‘The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste’

OPINION: It is time to stop moving the EU parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg every month, argues Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt and the Single Seat Steering group.

'The EU should not allow the symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste'
Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, speaking in the European Parliament on July 5th. Photo: Private

As Members of the European Parliament we time and again are confronted with the same question: why do you accept this carousel of moving the Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg with all its blatant waste? Time after time emotions go high on this – and rightly so.

It's an old compromise that once located the European Parliament in Strasbourg, although subsequently more and more of its actual day to day work is carried out in Brussels. A protocol to the treaties from 1992 still mandates the Parliament to have session 12 times a year in Strasbourg, and that's where the waste sets in.

And it's not a minor issue. Thousands of people have to be relocated from Brussels to Strasbourg for each of these sessions. Official estimates talk of a cost of at least €114 million annually and that the traveling circus contributes 19,000 tonnes to CO2 emissions every year.

For the EU to be credible we need to be consistent. We must practice what we preach. We also have a responsibility to not let the issue of the seat fall into the hands of populists who use it against the EU.

As elected members of the European Parliament we are powerless to change this, but we have the power to ask the member states for Treaty change under art. 48 of the TEU, for the Parliament to decide on its seat. Year after year we have voted with large majorities to end this wasteful circus, but so far to no avail.

The “Single Seat Campaign” has broad support across party groups and nations. We want a European Parliament more efficient, less polluting and less costly, closer to citizens. We are for democracy, for Europe, for dialogue. Our goal is for the Parliament to decide on when and where to meet.

Strasbourg is indeed a symbol of peace and reconciliation, for us and generations to come, but this powerful symbol is by no means a function of the European Parliament meeting there monthly. If institutions are necessary for the symbolism, this delightful city is already seat of both the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It also hosts the common French-German army brigade.

The EU should not allow a symbol of peace in Europe to become a symbol of waste.

We have a duty to our citizens to see that the EU budgets are spent in the wisest way possible, and with budgets getting increasingly tight with the exit of the United Kingdom, there is simply no way in which anyone can defend this meaningless commute of the European Parliament.

This July was important in that the European Parliament for the first time set a debate on its seats in its plenary session, reflecting the increasing pressure on the issue.

The painful process of Brexit will force us to reconsider many issues, notably the budgetary ones. But it must also make us more alert to the concerns of our citizens on issues of wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy.

It also opens up issues related to the location of different EU bodies, and in this process there might well be new opportunities to find solutions acceptable to all – also to France – in order to get a resolution of this issue. We hope, for example, that France will ask for the important European Medicines Agency, based in London, to be located in Strasbourg.

The Single Seat Campaign is presently drawing up an Action Plan looking at the different possibilities of moving this important issue further.

The European Parliament is gradually becoming more and more important. In recent years, statesmen from all over the world have come to address its 752 members, and through them the peoples of Europe. It should also not be forgotten that it has co-legislative powers with the EU governments in the Council of Ministers.

The efficiency of the Parliament clearly calls for an end to the circus, but so does our firm responsibility to the taxpayers and our will to reconnect with the citizens of Europe. There are many things we should spend money on – but certainly not on this wasteful exercise. The European Parliament deserves one seat – and it should be in Brussels.

Of course, the key player is France. Any realistic option should provide France with both economic and political benefits. We are reaching out to France with a positive attitude and offer to engage in a constructive dialogue to find win-win solutions for a better Europe closer to citizens.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP, Sweden), on behalf of the Single Seat Steering group.

Vice Chairs Pina Picierno (S&D, Italy), Ashley Fox (ECR, UK), Beatriz Becerra (ALDE, Spain), Dennis De Jong (GUE-NGL, Netherlands) and Ulrike Lunacek (Greens-EFA, Austria).


Better since Brexit? How Europeans feel about the EU

Europeans are less positive towards the European Union than they were a year ago, but on the whole views of the EU are mainly far more positive than a decade ago and more optimistic than before Brexit, a new survey has revealed.

Better since Brexit? How Europeans feel about the EU

Some 45 percent of respondents to the EU-wide Eurobarometer survey said they have a positive image of the EU, which reflected a 7 percent drop compared to a year ago, but higher than in 2013, when only 31 per cent had a positive image of the bloc.

Some 17 percent of people in the EU had a negative image of the EU, a rise of 5 percent compared to a year ago, but again the proportion of people with negative views was lower than a decade ago when it stood at 28 percent.

Countries where people had the most positive views towards the EU were Ireland (72 percent) and Portugal (70 percent), followed by Luxembourg and Sweden (both 64 percent). At the other end of the scale were Slovakia and Greece (31 percent), and France, Austria and Czechia (35 percent).

Views of EU membership changed after Brexit

The survey revealed a general positive perception of EU membership, with 61 percent of respondents viewing their country being part of the bloc as a ‘good thing’. Although that figure reflects a drop from the 65 percent who viewed EU membership as a good thing one year ago.

The figure has increased however since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, when it stood at 53 per cent.

Ireland again, together with Luxembourg and Lithuania (all at 84 per cent), top the list of countries where people view EU membership positively. Slovakia, Greece and Romania are at the bottom of the list.

The positive trends are seen, at least partly, as a result of Brexit.

“We saw this in 2016, we saw it in 2019 again, in the individual data throughout the countries, that yes, Brexit had this impact on how citizens see the European Union. You might even go a step further and say that certain political narratives that might have been present in a number of countries until the exit of the United Kingdom very quickly disappeared afterwards,” said Philipp Schulmeister, the European Parliament’s Director for Campaigns, at the press conference to present the survey.

The parliament’s spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot said that Brexit had a smaller impact in countries like Spain and Portugal and “in countries that historically have always been in favour of being members”.

But the impact of Brexit was seen more in those states where there was already a public debate about being in or out of the EU.

The survey was published to mark one year until the next European Parliament elections, which is planned between the 6th and 9th of June 2024 depending on the country.

When it comes to the future of the EU, more than half of citizens in all EU countries are optimistic, except in France and Greece, where the share is 45 percent.

Overall, 54 per cent of respondents said they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU and 71 percent said the EU had an impact on their daily lives.

However, 50 per cent saw a decline in the living standards and 65 per cent were not happy with the measures taken by their own country to tackle the cost of living crisis.

In terms of priorities for the future, respondents want the European Parliament to focus primarily on poverty and social exclusion (38 percent), public health (33 percent) and climate change (31 percent).

This article was published in collaboration with Europe Street news.