Costly European Parliament 'travelling circus' must end
by Rebecca Harms
At a time of fiscal difficulties, it is impossible to justify the avoidable additional cost that results from shifting thousands of people and resources from place to place - warns MEP
For some time now, the European Parliament's multi-seat operation has been a thorn in the European Union's side. Originally devised to symbolise unity, it has become a symbol of waste and inefficiency - which is often seized upon by the EU's critics as a stick to beat the union with at every opportunity.
At a time of fiscal difficulties, it is impossible to justify the avoidable additional cost that results from shifting thousands of people and resources from place to place. Rough estimates place this cost at €200m. That is €200m that could be better spent on stimulating the economy and creating employment.
Add to that the avoidable negative impact on the environment. A study commissioned by the Greens/European Free Alliance group estimated the additional greenhouse emissions resulting from the monthly sessions in Strasbourg at just less than 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year - the equivalent of the emissions of some small island countries. Other impacts included additional water consumption among others. All of which could be avoided with one simple decision.
Last year, the EP voted to amend its calendars for 2012 and 2013 including a cross-parliamentary initiative to link two plenary sessions in October of each year - thereby reducing the amount of times that the parliament has to decamp to Strasbourg from 12 to 11. This move, which was deemed to be consistent with the EU's treaty according to legal advice at the time, was welcomed by a large majority of MEPs as a first step to addressing the wasteful multi-seat operation.
Unfortunately, France and Luxembourg refused to accept this decision and mounted a legal challenge. The European Court of Justice's Advocate General has now delivered an opinion recommending that the court find against the decision by MEPs to travel only 11 times per year to Strasbourg for plenary sessions, instead of 12. While we remain hopeful that the ECJ will not follow the Advocate General's recommendation, this latest development again underlines the need to find a permanent and sensible solution to end the EP's travelling circus.
While the decision to do so is ultimately the competence of member state governments in the European Council - the European Parliament, as the impacted institution, cannot continue to keep its head in the sand. For some time, we have called for an open plenary debate in the EP on the multi-seat operation but this has consistently been blocked by the bigger political groups. The taboo on the EP's senseless seat arrangement must end. For the parliament's part, this means finally holding a debate on the situation to ensure it is on the EU agenda and to put pressure on the council to finally act to end the multi-seat operation.
Rebecca Harms MEP is co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament
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