European Parliament Strasbourg - CC / Flickr
European Parliament Strasbourg - CC / Flickr

I had to chuckle when, via a Facebook Friend, I came across the Frequently Asked Question on the Campaign for European democracy (aka Strasbourg defenders) website entitled ‘Why should the European Parliament in Strasbourg be reinforced?‘ Perhaps the campaign is unaware that FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions and that is surely not something that’s especially frequently asked…?

The only argument that’s vaguely in favour of sticking with Strasbourg is that decentralisation of the institutions is a good thing, that is shares around the jobs etc. Fair enough, but unlike response 8 in the European democracy FAQ I don’t think the European Parliament would be strengthened one little bit by keeping it in Strasbourg. For one of the vital roles of the legislature is to examine on an everyday basis what the executive is up to, and the executive (the Commission) is based in Brussels. The other legislative (and in foreign policy, quasi-executive) branch, the Council, is based in Brussels already, and the Council is never going to do the executive scrutiny properly as civil servants in working groups and ministers turning up sporadically are never going to do that. Now that’s not to say the EP is necessarily any better as many of its members are lazy and inept, but it has the potential for proper executive scrutiny that the Council does not.

So if the decentralisation case is to be made, why not send the Council to Strasbourg, and have the EP in Brussels?

If you agree then join the 1.26 million others who have signed at Oneseat.eu!

5 Comments

  1. Has it actually occurred to anyone that it wasn’t a Frenchman who wrote this FAQ, but a German MEP from Bavaria ? So much for the so-called French national self-interest.

    Besides, I am always amazed to see that those who keep on criticising the “travelling circus” suddenly reject the simple and cost-saving solution of stopping it by concentrating all EP activities in Strasbourg.

    I don’t want to elaborate on the fact that the EP does not need to be close from the Commission to efficiently control it. Videoconferences and a few occasional journeys between SXB and BXL (by 2016, there’ll be a high speed train connecting Strasbourg to Brussels via Luxembourg) for a few Commission or EP civil servants and, from time to time, for MEPs, will cost nothing compared with the lavish mission costs that the EP and its political groups indulge in by travelling throughout the continent and the world for study visits and seminars… I always say that what makes the EP a significant actor in interinstitutional power-relations is not where it is, but what it does. Geographical proximity does not replace self-assertiveness.

    When it comes to comparing how realistic it would be to have a single location for the EP, either in SXB or in BXL, let’s look at things objectively:

    – transferring the seat to Brussels would imply a Treaty change (with the agreement of BOTH France AND Luxembourg, which most people conveniently forget), and more importantly, a reallocation of the seats of Institutions. As most already pointed out, one would need to move a significant other EU institution in Strasbourg to secure a French agreement on that. Would any other State be willing to sacrifice itself?
    Or does one say that France should be the only Member States to give up the sole EU institution present on its territory, on the altar of European interest, while all other countries should happily carry on enjoying the result of their own national selfishness by keeping EU institutions and agencies scattered all over the continent (Luxembourg, Frankfurt, Den Haag, Alicante, Munich, Parma, Warsaw, Dublin… you name them)?
    To only way to make this change of seat politically palatable would be to take a step back away from the Parliament itself and look at the overall institutional picture: if the political choice was to create a single European capital, then it would make sense to have all institutions in Brussels. But would Germany really be ready to give up the ECB and Luxembourg the ECJ?

    – Alternatively, putting an end to the triple location of the EP by transferring political groups, commissions and administration from BXL and LUX to Strasbourg would also imply a treaty change, with a strong expression of the Belgian national self-interest against it (which, for once, would at least unite Walloons an Flemish people). This, however, would be more politically acceptable to all member States. (1) Because the seats of EU institutions would remain unchanged, which would save the trouble of a general diplomatic bargaining between all EU countries on who gets what. (2) Because this would be a technical, more than a political change: it would be far easier to give guarantees for a financial and economic compensation to LUX and BXL for the loss of the civil servants there, than to compensate in symbolic and political terms Strasbourg and France for the loss of the EP.

    For the rest, I totally agree with Bernd Posselt: Strasbourg is a lot more symbolic than St Helena or Berlin for European unification; at least if one wants to be true to the reasons why it started in the first place, which many tend to oversee.

  2. James Burnside

    I believe the Council of Europe, and its human rights activities, would actually benefit from greater visibility through removing the EP millstone from Strasbourg.

    @robert, the EIT is now being set up in Budapest (albeit on a rather less ambitious than the tentative suggestions made around the time of the oneseat.eu campaign).

    As for the tranpsport links to Strasbourg, the rail connections have improved with the TGV Est and will further improve within a few years, although not greatly to/from Brussels. Even now, for a significant proportion of MEPs from both France and Germany, Strasbourg is as easy, if not easier to get to than Brussels. Although it’s not so much for MEPs that getting to Strasbourg is a hassle, but for EP and Commission staff. And Strasbourg’s jobs/economic boost from the EP is not much more than 3-4 nights binging in the month.

    One possible bone for France is the newest institution, the European Council, of which we can expect more and more regular meetings in the future. The nature of its membership and activities means it doesn’t need to be close to the other institutions. Indeed there’s already a parallel in that Council meetings (but not the secretariat other than the essentials) decamp to Luxembourg three months in the year.

    Of course, no matter what they may say in public, handicapping the EP through enforcing the Strasbourg seat suits plenty more Council members than just France.

  3. Strasbourg is a nonsense for the EU as it is now – if symbolism is what matters, Berlin post-Wall is surely more symbolic for a larger number of Member States?
    Council in Strasbourg would definitely beef up the europhobe line that the EU is a French plot.
    If it was the Council that was in Strasbourg there’d be one of two responses due to the transport links – either France would be embarrassed into improving the rail links or cutting the air fares, or very few non-permanent reps would turn up for the working groups. When MEPs say that it’s cheaper for them to fly to Frankfurt and take a shared taxi to Strasbourg than to get the direct flight from Brussels, there’s something wrong.
    But for me, symoblism is not a good reason to devolve the institutions to non-Brussels locations. To be effective the civil servants need to have ready access to the other institutions (Council officials and MS officials to the Commission and EP, Commission to the Council, Presidency and EP and MEPs and assistants to the other institutions too) – costing thousands of euros and landing the institutions with a massive carbon footprint and tie loss from impractical diversity of location is really not the way to sell the EU as a way of doing business politically. No matter what the hoteliers of Strasbourg might think.

  4. robert

    They also miss some rather important issues, such as the transport links to Strasbourg being inferior to those for Brussels.

    However, the solution will have to be a highly politicised one as only the member states can make the final decision. Consequently, France will have to be thrown a bone to compensate it for the massive job creation scheme that the Parliament is for Strasbourg. I remember some talk about turning the building into the proposed ‘European Institute for Technology’. I don’t know whatever came of that.

  5. Jon,

    They are not content with keeping Strasbourg as the official home of the European Parliament, with twelve mandatory sessions; they actually want to hijack the whole shop from Brussels.

    Why not decentralise the EP to St Helena, if the pressure for real decentralisation is mounting (as witnessed by this frequently asked question)? St Helena would have the same arguments about reconciliation between former enemy nations going for it.

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