EP StrasbourgPresident of the European Parliament Josep Borrell, when talking about the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament, last week stated that the “historic dimension [of Strasbourg] cannot be perceived in the same way in ‘some Nordic country’ which did not participate in WWII” (news story from EUObserver here). What a prat. It has been generally assumed that he was referring to the oneseat.eu campaign that was initiated by a Swede but supported by people from all over Europe, but there are so many things wrong with this statement that it’s hard to know where to start.

EV50[Update] You can now nominate European politicians for the European Voice’s 50 Europeans of the Year. Cecilia Malmstrom, initiator of the oneseat.eu poll, is nominated for campaigner of the year. Give her your vote!

Anywa, back to Borrell.

Firstly, I don’t think that any of the people signing the petition are opposed to the historical significance of Strasbourg. But that symbolism is just not enough any more to justify millions of Euros of expense. Stick whatever institution you want in Strasbourg for symbolic, but stop the EP’s travelling circus and the decreased efficiency of the institution that this causes.

Secondly, does suffering in World War II today give special weight to one’s views? Yes, Europe has always been a peace project, but surely we must be beyond the stage where those states that suffered have to be treated differently in the EU?

Above all, Borrell ought to get a grip of reality: the Strasbourg waste of money inexorably damages the reputation of the European Parliament presently. If that was stopped, the European Parliament might better be able to assume a stronger role in defending the views of citizens to the other institutions in Brussels. That would make a much bigger contribution to the cause of peace in Europe that some costly symbolism.

12 Comments

  1. Emmanuel Vallens

    As you know, this issue has just been settled: http://www.eubusiness.com/Institutions/060928173959.2b3lmmts

    Now, here is what the European Court of Auditors said on September 7th:
    (http://www.eca.europa.eu/audit_reports/special_reports/docs/2006/pres_letter_en.pdf)

    “it can be concluded that, when negotiating the initial contract, the EP does not appear to have exploited the following facts and arguments:

    – on 5.6.1979 the Mayor of Strasbourg accepted to let the IPE O building to the EP for 14 611 000 FF. The contract signed on 12.1.1981 stipulated a rent of 18 220 095 FF. This increase was mainly due to the request by CS for return on its investment. However, when accepting, on 5.6.1979, the price offered by the EP, CS was already making a direct investment, additional to the capital invested by SCI Erasme. At that time this was not considered a reason to request a higher rent;

    – while aware that the investors intended to obtain, through the rent, a return on investment of 6,5 %, the EP did not ascertain the total construction cost and the part of it supported by each investor. Consequently, it was not in a position to determine whether the rental amount requested was reasonable.

    24. Although in its decision of 4/5.4.1979 the Bureau had rejected an automatic indexation of the rent and, accordingly, the wording of the initial contract did not provide for automatic indexation, the EP accepted in 1982, without any negotiation, to pay, in fact, an automatically indexed rent.

    25. When discussing the codicils referring to the rental of the extensions, the EP accepted the amount of the rent requested by CS, without insisting on disclosure of the actual costs supported by CS and the methods applied to calculate the rent.

    26. According to the EP administration21, the rents of the IPE buildings were negotiated on the basis of the price per square metre and considered reasonable in comparison with the price paid by the EP for other buildings in Strasbourg and in other cities. However, the comparison referred to prices paid for an average square metre (offices, meeting rooms, lounges, bars, car parks, etc. added up) of buildings having different areas and structures and, sometimes, different functions.

    27. At the end of the first 18 years period, the EP did not follow the recommendation made by the Court in its special report of 1979 (see paragraph 14). The possibility of negotiating a reduction of the rent after the initial period, in which capital and financing costs might have been fully recovered by the investors, was thus not examined. Nor did the EP establish any specific procedure for reviewing the reasonableness of the rent paid for the WIC and SDM buildings.”

    Now, you may well remain satisfied that it was Strasbourg who fleeced the Parliament. To me, it very much looks like it was the Parliament itself who proved guilty of financial mismanagement in the first place.

    Sebastian, if you read my arguments carefully, you should now that what I combat is the geographical concentration of institutions. I therefore certainly do not want all institutions to be located in Strasbourg! Only the Parliament.

  2. sebastian

    Jon, that was exactly what I meant;-)
    But maybe Emannuel can enlighten us on that and tell us that this is all just anti-Strasbourg propaganda and totally unfounded.

  3. sebastian

    Let’s just move everything from Brussels to Strasbourg.
    I am sure the City of Strasbourg would offer an attractive deal…

  4. Emmanuel Vallens

    @ Jeremy: I am certainly not saying that the rest of the British population is for Strasbourg, just that I would have expected a petition claiming to represent the views of the majority of European citizens to gather more than this dismal number of signatures in the UK particularly

    Besides, I am not claiming that the figures have been voluntarily distorted in favour of Brussels – I obviously have no evidence for that, and not even a suspicion. I am just saying that the signature process was totally unsecure and that therefore there is absolutely no way to know whether and to which extent there might have been some fraud. The fact that I managed to sign as Jacques Chirac (in case you wanted to know: no, I wasn’t the one who signed in as Donald Duck and Adolf Hitler) is just another evidence that the figures provided cannot be trusted.

    Anyway, I think that this whole campaign diverted genuine pro-Europeans from what really counts for the EP: its powers towards the Commission, its capacity to decide on budgetary matters (resources and expenditures) and his right of legislative initiative.

    I just do not understand how be people can be so easily led astray by simplistic and demagogic petitions. Harsh words, certainly, but surely as harsh as the words “thin attempts” and “silly”.

  5. Emmanuel Vallens

    @ Sebastian: well, yes, that is precisely my question.

  6. What, you mean the Strasbourg local council can fleece all the institutions!?!

    See this from EUBusiness

  7. Manu we all understand your opinion on this, which you are obviously fully entitled to hold.

    But your claim that that is not true that people all over Europe want the EP to have just one seat, just because “only” 15,000 people from the UK (and similar from elsewhere) registered this point on the website, is ridiculous. Are you going to claim now that this means the other 58 million 985,000 or whatever it is UK citizens actively insist the EP must remain in Strasbourg?

    And presumably you have no evidence that anyone has run a proper campaign to distort the numbers by registering fictitious names, because you haven’t produced any such evidence. As far as any of us knows, only one person who wanted to sabotage the whole project has done this – ie you – and unless you sat there for weeks entering 36,675 fictitious names (the number over one million currently registered on the site), your point is meaningless.

    You have a perfectly valid point of view in wanting the EP to remain in Strasbourg, which rests on your intellectual points not the number of people agreeing or disagreeing with you. But your very thin attempts to rubbish the fact that a very very large number of people across Europe disagree with you, are very silly.

  8. sebastian

    But you still cannot deny that there are a lot of people in the EU who are of the opinion that it doesn’t make sense anylonger to have the EP in Strasbourg.
    Or are they all just Dutch, Belgiums, Hitlers or Mickey Mouses?

  9. Emmanuel Vallens

    “supported by people from all over Europe”, really?

    From the figures I saw (which are not available on oneseat.eu for obvious reasons), HALF of the million signatories come from the Netherlands only (435,000)! Which doesn’t leave so much place for the rest of the continent, does it? NL is followed by Nordic countries. Then comes Belgium (126,000 signatories). It makes me smile because I remember many arguments made by Brussels supporters, according to which being pro-Strasbourg means pandering to local interests… As if those 126,000 signatures from Belgium were only motivated by the purest European interest… Then comes Portugal with 41,000 votes.

    The petition was a total failure in two of the largest EU Member States, namely France (6710) and Italy (5425), and also not such a big success in Germany (35,000 signatures is quite bad for 80 million inhabitants when compared with the figures in tiny Netherlands). Even the UK, which is supposedly one of the fiercest Strasbourg opponent, prone to any type of EU-bashing, achieved a pathetic figures of 15,000 signatories only.

    And that’s without even mentioning all the false signatures (such as Donald Duck, Jacques Chirac and Adolf Hitler, who where duly recorded), which cast further doubts on the representativity of this petitition, “supported by people from all over Europe”…

  10. Richard

    Given that Borrell’s country didn’t participate in WWII either, he seems to be denying the validity of his own opinion.

  11. As you say, the symbolism is exactly the opposite of what is claimed: to most people the message that the EP being in STB sends is that the EU wastes money completely pointlessly, not that it reflects the former disputes over the place’s sovereignty.

    But do you think Borrell actually believes what he said? Wasn’t he just trying to make the best of the fact that million signatures or not, they didn’t include the 25 members of the European Council so we’re stuck with it?

  12. I agree complitely with you Jon + there is one other point to this. The fact that for the first time 1 million signatures actually have been collected should be an extremely positive sign for someone as Mr. Borrel. It shows, that there is actually an excisting European public beoynd national boundaries that care about this issue. It is one of the first signs of some kind of crossborder European debate taking place, and already that should have some kind of weight in Brussels. Of course one million is a minority in the union of 250 million people, but as a symbol it is important not to mention the fact that the articla 47 on 1 million signatures stands in the draft constitution.

    It isn´t a surprise if the citizens of the EU are frustrated for the whole project, as it seems that every occasion when people are actually participating is just dismissed. Argh.

    Elina

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