Members of the Constitutional Committee of the European Parliament on Monday took a first step to end the travelling circus of the Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg.
In a report (see the draft report here) that was adopted by 20 to 4 votes, the committee urges to give the Parliament the say over its location, its calendar and the modalities of its meetings.
"We want to have one seat, so that we can save money and carbon dioxide," commented the co-rapporteur of the resolution, British MEP Ashley Fox, in a press conference on Tuesday. At a time where European citizens are asked to make cuts, an estimated 200 million EUR is spent by taxpayers every year to fund the monthly travel of 766 MEPs, their assistants and Parliament staff from Brussels to Strasbourg and back. The MEPs of the Constitutional committee find this an unnecessary waste of money and carbon dioxide.
"This report is a small revolution, but it will be the beginning of a bigger revolution," the second co-rapporteur Gerald Häfner (Germany) added. "We want to take our own decision about where to have the Parliament's seat, but we are hostages of the European Council, the member states and their governments." The seat of the Parliament is written into the EU treaties, and a treaty change requires unanimity by all 28 EU member states. The French government has indicated many times that it will not agree to abolish the EP seat in Strasbourg.
Many people have tried to end the monthly travelling circus before, but always in vain. Fox and Häfner believe that this time will be different. "This is a new thing," said Häfner, "because the Parliament has never before asked for a treaty change that would allow it to decide itself where and when to hold its meetings."
Fox and Häfner are certain that by now there is a majority in the European Parliament in favour of a single seat, a majority that runs through all the political groups. It appears that quite a few European governments are also in favour of putting an end to the travelling circus but they would not like to directly pronounce themselves in favour of either Strasbourg or Brussels. To bring the report through Parliament, the two rapporteurs have therefore decided not to mention either Brussels or Strasbourg. "We don't take a stance about where the single seat should be," said Fox.
Nonetheless, there was a bit of opposition to the single seat report. When it was voted on Monday, a number of French MEPs not belonging to the Constitutional committee tried to highjack the decision. They had added 87 amendments to dilute the impact of the report (most of which were rejected) and attempted to cast votes in the committee even though they were not member of it. The committee had to pause several times until the final vote could take place.
The report will now be voted by the plenary on 11 November vote and Ashley Fox believes that only few MEPs will be brave enough to put down their name for a two-seat solution. If the report is adopted, the Parliament would wait until after the elections in May 2014 and then formally submit the report to Council. The Council would then be forced to debate the question of the single seat and take a vote on it.
The next European convention to review the EU treaties, probably in 2015, would then debate the Parliament's request to decide itself on its location, said Häfner. And an agreement would have to be found to compensate the country which would lose its European institutions, added Fox.