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Have you heard about Europe's multi-million euro travelling circus?

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes on the ‘disgraceful’ moving of the European Parliament to Strasbourg once a month, every month.

The European Parliament
The European Parliament
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Every month, 751 MEPs decamp, at considerable cost, to Strasbourg every month in a process described as a ‘travelling circus’. Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes explains why it has to stop. 

LAST SUNDAY, ON the eve of the April Plenary session of the European Parliament, French President Francois Hollande said: ”Never will France authorise any modification of any kind.”

Hollande was referring to the monthly mass exodus of the European Parliament from Brussels to the French city Strasbourg. Its portrayal in the media as a ‘travelling circus’ is not far off.

Thursday and Friday prior to a plenary session, a systematic operation for Parliament staff in Brussels takes place where 2,500 trunks are packed by offices for collection on a Friday afternoon and transported to Strasbourg over the weekend. MEPS and staff set out on a Monday morning. The Plenary Session then commences at 5pm and continues until 2pm on Thursday.

Between 3,500 and 4,000 people every month set out for Strasbourg – this includes MEPs, assistants, political group staff, parliament staff, interpreters and translators. This is done by trains, by air and by road.

There is not only a monetary cost to all of this. In one year over 19,000 tonnes of CO2 are produced. Because of the location of Strasbourg there are no direct flights. The majority of MEPs need to avail of connecting flights.

For example, I would travel from Dublin to Amsterdam and then from Amsterdam to Strasbourg. In order to transport the 2,500 trunks and all the equipment required for the plenary session a large convey of trucks travel the 409 kilomerres from Brussels to Strasbourg. This is then reversed four days later.

Is it not ironic that the European Parliament voted to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030?

The practice of the whole Parliament packing up and moving to Strasbourg is controversial amongst MEPS. Over three quarters, from across the political spectrum, want to abolish this practice.

I am one of  them. Each year it is estimated to cost the EU €114 million. That is €9.5 million each month to relocate Parliament for just four days.

Can’t change it

The controversy is focused on the fact that MEPS have no power to change it. This is despite the fact that parliament has voted on several occasions to establish a single seat parliament.

Under the Lisbon Treaty the parliament is legally bound to meet 12 times a year in Strasbourg. A session takes place every month – except in August but a second session in September or October replaces it.

This can only be changed if unanimous agreement on the issue is reached at a European Council Summit – a meeting of heads of Governments of each Member State.

Naturally, the French are totally opposed to the idea not only because of the €20 Million it provides to the Strasbourg economy each year but also because it is an important European symbol within France.

If we were to succeed what would happen to the existing Strasbourg Parliament? Many suggestions have been put forward that potentially have greater economic benefits to  the city.

One idea is to make Strasbourg the City of Justice – by moving the European Court of Justice to complement the Court of Human Rights. Another is to relocate other EU Institutions, such as the Committee of the Regions or NATO. There is even the potential to establish the first European University.

I believe the Heads of Government need to act on this issue. The majority of democratically elected MEPS want them to. It is a disgrace that €9.5 million is wasted in this way every month.

But will it change? For the foreseeable future, I honestly don’t think so. Unfortunately, France will never agree.

Read: MEPs back proposal to end practice of ‘travelling circus’

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