaties that would enable the Parliament to independently choose the location of its permanent headquarters.

This resolution has no legal standing, as the French MEPs were quick to point out following Wednesday’s vote. The issue is that since 1999 (the Treaty of Amsterdam), the Strasbourg headquarters are locked into the European treaties. These treaties must then be revised in order to find a way of making a change. This is exactly what the “non-legally binding” text adopted by the Brussels supporters is demanding. It does not formally specify the Brussels option but limits itself to pleading the case for a single location.

The reason for this is not new. Only 12 plenary sessions are required to take place in Strasbourg, which leads to a monthly migration of 4,000 to 5,000 people to the Alsatian capital. According to the calculations of the Secretary General of the Parliament (whose administration of 2,400 people is itself based in Luxembourg!), the price of this back-and-forth runs between €156 and €204 million per year. “Our round-trip caravan between Brussels and Strasbourg has become a laughing stock across the EU,” maintains Ashley Fox of Great Britain, one of the two authors of the resolution and the report that brought it about. The resolution provides for a study of the logical one-location meeting place following a request for an independent audit by the European Court of Auditors, for example.

Other than time and cost-related issues, which are now accompanied by the obligatory environmental arguments, the pro-Brussels contingent continues to raise a practical as well as a political point: the permanent interaction between the Parliament and the Council (the governments), with which it shares legislative decision-making powers, and also with the Commission, would give ample reason for the assembly to be quietly and wholly settled in Brussels. This would be in opposition to the current working philosophy, which has been in effect for the past 15 years. It consists of sprinkling new European agencies throughout Europe in order to bring the Union to its citizens.

Does the new MEP initiative have any hope of bringing about a change? Not a chance. Paris remains inflexible on the issue. All member states must approve a review of the treaties even if the Parliament thinks it can resort to maneuvering in order to go around it. More generally, the Union is dealing with enough other issues at the moment (the economic crisis, youth unemployment, and strengthening the Union economically and monetarily) for governments to launch into a debate that seems far from the concerns of the day.


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