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Europe

A Wandering We Will Go

The EU's newly elected parliament met the first time this week. It also appointed a new president. But one thing that isn't new is the parliament's reputation for being an expensive traveling circus.

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The parliament in Strasbourg is the source of many headaches

The first question posed to the freshly elected president of the European Parliament in his debut press conference came from a local Strasbourg television reporter: "Will the parliament stay in Strasbourg?"

Josep Borrell's answer was like balsam for the city's hoteliers, restaurateurs and taxi drivers, not to mention for French national pride: "Yes."

The majority of parliamentarians may have repeatedly begged for an end to the nonsensical traveling circus between offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, but the EU heads of state insist upon the monthly ritual which sees MEPs load their files into 12 trucks and embark on a pilgrimage to the city on the French-German border for the 3-day plenary sessions.

Strasbourg, a city laden with symbolism of the French-German reconciliation after World War II, will remain the seat of parliament.

Concrete and glass monstrosity

In 1999, French claims to house the European Parliament literally became concrete, and Europe's largest parliamentary building was constructed at a cost of €500 million ($606 million) -- a massive glass palace with space enough for 750 MEPs, that would be in use only 42 days of every year.

"Pure wastefulness,"blustered Dutch socialist Michael van Hulten in a report published in May. The building costs over €200 million a year in upkeep and travel expenses for the 3,000 politicians and staff that make up the monthly caravan, his report noted.

Robert Kilroy-Silk

British former television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk, who is an MEP for the UK Independence party

The newly elected MEP for the euroskeptic UK Independence Party, Robert Kilroy-Silk (photo), used his debut on the Strasbourg stage to rub salt in the wound of EU-devotees. Smiling cynically, Kilroy-Silk declared that, in addition to the Strasbourg building, the building in Brussels was also a waste of money, as plenary sessions there only take place 12 times a year. Otherwise, it's only committees or parliamentary groups that meet regularly, said the MEP, who's made no secret of his desire to "wreck" the European Parliament by exposing fraud and corruption.

Meanwhile, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is fighting tooth and nail to hang on to its share of the European Parliament. It's a little-known fact that the parliament's administration has its headquarters in the tiny state halfway between Strasbourg and Brussels.

Hard to get to

Gebäude der Europäischen Union

EU Parliament in the Leopolds quarter in Brussels

The division of the parliament's 3,000 staff into three different locations doesn't exactly make its work any easier, according to a staff member of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, who spends countless hours in telephone conferences while on the motorway or in the train. And anyway, Strasbourg is difficult to reach, the parliamentarians complain. The aged Intercity train from Brussels takes almost five hours to get there, and the Alsace regional airport offers few direct flights to Europe's capitals.

As a compromise, newly elected Franco-German Greens MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggested turning the building in Strasbourg into the campus for a yet-to-be-established European University. France has already politely declined. So, the great European traveling caravan will continue to chug along, swallowing massive amounts of European tax money along the way.

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