The endless controversy about the EP’s single seat

Important: the opinions defended throughout this article are mine and not Europe’s Café point of view.

On the 24th of October, the MEPs meeting in plenary session voted in favour of an amendment asking for a single seat for the European Parliament, preferably based in Brussels. The amendment was backed by 518 MEPs against 149 only. 

The resolution has no juridical value insofar as a modification of the Treaties by the Member States is required. Nonetheless, this vote is a new illustration of the endless controversy existing about the definitive installation of the European Parliament, still located in Brussels and Strasbourg and in which there are less and less pro-Strasbourg members. According to Jean Quatremer, Italian, Spanish and Polish MEPs, who defended Strasbourg so far, seem now to join the pro-Brussels position, isolating a little bit more France, which still advocates the maintaining of the Parliament in the Alsatian capital city.

For those who do not know yet, the European Parliament is shared between three cities, Brussels (for the committees), Strasbourg (for the plenary sessions) and Luxembourg-City (for the Secretariat). This unprecedented situation, for a democratic and representing institution, has lasted for decades and increasingly irritates a growing part of MEPs, who wish to put an end to this strange situation. Some attempts even led to question the existence of the Parliament in Strasbourg, insisting on the lack of attractiveness of Alsace’s capital far as far transportations access are concerned vis-à-vis Brussels, more appreciated and easier to join.

If the controversy is not new, it is taking a new importance insofar as the pro-Strasbourg people are decreasingly numerous and less and less heard. Indeed, many people now wish a grouping of the whole Parliament’s activities in Brussels, extending a little more pressure on the French government who still stand firm on its positions and opposed a flat-refusal, basing its main argument on the Treaty provisions making Strasbourg the (official) seat of the European Parliament.

The French position is defendable insofar as Strasbourg, a city at the border with Germany, symbolizes reconciliation and peace between the French and the German people. Symbols have a sense in politics and it is logical that French authorities and the French MEPs (coming from all parties) strongly back the Alsatian capital city and make their possible to respect the spirit and the EU treaty provisions. Some even go further, proposing that Strasbourg becomes the single seat of the European Parliament, taking the pro-Brussels at their word. Nonetheless, by standing firm on its positions and refusing any discussion with the pro-Brussels to get a compromise, France takes the risk to tarnish its image and irritate its partners and most of the MEPs elected by the EU citizens (and defending their interests). As Anna Corazza-Bildt, Italian-Swedish MEP, EPP member and quoted by Jean Quatremer, says: “this situation is creating resentment against France and it is not nice”. What is more, in an increasingly federal Europe, it is important to remind that most of the power is in Brussels and it is the responsibility of the European Parliament to be in the front-stage and not aside, if it wants to weigh more on the EU decision-making process. Staying in Alsace would be counter-productive, insofar as everything is now decided in Brussels.

In spite of all, some alternative solutions were proposed by the pro-Brussels, aware of the symbolic aspect of Strasbourg, e.g. the creation of a European university[1] or the transfer of the European Court of Justice (currently based in Luxembourg-City), which would make of Strasbourg the European capital city of law (thanks also to the presence of the European Court of Human Rights). These are some interesting possibilities, in order to avoid that Strasbourg and France feel wronged if it is decided to end this controversy. However, it is clear the French authorities will not be able to keep their current behaviour for a long time, especially if an increasingly large majority of MEPs favours Brussels, weakening the French position (only defended also by the German conservatives, currently).

Once again, France has the opportunity to make a courageous decision in favour of the definitive installation of the Parliament at Brussels ending this costly controversy[2]. Nonetheless, such an act will possible only if the French government gets a fair and serious counterpart.

Gilles Johnson

[1] The transfer, for instance, of the College of Europe from Bruges to Strasbourg would be a conceivable and defendable idea.
[2] The cost of the transhumance (the transfer of the MEPs and the EP staff) from Brussels to Strasbourg is estimated at about 220 million euros every year. This figure, put forward by the pro-Brussels lobby is non-verifiable. The European Association of Young Entrepreneurs has realised a study and reaches the number of 51 million euros.

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