'Omerta' preventing open EP debate
Secret code stops MEPs discussing an end to monthly trips to Strasbourg - at a cost of €200 million per year, writes Judith Sargentini
Finally, MEPs have finally taken a small step towards ending the European Parliament's monthly travelling circus to Strasbourg. In 2012 and 2013, we will only relocate to Strasbourg 11 times, rather than 12. While this may not seem like a revolutionary shift, the EP should be congratulated for trying to use the means within its power to end this crazy operating arrangement.
Transplanting to Strasbourg on a monthly basis is an outdated vestige of the past. Where it once symbolised unity, it has now become a symbol of waste and how Europe is out of touch with its citizens. The monthly decamp, shifting thousands of people and resources from Brussels and Luxembourg to Strasbourg costs more than €200 million per year. And yet, it is completely unnecessary.
Why is the European Union spending €200 million of taxpayers each year, which could be saved by one simple decision? Failure to do so at a time of budget cuts is simply indefensible. The pilgrimage every four weeks also has a significant environmental impact. A study commissioned by the Greens/European Free Alliance group, in 2007, revealed that the Strasbourg sessions resulted in the emission of 20,000 tonnes of excess CO2 per year. That is the equivalent of some smaller island countries.
It is also an impact that is totally avoidable and flies in the face of the EU's claims to be a climate change leader. Of course, the multi-seat operation also has other damaging environmental impacts. Under the EU treaty, the EP is supposed to hold plenary sessions twelve times a year in Strasbourg. The vast majority of MEPs - and citizens - would like to end this wasteful practise immediately. Unfortunately, the necessary decision has to be taken by member state governments, unanimously. And there is one obvious stumbling block: malheureusement.
While the failure of member state governments to end this wasteful practice is disheartening, what is just as shameful are the attempts to enforce ''omerta'' in the EP on the subject. The leaders of the two largest political groups - the European People's Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats - refuse to allow MEPs to even debate the issue. This enforced code is nothing short of scandalous. Even if MEPs cannot ultimately decide on the EP's seats, they should be allowed to debate the situation and thereby keep pressure on member state governments.
The changes to the calendars for 2012 and 2013, which have been adopted by a large cross-parliamentary majority, will link two plenary sessions in October of each year, thereby reducing the amount of times the EP has to decamp to Strasbourg by one. It is a small step, but one that will save taxpayers' money and reduce the environmental impact of shifting to-and-fro on a monthly basis. Importantly, it also keeps the issue on the EU agenda.
While a challenge from the French government can be expected, our advice is that the changes are legally sound and we hope they will be maintained by any court. Of course, the real solution is to keep the EP in Brussels, where it can best carry out its legislative and budgetary work, and scrutinise the other institutions on behalf of its electorate. Until then - it is a case of one down, eleven to go.
Judith Sargentini MEP is a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament
Taxpayers the losers from EP's Strasbourg visits
The Single Seat campaign is 'going public' to increase pressure on EU governments to address the European Parliament's costly and polluting trips to Strasbourg, writes Edward McMillan-Scott MEP
Besides negative impacts on the environment, an end to the Strasbourg schlep would also mean less travel and hotel costs for MEPs. That money could be given back to the taxpayer or used to pay interns their deserved salary.
André - http://mounteulympus.blogspot.com