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UK backs scrapping 'ridiculous' two-seat EU parliament

11 February 2011, 00:40 CET
UK backs scrapping 'ridiculous' two-seat EU parliament

European Parliament

(BRUSSELS) - Austerity-driven Britain on Thursday leapt in to back a new campaign to end the 'ridiculous' dual sittings of the European Parliament in Brussels and the French city of Strasbourg.

Leading European MPs in a wide-ranging report slammed the cost and carbon impact of the two-seat parliament as an 'anachronism' for the thousands forced into monthly shuttles from Brussels to Strasbourg.

"In today's climate the economic and environmental cost of two seats can no longer be justified," said British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, vice-president of the 736-seat assembly. "The two-seat arrangement is an anachronism."

The monthly trek of MEPs, assistants, interpreters and truckloads of paper, which the deputy said costs an extra 180 million euros ($245 million) a year, is a post-WWII legacy as powers battled to host Europe's fledgling institutions, and France held out Strasbourg as a symbol of Franco-German peace.

Strasbourg currently holds four-day plenaries each month while committee work takes place in spanking-new offices in Brussels, where the political groups are also based.

Among complaints lined up in the report are soaring hotel fees and poor transport in Strasbourg, as well as ageing offices. The parliament ceiling collapsed a couple of years ago.

A spokesman for the British government, which has been battling for austerity in Brussels as well as at home, said the report "makes clear what a huge and unnecessary waste of time and resource it is for the European Parliament to have a seat both in Brussels and in Strasbourg."

"We support the European Parliament having a single seat in Brussels," the spokesman said in a statement.

"Strasbourg has become stress-burg," said McMillan-Scott, quoting medical evidence of stress-induced health issues for parliament's people as well as the poor rail and air connections -- only six of the European Union's 27 capitals offer direct flights to the French city.

Ugly rows over the two-seat parliament, not to mention offices employing thousands of people in Luxembourg, have been rumbling for years.

But the British MEP, flanked by German colleague Alexander Alvaro, said it was time to reopen the issue and "shed some objective light" after the Lisbon Treaty a year ago gave the European parliament "new powers and responsibility."

According to the report presented by the liberal MEPs, a huge 88 percent majority of parliamentarians want the EU Treaty amended to give the assembly the right to choose its own seat -- with 91 percent opting for Brussels.

And a separate study showed a single seat in Brussels would save almost 19,000 tonnes of CO2 each year -- tantamount to the average energy consumption of 4,500 European households.

"The parliament should have the right to self-determination," said Alvaro, who in 2006 helped collect more than a million signatures for a one-seat assembly. "We will launch a campaign."

The old Strasbourg building could usefully be turned into a pan-European university, he suggested.

But with age-old national sensibilities on the table, the issue remains controversial.

Asked for comment, a spokesman for parliament president Jerzy Buzek said the issue was "in the hands of the member states. Changing the current state of play would require a treaty change."

Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Malmstrom, currently a European commissioner and involved in the petition, echoed the views of many MEPs when she said of the two-seat issue:

"It is a question that had disgraced the European parliament for a long time. It gives hard-working politicians a ridiculous image and it brings huge expenses to the taxpayers.

"We are the only parliament in the world that has no say over where it sits."

European Parliament: Brussels - Strasbourg Seat Study

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