Criticism mounts of MEPs' monthly move to Strasbourg


EUROPEAN COUNCIL president Herman Van Rompuy is coming under pressure from MEPs to bring to an end the European Parliament’s monthly commute to Strasbourg from Brussels, long criticised as a wasteful inconvenience.

In the latest act in a perennial EU controversy, a Dutch liberal MEP wrote to Mr Van Rompuy two days ago, calling for action to settle on a single site for the parliament.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert argues that the monthly moves cost the EU authorities some €200 million per year and are unjustifiable on financial and environmental grounds. Some 171 MEPs co-signed the letter, among them Nessa Childers of Labour and Liam Aylward of Fianna Fáil.

The 736-member parliament and numerous officials from other EU institutions and national governments move en masse from Brussels to the French city for one week every month, a fleet of trucks carrying files by road between the two locations. France is opposed to any diminution in the status of Strasbourg as co-seat of the parliament and has a veto over any change because the two-seat system cannot be scrapped without a unanimous vote of member states.

Ms Hennis-Plasschaert’s letter to Mr Van Rompuy came a week after she raised the issue in separate correspondence with French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“We are convinced that this moment of crisis is actually a time for meeting the expectations of the European taxpayers,” she told Mr Van Rompuy. “Action is expected in order to convince an increasingly sceptical electorate of the value of having both a European Parliament and indeed the European Union itself.”

Ms Childers said she signed the letter for three reasons. “The amount of taxpayers’ money that’s being spent is too high,” she said. “The carbon footprint is also too high at a time when we’re trying to reduce greenhouse gases, and it reduces the efficiency of what we do.”

Ms Hennis-Plasschaert first raised the issue with Mr Sarkozy a year ago. “I kindly asked you how the European Union is to maintain the confidence, of the hundreds of millions it represents, if it cannot adopt a single seat for the European Parliament,” she said in her letter last week.

“The fact is . . . that the Strasbourg seat was once a very positive symbol, reuniting France and Germany, but has now become a negative symbol of wasting money and bureaucracy.”