Let's talk about Europe

The endless single seat controversy

EP Vice President Edward McMillan-Scott holding a hand-made paper seat with the slogan “Single Seat” at the European Parliament in Strasbourg October 24, 2012 during his press conference and seminar “Towards 2014: A Single Seat and the European Elections”

On the last 24th of October, MEPs, in plenary session, voted in favour an amendment for the European Parliament single seat, based in Brussels by preference. 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 shared between Brussels and Strasbourg and in which there is less and less pro-Strasbourg people. According Jean Quatremer, Italian, Spanish and Polish MEPs who defended Strasbourg so far, seem now to join the pro-Brussels position, isolating France, who still advocating the maintaining of the Parliament in Alsace, a little more.

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 more and more irritates a more a more important part of MEPs, wish to put an end to this non-sense situation. Some attempts were even led to question the existence of the Parliament at Strasbourg insisting on the lack of attractiveness of the Alsace main city 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 less and less many and less and less heard. Indeed, many are people who now wish a grouping of the whole Parliament’s activities at Brussels, extending a little more pressure on the French government who still stand firm its positions and does a flat-refusal, basing its main argument on the Treaty provisions making Strasbourg the (official) seat of the European Parliament.

French MEP defending the definitive installation of the European Parliament at Strasbourg (during a plenary session)

The French position is defendable insofar as Strasbourg, border-city, symbolizes reconciliation and peace between French and German peoples. Symbols have a sense in politics and it is logical French authorities and the French MEPs (coming from all parties) harshly back the Alsace’s capital city and make their possible to respect the spirit and the EU treaty provisions. Some even go further, proposing Strasbourg becomes the single seat of the European Parliament, taking the pro-Brussels at their word. Nonetheless, 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-Blidt, 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 a more and more federal Europe, it is needed to remind the essential of power is at Brussels and it is the responsibility of the European Parliament to be in front-stage and not be aside, if it wants to weigh within the EU making decision process more. Staying in Alsace would be counter-productive insofar as everything is now decided at Brussels, since a while.

In spite of all, some alternative solutions were proposed by the pro-Brussels, aware of the symbolic aspect of Strasbourg as the creation of an European university[1] or the transfer of the European Court of Justice (currently based in Luxembourg-City) making the Alsace’s capital city the European capital city of law (thanks to the presence of the European Court of Human Rights). Some interesting possibilities to envisage in order Strasbourg and France especially to not be hurt if it is decided to end this controversy. However, it is clear the French authorities will not be able to adopt such a behaviour for a long time especially if a more and more large majority of MEPs are now in favour of Brussels, weakening the French position (only defended by the German conservatives now) more.

The European Parliament at Strasbourg (France)

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

[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 Strasvourg is estimated at about 220 million of euro every year. This figure, put forward by the pro-Brussels lobby is non-checkable however.