MEMBERS OF THE European Parliament have voted on begin an immediate review into whether the EU can save an estimated €200 million each year by scrapping one of its two seats of parliament.
MEPs voted this week to adopt an amendment to its 2013 Budget in which they agreed to examine establishing a single seat for the parliament, which currently exists between Brussels and Strasbourg.
The 753-member parliament approved the amendment by 329 votes to 223, with 29 abstentions, 78 non-voters and 93 absentees.
None of the four Fine Gael MEPs voted in favour of the proposal: Jim Higgins and Sean Kelly opposed it, while Gay Mitchell abstained and Mairead McGuinness was absent.
Fianna Fáil’s Brian Crowley was also absent, while the remaining seven MEPs – Liam Aylward, Pat the Cope Gallagher, Marian Harkin, Paul Murphy, Nessa Childers, Phil Prendergast, and the newly-appointed Emer Costello – all voted in favour of the idea.
Currently the majority of committee meetings are held in the Belgian capital, where a facility was built in order to allow MEPs conduct business closer to the other EU institutions based in the city.
For one week a month, however, parliamentary rules require MEPs to head to Strasbourg – 270 miles away – for their plenary session, where members vote as a whole on motions and ratify the Budget.
Separate to this, the parliament also has a full-time secretariat in Luxembourg city which aims to keep full-time administrative business away from either seat.
Although the European Quarter in Brussels does include a full-size hemicycle which can be used for full plenary sittings, it is rarely used in recent times – the most recent occasion being when the ceiling collapsed in Strasbourg, resulting in members staying put in Belgium for the week.
This has led to criticism among many MEPs and observers alike, who claim that moving the parliament’s entire functions to Strasbourg for one week a month means that committee proceedings are forced to be curtailed.
Strasbourg has previously vigorously defended the presence of the parliament there, and has instead called on all sittings to be held there instead of in Brussels.
While Brussels is favoured by many for its ease of access to the rest of the EU’s major institutions, notably the European Commission – which also has to follow MEPs to Strasbourg for their sittings – some believe a presence outside Brussels helps to underline the independence of MEPs from those other institutions.
Others point out that being close to the Council of Europe, which is based in Strasbourg and includes representatives from some 47 member states, gives members a chance to gain a better perception of relationships and opinions held by non-EU members.
This week’s vote follows a similar one last year in which members voted to classify one of its monthly plenary sittings as two separate sittings, thereby meaning they only needed to travel for 11 weeks instead of 12.