Monday, 19 May 2008

Strasbourg...the bain of our lives

This week is marked in the diary as a red week - which means "Strasbourg". Thankfully I am one of the saved ones in that I don't do the 'Strasbourg run', not least because for me I don't relish the thought of spending 5 hours on a train from Brussels to Strasbourg and then 5 hours on a train back but also because it is a complete waste of money when we have a perfectly good chamber in Brussels.

It remains one of the most bizarre elements of my job and the one that bemuses people the most when I try to explain the unexplainable. For me, my office is Brussels, it's where all the files are and eveything I need is here. The Council is here and the Commission is here. But in a red week everyone ups sticks to Strasbourg and trying to contact Commissioners and their cabinets becomes much trickier as they are down there too.

The Parliament in Brussels becomes a ghost parliament with the forgotten few stalking around the building. The buzz and chaos has shifted to Strasbourg.

Every Friday before Strasbourg I have to remember to put out the canteen - a large non descript box - into which is packed the office and then the canteen guys come and pack up the canteens for 785 MEPs plus those of parliament officials into huge lorries that take them down to Strasbourg and back. Every Monday of Strasbourg the Inbox is dead as everyone is en route down there and come 17.30 when the Brussels train arrives the Inbox has exploded as folk try and cram 5 days of work into 3, then the system crashes with overload - it is the craziest thing. Thursday afternoon nothing happens as everyone is back on the train up to Brussels and then come 19.00 when the train arrives in Gare Luxembourg the Place is awash with thousands of suitcases trundling across it.

We have long campaigned for a single seat for the EP (and continue to do so) and signed the petition organised by the campaign (which now has some 1.2 million signatures) calling for an end to the EP's monthly gravy train to Strasbourg. The lack of a single seat costs €250 million a year. The Campaign for Parliamentary Reform has calculated that in terms of C02 emissions, the trips to Strasbourg create 18,900 tons of CO2 emissions - the equivalent of 13,000 transatlantic flights.

The EP is the only parliament in the world that does not have a single seat, meeting in 3 different cities (Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg) in 3 different countries. The trouble is the EP has no power over where it sits since the final decision rests with the national governments. It is legally obliged to maintain facilities in all 3 cities. The arrangements surrounding the EP's location were formalised in the 1992 Edinburgh Council Agreement and added as a separate protocol to the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty at the instigation of the French government, which confirmed Strasbourg as the seat of the EP. This is confirmed again in the new Lisbon Reform Treaty.

I want to see all parliamentary business conducted in Brussels where there is a perfectly good parliament and where we can hold the Coouncil and the Commission properly to account and when elected next June is certainly something which I will continue to campaign for.

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